Category Archives: urban

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a real Community Garden @Fresno_State?

Here’s your chance to help make it happen: participate in this survey which is being circulated via email today – and let your friends know too!

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jennifer Sobieralski <jsobieralski@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Date: November 12, 2010 3:35:55 PM PST
Subject: [BULLETINBOARD] Fresno State Community Garden Survey – Please complete
Reply-To: Jennifer Sobieralski <>

Terri Payne and Lindsey Hughes are Fresno State Dietetic Interns working under the direction of Mollie Smith, Fresno State Dietetic Intern Coordinator.  As part of our rotation at the Gibson Farm Market we are conducting a survey to determine interest in starting a community garden. Please take a few moments to complete the survey by Wednesday, November 17th at noon.  If you complete the information at the end of the survey your name will be added to a random drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to the Gibson Farm Market.  We appreciate your response.


Please click on the link below to participate in our survey



Gibson Farm Market

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Residential water management as a driver of urban biodiversity

67.11  Wednesday, Jan. 6  Resilience in urban socioecological systems: residential water management as a driver of biodiversity KATTI, M*; SCHLEDER, B; California State Univ, Fresno; California State Univ, Fresno

Cities are unique ecosystems where human social-economic-cultural activities prominently shape the landscape, influencing the distribution and abundance of other species, and consequent patterns of biodiversity. The long-term sustainability of cities is of increasing concern as they continue to grow, straining infrastructure and pushing against natural resources constraints. A key resource is water, esp. in the more rapidly urbanizing arid regions. Understanding water management is thus critical for a deeper theoretical understanding of urban ecosystems and for effective urban policy. Landscaping and irrigation at any urban residence is a product of local geophysical/ecological conditions, homeowners’ cultural preferences, socioeconomic status, neighborhood dynamics, zoning laws, and city/state/federal regulations. Since landscape structure and water availability are key determinants of habitat for other species, urban biodiversity is strongly driven by the outcome of interactions between these variables. Yet the relative importance of ecological variables vs human socioeconomic variables in driving urban biodiversity remains poorly understood. Here we analyze data from the Fresno Bird Count, a citizen science project in California’s Central Valley, to show that spatial variation in bird diversity is best explained by a multivariate model including significant negative correlations with % building and grass cover, and positive correlations with interactions between irrigation intensity, median family income, and grass height. We discuss implications of our findings for urban water management policies in general, and for Fresno’s planned switch to metering water use in 2013. Ecological theory, conservation, and urban policy all benefit if we recognize cities as coupled socioecological systems.

If you’re in Seattle – at the ongoing SICB meeting even – at 11:40 AM on Wednesday this week, and need some mental stimulation before lunch, why not join the throng at the above talk?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

San Francisco’s sea lions apparently went north chasing food

Missing San Francisco sea lions ‘off Oregon’

‘Missing’ San Francisco sea lions ‘off Oregon’

Scientists in the US believe they may have solved the riddle of San Francisco’s vanishing sea lions.

The Californian city’s famous colony of sea lions all but disappeared over the past month, baffling experts.

But now large numbers of the animals have been spotted further north, off the coast of Oregon.

Scientists say the animals have probably migrated in search of food during the winter, although in unusually high numbers.

The sea lions of San Francisco are almost as famous as the city’s cable cars or even the Golden Gate bridge, says the BBC’s Peter Bowes in Los Angeles.

Twenty years ago, for no apparent reason, the smelly, noisy animals took up residence in the docks at Pier 39.

Their numbers grew rapidly to about 1,700 animals, and they became a popular tourist attraction.

But then most of them disappeared.

Initially, marine experts were baffled.

One outlandish suggestion was that they were fleeing the bay because of an imminent earthquake, our correspondent says.

But now the sighting of large numbers of sea lions off the coast of Oregon may have solved the mystery.

Scientists says it is normal for the animals to move north in search of food during the winter but it is extremely unusual for them to migrate in such huge numbers.

Hat-tip to Vishy for pointing me to this report.

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Did a dog run the Sea Lions off of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco?

This is rather worrisome, coming right on the heels of my post about poor farmers in India allowing migratory geese to coexist with them!

