Park Week 6/28/24

New Gulls

I thought I would take a break from the blog, going on a Summer Schedule. But then two of the Western Gull moms hatched chicks out on the breakwater on the west side of the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way, and that deserves celebration.

Western Gulls (Larus occidentalis)

There were three gull nests on this strip of concrete. The nest farthest west, at the end of the structure, hatched first, probably on Saturday. I saw two chicks there. The next nest nearer to shore hatched, I think, on Monday. This showed three chicks as recently as yesterday morning. The third nest as of this writing still shows a parent bird sitting on it, with nothing moving. The parents — I can’t tell them apart — fly off and come back with little fish and disgorge them for the chicks, who fight to get a piece. Sometimes a parent will chew the food to soften it up, sometimes not, leaving it to the chicks to battle it out. It would not be surprising for the number of chicks to thin out in the coming week. They can’t fly or swim and there is a constant stiff breeze with repeated gusts. Already one of the two chicks on the farthest west nest, seen on Thursday, was no longer visible on Friday morning. It’s a tough neighborhood.

Other Feathers This Week

Special thanks to photographer Jim Kusz for the Osprey photo. Regrettably he had only his phone with him at the time, but that was enough to document the bird’s presence on Thursday morning. We should probably build a nesting platform for these fish hawks on the north side of the park. They are fascinating to watch and have a big fan following.

Note the “Nuttall’s Sparrow.” That’s a White-crowned Sparrow belonging to the Nuttalli subspecies that resides in parts of the California coastline year round, while the “regular” species migrates north to the Arctic for breeding. I saw this one on the southeast edge of the park. I’ve also seen them in the Native Plant Area.

Check out the eyes. The Black-crowned Night-Heron has traffic-light red. The Double-crested Cormorant has police-car blue.

The Rock Pigeons have been back for a few weeks. These beautiful and intelligent birds mostly keep with their flock, about eighteen to 24 strong, but sometimes forage solo, like this one. Pigeons don’t deserve the disregard that some people feel for them. They’re among the smartest of birds, and have served humankind in many ways in war and peace. Unlike most other species, individuals vary greatly in their plumage. Sunshine brings out their iridescence. They’re nomadic; they’ll stay in the park while it feeds them, then move on to other pastures.

“Save Our Waterfront” Event

Kate Harrison, the former Berkeley City Council member and current mayoral candidate, has announced a “Rally to Save Our Waterfront” to be held at Chavez Park on Sunday July 7 at 10:30 am at the parking circle, west end of Spinnaker Way. An agenda and speaker lineup are expected shortly. In 2023, Harrison was a leading voice to keep the park free of commercial development. See the book, Love Letters to the Park.

The Chavez Park Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and neither endorses nor opposes candidates for political office.

Berries by Night

This Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) leads a hideaway existence on the low path through the Native Plant Area, just a few steps from Extraction Well 8. Photographer and botanist Jutta Burger first spotted these tiny flowers five years ago (“Flora Friday: More Species” May 17 2019) but the plant escaped further notice until June last year. This week I stumbled on it again. Different parts of the plant, shown in the three photos below, illustrate the stages of its development from flower to berry. The unripe green berries will turn black if they don’t get eaten first. Birds and squirrels can tolerate them green but they’re toxic to people until they turn black, and even then may be the cause of gastric distress or worse. They have a long history and a wide distribution and many applications as food and medication; read about it at length on Wikipedia.

A Choice of Weeds

A year ago, Parks management mowed down the Fennel that densely covered this hill in the northwest corner of the park. (The Peace Symbol sits on top.) Today this slope has converted to an impenetrable mat of Bristly Oxtongue, see photo below. In some other spots, cutting the Fennel opened the door to big stands of Italian Thistle. All three — Fennel, Oxtongue, and thistle — are introduced. In an ideal park we wouldn’t have any of them.

But some weeds are worse than others. Only a few finches eat thistle seeds, and they’re not dependent on them. Nobody eats Bristly Oxtongue, and I’ve yet to see pollinator insects buzzing in an Oxtongue forest. Among these three, the Fennel is the clear winner. Its dense foliage provides shelter for Red-winged Blackbird nests, among other bird species. It provided cover for visiting Burrowing Owls. It seeds form an enduring cornucopia of nutrition for songbirds and squirrels deep into winter. Numerous insects visit its fragrant flowers, and there is even a Fennel honey. Fennel does not belong in a native plant area; it should not be allowed to obstruct trails. But in a botanical open space dominated by exotics, Fennel is the weed of choice. It adds definite ecological value. It should be tolerated, even encouraged within limits. Cutting Fennel does not lead to a rose garden. It leads to the kingdom of worthless and obnoxious weeds like Oxtongue and Bull Thistle.

Dense mat of Bristly Oxtongue on slope of northwest hill

Hotel Needs to Clean Up Its Act

The Hilton Doubletree Hotel, the park’s closest neighbor, is treating the area as if it were still the local dump. These photos by park visitor Jim Waterwash show a giant dumpster in front of the hotel spilling its content far and wide. Jim has talked to hotel desk staff and gotten the runaround. “That’s for the engineering department.” Loose trash is not only unsightly, it tends to blow into the water, and it’s a magnet for rats and crows. I’ve been saying for years that we have an overpopulation of crows in the park because of sloppy trash management by the hotel and also by the park, with its open 55 gallon trash barrels. The park has promised better containers along with the repaired perimeter trail next year. It’s time for the hotel to clean up its act.

Giant dumpster on hotel grounds. Jim Waterwash photo.

Morning Sky

Photographer Susan Black captured the mood of several mornings this past week, with the sun struggling to penetrate the dense carpet of low clouds that covered the North Basin.

Summer Schedule

This blog is currently on summer schedule. Publication will happen whenever content, opportunity, and urge to publish come together. Important happenings will be covered in a timely fashion. If you send in great photos, they’ll get published promptly. Depending on vacation plans, regular weekly publication may not resume until late September. Thank you for your loyalty and patience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »