Mountain View Voice

News - May 21, 2010

City winning bird feces fight

Burrowing owls gain ground as nuisance birds lose freshwater ponds

by Daniel DeBolt

The city has experimented with remote control boats and fake alligator heads to deter Canada geese and American coots at Shoreline Park, and it appears that some of the efforts have been successful in cutting the coot population in half.

The population of coots at the park went from 5,200 in 2008 to 2,200, thanks to a $300,000 program in which the city experimented with an array of goose and duck deterrents, including lasers to disturb the birds at night, remote-controlled boats to scare them off the golf course ponds, dogs to chase them away, and draining the water from three golf course ponds where the birds took refuge from predators.

In a study session on the birds Tuesday the City Council supported the city's efforts, including a plan to fill golf course ponds with dirt to discourage the nuisance birds while providing hunting grounds for burrowing owls. The city and local bird preservationists are trying to preserve the ground dwelling owls at the park, but everyone agrees the coots and geese need to go.

The coots and geese leave large amounts of feces around the entire park

"You're walking through it all the time," a golfer named Glen told the Voice in 2007. "It's on your shoes and on your ball. If you're playing by the rules, you hit it with the poop on it."

City staff says the coots also cause expensive damage to the golf course greens, leaving holes in the turf that could stop a golf ball.

Over the years the city has tried other bird deterrents with mixed results, including the use of strobe lights, coyote decoys, targeted sprinklers and playing the sound of distressed geese over loudspeakers.

The city has decided that the winning combination includes egg addling, dog chasing and draining the golf course ponds. A state permit allows the goose eggs to be "addled with oil" to kill them, and as a result the population of geese at the park went from 490 birds to 340 over the last two years.

By filling the ponds with dirt, the city also hopes to offset the anticipated loss of burrowing owl hunting grounds at the park. The ground-dwelling owl has been declining county-wide and 14 were last counted at Shoreline Park, which appears to be one their last-best places of refuge.

The Santa Clara Audubon Society has opposed a plan to build baseball and soccer fields south of the Shoreline golf course on a site where the owls like to hunt for mice, voles and insects at night. The dirt-filled ponds could be populated with owl prey to offset that loss, city staff said.

Owl preservationists were largely supportive of the plan. But Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Audubon Society, said the filled ponds could end up being ecological "islands," surrounded by golf course that would be hard to populate with owl prey. Modifications to the golf course might fix that, however, city staff said.

If a choice had to be made to "preserve the golf course or preserve the owls, I would say preserve the owls," said Council member Laura Macias.

While the golf course might look less picturesque, filling most of the ponds with dirt (the birds are not as attracted to the large salt water lake at the park) seems to be an acceptable trade-off to golfers if it will reduce the goose and duck nuisance, city staff said.

Under a proposal from city staff, the pond in front of Michaels restaurant at the golf course would remain, but three other golf course ponds would not. Council member Tom Means asked that the city not fill a portion of a lake that snakes east from Michaels because it makes one of the holes on the golf course a "signature hole" Other council members seemed to agree.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Rodger, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Let's not contract out the golf course, we tried that and it ended up costing the city lots of money. I like the geese but am happy to see less of them, giving a few lakes seems like a good trade off. I hope that the lake in front of Michaels will remain!


Posted by Carl T, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I've been playing Shoreline for years and its too bad the City is even going to consider pulling out and letting a contractor take over. The course has improved so much and I don't believe it can stay at those standards if a contractor comes in. The birds have always been a problem out there and finally they are addressing it. I have watched staff do everything to try and keep them off the greens and tees but nothing seems to work. I hope that the City realizes what a beautiful course they have and don't just give up on it.


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