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Articles from The Sierra Wave for November/December, 1997

Volume 16, Number 2

A Sierra Wave ran the length of Inyo Co. on Sept. 17, 1997 (GOES 9 satellite photo at 11 am).

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Chapter Notes


The following dedicated Audubon members are currently participating in the weekend patrol of Fish Slough: Clem Nelson, Dick Schneider, Chris Rumm, Earl Gann, Martha Kramer, Dorothy Burnstrom, Paul Burdeno, and John Finkbeiner. Our appreciation is due them for their efforts in helping to protect this valuable resource which is designated as "An Area of Critical Environmental Concern". National recognition of our chapter has been achieved because of this volunteer program. If any other members are interested in joining this patrol please conctact me.

Gordon Nelson (873-7489)


by Chris Rumm

Greetings to all fellow Eastern Sierra Audubon members-by the time our next newsletter is in print, we will have survived Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. ( Im still wondering happened to summer!) As winter approaches we will be moving forward with many items concerning the ESAS. For starters, we will hold a fund-raiser raffle at our Christmas potluck, December 10th. We have some incredible prizes - dinner for two at Whiskey Creek, a free night for two (three, four?) at the Creekside Inn, a morning of birding with the Heindels as your guide, a gourmet dinner for two prepared by Chef Rumm, a fleece jacket donated by Wilsons Sports, and many others! So dig deep into your wallets and handbags and help support this event!

I recently talked to Mark Bleur from the NAS office in Washington DC. He mentioned that October 18th marks the start of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The National Audubon Society is asking all chapters to help celebrate this anniversary for the next year by highlighting any conservation projects that involve wetlands. He offered many suggestions of ways to highlight our groups activities. How can the ESAS help observe this event? We have excellent opportunities at our disposal to show our continuing support for this legislation-well have Earth Day next spring-this will be a tremendous chance to showcase our Chapters cleanup of the Owens River. We will be involved with the LORP-this could be an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to wetlands restoration. And of course our work at Fish Slough already demonstrates our groups abilities. I briefly described to Mr. Bleur our Chapters activities, and he seemed very pleased at what we are doing for the community.

We are always looking for volunteers for these and other projects. Some future needs might be: assisting with our classroom education visits, providing refreshments for our meetings, serving on various committees such as fund-raising or conservation, leading field trips, and serving as a board member or chairperson. These are all ways to be more involved at the ground level. The rewards of donating time for the group include a sense of responsibility for the chapters growth and a personal satisfaction of doing good for the sake of conservation! Lets face it-thats what its all about-a sense of community derived from serving to promote stewardship and wildlife protection. If its good for the birds, its good for the Audubon! If you would like to volunteer, please discuss your area of interest with any board member or chairperson. See everyone at our next meeting!

Christmas Potluck and Raffle

The potluck on December 10 will start at 6 PM in the dining hall of the White Mtn. Research Station. Bring a dish to share and a plate and tableware. After dinner we will have an exciting raffle, prior to the Heindel's presentation.

Many items have already been donated or pledged - see Chris' message above. If you have anything to donate, please call Dorothy Burnstrom (873-3091), Chris Rumm(873-8763), or Kathy Duvall (387-2626). The raffle items will be on display at Wilson's Eastside Sports, probably around Thanksgiving.

Enclosed in this issue of the Wave is a sheet of 18 raffle tickets, which are priced at $1 per ticket, $5 for 6. Please buy or sell as many of the tickets as you can, and send the proceeds and filled-out tickets to Treasurer Sandra Whitehouse at 245 Arcturus Cr., Bishop, 93514, or bring them to the meeting. If you need more tickets, call Chris Rumm.

In Memoriam

Two cherished members of the Eastern Sierra AS passed away in the past month. Murray Sneddon, a charming and delightful person to talk with, hadn't been at meetings lately due to illness. He frequently contributed bird sightings at our meetings, and presented a memorable Bird of the Month on bird anatomy, illustrated with his own drawings. Once, when presiding at a meeting, my glasses broke and I asked Ruth if I could borrow hers. Murray, with a big smile, quipped "Now you can see things from your wife's perspective", which brought down the house. Our hearts go out to Fee and the children.

Peggy Gray, gracious and gifted, was a long-time member and supporter of our chapter. She was always generous with her original art work at raffles and other fundraising efforts. She participated in Bird of the Month presentations, and often made refreshments. According to the marvelous account in the paper, she was out hiking in her beloved Sierras as recently as three weeks before her death, and she had been scheduled to lead an ESAS field trip in October. Our deep-felt sympathies to husband Ray and their children.

May the spirits of these two fine persons linger with us for many years to come.

Larry B.

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by Michael Prather

Being the largest rodent in North America, beaver have more impacts on riparian environments than their smaller cousins. They are not native to the Owens Valley having been introduced from Idaho in the 1940s. Beaver girdle and kill trees in the thin populations of cottonwood and willow along the lower Owens River as they seek food and materials with which to build their dams. In addition, the water backed up behind the many dams built by the beaver cover the roots of willows and drowns them within one to two seasons. The winds that follow blow down these trees in another two to three years. This results in a slow conversion of stretches of the river into solid cattails and tules. Limited amounts of this type of conversion might possibly benefit the riparian habitat by creating a mosaic of plant species. However, a large scale change of habitat could lead to the loss of much of the sparse tree corridor and the disappearance of certain bird species in those reaches of the river. Of great concern is the loss of trees that provide roosting for Great Blue Heron for nesting rookeries. Two of the sites are in the Lone Pine area and others may exist elsewhere along the river. If these trees that are used for nesting currently have their roots covered with water, then they will drown and will blow down in two to three years. What impacts will this have on the nesting success of Great Blue Heron in the valley? Will they easily find replacement trees or will they be stressed to find new suitable sites? We know for sure that the herons have been using one of these sites for decades.

