Sunday, December 30, 2012

If You Clean It, They Will Come

I recently read in the Simi Valley Acorn that the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District (“RSRPD”) has been awarded a $900,000 grant from Prop 84 funds for use in its on-going, multi-year project to “beautify” the Arroyo Simi so that it becomes “a place locals might actually want to hang out.”  In addition to the Prop 84 grant, both RSRPD and the City of Simi Valley have committed to chip in additional funding to complete Phase 2 of the beautification effort: the former will contribute $167,000 while the latter will contribute $150,000. These combined funds will be used to beautify the Arroyo Simi by paving two additional stretches along the south side of the watercourse: from Erringer Road to First Street and from Madera Road to Stargaze Place. Additional amenities in the form of “easy to access” trail entries at Madera Road and Stargaze Place, along with new signalized crossings will also be constructed.
I’m not really certain how more concrete along the channel, particularly its south side, will serve to make the arroyo more beautiful. I also question why cementing additional segments adjacent to the channel is viewed as a priority when the path is already paved and/or asphalted along the north side of the channel from Madera Road to Sequoia Avenue.  

If you’ve spent any time down by the arroyo, you’ve recognized that one of the biggest problems from an aesthetic standpoint is not an absence of cement, or even the vagrants that sometimes congregate there, but the accumulation of trash and other detritus that flows into the arroyo from a variety of sources. From soccer balls to broken bottles to old tires to shopping carts, this garbage is fouling the watercourse, negatively impacting wildlife habitat, and reinforcing the widely-held perception that the arroyo is simply an ugly place to be avoided.

So, if the RSRPD and the City of Simi Valley really want to beautify the Arroyo Simi, and give more than mere lip service to the “arroyo’s environmental importance to local wildlife,” it would seem that perhaps they should start with the lowest hanging fruit and spend some of that Prop 84 grant money actually cleaning up the existing mess.  That, more than anything else, will go a long way toward making the arroyo an attractive place that folks “might actually want to hang out.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Field Notes

Since it has been some time since I have posted anything new, I thought I’d update the site with a few observations from the field. Now that winter has returned and the arroyo has re-awakened from its summer hibernation, I hope to update the site more frequently. With that in mind:
·         Since I started this project in mid-2011, I have identified 79 different bird species in or immediately adjacent to the Arroyo Simi. As surprising as that is (at least to me), I know there is more here.  I have caught glimpses of it on occasion, but have been unable to identify it. I have also read reports by others that tell me that there is still more here to see. So, I guess I’ll continue with what my daughter call my “nerd field trips” to see what else I can find.
·         I recently read about the passing of Rich Stallcup, who I understand had some stature in the bird watching community. From what I’ve read, Stallcup was able to amass quite an impressive list of rarities by looking at every single bird no matter how ordinary or common. After considering this strategy, I employed it on one of my recent forays and was able to locate (i.e., see) a solitary female Wood Duck preening among a bunch of American Wigeon. I would have completely missed it if I hadn’t taken the time to look again at the American Wigeons that I’ve seen a million times in the arroyo. So, although I never knew (or even knew of) Rich Stallcup, I have learned from him. I suspect that, in and of itself, is a testament to the man and his knowledge.
·         On Christmas Day, I went back to the arroyo with my camera looking for the Wood Duck and hoping that she would be there with a date from her species. No luck. But, I did come across something pretty exciting. I flushed a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk from the shrubs along the footpath that had just taken an American Crow. Upon my approach, the hawk took flight with the crow clutched tightly in its talons and alighted in a tree on the other side. Not something you see everyday, and the impressive thing about it was that the prey was almost as big as the predator. I was able to sit and watch through binoculars for about 10 minutes until the hawk eventually dropped below a wood fence with its meal and disappeared.
And now, a sampling of some of the recent visitors to the arroyo. All of these pictures were taken along the bike path on the north side of the arroyo between  Madera Road and First Street:

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Female Common Merganser

Female Common Merganser

Blue-Winged Teal

Great Blue Heron

Snowy Egrets

Agitated Snowy Egrets

White-Faced Ibis

Egrets and Ibis (Ibises? Ibisii?)

