Today is the day of the Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count. Birders will be hoping that the predicted rain holds off long enough for birds to be seen and tallied, but whatever the weather, you can be sure birders will be out searching. Look for the results in next week’s column.
There is a companion count that has been getting quite popular since its inception a few years ago: the Winter Bird Count 4 Kids. This year, the Santa Barbara Audubon event will be held 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 26 at Lake Los Carneros. The lake is one of the best places for a beginning birder to cut his or her teeth because of the variety of habitats and abundance of birds. The count is open to any youth between the ages of 8 and 16. The kids need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. Experienced naturalists will guide the children and teach them the basics of binocular use and bird identification. Binoculars will be loaned to those without any, snacks will be provided by Trader Joe’s, and free T-shirts will be given to the first 75 participants. More details can be found here:https://santabarbaraaudubon.org/events/.
What a great way to introduce the wonders of nature to the next generation, and perhaps kindle a life-long passion.
Continuing with the upbeat, a rather remarkable transformation is taking place in west Goleta. We are so used to hearing stories of habitat loss and degradation that it seems almost a minor miracle when destruction is reversed and wildlife is given priority. Such is the case, however, at the former Ocean Meadows golf course, situated at the north end of Devereux Slough.
A few years ago, the golf course was purchased with the view to restore the slough to something like its former self. UCSB and various other agencies have been hard at work on the project, removing acres of soil, planting native vegetation, and creating new wetlands. The fruits of their labors are becoming apparent, and the great news is that the reserve, known as North Campus Open Space, was recently opened to the public.
Last week, I paid my first visit to the reserve and was mightily impressed. Parking and access to the reserve is along Whittier Drive, and there are wide gravel trails to follow that give excellent views over the wetlands. There is still a lot work to be done and irrigation pipes are much in evidence, but it is easy to imagine what an important habitat this will become, and indeed, already is.
Wildlife is flocking to the reserve. As we began our walk, several skeins of Canada geese flew in and settled on the slough. Among them were both snow and Ross’s geese, smaller white geese that are quite scarce in our area. I was surprised to see a pair of hooded mergansers, another uncommon visitor. Other wildfowl included redheads, northern shovelers, American wigeon and ring-necked ducks. A white pelican drifted among the ducks, and tiny eared grebes dived frequently. Shorebirds are already finding much to eat along the muddy margins, and we saw least sandpipers, killdeer and black-necked stilts.
Exciting news is that two burrowing owls have taken up residence on the reserve, and we watched one, albeit distantly, as it sat outside the entrance to a burrow. These birds have been virtually extirpated as a breeding species in our county through habitat destruction, so it would be excellent indeed if they could be enticed to stay and nest.
I look forward to many more visits to the reserve.