December 26, 2007

Let it glow

Though on vacation, I could not resist posting this photograph (above), which was taken last year. I meant to submit it to the Insane Christmas Lights photo contest, but I missed the Christmas Eve deadline. The photo is of the yard of a dentist office/private residence in Clifton, New Jersey. This year's display is even more spectacular, really. Also, one night, we saw several cars of people walking along the sidewalk abutting the yard to view the display.

December 22, 2007

Peace and good will on Earth

I am taking an extended vacation to spend time with family, to travel, and to see old friends. Wishing you and yours a peaceful holiday season.

December 16, 2007

Insect gatherings: monarch winter roosts; honeybees and almond winter pollination

Update: Monarch at Natural Bridges Thank you to reader Susan S. for the photograph of the monarch butterfly (above). The butterfly in the photograph in the original post (below) is a swallowtail. Cell-phone towers have been discounted as a factor in honeybee population decline! I was relieved to read this statement written by Michael Pollan in today's New York Times magazine article titled "Our Decrepit Food Factories." One fine summer day, while waiting for my clothes to dry, I was scolded for talking on my cell phone. The antagonist in this story berated me for my role in killing honeybees. I have experienced guilt about my behavior until today, but now I have something new to feel guilty about - eating monoculture-grown almonds. February, on almond farms in California's Central Valley, is described as "the world's greatest 'pollination event.'" According to Pollan, honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder can be attributed to the importation of honeybees to California from other U.S. states and countries. Specifically, the disorder is linked to three factors: the stress of long-distance travel, year-round pollination activity, and exposure to new microbes and parasites. Pollan writes,
Bees that have been dormant in the depths of a Minnesota winter are woken up to go to work in the California spring; to get them in shape to travel cross-country and wade into the vast orgy of almond bloom, their keepers ply them with "pollen patties"....Pimping bees is the whole of the almond business for these beekeepers since almond honey is so bitter as to be worthless.
In contrast to the wholly unnatural gathering of honeybees on California almond farms in February, the winter (i.e. now) gathering of monarch butterflies should be celebrated. Journalists Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton, of the San Francisco Chronicle, interview a local ranger as well as a famous lepidopterist, both of whom agree that the high number of monarchs is directly related to the presence of eucalyptus trees which were introduced to the Bay Area during the Gold Rush (see Wikipedia). The Xerces Society, a nonprofit for invertebrate conservation, lists Bay Area monarch roosting sites including Ardenwood Historic Farm (an East Bay Regional Park), Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, Morro Bay State Park in San Luis Obispo County, and the Monarch Golf Course in San Leandro.

December 14, 2007

Planting bird niches

This post is the first in an occasional series about birds and providing bird habitat where you live. You might have a 1950s middle-class yard, a community garden plot, a balcony or stoop, or a street tree lawn in front of your dwelling. The information will generally reflect the fact that I live in a suburban city with a limited yard and a front stoop. Several years ago I wrote a research essay about species diversity and abundance along the urbanization gradient. Although I've been interested in birds for many years (I was involved with the design of the Ivy Narrow Bird Sanctuary in New Haven, Connecticut), I am an amateur birder. I am green in more ways than one! Our yard space, though quite limited, hosts several bird species, of which I can definitivelyidentify Anna's hummingbird and blue jay. The birds primarily congregate in the southeast area of the yard which is planted with trees and shrubs. This is also where our table and living room are located; great viewing areas. The southwest and northwest portions of the yard are planted with ground cover, annual veggies, and perennial herbs or lo vegetation. If ground cover and low canopy plants were added to the southeastern face of the apartment, that area of the yard would provide "a niche for every bird" (Sally Roth in Bird-by-Bird Gardening). Sally Roth argues that knowledge of bird families is critical in providing food and habitat for birds. There are eaters of small insect with small, sharp bills; eaters of wood-boring insects with strong, pointed bills; long, curved bill birds; seed eaters with wide, short beaks; and eaters of small seeds. Where would one look for insect eating birds? Well, where the insects are: on foliage, under the bark, or on the ground. There are also fruit and berry eaters, nectar or sap suckers as well as fish or frog eaters (like herons), snake eating birds like hawks, snail eaters like thrushes, eaters of small animals (ex: mice), and worm eaters including robins. I have constructed the chart below based on summary information provided in Bird-by-Bird Gardening. Use the information to inventory the vegetation types currently growing around your dwelling.
Bird Bill Food
Woodpecker chisel-like with flattened tip
insects within wood and underneath bark
Bluebird, robin, other thrushes soft, thin caterpillars, other soft-bodied insects (present in the soil, under rocks and fallen leaves)
Wood warbler, kinglet, bushtit very small, pointed
small insects from tree-top or shrub foliage
Cardinal, other grosbeaks
big, heavy
hard-shelled seeds
(Native) sparrow, otherfinches smaller version of cardinal's bill small seeds among grasses and weeds
Jay, crow multipurpose varied diet

