Ross and Patti Griswold sit at their kitchen table, chatting with me, but their primary focus is elsewhere. Specifically, they're looking out toward their backyard. They're not being rude; it's just that they've got to be on their toes in case they trap a mourning dove.
Since May, the husband-wife bird enthusiasts have been taking part in "banding," whereby they attach a small metal tag to the birds' legs. It's part of a Department of Fish and Game program in which the public is allowed to take part.
Mourning doves are one of the most widely distributed and abundant birds in North America. Additionally, they are a popular game bird, with regimented hunting seasons established in 37 of the lower 48 states. And they're prevalent too. In fact, there are more mourning doves harvested than all other migratory game bird species combined in the entire country.
Due to the importance of the mourning dove as a migratory game bird, Fish and Game looks to track certain information about the birds so that officials can make appropriate harvest management decisions. The information gathered via the banding program on mourning dove survival and harvest rates is essential to understanding and analyzing the effects of annual hunting regulations on mourning dove populations.
When Ross and Patti heard about the program, they couldn't wait to get involved. They both started as volunteers at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and spent many hours learning about birds (and volunteering) at the Shipley Nature Center.
They read books about birds, studied them and developed a fondness for all things feathered.
Hence the mourning dove traps in the backyard where, on the morning of my visit, one has just wandered in for some food before realizing that there's no easy way out — not until he has a band on his ankle, anyway.
With Patti gently holding the bird, Ross makes some notes and then snaps on the band before releasing the bird.
"No. 29," Patti says.
The couple, thanks to the traps bursting with bird food, has many other visitors besides the mourning doves, and the backyard has taken on the look, feel and sounds of an aviary.
"Lots of birds we see now," Ross says. Some squirrels, too, even a Cooper's hawk that had to take cover from a flock of angry crows.
"We've seen some crazy stuff back here," Patti adds.
The Griswolds expected the banding project to finish by the end of July, but a few straggling birds are still hanging around the yard. They can't wait until it all starts over again next summer.
"It's been amazing," Patti says. "A way to help out that's really hands-on. And it's fun. The birds are so gentle. You never need gloves or anything — they are just so easy to deal with, and it's nice to know we're helping the learning process."
The Griswolds have also helped create (along with the Amigos de Bolsa Chica) a 6-by-9-inch laminated card that helps identify common birds of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It includes many color photos (some of which Ross took) and an interesting full-color map of the wetlands. They are available at the Bolsa Chica footbridge (the south lot) during the Amigos de Bolsa Chica free tour from 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of the month for $5.
It's great to see people doing what they love, helping preserve and protect some of our precious natural habitats, while also aiding the process by which mourning doves are tracked.
A tip of the hat to the Griswolds for making a positive difference — especially as it applies to the wetlands, which I unabashedly support.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.