Ballona Institute
322 Culver Blvd.
Playa del Rey, CA 90293
American Bald Eagle
2005 Publication

Lee Chambers' Birds of the 1890s:
Recreation in Los Angeles More Than 100 Years Ago,
and a Note Regarding Santa Monica and Ballona

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Conservation Biologist & Avian Ecologist
Ballona Institute

Lee Chambers was an avid birder of Los Angeles County in the 1890s and also into the early 20th Century. I have been able to piece together a preliminary environmental history of Los Angeles in part, by investigating Lee Chambers and his bird oservations. He publihed his bird fidings but scientists of the day also quoted his fidings from his letter correspodence and field notes.

Lee Chambers' writings were publihed in several ornithology (bird) journals including Avifauna and Condor. In addition, distinguished scientists, such as Joseph Grinnell and Harry Swarth, included him in their writings on birds of California. In fact, "Joe" Grinnell, in 1898, wrote a report of the birds of Los Angeles County, where he quotes Lee Chambers many times for his contribution of bird observations. Grinnell also acknowledges Lee Chambers for his assistance. Here is a quoted passage from Joseph Grinnell's report that mentions Lee Chambers:

"I am also indebted to the following observers for more or less extended local lists or notes: Ralph Arnold, Walter E. Bryant, Lee Chambers, A.J. Cook, Evan Davis, Chas E. Groesbeck, Frank J Illingworth, Frank B. Jewett, Will B. Judson, Harry J. Leland, A.I. McCormick, Virgil W. Owen, Earl D. Parker, Howard Robertson, Edward Simmons, Frank Stephens, Harry S. Swarth and M.L. Wicks, Jr."

A careful perusal of Grinnell's 1898 report, shows that Lee Chambers observed and collected at least 4 species of birds in Los Angeles County. Certainly, if one were to search the Grinnell archives at UC Berkeley, one would find still further information about the contributions of Lee Chambers. As it stands now, preliminarily, it is known that Lee Chambers reported many birds to Joseph Grinnell. One of those birds was the Bald Eagle and here is Joseph Grinnell's quotation of Lee Chambers' discovery near Santa Monica:

Bald Eagle. "Took a set of two considerably incubated eggs near Santa Monica, March 13, 1897. The nest was about forty feet above the ground, in a large sycamore near the beach."

This passage by Lee Chambers is curious for several reasons. First, what does "near Santa Monica" indicate to us today in 2005? Second, where is "a large sycamore near the beach" that is "forty feet above the ground" located? These two questions are answerable geographically to Rustic Canyon and Santa Monica Canyon, near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway with Chatauqua Road.

It is clearly evident that Lee Chambers' passion and avocation was birds. The question arises today, a century later, of how might Chambers' devoted avocation of recording bird life in Los Angeles County be utilized by us for restoration of bird life in 2005 and beyond? There are two bird examples that illustrate very well how Lee Chambers' writings can assist us in performing genuine restoration today in the 21st Century. The first bird involves the Snowy Plover which nested on beaches at Ballona near Venice. The second example is the Bald Eagle which nested near Santa Monica. As part of this story, one will need to understand the life history of these two birds, particularly their habitat association and how they choose nesting sites for raising families. And I can do no better than to use quotations from Chambers' writing and supplemented by Grinnell's notes on Chambers' discoveries.

For example, we can ascertain today that there are still ancient scycamores living in Santa Monica Canyon, just north of downtown Santa Monica, just as they were 107 years ago, in the 1890s. These sycamores still exist here in Santa Monica Canyon, 107 years later, in 2005, which today are in the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles. It is entirely possible today using modern wildlife techniques for rearing raptors, particularly for the Bald Eagle and American Osprey, to restore them to Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Restoration of these two raptors (Eagle and Osprey) has been done successfully on Catalina Island during the last 25 years. There is no reason that the Eagle and Osprey cannot be restored to Santa Monica Canyon, and other coastal canyons along the Santa Monica Mountains, such as Topanga, Malibu, Zuma, Trancas. Another good location is Ballona Creek to the south of the Santa Monica Mountain. Most people are unaware of this potential due to lack of education regarding what kind of restoration to do for the Bald Eagle in Los Angeles. Here is an example of the use of "birding history" to be able to shed light on restoration planning for large birds to return to Los Angeles.

To view excerpts of Joseph Grinnell's 1898 report, please visit this site:Grinnell on Los Angeles Birds

To view excerpts of Lee Chambers' Snowy Plover Report, please visit this site: Lee Chambers on Snowy Plover

Footnote: According to Joseph Grinnell's 1898 monograph, Lee Chambers found a nest of a Raven with three slightly incubated eggs, near Santa Monica, on May 9, 1896. This description of "near" Santa Monica probably indicates the cliffs near Santa Monica Canyon or Rustic Canyon.

Grinnell, Joseph. 1898. Birds of the Pacific Slope of Los Angeles County. Pasadena Academy of Sciences, Publication II, 52p.