Michael "Mickey" Long: Los Angeles Naturalist

Preliminary Notes Toward a Biography with an Autobiographical Quote
by
Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Conservation Biologist
for the
Ballona Institute
and
Wetlands Action Network
Playa del Rey, California
2005


Michael Long is a superb Los Angeles County scientific naturalist. He is a man with an abundance of kindness and patience that demonstrates his passion and pure knowledge of nature and natural history of Los Angeles County everyday. As an employee of the County of Los Angeles for over 35 years, he has seen the rise and fall of the Natural Areas Program of the Department of Parks and Recreation. From his early years at Whittier Narrows to his current position at Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park, he has observed the natural history and environmental history of Los Angeles County, over the last 40 years. He has intimite knowledge of several county natural areas in Los Angeles County. These include Eaton Canyon, Catalina Island, Placerita Canyon, Vasquez Rocks, Devils Punchbowl, Charmlee Park, and several desert sanctuaries. One of these desert natural areas is a wildflower sanctuary that is named for Theodore Payne.

Michael Long is affectionately known by his friends as "Mickey." He is married with two sons and lives in the Pasadena area. He grew up in southern California, and attended the California State University Los Angeles. Apparently, almost immediately after graduation with a degree in biology from the university, he landed a job with the County of Los Angeles in its Department of Parks and Recreation. His long career with the County has been productive and good for him. Of course, one of the best ways to learn the biography of a naturalist is through their writings. For example, here is a direct autobiographical quote by Mickey Long about himself, written in 1993, which appeared in his book entitled Birds of Whittier Narrows Recreation Area: Los Angeles County, California:

"Michael (Mickey) Long is currently Director of Eaton Canyon Nature Center and worked in the County's Natural Areas system since 1971. He obtained his degree in Zoology from California State University Los Angeles, taught college environmental biology and human ecology courses and currently teaches bird identification and biology classes at the Nature Center. Mickey's research interests are in ornithology, herpetology, and botany. He is a licensed bird bander, past president of the Pasadena Audubon Society and is active in several conservation organizations. It was while working as a naturalist at Whittier Narrows Nature Center that he became interested in birds."

That quote is just a brief summary of the life of Mickey Long, but there are more places to search in order to understand the life of Mickey Long as a Los Angeles County naturalist and biologist. For example, each month, there is a newsletter called Paw Prints which is published by the Eaton Canyon Nature Center Associates. Periodically, Mickey Long writes a cover article for Paw Prints which is called "Naturalist's Notebook." It is a wonderful place to read the ruminations of this fine naturalist and to contemplate about his philosophy of nature. One of those essays from Mickey's Naturalist's Notebook often resurfaces in my mind, not only because it is about an earlier naturalist and botanical history, but also because it was written just as I was hired by the County of Los Angeles as a Park Superintendent for the "Natural Areas" program. In addition, this article also gives us a glimpse into Mickey Long's research interests, which I think is worthy to reprint here in order to understand Mickey as a naturalist and scientist. The article of which I speak is What's a Narrow Endemic and who was Greata? (One thing leads to another) and it is reprinted below as follows:

PAW PRINTS
January 1996
Naturalist's Notebook
by
Mickey Long
What's a Narrow Endemic and who was Greata? (One thing leads to another)
"More than twenty years ago (that long!?) I typed up a list of rare plants of the San Gabriel Mountains with an idiea of spreading interest in special species right outside our "backdoor." As I retyped and modified this list through several different computers, one plant remained and with little additional information. Greata's Aster (Aster greatae) was listed as ranging from "2000-4000 ft., s. face of San Gabriel Mts., Los Angeles and San Bernardino cos." That's it . . . nowhere else! My curiosity really had been piqued by the listing of "Eaton Canyon" as the type locality (place from which the plant had been discovered and named). I'd spent alot of time in the south facee of these mountains, between these elevations. Why had I never noticed this plant?"

