It’s what I do!

Sunday Funday! I had the opportunity to go out with the seasonal staff, Stefan Armenta, to McSimpson to irrigate the land. I must say it was an experience to say the least. I have grown up on a ranch so, of course, I knew the logic behind irrigating but found it interesting how different irrigating can be from one location to the next. Not only did we see a lot of water and get muddy but also had the opportunity to see wildlife. We saw deer prancing through the trees and drove right up next to a bull snake. Stefan could not see it, so we decided to back up so he could. It was next to my door, or lack thereof, because we were in the razor. I was not too frightened but to see his reaction was classic. We also came across a few Wilson Phalaropes and a young Avocet all alone…it was too cute watching it take off into flight.

Tuesday was another adventure all in itself. Deisy and I set off for our survey journey as usual, however, we added pond 141 to our survey list. We had only been there once so it was an experience learning directions both to it and leaving it in order to get to pond 116. We took a road which we thought was a road, but apparently it was only a four wheeling road and we ended up on an island of a dry pond. I am pretty sure I scared Deisy on the way back because I took a non-road in order to get back to the road and head back the direction in which we had come from. It was a memory for the books and a laugh I will cherish throughout the season.

Thursday was bittersweet. The kiddos are out of school for the summer…YAY for them, BOO for us! We participated in our last classroom outreach at Monte Vista Elementary with 4th and 5th grade classes. We had a blast doing so and were asked to go back the first and second week of the next school year, so we are looking forward to seeing the young faces again. It is one of my favorite things to see their faces light up with all the knowledge we fill their little brains with.

Friday Byeday. It was definitely a blessing that it is finally Friday. An extended weekend is very much needed. That being said I hope all stay safe and bring in the summer with a lot of outdoor activities and a whole bunch of birding…. Tweet Tweet until next week

 

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Schools Visit and Least Terns!

This week was very fun, filled with a few firsts. I had my first classroom visit at Aldama Elementary School. Viviana Vallin, from the Audubon Center in Debs Park, allowed me to join her in her already-scheduled class visit. She let me present the Migration Game to the class and she talked to them about pollinators and the different flower morphologies. We worked in their native plant garden where they also have a vegetable garden. It was a very nice garden with a lot of shade, which made it a lot better to do the activities in the ninety-plus degree weather. The students enjoyed the game and were very informed on how to help the birds during their migration. It was a fun experience and I look forward to visiting more classrooms in the near future.

This week I also had my last shorebird survey. The most shorebirds I counted in a single survey was 338 in early April. This time I only counted 12 shorebirds. The difference is very impressive considering it has been just over six weeks. I had help from three volunteers; Andy Guzman, Diego Zapata, and Guadalupe Davalos. They are part of the Green Team in Debs Park and assisted me last week in the IMBD event. They were excited to help me with the shorebird survey and Least Tern monitoring this week. We were fortunate enough to observe two Osprey fishing during our shorebird survey. It was very exciting, but the Osprey was unsuccessful in catching a fish. It should ask for advice from the terns that are constantly seen flying with fish in their beak.

During the Least Tern monitoring we saw a lot of Least Terns flying around and using the exclosure. There were many times when a Least Tern (presumably the male) would present a fish to a Least Tern sitting in the enclosure (presumably the female). They were very active this week. They often dive-bombed crows that got too close to the areas they were using within the exclosure. It was exciting to watch the Least Terns. It was my first time witnessing them using the exclosure and being so active. I am looking forward to visiting the site again and hopefully see eggs. I will keep you notified!

The Red Knots

“Where is she from?”

Pointing in my direction, the student cocks her head. The sun has taken its hold on my skin; I am officially tan again. Coupled with my above-average ability to roll my R’s when teaching the kids words like “Chorlo,” Oystercatcher in Spanish, it is now impossible to conceal my heritage.

“Lucila is from Argentina, just like the Red Knots! Her and the Red Knots have a lot in common!” Stephanie, (yes, the former Oregon intern!), affirmatively replies, putting the girl’s mind at ease.

I chuckled, it’s typical of the answers educators give to put the curiosities of their students at bay. A quick and carefully designed response to placate the kids with just a touch of humor, perplexity, and simplicity. The conflicting emotions of this uncertain explanation makes the mind pause until the holes of the story widen and give way to more questions. The trick is to inspire slightly enough confusion for the processing stage to take about an hour to digest; right before the discomfort comes flooding in again, you make your escape until the next class.

This time, however, the trick cast its spell on the educator, too. As I was walking along my survey site the other day, my mind wandered to two weeks ago when I first saw a Red Knot in Oregon. It took me a few minutes to do a triple-take and flip through the pages of my field guides. Fatigued from a long day’s work, the salty breeze of the Oregon coast felt really nice. I was oddly calm, a feeling that doesn’t come easily for an Easterner like me. After a few check and comparisons between my guide and scope, I confirmed it’s presence: it was a flock of four Red Knots!

