It’s All About the Birds and the Bees!

Mother Nature Has Incredible Ability to Bounce Back!

In our Spring Issue we waxed eloquent over the rains that had filled our prolific and very significant vernal pool. And further, those same rains also created an unusually effective ecological chain of events. The rains brought grasses … grasses in great profusion. These grasses then provided an abundance of food for the rodents that are prey for our local birds … the most important of which is our “signature and logo” the White-tailed Kite.

Fledgling Kites Photo Courtesy of Morgan Ball
Fledgling Kites
Photo Courtesy of Morgan Ball

Here’s how the rains inspired the kites. In normal rain years (October 1st of the current year to September 30th of the following year) More Mesa supports two, and sometimes three pairs of adult kites. The nests are conveniently referred to as “East”, “Central” and “West”. Each breeding pair typically has 2-4 chicks per nest, but not all the chicks may survive. “Doing the math” tells us we could have between eight and eighteen kites on and around More Mesa at the end of a breeding season. However the number is typically much closer to eight. During the recent drought, we had several years with no More Mesa chicks reported at all. Last year More Mesa had but a single breeding event that produced two chicks … perhaps the only youngsters in all of the Goleta Valley.

BUT THIS YEAR WAS A BANNER YEAR!  Of the 10 breeding events in the Goleta Valley, More Mesa had three active nests that fledged at least 10 young and possibly many more. Further, there is some evidence that one or more of the pairs have “double clutched” … that is, they raised yet another set of chicks. In the past we have seen chicks hatched as late as October, so there may even be more to come!

AND EVEN MORE EXCITING … In our extensive web feature about White-tailed Kites, we have described the kite’s  practice of winter communal roosts. We have not observed one of these roosts for many, many years. However, this year, a large communal

Multiple Kites Roosting - September 2019 Photo Courtesy of Barry Rowan
Multiple Kites Roosting – September 2019
Photo Courtesy of Barry Rowan

roost was discovered in the central area of More Mesa. This particular roost is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, roosts typically are a winter phenomenon that occurs, at the time when all, or most of, the chicks are fledged. But this roost was identified in September. Moreover, at one point there were 29 birds observed at the central roost. This is an extremely large number and would indicate that either there were a great many chicks fledged on More Mesa, or there were visiting kites from other areas around the Goleta Valley … or both!  (As of this writing the roost has been abandoned. This is typical behavior, and as yet, an alternate roost has not been identified.)

And What About the Bees?

beesBees, and their almost 300 species of insect buddies, are, as usual, busy nectaring from coyote bushes in flower during the fall and winter seasons on More Mesa.  You can read about this unassuming, but extremely important plant on our web site.

The Past – Taking Another Look at More Mesa’s History

Of late we have departed from the “standard” format we historically used for our periodic e-mail updates. In this issue we are returning to one of our most popular features: that concerning More Mesa’s past. Although we are reprising information shared with you in our very early issues, we are also including new material that has been revealed since we originally published. With that prologue …

The Chumash – The original, local Californians lived on More Mesa as early as 6,000 years ago. However the first mention of these highly sophisticated native people was made by the Cabrillo expedition in 1542. The ship’s journal noted that the area of the Goleta Slough and west More Mesa was the most heavily populated region in all of Alta and Baja California.

First map of the Channel Islands Campbell Grant
First map of the Channel Islands
Campbell Grant

Then in 1602, the first map of the Santa Barbara Channel was drawn by Father Antonio de la Ascencion, diarist of the Viscaino Expedition. In the image shown, we have taken the liberty of translating the handwritten Spanish on the map into English. The “Big Town” was probably Mescalatitlan or Dos Pueblos.

Campbell Grant, in the opening chapter of his book, “The Rock Paintings of the Chumash”, waxes eloquent about the wealth of plants, trees, animal and sea life that were accessible to the Chumash. He says, “It is small wonder that the Chumash chose to live in such a land. It was a fine place to live.” A ramble through More Mesa convinces one that it still is a fine place to live.


Spring came so late this year that it might as well have been a really long winter. But it is warm at last, and More Mesa has presented us with three different mysteries!

Mystery #1: What was actually found in our vernal pool

In our last issue we talked about the More Mesa Vernal Pool finally filling … after 8 long years of drought. Joanna Tang, a graduate student at UCSB, lead the scientific study of our pool with the aid of More Mesa supporter, Angela Rauhut, who took most of the measurements. Joanna has kindly written a synopsis of what she found after 3 months of study.