"A plant like this one is called a "narrow endemic", a species with a relatively limited distribution, sometimes restricted to one mountain range. One quiet Friday this Fall, I got around to mounting and labeling a specimen of this pretty Aster collected and given to us by Rosetta Bently, a California Native Plant Society member. She'd found it along the stream below Clear Creek Outdoor School off Angeles Forest Highway, where several of us on a hike had finally seen them growing. The spark of twenty years ago was rekindled, and seeking further information about exactly where in Eaton Canyon this plant was found and wanting to know more about who Greata was, I began searching through referencnes to follow the trail. My Abrams Flora yielded that this low shrub in the sunflower family was named by Parish in 1902. Samuel Bonsall Parish's (1882-1928) name is commonly attached to a number of plants in southern California, but how was he associated with Greata? Jaeger's Desert Wild Flowers, always a good source of biographical information, elaborated that Louis A. Greata (1857-1911) was an amateur San Francisco botanist, who with Dr. Harvey Monroe Hall (a California professor of botany) made a lengthy trip in the early 1900's in search of California Compositae (like Asters!), "traveling with a horse named Molly and a buckboard fitted with water casks and an umbrella." I know they got down to the north Salton Sea since the Orocopia Sage, Salvia greatae, bears that same species patronym and they found another new shrub, Purple Bush, named the next year Tetrcoccus hallii. This later desert trip in 1905 finds Greata living in southern California, as Hall's notebook says: "Apr. 20 I took Mr. Louis Greata aboard at Coachella. he was living here with his family for his health."

"Prior to 1902 did Molly and the bouncing buckboard take Hall and Greata up the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, where they hiked down into upper Eaton Canyon (above 2000 ft., perhaps around Idlehour) to find the new Aster? I'm hot on the trail."

Like Mickey Long, I'm hot on the trail about Louis Greata but for a different reason. I discovered that Greata collected another member of the sunflower family, Helenium purberlum near downton Los Angeles in a marsh that was named "Kurtz Street Marsh." This marsh was also the home (habitat and niche) of yet an additional sunflower, now considered extinct, which was Helianthus oliveri. It's name was subsequently changed to Helianthus parishii nuttallii and is now commonly referred to as the Los Angeles Sunflower. Unfortunately, the Kurtz Street Marsh was destroyed for the expansion of the railroad yards about 100 years ago in 1902. My research also led to Samuel Parish, whose name is part of the scientific nomenclature for this Sunflower. I also began to research into the life of Anstruther Davidson because he wrote about the Los Angeles Sunflower at the Kurtz Street Marsh more than 100 years ago. Anstruther also grew this sunflower in his garden as an experiment and found that it grew to about 17 feet high. The history of our early botanists has now finally led to several others such as LeRoy Abrams and to Ernest Braunton. A few of these people that I am doing biographical research about are mentioned in Mickey Long's article, such as Parish and Abrams. It is my belief that the past stories of our earlier botanists and naturalists will help us to understand the rich history of the early residents of California into the riches of nature and natural history in Los Angeles and southern California. This appears to also be an interest of Mickey Long. Natuarlists often think alike.

Sometimes, Mickey writes a memorium for Paw Prints and this is a time to learn more about the humanist side of Mickey Long, not only as a naturalist but as a person. It is yet another way to find a glimpse into the life our great naturalist of Los Angeles County, Mickey Long when he writes about another naturalist that he deems worthy of an obituary. For example, one instance of this kind was a memorial article that he wrote about Arden Brame in Volume 22, Number 10 (October 2004) of Paw Prints. As a subscriber to Paw Prints, I noticed with interest, the memorium for Arden Brame. The memorium has an abundance of information on the history of the "Natural Areas" program of the County of Los Angeles. Of course, this has direct relevance to me also because I have been employee of the "Natural Areas" program for 3 of my 9 years in the Department of Parks and Recreation. The memorium allowed me an insight into the history of the "Natural Areas" and it taught me new knowledge, via Mickey Long, about the County's nature centers. I think it is worthwhile to reprint here the entirety of the Arden Brame memorium as written by Mickey Long:

IN MEMORIUM: ARDEN BRAME - by Mickey Long
"It is with sadness we report the passing of Arden H. Brame, supervisor of Eaton Canyon Nature Center during two periods, 1965 through 1968 and 1970 through 1978. Arden, who died August 19, 2004 at the age of 70, became the second supervisor of the then-new Nature Center just two years after its construction in 1963."

