Banning Ranch – From Sea to Mesa
Protected Species and California Species of Special Concern
The coastal California gnatcatcher is an endangered bird which only lives in the narrow coastal strip of sage scrub of the California chaparral. It can be found from southern Ventura County down to Baja California, Mexico. The California coastal chaparral is an endangered ecosystem. The average annual rainfall is between 6 and 20 inches.
The coastal California gnatcatcher is a small blue-gray songbird which measures only 4.5 inches (11 cm) and weighs 0.2 ounces (6 grams). It has dark blue-gray feathers on its back and grayish-white feathers on its underside. The wings have a brownish wash to them. Its long tail is mostly black with white outer tail feathers. It belongs to the old-world warbler and gnatcatcher Sylviidae family.
The California Least Tern is an endangered migratory shorebird that nests on our beaches within a limited range from northern Baja California to San Francisco Bay. The Least Tern needs cleared, sandy areas for nesting and depends on estuaries, lagoons, and other open water areas for hunting small fish. Terns nest in colonies which helps them work together to defend nests and chicks from predators such as American Crows, Gulls, cats, and snakes.
Least Bell's vireos are small birds. They are only about 4.5 to 5.0 inches long. They have short rounded wings and short, straight bills. There is a faint white eye ring. Feathers are mostly gray above and pale below. Although it is federally protected and there has been an important surge in the least Bell’s vireo population in Southern California, the bird remains susceptible to habitat destruction from the likes of urban development, overgrazing, and electric power lines.
Found in the vernal pools on Banning Ranch, the San Diego fairy shrimp is a species of fresh water shrimp that lives in temporary, or vernal, pools during the summer and the winter. When fully grown, fairy shrimp are approximately the size of a finger nail or tadpole and have an average lifespan of three to four weeks.
In southern California, the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp (Branchinecta sandiegonensis) and the threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi) overlap in distribution with the more common versatile fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lindahli).
San Diego fairy shrimp were federally listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1994.
Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are so named because they live underground in burrows that have been dug out by small mammals like ground squirrels and prairie dogs. They are covered in brown spotted feathers and have long legs. They also sport distinctive white “eyebrows” above bright yellow eyes. They are one of the smallest owls in North America. Unlike other owls, burrowing owls are active during the day, especially in the spring when they gather food for their large broods. This species of owl prefers open areas with low ground cover. They can often be found perching near their burrow on fence posts and trees.
Burrowing owls make a tremulous chuckling or chattering call. They also bob their heads to express excitement or distress.
For more than 20 years, the Pacific pocket mouse was thought to be extinct from the marine terraces of the southern California coast. The Pacific pocket mouse is the smallest mouse species in North America, with adults typically weighing between 6 and 7 grams (about one-fifth to one-quarter of an ounce). This nocturnal species was thought to be extinct in the 1980s, but it was rediscovered in 1993 at the Dana Point Headlands in Orange County. The other two populations known to exist are on the Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, where they were discovered in 1995.
Pacific pocket mice have very strict habitat requirements—they live only within 4 miles of the coast. Their historic range is a stretch of coastal land extending from the El Segundo dunes near Los Angeles International Airport to the Mexico border.
The Cactus Wren is the largest wren in United States, 7-9 inches long. Both sexes with dull, rusty crown, streaked back, heavily spotted breast, tawny-colored sides and belly; wing and tail feathers barred black and white conspicuous broad white stripe over eye. No differences between breeding and nonbreeding plumage. The tail is not usually held cocked as in most other wrens. Juveniles resemble adults but have lighter, smaller chest spots and shorter tails. The song is a low, raspy, cha cha cha cha cha, very reminiscent of a car's engine trying to turn over on a cold winter day.
The western snowy plover is a threatened small shorebird, approximately the size of a sparrow. During the breeding season, March through September, plovers can be seen nesting along the shores, peninsulas, offshore islands, bays, estuaries, and rivers of the United States' Pacific Coast.
The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover was listed as threatened by the Fish and Wildlife Service on March 5, 1993.
The Belding’s Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi; Belding’s) is one of few species of birds that reside year-round in the coastal salt marshes of southern California. This subspecies of Savannah sparrow is a salt marsh endemic, ranging historically from Goleta in Santa Barbara County, California on the north, south to el Rosario, Baja California, Mexico (American Ornithologists Union 1983, Grinnell and Miller 1944, and Van Rossen 1947). The major need of this little endangered songbird remains habitat restoration, security, and management. At least 75% of southern California’s former coastal wetlands have been lost and the remainder suffers ongoing degradation.
Banning Ranch is home to several endangered and/or threatened bird species. Probably the most intriguing of these is the light-footed clapper rail. Many Naturalists have never seen this secretive bird, even though the Newport Back Bay has the largest subpopulation remaining in the USA. The clapper rail is very dependent on coastal saltmarsh habitat. Specifically it needs an abundance of tall cord grass (Spartina foliosa) to build its unique floating nest in the lower marsh areas that are flooded at high tide. This avian artisan weaves dead grass stems between and around growing stems to form a platform nest that can rise and fall with the flow and ebb of the tide, and then bends and intertwines the tips of the surrounding stems to form a canopy above the nest. The canopy holds the nest in place during high spring tides and provides protection from flying predators.
