Adios 2011, You Weren’t as Bad as I thought…

Yesterday when I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself for not having gotten much done in 2011, I started making a list. What all HAD I accomplished? What had I left behind that I loved best? And the list surprised me.

My book on Lories and Lorikeets was published in February. And I had articles in Bird Talk, BirdsUSA and WildBird.

In January the Inlandia Literary Journal published Homecoming a short story about a loft of pigeons in Banning, California and the places that make us.

I had two essays published at The Rumpus one that dealt with my love/hate relationship with home (and David Grohl) and the other about my grandmother. What We Lost When We Lost Barbara Jean made it on the best of list that week on

I experimented with self-publishing and put together a collection of pieces to accompany the eBook release of Lift. My collection Rise came out in July. Lift continued on its journey and two chapters were included in New California Writing 2011. And I blushed when Zyzzyva thought the chapters were moving. Then I started work on the audiobook, running a successful Kickstarter, finding a recording studio and narrating the book myself. (Now for final edits)

Jessie Sholl, Tom Chandler and ACX interviewed me on their blogs while I mostly neglected my own. Although, I finished a parrot training manuscript and have a couple of other projects in the works.

Also, I made quite a few online friends into in real life friends. And I met Neil Gaiman and found myself remembering why I started writing in the first place.

Maybe most importantly, this summer I flew a Cooper’s hawk and found a new lens for my inspiration.

This is all my personal work. I don’t talk as much about my work as a conservation fundraiser for Ducks Unlimited, although I should. I spend more time working on that than anything else and it is work I am very proud of being a part of.  We managed to save a tremendous amount of NAWCA funding that was on the chopping block. In California we saw the breaching of a levvy in salt flats that had not seen tidal flow for over 100 years. I helped fund work in the Klamath Basin, the San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley of California amongst many other places in the West.

Recently someone asked me if I was truly dedicated to this work, if my plans were really just to wait it out until I was making enough money to live well as an author. I laughed. I buy lottery tickets too, but no one asks if my real plan is to win the lottery. “Aren’t you just working so that you can write?,” he asked. “Are you just working so that you can support your family,” I asked.

Then he asked how I get it all done. The short answer? I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I often wonder how people raise families and work at the same time. He should have asked me why I didn’t get more done. Then I told him that I sit in front of my computer most nights. I almost never watch television. I jot ideas down in between jumping from the shower and getting dressed for work. I write when I go out to eat. I write on airplanes. I daydream about storylines when I’m on the treadmill. I use my vacation time to do readings or to finish writing a project. I haven’t had a real vacation in 8 years. In my free time- I write.

That is how you become an author, but having a job you love helps. It helps a lot. So I am thankful for my free time, but also for a job that allows me to make a difference for something I care deeply about, conservation. So looking back, when everyone said, “Get er done!” I think I did. Happy New Year!

I can’t wait to see what the list for 2012 looks like… I can’t wait to hear what you get accomplished too!!

The Death of North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grants?

View at the Office (Napa Plant Site)
View at the Office (Napa Plant Site)

Current suggested budget cuts on Capitol Hill would eliminate funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) bringing annual funding ($46 million in 2010) to ZERO.

 I’ll preface here… the budget needs to be cut. We are spending too much money and not enough taxes are coming in to cover our voracious need to get to the next better place. We will always need balance. There will always be a sweetheart with whom you will need to spend less time or have to leave out in the rain. And there is much to scream about being cut from the budget right now, but humor me for a moment. Let me tell you why my pet project should be protected.

The North American Wetlands Act was created to save the wet and wild spaces in America. Wet and Wild. This sounds sexy and it is. Fish need water. Ducks need water. And our children need the water which is filtered through the wetlands– the kidneys of our renewable resources. The best drinking water is utilized, muliplied and sifted through a place so perfect and pristine that you’ll need waders to even get a brief glimpse of its secrets.

And your children are welcome to the drinking water. I simply want to be in waders, waist-deep in paradise. Wetlands are both our health and our leisure. Either way, no organism lives without kidneys. It’s impossible. Yet we’ve lost 96% of our historic wetlands in California. We’re drinking the dregs of what was once a spectacular vintage.

