Nesting ospreys a must-see on Seaplane ferry ride

Limited time opportunity!  Catch a rare glimpse of nesting ospreys during a ride on the Seaplane ferry.  The birds won’t be here much longer.    

The adult ospreys have been bringing fish, the only food they eat, to their young for about a month.  Their three fledglings are almost ready to start flying.  Once the young birds start flying, they will hang around the nest for a week or two before they depart and have to quickly become adept at catching their own fish.

Ospreys nesting around San Francisco Bay is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Tony Brake, a volunteer who has been monitoring ospreys around the Bay for over a decade.    “There were no historical nesting records for ospreys until 1990,” said Brake.

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Brown pelicans love their Alameda Point summer home

Every summer, thousands of California Brown Pelicans migrate north to the San Francisco Bay area from breeding sites on the Channel Islands and Mexico.  As many as 8,000 have been counted on their favorite resting site in the Bay on the isolated breakwater barrier at Alameda Point, known as Breakwater Island or the outer rock wall.

From a distance, the birds blend into the alternating dark and light background of the rocks.  A July 22, 2022, kayak excursion to the area provided a telephoto opportunity to share the colors, character, and peaceful demeanor of these iconic birds. 

Below is a photo gallery showing some of the thousands that were on the north side of the rock wall that day.

Continue reading “Brown pelicans love their Alameda Point summer home”

Caspian and Elegant Terns join Least Terns to nest at Alameda Point

Naval Air Station-Alameda gained notoriety as a refuge for the endangered California Least Tern when the base closed in 1997.  Over 500 acres were dedicated to protecting the terns’ adopted nesting site next to a runway formerly used by jet aircraft. 

This unlikely bird habitat for the Least Terns some 400 miles north of their historic breeding grounds along the southern California coast offered the birds something they had lost, which drove them to the brink of extinction – nesting sites free of human disturbance near a source of small fish to feed their chicks. 

Surprisingly, two other tern species have recently begun nesting in the vicinity.  Elegant and Caspian Terns seem to be thriving there, while the endangered Least Terns are struggling.

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Alameda Point harbor seals attract educational groups

About 240 students from Eldorado Middle School in Concord visited Alameda Point to make observations of the harbor seals on March 22.  The school participates in an educational program sponsored by the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito called Ocean Ambassadors. 

The students arrived in two groups.  While the first group was at the trailside viewing site, a second group was on a ferry ride around San Francisco Bay to view marine wildlife. The second group arrived in the afternoon, while the first group went on the ferry excursion.

Alameda Point was chosen for viewing harbor seals because it is the only place on the Bay that is easily accessible for viewing seals.

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Guns and Traps Used to Protect Least Terns at Alameda Point

The endangered California least terns that nest on the old airfield at Alameda Point are well protected during their April to August nesting season.  Fencing keeps people away from the 10-acre sandy nesting site, but it won’t stop other birds and mammals from getting to the eggs and the helpless chicks.  Only a well-armed and outfitted predator management officer can effectively deter other animals.

Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hires a wildlife biologist from Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Typically used for protecting crops and livestock, the agency is also hired to protect dozens of endangered species every year.  The most recent field report available for Alameda Point is for 2019, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The report describes a variety of methods used to deter or eliminate threats to the nesting terns.  First, loud noises and bright flashes of light are fired from a gun to frighten away an avian predator, called hazing.  Second, the wildlife biologist drives a vehicle toward an avian predator, another form of hazing.  Third, predators are trapped.  And fourth, as a last resort, the biologist is left with no other choice than shooting the predator with a shotgun or rifle or euthanizing. 

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Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area proposed for General Plan

The City of Alameda is in the process of updating its General Plan.  The current draft of the updated plan draws attention to wildlife habitat, a welcome addition.  However, it misses the largest contiguous wildlife habitat in all of Alameda – that is, the waterway on the south side of Alameda Point.  

To address this oversight, a proposal supported by stakeholders listed below has been submitted to the City recommending a policy that brings together both the habitat values and the recreational values of this area.  The proposal calls for designating the area as the Alameda Point Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area.  This area includes the deepwater ship channel, the ship harbor, the harbor extending to the mudflat and beach, and the rock walls and rocky shoreline.

This waterway hosts a complex web of life, from the creatures and vegetation living in the seabed sediment and on the rock walls and rocky shoreline, to the fish, marine mammals and birds that depend on it for food, resting, reproducing and raising offspring.  This waterway also is popular with non-motorized water sports enthusiasts.  It is unique among the open space areas of Alameda and deserves special recognition not only because of its multiple values to the community, but also because “water” is part of Alameda’s identity. Continue reading “Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area proposed for General Plan”