Park Week 3/8/2024

Native Plant Work Day Tomorrow

Calling all volunteers for tomorrow morning, Saturday March 9, for stewardship work in the Native Plant Area. Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar notes that some of the baby plants in the Pollinator Habitat are being crowded by weeds, and we need to give them more elbow room. Please come at 9:30 to the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way. Temperature is forecast in the mid 50s, perfect for working. An earlier forecast for slight rain has been dropped. Bring a favorite weeding tool or use one of ours. Gloves provided if you want them. Pizza lunch possible.

Extra attraction: Parks Director Scott Ferris has indicated that he plans to visit during the morning. Meet and greet the park boss, listen and talk with him outside a meeting context, in the field where things are real.

Conservancy Work Day Feb. 11 2024

Spring Equinox Gathering March 19

Alan Gould

Save the date! There’ll be a Spring Equinox Gathering on Tuesday afternoon March 19, Santiago Casal, founder and curator of the Chavez/Huerta Tribute Site at the Solar Calendar, has announced. The event goes from 6:30 to 7:30pm. The sun sets at 7:20.

Alan Gould of the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley will lead the event. He’ll be filling in for Lori Lambertson, Isabel Hawkins and Jason del Aguila (of the Exploratorium). Their schedules did not permit their participation this year, but pledged to be back next year.

Alan will assist in a relaxed gathering that will address the basic question: “What is the meaning of the vernal (spring) equinox?” He’ll use models to help understand the technical meaning of equinox. Share your own ideas and reflect upon societal and cultural connections.

The Spring equinox is the traditional beginning of the planting season of agriculture. The Tribute Site honors the social and environmental justice legacy of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. The Site is organized around the four cardinal directions, and in the Spring we honor the Huerta / Chávez virtue of HOPE, and the United Farm Worker rallying cry ¡Viva La Causa!

Directions: http://solarcalendar.org/
Alan’s solar calendar Frequently Asked Questions page is https://gss.lawrencehallofscience.org/the-solar-calendar/

Western Meadowlarks Visit

An unexpected thrill awaited me on Tuesday morning. I had just about given up seeing anything worth featuring in this blog when a quick motion in the dirt to my left caught my eye. A sparrow, I guessed. But no, this was something else. Rarely seen in the dirt, this Western Meadowlark soon flew up ahead into the grassy strip between the paved trail and the water. From there the bird took a short hop into the grassland in the southeast quadrant of the park. There it joined a second of its kind, both foraging low in the grass and repeatedly standing up to survey the area for danger. I saw only these two. Usually when there’s one Meadowlark there’s a dozen or more. Some years we see larger numbers around this time. Check out, for example, “Ground Larks” Jan 30 2023 or “Lark on Meadow” Dec 2 2022, or “More Larks,” Feb 22 2022. Keep fingers crossed and eyes peeled for a larger flock.

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

New Butterfly

Park visitor Vivian Liu spotted a beautiful butterfly last week that no one previously reported in the park. The new lepidopteran is the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), known in the UK as the Camberwell Beauty.

The Mourning Cloak is often the earliest butterfly to emerge in the spring, even in areas with snow. It has a thick sugary fluid in its veins, which does not freeze. Its preferred food is plant resin, sap, rotting fruit, and the sugary output of aphids. It can take nectar from flowers, but rarely does. That makes it an infrequent pollinator.

This is one of the longest-lived butterflies, with a life span that may reach one year. In breeding season, right about now, the males stake out territories with good resources, wait for females, and mate with as many of them as they can. The females may lay two or three sets of eggs on selected plants, with willows among their favorites. The eggs hatch and in five stages or instars develop into brightly colored hairy caterpillars that may be two inches long. They then go into a pupa for two weeks, when a fully grown butterfly emerges.

These butterflies have various defensive tricks, such as blending into tree bark and sometimes playing dead. They can also form mobs and fly directly at an attacker, such as a bird or a lizard, to frighten them away.

The insect’s scientific epithet, antiopa, refers to Greek mythology, which contains numerous figures with that name. One of the most prominent Antiope figures, the mother of Amphion and Thetus, is the subject of several paintings, some dating to Pompeii. Antiopa is also the name of a play by Euripides, which has survived in fragments. See this Wikipedia article, and also this one.

Thank you, Vivian, for spotting this beauty and sharing your photo.

Some Plants of Note

It took Vivian Liu’s sharp eye to spot these White-stemmed Filaree (Erodium moschatum). The flowers are barely a quarter of an inch in diameter. We have them on the Plant List, first reported in 2019. They’re tiny but very pretty and it’s good to see them again. This set grew in the grassy strip between the paved trail and the water on the east side of the park.

The Pink Rock Rose (Cistus incanus) are regular springtime bloomers behind a romantic bench on the north side of the park. See “A Micro-idyll on the North Side,” Mar 5 2016.

This Tree Aeonium (Aeonium arboreum) (below) grows inside the Peace Symbol artwork on the northwest hilltop. It’s a native of the semi-tropical Canary Islands. Surviving as it does on this exposed and windswept spot, it defies the warning in Wikipedia that “In temperate regions it needs to be grown under glass.” Here it not only survives, it thrives, taking over more and more territory inside the artwork each year. The flower cone contains a thick array of buds that open into individual flowers about half an inch in diameter. Ants and maybe other pollinators love them.

Hummingbird ID Puzzle Solved

The Allen’s and the Rufous Hummingbirds are so similar that the only way to distinguish them is by a small notch in one of their tailfeathers. Without more, I’d have to identify this bird with a question mark. Fortunately, as I filmed it, this tiny bird felt the need to stretch, and for a moment it spread out all of its tailfeathers.

The Rufous has a notch in the second tailfeather. The Allen’s does not. Here, it’s plain that there’s no notch. Therefore this is an Allen’s (Selasphorus sasin). For a fuller discussion of this classic hummingbird conundrum, including a local angle, see “Different Hummer (Updated)” Mar 30 2021.

Other Birds Seen This Week

Here are other birds I saw in and around the park this week. If you’ve been following this blog, you should breeze through this list, identifying every bird without peeking at the captions. Well, almost. The Red-breasted Merganser and the Common Merganser females and immatures look similar, so if you just said “Merganser” give yourself a point.

Squirrel Chipper

California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi)

I was walking on the west side when I heard an unfamiliar peeping. Another park visitor and I looked around and asked, where is that bird? And then it struck me. Not a bird. A ground squirrel. I saw it, in the rocks, chipping rhythmically. I had hardly started filming it when another squirrel approached, sniffed its nose, and then tried to sniff other parts. The chipping squirrel wasn’t having any of that, and took off. There’s a debate whether the squirrels’ chipping is an involuntary reflex like hiccuping, or whether it’s a signal, a form of communication. Does this episode help clarify? For other footage, see “Hello or Hiccup” Oct 10 2022 and “Squirrel Hiccups” Apr 3 2022.

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One thought on “Park Week 3/8/2024

  • What a wonderful gift to receive this!
    Thanks with sincere gratitude.

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