Saturday, December 25, 2010

There are California Gnatcatchers in the Arbolitos Neighborhood Park

    Over the past several weeks, I read a couple of editorials in local newspapers implying that the photographs of the California Gnatcatcher in the Arbolitos Neighborhood Park were either faked, not taken inside of the park, or perhaps the birds were photographed while "just passing through." The first two assertions are completely false and while I cannot speak to the migratory patterns of this non-migratory bird species, I can say that I have photographs of the birds on four separate days, across three months.  Although, given that many of the facts in this case have not been widely disseminated, I can understand the concerns raised.  To help lay to rest some of the rumors, I have prepared a page with a block of the photographs taken.  They are linked to the Flickr site so you can see the EXIF data indicating the time of the photo.  EXIF data gives you detailed information concerning the camera used, settings, time, etc of each of the pictures.  By clicking on the link, you will get to the Flickr site with much larger versions of the images.  Almost all of the pictures are heavily cropped to focus on the bird.  Should you be interested in the original uncropped .RAW files, I will email them to you, upon request.

    You will also see, interspersed in the photostream, pictures of Arbolitos park, taken within minutes of the photos of the CA Gnatcatchers.  In fact, in one of the photos, you can see the soccer fields right behind the bird.   Furthermore, I have taken photos of the area using my iPhone, just about the same time as some of the pictures of the Gnatcatcher were taken.  The iPhone has a geotagging feature that uses GPS to localize the position of the iPhone at the time of the photo.  This information was used to record the data on eBird, an online birding site for bird sightings.  The link is below as well.

    Additionally, but not posted here due to size restrictions, I have video of the bird (also taken on the iPhone).  The video quality is OK but it is very hard to see the bird due to its size and distance from the camera.  The videos were taken more to localize the photography event to the park, to make audio recordings of the call of the CA Gnatcatcher, and to see if I could use the device to actually videotape the bird.  The audio recordings were able to capture the call of the bird.  It may be against federal law to publish the audio call of this bird.  It is certainly against federal law to use the call of the bird in an attempt to locate the bird, unless being done by a certified and federally permitted biologist who is performing surveys for the bird.  The call of this bird is very distinct, is made by the bird on a sporadic basis when feeding, and is perhaps the most useful way to determine where the birds are at any one moment.

    This first set of photos was taken on October 16th, 2010 in the late afternoon.  As a general note, sighting this bird is best done in the early morning.  My wife, who photographed the birds in the 1st three sets of photos, and I were extremely lucky to spot this bird at all.  We had no previous meaningful experience photographing or identifying birds of any kind.  We had gone into the park because it did not look like the city was going to even determine what species were present in the park, let alone what type of impact the installation of floodlights would have on those species.  We photographed three species of birds at the time, and sent those photographs to three local ornithologists and other birding experts for identification.  All three came back with the same block of photos as being CA Gnatcatchers.

Localization near east fence. The bird was further west and the picture just shows the location of the photos in general. (ie they were in the park)


Underside of the CA Gnatcatcher




Flapping a bit.


This next set of photos was taken on a November 13th and 14th at the times listed in the EXIF data, but generally around 9am.  On both days a Gnatcatcher was visually spotted.  On both days, I heard calls, one of which would be coming from the sighted bird, and another from a different location.  The pictures of the birds were later identified, by visual markings, as a male and as a female.  These birds were tracked from within 20 feet of the soccer fields, and all the way up the hill.  Their range is the park.






The nearby soccer fields







Wife taking pictures in the park


Entered the park at the top. Gnatcatchers were near the field and up the hill.


This last set of photos (below) was taken on Christmas morning because I had read in the News Chieftain that there was some doubt that I was telling the truth about the CA Gnatcatcher. So I packed up my camera and located the birds.  Again.  And photographed them.  Again.  These pictures were taken by myself this time. My wife found that photographing the dewdrops on the plants (for nice bokeh) far more interesting than hunting the birds, and I cannot blame her. The birds live in the park. There is at least one pair there, possibly more. If I wanted to, I could go out again, and again, and again, and find the bird(s) each time. (OK, maybe 4/5 times) But it's really like beating a dead horse.  The City of Poway is not challenging the presence of the CA Gnatcatcher in the lawsuit for good reason.  It's heartening however, to know that other people take the time to question the decisions of the Poway City Government.

