Park Weekend 12/3/23

Bits of Spots

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

I hadn’t seen a Spotted Sandpiper for quite a while at the south shore of the North Basin, along the Virginia Street Extension. Now I saw it both Saturday and Sunday. It does the frequent dipping or teetering that’s an identifier for this species. Nobody knows why it does that. When the bird turns its back you can see little bits of the black spots that will grow as prominent as polka dots over its belly in the breeding season. They are found breeding over most of North America. Unlike many other birds we see here, who may have traveled thousands of miles, the Spotty may have come here from Northern California or from east of the Sierras. Female Spotties rule the roost in breeding, a much studied sex role reversal. Male and female plumage is the same. If you see a mixed-gender pair together, the female is the bigger one. I saw only one of them here this time.

Wigeons Here

American Wigeons (Mareca americana) with Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis)

The everyday population of Scaup, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Ducks got some spice on Saturday with the arrival of this flock of about two dozen American Wigeons. Their favorite breeding grounds are the tundra and boreal forests of Alaska and west-central Canada, so these probably flew a good distance to get here. (In the video, a string of Ruddy Ducks keeps them company on the water.) They’re dabblers, not divers, but they’re not above stealing vegetation that careless diving ducks bring up from the bottom. They’re almost entirely vegetarian during the winter, and don’t mind getting their greenery from lawns and gardens if possible. I did not see them on Sunday and suspect that they may have moved to greener pastures to the south.

Some Other Birds Seen This Weekend

Can you identify them on sight? Move your cursor over the picture to see the caption.

Botanical Notes

Only the center of these three is a native. It’s the Oregon gumplant (Grindelia stricta) and you can see it blooming in December in several places in and around the park, usually in very bad soil at the water’s edge. The plant on the left, Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) is a North American native but in parts other than California. There’s just three of these, all in the southeast corner of the park, and it sneaked in there accidentally in a mix of what was supposed to be California native seeds that Conservancy volunteers planted in 2019. This plant has survived Ground Squirrels, weeds, and the mower. It ranks right up there with the grindelia as a tough survivor. The plant on the right is Pittosporum undulatum, commonly known as Victorian Box Tree or Australian Cheesewood. The east coast of Australia is its home range. How it got into the Native Plant Area is a mystery, but there it is. The orange-yellow fruits, visible now, are toxic, as is every other part of the plant, according to Calflora. You’ve been warned.

Towering Fungus

Two weeks ago I posted a photo of a mushroom growing on a tree stump next to the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way. “Rain Fruit,” Nov 24 2023. We’ve had more rain since then, and by some miracle nobody and nothing has disturbed this fungus.

This Sunday morning, it had grown larger and looked magnificent. If you could surround it with miniature people, it would make a terrific movie scene.

I looked for an AI image generator that would allow me to upload this photo and have it create the imaginary scene, but all the AI apps I could find only accept text prompts. So this is what I got from the prompt: “Around a mushroom tall as a tree, people are dancing in the style of Bruegel’s peasants.”

A View West

Looking west from the north edge of the Native Plant Area

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