Park Week 3/29/2024

Palestine Cease Fire gathering in the parking circle, west end of Spinnaker Way, early morning of March 23

The peace movement for Palestine came to Chavez Park early Saturday morning March 23 when about 150 people showed up at the parking circle, west end of Spinnaker Way, for the start of the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage organized by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. Undaunted by rain showers, after hearing motivational talks and prayers in several languages, marchers strode off on the first leg of a 22-mile walk ending in Alameda. Organizers said the 22-mile route symbolizes the distance from Gaza City to the Rafah crossing refugee camp. The objectives of the pilgrimage were:

  • Enduring and Sustained Ceasefire.
  • Immediate flow of life saving food, water, aid, fuel and humanitarian assistance.
  • Release of all hostages – both the Israeli hostages held by Hamas – and the Palestinian hostages held in the Israeli prison system.

Among the participating organizations listed on the group’s website were All Souls Episcopal, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Beyt Tikkun Synagogue, Buddhist Church of Oakland, Buena Vista United Methodist Church, College Ave. Presbyterian, Kehilla Community Synagogue, Plymouth United Church of Christ, St. Columba Catholic Church, and others.

Upcoming Guitarist

One of the charms of Cesar Chavez Park is that it acts as a magnet for musicians. Tucked away in a corner of the Native Plant Area, I encountered young Stefano of Oakland, who said that he was given this guitar a year ago for his 23rd birthday, and hasn’t put it down since. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. He takes lessons on YouTube.

For a playlist of musicians recorded in Chavez Park, check out this link on YouTube. Just remember that the park is not a commercial recording studio, so wind noise, bird calls and train whistles are part of the artistic experience.

Bufflehead March Madness

It’s that time of year when a lot of male bird brains get flooded with testosterone. The Bufflehead are particularly susceptible. To impress a nearby female, they bob their heads up and down, make mad dashes across the surface by paddling with their wings, and advertise their prowess by rising up and flapping victoriously.

A Gender-fluid Bufflehead

This Bufflehead has the brown and ruddy body coloration of a female, except that its white cheek stripe is larger and has a different shape than conventional females. It lacks the white cap of the male, but the front of its head has the male’s iridescent sheen. This bird behaved somewhat like a male. It bobbed its head up and down aggressively, which females don’t do.

Gender crossover appearances have been documented in Scaup. The Cornell Bird Lab “All About Birds” website says, “Occasionally an older female Greater Scaup will have male-like head color and male patterning on her back, but she still has the typical white face patch of a female.” Cornell doesn’t say what sex role behaviors these Scaup display. I’ve not found a reference to similar phenomena in Bufflehead.

It’s also remotely possible that this is a hybrid. Bufflehead occasionally cross-breed with Goldeneye and some other ducks. However, this bird’s anatomy looks like the usual Bufflehead. I would guess this bird’s pronouns are “they, them.”

Rarely-seen Whimbrel

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

The Whimbrel isn’t an everyday bird here. I saw one about a year ago, then a year before that, and another in 2021, but then a gap to 2018 and ’17. Here’s the Whimbrel collection on this website.

This bird is doing a rest and refueling stop on its northward migration back to breeding grounds in northern Alaska. It may have spent the winter in Chile or Peru, and may have flown here across the ocean without intermediate stops. They can fly at more than 45mph for stretches of 2,500 miles across the ocean, and they fly across the Alaska mountains. The bird was busy foraging here, taking what looked like worms and snails. It will take small crabs, and the curve of its bill is said to be perfectly adapted to the tunnel that certain crabs make. It needs to put on more fat for the remainder of its migration north.

The honking noise in the background of the video came from a pair of Canada geese about 20 yards away. The water was busy with Canada geese this morning. These may have been calling to their relatives on the south side of the Berkeley Meadow to come on over. Eventually they got tired of honking and flew out of range.

Imperiled Long-Billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlkew (Numenius americanus)

As if to provide a lesson in bird identification, a Long-billed Curlew strode onto the mudflats not far from the Whimbrel. It was easy to see the differences. The curlew has a longer bill, is bigger, doesn’t have stripes on its head, and has an orange/ruddy belly. But those anatomical differences only scratch the surface. The Curlew is an entirely different kind of bird from the Whimbrel. The Whimbrel is a shorebird, a long-distance migrant that breeds in the far north. The Curlew is a grassland bird, at home in the same habitat as Western Meadowlarks, Burrowing Owls, sparrows, pipits, and many others. The Curlew uses its long beak in summer to dig out earthworms and spear grasshoppers. The Curlew breeds in the Great Plains, or what’s left of them, and makes a short migration to the coasts or nearby valleys in winter, where its beak comes in handy in probing for protein buried deep in the mud. Grassland birds have suffered the greatest loss in numbers. Because of widespread destruction of grasslands, the Curlew is listed as “vulnerable” in Canada and “highly imperiled” in the U.S., whereas the Whimbrel is rated as “Least Concern.”

Willet Bathing

Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

A bird may spend all of its time at the edge of the water, but it still needs to take a bath now and then. I caught this Willet in the act. Bathing and preening are serious business. We humans can take our “feathers” off and throw them in the washing machine. Most of the year, birds have to take baths with their clothes on. In the still image above, a frame from the video, the bird is shaking its head like a wet dog while holding its wings akimbo.

