Perched on a fire hydrant at the edge of Oakland's Chinatown, I sat waiting. It was a sunny, early spring day, and I was on my lunch break. But instead of a meal, I had an emergency on my hands: a juvenile heron had fallen from its nest to the pavement below.
It was my first day as a heron monitor for the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Many people who live or work near certain large ficus trees in downtown Oakland have discovered their avian neighbors by way of the loud squawking calls from above and white-washed sidewalks under foot.
Evicted from better nesting sites at Lake Merritt several years ago, these big blue birds went on to find less ideal real estate. Despite their unlikely digs, the birds make up the Bay Area's largest rookery of black-crowned night herons.
As a volunteer, I would monitor these intrepid birds in nearly a dozen street trees over the next few months of nesting season. Locating a juvenile that might be injured or grounded was a priority.
That day I had reached the last tree on my map without seeing any birds on the ground. I scanned the area and eventually made out a shadowy lump at the edge of an old blacktop, behind a tall fence. Through my binoculars I saw it was a brown-winged juvenile that was alive and, thankfully, clear of traffic.