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Fieldwork

Birders Urged to Help Track the California Gull



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Attention researchers and seasoned birders: the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) need your help this year in tracking the California gull (Larus californicus; referred to as "CAGU") as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

This gull species, which is native to California, has left an interesting history in its wake. Normally breeding in inland areas like Mono Lake, CAGUs suddenly began appearing in the San Francisco Bay area in dramatic numbers over recent decades, increasing from less than 200 before 1982 to more than 45,000 counted in 2008.

Location of Tract A6 at south end of San Francisco Bay.
Above: Location of Tract A6 at south end of San Francisco Bay. Background image is part of a photograph acquired April 21, 2002, by astronauts aboard the International Space Station; image courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory. [larger version]

According to USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientist Josh Ackerman, these gulls may have been attracted to the region because of its nearby landfills. In addition to seeking out food scraps, however, CAGUs have been voracious predators of other nesting waterbirds in the area, raiding the eggs and chicks of American avocets and black-necked stilts (see http://www.werc.usgs.gov/Project.aspx?ProjectID=184).

Some 20,000 CAGUs have been nesting each year in Tract A6 of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project—a massive multiagency effort that’s restoring acres of formerly private land back to natural wetlands (see map). In December 2010, levees were breached to restore Tract A6 as a tidal marsh—no longer a static, drying field, but instead a dynamic marsh with the daily ebb and flow of the bay tides. (Visit http://www.werc.usgs.gov/outreach.aspx?RecordID=24 to see photographs of the breaching process.)

California gulls nesting in Tract A6 Many California gulls from Tract A6 have bands on their left legs
Above left: California gulls nesting in Tract A6 on May 13, 2009. Photograph copyright Michael Kern and the Gardens of Eden; used with permission. [larger version]

Above right:
Many California gulls from Tract A6 have bands on their left legs. Photograph copyright Lana Ellis; used with permission. [larger version]

Views of Tract A6 before (A) and during (B) breaching of pond levee to allow bay waters to flow into the area.
Above: Views of Tract A6 before (A) and during (B) breaching of pond levee to allow bay waters to flow into the area. Arrows point to features common to each view: marsh islands constructed by the restoration project to serve as high ground during high tides (red arrows in background), and rock on levee that was breached to allow tidal water to ebb and flow into the pond (white arrows in foreground). Photographs by Ben Young Landis. For additional photographs and information, visit http://www.werc.usgs.gov/outreach.aspx?RecordID=24. [larger version]

So where will 20,000 voracious gulls go this year to establish new colonies? Researchers need your help to find out.

Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen of SFBBO is collecting the sighting data, which will contribute to research by Ackerman and managers at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Here's how to participate:

  • Detailed instructions and contact information are in PDF flyers that can be downloaded from http://www.werc.usgs.gov/outreach.aspx?RecordID=54.
  • Since 2008, SFBBO and USGS have banded more than 1,000 CAGUs from Tract A6 with 3-digit alphanumeric bands on the left leg (see photo). Reporting the band number will greatly help the effort.
  • Observers are encouraged to expand beyond the San Francisco Bay area to coastal and Central Valley sites, particularly noting where CAGUs have not nested before.

It's collaborative science at its best, and your observations can help researchers understand the distribution and movement of a key species—as well as the effects and implications of an ecosystem-restoration project.

 

Related Sound Waves Stories
South Bay Science Symposium: Research on the Restoration of Salt Ponds in South San Francisco Bay
March 2011

Related Web Sites
California Gull Population Growth and Predation on Breeding Waterbirds
USGS
Birders: Help Track the California Gull
USGS
Photos From the Field: S.F. Bay Pond Breach
USGS
Josh Ackerman, USGS Research Wildlife Biologist
USGS
South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
multiagency restoration project

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Fieldwork
cover story:
Tidal Marshes of San Francisco Bay

Help Track the California Gull

Research Podcasts Highlight Coral Reef Health

Palmyra Atoll: Island in Recovery

Outreach National Ocean Sciences Bowl

Publications Impacts of Armoring Sheltered Shorelines

April / May 2011 Publications


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