Great Horned Owls in Forest Knolls

Beth Dean shared this on NextDoor:
Owls. Now that I’ve been working from home I noticed there’s a pair of owls who hang out outside my bedroom window during the day.

One was obscured by leaves so I couldn’t get a good photo but here’s the other one. A good reminder not to use poison for vermin as the owls might ingest it!

(This is published here with permission. Thanks for sharing them, Beth!)

Forest Knolls, with Coyote, Great Horned Owl, and Raccoon

I love that I can walk late at night in Forest Knolls. I’ve always enjoyed these magical (though infrequent walks). Now, with social distancing, they’re better than ever; there’s hardly anyone around.

Last week, I was out a couple of times. The first night was as still and quiet as if someone had turned off the world’s sound. On my way home I saw a dark shape on the sidewalk ahead. At first, it was so still that I thought it was a small abandoned suitcase or something. But as I came closer, it moved, and the light from the street-lamp showed me a raccoon. It looked at me and dived into the roadside shrubs. I went out to the middle of the road to give it enough room. Though I was pleased to see it. With all the precautions people (including us) take with their trashcans, I thought raccoons had abandoned our neighborhood for lack of food.

Another night, the quiet was broken by one of my favorite sounds: a Great Horned Owl up in Sutro Forest. It sounded like a lone owl, and stopped after a few hoots. Later in the year, perhaps I’ll hear the duets of a pair talking to each other.

And the same night, the best sighting of all: a coyote, out on Oak Park Drive near the staircase called Glenhaven Lane. When it saw me, it retreated up the staircase, and then onto the hillside so it could escape into the bushes if I pursued it. I didn’t, of course. I gave it a wide berth, and took a few blurry pictures with my cellphone.

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Barn Owl in the Forest Knolls’ Forest

I was driving west along Clarendon Avenue, heading homeward. As I slid into the turn lane to make a right on Christopher, something white lay on the side of the road. I slowed nearly to a stop, unsure what it was. Then I recognized it as a barn owl, wings spread. My fear was that it might be injured, perhaps from hitting a car.

To my relief, it rose into the air and disappeared into the trees of Sutro Forest, a rodent clutched in the talons of its right foot. It must have just caught it.

But I was in even more luck! As I turned right, it sailed out of the forest ahead of me, looped over Christopher Dr, and flew back to a tree beside the street. Then it took off again, but only went a little deeper into the forest.

The last time I saw a barn owl in Forest Knolls was seven years ago: Evening Walk with Owl and Moon

Later, I went back. The owl was there, but difficult to see in the darkness. I heard rustling sounds that suggested it was eating the rodent it had caught. I tried getting photographs, but both my phone and camera rebelled at the darkness. This picture is an edited public domain photograph.

So if you hear hisses, screeches, and rasping noises from the forest – or around our neighborhood – it’s barn owls on rodent patrol. (Also, please don’t use rodenticides, especially slow-acting ones like brodifacoum. It could kill the owl.)

 

Forest Knolls Skunk

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.

skunk in forest knolls 1

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!

little skunk in Forest KnollsI 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.

Feeling Guilty About Loving Bermuda Buttercups?

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.

oxalis in glen canyon feb 2011These 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.

gopher-twin-peaksWhere there are gophers, the predators follow. Like the coyotes in these pictures, which clearly haven’t been driven away by a landscape dominated by oxalis.

coyote pouncing in oxalis field - copyright Janet Kessler
coyote pouncing in oxalis field – copyright Janet Kessler
coyote in oxalis field - copyright Janet Kessler
coyote in oxalis field – copyright Janet Kessler

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.

oxalis interspersed with grasses and other plants

oxalis in glen canyon feb 2011The 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.

glen canyon after the oxalis season

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.

oxalis and california poppies sm But anyway, what’s the evidence that oxalis is actually damaging native plants?

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.

Photo credit: Badjonni (Creative Commons - Flickr)
Photo credit: Badjonni (Creative Commons – Flickr)

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.]

 

Wild Parrots of San Francisco! – M. Bruce Grosjean

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.

parrots san francisco - copyright M. Bruce Grosjean
The rose-ringed parakeet, originally from Asia and Africa – (c) M Bruce Grosjean

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.

