Enraptured by Raptors

Back in the warmer days of our Indian Summer, I visited Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands to catch a glimpse of the great diversity of raptors (a collective term for hawks, vultures, owls and other birds of prey) along their southern migration. On a sunny October day I made it to the top of Hawk Hill where I found Red-tailed, Broad-wing, and Cooper’s Hawks soaring above me as I looked out over the Golden Gate Bridge. The San Francisco Bay shimmered as I watched what looked like tiny toy sail boats glide across it from the top of the nearly 1000 ft tall mountain.

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The Marin Headlands are the last stop for these birds before crossing over the Bay on their way south. Raptors that travel within the California coastal range are funneled into the Marin peninsula, where they catch up-drafts created by warm rising air that acts as an elevator for the raptors. After getting a free ride up, they drop down over the Bay and continue their long journey south.

Coincidentally these two factors make it a great place to see these birds of prey, as they become concentrated the further they move down the peninsula and are slowed while they catch the thermal up-drafts. Sadly most of these feathered travelers have passed through the Bay (September through November is the best time to view birds at Hawk Hill or join in one of their docent programs), but if you’re looking for a good hike consider heading up to catch a few resident hawks. Alternatively you can give these guys a helping hand by volunteering at your local wetland where you can find a few Turkey Vultures, Northern Harriers, or the ever-present smorgasbord of shore birds.

Weekly Round-up: December 6, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

San Jose Mercury News 11/30/13
San Francisco Bay waters are becoming clearer, but that may mean threats from algae growth
San Francisco Bay is becoming clearer.
Decades of tidal action have finally washed away most of the mess created 150 years ago by Gold Rush miners who blasted apart hillsides in the Sierra Nevada. The result was millions of tons of mud, gravel and sand that made its way downriver and ended up in the bay, clouding its waters and coating the bottom with a level of silt up to 3 feet thick.
Most of the silt, scientists say, has now moved out to the ocean.
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San Jose Mercury News 12/02/13
Cosco Busan’s ship’s pilot won’t get license back
Capt. John Cota, who crashed the Cosco Busan cargo ship into the Bay Bridge in 2007, causing the worst oil spill in San Francisco Bay in two decades, has lost his battle to restart his sailing career.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White dismissed Cota’s lawsuit against the Coast Guard, rejecting his attempt to force the Coast Guard to return his mariner’s license so he can sail again.
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SF Gate 12/02/13
River otter spotted in Richmond marina
Leo Rice, a 57-year-old flight attendant for Virgin America, was on his daily constitutional Monday in Richmond’s Marina Bay when he spotted an eager river otter munching a fish in the clear bay water.
“I was just out there doing a walk and this little guy popped up and I was like WHAT?!,” Rice said. “He was not very shy at all and it was like he was not even bothered I was there.”
Rice snapped about 30 photos and took a video of the otter paddling and trying to gulp down a fish. Rice said he’s been walking Marina Bay since 2009 and has never before spotted an otter.
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Contra Costa Times 12/01/13
Bay Bridge park would offer a new gateway to the East Bay shoreline
Forget about a giant Ferris wheel or gondola car ride in the emerging plan for a big new park by the Bay Bridge — a new gateway to the East Bay and its shoreline.
Those ride suggestions have been cut out, but still in the running for the park are a fishing pier, concert meadow, a zip line, rock climbing wall, tide pool viewing areas, kayak and sail board launch sites, a boardwalk, sandy beaches and picnic tables.
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Petaluma 360 11/29/13
Plastic bag ban debate continues
Petaluma is on the verge of throwing out the use of plastic carryout bags by grocers and retailers for good.
City Manager John Brown said the City Council will have two options before them at Monday’s meeting: join the county’s plastic ban or draft legislation specific to Petaluma that outlaws plastic bags.
“There are some cities that have said they want to do it themselves, and other cities that said they want the county to handle it for them,” said Brown. “Now it’s the council’s time to decide.”
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San Jose Mercury News 12/02/13
Birding adventures in northern California
If December’s constant diet of shopping, eating, shopping, football and shopping puts you in a Scroogey kind of mood, maybe it’s time for a breath of fresh air.
In Northern California, December is the season not just for consumer frenzy, but for epic wildlife shows. The midwinter phenomenon of winged migration is in full feather at refuges around the region, and by all accounts, the avian action is some of the most impressive in the nation.
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Marin Independent Journal 12/03/13
Marin gets state cash to look at sea level rise
Marin County will use a $200,000 grant to look at how it can prevent businesses, homes and highways from being inundated by a rising sea over the next several decades.
The California Ocean Protection Council is providing the money to Collaborating on Sea-Level: Marin Adaptation Response Team, known as C-SMART. The program, overseen by the Marin County Community Development Agency, is trying to get ahead of sea level rise.
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