This time I was able to catch both the male and female representatives of the species frolicking about eating insects. Once would call and the other would respond. The male would follow the female, or vice versa. I filled up my compact flash card with photos, went home and wrote this blog entry.

Starting out. Nice pic of the soccer fields.


Not a CA Gnatcatcher, but a nice hummingbird. Many birds in the park.


Same bird making an exit


And to the CA Gnatcatchers


Intense look here


Flaring the tail



Floating torso bird.  Have a couple that look like this.




See the background? That's one of the soccer fields at Arbolitos.


In flight.  (Really lucky catch on this photo)



Not a CA Gnatcatcher. Perhaps a Bukovin Blind Mole Rat? :-)


Dew on the sage scrub


Finding CA Gnatcatchers is both easy and hard. It is hard because, as a whole, they are a rare bird. (They are, after all, on the Endangered Species List)  They are rare because their habitat is fragmented and the birds are non-migratory. That means, if a region of their habitat is destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, (by buildings, roads, lights, etc) they cannot migrate.

They do not simply find a new home.

They cannot hop on a bus to the next town.

Spend the winter down south.

Get out of the area for a while.

They die.

They don't come back.

This is part of the reason why this species is endangered.

So finding the birds is a matter of finding the habitat in which they live. Once you find that habitat, finding the birds within that habitat is easy. (though photographing them is not). These birds are not shy. They are not quiet. They have a really distinct vocalization. As in so distinct that once you hear it and know it, you can easily pick it out amongst the calls of other birds. Just show up at the right time, and you'll find them. Show up at the wrong time of day, and you'll not find them. All you need to do is decide if you want to find them before you go, and plan accordingly.

The real issue with photographing these birds is that they are very fast, jumping into and out of the CA coastal sage scrub brush. They will sit still for a bit, but even then, getting proper focus on the bird is a challenge due to all of those little branches getting in the way of the camera. And you need a good telephoto lens.

So there you have it.  Evidence that the CA Gnatcatcher is in the park.  Evidence so fresh that even the papers don't have it.  No fakes.  No lies.  No manipulations.  And I have more pictures than I have posted.  Oh, and before, I forget, the eBird link.

PS:  Special thanks to PowayVotes for letting me post on the site.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Congratulations to the Winners

A hard fought election on all sides reelected Don Higginson and John Mullin and introduced a new face on the Council, Dave Grosch.  About half of the voting population made it to the polls, which is not too bad in a midterm election.

An Analysis of the Election

John Mullin secured his position by about 1500 votes, which was the largest vote difference between any of the candidates.  John has been effectively running for this office for almost a year and was able to procure nearly 4 times the money as his nearest competitor.  Being able to effectively raise money is a key element to political success.  It should be interesting to see if John's process streamlining suggestions wind up leading to the de facto elimination of the "Country" for large parts of Poway, or truly remove some of the inefficiencies in the Poway City bureaucracy.  They may very well do both.  I suspect that the devil will be in the details.  Regardless of the directions that John will push, I have seen that he is extraordinarily skilled in the process, and I suspect that he will be one of the most effective Councilmen Poway has seen in a long time.

Don Higginson fought off a very tough challenge by Nick Stavros.  Higginson won this election by about 1000 votes, which is near the smallest margin of victory (by percent) that a Poway Mayor has faced in potentially its entire history.  It is good to know that a large part of the voting public took the time to actually form an opinion on the candidates as such participation and thought is key to the success of any democracy.  It is my hope that Don will be able to see the merits behind some of the criticisms and make changes where possible.  Don appears to me to be a smart man spends a good deal of time promoting Poway.  I think he will likely keep things running as they have been in the past.

