July 11, 2010

Birds Fly Over the Oil Spill, Why Then, Oh Why Can’t I?

Good morning and greetings, heat wave fans. While the east coast was suffering under scorching, brutal, record breaking heat and humidity last week, the central coast was cooler than the other side of my pillow. If you like cold and foggy weather in the July, then Santa Cruz was the place to be. What tourist doesn’t love wearing mittens and a down jacket at the beach? Or to paraphrase my old pal Mark Twain, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer riding the Big Dipper.”

The temperatures have been sweltering inland, but the chilly, gray sky mornings are normal weather for the coast. According to meteorlogist Diana Henderson of the National Weather Service in Monterey, “it’s not unusual. This happens every year at this time. That’s why they film ‘Baywatch’ in Hawaii.” It’s understandable, because we wouldn’t want to see Pamela Anderson wrapped in a blanket as she tries to save a school of baby dolphins from getting caught in a riptide. That would defeat the porpoise.

The central coast’s frigid summer conditions comes mostly from the chilly Pacific Ocean, which acts as an air conditioner and minty air freshener, according to Henderson. “Without it, we’d be Nevada.” That’s right, blackjack, showgirls and the illusions of Siegfried & Roy, right here, where the redwoods meet the sea and anarchy.

My thanks to Shanna McCord of the Santa Cruz Sentinel for the weather service updates. When I woke up Tuesday morning, the ground was soaked like my tank top after a ten mile run up the coast. It looked like rain, but it was actually the drizzle from the heavy fog. I hadn’t seen that much condensation on the ground since Jennifer Beals took the stage in ‘Flashdance.’

That brings us to our top news story of the week. As reported by Andrew Zajac in the Los Angeles Times, the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service said it would begin paying some gulf region farmers, ranchers and football coaches to flood their fields so that migratory birds can find alternative rest and nesting grounds to oil-fouled habitats.

The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative will pay to use up to 150,000 acres of land “to provide feeding, resting and reading areas for migratory birds.” The program applies mainly to former wetlands, low-lying land and skateboard parks in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas and France. Conservation officials are hoping to attract birds who don’t have internet access to safe areas before they land on shores and wetlands contaminated by the massive oil spill.

Landowners would be expected to flood fields and promote the growth of vegetation and snacks favored by migratory birds, or to enhance existing wetlands on their properties, as rice fields, fish farms and Long John Silver restaurants are particularly suited to the initiative.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has fouled off numerous pitches along with marshes and coastal areas relied on by birds and other wildlife. The gulf region sits beneath one of the world’s major migratory flyways, with about 1 billion birds from more than 300 species passing through annually, says Greg Butcher, a vegetarian and director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. “None of this is guaranteed to work,” Butcher says. “We’re expecting that this will work at least a little bit. We’re hoping that it’ll help a lot. What I’m really trying to say is these birds are screwed”

On that positive note, in a story reported by Michael Kunzleman for the Associated Press, less than three years before New Orlean Saints won the Super Bowl and the Gulf oil spill erupted, federal regulators and a couple of fortune tellers concluded several offshore drilling projects posed a low risk to endangered wildlife – a determination that contrasts sharply with recent scenes of birds and vacationers struggling to survive the slick.

A September 2007 memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said large oil spills from the proposed Gulf drilling projects under review were “low-probability events” that weren’t likely to affect brown pelicans, sea turtles, other animals or the economic futures of fisherman, shrimpers and oyster lovers with Gulf Coast habitats.

The memo concluded that the chance of oil from an offshore spill of at least 1,000 barrels reaching endangered species or their habitats was no greater than 26 percent. Now, I’m no math whiz, but I’d calculate their estimates were off by, approximately, let’s say, a million percent.

Less than three months before the Fish and Wildlife Service issued its memo, the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that the same Gulf leases, including BP’s for Deepwater Horizon, were “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species.” Well, I’m sure that comes as a relief to all the migrating birds and their families. Because as we all know, a bird in the hand is worth two gallons in the Bush administration.

So in honor of Larry Bird and friends, I thought we would take a look at some winged creatures who reside here on the central coast. We start with a great blue heron, who I photographed right outside the arch early one morning at Its Beach. I shot the snowy egret in the landing mode right after it had flown through the same arch on an extreme low tide afternoon. This was the same day I photographed a rainbow through the arch and decided that I wanted to be Mikhail Baryshnikov when I grow up.

Then it’s onto four snowy egrets in a marshland up in Richardson Bay in Mill Valley, followed by some pink flamingos vacationing in Palm Desert and a snowy egret reflecting in the pond at Natural Bridges. Flamingos don’t actually live here on the central coast but sometimes journey to Monterey Bay for a spa weekend and to have their legs shaved. Much like myself, they enjoy standing on one leg with the other tucked beneath their body. It’s both relaxing and a way to save on the wear and tear of our shoes.

The final image is a red shouldered hawk, who I photographed at Antonelli’s Pond, which is less than a mile by the way the crow flies from my compound here on the westside. It was early in the afternoon when I spotted this beauty. With my zoom, I was able to get close enough to get a shot of those incredible talons wrapped around the branch. And the best part is, this is the only hawk, besides Dominique Wilkins, that I’ve seen in this spot over the past eleven years. There’s something about capturing the flag or the moment.

Here’s a taste of the late night. “The East Coast is suffering from a terrible heat wave. Wall Street bankers are jumping out of windows just for the cool breeze on the way down. You people are so lucky you live in California. This heat wave back east is just unbelievable. … It was so hot in Washington, Nancy Pelosi skipped the Botox, had her face injected with frozen yogurt. Back in 1776, Americans were fighting to escape British rule, these days we’re fighting to escape British oil. They say traces of BP’s oil has started turning up in disturbing places, like congressmen’s pockets.” –Jay Leno

So that’s our show, petroleum lovers. Here’s a few quick petro facts before I cruise off into the fog bank. Americans drivers consume 19-20 million barrels of oil every 24 hours. That’s 10,000 gallons a second. If we all drove 30 miles less per week, oil consumption would drop 20%. Then again, if my aunt had,er, spheres, she’d be my uncle. Just a few things to think about the next time you fill up the old Hummer.

So in honor of the uniting of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, I’m taking my Sonny Crockett jacket out of mothballs. Sorry Knick fans, but your suffering will continue.

So enjoy the long days of summer and let’s hope someday that we leave Afghanistan. And if you have moment, say a little prayer for the displaced and homeless. We’ll catch you in the American Airlines Arena. Aloha, mahalo and later, David Lee fans.


  1. David Lee? Not David Lee Roth aka David ‘Weave’ Roth?

    Comment by nba — July 12, 2010 @ 9:00 am

  2. Maybe Cavs owner Dan Gilbert should guarantee that his team will win a championship before the oil well is plugged.

    Comment by Houston Oilers — July 12, 2010 @ 9:06 am

  3. Phew… It’s been so cold that we were packing for an early migration. Smiles and thanks for a great blog,

    Comment by Babs — July 13, 2010 @ 6:00 am

  4. Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.

    Sent via Blackberry

    Comment by R1 woman — August 24, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Follow Sunrise Santa Cruz on Twitter
Sunrise Santa Cruz in the news!