December 13, 2007

From table salt to salt marsh

Birds are in the news again, but this time the news is good. In 2003, state and federal agencies purchased approximately 15,000 acres of South Bay salt ponds from Cargill Salt Company. One of the company's products is table salt. (In 1979, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established on active salt ponds owned by Cargill.) In contrast to the significantly negative effects of last month's oil spill on waterfowl in the Bay, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project will provide expanded wildlife habitat in addition to wildlife viewing and recreational trails and flood protection. Recently, SF Chronicle reporter, Jane Kay, highlighted some of the restoration project actions. The map below provides an overview of pond property ownership; blue indicates California Fish and Game, green indicates US Fish and Wildlife, yellow indicates sale to local agencies, the remaining colors represent Cargill property rights. Visit the project web site for more comprehensive information. SOURCE: SOUTH BAY RESTORATION PROJECT WEB SITE One interesting feature of the web site is the interactive map. Using the map's thematic feature, you can view the nest and habitat areas of endangered/threatened species like the snowy plover and the clapper rail as well as colony sites of non-endangered species like Caspian tern, heron, and egret. This map is only one way to "see" the salt ponds. Other ways include walking around the salt ponds (you might need a permit), driving slowly across the Dumbarton Bridge, or chartering a small plane to fly over the ponds. Yet another way is to view the kite aerial photographs (KAP) of UC Berkeley professor of architecture, Charles C. Benton. I attended his talk titled "California's Wetlands from a Bird's Perspective" and was impressed by his equipment, the sites he has visited, and his photographs. If you are interested in building a KAP camera, Charles submitted instructions to Make magazine. As part of his wetland project, Charles has taken serial photographs of Meeker Creek, Pinole Creek, Baxter Creek, Hoffman Marsh, Cordonices Creek, Heron's Head Park, and the South Bay Salt Ponds. Charles' kite aerial photographs (KAP) can be viewed on Flickr. My favorite are wading bird tracks, harvesting salt, bush past prime, and shoreline detail. For more of Charles Benton's photographs, view the gallery hosted by the UC architecture department.

December 12, 2007

Tree Walk Wednesday: the ultimate green gift

This year we decided to give trees for holiday gifts. Disclosure: we fell in love with Heifer's animal program and the ease of their web site interface. For many family members, we donated animals on their behalf. We also gave two shares of seedlings through Heifer. Before we decided on Heifer we researched urban forestry nonprofits with tree gift programs. We intended to donate to tree organizations in cities in which relatives live. We have family in Berkeley, but Berkeley does not host an urban forestry nonprofit, so we considered San Francisco's Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) Green Christmas and Holiday Tree Tribute programs. (Read Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton's article about FUF's Green Christmas program.) Other Bay Area tree gift programs include the Sacramento Tree Foundation Tribute Giving, San Jose's Our City Forest Memorial Dedication Gift and Tree Gift Dedication programs, and Palo Alto's Canopy Tree Planting Gift program. Most of our family lives on the East Coast. We have purchased tree gifts from EarthWorks Projects in Boston and considered doing so again. I volunteered with EarthWorks when I lived in Boston and think their orchard and urban wilds programs are significant contributions to Boston's green space system. You can also treat yourself to a tree gift. The persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) looks ornamented in fall with bare branches and vibrantly colored, hanging fruit (see here). A plus is that the fruit is edible. Another tree gift for your yard is the holly (Ilex). The combination of bright red fruits against dark green leaves is suggestive of the holiday season. The fruit is used as a food source by birds and can be used to make honey. Hollies are understory trees and associated with sweetgums, flowering dogwoods, and red maples. (Read the holly entry in the USDA Forest Service Silvics Manual). I've seen these species growing well in Berkeley, so consider planting a woodland!

