The National Audubon Society's annual Christmas
bird count turned out to be disappointing in terms of numbers of species
spotted this year, although at least one enthusiast just may have seen a
rare yellow-billed cuckoo.
Owls, in particular, were missed this year. "The numbers were way down for owls," said biologist Ron LeValley, "not only because of the weather, but I also believe it had to do with the timber harvesting in the Fickle Hill area. We've seen an owl decline in the last three years."
For the 99th year volunteers gathered for the Arcata Christmas Bird Count as part of an annual census held by the Audubon Society and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A similar count scheduled in Crescent City over the weekend had to be canceled due to weather.
Fifty birders, including amateurs and professionals, shivered through the Arcata count Dec. 19, tallying 165 species by the end of the day. "We are low for the count compared to other years. The cold made for a slow count, so the numbers were down," said LeValley, who organizes the event and helps tally the results.
The count covered a circle 15 miles in diameter, which included the Arcata Bottoms, the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, most of Eureka and approximately five miles out to sea.
But, said LeValley, "A lot of sea birds didn't show. We couldn't get out on the boats because of the conditions and that's too bad because we see unusual species wintering down here. There were no real remarkable birds for the Arcata count this year, but we did see four black and white warblers, which is a large count for our numbers."
The official count might not have revealed anything too unusual, but McKinleyville resident and amateur birder Rose Welsh made an unofficial find in her own yard. With the help of her National Geographic Society's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Welsh deduced the bird she spotted as a yellow-billed cuckoo. She matched the colorings of her mystery bird with that of a yellow-billed cuckoo's juvenile plumage and found the similarities overwhelming.
Her brother, Dan Welsh, a Sacramento ornithologist, said, "Birds are known to stray during migration, that's half the fun of bird watching. You never know what you might see on any given day."
Rose Welsh's field guide lists the yellow-billed cuckoo as "once numerous, but now rare breeders in California."
"Their usual habitat is riparian, around water and trees," she said. "They are common in the East. If there's one, there might be more, that's what the Christmas count is all about. A lot of the birds are out of their way and that's important information. They could be here because of the bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico."
Six official sightings of the yellow-billed cuckoo have been recorded in Humboldt County: One of the birds was said to have been heard in July 1947 on the North Spit of Humboldt Bay, one was seen in Ferndale in May 1958, one was found dead in Arcata in November 1963, one was spotted at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park headquarters in Orick in September 1975 and the last known sightings were in June 1992 in the Lanphere Dunes near Arcata and in May 1993 in Rohnerville.
But LeValley and colleague Stan Harris questioned Welsh's sighting.
"That species is not found in December usually. It would be shocking to find one in the winter."
For more information on upcoming bird counts contact LeValley at 822-6393.
Michael Scott Shaddix is set to take the witness stand again Monday, as defense testimony continues in the former Sunny Brae Middle School teacher's molestation trial.
Following Shaddix, defense attorneys expect to call about 10 witnesses, which may include the accused man's wife and school district personnel, Attorney Bill Bragg said.
The jury of nine men and three women were off this week after voting to take a Christmas break.
Shaddix, 35, is accused of 13 felony counts charging he sexually molested two of his students from 1989 to 1991. The accusers are now both 21 years old.
He has testified to having an inappropriate, close relationship with both girls, but denies molesting them. He faces 22 years, 8 months in prison if convicted on all charges.
"We're finishing up cross-examination," Deputy District Attorney Maggie Fleming said this week. "We hope to have the case wrapped up within a week and then be able to give closing arguments to the jury," possibly beginning Jan. 4 or 5.
Closing arguments, which usually last a day or two, could go all week due to scheduled half-day court sessions.
Bragg said he and lead defense counsel Greg Rael will be deciding this week how many witnesses they will call. "There were quite a number of witnesses that were designated as potential witnesses, but the way the case has gone it looks like we will not have to call nearly as many as were originally designated," he said. He did not elaborate.
Fleming, who called 29 witnesses in testimony that began Oct. 20, said her strategy has been "to present the witnesses that can give the jury as clear a picture as possible of what was taking place years ago so that they can make the right decision."
Four days after negotiations to finalize the controversial public purchase of Headwaters Forest reached an impasse last week, talks resumed Monday in San Francisco, with the hope that key players in the deal could reach consensus on environmental safeguards for Pacific Lumber Co. land.
Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would not speculate on what might occur in the discussions given the volatile nature of previous meetings between government regulators and the company.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Friday that unless Feinstein succeeds in breaking the impasse within a few days, the Headwaters deal could be doomed.
The complex agreement remains open to public scrutiny for 10 more weeks. The deal must be complete by March 1, when federal authorization to spend $250 million on the purchase expires.
This isn't the first time the Headwaters purchase has been threatened, but according to a spokesman for state Resources Secretary Doug Wheeler, the current crisis is "the most serious yet," the Press Democrat reported.
The company has blamed the impasse on federal agencies, which want more protection for fish habitat.
Some environmentalists are crying foul over District Attorney Terry Farmer's decision not to file charges in the death of forest activist David Chain.
Earth First! leaders called Farmer's findings biased, saying he ignored key eyewitness accounts and primarily relied on the story told by the logger whose felled tree killed Chain Sept. 17 on Pacific Lumber Co. land near Grizzly Creek State Park.
The activists maintain that Ammons had to have known protesters were in the area.
Anticipating such a reaction, Farmer last week released an 11-page report listing the 30 witnesses investigators interviewed and summarizing their findings. He also added a personal note.
"Let us learn from this," the district attorney wrote. "Until there is a return to civility and a shared commitment to resolve disputes through lawful means, we can expect another David Chain. One death is too many."
According to Farmer, there was no evidence to show that the logger, 20-year Pacific Lumber Co. employee Arlington Earl "A.E." Ammons, cut a tree with the intention of hitting Chain or his fellow protesters.
"A.E. Ammons' lack of knowledge that David Chain or any other person was in the path of the falling tree negates any finding of intent to kill and precludes any consideration of an intentional homicide in connection with the death of David Chain," Farmer said.
Furthermore, he said, there was a lack of evidence to show Ammons' logging practices were grossly negligent, required for an involuntary manslaughter conviction. Earth First! disagreed, saying Ammons failed to clear a path for the felled redwood that hit Chain.
Farmer also decided to file no charges against the protesters for trespassing or contributing to the death because "it is not believed any societal good would result from such a prosecution," he said.
The state Occupational Health and Safety Administration is also investigating the accident, but only to review safety standards at the logging site.
Humboldt County law enforcement agencies that used pepper spray on nonviolent protesters will not face federal prosecution, Sheriff Dennis Lewis said last week.
Following review of an FBI investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice "concluded that the actions of the law enforcement officers do not constitute prosecutable federal criminal civil rights violations," a letter from Assistant United States Attorney David W. Shapiro stated.
The FBI was called in to investigate after Humboldt County sheriff's deputies and Eureka police initiated a new dispersal tactic swabbing protesters' eyes with pepper spray.
Nine protesters responded by filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Humboldt County and city of Eureka. The suit was dismissed in October after one trial resulted in a hung jury. The activists are appealing.
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