Endangered Species Carnival

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On a Bay Discovery program, Khan Lab School students willfully pulled invasive mustard and radish to help create natural wildlife habitat for endangered species like the Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. Leading up to this program, the students had already investigated the varying endangered species that live in the Bay Area. Fueled by the project–based learning approach of Khan Lab School, these students did extraordinary research on local endangered species and completed awe-inspiring projects to share their knowledge about their respective species and help protect them.

I was lucky to attend Khan Lab School’s Endangered Species Carnival, a culminating event that was designed to raise awareness and funds in their local community of Mountain View. This Endangered Species Carnival was so inspirational! I still get goose bumps when I think about the dedication and hard work that each and every student put into their project about the species they chose. Community members cashed in carnival tickets to participate in the numerous fun and educational activities centered on endangered species.

A unique carnival 

At the Maker Space, there were arts and crafts to re-create the salt marsh harvest mouse, western snowy plover, and the Mt. Hermon beetle. At the Game Center, participants learned about the Bay Checkerspot butterfly, the Delta smelt, the Bald Eagle, and the San Francisco garter snake. There was also Test Your Brain, an endangered species themed form of Jeopardy, complete with podiums and student crafted buzzers. In Colorful Caterpillars, participants hid a paper caterpillar underneath leaves to protect it from predators. The test? A robotic predator programmed by students to hunt for the caterpillar, and if you hid your caterpillar well in the environment, then it survived to become a San Bruno Elfin Butterfly! At the Save The Whales booth, gamers were given 3 ping pong balls to hit easy, medium or hard targets and learned about the threats humans impose on whales. In addition to all of these games, there was a student-engineered hover board ride, photo booths, and a delightful snack stand, complete with chocolate pacific pond turtles and snow cones.

The most moving part of Khan Lab School’s Endangered Species Carnival was the excitement and wonder in every child’s eyes about these species. They were eager to talk about their experiences throughout the school year and how we can all make a difference. The choreographed finale was easily the showstopper of the carnival. I was even inspired to buy a t-shirt printed with “Endangered Species Carnival”, and brimmed with pride thinking about how each student will affect the world around them. Last but not least, the proceeds were donated to multiple non-profits around the Bay Area that work to protect endangered species, including Save The Bay.

Help restore habitat for the Bay Area’s endangered species by signing up to volunteer with Save The Bay.

Guest Post | A Birder’s Perspective on the Bay

Alameda resident Rick Lewis has been a Bay Area birder and a wildlife photographer for more than 30 years. His gorgeous photos often grace Save The Bay’s calendars, email communications, and website. Rick is passionate about preserving bird habitat in the Bay Area, so he created and narrated the slideshow below  to convey the beauty of Bay Area birds. Through his photos, poetry, and this blog post, he hopes to remind Bay Area residents how fortunate we are to live in this region, and to inspire everyone to advocate for wetland restoration and habitat preservation–for future generations of people and birds to enjoy.

There are good birding spots five minutes away. That’s not exactly correct – if I simply open the front door I can watch towhees, black phoebes, warblers, sparrows, crows, and various raptors. Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and gopher snakes sometimes visit. This isn’t the ‘country’, this is Alameda. From here I can smell low tide. It’s all about habitat around the bay.

Despite urbanization, San Francisco Bay is recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—a place of hemispheric importance that impacts the entire state and has global implications. Birds are an indicator species and reflect the overall health of the region. The numerous accounts of falling bird populations being the result of human activity is an alarm all should heed. We are not separate from them; there is no separation. Connectivity binds us all and what we do here will certainly have ramifications felt far and wide. As Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Many years ago I was photographing a pair of young Brown Pelicans at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. They were quite chummy with each other and were enthusiastic subjects. Time and again they would walk towards me to investigate the camera. I would back up and they would rub bills inquisitively. This intimate encounter sealed my fate as a life-long birder and left me charmed, thrilled, and honored.

