Park Week 6/7/2024

Work Day Sunday

New Sprouts at Base of Transplanted Flowering Currant

Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers usually do stewardship work in the Native Plant Area on Saturdays. But this weekend, schedule conflicts have moved our work day to Sunday. Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar asks anyone willing to work to show up at 9 am in the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way on Sunday June 9.

Bob says, “We need to knock back the weeds around the plants and choking the trails and we need to water some plants. … Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts and shoes that will protect your feet and can get dirty. Hats are good and gloves if you have them. It can get cool and windy by the bay so check the weather forecast first. We hope to see you there!”

California Buckeye Near Extraction Well 8

Both of the plants in the Native Plant Area that were especially vulnerable to the landfill gas rework project now ongoing in the park have survived. We transplanted the Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) from the vicinity of Extraction Well 7, and even though it suffered transplant shock and shows mortality upstairs, down at the base there are fresh new leaves. We will very probably have more beautiful currant flowers come spring. As for the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) sapling in the vicinity of Extraction Well 8, it survived without a dent. SCS Engineering crew members did all the required gas well excavation by hand and were careful to avoid damage to the vegetation. Doing it with the big backhoe, as elsewhere in the park, would have caused major devastation in the Native Plant Area.

Save the Slot For Solstice

Summer Solstice, the tipping point for daylight and darkness, happens on Thursday June 20. Fans of the sun will gather at the Tribute Site / Solar Calendar in the park starting at 7:30 pm, ending at 8:45. The sunset is at 8:30. This time the gathering will have a little different flavor. In the absence of the usual astronomical teachers and of Tribute Site founder and curator Santiago Casal, all out of town that week, the plan is for a Solstice Sing-a-Long. We’re hoping to have the famous songster, songwriter, and author Hali Hammer leading the group in a string of sun songs, like “You Are My Sunshine,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “House of the Rising Sun,” etc. Watch this space for details. Save the slot: Thursday June 20 at 7:30 pm.


Pohutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa)
Flowers and Berries of the Pohutukawa

I’ve walked past this tree a thousand times. It stands at the southeast entrance to the park. Once or twice I used the iNat app to try to find out what it was, but iNat struck out. This week I noticed for the first time that it was festooned with red flowers and white berries. I focused iNat on one of the flowers, and the answer came back instantly: Pohutukawa.

There isn’t anything quite like it. It can grow in lava fields and on vertical cliff edges. The wood is so strong that “ironwood” is a common alternate name. It usually flowers in December, leading to the alternate common name of “New Zealand Christmas Tree,” but individual trees may flower any time of year, such as this one in our park.

The tree is unique not only botanically, but also for the survival of its indigenous name. Pohutukawa is a Maori word. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Indigenous people the world over tend to be closely familiar with the plants in their habitat and have their own names for them. Very few of those indigenous names survived colonialism to become the common names we use every day. In California, the only example is the Toyon, and that word is already a reprocessed version of the original Native American name.

The Chavez Park Conservancy, as I wrote here earlier, is researching the indigenous Lisjan (Chochenyo) names for a number of the native pollinator plants we have put in the ground here. That’s turning out not to be easy. When found, we will put those names along with the English language common names and the scientific names on the signage identifying the plants. If only it were so simple as with the Pohutukawa.

Some Other Blooms of Note

The Santa Cruz Island Ironwood grows under the umbrella of a big Torrey Pine on the east ridge of the Native Plant Area. It’s notable not only for its big flowers but also for its colorfully striped trunk, featured here last year.

Bright, deep blue is the signature of the Chinese Forget-Me-Not. Parks management under the direction of landscape superintendent Jacob Several planted them in the center of the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way.

The flowers resemble dandelion but the stems may rise to four feet or higher. The leaves carry sharp little pimples. That’s the calling card of the Bristly Oxtongue. It’s a nasty weed that’s having a boom year in the park. You can read more about its history in the park here.

And speaking of nasty weeds, prettier but nastier than Bristly Oxtongue is the Poison Hemlock. All parts of this plant can kill if ingested. Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers and Parks staff have removed a number of them but others remain, including some that have reached eight feet high. Be warned.

It Can Happen to a Bird

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus X)

As kids and even as adults we’ve sometimes had bits of food fall off the table. It can happen to a bird, too. This Black Oystercatcher had pried an open mussel off the rocks and started to eat its innards when a wave washed it out of sight. The bird muttered some birdy profanity, looked for the morsel in vain, and then did the rational thing: it went and got another. With this next mussel, the bird was careful to keep its beak in the shell as the water washed over it, and so the bird finished its meal. Then off to forage for more. The mussels appeared to be open when the bird got them, possibly because they were submerged and feeding from whatever the tide brought in. That made the bird’s work easier. But the bird would have pried them open if they were shut. That beak is hard and sharp and the bird knows how to use it.

Portrait of a Female

I had the good fortune this week to see not one but three female Red-winged Blackbirds in the northwest corner of the park, and one of them held its position so near that I was able to get a decent headshot. Female Red-winged Blackbirds look very different from the males, and are often confused with sparrows, especially with California Towhees. They’re dark brown all over, with light-brown wing and breast markings. They have a light brown, almost orange eyebrow streak, and some orange around the base of the beak. Some of them (but not this one) have strong red undertones on their shoulders, visible when they spread their wings. Once you focus on that long, sharp, pointy beak, all resemblance to sparrows ends. This is a blackbird.

Sitting Gulls

Out on the breakwater west of the park, two pairs of Western Gulls have built nests and are sitting on eggs. Since there is no vegetation on the breakwater, they had to bring it from the land. It looks like a bit of dirt was also brought in as glue. These nests are exposed to the wind, and will need constant maintenance. This looks like a repeat of gull breeding two years ago, when hatchlings emerged in the third week of June; see this post. You’ll want binoculars to see these nests; check out the red circles in the photo below.

Unlikely Trio

What do a Surf Scoter, a Ruddy Duck, and a Bufflehead have in common? I don’t know the answer, but one of each species was hanging out together most of this week in the little sheltered cove just north of the Open Circle Viewpoint. The Surf Scoter was a male and the other two were females. All three were here solo. The Ruddy had been part of a quartet the previous week, but the other three Ruddies disappeared, leaving this one. There were mobs of Bufflehead on the North Basin two months ago; this is now the only one I could see. The Scoter was new for the season. Do birds get lonely? Do they hang around other birds just for the company, regardless of species? It looks that way, but of course we can’t know what goes on in birds’ hearts.

Here are some more photos of the Surf Scoter, because it’s so photogenic.

Other Birds of Note

Up a Level

Ground Squirrels, like people, sometimes want to rise above the usual level of their lives. One squirrel here climbs up for a birds’ eye view into a low bush. The other finds a comfortable perch on the back of a park bench.

Mt Tam in Fog

Thanks to photographer Susan Black for this moody view of Mt. Tam shrouded in fog, with the low hills of Sausalito in the foreground.

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One thought on “Park Week 6/7/2024

  • I Love this blog, Marty! I appreciate all the work you put into it. I learned so much… Thank you.

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