By Ilana DeBare
The herons and egrets that nest in the street trees of downtown Oakland have been painting the sidewalks white for years.
On Wednesday, those sidewalks suddenly got a lot more color.
And the birds got a lot more support — from talented artists taking part in Golden Gate Audubon Society‘s second annual Eco-Art Flash Mob.
Over two dozen artists converged on Alice and 13th Streets, the center of the downtown nesting colony of Black-crowned Night-herons and Snowy Egrets. Over 50 pairs of herons are raising young in the treetops there, and dozens of egrets are in the process of building nests.
The goal of the art flash mob was to raise public awareness of the dramatic birds nesting overhead, and inspire downtown residents and office workers to protect them.
It’s part of a broader campaign by Golden Gate Audubon that includes volunteer citizen-scientists monitoring the heron colony; docents leading tours and informing the public about the birds; and a partnership between GGAS and International Bird Rescue, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, and the Oakland Zoo to rescue young herons that are injured when falling from their nests.
The heron project grew out of a notorious incident two years ago, when the post office hired tree trimmers who downed nests and left heron chicks homeless and injured. But Wednesday’s scene was far different — a mood of wonder and delight as birds flew in and out of the trees above, and artists created colorful chalk images below.
There herons and egrets are colonial nesters, and some street trees had up to a dozen nests built by both species. The block was filled with the birds’ clicks, squawks, kwoks, and cackles.
“This sounded like super fun,” said Dustin Feider, a member of the Urban Sketchers group who was drawing a wacky-eyed heron chick from a photo. “I had no idea this was here. Look at this tree — it’s fully packed!”
“What a wonderful thing to discover right in the midst of the city!” echoed Cathy Raingarden, another artist from the Urban Sketchers group. “This is a brilliant way to get visuals out to people.”
Among the artists who were “chalking it up to compassion” was Clay Anderson, a nature educator and GGAS board member. Also hard at work with chalk — before heading off to his “real” work — was J.D. Bergeron, Executive Director of International Bird Rescue, which rehabilitated the chicks left homeless in the post office incident two years ago.
“We get lots of these fallen babies,” he said. “We got our first three of the season yesterday from (the urban rookery in) Santa Rosa. The more people who see this and know what to do about a fallen chick, the better shape the birds will be when they reach us.”
John Muir “Jack” Laws, who leads nature journalism workshops around the Bay Area, was working on a huge, almost incandescent heron. “This goofy art is actually a vehicle for stewardship,” he said. “The more we get people to pay attention to what’s around them, the more likely they are to fallen love and protect it.”
Here’s a slide show of images from this year’s art mob:
Click here to view a short video of Golden Gate Audubon’s first heron art flash mob in 2015.
We’ll be leading public tours of the Oakland nesting colony later this spring! We will post walks as they are scheduled. Or email Marissa at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Current schedule includes:
Many thanks to all the artists who made the Eco-Art Flash Mob possible!