After an absence of some weeks for vacation and other distractions, I felt the tug to visit the park again this morning, despite the chill breeze and the fog. Took the counterclockwise route, starting at the North Basin, and was struck immediately by the lowness of the tide. It measured only a minus 1.1 on the tide table but it looked a lot lower — about the lowest I’ve seen in a while. More than fifteen yards or so of mud lay exposed along the shore.
Further out, the low water gave me a better picture than ever of the pyramid-shaped object that sticks out of the North Basin water a bit even at high tide. Two cormorants were taking advantage of this perch. The telephoto lens shows that the sunken object was probably a steel hulled boat. Does anyone know details?
Apart from a couple of gulls, the only birds I saw taking advantage of the mud banquet were a handful of Marbled Godwits and perhaps a dozen smaller birds, probably sanderlings? I couldn’t get a good closeup picture of them.
The flare stations, old and new, were quiet this morning. The old one has been turned off, if the position of the pink-handled valve on the landfill gas intake line means anything. The new station, nearly three quarters of a million dollars’ worth, was also silent. There hasn’t been enough gas generated for years to drive the old station full time. Looks like there isn’t enough gas to keep the much smaller new flare station running all the time, either. I’m looking forward to documentation from the Bay Area Air Quality Monitoring District (BAAQMD, or “bak-mud” for short) about the new installation. More about that another time.
I’ve got a call in to Keith Dorsa, division manager of Innovative Construction Solutions, the contractor who upgraded the gas wells and installed the new flare station, asking when they plan to take down the rusty, tipping old flare stack. That’s a photo op I don’t want to miss.
On the northeast corner of the park, the Burrowing Owl preserve is still fenced off, despite the fact that any wintering owls have left months ago. There are reports of at least one bird sighting around New Year’s Day, but I haven’t seen a photo confirming. Fewer Burrowing Owls have come here in recent years. This spring was especially unfavorable as all the vegetation grew higher than usual. The owls don’t like high vegetation. They hunt by walking. High grass obstructs their sight lines for hunting small edibles, while the owls still remain visible from above as edibles for predator birds. Bottom line, it’s time for the fences around the Burrowing Owl area to come down and let people enjoy the artistic sculptural benches until the next Burrowing Owl wintering season.
Along the north side, the black sticks that you can sometimes see at high water showed up at greater length. Were these once pilings for a pier? Or tops of trees that once grew here? Another submerged object mystery.
The Red-winged Blackbirds have gone, of course. They usually depart right around the Summer Solstice. But that doesn’t mean the fennel forest is birdless. I saw three black birds of undetermined species, plus several that looked like Song Sparrows, and a couple of House Finches, all in the fennel. Fennel obviously is unpopular with gardeners. It’s said to be as hard to get rid of as bamboo, although as a bamboo victim I find that hard to believe. But Cesar Chavez Park is not a garden, unless it’s a garden of ruderals, and in the wide family of invasive weeds, fennels are upstanding, productive, and (at least in my opinion) beautiful members. They’re excellent bird habitat, and I would ask park management to lighten up on mowing in the fennel area. The mowing strip along the north side paved path came within inches of taking down a blackbird nest with eggs in it, as I reported earlier. (That nest is now entirely gone, by the way. I wonder of the blackbirds took it apart before they left.) This morning I noticed a new swath of mower invasion along the sides of a v-shaped concrete drain that runs up the hillside through the fennel forest. Was that really necessary?
And speaking of mowers, a substantial bush on the side of the circular path around the northwest corner of the park — not fennel but some kind of native plant where I’ve frequently seen blackbirds — lay in shambles this morning. It would have taken quite a strong mowing machine to wreck this lovely plant. It was as tall as my head and at least eight feet wide. Was that necessary?
Along the windy west side of the park, the dark barricade of rip-rap rocks was exposed to unusual depth. Some yards out, I saw a bird swimming northward at a pretty good clip. It wasn’t one of the usual suspects, Coot or Scaup, and it wasn’t a more exotic visitor like the Surf Scoter. I snapped a few pictures and brought them home to post them to Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID app to identify the bird.
BirdID, http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/photo-id/, has never failed me. But this time it came up with “White-tailed Kite,” which is way off. The dark beak and the dark color around the eyes fooled Merlin this time. So, it remains a mystery bird for the moment. P.S. Dec. 28 2016: Looks like a Common Loon female. P.P.S. 11/23/17: That’s a Horned Grebe!
The runaway buoy belonging to the Yacht Racing Association, that lay stranded against the rip-rap for weeks, is finally gone. But a beaten-up plastic piece of it remains. Not very pretty. Yacht folks, how about cleaning up? We don’t need plastic trash on our shoreline.
Not that we’re models of park maintenance. The main sign on the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way still advertises park management neglect or incompetence by its torn-off upper right corner. It’s been like that for almost eighteen months. The smaller sign that sets out the dog regulation, long defaced by graffiti, is now completely illegible under a mask of stick-ons.
Oh, and the number of dogs properly on leash on the perimeter path this morning actually exceeded the number of dogs unlawfully off leash on this circuit, 4-3. I guess that’s progress.