Environment

Lake Almanor festival will celebrate elegant waterbirds with floating nests

Clark's grebes at Lake Almanor sit on eggs in floating nests built in shallow waters anchored by pond weeds. Maintaining water levels is critical during the 23 days they need to hatch their chicks.
Clark's grebes at Lake Almanor sit on eggs in floating nests built in shallow waters anchored by pond weeds. Maintaining water levels is critical during the 23 days they need to hatch their chicks. Special to The Bee

Grebes, an elegant waterbird species with an intricate mating dance, are getting their own festival.

Sponsored by Plumas Audubon Society, an array of activities from Friday through Sundaywill focus on Western and Clark’s grebes, which winter on the Pacific coast and fly to Lake Almanor each spring to breed and nest.

Starting with a Friday afternoon symposium on the research, ecology and conservation of this diving bird, the grebe festival includes multiple pontoon and kayak tours to get closer to the floating nests that make Lake Almanor one of the species’ most important breeding lakes.

Other field trips will search for dragonflies at nearby Willow Lake and explore the wildlife that gather in the riparian corridor at the mouth of the Feather River’s north fork, where it empties into Lake Almanor. Workshops – suitable for all ages – vary from “How to Draw a Better Bird” to keeping a field journal.

Lake Almanor is critical grebe habitat, part of a network of six lakes north of Sacramento where more than 50 percent of the Intermountain West’s breeding population of Western and Clark’s grebes spend the summer. Because their flight muscles atrophy between spring and fall migrations, they are stuck on these lakes, where they face powerboat wakes, gawking anglers and intrusive lakeside residents.

A $300,000 study started in 2010 has identified a critical link between nesting success and lake levels. Grebes use pond weed to anchor their floating nest mounds. Too much water prevents the weeds from growing; too little exposes the nests to raccoons eager to prey on eggs and chicks.

“They only have so much time – just 23 days to nest and hatch chicks,” said David Arsenault, executive director of Plumas Audubon.

He and Audubon California have been working with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to manage water levels to benefit nesting grebes. The utility company maintains the reservoir to produce hydroelectric power. Arsenault is concerned about a recent rapid drawdown that has strongly affected a 700-nest colony, causing adult birds to abandon their nests. The grebes will renest, he said. They will be successful, but only if PG&E slows the water drops through September.

In addition to the field trips and workshops, the grebe festival will show two new documentaries: “The Messenger,” about human-made perils to songbirds around the globe, and “Searching for Gold Spot: The Wild After Wildfire,” which emphasizes the importance of fire to mountain forests and wildlife.

Additional information and online registration for the Almanor grebe festival is available at http://www.plumasaudubon.org/fieldtrips--activities.html.

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