Since the conception of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) in 1989 more than 1,600 NAWCA projects have contributed to the conservation of more than 25 million acres of habitat across North America. That’s about the size of Virginia or Kentucky. If all you know is California (like me) — there are 101 million acres in California. NAWCA has been responsible for the conservation of a piece of land about a quarter of the size of this state. This is a lot of something when you’re in a place where you basically have nothing …

There is more to NAWCA than this though. When I stepped into a position at Ducks Unlimited fundraising, I knew I was with the right organization. I knew what DU did for wetlands and waterfowl and that they had been consistently science-based and successful in their work since 1937. What I had no idea of –and what constantly amazes me is what a complex partnership of careful orchestration the renewal and protection of wetlands actually requires. NAWCA isn’t just a chunk of change being doled out by the government. It is the granting arm of the Joint Ventures, cohorts of conservation groups organized geographically and all following an agreed upon plan for rejuventating wetlands systems that can support the most diverse group of species possible, including humans. If you want funds to do wetlands work from NAWCA, you better be making the most positive impact possible or you don’t make the cut.

Conaway Ranch

Conaway Ranch

Speaking to this as a fundraiser, there’s another component to this that makes for incredible forward motion. Every federal dollar MUST BE MATCHED by at least one private dollar in donations. One dollar of NAWCA money may mean $8 for me in funding work on the ground. Who wouldn’t find it more appealing to give if giving means your dollar is stretched and incredibly valuable. Not to mention how very expensive it is to do dirt work in California…

Which also leads me to this point… NAWCA means jobs. This flow of philanthropic dollars helps contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and support more than 20,000 jobs. And I don’t mean just here at DU. We are a group of scientists, biologists, engineers and GIS specialists with only mimimal adminstration support. When we do construction, it’s contracted out. Hiring equipment, moving dirt, doing the on-the-ground work is handed over to the local economy from those dollars. DU runs a lean operation of specialists. We don’t own equipment or have construction staff in-house. We do the permiting, engineering, check the science and catalyze. Money invested here is money invested locally.

And all of this sounds very analtyical, thought-provoking and relevant. It’s true of course, the important things that NAWCA makes possible. If you were to corner me though, I would say that I’ve lost too much already, that every piece of California that has its wilderness cracked or smashed by concrete is one more blow to my already mostly-broken heart. We are supporting 12% of historical duck numbers on a mere 4% of historical habitat. Something is going to give. Don’t let it be NAWCA. You need wetlands and ducks need you.

Read more here and see how you can make your opinion heard.

In Wilton (photo by Rob Diebold)

In Wilton (photo by Rob Diebold)


Anakin photo by Tony Dolle

Anakin photo by Tony Dolle

This season was a series of mishaps, training challenges, unexpected weather, surprising moments of good luck and some gorgeous flights. So, yes, pretty much like the last nine seasons, only with it’s own flavor and favorites.

Much of my falconry this season also doubled as work. Ducks Unlimited gives me the opportunity to talk about falconry … a lot. I listen to the guys talk about their hunts as miracles; slow dawns, fast limits and a cleansing of 9-to-5 repetition that can only happen in waders. I stare into a pint of beer and just listen, visualizing what the hunters experienced. When I don’t chime in, they figure I probably don’t hunt.  And like good friends who worry about the state of my soul, someone in the group will ultimately turn and ask, “Do you hunt ducks, Rebecca?”

I do. Just not with a gun.

From this conversation comes invitations and although places where you would position a blind rarely work for a falconry hunt, I’ve taken up a lot of the offers this season. I love being outside. I love watching someone experience a stooping peregrine for the first time. I love talking about wetlands and what Ducks Unlimited does to make sure that we won’t be the last generation entranced by the whistle and wingbeat of a thousand ducks. So that was where I was on the best hunt of the season.

