By Cassandra Bramucci & Margaret Magnus
It is well before the scheduled 8:00 a.m. start time for the Family Bird Watching Day at Meher Mount on Saturday, April 6, 2019. Rick Burgess and Karen Laing from the Ventura Audubon Society are already here ready to guide the bird watching walks. They bring a box full of binoculars and much excitement over this opportunity to share the bounty of nature at Meher Mount. They know the birds are ready as their songs already fill the air.
PREPARING FOR THE FAMILY BIRD WATCHING DAY
Waiting in the Visitor Center eager to greet the birders is Robert Turnage, board treasurer and longtime bird enthusiast. He and his wife, Kristina Somma, have come to Meher Mount from their home in Northern California to help Interim Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky with some finishing touches in preparation for this special event.
The team put birdseed in all the feeders and poured water in all the bird baths to attract as many birds as possible. They cleaned out the pond in the circular driveway – the pond that draws so many creatures to Meher Mount, from deer to bobcat. Chairs are set up in the Visitor Center for the presentation from the Ojai Raptor Center scheduled for later in the day. And the Topa Topa Patio is prepared to receive guests for their BYO picnic lunch.
THE BIRDS APPEAR THIS MORNING — AND EVERY MORNING
Meanwhile, just after dawn this morning – as with most mornings – three or four California quail coveys drink at the pond, followed by hordes of Dark-Eyed Juncos, three different species of Goldfinch, and several Spotted Towhees. All are gathered for their morning ablutions and chatter fest.
This morning there is a special guest among the avian visitors. As a cool mist envelops the top of Sulphur Mountain, there is a rarely seen Hooded Oriole, the latest addition to the Meher Mount bird family. He repeatedly makes his appearance at the Hummingbird feeders to the delight of onlookers. The Oriole balances precariously on the feeder rim while sipping the sweet nectar with his long slender beak.
Spirits are high with expectation as the gates at Meher Mount are opened at 8:00 a.m.
Around 8:45 a.m., about a dozen visitors gather next to the pond with Rick Burgess, Karen Laing, and Robert Turnage to begin the first walk out to Avatar’s Point. Several raptors soar above their heads among the Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) lining the pathway toward Baba’s Tree. The bird sightings begin in earnest.
Throughout the morning, some 27 species make an appearance as the crowd of watchers grows to two dozen, then to three dozen.
RAPTORS DRAW EVEN MORE VISITORS EAGER TO SEE THESE BIRDS UP CLOSE
By the time representatives from the Ojai Raptor Center arrive with five ambassador birds around 11:30 a.m., the crowd has grown to over four dozen. All watch eagerly as raptor carriers are unloaded from the Ojai Raptor Center van and taken into the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center count continues to swell as people take their seats with the volunteers hustling to add more chairs until the event becomes clearly “standing room only.” No one complains.
One by one, Jaclyn DeSantis and Rio Vogt from the Raptor Center bring out each bird to explain its history, habits and characteristics. Each raptor – American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Red-Tailed Hawk, Screech Owl and Burrowing Owl – patiently waits for the audience to listen and take pictures.
There is joy in this room, the joy of a shared awe for the pulse of living things that allows us to be in their presence, close, enthralled, and adoring the beauty of the birds.
After the raptor presentation, some guests lunch on the Topa Topa Patio while others – having a bird-filled day already – return home. New visitors arrive for the afternoon hike.
NOT AN ACTUAL BIRD SIGHTING
On the afternoon bird walk led by Robert Turnage, the group pauses near the former swimming pool, now water reservoir, to observe bird behavior.
The Woodpeckers have drilled holes in the fence posts around the pool/reservoir to create a granary to store their acorns.
The Woodpeckers fill the hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As the acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes. Granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird’s time.
Scrub Jays also collect acorns, but bury them in the ground around an oak tree. Sometimes, they have difficulties finding these acorns, unlike the Woodpeckers.
THE BIRD ART TABLE DRAWS THE YOUNGER CROWD
The kids – many of whom were on the morning walk and watched the raptor presentation – migrate to the bird art table.
At the table, volunteer Lisa Morrison (whose own grandchildren are also at Meher Mount that day), organizes a bird-inspired craft project.
There are small wood birdhouses for the artists to paint and decorate with birds and butterflies. The young birders clutch these birdhouses and take them home as reminders of their time in nature with the birds.
A MYSTICAL QUALITY
We often ascribe to birds a mystical quality. Certainly, they are symbols of nature’s bounty and endless variety. They are elusive, yet they soar above in plain sight, perch on a branch, hop on the ground and flutter about so that we can catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat.
For the trained ear, their songs vary though the patterns are clearly identifiable. Their favorite foods, habitats, nesting, and mating rituals are specific. Many birders spend their lifetime bird watching and adding to their “life list” of birds sighted.
“I like to slow down and become involved in the intimate space and timing of the bird. It is well worth it to watch their beauty,” says guest birder Duke Gribble, who has spent 30 years watching birds.
Others – who are just learning about birds – enjoy being in nature and marveling at this wonderful creation. “This whole creation, this nature, all the beauty you see, all came out of me,” said Avatar Meher Baba when He visited Meher Mount in 1956.
In all, more than 60 people were drawn to Meher Mount – many for the first time – to experience God’s beauty. And everyone seemed to report the same experience: “What a perfect day!”