One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco is to wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a nice walk breathing in the salt air, get some chowder in a bowl (or crab if feeling rich!), and go hang out on Pier 39 to watch the Sea Lions lounging out on the floating wooden docks most times of the year. You may have read my post about this, or seen these pictures:

Earlier this week, @GarySoup raised an alarm by tweeting that the sea lions have moved on, accompanied by this photo of the empty docks at Pier 39. This was immediately picked up by a couple of writers at Wired magazine, @pgcat and @alexismadrigal, with the latter digging into the story further to post this report, which includes this quote:

“We have no idea where they moved on to or why,” said Shelbi Stoudt, who manages a team that helps stranded animals in the San Francisco Bay from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.

The sea lions’ disappearance is as strange as their initial colonization of the pier about 20 years ago, in late 1989. They just started showing up one day and as their numbers increased, their traditional hang out, Seal Rocks, became less populated. There are all sorts of theories about why the pier became a favorite haul-out spot for the sea lions, but no one knows for sure why the animals’ behavior changed.

Stoudt averred that the officials at the Marine Mammal Center weren’t worried about the animals’ disappearance from their standard location. The sea lions are migratory animals, after all, and it’s natural for them to move around.

No reason to worry then? Apparently there hasn’t been anything else unusual weather(or other)wise in the Bay this winter, despite the El Nino currently brewing in the Pacific. Yet:

The disappearance is unusual, though. The animals’ numbers usually peak in late fall and many stick around during the winter months before heading south for the summer. According to the Marine Mammal Center’s FAQ on the animals, “from late summer to late spring, 150 to 300 sea lions haul out here,” though their numbers can run much higher.

This year saw a massive influx of sea lions. In fact, a Marine Mammal Center survey conducted in the fall found 1,585 mammals hauled out on the spot, an all-time high. Some of them invaded a neighboring area, the Hyde Street Pier, where they may have been scared away by an itinerant fisherman’s dog.

Apparently some of the fishermen aren’t as enamored of the sea lions as us urbanites:

One recently told a local radio station, “They’re cute when they’re in here lying on the docks by Pier 39, but they’re not too cute out in the ocean when they’re stealing your livelihood.”

So it appears that at least one fisherman, and his pit bull/golden retreiver mix dog, managed to scare off the sea lions from Hyde Street Pier (which does not provide the exclusive protected docks that Pier 39 does, and therefore doesn’t normally get large numbers of these animals hanging out there), apparently to the relief of some there, the Marine Mammal Protection Act notwithstanding. While Pier 39 remained protected and far enough from that dog (or any others) hassling the beasts, one is still left with the nagging feeling that they may have decided that they’d had enough of this tenuous relationship with this human habitat. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that a dog has contributed to local extinction of some species.

“It’s exactly opposite of what we’ve seen over the last 10 years,” said Sheila Chandor, Pier 39’s harbor master. “I think it’s food. Usually this time of year, we have a lot of herring coming through.”

Chandor said that some sea lions tagged by the Marine Mammal Center had been located south of Monterey but cautions that the link to the sea lions’ food supply is just “guesswork.”

A quick check on the Webcam mounted at the Pier 39 Restaurant proves the sea lions are definitely gone from Pier 39’s K Dock. A dozen or so remain on J Dock, according to Chandor.

The population of human sea-lion watchers remained steady.

Stoudt and her team aren’t sending out a search crew. The sea lions are, after all, migratory, she told

So, whatever the reason, the sea lions just up and left – but where to? And will they return? Or is it really “So long, and thanks for all the fish” time? After all, the sea lions may be aliens too, like their cousins the northern elephant seals that seem to come from another planet according to Rudy Ortiz’s recent talk at Fresno State.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Now that’s one tough hombre of a coyote!

Now I know why they call him the trickster!! And no wonder the coyote is such a survivor in the modern American wilderness and suburbia:

When a brother and sister struck a coyote at 75mph they assumed they had killed the animal and drove on.

They didn’t realise this was the toughest creature ever to survive a hit-and-run.

Eight hours, two fuel stops, and 600 miles later they found the wild animal embedded in their front fender – and very much alive.