Rose-ringed parakeet surround by red-masked conures - (c) M. Bruce Grosjean
Rose-ringed parakeet surround by red-masked conures – (c) M. Bruce Grosjean

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!

parrots san francisco 6 - copyright M. Bruce Grosjean
Rose-ringed parakeet and red-masked parrots at a feeder – (c) M. Bruce Grosjean

[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.]

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Strangers in the Night

Around midnight, it’s usually quiet in Forest Knolls, the only sounds coming from the house itself. Outside, you might hear the wind soughing in the trees and humming in Sutro Tower. But tonight, a bird chirped tentatively in the backyard. At first I thought it was just a songbird disturbed on its perch, or responding to the bright moon.

moon from forest knolls drive san francisco
But it continued, growing louder and insistent. Opening a window to listen, I wondered if a raccoon had caught a bird. It sounded distressed. I could see nothing in the dark, my yard was in shadow.

skunk 1I ran down to turn on the garden light. And then I saw it – not a bird at all, but a skunk, right up against the back fence in a corner. When I shone the flashlight on it, it emerged from the shrubbery. And then, out came another one. Mating season!

They stuck around for a while, but annoyed by my watching them, they left through a hole under the fence. There was mildly skunky smell. Love was in the air.

 

December in Stow Lake: Ducks and More

What better way to end the year than a walk round Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park? It remains one of my favorite places in San Francisco – user-friendly for people and waterbirds alike.
kid at water edge

Sbare areas with felled treeso I went down there on December 31st in the late afternoon with someone who wanted to try out a new Olympus camera. I carried my trusty Nikon Coolpix. (It’s a little less trusty now for having a strange gray line appear whenever I use the zoom; I’m going to have to fix or replace it).

Unfortunately, Strawberry Hill – the hill in the center of the lake, accessed by a bridge on either side – is a lot more bare than it used to be. They’ve been cutting down trees and removing vegetation. Before, you couldn’t even see the summit from the outside, and it always seemed green and lush.

gulls mallards coots at Stow Lake Dec 2014

We strolled around the lake,  enjoying the amazing birdlife and the clear evening light. On this trip, we saw not just the usual mallards and gulls, but a wealth of American coots…
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This shot reminded me of a hen overseeing a flock of chicks. “Are you our mother?
Are you my mother

This gull allowed a close-up. I tried to figure out its species from my bird books, but couldn’t really narrow it down. Maybe a Thayer’s or a Glaucus-winged? Or a young Western gull? [Edited to add: A friendly bird expert thought it was probably a glaucus-winged, but just possibly could be a Thayer’s.] Gulls are confusing, the more so because some of them hybridize quite happily.

A gull

There were some Northern Shovellers amid the mallards, and I got a picture of this couple.
northern shoveler

Perched on a rock, and preening continuously, we saw this duck – I think it’s a female ruddy duck.
PC310014 female ruddy duck and coot

And there was this smart black and white bufflehead. [Edited to add: The picture shows the green/ purple iridescence, but that wasn’t clearly visible from shore without binoculars – which I forgot to carry with me.] We first saw it near the boat-house, but then it reappeared on the side near the waterfall. I couldn’t tell if it was the same individual or not, it was diving and moving quickly. There were at least two; I have another photo of them which is too blurry to publish.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Double-crested cormorant swam around, low in the water. We saw a couple of others fly off.
double crested cormorantThey always remind me of a nonsense verse I read as a kid: ” The common cormorant or shag/ Lays eggs inside a paper bag/ The reason you will see no doubt/ It is to keep the lightning out/ But what these unobservant birds/ Have never noticed is that herds/ Of wandering bears may come with buns/ And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.” (It’s by Christopher Isherwood and of course it isn’t true – but as a child I had a strong mental image of the birds creeping into brown-paper bags to nest…)

The usual Muscovy ducks (which don’t actually come from Moscow) foraged around the edges of the lake.
muscovy duck at Stow Lake

There were a few of the Canada geese (formerly from Canada, but they live here now and particularly love the new Botanical Garden, which is goose heaven).
canada goose in a pine tree

Instead of a partridge in a pear tree, I offer you a wild goose in a pine tree.

