But it gets you thinking. Is Mother Nature really returning to town? How much wildlife is there around us?
Quite a bit, from what I’ve learned.
∗ ∗ ∗
Splat. Something wet hits my head. Standing under the Norfolk pines outside Coronado’s public library, I look up just in time to see another yellow-white bomb dropping from the sky. Maybe 60 feet above me, two huge birds are fighting for space in a maybe five-foot-wide nest of sticks. I’m guessing they’re chicks who’ve outgrown the living quarters. But even from way down here on the ground, you can see how big they are. You can hear their raucous squawks. It looks like Jurassic Park has moved in up there.
On the one hand, I’m annoyed as hell at the poop in my hair. On the other, what a wondrous thing it is, to have wild giant birds — blue herons, the librarians tell me — moving back to be among us. It turns out there are at least 300 nesting pairs in San Diego County, maybe 40 or more on Coronado.
Steve Wampler’s the environmentalist I talked to for last year’s story on global warming. He thinks global warming is “crap,” but he still does his part to bring nature back to town. Here, in his home’s backyard, he has waterfalls, ponds, fish, and frogs. Above all, he’s planted milkweed — a toxic weed — to attract Monarch butterflies, because milkweed is pretty much all they feed on. He did it to provide the butterflies with a nutritious break and a little R&R on their migration down to Mexico.
“Now,” he says, “see the caterpillars on the milkweed? Their parents landed here to winter over. Five years ago, there were no Monarchs that I knew of in Coronado, and now some of these guys live here all the time. They’re forgetting the migration, because, just like the rest of us, hey, who can resist San Diego? The caterpillars go through about ten molting stages, and they increase in size 1000 times in two weeks. In five years I went from zero butterflies to probably a couple of hundred. And next year, probably 1000.”
“So, they’re moving in, just like the blue herons at the library,” I say. “There are dozens of big nests in the Norfolk pines there. It’s cool.”
“I hate the blue herons,” Wampler says. “They’re big, cruel birds. They steal my fish and my frogs. I’ve had to put nets up to stop them from diving in.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Other raucous birds lead me to Dr. Jeffrey Jenkins.
Back in my own garden, our cat Nicco looks up at the sky, loudly meowing. From above comes a cackle of laughter, and then, as if especially for Nicco, a mocking yowl.
I look up. Three green parrots with vivid red flashes on their foreheads are sitting in a neighbor’s tree, squawking. It sounds like they’re laughing at Nicco, even imitating her.
Parrots are one of the amazing stories of resettlement by wild creatures in this county, and maybe the most obvious of the wildlife resettlers.
“They’re my wards,” says Jenkins, a vet who may be the county’s most recognized expert in caring for exotic pets. “Mexican parrots are my godchildren. One of the neat things about San Diego is that there has been this flock of wild parrots here for a long time. Most are Mexican redheads [aka Amazons, from their Latin name Amazona viridigenalis, or red-crowned parrots]. It wouldn’t be uncommon in Coronado for you to see a band of 15, all yelling at your cat. They’re completely wild.”
Where do they come from?
Jenkins says they might have escaped from an Ocean Beach bird collector known as the Parrot Woman, when her house burned down in the early 1960s.
It turns out he’s about to release an Amazon of his own, a Mexican redhead he has in his care.
“We call him ‘Argh!’ — from the sound he makes,” Jenkins says. “He has a hole in his head. We think he’s a very lucky survivor from a hawk attack. Hopefully, he’s ready to go back and join the wild flock that lives here. But the majority of domesticated parrots would never be able to survive out there. Like, if your pet got loose, he’s probably going to be hawk food within a week. Because [pet parrots] are very picky about what they eat. They don’t recognize wild sources of food, they’re not acclimated to the outside temperature…”
But he believes that Argh! is ready to become wild again.
“[Argh!] has improved so much, we’ve been retraining him to fly in our clinic’s passageway. We’re going to take a chance and release him tomorrow morning.”
This I’ve got to see.
∗ ∗ ∗
The next morning, around 7:30, I’m in Ocean Beach, looking for the park where Jenkins is going to release Argh!
I should have gotten more precise instructions, because time is ticking toward 8:00 and I’m lost in curvy, tree-shaded lanes, and lanes off lanes. No sign of a park. I’m thinking of giving up, when I hear this noise: excited birds seem to be sounding an alarm. A neighborhood dog starts barking. Suddenly, the birds are overhead, a flock diving, rolling, tumbling, all the while making this raucous chorus of yelps. From down here, they look black-bodied, silhouetted against the rising sun as they convolute overhead. But I can tell they’re the same Mexican redheads that buzzed Nicco, the tribe Argh! belongs to. I wonder if it’s a “Welcome back!” chorus, if Argh! is up there with them already, celebrating his return to freedom.
Later, at his surgery clinic in Mission Valley, Dr. Jenkins tells me, “We came and set him in his cage down on the picnic table there, at Ocean Beach Community Park. We let him sit long enough that he could hear the [other Mexican redheads], and start squawking back a bit.
“A couple of the wild parrots flew down and sat in the tree above us. They squawked and walked back and forth and gave us the eye, and did all those parrot things. Then we opened Argh!’s cage door.