Birding at Work?

by Gabi McLean

(reprinted from Paw Prints, April 2002, Eaton Canyon Nature Center Associates)

Eaton Canyon is where I love to go on the weekends, but during the week I am at work, in an office building thatís part of a long complex at the edge of Pomona where the 10, 210, 57 and 71 freeways intersect. The area used to be a mixture of coastal and desert scrub, but now it is all but developed with office buildings, colleges, residential areas, and parking lots. The last vacant unpaved lot disappeared a couple of years ago, and last year even the community gardens half a mile away were razed in favor of some warehouses.

My office window looks out at a narrow parking strip and a steep freeway exit embankment, about 50 feet high. I often get comments about the drab view, but itís here at this shrubby and blissfully-neglected freeway embankment that I find solace in watching nature at work.

A red-tailed hawk and colorful American kestrel take turns perching on the lamp posts. Iíve even watched the kestrel hovering, then diving after its prey. Yellow-rumped warblers, house finches, American and lesser goldfinches gorge themselves on the seeds of the native bush sunflower, California buckwheat, everlasting, and a young laurel sumac. There are also the introduced grasses, mustards, wild radish, and milk thistle; but at this steep stretch the native vegetation seems to have had a better chance of survival than in the surrounding not-so-steep areas.

A flock of red-winged blackbirds used to visit at times. I would hear their melodic call first before I discovered them hiding in among the shrubs. CalTrans destroyed their favorite hang out, some reeds behind a fenced-in, cemented narrow creek that runs along the freeway for less than a tenth of a mile. Since the reeds disappeared, the blackbirds have come back once or twice, in much smaller numbers and, sadly enough, Iíve missed them completely this winter.

Despite the ever-vanishing habitat, a great egret regularly visits the shrubby embankment and draws the attention of even the non-birders at my office. It stalks fearlessly right next to the roadway and always seems to find some delicacy here — I know there are plenty of lizards around. The other day, the egret rested on top of a blue car roof for almost ten minutes.

Annaís hummingbirds love the honeysuckle thatís growing on the fence together with some cultivated ďscrophĒ and wild pea. Last week, I observed them displaying their heart-stopping diving maneuvers. At one of my lunchtime walks in the parking lot, I discovered an empty hummingbird nest on the ground. Across the street, in another parking lot, Iíve spotted a western bluebird. Iíve watched gulls, ducks and cormorants fly overhead. At dusk, a resident black phoebe frequents the fire hydrant in front of my window, catching insects, and reminding me to go home.

Last year, I made a most exiting observation. Something fast-moving caught my eye. I surveyed the parking lot and there it was in plain sight, running on the ground, and then flying on top of the trash container wall, where I could clearly identify it: a roadrunner. I havenít seen it since, and I doubt that I will. There is too much encroachment to its habitat. But I continue to be amazed at natureís presence within a developed area. I gratefully enjoy every species of flora and fauna that has survived the onslaught of our ruthless development. Beauty of nature exists everywhere — itís up to us to discover it, even in the most unlikely places.

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