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South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
August 2012 Newsletter
Volume 28

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
Upcoming Events
and Meetings
More events, including volunteer restoration opportunities, are listed on the Events and Meetings section of the project web site.

August 2012

Levee Bike Tour
Don Edwards SF Bay NWR
Alviso Marina County Park, Alviso

Saturday, August 11
Saturday, August 25
10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Get a new perspective! Take a docent-led bicycle tour along the levees of the Don Edwards SF Bay Refuge. Learn about the Salt Pond Restoration Project and see Silicon Valley from a new angle. It's nature in the middle of it all! The trail is level and smooth, but unpaved, and it can be windy. The tour starts and ends at the Alviso Marina County Park. The pace is moderate with stops. Helmet and water recommended. Recommended for ages 14 and over. For information, please call 510-792-0222 x139.

Invasive Weed Removal in Palo Alto
City of Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Saturday, August 11
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Save The Bay has been restoring wetlands at this site since 2000 - creating habitat for shorebirds, including the threatened snowy plover. Volunteers will help prepare the site for winter plantings by removing invasive weeds. Register here.

Weeding Season Continues
at Eden Landing
California Dept. of Fish & Game
Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, Hayward/Union City

Saturday, August 18
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

The days are hot but the mornings are cool. Enjoy the bay breezes as we remove invasive weeds and prepare these former salt ponds for the next batch of native seedlings to be planted in the winter. Join Save The Bay and be part the largest wetland restoration project on the West Coast while learning about the exciting changes happening at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. Register here.

Changing of the Bird Guard
-Summer to Fall
Don Edwards SF Bay NWR
Ravenswood Pond SF2, Menlo Park

Saturday, August 25
10:00 - 11:30 a.m.

Docent Jane Moss will lead you on a 1-mile walk through the ever-changing panoramas surrounding a former salt pond. Learn about the exciting ways this area is being reshaped as newly created habitat for nesting and resting birds. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. For information, please call 510-792-0222 x139.

September-November 2012

Bird Migration Hike
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR
Ravenswood Ponds, Menlo Park

Sunday, September 9
1:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Our wetlands are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major bird migration route. Take an easy, 4-mile hike with docent Laurel Stell to learn why the birds migrate, why they stop along the San Francisco Bay, and to spot the birds in action. Reservations required; please call 510-792-0222 ext. 139.

Return of the Shorebirds
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR
Ravenswood Pond SF2, Menlo Park

Saturday, September 15
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Come greet the shorebirds as they return by the thousands to San Francisco Bay every autumn. Docent Jane Moss will lead you on a 1.5 mile round-trip hike along Don Edward's unique interpretive trail and introduce you to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. For information, please call 510-792-0222 x139.

Bird Migration Walk
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR
Ravenswood Pond SF2, Menlo Park

Sunday, September 23
Sunday, November 25
1:00 - 2:30 p.m.

Our wetlands are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major bird migration route. Stroll with docent Laurel Stell to learn why the birds migrate, why they stop along the San Francisco Bay, and to spot the birds in action. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. Meet at the SF2 trail parking area on the west side of the Dumbarton Bridge. For information and directions, please call 510-792-0222 ext. 139.

Sunset Photography Hike
Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, Hayward

Saturday, October 13
5:00 p.m.

Hidden among the salt ponds is one of the East Bay's most intriguing historical sites. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is sponsoring this photography hike to the old Oliver Salt Works within the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. We'll be walking into an area of the Reserve not yet open to the public to so please be prepared to walk several miles on unimproved levees with your equipment. Reservations required. Please call 510-792-0222 ext. 139.

Ravenswood Hike
Bedwell Bayfront Park, Menlo Park

Saturday, October 20
10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

The 2.3-mile perimeter trail at Bedwell Bayfront Park offers great opportunities to discover winter wildlife and to discuss how future wetlands restoration will shape this piece of the Bay. Offered by the Don Edwards SF Bay NWR and the Friends of Bedwell Bayfront Park. Meet at the main parking lot bathrooms at Bedwell Bayfront Park. Call 510-792-0222 ext 139.

Shorebirds Return
(2nd Anniversary Walk!)
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay
NWR Ravenswood Pond
SF2, Menlo Park

Saturday, October 20
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Two year ago we opened the flood gates to restore a former salt pond to tidal action. Learn what happened over these past two years as we welcome the return of the shorebirds. Docent Jane Moss will lead you on a 1.5 mile round-trip walk along Don Edward's newest interpretive trail and introduce you to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. For information, please call 510-792-0222 x139.

