|Flocking migrants such as these Dunlin use San Francisco Bay Estuary in huge numbers. Photo © Doug Wechsler/VIREO.|
Upon hearing that I study birds in San Francisco Bay, people frequently ask me "What is the status of bird populations in the bay?" Ask a PRBO terrestrial biologist that question about the Palomarin bird populations, or one of our Marine staff about Farallon Island birds, and they can give you an answer based on 30-plus years of data (Observer 138, fall 2004). This is a more difficult question for San Francisco Bay, arguably one of the most important estuaries for water- and marsh birds in North America. We have bits of data to compose an answer, but many parts are missing.
One reason that PRBO does not have data spanning decades on the bay is that we have never had a constant presence on the bay. The most successful long-term ornithological studies are almost always centered on one or several field stations--vibrant, stimulating places that allow interns, students, biologists, educators, and other interested people to immerse themselves in a place and the species that live there. Think of the Archibald Field Station in Florida for studies of the Florida Scrub Jay, or of Old Chevak in Alaska for breeding waterfowl. Think of Palomarin Field Station for coastal scrub birds of the West and the Farallon Field Station for marine birds of the California Current.
Following these highly successful models, we would like to establish a field station in northern San Francisco Bay and, eventually, several stations around the San Francisco Bay Estuary. A research-based field station on the bay will ensure that PRBO scientists have an ear to the pulse of its bird populations, enabling us to train biologists and educators on issues of importance to San Francisco Bay birds. Our new SF Bay Research Center (pages 2 and 11) will provide the roots from which field stations will blossom.
With time, such PRBO field stations will allow someone like me to answer questions on just how healthy the bird populations and the habitats of San Francisco Bay Estuary are.