Fwd: Rare California seabird reported breeding off Mendocino Coast
- Rare California seabird reported breeding off Mendocino Coast
By K.C. Meadows
Updated: 09/01/2012 12:00:15 AM PDT
Ukiah Daily Journal
Scientists surveying rocky islands this week off the Mendocino County coast within the California Coastal National Monument made a remarkable discovery - several breeding sites for the Ashy Storm-Petrel, a rare and declining seabird not reported nesting in this area since 1926.
The shy grey bird hides and nests in shoreline rock crevices as deep as seven or eight feet and only emerges at dawn and dusk to avoid predators, mostly other birds. They fish in the ocean, "flitting like butterflys on the surface," according to Anna Weinstein, seabird program manager of Audubon California in Emeryville.
The four new colonies were found north of Point Arena and south of the village of Mendocino.
Finding these birds - which are under consideration for the national endangered list - is very exciting to naturalists who have watched dedicated and expensive efforts to protect the Ashy Storm-Petrel in other areas of California do little to help.
"California has invested a lot of money in restoration in the Channel and Farallon Islands," Weinstein said. "Despite those efforts, they are declining. They're getting hammered by owls, falcons and gulls, even skunks."
"This is truly our species in California," Weinstein added, noting that almost the entire worldwide population of the bird lives in California. "Now Mendocino County has a special responsibility to steward them."
Weinstein said that while the rocks in Mendocino County where the Ashy
Storm-Petrels are living will now be protected, it does not mean shutting off areas of coastal shoreline. In fact, she said, the bird watching public might be able to see them coming and going.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there may be as few as 5,500 smoky-gray Ashy Storm-Petrels in the world. Nearly all of the robin-sized birds breed on the Channel Islands off Southern California and the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, with a handful of much smaller colonies known between Bird Rock (Marin County) and the Todos Santos Islands off Ensenada just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
"It's amazing to me," said Harry Carter, from the seabird research organization California Institute of Environmental Studies, and one of the people who found these new colonies, when asked how it felt to find a bird he thought no longer lived in this area. Carter said the only clue he had to look was a bird's egg collected in 1926 by naturalist Franklin Smith from a rock in the ocean near Greenwood. "We had done surveys before, but no one had checked recently," he said, adding that he was on a 1989 survey looking in the rocks around here that found nothing. This time, the second rock they explored turned up a chick, some broken egg shells, and some dead adult birds by which they identified their prize.
The birds have a distinct musky smell that gives birders one way to try to find them. The rocks that the birds use as habitat are off shore along the coastline. Among the rocks where they found evidence of the birds was Wharf Rock near Elk, and another he called Casket Rock. The teams go up to the rocks in inflatable boats and then free climb the rocks armed only with flashlights, no climbing equipment.
Carter says the team climbed 20 rocks but only found four confirmed sites.
"This (Mendocino sighting) shows that Ashy Storm-Petrels still persist in the northern part of their range, and at more sites than had been known," said Carter. "It may increase the bird's resiliency to known threats in other areas such as oil spills, light pollution, predation by invasive predators, and more. It also means we have a responsibility to protect and monitor these sites with their own unique breeding conditions and conservation issues."
He said the teams will be searching the rocks north toward Fort Bragg in a couple of weeks.
A decision on the Ashy Storm-Petrel's listing under the federal Endangered Species Act is expected next year. The Mendocino County discovery expands the current breeding range of the species north by about 13 to 15 percent, a finding that has important implications for the conservation of the species.
Carter is one of the world's top experts on the species, and he led the survey team with Mike Parker and Josh Koepke. In Mendocino County, the team found breeding birds on the one historic colony site that was thought to be long empty, and on three new sites. These sites may harbor 100 or more breeding individuals and additional birds likely breed nearby in inaccessible locations, which is significant given the small global population.
"Searching for Ashy Storm-Petrels on these rocks is tough and dangerous work, and we are grateful to these biologists for shining light on an elusive species that is a high conservation priority for many state and federal agencies and conservation groups," said Weinstein. "And, the state's new suite of marine protected areas will help to support food resources for Ashy Storm-Petrels provisioning their young at these sites."
The research was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Pacific Seabird Program, a Pacific-wide conservation initiative established in 2011 for which Ashy Storm-Petrel serves as one of 10 priority species.
Steve Hampton, Ph.D.
Office of Spill Prevention and Response
California Dept of Fish and Game
PO Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
(916) 323-4724 phone
(916) 324-8829 fax