‘Wild LA’ invites readers to explore urban nature

Let’s get to know the Great Blue Heron, although it could just as easily be the Monarch Butterfly, or the Black Bear, or even the Red-eared Slider.

All of these creatures have their own pages in the breezy and fabulous new book “Wild LA,” created by the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

When the rest of the country thinks of LA, it’s Disneyland, beaches, babes, wildfires, but probably not our wildlife. Yet, this pithy guide would have us “explore the amazing nature in and around Los Angeles.”

To accomplish this for the reader, the museum put together a formidable cast of writers and photographers, including Charles Hood, who teaches English and occasionally journalism, shoots engaging nature photography and writes in his book-jacket biography that he is a reformed birder, who stopped counting at 5,000 species.

He and the book’s other authors explore what the term “urban nature” means in several essays about wild Los Angeles, including one about water and the LA River, viewed through the journal of Franciscan missionary Gaspar Portola some 200 years ago, to its current-day role as “an unlikely gem in the city — still a place for wildlife to survive and for humans to thrive.”

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THE AUDUBON SOCIETY was created at the end of the 19th century, in part by women activists, to regulate the feather trade and bring herons and other birds back from the brink of extinction. Believe it or not women’s hats — and the huge amount of feathers needed to create tens of thousands of them — were to blame. (Jim Burns)

Going back to that Great Blue Heron, in the field guide section of 101 LA species readers learn he stands some four feet tall, with a wingspan of six feet. Fair enough. But what makes this book such a gem is that once you’ve read up on a favorite species — and probably discovered many a new one in the book’s pages — the text cross-references trips to areas where, with a little patience,  you can see them.

Sure enough, our Great Blue Heron can be spotted on five itineraries in the book’s final section that features 25 trips for nature lovers, including the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, Ballona Wetlands and the LA River at Frogtown. Here, herons hunt with that impressive, sharp bill any unwary “fish, frogs, crayfish, lizards, snakes, mice, birds, grasshoppers and dragonflies.”

Make room for this fun guide in your day pack and don’t forget your fly rod.

Wild LA

By Lila Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly

with Jason G. Goldman 7 Charles Hood

332 pps

$24.95

http://www.timberpress.com

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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