Oliver Salt Works Hike
Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, Hayward

Sunday, November 11
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

One of the East Bay's most intriguing historical sites is the old Oliver Salt Works within the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. We'll be walking into an area of the Reserve not yet open to the public so please be prepared to walk two miles on unimproved levees. Reservations required. Please call 510-792-0222 ext. 139.

Annual Joint Stakeholder Forum
& Working Groups Workshop/Meeting
Location TBA

Thursday, November 15
1:30-4:30 p.m.

Mark your calendar for the annual meeting for South Bay Salt Pond stakeholders. This year, we will be conversing about potential Phase 2 restoration and public access projects. We will send out further information about the workshop as the agenda is developed, or check back on the project website Events and Meetings page.

Become a Friend of the
Salt Ponds on Facebook

Want to receive regular updates, interesting trivia and the latest pictures and videos about the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration? Join us on Facebook.

Photo Credits: Most photos by Judy Irving; photo of Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen by Michael Kerr; photos of plover chick and gull nest by Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen; photo of bird mercury-testing by Nina Hill; photo of Pond A8 gates by John Bourgeois; photo of international visitors by Mary Selkirk.

Shoreline Study Recommends
Alviso-Area Levees

In response to public, stakeholder and agency input, Shoreline Study partners have changed the tentatively selected alignment for Alviso-area levees. The partners, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the State Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, heard from the public and agencies at meetings in June, including a June 21 meeting of the Alviso Working Group when partners presented draft levee alignments. In July, the partners and the City of San Jose changed their tentatively selected alignment to follow Pond A18's stairstep-shaped south levee, preserving options to restore the entire pond. The selected levee option presented at the June meetings would have run through the southern part of the pond. The tentatively selected alignment near the Alviso community remains along the levee north of New Chicago Marsh.

Consultants will now analyze the tentatively selected alignment in an environmental review and a feasibility study. The studies will also analyze five other alternatives, and look at non-levee alternatives, such as moving or raising the Refuge's Environmental Education Center. They expect to release the draft reports in summer 2013.

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project managers won't be able to restore more wetlands near Alviso until levees are built to protect homes and businesses from potential Bay flooding. Under the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study schedule, levees could begin construction in 2017 if they get Congressional approval.

In the aerial photo below, the tentatively selected alignments are:

  • Alviso North, in purple
  • WPCP South, in green
Meeting participants in June had also raised concerns that a planned Bay Trail segment in Alviso would allow too much biking, which might disturb nature lovers and birds. In response, Project managers are investigating a dual-track trail option. It would include a dirt trail on Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge lands and a paved trail along Highway 237.

Also, non-federal Shoreline Study partners have agreed to gather fill on their own, as it becomes available locally, to build upland transition habitat for the new Alviso tidal marshes. This would keep costs low. They had presented a more expensive plan on June 21 to gather fill in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Members of the public can provide comments when the draft studies are released. If they would like to make comments earlier, they can contact:

Managers Widen the Mouth
of Alviso Pond A8!

With very preliminary mercury study results indicating good news, managers in June opened more gates at 400-acre Pond A8 to bring in Bay tides. The pond has an eight-gate opening so tides can be carefully controlled by opening a mixed number of gates. Managers at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge opened the first gate at the former industrial salt pond last year. Since then, Pond A8 water has shown a significant decrease in methylmercury levels, according to those preliminary results. Now, with the change this June, three gates are open. Scientists continue to analyze the mercury data Depending on the final results, US Fish and Wildlife Service managers may open the gates further next year, to create better conditions for a variety of fish and birds. The goal is to eventually restore the pond to fully tidal salt marsh.

Mudflats and Channels Forming in Newly Restored Eden Landing Sites

Mudflats, which provide key feeding areas for waterfowl and shorebirds, are rapidly forming in the 630 acres of ponds opened to Bay tides this past year at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. Department of Fish and Game managers are also seeing the tides carve and scour the historic channel networks, restoring natural flows and creating habitat. Workers this past fall and winter opened up multiple breaches at Ponds E8A, E8X and E9 to let in the tides. Now consultants are finishing design work on the next project, which will turn neighboring ponds E12 and E13 into a series of smaller ponds with a variety of salt levels, to test which levels birds prefer. Construction is expected to start in fall.

Marsh machine aims to make birds happy

Who would have thought a big machine would please birds? In this case, the machine can make islands safer and better nesting spots for shorebirds and seabirds such as avocets and Forster's terns. The machine is the amphibious "Marsh Master" vehicle with a rototiller, operated in the above picture by Juan Gomez of Aquatic Environments. It came to Ravenswood Pond SF2 near Menlo Park in May to smooth the tops of some of the 30 nesting islands there. The pond was redesigned with the new nesting islands in 2009-10.

