Park Week 10/6/23

Native Plant Stewards at Work

Conservancy volunteers Clyde Crosswhite, Bob Huttar, Carlene Chang, Helen Canin, Virginia Altoe. Not pictured, Karen Brusin. Behind camera: Marty Nicolaus.

The young native plants in the Native Plant Area got watered and weeded Saturday morning Sept. 30, thanks to a hardy crew of volunteer stewards organized by Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar. Using hand tools, volunteers cleared invasive weeds such as Wild Mustard and Bristly Oxtongue. With a 300-foot length of garden hose attached to a faucet at the picnic area, volunteers filled six-gallon water containers and lugged them to the hungry plants. The smaller plants each got approximately two gallons, more or less. The young trees — mostly Monterey Cypress and Torrey Pines — each got two containers full or about twelve gallons.

“These are California natives and can well survive dry summers once established,” Bob explained. “But when they’re young they need extra help.” Conservancy volunteers planted a few of the new natives in late 2021 and then planted more than 100 in November 2022. See “Planting Party,” Nov 20 2022 and “What Did We Plant?” Nov 21 2022.

Seasonal forecasts speak of another rainy winter. If that begins soon, the young natives won’t need another stewardship outing. But if the rains don’t happen or come with a long delay, “We’ll be out there again!” said Bob. He also disclosed that the Conservancy is buying 200 ft of additional hose and a hose reel dolly to transport it, so that volunteers can get the water closer quicker to the plants that need it.

Owl Watch Is On

“North Owl” in December 2018

It’s Burrowing Owl season again, and all who love these charismatic birds need to keep eyes peeled to spot their arrival. Last year, an owl arrived on October 30 and stayed for the whole season. The year before, two owls both arrived on November 2. If that pattern holds, we’ve got a few weeks. But owls have sometimes come as early as now. And sometimes, like in the winter of 2017-18, no owls came at all.

One of the owls that came two years ago settled on open dirt in the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary, plain for all to see and enjoy. Most owls didn’t make it that easy for us. Some perched in the rip-rap where you can’t see them from the path. Some roosted in the Protected Natural Area where the grasses and weeds mostly conceal them. Some hid in the Fennel on the water’s edge on the north shore. It’s easy to confuse them with Ground Squirrels at a distance. It’s going to “take a village” to spot them.

If you see a Burrowing Owl, text or phone me at 510-717-2414. Take a picture if you can. The minute I get an owl photo I will post it on this website.

Open Letter to Jeff Malmuth

Dear Jeff,

As the spokesperson for dog owners in Chavez Park, you have an influence over how dog owners act in the park. We’re now entering into Burrowing Owl season. It’s really important that people keep their pets on leash on the north side of the park, especially when passing the low fence in the northeast corner. Thank you for whatever you can do to make this happen.



Some Birds of the Week

If I were a competitive birder, I’d find this past week disappointing. No rare or unusual birds showed up, as far as I could see. But I’m just a reporter covering the Nature beat in Chavez Park, so the birdy news for me is whatever is here at this time, rare or otherwise. The “newest” bird that I saw was the American Coot. We usually have a small flock that stays here year round, but I haven’t seen any for months now. This one may have migrated in from breeding areas in the north-central states or in lower Canada. Other news is that Snowy Egrets are showing up in greater numbers, with sometimes three of them working the rip-rap in close proximity. The Yellow-rumped Warbler has been in the park for several weeks but eluded my lens until now, when I saw three of them feeding on Fennel seeds on the east side just south of the Open Circle Viewpoint. They kept to the far side of the shrub, so the best image I could get had a lot of botany in the foreground. I was impressed that the Merlin app nailed the bird ID despite the cover. On the west side, the Wandering Tattlers seemed to be gone. I saw one Spotted Sandpiper on the rocks at low tide. A half-dozen Black Turnstones were active on the west side as well, just a few yards away from a pair of fishers risking their bones clambering with their poles on the slippery rip-rap. Individuals or pairs of Brown Pelicans could be seen plunge-diving over the North Basin, but only Susan Black was able to get a good-enough photo. Susan also captured one of the Black Oystercatchers foraging on the rip-rap at low tide.

