Surveying Birds at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

The freeways might be less crowded at sunrise, but our restoration sites aren’t.

Early morning and late evening are typically the busiest times of day for bird activity. That’s why I’ve been heading out to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) at dawn once a week since starting to work with Save The Bay’s restoration team. Save The Bay volunteers and staff have planted thousands of plants in an effort to give native plants the advantage in colonizing this newly reclaimed land. Now it’s time to take a preliminary look at how this habitat is being used—specifically, how birds are using the sites in which Save The Bay has begun work, compared with unrestored sites.

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Bird surveys involve observing a certain area for a specified amount of time. Count the birds in this area, observe behavior, note interactions with habitat and other organisms, and take down some details about weather conditions. Translation: soak in the beauty of Eden for 20 un-interruptible minutes at a time. While I marvel in the artistic contrast of dark water-worn mud channels against bright dawn-lit clouds and creeping tidewater, the egrets and sandpipers read the landscape in a concentrated search for food.  With hundreds of shorebirds calling all around me plus the occasional curious jackrabbit, focusing on just the survey area can be a challenge! But my immediate reward might come in the form of catching a Song Sparrow sneaking around with a large beakful of invertebrates, a couple of gulls bullying an American Avocet at the edge of the water, or a House Finch pair pulling silky nesting material from a seeding thistle. I surveyed birds at 4 sites at ELER: 2 sites in which restoration planting is well underway, one future site now just bare ground, and one overrun with invasive plants. All of my survey sites were located in the transition zone, the ground between the highest tide line and the upland, where Save The Bay does restoration work.

There is a lot more to learn, many more questions to ask, but a look at the results of this preliminary study is exciting. I definitely notice more bird activity in the vegetated sites. Songs sparrows pop in and out of the marsh gumplant volunteers planted in the ground two years ago. White-crowned Sparrows line up along the fence bordering the restoration site. A Yellowlegs might wander along between water and vegetation looking for breakfast. Zipping above the plants, Barn Swallows and a lone Black Phoebe catch insects mid-air. In fact, I saw an average of 5-6 birds per survey in the vegetated sites but only 1.5 birds per survey in the un-vegetated site.

Bare soil, by contrast, is less hospitable for many transition zone species.  Song Sparrows, for example, need shrubs and grasses in which to build their nests, and the seeds and fruits of plants comprise a large part of their diet. The transition zone is also an important refuge for small mammals and birds during storms and the highest tides. The site I surveyed without vegetation only turned up 7 species during 6 surveys, most of them aerial foragers who flew over the site.

Species diversity appears to be greater on both of the restored sites compared to the area with mostly invasive plants and the un-vegetated area. I saw total of 11-12 different species of birds in the locations where restoration work has begun, compared with only 5-7 species in the unrestored sites.

Peaceful mornings monitoring birds are interspersed with busy volunteer workdays in my schedule at Save The Bay. As the community comes together to improve tidal marsh transition zone habitat for species like Song Sparrows, it’s exciting to be able to share with them my findings from bird surveys: Yes, your work is making a difference.

If you enjoy bird-watching and are able to identify local birds, you can contribute your findings to inform research! Visit to learn more.


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.
Read more>>


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.
Read more>>

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.
Read more>>

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.
Read more>>

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.”
Read more>>

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.
Read more>>

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.
Read more>>

Weekly Round-Up November 8, 2013

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

Napa Valley Register 11/3/13
County Pushes Fish and Wildlife to Help Improve Airport Safety
Napa County is lobbying the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to improve a small area next to the Napa County Airport to improve safety for aircraft and also allow another segment of the Bay Trail to be built.
Public Works Director Steve Lederer sent a letter to Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham last month urging the work — part of a 2005 permit from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) — to be completed as soon as possible.
Read more>>


Contra Costa Times 11/1/13
Martinez Considers Banning Plastic Bags, Foam Take-out Containers
Martinez may join the growing list of California cities that ban plastic shopping bags and polystyrene foam food and drink containers.
Modeled in part on the ordinance Pittsburg adopted last month, city staffers have proposed prohibiting distribution of single-use plastic bags by commercial and retail businesses including grocery, liquor, clothing, convenience and book stores
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 11/5/13
Bay Trail Vision at Work at Carquinez Shoreline
A trail project along Carquinez Strait will provide a missing link for the Bay Trail, and with it, a restored route with sensational views for people who walk, hike, bike or run.
The route runs along along an abandoned roadway set into the cliffs west of Martinez that had been closed due to erosion, rockslides and holes, cracks and crevices in the pavement.
Construction crews placed fencing at both ends of a 1.7-mile project along Carquinez Scenic Drive. When work is complete, the route will provide a trail link from Carquinez to Crockett. The trail segment will be closed for about two years for public safety, according to the East Bay Regional Park District.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 11/8/13
Annual Migration Slow to Arrive in Central Valley
In the Bay Area, wetlands provide habitat for roughly 1.6 million shorebirds in winter. Of dozens of marshes and wetlands, the best for sightings are often Napa-Sonoma Marsh at high and outgoing tides by kayak, and at low tide at Hayward Regional Shoreline, Bothin Marsh in Sausalito, Don Edward San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge near Newark and the Palo Alto Baylands Preserve.
Read more>>

KQED Science 11/6/13
Baylands Nature Preserve a Winter Birders Wonderland
Described by bird watchers as the go-to place for the “best birding on the bay,” the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is a feather-filled oasis during winter. This is the time that waterfowl migrate through the Pacific Flyway and settle along the California coast for the season.
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San Francisco Chronicle 11/8/13
Google Barge Mystery Unfurled
The barge portion of the Google barge mystery is only half the story – when completed, the full package is envisioned to be an “unprecedented artistic structure,” sporting a dozen or so gigantic sails, to be moored for a month at a time at sites around the bay.
Documents submitted to the Port of San Francisco show that the barge’s creators have big plans for the bulky box now docked at Treasure Island.
Read more>>

Audublog 10/31/13
Keeping Watch Over Brown Pelicans
The Brown Pelican is California’s iconic coastal bird and one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act. While pelicans have dramatically recovered in the last 30 years, they have since suffered unprecedented breeding failures and starvation events in California and Oregon, likely due to poor availability of prey. Audubon California is leading a set of concerned groups urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete key tasks required under the Endangered Species Act in order to secure the future of these beloved birds.
Read more>>

Save The Bay + GGAS = Birds and Plants

Birding with Golden Gate Audubon
Birding with Golden Gate Audubon

Save The Bay hosted a planting training day for the Golden Gate Audubon (GGAS) in exchange for a birding expedition at the Emeryville cresent.

As a trade off, GGAS led a birding trip for Save The Bay.  We saw White and Brown Pelicans, Coots, Grebes (Eared and Western), Canvasback, Surf Scooter, Ruddy Ducks, Egrets, Herons, Plovers, Shovelers, Cormorants, Avocets, Stilts, Willets, Dunlin, Sandpipers, Terns, Gulls and an amazing White tailed Kite.

Save The Bay demonstrated strategic techniques for the GGAS staff in teaching volunteers to plant natives. We also role played scenarios that are helpful in guiding volunteers.

This year, GGAS will be planting 750 native wetland plants along the Martin Luther King Jr. regional shoreline, all of which were grown at Save The Bay’s native plant nursery on site.

Save The Bay and Golden Gate Audubon are working together to enhance vital bird habitat at MLK Shoreline in Oakland. Both groups are working with other partners at other sites all over the Bay.

If you interested in getting  involved in birding trips or helping with Audubon’s Annual World Wide Christmas Bird Count, visit: