Park Week 12/29/23

Rushing Romance

Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorus clarkii) in rushing ceremony

This pair of Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorus clarkii) provided the highlight of the week’s bird events Tuesday morning by performing the “rushing ceremony.” That is what ornithologists call the birds’ high-energy race on the water’s surface. It’s part of the courtship ritual that these big grebes and their close cousins, the Western Grebes, typically perform. As I watched, three different pairs of birds widely spaced across the North Basin did the rush. Each one started with little warning and ended within a few seconds, so that I was very lucky to capture this episode. I’ve only filmed it twice before, in May 2022 “Walking on Water” and in April 2020, “Clarks’ Courting.” The rushing ceremony is one part of an elaborate set of courtship rituals. One of them is the weed ceremony where the birds dive for seaweed and then exchange it on the surface. See “Weed Ceremony” Jun 7 2021.

This encounter was unusual in my experience. It took place in late December, much earlier than the usual courtship season. And the whole big-grebe population on the water was only about six birds, much less than the nearly one hundred that I saw in previous springtime courtship sessions. I saw them only on Tuesday and at no other time.

Finishing Up

The Native Plant Stewardship session on December 16 (“Weeding the Newbies”) didn’t quite finish with all of the more than 200 native plants we put in the ground in the Native Plant Area in the past three years. On December 26, a small follow-up crew organized by Jutta Burger pulled and chopped weeds and spread mulch around about three dozen of the new plantings that had been missed in the previous outing. Rain came the next day.

Another Fruit of Rain

Where there’s rain and soil there may be mushrooms. This little set popped up literally overnight in the chipped wood mulch that we spread the previous day around a Torrey Pine near the north side of the Native Plant Area.

I have to rely on online apps for fungus ID (and much else). The iNaturalist app Seek says that these mushrooms are Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus). If that’s what they are, they’re common and are considered an excellent eating mushroom, provided they’re eaten shortly after being picked. Unless quickly iced or frozen, they will decompose in a few hours, turning black and slimy and bitter.

However, Shaggy Mane has some look-alikes such as the Magpie Fungus (Coprinopsis picaceaI, the ‘vomiter’ mushroom (Chlorophyllum molybdites), and the common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria), all of which are poisonous. So, bottom line, my advice, for what it’s worth, is not to pick these pop-ups. Let it be, let it be.

Some Other Birds Seen in the Park This Week

These are not the only birds in the park this week, just the ones that allowed their photos to be taken in good enough light, of which there was a limited supply.

Furry Baskers

During the week’s hours of sunshine, these Ground Squirrels took advantage, basking on warm stones or snacking on seeds in the grasslands.

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