Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Raptor ID and Waterfowl ID Webinar Series

Cornell Lab BannerThis fall, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in conjunction with Cornell University, is offering two bird identification webinar series: the Raptor ID Series and the Waterfowl ID Series (a third, the Shorebird ID Series, is already underway). These webinar series for the public, taught by instructor Dr. Kevin McGowan, are designed to help beginner birders hone their identification skills through live, interactive one-hour sessions using photographs, videos, and sound recordings.

The Raptor ID Series (October 6 – November 3, 2014) includes (1) How to Get Started, (2) Other Things to Use, (3) Buteos, (4) Accipiters, Falcons, and Kites, and (5) Eagles, Vultures, and Others.

The Waterfowl ID Series (November 10 – December 8, 2014) includes (1) The Most Important Things to Know, (2) What Else Can You Use?, (3) Dabbling Ducks, (4) Diving Ducks, and (5) Not Everything That Swims is a Duck.

Both series cover everything from beginning identification through shape, color pattern, behavior, size, habitat, range, and calls, as well as specific characteristics for keying out most common North American raptors and waterfowl.

Each series consists of 5 webinar sessions, with registration fees ranging between $9.99 per session (Cornell Lab members) to $12.99 per session (non-members). Although Cornell University does not offer academic credits for these webinars, there is no question the price is right for beginner birders.

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Laguna de Santa Rosa: 2014 Amphibians of the S.F. Bay Survey Techniques

ASFBASTThis fall, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project will be sponsoring the Amphibians of the S.F. Bay Survey Techniques Workshop, November 21-22, 2014 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover the life history, ecology, conservation, identification features, range and distribution, habitat requirements, and behavior of frogs, toads, and salamanders of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Saturday field trip at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Sonoma Mountain will provide hands-on experience in survey techniques for the sixteen target species.

Dave and Jeff, whom I’ve known for years, are experienced herpetologists who have logged inestimable hours in the field between them studying these and other threatened and endangered species. Their knowledge is priceless, but the workshop worth every penny.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation website.

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Make Every Butterfly Count at the Antioch Dunes (2014)

Throughout August and September this year, wildlife biologists at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting their annual Lange’s metalmark butterfly counts to determine the health of this rare butterfly species.

The Lange’s metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei) can only be found at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, California. There, this butterfly’s life revolves around its host plant, the Antioch Dunes buckwheat. Adult butterflies are short-lived and weak fliers, relegating them to this relict 67-acre pocket of sand that was once part of a greater dune complex that connected the San Joaquin River to dunes in the Central Valley and beyond. After years of sand mining at the Antioch Dunes, today the Lange’s metalmark butterfly is nearing extinction.

That’s why refuge staff need your help censusing the butterfly population. Butterfly counts are scheduled twice a week (typically, Wednesday and Thursdays), every week, until counts zero out sometime in December:

  • August: 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 21, 26, 28
  • September: 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, and if they are still active, 25, 26

Newcomers and veterans alike are welcome to participate, but you must be 18+ years or older. Training begins on site at 9:30 AM, and the counts continue until 4 PM. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing in anticipation of the unpredictable cold, wind, or listless heat; sturdy shoes/boots and long pants (jeans) for uneven terrain and spiky weed seeds; sun-protection (e.g. sunblock, sunglasses, hat) and plenty of water; and your lunch.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Aug-Sept. butterfly counts, please contact Susan Euing (by email at or by phone at (510) 521-9717). If you leave a message, please leave your name, phone number and email address, and Susan will contact you as soon as possible to confirm.

