Birds of Westwood

Posted by ardeidae on February 18, 2006

Last Sunday (February 12th), I joined a small group of people in counting the birds on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. The survey was headed up by Jason Finley of Birds of Westwood, a site he started to help people understand and appreciate the bird life around the UCLA campus. Jason received a B.S. degree in Cognitive Science in 2003 and is a researcher in the UCLA Psychology Department. He's also an ardent birder who keeps a detailed list and photos of birds seen on campus.

Dr. Loye Miller was an ornithologist and a professor at the Los Angeles State Normal School, which became the University of California Southern Branch, and later UCLA. When the UCLA campus was moved to Westwood in 1929, Dr. Miller started documenting the bird life around the campus, and in 1947 "Birds of the Campus" (PDF) was published. In the book, Dr. Miller recounts: "At the formal dedication of the new site in 1926, we 'spied out the land' en masse. There was nothing upon it but weeds and dust and chaprral and glowing hopes and glowing hopefuls and diginified officials (and still others of the firstcomers)." He goes on to describe the early days of the campus and how the birds adapted to their new habitat. The book describes 114 species of birds on the campus from 1929 to 1944.

It's been almost sixty years since "Birds of the Campus" was published, and Jason Finley hoped that Sunday would be a good continuation of Dr. Miller's work. Birds of Westood already has a comprehensive species list on the campus, but Jason hoped to get a good count of individuals as well. He was joined by co-leader and compiler Bobby Walsh, another campus expert who was also quick at identification, both visually and aurally. The two of them had laid out a map, and since we had enough people, we split up into two groups of four. Irwin, a seasoned birder, was teamed up with Joy, Pat, and Julia. Jason, Bobby, Wendy, and I made up the other.

It was 6:45am when we set out. The temperature was about 70 degrees, it was calm out and the sky had a bit of the morning greys, which burned off shortly. Irwin's group took off toward the eastern side of the campus, while our group stayed on the west side to start off studying The Native Fragment. About 9:30 our groups joined up and compared notes. We then headed to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. After a nice tour, we stopped at the south-east corner of the grounds before heading back across campus to our cars, wrapping everything up around noon.

UCLA is the smallest of all the UC campuses at 419 acres, which works out to a little over one square mile. In the five hours we took to survey the area, we tallied 36 species of birds for a total of 498 birds. There were eight species that were expected to be seen that we didn't catch. Check out the detailed report at Birds of Westwood. My photos from the day aren't ready to post just yet, but when they do go up, there will be a nice enhancement to accompany them.Update (2/23/06): Photos with locations have been added. See below.

The work Jason Finley has done and continues to do with Birds of Westwood is important to the area around UCLA. He has brought awareness to an environment that might otherwise be overlooked. A few of the people that participated in the count were students new to birding, but I could see the enthusiasm and interest envelop them, just as it did for me when I started a year ago. It's essential for people to get involved. As Dr. Miller wrote "The 'dominant race' has moved into new territory at Westwood and is fighting its way to a settled status. We are pioneers and call ourselves the firstcomers. Are we really first? If not, whom do we displace? Who remain as our neighbors? How long will they remain neighborly? How long will they survive?" In the last sixty years, more than half of the birds Dr. Miller reported have vanished from the area. As the "dominant race", it's up to us to make sure it doesn't happen in the next sixty. Not only at UCLA, but all around the world as well.

Here are photos and locations of some of the birds we saw during the count. Light was sometimes low, so some photos may be noisy and/or blurry due to the photographer (me) attempting to hand hold the camera, but nevertheless, you get the idea...

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    hey it’s Neda I met you a couple weeks ago with Ross and we went biking (i was in my stillettos)! anyways, i thought i’d check out your site to see your photographs which are really amazing! i can’t wait to see the ones you took at UCLA. oh by the way, as a reminder, it’s Ross’ birthday on sunday. you should give him a buzz soon!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/22  at  11:57 AM

    Wow, awesome work dude!  That google map thing is incredible!  It was great having you and Irwin along for the bird count really made a difference.

    Posted by Jason Finley  on  04/15  at  06:52 PM

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