Chalking the wonder of birds at the Presidio July 11, 2017

Posted by GGAS in GGAS Centennial, Golden Gate Audubon

By Ilana DeBare

Our traveling Centennial exhibit arrives at the Presidio this week — heralded by 20 very large, very colorful, and somewhat dusty birds.

Chalk birds.

A bevy of artists gathered last Saturday to create sidewalk chalk images of birds of the Presidio, in a celebration of our Centennial co-sponsored by the Presidio Trust.

Pigeon Guillemot. Anna’s Hummingbird. Black Phoebe. Violet-green Swallow…. all present and accounted for.

The chalk art project had several goals: Highlight local birds. Spark the curiosity of Presidio visitors, and inspire them to notice the wildlife all around us. Also, because the chalk art is scattered throughout the Presidio, it may encourage people to explore new areas of the park.

“Artists can help people see the beauty of birds, and inspire them to help protect the birds that grace our communities,” said Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon Society.

(View video of the chalk artists and their work at the bottom of this post!)

The participating artists included several GGAS members such as Alan Hopkins, Hilary Powers, and Brenda and Michael Helm. Some of the chalk artists were longtime birders with experience depicting wildlife; a few even used their own bird photographs as models.

But for others like Christina Xu, the Presidio event was their first experience incorporating birds into their art.

“I do mostly figures, abstract and realism combined,” said Xu, who chalked a giant Hooded Oriole alongside Lincoln Blvd. “But I’m really good at learning new techniques. Last night I was watching YouTube videos about drawing birds!”

Christina Xu and her Hooded Oriole / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Several of the artists had taken part in GGAS’s two previous chalk art events celebrating the herons and egrets of downtown Oakland in 2015 and 2016. But for others, this was their first experience drawing on the sidewalk since childhood.

“I don’t usually draw something this large,” said Carrie McClish, who created an Elegant Tern along Lincoln Blvd. “Usually I sketch in a notebook or on a 3×5 card. It’s a fun challenge to find the correct proportions.”

Carrie McClish and her (very) Elegant Tern / Photo by Ilana DeBare

“This is a complete new thing for me,” said Mette Seager, who chalked a White-crowned Sparrow at Inspiration Point. “The chalk blows away, which is interesting. You can’t get much detail. But it’s wonderful how people come along and are interested ion what you’re doing.”

Mette Seager and her White-crowned Sparrow / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The Presidio Trust provided each artist with a choice of several local birds. Each artist had a unique story behind her or his selection.

“The Pigeon Guillemot is a great seabird,” said Alan Hopkins, explaining his choice. “They used to nest on Fort Point in the Presidio, and they still nest on Alcatraz. They’ve got bright red feet, and the inside of their mouth is bright red. They disappear in the winter, and people have no idea where they go.”

Alan Hopkins works on one of two Pigeon Guillemots in his picture / Presidio photo

Carrie McClish picked the Elegant Tern because of “the stylish tendrils on the back of the head, like a rock star.” Christina Xu picked the Hooded Oriole because she connected with its bright oranges and yellows.

JD Bergeron, who works with water birds in his professional role as executive director of International Bird Rescue, resisted the lure of the water and instead chose a Violet-green Swallow for personal reasons.

“When Travis and I started dating, we’d go to Lake Temescal, and they’re very common there,” he said. “I’d bird and he’d take photographs. The swallows became part of our relationship and we called our wedding a ‘violet-green’ wedding.'”

JD Bergeron’s Violet-green Swallow, near he flagpole at the Main Post / Photo by Ilana DeBare

And Grant Yang, who chose a Wilson’s Warbler, based his design on a photograph he himself had taken of one.

“It’s one of my favorite birds, with a lot of personality and a lot of color,” he said.

Wilson’s Warbler in a shady section of sidewalk by Grant Yang / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The chalk art accompanies Golden Gate Audubon’s Centennial exhibit, which will be on display through September 29 during weekday business hours at the Tides Thoreau Center, 1012 Torney Avenue in the Presidio. Maps showing the locations of the chalk drawings will be available at the exhibit or can be downloaded here

How long will the chalk images last? The Presidio is hoping they’ll stick around for a while: They’re offering six guided hikes featuring both chalk and real birds on Wednesdays and Saturdays this summer.

But chalk dust was already blowing away in the brisk wind on Saturday. So if you want to see the chalk art firsthand, we suggest going sooner rather than later.

“As an urban national park, our goal is to attract new audiences through the art,” said Damien Raffa, Environmental and Outdoor Education Manager for the Presidio Trust. “Whether they come for the art or stumble onto it, they’ll have a moment of appreciation of the artwork and the wildlife it’s celebrating. It may inspire people to look for the birds themselves. It reminds us that there are rewards for paying attention.”

Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Centennial exhibit will be on display through September 29 at the Tides Thoreau Center, 1012 Torney Avenue in the Presidio. It’s free! Stop by during weekday business hours. There is metered parking around the building, or click here for information on public transit to the Presidio, including the free PresidiGo express shuttle from downtown San Francisco.

Lea Zalinskis works on a Downy Woodpecker / Photo by Ilana DeBare

California Scrub Jay by Barbara Alger / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Brown Pelican by Erica Kawata / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Artist Bess Perry chose to create a Black-crowned Night-Heron because she’s from Oakland, home to many of these birds

Can’t view the video? Click here to view it on YouTube.

Tags: bird art, chalk art, GGAS Centennial, GGAS Centennial Exhibit, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Presidio, Presidio birds, Presidio Trust.


  1. Claudia J Lamb
    July 13th, 2017 at 3:57 AM