"His primary professional interest was herpetology (reptile and amphibian study) and Arden was especially known for his research with salamanders, naming many new species from North-, Central-, and South America, and publishing over 50 scientific papers. A specialty of his was the Slender Salamander, genus Batrachoseps. I have strong personal memories of field trips with Arden and his wife Pat to two desert springs in the Santa Rosa and Inyo Mountains to study newly-discovered slender salamanders at oases where they had not been expected to exist. We co-authored a paper on the odd tail-raising defensive behavior of the Desert Slender Salamander. Many friends will also remember that one of the bathtubs at the Brame house was devoted to a live, three-foot-plus Japanese Giant Salamander."

"Arden was president of Pasadena Audubon Society from 1971 to 1976, and it was he who encouraged me to join the Board of Pasadena Audubon Society in the early 1970s, shortly after I came to work for the nature centers. Arden had a strong conservation ethic and worked hard to acquire land for public use at the early La Vina and Cobb Estate properties. He was also good at introducing young naturalist to important contact people in the field. Arden was a confirmed (hopeless) bibliophile and was generous with his books, donating many hard-to-get items to the Eaton Canyon Libary in early years. This made literature available to staff and public for research and enjoyment. He held a research position at the County Natural History Museum from 1968 to 1970. Arden developed a strong interest in genealogy and plunged into this study vigorously as he did into salamanderss, joining numerous societies."

"During the course of study he discovered he had an older half-brother of the same name; thus, he proudly became Arden H. Brame Jr., II. Arden was preceded in death by his wife Pat, also a Nature Center employee, who performed art and display work for all for all of the nature centers then in the County system."

There are many fragments of knowledge to learn about Mickey Long from his four paragraph obituary of Arden Brame. In the obituary, we can see and trace the rise of the Los Angeles County Nature Centers. At this time, I would like to focus on one written passage that interested me, namely birds. In regard to the Pasadena Audubon Society, we see that Arden encouraged Mickey to become active in the Society. This he did, in fact, to this day, the Pasadena Audubon Society, meets at the County of Los Angeles Nature Center each month in Eaton Canyon. I recall, now roughly a decade ago, giving a lecture at a meeting for Pasadena Audubon Society about the Carrizo Plain in the mid 1990s. I do not recall now if Mickey or Arden were present, but I have perception that Arden was there, at least in spirit, and I am also not sure if Mickey attended my lecture either. I will have to ask him some day. Interestingly, in 2004, Mickey Long led the members of the Pasadena Audubon Society on their Carrizo Plain birding trip to San Luis Obispo County. I smiled when I learned that Mickey Long was leading the Carrizo birding trip as it made me realize yet another linkage between my colleague and friend, Mickey Long. Mickey Long has also had a genuine interest in Santa Catalina Island. This island is one of the eight Channel Islands, two of which are in Los Angeles County. The other one is San Clemente Island. If not for Mickey, I would not have had an opportunity to live and work on an Island for two years. I also had an opportunity to spend one week on San Clemente Island, due in part to my employment with the County of Los Angeles. Mickey assisted me in numerous ways as a fellow colleague while I was assigned to Catalina Island. Mickey and his Eaton Canyon Center donated books for the natural history library at the new Santa Catalina Island Interpretive Nature Center, which I managed for two years. Mickey gave me inspiration and guidance during those years. He gave freely an abundance of information of science and natural history regarding the amphibians and reptiles of Santa Catalina Island. Unfortunately, the County of Los Angeles surrendered its unique Interpretive Nature Center in 2005, to the Catalina Conservancy, which is managed by the Wrigley Family and the City of Avalon, located on Catalina Island. The closure of the County of Los Angeles nature center on Catalina, brings to an end, its parks and recreation management and a 30 year link of County Parks via its nature study, education, and recreation on that beautiful "California Channel Island."