More Mesa has a vernal pool harboring several locally rare plants and animals that are vernal pool specialists. Even after being dry for 8 years, recent plant and animal surveys have revealed the resiliency of these special vernal pool species. They are adapted to live in aquatic conditions during the winter, reproduce and drop seed as the vernal pool dries out. Then they remain in the dried up pools as seeds and cysts (invertebrate eggs) that can withstand prolonged desiccation — just add water and they come to life!

After this year’s winter rains, several vernal pool specialist plants popped up. There was, appropriately enough, Popcorn Flower, a common vernal pool plant in the area.

Popcorn Flower
Popcorn Flower

However, we also saw Pacific Foxtail and Lemmon’s Canary Grass, small native grasses that are only found in More Mesa and a few other pools near UCSB. Another plant found commonly in the local vernal pools is Coyote Thistle, but More Mesa’s Coyote Thistle has unique leaf and stem forms that may make it a distinct subspecies. Of particular interest, More

Clam Shrimp
Clam Shrimp

Mesa is the only local pool sampled this year that has Clam Shrimp — this little crustacean requires deeper vernal pools that stay filled with water for longer, so the large More Mesa pool is the perfect habitat for it! Other common freshwater invertebrates like Copepods and

Pacific Tree Frog
Pacific Tree Frog

Ostracods were also found in the pool, as well as plenty of tadpoles of Pacific Tree Frogs!

It is so much fun to see the More Mesa pool come to life with so many species this year!

Our many thanks to Joanna and Angela for the data and photographs in this article.

Mystery #2: What’s going on with these big birds chasing one another?

One recent early evening, two of our More Mesa fans were hiking on County owned More Mesa Open Space. They came across one large bird being loudly pursued by 2 or 3 other (perhaps smaller) birds. The pursuers disappeared quickly, but the bigger bird, resolutely and overtly, perched on a nearby tree with a huge portion of food clasped tightly in its talons. Fortunately the hikers managed to capture a photo of the perched bird and asked if it could be identified. The mystery thickened … what species and why the chasing?

Immature Coopers Hawk (Photo by Chris Brehms & Mark Johnson)
Immature Coopers Hawk (Photo by Chris Brehms & Mark Johnson)

After studying a few books and sites, a rank amateur guessed it might be an immature Red Shouldered Hawk, but decided to get some real experts to weigh in. Oddly enough the experts were a little more than puzzled as well. The reason it was puzzling was that the bird in the photo was NOT an adult. It was an immature, meaning its in year 1 of its life. This ruled out the scenario where we would have an adult with food and juveniles chasing it. They might be chasing, but they were chasing an immature bird with prey, either a nest-mate or some other non-related bird. It seems a likely scenario that it was a group of young Cooper’s tussling for the food brought by an adult. However, the experts agreed that there was probably an adult around somewhere

The final verdict? The proud holder of the food was this Immature Coopers Hawk.

Many thanks to Rebecca Coulter, Krista Fahy  and John Storrer for their help, advice and descriptions of what was likely happening.

Mystery #3: Why are the Locks on the Southeastern Gate Gone?

This mystery is not nearly as much fun as the ones above. The locks are gone because they have been stolen.

No private vehicles are allowed on More Mesa because of the potential for disastrous fires. A case in point: Twelve years ago, a fire on More Mesa burned to the edges of Hope Ranch and Vista la Cumbre. It started as a result of sparks from a motorcycle that was illegally being ridden on More Mesa.

July 2007 Fire on More Mesa
July 2007 Fire on More Mesa

At that time the More Mesa Preservation Coalition took on the task of reducing the potential for fire on the eastern side of More Mesa. We collected private funds and obtained permission to finish the fence limiting entry onto More Mesa. After the fence was finished, we placed locks on the fire gate that would allow entry to those agencies that needed to have access to More Mesa.  These included the owner of More Mesa, the Fire Department and the Sheriff. For many years these locks were in place and working well.

Unhappily emergency work by the gas company left the locks untended, and they were stolen. Because the special fire department locks are difficult to obtain, the gate was unlocked for several weeks.  During that time, off-road vehicles and trucks decided to make More Mesa a playground and rode around in the mud after our frequent rain storms. Some of these vehicles got stuck and had to be pulled out by a tow truck. In one instance the tow truck had to be pulled out by a bigger tow truck. IT WAS A MESS!

