Park Week 4/14/23

Native Plant Stewardship Day Tomorrow

On Saturday, 4/15, a number of UC students will be volunteering their time and energy at Chavez Park to help care for the new Pollinator Habitats, other native plants and fallen trees. Bob Huttar will lead but be spread thin and could use your help as more experienced park stewards to guide them. They may only ask questions like what and how to weed, what to protect and where the different locations are. 

The rains have been terrific for our plantings and unfortunately also for weeds. The winds have broken branches and knocked over trees. We will be removing some cages from plants which have outgrown or grown through them, weeding clear spaces around plants and reducing the fallen trees and branches. 

Let’s meet at 9:15 am at the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way. The students are scheduled from 9:30 (but have been historically tardy) through 3:00. This gives us time to organize ourselves before they arrive. Our activities normally have been limited to the morning so I will understand if anyone leaves before the students do. We will be providing some weeding and pruning tools and gloves if you need them.

Let me know if you can make it. Thank you for your help!
Bob Huttar 949 307-5918 Volunteer Coordinator Chavez Park Conservancy

High School Stewards

A crew of half a dozen high school students arrived at the park mid-morning on Monday 4/10 armed with pickup sticks and garbage bags, and began collecting bits of trash along Marina Boulevard. Their teacher, Gabriel Boteo, explained that they were from Bayhill High School in Berkeley and were starting an “experiential week” where they were going to a number of area parks doing basic restoration work. The students walked the whole perimeter trail. They did a good job, missing nothing, and sometimes competing with each other to be the first to reach a piece of debris that needed picking up. Bayhill High school’s website says that it’s specialized in educating students with learning differences. “Our alternative high school helps students with DyslexiaADHD, and other learning disabilities thrive.”

Favorite Birds

My favorite bird this week has got to be the Anna’s Hummingbird that sipped nectar at the blooming Echium plant near the west end of Spinnaker Way. After taking a few snapshots, I reset the camera to take a high-speed video, but just as I started filming, the bird flew off.

Then as I approached the Schoolhouse Creek delta, I had the opposite photo experience. I didn’t see this bird at all because it stood still as a statue just outside the huge culvert where Schoolhouse Creek flows into the North Basin. I only saw it when I set up to take a scenic shot and noticed it in the corner of my frame. This is the first Black-crowned Night-Heron I’ve seen here in a while. I couldn’t resist taking a closeup of its amazing eye.

Near the Open Circle Viewpoint I saw a flock of Black Turnstones arriving and settling. They went to work immediately on the exposed rock, soon joined by a Snowy Egret. A few of the Turnstones broke off and worked the mud instead.

Three Great Egrets were stalking in the shallows at low tide. Watching one of them, I saw it plunge into the water seven times before catching anything, and that was very small, hardly a snack for this big bird. After a while it flew off looking for richer pastures.

Several Willets were also taking advantage of the low tide to snag bits of marine protein.

On Tuesday morning with a low tide of minus .5 feet, I didn’t have to walk more than a few steps to see one of the most dramatic bird scenes I’ve ever seen in the park. At least a thousand Western Sandpipers were working the mud along Marina Boulevard. At the machine-gun rate of their pecking, it didn’t seem like there was any intelligence in their foraging, but when I switched to slow motion, I had to change my view. The birds, or at least some of them, pecked selectively. They saw something of interest and pecked there. They weren’t just pecking blindly. Hats off to them for some amazing high speed eye and brain coordination. Then their aerial maneuvers again blew my mind. How in heck do they hang together and move as a body? Who decides which way to turn and where and when to land? When the flocks split, who decides which flock will follow the other? How are those decisions communicated instantly to many hundreds of birds? Much scientific effort has gone into documenting and computer-modeling bird murmurations (tight flocks moving in a coordinated way, as here with the sandpipers). But nobody claims to really understand it. Here’s something useful for AI to work on.

Western Sandpipers

Favorite Plants of the Week

The Goldeneggs (Taraxia ovata) is back! I first saw it in 2019 (“Shy Wildflower Plus” Mar 25 2019) and for two years after that, but could not find it last year and thought it was gone. Happy to see it back. It’s still growing by its lonely, without the slightest sign of spreading. It’s said that ants carry its seeds and bury them some distance away and that’s how it spreads, but if there are ants nearby they’re falling down on the job. The plant, also known as Suncup, is native to California and spots nearby.

On the opposite side of the park, in the west apron of the Native Plant Area, there is a vigorous little stand of Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana). First spotted in 2020 by Jutta Burger (See “April Bloomers” Apr 30 2020) this California native also either didn’t bloom or escaped notice for the next two years. It’s back in all its glory.

In the middle of the Peace Symbol on the northwest hilltop in the park, the Tree Aeonium (Aeonium arborescens) has sprouted these showy flower cones, each made up of dozens of starry flowers with a dense growth of buds ready to replace flowers that tire. It’s a native of the Canary Islands that travelers have spread widely as a garden plant. An unknown person planted a few in the Peace Symbol and they have thrived there in the face of winds and chills and storms. They’re said to be tender garden creatures, but not these ones. These are as tough as they come.

Berkeley Bay Festival April 22

The Berkeley Bay Festival is back after a Covid hiatus, and your Chavez Park Conservancy will be part of it again. Sponsored by the City of Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront team headed by Anthony DeCicco, Recreation Coordinator, and Samantho Orth, the event takes place on Saturday April 22 in Shorebird Park on the south side of the Marina. It opens at 11 am and runs until 4 pm. Admission is free. The 51B bus stops nearby, there is easy bike access, and there is plenty of free parking. We had a lot of fun at the booth with a game that showed pictures of animals commonly seen in the park and asked players to match them with magnetic labels for their common names. Some very young kids aced this game, and some grownups caused a lot of laughter when they didn’t.

National Audubon Blew It

Park activist Susan Black sent this link to an article blasting the National Audubon Society for dissing people of color by clinging to the Audubon name, despite disclosure that John James Audubon bought, used, and sold enslaved people and was an active racist and white supremacist. Author of the article is Meghadeepa Maity, a director of the Feminist Bird Club, and a frequent writer on bird accessibility issues. She says that she would have found the Audubon society much earlier if its name had something even remotely related to birding. As a brown-skinned person of ambiguous gender, she writes, she never felt at home in most birding circles. Maity’s article is published in BirdNote April 7 2023.

Ground Squirrels Killed

Stefania M., a park visitor from Berkeley, posted this in Nextdoor at midweek:

“Today at the Marina/ Cesar Chavez park we saw several dead squirrels. With wounds and blood. Does anyone know what attacks them? We just want to learn about it. Thanks neighbors!”

Unfortunately Stefania did not post details, and I was unable to document this crime scene myself. Commenters in Nextdoor mentioned three possibilities: dogs, mower, or herons. We can eliminate herons. They eat gophers but I’ve never seen one attack a ground squirrel and the squirrels show no fear when herons are near. A mower could injure and kill squirrels that were somehow caught by surprise, but I’ve never seen that. Dogs have repeatedly killed ground squirrels and rabbits in the park, and the owners who let them run off leash are the most likely culprits. But without a photograph it’s open to question. People: if you see a dead animal in the park, photograph it and note the exact location. Then contact Berkeley Animal Care, (510) 981-6600. Then contact me, (510) 717-2414 or

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 4/14/23

  • Pingback: Park Week 7/7

  • The video of willets flying and your comments about them are inspirational, fabulous. Fill me with awe for nature and our beautiful natural world.

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