More Mesa At Night (August-October 2018)

A Very Different Walk

Night Walk on More Mesa: Continuing with our “Walk on More Mesa” theme, a very different kind of walk presented itself in late September. Jennifer Stroh of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County invited me to an informal walk that was not only on the west side of More Mesa, but it was a night walk as well!  Since I had never experienced a night walk that focused on nocturnal animals, I was eager to participate.

Our leader was Ted Mullen, a Senior Biologist, graduate of UCSB, and currently a scientist with MRS Environmental, here in Santa Barbara. As soon as we headed out onto More Mesa, Ted launched our adventure with a lesson in listening … a key skill when there is little, or no, light; and especially important when one is trying to identify birds and animals that hunt at night. He talked about identifying all the various sounds (man made and otherwise) and then sorting them out from one another. And, although the man-made intrusions on More Mesa are somewhat limited, he pointed out two important ones:

  • The “drone” sound of freeway and other traffic, and how that background noise affects the ability of hunting animals to hear sounds that are vitally important to them; for example sounds of rodents and other prey moving through the grasses. We did note, however, that the “drone” was not as obvious, or even discernible, in all the parts of More Mesa that we visited.
  • The intrusion of street lights from neighboring communities, and how they would also affect the ability to hunt … especially for the owls that make their homes on the north facing side of More Mesa.

night walk map

At the beginning of the walk, on the northwestern edge of More Mesa, we heard three species of Owls: Barn, Great Horned and Screech. Then Ted surprised some of us by noting that Screech Owls did not screech at all, and proved it by playing several of their calls. We were also treated to the sight of an owl flying quite close to us.

great horned owl in flight
Great Horned Owl in Flight
Photo by Larry Friesen

One of the “owl” stories Ted told, and one that I got a big chuckle out of, concerned Great Horned nest building. The Great Horned, being a bigger bird, hunts larger animals, like rabbits and skunks. Moreover, skunks are regularly on their menu because, unlike the rest of us, the Great Horned is not bothered, at all, with the stench of skunk spray. Ever-vigilant parents, the Great Horned will therefore sometimes line their nest with skunk carcasses. This clever strategy prevents predators from being tempted to carry off the chicks … because most of the rest of the world is definitely not fond of skunk spray!

rare spotted bat
Rare Spotted Bat

As our walk progressed towards the coast, we saw and heard Spotted Bats and, at one point, we even heard a Towhee; a bird that should have been asleep. Maybe we woke it up … or something else woke it up?

The sky was brilliant and clear. Amateur astronomers had a blast and we even got to see all the lobster boats out on the first day of the season. It was an absolutely wonderful walk and I was privileged to be part of it.

How You Can Help

Our coalition very rarely solicits donations from our supporters, only in times of real need. While More Mesa is not in immediate jeopardy (no building plan has yet been submitted to planning), we spend additional funds to remain in a “ready state” for when the developers make their move.

That means continuing to build and maintain a database of supporters who can help us by contacting their elected officials, testifying at hearings, recruiting their friends, contacting the media and coming together for a show of community support. Lastly, we maintain a small contingency budget so that we can react quickly when the time arises.

Our immediate expenses for the next year are not large (unless things change with development plans), no more than $5,000. But without those funds to replenish our budget we could be flat-footed the day the development plan is filed.

I am sure that you support many other important causes; I just wanted to put in my request for the White-tailed Kites, the Great Horned Owls, the Red-tailed Hawks … and even the Spotted Bats of More Mesa. A gift of $50 or $100 to keep us in a ready state would be terrific.

Thank you so much, from all the critters of More Mesa.

A Summer Walk on More Mesa (2018)

Since things have changed quite a bit since our last report, it was time for a Summer Walk on More Mesa. Taking the same route as reported in our previous Update we noted two very heartwarming and special sights.


Baby Kites
Baby Kites

First, the White-tailed Kites that historically nest on the east side of More Mesa have fledged two youngsters this year! This is extremely good news since drought years have produced a very small number of youngsters … for More Mesa and indeed the whole Goleta Valley. You can find all manner of interesting information on the importance of More Mesa’s kites on pages 29-33 of our More Mesa Handbook.

Lorquins Admiral
Lorquin’s Admiral – one of 17 species on More Mesa.

With summer comes butterflies when More Mesa hosts up to 17 different species of these beautiful creatures. In addition to the Buckeyes reported in our last issue summer brings the lovely, and large, Anise Swallowtails that lay their eggs on our ubiquitous fennel. For a detailed discussion of the Swallowtail and its appearance on More Mesa see our late summer issue for 2017.

