Mulching & Prepping Rattlesnake Park for Native Plants

On January 19th, Audubon Center at Debs Park staff was happy to host another habitat enhancement volunteer event along the Los Angeles River.  Our Conservation Program Coordinator, Cindy Castaneda and 10 volunteers worked to prepare Rattlesnake Park in Elysian Valley for planting. 

We were happy to welcome back 3 regular volunteers, and 7 new volunteers to do habitat enhancement along the LA River.  The 10 volunteers split up into various groups, raking, mulching, and picking up trash in sections of Rattlesnake Park.  The wind from the prior week caused a collection of trash along the fence of the park.  Volunteers also did some graffiti removal around the park.

After raking, pulling weeds, and picking up trash, volunteers mulched 5 cubic yards of the park.  Mulching is an important step in habitat enhancement.  We mulch for 3 reasons:  it allows the soil to retain moisture and ensure that the plants don’t dry out, it controls weeds from growing around the plant, and once the mulch decomposes, it provides important nutrients for the plant.  The work accomplished during the Habitat enhancement service day prepares the ground for planting natives. 

There was even some good birding that day!  Cindy noticed several black-necked stilts around the park while working. 

Join us for our next habitat enhancement event along the LA River!  We will be planting natives at Steelhead Park on February 16th from 9am – 12pm.  For more information and to RSVP, email Mika Perron at!

Bird of the Month, February 2019: Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

Nothing says romance like two mourning doves nestled together on a tall sycamore branch!  These monogamous birds find a partner and mate for life - returning to each other each mating season.  The mournful cooing of the Mourning Dove is one of our most familiar bird sounds. This is one of our most common birds found in the United States, often abundant in open country and along roadsides. European settlement of the continent, with its opening of the forest, probably helped this species to increase. It also helps itself, by breeding prolifically: in warm climates, Mourning Doves may raise up to six broods per year, more than any other native bird.

Farms, towns, open woods, roadsides, grasslands. Found in almost any kind of open or semi-open habitat in temperate parts of North America, including forest clearings, farmland, suburbs, prairies, deserts. May be most common in edge habitats having both trees and open ground, but also found in some treeless areas. Avoids unbroken forest.

Feeding behavior
Forages mostly on ground; sometimes will perch on plants to take seeds. Will come to bird feeders, often eating on the ground under elevated feeders. Eats quickly to fill crop (digestive storage organ near its neck) with seeds, then digests them while resting - usually on a high perch. Regularly swallows grit (small gravel) to aid in digestion of hard seeds.  Mourning doves can eat up to 20% of its body weight in food every day.

White. Incubation is by both parents, about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed young "crop milk." Young leave nest at about 15 days, usually wait nearby to be fed for next 1-2 weeks. One pair may raise as many as 5-6 broods per year in southern areas.

Both parents feed young "crop milk," a specialized formula created from the secretion of the lining of the bird's crop. Young leave nest at about 15 days, usually wait nearby to be fed for next 1-2 weeks. One pair may raise as many as 5-6 broods per year in southern areas.

Seeds. Feeds almost entirely on seeds (99% of diet). Favors seeds of cultivated grains, also those of grasses, ragweeds, many other plants. Occasionally eats snails, very rarely any insects.

In courtship, male flies up with noisy wingbeats and then goes into long circular glide, wings fully spread and slightly bowed down. On ground, male approaches female stiffly, his chest puffed out, bowing and giving emphatic cooing song. Members of mated pairs may preen each other's feathers. Nest: Male leads female to potential nest sites; female chooses one. Site is usually in tree or shrub, sometimes on ground, sometimes on building ledge or other structure; usually lower than 40', rarely up to 100' or more above ground. Nest is very flimsy platform of twigs; male brings material, female builds.

Plant of the Month, February 2019: Western Sycamore

Western Sycamore

Platanus racemosa

The Western Sycamore is a plane tree found in our Children's Woodland and Butterfly Loop.  Birds love perching on its high branches.  The Western Sycamore can grow to be more than 115 feet tall, but they usually average out between 65 - 85 ft in height, with a trunk diameter of up to 3 feet.  The trunk generally divides into two or more large trunks splitting into many branches. You can identify a sycamore from its beautiful bark - with areas of white, pinkish gray, and pale tan.  Older bark on the tree becomes darker and peels away to make room for new bark.  Western sycamore leaves can be extremely large, up to 10 in. wide. The plant is deciduous, meaning its leaves turn an attractive yellow and orangish brown and fall in the autumn. They have rather plain-looking flowers - 1 in. spheres that becomes seed balls. 

