Connecting People With Nature
"To crow is one thing, but to produce is another." - Anon.
Connecting People With Nature is a collaboration of individuals with a variety of skills and knowledge which makes getting things done very easy.
The program has been going on since the early 1990s, with our main projects at present being the construction and monitoring of Wood Duck and Barn Owl nest boxes in the MDAS area. Even though it has been said that most birders are not too interested in bird housing, but only enjoy bird watching, some of our members recognize that our rapidly urbanizing region has removed many natural nesting sites.
In addition, invasive exotic species such as European starlings can take over any remaining natural nesting cavities, and it was this displacement of Western bluebirds that prompted the California Bluebird Recovery Project, supported by our program. We helped collect boards, cut them up, made dedicated bluebird nest boxes and started bluebird monitoring trails to begin the recovery of our bluebird populations.
To join in one of the current projects listed below, please contact Brian Murphy, the MDAS Volunteer Coordinator, at (925) 937-8835 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for detailed information on how to participate in upcoming activities.
Just for Ducks
Wood Duck Update 11-24-16: Our season hatch of 24 ducklings out of 2 nestboxes brought the California Wood Duck Program total to over 30,000, according to Caroline Brady, State Director. "They all count!"
"Wood Ducks deserve a second chance. The fact that I'm impacting the environment in such a huge way, it's humbling." With this insightful attitude, Eagle Scout Candidate John King from Troop 405 is working with MDAS Volunteer Coordinator Brian Murphy to install and maintain 12 nest boxes along Grayson Creek in Pleasant Hill. He has enlisted the support of his neighbors using leaflets and emailed monitoring schedules, and gotten their permission to place the boxes on private property adjacent to the waterway. To help John with his project costs, visit his page on the GoFundMe secure online donations service.
Our partnership with the California Waterfowl Association's California Wood Duck Program has been going on for over a dozen years in Downtown Walnut Creek.
In May 2016 we had 2 hens incubating 14 eggs, with one box at Civic Park on Walnut Creek and the other box on San Ramon Creek at Creekside & Main Street. Other hens are showing up, and it is important now to monitor additional boxes on Tice Creek.
Wood Duck nest boxes have to be checked every day to determine the success of the hatch, as ducklings are in the box less than 24 hours. They leave to join their mother in the creek below to start feeding, but the hen will not call them out of the box if she thinks there is danger.
Interestingly, we have discovered that a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper inside a box keeps fox squirrels out, leaving them available "just for ducks".
Important link: Just For Ducks (the flyer!)
Not only have dead trees and other sources of natural nest cavities been removed by rapid development, but the many agricultural barns which used to support a healthy Barn Owl population have been disappearing from our area as the farms and ranches have been replaced by subdivisions and shopping malls.
The numerous owls which used to help control rodents such as gophers, rats and mice have few places to nest, and their numbers have been falling.
Mount Diablo Audubon Society has had Eagle Scout candidates building and installing Barn Owl nest boxes for natural rodent control in parks and open space to deal with gopher problems, but dangers from rat poisons placed nearby have curtailed the installations by scouts. However, scouts have made educational displays of skulls found in pellets inside barn owl boxes for places like Lindsay Wildlife Experience to show their visitors what these owls eat.
It is crucial that the Barn Owl boxes are built following appropriate designs, as there are lots of unfortunate stories of what is found when they are not constructed correctly.
Important link: Build A Barn Owl Box (and much more!) 10MB file
Barn Owls are only one of many important species threatened by the use of anticoagulant rat poisons (an MDAS Conservation Concern), which can kill predators that eat rodents carrying these compounds.
Bats on Our Bridges!
Just when it seems that West Nile Virus has come to our county to stay, along comes a friendly, flying mammal that loves to eat mosquitos and an Eagle Scout candidate who wants to build bat boxes to encourage their work. Just the kind of collaboration our Chapter encourages.
And it isn't just humans that West Nile threatens! Brian Murphy, our Volunteer Coordinator, found a dead Golden Eagle at Walker Canyon (see our Conservation Page for more details) which had been killed by the virus.
Bridges are the safest place to install bat housing as sick or dying bats fall harmlessly into the creek away from people and creeks are natural flyways for bats to feed on insects. Houses that can hold up to 2000 bats can be readily slipped on to lower bridge railings using brackets provided by local welder Jim Howe, and there is no need for them to be moved for structure maintenance.
The new set of boxes are planned for two bridges along San Ramon Creek in Danville, and "will help bats whose available living options are limited as our community continues to expand," says Michael Harris, a Boy Scout from Troop 815, who will build them under the sponsorship of MDAS and Connecting People With Nature
All images courtesy Brian Murphy