I found myself in the kitchen at the clubhouse surrounded by a family of hunters. They were cooking lunch; duck chili, recently shot quail, duck and goose. I was immediately welcomed with hugs, a glass of wine pushed into my hand and became a component of the revelry. Gathered around the island in the kitchen the story-telling grew into a gregarious din that ultimately turned to the question of where we were going to fly the falcon.

Looking at a map of the property I couldn’t figure what body of water would be our best bet, so I left it to the patriarch and crossed my fingers the little falcon could pull something off. We headed out in a caravan of five cars and three generations and I was glad for the wine. Despite the laughter and camaraderie I had stage fright. I hated to disappoint.

Anakin didn’t disappoint.

Peregrine Falcon makes a direct hit on drake Gadwall.  Gary R. Zahm 2011

Peregrine Falcon makes a direct hit on drake Gadwall. Gary R. Zahm 2011

The high fog had just broken, the sun breaking through in the mid-afternoon and the falcon took off and up, shining in the sun and left me grinning. 750 feet above the pond and with the entire family looking on, a drake gadwall lifted off the water and as it crossed a thick patch of tules, the falcon stooped and together they slammed through the reeds below.

Gary Zahm stood on the other side of the pond from me, camera in hand and somehow caught the moment of impact. I have seen a hunt like this a thousand times, but I know now I didn’t really “see” it. I knew it, registered small things that equaled big ones in ways I would never be able to articulate. I knew the falcon had held on to the duck all the way down. I knew he wasn’t coming out. I knew I would need to throw on my waders, trudge out and find them. So I did.

I didn’t want to think about the possibility of daredevil falcons and drowned birds, but I did, because you always do. I am always ready for it to be over, but fighting back tears just the same. He was never mine to keep. I’ve always known this. And when the signal clearly came from water-level I was certain this tempestuous love affair had at long-last come to an end.

Peregrine Falcon rides a gadwall drake down.  Gary R. Zahm 2011

Peregrine Falcon rides a gadwall drake down. Gary R. Zahm 2011

Then I heard the jostle and chime of a falcon’s bell.

Deep in the tules I found the falcon, soaking wet, balancing in the reeds– a drake gadwall floating in the water beneath him.

I broke back through the aquatic jungle, emerging from the water with the falcon dripping on the glove, the duck cinched in my hand, surrounded by well-wishers and feeling as though I’d been baptized and embraced. The falcon won’t win forever, none of us do, but it’s the high that follows the low which makes it worth the fight. And when Gary showed me the photos, for the first time I truly SAW what the hunt looked like. It took my breath away.

It was truly the best of this year’s hunts… and did I mention there was wine?

Gearing up for Duck Season

Winter Pass by ViaMoi on Flickr Courtesy of CC Licensing

Winter Pass by ViaMoi on Flickr Courtesy of CC Licensing

The ducks are coming!

And so is the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest!

The Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest being is being judged for the first time in California and there are a lot of ancillary events going on especially in the Bay Area.

If you decide to come see the judging, look for me. I’ll be the redhead either texting to Twitter on my cell phone about the contest and running around in a panic.

So get out! Celebrate conservation and…put your stamp on it!


10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Birding on UC Berkeley Campus, Leave from the David Brower Center, CA, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley.

Join Golden Gate Audubon for a bird walk on the UC Berkeley campus.   Trip will depart from the David Brower Center.  Transportation to be provided. Binoculars recommended.  Teenagers and adults only please.

9 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Duck Stamp Art Contest Judging
, David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley.
Opening Ceremony is at 10 a.m. Ongoing activities at the center include kids activities, wood duck carving demonstration,  partner organizations on display, vendors sell stamps and products, and “Pick the Winner” contest.

1 – 3 p.m.

North Bay Restoration Tour Friday, Depart from the David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA
Take a free 2-hour bus tour of 3 restoration projects in San Pablo Bay with Ducks Unlimited. Seating is limited and first come, first served.  Please RSVP to

Wood Duck Colors by Nick Chill Courtesy of CC Licensing

Wood Duck Colors by Nick Chill Courtesy of CC Licensing


9 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Duck Stamp Art Contest Judging
, David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA
Doors open at 9 a.m. for art viewing and judging begins at 10 a.m. The winner will be announced at about 12 p.m.

