Some articles in El Tecolote are too long to fit in the printed edition, the full length articles can be found below.

We are fortunate to have online an archival history of our newsletter from the present day back to when Santa Barbara Audubon Society was a Bird Study Group at the Santa Barbara Museum Of Natural History in 1963. 

View our El Tecolote newsletter archive here.

Remembering Lee Moldaver

By Isabelle Walker, former SBAS board member and editor of El Tecolote

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 6 of El Tecolote September-November 2021.]

 A decade after I met Lee Moldaver in the offices of The Santa Barbara Independent, he asked me to serve as editor of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society’s bimonthly newsletter, El Tecolote. Novice birder that I was, editing El Tecolote sounded like a fun way to learn about birds while supporting Audubon’s mission. Very soon, thanks to Lee’s legendary recruiting skills, I was up to my elbows in Santa Barbara Audubon’s history, compiling an abbreviated version for members to read in El Tecolote.

Lee helped arrange interviews with chapter founders Jan Hamber and the late Joy Parkinson, as well as with past presidents like Sally Walker, Ron Hirst, and Rob Lindsay. But never once did he point to his own contributions to the chapter, which, after 22 years on its board (30 years at the time of his death) including three terms as president, were prodigious and diffuse. Only from other board members did I learn of the activist training workshops he arranged with Sally Walker in 1994, inviting environmentalists from all over the state to come here and impart their trade secrets. And that he successfully lobbied his connections at National Audubon for Santa Barbara to be selected as the site of an Audubon-inspired pilot solid waste recycling project. When the project got underway, Santa Barbara vaulted to the forefront of the nation in recycling innovation.

Right after taking over as SBAS chapter president in 1992-1993, Sally Walker drove to the Western Regional Audubon conference with then-vice president Lee. They had never worked together before, and she knew having a good relationship with Lee would be pivotal to her success as president. The trip put an end to every concern about how their collaboration would go. “He and I became not only allies but friends, and it was just unforgettable. In fact, the car broke down on the way up and we basically hung out and developed an understanding and rapport.” At that conference they decided to make watershed preservation a chapter priority and expand the chapter’s birding trips and education programs.

I don’t know how Lee operated on the myriad other nonprofit boards he belonged to, but it’s hard to imagine he was any different than he was at SBAS: forward thinking, generous-spirited, remarkably effective, and tireless.

Dave Davis, former head of the Santa Barbara Community Development Department and current Chair of the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD), whose board Lee sat on for over 20 years, said Lee was deeply involved in developing the policies that brought the electric shuttle system to downtown and later to the waterfront at a time when electric shuttles were a revolutionary idea. Lee helped form an institute to study electric transportation at MTD—the Electric Technology Institute. Most of the cities that invested in electric shuttle services at that time ultimately abandoned them. Only Santa Barbara and Chattanooga, TN, made a commitment to stick with their electric fleet. Today, Santa Barbara is on track to have an all-electric fleet by 2030.

There was so much more Lee did. His knowledge base was so broad, when he advocated for a land-use, conservation, or water quality issue, he wouldn’t be thinking only of Audubon, he’d be thinking of all the players, and nudging and bringing parties together. He was, in the words of Sally Walker, a catalyst. But a quiet one.  

“I can tell you from my years at city planning and community development that Lee participated in all major land-use decisions through the 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s,” Davis said. “From coastal plan to downtown revitalization, Paseo Nuevo, and housing issues, it didn’t matter, Lee was involved, basically [he] was always one of the people at the dais giving us sage advice.”

He was funny too. At community functions in the 1980s and early 90s, he would write Tom McClintock on his name tag. McClintock, our Republican State Senator from 1982-1992, rarely if ever showed up at community events. By standing in for him, Lee was pointing out how our Republican senator was missing in action. “It was an inside political joke, but I liked it,” said David Pritchett, who served on several environmental boards with Lee.  

After I had to move on from El Tecolote, I didn’t see Lee regularly but would run into him often at Gold’s Gym after 9 p.m. He would be at the public computer right by the door, returning emails before working out and never failed to stop what he was doing to find out how my life was going. And at some point, he’d slip a compliment in, something greatly exaggerated that, even so, made me feel more than I was and better than I had been ten minutes earlier. And that was, of course, his intention. This is how he was with friends, male and female, always heaping praise and leaving folks better for having encountered him.

I don’t think any of us realize yet how much we have lost in the passing of Lee Moldaver. His institutional memory, of course, his extraordinary networking and consensus building skills, no doubt. I will miss his generous spirit most of all, his near reflexive way of uplifting people, of reminding us of our individual value, and in this way subtly encouraging us to keep going, because whatever it is we are doing for the community, for our families, or for the world, is important and helpful to our communal project.

cat on railing



By Lisa Nelms

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 7 of El Tecolote June-August 2020.]

