Ballona Docents Head North

By Cindy Hardin, Environmental Education

Photographs by Leslie Davidson, LAAS Member & Volunteer

The Ballona docent crew headed north on August 8th to visit the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, located in Camarillo. The field trip was suggested by long-time Los Angeles Audubon member Dexter Kelly, who spends much of his time volunteering at the Foundation. It is an amazing facility, and contains the largest collection of nests and eggs in the United States. They also have a huge number of mounted birds, skins and skeletons, which provided no end of fascination and intrigue for our group.

We were fortunate enough to be guided through the collection by staff researcher Rene Corado. Rene is incredibly knowledgeable about the avian word, and entertained our crowd with tales of field research in the jungles of the rainforest. His talents at storytelling and sharing information had the docents hanging on his every word! Following is some photographic documentation of our excursion.


Rene displays the tool used to drain specimen eggs. We have several eggs that we bring to our pre-field trip presentations which are displayed to students. One of the questions most frequently asked by the children is “what happened to the baby?”. We tell the students that the egg was drained before it became a chick; now we all know how!


Not only is the egg collection huge, some of the eggs are as well! Rene is displaying the egg of the long extinct Elephant Bird, a creature that resembled an ostrich on steroids.


Particularly fascinating and relevant to our group was the side by side display of the eggs of a healthy Brown Pelican compared to those of a Pelican that had been contaminated with DDT. We see these magnificent birds frequently on student field trips to Ballona, and also bring a Pelican skull to the schools when we visit. We take the time to tell the children of the environmental success story of the Brown Pelican’s recovery after nearly forty years on the Endangered Species list. We like to inspire our future stewards of the environment!


Rene displays the skin of a Red Tailed Hawk, one of the many thousands housed by the Foundation.


This Osprey with lunch in his talons is one of the many mounted birds (or realia) that fills the Foundation’s quite large building. Species from all over the world sit atop storage cabinets, hang from the ceiling, are displayed in glass cases and are mounted on the wall.


Dexter Kelly, chief instigator of our trip, displays a carcass found on the beach to Jane Beseda and Frances Sotcher. Those of you who know Dexter will not be surprised to know that he is involved in many citizen science projects to further our knowledge about birds. One of his interests is the collection of expired birds found on the beaches in an effort to discover what species are present not only directly on the coast but off-shore as well.

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We continued our excursion to Hollywood Beach with Dexter in search of more avian fun and some Western Snowy Plovers. Apparently, these diminutive shorebirds have been spending time on the beaches of Oxnard and Point Hueneme, and sure enough we were able to spot a few. Dexter assists volunteer Rosaline Gould with the scope, as Emily Reed and Carol Babeli wait their turn to view the Plovers.

It was an informative and fun-filled day, and concluded with lunch at a local restaurant called Fisherman’s Catch. The name of the eatery is quite appropriate, as it is actually owned by a local resident with a small commercial fishing operation, and run by his family-Mrs. Fisherman took our orders!
The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology is primarily a research facility and mostly closed to the public. They do have a monthly open house day on the last Friday of the month, and anyone with the least amount of interest in birds would be well served to take a spin up Highway One to take a look at their collection. Nice staff, a terrific library, and all those specimens! Thanks to the Foundation and to Dexter for helping to make the trip happen-we loved it!

Originally published Western Tanager Vol. 80 No. 2 Nov/Dec 2013