If you have taken the walk above, and parked on Puente Drive you will have noticed how many cars have been there … almost every day this summer. The extreme heat has brought hundreds of visitors to More Mesa and the beach below.  Which brings us to the story below …

A Legend From the Past

The intense hot spell we have been experiencing lately, with its record breaking temperatures, seemed to echo a story I had come across while researching for an article on More Mesa’s asphalt mine in a previous issue. According to our colorful, always interesting, and “go-to” reference Goleta, the Good Land (by Walker A. Tompkins), a scorching one-day heat wave occurred in the Goleta Valley on June 17, 1859. Further, it was the first and only simoon ever recorded in North America. Never having heard the word “simoon”, I looked it up. What’s a simoon anyway? It’s a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that is caused by intensive ground heating under a cloudless sky. The word simoon is Arabic and describes winds that occur in the Sahara, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of Arabian Peninsula.

thermometerSo what did happen in June 1859? According to Tompkins, it was about 80 F by noon on that fateful day… a little high for our lovely Goleta Valley … known for its moderate temperatures. Then, about 1 PM according to Tompkins, a ‘blast of superheated air’ came from the direction of Santa Ynez Peak and hit the Goleta Valley, alarming the residents and sending them scurrying for cover inside thick-walled buildings. Tompkins wrote that by 2 PM the temperature had reached an incredible 133 F, with the northwest wind bringing ‘great clouds of impalpable dust’. People reportedly took refuge in several places including behind the 3-foot-thick walls of the Daniel Hill adobe. Calves, rabbits, and cattle died on their feet according to a “government report”, and fruit fell from trees to the ground, scorched on the windward side. Birds fell dead from the sky and others flew into wells in search of cooler air and drowned. About 5 PM the searing, hot wind died down, the report said, the thermometer ‘cooled off’ to 122 F.

Supposedly the temperature in the Goleta Valley hit 133 F, and went into the record books as the highest temperature for all of the U.S. … remaining a record for 54 years, when it was barely surpassed by a 134 F reading in Death Valley.

I thought this was a thrilling story and all More Mesa supporters would love it!

But …
However, while finishing up my research on the word “simoon” I ran across an article by Bill Norrington that was posted on the UCSB Geography Department website.  My hopes for relating this exciting (and “hot”) story about La Rancho Goleta … the ranch that included More Mesa … were trampled, if not dashed!
Unhappily, the story appears to exist only in the Tompkins book, with no scientific evidence whatsoever for the event appearing in, or being corroborated by, any other record, “government” or otherwise. Norrington goes on to chronicle Thompkins’ life as a writer of western novels (fiction), a reporter, a radio personality, and a staff writer for the Santa Barbara Newspress.
In addition, when Professor Joel Michaelsen of the Geography Department was asked about the event he commented: “I have never found any outside source to validate Tompkins’ story, and I am highly skeptical of its veracity. I don’t doubt that strong hot, dry down-slope winds could kick up lots of dust and produce very high temperatures – but in the 110 F- 115 F range at most. The 133 F just isn’t physically reasonable, as it would require the creation of an extremely hot air mass somewhere to the northeast. Our recent weather was a very good strong example of the sort of conditions that would produce such a heat wave, and our temperatures topped out at least 20 degrees below Tompkins’ figure. Stronger winds could have increased the heating a bit, but not nearly that much.”
If you add Professor Michaelsen’s  factual and scientific skepticism to the fact that Thompkins was a known spinner of tales … the 133 F probably !never happened.  Science triumphs!
We are deeply indebted to Bill Norrington and the Geography Department at UCSB for allowing us to share their fascinating story with you.

Stay Cool and Enjoy More Mesa!

Finally Spring! April-May 2018

A Spring Walk on More Mesa

If you are wondering why it has been so long between updates, it’s because we’ve been waiting patiently for spring. It finally happened a couple of weeks ago and the treasures that we usually see on More Mesa in February and March are here now … at least most of them are. The reasons for this extremely late spring are many and varied. Principally, it was colder, drier and it rained at the “wrong” time. Specifically, 8% colder, only 50% of normal rainfall and, unhappily, most of that rainfall occurred in March, rather than earlier in the year. Now that the scientist in me has been satisfied as to the reason for this really late spring, I decided to celebrate by taking a walk of the kind we talked about in our last post. Most of the signs of spring described were found on the main eastern north-south trail … marked in blue on the map below.


high grasses

Starting at the gate off Mockingbird Lane, I ambled toward the coast noting fairly high grasses that were not quite the bright green of wetter years. Most of these grasses are introduced non-natives like Harding Grass… brought to More Mesa for grazing cattle in the first half of the 20th century. We do also have many native grasses like Purple Needle Grass, but those are more difficult to find.


