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That's not snow

A heron colony in Marina del Rey makes a mess and halts bulldozers.

June 08, 2004|Mira Tweti | Special to The Times

A flock of herons has turned a corner of Marina del Rey into a loud, messy bird tenement -- one that some nearby human residents are eager to protect -- in part to save their own homes.

The 38 pairs of birds that live in the palm and cypress grove on the edge of the Ballona Wetlands, as close as 7 yards from Villa Venetia apartment balconies, are now rearing chicks.

No one would blink at sparrows, but the adult birds stand about 4 feet tall and in flight look like gawky gliders.

"They get really loud," says neighbor Glen Sagon. "It's like living in a den of pterodactyls."

Besides making noise, they produce a blizzard of white droppings.

Folks cover their cars and the sidewalk appears blanketed with snow.

"There would be shooting around here if it were up to me," says resident Jason Ouvaroff. "I love animals, but they are too big."

Most apartment dwellers, however, defend the birds.

"With cats and dogs you put up with fur on your sofa," says Lorin Roche, who moved into the complex 11 years ago and has watched the heron colony grow. "We put up with stuff with the herons, but we get so much from them. They are amazing."

Male herons build a nest and lure a female. When she lands, he departs and returns with a branch while calling to her.

She adds the branch to the nest, and the pair may bond for life, says Sierra Club biologist Roy van de Hoek, who has studied herons for 10 years.

When the company that owns Villa Venetia sought to replace the apartments with a $130-million high-rise condominium project, it pruned trees to prevent nesting. Tenants sent e-mails and contacted the governor in protest. "One tenant perched on a cypress branch at 5 a.m. to prevent any pruning," says former resident K.C. Mancebo. "It was an urban standoff."

As matters stand, the property is in escrow, and the owners say they expect the buyers to protect the birds.

"With care, thought and planning, peaceful coexistence is possible," says a representative of the company that owns the property.

Meanwhile, the California Coastal Commission has designated the trees an environmentally sensitive habitat.

As such, it warrants protection, says Sarah Christie, legislative coordinator for the commission.

"We have an obligation to protect sensitive habitat," says Christie. "We are fully prepared to intervene if anyone pulls out their chain saw."

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