Celebrating Shorebirds

Joyce Realgeno, Education and Restoration Staff, and Stacey Vigallon, Director of Environmental Education

JRealegeno TernBanding

Assisting with Least Tern banding in Orange County.

We welcome back guest columnist, Joyce Realegeno. A graduate of the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program in 2011, Joyce has continued to work with Los Angeles Audubon on plover and tern projects, habitat restoration, and environmental education. This past spring and summer, Joyce served as an Environment for the Americas Celebrate Shorebirds Intern. Environment for the Americas (EftA) focuses on partnering with communities throughout the Western Hemisphere to support migratory bird conservation efforts. Since 2014, Los Angeles Audubon has collaborated with EftA to host 1-2 paid interns each year, providing them with opportunities to gain experience with conservation fieldwork and community outreach. In this issue’s Interpreting Nature column, Joyce talks about her experience as an EftA Intern…

JRealegeno MalibuLagoon

Installing the Least Tern and Snowy Plover enclosure at Malibu Lagoon State Beach.

Migratory shorebird awareness is a term that I’ve grown very comfortable with these last six months. Having the opportunity to work with Los Angeles Audubon through Environment for the Americas (EftA) has truly been an enlightening experience. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to different audiences throughout Los Angeles about migrating shorebirds, I’ve been able to help restore natural spaces at local state parks, and even survey beaches for Snowy Plovers and Least Terns. I would not have been able to predict how incredibly variable and extremely rewarding each task with LA Audubon would be.

I first heard about Environment for the Americas about two years ago from the first LA Audubon intern. After learning about the program, I continued to hear high praise after another colleague successfully completed the internship the following year. My supervisor, Stacey Vigallon, encouraged me to apply, and given all of the positive feedback that I heard, I wanted to see what EftA was all about first hand. Before I knew it (and after applications and interviews were done) I was on my way to San Diego for the week-long training. I met other interns who were going to work in different areas of the country and with different government agencies. During the training we learned about a wide variety of concepts ranging from shorebird identification and surveying protocols to engaging historically disadvantaged communities on the importance of utilizing natural spaces. I learned a lot during the training and I used every bit of what I learned when working with LA Audubon.

One of my first responsibilities for EftA was to survey along the Ballona Creek bike path for shorebirds and predator bird species. I can honestly say that I was very surprised at not only the abundance but the diversity of birds that I saw during my surveys. At first glance, I didn’t think the creek had the adequate food resources for over 300 Western and Least Sandpipers and Surfbirds. But I was proven wrong time and time again when large flocks of shorebirds would comfortably forage alongside the banks of the creek.

During my internship I also surveyed beaches for Snowy Plovers and Least Terns. Learning more about the different regulations that come with a protected status from the government was as interesting as it was overwhelming at times.

One aspect about working with a non-profit like Los Angeles Audubon was that staff members seem to be involved in a little bit of everything at all times. If I wasn’t helping with surveys, education programs, or on a data entry project, I was at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook removing invasive plant species or helping to prepare pots and flats for seeding. Being able to be a part of such varying activities is something I will always appreciate. I don’t think it’s especially common to be able to see the development of a project from its very roots (for lack of a better term). From the clearing of invasive plants on a hillside, to planting the natives that were seeded and then transplanted earlier in the season, to teaching high school and elementary school students of the process, and finally to speaking to community members of the importance of the work. Being a part of all of this has definitely made me feel more well-rounded as a person as well as an EftA intern.

JRealegeno WestLACollege

Representing Los Angeles Audubon at West LA College’s Earth Day Festival.

Although previous to this internship I understood the importance of outreach events during the start of a project, I never really grasped how important it is to have a constant rapport with community members throughout. Speaking to different groups about LA Audubon, EftA, and all of their different projects, it was really exciting to see how many people showed interest. Whether or not they were able to become members of Audubon or purchase something from EftA, just being able to get the word out on some level makes a significant difference. Growing up in Los Angeles, something that I’ve found to have in common with a lot of people is that we aren’t really aware of what is going on in the city. Online articles and public radio segments on political news aside, the amount of outreach that targets historically underserved communities is minimal, especially when it comes to environmental issues. Being a part of this internship showed me many outlets that can be used to help change that.

These last few months I have learned a tremendous amount. About shorebirds, networking, being an environmental educator, proper surveying techniques, being a good communicator, and so much more. But not only that, I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my own abilities. And now knowing what I need to work on, I’ll hopefully be able to continue working in the environmental field as a much stronger candidate.