Carleton Eyster walks up a sand dune toward the water at Moss Landing State Beach. He has binoculars around his neck and a scope mounted on a tripod in his hand.
“This is our birding scope, which a lot people mistake for a camera, so I’m often taken for a bird photographer,” says Eyster, a biologist with the non-profit Point Blue Conservation Science.
Point Blue has research programs in the works from Alaska to Antarctica. On the Monterey Bay, Point Blue has been monitoring the Western Snowy Plover for more than 30 years.
The snowy plover has been listed as threatened under the endangered species act since 1993 after its numbers dwindled because its beach nesting habitat was compromised by a number of things including development, non-native plants and predators.
“This is the area that is cordoned off seasonally from March through September, and that’s exactly where the snowy plovers are breeding,” says Eyster as he walks along the cable fence the symbolically blocks off the sand dune. It was put up by California State Parks, which manages this beach.
Eyster is one of five Point Blue biologists on the bay whose focus is this tiny shorebird. They monitor the birds at least five days a week during their season. They keep track of things like nest location, number of eggs, how many make it to adulthood and figuring out why so many don’t.
“Probably in the egg stage its predators: red fox, northern harrier, red tail hawks. Human disturbance is certainly a factor,” says Eyster.
We come upon a typical nest; a clutch of three eggs resting in the sand. The birds will attempt to incubate these eggs out here in the open for 28 days. If these eggs hatch, it takes another 30 days before the new snowy plovers can fly. It’s a vulnerable two months.
“And a male, if he can fledge one chick, in other words get one chick to flying age then that’s going to get you to a stable population,” says Eyster.
Eyster will be there to see if that happens. He’ll then mark each new plover with unique color coded tags and continue to watch it throughout its life.
All this monitoring helps public and private land managers know things like where to put up the cable fencing and which predators are a threat.
“There’s no way that this bird is going to be delisted without those type of partnerships,” says Jim Watkins is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He leads the snowy plover recovery from his office in Arcata.
The recovery plan for the bird was finalized in 2007. The goal is to maintain an average of 3000 breeding adults for ten years between Washington State and Southern California.
“The areas where we’ve had the most reproductive success, the most hatching and also hatching that results in chicks fledging, being able to be recruited into the breeding population have been in the Monterey Bay Area and also up in the state of Oregon,” says Watkins.
The recovery unit that includes the Monterey Bay has met its goal of 400 breeding adults, four out of the last seven years. Whereas some other units have never reached their goal.
Watkins says others have varying challenges like large areas to cover, less staff to monitor, and in southern California, lots of people out enjoying the beach. Which Eyster points out can happen with enough resources.
“For instance, there’s a large wintering flock at Seabright Beach. And people wonder how that could be. But there’s one of our largest flocks, up to 100 or more birds, in the winter there every year in spite of all the people and dogs,” says Eyster..
The estimate for delisting the Western Snowy Plover is 2047, but as new threats emerge like sea level rise, both Watkins and Eyster see this bird as being dependent on conservation for its survival.
Some of the biggest players in the world of drones will be meeting two weeks from now in Santa Cruz. They’re coming for the Drones Data X Conference.
I met the event’s founders, Philip McNamara and Doug Erickson, outside a coffee shop in downtown Santa Cruz. McNamara is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded four companies. He recently moved here from Ireland by way of Berkeley.
Back in March of 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami, and then a Tsunami Warning for much of the California coast.
At the time the basic tsunami evacuation plan said a Warning should trigger the worst case scenario evacuation. This left county emergency managers with two options: order an evacuation of everyone in the tsunami flood zone or do nothing.
Why even consider doing nothing? Because the 2011 warning came at a time of low tide.
A fledgling computer science program that’s putting students from the Salinas Valley on a path to Silicon Valley careers has been honored by the state for its innovation.
Today California’s Committee on Awards for Innovation in Higher Education awarded Hartnell College and Cal State Monterey Bay $5-million for its CSIT-in-3 Program (computer science and information technology). CSUMB is KAZU’s parent institution.