Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for February, 2008

Will San Quentin Prison’s sewage spill kill more S.F. Bay birds?

Last Thursday (Feb. 14) there was a 1,500-gallon spill of raw sewage from San Quentin Prison into San Francisco Bay.

Sound familiar?

Over 5 million gallons of raw, partially treated sewage were accidentally released into the Bay by the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin on Jan. 25 and Jan. 31. Dead birds were spotted in the water on Jan. 26, the day after the first spill. There was reportedly another spike in the number of dead birds found on Feb. 1, the day after the second spill.

Although there is some debate about how these birds were killed, it’s hard to believe the sewage spills weren’t related in some way.

50,000-plus gallons of toxic fuel oil from the ship that hit the Bay Bridge, 5 million-plus gallons of sewage from the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin …  and now another 1,500 gallons of raw sewage from San Quentin have been dumped into San Francisco Bay since Nov. 7.

Does that mean more Western grebes, greater scaups, surf scoters, buffleheads and other aquatic bird species will be found dying in Bay waters near San Quentin?

We’ll have to wait and see.

And these are just the spills we know about. They really need to get a better handle on this stuff. /Gary

Posted on Monday, February 18th, 2008
Under: Dead birds, Oil Spills, Sewage spills | 2 Comments »

Forbidden Flora: Plants that are toxic to your pets

Is it true what they say about yew? Are lovely lilies not so lovely for felines?
As a responsible pet parent, it’s up to you to know what plants and trees are potentially poisonous to your favorite dog or cat.

Experts at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center have compiled a list of frequently encountered toxic plants. Be sure to bookmark this section and visit it often. It could save your pet’s life:

You can even print out the list of toxic plants and post them on your refrigerator. /Gary

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
Under: Pets, Poisonous plants | No Comments »

Birds of a feather … don’t always make sounds together

There’s lots more to bird feathers than just keeping birds warm and waterproof and making them look pretty.
“The Anna’s hummingbird chirps with its tail: a new mechanism of sonation in birds,” was recently published by Christopher Clark and Teresa Feo from UC Berkeley.

Basically, when the male Anna’s hummingbird is in the middle of its dramatic courtship display — in a 100-foot high-speed dive, straight down — it makes a series of chirps to help attract female Anna’s hummingbirds. (As if those amazing dives aren’t enough!)

It was once thought that those sounds were vocal, but this study now appears to show that the sounds are made when wind passes across the edges of certain feathers. It makes them buzz rapidly when the male hummingbird spreads his tail as he pulls up at the bottom of his dive. It’s kind of like when a kid holds a leaf between his fingers and blows across it to produce a loud SQUEAK!

For the whole story see:

The squeaky sound mourning doves make when they take off is produced the same way when wind passes over special feathers on the doves’ wings. The faster the doves flap their wings, the higher the pitch of the squeaks.

Interestingly, owls use their feathers for the exact opposite action — to NOT make any sounds.

Since they hunt at night when it’s dark, owls have to be sneaky hunters. To help them, owl feathers have soft, fringed edges, as opposed to daytime birds whose feathers have hard edges. The fringed (fuzzy) owl feathers muffle the sounds of the air as it passes over them when the owl is flying.

Nothing can hear an owl when it’s flying, not even a mouse. Too bad for the mouse.

Mother Nature is one very clever lady, don’t you think? /Gary

Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2008
Under: Birds, Sound | 4 Comments »

Sewage & oil spills: I wonder what’s killing the birds?

Staff and volunteers at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon, CA, have reported they are experiencing an unusual spike in the number of dead birds found in and around their facility.

More than 60 birds of a variety of species have been found at the sanctuary since Jan. 26. That number is similar to the total number of dead birds found at the Audubon Center after the 50,000-plus gallon Cosco Busan fuel oil spill on Nov. 7.

Over 5 million gallons of raw, partially treated sewage were released into the Bay by the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin on Jan. 25 and Jan. 31.

As I said above, the first dead birds were spotted in the water on Jan. 26, the day after the first spill. There was reportedly another spike in the number of dead birds found on Feb. 1, the day after the second spill.

50,000-plus gallons of toxic fuel oil and 5 million-plus gallons of sewage have been dumped into San Francisco Bay … and Western grebes, greater scaups, surf scoters, buffleheads and other aquatic bird species are dying.

