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In the center of Oakland, California, is Lake Merritt. People row in it, picnic and jog around it, and it's a place of respite within the city. And it hosts waterbirds such as ducks, geese, egrets, pelicans, cormorants, and coots. A beautifully illustrated field guide by Alex Harris, Birds of Lake Merritt, describes the birds found around the waters of Lake Merritt, its history since the Ohlone peoples have populated it, all the way till today.
The First North American Wildlife Refuge
Written by Camilo Garzón
This is BirdNote.
In the center of Oakland, California, is Lake Merritt. People row in it, picnic and jog around it, and it's a place of respite within the city. And the lake, like Oakland, has always been a refuge of sorts, says journalist Pendarvis Harshaw:
Pendarvis Harshaw: Oakland's diversity is historically a product of people escaping conflict and seeking a safe haven. There's a parallel between the people who've flocked to Oakland and the birds that have made it their home. All colors, shapes and sizes.
Waterbirds like ducks, geese, egrets, pelicans, cormorants, and coots, to name a few. Many people don’t know that this urban lake was also the first wildlife refuge in North America, since 1870.
Alex Harris: Lake Merritt was kind of an early instance of this idea that nature, if we want it to, can be where we are, and we can find it in the cities that we live in.
That’s Alex Harris. He wrote and beautifully illustrated the field-guide, Birds of Lake Merritt. The book describes the birds found around the waters of Lake Merritt, its history since the Ohlone peoples have populated it, all the way till today. People in Oakland have a special bond to the lake’s birds. And one of Lake Merritt’s most beloved birds is the Black-crowned Night Heron, the Official Bird of Oakland since 2019.
That’s thanks to curious Oakland third-graders who wrote a petition to the city.
Alex Harris: One of the kids described the bird as being “funky and cool, just like Oakland,” which I think brilliantly encapsulated everyone's feelings both about the birds and about living in Oakland as well.
This show is also available en español — visit our website, BirdNote dot org, to learn more. I'm Camilo Garzón, from Oakland, California.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Script Editor: Camila Kerwin from the Rough Cut Collective
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Black-crowned Night-Heron ML 136200 recorded by M. Fischer, and Soundscape Xeno Canto 323125 recorded by K. Burton.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote October 2022
Narrator: Camilo Garzón
ID# lakemerritt-01-2022-10-14 lakemerritt-01