Barbara Jean Courtois viewing Ballona Wetlands

Barbara Jean Courtois, September 7, 1935 - August 14, 2011

An Audubon Docent Icon Passes

By Lisa Fimiani, Audubon Board Member

For those of us who have had the privilege of knowing the late Barbara Courtois over the past 20 years during her involvement with the Ballona Audubon Education program she helped to create, we are sad to see her leave us.  Barbara's passion was birds, and all aspects of nature, and she conveyed that to everyone who looked through her scope or walked with her on a bird count.  It was not uncommon to see Barbara meticulously writing down birds she would see during an Audubon school tour or Friends of Ballona Wetlands Open House - not because she had to, but because she wanted to.  A true birder to her core, Barbara "listed."  She has been an integral part of plant and bird surveys in the Ballona Wetlands, providing valuable citizen science data to the community and various scholars and professors who've studied the Ballona Watershed.

As Executive Director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and as an Los Angeles Audubon Board member and avid birder myself, one of my favorite recent quotes of Barbara's was after she was finishing a tour with kids as part of the Ballona Audubon program.  I noticed she had brown stains all over her light blue shirt, the signature uniform of Audubon Docents, and she noticed me noticing her shirt's condition.  She quipped, as only Barbara could, "...between the bleeding (she would bleed easily because of medication she was on), and the lemonade berry, and the kid's chocolate, I'm covered with brown stains."

I loved standing on the Ballona Viewing Platform with Barbara or on the Ballona Creek Tidegates overlook into the Ballona Wetlands.  We would quietly observe birds and make comments back and forth.  Once kids would show up she would instruct them on how to use their binoculars and how to look through her scope, which would always be trained on a Great Blue Heron or Great Egret.  The kids loved her.

Barbara was the kind of docent who doesn't come along that often.  We were so lucky to have her so passionately involved at Ballona for so long.  A devotedly religious woman we discovered at her funeral on Saturday, August 20th at the charmingly small and quaint Catholic church in El Segundo called St. Andrews Russian Greek Catholic Church, we found out that she volunteered and participated in almost as many church events as she did birding situations in the Wetlands.  Barbara divided up her "retirement time" between family, Ballona and Audubon, and the Church, where she mentored young children - of course.  Whether participating in a monthly bird count at Ballona, Christmas Bird Count or Audubon Tour, Butterfly Count, or Least Tern Field Trip to the Ballona Lagoon, Barbara could always be depended upon to accurately look and listen and share her skilled observations as part of a scientific study or just for fun.  She's always been a role model for me and my goal is to grow up and be just like Barbara - loving birds and nature and sharing my passion for their continued well being with those around me.

Thank you Barbara!

The following photos are courtesy of Lisa Fimiani

Barbara Jean Courtois at 'scope.Barbara Jean CourtoisBarbara Jean Courtois with children at LAAS event.Barbara Jean Courtois helping boy at 'scope.Barbara Jean Courtois and Cindy HardingEleanor Osgood, Barbara Jean Courtois and Lisa FimianiLisa Fimiani and Barbara Jean Courtois at Ballona Wetlands platform.Dexter Kelly, Barbara Jean Courtois, Garry George