Park Week 10/20/23

Foggy Bird Walk

Part of the Sunday morning bird walk

Twenty brave and optimistic souls showed up Sunday morning 10/15 for a bird walk organized by the Berkeley Bird Festival. Nature greeted us with a moderate fog that began to thin only as the walk ended. Among the birds that showed up were Elegant Tern, Brown Pelican, American Crow, Western Gull, Snowy Egret, Say’s Phoebe, Black-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrow, Western Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, Black Turnstone, and Spotted Sandpiper. We also saw a first-of-season male Scaup. No Burrowing Owl yet. Participants took the fog and the low bird count with good humor. As trip leader, I filled in the gaps between birds with bits of history about various features of the park. Everyone got some steps in the fresh air and maybe learned a thing or two about Chavez Park.

Natives Watered

Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar led a skeleton crew of volunteers Wednesday morning 10/18 to again water the native plants that Conservancy volunteers had put in the ground last November and the year before that. Thanks to additional lengths of hose purchased by the Conservancy, the job went more quickly than usual, Bob reports. Thanks to repeated watering, the new natives are coming through this dry first summer in decent shape. Bob and his partner Jutta Burger are hatching a plan to plant an additional 40 new natives in spots of the Native Plant Area that need green infill. Watch for an announcement of a new planting day in early November.

Amazing Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla)

Standing on Marina Boulevard, I scanned the Schoolhouse Creek mudflats with the telephoto lens, and saw nothing with feathers on. But being in a persistent frame of mind, I walked to the creek’s outfall anyway, and there was a reward. A little flock of Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) occupied the mudbank north of the big pipe, and took off from time to time in short looping flights. Tiny as they are, they’ve migrated from the subarctic tundra and the far north boreal forests at the top of Alaska and Canada to get here. These have probably followed the Pacific Coast and stopped to rest wherever it suited them. The ones on the East Coast may fly 2000 miles or more nonstop over the Atlantic to get to South America. They’ve been clocked flying at around 50 mph nonstop. Are they amazing, or what?

Hawk Takes Squirrel

A young Red-tailed Hawk, probably the same one I filmed on September 25, caught a Ground Squirrel on Saturday 10/14, carried it to a branch in a Monterey Cypress in the Native Plant Area, and there made a meal of it. Photographer and Conservancy director Jutta Burger was there with camera in hand and took this portrait of the bird standing over its prey. Jutta spared us close-ups of the meal. Raptors are messy eaters.

Gull Narcissism?

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young male hunter who was so good-looking that he had no equal. Not finding a human lover up to his standards, he fell in love with his own reflection in the water, leading eventually to his doom.

Photographer Susan Black was on the scene and caught this snapshot of a Western Gull that looks to be fascinated by its mirror image.

We know that many birds, despite their usually sharp vision, can’t see that a mirror image is two-dimensional. That’s why vast numbers of birds crash to their great harm into the glass of buildings, not realizing that the sky they see is only a reflection. Less risky usually is the songbird that attacks its own image in a mirror, thinking it’s a rival.

Susan didn’t stay on the scene long enough to report the outcome of this gull’s encounter with its own image in the water below. The bird probably got bored and moved on. Narcissus should have done the same.

Other Birds of the Week

Queeenfisher diving, hair slicked back

Just a few words about some of these birds. Note how the Great Blue doesn’t have its toes curled around the pipe it’s sitting on. The bird is just balancing up there. — The Belted Kingfisher was very shy; the moment i got within 50 yards, it took off. But then I sneaked behind a wall of shrubbery and photographed it through a gap, and it never saw me. At that moment the bird was sunbathing. It faced away from the water. Usually it surveys the water from its high perch and then dives down. This bird is a female. Unlike with most bird species, the female Kingfisher (shouldn’t that be, Queenfisher?) has more colors than the male. Her red belt tells the story. But what about that standup hair? Well, when the bird dives, it slicks the hair back, aerodynamically. See photo. — The Clark’s Grebe, the Scaup, and the Turnstone were among the birds from the Sunday morning foggy bird walk. I was too busy talking to take more photos. On the walk, people asked, is it a Greater or a Lesser Scaup? I’ve turned agnostic on that issue. I just call them Scaup. I saw that bird again Friday morning, close to our shore, about even with the first Barn Owl box; see video below. Later in the season, normally, we’ll see hundreds of Scaup, sometimes thousands. — The Turkey Vulture sat on top of the pole on the Virginia Street Extension and paid no attention to the walkers, runners, bicyclists and photographers passing directly under it. I guess it helps to be the kind of bird that nobody wants to eat. Peace of mind.