With more attention now being focused on the Lower Owens River with the court acceptance of the Long Term Groundwater Agreement between Inyo County and Los Angeles, this is an issue that appears to need immediate attention. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power actively controls beaver in the northern portions of the valley, but there apparently is no current control in the southern valley. One of the technical reports written as part of the consultant study on the Lower Owens River Project (LORP) specifically deals with beaver. The technical report fails to mention Great Blue Heron rookeries, but it clearly defines the need to limit the numbers of beaver on the river and recommends numbers of one or two individuals in the areas of the Great Blue Heron rookeries, namely the areas south of the Alabama Gates spillway to Lone Pine Ponds from Lone Pine Ponds to the Keeler Bridge. The problem that presents itself is that if Inyo and Los Angeles wait to control the beaver in the Lone Pine area and elsewhere, that means waiting until the year 2003 or 2004 when the project (the Lower Owens River Project) is slated to be finished. It is important that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Department of Fish and Game address this critical issue sooner and not later. Audubon members are urged to contact the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, the California Department of Fish and Game in Bishop and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in Bishop to urge them to begin controlling beaver numbers along the lower Owens River in the Lone Pine area (and elsewhere in the southern valley?). The threat to the Great Blue Herons due to girdling or drowning of nesting trees is real and will worsen.

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Editor's note: With this issue we mark the completion of 5 years worth of these authoritative and entertaining birding articles by the Heindels. The first appeared in the Jan/Feb, 1993 issue. Thanks Tom and Jo! And, by the way, all of the articles are archived on the ESAS web site.

by Tom and Jo Heindel

Christmas Bird Counts

In the 1800s tradition was that the day after Christmas the men in the family went a-hunting to see how successful they could be. By the end of the century an awareness of the slaughter led Dr. Frank M. Chapman and the National Audubon Society to start the Christmas Bird Counts where the competition was as furious as with the hunters but the object was to count coup, that is, to see as many birds as possible in one day and let them live to fly away. Shortly guidelines were designed so that all teams were playing by the same rules. The count was for a 24 hour period, midnight to midnight and the area to be covered was within a circle with a 15 mile diameter. The count is now sponsored by both National Audubon Society and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Each count has a compiler that organizes his team of volunteers to get the most coverage, and therefore, the most accurate count of wintering birds in the area. Competition between counts is fun and friendly with the warmer states, CA, TX, & FL vying with one and another for top honors. Sometimes the Alaska count receives accolades for the tenacity and determination of the birders when they spend all day in sub-zero weather for a couple of Ravens! The data are published in Audubon Field Notes (formerly American Birds) with the numbers and names of the birds and birders along with the modes of transportation which is exhaustive. In the unending quest to find every possible bird the means used have included snowshoes and sleigh, horseback and canoe, marsh buggy and helicopter and even an electric golf cart! In the ninety-sixth Christmas Bird Count conducted in December 1995-January 1996, there were 45,329 field observers and 7220 feeder watchers who tallied 58,287,941 individual birds on 1665 counts. The 58 million birds was far down because the tremendous roost of blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, and starlings (sometimes nearly 100 million) happened to be outside all of the count circles. Inyo County has three Christmas Counts: Death Valley and Lone Pine (Mike Prather, compiler) and Bishop (Earl Gann, compiler). Make this year the first of your annual winter outing events and call the compilers to offer your services. (See p. 3 for dates and phone numbers.) They, and the wintering birds of Inyo County, could use your help.

Fall Rarities

This has been a rare fall...with rare and never before recorded birds being found in Inyo County. Excitement began with Jon Dunn finding a Purple Gallinule 23 Sep at Furnace Creek Ranch. This is a fancy chicken look alike found along the Gulf Coast and up the Atlantic coast through the Carolinas and in western Mexico from whence this bird probably came. This was the first ever record for the county and probably the third for the state. Next was a Ruff, a medium large sandpiper with a head, neck and bill designed for a far smaller bird, found near Keeler 30 Sep by Tom Heindel. This also was the first ever record for the county even though they are seen on the CA coast regularly. The birders going to see the Purple One tripped over a Smiths Longspur on 5 Oct. This is also the first record for Inyo County and the fifth for the state. Birders going to see the Purple One and the Smiths Longspur tripped over a Spragues Pipit on 10 Oct. This bird was identified by Todd Easterla and seen by half a dozen birders the same day. This was the second record for the county and about the 23rd for the state. An immature Painted Bunting was found at Furnace Creek 24 Sep by Michael Patten. This secretive, small green and gray sparrow hides in the grass near the gallinule and was still there on 10 Oct. This rare bird, when found, is usually seen in the fall. Obviously this is the season to go tripping around Furnace Creek Ranch because youll never know what or who you will meet. The new owners have been very accommodating to birders, but it is important that all who visit remember that this is private property and it is a privilege to bird there. Stay off the seeded greens and fairway edges and disappear whenever golfers approach. They paid for the right-of-way!

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