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Finding The Speed Of Light With Peeps | Skunk Bear

January 19, 2018

There’s a new use for those stale Easter marshmallows you have lying around – calculating a constant that governs the universe.

This is an installment of the NPR – Skunk Bear series. If you liked it, let us know. We’re experimenting. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]


Butterbredt Christmas Count–a Big Surprise

January 18, 2018

Our count was scheduled for Saturday, December 16th, but Mary Prismon and her daughter Carole went up on Friday, and what did they find? Fire trucks at Butterbredt Spring!

Carol Reed_2017-12-16_075533

Photo: Carol Reed 12-16-17

Doesn’t look so bad, right? That’s the most favorable angle. On Saturday afternoon my car went by and Chris Lord took a few snaps.


Photo: Chris Lord 12-16-17

This is where the fire started, according to the Park Rangers we spoke with. It could have been a car parked in the brush with a hot exhaust pipe – we don’t know.


Photo: Chris Lord 12-16-17

We’ve been mulling over just how we might get rid of the bulrushes that soak up all the spring water, but a fire was not one of our options. This view would have been 100% bulrushes before the fire. Temporarily, they are gone, but the roots remain and they will probably come back very soon. The area covered by the fire extended over a much larger area than you see here.


Photo: Chris Lord 12-16-17

The Important Bird Area sign built by Keith Axelson was destroyed. The Park Service sign survived.

We’ll bring news of the plans the Park Service may have when we hear them. Until then, most of the trees down the canyon from the spring survived and we don’t anticipate the burned areas will affect birds coming through, although it may encourage some Indigo Buntings to hang around. One never knows.

So, on to the count itself. The weather was quite cool, but winds were light and the sun came out so it was a good day to bird. After spending the morning from 8:30 a.m. chasing birds we ended up at Sageland Ranch and for the first time all the counters were gathered together. Our thanks to Reed Tollefson, Jake Abel, Steve Hylton, Mary Prismon, Carol Reed, Chris Lord, Jean Garrett, Alice Bragg, and a special thanks to Lys and Kit Axelson who opened Sageland Ranch for us.

Here’s the list. We saw an above average number of birds and species – perhaps the rain last year has encouraged more nesting. Nothing truly unusual showed up although we were very happy to see a Golden Eagle; they have not been around for a while. Once again I got skunked on Pinyon Jays, even when seen by my own group!


California Quail 68
Golden Eagle 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 7
Raptor sp. 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Swift sp. 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 2
Acorn Woodpecker 1
Williamson’s Sapsucker 1
Sapsucker sp. 1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 3
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 4
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 3
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 2
Prairie Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 1
Say’s Phoebe 3
Loggerhead Shrike 6
Pinyon Jay 12
California Scrub Jay 24
Common Raven 223
Oak Titmouse 4
Bushtit 12
Rock Wren 3
Bewick’s Wren 6
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 16
Western Bluebird 73
Mountain Bluebird 2
California Thrasher 7
Thrasher sp. 1
Phainopepla 3
Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler 3
Fox Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco 142
White-crowned Sparrow 526
Golden-crowned Sparrow 15
Bell’s Sparrow (belli) 53
Savannah Sparrow 2
California Towhee 9
Spotted Towhee 12
sparrow sp. 16
Western Meadowlark 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 150
House Finch 8
Cassin’s Finch 6
Total Seen: 1446
Total Species (net) 46

Westie hooked!

January 18, 2018

New Year’s Day, 9 am, cold and windy weather, the beach inundated with high tide, waves washing over the sand into the lagoon, the lagoon emptying just as quickly through the breach to the sea.

Lagoon flowing through the beach breach (L. Loeher 12-02-17)

A few birders annually gather for early birding on New Year’s morning to begin their birding year with a bang. Malibu Lagoon is reliable for at least sixty species. You can’t predict the weather, but you can expect very few people on the beach.

Up ahead, near where we expected to find the Snowy Plover winter roosting colony, we spotted a small knot of people of widely varied ages gathered together, staring down at something. As we neared, checking lagoon-edge shorebirds for plovers and peeps, we saw a large gull on the sand at their feet. One of them ran over to us and said: “It’s got a big fishhook in it. Can you do anything?”

As Lu Plauzoles and I approached the bird, it – now alone – startled, leapt into the air and flew towards the surf zone. It got about ten feet before tumbling forward into a breaking wave. Now upside down, it washed up at my feet and I grabbed it, folding its wings close to the body. It did not resist.

