& Sage Audubon
Celebration of TEN Years at the SJWS
Nov. 2, 2001
2: Ten Special Audubon Happenings at the Marsh
On August 13, 1992, I walked
into a brand new, completely empty Audubon House. To fairly new members
of Sea & Sage, it would seem our headquarters in the middle of
the 300-acre San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (SJWS) has always existed.
But there was a time when we didnít have an office, gift shop, Marsh Education
Project, Project Director of Education (me), or special wetlands to call
home. Long-time members know the story and can reminisce while reading
this article, while new members will learn of our beginnings at the marsh.
In ancient times, this area
was underwater. When the waters receded, wetlands were created with
shallow water, algae, plankton, small crustaceans, worms, and fish . .
. perfect for birds! In recent history, one duck club provided excellent
duck hunting for its members in small square ponds that it leased from
the city of Irvine for over 60 years; thus, they saved our beloved marsh
from the bulldozers!
The duck clubís lease was
not renewed in the late 1980ís, and Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD)
board member Peer Swan had a vision of creating a wildlife sanctuary adjacent
to their wastewater reclamation plant that would benefit both people and
wildlife. He saved several historic structures from destruction and
moved them to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (SJWS): a wooden
windmill, the Duck Club lodge, the caretakerís cottage which is now Audubon
House, and three tenant houses.
IRWD asked Sea & Sage
Audubon to join in a partnership at the marsh because of our excellent
reputation since our chapterís beginnings in 1958 for protecting native
birds through education, conservation and scientific research. In
exchange for exclusive use of Audubon House, we would promote education,
awareness and understanding of the marsh environment plus monitor visitors
to the site. So with a beautiful sanctuary, a historical building,
and money from the Joan Irvine Smith and Athalie R. Clarke Foundation,
our Marsh Education Project began in 1992.
Since then, our reputation
for providing high-quality and fun environmental programs at the SJWS has
grown. We have received high praise from participants in our school
programs, camps, workshops, and bat walks, and have received special recognition
from the California Department of Education, state Resources Agency, Mayor
of Santa Ana and National Audubon.
we CELEBRATE OUR TENTH YEAR AT THE SJWS, here are ten special Audubon happenings
at the marsh in chronological order that continue today:
Volunteers Trained for Audubon House and Docent Program (fall
1992). Sea & Sage has recruited and trained volunteers to greet
visitors every day between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and to lead school tours twice
a week. Much of our success is due to the enthusiasm and dedication
of these 110 volunteers.
Outdoor Adventures field program (spring 1993). Over 20,000 school
children have participated in this two-hour, hands-on program of observing
birds and aquatic insects with binoculars and microscopes. Participants
boast it is "the best outdoor field trip in Orange County!"
Annual "Breakfast with the Birds" (October 1993). Initiated as a
fund-raiser for the Marsh Education Project, this annual event serves a
delicious pancake breakfast with all the trimmings and opportunities to
tour the ponds full of migrating birds.
Monthly Bird Walk at the SJWS (February 1993). The first walk was led in
a downpour, but former chapter president Chris Obaditch persevered and
continues to lead these free public walks on the second Sunday of each
Summer Day Camps (1993). Children increase their wildlife-watching
skills throughout the week as they take daily walks, keep a nature journal,
make crafts, and do research projects at Marsh Bird Camp. We
debuted Tracking Camp in 1994 and Advanced Bird Camp for older students
Scholarship program for Santa Ana students (1994). Initial funding
from the California Department of Education helped us provide 3 special
programs to Santa Ana classes that normally donít have access to environmental
education. Over 10,000 students have participated, and itís all free!
National BIG SIT champions (1995 & 96). At the intersection
of four ponds (A-B-C-D), wildlife artist John Schmitt and I identified
73 species of birds as we sat in a 17-foot circle to win this national
contest. We repeated the win in October 1996 with an astonishing
98 bird species! Good habitat leads to diversity and abundance of
Monthly Bird Census (August 1998). IRWD began a huge
marsh restoration project in 1997 to reconfigure the small square ponds
into larger, more natural ponds and to replace non-native vegetation with
natives. To document changes in bird usage over subsequent years,
former Education Chair Kaaren Perry and her team of volunteer birders count
every bird in each pond on the first Thursday of every month.
Nest box program (1999). To encourage native cavity-nesting birds,
we installed wooden nest boxes for Tree Swallows and Barn Owls in 1999.
Since then, wildlife biologist Christine Mukai and her dedicated team of
volunteers have monitored and maintained the Tree Swallow nestboxes
(now over 50) each week during nesting season.
Summer Twilight Bat Walks (1999). These highly popular walks
allow the public to enjoy the wildlife sanctuary during its closed
hours. We watched the sunset as white pelicans, black skimmers,
and two types of bats gracefully flew and fed near us.