Sobered to learn that three billion birds have been lost in North America in the past fifty years, I wondered how individual citizens can help mitigate this rapid decline. I learned that, along with habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides, free-roaming cats are implicated in the loss.

The good news is that we can save the lives of countless birds by not letting our cats run freely outdoors. But how do you take an outdoor cat used to roaming free, and sequester it indoors without it driving you crazy? And how do you expose your indoor cat to the fresh air and sights, sounds, and stimulation of the outdoors, without putting its life and the lives of vulnerable birds – at risk? By creating a Catio!

The Catio, or cat patio, is a safe (and often stimulating and enriching) enclosed environment that allows cats outside without the risks and dangers (coyotes, cars, cat fights, etc.). With their infinite configurations – freestanding, built-in, pre-fab, portable, custom – these enclosures are embraced by enlightened cat owners who find themselves torn between letting their cat “be a cat” and their sensitivity to the plight of birds.

cat on railing

Jeffrey Sturnick, a Santa Barbara carpenter and cat lover who has donated time, materials and skills to building an elaborate outdoor space for ASAP Cat Rescue in Santa Barbara, emphasizes that a catio is not a kennel, but a controlled environment that allows cats to freely do what cats do – play, explore, investigate, jump, climb, perch, get sun – all under their guardians’ protection.

cat by window

I recently visited a few local catios and found them creative, unobtrusive, and aesthetically appealing. John O’Brien and Marsha Macdonald, local Audubon members and EITS volunteers, have designed a catio that encloses their patio, allows access from two different rooms, and provides a peaceful, sunny space they can enjoy along with their cats.

Pat Woodruff, another EITS volunteer, has a 2-story catio that encloses her balcony and the space beneath it. A trap door with a ramp between the two stories is in the works. Creatively furnished, the space includes cat-friendly plants and grasses.

Cat lover and accomplished bird photographer, Daryl Metzger, has constructed a catio within the dense foliage of his backyard. A kitty-door allows his cat to sun herself, play to her heart’s content, and observe the birds that visit the nearby feeder.

Whether a window box or a cat-mansion, there is a catio for every space and budget, to provide cats space to exercise, play, nap and daydream about being a fearless hunter in the wild, all while protecting the welfare of our remarkable local wildlife.


Finding a Silver Lining and a Call to Action The 120th Christmas Bird Count

By Rebecca Coulter, Liz Muraoka, Joan Murdoch, & Libby Patten

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 1 of El Tecolote March-May 2020.]

Let’s just get this on the table: North American birds are in trouble. In late January, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg spoke at the Museum of Natural History about the Decline of the North American Avifauna, his recent article and its message of three billion birds lost since 1970, which fell upon the national birding scene like a ton of bricks. As a community of birders and conservationists, we—like Rosenberg—have been astonished at the extremes evident in the data.

Just three weeks earlier, Fleischmann Auditorium was also filled to the brim with birders, but the mood was much more festive. The 120th CBC compilation dinner was the end of a planning cycle for organizers, and just the beginning of the number crunch for the compiling team. It was a time to come together as a community of people passionate about birds. Old friends were reunited, stories embellished, and new birders were enveloped in the glow of a room full of people talking about birding! The final species total of 203 was better than expected. Though there were no big surprises, there were highlights: the male Tufted Duck returned for a 7th year to Lauro Reservoir; Mountain Quail were found along Camino Cielo; three Greater Roadrunners were found; and the elusive but recently regular American Bittern was in its favorite spot at Lake Los Carneros. We counted eight owl species, including the uncommon Northern Pygmy, Burrowing, Short-eared, Spotted, and Northern Saw-whet. Missed last year, the Warbling Vireo returned for a seventh winter at Bohnett Park. (This species is so rare in winter that we presume it is the same individual favoring the same small park each year.) We had three swallow species: Northern Rough-winged, Tree, and Barn; two uncommon sapsuckers: Yellow-bellied and Red-naped; and a surprising Lawrence’s Goldfinch at Gibraltar Dam. Uncommon warblers were scarce this year, but we found multiples of Black-and-White, Nashville, Yellow, Black-throated Gray, and Wilson’s, plus one each of Lucy’s and Hermit. And for the 4th consecutive year, we added a new species to our CBC list: two immature Yellow-crowned Night-heron at Goleta Beach, a species that has been steadily expanding its westward range and is now becoming regular along the California coast.

Among the misses, there was a big gap in seabirds again, even though the weather cooperated, and thanks to our friends at Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, the boat crew traveled nearly 50 miles back and forth around the pelagic edge of the count circle. But Common Murre, Bonaparte’s Gull, Forster’s Tern and Caspian Tern were all missed, nor were they seen from shore. Other birds missed on count day but seen during count week were Common Gallinule, Red Crossbill, Hooded Oriole, and Black-headed Grosbeak. The day after count week ended, two Scott’s Oriole were found on blooming aloes in a private nursery near Parma Park.

