A Bald Eagle Makes a Rare Visit to San Francisco

This website usually focuses on threats to our parks, trees, and nature from tree destruction and pesticides. But sometimes, we just want to celebrate the nature and the wonderful life we see in our amazing city. From whales in the Bay to this amazing young bald eagle visitor…

We republish this article from the CoyoteYipps website with permission. All photographs copyright to wildlife photographer Janet Kessler. Please seek permission before reproducing.

 

History is Made: A Bald Eagle Lands in San Francisco!!

Occasionally I post things not related to coyotes, and this post is one of them. It was Thursday, August 3rd at 8:30 am when I and several friends, including John, Paul, Juan, Anna, Ruth, Debby and Lori watched this huge bird fly in from the north, heading right for Bernal Hill, which is a grassy *island*, so to speak, that rises above, and stands out from, the sprawling city below.

We have a number of these *islands* in the city, some of them are grassy and golden, and some are treed and green. Bernal Hill is of the golden variety during the summer months and emerald during the rainy season. After landing on the ground, the bird flew up to a perfect perch — a dead branch. There it remained for two full hours before continuing its flight west and out of sight. During those two hours, the bird looked around, preened, shook itself, scratched itself and pooped!

I contacted Dominik Mosur, San Francisco’s pre-eminent bird expert, and the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met about birds. He says, “Based on my experience, and documented data available to me, both Bald and Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in San Francisco City and County airspace. There was a Bald Eagle sighted perched at Lake Merced many years ago, but aside from that one, there have been no additional historical records of either eagle species actually landing here since we converted the Franciscan ecosystem into city/suburbs.”

“This bird is young, likely just out of a nest. You encountered it as it was probably leaving its parent’s territory for the first time.”
“Bald eagles started nesting close to San Francisco in the last decade (Crystal Springs Watershed to the south, a few years longer up in Marin in the Mt. Tam watershed) and consequently sightings of them flying OVER the city have increased. However, as I mentioned, it’s one of just a couple of records of Bald Eagles perching in SF in modern times — probably going back to the pre-Gold Rush days!” Sightings of this bird in San Francisco are indeed extremely rare, which makes this sighting a truly special event.
[More amazing pictures below]

 

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Signs of Annoyance – Natural Areas Program

Recently, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) spent an estimated half-million dollars on signage, most of which listed various Don’ts (though ironically, they start with “San Francisco Recreation & Parks Welcomes You”). All our parks and open spaces are peppered with them. Many park users, who earlier had no idea that the Natural Areas Program (NAP) was designed to restrict access and usage, are upset. They’ve started “fixing” the signs. Someone sent us these pictures:

Natural Areas Program fixed sign

The sign has been “edited” to warn people of toxic pesticide use and wryly note that most of the park is off-limits except to staff and supervised volunteers.

Of course, we have been talking about toxic pesticides, but here’s a recent picture. Roundup (glyphosate) has been identified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Natural Areas Program pesticide notice

Here, it’s been used to destroy (non-native)  fennel, the pleasant-smelling feathery-leaved plant that is, incidentally, the host plant to the Anise Swallowtail, a beautiful butterfly that happens to be native.

Anise swallowtail butterfly breeds on fennel

In fact, as the altered sign below points out, nearly all the plants you see in San Francisco – including the grasslands NAP is ostensibly seeking to protect with its use of herbicides – are non-native. They still add to the beauty of the landscape, the greenery of our parks, and provide habitat for wildlife from insects to birds to mammals. The herbicides do nothing but poison these plants, leaving space for the next most aggressive plant to move in – most likely also non-native.

Fixed sign - whats wrong with Natural Areas Program

Woodpecker Diversity in San Francisco

watchful acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Watchful acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Wildlife photographer Janet Kessler shared these photographs of an acorn woodpecker in Glen Canyon in late August, 2014 (and they’re copyright to her). It was a great capture, though she wasn’t thrilled with the quality. “They were taken under bad lighting at a high ISO,” she explained.

