The Berkeley School, formerly Berkeley Montessori School, makes Martin Luther King Jr. Day a day of service for parents and students, and this year they joined Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers in a mission of stewardship in the Native Plant Area of our park. As Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar and director Juta Burger demonstrated, the job was to add mulch and remove encroaching weeds from nearly 200 native plants that we had put in the ground in the past three years. We paid particular attention to the new trees that now stood about as high as a teenager, but twenty years from now will form an evergreen canopy, bird habitat, and umbrella of shade for park visitors. Among the Berkeley School volunteers were Elizabeth Bell, Kim Cirella, Quinn Cirella, Jasper Davis, Ly Davis, Andie Gaeta, Steven Gordon, Zinnia Gordon, Adeline Komorowski, Daniel Komorowski, Silvia Korchumova, Kai Lau, Alex McDonald, and Rui Pang. Conservancy volunteers included Virginia Altoe, Jutta Burger, Helen Canin, Clyde Crosswhite, Carol Denney, Bob Huttar, Nancy Nash, Marty Nicolaus, and Lee Tempkin.
These are some birds seen in the park this week. How many of these birds can you identify without peeking? Mouse over or tap the image to see the caption.
The Black Phoebe and I played tag along the west side for a while, until the bird settled in the big dead branch that someone wedged in the rocks there a year ago. The phoebe is an insect eater and likes to perch a few feet above ground looking for bugs flying nearby. It then pounces and grabs them. It found this dead branch a lucrative perch and returned there several times. I found it a great frame for photographing the bird.
I was relieved to see the pair of Goldeneye. The day before, I saw the female in distress with something big, like a mussel shell, jammed in her bill. She shook her head vigorously and scratched with her feet trying to dislodge whatever it was. If she could not get free of it, she would starve. The male stayed near her but could not help. Evidently she succeeded, and the pair kept company in the waters on the north side of the park.
The Pied-billed Grebe was the first of its kind that I’ve seen this winter. They’re said to be indicators of a healthy habitat, like the proverbial canaries in a coal mine. They’re also formidable tough guys. Their beak is small but strong. They can crunch clams, mussels, and crabs easily. If they feel annoyed by a nearby bird, even a big grebe four times their own size, they’ll launch a submarine attack and drive it away. As I observed it, the little guy or gal floated quietly, in peace with its habitat. The black band around the bill that gives it its common name stands out during breeding season, fades in winter.
The Coot population has ballooned. From the one or two regulars in the last month or two, we now have ten or twelve in one flock on the north side and another half dozen further south.
The Least Sandpiper looks to be the last of a tiny flock of six that hung out on the east side of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. I have no idea what happened to the others.
There was a flock of about sixty Bufflehead mixed in with about a dozen Scaup off the northwest corner of the park on Wednesday morning. That was more Bufflehead than I’ve seen in quite a while. Males and females were both present. In mixed company like this, the males often suffer from testosterone overdose and launch dramatic attacks and displays to impress the females. Not this time. The male flapping his wings in my photo was drying them off after rolling on his back to preen his belly. For whatever reason, all the males did at this juncture was preen and dive for edibles, which appeared to be plentiful. Here’s a snapshot of a small part of the assembly. Can you spot the Scaup in their midst?
This was definitely not a Ground Squirrel. The Ground Squirrels do get up in shrubbery and small trees from time to time, where they snack on the seeds or take in the view. This little creature first caught my eye high up in a Torrey Pine on the south side of the Native Plant Area. I followed it to the next tree over where I heard it gnawing at a cone. It mostly stuck to dense, dark foliage where I couldn’t get a photo, but then I got lucky when it hesitated for just a few seconds on an open branch with a bit of sunlight on it. Because of it’s reddish tail and overall rusty-orange coloring, this rodent is often called the red squirrel. It’s the Eastern Fox Squirrel (Scirus niger). I feel pretty sure about the ID after reading this article in Bay Nature by C.A. Clark. His article points out that this Eastern rodent, introduced here by well-meaning but thoughtless humans, has spread here at the expense of the California native Gray Squirrel mainly because the gray is shy, needs wilderness, and avoids people while the fox is OK with people and thrives in urban habitats like city parks. This is only the second tree squirrel I’ve photographed in the park, and in retrospect I’m not confident about my ID of the first one. If you’re a squirrel maven, feel free to check in.
Council Date Slides, Landfill Violations Charged
At the January 10 meeting of the Park, Recreation and Waterfront Commission, much effort went into preparing the body’s submissions for a projected January special meeting of City Council dedicated to waterfront development issues. At a Commission meeting last fall, Parks Director Scott Ferris predicted that the Council date for this item would slip. He was prophetic. City Council’s agenda for a January 23 special meeting, which was supposed to have been dedicated to the waterfront, is locked instead into the hot button issue of “Reimagining Public Safety,” i.e. police reform. The regularly scheduled January 30 meeting has nothing related to the waterfront on its agenda. At publication time, no new date for Council to take up waterfront issues has been announced. Stay tuned.
Council has, however, addressed one issue relating to the waterfront, but in closed session. It met on Wednesday Jan. 17 to take up a legal response to several Notices of Violations brought by the Bay Area Air Quality Monitoring District (BAAQMD) re the Berkeley Landfill. That means the Flare Station and its feeder systems at Chavez Park. As soon as I have details I will post them here.