Are We Ready for the Summertime? You Betcha!

By Cindy Hardin, Director Environmental Education Programs
Photography by Leslie Davidson


The docents of Ballona celebrate the end of another busy year at the wetlands at their annual luncheon

June means the end of formal instruction for most schoolchildren in the Los Angeles region. However, in no way does this mean that those of us involved in Los Angeles Audubon’s Environmental Education programs are taking a break from educating others and ourselves about the natural world. We have several things in the works that will keep us busy in spite of the fact that our regular field trip season has come to a close.

First up will be our annual “thank you events” dedicated to the docents that are so instrumental to our programs. These always take place towards the end of June, and are the opportunity to celebrate another successful year of teaching future stewards of the environment about the unique ecosystems of our area. By the time you read this we will have had a luncheon for the Ballona docents at the home of Emily Reed. This year’s theme of a Mexican Fiesta will see the loyal volunteers of Ballona enjoying enchiladas, ping pong and each other in Emily’s beautiful backyard. Held annually, this is a great chance for all of us to get together, trade stories of challenges and triumphs of the past year, and talk of plans for the future. Many of our staff works only on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so this occasion is a nice opportunity for the entire group to share time and fun together.

The interns and volunteers of the program at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area also convene for a year-end celebration and assessment of Los Angeles Audubon’s Native Plant and Wildlife Garden Education Program, located in the Baldwin Hills. We will be touring the new Native Plant Garden at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and then sharing some pizza, laughs and Frisbee in Exposition Park. The staff is smaller for this program, which means that every intern and volunteer works virtually every tour that takes place. Therefore, a day when we have a chance to focus on our own education and development is especially important. The amount of schools that participated in our programs at Kenneth Hahn increased dramatically this year. All staff did an exceptional job of rising to the challenge of more students and a more complex lesson plan for the field trips. The visit to NHM’s new garden and lunch afterwards gives us a chance to check out how other groups are educating people about native habitats, and to talk about new ideas and approaches for our own program, based on our experiences from this past year.

Of course, those of us involved in these programs still like to have a chance to work with students during the summer months. Summer day camp season affords plenty of chances to interact with the younger crowd, and several things are on our calendar. First up is a group from Chaminade Preparatory School, who will come to us from over the hill in the Valley. A field trip to the Ballona Wetlands kicks off their summer camp session, and the campers will be treated to viewing aquatic invertebrates at the microscope station, and looking for our larger avian residents with the aid of spotting scopes on Ballona Creek. An interpretive hike describing the very special coastal dune habitat will be part of the fun. We also plan to do some water sampling and comparisons of conditions between the inlet at Del Rey Lagoon Park and the tidal channels that flow through the Ecological Reserve at Ballona. A second group of day campers will visit Ballona in July. This camp is sponsored by the City of Santa Monica, and will feature the same activities enjoyed by the Chaminade crowd. The plan is to staff both events with a mix of experienced Ballona docents and interns who have graduated from Audubon’s Greenhouse Program, which will gives us all a chance to keep our teaching skills polished and sharp during our slower season.


Jonathan and Cindy Hardin, and Ballona docent, Jeannette Bolier

These two days of working with summer camp attendees will also serve as a warm-up for Los Angeles Audubon’s very own Science Summer Camp, which is scheduled to take place towards the end of July and the first part of August. This is a brand new program for LAAS, and we are very excited as we plan activities to fill a week of science-based fun for students who have recently graduated from elementary school and are about to attend middle school. This transition can be a little intimidating for the children, and we plan to give them a sneak preview of sixth grade science concepts in hopes of leaving them better prepared for the next phase of their education. Most of the attendees will be alumni of Leo Politi Elementary School, which gives us an opportunity to build on what they have already learned and observed in the Native Garden (another LAAS project!) located at their school. Grunion hunting in San Pedro, a Park Ranger led tour of Franklin Canyon and a visit to the LA River are some of the things already on our agenda. The camp will be staffed by Dorsey High School graduates who have worked as Restoration Leaders through Audubon programs in the past. Many of the Dorsey grads have already done work with the Politi students, so seeing familiar faces in different nature settings should up the interest and comfort level for all involved.

Of course, educating ourselves is essential to our role as educators of others. To that end we have our very own Docent Summer Field trip, now in the planning stages. With the help of long-time LA Audubon member Dexter Kelly, a group of us will be visiting the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo, probably in July. The Foundation has one of the largest (if not the largest!) collections of bird nests and eggs in the country, and we will be lucky enough to receive a private tour of the facility. The “cherry on the sundae” will be a visit to Ormond Beach in Oxnard post-tour, under the guidance of Dexter himself. We hope to see some Snowy Plovers at Ormond amongst other summering shorebirds. This will give all of us a chance to see each other during the summer hiatus and learn a thing or two as well, as we look towards fall and the beginning of school tour season. However, this will not be the only opportunity for the Ballona volunteers to share some “summer time” with each other. Several of the volunteers get together regularly at Venice beach during our warm water season to swim and boogie board near the Venice Pier. This group likes to stay busy and active, and it is that same vibrant energy which they bring to our education programs that make them (both the volunteers and the field trips!) so very special.

As you can see, those involved with our Environmental Education programs have a year-round interest in learning and teaching. The summer, with its long days, luscious weather and unhurried pace is a wonderful time to rest up, refresh our skills, have a little fun and prepare for the 2013-2014 school year. Docent training for Ballona begins on September 10th and training for the Kenneth Hahn program starts on October 4th. Look for details of training schedules and the outcome of all of our summer plans in the next Tanager!


Published Western Tanager Vol. 79 No. 6 July/August 2013