Morgan Territory fire zone birding

Alan Bade

On Friday April 30th, 3 of us went to Morgan Territory to see where the SCU Complex fire burned in the park. Save Mt Diablo organized a Bioblitz focused on the SCU fire areas, so we wanted to contribute. In some areas, the fire completely burned off the chaparral, with a hard line between burn/no burn. In other areas, it was more spotty. Trees and shrubs are stump sprouting nicely in places but seem dead in others. We noted that some trees seemed to have survived the fire, only to have their root base burn out from underneath them over time like charcoal. Many of the native bulbs like calochortus pulchellus (Mt Diablo fairy lantern) are doing well straight out of the ash piles.

What birds will be attracted to this altered habitat? We saw Lark sparrow, western bluebirds, flycatchers, some sparrows, House wren, Lesser and Lawrence's Goldfinches and others in the burn zone.  Friday's Morgan Territory checklist is here, with the trail descriptions in the comments; I noted which birds were seen in the burn area under the comments section for each species. I also made a Flickr album of habitat and plants here; . The unburned parts of Morgan Territory had lots of migrant warblers and other fun birds to see. Two unexpected winter birds were still there; Ruby-crowned kinglets and Fox sparrow.

The day before, two of us went to another former fire zone (burned about 5 years ago, I believe) on the east side of Mt Diablo, so it was interesting to compare. The older fire zone has chaparral habitat pretty much recovered from stump sprouting and many standing dead trees, as well as recovered trees. Here's the checklist from that trip.  I recommend checking out that area and posted a report on EBB a few days ago.

Comparing the two burn zones could be interesting over time. I wonder if Phainopeplas will find the new burn zone attractive, as they have on the east slope of Mt Diablo. (We see them regularly there, but didn't find any in Morgan Territory). Could Lewis's woodpeckers be more likely to use the transition habitat? They are currently seen down in Round Valley and Los Vaquaros more often than Morgan Territory, as far as I can tell. The Lawrence's could be generally more easily seen in our area this year due to the fires changing their southern habitats. 

Perhaps Bell's sparrows will like the newly recovered chaparral next year or beyond? Cornell's Allaboutbirds says the following about Bell's sparrows; "In chaparral, they tend toward younger, less dense stands that are growing back from recent fires; they are less common in older, taller stands that have remained unburned." (We didn't find any Bell's on the east side of Mt Diablo, but they may be there. We tried, as I've haven't seen Bell's yet).

Since this year was a dry Spring, the re-growth of the burn area was not as robust as we've seen in other years further north in Napa and Lake counties. Perhaps next year we'll see a different or more extensive cast of characters.

As a relatively new, learning birder, it really helps to get out into different habitats like these to gain a better understanding of things....I enjoy the discussion of habitats from others along with their sightings.

good birding, Alan Bade
Pleasant Hill

P.S. SMD made maps of the fire's extent on their bioblitz page; and There are other maps on their web page for other burn areas in the SCU Complex; all Avenza maps, so you can download them to your phone and check in the field whether you're in a fire zone using the Avenza app. These maps are great for hiking, as they are detailed topos, but they'll tell you if you're in the burn area. (Grasslands can mask this quickly.) If you have checklists from any of the burn areas in the time window, these can still be contributed.  

P.P.S. Sorry about the long-winded post...

Alan Bade

Correction; I meant to say that SMD's burn area maps are NOT detailed topos. They are just to show the fire's perimeter. You'll want more detailed maps for hiking.

Alan Bade
Pleasant Hill