This medium-sized, gray songbird is the smaller and darker of the two species of shrike in North America. The Loggerhead Shrike has a gray underside and a darker gray back. Its wings are black with white patches, and its tail is black with white corners. Its head is large in proportion to its body. It has a heavy bill that is hooked at the very tip, and a wide black mask across its face. Juveniles are browner than adults, with buffy wing-bars and barred underparts. Loggerhead Shrikes have a shorter bill and a broader mask than Northern Shrikes. Their cheeks are brighter white, giving more contrast to their facial pattern. For the most part, the two species are found in Washington at different times of year, but they do overlap in some places.
The White-tailed Kite was formerly known as the Black-shouldered Kite, until the species was split, with the North American birds taking the new moniker. The White-tailed Kite is a distinctive bird, especially when hovering over open fields. The kite's upperparts are mostly gray, with bold black shoulders. Its tail is white above and below, with a small stripe of light gray down the center of the upper side of the tail. From below, the kite's body appears to be white, with black patches at the wrists and gray-black primaries. Its head is mostly white with red eyes. Juveniles are similar, but have a buffy wash over much of their bodies. The kite's wings are long and pointed, often held in a dihedral during soaring.
A medium-sized hawk with the classic accipiter shape: broad, rounded wings and a very long tail. In Cooper’s Hawks, the head often appears large, the shoulders broad, and the tail rounded.
Among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, Cooper’s Hawks are common woodland hawks that tear through cluttered tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds. You’re most likely to see one prowling above a forest edge or field using just a few stiff wingbeats followed by a glide. With their smaller lookalike, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawks make for famously tricky identifications. Both species are sometimes unwanted guests at bird feeders, looking for an easy meal (but not one of sunflower seeds).
North America has more than 50 species of warblers, but few combine brilliant color and easy viewing quite like the Yellow Warbler. In summer, the buttery yellow males sing their sweet whistled song from willows, wet thickets, and roadsides across almost all of North America.
Yellow Warblers are uniformly yellow birds. Males are a bright, egg-yolk yellow with reddish streaks on the underparts. Both sexes flash yellow patches in the tail. The face is unmarked, accentuating the large black eye. The females and immatures aren’t as bright, and lack the male’s rich chestnut streaking, but their overall warm yellow tones, unmarked faces, and prominent black eyes help pick them out. Yellow Warblers breed in shrubby thickets and woods, particularly along watercourses and in wetlands.
Unique among North American raptors for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them, Ospreys are common sights soaring over shorelines, patrolling waterways, and standing on their huge stick nests, white heads gleaming. These large rangy hawks do well around humans and have rebounded in numbers following the ban on the pesticide DDT. Hunting Ospreys are a picture of concentration, diving with feet outstretched and yellow eyes sighting straight along their talons. Ospreys are very large, distinctively shaped hawks. Despite their size, their bodies are slender, with long, narrow wings and long legs. Ospreys fly with a marked kink in their wings, making an M-shape when seen from below.
The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest wood-warbler. While it is generally regarded as a warbler, it has many non-warbler characteristics. It has a large, heavy bill, unlike many warblers; males and females look alike; and its unusual song has similarities to that of a thrasher or an oriole. The Yellow-breasted Chat does have typical warbler coloring, however, and is plain olive above with a yellow throat and breast and a white belly. It has a white line between its yellow throat and its olive-gray head. A white eye-ring that extends forward gives it a spectacled look.
The smallest accipiter, the “sharpie” is a jay-size hawk that frequents backyard bird feeders in winter, bursting from nearby bushes to snatch a small bird off a branch. A small, round-winged, long-tailed hawk of woods, edges, and mixed habitat. The tip of the tail appears square, bands are wide and straight. The head is rounded, with a distinct “notch” in the profile from crown to beak.
The northern harrier is a slender, medium-sized hawk, with a long tail, wings and legs, a characteristic white rump, and a distinctive ‘facial disc’, which gives it an owl-like appearance. The male is grey above and white underneath, with obvious black wing-tips and contrasting yellow legs, eyes and facial skin. The female is larger and is quite different in appearance, being dark brown above, paler below, with dark streaks, and with bars on the wings and tail. Juvenile northern harriers resemble the female, but are usually darker above and more reddish-brown below, sometimes without streaking northern harrier uses a variety of calls, including a long, rapid series of 'kek' notes, a piercing, descending scream, given by the female when soliciting food from the male, and a soft, chuckling call at the nest.
Endangered Plant Species
Saltgrass is a perennial halophyte. The subspecies, Distichlis spicata, is a California native that tolerates the alkali soil in the marsh plains and salt pans of coastal saltmarshes.
Saltgrass plants usually form a low dense mat ground cover of sprawling, large, patchy colonies that are about 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in) tall. The plants can be somewhat erect. This grass has stiff, narrow, pointed blades that alternate up the stem, growing away from the base at an angle. The blades are 2.54 to 15.2 (1-6 in) long and about 6.3 mm (0.25 in) wide.
They are blue-green in color and often coated with salt crystals. Rhizomes are scaly and yellowish. Small purple or straw-colored flowers appear in the spring. The seeds are smooth and 1.5 mm (0.06 in) long.