Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The story that is becoming an IPISH

What is an 'IPISH' you ask? In Yiddish, it means bad odor and in some Jewish families, it means there is a flood of 'pig stuff' coming....It is clearly a David and Goliath situation....

But for now, focus on this wonderful place and look at the children... enraptured by the teacher and the beautiful surroundings. Where else can children learn of their world like this in Los Angeles? NO WHERE!

Children come to the Whittier Narrows Nature Center to see how Los Angeles looked before all the freeways, and all the cars, and all the buildings. This is the place where children get to see up close what birds do in 'real time' and not on the computer or on the television.

They walk with the Docents and their teachers in silence - the teachers and docents RARELY have to say anything about being quiet because the beauty of the open space opens their eyes instead! Cotton tailed rabbits scurry in the brush and the children squeal in delight! Big red ants burrow in holes in the dirt and there is laughter. Swallows shwoosh overhead catching flying insects and all eyes are at the sky. Then the Docent says, "...listen here..." and they huddle under the tall walnut tree (an offspring of walnut trees which Whittier supplied to the nation).

Just after the children come off their big buses they wait at the front of the Center. A docent waits with the owl on a tether and the children ask, "IS THAT REAL???"

It is expensive these days to rent buses for schools. Most schools are not going on field trips anymore. The Los Angles County Natural History Museum has eighteen wheeled trucks with exhibits inside so the kids can stay in school but still get some experience in hands on science. And, none of the Museum's trucks have living owls!

The Docent asks questions of the children to see how much they know and to adapt their talks to the children's educational levels. Some children of very young age have a lot of knowledge of the plants and animals, but most do not. The Docents are from a variety of backgrounds but their love of Nature and Education bring them together at Whitter Narrows Nature Center. When I was a docent at the Natural History Museum most of my colleagues were at least 30 years my senior. The majority of them retired from teaching, NASA, or other science based careers - they were a wealth of experience and knowledge. We all had special training by the museum from the curators of the different science "-ologies". And at the end of our training, we were expected to write a thesis just like in college, and present our work to each other. It was fun and difficult and we all loved it! We also trailed behind experienced docents to learn what to do and say to which aged group. FANTASTIC!

I have great respect for all docents.

All around the Narrows there are acres of open space where some of the most precious animals raise their young. This female black-chinned humming bird was not too keen having me take her picture as she sat on her nest of eggs.

After a walk on the trail, the children come in to see more animals! Grace Allen has in her hands in this picture, a California kingsnake that used to be everywhere in the basin. My mother used to see them slither in her parent's yard in the Hollywood Hills, but so many people equate snakes as "bad" and most have been extirpated from their natural habitat. The children, once again, cannot believe their eyes! "IS THAT REAL???" How wonderful and exciting to see their excitement!

Ed Barajas, who has been documenting the comings and goings of birds at the Narrows, asked me to follow him with my camera. We walked towards a ditch that is filled from runoff from the streets and choked with willows and walnuts and oaks. Ed makes the sounds, "swishes swishes swishes" looking for the Vireo. We can hear the bird calling back. The bird forages in the thick of the ditch where the water sits and duckweed grows. There is a buzz of small flies about but it is still 'in the cool' of the morning so we were not attacked by mosquitoes.

"...swish swish swish!" Ed calls again.

We walk about the parameter of the ditch. We can see swallows above our heads diving in and out of the taller trees catching insects 'on the fly'! "Did you see him?!!" Ed asks. I keep my camera poised, the long telephoto lens is in automatic focus - just in case. Down in the ditch, we see a gray bird flying about and then landing at the edge of the water with the duckweed. The bird is eating things at the surface of the water! The insects that would be there are mosquito larvae and adults and midges and maybe some water striders.... The bird jumps into frame and then ducks behind the brush! I snap as much as I can.... but I got only the image below for you.... The Federally Listed (Endangered) Least Bell's Vireo is hiding and giving us the eye!

Click for a larger image!

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