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Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

(DEPT. OF CONTINUING SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION) For the past nine months I’ve been working with the City of Long Beach on a project conceived by Councilwoman Gerri Schipske called “Winged Wonders.” The project was to post educational banners around the El Dorado Park Duckpond, a location frequented by a large number of bird species, and an even larger numbers of human beings intent on feeding the assorted birds. Schipske reasoned that if people were educated about the specific birds in the park, and about the dangers of overfeeding them, then people would be more likely to act as responsible stewards of the environment rather than active participants in its destruction.

Pelican banner

One of the banners, before being posted

First a little background. El Dorado Park is a wonderful feature of Long Beach. A 450-acre greenspace, it includes a 105-acre nature preserve, lighted basketball and volleyball courts, softball and soccer fields, a skate park, picnic sites, a disc golf course, a tennis center, an 18-hole (non-disc) golf course, archery range, community center, and, of course, the duck pond.

So Schipske, whose district includes El Dorado Park, was dismayed by the growth of algae and litter in the duck pond, the direct result of residents feeding vast quantities of inappropriate food to the ducks, herons, and geese. Folks have been seen feeding the birds the usual bread, but also hamburger, chicken nuggets, corn chips, donuts, and candy. The birds, being basically driven by a single-minded interest in constantly eating, have very little self-control when it comes to effortless, free food, and eat all the crap they’re offered, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate for their health. Not to go into too much detail, but when birds eat stuff other than the usual insects, waterplants, and small fish, they produce copious amounts of waste, which goes directly into the water and, in a closed system like a pond, encourages the rapid and rapacious growth of algae. The algae sucks nutrients out of the water, and the birds’ natural food sources disappear, and the birds die. Alternatively, the birds die sooner from eating too much, from poisoning, and from eating plastic bags. So soon, Schipske knew, the El Dorado Duckpond would be a big, dead pool of stagnant water.



Banners, in situ

To avoid that, education seemed like the first solution, and the “5th District Lakes, Ponds, and Wetlands Taskforce” was created. Walling off the pond would be an unpleasant last resort. Initially, the plan was to commission local artists to produce images of the resident birds, which would be printed on large banners surrounding the pond. The results, while of fine artistic merit, failed to authentically look like the birds they depicted: rather, they were (as such things generally are) the artist’s impression of a duck, not any particularly identifiable species. While nice for a gallery, it was not the thing the duckpond project needed.

TV interview

Being interviewed for local TV with Gerri Schipske

So Schipske and her staff went to the Internet, as one does, looking for photos they could use. On the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology they found several photos not just of the birds they were looking for, but that had been actually taken at El Dorado Park by a local Long Beach photographer (ta da). (Cornell had posted my photos by permission, of course.) Schipske’s staff reached out to me, and a project was born. Over the course of the next few months, I worked closely with Schipske staffers Haley Mizushima, who coordinated the project, and Misha Houser, who designed the banners. We sorted through my existing portfolio, and I took some new photos of birds that either were missing from my archives or for which larger-size photo files were needed. (A few species, which the local Audubon Society insisted were in the pond–but which I’ve never seen in my years of photographing the site (they’re probably migratory, and I just missed their visits)–were represented by photos culled either from Wikicommons or Cornell.) The banners also include a number to call for more information about the bird depicted, including its call.

The banners were posted around the pond, and an “unveiling” held in late May. Because I’m a shameless self-promoter, you can read the press coverage by clicking here: Duck Pond Banner Project Takes Flight.

"Unveiling" the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

“Unveiling” the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

I have to confess that I’ve been a resident of Southern California for only about six years now. Nonetheless, I have somehow fully embraced the smugly self-satisfied attitude that comes from basking in warm eternal sunshine by the seaside while the rest of the country gets slammed with the freezing slushstorms that bury everyone for three months under what northeastern PR masters and ski lodge owners in the 1940s  managed somehow to get popularly labeled a “Winter Wonderland.” Well, I lived most of my life in the vicinity of Chicago, so I speak from many years of experience of the delights of what non-Californians like to argue is all the “real weather” they’d miss ever so very much in a terrible wasteland where it’s essentially always 70 and sunny (well, except for the month-long “June gloom”–which occurs in May–during which the mornings are somewhat overcast; and the occasional temperature spikes into the 100s; and the rare dips into the 50s, during which Angelenos don their parkas and designer snowboots and whine incessantly about how bitter, bitter cold it is).

Well, those non-Californians lie. Or at least they don’t know, really, what they’d miss.

I used to be that way. I moved to Long Beach in 2008 to take a new job, assuming California would be a terrible, awful place to live: full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather. The distinct seasons of the Midwest, I confidently lectured at the time (there are, actually two: one humidly hot and the other bitterly cold, separated by a week or two of phenomenal loveliness referred to as Spring and Summer) made people sturdier, sharper, more creative, more self-reliant, more acutely aware, and generally superior to the idle Eloi of the West Coast.

And then came my first winter here, and sitting on the balcony on December afternoons, and walking on the beach on New Years Day, and visiting the butterflies and peacocks at the LA Arboretum in February. I converted. I drank the Kool-Aid. I succumbed. It may well be a place full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather, but by golly it’s nice outside.

Which brings me, after a long and winding preamble, to the point of this post, which is that I spent my Christmas morning this year at the lovely Bolsa Chica Wetlands, about a fifteen-minute drive down the coast from my home in Long Beach, with my husband (yes, that happened in December, too, thanks to a majority of the United States Supreme Court) and the D7000 with a Nikor 80.0-200.0 mm f/2.8 on a stick. And jacketless, in short sleeves, we wandered the paths of the sanctuary, exchanging Merry Christmases with other coastal nature-lovers, and being both humbly thankful for our good fortune in finding ourselves in such a place as well as (and I’m really not proud of this) smirkingly delighted that the only snow we’d see this White Christmas was way, way off on the horizon, up on top of the San Bernardinos where it belongs.

Anyway, enough about the weather. Here are some of the birds we saw on Christmas Day by the ocean. Ho, ho, ho.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

iridescent ibis

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Willet's Curve

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) leaving a cloudy underwater sandtrail as it hunts, at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

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