By Mary Malec
When people sign up to volunteer with Golden Gate Audubon Society, they often imagine working at shoreline marshes or birdsong-filled hillsides.
Not first base in a pro baseball stadium!
But the infield of the Giants’ Oracle Park was in fact the site of a huge GGAS volunteer event recently—with GGAS members helping 100 Salesforce employees build Barn Owl boxes and assemble planting kits for schoolchildren in our award-winning Eco-Education program.
Salesforce took over the baseball stadium on October 17 for a massive community-service activity honoring about 1,000 employees who had been with the company for ten or more years. Local nonprofits including GGAS were invited to set up service projects across the field.
GGAS, which has had an ongoing volunteer partnership with Salesforce since 2015, was delighted to occupy the first base line.
The Salesforce employees built 14 two-foot-deep boxes for Barn Owl nesting. They assembled 450 gardening kits that contain child-size garden gloves, a small trowel, a packet of wildflower seeds, and a game that helps kids match birds to the plants where they can be found.
Sounds simple, right? But it took days of preparation by GGAS volunteers to make this afternoon of construction and assembly go smoothly.
Dan Richman, a GGAS member with superb carpentry skills, prepared the Barn Owl box materials, buying and pre-cutting the wood. Each kit arrived at Oracle Park as a flat-pack comprised of 18 pieces of plywood and 10 straight pieces of pine. To avoid confusion, separate tables were set up for the bottom panels, sides, backs and fronts. GGAS volunteers Eddie Bartley, Greg Dutch, Sandi Estep, Mary Malec, Paul Romanak, and Mary Sue Wallace joined Dan in providing tools and friendly supervision.
The Barn Owl boxes were designed by All About Owls, a program that educates the public about owls and provides nesting boxes to groups and individuals. The design has evolved over the years to a size that works for Barn Owls but excludes Great Horned Owls, potential predators. The plywood is made of materials that are non-toxic to birds; a hinged door allows for easy off-season cleaning; and the entry area has grooves that helps the owls grip the box as they arrive. An earlier version of the box had a perch, but perches were eliminated because they allow predators access to threaten the owls and their babies.
The boxes will be placed in North Bay vineyards and other private lands where owners have pledged not to use rodenticides in a large radius around the nest site. A nesting pair of Barn Owls can consume 1,000 rodents a year, helping control the rodent population in a poison-free manner.
While some GGAS volunteers helped the Salesforce folks assemble the boxes, other GGAS members supervised assembly of the children’s gardening packs.
Volunteers Jan Sutcher and Candace Schott had spent two days in the GGAS office sorting California poppy and lupine seeds into 450 little packets with printed information on each plant and its care. The seed packets, gardening gloves, trowels, and backpacks were stockpiled on different tables at Oracle Park, and GGAS leaders Mary Betlach, Rob Cullison, Janet Carpinelli and Noreen Weeden guided the Salesforce employees in assembling the kits.
The gardening kits will be given to 3rd and 4th graders in Title 1 schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond, who are part of GGAS’s Eco-Education program. The materials for both the owl boxes and the garden kits were purchased through a generous grant from Salesforce.
As much as baseball, it took real teamwork to coordinate such a large activity. It was a rewarding day for both the Salesforce folks and the GGAS volunteers.
But the real winners, of course, will be the Eco-Ed kids who get an introduction to native plant gardening and the owls who get safe places to raise their young.
So the next time an Audubon friend says, “see you in the field,” you may want to check if they mean birding in their favorite park… or assembling owl boxes in the middle of a baseball infield.