Lickin’ Berry

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Golden -crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) with Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia)

The Native Plant Area in the park features not only the Toyon but also another native California berry-bearing plant that birds go for. That would be the Lemonadeberry, Rhus integrifolia, one of which grows directly under the taller Toyon. Here a Golden-crowned Sparrow has one of these berries in its beak. The bird turns the berry in its beak as if licking it, and a few moments later drops it and smacks its beak together tasting the flavor; then it goes for another one.

The Lemonadeberry carries its tasty virtues on its skin. It’s coated with a sticky sweet-acidy syrup that looks like bits of white frost. It’s more a lickin’ berry than an eatin’ berry. Indigenous people dipped the berries in water to make a refreshing drink similar to what we think of as lemonade. Some hikers today do the same. The berries’ flesh is heavy with tannins and definitely not tasty, I’ve tried it. While some Indigenous people nevertheless chewed the berries raw, others processed them to leach out the tannins before using the mush in food preparation. The seeds contain an oil that can be pressed and used to make strongly aromatic candles.

As part of the ongoing Native Pollinator Habitat project, we’ve planted additional Lemonadeberry starters and look forward to seeing a small bounty of these attractive plants as they mature. In spring and summer, this plant makes a profusion of aromatic small flowers that are a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators.

Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) berries in the Native Plant Area in November

Burrowing Owl Update

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Dec. 6 2022

Much to the pleasure of park visitors, the Burrowing Owl remained in Perch B for the fourth day in a row. As Burrowing Owls normally do after a rain, the bird stood taller than usual. Even humans of average height could see it from the paved perimeter trail. While I filmed it this cold and windy morning, the bird stood quietly, looking around in three directions, and occasionally up at the sky. The main event in the 20 minutes that I filmed it, edited down to one minute here, was a poop. That’s a good sign — it means the bird is eating. They hunt at dusk and dawn, and sometimes at night. They eat mostly bugs, such as beetles, caterpillars, worms, moths, and they can also take small rodents such as voles and field mice. In answer to a frequent question: No, they don’t eat the ground squirrels. The squirrels are much too big for them. The owls look bigger because they puff up their feathers into a protective fuzzy shell. Underneath those feathers lies a bird no bigger than a pigeon.

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