  • Tough and easy to grow, but require a lot of water.
  • Almost always found in wetland-riperian settings or adjacent to drier habitats such as chaparral, valley grassland, mixed woodlands or evergreen forests.
  • It tolerates a wide variety of soils, and prefers to have its leaves in full sun.
  • They grow quickly if given plenty of water, often growing to 30 feet in just five years.

Celebrating the 119th Christmas Bird Count at the Audubon Center at Debs Park!

Before the 20th century, hunters engaged in the Christmas "Side Hunt." During this holiday tradition, hunters would choose sides and go afield with their gun.  The winner was one who would  bring back the biggest pile of feathered and furred quarry. 

During this era, conservation was in its beginning stages.  At the same time, many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. On Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed a "Christmas Bird Census"  as a new holiday tradition.  This new tradition would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count.

Today, from December 14 through January 5 each year tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain, and take part in the effort. 

The Audubon’s Society Christmas Bird Count is on its 119th year, making it the nation’s longest running community science project.  

On December 15, 2018, thirty-three volunteers gathered at the Audubon Center at Debs Park to survey 282-acres of land in search of our feathered friends.  No experience was required.  We kicked off the morning early at 8 a.m. with coffee and pan dulce “sweet bread.”   Volunteers joined groups led by experienced birders and local professionals:    

-Assistant Professor of Ecology, Eric Wood from the Wood Lab of Avian Ecology and Conservation at California State University of Los Angeles

-Director and Curator of Birds and Mammals, John McCormack from the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College

-Collections Manager, James Maley from the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College

-Community Naturalist, Adam Levitan

-Community Natural, Pedro Ramirez

-Director of Community Conservation, John Rowden from National Audubon Society

After 4 hours of hiking and counting, we gathered to have lunch and review our results.  This year, we counted fifty-two species and 1,009 individuals. 

Plant of the Month, December 2018: Toyon

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Toyon is a common plant you'll see in our Children's Woodland and our Butterfly Loop.  It's a perennial shrub native to western California and the Sierra foothills.  It's a prominent member of the coastal sage scrub plant community.  It's known by the common names Christmas berry and California Holly because of the bright red berries it produces.  The city of Hollywood was named for this plant.

  • Very easy to grow; moderately drought-tolerant
  • Common plant in chaparral and is found alongside creeksides, bottoms of slopes, north facing slopes, and canyons
  • It's flower is white and can be seen flowering in the summer
  • If properly situated it can grow up to 30 ft.
  • The fruit is small, bright red and berry-like, produced in large quantities, maturing in the fall and persisting well into the winter. The flowers are visited by butterflies and other insects, and have a mild, hawthorn-like scent. The berries are consumed by birds, including mockingbirds, American robins, and cedar waxwings

Bird of the Month, December 2018: Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedrorum

With thin, lisping cries, flocks of Cedar Waxwings descend on berry-laden trees and hedges, to flutter among the branches as they feast. These birds are sociable at all seasons, and it is rare to see just one waxwing. Occasionally a line of waxwings perched on a branch will pass a berry back and forth, from bill to bill, until one of them swallows it. This species has a more southerly range than the Bohemian Waxwing, and is a familiar visitor to most parts of this continent south of the Arctic.

Open woodlands, fruiting trees, orchards; in winter, widespread, including towns. Breeding habitat is influenced by availability of fruiting trees and shrubs, often most common in "edge" situations, as along forest edges, streamsides, overgrown fields, edges of swamps, suburban yards. In winter, may be in any wooded or semi-open area where berries are abundant.

Feeding Behavior
Except when nesting, almost always forages in flocks. May hover briefly while plucking berries or taking insects from foliage. Often flies out to catch insects in mid-air.

3-5, rarely 2-6. Pale gray to bluish gray, finely spotted with brown and black. Incubation is probably by female only, averaging about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 14-18 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 14-18 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Mostly berries and insects. Majority of annual diet is berries and small fruits; feeds on very wide variety of berries, with some important sources including juniper, dogwood, and wild cherries. Also eats some flowers and will drink oozing sap. Eats many insects in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, ants. Young nestlings are fed mostly insects at first, then more berries after a few days.

In many areas, nesting is late, not beginning until mid-summer. Only a small area is defended as territory, so birds may nest near others in small colonies. In courtship, two birds may perch close together, posturing, touching bills, and passing food items back and forth. Nest: Placed in tree, on horizontal limb or in fork, usually 6-20' above the ground but can be lower or much higher (up to 50'). Nest (built by both sexes) is a rather loosely built open cup of grass, weeds, twigs, plant fibers, lined with finer materials such as moss, rootlets, fine grass, hair.