Scaup M

Future Butterfly

Mary Law has an eye not only for pottery — she makes exquisite stuff — but also for wildlife. She was the first to spot a Burrowing Owl last season, and this week she spotted something so small that few would ever have noticed it.

This is the caterpillar of the Anise Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio zelicaon). This caterpillar is a Fennel-eating machine that is currently devouring one of the plant’s fresh shoots. We have so much Fennel in the park that there’s no danger of the caterpillar ever making a visible dent. But it might be nice. If we had more caterpillars we’d have more of the beautiful butterfly that somehow the caterpillar transforms into.

Park visitors have seen the mature butterfly with some regularity. Check out “Anise Swallowtail” on this site. But so far no one else has photographed the caterpillar.

The caterpillar is not trying to blend into the background, like some do. It seems to be advertising a warning that it can afford to stand out because it doesn’t taste good. To back that up, it has a set of orange horns just behind its head that it can extend if threatened. They emit a foul stink.

The Anise Swallowtail butterfly is a West Coast native that originally evolved along with native plants of the carrot family. Most of those plants are now extinct. The butterfly has made the switch to Fennel, a Mediterranean import that’s also a member of the carrot family, and it appears to be surviving nicely.

New Bench in Memory of Fred Ross Jr.

Park staff have put up a new memorial bench in a prominent spot facing the Golden Gate just off the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way. The bench is dedicated to Fred Ross Jr., a highly respected labor and community organizer who worked with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta on the United Farmworkers Union, and on later union and congressional campaigns. There is a Wikipedia page about him. The new bench is made of a special hardwood that survives the local weather without needing to be painted.

Owl Watch Continues

As of press time, no one has spotted a Burrowing Owl in the park yet. That doesn’t mean they can’t be here. The owls don’t necessarily settle on the grass in the designated Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. If an owl settles in the Protected Natural Area on the north side or in the margin strip north of the path, where owls roosted in 2018, 2019, and 2020, it could be a while before anyone spots it.

In some past years, owls have come as early as now. But sometimes they’ve come as late as December. Here’s a list of first owl arrival dates:

  • 2011-2012: Oct 23 2011
  • 2012-2013: Oct 26 2012
  • 2013-2014: Sep 29 2013
  • 2014-2015: Oct 13 2014
  • 2015-2016: Oct 1 2015
  • 2016-2017: Oct 6 2016
  • 2017-2018: (no owls)
  • 2018-2019: Oct 3 2018
  • 2019-2020: Dec 4 2019
  • 2020-2021: Nov 9 2010
  • 2021-2022: Nov 2 2021
  • 2022-2023: Oct 30 2022

It takes a village to spot a Burrowing Owl. Every park visitor could be the first to see one. As soon as I have a photograph I will post it on this website, 24/7. If you see an owl that’s not already posted here, please text or phone 510-717-2414 or email

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 10/20/23

  • Pingback: Chavez Park Conservancy Annual Report 2023

  • Thank you so much for all this information and beautiful photos. I’m seeing so many off leash dogs though in the Owl area and other leash areas. I think that unless someone is able to ticket or dogs would be completely banned (dogs are allowed almost everywhere in the East Bay and entire Bay Area), the few owls who come are in danger of being killed, like what happened in the past.

    Also, please don’t target the Fennel since so many birds use them. Last year, a very rare bird from the East Coast (one individual) was in the Bay Area and eating Fennel. The protected owl area looks like a wasteland now, and more Fennel helps camouflage the owls. (There used to be so many Burrowing Owls at Cesar Chavez before Audubon destroyed their habitat by cutting down what they needed and covering their burrows with the “art project” benches, paving, etc.) Also the “fencing” can’t keep out any dogs that want to go under, through, or around it.

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