Finches At Home

I think I finally figured out where the park’s House Finch population has its crib. There’s a thicket of dense shrubs on the edge of the southern apron of the Native Plant Area that sometimes just rings and screeches with House Finch tweeting. Young birds emerge from this thicket in numbers, fly in dense flocks, and sometimes settle in nearby treetops as in the photo above. I haven’t tried, and will not try, to locate finch nests in this thicket, but I suspect that this is where they are. It’s great that the park serves as a breeding environment for these pretty finches. Let’s hope that they stay healthy and that there’s enough seeds of various kinds — they’re vegetarians — to sustain their population.

Crazy Crows?

Photographer Phil Rowntree saw this murder of American Crows highly agitated about something. But what? Sometimes they mob a bird of another species, or form a jam to get at some prized eating matter, but nothing of the sort seemed to be happening here. They looked like they were going crazy, Phil thought.

Crows are highly social, with complex family and clan structures, and it may be that some family disagreements were erupting here. Or maybe these intelligent birds were just bored and stirred up a squabble for entertainment.

Cormorant Light Show

About this video, I have to admit that the bird’s energy in foraging along the water’s edge is only part of the attraction. The other part is the wild patterns of sunlight reflecting on the agitated waters as the bird dives. Sure, it’s glare. But it’s glare with artistic inspiration. See if you don’t agree.

The Pelagic Cormorant is a cousin of the locally far more numerous Double-crested Cormorant. Despite its name, which suggests that the bird takes the whole ocean for its backyard, this cormorant mostly sticks to the shorelines, as here. It has a thinner beak and lacks the orange jaw paint of the double-crested.

They’re Neat

Several kinds of yellowjackets live in the area. The ones in the video are probably the Western Yellowjacket (Vespula pennsylvanica), but might be the Common Yellowjacket (Vespula vulgaris) or the less common California Yellowjacket (Vespula sulphurea). They were moving too fast for identification. What impressed me most about these is their neatness. They probably didn’t dig that hole. It’s too small for Ground Squirrels. It may have been dug by a Pocket Gopher or even a Vole. The entrance is much tidier than those mammals usually leave it. The wasps have worked to make it perfectly round and to smooth out the edges so that they wouldn’t bruise their tender wings in the passage. And note the way that the dry grasses overhanging the nest have been neatly trimmed, almost as if with a scissors. The wasps did that. If you look at the video closely, you can see one of the wasps cutting off a stem on the lower left side. This is peak season for yellowjackets, time to feed the larvae that grew from the eggs that the queen has been laying way down in the nest cavity. Once the rains start, it’s over, and only a queen survives the winter to begin the cycle again next spring. Unlike bees, which generally can sting only once, and do so at the cost of their lives, yellowjackets can sting repeatedly. None was interested in stinging me as I held my cell phone inches from their busy entrance. Generally they’re too preoccupied with their work to sting a person, unless they feel threatened. We spotted this nest in the Native Plant Area while we were working to water and weed the young native plants. The wasps didn’t bother us.

Squirrels of the Week

Emilie Keas caught these young Ground Squirrels at play. They’re fast runners and good jumpers. They’re totally at home in the challenging environment of the rip-rap at the water’s edge. Park vegetation is mostly dry now, but there’s an abundance of seeds, Fennel and others. Love of seeds is what gave their species its Latin name, spermophilus (sperm=seed, phil=love).

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3 thoughts on “Park Week 10/6/23

  • Gorgeous photos, thank you Marty.

    My household and many I know will be thrilled to see the Burrowing Owl again!!

  • Great pictures plus a wonderful report. Thanks Marty There’s no doubt of the dedication of so many active at Cesar Chavez Park.

  • Why is it that the squirrels all seem headed toward the water? Do they come inland using tunnels?

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