Dave Grosch garnered about 1000 votes more than Carl Kruse thus replacing him on the Council and bringing a very needed skill set to the City Council.  I think what sets Dave apart from Carl is that Dave is a finance guy, while Carl is a banker.  Both skill sets are valuable to have in a governing body, but I think that finance is a more important background than banking.  I think that a finance guy takes a look at the numbers and sees where there can be cuts to reign in the expense side of the equation.  I like the saying that "it's not how much you make; it's how much you spend."  I also think that Dave's election has made Boyack's and Cunningham's voice on the Council much stronger than it was before.  This diversity of voices can only help ensure that the residents voice is heard more by the Council.  Dave's margin over Pete Babich was very small, about 140 votes.  Pete's very structured and organized problem solving processes would also have made him a fantastic Councilman.  I wish there were 6 seats on that Council as Poway could really have used Pete's skills.

I met all of the candidates prior to the election and I think that there are all good people.  Poway is lucky to be in such a situation when all you have to do is look at the skills and directions that the Council takes in the past to see if you want the different people to move it into the future.  When the issues take center stage, and not personalities, government runs better for the people.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Voting in this Local Election is Critical

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

The upcoming election for your Local City Council is the most important and pivotal one in Poway's history.

(But before we begin note that once you have finished exploring the site, or before, be sure to take a look at the other blogs on the right side of the page.  They contain well researched opinions and observations of long-term Poway residents.  Excellent and insightful reads for all)

This election is critically important because the next group of leaders will determine the direction of the new General Plan Update.  Mullin, Kruse, and Higginson, make up the three "incumbent" candidates while Babich, Grosch, and Stavros make up the group of challengers.

At issue is that Higginson's cabal is makes up a voting block for developers, while Babich, Grosch, and Stavros represent the interests of the Poway population as a whole.  Both Mullin and Higginson are the pro-developer's candidates.  Higginson has always viewed the General Plan as something to be used when it suits his short term agenda, or it affects his base (North Poway) voters, and to be ignored whenever else it gets in his way.  Higginson will often tell people that he is running because of the lost "experience" that the City has had because several former council members are no longer serving, as well as the loss of a long term City Planner.  This is bogus.  Higginson is running because the people who thwarted his expansionist ambitions are no longer on the council.  The loss of the City Planner means he will have time to mold the new one into the image he desires.  Sadly, this image is of a Poway split between the City in the South and the Country in the Very North.

Mullin makes no qualms or excuses about his membership on the Board of Directors of CALPASC.  This is primarily a lobbying organization, which represents the interests of the Construction industry.  This group has used secret backroom dealings to successfully lobby the State Assembly to pass a pair of laws which reduce the legal liabilities of certain groups of subcontractors working on construction jobs.  He ascended to this position at CALPASC after his supporters essentially bought the seat in the special election.  (He outspent his nearest opponent ~3:1 and gained the office by a margin of 104 votes.  Something less than 0.4% of the electorate)  And his supporters are a who's who in San Diego construction.  Mullin knows that there are major limitations to construction in Poway, as dictated by Poway General Plan and that the City Council is technically required by law to follow said plan.  But not so much the City Staff.  As such, Mullin has proposed to "streamline" the process of urbanizing Poway by transferring the authority to start building projects into the hands of the City Staff.  The very same group that is born and bred to Build, not to follow the General Plan.

Kruse is not a real candidate.  Besides flitting from one position to another by "appointment" he has no real independence.  His sole purpose is to make sure than the building out of Poway does not occur near Green Valley, where he derives his political support.  In exchange for this, Kruse is a Higginson vote, all the time.  He will second any motion to get the process moving and make up the 3rd and final vote in a block that renders each of the other two Council Members irrelevant bystanders.

Despite this Current CRISES of Leadership, Poway is Phenomenally Fortunate to have Three HIGHLY Qualified Candidates to Put Poway Back on the RIGHT Course.

Pete Babich, Dave Grosch, and Nick Stavros are each long term Powegians who know that the "Country" in the "City in the Country" is not only under assault, it is meant for ALL residents, not just a select few elitists.  Each of the Challengers has extensive successful entrepreneurial small business sense.  Each know that to have a prosperous future as a City, Poway will need to maintain its unique character through a robust and consistent General Plan, and to focus on attracting "Smart" industries of the 21st century.  This means industries where the employees are highly skilled and want to live near where they work, and can afford to do it.  Not large box stores where the low wage work in imported from outside of Poway, and the workers cannot afford to do much for Poway but provide traffic.