Any guesses as to what the cause of this might be? /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
Under: Birds, Oil Spills, Sewage spills | 1 Comment »

Jazzed About Pets

Craig Chaquico will perform at Valley Humane Society’s “Jazzed About Pets,” an exciting evening of smooth jazz, to be held from 7-10:30 p.m. March 1, at the Palm Event Center, 1184 Vineyard Avenue, Pleasanton.

Enjoy a delightful array of heavy hors d’oeuvres and no-host cocktails as you savor the music.

Admission is $85 per person and proceeds go to support the programs of Valley Humane Society (more below) in Pleasanton. For more details and to purchase admission to “Jazzed About Pets,” contact VHS at 925-426-8656, or visit

Headliner Craig Chaquico has engaged and inspired two generations of pop music fans as the lead guitarist and most prolific principle song-writer for Jefferson Starship and Starship, from 1973-1990. With 20 Gold records combined between the Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship, Craig was instrumental in making that combination one of the most successful bands in history.

In the early 1990’s Craig left the fast-paced pop world and reinvented himself as an award winning solo contemporary instrumental artist, songwriter, producer and bandleader. He’s now one of the most popular and best-selling artists in the smooth jazz genre.

London-born pianist and composer Terry Disley will open the evening with his 5 piece all-star jazz group, The Terry Disley Experience. As a long-time touring and recording keyboardist, Terry has worked on studio and live projects with Bryan Ferry, Van Morrison, George Harrison and has appeared alongside jazz luminaries such as McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Monty Alexander. The Terry Disley Experience plays original compositions, which embrace swing, cool jazz, funk, salsa rhythms and reggae with some very catchy accessible melodies.

VHS is an animal welfare organization advocating responsible pet ownership. They seek to provide their community with educational outreach and collaborative programs that enrich the bond between people and companion animals and eliminate unnecessary euthanasia.

They are the only no-kill facility in the area to accept animals by private surrender. VHS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that receives no government funds, tax dollars, or money from national humane organizations. Their programs and services are available because of the generosity of the community.

VHS is located at 3670 Nevada Street, Pleasanton. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How often to you get a chance to get jazzed and help a special organization at the same time? Go for it! /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
Under: Pets, Valley Humane Society | No Comments »

Planning for your pets during the foreclosure crisis

The East Bay SPCA in Oakland has developed a “Foreclosure and Your Pets” resource guide aimed at helping families who own animals and are facing foreclosure.

According to a Jan. 22 report by DataQuick Information Systems, “the number of mortgage default notices filed against California homeowners jumped last quarter to its highest levels in fifteen years.” Alameda and Contra Costa Counties experienced some of the state’s highest one-year increases in default notices with 119.4% and 151.8% increases respectively.

Recent media reports from throughout the country detail heartbreaking stories about pets that have been abandoned in backyards of foreclosed properties.

This is an extremely painful and difficult time for many people, and the East Bay SPCA wants to help people and their pets by providing a list of many resources that can be of help, including tips on how to secure pet-friendly housing, and a list of area animal shelters.

Leaving a pet behind to fend for him or herself should never be an option. People need to know that there are many places to turn for help.

At a time of year when the number of animals surrendered to Oakland shelters typically decrease, they are experiencing steady inquiries from the public wishing to bring their pets in. I suspect there are similar increases at other humane societies, SPCAs and Animal Services departments around the Bay Area and beyond, for the same reasons.

The East Bay SPCA is concerned that the problem will worsen, as more and more homeowners face increased monthly payments due to adjustable rate mortgages.

A “Foreclosure and Your Pets” resource guide is available at:

Pet owners may also call 510-569-0702 to request a copy by mail. /Gary

Posted on Monday, February 11th, 2008
Under: Foreclosure crisis, Pets | No Comments »

Martinez beavers

On Feb. 2, an e-mail from Bob Carlton of Walnut Creek in my column in the Contra Costa Times mentioned he had seen a “huge cage in the back of a city truck” one day when he went to observe the Martinez beavers and the beaver dam. I responded, “kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” The inference being that the cage might have been there for the beavers. (There’s been concern in some areas that the city might relocate the beavers.)


I received this e-mail from Joe Becker of Martinez on Thursday (Feb. 7):

Dear Gary:
It was just brought to my attention that a City Employee and a City truck were seen at the dam with a huge cage in the back of the truck, according to the blogs in last Sunday’s paper. Just for everybody’s information, that was my personal truck with my dog carrier for my Lab. I was just driving by when I noticed fellow crew members working on the dam when I stopped to see them.

