Community Commentary: Spend Saturday on a Back Bay field trip

Did you know that birdwatchers travel here from all over the United States to catch a glimpse of the light-footed clapper rail? This timid marsh bird is one of Newport Bay's celebrity species, but it is quite camera shy. In contrast, the bobcat is at home on the stage, and will calmly, and in the middle of the day, walk across the patio of a neighboring home with its cubs in tow.

In all, nearly 200 species of bird, nearly 80 species of fish, and many mammals, reptiles and amphibians, are found at the Upper Bay, the largest of only a few remaining natural estuaries in southern California. Also known as the Back Bay, this important wildlife refuge lies in the heart of Newport Beach. The more than 1 square mile of open space is truly the backyard for local residents.

Come join the Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends (NBNF) at the Back Bay Science Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday for the first annual Newport Bay Celebrity Species Symposium. Wildlife experts will spend the morning giving presentations on endangered birds (including the light-footed clapper rail), oysters and pond turtles. In the afternoon there will be a selection of field trips from which to choose, including a boat trip to explore areas of Newport Bay where eelgrass has historically been found.

From noon until 4 p.m., there will also be a free open house with more than 20 poster and video presentations on various research and monitoring topics, as well as tours of the teaching laboratory and the Orange County Health Care Agency Water Quality Laboratory, which are both part of the Back Bay Science Center.

The California Department of Fish and Game, the city, O.C. Parks and NBNF will have booths where you can obtain information on programs and projects being conducted here at Newport Bay. The poster and video presentations will showcase the work of various naturalists involved in habitat and wildlife monitoring, recipients of NBNF research mini grants and others.

This is your chance to see "Babe" and other bobcats on camera and learn how these majestic creatures co-exist with humans in an urban environment. We will also be showing a few of the local villains such as some of the harmful bacteria and micro toxins sometimes found in the waters in or entering the bay.

There is one important new item on the symposium agenda. At its annual meeting earlier this month, the NBNF membership voted to change the name of the organization to Newport Bay Conservancy to reflect its expanding role at Newport Bay and in the Newport Bay watershed, which occupies an area of about 154 square miles of central Orange County. Board President Blake Anderson will formally announce the new name and provide a brief overview of our exciting vision for the future.

For details and program reservations, go to

ROGER MALLETT is executive director of Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends.

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