Park Week 3/17/23

After a Spring Break, the daily Chavez Park blog is coming back as a weekly. Every Friday at 5, subscribers will get — and viewers will read — a wrapup of the past week’s park news, and a look at what’s coming up.

New Book Out

I haven’t been idle during the Spring Break. I’ve been writing a little book, called Audubon’s Rifle, as a contribution to the ongoing conversation nationally about whether organizations of bird lovers should keep the Audubon name. I got into it via the revelation that Audubon was a buyer, owner, and seller of enslaved people. I started reading Audubon’s writings to find out more about his racial views. What I found shocked me. Not about his racial views but about his killing of birds. Almost all the birds in his famous paintings were dead when he painted them. He shot them. He also shot way more than he painted. One small example among many. Of Red-winged Blackbirds, he writes, “I have myself shot hundreds in the course of an afternoon, killing from ten to fifteen at every discharge.” He shot large numbers of other species. Seeing this kind of thing, I read all five books of Audubon’s “Ornithological Biography” and wrote up the results in a slim 100-page volume, now available on Audubon’s Rifle. Check it out. You may be shocked.

Planting and Mulching

The past weeks’ rains have been very good for the Native Pollinator Habitat that Conservancy volunteers put in the ground this past November. Bob Huttar, project coordinator, poked his moisture meter deep in the ground and reports that there’s ample wetness down at and around the roots of the new plantings. That’s excellent for the roots to spread and the plants to grow strong. And in fact almost everything that we planted is looking vigorous. However, also vigorous are the grasses and weeds growing around the new plantings. This morning, a crew of seven volunteers (Karen Brusin, Helen Canin, Carlene Chang, Carol Denney, Bob Huttar, Marty Nicolaus, and Lee Tempkin) addressed that situation. Using hand tools, and with piles of mulch thoughtfully supplied by Parks staff, we cleared space around the new plantings and applied mulch to keep the weeds at a distance. We also planted three additional trees, a Torrey Pine donated by the City, a privately donated California Buckeye, and a Coast Live Oak purchased with Conservancy funds. Volunteers will be out on a regular basis to get the new plantings through the critical first year. Interested in joining? Contact Bob Huttar,

Spring Equinox Monday

Equinox is the halfway point between the Solstices. It’s the date when daylight and darkness share equal time. This coming Monday March 20 starting at 6:15, the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Solar Calendar in the park will be the scene of a Spring Equinox celebration. It’ll be the first such gathering in three years, says Calendar founder and curator Santiago Casal. The event leaders are dedicated to go through with it, rain or shine. They are Lori Lambertson of the Exploratorium, a veteran of Calendar observances, and new presenter Jason Del Aguila, an Oakland afterschool teacher and Sun Follower. The informal program will cover the astronomy of sun and earth, which is more complicated than one might think, and it will cover Mayan observations, and agricultural and spiritual issues, such as when is the time to plant, and what are we cultivating by way of rebirth and hope. The gathering ends shortly after sunset, which is at 7:20 pm.

Sunset at Spring Equinox

City Council Meeting on BMASP

The Equinox gathering conflicts with a scheduled special City Council meeting at 6 pm, devoted to what’s now called the Waterfront Specific Plan — they’ve dumped the discredited BMASP label, but it’s the same thing. Parks director Scott Ferris will present a staff report and recommendations. The 32-page document is online at this link. The paper once again rings the familiar bells of the Marina’s funding shortfall. Three things stuck out for me. (1) The paper nowhere mentions the fact that the hotel tax (Transient Occupancy Tax or TOT) currently generates large sums that go into the City’s General Fund, but are not counted as revenue the Marina generates. Omitting this fact gives the whole budget discussion a fictitious character. (2) The paper assumes that the commuter ferry at the pier is a done deal needing no further discussion. Interesting. (3) Regarding Cesar Chavez Park, the paper repeats the canard that the City never actually “planned major commercial developments at the park,” — it calls this just “rumors.” Rumors that were, however, laid out in color on paper. But the City did get the message that “a large influx of public comments” opposed it. Bottom line, “Staff’s approach following this feedback has been to not consider any new development at Cesar Chavez Park, and to only explore minor park improvements there.” (p.9) The accent here is definitely on “minor.” The budget table on p. 30 shows that one restroom at the park — count them, one restroom for 90 acres — has “anticipated construction” in Fiscal Year 2025, and work on the perimeter pathway, to be funded by a pending State grant, is “anticipated” in Fiscal Year 2026. Don’t hold your breath.

Trees Down

Major Monterey Cypress fallen along Spinnaker Way

All trees in the Native Plant Area survived the recent wind blasts, somewhat to the surprise of observers. But the old Monterey Cypresses along Spinnaker Way suffered heavy casualties. One major cypress broke just above the root and will be a total loss. The other lost a major limb, but will survive. Both trees fell across the paved walkway in the park that runs parallel to Spinnaker Way. Because the fallen trees did not block automobile traffic, there was no emergency response to tidy them up. An informed source says that Berkeley’s Urban Forestry unit is running about 18 months behind schedule. One Monterey Pine in the Native Plant Area came down 15 months ago, a second about three months ago. Both are still leaning/lying on the ground without Forestry intervention.

Dylan Law Bird Album

Park visitor Dylan Law was kind enough to share these bird photos he took in late February in the park. Dylan writes, “I am a lifelong resident of the East Bay. I grew up in Oakland as a child and moved to the Richmond/El Cerrito area as a teenager. I now reside, with my family, in Richmond in our new family home. The Berkeley Marina has always been a special place for me and my family. I love spending time at Cesar Chavez Park for birding, walks with my family and our puppy, or a nice family picnic. While we miss attending the kite festival, we all have fond memories of the event and continue to fly kites in the fields when we have the chance.” I’m publishing two of his five photos of a Great Blue Heron, and a sharp portrait of a fat American Crow sitting in the grass. They’re expressive shots, showing the birds in typical postures with good, sharp detail and vivid colors. Thank you, Dylan, and please take and share more.

 Prolific Naturalist Photographer

I love to chat with people in the park who are carrying binoculars and/or cameras. “What have you seen?” Thursday morning I met Cat Chang, bearing a 400 mm zoom lens and a full-frame camera body. Cat publishes her photos on iNaturalist. She has no fewer than 39,000 observations posted there. What I love about her work is that she publishes not only birds, but also mammals, insects, and plants — just like we do here on She gave me permission to republish any of her photos taken in Chavez Park. I’ve picked out some of her most recent ones, dating from 2022 up to a few days ago, when she captured a shot of the rarely seen Red-necked Grebe here, with the bonus of a little crab in its beak. Here are some birds:

I particularly liked the two birds photographed in flight. I’ve also photographed both of these species but always on the ground (mud). It takes a lot of skill and sometimes luck to get a good shot of a bird in flight. Below are two of her Chavez Park plant photos and one with a bug, one of the 1600 known species of Stiletto Flies. Here it’s feeding on nectar and incidentally pollinating the plant. A couple of smaller insects on the same bloom are unidentified. Be sure to check out Cat Chang’s other photos on her iNaturalist page, and check out her profile here. Welcome, Cat!

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