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Biologist Explores Alaska for Falcon Nesting Areas

May 31, 1987|Herbert J. Vida

This very minute, J. A. (Zak) Ball, 35, of Anaheim is maneuvering his kayak down the clear-running, 150-mile Noatak River in Alaska, surveying nesting areas of the peregrine falcon.

On land, he and partner Randy (Rod) Stadler of Mammoth Lakes could meet caribou, wolves, black and grizzly bears and lynx that live close to the river.

"I'll likely encounter things that bring me close to the edge," said Ball, an executive with an Anaheim venture-capital firm that is helping to fund the monthlong trip. "But life itself is danger, isn't it?"

The object of the trip, which will be followed by another in July, is to find nesting grounds where peregrine falcons bred in captivity can be released. Last year other researchers discovered four sites where the falcons live.

The river, situated 350 miles northwest of Fairbanks, "is fast becoming one of the most popular wilderness river trips for recreationalists in Alaska," he said, "so it's important to document its historical use . . . prior to possible human disturbance."

Protecting the environment and wildlife became a cause for Ball after a near-fatal car accident in 1977 that gave him "a death experience."

"That gave me a different perspective on life and death," he said in an interview in his "vandominium," a converted milk truck he uses to locate falcons in the Sierra. "I want to feel like I'm making a contribution to this planet."

Before the accident, Ball was not so committed to such fieldwork as the river trip, but spent time giving slide and film shows about falcons, which have been placed on the state's endangered species list.

He and wife, Debbie Jo Bird, ("Her name is kind of ironic, isn't it?") are caring for an injured falcon in their home.

"Falcons would become extinct if it weren't for people like me and many others," he said. Ball recently returned from Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra where he and five others flew by helicopter to document a peregrine falcon sighting. "We're hoping the falcon is trying to attract a mate," said Ball, a raptor biologist.

He said a dozen falcons have been released during the past three years to set up nests in the Kings Canyon area.

In another venture, Ball said he plans to fly falcons over the Woodbridge area in Irvine to rid the area of coots, a bird that has plagued the community for several years. "We're hoping falcons will scare the coots out of there," he said.

Nissa K. Diederich, 17, set an almost impossible goal for herself as a first-grader. She didn't want to miss a day of school, as she had in kindergarten with the chicken pox.

Despite some close calls, including being hospitalized one afternoon last year with severe stomach cramps, she has had a perfect attendance record and expects to reach her goal when she graduates June 17.

"Highly unusual," said El Toro High School attendance clerk Barbara (Jean) Bussinger. "Every student misses one or two days a year in high school."

"After I got a perfect attendance award in the first grade," Diederich said, "I knew I could get an award every year just by going to school. I kept it going even after they quit giving attendance awards in junior high."

She said some students thought her goal was stupid and wondered why she did it. "No one I know can say, 'I never missed a day of school,' " she said. "I can."

In 1921, Anna Stetson dropped out of Nebraska's Crawford High School 11th-grade class to work on the family farm. Now 84, she finished her graduation requirements and was awarded a high school diploma in Nebraska. Crawford High made her an honorary member of the class of 1922.

But wait. Every graduate ought to have a graduation party, so the folks at Disneyland, alerted by Nebraska educators, invited the widowed great-great-grandmother to its 27th annual Grad Night celebration.

"Mrs. Stetson had a good time and left about midnight," Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth said, "but she was back the next day with some relatives from Southern California and took in all the sights at the park."

Of 8,876 slogan entries, "You Can in America--You Will in Russia!" won first prize of $650 for Cypress High School senior Nathan Lewis in the Americanism Educational League's 17th annual patriotic slogan contest.

Acknowledgments--Retired Orange Coast College dietitian Nell M. Woodward of Villa Park, who established the college's food management program and helped form food programs at colleges in Honolulu and on Maui and Kauai, was named winner of the prestigious Delores Nyhus Memorial Award for dietitians.

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