We almost lost pelicans, but they came back from the brink of extinction once we banned DDT. The story of the pelican indicates our positive influence when we decide to act. And also the resilience of nature. There are dozens of other stories like this out on the marsh. Take note of the wintering waterfowl and shorebirds near the base of the bay bridge as you approach from Oakland. The birds are content to feed and loaf as they ignore the traffic and surrounding activity. It is imperative that we preserve and restore what little habitat these birds have amidst the bridges and the cars. We just need to act now.

I believe that our very existence depends on the ability to experience nature close to our homes. Photographing birds along the shoreline is what I thrive on. I hope everyone who lives here will find something that inspires them in the wildness just beyond their doorstep. I am happy to share my inspiration through my slideshow and poetry. Please take a moment now to tell the Bay Restoration Authority to put a measure on the ballot to fund Bay restoration.

I have ever heard,
and listened to, the song
of birds.
Be it day, or
eve, or morn,
or the darkness we perceive
The song prevails, loud
And clear, breaking through
the mist of perversity
A beacon, a light,
a thing of utmost beauty
Dawn has come
and with it
life, illumination
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its

Thank you for all you do for the Bay.
Rick Lewis


News of the Bay: January 31, 2014

Check out this edition of News of the Bay for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

San Francisco Chronicle 1/28/14
Kicking cigarette butts out of California is aim of bill
Walk along any beach or through any park and chances are they’ll be there by the dozens: the tan, discarded remains of a cigarette.
Cigarettes aren’t healthy for people. But when the butts, also known as filters, are thrown on the ground, they too are harmful – to humans, wildlife and the environment. Studies show that their non-biodegradable nature and toxic chemical makeup can contaminate waterways, poison fish and birds, and be a health danger to children who try to eat them.
Read more>>

News of the Bay
San Francisco Chronicle 1/28/14
Snowy plovers a welcome surprise at Alameda beach
It’s not just joggers, dogs and kite-flyers who love the new sand at Crown Beach in Alameda.
A few surprise guests – of the nearly endangered variety – apparently love the new beach as well.
To the shock of naturalists and bird watchers, a flock of threatened western snowy plovers has taken up residence on one of the Bay Area’s busiest beaches. For the past few months, since the East Bay Regional Park District dumped 82,000 cubic yards of new sand on the beach, the fist-size shorebirds have been skittering across the dunes and pecking at bugs, oblivious to the frolicking hordes around them.
Read more>>

Environmental Health News 1/30/14
Banned Scotchguard chemical still contaminating San Francisco seals
In a shallow arm of the bay, where Pacific tides cause hardly a ripple, hundreds of harbor seals lounge, mate and bear young. With placid expressions on bewhiskered faces and bulky bodies reclining on shorelines, the seals belie a disturbing burden they carry.
Living on the edge of a metropolitan hub, these seals are under scrutiny by scientists. There’s a mystery afoot in San Francisco Bay: A manmade chemical, pulled from production 12 years ago, is still turning up at high levels in the seals. Once the prime ingredient in Scotchgard, a chemical known as PFOS has remained elevated in these harbor seals even though it has declined in sea birds that share their fish diet.
Read more>>

KCET 1/23/14
Fish and Wildlife Service drops $3 million on California wetlands
Four coastal wetlands in California will benefit from $3 million in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will go toward preserving and restoring wildlife habitat, the agency announced Thursday. The grants will be added to another $2.3 million in matching funds from state and local governments, private land owners, and conservation groups.
The money will be used to buy unprotected wetlands and adjoining uplands, as well as working to heal damage to already protected land. Two of the wetland areas are in the southern end of San Francisco Bay, with the others in San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties.
Read more>>


Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, the Tiniest Endangered Species

Most inhabitants of the Bay Area are aware of threatened species such as the sea otter and harbor porpoise, or even the endangered California clapper rail, but there’s a mammal that’s completely unique to the Bay Area and so tiny most people have never even seen one.This mammal, among the smallest rodents in the U.S., lives only here in the Bay in a very specific habitat, and can be credited with much of the tidal marsh restoration happening now.

