On Sunday, March 8, the SSMHOA Kids’ Committee organized an afternoon nature walk along the Grand Canal and the Ballona Lagoon South of Washington Boulevard. The docent was biologist Robert “Roy” Jay Vande Hoek, Director and co-founder of the non-profit Ballona Institute, who is an expert on the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem. He was joined by Marcia Hanscom, Executive Director of the Institute. Committee member and Block Captain Beth Holden-Garland hosted the event with the assistance of of Committee member Jessica Schwarz. SSMHOA Board Member Eric Beane, Chair of the Committee was unable to attend as he was on hockey duty watching his son in a playoff tournament.
Below is Beth’s report and her photographs of the occasion:
It was a lovely warm day, and about 20 kids and 15 adults joined us on the walk. We walked along the path and the first bird we came in contact with was a bright iridescent red hummingbird who landed on a perch and looked at us all.
We started at the northern end of the lagoon where Roy walked us to a vacant lot where we could observe nature more closely.He pointed out a snowy egret and we all observed its behavior in trying to find fish in the mud.
He gave us a detailed explanation of how the egret essentially has 4 “fingers” (3 plus a thumb) and uses a scratching motion, as well as a sideways, semi-wading technique to get the fish to come to the surface. We watched the egret do quite a bit of fishing.
When his stomach was full, the egret started jumping up and down with joy which made everyone laugh. Roy showed us the horn snails that live at the bottom of the canal, and told us how they eat mud (which has bacteria, protein, and algae in it), and explained that the fish eat the snails, and then the herons eat the fish, illustrating the full circle of the food chain that exists here.
Roy then took us up to the Grand Canal and told us that there are historical marks along the cement path that mark the year (most from the early 1900s) when the gondolas used to plow the waters between Venice of America and the Ballona Lagoon. He showed us a pickle plant, and explained it’s unique behavior in making some of its leaves red, which store up salty content. This allows the rest of the plant to thrive. Then the red leaves drop to make so salty that it’s impossible for other plants to live there. He described a breed of bird that lays its eggs and hatches their young in these plants, which is why we need to get protection for this plant.
We saw kingfisher birds fly by and a flock of young baby coots swimming in the water He pointed out that the coots have red eyes, and only like to be in the shade during the day. We also some saw mallard ducks flying in and out of the canal, stirring up the water, and frolicking with one another.
At the end of the nature walk, we walked back down the path south, and stopped in front my home where Roy described some of the native plants. We saw the brilliant and delicate yellow sour grass flower. Then he showed us a native daisy, explaining that it is a complex flower that made up of many smaller buds containing abundant pollen. He explained it would take a bee 10 days to fully extract everything from it. He also showed us a plant outside that is originally from Australia called the melaleuca quinquenervia. The plant leaf is normally leathery and flat, but when a thrip occupies it, it turns curly. So he found both leaves that were occupied by a thrip and ones without that were still flat.
We returned to my house where, with the help of our neighbor Jessica Schwarz, we had set up a long table with refreshments including delicious brownies. We also set out arts and crafts materials related to nature.
Kris Ellenberg’s daughters came down and sang a song from “The Lorax” which they learned in their class last year [‘The Lorax” is a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss in 1971. It was made into a movie in 2012. In the story, The Lorax is the Guardian of the Truffula Forest fighting against a business entrepreneur who is destroying the forest and the environment for personal gain]
All in all, a great event during which both children and adults not only learned a great deal about how important the Grand Canal and the Ballona Lagoon are in terms of our ecosystem, but also enjoyed at beautiful day together with friends and neighbors.