By Cassandra Bramucci & Margaret Magnus
BIRD WATCHERS along the well road at Meher Mount guided by two volunteers from the Ventura Audubon Society, Rick Burgess and Karen Laing for Family Bird Watching Day, April 6, 2019. (Photo: 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.
KRISTINA SOMMA along with Buzz and Ginger Glasky, Robert Turnage, and Cassandra Bramucci earlier drained the pond at Meher Mount and made sure the pump is working. Kristina is using the power washer to clean the pond before refilling it with water. This pond is a watering hole for birds, bobcats, deer and other animals that come to Meher Mount. (Photo: Margaret Magnus, April 4, 2019)
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.
THE FIRST GROUP of bird watchers gathers by the pond ready to walk to Baba’s Tree at Meher Mount for a morning of bird watching. (Photo: Cassandra Bramucci, April 6, 2019)
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.
FIVE RAPTORS — American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Red-Tailed Hawk, Screech Owl and Burrowing Owl — arrive at Meher Mount from the Ojai Raptor Center for Family Bird Watching Day on April 6, 2019. (Photo: Margaret Magnus)
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.
ROSIE, THE RED-TAILED HAWK, makes her appearance at Meher Mount for the Family Bird Watching Day, April 6, 2019. Jaclyn DeSantis (with Rosie on her arm) and Rio Vogt of the Ojai Raptor Center explain the habits of, and dangers to, five of these raptors, including Rosie, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Burrowing Owls and Screech Owls. In the background is the painting of Meher Baba at Meher Mount by Charles Mills. (Photo: Cassandra Bramucci)
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.
AN ACORN GRANARY created by the Woodpeckers in the fence posts by the swimming pool/reservoir at Meher Mount. (Photo: Margaret Magnus)
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.
A BIRD HOUSE painted and decorated by one of the younger birders visiting Meher Mount for Family Bird Watching Day, April 6, 2019. Volunteer Lisa Morrison organized the bird art table for the kids. (Photo: Margaret Magnus)
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!”
A GOLDEN CROWNED SPARROW sits on a tree branch at Meher Mount. (Photo: Juan Mendez, January 2019)
The Spring 2019 “super bloom” that is sweeping California following the generous winter rains is also gracing Meher Mount. Its appearance isn’t the massive and concentrated flowering of the desert blooms. Rather, it is the variety of wildflowers at Meher Mount that often appear only after abundant rains and sometimes specifically after a fire, such as the December 2017 Thomas Fire.
You might also say Meher Mount and the surrounding area are experiencing a “super green.” The emerald-hued rolling hills, steep mountainsides and valleys are a deep green, particularly in stark contrast to the ash-covered hillsides of 15 months earlier.
During their annual migration, more than 300 species of birds are estimated to use the Pacific Flyway as their connection between the Arctic and South America, according to NASA Science. The flyway stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and includes all of California.
Every year, millions of migratory birds head south, then north, using the 4,000-mile-long and, in places, the 1,000-mile-wide route known in search of places to breed, feed, and spend the winter.
When the Ojai Raptor Center sent out an email after the December 2017 Thomas Fire encouraging landowners to install perches and box homes to support the raptor population in the area, Meher Mount responded.
The center said the fire had destroyed raptor (eagle, hawk, falcon, owl) habitat in the area, and putting up boxes and perches was one way to help the recovery of these birds.
Meher Mount was also motivated to install the boxes to create a natural form of rodent control. A simple walk to Baba’s Tree and Avatar’s Point demonstrates the abundance of small rodents (such as gophers, voles, and mice) at Meher Mount. The ground is pock-marked with their holes.
By helping raptors thrive, Meher Mount is helping to keep the predator-prey balance in the ecosystem. The Ojai Raptor Center calls raptors and owls “free, natural and abundant rodent control!”
On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount burning the stand of 16 eucalyptus trees by Baba’s Fireplace and the Visitor Center along with the large eucalyptus by the pathway to Baba's Tree.
In assessing the fire damage and the future fire threats to Meher Mount, the question was put before the board, “What to do with the eucalyptus trees?”
When setting up the first meeting with ISA® Certified Arborist Michael Inaba to make a preliminary assessment of a "special large oak" at Meher Mount, he asked, “Does that special tree have a name?” Margaret Magnus smiled to herself and said, “Yes, Baba’s Tree.” Then she asked why he had asked.