In 1970, thanks to the work of Dr. Howard Shellhammer, the Environmental Protection Agency listed the salt marsh harvest mouse as endangered, and kick-started the explosion of San Francisco Bay conservation efforts. The endangered status of the salt marsh harvest mouse halted plans for development, agriculture, and industrialization of natural marsh habitat. US EPA - Endangered Species Facts  - Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse

A salt marsh harvest mouse is about the size of one’s thumb, largely nocturnal, and lives among the reddish pickle weed in the low tidal marsh—an area frequently subject to tidal inundation. Salt marsh harvest mice are adapted to live in this challenging environment, as they can swim short distances and consume food and water with a high salt content.

During high tides and peak flooding by storms, salt marsh harvest mice escape into the upland marsh for protection. It is this safe-haven habitat that has been greatly diminished and is of most concern for the survival of these tiny mammals. Without this high tide refugia, or proper corridors permitting travel to them, salt marsh harvest mice are subject to drowning and predation. The threat of sea level rise makes this an even greater concern

Although some of the habitat of the salt marsh harvest mouse is protected around the Bay, the continuing threats from pollution, poor water quality, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation are driving the population into further decline. Under the umbrella of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan, Save The Bay is working to prevent the loss of the salt marsh harvest mouse by preserving and restoring vital marshland habitat. Harvest mouse habitat is also habitat for hundreds of other species. That’s why Save The Bay works to prevent further filling of Bay tidal marsh, combat pollution, and restore the vital marsh habitat that the salt marsh harvest mice use during winter high tides and storms.

This winter we are planting 45,000 plants to provide suitable marsh habitat for this endangered species. Volunteer with us this season to plant suitable refuge for these unique, adorable rodents!

Notes from the Field | Rally the Rallidae

Californica clapper rail
California clapper rail at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland. Photo by Jon Backus.

If you were to venture out onto the shoreline of the Bay along certain salt marshes you just might be lucky enough to hear an abrupt and loud sound — “KAAK KAAK KAKAK!!!!!”

You would be hearing California’s very own Railus longirostris obsoletus, or the more commonly known California clapper rail. It’s not the type of bird that one would expect to win any popularity contests or Ms. Bird U.S.A. What with its secretive nature, it prefers to hide amongst the reeds and cordgrass deep within a salt marsh.

The California clapper rail is not much of a looker — except for its long orange beak and white rump, these birds blend into the foliage perfectly. Despite living exclusively in marshes, the clapper rail isn’t very good at swimming or flying. But, this chicken-like marsh bird has quite the following.

This sub species of the more common East Coast Clapper Rail is endangered with their population only numbering around 1,000 birds. Their family, Rallidae, has historically lost more species than any other family of birds. This is not surprising because many of these rails had a remarkable tendency to colonize remote islands, diversify, and then lose, or almost lose the ability to fly. Rails range in size from the tiny black rail to the extremely rare Takahes of southern New Zealand.

The history of the decline of the California clapper rail is linked to the large human migration to the bay area that occurred during the gold rush in the 1850’s. It just so happened that our clapper rail tastes a lot like chicken. The rail became a delicacy served up to people living in San Francisco, and with hundreds of thousands of acres of marshland ringing the bay there were no shortage of clapper rails to go around.

Luckily, the wholesale slaughter of these birds came to an end with the passing of the Lacey Act (and later the Endangered Species Act) which was meant to preserve game birds and water fowl and is now used to protect and preserve wildlife AND plant life. But, threats continue today, mainly from the loss of the bird’s habitat. The secretive nature and inability to fly very well does not make it easy to for it to escape this destruction.

But, all is not lost for our marsh chicken, there has been a massive effort by the federal and state government along with other organizations to protect, monitor, and save this bird from extinction. (From March through July is California clapper rail breeding season, so if you do see or hear a rail at this time please try to keep your distance so they can have a successful season.)

If you would like to learn more about the California clapper rail or any of the other unique flora and fauna that live in bays marshland come out and volunteer with me on our Community Restoration Programs where you can help turn the tide by restoring habitat.