Park Week 3/31/23

Favorite Birds of the Week

I’ll go out in the rain when there’s a Burrowing Owl in residence, but otherwise I’m a sane person and stay home. So this was a short week for bird observations, but I did catch some images that I’d like to share. My prize came on Monday when I spotted a Yellowlegs at low tide on the mudflats near the Schoolhouse Creek outfall (map). Me and the Merlin app think it’s a Greater Yellowlegs, but without a Lesser nearby it’s hard to be certain because the main distinction is size. I also liked a handful of Least Sandpipers that were pecking at seaweed-covered rocks along the shore by the Virginia Street Extension. A flock of a dozen or so American Wigeons looked very pretty in the morning sunshine. A trio of Black Oystercatchers worked the rip-rap along Marina Boulevard, and as I watched, one of them speared a mussel and had no trouble getting it open. A Snowy Egret looked like it was admiring its mirror image in the water. A Willet snagged something rather big that I couldn’t identify, but it must have been good because the bird opened its throat wide and gobbled it whole in an instant. And a pair of House Finches sitting on a fence deserved a photo. The female looked quite full and I wonder if she was carrying a load of eggs. It’s that time of year.

After the midweek rainstorms, I saw some other sweet birds, and a plant that is dense with bird memories. The Black Phoebe below left looks like it’s dressed for a formal event with tux and all. This Song Sparrow, center, warbled its song with high energy and at even higher frequency — my aged timpani couldn’t hear most of it. The lone California Poppy in the bush at right below adorns the spot where the Burrowing Owl this past winter season perched part of the time. This was Perch A. When the owl was here, this formed a dark brown background for the bird. Too bad the owl is long gone. It would have made an ever so pretty picture posed in front of a blooming native poppy.

Time to Get Down on Drones

Long-time park visitor Mari V. emailed me this past week to raise an alarm about a large drone that was apparently tricked out to resemble a bird, and was hovering over the North Basin cove, panicking the waterfowl there. In expressing her concerns, Mari joined a long line of park visitors with drone complaints. Some expressed concern about drone impacts on wildlife, while others reported personal discomfort with the whining, screaming noise of the devices, or being strafed while walking and in some cases yelled at by drone “pilots.” Although the FAA has drone regulations, that doesn’t seem to matter in the Wild West of Chavez Park, where anything goes. It’s the only park in the East Bay, possibly in the whole Bay Area, that has no drone restrictions at all. Do you agree that something has to be done? If so, please sign up for the Chavez Park Drone Working Group here. To get started, here’s a page that lists existing drone laws in California (thanks, Robbie!): Link.

Saluting DIY Park Stewards

Clyde Crosswhite in 2018

Walking along the Virginia Street Extension the other day I encountered Clyde Crosswhite, a fellow caretaker of the Native Plant Area in the park. We’ve pulled weeds and hauled water side by side on a number of Saturday work days in the area. I first met Clyde in 2018, when he was picking up not only trash but also noxious invasive weeds. This day, Clyde was walking the shore along the Virginia Street Extension with a big plastic bag, picking up trash. There seemed to be more trash along that stretch of dirt road than we usually see in Chavez Park. Clyde told me that the East Bay Regional Park District, which has management of this strip, is extremely short staffed and has basically nobody that regularly picks up trash there. On the rare occasions that he meets a park employee, they thank him profusely for what he is doing. As do I. I see a few other park visitors who will pick up trash and can it, but it would be good if it became a general habit, just part of what you normally do when you’re in the park. Taking care of the park is in great part a DIY project.

Perimeter Trail Headed for Rebuild in 2025

Thanks to the omniscient Susan Schwartz, president of Friends of 5 Creeks, I’ve learned that the California Coastal Conservancy has become the dispensary for the $15 million that the State budget has allocated to the Berkeley Marina; see story. The Coastal Conservancy will meet on April 6 and vote on a staff recommendation to disburse $3.049 million to the City of Berkeley for two Marina projects. Approval is a formality. One project in the amount of $936,000 will cover the South Cove West parking lot with asphalt. The other, in the amount of $2,113,000, will repave the Cesar Chavez Park perimeter trail. The Project Description, available online here, describes the trail project as follows:

The trail is comprised of eight feet-width of asphalt and a two feet-wide unpaved shoulder on either side. This trail is an extremely popular fully wheelchair-accessible pedestrian nature trail that can see up to 130,000 person visits per year. Originally constructed in 1991, it has not been resurfaced in over 31 years. As a result, the asphalt surfacing has experienced moderate to severe failures throughout the entire trail. While the surface grade and cross-slopes of the existing trail were constructed to meet ADA accessibility requirements at the time of original construction, the perimeter trail likely does not meet current ADA requirements due to rutting, edge failure, and ponding. The Cesar Chavez Park Pathway improvements will therefore replace the aged asphalt surfacing to create a fully ADA-accessible pedestrian trail and entrances around the perimeter of Cesar Chavez Park. 

Because the project will not extend the scope or change the use of the trail, review under CEQA is not required. The Conservancy document describes Chavez Park as “regionally important” and “extremely popular.” Construction is scheduled to take place summer 2025 and be complete by fall. The current Coastal Conservancy document doesn’t say what is to happen with the remainder of the $15 million state grant.

Burrowing Owls in the Mainstream Media

ABC News Photo

These items are a little old but when it comes to Burrowing Owls it’s all interesting. Thanks to an anonymous contributor, here’s an ABC news story about a Burrowing Owl that hitched a ride on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for two weeks in early March, and didn’t want to leave. Was it the 24-hour buffet? Eventually, a trained biologist netted the bird and took it to a wildlife sanctuary in Florida for observation. View the ABC story here. And then there was the photo of baby Burrowing Owls that went viral ahead of the Super Bowl. Here’s the ABC story on that. Useful background is in the Sporting News, which describes the steep decline in Burrowing Owl populations due to human destruction of their breeding habitat; read it here.

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5 thoughts on “Park Week 3/31/23

  • My brother [who walks with a walker] and I [using a cane] walk on the perimeter trail despite the challenges that the pock-marked pavement presents. At this stage in our lives 2025 seems pretty far off.

    Examples of very accessible walking paths include most of Lake Merritt (south and west sides) and the Richmond Marina. Wide, solid concrete paths along the waterfront. It is sad that Berkeley, home of so many important advances in disability rights, has not seen to repave this path in 30+ years.

  • I can’t help but wonder if the $2.1 million for repaving the perimeter trail 2+ years from now will be sufficient given inflation.

  • Wonderful bird photos!!!!!! Thank you

  • Re: drones
    I’m interested to know why people are complaining about drones and not remote controlled aircraft.
    These aircraft are often far noisy noisier(than drone) and actually fly far faster than drones.
    My guess is what people don’t like about drones is they have cameras – let me assure you as a drone pilot (who learnt to fly in the park) 99.99% of pilots have ZERO interest in taking your picture – you’re just not that cute.

  • Great to hear that the perimeter trail will be fixed and an unpaved side which is much better for me and runners. There are so many more people going to Chavez Park since the pandemic shut in. I hope the paving does not take forever

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