Park Week 2/2/2024

Mower Destroys Sparrow Habitat

The grassland on the southeast slope of the park has for many years been nesting habitat for grassland birds. Records of Savannah Sparrows breeding there go back decades. But in recent years, mowers have cut down the knee-high vegetation that these sparrows need to build and protect their nests. The birds got a break in 2019 when management spared a fraction of this verdant meadow until July 4, long enough for the newly hatched birds to learn to fly. See “Saved From Mower,” Apr 26 2019. Since then, no mercy. This week, the mowers went out on sunny Tuesday, the last dry day before a series of rain events, and decapitated the vegetation east and west, leaving piles of wet cuttings and muddy tracks where the heavy machines dug into the rain-softened soil. A Savannah Sparrow, one of a pair, could do no more than perch in the dry weeds at the water’s edge and watch as his world was demolished. If you want to ask Parks management to protect threatened grassland birds, email Bruce Pratt, Parks Superintendent, bpratt@cityofberkeley.info.

Coot Combat

the American Coot seemed to me a peaceful bird, foraging alongside Wigeons, Willets, Gulls, Oystercatchers, sandpipers and other feathered creatures with never a hiss or a peck. All the greater my surprise when I saw two of them go at each other in serious combat just off the northeast corner of the park. They attacked not with their beaks but with their formidably large and sharp feet. Then I read up on them and found that this truculent behavior is said to be characteristic of these birds. “Universally described as a quarrelsome and belligerent bird, more than ready, willing, and able to engage in either ritualized or outright physical conflict with its own or other avian species.” So says the Cornell Bird Lab’s Birds of the World service, citing observations dating back decades. In a few cases, the stronger bird held the loser underwater and drowned it. It looks like they’re on their Sunday behavior most of the time here in the park, but this pair slipped up and let their inner scrapper out. Here’s a short video:

Visiting Great Blue

A big and strong-looking Great Blue Heron visited the park on Sunday and stayed for several days, exploring different habitats. I first spotted it on Saturday just as it was about to take off from a stone at the water’s edge on the north side. Park visitor John Porter captured a photo of it on Sunday with his cell phone on the east shore. I last saw it on Thursday morning on the newly mowed grassland in the southeast corner, hunting gophers — with no luck while I watched.

Some Birds You May Know

Here are some of the other birds that allowed me to take their pictures in the park this past week. If you’ve been following this blog you probably know them already. The only bird that hasn’t appeared here almost every week is the Red-breasted Merganser, top row. She was paddling by herself off the west side of the park on Thursday morning. Last seen here December 8. Out of the other eighteen bird pictures, how many can you identify without peeking at the caption?

Two Native Winter Bloomers

Two of the mature shrubs in the Native Plant Area are putting on a modest show these weeks. The Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) is loaded with tight bunches of its tiny red fruits. Indigenous people used them as food and medication. It grows on the upper path of the Native Plant Area where it’s easily visible. Tucked away on the lowest of the three paths in the same area is the Coast Silktassel (Garrya elliptica). Its showy male tassels are in bloom now. Pinkish hulls form a hanging chain, with tiny white and yellow flowers bursting from the junctions. The plant is native to the coast of California and Oregon.

Notes

This website was down for some hours late Wednesday and early Thursday. Apologies. I had to make some technical adjustments that were over my head. Oops! Thanks to Matt Kopala of sitedistrict.com where this website is hosted for guidance to get it back on track.

The BAAQMD hearing — see “Gas War in Our Park” Jan 25 2024 — resumes Feb. 6. I’ll be there, at least virtually, and will report ASAP. If the Air District gets its way, the City will be wasting a lot of money and park visitors, not to mention wildlife, will have to put up with many months of heavy equipment tearing up the grasslands north, west, east, and south to replace the pipes and wells of a landfill gas collection system that has run out of gas. I’ve alerted the office of Rashi Kesarwani, whose City Council district includes the park. At this point no response.

As I mentioned last week, the expected January City Council discussion of the Waterfront Specific Plan slipped, and at press time Parks Commission Secretary Roger Miller was unable to announce a new date. With Council reduced by two resignations and city management thinned by numerous vacancies, it may be some time before the waterfront rises to the agenda. Stay tuned.

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 2/2/2024

  • The sparrow’s mate flew off before I could photograph her.
    I’m not an expert on the MBTA. I don’t know if a case has ever been brought on account of mowing. I’ll look into it.

  • I enjoyed seeing all but one of these photos today —the exception, of course, being the heart-wrenching one of a visibly-grieving Savannah Sparrow, given the destruction of its habitat by heartless City employees. Those employees and their supervisors need to be educated on the proper treatment of / respect for nature. My favorite photo here is the one of the Willet with wings partially spread. It’s really gorgeous. Questions: Is the City, with its mowing, violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act? One would think that that is the case. Where is this Savannah Sparrow’s mate? Was she one of the mower’s victims? . . . .

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