PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 168, Spring 2012: Notes From The Field


Reducing the Negative Impacts of Accelerating Environmental Change

PRBO Updates

PRBO Staff

Montane Meadows
Director's Column: Words Matter
Working Landscapes
Urban Restoration
Unlocking the Data
"Sea Elephant" Encounter
PRBO Updates
Focus: Whisper Song
Vision for the Future
Farallon Patrol
Board and Staff Migrations

A rice landscape in winter (Sutter Buttes in background) is waterbird and shorebird habitat. Photo by Melany Aten / PRBO
The many new projects and important results at PRBO include this sampling. For more information, please visit our website ( and Facebook page.

Birds of Climate-Change Concern. In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists from PRBO and the California Department of Fish and Game have shown which bird species are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Wetland species face the greatest threats due to sea level rise and changes in precipitation. Ocean birds that nest on islands or rocky shores are also highly vulnerable. The findings -- and their importance for setting conservation priorities -- received wide media coverage following publication in the prestigious online journal PLoS ONE. Lead author Tom Gardali says, "Our study evaluates how climate change, piled on top of all the existing threats such as development and invasive species, will affect birds. This provides the information necessary to help allocate scarce dollars for conservation." To learn more, see

Habitat in the Rice Landscape. The new Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP), which PRBO helped establish (Observer 166, Fall 2011), is taking root in the Sacramento Valley. Rice growers in six counties will begin implementing wildlife-friendly practices with support from the federal Farm Bill, administered through the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). At an early March workshop hosted by the California Rice Commission, staff from PRBO and Audubon California, along with NRCS, met with growers interested in enrolling in WHEP. Khara Strum presented "Restoring, creating, and enhancing bird habitat in California's rice landscape" to help explain the conservation context and promote practices supported by the program. NRCS received some 160 applications for the program.
Emperor Penguins on sea ice in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photo by Bruce McKinlay / Creative Commons.

The Last Ocean. Establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for Antarctica's Ross Sea, the last near-pristine ocean on Earth, was the focus of recent discussion among two dozen experts on physical and living systems of the region. PRBO's Grant Ballard, PhD, and Dennis Jongsomjit participated in the late-March workshop, in La Jolla, California, hosted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The group identified research needed to thoroughly understand how fisheries and climate change together are threatening the Ross Sea marine ecosystem. Based on their workshop findings, the group will develop a white paper for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources as the commission formulates a management plan for the proposed Ross Sea MPA.

Climate-smart Restoration. To proactively address the effects of climate change, new designs for habitat restoration are taking shape at PRBO. Planting a broader range of native trees and shrubs creates habitat that will tolerate greater weather extremes and produce more food resources over a longer period of time. This will support wildlife populations as the links between food availability and when animals need it shift due to increasing climate variability. PRBO's STRAW project -- Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed -- is already implementing climate-smart restorations (, and our bird monitoring in restored habitats supports continuing refinement of this adaptive approach to climate change.
Golden-crowned Sparrow in breeding plumage. Photo by Tom Grey /

Mapping Sparrow Migration. An innovative PRBO study has unlocked a songbird migration mystery -- namely, where Golden-crowned Sparrows that overwinter in California go to breed in the spring. With tiny, lightweight tags used to track the location of a handful of sparrows, the study reveals the migration route of this small songbird to some of its breeding sites in coastal Alaska. During a time when birds are experiencing the negative impacts of climate and land-use changes, being able to pinpoint the most important breeding and stopover places is critical to prioritizing conservation investments. The study was published in April in the online journal PLoS ONE. To learn more see and also "Site Faithful Songbirds" in Observer 163, Winter 2011.

Vision for San Francisco Bay. New goals for PRBO's work in the San Francisco Bay Estuary emerged from a day-long meeting in February. PRBO's Science Advisory Committee and other eminent scientists considered PRBO¡¯s accomplishments on the Bay and how we can best affect conservation outcomes. One idea suggested was a shift from restoration ecology toward "reconciliation ecology" -- acknowledging that the future (with climate change, increasing human populations, and novel ecosystems) will likely have no analog in the Bay we now understand. A new vision statement guides PRBO's San Francisco Bay Group: "Because of our work, in 100 years the marine, estuarine, riparian, and upland habitats of the Bay will still support resilient ecosystems, thriving and diverse wildlife populations, and vital ecosystem services for Bay Area residents."

And More. See and for the latest PRBO news, findings, and member events!

The ACCESS partnership between PRBO and National Marine Sanctuaries ( has become a member of the West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network.

On the 25th anniversary of Joint Ventures (JVs), Executive Director Ellie M. Cohen participated in a March meeting in Washington, DC, of JV leaders from across the U.S. to to urge Congressional support for conservation.

PRBO staff met with partners from the USDA Forest Service International Program to discuss our expanding shorebird monitoring and Middle East collaborations.

PRBO Naturalist Rich Stallcup recorded a birding podcast produced by San Francisco Bay Joint Venture: see

The start of spring breeding season has greatly intensified PRBO field work, with studies of coastal and Farallon Island seabird colonies, Snowy Plovers in the Monterey Bay area, Spotted Owls in Marin County, birds the length of the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, rails in San Francisco Bay tidal marshes, threats to desert habitats, and more. Bird-banding and nest-monitoring studies are in full swing at the Palomarin Field Station. New on our website: monthly bird-banding summaries from Palomarin; visit

Some 40 partners and teachers attended the spring STRAW Network Dinner and heard presentations by John Parodi and Stephanie Nelson on climate-adapted restoration, and by Marc Holmes of The Bay Institute on the restoration of Cullinan Ranch on San Pablo Bay.

Birding Movie

Coming in June: The West Coast premier of a new film "Birders¡ªThe Central Park Effect," by Jeff Kimball, a member of PRBO's Board of Directors! This beautiful film reveals the extraordinary array of wild birds that grace Manhattan's celebrated patch of green and the equally colorful, full-of-attitude New Yorkers who schedule their lives around the rhythms of migration. The film-maker will be present at this special screening. PRBO members will be invited to attend. Watch for an email announcement with the place and time!

[back to top] [printable page]