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Travis biologist learns about different kind of airpower

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – If you look up at the sky over Travis Air Force Base, California, you can expect to observe several flying machines, most often the heavy-lift C-5M Super Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III or KC-10 Extender aircraft that are based here, along with many transient flights that arrive and depart daily at one of the busiest Air Forces bases in Air Mobility Command. 

But, if you take the time to notice, occasionally you will see something else that shares airspace with the planes and helicopters flying overhead.

Travis lies well within the Pacific Fly Way, a major north-south passage for migratory birds in America, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. Every year, migratory birds travel some or all of this distance both in spring and fall, following food sources, heading to breeding grounds, or travelling to overwintering sites.

Eagles, hawks, vultures, owls, harriers, kites and falcons all use Travis’s federally protected open space as a resource, some just passing through, others nest here during breeding season, and others are residents year-round.

It is common to see these beautiful creatures from a distance, much more rare to receive a nearly hands-on experience, but that’s exactly what biologist Penn Craig, natural and cultural resources manager with the 60th Civil Engineer Squadron, got on a recent visit to the California Raptor Center at the University of California, Davis.

“My background consists of approximately 18 years as an environmental regulator for the states of Georgia and Florida where I was involved with the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act Section 319 and the Clean Air Act,” said Craig.

Craig also served as the senior laboratory scientist in Georgia’s Environmental Trace Metal Laboratory.

He has held his current post at Travis since Feb. 23, 2015.  As part of his work, Craig is responsible for keeping track of various species of flora and fauna found on base, to include birds of prey.

“Currently we don’t know how many species of raptors make their nests on base,” he said.  “We do know that, at a minimum, a pair of Swainson’s Hawks, and a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks may be nesting in the wooded area by the North gate.  Swainson’s Hawks were nesting in the Hangar Avenue and Ragsdale Street area last year and on tree near the South gate.”

“Routinely, say once every five or so years we try to update our wildlife inventory,” said Craig. “However, with limited funding and limited Natural Resources personnel, we tend to spend more time on listed species (those protected by the Endangered Species Act) and other sensitive species.  For example, the California Tiger Salamander, Contra Costa Goldfield, burrowing owl, and Tri-colored Blackbirds.”

Travis is required to protect listed species under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Birds and aircraft don’t mix, and Travis has utilized various methods to ensure the safety of mission operations. 

“In most situations the Bird Aircraft Safety Hazard team is on site to coordinate with the airfield tower to use non-lethal methods to remove birds and other wildlife from the airfield,” said Craig.

Craig has spent most of his life in the eastern half of the United States and wanted to become more familiar with identifying the birds of prey found in the Travis area by visiting the CRC.

The mission of the CRC is to rehabilitate and, when possible, release injured or orphaned birds of prey. Birds that can’t be released due to their injuries are kept at the center on display or used as educational outreach birds. The CRC takes between 300 and 350 raptors each year, successfully returning about 60 percent to the wild.

Retired Master Sgt. Randy Couch, who served as a first sergeant at Travis, has been a volunteer at the CRC for over five years. Couch guided Craig through the CRC’s facilities and provided information on the birds kept there.

“I’ve always been interested in wildlife and volunteered at the Suisun Wildlife Center for a year,” said Couch. “I took a raptor handling class at the California Raptor Center and was hooked. Soon I was volunteering here and I am always learning something new about these birds. They’re fascinating. My wife and I often go birding on Travis Air Force Base and it’s amazing that such a busy, bustling place has such a wide variety of raptors and other birds in abundance.”

Couch and two other CRC volunteers brought education birds out so Craig could get a close look at a Golden Eagle, a Swainson’s Hawk and a White-tailed Kite, all common local birds. Craig was also shown young Northern Harriers, one of which was hatched at the center, and both of which will be released back into the wild as soon as they are able to fly well enough and fend for themselves.

For information on the CRC and other local wildlife rehabilitation centers and how you can help, visit the sites listed below.

http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/calraptor/index.cfm/

http://www.suisunwildlife.org/

https://lindsaywildlife.org/