These candidates are not beholden to the Developer's Special Interest Lobby, but listen to the residents.  These Challengers are the worst nightmare of the City Staff, because, unlike the current crop, Babich, Grosch, and Stavros, actually take the time to read the reports, not just regurgitate what the City Staff puts in front of their faces.

If you want Poway to turn into Mira Mesa, vote for the "Incumbents".  If you want Poway to remain that unique place in San Diego County, vote for the Challengers.  For all of our sake, I hope that you...

Tell your neighbors to Vote Out the Incumbents.

........Before its too late

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

Why the Poway General Plan Matters more than Political Party

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

The take home message of this entry:
It does not matter if your Council Member is Republican or Democrat if they build a freeway in your back yard.

What party is in power in Washington or Sacramento has relatively little bearing on your daily lives when compared to the local City Council.  Both parties are corrupt and will take more of your money, give it to their friends and supporters, and engage in boondoggles that waste our tax payer monies.  The parties are just different flavors of the same ice cream.  One is vanilla with chocolate swirls and the other is chocolate with vanilla swirls.  Although they both taste good, neither are good for your health.

What really matter to YOU is the Poway General Plan

Want to know why?  Go to the Poway Geographic Information Service (GIS) site here and look up your address.  That black line around where you live is the city's easement for roads, sidewalks, or whatever they want to do.  Those Zoning Definitions, ie RS-7, RR-2, OS-RM, etc. have real meaning as defined in the General Plan.  They say how much density can be put onto that parcel of land.  What the use is supposed to be.  This only has meaning if the City Council actually follows what is written in the plan.

This type of information found in the General Plan is used to make real financial decisions as to the value of a piece of property.  A piece of land sitting next to a OS-RM (open space) lot will be worth more than a lot surrounded by RS-7 (higher density residential), because the 1st lot has more of the "Country" feel.  All things being equal, someone will spend more money for the 1st lot than for the 2nd.  But imagine what they would think if the city then decided to not follow the General Plan and install tract housing on that open space park land lot?  People would flee Poway and property values would plummet because there would no longer be any predictable rules.  Poway would become like many small shanty towns in Mexico that run by who you know in power and how much you bribed them to do what you wanted.

The size of the roads, the density of the commercial and residential neighborhoods are all defined by the Poway General Plan.  Currently, this plan is designed as a slow growth plan that maintains the "Country" in the "City in the Country".  Right now, each of the candidates say that they will "Support the General Plan."  To say anything less is political suicide.

But HOW will they "support" the plan?  The Plan is currently due for it's update and the Higginson Cabal (Mullin/Kruse/Higginson) will either ensure that the "update" changes enough things to permit mass urbanization of South Poway so that almost anything stuck in North Poway would still seem like "Country", or they will leave so many loopholes in the plan such that any semblance of it being a "General Plan" disappears.  In either case, they will be "supporting the General Plan", but in both cases it is to the detriment of the residents.

Babich, Grosch, an Stavros, take a more conservative approach to their view of the General Plan to not only enforce what is written, but also what is the "spirit" of the General Plan.  They know that the General Plan is one of the few documents that stops outside pressure from the County and the State to take up the hordes of people banging at the gates, clamoring for cheap housing.

Without a strong General Plan, there is nothing to stop Poway from being paved over, and then, being a city at all really no longer matters, much less the party affiliations of the City Council.

Tell your neighbors to Vote Out the Incumbents.

........Before its too late

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Poway Local Election has Gone NEGATIVE!!!

The Poway Local Election has gone NEGATIVE!
Come check it OUT!

See what everyone’s been talking about!

Here what people are saying!

“Dear lord, I had no idea the council stopped listening to the people!”
- Pollyanna Voter

“Arrrgh!  I’ve thrown away my vote!!  I did not find out in time!”
- Absentee Ballot Voter who did not find out in time.

