Park Week 11/24/23

Rain Fruit

Probably Rustgills and Gym mushroom

What seems clear is that the rains we had this past week bore fruit with these mushrooms growing on an old tree stump next to the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way. What’s less clear is the identity of this fungus. I have to rely on web resources. The iNaturalist app didn’t need much time to consider. It said instantly that these are “Rustgills and gyms.” This places them in the genus Gymnopilus. There are, however, more than 200 species in this genus, some of which resemble the round-domed ones here, others don’t. Comparing with photos in iNaturalist, the mushrooms here look like Gymnopilus subspectabilis, commonly known as the big laughing mushroom, laughing gym, or giant gymnopilus. This species contains  the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin. But careful! This species looks virtually identical to Galerina marginata, which is deadly, to Ophalotus illudens, which is toxic, and the Cortinarius species, some of which are also toxic. Bottom line: after taking pictures, I left these fungi untouched, and I strongly recommend you do the same.

Feathered Testosterone

Bufflehead ducks go into courtship mode already in their winter layover, months before they migrate north and start breeding. These males, easily visible with their bright white cheeks and nape, show off for the females and for each other with head-bobbing displays, aggressive rushes over the water, and victorious wing flapping. They charge one another at high speed but seem to avoid actual contact. No torn-out feathers float on the water. It’s all a show. The prize in these combats is pair formation. What the males are asking, more or less, is “will you go steady with me?” If yes, they keep company, but there’s no hanky-panky until spring, when they’re up north in their breeding habitat.

Scaup Trains In and Out

On Saturday I saw a small train of Scaup, all females, maybe a dozen of them, moving into the North Basin. Two days later I saw a much larger train, might have been a hundred, moving north out of this cove. This flock was mixed genders. Later in the week I saw only the odd individual Scaup hanging out with Bufflehead or Ruddy Ducks or alone, like a solo female that roosted on the rip-rap next to Marina Boulevard and flushed when I stuck my head out over the embankment early in the morning. Scaup might visit again in huge numbers, or not. Wait and see.

Other Birds This Week

I first saw the American Pipit in the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary a week ago, and then not again, thinking it had flown away. Then this Thursday (Thanksgiving day) it perched quietly on the area’s concrete retaining wall. It seemed to be people watching, and showed no restlessness as I set up my camera not very far away and started taking pictures. Only when one park visitor, avoiding others on this crowded morning, swerved within a couple of feet, the bird withdrew into the grassland. It must have been well fed as it showed no inclination to forage.

This House Finch photo has had some help from AI. In the original photo the sky was overcast. The new update to my photo editing software has a “sky replacement” feature, and I just had to try it. Result: a much more interesting sky that makes the bird stand out. If you peek really close you can see that the boundary between the bird’s body and the clouds isn’t quite pixel-accurate, and in a forensic exam this would be exposed as an artifice. But for fun and for bird appreciation, it works well enough. The sky is fake, but the bird is real.

This particular Double-crested Cormorant got my attention because it looked more grey than the usual black. This wasn’t just an issue with the light. This bird really was more grey. That happens. Sometimes a random toss of the gene dice produces white or very light colored individuals of normally dark or black species.

The Ruddy Ducks floated in the North Basin more or less all week, always in small numbers, and mostly sleepy in the mornings. I’ve identified the individual in the photo on the left as a female, but actually it could be a first-year male. Can’t really tell without picking one up and holding it upside down.

Other birders also reported other birds nearby. These are the ones I happened to see and photograph. This week I ignored crows and gulls.

Flyover Consulting: Response to the Third Draft of the Waterfront Specific Plan

Read this extended response to the City’s newest version of its Waterfront Specific Plan as a regular website post by clicking here, or read the downloadable PDF version below.

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 11/24/23

  • Thank you Martin for your analysis of Berkeley’s ongoing waterfront development plans. It’s striking to me that — I think for the downtown, too — despite all the expertise in our city, we rely consultants who have little familiarity with the area, and a generic, cast-iron idea of fun: beer and ziplines in place of views and trees; comedy clubs instead of venues for anything local, novel, or interesting. I am really grateful to you for keeping an eye on these discussions.

  • Thank you Martin Nicolaus for your extensive input on the Berkeley Marina. Today I had a great walk again with family and dog but the path around Chavez Park is a disgrace. No owls in sight due to poor insight of cutting their habitat by the city. This is very upsetting to me since I watched them for years.

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