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Sea & Sage Audubon
  In Celebration of TEN Years at the SJWS
updated Nov. 2, 2001

part 2: Ten Special Audubon Happenings at the Marsh
by Trude Hurd

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.

As we CELEBRATE OUR TENTH YEAR AT THE SJWS, here are ten special Audubon happenings at the marsh in chronological order that continue today:

1.   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.

2.     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!"

3.      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.

4.      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  month.

5.     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 in 2001.

6.     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!

7.   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 birds!

8.   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.

9.     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.

10.  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.


Sea & Sage Audubon Society
PO Box 5447 • Irvine, CA 92616 • 949-261-7963