Great Egret

Monday, April 2, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

Common Name: Greater White-Fronted Goose
Scientific Name: Anser albifrons
Date: April 1, 2012
Time: ~
Location: Ranch Simi Community Park Duck Pond
Season: Early Spring
Conditions: Clear, calm and cool; low 50s
Sex: Undetermined
Habitat: During breeding season, the tundra and the taiga wetlands; winters in marshes, lakes, ponds, bays, and estuaries.
Status and Distribution: Populations are increasing, although still uncommon in Ventura County. In winter, found in coastal Texas and Louisiana; Pacific populations winter in southern Oregon, Northern California and in the San Joaquin Valley.  
Notes: The Greater White-Fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

Common Name: Common Merganser
Scientific Name: Mergus merganser
Date: March 11, 2012
Time: ~
Location: Arroyo Simi (west of First Street)
Season: Late Winter
Conditions: Clear, calm and cool; low 50s
Sex: Male and Female
Habitat: Lakes, rivers, coastal bays, and estuaries.
Status and Distribution: Considered common in North America, although a vagrant in the east. Winters as far north as there is open water. Summer range includes the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and Canada to Alaska.  
Notes: The Common Mergansers is reported to be a good indicator species for determining the contamination levels.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

Common Name: Wilson’s Snipe
Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Date: February 25, 2012
Time: ~
Location: Arroyo Simi (west of Madera Road)
Season: Late Winter
Conditions: Mild, clear, and cool; high 50s
Sex: Undetermined
Habitat: Wet, grassy areas such as marshes, damp fields, the muddy edges of creeks, and other wetlands.
Status and Distribution: Common, but overlooked. Winters in southern North America to northern South America; in summer, common through the northern plains states, Canada, and Alaska.
Notes: very elusive and difficult to detect due to field markings which allow them to blend into the background.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blue-Winged Teal (Anas discors)

Common Name: Blue-Winged Teal
Scientific Name: Anas discors
Date: March 3, 2012
Time: ~
Location: Arroyo Simi (between Madera Road and First Street)
Season: Late Winter
Conditions: Mild, clear, and breezy; low 60s
Sex: Both males and females observed
Habitat: Fresh and brackish vegetated wetlands (marshes, ponds, prairie potholes)
Status and Distribution: Common south to northern half of South America. Late spring and early fall migrant. Winters in South America, but some remain in southern states primarily in coastal regions. Population is stable or increasing.
Notes: At least four (4) Blue-Winged Teal were observed (2 male/female pairs), although it is probable that there were six (6) of the species in the arroyo this morning and possibly eight (8). Counting was difficult as the bird kept moving upon my approach.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

On Sunday, February 19, 2012, I ran into a fellow birder walking along the service road just west of Madera Road. I had stopped to document a Cinnamon Teal I had just seen when we struck up a conversation. The guy had started off from the Simi Valley Community Park near Royal and Erringer and asked me if I had seen the Eurasian Wigeon that was frequenting the duck pond there. When he told me that he had seen it there an hour or two earlier, I jumped in the car and head to the park.

Sure enough, at the duck pond, there amongst the chaos of ducks, geese and coots that call the duck pond home was a solitary, male Eurasian Wigeon. Like its new world counterpart, the Eurasian Wigeon is a dabbling duck. According to the Kaufman Field Guide to North American Birds, the Eurasian Wigeon is a native to Europe and Asia. It is a rare, winter visitor to North America that is most often seen with flocks of American Wigeons. Male Eurasian Wigeons are identified by their rusty heads, buff crown stripe, and gray body. Females are very similar to female American Wigeons although they may have a slightly browner head.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

On January 22, 2012 I caught a glimpse of this Great Blue Heron in the arroyo from the service road just west of Erringer Road. (S)he was very skittish upon each of my approaches which made getting a decent photograph difficult. The Great Blue Heron is our most widely distributed and largest heron. It can be found in both wetland and upland habitats where it feeds on crustaceans, vertebrates, and small mammals. The Great Blue Heron is often a solitary bird except when it gathers in breeding colonies called "heronries" to build stick nests high in trees. The species has a pure white morph (the  Great White Heron) which can be mistaken for a Great Egret and is sometimes considered a distinct species.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Ok, this is probably cheating a bit as I saw these guys at the duck pond at the Rancho Simi Community Park, but the park is immediately adjacent to, and contiguous with the arroyo so I think it's reasonable to view the two as essentially one and the same habitat. Moreover, I have seen Black-Crowned Night Herons in the arroyo, but have simply not been quick enough to get footage, so the images below will serve as surrogates for the ones that got away.

