Park Week 7/14/23

Heron’s Breakfast

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Hidden in the shadows on the north side of the Open Circle Viewpoint, this big heron reached out into the water in front of it and calmly snatched out a little fish as if picking a tidbit out of soup. Then the bird chomped and squeezed its prey until it lay quiet, and then down the hatch. Often a heron or an egret will take a little sip of water after a meal like that, but this bird refrained. After working its gullet repeatedly, it pulled up one leg and settled down, waiting for the next one. This individual was easily the size of an adult, but the grey feathers on its head mark it as a young bird, not more than two years old.

Some Sing, Others Work

White-crowned Sparrow male (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

While the male White-crowned Sparrow, above, was singing, the female, below, was carrying a bill full of soft nesting material. Breeding in July is quite a bit later than usual for sparrows, but (a) this species breeds later in the year after a rainy winter, and (b) they’re able to raise two, three, or even four broods in a year. They build their nests in low, dense shrubs like Sage, Lemonadeberry, and the like. So, these sparrows may very well be building a nest and raising a family here in the park. I photographed this pair on the southern apron of the Native Plant Area, a spot dense with low shrubs suitable as nesting sites.

White-crowned Sparrow female (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Still Here

Wet birds can be few and far between here in the summer months. Most of them are up in the Arctic mating, nesting, brooding and molting. But a select few have been hanging around in the North Basin, up near the Open Circle Viewpoint. I saw a cluster there composed of a dozen or more Surf Scoters, a half dozen scaup, a pair of female Bufflehead, and one of the big grebes, unidentifiable with its bill tucked between its wings.

In Black and White

This day, photographer Sandip Maharaj was shooting exclusively in black and white, the original and classic photography medium. I invited him to contribute Chavez Park wildlife photos, and he responded. Here is one of his shots, a bit cropped, that illustrates nicely the ability of the minimalist mode to convey mood and feeling. We don’t see anatomical details of the gull here. That’s not the point. What we see is a suggestion of the world that the bird inhabits: Clouds, fog, filtered and refracted light, a sky without edges or corners. There’s a hint here of the bird’s aloneness, its boldness, its sense of purpose and direction as it traverses this unmarked atmosphere. The photo imparts some of the mystery of birdness, this being-at-home in the air, this freedom from roads, rails, and runways, this power to take off wherever and whenever and go, just go. Looking at a photo like this, I get a pang of bird envy. Don’t you?

City at Dawn

The morning overcast on Thursday let the sun slide in from the east to light up the city to the west. The skyscraper peaks remained stuck in the fog, while the lower levels bathed in brilliance.

Politics: Parks Commission Drinks the Kool-Aid

With three new members and with Parks Director Scott Ferris out sick, the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission on Wednesday evening unanimously adopted the fourth draft of its three-member subcommittee’s memo on the City’s waterfront plan. The document, now swollen to 12 single-spaced pages and 5,185 words, is available for download here. The action was expected. The document will go to City Council at a date in the Fall.

The fourth draft is so stuffed with virtuous platitudes as to be almost unreadable. City Council members lead busy lives and have short attention spans. Few will make it to the end. Apart from some concrete paragraphs about Marina finances, the document glides on a level of abstraction that glazes the eye.

When it grapples with realities on the ground, the document reveals serious cognitive gaps. It still thinks, for example, that the Marina is one of several Berkeley waterfront projections, that it has no kayak rental or windsurfer staging area, that there is no public café near Chavez Park — all wrong. The paper has a detailed wish list for the 17-acre Off-Leash Area in Chavez Park, but nothing about loose dogs outside the OLA, nothing about park restrooms, and nothing beyond virtue-signaling cliches about the other 73 acres of the park.

It even repeats the call from earlier drafts to hold “Superbloom” festivals in the park, using the brand name of a monster-size rock festival originating in Munich. Commissioner Erin Diehm’s last-minute effort to delete the word “Superbloom” from the paper got greenwashed out by assurances that the term really referred to a wildflower festival, not a rock concert. For anyone familiar with decades of effort to establish wildflowers in Chavez Park, that is a bad joke.

The core vision of the paper for the Marina as a whole is to turn it into a strip mall. This is not likely to fly. As with similar efforts in the past, the merchants of Shattuck Ave and the rest of downtown will not cotton to having their shrinking customer base siphoned off to new retail outlets in the Marina. Read Norman La Force’s history book. The Marina is the waterfront, it is not a second downtown, and that’s how it needs to stay.

There is still a long way to go, if ever, before this paper results in any shoveling in Chavez Park. The Commission membership, already churning, may turn over yet again. Council routinely ignores Commission opinions.

Parks Director Scott Ferris appeared briefly at the beginning of the Wednesday evening meeting, after weeks of being laid up with a back ailment. But he was not able to participate in the agenda, and did not look in fully restored condition. I wished him a speedy recovery. Nothing will get done in the park without the Parks director.

Calendar: Photo Show and Bird Meeting

Today, Friday — in fact, perhaps right now as you read this, the Point Molate Park advocates are having a photography exhibit featuring stunning landscape and wildlife photos by Jack Scheinman, Jeffrey Peterson and Tony Tamayo, who is also exhibiting videos of Point Molate’s landscapes. That’s today from 5-8 pm at Point Richmond Gallery, 145 W. Richmond Avenue, Point Richmond, CA. The exhibit is free. Also free and at the same time is a music festival at Park Place, a short walk from the gallery.

August 17 is the date for the annual membership meeting of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. I’m a member and I know a number of Chavez Park visitors are members. The gathering is set to start at 5:30 with a social hour, followed by the membership meeting at 6:30, which is scheduled to run a half hour, followed by a lecture at 7. The location is the group’s new offices at 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, telephone 510-843-2222. Park visitors concerned with protection of the wintering Burrowing Owl(s) may want to attend. See Open Letter to Audubon’s Glenn Phillips, here.

Squirrels of the Week

On the east side of the park, between the paved trail and the water, not far south of the Open Circle Viewpoint, there is a patch of flat, bare earth that serves as playground for the new pups of the Ground Squirrel families whose burrows swiss-cheese the area. These pups have overcome the initial extreme shyness that led them to hide the moment a human head appeared on their horizon. Now they tolerate pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists on the trail just a few feet away, and take no notice of a nosy cameraman and his tripod filming their every move. The action here resembles a neighborhood empty lot, with kids of all ages running to and fro, now and then crashing into each other or chasing one another into the weeds. I recorded one quick encounter, shown in slow motion in the video, where an adult squirrel, identified by its bushy tail, charged a much smaller individual, a pup, and bowled it over. There were several other collisions, all single impacts, not sustained fights, and without apparent damage to either side. A few pigeons crossed the yard and pecked on its edges. The squirrels ignored them.

Summer Break

This will be the last regularly scheduled Park Week issue until after Labor Day. I’m taking my customary summer break. However, I’ll be here and visiting the park regularly. If something urgent pops up, I’ll post an unscheduled item. Thank you everyone for your attention and support so far. Looking forward to resuming in the Fall.

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 7/14/23

  • Enjoy your summer break. Thank you for all you do!

  • Roaming Coffee Bean established itself at 11 Spinnaker Way this last week. It is a blight on this beautiful and scenic openspace. This pop up tent operation detracts from the serenity and natural environment. I come to the park to get away from commercialism. It also has 2 easels apologizing for temporarily blocking the sidewalk.

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