Native Plant Stewardship
This blog took a break during the late summer weeks, but care and feeding of the Native Pollinator Habitat continued. Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers came to the Native Plant Area on August 12 and again on the 19th to weed and water the native plants we set in the ground this past November.
On August 12 we focused exclusively on the new trees. Each of them got two loads of water from a six-gallon container. The following weekend, we watered and weeded the other new native plants, more than 100 of them spread out over four separate areas. The trees all looked happy and vigorous. The shrubs, flowers, and grasses looked great on the whole, with several in full bloom, see below. A few are now in summer dormancy. A small handful that seemed unhappy with the soil had to be pulled up and composted. That’s par for the course in new habitat development.
Hard at work on one and/or the other weekend outings were Virginia Altea, Clyde Crosswhite, Bob Huttar, Nancy Nash, Martin Nicolaus, and Lee Tempkin.
Native Bloomers We Planted
Outstanding among the late summer bloomers was the Great Valley Gumplant (Grindelia camparum). This is a close cousin of the low-growing Oregon Gumplant (Grindelia stricta) that thrives in the gravelly soil along the northwest edge of the park. The camparum can grow waist high. It features the same sap-sticky blossoms as its ankle-height relative. I saw a very pretty Checkered Skipper on one flower, a Spotted Cucumber Beetle on another, and a Yellow-faced Bumblebee on a third. This plant is definitely doing its job as a pollinator magnet.
Also blooming, but not hosting a pollinator at the moment, were a California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum), several Pacific Aster (Symphotrichum chilense), and a Coastal Tarweed (Madia sativa). The “fuchsia” — not a real fuchsia but looks like one — caters hotly to hummingbirds as well as bees, butterflies, and moths. It’s a perennial that spreads by seeds and rhizomes.
The Pacific Aster is a host plant for the Northern Checkerspot, Field Crescent and Pearl Crescent butterflies, among others. We planted the gumplant, the fuchsia, and the aster in our initial planting in late 2021 and again in November 2022.
The Tarweed is also a native. It occurs in other park locations, and sprouted here from a few seeds that one of us scattered in the Native Plant Area. It gets its name from the stickiness of its stems and its unfloral odor. But several kinds of butterflies use it as a host, and bees, among other pollinators, visit its cheerful yellow flowers. Try not to get its stickiness on your hands.
Bloomers We Didn’t Plant
On the east side approaching the Open Circle Viewpoint stands a little spread of tiny pink flowers, not as big as a dime, on tall slender stalks. It looks a lot like Wild Mustard except for those pink flowers. It’s Panicled Willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum), They’re so small you might miss them altogether, but up close they’re as pretty as anything. They’re natives of California and Western states generally.
Quietly invading the Native Plant Area is this little bunch of Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladonna). They’re native to South Africa, but adopted all over the world as a garden plant. Their nighttime odor attracts pollinators, but all parts of the plant are poisonous to mammals.
The Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is now in high bloom wherever it’s left undisturbed. It had a late start this year due to the wet winter, but seems to have caught up. It’s an import from the Mediterranean area that is earning its keep here as a breeding habitat for Red-winged Blackbirds and other species, and as a cornucopia of nutritious seeds from late summer deep into winter. Several bird species and the local Ground Squirrels rely on the seeds for sustenance.
What the Grandkids Saw
In late July I had the pleasure of a visit from my son and my two grandkids who live in Brooklyn. We took a walk in the park, not expecting more Nature than the sun and the wind. But we got lucky. My son’s sharp eyes spotted a Praying Mantis, and then we came on a Gopher Snake and a Swallowtail Butterfly.
I like to get down with the Gopher Snakes to take their pictures at their level, more or less. They are harmless. This got the youngest grandkid very curious and he crept up next to me to see what Opa was up to. The snake paid me little attention and slid off slowly. I got a chance to put my finger on its back as it moved and can report that even though it looked smooth, it felt rough like sandpaper.
Maybe our walk in the park planted the idea in little heads that a park is a home for natural creatures to be looked at and wondered about.
That Red Blue Moon
Thanks to the haze of wildfire smoke that hung over the Bay Area, the “Blue Moon” of August 30 looked deep orange. This short video, slightly speeded up, was shot from a hilltop on the south side of the park.
