Park Days 11/28/23

I’m publishing this on Tuesday, not waiting until Friday, because there’s so much material.


High tide of 7.1 feet at 10:12 a.m. Sunday Nov. 26 2023

The highest tide of the month, 7.1 feet at 10:12 a.m. this Sunday, gave park visitors a preview of sea level rise. The North Basin water poured in through a half-dozen breaches in the eroded seawall along Marina Boulevard, flooding the pedestrian/bicycle trail near the southeast entrance to the park. A second flood occurred around the corner on the Virginia Street Extension.

Both water intrusions have happened here with every seven-foot tide for more than a decade. I first documented the mess eleven years ago, “King Tide of December 12, 2012.” On that occasion, the city hired a man with a front-end loader to build a berm on the land side of the walkway, to protect the road. Last year, dozens of pieces of heavy equipment and trucks of all kinds were on the scene during the roadwork in the area, but nothing was done to protect the walkway. It would not take much to build up the neglected seawall and stop the flooding.

The breach in the seawall on the Virginia Street Extension has been neglected for at least as long as at Marina Boulevard. That area appears to be the East Bay Regional Park’s responsibility. Repairs would be as easy there as here. Neither Berkeley nor the EBRPD seems to care about pedestrians. Let them put on wading boots and carry their children.

The same flooding, slightly diminished, took place Monday through Wednesday with high tides at seven feet, and will recur December 12-14 and 24-25, according to the tide tables.

Chavez Park sits high and dry in most sea level rise predictions, but we might have to take a boat to get there. The city is aware of this and several other low spots in the area. So far nothing has been budgeted to build them up or take other measures.

An Uncommonly Pretty Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

I was climbing the uphill pathway on the north edge of the Native Plant Area when I saw a scramble of small birds in the weeds to my left. I thought they were probably House Finches, of which I’d seen my quota for the week. I set up my camera anyway and focused in. Nope, not finches. Sparrows. The first three were the familiar White-crowned Sparrows. But the next one, hold on! This was a bird of a different feather. It had the black and white stripes on its crown, but then a distinct yellow patch over each eye, a grey beak instead of an orange one, and a broad white throat unlike any other sparrow I’d ever seen. This is a White-throated Sparrow.

These birds breed in Canada in the boreal forests below the Arctic Circle and migrate in winter primarily to the East Coast and the South. They are abundant and heavily studied in winter east of the Rocky Mountains. But they are “present only at very low densities in the western wintering range,” meaning the Pacific Coast, according to the writeup in Birds of the World, by the Cornell Bird Lab. They are so uncommon here that my edition of Merlin, the excellent bird ID app from Cornell, did not have data on it. I had to download another database that covered the whole continent to get a positive ID.

Males and females have the same feather patterns; the only way to tell them apart is to get DNA.

These birds have a unique mating system. They come in two color patterns: white-striped and tan-striped. This one is white-striped. The others look as if seen through a sepia filter. Well, for some reason, they seek one another out. The white-stripes prefer to mate with tan-stripes, and vice versa. This has been going on for eons, but the two color variations have not melted into a compromise tint. The Wikipedia writers explain it this way: “This behaviour has been described genetically to follow from the chromosomal inversion of a supergene which acts as an extra pair of sex-determining genes, resulting in four phenotypes that reproduce in a disassortative mating pattern.” Translation: due to a little-understood peculiarity in their DNA, the mating of opposites doesn’t generally produce blended offspring but rather reproduces the distinct plumage patterns of the parents.

Pelican Plunge

It’s rare that I succeed in filming a pelican’s plunge. They move too fast and I’m too slow with the camera. But this time I managed to catch the action. The video is actually a mashup of two different pelicans caught at different phases of their hunt. The pair of them worked together, or at least kept company. They didn’t score on each dive, but scored often enough to keep them motivated.

Mixed Ducks

The North Basin cove on Monday morning teemed with a mix of ducks. Scaup dominated in a loose raft numbering probably 200, most of them preening, with a few compact trains of males paddling energetically through it. Two or three smaller flocks of Ruddy Ducks mostly kept to the margin of the Scaup raft. A scattering of Bufflehead played their courtship games among the Scaup, who mostly ignored them, except in one case where I thought a Scaup female swiftly nudged the rear of a Bufflehead male and sent him racing off. There was also a trio of Clark’s Grebes, a Horned Grebe, and the usual gulls. That was Monday. The next day, most of the Scaup had moved on, and the water stood relatively quiet, save for a handful of testosterone-crazed Bufflehead males.

On Her Own

Common Goldeneye F (Bucephala clangula)

Several hundred yards off the north shore of the park, remote from the North Basin bird scene, I spotted a lone duck that I hadn’t seen yet this winter season: a Common Goldeneye, a female.

If this bird had just paid a visit to the North Basin, she was not pleased. As I tracked her in the camera, she paddled steadily west and away from the park until she was out of my sight.

As Goldeneyes go, this one was here a bit earlier than usual. They’re tolerant of cold and generally leave their northern breeding grounds later than other species. Possibly the impact of global warming, which has been especially advanced in the Arctic, may keep them in their breeding habitat longer and delay their winter migration. But factors other than temperature may drive them, such as the length of daylight.

To read more about them, you could look at “Ms. Goldeneye,” Dec 8 2021 or, of course, the excellent “All About Birds” site by the Cornell Bird Lab.

I plan to publish again on Friday 12/1.

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