It’s a couple of days late – but wishing everyone who reads this a wonderful year in 2015!

Stow Lake Walk (with Birds)

A few days ago, we went for a walk to Stow Lake. Golden Gate Park is so near Forest Knolls that the outing needs no planning – jump in the car and in ten minutes you’re there.  On this warm Friday afternoon, it was crowded in a pleasant way with both with people and with birds. I have a new camera (I’m back to a Nikon Coolpix – wasn’t that happy with my Canon)and wanted to see what a pocket camera could do for bird pictures. It felt like the birds were less shy than usual, or maybe the crowd just provided a distraction so any one person didn’t bother them.

night heron holds a pose 1
Night heron holds a pose

This night heron was hanging out near the water. This is the same species as the baby birds in the trees that were trimmed in Berkeley.  (Those have, happily,  been saved. Some day, they’ll be handsome adults like this one.)

redwinged blackbird foraging
Redwinged blackbird foraging

I also saw more red-winged blackbirds than usual, and this one was so busy eating seeds near the path that it waited to the last minute to fly away – and came back the minute we’d passed by.

seven half-grown ducklings still hang out with mom
Seven half-grown ducklings still hang out with mom

These half-grown ducklings had outgrown the brown fuzzy stage, but still attracted attention of adults and kids alike.

baby geese sleep while adults stand guard
Baby geese sleep while adults stand guard

The Canada geese had young ones, too. I love how they always have a couple of geese on guard while the flock feeds, or in this case, sleeps.

blurry pic of male wood duck
Male wood duck, Stow Lake, June 2014

There was a dramatic and handsome male Wood Duck. I looked at my bird book when I got back, and realized I’d seen him (or maybe another like him) almost exactly a year ago.  The picture I got was blurry, but I’m posting it here anyway. At least it’s recognizably a wood duck!  I didn’t see a female. Some years ago, I did see a female wood duck at Stow Lake, but she was hanging out with a duck of a different species.

hunting robin
American Robin listening for food

This American robin was apparently hunting.

muscovy bedtime
Muscovy bedtime

By the time we finished our walk, the Muscovy ducks had decided to call it a day. They were sleeping under a bush But the night herons were alert.  As we prepared to leave, this guy stood like a statue on the boathouse .

Night heron posing 2
Night heron, Stow Lake June 2014

The Barn Owl Died of Rat Poison

dead barn owlI just heard back about the dead barn owl found in Glen Canyon. It was found to have died of rat poison. Here’s what they wrote us:

The dead Barn Owl we found and took to WildCare for rodenticide testing, Patient #1754, was found, indeed, to have died of rat poisoning.

Many people don’t know that when a hawk or owl or other predator eats a poisoned rodent, that animal gets poisoned too. Please STOP using rat poisons (rodenticides)! These poisons are killing the very animals, like this Barn Owl, that naturally control rodents.

The Barn Owl was found to be internally toxic, diffusely discolored and badly hemorrhaged throughout. There was evidence of a heavy load of the rodenticide brodifacoum in her system — enough to kill her.

Shockingly, over 86% of tested WildCare patients show evidence of exposure to rat poisons! These animals are eating poisoned rodents and carrying varying loads of toxic poison in their systems as a result. Rat poison used by residents of San Francisco is having dangerous and detrimental effects on the wildlife of our area. A Great Horned Owl was found dead last year due to the same rat poisoning.

Rat poisons kill by making whatever animal eats them bleed to death internally – slowly and painfully. While the poisoned rats or mice are still alive, they (and their deadly load of poison) can be consumed by other predators including cats and dogs. Rodents are the basic food source for a number of different predators all the way up the food chain. It is a terrifying prospect; to kill many animals while targeting only one. We need to find better ways to live well with wildlife.

If you need help with any wildlife issues, please contact WildCare Solutions at 415.456.7283 (456-SAVE), or http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/wildlifesolutions.

