Shira, the one-year-old Harris hawk, is getting her job done just by chillaxing on her perch under the shade of a blue tent. She's at work on Monarch Beach, at the far north end of Salt Creek State Beach in Dana Point, to keep the gulls out of the scour pond. Although the creek water is treated before it gets to the ocean, first it pools up into a big lagoon that seagulls love to use as a toilet. According to the fictional Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, the TV show that dramatizes the hunt for our worst monsters, seagulls are infected with bacteria that no known antibiotic can kill in humans. So, keep up the good work, Shira.
As the Weekly reported in May, Heal the Bay had Monarch Beach coming in at a truly disgraceful Number 4 on their annual Top Ten Beach Bummers list of California beaches with the filthiest waters. Dana Point and the county have acted quickly as far as bureaucracies go to get the stank under control. After an assessment to confirm that the many hundreds of pooping birds who rule the pond were indeed the menace, the City Council passed a resolution to authorize "the use of a falconer as an environmentally friendly method to manage the bird population and encourage the birds to reside elsewhere."
Reside elsewhere? Absolutely. Falconry has been successfully used at Poche Beach, between Capo and San Clemente, for the last four years, keeping it off the Beach Bummer list. Adam's Falconry Services has worked their magic at Poche, and for the past three weeks Shira and her human partner, Christian Karapetian, have shared the duties with another human/bird-of-prey team to keep the gulls out of the scour pond at Monarch Beach. Meanwhile, Monarch Beach Resort (formerly St. Regis) still conveys their AAA Five Diamond guests here via tram. Their website still boasts a "Pristine Ocean Oasis." Maybe guests are warned in the tram . . .?
Christian, who raised Shira, says people like falconry because it's a natural way to keep the gulls out of the water—no poison, no lives taken. While we're talking, a couple comes up and greets both bird and keeper by name. Shira turns her back when the curious come to talk, regarding us over her shoulder to make sure we're cool. "She's sassy," Christian says. The beach-walkers head off into the morning fog, then Christian gestures in the direction they've walked, saying the gulls are all down by the cliffs where the beach dead-ends. Shira's job is to keep them out of the pond, and there's not a gull or crow in sight. But at four o'clock, he'll pack up Shira and all the gear, and as he's driving away he can see the gulls drop back in one after another. "They come as soon as I leave," he says.
There are other non-deadly methods in vogue to control these tenacious scavengers—sheepdogs who must run constantly to chase off the shitters; decoy coyotes and owls; all kinds of noisy, glittery, spinning gadgets; large balloons painted with terrifying anime-inspired predator faces—but none have what Shira has: the very real physical threat birds of prey pose to the life of a gull, and the gulls know it. Shira may still be sporting her baby hawk feathers, but the seagulls know she's lethal.
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So far, Shira's got one adult feather. "She'll be all dark brown, solid, still with this red barring." Christian says. Since he and Shira have been working the beach, he's seen an osprey, also known as a sea hawk, taking a bath in the scour pond. And he's keeping his eye out for the protected snowy plovers, as Adam's Falconry is rigorous in following the environmental protocols of their work.
Shira does her job so well from her faux-turfed perch that she doesn't need to soar much during her eight-hour shift. I'm heading back down there right now to see if I can catch her in flight. Falconers will be on duty every day except Saturday until the next reassessment by the powers that be.