Alvaro Jaramillo.jpg

Bird watchers and anyone interested in an important area in San Mateo County for hawks, white-tailed kites and falcons can learn about the unique Wavecrest Open Space in Half Moon Bay this Saturday online with international bird guide Alvaro Jaramillo.

“Birds are the best little ambassadors for getting people interested in nature,” Jaramillo said.

The talk will take place 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, about the local raptor population living at the Wavecrest Open Space, a bird-watching area along the Half Moon Bay coast. It is one of the most important sites on the coast for wintering raptors, who rely on the flat fields to catch rodents. Raptors are predatory birds with talons and are relatively large. They include white-tailed kites, northern harriers, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, the American kestrels and falcons. Jaramillo noted birds are a constant reminder that humans are part of a larger world and can teach people about their local environment.

Raptors often come to Wavecrest during the nonbreeding season from fall into early spring. While the breeding population might only be a few pairs, so many others show up due to the ample supply of small rodents, like field mice. Mice populations go through cyclical booms, with some years seeing large amounts of raptors due to the rodent increase. Some years see as many as 70 kites, 20 hawks and other numbers of species. Jaramillo said the area is conducive for rodents, which in turn brings raptors. Its coastal location, environmental conservation and flat prairie nature make it ideal for raptors.

“It all adds up to being special in a sense more so than just the average area in the Bay Area,” Jaramillo said.

Raptors also don’t like flying over water and often hug the coastline when traveling, allowing the coast to serve as a natural corridor. Raptors can also see rodent urine trails far away and pick up on rodent ground activity, which Wavecrest has.

Jaramillo noted it was fortunate Wavecrest was still undeveloped, as there was a plan in the 1990s to turn the area into a subdivision for 300 homes. The project did not move further, and the area was conserved in part due to being a high raptor concentration area of statewide importance.

“That was something that was assessed, just how many hawks and kites get together there every so often, so that was one of the reasons it was not developed because it just seemed like too special a place to develop. Fortunately, now it is still great for raptors, and I think it always has been,” Jaramillo said.

The effects of climate change are still unknown because of a lack of information about migration patterns, with little idea if they are from Northern California, the Central Valley or other areas. Jaramillo noted that climate change could affect the wintering raptor population breeding areas due to wildfires, drought or food supply changes.

“My educated guess would say that long term, it will be an issue with a number of these raptors even though it might not be happening locally because they are coming from all over,” he said.

Jaramillo started watching birds as an 11-year-old kid and decided to become a biologist. He eventually gravitated toward interacting with birds and people through education, tours and writing books. He now takes people to different countries to watch birds and learn about different cultures.

Jaramillo moved out to the coast in the mid-1990s and noted species associated with urbanization and development have become common, like crows and Canada geese. Some species known for being in grasslands and forested habitats are becoming rare, like loggerhead shrikes or yellow warblers. Theories say that it might be due to pesticides or declining insect populations that make it harder to survive.

“The yellow warbler used to nest in town commonly. I used to hear them singing all summer long. They’re gone; they are completely gone from here as a nesting species,” Jaramillo said.

Jaramillo said the public remains interested in bald eagles and noted a bald eagle showed up at Wavecrest last year, with a substantial increase across the state and in the area.

“There are probably more bald eagles in San Mateo County than golden eagles. It used to be the other way around,” Jaramillo said.

He said people interested in helping birds should pay attention to the birds in the area, plant flowers that local insects can use and support organic products to help nature and birds.

“I think the first thing is just to have fun, get into it, go outdoors, watch birds and just be thinking about them. I think that’s step one,” Jaramillo said.

The event on Saturday will be both educational and entertaining and will give a rundown on raptors in the area without requiring participants to have any prior information. The Coastside Land Trust, based in Half Moon Bay, will put on the event. The organization is dedicated to the preservation, protection and enhancement of the open space environment in Half Moon Bay and the county.

People can sign up at Coastside Land Trust webinar page or get more information.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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