When interviews turn to that uncomfortable question of “Why do you want to work here?” I always bring up this moment when I showed off a Gray Catbird to an audience of Guatemalan and Salvadoran families in Virginia. As the ornithologist held up the bird in a gentle bander’s grip, I translated for her, explaining that this little cute thing winters in Central America, and could likely be singing for their relatives in their home countries. As I explained the details of the bird’s habitat requirements, I saw a light flicker in their eyes. During this moment, we were all caught up together in some strange magical connection between nature, culture, and spirit. Like the natural world, it is hard to explain; that day I saw something intangible and beautiful, a spiritual beast unleashed into that community. It seemed as though their fascination for nature, dormant since they moved into the populous and urban center of Northern Virginia, was again awakened and ready to explore. In the world of environmental education, they call this a “transformational experience.” In my mind, I like to think of triggers like the Catbird in this demonstration as a reminder: a natural element that brings us closer to our spiritual place in the world by demonstrating how intrinsic nature is to our existence and conceptual understanding of belonging.

The Red Knots are my reminder of home. Like the families admiring the Gray Catbird that summer afternoon in Virginia, I felt my spirit bounce with joy upon the view. The gate of memory lane was burst open, from which images of Red Knots being banded in Patagonia, of children in Rio Negro dressing up as Red Knots in their annual Shorebird Festival, and of my mother and grandfather gazing at Red Knots from their Ushuaia home flooded my mind. I’ve never personally experienced any of these moments, but the vision of each scene grounds me to a distant land that I call home, a place that I love dearly with people that I miss constantly. The Red Knots, without knowing it, meant so much more to me than just a pretty view of four cute birds. They were a token of a culture that defines me, landscapes that shape me, and a history that makes me. Stephanie was right to say that the Red Knots and I have a lot in common.

Birds are a powerful icon in this way. Charismatic and colorful, dynamic and adaptable, they call attention to the many ways that we depend on and impact nature. Ask any person, and they will be able to tell you the name of at least one bird. Speak a little more to them about where that bird comes from, and where that person is from, and sure enough you can draw parallels between your human and feathered friend. Perhaps a memory from seeing them outside a windowsill, or from living in a city with a bird that depends on forest edges, there is always a platform on some kind from which to connect us to the larger natural world.

One Survey Ends, Another Begins

As Carlos and I are nearing towards the end of our shorebird surveys at Ballona Creek, and our numbers have drastically dropped from an average of 300 hundred to just about 30 shorebirds!! I guess our fellow intern, Erica, who is in Alaska has received all of our shorebirds already, haha. I never thought that I would ever be able to identify so many birds as I have these past few months. This has showed me that when you are passionate about something you learn things quickly…that or we just had GREAT instructors(which we did, so both). As one shorebird survey ends, we continue on with L.A Audubon’s Least Tern survey. Let me just say how much I love Least Terns for their cartoonish look. The night I went for my training I stayed to watch the sunset at Marina Del Rey where the enclosure is located, and as I got closer to the shore I saw HUNDREDS of Sanderlings and one beautiful Black Oystercatcher. Unfortunately they where located on the other side of Ballona Creek so I couldn’t include them on our regular shorebird survey. These Sanderlings were getting so close to me I almost wanted to catch one just so I could feel them.

In other news I would like congratulate Carlos on his graduation from Cal State Long Beach this coming week!! YOU GO CARLOS!

 

P.S: How lucky are we to be able to work at the beach at times!!! I love it!!!!

 

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12 Days Of Shorebird Surveys

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It has been an unforgettable experience conducting surveys everyday since May 1st. The first day I  surveyed I only saw a handful of shorebirds, but by the 5th day I saw shorebirds by the thousands! It was stunning.

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Estimating large flocks was not easy, especially when the flocks moved from one side to the other when I was halfway into estimating the flocks. I had to be really cautious not to recount flocks, and often I had to start estimating my flocks all over again when I was halfway into my estimation. Although it was frustrating when they moved so much, the sound, the shape, the colors they made when they flew in unison was hypnotizing. Often the large flocks were composed of Western Sandpipers and Dunlin, when they flew together the sound of their wings resonated as they constantly changed their angle. When they changed their angle in flight, there are flashes of white from their bellies and suddenly it is dark brown with orange from their backs or when their perpendicular to the horizon for a slight instant they disappear. (Check out this video of the flocks! https://www.facebook.com/CopperRiverDeltaShorebirdFestival#!/photo.php?v=637458752997669&set=vb.292878567455691&type=2&theater)

Not only was it amazing to see so many shorebirds, but this weekend was our Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival (May8-11th), and I saw many of shorebirders as well! During the festival I hosted a children’s activity Friday night, and helped Susan with her kid’s activity the following day. I had a lot of fun during the festival and these events. For my Friday night activity, I created data sheets and a field guide to some of the common shorebirds in our area so that kids could learn about shorebird surveys. During the activity I had shorebird cut outs posted throughout the room where they had to search and identify each shorebird they found. The children that participated had lots of fun, and soon enough some of the kids were identifying birds without referring to their shorebird guides! They shouted WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, DOWTICHER, and WESTERN SANDPIPER with excitement when they spotted them. Using the data sheets I created each child tallied their sightings, recording the species and abundance of each shorebird.

The following day Susan made a presentation describing what makes a shorebird a shorebird. The children who participated were are 1-8 years old, and were very energetic. Susan described how shorebirds vary in size, color, and shape, but they all live near the shore. After the presentation the kids made their shorebird masks, one child named Robert (in the orange T-shirt) even made a giant red worm to go with his mask! We had a blast!

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