9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Shoreline Restoration and Celebrate World Food Day, Martin Luther King Shoreline Park, Oakland

Help “feed two birds with one hand!” Learn more and rsvp HERE.

10 a.m. –12:30 pm

Live from Berkeley: Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest- Video Stream

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center, Loleta, CA.  For directions, call 707-733-5406.

San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center, Fremont, CA.  For directions, call 510-792-0222.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Visitor Center, Tulelake, CA.  For directions, call 530-667-2231.

Me & the Missus by Doug Greenburg on Flickr couresty of CC Licensing

Me & the Missus by Doug Greenberg on Flickr couresty of CC Licensing

11a.m. – 12 p.m.
Duck Drawing Workshop
, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Newark Slough Learning Center, Fremont
Learn the basics of drawing ducks and hear how youths can enter the US Fish & Wildlife Service Jr. Duck Stamp contest! Suitable for all ages.  RVSP  HERE by October 15 – (510) 792-0222 x363,

1 p.m.

Bird Walk – Leave from the David Brower Center for a guided 2 hour bird walk in the Berkeley area. Binoculars recommended.

2:30 – 4 p.m.
Amazing Refuge Race II, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center, Fremont
Using a GPS unit, teams of five will “race” to the coordinates given and perform specific tasks. Prizes will be awarded. Call by October 15th (510)-792-0222 ext. 363 to register.

3-5 p.m.
A Toast to Ducks: Duck and Wine Pairing Workshop
, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center, Fremont. Learn which types of wine goes well with duck. $10 donation.  Space is limited to 50 adults 21 years and over. Call 510-792-0222 ext. 363 for your ticket.  More info HERE.

Want to watch the art being judged from the comfort of your own home?? It will be streamed HERE.

Got Duck Stamps?

2010-2011 Federal Duck Stamp

2010-2011 Federal Duck Stamp

I’ve been buying duck stamps for eight years now. I knew that the money went toward conservation, but I didn’t entirely understand how it worked. I’m guessing most falconers don’t. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the committee organizing the events surrounding this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest (in California for the first time) and wonder why I didn’t know that everyone should buy one, duck hunter or not. From USFWS:

Ninety-eight) cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Understandably, the Federal Duck Stamp Program has been called one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated and is a highly effective way to conserve America’s natural resources.

There’s no question that this stamp is a powerful tool for conservation. What’s amazing to me however, is how this stamp came about. In 1934 in the middle of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, hunters said, “charge us to hunt. Charge us a dollar and make it go toward saving our land and the ducks we hunt.” What you have to understand is what a dollar was worth to these men. I heard Dale Hall, the CEO of Ducks Unlimited explain what a dollar could buy then. It could buy flour, sugar, eggs, milk… enough groceries to last you a week during a very very hard time. Honestly, in a much worse economy, albeit with echos to the time we are living in now.

So I was excited to buy my Duck Stamp this year, and even more excited when Ken Salazar made an appearance at the DU Headquarters to announce a new Duck Stamp Cache. This extra Duck Stamp will go specifically toward acquiring wetlands in the Gulf Coast.   

Have you bought your Duck Stamp? It shouldn’t make a difference whether you are hunting ducks or not. Every piece of wetlands purchased is a place saved for waterfowl, shorebirds …and our children. If hunters could step up and offer a week’s worth of grocery money in the worst economy in United States history, surely we can all afford the cost of a dinner out to keep some of our landscape wild.  What are you waiting for?

In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sell Federal Duck Stamps at our falconry meets. We are all conservationists at the end of the day, right? Check out Amplex to see how you can get Duck Stamps to sell at your events. Even you dirt hawkers ought to be buying one…

A Year for the Ducks

A Year for the Ducks

A Year for the Ducks

Working at DU out here in the west was “interesting” this last year, to say the least.  In California, we were particularly challenged by frozen bond funds, halting progress toward completing ten million dollars worth of contracted projects. The staff here put in long hours, seeking creative ways, such as a no interest loans from foundations, to get our work on the ground in motion again. They made it happen. It was pretty amazing.