Catching No Oysters

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus X)

This Black Oystercatcher worked hard but caught little of nutritional value on the east shore of the park on Wednesday morning. After prying here and there, it paced off to the south at a rapid clip, where I lost it among the rocks.

Crow Being a Shorebird

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

With the chilly weather and the rain, waste barrels in the park had slim pickins, and this American Crow had to make a living the hard way, by being a shorebird. It didn’t like it much, complaining repeatedly, and it didn’t find much, either.

Other Birds Seen This Week

On Wednesday I saw at least 100 possibly 150 large grebes on the North Basin. The awake birds were a mix of Clark’s and Western. Most of them were asleep with heads tucked between wings, hard to identify. There were more grebes than scaup. Just a few of the grebes halfheartedly started courtship rituals, but didn’t take it very far. The next day, most of the grebes and almost all the scaup were off the water.

If you’ve paid attention to this blog over the weeks, you’ll quickly recognize almost all of the birds below without peeking at the captions.

Note that the Horned Grebe was tough to identify. Its fuzzy cheek markings are more like an Eared Grebe. Probably this bird recently molted. The white tip on the beak sealed the Horned Grebe ID.

Take a close look at the White-crowned Sparrow. Its white head stripes are standing up. I’m seeing that for the first time. Is that a courtship display?

I saw a small number of the Black Turnstones but did not see the Ruddy Turnstone I saw with them last week.

Two Important Articles About Burrowing Owls

Thanks to Bob Huttar, Phil Rowntree, and Lyra Arum who forwarded these articles to me, I’m copying here a piece from the Los Angeles Times and then a piece from the San Francisco daily about Burrowing Owls. There’s an important effort ongoing to win greater legal protection for these beloved birds under California law.

Burrowing-owl-threats

The SF story is only available as a link. Click it to read it.

Bay Area Burrowing Owls are on the brink of extinction, by Amanda Bartlett, SFGate March 27 2014

Greater legal protection for the Burrowing Owls could be a big help here in the park. The “art” fence around the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary in the northeast corner enables off-leash dogs to invade the space at will. I happened to be present with my camera this week as another one of these invasions took place. We’ve tried persuasion, we’ve offered to pay for a better fence, maybe we need to file a lawsuit to compel the city to protect the owls.

Sixteen Wild Turkeys

One bird species that’s not in peril of extinction is the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). That’s largely due to human protection. The bird was once hunted almost to the vanishing point, but populations now are greater than ever. The Cornell Bird Lab’s “Birds of the World” site says, “The restoration of the Wild Turkey is considered one of the great successes of modern wildlife management.” Here, a rafter of Wild Turkeys has been foraging near and across Marina Boulevard for weeks, and a couple of days ago I encountered 16 of them on the Virginia Street Extension. They walk like the heavy beasts they are, but have no trouble rising into the air and roosting in a tree.

Botanical News

So shoot me, I’m posting yet another picture of the Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum). I’m in love with it.

Then there’s a photo of another Cal native, the Showy Island Snapdragon (Gambelia speciosa). The iNat app thought this was the Sacred Flower of the Incas, which it resembles, but it’s several thousand miles out of range.

The Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata), also a native, meanwhile has advanced to the fruiting stage. All three are in the Native Plant Area.

Up on the north side you will find small patches of what we commonly call “Wild Onion.” The iNat app refers to it as “Three-cornered garlic,” on Wikipedia it’s “Three-corned leek” and on the California Invasive Plant Council site it’s “Three-cornered onion.” In any case, it’s Allium triquetrum. Identifying wild Allium turns out to have irked botanists for centuries, with estimates of the number of species ranging from the 200s to the 900s. This one is at home originally in parts of the Mediterranean, and is classified in California as an invasive weed.

In the same category is another pretty face, this one spreading fast along the eastern path to the Off-Leash Dog Area. It’s Prostrate Cape Weed, or just Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula). It grows low enough to survive the most recent mowing. The Cal Invasive Plant Council rates it as “Moderate-Alert,” meaning it has limited distribution but the potential to spread fast. There’s an older patch of them on the south side of the park. How it emerged along the dog trail is unknown.

Finally, the most noxious invasive weed of them all has reappeared on the north coast: French Broom (Genista monspessulana). Cal IPC assigns this its highest rating, “severe ecological impacts on physical processes, plant and animal communities, and vegetation structure.” By the time you read this, Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers may have uprooted this plant, as we have uprooted all of the others that came before it. The last thing you want in a park botanically is a French broom takeover.

A Plea to Photographers

Black-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus melanopygus)

The Echium (Pride of Madeira) growing up near the parking circle on the west end of Spinnaker Way is in full bloom. It’s an irresistible magnet for various species of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. I’ve taken lovely photos of some of them there in past years. But this year my schedule and the schedules of these photogenic subjects just aren’t matching. I hear reports that hummingbirds are there, when I’m not. When I’m there, they’re not. The best I could get is this snapshot of a big fat bumblebee. So I’m throwing up my hands in surrender and putting out this plea to photographers. Please, go stalk this image hotspot and get the brilliant photos that are there, waiting for you to take them. And please send them in to me, martin@chavezpark.org, and include your name so that you get full credit on the photo when it’s published. OK? Thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 3/29/2024

  • “I would guess this bird’s pronouns are “they, them.” –I got a chuckle from that! thank you!
    🙂

  • I love your photograph of the Black Tailed Bumblebee! If you like the idea of cross-pollination, please consider entering your bee photograph to the New York Times “Spelling Bee.”

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