In the November issue of Sonoma magazine: Migrating raptors

I wrote a couple short pieces for the Nov/Dec '23 issue of Sonoma magazine. One had to do with holiday theater/music performances, but since that doesn't have anything to do with my main gig writing about science and the environment I won't bother linking it here. But the second piece, which ran on page 33, is about migratory raptors in Sonoma county during the winter. I pitched it to my editor and am proud to have my name on it as a clear, concise, and timely nature article (my specialty at Sonoma). Thanks to local raptor expert Larry Broderick, who has dedicated his life to these incredible creatures, for all the information. Follow the link above to see the layout in the mag, or read the full text below: 

FORGET CANARIES IN THE COAL MINE. For Larry Broderick, the real indicator species are raptors soaring high overhead, hunting along Sonoma’s rich marshlands, or nesting in our native trees. “They’re a biological bellwether,” says the Santa Rosa-based leader of the Jenner Headlands Raptor Migration Project and West County HawkWatch. “When things are going wrong with them, it often means that things can go wrong with us.”

Citizen scientists like Broderick consider fall and winter the best time of year to observe these adaptable hunters. That’s when migratory harriers, hawks, kites, kestrels, merlins, eagles, and osprey from farther north join year-round residents countywide in search of “little furry things” to eat.

Visiting birds move freely among Sonoma’s wildlands in search of a good meal. “There are like all these restaurants throughout the area, and [the birds] are gonna go to which ones are serving the food based upon prey availability,” says Broderick. Even so, individual birds have been observed to return year after year to the same overwintering location, like a vacation home. Others are only passing through.

After three decades of observing raptors, Broderick has noted population declines in several species. The timing of local migrations has also changed, moving back about two weeks since the early 1990s, an outcome Broderick thinks is at least partially due to climate change. “It’s a good way to gauge how healthy the environment is,” he says, “by checking out your top-of-the-food-chain predators.”

-Nate Seltenrich


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