Barn Owls are one of the most common owl species in the country, but seeing one, especially in the City, is always a treat. These silent nocturnal hunters often appear completely white against the night sky as they glide over open spaces in search of rodent prey. A family of Barn Owls can eat over 3,000 rodents in a single 4-month breeding season, which makes them a magnificent source of rodent pest control, but also one of the most common victims of secondary rodenticide poisoning. Barn Owls nest early in the season, usually producing eggs sometime between January and March.

A special thanks to everyone who made a contribution to the testing, especially to the San Francisco Forest Alliance for their substantial donation.

I’ve seen barn owls very occasionally in our area. They’re beautiful. I am so sorry this happened.

Another Sad Owl Death in Glen Park

Another year, another dead owl in Glen Canyon Park. Last year, almost to the day, I wrote about a dead Great Horned Owl. This time, it’s a barn owl. It may have been poisoned by eating rats that had been poisoned with a rodenticide. Barn owls are wonderful at keeping rodents down, since they eat almost nothing but mice and rats – but when the rodents have been poisoned, the owls die.

dead barn owl

The poor owl has been sent to WildCare for a necropsy (that’s an autopsy for animals), so we can find out for sure. It costs $300 to perform this analysis, and so neighbors are asking for contributions to WildCare (which is a wonderful non-profit that takes in rescued wild animals and birds) to cover their costs.

Anyone willing to contribute can do so by mail, online or phone, please reference “Barn Owl Patient #1754″.

  • Phone: Contact WildCare’s Stewardship Manager, Jan Armstrong, 415-453-1000, ext. 13,
  • Onlinewildcarebayarea.org (there’s a link on the website to donate money by credit card)
  • By Check: Send it directly to WildCare, 76 Albert Park Lane, San Rafael, 94901.

This is relevant not just to Glen Canyon, but to all neighborhoods, including ours. We’ve seen barn owls here. Rodenticides kill not just mice and rats, but animals up the food chain: owls, dogs, cats, coyotes, hawks.

There’s an initiative to limit the use of some of the most destructive and dangerous ones: see WildCare’s Rodenticide Diagnostics & Advocacy Program . If you have additional questions about rodenticides, you may contact Wildlife Solutions Manager, Kelle Kacmarcik who is coordinating this effort. You may reach her at 415-456-7283, ext. 23.

Please help save our owls and other animals and birds!

 

Stow Lake September Twilight

Today was a day of intermittent sunshine and beautiful clouds. In the evening,  a misty fog blew in and Stow Lake looked like something out of a romantic historical film. You half expected to see a lady on a white horse, or an armor-clad knight.

stow lake twilight

But even without the fantasy, it’s an interesting place at twilight; you never know what you’ll see.  (The downside is that my current camera, which hates low-light conditions, doesn’t get very good pics.)

By the time we got there, most of the crowds had left.  Only a few late walkers like us wandered around the lake.  The last boat of the evening paddled toward the jetty. The mallards, geese and Muscovy ducks circled the edges of the lake hopefully before the last visitors disappeared.

A gull near the Boathouse hopped down to the edge of lake and came up with – something. It was reddish and scrawny and didn’t look like a piece of sandwich or candy. It brought its catch ashore to deal with it, and I got a closer look. It was a small red crayfish. I wouldn’t have recognized it, except that some months ago, I actually saw a much bigger crayfish at Stow Lake. The gull gobbled it down before I could even whip out my camera.

A flight of birds passed overhead, looking somewhat like swans and calling to each other. Then I realized it was actually Canada Geese, bleached by mist and twilight. They swept around and landed on the lake.

From Strawberry Hill, a Great Horned Owl called softly  It sounded tentative, almost thoughtful. Probably just waking up and wanted its coffee.

On the other side of the lake, we noticed some black-and-white critters contrasting with the broad yellowish bare path on Strawberry Hill. Though the light was now quite poor, I looked carefully and realized it was a Mama Skunk with two kittens, hurrying along the path and occasionally detouring off it. Then I saw a bushy tail on our side, but it quickly hid amid the rocks at the lake-edge. It may be in the picture below – or not.

stow lake with hidden skunk

We passed the old stone bridge, and then, on cue at 7.55 p.m, I saw a bat, followed soon by several others. I tried for a photograph, but as usual, got only some smudges.  (My technique is to point my camera in their general direction and keep clicking madly.) Spot the bats?

bat smudge 2

bat smudge 1

a bat-smudge

The geese took off in small flocks, flying away to an unknown destination – maybe the Botanic Garden. It was so quiet I could hear the whistle of the wind in their wings.

