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Archive for May, 2006

Nothing in nature is ever simple

The letter and my answer below will appear in my Times’ column for June 1. This is for those who read my blog but not my column. I think they may be interested in this little exchange. /Gary

Dear Gary:
I read staff writer Denis Cuff’s article in the Tuesday Times (May 30) about using sheep to keep the grasses at the Altamont wind turbines trimmed. The idea being that if there is no ground cover for the ground squirrels then they will have to find another area to frolic. Which in turn will remove the food supply that attracts the raptors.

If this test works I believe we’ll have a win/win situation. We’ll retain the turbines, feed the sheep and save raptors from getting caught (and killed) in the turbine blades.
Greg Poynter, Richmond, CA

Dear Greg:
Unfortunately, nothing in nature is ever quite that simple.

Many thousands of birds have died at Altamont since those wind turbines were installed 20 or so years ago. Instead of investing the funds to simply redesign the turbines so they won’t kill the hawks, eagles, owls, falcons and vultures, or anything else, they have continually tried to first ignore the situation, and then to focus on low-cost, ineffective solutions when pressed to deal with it.

Now they want to disrupt the local ecosystem by using sheep to overgraze the area to try and make the ground squirrels leave, so the raptors will supposedly go seek their prey elsewhere and not be killed. I’m not so sure this will be that effective. There will still be plenty of other rodents (gophers, field mice, voles, rabbits, and other creatures) for the birds of prey to eat.

Other creatures will also be affected if the ground squirrels are driven away. Burrowing owls use ground squirrel holes to build their nests, and tiger salamanders also like to live in those holes. Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes feed on ground squirrels. And who knows what the effects from overgrazing will be on other species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, spiders and insects?

And what about the huge numbers of bats that are being killed by wind turbine blades in other parts of the country? I’m sure bats are also dying at Altamont, and bats don’t care about ground squirrels. In fact, all that sheep poop may even attract more insects and therefore more bats to eat them and be killed by the turbines.

As I said, nothing in nature is ever simple.

Posted on Wednesday, May 31st, 2006
Under: Golden eagles, Raptors, Wildlife, Wind Turbines | 2 Comments »

Vacation in Germany

Germany is an interesting place, especially if you’ve never been there before. A fascinating combination of the very old and the ultra-new. Centuries old summer palaces, winter palaces, fancy new modern Renaissance Hotels and construction cranes everywhere. We were mostly in East Berlin and they are building real hard to try and catch up with the rest of Germany.

What’s the first thing that caught my eye when I got there? The birds. Green parks and green trees everywhere, and all full of birds. Of course, since I’d never been there before, the bird shapes and sizes and colors were new to my eyes and their marvelous sweet songs unfamiliar to my ears. That means I spent a lot of time gawking at the treetops and flapping my hands in frustration because I forgot to bring a book on German birds to help me figure out what I was seeing.

One bird species I was instantly able to identify was the European House Sparrow. This was where they really belonged and they were everywhere.

One thing I had trouble getting used to was dogs in restaurants. You can take your dogs out to dinner with you when you go to a restaurant in Germany. Little dogs, middle-sized dogs, and I even saw a greyhound lying on the floor under one table, covering the tops of four sets of indifferent feet.

Try sipping your hot soup when a poodle and a Dachshund at the next table are yapping their heads off and trying to bite each other’s tails off. Makes for interesting dining.

Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2006
Under: dogs, Germany, Greyhounds, wild birds | 1 Comment »

Gary’s on vacation until May 22

Dear Readers:

I’m off on vacation for the next two weeks. I’ll be checking out the open spaces, parks and wildlife in Germany with my wife, Lois. I’ll have LOTS to say here when I get back. See you on May 22! /Gary

Posted on Friday, May 5th, 2006
Under: Open space, Parks, Wildlife | No Comments »

Spring and totem poles

Dear Gary:
Since early last fall, I’ve had a pair of white-tailed kites hanging around in the tops of our redwood trees. I’ve watched them fly and hover, but the other day they did something I’ve never seen before.
Three of them landed one on top of the other. A three-kite totem pole. (Betty Stark, Antioch, CA)

Posted on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006
Under: Spring, wild birds | No Comments »