I first came to know Mickey Long in 1995, when I attended a docent training class for naturalist at Eaton Canyon Nature Center. I learned some interesting natural history perspectives from Mickey Long in that class. I became an official volunteer for the County of Los Angeles as a result of that class. A year later, in 1996, I was hired to be a supervisor for the new Catalina Island Interpretive Nature Center, located in Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island. My new position in the Department of Parks and Recreation with the County of Los Angeles was a unique opportunity for me as a naturalist to live on an island. I kept in close contact with Mickey Long, who now became a colleague of mine, as we were both supervisors of nature centers. Mickey Long mentored me to a certain degree, and I attempted to model myself in my work after his style. He assisted me in my transition back to the mainland in my assignment at the Placerita Canyon Natural Center. From there I had "park supervisor" assignments at Victoria Regional County Park, Jesse Owens Park, and Alondra Community Regional County Park, where I currently work. In each of these assignments, Mickey Long was there if I needed to talk to a colleague with many of the same interests, education, training, and expertise. Mickey Long is a good employee to model oneself after, but it is also tough in the bureaucray of the County of Los Angeles with so many political factors and factions. Mickey Long has navigated very well the politics of the County system for 35 years as a public servant and bureaucrat in a very large bureaucracy. I have just completed my first decade of service with the County of Los Angeles and it is comforting to know that Mickey Long is there at Eaton Canyon Nature Center. I wil always cherish his inscription to me in his book, Birds of Whittier Narrows Recreation Area: Los Angeles County, California which reads as "For Roy, Good Luck with your endeavors! Mickey Long. June 13, 2003."


Afterword
by
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
June 5, 2005
June 17, 2005 (revised)
June 30, 2005 (revised)
Biography and autobiography combined together offer unique glimpses into the stories of fascinating people. Curiously, the naturalists of Los Angeles County are seldom discussed by the public or by naturalists and scientists. Mickey Long has earned a biography because of his dedication and kindness as a naturalist, educator, and scientist of southern California from an era of our last 40 years in Los Angeles County. Does any birder, native plant enthusiast, entomologist, or herpetologist, living today in 2005, genuinely realize the treasure that we have in Mickey Long? Do we genuinely know and recognize the accomplishments and explorations of Mickey Long in southern California and Los Angeles County? As all the genuine naturalists are dying off and disappearing from universities, who will do natural history and classical ecology in the future? It is comforting for me as a naturalist and ecologist to know, at least, that the naturalist and colleague known to us as Mickey, is still with us as one of our genuine scientific naturalists. I would like to conclude this biography about Mickey Long with some of his scientific writing because I can think of no better way to give awareness and appreciation from one scientific naturalist to another one, than via a piece of his science that was presented at a a sciene conference. Therefore, presented here, is an abstract written by Michael "Mickey" Long for his scientific presentation at the 2005 Southern California Academy of Sciences conference in Los Angeles:

SPECIAL STATUS BIRDS OF THE WHITTIER NARROWS BASIN, LOS ANGELES COUNTY
M.C. Long. Los Angeles County Natural Areas, 1750 N. Altadena Dr., Pasadena, CA
"The 1500 acre Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and adjacent San Gabriel River and Rio Hondo Rivers in South El Monte supports a remarkable diversity of bird species. A total of 293 bird species (298 species and subspecies) has been recorded in the area through April 2005. Particularly important to birds is the presence of year-round surface water in the form of ponds, lakes, and streams and the associated riparian vegetation. Analysis of over forty years of records resulted in the publication of the first comprehensive, annotated work on bird species occurrence and seasonal use of the area (currently under revision). The area supports over fifty Special Status bird species (some seventy species from the State Special Animals List have occurred) such as Least Bittern and Least Bell's Vireo, and these are highlighted as to seasonal distribution and breeding status. Recent changes in the status of several species, such as establishment of heron and cormorant rookeries and nesting yellow warblers, and current land use conflicts and management difficulties are briefly discussed."