Illustration: Meryl Rowin

Murmurations

Sharing the Bay Area's Rich Tapestry of Birdlife — with Cindy Margulis

"You can talk to anybody about a bird; it’s a way of bringing people together."

This is episode no. 3 of Murmurations,” a podcast asking people why birds and the environment matter to them.

Transcript:

My name is Cindy Margulis, and I’m the executive director for Golden Gate Audubon in the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s an urban wetland in Oakland, California, called the Martin Luther King Shoreline, and it’s one of my favorite places to bird, because you can meet people from all over the city, from across all demographics and all ages and races, and you can bond over the birds. Because if I’m out there with a spotting scope or even with just my binoculars, and I see a bird, I can share it with people I don’t even know.

Sometimes birders can seem intimidating, but for whatever reason I usually have a goofy smile on my face when I’m looking at birds, and people will come up and go, “What’s that?” And then I can tell them a little bit about the bird and why it’s there. It’s one of the reasons I love that park so much. It’s named after a great American and it’s also a place to meet all Americans.

It’s about a 2,000-acre wetland squeezed between the Oakland coliseum and the Oakland airport. My favorite birds to watch at Martin Luther King are the shorebirds, but we also have endangered species in that park—the Ridgway’s Rail, which is endangered; foraging Least Terns in the summertime; and we also have Brown Pelicans; and we have a threatened species in California, the Burrowing Owl. So depending on what you’re looking at, it’s not just a beautiful, amazing bird, but it’s also a very rare bird, and you get to share that with people from across the city.

So, our Audubon chapter has actually done a lot of habitat restoration in that park. We have done removal of non-natives, planting of native species that do well in those different habitat ecotones, and then also we do a lot of shoreline cleanups. It’s another reason that I love to bird in that park, because it shows me how effective it is to do habitat restoration, and to care not just about the birds but about where they live.

We also have done work in that park around monofilament fishing line, which is a serious menace to wildlife. I really love pelicans, and there also, I’ve seen them entangled in that park. We’ve actually put in that park some recycling containers where that can be recycled.

When you save birds in an urban community, you also have the ability to enhance that community itself. Not just the fabric of the community, but the actual visual, aesthetic experience of that community. So that people even in claustrophobic urban environments have beautiful wetlands that they can go and walk along and discover nature. They can get serenity even in a really stressful time.

[Elsewhere in Oakland], we have a number of urban rookeries for herons and egrets, and when they fall down, they often can not go back to those rookeries because they can’t be put back in the trees. So they usually go to wildlife rehab. With the waterbirds, my go-to wildlife resource is an organization called the International Bird Rescue. And then when they’re able to go back to the wild, we like to put them in a safe spot. There’s an interior wetland in the Martin Luther King area that we like to use. We get to put them back in those places that we planted for them with the help of the community.

One of the things that’s so cool about being in a wetland is you start to understand the tapestry of life and the layers of dependency, and when we start to rip at that fabric, we’re starting to tear out the very foundation that we rely on, too.

I think there’s also reason for hope. You can talk to anybody about a bird; it’s a way of bringing people together. The smallest child wonders at a bird that can fly, and the oldest senior citizen that you can talk to is also just as enamored of the bird and its beauty. I love birds, and sometimes if you let people see what it is that you love, they love it too. 

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Credits: Interviewed and edited by Liz Bergstrom and Purbita Saha; Intro music: Podington Bear, "The Mountain" (CC BY-NC 2.0); Bird calls: Least Terns and Black-crowned Night-Herons, © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.

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