Natural Perspectives: A wet and wild weekend adventure

Vic and I hope that your newspaper arrived dry this morning after six days of that darned pineapple express. We feel like we've been living under a big fire hose. Six solid days of rain belong in Seattle, not here in sunny Southern California.

We're sure that most of you had enough sense to stay dry indoors. Regrettably, we lack such sense. We had things to do outdoors, so we just did them despite the rain.

Vic participated in the Audubon Society's Christmas bird counts Saturday and Sunday this past weekend. Rain or shine, birders go out on their assigned days to count all the birds they can find in their assigned area. Saturday, Vic was assigned to Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park. He trudged over hill and down dale, searching for birds. He saw only four. The birds had enough sense to stay under cover. Fortunately, he heard quite a few calling.

He arrived home drenched Saturday. Ah, but his loving wife (that would be me) had a favor to ask. At the Bolsa Chica Conservancy's Christmas party last Friday, Claire Grozinger, Ross Griswold and several other docents reported spotting a store mannequin in the flood control channel. This naked female mannequin had already resulted in several calls to the police department. Apparently, people thought it might be a dead person in the water.

Saturday, I felt like getting some exercise, rain or not. I asked Vic to accompany me on a search-and-rescue mission to recover the mannequin. My long-suffering husband put his wet coat back on. We searched our garage to find long-handled tools. The best we could fine were a long-handled pruning saw and an animal catching pole. We grabbed them and slogged down the Bolsa Chica trail in a driving rainstorm. The only other people out there were students from a Golden West College geology class. Seems that geologists don't have any more sense than biologists.

We noted several police cars parked on Pacific Coast Highway along both inner and outer Bolsa Bays with their overhead emergency lights twirling. As we hiked along, we saw a couple of beach lifeguard trucks slowly cruise by. Uh oh. Something was up. We hoped that it wasn't us that they had come for. Two people walking in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in the pouring rain while carrying a large pruning saw and a long-handled animal catcher would look a bit suspicious.

Approaching us on the trail were two police officers. I made the assumption that someone else had reported a dead body in the channel. I asked them if they were looking for this alleged dead body. They said no, someone had reported that a car had gone in the water. I was relieved that it wasn't us that they were looking for.

Vic and I continued our hike down to the flood control channel. A huge pile of plastic debris had washed up against the floating yellow rubber boom that holds back trash during storms. A series of these booms upstream in the Wintersburg flood control channel helps to keep debris from washing into Bolsa Bay and Huntington Harbour. Flood control workers come by after storms to clean out the detritus of our modern civilization. They load it into dump trucks and haul it to the dump.

We scanned the debris for the plastic dummy but didn't see it. We saw balls of various kinds, empty motor oil containers, and all manner of Styrofoam junk. But no mannequin. It didn't appear that the police found the alleged car in the water, either. They turned off their rooftop light bars and left. We turned back into the wind and plodded through puddles back to our car.

A call later to the police department revealed that the lifeguards had fished out the mannequin the day before we were there and disposed of it in the trash. The public information officer also said that they had searched for the alleged car in the water, enlisting the aid of the police helicopter as well as lifeguards who went into Bolsa Bay looking for it. They even brought back the reporting party to point out the exact site where he thought he had seen a car go into the drink. But they found no car. So all was well that ended well.

The next day, Vic had another Audubon bird count. This time he was assigned to Limestone Canyon, part of the foothills area managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. Again, the birds had more sense than the birders. After a three-hour hike, his little group had found practically no birds.

Vic came back even wetter Sunday than he had Saturday. There was not one dry thread in his jeans. They were as waterlogged as if they had just come out of a washing machine with a broken spin cycle. His boots were full of water. Days later, they still hadn't dried out. His wallet was so soaked, he had to spread out his paper money to dry. The pictures of the grandkids had stuck together. The water had even wicked up his T-shirt that he had on under the other layers, leaching out stain from his leather belt and staining the shirt.

The tally of different species and numbers of birds from this year's south and inland Orange County bird counts are going to be quite low. Vic is hoping for better weather for the coastal bird count Jan. 2.

Heavy storms like those this past week make special problems. City workers from the public works department have to work day and night to keep storm drains clear so water will drain away. But here on the coast, a heavy rain combined with a high tide still can cause flooding even when storm drains are clear.

A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes on to keep us, our houses and our roads safe. During storms like this, workers from city public works, Caltrans and police and fire departments do a lot to protect us. As we approach Christmas, let's all say a prayer of thanks for these unsung heroes who battle the consequences of weather on our behalf. We hope you have a happy holiday.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.

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