Like people everywhere in the city, in fact, across the world, I went looking for the supermoon eclipse last evening. The moon was going to rise, red and already eclipsed, around 7 p.m. – a “blood moon.” Totality would be7.47 p.m.
I thought the best place to watch would be Twin Peaks, and at 6.45 pm, that’s where I headed from the Portola Avenue side. But I got there to find a line of cars jammed all the way up Twin Peaks Boulevard. I did a U-turn, carefully avoiding a skunk. (It got safely across the road. All the cars in both directions waited for it.)
Time to go to Plan B: leave my car at home, and walk up to Tank Hill.
Clearly, a lot of people had the same thought. I’d never seen it so crowded, not on the 4th of July, not during the Blue Angels performance. Many had come much better prepared than I, with telephoto lenses as long as my forearm, rugs, chairs, and reflective clothing.
I was unsure how much we’d actually see, whether the haze low on the horizon would turn into a vision-blocking fog.
Quite suddenly at 7.47 p.m. there it was, a dull red disk visible through the trees. Just in time for the peak of the totality.
Next to me, a man holding a dog said, “I hope you have a telephoto on that.” I didn’t, but I would get some pictures anyway, I said. They won’t be great, not like the real photographers photos, but they’ll record the event. We chatted briefly about eclipses past.
The crowd thinned out. Parents with small children left quickly. The kids had seen the moon, understood the color was different, and they were ready to play or go. So did a lot of people who’d driven in. They wanted to leave before more traffic jams started up.
And even later than that, the eclipse was over and the fog was crawling over Twin Peaks.
The moon was rising beside Sutro Tower, behind the eucalyptus forest. I tried for some pictures. I love that digital cameras can actually get something under these conditions! It’s not the best picture, but it’s something. Of course it was much more dramatic and beautiful than this.
The picture below is from a year ago (June 2014, actually). It makes a nice contrast to the night view. I love the way the trees soften the base and contrast with the tower.
Cal Academy of Sciences has free admission days by zip code, and ours is coming up this weekend.
From their website:
“Free admission is available for San Francisco residents of each zip code during the designated dates listed below. Visiting adults are limited to six children for free entry. Proof of residency* is required.
Neighborhoods: Bernal Heights, Castro, Cole Valley, Glen Park, Haight, Lake Merced, Mission, Noe Valley, St. Francis Wood [Huh, they missed us. But we are in 94131, so we should be good.]
Zip codes: 94110, 94114, 94117, 94127, 94131, 94132
Fall 2015 Free Days: Sep. 25, 26, 27
Spring 2016 Free Days: Feb. 19, 20, 21″
It’s normally like $35 for adults and $25-30 for kids (unless you’re a member). So this could be a big saving.
Sometimes, I cruise around the neighborhood at night in hopes of seeing our resident or visiting wildlife. It’s easier from a car; they get spooked by people walking. Last night, I was rewarded with a skunk.
It was grubbing in the mulch along Christopher, the mulch that’s still there from the tree-cutting operation a couple of years ago. Grass is beginning to grow through it, but it’s a great place for beetles and grubs.
The skunk looked small, perhaps a kit that’s just gone out on its own. It wasn’t the least bothered by the headlights. I got a couple of iPhone pictures, not good ones but definitely a skunk!
I never got to see its face. When I rolled down the window, it realized I was looking at it, and it decided to move along. In a minute, it scrambled up the hillside into Sutro Forest, and all that was left was a sound of scrabbling in the bushes.
I love these yellow flowers that appear in spring in San Francisco and vanish a couple of weeks later. Many others do, too, but consider it a guilty pleasure because they think they’re bad for bees and birds and animals. Since we often have them around Forest Knolls, I’m re-publishing a shortened version of a post about oxalis from SFForest.org (with permission).
The oxalis season is over, and the perky yellow flowers have vanished for another year. These Bermuda buttercups will be back next year to herald the spring, bringing joy to those who love them, irritation to those who hate them, and Tier I herbicides targeted at them in San Francisco’s so-called “Natural” Areas.
These flowers are so visible in spring that Bay Nature magazine did an article about them in March 2015: A Natural History of the Little Yellow Flower that’s Everywhere Right Now.
THOSE WHO HATE OXALIS AND WANT TO POISON IT WITH GARLON
The article quoted Jake Sigg, the retired SF Recreation and Parks gardener who is considered the doyen of San Francisco’s native plant movement. He hates oxalis pes caprae, which he considers extremely invasive. The article quotes him as saying that, without intervention, “in X many years Twin Peaks would just be one solid mass of yellow, and there wouldn’t be any other plants there…” The article suggested that an oxalis-dominated landscape “drives away coyotes, hawks and owls that feed on grassland foragers, and the situation is especially dire for endangered Mission blue butterflies, which depend heavily on native wildflowers.” Most of those ‘facts’ about oxalis are mistaken as we’ll explain below.