Further along, the city noises returned – the rush of traffic along the 19th avenue intersecting the park.  It was back to our car, and back to the real world.

twlight tree

Of Raccoons, Trashcans, and Bungee Cords

single bungee on compostables trash can

A few days ago, I’d posted about the raccoon that visited our trashcans… and knocked them over to raid them.

Several neighbors suggested using bungee cords to keep them closed. Some were kind enough to send a detailed explanation of how to bungee a trashcan so the raccoons couldn’t open it.  So we duly got some cords, and fastened down the lids of the green “compostables” bin, and the black “landfill” bin. (We didn’t bother about the blue bin; we figured recyclable paper and plastic and cans wouldn’t interest the critters.)  And it worked!  I added a note to my previous post to say so.

Until it didn’t.

raccoon at night 2a

A few nights later, they pushed over the green bin, and then deftly moved aside the bungee cord enough to open the lid and drag out its contents.  Now what? we wondered. Someone suggested boring a hole through the lid of the trashcan and putting a chain through it.

Instead, we decided to try a double bungee, two cords on each bin.

So a few nights ago, I heard the now-familiar crash. They’d pushed the trashcan over. But this time the bungee cord held, and the bin stayed shut.  We hurried out, and saw a couple of raccoons scamper off.  We may have a solution.

trashcan with bungee cords

If we do, it’s this:

  • Fasten each bin with two bungee cords in parallel, hooked over the handle, and the bar on the other side that’s used to lift the trashcan over the truck. You may have to open the hooks a little with pliers so they can grab the bars; at least we did.
  • Remember to replace them every time you put something in the trashcan. My experience is the raccoons come around 1-5 a.m., but who knows? Maybe they come earlier on some days and some places. [Edited to Add: The other evening, they showed up before 10 p.m.]
  • Remember to remove the cords in the morning before the garbage trucks come round, or they won’t clear the garbage.

Of course, it’s a lot easier if you can just keep the trashcans in your garage, and put them out only on the morning of Garbage Day. But if you have two cars parked inside, or a garage full of Stuff, it may not be feasible.

Cute Coyote Pups – and Coexisting with Coyotes

This post is reprinted with permission from SFForest.net
Our area does get coyote visitors, and so do Twin Peaks, Laguna Honda, and possibly Sutro Forest. The video linked below has pointers for co-existing with coyotes.

As frequent visitors to our urban wild-lands and parks probably know already, coyotes are part of our city’s wildlife. They travel over considerable distances alone or in family groups, so you could actually see them anywhere (though wild-lands where they can hunt gophers are probably the best bet). And – this is coyote pupping season. Pups have already been seen in Golden Gate Park and elsewhere.

Coyote pups.  Janet Kessler
Coyote pups. Janet Kessler

A “HOW-TO” VIDEO ON COYOTES AS NEIGHBORS

It might be helpful to know as much as possible about what behavior to expect from them, especially in relation to ourselves and pets. For a one-stop informational video presentation — the most up-to-date there is — please view CoyoteCoexistence.Com‘s new video, Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus On Facts. Here’s the video:

If you have specific questions or issues, you may contact them at coyotecoexistence at gmail.com for one-on-one assistance.

coyote pups 1
Coyote Pups Alert. Janet Kessler

Legion of Honor: Royal Treasures and Blackbirds

Yesterday, we visited the Legion of Honor. They have an exhibition of Royal Treasures from the Louvre, a collection of opulent artifacts and woven wall hangings. There’s an inlaid stone table-top that is quite incredible; if you go, be sure to notice the pomegranate seeds…

louvremainThe other highlights were a collection of cups and jugs carved out of semi-precious stones like amethyst and agate and lapis lazuli; and a collection of elegant and ornate snuff-boxes that reminded me of pictures of Faberge easter eggs. The whole exhibition, with its emphasis on rich, fine work reminded me of displays I’ve seen of Moghul art, where a similar dynamic was on display – artisans patronized by a wealthy court, trying to out-do each other in the brilliance and detail of their work.

