Earth Day at Bay Fair
After three years in limbo for Covid-19, the Bay Fair bounced back to life at Shorebird Park last Saturday, and your Chavez Park Conservancy was there again, as we had been in 2018 and ’19. Exhibitors showed up by the dozen to face throngs of visitors on a day made to order for outdoor recreation: sun, but not too much, a slight breeze, and lush greenery on one side, blue water on the other. Berkeley Nature Center director Anthony DeCicco and his collaborators did a terrific job with setup and logistics. Three bands took turns on the stage and kept hearts bouncing. The crowds overwhelmed the handful of food trucks, with long lines and longer waits. Make a note: more food trucks next year.
At the Conservancy kiosk, the main attraction was the Animal Game. It’s a board with eight animal photos, each with a little magnet on it. The legend says, “These are a few of the creatures you can see in Cesar Chavez Park. Can you name all of them?” There are eight label pieces with the common names of the animals, also with a magnet. The trick is to attach the label to the matching picture. As it has in past years, this simple little interactive game engaged players of all ages. Kids from about 5 to about 15 were particularly good at it. I witnessed half a dozen kids too young to read the labels, who when the labels were read to them, instantly pegged them to the correct picture. I also saw a number of grownups who had big trouble with at least half the creatures on the board. Each time a player finished the game, I gave them a prize: a copy of the Conservancy’s Welcome to Chavez Park brochure with artist Bill Reynolds’ painting of park animals as its centerfold. “I see this game was too easy for you. Here’s the next level: pictures of two dozen more birds for you to learn.” In case you haven’t seen the brochure, you can scope the beautiful centerfold at this link. Altogether at least 100 people played the Animal Game during the day. Sometimes when I stepped away from the booth for a few minutes, I returned to find kids playing the game all by themselves.
I owe thanks to Phil Rowntree for helping me set up, and to Erin Diehm for taking photos. Among other notables, I saw Helen and Paul Canin strolling along, both in their nineties. I chatted with Jacob Several who staffed a Parks booth and showed off new high-power electric tools. I got into a chat about gardening with one knowledgeable visitor, who turned out to be Kathryn Lybarger, candidate for the California Senate.
Uncommonly Good Bird Day
There are days when low tide exposes acres of mud and the only birds to be seen are a gull or two and maybe a crow. And then there are days like Monday morning, when the mudflats teemed with busy feathers, and I saw two species I’d never seen before, and several others that haven’t shown up for quite some time. The 2:30 video below gives you a few seconds of each. The stars of the show are the Ruddy Turnstone and the Red Knot, brand new to my eyes, and not commonly seen here. The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) looks like a Black Turnstone wearing a party costume. They’re cousins, being sole members of the Arenaria genus. The Black is strictly a West Coast of North America bird. It breeds on the northwest rim of Alaska and winters along our coast. The Ruddy is a world bird. It breeds even farther North, in uppermost Canada, Greenland, and all across the northern rim of Russia to Siberia. The Red Knot (Calidris canutus) also breeds extremely far north, and migrates to points as far south as Australia and Tierra del Fuego. It can fly 5,000 miles nonstop, among the longest migration flights of all birds. The supporting cast, all seen here at least once before, includes Short-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, Caspian Terns, a Whimbrel, Yellowlegs, Dunlins, and Western Sandpipers, together with our local Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron. That’s a lot of birds for one short video! Below the video you’ll see some still photos if you’re in a hurry.
