Archive for January, 2018

A few weeks ago the hills above Carpinteria, the coastal town I…

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

A few weeks ago the hills above Carpinteria, the coastal town I live in, burned. I was talking to a neighbor today, someone who spent his career working in forest management. He’s retired now, but he’s an expert on wildfire behavior. He’s been volunteering since the fire on restoring the Franklin Trail, which leads from Carpinteria up into the hills. He showed me a map and pointed out the few strips of riparian habitat where the fire damage was relatively light. Except for those isolated pockets, the damage behind Carp is severe. He said he’s never seen a burn pattern like this. In the time leading up to the fire, drought and the persistent high pressure had driven humidity levels so low that when the fire came through the vegetation was like one big expanse of tinder.

The fire crews saved most of the structures. They successfully protected the  homes in Ojai, La Conchita, Carpinteria, Montecito, and Santa Barbara. As a result, in tomorrow’s (rescheduled) Carpinteria Christmas Bird Count, most of the accessible areas in the coastal strip where we were planning to bird are actually looking pretty good. Indeed, in the scouting I’ve done since the fire the birding seems better than usual. The unburned areas are filled with displaced chaparral birds; wrentits and California towhees and ruby-crowned kinglets everywhere you look. I think they’re refugees. The carrying capacity of the habitat they’re in won’t have increased. The extra birds will disperse more widely, or will suffer from predation, disease, or starvation. But for now it makes for exciting birding.

That’s the story in the “front country”, the area south of the Santa Ynez crest. The backcountry north of the crest is another matter. There the fires burned largely unchecked. Jameson Lake is seven miles north of Carpinteria. It’s hard to reach even under normal circumstances, requiring a day-long backpacking trip or mountain biking down miles of dirt roads that are closed to private vehicles. We don’t always manage to include it in our Christmas count; it’s great habitat for us, giving us a chance at an inland freshwater lake that we otherwise don’t have, but it’s hard to get there.

This year it’s especially hard. The whole area is closed to the public. The only people with access are fire and forest service crews, and the people who maintain the water facilities at Jameson for the Montecito Water District.

So… tomorrow, thanks to some really nice people pulling some strings on our behalf, we get to go count birds there. I’m going in along with two other birdwatchers, led by the water district employee who lives part-time at the lake (or used to, before his cabin burned down).

I don’t know what we’ll find. I was there on a scouting trip in November. Alan, the caretaker, has been in several times since the fire, and he’s told me not to expect much. Everything has burned. For all I know we’re going to spend all day in a sterile moonscape. But I think it’s important to document what happened. The Christmas counts are mostly for fun, but they also produce useful citizen science. Thousands of volunteers go out each year and catalog the birds they’re able to find. In some count circles above the Arctic Circle they go out in the midwinter twilight to record a single species (thank you, common raven). Next to that I’m getting off easy.

Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

Reposted from