Whoever made the comment about my truck and cage needs to grow up. I have attached a picture of my truck and cage, and it is very clear that the truck (it has no city markings /Gary) does not belong to the City. Maybe Mr. Carlton should get his eyes checked. I do not understand why we, the maintenance crews, are being harassed. We have done everything to help with “Beaver Lovers, Haters, merchants, etc.” We are just doing what we are told. People need to get their facts before they make their comments, and before they are in print.
Joe Becker, City of Martinez, Maintenance Lead Worker

Sorry, Joe! /Gary

Posted on Friday, February 8th, 2008
Under: Beavers | 2 Comments »

Big Brother’s Pizza Parlor

When I got home from work the other day, I found the computer in my home office was turned on and there were little paw prints all over the keys.

I’ve always suspected our cat, Tut, was using my home computer to surf the Net while I was at work. Now I finally had some proof.

Why don’t I think it was Newman, our other cat? Well, Newman doesn’t have too much going on upstairs, if you know what I mean and I think you do. He also doesn’t know how to type.

There was a single line of type on my computer screen … a link to a video.

What in the world would a cat have been watching on the Internet? Old reruns of “MASH?” Friskies Cat Food commercials? X-rated cat videos?

Curious, I clicked on the link to the video:

I know cats are obsessive and have to stick their snoopy little noses into EVERYTHING that’s going on in your household … but this is downright scary. No way! Not even for an extra-large mushroom and pineapple pizza! /Gary

Posted on Thursday, February 7th, 2008
Under: Big Brother, Cats, Snooping | No Comments »

Qlympics of dog shows — Westminster, Feb. 11-12

The 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be held Feb. 11-12 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Individual breed judging takes place between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. The Group and Best in Show competition will be televised live on Monday, Feb. 11 on USA Network from 8-9 p.m., continuing on CNBC from 9-11 p.m. … and live on USA Network from 8-11 p.m., Feb. 12.

Four local dogs will be competing from the San Francisco Bay Area:
** Border collie from San Mateo. Owners are Mary Ann Waldo and Lisa Waldo.
** Polish lowland sheepdog from Brentwood. Owners are Tony and Barbara Ross.
** Siberian husky from El Cerrito. Owner is Donna Beckman.
** Standard schnauzer from Livermore. Owners are Robert and Lois Ann Bedford.

Be sure and watch for them!

Four newly recognized breeds will make also their debuts on the sport’s biggest stage:
The Swedish Vallhund, Beauceron, Tibetan mastiff and Plott will be among the 169 breeds and varieties competing in America’s first and only “Champions Only” dog show. The Vallhund and the Beauceron compete in the Herding Group, while the Tibetan mastiff is part of the Working Group, and the Plott is in the Hound Group.

The Vallhund, a sturdily built Spitz-type breed known since the time of the Vikings, has been kept for centuries as a farm dog and used for herding cattle and sheep. It is an energetic breed known as a “big dog in a small body.” The Beauceron is an old, distinct breed closely related to the long-haired Briard. Beaucerons served bravely in both World Wars as messenger and mine-detection dogs and experienced a serge of popularity after World War II.

The Tibetan Mastiff is a large, powerful, noble and impressive dog that has been used primarily as a family and property guardian for centuries. The Plott is a hunting hound. It is intelligent, alert and confident and is noted for stamina, endurance, agility, determination and aggressiveness, combining courage with athletic ability.

You can find out more about this huge dog show at

Have fun watching. I sure will, along with my cats, Tut and Newman. I’ll be cheering and I’m sure the cats will be booing. /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2008
Under: Dog Show, dogs, Westminster | 2 Comments »

Judge protects whales, rules against Bush & Navy

Environmental groups seeking to protect whales from the possibly harmful effects of sonar scored a legal victory against the Navy and the Bush administration.

U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled Monday (Feb. 4) that the Navy is not exempt from complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and a court injunction that created a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California.

The president signed a waiver Jan. 15 exempting the Navy and its anti-submarine warfare exercises from the injunction.

The judge also said she has “significant concerns about the constitutionality of the President’s exemption,” but that “a finding on this issue is not necessary” to reinstate the sonar injunction.

Scientists have said loud sonar can damage the brains and ears of marine mammals, and may mask the echoes from natural sonar that some whales and dolphins use to locate food.

Whales throughout the Pacific reportedly showed their approval of the ruling by spraying HUGE spouts of water up through their blowholes.

Ocean waters all along the California coastline looked like they were covered with giant lawn sprinklers.

Let’s hear it for the whales! /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2008
Under: Navy, President Bush, Sonar, Whales | No Comments »