It was a sub-adult Western Gull, probably a third-winter bird, with a black mantle and yellow bill tipped with an irregular black ring and the beginning of a red gonys spot on the lower mandible. A fishing lure was hooked into his left nostril. (I prefer “him” to “it,” although you can’t tell sexes in gulls without a very close and highly personal  examination.

Heddon Super Spook – Baby Bass color
Imagine you’ve got the end-hook of one of these suckers stuck in your face, and the other two treble-hooks snagged into your belly.

Gamakatsu treble hook

Further examination showed that he was hooked in two other locations, both on the belly a bit forward of his left leg. The lure was perhaps 4″ long with three treble-hooks. One hook of each treble-hook had snagged him, with the rear-end treble hook being the one in his nostril. Hooked in this manner, his head was twisted so far to the left that it was unable to fly any distance, explaining why he tumbled into the surf.

I wriggled the nostril-hook around but could not dislodge it. We needed to separate the hooks from the lure. The small scissors on Lu’s scout knife proved unequal to the task, and all we accomplished was my snagging the gloves of both hands on the exposed hooks.

MirrOlure Classic Series 52M Sinking Twitchbait
My professional fly-fishing brother-in-law loathes treble-hooks, and chooses to exert his skill with barbless hooks.

Meanwhile, the family of the bird’s discoverers tried to calm their young daughter-granddaughter, who was somewhere between eight and fifteen (I’m better at aging birds than humans) and was sobbing nearly uncontrollably, distraught by the bird’s plight. We decided to take the bird back to the parking lot where Lu had a Leatherman tool (with wirecutter) in his car. Lea – the distraught girl’s grandmother – offered her windbreaker as a wrapping for the bird. Nicely wrapped (see photo), the extremely calm bird accompanied us to the car, a ten-minute walk. Along the way we talked, and I discovered that Lea was a very long-term Malibu resident and had been the unofficial local animal rehabber for many years. Her quick action and willingness to sacrifice her windbreaker in order to comfort and protect Westie proved the point.

Westie in Lea’s arms and windbreaker.
(Joyce Waterman 1-1-18)

Separating the hooks from the body of the lure with the Leatherman’s pliers-wirecutter tool proved difficult. Lu and Lea steadied him – now “Westie” – on the trunk of my car while I struggled to snip the hooks from the lure. It may not be saying much, but it took all my strength to snip through the metal. This was really not the right tool for the job. I then snipped off the exposed barbs from the treble-hooks. I still could not get the hook out of the nostril. Throughout the entire procedure Westie did not struggle and I often saw him looking me in the eye. I felt as if he trusted us to do him minimal harm, and I chose to believe that, but the reality may have been that he was in shock and frozen with fear.

Westie bill closeups: every time he opened his bill, it made the hook wriggle around, so we band-aided it shut (& removed before release). Black fuzz around hook is fabric from my gloves. (Photo: Lucien Plauzoles 1-1-18)

Leatherman Sidekick

Don’t get me wrong; I like versatile tools like Leatherman and Swiss Army knife. I own several. But – generally speaking – the more versatile a tool, the more poorly it performs any particular task. Trying to snip very hard steel in very restricted quarters with the wirecutter (see photo) part of the long-nosed pliers was nearly impossible.

We decided to leave Westie with what remained of the hooks still embedded in his body as Lea had volunteered to rush him up to the California Wildlife Center not far away. I left the now de-barbed portions of the treble-hooks intact to make it easier for the wildlife people to locate them. We all then set off in our various directions.

I learned later that Westie – once he realized that his bill was no longer painfully attached to his belly – became very “restive” as Lea described it, and started thrashing around in their car. They decided to return him to the portion of the beach where they found him.

We all hope Westie survived his ordeal, and is still living on the beach, despite the hooks embedded in his body.

Relative to the disasters of fire and flood recently experienced by the people of Southern California, Westie’s trauma may not seem to amount to much. But disasters and traumas come both large and small, and it’s difficult to judge whether the suffering of one person – or bird – is greater for that individual, than the suffering of another is for themselves. Over the course of a lifetime I have concluded that many – perhaps all – of the “lower” animals have feelings of pain and pleasure just as we humans do. It is our common animal heritage. The ability to experience both pain and pleasure have obvious survival value to the individual organism, and if the mechanism of natural selection does anything, it selects for characteristics which increase the probability of survival and procreation and selects against characteristics which don’t.

This is my best guess at how Westie became entangled. I suspect that he spotted the lure on the water and – thinking it was food – lunged at it with his bill, but instead got hooked in the left nostril. Lacking hands, he tried to dislodge the lure with his left foot, but instead managed to hook himself on the belly. Additional struggles only managed to embed the hooks further. When we found him, the lure had no leader line attached. If a fisherman had hooked him and cut the leader to free the bird, rather than attempt to either dislodge the hooks or take the bird to the animal rescuers, we’ll never know. With the proper tools, de-hooking a bird can be relatively easy. See the instructions below.