Inaba said he had had dinner soon after the fire with some people who live on Sulphur Mountain. They were recounting the fire damage in the area and mentioned the tree. He later referred to Baba’s Tree as a landmark tree.
On January 5, 2018, Meher Mount met with Inaba to evaluate Baba's Tree and to start drawing up a survival and regeneration plan.
During His Advent, Meher Baba very often would go into a self-imposed, confined seclusion for extended periods of time to do His inner work.
Meher Baba disclosed that he did His “Universal Work” at these times — work not for His own sake as He, suffering for all as God in human form, had nothing to gain — but for the spiritual advancement of all of creation.
Now, the Coast Live Oak at Meher Mount that Meher Baba sat under alone in 1956 and known as Baba’s Tree is in seclusion.
Fire has been a visitor to Baba’s Tree and to Meher Mount more than once. The Thomas Fire shattered the tree’s crown and much of the trunk on December 4, 2017.
On October 14, 1985, fire ravaged and destroyed nearly all Meher Mount. A month after the New Life Fire, Baba’s Tree looked dead. It was black, leafless, and terribly scarred. The main trunk was hollowed out and black inside. Limbs over 30 feet in the air had burned. The great limb above Meher Baba’s seat had burned nearly through by the trunk with its furthermost branches fallen to the earth.
What is it like to be a Manager/Caretaker at Meher Mount? Past and current Manager/Caretakers describe their impressions, their joys, and their inspiration.
My own travels have taken me to places Avatar Meher Baba visited in Europe, Australia, South Carolina, and India. Now for the first time, I visit Meher Mount in Ojai, CA. I adore it.
Always loaded with spiritual expectations, we get stripped there. All what one might envisage of a spiritual center was not there: no discourses, no meditation sessions, no designated prayer spots, no singing.
Meher Mount is often a source of inspiration to artists. That’s why painter and art instructor Jennifer McChristian has been conducting day-long en plein air painting classes here since 2009.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something mystical about the place,” she says. “I feel so happy every time I go there.”
El Niño never brought the much needed rain to southern California this past year – except on Amartithi.
Amartithi – or eternal date – is the anniversary of the day on which Avatar Meher Baba dropped His physical form in 1969.
El Niño is the warming of the ocean’s surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which changes the rainfall pattern. In southern California, it usually means more rainfall than normal.
February is National Bird-Feeding Month and includes the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. These events are highlighted because when Avatar Meher Baba visited Meher Mount in 1956, He said, "Now, go out and see the view and try to love Baba through nature. This is all due to my love. This whole creation, this nature, all the beauty you see, all came out of me."
Every year since Meher Mount’s founding in 1946, volunteers are tasked with making sure that brush is cleared away from all buildings to help protect Meher Mount and the environment from the threat of wildfires.
In May 2015, there was an extra effort to make the meadow – the Prasad Orchard – below Avatar’s Point more accessible to mowing equipment.
People often ask, "When is a good time to visit Meher Mount?" I always say the wintertime. It is is my favorite time of year.
The weather is crisp, but generally not too cold. The air is clear - the fog of summer is gone. The skies are bright blue. And there is a special "winter" light on the land.
Meher Mount is important to me because of its long association with Avatar Meher Baba. That Meher Baba blessed Meher Mount with His visit in 1956 has profound significance for me.
What makes Meher Mount extra special are its natural qualities and beautiful setting – something increasingly rare and precious in Southern California.
The idea for the patio first came about when the Board was planning for the Workshop. An early concept called for a workshop/garage built into the side of the hill with a rooftop patio in view of the Bluffs.
That concept proved to be too expensive, but the idea of a patio with a view of the mountains stuck.
The Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) residency in Baba's Tree has much expanded! There are four to five full-size nest holes, plus some tentative ones, all along the underside of one branch.
The weather report for Sunday, April 14, 2013, said “mostly sunny, 69 degrees, 10% chance of rain.”
Invitations to the event that day - the "Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Ojai WordFest After Party - had invited everyone to come see the 360-degree views from atop the 2,500-foot level of Sulphur Mountain Road.
However, when volunteers arrived to set up for the event, Sulphur Mountain and Meher Mount were enshrouded in the clouds.
For years I have traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, as part of my work. And for many years I have also searched for and enjoyed high quality honey and bee pollen from all around the world.
Several years ago, I experienced how Meher Mount was the common denominator for both and for so much more in its capacity to draw people and things together into its Divinely orchestrated orbit!