for the birds

June 23, 2013 in birds, nature

My mother-in-law grew up in different times, and I have learned much from her.  She introduced me to basic Midwestern cooking.  I’ve learned how to prepare roasts and vegetables with a slow cooker.  She has shared family casserole recipes.  Through our conversations, I’ve had the chance to learn some things about her youth, what life was like growing up in a small town in Iowa before World War II.  She uses certain words and phrases that few people say these days.  I will always remember them.  “We bought the burgers at the place that’s catty-corner from the drugstore.”  If she isn’t pleased about something or about the way someone acted, instead of direct criticism, she’ll say in a calm, even tone, “That’s for the birds.”

“That’s for the birds.”  Whatever “that” is, it’s not worth much.  Depending upon the context, “that”—to put it politely—might even be crap.  If “that” is not important, birds must be low on the totem pole.  Before I moved to southern California (SoCal), I lived in New York.  I never took the time to look at birds.  The city has a lot of pigeons.  Pigeons are what I used to envision when I heard “That’s for the birds.”

Now, I live near a restored wetland, Bolsa Chica.  Ten years ago, this place was a dump.  A lot of sickly, scrubby plants and bare earth.  Kids had built dirt ramps and bumps to practice their dirt-bike stunts.  Over time, different people have used this land:  Native Americans, duck hunters, farmers, the military, oil companies.  Here and there, there are remnants of their histories.  In 2004, a major restoration of this land was started, which included the creation of a new tidal inlet.  According to Amigos de Bolsa Chica, this project is the largest coastal wetlands restoration in SoCal.  Over the past four or five years with the land and waters more habitable, there has been a marked increase in the variety and types of animals at Bolsa Chica, especially birds.  Lately, I’ve noticed that more locals relate the seasons to which birds are in Bolsa Chica, especially the ones that stay for a while to breed and raise their young.  “It must be spring.  The snowy plovers are back.”

The birds have changed me.  I like watching them.  Like us, they have different personalities.  The brown pelicans are unflappable, even when seagulls try to grab fish out of their beaks.  Hummingbirds can be feisty and territorial.  Herons, among themselves, seem to be equal-opportunity hunters.  When there are several of them hunting in the same area, each heron keeps the same distance of separation from their neighboring fellow hunters.  Maybe they’re trying to give each other a fair chance to make a kill.  Now, when I hear “That’s for the birds”, I think of seagulls.

At one point, there was the possibility that Bolsa Chica would not exist as a wetland.  There were plans for a marina and other development.  What would New York be without Central Park?  The park is an oasis in the midst of uptown’s hard city grid.  If Bolsa Chica had been developed, it would have been a major loss.  The surrounding areas are being intensely developed with high-density, urban projects.  We would have lost the ecological benefits of the wetlands.  Equally important, we would have lost the physical and mental benefits of spending time in an open space, with other creatures.  The water and land are not only for us humans.  It’s also for the birds.



bird 01 bw

heron in the palms, a nesting place




birds bw 2

cormorants and one seagull




birds bw 3

at the tidal inlet




birds bw 4

 red-legged stilt




bird 5

by John Hori for Edward Carson Beall & Associates