Early September Birds
August tends to be a quiet month for birds here. Many of them are up north breeding, and their southward migration has barely begun. On Labor Day and the days after, I saw crows, gulls, and pigeons aplenty. They’re each amazing birds but they’re here more or less all the time. Nothing to write home about. But then a few others showed themselves, or failed at hiding, and I got some photos worth sharing. I particularly prized the Cooper’s Hawk, perched on a low branch on the west edge of the Native Plant Area. It stayed for just a few clicks of the shutter before it vanished. I also liked the Black Turnstones working the green cover at the water’s edge on the west side. They seemed to have personality. A pair of female Bufflehead floated all week up and down the North Basin waters, along with a Clark’s Grebe. A trio of male Scaup joined them later in the week. (I’ve given up on the Greater/Lesser Scaup game and just call them all Scaup.) Both the Bufflehead and the Scaup are present here way ahead of the larger flocks that we may expect later in the season. My camera also caught a Great Blue Heron on the edge of the Open Circle Viewpoint, just a few feet away from a Western Gull posing for its picture. A little bit south of that, visible from the viewpoint, a Snowy Egret and a Willet seemed to be working as a team foraging for edibles in the seaweed. So it wasn’t a bad bird week at all. As for bird migration, the technology has taken leaps. Check out Birdcast and be amazed.
More than fifty wooden benches grace the park, many of them with brass plaques memorializing a loved one. The waterfront climate is hard on the benches. One mother took park management to task a few weeks ago about the dilapidated appearance of the memorial bench for her son. Park management responded promptly and had that bench sanded and repainted in short order.
That bench was not the only one needing work. This week I saw a park maintenance worker, Ahmad, working with a brush to apply primer to a bench on the north side, followed the next day by the official brown paint. He told me that maintaining the benches in the park was looking like a full time job. People pay the city $3400 for a memorial park bench. A list of most of the memorial benches is here.
The Roaming Bean coffee tent in the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way serves an excellent cup of coffee, in my opinion, based on an oatmilk latte I had Thursday morning. But how long it can keep going is another question. Now in its ninth week of operation, the business is not yet making money, and the chances are slim that it will ever make enough to support the four-generation family that operates it. And the relentless western gale, often chilly even on a sunny day, is like a grindstone that wears down the toughest. I know, I staffed a petition-gathering tent there during last summer’s movement to stop commercialization of the park. Hats off to the Singh family if they can keep it going until the rains start. Read more about it on Berkeleyside here.
Audubon name change
Faced with a membership poll leaning two thirds in favor of dropping the “Audubon” name, the local chapter of the National Audubon Society met on August 17 and voted to adopt the name “Golden Gate Bird Alliance.” I was among the 75 people at the meeting voting in favor of the name change. I like to think that my recent book, “Audubon’s Rifle,” played a small role in the decision. John James Audubon was not only a slaveholder and racist. He was a bird murderer whose actions in no way deserved the label “conservationist.” The national organization remains stuck with the odious name, but an intense controversy rages within its ranks and among its friends.
The interview with Marge Ellis that I published here in February (“Black History: View from Below” Feb 23 2023) inspired Berkeleyside reporter Liam O’Donoghue to dig deeper and round up more members of the Ellis family and others who worked in or with the Berkeley dump before it became a park. This valuable historic testimony is in the September 7 issue of Berkeleyside online. Well done, Liam!
Access to green open space can add years to your life but this benefit varies by race, gender, and class. That’s the result of a 20-year study published this summer in Science Advances and discussed in the Washington Post. Researchers analyzed blood samples from study participants to measure “epigenetic age,” a biochemical marker that predicts life expectancy. People who lived long term within 5km (about 3 miles) of a greenspace were biochemically younger. The effect was stronger for whites than for Blacks, and for women than men. The authors advocate increased green space near predominantly Black neighborhoods, and in urban settings generally. Oakland CA was one of the four cities from which the sample population was drawn. This dovetails with the history of Oakland’s racial and class criteria for investment in its park system, as described in this 2021 article by Dan Moore in Oaklandside.
“Tiny Forests With Big Benefits” is the headline in an August 24 article in the New York Times about the remarkable results achievable with the native planting methods of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. After intensive, decades-long study of native plants in Japan, Miyawaki produced dense, fast-growing forests on plots of land the size of tennis courts, or smaller. Widely adopted in Japan, China, India, and elsewhere, the method is now finding fans in the U.S., with the urban forestry department of Cambridge MA planting a Miyawaki forest near the Harvard campus. So far, Berkeley forestry and parks administrators have not expressed interest. The Wikipedia article on Miyawaki says that Berkeley’s Cragmont Elementary installed one of his forests, but the school’s website says nothing about it.
Autumn Equinox Celebration Sep 22
- Autumn Equinox Gathering
- Friday, September 22nd
- 6:15 to 7:15 pm
- Sunset @ 7 pm
- Chávez / Huerta Tribute Site (The Solar Calendar)
- César Chávez Park
- Led By Rabbi David Cooper
Santiago Casal, founder and curator of the Chavez/Huerta Tribute Site and Solar Calendar, writes:
Finding Ourselves in Space and Time. Our ancestors understanding of what are solstice, equinox and (yes) sunset was turned upside down pretty recently by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. We forget how radical a change it was. We will get to see how frightening it was to be the first person to see the world differently. And of course we will watch the “sun set” over our equinox markers and feel where we are in the annual cycle.