Mr Sigg’s theories align with those of the Natural Areas Program (NAP) of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), which uses the herbicide, Garlon (triclopyr) to battle oxalis despite its dubious efficacy for the purpose. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment San Francisco’s Department of the Environment classifies Garlon 4 Ultra as Tier I: Most Hazardous. It’s listed as HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE (their caps). Since oxalis is the main reason NAP uses Garlon, the alternative we propose is – don’t use Garlon or anything else on oxalis.
First, a little about the actual natural history of oxalis. This plant doesn’t set seed in California, and spreads entirely by sending out roots and forming little bulbils (like tiny potatoes) underground. It’s usually found where the soil has been disturbed by activities such as road-building, gardening, or trail-building. In some cases, the disturbance come from landslides or something similar. It can’t stand frost. If we do nothing, it would tend to die down rather than spreading uncontrollably.
In disturbed landscapes, it can spread fast. For this reason it can be a nuisance in gardens. People don’t want to leave their gardens alone for years to let nature take its course with the oxalis, and not every garden design includes brilliant yellow as the dominant color for a few weeks. The only way to eradicate it in the short term is to dig it out carefully every time you see it, and make sure you get most of the bulbils. Or use strong herbicides, which may not work.
In a natural landscape, though, it’s a different story and here’s why.
1) OXALIS IS GOOD FOR BEES AND BUTTERFLIES
Oxalis is actually an excellent plant for bees and butterflies. When blooming, it provides “copious nectar.” In fact, it generously gives away its nectar. Since it doesn’t set seed, it doesn’t benefit from pollinators – but it’s a food source for honey bees, bumblebees and butterflies.
In fact, a recent 2014 study shows that plant communities with exotic plants had more plant species as well as more pollinators, that pollinators didn’t prefer native plants, and that even some specialist pollinators depended on introduced plant species.
It’s true the Mission Blue butterfly needs (native) lupine as its nursery plant. (It doesn’t depend on any other native wildflowers – only three varieties of lupine. Incidentally, one of the key nectar sources for the Mission Blue butterfly is an invasive non-native Italian thistle: Carduus pycnocephalus).
Lupine has been planted on Twin Peaks as NAP attempts to reintroduce the Mission Blue butterfly there. But lupine is also a plant of disturbed areas, which means that NAP must maintain it or it will die out as the area stabilizes. An SFRPD report on the reintroduction project said “unmanaged habitat deteriorates quickly.” Presumably, they don’t use Garlon near the lupine patches, since it would likely kill that too. Despite what the Bay Nature article implies, it’s not oxalis that’s the issue. The real problem is another native plant, the coyote bush which takes over grasslands in a natural succession.
2) OXALIS IS GOOD FOR WILDLIFE
Oxalis bulbils are a food source for wildlife. Gophers and other rodents eat them. In fact, the Bay Nature article says, “Their spread is abetted by pocket gophers and scrub jays, which have been spotted carrying the bulbs and caching them in the ground—effectively planting them in new areas.”
Since gophers are a foundation species in the food web, being dinner for predators from hawks to coyotes to great blue herons, these plants actually provide habitat benefits whether or not they’re flowering, because the bulbils are there all year.
3) OXALIS DOESN’T LEAVE THE GROUND BARE
The article says that oxalis leaves “bare ground during the six months of the year oxalis doesn’t flower.” That’s not true either.
The spectacular yellow bloom of the oxalis – valuable because it the mass of color attracts honey bees and bumblebees – gives the impression that it’s the only plant there. But though it visually takes over the landscape when it’s in bloom, it naturally grows interspersed with grasses and other plants. Like in the picture above.
In fact, oxalis tends to enrich the soil with phosphorus, which is good for grass.
So when it finishes blooming, as it has by now – you don’t get bare ground. The picture below shows the same area as the first picture in this article – but it’s after the oxalis bloom is over. It’s a grassland.
4) OXALIS HAS LITTLE IMPACT ON “NATIVE” PLANTS
One argument – related to the ‘bare ground’ argument – is that oxalis takes over grasslands and destroys them, particularly the native grasses. However, grasslands in most of California including San Francisco are dominated non-native grasses. The change occurred over 100 years ago, when these grasses were planted for pasture. So the grassland that NAP is defending with herbicides are primarily non-native anyway.