There were several Buckeyes flitting near the ground. The caterpillars of these small but beautiful brownish butterflies … with large eye-spots … feed on the ubiquitous plantain found on the eastern north-south trail to the coast.


White tailed kites can also be easily observed in their
historical perching and nesting sites from this path as well. Recent reports of nest building are welcome news, as the drought had drastically reduced the number of kites in the entire Goleta Valley until last year.

As expected, our avian winter visitors (Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls and Burrowing Owls) have departed for their mating and nesting habitats. There were, however some beautiful Common Egrets hunting in the wetter areas of our grasslands.


Further south, the largest of our three Black Cottonwood groves, with two 70-90 foot trees and many, many smaller trees, is showing lovely new growth. Unfortunately since sufficient rains did not materialize, our only vernal pool, at the southeastern corner of More Mesa is virtually indistinguishable from its surroundings. We hope for a wetter year next year.


A stop at the top of the stairway to the beach was a respite and provided some wonderful views of sea birds including pelicans and gulls. Not this time, but there have been times, when I have seen gray whales and dolphins from this same vantage. As the day was quite clear, the four Channel Islands off our coast were plainly visible.

I headed west to look at the coastal habitat in full bloom at, and over, the edge of the cliffs. Prominent was the California Bush Sunflower blooming in profusion over large portions of the cliff. Limited groupings of Lupine, Fiddle-neck, Blue-eyed Grass, Deerweed and a few Poppies can be found in various spots around More Mesa, especially in the sandier soils of the west end. However, except for these, it has not been a year for a wealth of wildflowers. This was probably due to the lateness of rains and the inability of the wildflowers to compete successfully with the grasses. A similar effect happened last year but was not as pronounced as this year.


I returned home … invigorated, and once again, feeling truly blessed that More Mesa is in all our lives.

Thanks so much for caring about this most special of places!

Valerie Olson

President, MMPC

2018 – Is It Spring Yet?

What’s Happening on More Mesa …

In spite of the continuing drought, there are a myriad of birds on More Mesa!

flock of birdsOver the past two months, bird enthusiasts have reported dozens of different bird species on More Mesa in a single, relatively short, visit! Further, of the dozen or more raptor species that MMPC follows on More Mesa, most have been seen in recent months and often with two or more of the species seen at the same time. (Photo courtesy of John McKinney.)

kitesKites: We are still getting reports of kite roosting behavior with 13-14, and up to 22 birds! Although the 22 were not seen routinely, this number is exciting news for the Goleta Valley, as we have had only one or two kite pairs for many years of the drought.

burrowing owlBurrowing Owls: There have been several sightings of two Burrowing Owls … very unusual for this to occur and definitely good news for More Mesa. Burrowing Owls were formerly common in Santa Barbara County, but have been virtually eliminated with only one or two over-wintering birds along the entire South coast. To learn more about these tiny owls (with a definite attitude) see page 35 of the More Mesa Handbook. (Photo courtesy of John Storrer.)

peregrine falconPeregrine Falcons: In addition to so many other birds, we have also seen another raptor not usually seen on More Mesa, the Peregrine Falcon. Like the Coopers Hawk, the principal prey of the Peregrine is birds. Perhaps there is a link here? (Photo courtesy of Larry Friesen.)

Ask the President

Q: What’s the best way to see all the birds on More Mesa?

A: Hike!! You can see birds anywhere on More Mesa.

viewpointAs you visit this special place more often, you will find the spots where your favorite birds can be found. A popular short hike is on the east side (adjacent to Hope Ranch) and starts at the gate on the end of Mockingbird Lane. A straight walk directly south brings you to the bluffs and a spectacular view of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands. If you feel adventuresome you can continue down the rough wooden steps to the beach. However, More Mesa is a great walk without going down to the beach … as the area is honeycombed with trails.

If you have more time and are so inclined, John McKinney of The Trailmaster suggests hiking the following 2.5 mile counterclockwise loop around More Mesa:

  • Head for the stairs to the beach (as above)
  • At the coast, turn west along the ocean … using the narrow path at the edge (only when it is dry) or a wider path that is slightly inland
  • Walk the full length of the bluffs to the western edge of More Mesa (line of homes and a commercial nursery) and turn north towards the mountains
  • Turn back east along the inland edge of More Mesa and past a profusion of trails
  • Close the loop and rejoin the main trail near the trailhead

trailsAlternately there are several options for turning north before the extreme western edge of More Mesa that will take you into oak and willow ravines that are both charming, and have entirely different habitats.

