November 2016

White-tailed Kites!

Although sightings of White-tailed Kites have been rare in this fifth year of the drought, we are happy to report that a pair of these special birds have been seen, very recently, on the eastern side of More Mesa, and on the western portion as well. While these two sightings may be of the same two birds, it is glorious news that even one pair is still here. And as we explored sources of information about our iconic bird, it appears that a pair actually fledged two chicks this past spring. The fledging, on western More Mesa, was one of only two reported nests in the entire Goleta Valley for this year. This information reminds us, once again, how important More Mesa is to the survival of this “California Bird of Special Concern”.

To learn more about this beautiful and important bird, visit two different articles hosted on our web site.

  • The first is a life history of White-tailed Kites and illustrated with many images of the kites at various stages of life: chicks, fledglings, courtship and breeding.
  • The second, titled “Vieja Kites”  is the fascinating story of a year when a pair of White-tailed Kites nested on Vieja Drive but hunted, and taught their young to hunt on More Mesa.

White-tailed kites are found almost year-round on More Mesa where they have well-established, historic nesting sites. In 2004, two of these sites were made unusable because of human activity. A homeless person camped under one of the nesting trees, and BMX bicyclists rode noisily under another.

Because of this, the first nesting attempt by the affected kite pair failed, and in a second attempt, the pair chose a stand of oaks at the end of Vieja Drive very close to More Mesa.

On More Mesa, adult kite on left, juvenile kite on right.

October 2016

Earthquake on More Mesa?

On the very first day of last month, at 8:42 in the morning, a magnitude 2.7, earthquake was reported for the More Mesa area. This event was incorrectly labeled in the press as the “Goleta Earthquake”. However in fact, the longitude and latitude of the quake epicenter placed it near a residence in Hope Ranch, about 1/3 mile due east of the edge of More Mesa (See aerial photo below.)

This low magnitude quake was not an unusual occurrence because our area, like most of California, is riddled with earthquake faults … and tremors are very frequent. For example, there have been 97 events of magnitude 1.5 or greater in Santa Barbara during the last year. The geologic map below shows various faults in the immediate area of More Mesa, with either black or red lines depending on the geologic deposits involved. Prominent among all the small faults shown, and at the north-eastern section of More Mesa, is the intersection of two larger faults, the More Ranch Fault and the Lavigia Fault.

To learn more about the geology of More Mesa, go to our 2014 Symposium videos and click on any of the titles. All Symposium videos will then appear on Vimeo. Geology is discussed in the talk titled “Ecology of More Mesa.”

We are indebted to the U.S. Geological Survey for providing the new and updated map geologic map of the Santa Barbara area, a map formulated with a major contribution from our own Dr. Edward Keller of UCSB.


September 2016

Time to Migrate

The underlying reason for bird migration is survival: moving to areas with better food resources for the time of year. Birds move northward in spring, where they find abundant insects, flowering plants and in the less inhabited Northern Hemisphere, a higher number of nesting sites. However, as winter approaches and the availability of these resources wanes, the birds move south again, with escaping the cold being an additional motivation for many species.

To help understand these migrations, Cornell University’s “All About Birds” has constructed a set of mind-boggling monthly maps of the movements of a compendium of 118 species of birds. Six of these are More Mesa residents; Willow Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Townsend’s Warbler, Western Peewee, Western Tanager and Wilson’s Warbler. We urge you to visit this fascinating site, by clicking here to view the original page for the graphic below.

White-crowned Sparrow

More Mesa serves as an overwintering site for White-crowned Sparrows that spend summers far to the north. These migrants arrive in late August and September, and are generally seen in flocks feeding in short grass or open areas, often in the company of other similar feeding bird species.

Excerpted from this link at Whatbird:

  • The White-crowned Sparrow is one of the best-studied songbirds in North America. Much of our knowledge of bird song and development is based on studies of this species.
  • Because males learn the songs they grew up with and do not travel far from where they were raised, song dialects frequently form. Males on the edge of two dialects may be bilingual and able to sing both dialects.
  • Four of the five subspecies are migratory. The sedentary race lives in a very narrow band along the California coast (see map at the link).
  • A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a “crew”, “flutter”, “meinie”, “quarrel”, and “ubiquity” of sparrows.

The song of the White-crowned Sparrow is distinctive. If you hear the song in the video in the coming weeks, it will mean the birds have reached their overwintering grounds in our area, and will continue to be heard until they fly north again in the spring.

The video includes a short clip of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drumming, at the end.

August 2016

A Tiny Bright Light

In a world dominated by talk of drought, we offer a tiny bright spot … about a lovely native plant; Seacliff Buckwheat. While almost all of our More Mesa native wildflowers bloom in spring, this cliff and dune dwelling plant flowers in the middle of summer, providing nectar to many butterflies and insects. We are happy to report that it has bloomed again this summer; the fifth year of our worst-ever drought and thereby proving that it is truly a “drought resistant” species.


And a Gentle Reminder …

While the drought is extremely distressing for human populations, it is a matter of life or death for wildlife. With little water and dwindling food supplies, animals are emboldened to enter urban spaces in search of food. Because this appears to be happening in our area, we urge you to protect and shelter your pets; especially at night. We also urge you to NEVER feed wild creatures; either directly, or by inadvertently leaving pet food where they can access it. Providing food to wildlife acclimates animals to humans and will eventually result in their demise.

July 2016

Why Collect Seeds Anyway?

Last month we discussed the Coastal California Poppy and how the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) collects seeds of this native plant on More Mesa. However, in addition to poppies, More Mesa is a very valuable source in the collection of many other important native plants. These include Blue-eyed Grass, Coastal Sage Scrub, Owl’s Clover, Fiesta Flower, Miniature Lupine, Sky Lupine, California Sunflowers and several wetland species.

So what’s all the fuss about native species anyway? As it turns out, native species of plants are genetically suited to the local environment. This means, for example, that in situations where droughts occur, or where humid conditions occur, the natives can “handle” what Mother Nature tosses at them. The flip side of this equation is that non-natives may not be able to prosper or even survive in these situations. For example, in the case of poppies, our native species is able to thrive on Santa Barbara’s foggy coast during “May Mist”, “June Gloom” and whatever other humid condition we live with. However, non-native poppies are prone to powdery mildew and have a much lower probability of thriving.

Nobody wants to live without our lovely, cheery poppy … or any poppy at all! We applaud restoration efforts that are targeted toward removing hybridized versions of our native populations and replacing them with plants from the seeds of natives. To do this, native seeds must be collected, propagated, planted and managed. These are the tasks of the CCBER and other organizations that are committed to preserving our native species and our very special favorite, the Coastal California Poppy.

More, Much More, about Poppies
There is much to say about the California poppy. One botanist from UC Berkeley found 70 different subspecies in different parts of California, each varying slightly from the others. The Jepson Manual, the most current California flora, lumps them all together, because they do cross and mingle characteristics.

It has been so interesting to grow our own form on the coast. As a perennial, it behaves quite differently from the annual inland orange form. The tap root can get immense, as long as two feet, and thick as a baseball bat.

In dry years, it flourishes, and I used to worry that it was too aggressive, eliminating other wildflowers. Then I observed that in wet years, it was substantially knocked back, because it doesn’t like wet feet. Now I just relax, counting on an ebb and flow of the coastal form of the California Poppy, so that it is only one element among many in the garden.

313010695_eae2ac31df_oCoastal California Poppy on More Mesa