It’s true some European studies do suggest that an increase in oxalis is associated with a decrease in native plants diversity -though whether it’s a cause is unclear. It may just be benefiting from human activities that disrupt the landscape. Another study put oxalis head-to-head with a native annual grass, lolium rigidum. The native grass tended to dominate. Their conclusion: “Oxalis is a poor competitor. This is consistent with the preferential distribution of Oxalis in disturbed areas such as ruderal habitats, and might explain its low influence on the cover of native species in invaded sites.”
The California Invasive Plant Council rates its invasiveness as “moderate,” considering it as somewhat invasive in sand dunes and less so in coastal bluff areas.
In San Francisco, every place where oxalis grows is already a disturbed environment, a mix of non-native grasses and plants with native plants (some of which have been artificially planted). Here, oxalis appears to grow happily with other plants – including, for instance, the native California poppy in the picture above.
5) KIDS LOVE IT AND IT’S EDIBLE
Children love oxalis, both for its pretty flower and for the sour taste of its edible stems. Even small children love gathering posies of Bermuda buttercups (though picking flowers is technically prohibited in Natural Areas). The flowers are surprisingly hardy for wildflowers, and in a glass of water last quite well as cut-flowers.
The plant is edible, and its tart leaves make a nice addition to salad. People enjoy snacking on its sour stems. Besides Bermuda buttercup, it’s also called ‘sourgrass’ and ‘soursob.’ It does contain oxalic acid (as does spinach, for instance), and so you probably wouldn’t want to make a meal of it. Though in South Africa it’s made into soup.
Adding Garlon to it is probably a bad thing.
From our current evidence, there’s no sign that oxalis has a negative impact on wildlife, and plenty of evidence it’s already part of the ecological food web of our city. The evidence also suggests it’s not having a negative effect on other plants in San Francisco either. Lots of people find this flower attractive; one writer described it as the city smiling with Bermuda buttercups.
[Webmaster: The original article goes on to argue that the city should not use Garlon to attack oxalis – it’s expensive, toxic, and pointless.]
It was the book and movie, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill that first drew my attention to the marvelous fact that San Francisco has parakeets. Those birds originated in South America. They’re related to the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet, which was found in North America until the early 1900s, being declared extinct in 1939.
I was interested to learn, while reading a birding group, that there’s a different parrot in town. Parrots are very social birds, and they need company. Apparently, the stranger can recognize a parrot when he sees one, so the new bird is hanging out with the locals.
How wonderfully cosmopolitan is our city?
The story and photographs below are from M. Bruce Grosjean, and are published here with permission.
AN INTERLOPER SURVIVAL STORY – M. BRUCE GROSJEAN
Back in October 2012 I reported seeing a single Rose-ring parakeet that seemed to be trying to attach itself to the larger population of our local Red-masked parakeets. Whereas the flock itself is made up of birds that are originally from Ecuador and Peru, this Rose-ringed individual comes from Asia and Africa. The fact that he recognizes they’re all family is fascinating to me.
It was predicted by some observers that the Rose-ringed would not survive all that long, so every time we saw it over a span of about a year and a half we were surprised. But then sometime around a year ago we stopped seeing it altogether and slowly began to believe that this bird indeed couldn’t survive.
So it was a complete surprise a few days ago when I spotted him feeding with a small flock of our local Red-masked birds again. By all appearances he looks quite healthy but still doesn’t seem to get along with the other birds much better than before, and yet he survives – I’m amazed!
[This flock was sighted near McLaren Park. “FYI,” Bruce wrote me as he sent these pictures over, “Some time ago Mark Bittner (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) told me that he’d seen this bird on Telegraph Hill, which indicates it does get around.” Here are a few more pictures of the little flock with the outsider bird. There are higher-resolution pictures at Bruce’s Zenfolio page, HERE.]
I was delighted to learn, recently, that San Francisco now has yet another set of colorful tiled steps… its fourth. These are the Lincoln Parks stairs. It’s a marvelous way to beautify our city – and there are so many staircases to work with!
We have pictures thanks to Tony Holiday (who also reported on the previous staircase, the Arelious Walker stairs). These are republished with minor edits from his blog, Stairways are Heaven. Go there for more pictures and his full hiking route.
Clicking on any of the pictures below will show you a larger version.
Tony writes, “The Lincoln Park tiled stairway (52 steps) is now walkable. Do go see this in person. The steps are at the west dead-end of California St. at 33rd Ave. in the Outer Richmond neighborhood. They climb to the golf course and a trail that’ll take you north a couple blocks to the east trailhead for the Lands End/Coastal Trail.”
I haven’t been there yet, but it’s definitely in my plans!