December 10, 2007

Mobility etceteras

Several months ago I read about Walk Score via Jen at Walking Berkeley. Today, via Best Green Blogs, I discovered another way to score my neighborhood. I mapped my 2 mile bike-shed on the 2 Mile Challenge web site. The challenge, sponsored by Clif Bar, a former Berkeley company (read more about businesses leaving Berkeley), encourages you to bike for most of your trips within a - yes - 2 mile radius of home (or work for that matter). My workplace is at the southern edge of my bike-shed and I do bike to my office. Berkeley Aquatic Park is within my bike-shed and I've ridden to the park. The Tilden Golf Course is at the northeasterly most edge of my bike-shed, but I cannot imagine biking up those steep roads! There are a lot of parks within my bike-shed compared to the 1/4-mile (or neighborhood) radius from my home. The challenge web site located 3 parks within my map, one of which is a car parking company. Where are Tilden, Claremont Canyon, Aquatic and Willard Parks? It only located 4 coffee shops (it missed local coffee houses like Mokka and A Cup Above). It also lists the 7-11 as a grocery store. Clearly there is room for improvement, but the concept is inspiring nonetheless. Walking 1/4 mile and biking 2 miles covers a lot of ground. By the way, the walkability of my address in Berkeley's Le Conte neighborhood is a "very walkable" meaning most of my trips can be done without a car. The City of San Francisco is the third most walkable city in the U.S. according to the Brookings Institution report, Footloose and Fancy Free, discussed on the CBS web site [via Spacing Toronto]. Have you been to Bordertown Skate Park in Oakland? I have not, but it has an interesting history: here (Caltrans) and here (skate park nonprofit). I learned of the skate park around the same time I read a New York Times article about urban youth - mostly black - skaters. I thought about the park and the article when I saw a group of young skaters - black, white, and mixed - along MLK at the Saturday's downtown farmers' market. Finally, for an interesting car commute, read about a Beijing commuter in The Star's series of about commuting [via Spacing Toronto].

December 7, 2007

The New Deal lives on in the East Bay

Genoa and 56th Street, Oakland Gray Brechin gave an excellent presentation on the New Deal public landscape in Berkeley on Wednesday evening. The talk was well attended and well received. I had heard Gray talk about New Deal projects before, but Wednesday's night talk provided more detail about Berkeley and the East Bay. For those interested in the New Deal and the public spaces that were created, visit The Living New Deal websites (original and new). The premise behind project is that the public spaces built during the New Deal era are not recognized as such. For example, according to Gray Brechin, 3 billion trees were planted by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC. These trees comprise some of the inventory of our national forests and parks. The Broward County Library in Florida refers to the CCC as the "New Deal's depression-era ecological movement"! Note the sidewalk repair on the right What is the New Deal inventory in Berkeley and the East Bay? There is a 1934 Civil Works Administration (CWA) plaque at the tennis courts at Cordonices. Gray said that this is the only CWA plaque he has encountered. Another CWA project is the smashed concrete wall of the ampitheatre at Hinkle Park. A similar wall treatment can be found on the stone bridge in Live Oak Park. However, the stone chimney was completed before the New Deal, in the 1920s (according to Susan Schwartz). Berkeley Aquatic Park is a Works Progressive Administration (WPA) project. The adjacent highway was completed by the CWA. Tilden Park was built by a combination of New Deal programs - the CCC, WPA, and Public Works Administration (PWA). The botanic garden in Tilden was the first to be landscaped with native plants. Down the hill from Tilden, in Strawberry Canyon, the CCC was located on what is now the botanical garden's parking lot. The CCC made another important contribution to the East Bay; employees created 10 large relief maps that were used in a public campaign to designate the East Bay Regional Parks District. Connecting the East Bay and the peninsula, the Bay Bridge, although initiated by Hoover, was completed by the PWA.

December 2, 2007

East Bay edibles and drinkables

I've been meaning to list local edibles-related companies, but it took the closure of Bison Brewing - located in my neighborhood - to write the post! Bison has relocated to 3rd and Linden in Oakland. Linden Street Brewing is located on Linden Street. Uptown from both breweries is Pacific Coast Brewing Company in Old Oakland. Although Power Bar and Clif Bar did not bake their bars in Berkeley, both companies moved their offices out of Berkeley to Glendale and Alameda, respectively. Active Berkeley companies include Scharffen Berger and four breweries: Jupiter, Triple Rock, Pyramid, and Trumer Pils. Berkeley is also home to the Acme and Grace Bread Companies. Is Tofu Yu, the soy beanery, made in Berkeley? In addition to its breweries, Oakland's edibles and drinkables list includes Numi Tea, JC and Dashe Cellars, and Food Mill Peanut Butter. Similar to energy bar producers Power Bar and Clif Bar, Haagen Dazs and Dreyers have corporate offices in Oakland, but not their production facilities. I think Saint Benoit yogurt is made in Emeryville. Peet's began in Berkeley, then moved its roasting plant to Emeryville. Its roasting plant moved to Alameda in 2007. Other drinkables in Alameda are Rosenblum (wine) and St. George Spirits. Further reading about local eats and drinks Additions? Leave a comment!

December 1, 2007

Walking along the bay

Last week the smell of oil stained the air by the rail tracks at Gilman. We wanted to see if the effects of the oil spill were visible at Caesar Chavez Park and the marina. Also, it was a gorgeous day, like New England fall weather: bright and sunny with a nip to the wind. Enjoy a short slide show and video of some of what we saw. Towards the end of our walk along the bay this afternoon, the sound of the waves against the rocks reminded me of the Otis Redding classic (Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay (see below). Listen to a sample of the song on the Otis Redding website. The lyrics are available on Lyrics Depot. Video taken on the walkway outside Skates Restaurant