I might have the perfect job.  I work with birds of prey outdoors in one of the most beautiful settings in the world: the 316 acre Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge right on San Diego Bay.  Marshes (and bogs and wetlands) are often overlooked by the general public and don’t receive the same attention and glory as habitats like rainforests or the arctic.  But for those willing to take a closer look and spend some time exploring them, their beauty is unmatched and people are always amazed by what the marsh has to offer, including habitat and nesting sites for endangered species like California’s least tern and the light-footed clapper rail. 

What is special about THIS marsh (aside from its rich cultural history) is that it is so close to the busy city and all it’s traffic, freeways, cell phones, hustle, noise, advertising, gas prices, incoming emails, obligations, deadlines, twitter, texting, red light, green light, go here, go there, do this, do that, etc etc etc…  Even if you were in the heart of downtown San Diego, within 7-minutes by car, you can escape to another world full of nature, peace, and serenity.  It is a place where people come to share time with friends and family, relax, enjoy themselves, and re-connect with the simplicity of the natural world.  It is a sanctuary for us as much as it is for the wild animals who live there. 

Located on the marsh is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a place where you can come to learn about local wildlife and plants, and even see animals from the sea and sky: sharks, fish, sea turtles, owls, hawks, eagles, and more!   Out of every place I have worked (including some at well known institutions like Vancouver Aquarium, Maui Ocean Center, and Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography) this one is the most special.  It’s not that the others don’t hold a important place in my heart, but there is something about this place that I connect with on another level.  Our mission is to inspire care and exploration of the living Earth by connecting people with coastal animals, plants and habitats.  I think this is a mission we accomplish very well because almost every person who visits the Center is mesmerized by the beauty of the surrounding marsh and inspired by the incredible variety of wildlife that exists here.  Visitors leave with a greater understanding of how important and delicate these environments are (and all natural habitats for that matter) and take away new  perspective on ways to care for and protect these special places.

For me, going to work every day is an escape.  It is a place I can relax and connect with myself and nature.  Not many people can say that, and I know I am lucky to be able to.  So since I am talking about personal escapes, I thought I would share with you the seagull’s thinking spot:

He goes here when he has a lot on his mind or when he is faced with a difficult decision or situation.  Everyone experiences those feelings at one time or another, and it’s important to have a place where you can escape to… a place where you can focus on your thoughts without distraction… a place where you can reflect on things and figure life out.  Seagull wouldn’t tell me what he was thinking about on this particular occasion, so I won’t speculate.  Seagulls are very private creatures (surprisingly) and I didn’t realize how deep and philosophical they really are.  Surprising, since most of the time you see them stealing hotdogs out of the hands of small children, or perched on a lamppost with a bag of potato chips held tightly in their beaks… when will people learn to watch their food?!  Oh well, just because they are thieving junk food addicts doesn’t mean they don’t have deep thoughts and insights. 

Anyways, if you live in the area and haven’t been to the Living Coast Discovery Center yet, find time to make your way there.  You will be glad you did.  If you don’t live in the area, well… visit a local wildlife center, park, or any place where you can slow down and forget about stresses of daily life (even if it is only for a short while).  Organizations like the Living Coast provide an invaluable service to the community and the environment, but often struggle to stay open.  Most are independent non-profit organizations and rely on the support of the community through visitor admissions, donations, grants, and the hard work of countless volunteers to keep the doors open and the animals cared for.  Many amazing places like the Living Coast have closed in recent years because of lack of funding and support, and people don’t realize until it is too late what a great void their absence leaves behind.  Even if you don’t have money to donate, show support in other ways: visit them, tell people about them, and remember the important missions they are working to achieve.    

Just for fun, here are pictures of a few of my avian “co-workers”.  All our resident birds are unable to return to the wild for various reasons and act as educational ambassadors for their species,
teaching and inspiring both children and adults every day.
Bald Eagle – found near Seattle, shot in the wing

Great Horned Owl – wing injury
Western Screech Owl – missing an eye, hit by a car
Barn Owl – partial wing amputation, blind in both eyes

Burrowing Owl – imprinted on humans

Snowy Egret – missing one wing

Young brown pelican – spotted near a pond outside the Center… just came by for a visit!

Red Tailed Hawk – imprinted to humans

View looking toward San Diego Bay 
***UPDATE OCTOBER 1 2013:  We announced today that we are closing to the public on October 28th 2013 with a full shut down and relocation of animals by December 24th 2013.  BUT there are ways you can help!  Our closing plan includes a step-by-step shutdown that would allow for us to stay open if funding is received by a certain date.  Please see our press release and FAQ on our website for details about why we are closing, and for ways you can help us out.

Candy Corn Birds

Today is June 30th, and as many of you know, tomorrow is a special day for me.  “What day is THAT!?” -says all my american friends.  Tomorrow is CANADA DAY!  As a born and raised Canadian, I like to always make a big deal of July 1st.  And since I can not partake in all the picnics, drinks, and fireworks that my northern friends will be enjoying tomorrow, I am celebrating today instead.  Celebrating today has so far involved a few gin-based drinks with crushed up blackberries in it (blackberries are sooooo north-westcoast) and to show real patriotism, I should have had some poutine followed by a nanaimo bar while listening to the Tragically Hip.  Instead I had stirfry and watched “Guy Code” on MTV…  <sigh> shoulda woulda coulda.  Poutine sounds amazing right now too, but what am I but a slave to what is in the freezer?  I wanted to do a canada day drawing, and had a sketch going, but then the blackberry gin drinks happened (ok, 4 have happened) and a sketch is all i’ve got to show you at the moment:

That’s how most of my art starts out… But today for something different, i thought i would introduce one of my 3 paintings.  I have only done three because i don’t really know how to paint, and drawing is much easier and less messy.  I had some canvases lying around in the spare room and one day last year around Halloween i painted something.  This is that thing: Candy Corn Birds

I have never actually drawn these candy corn birds, they only exist in a world of smeared-around acrylic color.  I wanted to do them for two reasons:
1) i love candy corn.  I always eat too much in one sitting, have massive regret, never learn my lesson for the next time, then eat too many all over again.  (Friend, you know who you are, please continue to monitor my quota)
2) candy corn are the same shape as a bird beak.  I work with birds in my professional career so I like to do bird-related art.

Their story is as follows: I know they live on some secluded island and are a very rare, shy and nervous bird.  They don’t like to be seen and are always worried about predators going after them.  Afterall, a delicious candy beak is irresistable to almost anyone.  This image is a rare look into their world, captured after countless days impersonating a shrub on the other side of the cove.  They nest on cliffs so other animals have will a difficult time reaching them, but they like to venture down to the shore to feed on crabs, serpent stars, and other marine invertebrates.  To feed their young, they dip their beaks into water to melt off some of the sweet candy coating and then drip it into the mouths of their eager offspring.  I suppose they are an endangered species, but not due to over hunting or anything human-related.  They are locally abundant, but don’t seem to feel the need to expand their territory outside of their little island home.  Due to that, their global population is very small, but locally the island hosts a very stable population.  Humans have been captivated by this bird for centuries, even mimicking a popular Halloween candy after their colorful beaks.  We often think of biomimicry as using nature as an inspiration for technological advances, but I bet sooner than later, Modern Marvels on the History Network will feature Candy Corn Birds on their show when they explore the origins of popular American candy.  Biomimicry comes in many forms.  Sometimes in delicious forms.

Happy Canada Day everyone (tomorrow) and happy America Day everyone (thursday)!