Category Archives: Friends of the Shorebird Nature Center

Parks dynamo Patty Donald retires June 2017

If you’ve helped out at a shoreline cleanup, seen the Berkeley Marina’s colorful Kite Festival, or if someone in your family became fascinated with science and nature at Berkeley’s Marina Experience programs, it’s because of Patty Donald, naturalist and recreation coordinator at the Berkeley Marina’s Shorebird Park and Adventure Playground. A citizen arm, Friends of Shorebird Nature Center, is a valued BPFP partner.

Beach at Shorebird ParkOne of Berkeley’s most creative and influential environmentalists, Patty retires this month after more than 30 years “growing” Berkeley Parks programs.

Daughter of a Gold Rush family, Patty grew up in Berkeley. She earned a degree in parks and natural-resource management and interpretation just as California’s Proposition 13 was slashing property-tax funds for such programs. After part- and full-time stints including teaching science at Cragmont School (her “alma mater”) and working for Berkeley Parks and at the East Bay Regional Parks’ Crab Cove Nature Center, she approached Berkeley with an idea:

“I said I’d set up a nature program here. They said OK. So I did.”

The Berkeley Marina had income that by state law had to be spent for recreation for local families. Thus, it could fill some of the gap left when Prop 13 wiped out many programs formerly offered at Berkeley parks and schools.

Patty Donald
Patty Donald
Teaching nature: With no building, Patty started her Marina Experience Program by visiting classrooms to teach background. Kids then came to the shoreline by bus — at first, just during springtime low tides. Getting a portable classroom in 1986 meant that programs could continue through the rainy season.

Patty began training docents — more than 20 each year learn about nature through the Bay Interpretive Training — BayIT — program. She also expanded the programs offered, teaching about fish, birds, marine mammals, invertebrates, boating, and more, all adapted for different grade levels and with a strong conservation content including how plastics affect sea life.

Cleaning the shoreline: Meanwhile, from organizing local International Coastal Cleanup events, Patty came to coordinate that program for Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville, along with many more shoreline cleanups, for Earth Day, Plastic-Free July, and monthly on third Saturdays, all teaching about the perils of litter.

Green buildings: With ideas from Councilmember Linda Maio and initial backing from the UC Berkeley/Dept. of Energy Berkeley Lab, Patty oversaw building of the Shorebird Nature Center, a showcase of environmentally friendly building materials, from straw-bale walls to recycled-glass window seats and more. A new, environmentally friendly classroom with a microscope lab and two 200-gallon aquariums followed.

Oiled-bird rescue: When the container ship Cosco Busan hit the Bay Bridge in November 2007, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of heavy “bunker” oil into the bay, thousands of oiled birds washed to the East Bay shore. The relief efforts’ lack of coordination was painfully obvious. Patty had a network of volunteers and knew the basics of wildlife rescue as well as how to reach the contaminated shoreline. Shorebird Park became the de facto rescue center, from rapid “hazmat” training to organizing a network of drivers taking birds to the International Bird Rescue Center in Fairfield. In the years since, Patty has organized regular trainings in wildlife rescue, so as to have a core of volunteers ready for the next spill.

Festivals and Fun: With Highline Kites, Patty also started the Berkeley Kite Festival. She revived the Berkeley Bay Festival, a family-friendly event first held when the Marina opened in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Kids at Shorebird ParkAll this creativity has gone hand in hand with running a demanding program including the year-round Adventure Playground, summer and holiday camps, and school outings. Shorebird Park and Adventure Playground host about 200,000 visits a year, including programs for more than 1600 local school children.

What next? Patty isn’t done yet! She is launching another new program, of “do-it-yourself cleaning stations,” where volunteers can find materials to clean the shoreline on their own time. In “retirement,” she plans to volunteer more – including a focus on her family’s historic Cohen-Bray House in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, where she hopes to organize docents and programs for children.

You can celebrate Patty’s retirement, and the learning and delight she has given to children and adults , at a celebration scheduled June 24 at the Berkeley Yacht Club. Information and reservations here.
(This article appeared in slightly different form in Friends of Five Creeks June e-news.)

The Burrowing Owls are back at Cesar Chavez Park!

burrowing owl
A burrowing owl seen in Berkeley; photo by Larry Wight

Our burrowing owls usually occupy the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez Park (north of the Berkeley Marina) from October through March. There are new fences and artistic adobe walls to protect the owl habitat from humans and dogs. Come on down and look for owls.


Docents are available seven days a week at various times.

UC Berkeley funding for BPFP “Greening Berkeley” partners

For the third year in a row, BPFP’s “Greening Berkeley Hands On” partnership has been awarded a Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund grant by UC Berkeley. This year’s award of $24,000 will help BPFP affiliates carry out a wide variety of hands-on environmental projects. The grant pays for both materials and a UC student intern, who organized student volunteering through CalCorps, UC’s public-service arm.

Projects in the 2008 grant range from path construction and a solar light for the Santa Fe Right of Way, projects of Berkeley Path Wanderers, to tools and gloves for the city’s 14 public-school gardens, through Friends of School Gardens. The community-built Schoolhouse Creek Common will install chess tables and a bench. Nearby, Friends of Westbrae Commons will continue transforming the Ohlone Greenway south of Gilman with native coastal-prairie plants. Friends of Shorebird Park Nature Center will spread fresh sand and build new racks at Adventure Playground, while Aquatic Park EGRET will get upgraded nataive plants and upgraded wheelbarrows. Friends of Five Creeks will be able to install signs on local natural history and plant drought-tolerant natives in a variety of sites, from the Santa Fe Right of Way to Mortar Rock Park.

Aquatic Park EGRET also will partner with Earth Team Environmental Network, Berkeley Community Media, College of Natural Resources, and Berkeley Community Garden to involve local teens in habitat restoration days that teens also will film for showing on local cable TV. This project received a $5000 Chancellors Community Partnership grant.

Join us to carry out these projects! Contact BPFP or the affiliate group you are interested in — click on “Affiliated Groups” at right.

Cruise the Bay — Fundraiser for Shorebird Park Nature Center

A Fundraising Cruise on beautiful San Francisco Bay
to provide science equipment for Shorebird Park Nature Center classrooms


What: Glorious afternoon fund-raiser cruise on the San Francisco Bay that includes lavish hors d’oeuvres, fine wines, great views, the best of the Nature Center hands-on activities, and an opportunity to honor environmental heroes, past, present and future.

When: Sunday, April 27th, 2008. 2–3 pm dockside and 3–6 pm on the Bay.

Why: To raise awareness about the 30-year-old environmental education program teaching children and adults about San Francisco Bay; to raise $35,000 in funds for new “green” classroom equipment, replacing three 28-year-old aquariums, buying new microscopes, and updating videos and the library.

Kid using microscopeInformation: Call 510-981-6723 or:

Donation: $65 per adult; $75 for one adult & one child; $100 per couple.
Come join us on San Francisco Bay for a fun time with a cause! Help these environmental education programs grow and flourish. Hope to see you there!

Volunteer to help with oil spill clean up (Oiled Wildlife Care Network and Baykeeper)

Oil spill mapAs of Saturday, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has enough volunteers, but check their web site if you are interested: UC Davis: Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

On Friday afternoon, November 9, the tide tubes that connect Berkeley’s Aquatic Park with the SF Bay were closed to minimize intrusion of oil into Aquatic Park. City officials are also concerned with pollution reaching the Marina and other Berkeley aquatic facilities.

More details on the “Cosco Busan” oil spill can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game’s website.

See also for other volunteer opportunities and updates.