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Audubon California maps show where the birds are

March 20, 2009 |  4:32 pm

Socalbirds500

Audubon California combined 40 years of surveys recorded by volunteers and geographical data to produce maps of 145 important bird areas in California covering 10 million acres of habitat from deserts and forests to coastlines and flood control basins.

The maps are posted on the Audubon website, and include detailed descriptions of each area’s history, ornithological significance and often formidable challenges.

For example, very little of the sprawling Los Angeles Flood Control Basins area, which remains extremely vulnerable to development for soccer fields and golf courses, is even nominally managed for biodiversity. Yet the area, which is drained by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, includes scrublands and sand pits that support lesser nighthawks, cactus wrens, loggerhead shrikes and more.

With 110 of 310 California native bird species expected to experience significant reductions over the next few decades due to climate change, Audubon officials are actively sharing the maps with “anyone and everyone,” according to Andrea Jones, director of the Important Bird Area program.

“Our main goal is to get them into the hands of federal and state wildlife agencies, state parks, land trusts and county planners,” Jones said. “We created them to make both the public and agencies officially aware of where the largest numbers of birds are located. This information can help prioritize areas for conservation efforts, and raise awareness when it comes to proposed development projects and other activities."

The areas were nominated by seasoned birders in accordance with strict criteria. Each site must meet at least one of the following requirements: include over 1% of the global or 10% of the state population of one or more species; support more than nine sensitive species, or host at least 10,000 or more observable shore birds -- and 5,000 waterfowl -- in one day.

Seventeen of the areas are listed as “high priority sites.” Among them is Owens Lake, a 100-square-mile alkali flat that was turned nearly dry after 1924 because of water diversions connected to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. In 2000, however, Los Angeles flooded 25 square miles of the lake in order to control dust pollution.

Now, Owens Lake is once again a major stop-over site for shorebirds and waterfowl in the Southern California interior visited by about 63,000 American avocets and hundreds of endangered snowy plover, according to Audubon California.

The maps underscore the findings of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s first “State of the Birds” assessment, which was released Thursday and placed desert and shrub habitats throughout the West at the top of the list of the most threatened bird habitats in the nation, along with coastlines, grasslands and the Hawaiian Islands.

-- Louis Sahagun

Map: Audubon California

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