Best Place to Ogle Coots Ogling Coots

We have come not to watch avocets, mallards or eared grebes, but to observe the creatures who observe our feathered friends. First, point your binoculars at the American coot (Fulica americana) lazily floating in the marsh. Now pan across and lock in on a different coot, the American Bird Watcher (aves peeper americana). A distant cousin of the more ornery American Birder (burder odious americana), watchers congregate along the pedestrian paths of the 1,550-acre preserve all four seasons of the year and are known for their wrinkled skin, liver spots and plumes of blue, gray or white hair. Whether you are approaching the avian or AARPian, the same rules apply: Do not pet them, do not feed them, and pretend not to notice should they have accidents. Above all, treat the human version with mucho respeto. While others their age planted themselves in recliners to watch endless Matlock reruns, many avid watchers locked arthritic arms to battle forces hellbent on eradicating the biologically sensitive Bolsa Chica wetlands. Ages ago, when rampant development had not yet choked the coast, these wetlands naturally filtered fresh inland waters that flowed toward the shore and salty ocean water that washed inland. Later uses as a gun range, for oil wells and as a flood-control channel left the marshes in such putrid disrepair that county officials seriously entertained land-developer proposals to dig up the wetlands for a marina or pave it over for new neighborhoods. The bird watchers joined environmentalists, Native Americans and forward-thinking local politicians to not only save the wetlands, but to also help to bring them back to their former glory as a shimmering coastal resource. One final tip when it comes to encountering the American Bird Watcher in nature: Stay the hell away during breeding season.

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