All year we continued to partner with other conservation organizations and land trusts. We succeeded in ensuring the rerouting of a major electric powerline, originally proposed to pass through sensitive wetlands habitat in the Sacramento Valley. We were also involved in a major water policy package working to protect fish, wildlife and people from dangerous mercury levels, while also working to procure more water for our struggling refuges.

This year we embark on one of the largest coastal restoration projects ever attempted in the San Francisco Bay and continue our efforts to restore and maintain the Central Valley refuges, all hard hit by state funding cuts, as well as work with private landowners. Of course this is only a tiny portion of the entirety of projects in the Pacific Flyway, but it gives you an idea. I’ve got my work cut out for me raising funds for all this great stuff, but I think it’s wonderful that despite the economy there are still tons of incredibly important work being done in this office. I certainly landed in the right place!

Conservation On Capital Hill

On Capital hill

On Capital hill

I’m not a lobbyist and I don’t plan to become one, but I was in DC to give a presentation at Phoenix Landing, so I thought I would tack on a bit of time to check out what the Ducks Unlimited DC office gets itself up to.

I work with major donors and I thought major donors would have some interest. What I didn’t count on was being recruited to lobby.

Now, I grew up in a house where it was considered impolite to talk about politics. To this day I don’t know who my grandparents voted for or supported. In fact, my grandmother claimed every year that she was voting for Dewey. She never got over that particular lost election…  So politics and I are not comfortable bedfellows. I have my opinions. I formulate them carefully. I listen and read, but I don’t talk about them. It’s nobody’s business and honestly, a friendly debate NEVER feels friendly to me.  So I don’t belong in DC.

However, I was willing, in fact excited to go lobby for Ducks, because one should know how these things work. One should have an idea how the things you believe in become bills and laws and how they get funded.

No Time for Stairs

So escorted by one of our staff from DC, I met with staffers from both my Senator’s offices and my Congressman’s office, as well as a few others. I learned a lot just by watching about the influx of information and way things work on the simpliest level. Having someone in front of them reminding them of local interests is huge. I’m now thrilled that DU has people on Capital Hill keeping important conservation issues in front of politicians. Nothing happens in government without pressure.

So when you find issues that are crucial to what you believe in make sure you do something about it.

  • Do you belong to an organization that has a lobbyist? Make sure the orgs that you support know what policy is important to you. If enough members feel strongly about a policy that’s in the realm of that org’s interest and expertise, it is likely to react and get your voice heard.
  • Call you Senator and your Congressman. They keep track of how many calls and of how their constituents are reacting. I saw it, first hand. And that’s mostly what they care about. How many of you care.
  • Vote. Seriously. And not just for the President. Know who is running for Congress and the Senate and vote. It makes a difference.

This these I can do. These things I know make a difference. Which is good, because you won’t find me lobbying again any time soon…

But They Shoot Ducks Don’t They…?

It’s hard to wrap my head around it, but I’ve been at Ducks Unlimited for almost a year now. The difficulty of the wrap around is less about the passage of time and more about the information I’m still trying to absorb. The amount of work that originates in the Western Regional Office is astounding. If you think there isn’t a whole lot of wetlands conservation going on on the West Coast states…you should give me a call sometime.

There is of course, more to learn than just what is happening on the ground. Working in fundraising means knowing the culture that surrounds you and understanding how to tell your story. And I’m always shocked at the complete misunderstanding of the DU story. Out in the interwebs and at dinner parties with friends what I hear the most is, “What’s the point of conserving ducks if you’re just going to shoot them later?”

I could go on for hours about the minimal impact of hunting, the value of natural resources, the importance of comprehending the value of food, the debilitating effects of nature deficit disorder and on an on but that isn’t really the question that gets asked. It’s “why save them if you’re going to shoot them?”

TealFlyingKays2It’s a valid question, or at least would be if “Ducks Unlimited” shot ducks, but we don’t.  Waterfowl hunters shoot ducks. Don’t get me wrong, we love waterfowl hunters at DU and it’s because these hunters also invest a tremendous amount of money in the conservation of waterfowl and wetlands. People who hunt waterfowl often support Ducks Unlimited. In fact, they are the backbone of our support. Still, Ducks Unlimited doesn’t shoot ducks.