Salt Pond Restoration in the News

A compendium of recent media coverage

  • Ducks Unlimited's work to restore Eden Landing: Article
  • Birds are using South Bay Salt Pond restored marshes and constructed islands, Lead Scientist Laura Valoppi says: Article
  • Florence LaRiviere, founder of Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, receives the National Wetlands Award: Article
  • A newspaper reporter's role in launching Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Article
Interested in getting more news about the Bay? A subscription is free for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership's award-winning Estuary News. Paper and email versions of the 5-times-a-year mini magazine are available. Sign up here.

Scientists hunt clapper rails with manmade "nests"

Scientist Vivian Bui and an assistant hide a remote camera in a manmade "nest" at Eden Landing in March. The cameras are for the birds, so to say: endangered California clapper rails. As restoration at the salt ponds proceeds, scientists are surveying to see if the new habitat has become home to the rare and secretive birds. One of the Salt Pond Restoration Project's key goals is to expand the bird's vastly dwindled habitat. So far, surveying by Bui and other scientists at the Restoration Project has not tracked down any clapper rails.

Salt Ponds Lessons Shared Locally & Internationally

The salt pond restoration continues to attract interest from around the globe! In May, journalists from a French TV program about oceans visited the ponds to film a segment that will air on the television show, called "Thalassa," in September.

And in July, the project and Alviso's South Bay Yacht Club hosted a group of environmental managers and decision-makers from around the world. They learned about the project's approach to climate change and flooding, and they heard from managers and Alviso leaders about how the project has engaged with local communities. The trip was one stop for the three-week Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program for international environmental leaders and practitioners. The program is based at UC Berkeley's Center for Sustainable Resource Development.

Meanwhile, Salt Pond managers have been busy sharing information about the restoration at a suite of conferences this year.

  • A special session at the Headwaters to Ocean (H2O) conference in San Diego focused on salt pond restoration in San Francisco and San Diego bays. To increase dialogue and collaboration between these regions, managers and scientists from the North Bay, South Bay and San Diego Bay shared their experiences and challenges in restoring salt ponds back to wetlands.
  • This month, the Society for Conservation Biology landed in Oakland for several days. A session on adapting to climate change featured the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Also, project managers offered a field trip for conference participants to the Eden Landing and Ravenswood ponds, to see the restoration efforts firsthand. In addition, Anne Castle, U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, was in town speaking at the conference. We gave her a quick personal tour of the ongoing restoration work at the Eden Landing ponds.

Faces of the Restoration:
Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen

Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen directs waterbird programs for the South Bay-based San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. He work brings her out to the salt ponds to survey industrial salt pond bird populations, to keep a careful eye on South Bay gulls, and to study and protect threatened western snowy plovers. This small bird nests on dry pond bottoms, where its eggs and hatchlings can easily become predator food. Caitlin has tested a way of protecting plover nests by spreading similarly-colored oyster shells around them for camouflage. The non-profit San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) has a mission of conserving birds and their habitat in the South Bay. Caitlin has worked there since 2005, and will be leaving soon to have her first child. She has a master's degree in Environmental Studies from San Francisco State University, where she did plover research work under the Salt Pond Project's former lead scientist, Professor Lynne Trulio.

  • What got SFBBO interested in plovers?
    SFBBO has been working on plovers since 2003. The [US Fish and Wildlife Service's Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife] Refuge had been doing some monitoring and they asked us to join them. We are happy we have a really great working relationship with the Refuge. A lot of times they'll identify an issue or problem and we will work together on it - the California gull work is another example of that.
  • How did you get interested in birds?
    I worked as a research assistant in rain forests in Australia. At that point, I was working mostly with plants. But part of the job was to lead bird walks. I got more and more interested in the birds there, birds like parrots and honey-eaters. They were so fascinating - I'd be sitting at my desk and look out the window and see a bright red parrot eating bananas. When I came back to the States, I knew I wanted to work with birds. I did a project on piping plovers on the East Coast, and I knew after that I wanted to work with waterbirds.

