Volunteers are the boots on the ground and eyes on the prize during the Griffith Park Raptor Survey, a partnership between Friends of Griffith Park and Cooper Ecological Services.
Now in its third year, more than 100 volunteers are monitoring their assigned nests in Griffith Park and surrounding landscapes to help scientists understand how our urban raptors are faring. From February through June, volunteers observe and record raptor behavior — are parents building nests? Tending to eggs? Watching fledgings branch?
Such exciting experiences are always best shared with friends, and two raptor volunteers have been tag-teaming their red-tailed hawk nest since the survey kicked-off in 2017. It’s an experience that has cemented a friendship that is based on a love of the outdoors, a curiosity about the natural world and a desire to be of service.
“As a kid, I was an ardent birdwatcher with lots of books and I would crawl around the bushes looking for them. My parents were often worried about what I was doing there,” says Gary Regester, FoGP member, volunteer and professional photographer.
Gary casually met fellow FoGP member Chip Clements at prior FoGP events, but they officially became better acquainted during the raptor training session. Since both travel on and off (Gary has a home in Colorado), they decided to partner up since they knew their nest would need regular observations.
“The major advantage of having a survey partner is that four eyes are better than two when it comes to close observation of something like a raptor nest,” explains Chip. “When we hike in to see the nest together we often notice different details. Beyond that, having a survey partner means the nest is always covered when one of us is out of town.”
So far, their system has worked out great, says the duo who both enjoy hiking into some of the most remote areas of the Park. Being part of this ongoing program has “given me an excuse to escape into the Park for a reason,” says Gary.
With a background as a producer/writer who is also an educator and beekeeper, Chip was excited to hear about the survey three years ago. He had been out hiking in that remote Park location when he discovered a red-tailed hawk nest. “The next day, Friends announced the raptor survey,” he says. “I knew this was meant to be.”
Each of the three years, Gary and Chip’s nest has produced chicks that eventually fledge into the Park. It never gets boring for the dynamic duo. Both Gary and Chip say the volunteer experience has taught them to keep their eyes open and always searching. “I used to keep my eyes on the ground, looking for scat, tracks, flora and now I have re-orientated myself and look up a lot more at the trees, scanning for nests or raptors,” says Chip.
Gary agrees. Participating in the survey “has made me more aware of the raptors that live here in Los Angeles area. I feel like they were hidden before, but now I see them immediately. Many are resilient and take advantage of our urban environment — and it’s such a great thing to witness them flying free overhead.”
Want to be a raptor volunteer? FoGP will announce training dates for the next raptor nesting season in early January 2020. We’ll be sure to keep you posted!