Park Week 6/27/23

I’m publishing this on Tuesday instead of the usual Friday. Last Friday’s weekly installment got kind of long, and this one is headed in that same direction. Thank you for your understanding.

The Year of Wild Mustard

“I’ve never seen so much mustard,” said Bob Huttar, Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator, leading a group of eight volunteers who showed up on Sunday morning 6/25 to take care of the new native plants in the Pollinator Habitat established this past November. The Wild Mustard plant (Sinapis arvensis) threatened to eat up the sun, air, and soil nutrients of many of our plant babies, and also blocked passageways. All the plants got water, and those that needed it most got more air and sunshine thanks to our hard-working volunteer crew, which included Jutta Burger, Helen Canin, Carlene Chang, Clyde Crosswhite, Nancy Nash, Marty Nicolaus, and Margaret Yang. Some of the new native plantings grow faster than others, and a few are going into summer dormancy, but all are hanging in and some have flowered. The new trees, in particular, are thriving and looking good.

Two weeks ago we cleared the lower passage in the Native Plant Area. This week it was the turn of the middle passage, completely obscured by mustard shoulder-high. see photos below.

Still Here

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Up in the northwest corner of the park, where the Red-winged Blackbirds led the orchestra, the concertmaster’s baton has passed to the Song Sparrows. The blackbirds seem to have taken off in the week after Summer Solstice, as has happened in past years. I did not hear a single blackbird voice at the start of this week. But House Finches were twittering away all over the Fennel forest. The lacy new greenery has now almost reached maturity, with some plants already starting to bloom. And the Song Sparrows are still here. I heard at least two, possibly three or four of them. Two of them contributed brief performances in the video, above. Reminder: listening to birdsong is therapeutic. It relieves common mental burdens such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia.

Other Birds of Note

I never know when I’ll see a Black Phoebe. This website has 14 other posts registering a view of this bird in the park. Only three of them are in summer: one in June, two in August. I’m not alone in my bafflement. The authoritative Birds of the World source (from Cornell bird lab) says “Movement patterns not well known.” They nest in coastal Northern California generally, but probably at higher elevations. Their breeding season is just about over, and we may be seeing a fledgling here. They’re flycatchers, competing with the Barn Swallows and the occasional Tree Swallow for bugs in the air or on vegetation. Prefers to hunt by perching and waiting for prey to come near, then darting into the air to capture it. The one in the photo top left perched on one of the burned branches on the north side of the Native Plant Area.

The Great Blue Heron is a familiar sight in and around the park. This one issued a loud “craack,” alerting me as it flew overhead, or I might have missed it. It settled briefly on the south end of the North Basin, stared at the water for a few minutes, didn’t like it, and took off northward.

This is the second Surf Scoter I’ve seen out of the water. He found a rocky perch at the foot of the Open Circle Viewpoint. A flock of possibly ten of his kind noodled in the water not far away. It’s reassuring to see these ducks again. The Cosco Busan oil spill disaster in 2007 killed thousands, and for more than a decade they were absent or scarce on the Bay. I saw them again the next day, thirteen strong, in the same area, mostly sleeping. What they are doing here now, however, is a puzzle. These months are normally their peak breeding season, and they do that normally in northern Canada and Alaska in the boreal forests (taiga). These might be very late northward migrants taking an extended rest break. (There are also some Scaup still hanging around, while many hundreds have taken off northward weeks ago.) Birds are members of a species and of a flock governed in many ways by their DNA, but they are also individuals making choices.

Fix the Trail

The paved perimeter trail around the park was named for Olivia Stegman, a prominent disability activist. Details. Apart from replacing a short segment of the trail on the east side damaged by repairs on the seawall in 2019, the perimeter trail has had no maintenance in more than 30 years. On April 6 this year, the State of California Coastal Conservancy unanimously approved a grant of $3M to the City of Berkeley for waterfront improvements, of which $2.1M is for upgrading the perimeter trail to current ADA standards. The grant is contingent on the City submitting a detailed work program, schedule, and budget, along with names of contractors to be used. The City has tentatively scheduled the work for the summer of 2025. To date, no specifics relating to the job have been released, and there has been no explanation for the delay in beginning the work. The Open Letter, below, is by Dave Mandel, a veteran park and landscape planner, and was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on Monday June 26 2023. Republished by permission.

Open Letter to [City of Berkeley Parks]Director [Scott] Ferris Re Access to Trail. By Dave Mandel, ASLA, MLA, Acting City Planning Manager, East Palo Alto (ret’d.), U.C. Berkeley Long-Range & Envrmtl Planner (ret’d.) -U.C. Berkeley/U. Washington/ Oklahoma State U. Landscape Architecture & City Planning Teacher (ret’d.) -California License

I am a planning, landscape & parks professional of 5 decades’ experience, so hope you will give my note your attention. I also happen to be disabled enough to need to use a high-quality walker.

The Stegman Marina circumference trail is a hazard to persons with disabilities. Its surface is eroded, cracked, altogether disintegrated in areas, and tree-root impacted. It is not just burdensome to negotiate with a wheelchair, walker or crutches; it is a harm and a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. 

The trail is so difficult to negotiate, even with my exceptionally large-wheeled “Drive Medical Nitro Rollator” (see pic), that I am forced to use the adjacent dirt/gravel “desire line” jogging path instead — which is just barely more negotiable. 

I wrote on this concern to the Berkeley City Council four years ago. No reply. I wrote again two years ago, citing the millions spent on the beautifully-restored Marina roadways. Mayor Jesse Arreguin responded, advising me that the State had just granted a significant chunk to the City and that the Stegman Trail would be addressed. 

Nothing has happened: no project proposals, no RFQs, no RFPs, no CEQA actions. No action at all to ensure equal safe access to the waterfront for the disabled. For a City renowned for its claims of diversity and accessibility, the condition of the Stegman Trail and the City’s inaction and apparent lack of concern comprise a travesty worthy of the widest public awareness. 

I wrote again to Mayor Jesse two months ago. No reply. 

Now the City is crowing about a $120+M pier and ferry terminal project while decrying an overall Marina budget shortfall — as usual, couched in terms of lost business, tourism and commuter income rather than in consideration of citizen needs and access. 

Please inform me timely on your own and the City’s specific hopes and intentions for replacing the now-irreparable Stegman Trail. I assure you that I will NOT let this concern die quietly. 

Thank you.

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Stop Mowing Bird Nests

The following letter is from longtime park visitor Isabelle Gaston, addressed to City Council member Rashi Kesarwani and the whole council. Chavez Park is located in Kesarwani’s district. Mowing decisions are made at the highest level and have legal as well as ecological dimensions.

Savannah Sparrow 6/13/23

Dear Councilmember Kesarwani,

I was very disappointed — in fact, devastated — to learn of the annihilation of the Savannah Sparrow’s grassland habitat in Chavez Park that took place several weeks ago.

It strikes me as inconceivable, given the precarious state of our natural world, that a City of Berkeley employee (or contractor) would mow down an area of the park where not only the Savannah Sparrow, but the Song Sparrow and Western Meadowlark, are known to breed, nest, brood, and feed hatchlings from March through July.  

As councilperson of the district which encompasses Chavez Park, I would like to know if any employees are being held to account for this incompetence?  I would hope so.  

As the Chavez Park Conservancy noted, “Having your nest destroyed by a mower may be similar to having your home with your babies blown away by a hurricane.”

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Isabelle Gaston

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