We are indebted to John McKinney and his web site, for much of the information above. John has been visiting, and writing about, More Mesa for 30 years. And we are happy to report that More Mesa will be included in the pocket guide “Hike Santa Barbara” … available this Spring. For additional information and hikes visit The Trailmaster. THANK YOU JOHN!

You Can Help … Become a “Citizen Scientist”! Since 2003 MMPC has maintained a data base of bird and animal sightings reported on More Mesa. Some of these sightings come from other data bases, and some are from supporters who report what they see on More Mesa.

Our website has an easy and convenient way to report More Mesa sightings. Simply go to the “Sightings” page and fill in the required information. You can obtain an approximate location for your sighting by consulting the map at the bottom of the page, gridded with alphanumeric coordinates. For example a Peregrine Falcon seen at the coast was reported in grid I 6. We are especially interested in reports of raptors like White-tailed Kites, Coopers Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Owls of all species, Kestrels, Loggerhead Shrikes and Peregrines.

Thanks so much!

Valerie Olson

President, MMPC

November 2017

Big Day for More Mesa – County Approves Coastal Commision Recommendations

As reported in our last update, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) was extremely supportive of MMPC’s positions on preservation of More Mesa, and supplemented them with even stronger language than currently existed in the new Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan. At a meeting on November 7th, the County Board of Supervisors approved these California Coastal Commission modifications. Our very special thanks to everyone who spoke in favor of the recommendations at the meeting, attended the meeting or sent e-mails. We never could have achieved this wonderful result without your help.

Ask the President

Q:  What role does the California Coastal Commission play with regard to any development on More Mesa?
A:  The California Coastal Commission is a state agency whose role is to make sure that California’s coastlines and public beaches are protected for public use. It came into being in 1972 when California voters, concerned about coastal development and its impact on public access, passed a proposition creating the Coastal Commission. Four years later, the State Legislature enacted the California Coastal Act, which is the primary law governing decisions of the Coastal Commission. The act outlines, among other things, standards for development within the Coastal Zone.
In order to implement coastal protection, a Coastal Zone was established throughout the entire length of California, extending from the Oregon border to the international border with Mexico. While generally 1,000 yards from the mean high tide line, this zone has some variation in width depending on several factors, including the density of development and environmental and recreational values of the particular coastal area.
The purple line in the map below shows the extent of the Coastal Zone in our area; that is … all of More Mesa is in the Coastal Zone. Therefore any request for development on More Mesa must be reviewed and approved by the Coastal Commission. Further, any local planning that involves areas in the Coastal Zone must also be approved by the CCC and, as you can see from the news above, has been accomplished for the updated Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan.
overview map
To learn more about the Coastal Zone and California’s beaches, visit beachapedia.

This Month on More Mesa

MORE GOOD NEWS … Kites are roosting on More Mesa again!

This month we have some excellent news about our famous “signature” bird … the White-tailed Kite.
White-tailed kites are semi-social animals that gather in communal overnight roosts in the fall and winter. Kites can begin to gather in late August or September, with roosts typically breaking up not later than February. The dynamics of roost occurrence are not well understood and roost occurrence can be difficult to document without continuous observations at dawn and dusk over an extended time period.
One of the largest known communal roosts for White-tailed Kites in California was found on More Mesa in 1965, with the greatest numbers recorded in the mid 1970s. Moreover, during the winter of 1978, a record 110 birds were observed roosting on More Mesa! However, for a variety of reasons, roost population exhibited a precipitous decline to a low of 40 in 1998. After that, roosting was sporadic for nearly a decade with the last known roost of 16 birds recorded in 2003. UNTIL NOW!
In late August, after nearly two decades, the White-tailed Kites appear to be, once again, using their traditional communal roost on More Mesa. This is especially good news because the recent drought (driest period on record in California history) had precipitously reduced the number of kites in the entire Goleta Valley. For example, there were 15 nesting pairs of kites in 2012, at the beginning of the drought, and only a single pair in 2016 … and that pair was at More Mesa.
Now, this fall, as many as twelve birds have been observed at the traditional More Mesa communal roost. This is yet another indication of the recovery of these important bird species in our area. Unhappily, and for two separate reasons, the roost is not as safe as it once was. First, the historical roost area has become part of a heavily used trail, and second, the recent plague of hundreds of aggressive crows on More Mesa poses yet another problem for our lovely and light weight kites.
To learn more about White-tailed Kite roosting check out pages 31-32 of the More Mesa Handbook.

You can Help… Tread Softly

Because roosting birds are easily disturbed, walk and talk softly when you are out on More Mesa, especially in the late afternoon and the early morning. Now that our favorite birds have “come home to roost”, we don’t want them to be frightened away.