“I knew there was a reason every Developer I know has been pushing the incumbents!”
- No Longer Naïve Voter

“Oh No!  I can hear the Bulldozers Now!”
- Person who has mistaken the dishwasher noise for that of a bulldozer

“Dang it!  I wish I had thought of going negative sooner!”
- Incumbent Supporter

“No!!! My Plans to Turn Poway into Downtown Mira Mesa Have Been Revealed!”
- Lord Voldemort

So Download the NEGATIVE Voter Information Guide (Page 2) and give it to all of your friends!  Even Better, Add a Dash of Positivity to your Proclivity and download Page 1 of the Guide for the Glorious Challenger Candidates!  People who can actually save the “Country” in the “City in the Country”!

Better yet:  Download them BOTH!!!


Tell your neighbors to Vote Out the Incumbents.

........Before its too late

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who's Buying the City Council?

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

Saw an article in the Poway News Chieftain that did an analysis of the campaign funding thus far.  Looks like the race is being bought by OUTSIDE INTERESTS.

To highlight the relevant parts of the article:

Since the first of the year, and including costs associated with his June recall replacement campaign, Mullin has raised $24,324 and spent $21,603 — more than four times as much as challengers Pete Babich and Dave Grosch, who are...

For the recent two-week reporting period, Mullin listed 34 contributions, with nine coming from outside of Poway. Twenty of the checks were for $100. Among those were 10 from contributors listing real estate, contracting or construction as occupations. 


Kruse listed 10 contributions, five of which were from outside of Poway.
So it's pretty clear that for the people putting down the money, a significant amount of the interest is coming from outside real estate and commercial development in Poway.  And these are the just the people who volunteered to list their occupation.  Sources of non-monetary support, thus not on the Form 460 (or 700) DO NOT include "get to meet the candidate" events, hosted dinners, cut rates on campaign supplies, etc.  This election is being bought, old school style.  Mullin has raised 4x the money of the next closest candidate.  People don't drop that kind of cash for a local election and not expect something in return.  That "something" can be many things but it is NOT good governance for ALL residents of Poway.  Kruse is not far behind with Higginson.  The people who front the cash call the shots.  Like it or not, ethical as you want to be or not, little by little, brick by brick.  Rome was not built in a day, after all.

The County of San Diego AND the Developers that control it, have been gritting their teeth ever since Poway incorporated.  So much land.  So much money to be made.  Want to see the future of ALL of Poway if Mullin pulls a fast one?  Looking West to San Diego, across Pomerado while on top of the Rancho Arbolitos O.S. Neighborhood Park.
 There are even bulldozers in that one.  Waiting for November 3rd perhaps?

Homes look pretty nice.  See the 4-5 story apartment complexes (behind the front row) and town homes coming our way?  Get used to it.  You'll be able to drive from one end of to the other and into San Diego and not even tell the difference.  High density sprawl.  Homes that fall apart in a 5-10 years.  A developer's paradise.  Poway's nightmare.

Tell your neighbors to Vote Out the Incumbents.

........Before its too late

Vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros

Serious Choices for Poway

On October 19th, the Poway City Council tried to follow the rules by initiating a General Plan Amendment that would actually permit lights to be placed at the Arbolitos Sports Fields. While the council's attempt to actually follow the law is laudable, what is striking is the implicit threat of a lawsuit required to get them to take this course.  Sadly, the fight to insure that the city council represents the interests of all Poway citizen is not over yet, and will continue so long as a council is in place that chooses not to adhere to the standards and ideals of Poway, as codified in the General Plan.

The level of effort required by the citizenry to get this council to follow the rules, or at the very least listen to their concerns, is far too high. The people composing the current city council are not bad people, they are just not appropriate leaders for Poway, if it is to move forward as the city it was envisioned to be.

Mullin is ethically horribly compromised and has insurmountable conflicts of interest.  Higginson long ago lost touch with anyone outside of his base, and Kruse lacks any form of independence, choosing simply to vote with whomever appointed him. Never has the choice been more clear or serious.

A vote for the incumbents is a vote to change the city into Box Stores in the South and McMansions in the North.

A vote for Babich, Grosch, and Stavros, is a vote for better city governance that will maintain Poway as the City we know. Choose wisely, Poway.

If you want to get involved, download the Poway Voter Guide and print some out for yourself and give the rest to your neighbors.  Only if you get out the vote will you be able to maintain your quality of life.