Somehow, though, in a museum, it just seemed out of context. I’ve visited Versailles once, and there it would have all made sense.

THREE BIRDS IN A FOUNTAIN

On the way in, we walked past the big fountain at the Legion of Honor. It’s pretty devoid of life – the water is too deep for birds, and there’s nothing there. So I was surprised when I thought I saw a blackbird dive in. Of course I was mistaken. There was no bird, dead or alive, in the water.

fountain with hidden blackbirds

blackbirds under the rim of LOH fountainOn the way back, from the other side of the fountain, I saw what happened. The birds were flying under the rim into the overflow gutter, which had just enough water to make a useful bird-bath. I watched for a few minutes, and saw several birds do the same thing.

Clever.

Coyotes Among Us

Two neighbors have reported coyotes nearby in the last few days – one on Warren Drive, and one on Clarendon x Panorama.

“A very large coyote was seen at 11:30 a.m. today across from 101 Warren,” wrote Beverly.

“On 12/22/2012, approaching Clarendon from Panorama, waiting at the traffic signal, a rather frisky coyote crossed my path, going from south to north and into the undeveloped area bordering Clarendon on its East,” wrote John V.

Someone else saw one a few days ago on Mountain Spring Drive, which is just across Clarendon Avenue from us. In the last year, I’ve seen them myself on Twin Peaks, Glen Canyon, Diamond Heights, and in the grounds of Laguna Honda Hospital. They’ve also been sighted near West Portal, the Presidio, and elsewhere in the city. I’ve posted about coyotes here before, but I thought I’d do so again.

coyote looking at dog, San Francisco

From what I’ve been told, there are only about 10-12 12-18 coyotes in San Francisco. They are territorial, so it’s unlikely the number will increase very much. We know the Golden Gate pair had pups last year. (Click HERE for a cute picture of the pups at play; it’s from the RichmondSF blog.) The one (or ones) we’ve seen may be a Golden Gate pup grown up and seeking new spaces. (Coyotes look bigger in winter, when they grow their winter coats.) Or they could be any of the resident coyotes from the territories around us.

Coyotes cover great distances in their explorations, so it’s possible to see them almost anywhere in the city. The west side is particularly good for them; they mostly take gophers and rats and mice, available in the grasslands, and they need cover to hide from dogs and people. The west side of the city has both.

Generally, coyotes aren’t much bothered by people (and are shy of them). They are bothered by dogs, who they see as competitors and a potential threat. I’m told they remember dogs who chase them. Like dogs, they probably also can recognize individual people.

Though coyotes mainly prey on rodents (and are a much better solution than poisons like the ones that killed the Glen Canyon owl), they have been known to takes cats and even small dogs. They may fight even with big dogs who chase them, which is not good for either dog or coyote. So it makes sense to be careful – keep your cats indoors especially at night, and leash your dog if a coyote is around. Generally, don’t run from a coyote; it may trigger a chase instinct. Instead, walk away calmly. I’ve found yelling loudly at a coyote usually makes them run off in a hurry. (I’ve only done this once, when I was walking in Diamond Heights at night.) If  you’re concerned about coyotes, carry a “shake can” – a loud rattle made of some pennies sealed into a small aluminum can.

Please NEVER feed coyotes. A FED COYOTE IS A DEAD COYOTE.

[Edited to add: TV station CBS did a short video clip on Forest Knolls coyote sightings: Click HERE to see it.]

Janet Kessler, the Jane Goodall of San Francisco’s coyotes, spends a lot of time observing these animals and documenting her observations on www.coyoteyipps.com and she’s also written an article on peaceful coexistence for the Marina Times. You can see that HERE.

