Park Week 2/23/2024

First Red-winged Blackbird

This male’s fires were burning and he couldn’t restrain himself from checking out the Red-wing Blackbird Spring party area and nursery on the northwest corner of the park to see if any females had arrived. Negative. That was on Sunday the 18th, and I didn’t see him again all week, but he and other males will be back any day to stake out territories. They want to be ready for the females when they finally show up. The blackbird sexes travel separately with their own schedules. The males are ready anytime. The females will wait until the area is in shape for nest building. That means fresh new fennel high enough and dense enough to conceal a nest. (See “Young and Hungry” May 28 2016) At the moment, new fennel has hardly begun, and in some years it’s delayed. That was the case last year, where the super-wet winter may have waterlogged the plant’s roots. The fennel grew poorly, and very few females settled in. In a good year, the whole northwest quadrant of the park in springtime is a bedlam of blackbird calls, and the males fearlessly fight off crows and raptors intent on stealing eggs. Let’s see what this season brings.

Sharing Habitat

The Spotted Sandpiper lives at the water’s edge, feeding on bits of animal protein buried in mud or clinging to rocks or seaweed. Its bill is good for probing and penetrating. The Black Phoebe is a flycatcher. It forages in grasslands or forest edges, and often visits the water’s edge at low tide when rot brings flies. I saw these two within a few feet of one another just north of the Open Circle Viewpoint, on the east shore of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. I saw the sandpiper first. It’s unusual to see one preening at length. They have to feel safe to do that. At one moment, there was a quick shadow in the air above this bird, and it ducked. You can see that on the video. That was the phoebe, happening to pass overhead. The phoebe then settled and let me film it. These two birds share the same habitat but don’t compete for food. If it’s in the air, the phoebe will go after it. If it’s in the mud, it belongs to the sandpiper. If a flying fly lands on the mud, it’s a tossup who gets there first.


The Great Egret, like its Blue cousin, is a force on dry land or wet. On Wednesday morning, two of them foraged on the grassland in the northwest corner of the park. The next afternoon, one of them hunted in the receding tide on the south edge of the North Basin.

One Good Tern…

The wrecked sailboat that a naval adventurer left behind in the 1970s served as perch on Thursday for a pair of Forster’s Terns. I haven’t seen one here for sure since 2021. I say “for sure” because they move so fast that identifying them can be tricky. Here, however, they did attendant birdwatchers and photographers the great favor of perching quietly, turning this way and that to show their better side. They’re fishers, and they’ve been seen breeding in the south side of San Francisco Bay as well as in Central Valley marshes, so these individuals may not have migrated very far. They’re in winter plumage. In summer, they grow a black cap and a more colorful beak. To read more about them, including why it would be good to change their names, read this post: “Fast Terns,” Jun 4 2021.

The Supporting Cast

In addition to these stars, a regular supporting cast rounded out the week. If you’ve been following this blog, you will already know just about all of them. The main puzzler would be that water bird with outstretched wings. Hint: I posted a short video of it last week. How many can you name without peeking at the captions?

Not Only Weekends

Bob Huttar photo

Chavez Park Conservancy stewards of the Native Plant Area aren’t just weekend weeders. Aroused to action by Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar, a short crew of three went to work on Thursday on the north side of the area, where a fire charred the shrubbery last summer.

The blackened area will emerge with a green and multicolored cover as the season advances. We’ve planted a small orchard of native bloomers here, and Thursday’s volunteer stewards pulled back the surrounding weeds. They also thickened and widened the protective blanket of wood chip mulch, generously hauled to the spot by Park landscape supervisor Jacob Several. Clyde Crosswhite and Carol Denney joined Bob for the outing, the first on a weekday.

Cherry Blast, Almost

The ornamental cherry tree on the south side of the park shows signs of stress this year. Lack of sun and impacts of heavy rains have left it a bit shy of the explosive blast of blossoms we saw in some previous years; compare what it looked like in 2020 here. Still, it’s balm for the soul, and seen in detail the blossoms are as gorgeous as ever.


A park visitor on Thursday stopped me and pointed at the clouds. Beautiful! She was right. I took some photos. Here’s the best. I looked them up. These are cumulus clouds. They generally build up from ground evaporation when clear skies follow rain. They form in the morning and tend to fade away in late afternoon.

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One thought on “Park Week 2/23/2024

  • These photo/videos are so wonderful. I especially loved watching the Black Phoebe’s eyes. Who made up the word « birdbrain ». There’s an intelligence in those dark eyes.

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