Free Family Event: Life and Death on Alcatraz, Oct. 29
It may seem like a barren, lifeless rock with only the haunting memories of the past, but a battle for survival continues each year on Alcatraz Island.
This is the little-known story of birds nesting on "The Rock" -- and also the topic of a free public lecture by USGS Western Ecological Research Center biologists on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 at 1:30 p.m., hosted by the Golden Gate National Recreational Area at its Fort Mason office (Building 201) in San Francisco.
The event is one of many scheduled by USGS as part of the first-ever Bay Area Science Festival.
WERC biologists Roger Hothem, Peter Coates and Brianne Brussee will show video footage of nesting Black-Crowned Night-Herons taken from hidden cameras, and lead hands-on activities including dissecting raven "pellets" -- regurgitated balls of fur and bones studied by biologists.
"Tourists visiting Alcatraz see the famous prison right away, but in the spring and early summer, there are actually hundreds of birds nesting around the island, and hundreds more with nests hidden away in the trees, bushes and rock debris on the island," says Coates. "We want to give kids and the public a peek at the hidden lives of these birds, and also give them a glimpse of what a biologist’s life is like."
Isolated from the mainland, Alcatraz is a protected, prime nesting ground for many bird species, especially Black-Crowned Night-Herons, California Gulls, Western Gulls, Snowy Egrets, and Brandt's Cormorants.
Each year these species return to Alcatraz, set up nesting territories, and attempt to raise a family despite threats from various predators, including a pair of Common Ravens that also nests on the island.
WERC biologists are studying these bird populations on behalf of the National Park Service, which manages Alcatraz Island as part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Of particular focus are the population trends of the Black-Crowned Night-Heron, a secretive, twilight hunter which feasts on fish in the shallows of San Francisco Bay.
"Alcatraz is more than a historic landmark and a movie backdrop," says lead WERC scientist Roger Hothem. "There’s a wild side to it, too."
See you this Saturday! And use @USGS and #basf11 if you're tweeting about us!
-- Ben Young Landis