Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bling of Brightwater

Through the glass darkly: Everything you want in a shorebird, and so much less!

Sometime last week, Glenn and I were talking about the Wall of Death surrounding the Brightwater development at Bolsa Chica, and the conversation went off on a weird tangent.

"'Brightwater.' That reminds me of that film Ring of Bright Water," Glenn said.

I told him it sounded vaguely familiar, but I hadn't seen it. "What's it about?"

"It's about this man who keeps a wild otter as a pet, and it trashes his house."

"And then what happens?"

"He lets it go, and it gets killed."


I knew there had to be a moral in there somewhere.

The Wall of Death has been getting ample coverage, both from the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times , as well as through several other local outlets. And with this coverage comes the inevitable backlash: How could you idiots be so worried about a handful of birds when there are so many Really Important Adult Matters at stake?

These Really Important Matters fall into two groups (1) homelessness/the war in Iraq/health care and (2) Property values. Yes, I know world peace is a more urgent goal than taking down a glass wall in Huntington Beach, but birders have the knowledge and resources to do something about the latter and not the former. And I've noticed that those who invoke intractable social problems to trivialize birders' concerns are generally not the ones doing a whole lot to solve these big problems, either. So no, I don't feel like a moral midget.

And as for the second kind of Really Important I mentioned to another birder this weekend during another Sea and Sage walk along the wall, it seems that just about any kind of selfish, unsafe, or antisocial behavior instantly becomes acceptable if one utters the magic words PROPERTY VALUES! (You're having Nelson Mandela as a house guest next weekend?! BUT WHAT ABOUT MY PROPERTY VALUES???).

And as a letter-writer to the Times noted today, it's ironic that people will be paying a premium to live by a nature reserve, but will be blocked off from it by a wall that kills exactly what makes the reserve special.

To their credit, the Brightwater people have installed a windscreen behind the chain-link fence that they recently erected behind the glass wall. And they promise to cover the glass wall with decals that are unobtrusive to the human eye, but reflect ultraviolet light conspicuous to birds. The Audubon conservationist leading our last two walks along the wall says these have proven effective in some cases in preventing bird collisions.

I do hope this works, and unlike A Ring of Bright Water, this Brightwater epic will have a happy ending. The worst-case scenario will be like the movie: some wild force cannot be tamed, or made compatible with suburban life. And everyone involved will suffer because of it.


Anonymous said...

Are you aware of this happening anywhere else? I'm not being critical of your opinion, but I've been a real estate appraiser for 30 years, and I've seen these glass fences all over Orange County (for example, above the parking area above Harriet Weider Park) and have never heard of them being a major hazard to birds. I tend to think the bird crashes will stop once the yards are landscaped and people move into the houses, but I am certainly no expert. Just wanted to ask the question. I enjoy your blog.

Felicia said...

Thanks for writing! I suspect that the wall at Bolsa Chica is more problematic for birds than other, smaller walls because of both its size and its location.

The issue at Bolsa Chica is that the wall was built in a nature reserve that attracts thousands of birds--many of whom feed and breed in the exact area where the wall is located. And the wall is on top of a hill, which means birds accustomed to flying high over the lower part of the reserve to land on the hill will be likely to hit it.

Some bird experts I've spoken to believe that the eventual gardens and vegetation around the houses might even make matters worse--small birds are attracted to backyard environments, and the reflections of backyard shrubbery on the glass--not the transparency of the glass itself--could confuse birds, causing potential collisions.

Some people have asked if the birds will eventually learn the wall is there and stop crashing into it. Unfortunately, you can't learn if you're dead--and to my knowledge, birds can't come back from the afterlife to warn their cohorts not to repeat their errors.

And returning to a human perspective on the matter: I certainly can't be the only one who believes (completely independently of bird concerns) that the wall is butt-ugly. It just screams "Eighties" and not in a good way!