Outside Reading

Some interesting material has popped up on the web recently that may be of interest to nature lovers.

The cultural lives of birds is a title that some decades ago would have seemed like sci-fi. Culture is a human attribute — or is it? In recent years, scientists have discovered animal behavior that the young learn from their elders and that varies with specific populations of the same species. White-crowned sparrows, for example, sing different dialects in different regions, and recognize visitors from elsewhere by their song. A wide range of mammals have learned behavior specific to certain groups in certain localities. Lucy Aplin of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior joins Julia Hyland Bruno of Columbia University as the presenters, with Betsy Mason of Knowable Magazine as moderator. Their free online discussion, with numerous examples, held Feb. 16, is available thanks to Knowable Magazine, at this link.

Loose dogs are a nuisance that never goes away, in Cesar Chavez Park and elsewhere. Cesar Chavez includes a 17-acre dog park (“Off Leash Area”) that not only lacks a fence, a standard feature of real dog parks, it also lacks proper signage, and there is virtually no enforcement. Consequently we see some owners treating the whole 90 acres as their dog’s toilet, exercise yard, and hunting preserve. In the Feb. 20 issue of Berkeleyside, Berkeley father Jesse Greenspan reports that his son, age 5, was the victim of an off-leash dog bite at Codornices Park. Greenspan points out that off-leash dogs are a major harasser of wildlife, notably nesting birds and migrating shorebirds, and their solid and liquid waste contaminates the habitat and may be getting humans sick. We have had witness reports of an off-leash dog entering into the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary last month while the owl was there on the ground, and that owl has recently disappeared after suffering an injury to its wing. Read Greenspan’s well-researched article here.

This time of year we are likely to see increased numbers of waterfowl on the North Basin and on the other waters around the park, as many species are starting their spring migration back up to their northern breeding grounds. Identifying those birds is a skill that wants to be learned, and there’s no better guide than veteran birder Bob Lewis, past chair of the Golden Gate Audubon Adult Education Division, among numerous other honors. In an illustrated 80-minute lecture recorded Feb. 16, Bob teaches the basics and the fine points of Waterfowl Identification. Check it out on YouTube at this link. But it will only be up for a week, so don’t delay.

The Peregrine Falcons atop the Cal Campanile have been starring in a birdy rom-com that has had their thousands of fans in titters and shock. It seems that Annie took another lover for a while, and what a hunk he was, but is now back with her bestie, Grinnell. Birds have no right to privacy, so it’s all up on the web 24/7. Here’s the Cal Falcons site with a collection of images, and here’s a link to the webcams, three of them. We’ve recently seen a Peregrine Falcon in Cesar Chavez Park (“Air Encounters,” Feb. 20 2022), but that was a juvenile, and probably not one of the Campanile dwellers or their offspring. The Campanile birds are banded, and the one I saw in the park was probably not, although at this distance I could not be absolutely positive.

The National Audubon Society, named after the notorious racist and enslaver, is hosting a webinar titled “Black Leadership in Conservation” this Wednesday, February 23, starting at 10 a.m. our time. Scheduled speakers are Njambi Good, Audubon’s Vice President of Pacific and Central Flyways, and Marshall Johnson, Audubon’s new Chief Conservation Officer. Moderator is Danita Wickwire, Audubon’s Vice President of Principal Giving. However, the page to register for this webinar at my posting time was not functional. For background, read the thoughtful piece, “What Do We Do About John James Audubon,” by J. Drew Lanham, in the Spring 2021 issue of Audubon magazine. Note also that the Audubon Naturalist Society (unrelated to the avian group) last October announced that it will change its name, dropping “Audubon.” Lisa Alexander, the executive director of the ANS, said,

“The deliberate and thoughtful decision to change our name is part of our ongoing commitment to creating a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it. It has become clear that this will never be fully possible with the current name.”

The UK Guardian, one of the few media to cover the story, concluded,

The National Audubon Society, the largest group to still hold Audubon’s name, has acknowledged his actions but has not committed to changing its title.

Burrowing Owl Update

First Owl Feb. 19 2022 8 a.m.

The First Owl — the one on the rocks — was present Saturday morning Feb. 19 in its usual spot. I took a 40-second video of the bird as seen from the paved perimeter trail (left). At that moment the bird stood tall. Minutes later, the owl hunkered down or stepped to a lower perch, and only the crown of its head and occasionally one eye were visible. On Sunday morning and again this morning (Monday 2/21) I was unable to spot this bird either from the path or from the Open Circle Viewpoint.

The Second Owl — the one on the gravel — was last seen Feb. 3. It appeared to have an injury to its wing. It disappeared on Feb. 4 before rescue efforts could be attempted.

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