How the Turnstone Got Its Name
The next day at the bottom of the low tide around ,midday, the Ruddy Turnstone and its cousins had moved north and foraged along the eastern shore of the park, easily visible just a few steps off the paved perimeter trail. I did not see the Red Knot. From more than five minutes of video footage of the Ruddy, I extracted half a dozen episodes where the bird showed how its genus got its name, by turning over stones. The video shifts to slow motion at the key action sequences. It shows that the bird levers the stones with its beak open, somewhat like blackbirds and meadowlarks open their beaks to create holes in the dirt. Here is that:
It’s that time of the year when birds, mostly males, tell the world of their longings, their qualities, and their intentions. It’s like walking into a concert hall where the musicians are tuning up, each playing their instruments with their personal favorite riffs, a beautiful bedlam. The annoying thing for a photographer is that most of this music comes from invisible performers, at least at this early stage of the season. I did manage to spot this House Finch male in the southern section of the Native Plant Area. He held forth for several minutes in the branches of a late-blooming tree before seeking cover in a leafy shrub a few wingbeats away. It seemed at moments as if two birds were performing, one in a lower register than the other. Songbirds can do that. Their voice organ, the syrinx, has two branches, and they can modulate them independently. Look it up.
Go for Gophers
Two pairs of park visitors alerted me to sightings of a full grown gopher snake crossing the path, but only Gladys Bottger was quick enough to capture a photo (left). The Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer) loosely resembles a rattlesnake but is not venomous. There are no rattlesnakes in the park. Although capable of inflicting a painful bite if cornered, this is not how it hunts. It’s a constrictor, squeezing the life out of prey like gophers and other small mammals. It lives in burrows dug by other animals, especially Ground Squirrels. Adults seen in the park, like this one, stretch about four to five feet long. Check out other pics and videos on this website.
Restroom To Be Cut Again?
City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley told the City’s Budget and Finance Policy Committee last week that cost overruns had eaten into available T1 bond funds and some planned projects would have to be shrunk or cut. Among potential kills is the promised permanent restroom at Chavez Park. The CM’s Attachment 4 lists this item as costing $445,000 and rates it in the “pre-design phase.” That rating is the kiss of death under the budget cutting criteria, which prioritize keeping items that are already advanced in the design phase. This rating, however, is mistaken. We were informed last fall that a sewer lateral (ditch and pipe) had been extended to this restroom location at the time the Spinnaker Way surface was repaved. This means that the costliest part of the restroom construction is already in place, and failure to complete the project would turn the sewer lateral expenditure into money wasted. As for “design” of the restroom structure, little or no design expenditure is required. Completely designed, equipped, and functional prefab restroom structures are available from vendors such as the Portland Loo and Greenflush Restrooms. The price of either option would come in at less than half the $445K budget estimate. The Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission submitted a memo supporting Chavez Park restrooms, and Council member Rashi Kesarwani, in whose district Chavez Park is located, told Berkeleyside that park restrooms were a matter of equity. Getting permanent flush-toilet restrooms into Chavez Park has been a mission of this website since late 2014; see a series of articles about it here. There will be a City Council meeting about the proposed cuts in May, the exact date TBA.
Victory: Local Chapter Dumps “Audubon”
Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, announced last week that the chapter would drop the “Audubon” name and start the process of selecting a new name. A membership poll found 65 percent in favor of the change. That’s good, although the reasons given, while cogent, leave a large part of the man’s evil deeds covered up. Audubon was not only a buyer, user, and seller of enslaved people and a robber of Indigenous people’s graves and a racist and white supremacist, he was also a large scale bird murderer who left a trail of destruction wherever he and his retinue traveled. I’ve documented it from his own writings in my book, Audubon’s Rifle. He was no more a champion of bird conservation than Donald Trump is a champion of women’s rights. Hopefully the local chapter’s adoption of a new name will stimulate a new look at its deplorable handling of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary in Chavez Park, notably the Audubon-approved substandard fence that allows loose dogs to come in and harass owls and other wildlife at will. See Open Letter to Glenn Phillips.
The Peace Symbol on the northwest hilltop got a makeover Friday morning, when four volunteers pulled and chopped weeds, rearranged stones, and laid fresh mulch. Diane, Peter, and Jeni are family and friends of young Asa Scholz, whose memorial bench faces the artwork. I helped out and brought mulch on behalf of the Chavez Park Conservancy. Restoring the Peace Symbol from weed invasions has been a regular annual project for several years.