As the results have unfolded during compiling, we found that some of the trends evident in Rosenberg’s message—in particular declining land bird species—were reflected in our numbers, as well. Among our low counts this year: California Quail, Mourning Dove, White-crowned Sparrow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

But there is some good news. Heermann’s Gull, Hairy Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet all showed higher counts compared to recent years. And while Northern Pintail continues its precipitous decline, Blue-winged Teal, a species we have often struggled to find, seems to be increasing here. For both Osprey and Peregrine Falcon, formerly on our “rarity” list requiring an observation write-up, multiples of each were seen. And we had a record high count of Chestnut-backed Chickadee, another species expanding its range into our coastal areas.

Often birding is about the simple joy of observation: seeing the flash of magenta on Anna’s Hummingbird when it turns toward the sun, or hearing the soft but distinctive chup-chup of a Hermit Thrush skulking in the shadows. Stepping up to record these observations in eBird for each outing in turn steps up our conservation efforts. Participating in the CBC and other citizen science projects is a key answer to “what can we do?” Cornell, the American Bird Conservancy, and other partners have outlined 7 Simple Actions that make a difference. And like many grassroots efforts, these small steps multiply to have a powerful impact on the mission: saving birds and the habitats that support them.

Thank you for your steadfast support of the CBC: Santa Barbara Audubon, the compiling team, mapping and data crunching experts, the compilation dinner crew, and all the birders who scout, organize, and inspire us to do it every year. Thank you.

State and national ranking for number of species below. The full list of species and numbers of birds recorded for each will be available soon at Audubon’s CBC web page.

# Species  Count Circle

                 229       Matagorda/Mad Island Marsh, TX
                 212       San Diego, CA
                 203       Santa Barbara, CA
                 202       Guadalupe River Delta, TX
                 199       Morro Bay, CA
                 197       Freeport, TX

Nest for tree swallows

Santa Barbara Audubon Society – Nest Box Program

By Steve Senesac – Science Chair

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 5 of El Tecolote March-May 2020.]

Brief History

In 2004, Jan Wasserman presented the Tree Swallow Nest Box Program that she was doing in Ventura.  This ignited the interest of some our members at that time, David Kissner, Dave Eldridge, and Don Schroeder.  Dave Eldridge was instrumental in building many of the boxes and Don Schroeder developed a scientific methodology for monitoring the boxes, as well as the basic training materials that we still use. In time, the reins passed on to Andy Lanes and Richard Figueroa, who involved students from UCSB and evolved our basic training program.  Elaine Tan, Peter Thompson, Betsy Moony, Jayne Wamsley, Diane and Leah Vasquez, and again, Don Schroeder have been the mainstay of the program these past several years, as well as a continued interest from UCSB.  Recently Conor McMahon has started a UCSB chapter of Audubon and is injecting new vigor into our UCSB connection, and the program overall.  David Kissner came back into the larger picture a couple of years ago, developing a parallel program at La Cumbre Country Club.  Lots of activity!

Program Results

Birds:  Even though the original intent was to provide habitat for Tree Swallows, we also have a significant number of Western Bluebirds at Lake Los Carneros, as well, there is an occasional refugee of another stripe such as a Violet Green Swallow.  Last year, our twenty-two boxes there had full occupancy.  Over the past years, the fledging success has been:

In 2019, twenty boxes had Tree Swallows and only two boxes had Western Bluebirds.  These numbers have been varying from year-to-year.  While it is not clear how long these birds live in the wild and this could be decreasing each year, at least at Lake Los Carneros, about twice as many chicks fledge each year as adults arriving. 

In 2017, Don Schroeder, Elaine Tan, and crew began banding the birds and some interesting tid-bits of information have arisen (subject to more data).  The Western Bluebirds seem to come back to the same nest box each year and with the same mate.  Not so, the Tree Swallows.  One of the pair may come back to last year’s box, or one close by; but not generally with the same mate.  And, while many of the Tree Swallows do two nests in one box per year, the second nest is often with a different mate – a lot of genetic diversity there!

The following table shows the box and mate history of the birds we have banded.  Because one of the pair might have been too elusive to capture, not all of the boxes have both parents recorded.  You might note box L02 in 2017 and wonder what was going on.  We do.

The Nest Box Program has a lot of little puzzles, the joy of watching the birds develop from egg to fledging and all the bird’s antics as they live their life; as well the comradery of the other people doing the monitoring with you.  If you would like to be a part of this, contact either Steve Senesac (email hidden; JavaScript is required) or Conor McMahon (email hidden; JavaScript is required).