Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nature Fun at the LA County Arboretum

Here's a fun activity for the whole family--okay, maybe not teenaged girls with a mortal fear of mud. We recently tromped around the LA County Arboretum, with guide Colleen Biles, in search of turtles. The adventure was one of the Arboretum's monthly Family Nature Walks. Our group included 10-year-old girl scouts, a few infants in strollers, grandparents, toddlers and preschoolers.  

Biles helped us distinguish between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. Terrapins are "semi aquatic," living both in water and on land. The Arboretum is full of them, especially (non-native) Red-Eared Sliders. This terrapin is native to the southeastern US. It's been a popular pets for years, and because of this, the animal has let loose in parks around the world. (Please, do not abandon a pet in the wild. It may not survive, or it could displace or predate on native animals.) 

Children on the Arboretum walk enjoyed throwing (dog) food into the incredibly murky lake, and Biles scooped up turtles for closer inspection. (She wore gloves because these reptiles can carry salmonella.) 

I was thrilled to get a close-up look at this Black-Crowned Night-Heron. They're beautiful birds, and usually more shy. But Biles says they've figured out that people here throw food that bring fish to the water's surface. 

Biles says the Arboretum usually discourages people from feeding wildlife, but if you're going to do it, please skip the junk food and crackers, and toss some vegetable scraps.

This squirrel also seemed aware that people=food. He was unfazed by toddlers zooming past him.  Eastern Fox Squirrels were also introduced to the Los Angeles area. (Our native tree squirrel is grayer and less common in urban areas.) Story is some civil war vets brought them West and kept them in cages at the Sawtelle Veterans home--until some administrator thought it improper to feed the critters on the government dime. So they were released. Sounds like folklore. But unlike the parrot stories, academics say there's good evidence for this one.

My son also enjoyed inspecting goose feathers and climbing a tortoise-shaped rock pile. He was having so much fun, I had to lure him back to the car with the promise of seeing more peacocks.

The Family Nature Walks are free with admission to the Arboretum. They're usually held the first Saturday of the month at 10:00 a.m. (No outing on July 4.) Space is limited to the first 25 people, but no one was turned away on our visit. 

This summer the Arboretum is offering quite a few family programs, including a storytelling series called Bookworms, KidsArt, and a Gettin' Buggy class on beneficial inspects in the garden (July 25). 

More on The Arboretum and Botanical Gardens of Los Angeles County.

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