Los Angeles Audubon Expands its Snowy Plover Field Trip Program

By Stacey Vigallon, Director of Environmental Education

Snowy Plover, Illustration by Stacey Vigallon

Snowy Plover Illustration by Stacey Vigallon

Los Angeles County beaches serve as important habitat to Western Snowy Plovers and California Least Terns. However, the fact that you can see these federally listed species on some of the busiest beaches in the nation is usually overlooked by most beach goers. Thanks to a California Coastal Commission Whale Tail grant Los Angeles Audubon received in partnership with Audubon California and San Diego Audubon, we are getting the word out! Through a combination of in-school presentations, printed educational materials, and school field trips to Dockweiler Beach, we are aiming to compliment our long-running monitoring programs and public beach walks with programming specifically geared toward youth. Fall, winter, and early spring are great times for wildlife watching at the beach, and we hope to instill an awareness of and pride in aspects of our natural history heritage found only along our coastal shores.

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Students hit the beach in search of wildlife.

We have been leading school field trips to Los Angeles County beaches since 2007, but the new Whale Tail grant has allowed us to greatly increase the number of schools that participate. So far during the 2013-2014 school year over 300 students from six different LAUSD schools have learned about Snowy Plover and Least Tern natural history and conservation. Students leave their in-school presentations knowing more about plovers and terns than most adult Angelenos do, and they are fired up to do some wildlife watching during their beach field trip. For some students, not only is the field trip their first time seeing a Snowy Plover in person, it’s also their first time ever going to the beach. Armed with binoculars and field notebooks, students are field biologists for the day, collecting data and completing science illustrations of beach wildlife and habitat. Students quickly go from being grossed out by those slimy piles of kelp to digging in, grabbing specimens to examine, and even wearing it as necklaces. Picking up tiny shell fragments becomes addictive, and students’ pockets rattle on their walk back to the bus. It’s usually windy, and huge jets roar overhead as they take off from adjacent LAX. There are shrieks when someone spots a dolphin offshore. And, oh yeah, there are the Snowy Plovers, hiding in the sand – just like students learned about during the presentation at school! In short, Snowy Plovers go from being a cute idea to being a real-live wildlife species that is connected to all the other tactile things that students experienced on the beach that day. The field trips hopefully serve as positive, kid-friendly outdoor experiences that help students (and teachers) connect with nature and gain an understanding about why wildlife and habitat are so important.

We will be following up with these young field biologists back in the classroom, providing a series of science illustration workshops to help students create plover-themed conservation posters. Stay tuned for the artwork! In the meantime, here are a few photo highlights from recent field trips.

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A science illustration so big, it couldn't be contained within a notebook.

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An in-progress science illustration of kelp in a field notebook.

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In a team effort, students attempt to untangle a kelp pile.

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So many details to take in during the beach field trip.

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No beach-going field biologist outfit is complete without a kelp necklace to go with your binoculars.

Originally published by Los Angeles Audubon's Western Tanager Vol. 80 No. 4 March/April 2014