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
understanding
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its
essence

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

 

Weekly Roundup: December 20, 2013

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

Sacramento Bee 12/14/13
SF Bay River Otter Sightings Suggest Comeback
Earlier this year, a river otter named Sutro Sam became the first of the whiskered critters to be seen in San Francisco for decades.
The juvenile male otter drew crowds to a brackish pool on a seaside cliff where he swam and ate for a few days, thrilling onlookers before disappearing quietly.
In all, researchers have received 600 reported sightings throughout the San Francisco Bay region over the past two years in the first population study of the weasel-like creatures ever done here. Most of the sightings have been confirmed through photos and video taken by bystanders in an area where the species was nearly wiped out after decades of of hunting, development and pollution.
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Oakland Local 12/12/13
The New Bay Bridge Bike Path: Here’s where to get on in Oaktown and Emeryville
Since its grand opening two weeks ago, the Alexander Zuckermann Bike Path has both enthralled and eluded many visitors. The photos and videos are stunning, but how exactly does one get there? I set out from Lake Merritt on my bike to find out.
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SF Gate 12/13/13
Purchase of Skagg’s Island Farm to Restore SF Bay Marshland
By any measure, it’s a good thing when 1,092 acres along San Francisco Bay become permanently protected open space.
This is even better: Friday’s sale of an oat farm near Highway 37 to the Sonoma Land Trust will allow 4,400 acres of dry land to be restored to a functioning marsh, just like it was before humans put up dikes and walled out San Francisco Bay.
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SF Gate 12/15/13
Bird Count in Oakland Shows Surprisingly Low Tally 
The annual Audubon bird count in Oakland was a breeze this year: There were hardly any birds to count.
“Normally we’d see thousands of scaup and bufflehead and canvasback. This year it’s staggering – we’ve hardly seen any,” said Ruth Tobey, one of more than 200 volunteers who scoured the East Bay on Sunday with binoculars and clipboards, counting birds.
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CBS Bay Area 12/12/13
Appeals Court Upholds San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Ban
A state appeals court has upheld a San Francisco law banning the use of non-compostable plastic bags at checkout stands in retail stores and grocery markets.
The 2012 law, an expansion of an earlier measure, prohibits most single-use plastic checkout bags and requires stores to charge 10 cents for paper or compostable plastic bags.
The ordinance was upheld Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The court ruled on a challenge by the Los-Angeles-based Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a manufacturers’ association that has been battling plastic bag laws around the state.
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Bay Nature 12/13/13
Capturing King Tides Through Citizen Science
You’re driving through Mill Valley along Highway 102, the sky is blue, the drought persists, and it’s still not raining—yet, the water laps at your tires and the asphalt road resembles a shallow creek. It’s the winter king tides in action and that, organizers at the California King Tides Initiative say, is what the future looks like.
King tides are extreme, high tide events that occur biannually, normally around the summer and winter solstices, when the gravitational pull of the sun and moon are in alignment. While the tides are not affected by climate change, they act as an indicator of the way in which sea level rise will affect coastal communities. Hayley Zamel, an organizing partner for the California King Tides Initiative, said winter king tides, particularly when paired with a storm—as was the case in Pacifica last year—offer a realistic look into the climate-changed future.
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SF Gate 12/20/13
NYC Expands Smoking Ban to Include E-Cigarettes
Years after being exiled to New York City’s sidewalks by a ban on smoking in indoor public places, some smokers relished electronic cigarettes as a way to come in from the cold. Now they’re down to their last few puffs after the City Council voted 43-8 Thursday to expand the ban to include the devices. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the measure before leaving office in a few days. The ban would take effect in four months.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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