From the Executive Director:
Fall 2012 and winter 2013 were again “eggciting” for all of us at the WFVZ! Our wonderful NSF data entry technicians entered and scanned a vast number of egg data records during the autumn, and photographed an equally large number of egg sets! Their accomplishments mean that we have now got more than 130,000 records computerized and shared online for researchers to use in their projects. René Corado (see his summary of Collection events elsewhere in this Newsletter) continues to do an exemplary job conducting the day-to-day management of the project, and Adam Searcy, our faithful Collections Assistant, also continues to provide a significant amount of necessary details-management. And Jennifer Watson, our faithful and cheerful Office Manager/Bookkeeper, continues to keep us on track money- and morale-wise, so it’s a happy ship I’m sailing these days!
The students who have joined our project are wonderful people, and I’ve had a great time getting to know all of them. They’ve added a lot of spark and zest to the WFVZ’s daily style, and I think I can safely say that we’re all growing a lot by rubbing shoulders with each other.
The WFVZ continues to be a remarkable, unique institution to work at, and I’m proud to say that I reached my 10th year as Director in August 2012. I’ve learned a lot during the decade, and continue to do so daily. My tasks include property and endowment management, budget forecasting, and money concerns that are not what I went to school for (M.S. and Ph.D. in wildlands management and wildlife ecology), but it has been interesting and valuable to expand my knowledge this way! However, I especially look forward to expanding our scientific and education programs more over the next year, so please keep in touch with us by email, phone, Facebook, and our website as I morph these to fit all the levels of interest in birds that are in our community!
In the meantime, I hope that you have a good winter, and remember that if you start to get blue about the weather before spring, the return of birdsong is just around the corner…
Best wishes, Linnea
News from the Collections
Hola de nuevo! In the last Newsletter Dr. Hall discussed the big news of the Collections – the National Science Foundation Award we received starting June 1st, 2012 -- which prompted the hiring of 7 new data entry student assistants. Now, by February 2013, the group has grown to 11! Since last June these technicians -- plus my collections assistant, Adam, and I -- have entered 46,350 records, (for a total of 137,464 egg sets computerized), scanned 69,000 egg cards, and taken 34,030 photos of egg sets! Yeeeaaa! MUCH THANKS to all of these assistants!
Our volunteers Bill Anderson, Connie Bastow, Dexter Kelly, Heather Medvitz, and Linda Reynolds also are even closer to finishing the recording of the full label data for our 56,534 bird study skins, and Peggy Ellis continues to assist in the library collections, which include our journal, book, and thesis collections. Peg Stevens continued to archive the reports of the California Bird Records Committee, and also to computerize records of egg measurements that I have measured over the years. Kitty Frallic provided assistance with many tasks, including placing historical egg cards in acid free plastic envelopes, inventorying our live mount collection, and making sure that they were free of pests and dust. Adam and I are still cataloging specimens from our “work cabinets”, and as time allows, Adam has been updating the taxonomy (Family, Genus, species epithets) in our computer database for birds in our study skin and egg collection.
Our tours for the public continue: we served more than 1,000 people last year through more than 40 tours, and we also had more than 300 people at our 2012 October Open House! We also had research visitors working in the collections, including Dr. John Bates and photographer John Weinstein from the Chicago Field Museum (taking egg photos for a field guide); the prolific and ever-busy Peter Pyle; and naturalist-artist John Schmitt (working on plates for upcoming field guides on birds). We continue answering requests for data from researchers and questions from the public about birds, eggs, and nests!
Linnea continues hosting and co-teaching the CSU Channel Islands Ecology class labs with Dr. Angela Chapman, and Linnea and I gave a presentation about the Guatemala bird project to Ventura Conejo Audubon in early November 2012. Dr. Steve Rothstein, a Board Member of the WFVZ and Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Barbara, gave a seminar about Ecology of the Galapagos Islands in late November.
Almost all our bird live mounts are now protected by acrylic boxes thanks to a third City of Camarillo Community Service Grant, and donations from some of our own members! I hope that you will visit all of us at the WFVZ during one of our “public days” – please see the calendar at the end of this newsletter!
Hasta la vista, René Corado
Research Project Updates
Last breeding season (April-June), the WFVZ teamed up with Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc. (CEM) and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) to collect distribution, occupancy, and nesting data on Ventura County’s resident Cactus Wrens (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), which represent the western-most extension of the species’ range (see our previous newsletter for further details). Surveys of this sort have never been conducted for the local Wrens, even though Ventura County contains some of southern California’s largest remaining coastal cactus scrub. The survey relied on the participation of nearly 30 volunteers who were essential in bringing this “citizen science” project to fruition. Results have been summarized in a report sent to the CDFG (summary below), and a paper detailing the species’ status in Ventura County is being prepared for publication in the Western Field Ornithologist’s journal, Western Birds.
By the survey’s end, participants detected 117 active or probable Cactus Wren territories; California Gnatcatchers also were detected at 14 Cactus Wren sites. The current core range of Cactus Wrens within Ventura County appears to be restricted to soils derived from the Conejo Volcanics where they experience strong coastal influence. Within this relatively narrow band, south facing slopes bear the largest concentrations of suitable prickly pear habitat and, consequently, the most active territories. This approximate range extends from the western edges of Simi Valley southwest along the western edge of Thousand Oaks, then south along the Santa Monica Mountain’s southern edge to the vicinity of Point Mugu. The species formerly occupied habitat in the Santa Clara River Valley, but appears to have been extirpated. Curiously, the range of the California Gnatcatcher, including historical records from the Santa Clara River, follows a very similar pattern within the County.
Similar studies were previously conducted in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties; in the latter two, the Cactus Wren is listed as a California Species of Special concern (C. brunneicapillus sandiegense). Ventura County Cactus Wrens (and those on the coastal slope of Los Angeles County) have long been considered an isolated pocket of the widespread desert subspecies, anthonyi, which perhaps travelled southwest through the Santa Clara River drainage from the high deserts of Los Angeles county. The taxonomy and population status of coastal Cactus Wrens in Ventura County have implications for future conservation work and land management decisions. We look forward to future collaborations with CEM, CDFG, and other interested agencies on Cactus Wrens and other projects within Ventura County, and we would like to extend special thanks to all of the volunteers and employees who assisted with this project.