On September 29, the Land Trust hosted a full moon hike on More Mesa with local naturalist and biologist Ted Mullen. Below, is the write up by More Mesa Preservation Coalition President, Valerie Olson.
Continuing with our “Walk on More Mesa” theme, a very different kind of walk presented itself in late September. Jennifer Stroh of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County invited me to an informal walk on the west side of More Mesa, but it a night walk as well! Since I had never experienced a night walk with a focus on nocturnal animals, I was eager to participate.
Our leader was Ted Mullen, a Senior Biologist, graduate of UCSB, and currently a scientist with MRS Environmental, here in Santa Barbara. As soon as we ventured out onto More Mesa, Ted began our adventure with a lesson in listening … a key skill when there is little, or no, light; and especially important when one is trying to identify birds and animals that hunt at night. He talked about recognizing all the various sounds (man made and otherwise) and sorting them out from one another. And, although the man made intrusions on More Mesa are somewhat limited, he pointed out two important ones:
- The “drone” of freeway and other traffic, and how that background noise affects the ability of hunting animals to hear sounds that are vitally important to them; for example sounds of rodents and other prey moving through the grasses. We did note, however, that the “drone” was not as obvious, or even discernable, in all parts of More Mesa that we visited.
- The intrusion of street lights from neighboring communities and how they would also affect the ability to hunt … especially for the owls that make their homes on the north facing side of More Mesa.
At the beginning of the walk, on the northwestern edge of More Mesa, we heard three species of Owls: Barn, Great Horned and Screech. Then Ted surprised some of us by noting that Screech Owls did not screech and proved it by playing several of their calls. We were also treated to the sight of an owl flying quite close to us.
One of the “owl” stories Ted told; one that that I got a big chuckle out of concerned Great Horned nest building. The Great Horned, being a bigger bird, hunts larger animals like rabbits and skunks. Skunks are regularly on their menu because, unlike the rest of us, the Great Horned is not bothered, at all, with the stench of skunk spray. Ever-vigilant parents, the Great Horned will therefore sometimes line its nest with skunk carcasses. This clever strategy prevents predators from being tempted to carry off the chicks … because most of the rest of the world is definitely not fond of skunk spray!
As our walk progressed towards the coast, we saw and heard Spotted Bats and, at one point, we even heard a Towhee. This bird should have been asleep. Maybe we woke it up … or something else woke it up?
The sky was brilliant and clear. Amateur astronomers had a blast and we even got to see all the lobster boats out on the first day of the season. It was an absolutely wonderful walk and I was privileged to be part of it.
Photos from http://www.moremesa.org