NCOS - A Birder's Perspective
Lynn Scarlett, avid birder and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, comments on the values and functions of NCOS for declining bird species.
I recall the area of what is now the North Campus Open Space (NCOS) when it was a golf course. I would bird around the edges—at Devereux, or Coal Oil Point, or remnant wetlands. What a difference vision, commitment, and a half dozen years of restoration make. An elusive American bittern now lurks in reeds at Whittier Pond. Red-shouldered hawks screech overhead. In winter, glorious cinnamon teal glide along the string of ponds. This golf course conversion is pioneering what other golf courses in over a dozen states are trying—restoring lands and waters so that nature and its creatures may thrive.
Cinnamon teal in the Mesa vernal pool.
The urgency is acute. A 2019 report calculated a loss of 3 billion North American breeding birds (1 in 4 birds) from 1970 to the present. Building from that report, a 2022 State of the Bird Report generated by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, comprising nearly three dozen organizations, examines overall trends in bird populations and identifies 70 “tipping point” species that have lost half or more of their populations in 50 years and “are on a trajectory to lose another half in the next 50 years,” or they have very small populations and face high threats.
Green Heron at Phelps Creek.
Habitat conservation and restoration, especially of grasslands, forestlands, arid lands and shores, is essential to reverse these trends. Though the picture for wetlands, in large part as a result of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and Farm Bill conservation provisions, is somewhat more encouraging, more wetland protection and restoration is needed. The effects of climate change make careful water management critical. NCOS is both a catalyst for others elsewhere to replicate this restoration story and an essential part of the evolving bird conservation story.
Of “tipping point” birds, some are regulars at NCOS; others occasionally show up. That list includes Allen’s and rufous hummingbirds, Heermann’s gulls, and semipalmated sandpipers, among others that call NCOS home for parts of the year. NCOS provides habitat interconnected with other protected areas like Devereux and Ellwood Mesa, bringing conservation beyond isolated, fragmented “islands” of protection.
Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird seen near the NCOS ROOST.
Restoration details matter. Efforts at NCOS to sustain shallow slopes on the estuary edge for shorebirds have paid off in providing continuous habitat at a wide range of water elevations. Fencing next to trails supports ground-using birds and animals by providing some security from people and dogs. Creation of winter sheltering features supports a variety of avian and non-avian species.
Juvenile Snowy Plover and parent forage along the slough shore.
But protecting and restoring lands is not enough. Sustaining bird populations (and natural habitats) requires complex wetlands management and restoration of native plants. It also requires “people engagement”, staying on trails, watching but not invading bird and animal “space.” Each of us, as guardians of NCOS conservation, may contribute to helping these bird trends reverse course.
Article by Lynn Scarlet. Photos by Jeremiah Bender.