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Conservation Continues Despite Pandemic Thanks to Those Dedicated at Sea and Sage Audubon

Sea and Sage Audubon Society in Irvine has been very instrumental in protecting endangered birds like Western Snowy Plovers (pictured) and California Least Terns plus bringing back Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows back to Orange County through wooden nest box programs.


By Laurie Hanson • February 13, 2021

With an abiding love for birds and birdie people, two individuals with the Sea and Sage Audubon Society in Irvine are passionately driven to create a better natural world.

One humble woman who wants to make sure the many members and volunteers at Sea and Sage get credit for all their hard work is Gail Richards. She is in her first year of a three-year term as president of “a dynamic organization.” She has been an active member for 17 years, having spent 6 years on their board of directors.

“Sea and Sage is not any one of us, it is all of us,” said Richards.

Another person very much involved is Sea and Sage Project Director of Education Trude Hurd who has had a love for birds since childhood. She joined National Audubon as a teenager and then began working for Sea and Sage Audubon in 1992.

In 1958, Sea and Sage was one of the largest of three chapters of the National Audubon Society. “While most chapters are only in one city (Whittier Audubon, Los Angeles Audubon), Sea and Sage covers cities along the coast to the inland mountains, hence the name,” said Hurd.

In 1991, they began a partnership with the Irvine Ranch Water District to create environmental programs about wetlands at the newly opened San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. The location had ironically been a former duck hunting club, according to Hurd. A year later, Hurd became “the on-going educational presence” walking into the then empty, newly restored Audubon House.

Their mission is to protect birds, other wildlife, and their habitats through education, citizen science, research, and public policy advocacy, according to Richards.

“We are the trusted experts on bird populations in Orange County,” said Hurd.

One of their current efforts is to eliminate single use plastics, tackling trash, and recycling starting at their own meetings and events. To keep communication open about such ideas after the beginning of the pandemic, the organization quickly moved to online Zoom meetings for their more than 3,000 members and 1,000 volunteers, according to Richards.



Open walkways and nature paths are important in Orange County to the Sea and Sage Audubon Society. They are about more than simply tracking birds. They are vital to preserving natural spaces and species for future generations to enjoy.



“We pivoted to think creatively about what we could do to sustain our programs, embracing Zoom to continue our committee meetings, general meetings, and 4th Tuesday conservation lectures,” Richards explained. “We had to conduct elections via email and suspend all in-person activities.”

“Using CDC protocols, conservation continues our many important bird surveys, and the work to protect nesting Western Snowy Plovers and California Least Terns,” she said. “We are utilizing technology to increase our emphasis on advocacy, by partnering with like-minded organizations to meet virtually with lawmakers who influence environmental policy. We participated in a virtual Advocacy Day with appointments to talk with our local legislative representatives.”

“Two state bills we supported that passed this year were AB 1788 (puts a moratorium on some of the worst anti-coagulant rodenticides) and AB 1426 (protects San Onofre State Beach and critical South County open spaces),” Richards added.

“We are involved in various ways with a variety of community projects such as the UCI Marsh Restoration, Orange County Parks, Safe Trails, Mile Square Park Expansion, O.C. Bird of Prey Center, Dogs at the Mouth of the Santa Ana River, and Los Cerritos Wetlands Restoration,” she said. “We will be presenting our Annual Conservation Awards during our [upcoming] March General Meeting.”

It is because Sea and Sage Audubon is so dedicated to their overall mission that they did not stop outreach efforts despite the pandemic, according to Hurd.

“Our Education Committee had to find new ways to teach about the joy of birds,” explained Richards. “We created educational videos about bird adaptations for the 4-5th grade Outdoor Adventures program and are continuing to produce virtual lessons for the teachers. Last summer, students were invited to participate in a virtual Coastal Birds Camp, which included
many online activities. The ever-popular Birding Skills classes were transformed into a virtual format and are being offered to hundreds of enthusiastic participants.”

According to Hurd, their virtual programs were further developed by the creation of two videos for Santa Ana elementary school classes, and two YouTube videos called “Bird Beaks,” and “Raptors,” both of which she narrated. They also added weekly Facebook and Twitter posts about nature happenings at the marsh by their Nature Walk coordinator.

Their Virtual Coastal Bird Camp offers 28 lessons about coastal shorebirds, endangered coastal birds, and ocean plastics. This camp is self-paced. Children and adults can still enroll and only need to contact Hurd for the password to Google Classroom. There are also virtual science presentations for educators about food webs, language of birds, adaptations, and more which are currently in development, according to Hurd.

Up and coming is Sea and Sage’s improved chapter website which debuts this summer/fall. It features educational videos, PowerPoint presentations, photo galleries and information about common backyard birds. Nature at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary will also be featured, plus tips on how to create a bird-friendly garden, and more … all viewable on their education page, said Hurd.


Pictured is a House Wren spotted a on patio furniture of Sea and Sage Audubon Society Project Director of Education Trude Hurd.


Due to the pandemic, however, seven of their environmental education programs at the wildlife sanctuary had to be cancelled. Those programs included the Outdoor Adventures Science Discovery Program for 4-5th graders, the Nature Day Camps for kids ages 7 to 16 years, their monthly Nature Walks, Summer Bat Walks, Community Tours, Junior Naturalists for teens, and Nature Discovery Kits that are usually on loan to educators. College internships have also been suspended at this time due to COVID-19.

Other activities going on include a 7-week long beginning birding workshop, “Birds of Southern California” coming this fall, and an intermediate/advanced birding workshop, “Sparrow Identification” happening now and going on for another 4 months. Previous year’s workshop topics have been “Birding by Sound,” “Sparrow Identification,” and “Mountain Birds.” Sylvia Gallagher, a dedicated Sea and Sage member, has taught several workshop sessions for more than four decades and has a loyal following, according to Hurd. Additionally, nature conservation lectures are open to the public on the 4th Tuesday of each month and at General Meetings on the 3rd Friday of each month, both currently held on Zoom.

The Sea and Sage Audubon conducts many of their educational, research and conservation projects throughout Orange County but mainly at their Irvine location. Facebook and Instagram have extended their reach across California and the United States. Their Audubon House greets visitors from all over the world and is open 358 days a year.

“Birds are an important part of the ecosystem and provide enjoyment, pest control, plant pollination, economic products, ecotourism, cultural significance and more, and therefore, worthy of our attention and protection,” said Hurd. “They have had huge population declines during our lifetime. Sea and Sage Audubon is working successfully to protect birds and their habitat from further decline and harm.”

The Sea and Sage Audubon Society is supported through donations and grants. Two new programs to engage membership are their Backyard Birding and their Social Get-Togethers which is offered on Zoom. Backyard Birding is vital to their regular bird counts and conservation efforts. For more information on now to participate or to become a member, a volunteer or to donate, please visit online at www.seaandsageaudubon.org