[From Pictured: The coyote who was hit by a car at 75mph, embedded in the fender, and dragged for 600 miles – and SURVIVED | Mail Online]

Read the whole story at the Daily Mail link above, or check out the pictures below the fold. And the next time you hit some small critter on the highway, it might behoove you to stop and look into and under your fender, just in case said critter is hanging on:

You just might find such a surprise inside:

This survivor appears to have had a fairly happy ending, having survived the 75 mph encounter with the Honda Fit without even a broken bone:

The coyote even escaped from the rescue center three days later and is presumably out regaling its mates with quite the tale of adventure on the high roads!

Crepuscular companion from my youth…

Long tongue on the gecko

…how I miss having you around the house now!

Back – waaay back – in the days when I was a suburban kid without much access to “nature” and no television (yes – imagine that kids, no TV!), I spent countless hours staring up at the ceiling and walls watching the drama of our household population of geckos! Emerging from their daytime roosts under the fluorescent light fixtures, the geckos, small and large, would wait for a smorgasbord of insects to arrive as night fell, especially during the monsoon months. Big ones would chase little ones who might escape by dropping their tails to distract their pursuers and scuttle across the wall or ceiling. Occasionally one would drop, with a soft plop, sometimes down one’s shirt collar or trouser leg (happened to an uncle once! hilarious!!), sometimes onto the dinner table, but for the most part, amazingly, they managed to cling to the surface even at top speeds. And sometimes one would get overambitious and try to bite off more than it could chew – a large beetle, or mantis perhaps (although I never got lucky enough to see a battle royale like Gerald Durrell did) – and provide a different kind of amusement. Endless unscripted entertainment for a curious kid on those warm humid evenings. I miss having these critters around the house here in north America… I wonder what they’d make of the black widow spiders ruling the roost on our back porch now.

The young gecko in the above picture, which is my submission to this week’s Weekly Wildlife, Nature and Conservation Photography Challenge, I encountered on a wall of my in-laws’ house on the outskirts of Kolkata a few years ago. A few more images of this little fella are in this flickr gallery.

Meanwhile, it seems someone got lucky enough to spot (but not run into) a mountain lion just on the outskirts of Fresno earlier today! I hope they let the poor beast be and not hunt it down as a public menace…


2798703767_ac9e304823.jpgWould that more towns/politicians/governments, prone as they are to prohibiting various things, start banning this sort of thing!! Its the kind of small-scale local action that, if it went global enough, could start helping us clean up this mess. Meanwhile, you can read updates from ongoing efforts to simply study and understand the latter here, here, and here – I don’t think we are anywhere close to beginning a real clean-up there yet. Not even sure how we might or where to begin. Except at home. So think about this before taking your next sip!

Imagining and imaging wildlife and nature in the city

[These are my reflections on urban wildlife after participating as a guest commentator in a wildlife photography contest on Facebook last week. A version of this was also posted in that group’s notes.]

House Sparrow's perspective

For most people, the terms wildlife or nature will rarely conjure up images of animals in cities. And if people like us (i.e., those concerned about how we share this planet with other species, us conservationists and naturalists) do think of urban wildlife, the thought comes with many a dark foreboding. Cities, we tend to think, are bad places that any creature (except, of course, us) would want to shy away from. Species that remain there are likely to be stuck there, with few other choices, survivors of human onslaught on them and on their habitats, living off the crumbs we leave for them in the interstices of our ever-sprawling urban jungles. And a handful that are not stuck there, that are perhaps more numerous in cities, bumping into us all the time, are often dismissed as nuisances or resented for collaborating with us in driving out other, better species. Urban landscapes are not often discussed in terms of their natural beauty either. Nature and City are, in our minds, quite mutually exclusive conceptual categories. And this dark, dystopian vision of the city as a sort of purgatory for wildlife, with the artificial (i.e., human-made) elements driving out the last vestiges of nature, is prevalent not only among the lay public, but often among my ecologist and conservationist colleagues. The scientific literature in these fields, that small (but growing) fraction of it which addresses urban habitats, is quite rich with papers looking for, and often finding and documenting, the bad things that happen to good species in the city: habitat fragmentation, ecological traps, competition from urban generalists, loss of nesting sites, habitat disturbance, air pollution, water pollution, weeds, invasive species,… the list goes on. Oh, and don’t forget the cats! The villainy of cats has been written about at great lengths – especially on the internets – and comes second only to our own selves among things that many a conservationist would like to rid this good planet of, for the greater good of biodiversity!