The precautions below are taken from her website.

coyote poster11

coyote poster21

Pelican K15 at Pacifica Pier

We’d gone for a walk to Pacifica Pier last month. It’s about 20 minutes from here, but feels like another world. When you walk all the way out and look down at the sea, it’s almost like being on a ship.

pacifica pier

It was late in the afternoon, and the fishermen were beginning to think about leaving. Suddenly, a [brown] pelican descended on the railing, quite fearlessly looking around for handouts.

pelican and fishers

pelican k15 I took a few snaps, then realized it was banded. I moved in closer, and could see the band was prominently marked K15.

It apparently knew the drill. A couple of people gave it their bait fish as they left.

One fisherman told me, as he packed up his gear, that this particular bird was often here. He’d been told, he said, that it was a youngster, and born late in the season. Mortality rates were high for such late-hatched birds.

I wonder if that’s true, and also wonder who banded the bird. It’s clearly meant to be read from a distance.

(If anyone knows, comment here or email me? I tried posting on the SFBirds group of Yahoo, but they only permit San Francisco posts.)

GULL RESCUE

As we were leaving, we saw a couple of wildlife rescue people armed with  net and a carry-box, rounding up an injured gull on the beach. I felt like cheering. (If you happen to read this, rescuers, thanks for your work!)

[Edited to Add: Later, I found out about International Bird Rescue. They have a form to report blue-banded birds on their website, so I did. Here’s what they wrote back.

K15 is one of our celebrities.  It hangs out at the Pacifica Pier a lot and unfortunately gets fed.  He has every ability to care for himself but he likes the snacks.   I am attaching some things for you and one is the poster for the banding project.  K15 is our poster bird.  K15 originally came into our rehabilitation clinic in Cordelia on June 23, 2011 with pouch lacerations and he was in a weakened state.   He was a first year bird and was rehabilitated and released on July 26, 2011 in Alameda.

K15 has been reported 10 times since his release.  It’s doing really well but I really hate people feeding it.  That makes them habituated and that always ends up bad for the bird.  Fingers crossed!

Thank you so much for reporting the bird.  I love your blog.

Thanks for the work you do!  (Here’s the poster – like the one below – as a PDF: BirdRescueBandedPelican)

pelican poster

And if you’re interested in more information about California’s brown pelicans, International Bird Rescue prepared a one-pager (attached here as a PDF): Understanding Brown Pelicans- final ]

Owls and Rat Poison

I have some further information about the owl that died of rat-poison. The chemicals were Brodifacoum and Bromadiolone, both of which are anti-coagulants.

These are “second generation” poisons, and cause death by internal bleeding. They’re both very potent, and are dangerous not only to rats, but to all mammals: cats, dogs, and small kids. And, as we’ve seen – birds, especially owls and hawks.

The antidote is Vitamin K, but it can take a 4-week course of treatment to cure a pet or a child.

The common brand names:

Brodicfacoum: FINAL, JAGUAR, PP-581, WBA 8119, d-con, Havoc, Ratak, Talon
Bromadiolone: Boot Hill, Bromone, Contrac, Maki, Rat-XB, Super-Caid, Super-Rozol

[Edited to Add: More information about the pesticides.]

In San Francisco, the SF Department of Environment permits the use of Bromadiolone on city-owned properties in the form of “Contrac All-weather Blox” — but only in a very restricted way:

For use only in City-owned sewer lines, San Francisco International Airport Terminal Areas, or for commercial lessees on city properties that are not adjacent to natural areas. In commercial establishments, use of product shall be a last resort after other, less-toxic measures have been implemented, including sanitation and trapping, and only where a significant public health hazard is recognized. In all cases, monitoring shall be used whenever feasible to minimize rodenticide use.

The other chemical, Brodifacoum, is not approved for use on city-owned properties.

The problem is that these chemicals are legal. San Francisco has a “Don’t Take the Bait” program in which they’re trying to get retailers and consumers to co-operate in not using the most dangerous formats for these poisons – but they’re still widely available.

Some of these poisons deliberately have delayed action, so that rats – who are pretty smart – will not realize that the bait is poisonous. That means that they go off after eating the bait, and then die over a period of days. They could die inside walls or under floors – or by being eaten by a hawk or owl or coyote or cat or dog when their weakness makes them easy prey. Then the bird or animal that eats them is at risk for poisoning. This happens a lot.

