Where have the Eared Grebe’s gone?

One of my favorite winter residents of the lake is the Eared Grebe. It’s a small diving water bird (most closely related to Flamingos) that is flightless much of the year. The males turn into demonic looking birds just before they head out for mating season in the Spring. If your lucky, you can also sometimes glimpse their forays underwater. Their favorite food seems to be the the Bay Pipefish which seem to provide the grebes a run for their money.

The pipefish seem to be getting a reprieve this year with no Eared Grebe’s in their “traditional” hunting grounds (aka the spots I’ve seen them in over the past few years). I had seen one Eared Grebe on the lake near the bird islands earlier this year, but I have not seen it since. Things have been left to the Pied-billed Grebes, an equally cute species but which seems to mostly confine itself to the the refuge area on the northern side of the lake. Eared Grebes in my observations have favorite spots dotted around the lake. Last year, I’d remarked a trio showing up by the pedestrian bridge at the Southern end of the lake in early October where they could be reliably found for months after.

There seems to have been some e-Bird sitings over the last couple of days, so perhaps they are still to arrive. I did note, however, the week they arrived last year would have coincided with the fires in Sonoma and Napa. With the air quality so bad, I wonder if the birds thought better of flight, and decided to stick it out where they are. According to my Bay Area Birds (David Lukas, 2012), Eared Grebe’s make great use of the South Bay Salt Ponds, and nest down in the Hayward.

Data in my various sources of citizen science data (iNaturalist and eBird) seems too thin to make any kind of call on that hypothesis. And at the end of the day, I hope they still show up.

 

Lake Spot: the Rocky Shore

A couple of years ago they finished the shoreline from the Boating Center up to the Geodesic dome. There’s a nice wide path, some benches looking over the lake, and new landscaping around the parking lot, and a healthy bit of shoreline between the path and water. It can be a good spot to see the comings of goings of birds and boats if you are so inclined.

Parts of the shoreline are still fenced off — letting plants get situated and take good root, I presume, there is a path of old rip wrap and stone set on dirt where one can sit at the shoreline and take it in.

I found myself there the other day on a lovely fall day, I unintentionally flushed a Green Heron from the bank. It did my the favor of sitting on a white float for a few minutes, a rare chance to hang out with the most elusive heron of the lake.

I’d passed a Great Blue Heron earlier in the day sitting in shallow water seemingly unconcerned by the humans stopping to goggle at it. It seems like it is the only Great Blue on the lake but it is often out in the open. Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets come in bunches and are hard to miss, and one can often find a Snowy Egret right at your feet as it forages the edges of the lake.

The Green Heron seems more secretive and has a rather narrow range on the lake (all the iNaturalist observations are in the Northern part of the Lake, though I’ve it a time or two further west).

The little heron flew on a few minutes later, and I settled in to watch a sparrow — before I was graced with a final visit from a White Pelican, flying not too far overhead.

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Oakland Autumn Lights Festival

In just a couple days, the Lake Merritt Garden will be opening up for its annual Autumn Lights Festival. Community for Lake Merritt is helping out the Pollinator Posse with a butterfly themed exhibit in the pollinator garden.

We’ll also be having a little UV light critter hunt — no live critters — but some exemplars of cooly lit local California fauna.

The festival is Thu, Fri, and Sat, October 19-21, 6-11pm. Make sure to get tickets in advance, it does sell out. The even is rain or shine.

http://autumnlightsfestival.org

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Freedom to Roam!

2017 - 1 (1)At long last, the 10th street bridge and pedestrian paths underneath are complete. It has been quite some time in the making. The bridge opened to traffic earlier in the year, but the paths opened sometime in early to mid October. It was a nice feeling to be able to bike nearly alway down the channel without crossing a road.

There’s already been a bunch of tagging, but we can hope that the city is maybe planning for a mural or two along those walls. I’m sure Laney college has enough talent to share.

Rotary Nature Center: Opening This Fall (2018)

Updated – Jan 1st, 2019: the Center will have a grand opening Saturday February 16, 2019.

If you’ve been by the Rotary Nature Center in the last year, you will have noticed that the Center has been closed. The building is undergoing inspection and assessment, and a planning process to reopen it. Animals and the bees have been relocated from the building.

Good News: The Oakland Parks, Recreation, & Youth Development department is accepting program proposals for a reopened Rotary Nature Center. The city held a series of meeting with the community this spring and summer of 2018. This meeting was led by facilitator Alan Briskin along with a small committee including CJ Hirschfield of Fairyland, Jennie Gerard of Weed Warriors, and James Robinson of LMI.

11 proposals were submitted before the last meeting, and 5 were discussed at the meeting (and a 6th was accepted as well). The proposals were great and we look forward to helping to see them fulfilled. Karis Griffin said that the center would open sometime this summer.

Recent news (mid July) from the core committee tells us that the opening is now in the fall.

You can dig into the proposals here.

In the meantime, the Oakland Capital Improvement Program is an additional place we might be able to get funds. They are holding meetings in June to gather feedback on their process and priorities.

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A Cormorant Shift

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.

Three days later, Cormorants were still busy building/repairing nests… though the interactions sometimes seemed less than friendly (the birds 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). 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 complete.

I can’t be 100% certain they hadn’t already started nesting there before the storm. 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. It will also be a slightly chancy thing for walkers and pedestrians to walk under the tree. It already is a little smellier!

— Adrian

Lake Spot: Pedestrian Bridge

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

Bugs Cain — The Nature Man

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

Oct 2, 2016 Oakland Nature Festival

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.

Get full details and schedule on the event.

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.