Why is it that we fear/loathe/resent/mourn/lament the place where most of our own species now prefers to live? By most accountings, humanity has passed the tipping point on that, with more than 50% of us now living in what we call urban areas worldwide. This is, then, shaping up to be the urban century, when cities are our primary habitat, with their effects cascading through the surrounding countryside into the very (few, dwindling) wildernesses of Earth. And I think it is fair to say that most of us involved in ecology and biodiversity conservation, be that within or outside academia, likely grew up ourselves as kids of the city; but took the first opportunity to run away from it, chasing after the diminishing frontier of real nature, where we could catalog biodiversity, study how it worked, photograph it, protect it, keep it safe from all that pesky human interference. And we continue to nurture the dystopian vision of the city, of human habitats, as sterile places devoid of any meaningful biodiversity. The city that nurtured and sheltered us, gave us the museums and universities that prepared us to appreciate nature; the city that provides better refuge to the poorest and most dispossessed among us than any other habitat; that very city, our birthplace, has become a symbol of everything that destroys what we now love – nature! Ah bittersweet cognitive dissonance… but lets leave the psychoanalysis for another day, shall we?

And let us also leave aside the other side of this metaphoric coin of the city: the many million more humans who may not quite share our apprehensions; who love the city for all its wonderful human artifacts and culture; who hate that pigeon for crapping on their cars, and resent that tidal flat and mangrove swamp for harboring mosquitoes and holding back human progress; who would rather pave over most of that pesky real nature and replace it with carefully manicured lawns and golf courses, dotted with hand-picked swans that can hold a pose for our cameras, and clean multi-colored pigeons we can feed; and in some parts of the world, a troop or two of well-behaved monkeys and an occasional snake we can worship during the appropriate holy season. Those people vastly outnumber us, but I’d argue that they too share the basic dichotomy of our vision, separating the city from nature; in that they remain our kin, even if we work at cross purposes,

The real trouble is: we are at a point where we can’t keep nature separate from us, what we do, not really. Not when we know that the smoke from California’s raging summer fires colors the dawn/dusk skies hundreds of miles away, and the burnt particles in that smoke may be deposited in snows atop mountains or in the arctic; not when the plastic garbage we throw out – whether in Baja or Alaska, Hawaii or Japan – ends up floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean, endlessly circling some hidden drain; and most definitely not when the fossil fuel we burn is changing the entire planet’s very climate! So we begin to turn around, and take a good look at our own habitats, especially that city we love to hate, to try and see if we can find any nature still lurking in there, and perhaps to devise ways to bring nature back. And this too is happening, among amateur naturalists, conservationists, and even academic biologists like me who are turning the tools of our trades to focus on studying urban wildlife and habitats.

It is high time (perhaps even a bit late) for us to re-imagine the city, not as a metaphor for all that is bad in us, but for the possibility for good that also still resides in us. Instead of running away from the advancing city, trying to save the remaining wildernesses with our backs to the wall, it is time to advance, to charge back into the city and start reworking it in ways that make it a better place for more of us, and also more of other species, perhaps finding more common ground to work with the rest of the human horde that loves cities. And, most exciting for biologists like me: let’s look at the city itself as a wonderful laboratory, with many different replicates, where we have set a number of evolutionary experiments in motion, altering behaviors and genetics in strange and exciting new directions! If you know my recent research, and my capacity to ramble on (exhibit A stretches back all the way from here to the top of this very page!), you know that I could go on (and on) about urban evolutionary ecology for quite a while – but I’ll stop now!

Let me instead ask you to join me in celebrating one specific small shared enterprise: an exercise in reimagining the city by imaging some of the wildlife we do find in cities, and sharing them through the Weekly Wildlife, Nature and Photography Contest on Facebook. As I wrote last week, I was invited to participate in this social networking experiment as a guest commentator, or a friendly native guide of the urban jungle if you will – for the week’s theme was “Creatures in the City”! I had a lot of fun viewing and discussing the 90-odd images that were shared in the group this week – so much so that I think it is rather a shame that most of the images and their attendant comment threads had to be deleted at the end of the week under the rules of the competition, leaving only a handful of “winners” and “special mentions” in the group’s gallery! Rather a shame, and something the moderators of this wonderful social experiment might want to think about changing (perhaps by using Flickr or other social networking site with better options for managing networks around images).