Sometimes, baits are set out in open trays, where any animal (or kid) who samples it can be poisoned.

Sad Death of Glen Canyon’s Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl in eucs (Photo: Janet Kessler)
Great horned owl, Glen Canyon (Photo: Janet Kessler)

A few weeks ago, the Glen Park group had news of a Great Horned Owl found dead in Glen Canyon. There’s a well-known pair of owls that nest there every year, and typically raise two or three chicks. Neighbors fear this may be the male of that pair.

Of course people were upset, and they raised money for a necropsy – an autopsy for animals. This was conducted arranged by Wildcare, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates injured wildlife. (I’ve written about them before, HERE.)

The result came in today. The owl died from eating poisoned rodents.

According the Wildcare press release,

“Commonly available rodenticides [rat poisons] are consumed by rodents, the basic food source for a number of different predators all the way up the food chain. These poisons kill by making whatever animal eats them bleed to death internally – slowly and painfully. While the poisoned animals – targeted or not – are still alive, they can be consumed by other predators. It is a terrifying prospect; to kill many animals while targeting only one.”

three owlets (Photo: Janet Kessler)
Three Great Horned Owlets (Photo: Janet Kessler)

A Great Horned Owl eats about 5 rodents a day, and much more if it’s feeding young. Its favorite prey is skunk, but it also eats rats and mice, rabbits, and birds.  If someone poisons rats to get rid of them, they don’t die right away. Instead they wander around, increasingly weak and slow – and thus particularly attractive to predators. The poison can then kill the bird or animal that eats it – or even the next animal up the food chain. [Edited to add: More HERE about the specific poisons that killed this owl.]

PROTECTING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD OWLS

We have Great Horned Owls in our neighborhood. I’ve seen them in Sutro Forest, up on the hillside, and in trees along Crestmont and Christopher. I’ve seen one on a lamp-post on Clarendon Avenue.  We also have barn owls, which are even more vulnerable because they’re not large enough to eat skunks but eat more rats and mice instead. Every time we use rat poison, we’re endangering these birds.

Eucalyptus, fog, Great Horned Owl (Photo: Rupa Bose)
Eucalyptus, fog, Great Horned Owl (Photo: Rupa Bose)

Earthquakes and Ostriches: The Cutest California Academy of Sciences Exhibit

The California Academy of Sciences has an exhibit about earthquakes, so of course, it has ostrich chicks.

You don’t see the connection? Neither did I, actually, but I had to see the ostrich chicks.

As a member of the Cal Academy, admission is free and I can guiltlessly just drop by. That’s what I did today, just to see the ostriches, and was directed to the end of the building. But the enclosure was empty. The ostrich babies were actually outside, being exercised in a large pen in the sunshine.

These little guys were 20 days old, and as you see here, still fuzzy. The fuzz is actually rather like dry grass in texture, and doubtless helps conceal them on the African plains. Ostriches form harems, with 6-7 females and a male, and lay eggs in a communal nest. The females incubate it in the day, the male in the night. When the chicks hatch, they’re ready to run with the flock. In nature, they’d be chasing their mother around the savanna, much like outsize chickens (or she’d be chasing them).

The Academy chicks are indoors much of the time, and so this outdoor exercise time is important to their development. They came as eggs from a ranch in Escondido, the docent explained, and were hatched in an incubator at the Academy. As they outgrow the exhibit, they’ll be sent to various zoos, or back to the ranch. The Academy hatches a new batch every few weeks.

I’m wondering if these little chicks are going to imprint on humans… I was reading on the internet that they do, sometimes, and then the males will direct its mating displays to its human attendant instead of the female ostriches.

Oh, and the connection with earthquakes? Well, it’s plate tectonics.

As the earth’s tectonic plates separated, they parted related birds onto different continents – emus and rheas and ostriches. They’re all flightless rattites, but each evolved flightlessness separately.

Plate movements also cause earthquakes.

And if the connection still seems a bit far-fetched, it’s a good excuse for a display of fuzzy ostrich-babies.