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 Temporarily Closed

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. At this point (Nov of 2017), we are still waiting to hear from the City when the center might re-open, and in what capacity.

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