For what a lovely array of images of diverse creatures were shared by this growing group of nature enthusiasts! We had vertebrates and invertebrates (“creatures” I suppose, precluding any plant life); the former group was well represented by birds (most frequent and diverse, not surprisingly), mammals (squirrels, bats, cows, macaques, langurs, an elephant, sea lions, and a moose), and reptiles (a couple of lizards and several snakes; but no amphibians?); and among the latter: spiders, butterflies, moths, caterpillars, bees, ants, a dragonfly, a millepede, a crab, and even a cockroach (half eaten) and a fly shot up close! While the diversity of species was (hopefully) eye-opening for anyone who may consider cities depauperate of living things, even more interesting were images capturing interesting behaviors and novel ecological contexts that had me scratching my head spinning hypotheses and calling up expert colleagues to shed further light upon! I’m sure I will keep thinking about many of these pictures, and some may even spark a research project or two. (Which is another selfish reason why I wish the pictures and attendant discussion could remain archived somewhere!) The winners will, of course, be archived and remain available, even if the discussion generated around them disappears (really?!), so let me recap pictures and themes that particularly struck me:

  1. Breakfast with sparrowsBirds were the most common and diverse group – not surprising given how conspicuous they are and how many people they recruit into nature watching. Lovely images of crows, pigeons and starlings (of course), a sunbird, kingfishers, parrots, gulls, pelicans, grackles, munias, a swallow and a bee-eater. But, surprise, surprise (and alarm?): no House Sparrow! Are we so used to this commensal, so inured to its charms, that no one thought to share an image? Even though this species is declining throughout most of its Old World urban range? We can’t let it disappear from our collective imagination too! So let’s hope it makes a come-back and rebuilds its numbers if we can lend it a hand – all it may need is the right habitat being left alone/rebuilt. May they come back like the Flamingoes have, to Mumbai’s creeks, lending that dash of bright pink to the dark mangroves (recovering nicely in some parts despite urban growth) and grey concrete.
  2. An amazing image of ordinary looking high-tension power lines near the hills of Mumbai – but with hundreds of Amur Falcons perched all along the wires! These migrants from Siberia and Mongolia pass through the city en route to winter quarters in southern Africa, and make landfall – or wire-fall in this case – on November mornings like this one when Shashank Dalvi captured this image.

    The Search
    Click on for larger version of this image

  3. Two other avian images stand out for interesting behaviors and contexts: a White-throated Kingfisher perched on a water pipe in front of a train compartment, with no “natural” habitat in the frame! What does it feed on, I wonder – fried fish from the vendor on the railway station?! And a group of Indian House Crows, in their smart two-toned suits, commuting atop a speeding bus in Mumbai! Notice how they remained dapper and cool on the roof while the humans were probably sweating it out in the crush within the bus? And we think we are the smart urbanites…
  4. Given that the Facebook group comes from the Nature Conservation Foundation in India, with most members from that region, most pictures were from also from there. Which, of course, means monkeys! Cute and mischievous, juxtaposed with their mythological counterparts, and being fed by women at temples – macaques and langurs made their presence felt. And there were cows, squirrels, a donkey and an elephant; but there were also a couple of bat pictures, and the surprise mammal was probably the moose outside a trailer in Alaska! So even some large mammals can manage to persist in cities then. I’d have liked a few more carnivores too (I don’t think a skin of one on someone’s wall counts!).
  5. Urban snakes are always interesting (if not frightening), and the winner (or special mention) among them, a cobra, was even caught performing an ecosystem service – eating a rodent! And it was surrounded by a gaping mob of people too!! Then there was a flowerpot snake, a rat snake or two, and several lizards – but no gecko, oddly enough!

    The Search

  6. Among the invertebrates, the most interesting image (special mention, ergo in permanent gallery) was of a bee sucking nectar off of another dead/dying bee that had been fogged out of its urban nest by intolerant humans! A poignant image of what man had wrought – but one that also had us marveling at the remarkable behavior of the bee that had survived. Another striking image was of a dragonfly perched on a high-rise balcony overlooking an urban tableau of more high-rises with patches of greenery.