    Piping plovers are a super cute small shorebird. Working with them on the beach, we got to know the behaviors of each pair of birds. Some would allow us to get really close to their nests, while some would flush when we were super far away. Some do really dramatic broken wing displays. I was also fascinated by the issue of how to manage land for this listed species.
  • Tell me about your work with waterbirds.
    In our California gull project, SFBBO has done walk-through surveys of gull colonies since 1980 to gauge the population increase. Also, we band California gulls, which SFBBO has done for 30 years - we've banded more than 11,000 of them. And the third piece is monitoring the gulls in the landfills in the South Bay. The main landfill, Newby Island, has a very aggressive abatement program. They fly falcons. They also use pyrotechnics, very well trained dogs, and all-terrain vehicles. We do counts, and we look at how the gulls react to each abatement method, and how quickly they'll come back.
  • I know there was concern after the Project breached the Duck's Head Pond, Pond A6, in 2010, flooding a large gull colony, that it would cause gulls to form colonies in new areas. What have gulls been doing?
    We did intensive surveys at the start of the gull nesting seasons in 2011 and 2012. A lot of the A6 gulls moved across the slough and have been nesting on the levees between ponds A9 and A11, so they did establish a new colony of about 12,000 birds. Last year, we were able to haze them out of a plover nesting area near Warm Springs. This year, we had to haze than out of Pond SF2 [the Project's 30-island nesting pond near Menlo Park]. Because the Refuge cannot bring in dogs and pyrotechnics, SFBBO used whistles, and in one case, because it was a drivable levee, we used a vehicle.
  • What excites you most about the work you've been doing?
    Seeing the connection between the fieldwork and working with land managers to come up with solutions on how to better manage the land. I really like to see the human connections. Species don't live in a bubble - we have a real impact on their habitat. Trying to make the habitat a little more friendly for them is my main interest.

    And there's nothing as amazing as seeing a newly hatched plover check. It's amazing seeing something so small. And hopefully seeing it fledge and seeing it the next year is really exciting, too.
  • What are you most happy or proud of that you've been
    able to achieve?

    I've been happy about the SFBBO project to enhance snowy plover habitat with oyster shells. And I was really excited, as sick as that sounds, to get on videotape that California gulls were predating plovers. Before, we thought they depredated plover nests, but we'd never seen it happen. Because the bottom of the ponds is hard with gypsum, they don't leave footprints. We'd seen harriers and ravens, but we had never seen gulls before.
  • What is your future vision for waterbirds and the salt ponds?
    I'm looking forward to seeing the restoration project going forward, and seeing the science going along with that. Various studies are going to look at how shorebirds and waterfowl react to the shrinking amount of pond habitat. I'm looking forward to how the project managers will use that to inform the next steps of the restoration. I think that is one of the most exciting things about the project.
  • Can you give me some background on snowy plovers, what were their historic populations like here?
    Plovers probably weren't in the Bay, or were only here in small numbers. The first one was recorded in 1918 on one of the salt pond levees. They were typically on the beaches. As humans took over the beaches, and planted a lot of plants on sand dunes, the birds moved over to the salt ponds. The ponds offer high tide foraging habitat, which otherwise wouldn't be available, as well. [The salt pond project aims to restore as much tidal marsh as possible while ensuring sufficient habitat for plovers and other birds now making use of the salt ponds.]
  • What is one of the more unusual experiences you've had in your work that might be interesting to our readers?
    Anytime you walk through a gull colony, it's an attack on all of your senses. You're walking into a couple thousand or 20,000 gulls. It's very noisy, as they react to you. They'll fly at you and dive-bomb you. When they get upset, they'll throw up. Most will let you get within five feet of them, and then they'll start getting upset. Because they are an animal that eats a lot at shopping malls and landfills, we see a lot of noodles, and rice as well as cat food, from feral cat food stations. At the colonies, we find a lot of ramen spice packets and soy sauce packets. We don't know if they bring them there, or if they've eaten them. In their nests, they use pieces of plastic. We've found them using wine corks, or Barbie doll legs.
  • How many gulls did we have historically in the Bay Area?
    We didn't use to have California gulls in the Bay Area. The first ones came in 1980, after a catastrophic event occurred at the gull colony at Mono Lake [their historic nesting area east of the Sierra Nevada], when Los Angeles's water use opened up a land bridge to their nesting island and coyotes made it out there.

    We've worked with PRBO Conservation Science to survey their populations. There is a correlation: as the Bay Area colony grows, the Mono Lake colony is shrinking. This year, we counted the highest number that we've ever counted in the South Bay, which was just under 53,000 gulls.
  • Since California gulls are a native species, but they've come to rely on human sources of food here, it seems like a difficult problem. What's the scientific consensus about how to address it?
    There is no easy answer. The scientific community knows this is a big problem, because they predate nests of terns, avocets and stilts. It's something we're all very concerned about. The Bay Area is not the only area in the world with gull growth - it's happening all around the world. Colony areas are usually associated with landfills.
  • What do you like to do when you're not working with birds? I spend a lot of time walking and hiking with my husband and my dog. I work so much beside the Bay, so I like to hike in other areas, like some of the East Bay Regional Park District parks inland, like Sunol Wilderness, or Quarry Lakes. I'm from the East Coast, and the landscape is so different here from what I've grown up with - I love to hike in oak woodland, oak savanna, and of course, the redwoods.

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