Laverne: the Runway Stowaway

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What is the newest Airport Explorers’ book about?

Crafted by airport employees Judy McSweeney (author) and Sharon Gonzales (illustrator), “Laverne, the Runway Stowaway” educates and entertains young audiences by sharing the whimsical adventures of an endangered least tern who nests at the airport.

Through the eyes of imaginary airport characters Propeller Pete, SkyKid Sam, Jet the dog and Flygirl Pearl, “Laverne” tells the story of a curious California least tern chick who gets lost and with the help of her new friends tries to find her way home on the airport’s runway. “Laverne” was chosen as the small seabird’s name because it means “born in the spring,” which corresponds with the April start of the least tern nesting season.

Who is the book’s author?

In addition to her writing talents, Judy McSweeney manages the Airport Explorers program, which encompasses events, tours, books, school visits, educational items, Web site resources and more. She relied on the airport environmental department’s vast research including blogs, photography, videos and personal interviews for written accuracy.

Who is the book’s illustrator?

Sharon Gonzales is a graphic designer and illustrator for San Diego International Airport. She chose colored pencil to depict “Laverne” and her friends as that medium renders itself well to book illustration. To create accurate facial expressions for the book’s characters, Sharon found real-life children and a pedigree beagle to act as models. She was inspired to draw Jet the dog as a beagle because this type of animal is generally inquisitive and active with expressive eyes. She also studied the airport’s least terns and their habitat to create a curious little bird with animated black eyes.

How can I get a copy of the book?

San Diego International Airport will donate copies of the new book to hundreds of libraries across San Diego County. Call your local library to inquire about availability. “Laverne, the Runway Stowaway” is also available for purchase here!

Why does the California least tern nest at San Diego International Airport?

Listed under the Federal and California State Endangered Species Act since 1972, the least tern is a migratory species that has found a suitable home at San Diego International Airport. The least tern prefers to nest in small, scattered clusters right on sandy beaches and salt flats along the western coast of North America, from San Francisco Bay to Baja California, Mexico. Typical nesting sites are natural or artificial open areas near estuaries, bays, or harbors where small fish are abundant. At the airport, least terns have nested on the sand and gravel in the five oval areas between the runway and the airplane taxiways since 1970.

What is the California Least Tern Protection Program at the airport?

The San Diego Regional Airport Authority has created a California Least Tern Protection Program with guidelines for all airport, tenant and contractor activities during the nesting season (April through September). The guidelines include the following requirements:

  • Prohibiting any activities within the least tern ovals themselves
  • Reducing vehicle speed near the least tern ovals to 15 mph
  • Minimizing potential construction project impacts by focusing lights away from the least tern ovals during night-time activities and lowering any equipment having a height of 25 feet or greater at the close of each construction day
  • Properly disposing of trash and keeping outdoor trash dumpsters covered so as not to attract any least tern predators

What efforts are being undertaken to protect the California least terns’ habitat?

The greatest impact on the least tern population is caused by habitat loss due to a continuing increase in urbanization. As a result of ongoing habitat preservation efforts, the San Diego International Airport least tern nesting site is one of the most productive in Southern California. The site is located at the southeastern end of the airport’s runway (Runway Oval 0-3-S) and close to the bird’s food source in San Diego Bay. This year, 139 least tern nests were established at San Diego International Airport. The Airport Authority works in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Zoological Society of San Diego and the Port of San Diego to protect the endangered least terns as well as other threatened birds, plants and related habitats. For more information, click here.

Copyright 2011 San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. All rights reserved.