    The Search

Many of the descriptions and comments were interesting too – but what got me thinking (and rambling on in the first half of this post) was that the majority of people were down on the city as habitat, despite the lovely evidence to the contrary seen in the very image they were commenting on! Yes, the city is sprawling, trampling over habitats everywhere, dirtying the air and water, and depriving most of us from meaningful contact with nature – but look at this natural beauty you have captured within cities? Surely not all these species are suffering! If anything (as my own research suggests) many actually like cities, and are thriving amid our enterprise! So the trick really is understand how they do it, what works for them, and figuring out ways to offer the same urban (or non-urban) life choices to other species too – and working on reducing our urban footprints on this planet too.

Can we, therefore and at last, really begin re-imagining, rebuilding, and reorganizing our cities in ways that let in more of nature’s beauty and complexity while improving our own urban existence? For that is really at the heart of reconciliation ecology!

Creatures in the city – a wildlife photo contest

If you are on Facebook, you might want to check out a new conservation related social phenomenon there, started by my friends at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore, India (and if you aren’t already doing so, start reading their excellent new blog – eco logic, which even mentions reconciliation in their masthead!): the Weekly Wildlife, Nature and Conservation Photography Contest (the prize: fame, in having your image enshrined in the group’s winners gallery). Now there are plenty of places on the intertubes, as you may rightly point out, for nature and wildlife photography, and many even have contests with real prizes – so what makes this so special? Apart from being on Facebook, where the group has rapidly grown to over a thousand members within a few weeks, the moderator is also experimenting with ways to make the experience richer than just eye-candy, and some oohs and aahs from voters in the comment fields. From the outset there has been a weekly theme, and some of them are unusual and intriguing, provoking some fresh perspectives on nature. Last week, they started a new feature: “expert” guest commentary from someone who knows a bit about the week’s theme, with the intent to generate some deeper conversations where viewers/readers might delve beneath the surface of an image and explore its broader ecological context. And this week, with the theme of “creatures in the city”, they invited yours truly to be said guest commentator! So I’ve been popping over there for a half hour or so every day, viewing the days submissions, dropping whatever pearls of wisdom are rattling around in my urban ecologist skull. Its been interesting – so much so that I forgot to mention it here on this blog! I will post a summary of my thoughts after the contest ends this weekend, but you might want to go check out the submissions before all but the winners disappear! So hurry on over there now!

And to start you off, let me share the image I posted there, with the following commentary:

We are the Sea Lions of San Francisco Bay!

Tourists (at least newcomers) visiting San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf may be surprised to find that one of the docks on Pier 39 has been taken over completely by California Sea Lions! These large marine mammals started gathering at the dock exactly 20 years ago this month, and eventually persuaded (in collusion with conservationists) the human users of that dock to give up that prime roosting habitat. And in return, they’ve proved to be a significant draw for tourists from all over the world, giving a little boost to that segment of the industry. A fine example of reconciliation ecology, as I tell my students in that class. You don’t find them at the docks all year round – they go to the Channel Islands during the summer breeding season – but they are here most of the rest of the year. You can read more about this population at the Marine Mammal Center website.

When Pavithra gave me a heads up about the theme of the competition here this week, and invited me to provide some commentary, I was excited. But then she also said I should submit one of my own pictures too! How can you ask an urban ecologist with pretensions of amateur photography to pick just *one* image to share with the world? Should I go with the hundreds of bird images I have? Or squirrels? What about spiders, butterflies, snails, and other small denizens of the city? And given that most of us live in cities anyway, surely this theme will bring a real deluge of submissions, no? There’s over 40 already and its still Monday!

After browsing through my iPhoto library as well as submissions thus far, and pondering the theme of the week, I decided to go with this image because the wide angle captures something holistic about urban wildlife coexistence. What you are looking at is a group of Sea Lions dozing on the floating docks under that clear blue California sky, with the city of San Francisco rising up on the hill in the background. I probably have better – closer-up – images of these beasts taken that same day (you can see them on Flickr), but this one has become a favorite.