If you’ve been by the Rotary Nature Center of late, you may have noticed that the Center has been closed. The building is undergoing inspection and assessment, and is slated at the very least to getting a thorough cleaning. Animals have been relocated from the building. We’ve heard that the Center should open back up in June of 2017.
In my 4 years living in Oakland, I have often stopped to watch and listen to the Cormorants nesting out on the bird islands of Lake Merritt. Their guttural moans, groans, cries — however you might describe them, seem like they are from some other larger beast lurking on the island just at the edge of hearing.
Last week, April 7th, the night after a hard storm — the winds rocked my two story building — I’d done a circuit of the lake curious of what damage there might be and stopped across from the Cormorants, who seemed business as usual.
Except, the groans were much closer, much louder than I’d ever heard them — and I suddenly realized — behind me. I turned around to find a dozen or more cormorants in a tree I’d never noticed them in before. Actively building nests, and had seemingly just started.
Cormorants would fly into the tree carrying a branch, and the one at the tree, would greet the incoming bird with a neck rub, and a groan — perhaps enticement for its partner to keep coming with the twigs and leaves. The groans rose and fell, sometimes in conjunction as the birds flew in an out.
Today, 3 days later, Cormorants were still busy building/repairing nests… though the interactions sometimes seemed less than friendly (the one on the nests sometimes seems to have to wrestle for control of the stick, as if they can’t decide who should have the honor of placing it) — and it is clearly hard work for the birds to bring the sticks up to the trees, often flying out into the lake and doing a pass before they can get the right angle. But the nests in the new tree seem more or less done.
I can’t be 100% certain they hand’t already started nesting there, if you have any evidence one way or another (a photo from before the 7th), I would love to know.
In any case, it will be interesting to see how successful they might be here in this new tree. I’ve seen raccoons scale that tree before… and it will be a slightly chancy thing for walkers and pedestrians to walk under the tree. It will certainly be (already is) a little smellier!
At the southern point of the lake, where the tide flows in and out, there is a pedestrian bridge. This is perhaps my favorite place on the lake.
The bridge is quite new—part of the 2002 Measure DD work—finished in 2012 after a century old culvert was ripped out and the water allowed to flow free. The water underneath connects the lake to the bay, the bay to the hills. The bridge connects people from East Oakland to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, downtown and beyond.
The other night my wife and I were biking over, and stopped as usual to take in the view. Already there were a few people gathered, including an elderly couple and a young bicycle messenger. I pulled up to the latter and asked, “Striped bass?” (That was the big fish I’ve most commonly seen there.) “No!” he said. “Sturgeon, I think. Seven of them or so.” And there they were lurking, gliding in and out of deeper water. I’d never seen them before. We chatted a while, exchanging observations and information, waiting for another glimpse.
That’s what I love about this spot—that it has its aficionados. We stop and chat, comparing notes. “What do you see?” It might be a school of silversides, a bat ray flying through the water, a lumbering sea hare, or a diving grebe. Birds fly underneath the bridge. Swallows nest nearby. Brown pelicans circle, gulls dive for shells, a gulp of cormorants glides across the lake. A gondola passes. Sometimes there is nothing, the water opaque, the tide calm. But still there are the hills and the Town reflected in the lake—and fellow Oaklanders watching with you.
— Adrian Cotter
How the Rotary Nature Center Came To Be
Bugs (Brighton) C. Cain was a Stanford graduate in entomology who introduced many young boys to nature around California and particularly in Oakland. According to Paul Covel, the first salaried municipal park naturalist, “Boys flocked to this nature man who could, all in a day, introduce birds, botany, insects, astronomy, and informal lessons in philosophy and behavior.” Bugs, along with his best students, created the first list of the birds of Lake Merritt—138 species!
Cain was employed by The Boy Scouts but he also worked pro bono with school and church
groups. Eventually the superintendent of parks, Lee Kerfoot, decided that this man needed some official recognition and presented him with a tin star bearing the words: “Naturalist, Oakland Park Department”. No salary accompanied this honor. Cain worked out of the famous “Bug House” at Camp Dimond where he gave lessons, collected specimens, banded and fed birds.
This site was eventually sold by the Boy Scouts and Cain was moved to other duties. He died suddenly shortly thereafter in 1950 at the early age of 31. The Bug House collection and library was presented to the Oakland Park Department by his widow. Where to house this valuable collection? With money raised by the Cain Memorial Committee, the Oakland Rotary Club, and City of Oakland the Rotary Natural Science Center was born. A friendly contractor offered to build the structure and a fine job he did. In 1953 the Rotary Nature Center opened its doors, thus providing suitable accommodations for the first salaried municipal park naturalist.
Remarkably, one of Bug’s students is still alive today. L. Martin Griffin, now 96 years old, has posted the story of Bugs Cain on his website.
Source. “People are for the Birds” by Paul F. Covel 1978, Western Interpretive Press
Photo from L. Martin Griffin’s website
This festival is a celebration of the nation’s first wildlife refuge & the biodiversity in the heart of the Oakland. Come meet & enjoy dozens of environmental organizations, wildlife rescue groups, live animals, local merchants, and nature artists for an afternoon of fun & education for the whole city!
We’ll be out tabling as well, and look forward to meeting you.
The event is a joint production between the Rotary Nature Center and the Wildlife Society, looking to raise some money for both of their endeavors.
The Rotary Nature Center is the overseeing body of the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge, and has provided conservation and natural history education for this Oakland landmark since 1945. This festival is a fundraiser for things such as binoculars for public use, museum display upgrades, and other educational equipment.
The Wildlife Society (TWS) was founded in 1937 as an international non-profit scientific and educational association dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. The SF Bay Chapter of TWS is working to raise funds to support their college mentorship program, ethnic and gender diversity initiative, and events and workshops for professional development. It will receive proceeds from the silent auction from this event for their help promoting, organizing, and providing volunteers & programs for the fair.