A Baby Owl or a Goatsucker at Esperanza Elementary?

January 19, 2016

A CRYPTIC HALLOWEEN VISITOR written by fifth-grade Esperanza Elementary School students Kaya Johnson and Cristian Torres with their principal, Brad Rumble   "Mr. Rumble, there's a baby owl on the playground!" exclaimed Robbyn, a first-grade student at Esperanza Elementary School on Wilshire Blvd. just west of downtown Los Angeles. It was the day before Halloween 2015 and Mr. Rumble, the school's principal, thought this might be a Halloween prank. But, as any birder would, he went with Robbyn to take a look.  

Unbelievably, there, on the asphalt of a corner of the playground, was not an owl but a Common Poorwill. It was 9:15 a.m. and in fifteen minutes 130 first-graders would be playing four-square mere feet from our unexpected visitor. What to do? Cordon off the area around the bird, grab a bunch of field guides and create an impromptu observation site for an autumn migration species.

A member of the Goatsucker family, the Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) usually is nocturnal. As students read about the poorwill they hypothesized that our bird was just trying to get some shut-eye during its southbound migration. Its cryptic color pattern helped it camouflage so well that some students thought they were looking at a pine cone. No one could believe this species actually hibernates during winter.   Even though there were nearly 900 students on campus, not one of them disturbed the bird. One complication: at 1:15 p.m. hundreds of students, parents and staff members would gather on the poorwill's playground for the annual Halloween parade. Student leaders and educators debated what to do. In the end not even Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and scores of super-heroes and princesses could disturb our nocturnal visitor's slumber.

That evening, as Mr. Rumble was leaving campus, he observed the poorwill suddenly lift off and begin to fly low into the night. Though on campus just the one day, this bird captivated an entire school community and left us wanting to know more about it. For us, the Common Poorwill is anything but common.  

**All photos by Brad Rumble

(Posted by: Kaya Johnson and Christian Torres)


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Memory Mapping Los Angeles @ Leo Politi Elementary

June 6, 2013

This Sunday our brand new Nature Lab opens for every Angeleno to enjoy. Aside from all the other fun stuff that will be in the exhibit — live animals, camera trap footage, awesome taxidermy — it's going to be a place to tell stories about L.A.'s surprising biodiversity. During the development of the Nature Lab we would often find ourselves sitting around a table telling stories of the crazy nature encounters we'd had. Like the time my friend Kristin left her favorite bar in downtown and saw a deer walking down the street! Seriously. Kristin's L.A. nature memory illustrated by Martha Rich:

To encourage visitors to recount their own L.A. nature memories we captured 16 unique stories (including Kristin's) and had six amazing illustrators (Brian Rea, Mark Todd, Martha Rich, Liz Burrill, Lizzie Swift, and Anne Field) draw memory maps for them. My favorite of all the memory maps, tells the story of 17 students from Leo Politi Elementary school and the wildlife they have experienced in their super-urban schoolyard habitat. To make sure the school, the students, and their principal, Brad Rumble were properly represented in this memory map, I had to take a field trip. I like field trips! First, I got to see their amazing habitat. Did I mention they were able to do this because of L.A. Audubon and that you can almost throw a rock at the skyscrapers in downtown?

Then, I got to hang out with the kids in their special Scientific Illustration classroom!

In the classroom, I led the kids through an activity so they could create their own memory maps of their school yard habitat. Here's an example by 5th grader Marlon:

I really liked Marlon's memory map because of the mental images it evoked. I can picture the kids getting excited the day a hummingbird got stuck in their classroom. I can also imagine how the kids must have reacted when they saw a Red-tailed Hawk eat a pigeon in the Big Yard! I brought all 17 of the carefully drawn memory maps back to the Museum and shared them with illustrator Liz Burrill. She worked her illustrative magic and created this:

I really can't wait to see the kid's reactions when they see their memories on display in the Nature Lab, when they see their school, their principal, their habitat, their memories, and their illustrated selves in the exhibit! Come by to check out the rest of the stories and then take some time to share your own memories with us.  

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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