For more details and directions, visit the refuge website:

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that writing about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes for Bay Nature magazine in 2005 was the genesis behind my children’s book, Sardis and Stamm. You can read more about the book – and order a copy for your shelves – here:

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Western Pond Turtle Literature – Citations New and Old

A few more western pond turtle articles have trickled in this year. Even though I’ve updated the western pond turtle literature page (where the bulk of the western pond turtle literature published has been meticulously indexed and posted for public consumption), they’re still worth mentioning here as well. If you know of any I’ve overlooked, please let me know…

Alvarez, Jeff. A., Kelly A. Davidson, and Sarah M. Foster. 2014. Actinemys marmorata (Western Pond Turtle). Nest predation. Herpetological Review 45:307–308.  [LINK]

Bondi, Cheryl A., and Sharyn B. Marks. 2013. Differences in Flow Regime Influence the Seasonal Migrations, Body Size, and Body Condition of Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) That Inhabit Perennial and Intermittent Riverine Sites in Northern California. Copeia 1:142–153.

Spinks, Phillip Q., Robert C. Thomson, and H. Bradley Shaffer. 2014. The Advantages of Going Large: Genome-wide SNPs Clarify the Complex Population History and Systematics of the Threatened Western Pond Turtle. Molecular Ecology 23(9): 2228-2241.

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Book Review: Astoria – John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire

astoriastarkAstoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, by Peter Stark, Harper Collins Publishers (, 2014, 384 pages, $27.99

In 1810, less than five years after the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s westward push to the Pacific Coast, entrepreneur and visionary John Jacob Astor approached Thomas Jefferson with a proposition – to establish a trading emporium along the then-unexplored Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, and there build an empire. Recognizing in the fur trade America’s untapped tradable wealth, Astor conceived “the largest commercial enterprise the world has ever known,” a scheme bold enough to make a Bond villain blush: to (a) import blankets, pots, and beads from London and New York and convey them to the Pacific Coast, where he would (b) exchange the goods for furs from the coastal and inland Indians along established trading posts, so that he could then (c) resell the furs in Canton China and purchase porcelain, tea, and silk, which he would lastly (d) resell at markets in New York and London at an unimaginable markup. All Astor needed was to secure an overland route across the North American continent and seed a colony from which his empire would flourish.

To see his vision through, Astor – a pauper-cum-millionaire made in the fur trade and real estate for whom money was no object – assembled two parties. His Overland Party, led by the thoughtful Wilson Price Hunt, was to cross the Rockies and establish an interior network of trading posts. His Seagoing Party, lead by the mercurial US Naval Captain Jonathan Thorn, was to transport supplies and tradable goods around Cape Horn to join with the Overland Party at the Columbia River. There, along the (more-or-less) unexplored horizon of the Pacific Ocean, the two companies would meet up and break ground for Astor’s great empire. That, at least, was the plan.

What played out next across the North American continent as both parties forged westward reads like a Quentin Tarantino screenplay. Fighting off starvation, abandonment, theft, betrayal, inclement weather, scurvy, insanity, paranoia, cannibalism, scalping, vengeful (and friendly) Indians, and the looming threat of war – oh, and death, plenty of death, the two parties struggled against towering waves, unforgiving mountains, and bone-chilling drafts of sea and snow. And those that made it found themselves no better off, stranded in Astoria and removed from the world, wondering whether reinforcements would arrive before their enemies. Replete with tales of derring-do and self-sacrifice, and those more shameful, including a vindictive ship captain leaping into a longboat to beat the daylights out of a sailor with a handful of sugarcane stalks for arriving after the ship’s departure, there is no shortage of white-knuckle moments.

In the years to follow, the paths Astor’s men forged across the Rockies would seed the United State’s westward expansion along the Oregon Trail. But for so great an achievement, Astoria’s history has been inexplicably eclipsed somewhere between the period of Native American occupation and the California Gold Rush. But not so in Astoria. From cover to cover, the labored birth of Astoria is woven together seamlessly and entertainingly by Peter Stark, whose craft as a storyteller makes Astoria a delight to read. Astor, Hunt, and Thorn leap from the pages in fairytale fashion, becoming larger than life as Stark dusts off a chapter of history much forgotten today. Well researched and well told, Astoria intermingles a nostalgia for our once-unexplored continent with an awe inspiring respect for the unforgiving lands and the men and women that braved them.

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