Park Week 12/15/2023

Season’s Greetings from Nature

There’s no tree that shines in the winter season like the native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). This veteran in the Native Plant Area of our park, planted by the pioneers of Design Associates Working with Nature (DAWN) in the early 1980s, is now in the peak of its winter glory. It’s a feast for our eyes. Before very long, it’ll be a feast for the local birds. Frankly I don’t know what they’re waiting for. The berries (“pomes”) look perfect to me. But the birds are the ultimate judges of Toyon fruit ripeness. When they decide it’s ready, the birds will empty the tree in a day. So carpe diem.

Native Plant Stewardship Day Tomorrow

The recent rains have boosted the baby native plants that we put in the ground on November 6. The moisture has also boosted weeds. If Nature is left to its own devices, the weeds will win some of those battles. Here’s where human hands can help. If you are a hands-on kind of Nature lover, meet at 9 tomorrow morning, Saturday Dec. 16 at the parking circle west end of Spinnaker Way. We’ll have gloves and some hand tools; feel free to bring your favorite weeding tools if you like. Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar will coordinate the outing. Questions? Call him at (949) 307-5918.

Nature’s Own Holiday: Solstice Dec. 21

Alan Gould

Santiago Casal, founder and curator of the Cesar Chavez & Dolores Huerta Tribute site and Solar Calendar, writes:

Celebrate the cycle of the seasons and in particular the fallow season of agriculture (winter). Learn about the significance of the solstice in different cultures. Use models that show the Sun-Earth relationships that cause seasons.
This is a very informal gathering where we can ask each other questions and discuss possible answers on topics of any sort. Here are a few related to the solstice:• What celebrations happen around the world near the time of winter solstices in different cultures?• Where does the Sun set on the equinoxes, solstices, and at various times of year? • Is the winter solstice the day of latest sunrise and earliest sunset? • What does “solstice” mean? • What causes the seasons? 

If you want to do some pre-gathering reading, visit the “Frequently Asked Questions” page at this link.

My First Robin

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

The American Robin is a very common bird, the books say, and I’ve seen them years ago on the East Coast, but I’ve never seen one in the park until Wednesday this week, when this beautiful individual flew up into one of the old Monterey Pines on the south side of the Native Plant Area. As if posing, the bird held its position with just slight variations for more than a minute, enough for me to almost fill up my memory chip with images. Robins have spread throughout North America, thanks in part to their great adaptability. They’re fine in wilderness and fine in the suburbs as well. They’ll feast on worms, and if those aren’t plentiful, they’ll eat berries or seeds or whatever’s available. I issued the bird a silent invitation to bring a mate and build a nest here come spring, and raise a brood of Chavez Park Robins. We’ll see.

Great Blue Takes Gopher

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Walking along the paved trail near the eastern entrance to the park, the human eye notices a string of fresh earth mounds cast up by a gopher or gophers (Botta’s Pocket Gopher, or Thomomys bottae). The gardener thinks “nuisance.” The avian eye notices the same thing, and thinks “breakfast.” This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) strode along the margin of the shore, just a few feet from the paved trail with its parade of park visitors. The bird’s mind was focused in tunnel vision. It paced softly. As it approached what it sensed as a hot spot, it placed its huge feet with great delicacy, out of respect for the keen sensitivity of its underground prey. The video accelerates the final approach into a matter of seconds. In reality, the bird stayed almost immobile for three minutes before pouncing. Once caught in the bird’s needlenose pliers, the rodent was done for. The bird shook and maneuvered its prey into a death grip around the throat, and then down the hatch. Just a couple of minutes later, the bird tried again but came up empty. I’ve seen a Great Blue take two gophers in five minutes, and still get airborne (“Hotel Breakfast,” May 11 2021) . Amazing birds.

Nimble Forager

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

When I was a kid I loved to play a game of dare with the waves on the beach. As the wave retreated I’d run in, and then scamper out as the next wave came crashing in. Great fun. This Spotted Sandpiper plays that game for its breakfast on the stones at the water’s edge, pecking quickly at some little morsel visible only to itself that the wave deposited, and skipping back before the next wave pulled it in. The bird rarely got its feet wet. It worked on wet rocks at such a steep angle that one false step would have dumped it in the water, but it never missed. Impressive. This particular moment happened on the west side of the park. I’ve recently seen Spotted Sandpipers also on the north side, the east side, and on the south side of the North Basin along the Virginia Street Extension. They’re almost always on the move, and if you’re not sure what kind of bird they are, look for the constant dipping or teetering that they do. That’s a Spotted Sandpiper.

Some Other Birds Seen in the Park This Week

Can you name them on sight? Click or touch the image to see the caption.

These are by no means the only birds in the park this week. These are just the ones that allowed me to take their pictures.

Flooded Once Again

Once again at midweek the predicted 7.0 high tide breached the eroded seawall along Marina Boulevard and flooded the pedestrian/bicycle path that leads to the park’s east entrance. Once again, City Management did nothing about it, demonstrating its ongoing indifference to pedestrians, bicyclists, and wheelchair users.

Clouds Do It

The week’s variable weather brought interesting cloud formations. A landscape by itself may be a cake; clouds are the icing that make it special. Here’s two snapshots facing west and southwest from inside the Native Plant Area.

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One thought on “Park Week 12/15/2023

  • Great video Marty and beautiful photos with clouds. So great to be getting this rain.

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