Friday, 21 June 2024

Local Audubon, park groups work to promote, conserve local wildlife

A sampling of the species of birds considered unique for Lake County. Photos by Brad Barnwell.

LAKE COUNTY – The annual Heron Festival has come and gone, but its goals continue around the year – to conserve, restore and educate people about the valuable natural resources and wildlife that Clearlake has to offer.

More concerned, Lake County-loving citizens are educating themselves about the land they live on, and how to keep it and its creatures healthy. Darlene Hecomovich of the Redbud Audubon Society reports that 1,871 people attended the joint event, which was the biggest turnout yet.

In 1994, the Redbud Audubon Society – formed in 1975 by a group of citizens – created the Heron Festival to celebrate the beauty of the springtime nesting period of one of Lake County’s signature bird species, the great blue heron.

Another important purpose of the festival is to showcase nature’s beauty and increase the appreciation and understanding of its value to all our lives, organizers said.

The goal of the National Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.

The Redbud Audubon Society, Lake County’s local chapter, reported 300 species of birds call this area home, with the following species being unique: the great blue heron, the double-crested cormorant, Western and Clark’s Grebes, the osprey and the famed bald eagle.

Event-goers had the opportunity to take guided pontoon boat rides during the Heron Festival which made it easier to see the local bird life, and their nests.

Floyd Hayes, pontoon boat guide and professor at Pacific Union College, said that 85 heron nests were counted in late March, so they seem to be doing well.

The National Audubon society designated Clear Lake, and the 50,000 acres surrounding it, as an Important Bird Area; the Important Bird Area Program aims to conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. It was launched in California in 1996 but didn’t really take hold until 2000 when an IBA report was initiated.

The Heron Festival attracted many bird watchers and nature enthusiasts. Ever since the event joined forces with the Wildflower Brunch in 2004, a variety of other people also flock to show their support for Mother Nature.

“I think we’ve helped each other pretty equally,” said Madelene Lyon, president of the Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association (CLSPIA). “The Heron Festival used to be held at Anderson Marsh National Park but it was nowhere near as conducive as the Clear Lake State Park.”

CLSPIA, a nonprofit organization, began the Wildflower Brunch to raise funds towards their goal, which is also to educate the public about the valuable and important natural and cultural resources located in the Clear Lake State Park and surrounding areas.

With so many groups having similar goals, Clear Lake is on the right track. Attitudes have drastically changed from the times when sulfur and mercury mines carved their way into the lake’s shores, embedding the lake with their runoff.

Clear Lake is labeled as an “impaired water body” by the state of California under the Clean Water Act, due to mainly the overload of nutrients, as Lake County News has reported.

In the 1870s, the newly discovered lush landscape and mineral-packed springs lured thousands of settlers to Clear Lake. But, according to a UC Davis study, the massive influx of settlers altered Clear Lake’s ecosystem and watershed beyond recognition.

The economic boom from the early swarm of settlers was too good to let go, so when tourists and residents began fleeing the area to escape a species of gnat, drastic and unfortunately detrimental measures were taken.

Dichloro Diphenyl Dichloroethane, or (DDD), was used in large amounts and is related to DDT, or Dichlorodiphenyl-Trichloroacetic Acid. The UC Davis study reported that three large doses of DDD were used spanning from 1949 to 1957.

Aside from controlling the gnat population, the pesticides also killed off other invertebrates, which were food sources for many species of birds. As a result, bird populations declined, died off and have made a very slow recovery.

According to the UC Davis study, Clear Lake is the first area where the negative effects from pesticides on bird populations were actually documented. But, wildlife populations is not the only this that has been in decline.

Over 85 percent of the area’s natural wetlands have dissipated due to both natural and anthropogenic stresses, according to the study. And now, 80 percent of the fish in Clear Lake are species that were introduced.

Five decades later, it seems Mother Nature has bounced back. At this year’s Heron Festival, event-goers were pleased to see many dwindling species of birds soaring these beautiful, clean skies once again.

Regarding when the DDT was sprayed, Hayes mentioned several species of birds that were affected most.

“The main problem with high level predators like the bald eagle and osprey is that they were really hard hit,” he said, explaining that those birds rely mainly on the kind of fish that the DDT killed.

He also attributed a decline in bird populations to low water levels, which generally means a low food source.

“When winter gets really cold, fish like the shad – a main food source for the grebes – die off and as a result of the colder temperature in the low water levels,” he said.

Having wildlife population data is crucial in the efforts of the groups to conserve, restore and showcase the natural beauty. Community members can pitch in and help collect data during the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Hecomovich said that both counts monitor the population and movement in the winter time. The Christmas Bird Count takes place on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 4, the Great Backyard Bird Count is over a four-day weekend in mid February

Christmas Bird Count participants “are more apt to be hard-core birders although many novice and mid-level birders participate and are encouraged to do so,” Hecomovich said.

She said that many of those same people participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is more geared to birders with all levels of interest. Many of them – as the county's name suggests – are just interested in the birds in their backyard, Hecomovich said.

To find out how to become involved in the local bird counts, or to get more information on birding in general, visit

“The Christmas Bird Count is a time-honored tradition that has gone on for 110 years and is the longest-running bird census in the nation and provides scientists with valuable data of bird populations. The GBBC is a four-day event that just completed its 13th year,” she said. “In the Great Backyard Bird Count, either an individual or a team/family submits a checklist for the birds seen each day of the count. Then, Audubon uses this data to determine how many and where the various species are located.”

For more information on this topic, please visit:

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