Channel Lock 436 6″ diagonal cutter

Channel Lock 6-inch Long Nose Pliers

It may not be much of a take-away lesson, but I decided to buy some more appropriate hook-removal tools and carry them with my field guide from now on. Channel Lock makes highly-rated tools, and I bought one of their 6″ diagonal cutter pliers. A larger cutter would cut bigger, tougher hooks but, knowing myself, I probably wouldn’t carry it because of the size and weight. I also got a cheap pair of long-nosed pliers, as their function in hook-removal is less critically-dependent on craftsmanship.

I used to fish when I was young. A sloppily-casting friend once hooked me in the shoulder with a treble-hook, and an hour of whacking away at my shoulder with a knife and razor blade taught me that the best way to extract a hook is to snip everything off except some of the shaft, then use long-nosed pliers to push the hook forward in an arc until the barb emerges through the skin, then pull it out by the barb-end. This is more unpleasant to experience than it sounds, but it’s better than yanking the hook backwards or trying to cut through flesh down to it. Believe me, I know.  [Chuck Almdale]

Read the information below for expert advice on how to de-hook a bird.

DON’T CUT THE LINE! Reel. Remove. Release.

entanglement logo

Follow these steps to rescue a hooked bird: Reel in the bird. Remove the hook. Release the bird.
From Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Watch the video demonstrating how to safely handle and unhook a bird.

    1. Enlist others for assistance if possible.
    2. REEL the bird in slowly and evenly.  Don’t try to shake the bird loose by jerking the line – it will inflict additional injury to the bird.
    3. If fishing from a pier, make sure that the bird remains on the water until a net, such as a hoop net, can be used to lift it onto the pier. Birds reeled up onto piers can be seriously injured, or can potentially damage fishing equipment.
    4. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Take extra care to protect yourself when handling long-billed wading birds and hooked-billed cormorants.

      Securely Holding A Bird

      When handling a pelican, keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe. (Photo: George Veazey)

    5. Firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes.  Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings, and hold the legs. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird.  If it is a pelican, you can hold the beak but keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.
    6. Cover the bird’s head with a towel, hat, shirt, or other cloth. This will calm the bird and make it easier for you to remove the line and/or hook.
    7. REMOVE the hook by cutting the barb and backing the hook out.  If the barb is imbedded in the bird’s flesh, push the hook through until the barb emerges from the skin and then clip the barb.
    8. If the bird is entangled in line, use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut the line.  Place the cut line in a monofilament recycling bin, or cut the line into small (<3- inch pieces) and place in a lidded trashcan.
    9. Carefully check the bird over for other hooks or line and remove them too.


      Use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut fishing line and remove hooks. (Photo: Jeanette Edwards)

    10. If the bird is feisty, it is likely healthy enough to RELEASE.  Point its head towards the water and step back while you release the bird.  Let the bird take off on its own.  Sometimes birds shake their feathers out, assess the situation, and then are ready to fly.  Other times, they just take off.  Either way, this represents a successful release.
    11. If the bird has swallowed the hook, or is severely injured, take it to a local rehabilitator.
Check our website for a list of local rehabilitators.  Download Florida’s Pelican Rescue Brochure Adobe PDF For tips on how to avoid hooking seabirds in the first place, visit Florida’s protect our Florida seabirds.

Hayden the Metro Mammoth with Dr. Emily Lindsey | Natural History Museum’s Curiosity Show

January 15, 2018

Chris visits Dr. Emily Lindsey at the La Brea Tar Pits to meet Hayden, a juvenile mammoth that was discovered during a dig for the Metro train along Wilshire Blvd. Hayden lived in Los Angeles but didn’t die in the Tar Pits, so his bones aren’t the typical “La Brea brown” color of those we find in the Pits. He’s also still got small tusks and some of his baby teeth. Remains of Ice Age megafauna are found all around under Los Angeles, revealing what the landscape was like thousands of years before urbanization.

This comes from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

Your Climate Change Conscience – feat. Al Gore | PBS Science Video

January 11, 2018

“An Inconvenient Sequel” is former Vice President Al Gore’s newest film 🌎🎥

News about climate change is often full of doom, guilt, and anxiety. This can make many people reluctant to pay attention to or discuss it. We asked former Vice President Al Gore to help us find a different way to talk about climate change.

This is an installment of the PBS – It’s OK to be Smart series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

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