Bringing Science Education Downtown

Author: Bella Mayorga, NERR Education Program Coordinator
July 15, 2022
Group of people, some wearing shirts that say Downtown Streets Team, stand by the marsh overlooking the water with binoculars in hand to see birds.
Photo Credit: Bella Mayorga


Why is the ocean salty? Why do pigeons bob their heads when they walk? Can crows remember faces?

These are just some of the many and varied questions that pop up during Nature and Bird Walks with Downtown Streets Team, a non-profit organization that supports adults experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty through volunteer cleanup and beautification projects in the community.

Following a presentation on Streets Team last fall at the State of the Estuary Summit, I was immediately inspired to connect my programmatic interests in diversifying the audience of the NERR education program and enhancing the work of community-based organizations. I connected with San Rafael Streets Team staff members who were equally excited about the hands-on nature programming I proposed at transportation-accessible parks and shorelines in Marin.

We held the first Nature and Bird Walk at the Shoreline Park waterfront last Winter with over 15 participants (the maximum that a sole Education Coordinator could meaningfully engage). Binoculars in hand, Team Members got to look out at some of the waterfowl and small songbirds that most people tend to overlook, including cormorants, egrets, mallards, pelicans, crows, and sparrows! Already active stewards of the San Francisco Bay Estuary through their litter and debris removal, Team Members quickly began to make connections between their volunteer work and the health of wetland animals that they saw.

“Hey guys be sure to get all the cigarette butts, we got to take care of the birds!”

Since the first Nature and Bird Walk, we have held two more outings at Pickleweed Park and most recently, China Camp State Park, where we observed juvenile golden eagles! Team Member interest remains high with many repeat appearances and the focus of the walks has broadened to include moments of quiet and stillness to reap some of the social-emotional benefits of time spent in natural environments. Our Coastal Training Program Coordinator, Aimee Good, and NOAA Office for Coastal Management Liaison, Melis Ökter, have also added themselves to the roster, fielding questions from curious Team Members and enjoying the wave of energy and sense of community distinctive to the group.

Nature and Bird Walks with Downtown Streets have become my favorite program and I am especially grateful for Streets Team staff for their partnership and passion for supporting their Team Members. More programming to come!


Group photo of Bella and Downtown Streets Team Members wearing bright blue and yellow tshirts smiling and standing in front of the marsh at Pickleweed Park.