Park Week 4/21/23

Hard Workers

Bob Huttar, Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator, gives orientation talk to Cal student volunteers

More than 20 Cal students showed up for the Chavez Park Conservancy Stewardship Day on Saturday April 15, and got a lot done. Most of the student volunteers, guided by veteran Conservancy stewards Carlene Chang, Helen Canin, Clyde Crosswhite, Carol Denney, and others, got down on hands and knees and worked to release the new native plantings from their cages and to give them room to breathe free of impinging grass and weeds. All the plantings were thriving, and some of the new Ceanothus were even starting to bloom.

Volunteers working to care for native plants started last November, freeing them from cages, grasses, and weeds. Carol Denney photo.

A small team took up saws and clippers and worked to free park pathways from fallen trees. With the help of a chainsaw wielded by Berkeley Parks landscape supervisor Jacob Several, the team removed the fallen Monterey Pine that blocked two paths on the south side. We then attacked the dead tree that fell across the upper path near the northeast corner of the Native Plant Area, and cleared that path entirely. The students carried off a log that must have weighed 250 pounds or more. With that work as warmup, we then tackled the giant Guadalupe Cypress that had crashed across the northside path. Again with help from Jacob Several, and with a little follow-up work later in the week, we carved a tunnel under the fallen tree’s branches and restored public passage on the northside trail. Other fallen trees remain in the Native Plant Area but do not block trail passage.

Berkeley Parks staff generously provided tools, gloves, and sandwiches for lunch. Staff also hauled away most of the tree debris in a trailer. Bob Huttar, Volunteer Coordinator, expressed heartfelt thanks to Parks staff for their assistance and cooperation in making the Stewardship Work Day a success.

Berkeley Bay Festival Tomorrow

Look for the Chavez Park Conservancy booth tomorrow at the Bay Festival in Shorebird Park on the Berkeley Marina. The event runs from 11 am to 4 pm and is free. Bus and bike access are easy and there is plenty of free parking nearby. Check out details on the Berkeley City website for this Earth Day event.

Favorite Vertebrates

Usually I title this section “Favorite Birds,” but this week I couldn’t resist adding a mammal and a reptile. Birds, mammals, and reptiles all have spines. So this week’s title is “vertebrates.”

This hummingbird perched in the exact spot where an Anna’s Hummingbird often poses for its picture. But it’s obvious that this is not an Anna’s. All that orange featherwork means that it’s probably an Allen’s Hummingbird. Then again it may be a Rufous Hummingbird. They look so much alike that you have to see the tailfeathers spread out to tell the difference. Check out this earlier post for details: “Different Hummer (Updated)” Mar 30 2021.

The Golden-crowned Sparrow was one of several working the gravel next to the shore on the west side. Some California Towhees were also busy there in the rocks but moved too quickly for me to get a photo. A lone Spotted Sandpiper, this time showing actual spots, pranced on the green-coated rocks at the water’s edge. It has spots because it’s the breeding season, but I didn’t see a mate.

The California Ground Squirrel pup sat placidly and watched the sparrows and Towhees at work.

The Song Sparrow perched briefly on a Fennel stalk on the north side, and then dove into the shrubbery out of sight.

The Red-winged Blackbird was one among maybe a dozen males of the species staking out territory in the Fennel forest on the northwest side, waiting for females to arrive. I did not see any females. The fresh new Fennel is still too short to provide adequate nest cover. The females do all the nest building and won’t stay unless conditions are good.

The Western Fence Lizard basked in the concrete v-channel that runs through the Fennel forest where the blackbirds hang out. It watched me, or seemed to — it’s hard to know where its eyes are pointing. They are very useful animals in reducing Lyme disease from ticks; read more about that here. It showed no fear. It has to worry about flying raptors, not human photographers.

In the North Basin waters, the main action was a loose raft of Scaup gathering south of the Open Circle Viewpoint, preparing to take off on the northward migration at sunset one of these days. I had the good luck to film their departure last year, see “Scaup Take Off,” May 1 2022. I also saw a Horned Grebe in winter plumage, busily diving not far off the shore. A pair of Black Oystercatchers foraged for edibles on the mud. A couple of park visitors told me that they saw a Mallard mom lead her dozen chicks out of the grass across the path and into the water, but they did not have a camera to record the event, not even a cell phone. If I could I would hand out free cameras to park visitors so that they could record what they see. The park is full of beautiful sights and surprises. I can only catch a small fraction of them. It takes a village …

Favorite Blooms

The flowering plants that caught my eye this week were both yellow and both bloomed on the south side of the park. One is the California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica), a local native listed on Calscape, and the other is Cape Weed (Arctotheca calendula), a South Africa native listed with the California Invasive Plant Council. The Goldfields grew here from seed planted last year by the Park district. It’s host to a number of pollinator insects, including bees and butterflies. How the Cape Weed got here is unknown. It’s capable of spreading over hundreds of acres but so far has sprouted just on the eastern shoulder of a southern hillock.

Another Irresponsible Dog Owner

Illegally off-leash dog inside Burrowing Owl Sanctuary 4/20/23

With its owner nowhere in sight, a large Shepherd dog raced out of the Nature Area, across the paved perimeter trail, and over the fence into the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary, hot behind a Black-tailed Hare running for its life. The rabbit found a hole and saved itself. The dog turned around and explored the area, sniffing this and that, particularly along the east edge above the rip-rap, where the Burrowing Owl perched when it was here. When done exploring, the dog raced out of the area, flew over the fence again, and back into the Nature Area, where both dogs and people can’t lawfully enter. No dog owner appeared or could be heard calling for the dog. The animal was for the moment a feral canine on the hunt, an apex predator invading a habitat that supposedly provided smaller creatures with an oasis of safety from its kind. The substandard 32-inch cable fence that the local chapter of the Audubon Society rubber-stamped in 2011 proved once again to provide no security for wildlife. This happened on Thursday morning April 20 2023, the latest in a series of dog owner atrocities detailed in my Open Letter to Audubon’s Glenn Phillips. It is an absolute scandal that this supposedly bird-loving club smiles and looks the other way when irresponsible dog owners let their animals harass and kill the Burrowing Owls. The local club also disregards the public’s right of access to the Open Circle Viewpoint, a work of public art and a bird viewing hotspot. The owl departed on February 19. Two months later, the gate to the Spiral seating area is still closed and locked. When it comes to the Burrowing Owls in Cesar Chavez Park, the current local Audubon chapter leadership is insincere and incompetent. It’s time for a change.

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 4/21/23

  • Golden Gate Audubon was on the committee that designed and approved the fence in 2020-2011 and has claimed jurisdiction over it, ever since. The Park District looks to GGAS for guidance on how and when to manage the area. GGAS leadership is vehemently opposed to improving the fence. That’s why I talk about them.

  • I don’t understand Marty, what the Audubon Society has to do with this area? are they suppose to protect it or something?

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