A new set of locks was installed (several hundred dollars) and were gone the very next day. A third set disappeared in a few weeks. There is apparently a way to destroy any lock and chain … no matter how sturdy they are. Now there are no locks at all.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!! If you use More Mesa, please help to protect it. If you see vehicles illegally out on More Mesa, grab your cell phone and call the Sheriff. When you do this quickly, the Sheriff may get out there and confront the offender. We cannot let this magic place be destroyed by people who think they have a right to ride anywhere and everywhere their vehicles can possibly go. THANK YOU.

Came the Rains!

More Mesa’s Vernal Pool … Full at Last

photo by Angela Rauhut (2019)

The southeast corner of More Mesa boasts one of the rarest, and most threatened, of natural communities: a vernal pool.  Vernal pools form as a result of distinctive climate, soil and
topography, and are distinguished by the organisms they host. Many of these organisms are restricted to special habitats that flood temporarily in winter and early spring, then undergo a period of gradual drying and are dry the remainder of the year. Vernal pool plants and animals are adapted to these environmental extremes and as such, are among the most interesting organisms on earth. In winter the pools reach a maximum depth and duration of flooding and support numerous aquatic plants, insects, crustaceans and zooplankton; including rare and endangered species. In addition, amphibians such as Pacific Tree Frogs breed and lay eggs in the pools by the thousands. Vernal pools also provide a winter home for waterfowl during the rainy season.

Moreover, vernal pools are unique in another special way. Because they are isolated from one another and have a life span of only a few months, mutations that occur among a population in one pool are not likely to be dispersed to other populations. And since the number of vernal pools, and vernal pool sites are decreasing, the population associated with any one pool becomes more and more genetically isolated, and therefore unique. In the Santa Barbara coastal region, vernal pools occur at Ellwood Mesa, Isla Vista and UCSB and More Mesa – three distinctive areas.

photo by Donley Olson (2019)

These very special intermittent pools, found in many area of California, were once common to the Central Valley and other parts of the state. However vernal pools have been reduced to less than five percent of their original range, and now represent one of California’s most threatened natural communities. And … we have one of these precious sites here on our very own More Mesa*.

The last time the More Mesa vernal pool contained any appreciable water was in winter of 2011 … eight years ago! That year we had 147% of our annual rainfall. (As of this posting, in 2019, we have received slightly more than 100% of our annual rainfall.) In 2011 we collected samples and transferred them to UCSB’s CCBER (Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration) for analysis. At that time, a plan was conceived to sample the pool periodically, every year, in order to assess the life forms and determine what was happening in our More Mesa vernal pool. And then came the drought! Unhappily, with the drought there was no water, and therefore no sampling. However, we are pleased to report that this year a sampling program is already underway to study the organisms in the More Mesa vernal pool. A UCSB graduate student studying vernal pool restoration is working with CCBER to collect weekly data for water analysis. She also samples for invertebrates and surveys the vegetation. The survey has just started and we will keep you posted on findings.

* Vernal pools occur only where soils are derived from bedrock of shale that produces an accumulation of water above the water table and results in ponding after sufficient rainfall. This situation is different from soil derived from sandstone that allows infiltration of rainfall. Most of More Mesa is underlain by sandstone, so even at More Mesa the opportunity for vernal pools to form is restricted to a small area. To learn even more about these extraordinary habitats, see the Vernal Pool feature on our website.

And More About Water


Water Bars – Along with our long awaited rain, an open area such as More Mesa is likely to get significant trail erosion. However, if you are hiking out on More Mesa this season you will observe many water bars along all the trails. These features were described in detail in an update two years ago and are courtesy of an environmental hero who looks after our tails every time we get significant rainfall. Thank you whoever you are!

Wildflowers – We are already seeing some wildflowers in different areas around More Mesa. Most of them are not natives, but they are still very lovely to look at! If you would like to find out more about flowers on More Mesa, you can peruse our website sections under the “Plants” menu. There you can check out “Photos” of native wildflowers and maybe even identify the ones below. You can also look into how to “Garden With Native Plants” and “Invasive Plants” to help you plan your next native plant garden.

flowers composite
Only a few of the many wildflowers found on More Mesa.