So it would be more logical to direct the question to hunters and ask why they spend their money on conservation and supporting DU.  Every time I have, I’ve been stunned at the passion and articulation of their answer. It is a conversation I recommend every curious person ask. In fact if you don’t know any gun hunters, go ask NorCal Cazadora. She could write rings around my best explanation of why I personally hunt.

The bottom line though, is that Ducks Unlimited is a conservation organization. The people in the office with me are biologists, engineers, GIS specialists and support staff.  True, our restoration projects are open to hunters as often as possible, but they are also meant for bird watchers, bicyclists, kayakers etc. We prefer that wetlands be experienced and enjoyed. It’s the only way to convince people to put passion into doing the “right thing” and being conservation-minded. We believe that wetlands are of value to everyone and for multiple reasons. (Clean water, anyone?)

I hunt, but less than half the staff in this office do the same. For the most part, they aren’t here because they’re hunters. They are here because they have a passion for conservation. For some of us that desire to conserve was born from hunting and for others it came from camping, hiking or a childhood of collecting tadpoles and salmanders. We all believe in DU because DU does critcal work that has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for everyone and everything that requires water.

So dear friend from college, next time you have me over for dinner and we’re two glasses of wine into the night, please don’t ask me why I work somewhere that saves ducks so that we can kill them. Ask me about the $8.2 million worth of work we’re doing in the SF Bay Area and how we’re going to restore the salt evaporation ponds into tidal marsh. If your going for a heated discussion, ask me why I personally choose to hunt ducks with a falcon when my day job is to raise money to conserve them.  Even if I can’t convince you that it’s okay that I hunt ducks we should be able to agree that you should support conservation.  Please support Ducks Unlimited. DU doesn’t hunt ducks. I do.

Addressing the Problem with Powerlines

From Subactive_Photo via Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing

From Subactive_Photo via Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing

There are nearly 37 million people in California, a tremendous amount of people who consume a stunning amount water and require a great deal of electricity. Usually around the office, we worry about water, but lately, power has been at the forefront of our conversation.

We use a lot of power in Northern CA, particularly in the Bay Area. This means as the population expands and there’s a requirement for even more power, more electricity  has to be carried somehow into our metropolitan areas.

Those gigantic transmission towers and lines are an eyesore however, and require a decent sized bit of land. The construction of a new transmission route is inevitable. It will happen. All the same, it’s a bad idea to point at the map and say, “No worries. There’s some open land right here. We’ll run it there.”  Which is pretty much what happened with the current proposal.

The current proposed routes of the California Transmission Project cut through District 10, Sutter National Refuge, Butte Sink, Yolo Wildlife Area, Stones Lake National Wildlife Area and a tremendous amount of other public and private wetlands.  See the map for more details. Some of this land is protected by conservation easements, some of it has seen the benefits of millions of taxpayers dollars and restoration work.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if we weren’t talking about degrading a portion of the 250,000 acres remaining in a state that once boasted 3 to 5 million acres of wetlands which played host to 50 million waterfowl. We can’t afford to lose habitat.

But they’re just powerlines, so is there a problem?  Waterfowl experts feel that powerlines can impact larger birds, especially in foggy conditions when the birds may be killed by running into them. The real problem is that smaller waterfowl steer clear of habitat around the lines, giving the towers a berth of .2 to .5 miles, rendering a swath of the wetlands useless for conservation purposes.

No route is ultimately going to be a perfect solution, but it would be fantastic if the habitat were considered when making the final decision. Fortunately, there is some time for public opinions and comments to be considered.

Waterfowl hunters and conservationists worried about losing crucial habitat in the Central Valley need to write a letter before MAY 31st and send it to:

Mr. David Young

Western Area Power Admin

114 Parkshore Dr.

Folsom, CA 95630

Want more info? Look athe Western Area Power Adminstration’s website for further maps and details.