Community Honoring at the Audubon Center at Debs Park

On December 1st, the Audubon Center at Debs Park was honored to host a Community Honoring event.  This event was put together by Tongva Elder and community activist, Gloria Arellanes.  Ms. Arellanes has long been known for her focus on local community issues and Chicana feminism.  She created this community honoring and selects the honorees based on their community service and stewarship.  The honorees chosen this year all do work to empower youth and benefit the communities they live in. This is the second year that the Audubon Center at Debs Park has been chosen to host this event which presents work that community members feel deserve acknowledgement.  This Community Honoring celebrated notable individuals who have performed work that positively impacted the communities they live in.  

This event recognized 6 honorees who have worked within their communities for positive change.  Marcos and Minnie Aguilar, co-directors of Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory; Michelle Castillo; Anna Christensen, Co Founder and Board Member of the Protect the Long Beach/Los Cerritos Wetlands; Irene Montantes, Mother to two sons, Community Organizer and News Reporter; RobertJohn Knapp, respected community member and Elder; and our very own Center Director, Marcos Trinidad.  Each honoree was introduced by a loved one.  It was touching to see the honorees commitment to their communities through the eyes of those closest to them.  Honorees were given the podium to speak on the importance of community and issues that are important to them.  They honorees were presented with a gift basket made up of items donated by community members.

After the honoring, attendees were invited to participate in a potluck lunch.  Atteendees and honorees were able to connect and discuss projects they've been working on.  After the delicious potluck lunch, attendees were treated to performances by MorningStar Foundation Hummingbird Women's Drum, singer Kelly Caballero, and a dance by Anahuacalmecac Student Dance Group.  It was exciting to see indigenous performers of all ages coming together to honor these 6 local community members and activists.  The Audubon Center at Debs Park is honored to be invited to host this event for the second year in a row.  "I think the energy and value that an event like this brings to the Center is really special.  Often, we continue to work and build and provide as many opportunities to the community as possible.  It's important that we pause sometimes and open up the Center to our community so they can hold an event like this and honor the important drivers of this work," said center director, Marcos Trinidad.

Debs Park hosts its 2nd annual Arroyo Seco Marketplace

On November 24th, the Audubon Center at Debs Park held its 2nd annual Arroyo Seco Marketplace, celebrating local artists and vendors on Small Business Saturday.  The event was marketted as a family holiday fair and market for local community members to enjoy the great small businesses Los Angeles has to offer.  The Audubon Center at Debs Park partnered with several organizations to put on the Arroyo Seco Marketplace including Self-Help Graphics, National Parks Service, Ponderosa Cactus, Patagonia, and 2 neighborhood councils to create a fun, activity-packed day.  The Arroyo Seco Marketplace hosted a total of 16 vendors and artists selling wares such as jewelry, tea, art prints, water drums, and cacti.  Around 350 community members attended and experienced the free family activities offered at the Marketplace including holiday card printing with Self-Help Graphics, succulent potting and holiday wreath-making with Audubon staff, and nature arts & crafts and native plant walks with NPS and Nature School LA.

During the Marketplace, we were also happy to present 2 fun, interactive performances.  These performances were a backed house! Our first performance was a live bird show by The Nature of Wild Works, featuring a red-shouldered hawk, a barn owl, and Harry the turkey vulture.  "It was so cool to see so many kids in one room just to see birds!," said Estefania Palacio, Communications & Development Associate at the Audubon Center at Debs Park.  Nature of Wild Works presenters were happy to educate community members on bird species, including information on how the hunted and ate.  They also took questions from the audience.  The second performance by Aztec Stories was another immersive experience.  In Aztec Stories, Michael Heralda told indigenous stories to the audience through music.  Mr. Heralda crafts his own traditional instruments from items he sources from nature.  His show invites audience members of all ages to participate through singing, chanting, and accompanying instruments.  Aztec Stories was a popular performance.  The music Mr. Heralda and his audience created added a beautiful backdrop to the Marketplace festivities.

The Audubon Center at Debs Park was so excited to host this event for the second year!  It's always great to support our community members and celebrate the talent in this community.  When asked what his favorite thing about the Arroyo Seco Marketplace was, Center Director Marcos Trinidad said "I like how this event is able to create a healthy balance in supporting the community and the local economy.  It's great to see how we are continuing our old traditions, such as native plant wreath-making while building some new traditions with our partners - such as holiday cards with Self Help Graphics or succulent potting with Ponderosa Cactus".

We hope you'll join us next year for the Arroyo Seco Marketplace.  Be part of creating our newest holiday tradition!  Do you have any great stories or pictures from this years Arroyo Seco Marketplace?  Send them to us!  Email  

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