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  • Writer's pictureThe Skunk Corner

October 2023: Going Batty for Wildlife

Happy Halloween! The orb weavers are building their webs, the bats are flying around at dusk, and the owls are hooting as the sun goes down over the Douglas Family Preserve. We may not have the stereotypical autumn in Santa Barbara, but this season brings plenty of our own opportunities to observe nature and keep up good relations with the wildlife that share our neighborhoods. Read on and you'll find out about:

  • The latest good owl watching spots in SB

  • What to do if you find a drunk squirrel in your yard

  • How to keep backyard wildlife from feasting on your Thanksgiving food scraps

  • Improvements coming to Ellwood

  • A reopened SB city park to check out

  • Which critters aren't as scary as their Halloween reputations, and which one brings the real bad luck to local wildlife!

Get to Know the Wildlife of Halloween!

You may have seen these critters in your neighbor's Halloween display, but did you know these not-so-scary facts about them?

  • Different species of insect-eating bats can be identified by their echolocation sounds, if you have a device that can "hear" these sounds (which are mostly at frequencies the human ear can't pick up). When bats emit these sounds, they can sense the sound waves echoing off of their insect prey, which shows them exactly where the insects are.

  • Baby orb-weaver spiders are called spiderlings, and when they hatch, they float in the wind to their new homes on little pieces of spider silk that act as parachutes.

  • Crows can recognize faces, and some people who have succeeded at "befriending" them have gotten shiny things from the crows as gifts!

  • Great horned owls can't move their eyes like we can, but instead they can turn their whole heads more than 180 degrees around to look around. They often perch on branches overlooking open areas so that they can use their excellent night vision to search for rodent prey.

All Eyes on Owls

As the days get shorter, opportunities for watching nocturnal animals become more convenient. Plus, fall is the season when great horned owls tend to be the most vocal, and therefore easiest to find. In your neighborhood or a local open space, listen for a pair of owls calling back and forth to each other. Great horned owls generally mate for life, and engage in courtship displays each fall. Sometimes if you imitate their calls, they may even think you are joining the conversation and answer you back! You can buy a specially made owl call that makes a hooting noise when you blow into it, or you can just use your own voice. Good places to observe owls lately include the Douglas Family Preserve, La Mesa Park, and Arroyo Burro Open Space. Check out iNaturalist to see where else people have been seeing owls and add your own observations!

This Squirrel Walks Into a Bar...

Are your fruit trees or vines producing so much fruit this fall that it's fermenting on the ground? Fallen fruit can be a great food source for birds, squirrels, opossums, and other wildlife, and having fruiting plants in your yard for every season can help attract these animals. However, just like in fruit that is intentionally left to ferment in the production of beverages, the sugars in fallen fruit start turning to alcohol after awhile, and this can affect whatever eats the fruit. Below is a video of a squirrel that was acting erratic after being known to eat fallen fruit, and may possibly have been drunk. The same effect has also been reported in birds. If you notice an animal behaving unusually (e.g. lethargic, aggressive, uncoordinated, or out at the wrong time of day), avoid touching the animal and call the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. The animal might be injured, sick, poisoned... or just had too much fermented fruit.

Keep Wildlife Wild This Thanksgiving

A festive feast is fun, but not when the raccoons, opossums, and other critters come to feast on the leftovers. If you're cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, make sure to dispose of the bones and other scraps in a way that does not attract wildlife. This includes waiting until trash day to put these items outside, siting your outdoor trashcan away from areas frequented by wildlife, and keeping the lid of the trashcan secured tightly. More information about backyard animals and trash can be found on the Coexistence 101 page.

What's Going On at Ellwood?

If you've been to Ellwood Butterfly Grove recently, you may have noticed some major maintenance activity going on, including project signage and the removal of a few trees. That's because the City of Goleta has begun work on a comprehensive plan to enhance butterfly habitat and improve safety and public access in the grove. Some key elements of the plan:

  • Native plant restoration, including along Devereux Creek. Many of the plants to be installed will be nectar-providing, as well as having other important habitat functions.

  • Removal of dead and dying eucalyptus trees, which can pose a safety risk if left standing. They're highly flammable, and also known to fall down or drop large branches in windstorms (which has earned them the nickname "widow makers" in Australia). New trees, including native species and a couple varieties of eucalyptus (nonnative), will be planted in their place.

  • A new, ADA-compliant footbridge at the Coronado entrance (by the "Ellwood Main" sign). This will replace the existing plank bridge, which often floods in the winter.

  • Interpretive enhancements, including signage, trail improvements, and new butterfly viewing areas.

The preserve is still open, although there may be trail detours at times. Signage posted near the Santa Barbara Shores entrance provides more information about the project, and you can also read about it on the City's website.

Eastside Neighborhood Park is (Mostly) Reopened!

While the City of Goleta is busy with their Ellwood project, the City of Santa Barbara has been working on renovations at Eastside Neighborhood Park. Most of the park has been reopened, and although there is still some construction going on, visitors can hang out among the oak trees again, just in time for acorn season! Bring a picnic blanket or beach chair and have fun observing what the squirrels and crows are up to!

Protect Backyard Birds from Bad Luck...

It's only superstition that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, but cats of any color can bring bad luck to wildlife if their owners don't take steps to prevent conflict. Keeping your cat indoors is safest for birds, and for the cat as well- many dangers to cats exist outside, such as coyotes and cars. If that isn't an option, try adding a bell to your cat's collar. (Use caution with this if there are coyotes in the area though, as they may recognize the bell as the location of prey.). If your cat brings you a bird or other critter as a "gift" and the prey is still alive, call the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, which is well equipped to rehabilitate these and other injured or sick wildlife.

🦉 🦇 🕷️ 🐈‍⬛ HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 🦉 🦇 🕷️ 🐈‍⬛

P.S. In between newsletters, more frequent wildlife updates, photos, and graphics will be posted on the Skunk Corner instagram page, @theskunkcorner.


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