Anyhoo, depicted below are both adult and juvenile Black-Crowned Night Herons. The juvenile is perched on the rock while the adults are in the trees. The Black-Crowned Night Heron is the most wide-spread Heron in the world ranging over five continents. It inhabits salt, brackish and freshwater marshes, streams and lakes where it fees on aquatic invertebrates, fish, insects, amphibians and small reptiles. It nests colonially in trees and cattails. Because the Black-Crowned Night Heron's is so widely distributed, it is a good indicator species of an ecosystem's overall health.

Monday, January 16, 2012

White-Faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)

On the afternoon of Saturday, January 14, 2012, I ventured out along the arroyo between Rancho Simi Community Park and First Street. During the two or so hours that I was out, I spotted 6 White-Faced Ibises- 1 perched in the trees at the duck pond and 5 in the arroyo itself. I have also seen White-Faced Ibises on several occasions in the arroyo just west of Madera Road. The White-Faced Ibis is identified by its long legs and decurved bill, and its chesnut body with green, purple and pink gloss on the wings. It looks very similar to the Glossy Ibis and thus is distinguished from it primarily by range. Ibises are tactile feeder who use their long bills to forage for fish and aquatic invertebrates in shallow and fresh water. They will also forage visually in uplands and feed on terrestrial invertebrates.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

So this was a pretty cool sighting for me. This is a male Belted Kingfisher that I spotted along the Arroyo Simi from the service road just east of First Street. Apologies for the shaky footage, but this guy was quite distant from me and he kept flitting from place to place so getting good footage was difficult. Belted Kingfishers are the most abundant and widespread kingfisher in North America although this is the first one I have ever seen. Belted Kingfishers perch upon tree branches, walls and fences while they scour clear, still waters for fish. The species nests in holes along rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries,and arroyos. Kingfishers are one of the few species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. If the kingfisher in the video below was a female, it would also have a rufous band across its across its chest and down its flanks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

American Wigeon (Anas americana)

American Wigeons are dabbling ducks that are commonly found on western ponds and at golf courses and parks. They are a familiar sight at the Arroyo Simi. They are identified by the white crown stripe and green ear patch found on males as well as the black-tipped, bluish-gray bill found on both sexes. The video footage below captures both the male and female of the species on January 7, 2012 in the arroyo just west of Madera Road. The stills are from the duck pond at Rancho Simi Community Park on January 22, 2012.

Apologies for the pixilation on the video.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Black-Necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

I have seen Black-Necked Stilts on every trip I have made to the Arroyo Simi. These guys were filmed on January 7, 2012 from the service road just west of Madera Road. Stilts are members of the same family as avocets--Recurvirostridae. They generally wade in the shallows picking at the surface and using their long beaks to probe for invertebrates in the mud below. Stilts are social birds and will make a quite a ruckus when an intruder apporaches a nesting site.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

The Snowy Egret is a member of the family Ardeidae which includes herons and egrets. It is identified by its stately white plumage, its black beak, and its bright yellow feet ("golden slippers"). It is considerably smaller than the Great Egret and is dispersed throughout the coastal United States in freshwater and saline habitats where it feeds on a variety of fish and aquatic invertebrates. The stills were taken on January 22, 2012 at the Rancho Simi Community Park duck pond which is immediately adjacent to the arroyo. The video was taken on January 8, 2012 just west of where the arroyo passes under Madera Road.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

This is a male Hooded Merganser that I saw in the Arroyo Simi on January 7, 2012 just west of Madera Road. I saw two separate Mergansers on this day. I also observed a Hooded Merganser on a previous visit in the same area, so I suspect one or more of them may be wintering in the arroyo. Hooded Merganser are considered diving ducks that favor small lakes, ponds, and coastal marshes. According to my guide, their appearance here is considered "uncommon."

This is the second male that I observed on this same visit.