2014-08-27 (1) acorn woodpecker

Acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

We loved their expressiveness.  Acorn woodpeckers have clown faces with a comical red crown. They reminded us of a childhood song,  ” Hear him pickin’ out a melody/ Peck, peck, peckin’ at the same old tree/ he’s as happy as a bumblebee…”

It’s a delight to find so many species of woodpeckers in San Francisco.

The Audubon Society started its Christmas Bird Counts in 1915, and by 1945 they had held 18 counts. In those 18 counts, only three species of woodpecker showed up: Northern flickers; downy woodpeckers; and acorn woodpeckers like these birds here.

downy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Downy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Northern Flicker(c) Richard Drechsler 2012

Northern Flicker(c) Richard Drechsler 2012

MORE DIVERSITY

Woodpeckers need trees, preferably mature trees. All those tree-planting efforts from the turn of the last century have created a wonderful habitat for birds. 

Recent Christmas Bird Counts in San Francisco doubled the number of  woodpecker species. In addition to the earlier three,  they showed Hairy woodpeckers; Nuttall’s woodpeckers; and sapsuckers (both red-naped and yellow-bellied, a division that didn’t exist in 1945).

hairy woodpecker (c) janet kessler

Hairy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Hairy woodpeckers, like the ones in the pictures here, are larger than downy woodpeckers and have bigger beaks.

Hairy Woodpecker (c) Richard Drechsler 2009

Hairy Woodpecker in San Francisco (c) Richard Drechsler 2009

This is a red-breasted sapsucker, photographed in San Francisco.

Sapsucker (c) Janet Kessler

Red breasted sapsucker (c) Janet Kessler

And recently, birders have reported seeing a Lewis’s woodpecker in Buena Vista Park, flying between cypress trees and “a tall eucalyptus.”

Lewis's Woodpecker (c) Richard Drechsler

Lewis’s Woodpecker in San Francisco (c) Richard Drechsler

NEXT GENERATION!

Northern flickers are breeding in the city now. (The photograph here and in the linked article are also by Janet Kessler and copyright to her.) The baby birds in the picture below are nearly grown.

Red-shafted flicker family in eucalyptus tree nest - San Francisco - Janet Kessler

Red-shafted flicker family in eucalyptus tree nest – San Francisco (c) Janet Kessler

Nuttall’s woodpeckers are breeding here too. We’d like to thank Richard Drechsler for these wonderful pictures of a Nuttall’s woodpecker nest, below.

Nuttall's woodpecker in nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

Nuttall’s woodpecker in nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

It was taken in the Potrero Hill area – where, incidentally, Caltrans is cutting down a lot of trees and neighbors are trying  to save them.

nuttall's woodpecker at nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

Nuttalls woodpecker at nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

We would like to thank Janet Kessler and Richard Drechsler for giving permission to use their photographs in this article.

Don’t Cut Trees in the Nesting Season!

This year, the issue of tree-trimming or cutting during the nesting season was highlighted by the sad destruction of black-crowned night herons’ nests when the Oakland Post Office decided to get its trees trimmed. Five young herons were injured, others may have died. The tree trimmer potentially faced criminal charges, but was so remorseful – and so willing to pay for the care of the baby herons – that everyone was relieved when he didn’t.

Most people just don’t know that it’s a bad idea to trim trees (or worse, remove them) during the nesting season. Even aggressively trimming undergrowth could damage or destroy birds’ nests.  In San Francisco, the season extends approximately from February to September, depending on many factors including the weather.

Each year, Wildcare, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates hurt or orphaned wildlife,  gets a deluge of baby birds during the summer. Most of  them are displaced by tree-trimming or removal.

2012-04-11 bewick's wren nesting

Birds nests are difficult to spot, even for experts. Herons’ nests are large and noisy, and the Oakland Post Office staff surely knew the birds were there. But most birds hide their nests. Unless they are huge ones like nests of hawks or owls, the parent birds need to conceal their young from predators. Humans, who typically aren’t really looking out for them, would usually miss seeing them altogether. It may take even experienced birders hours of observation to be sure. Nests of hummingbirds, for instance, are around the size of a quarter. They’re common in San Francisco but very difficult to spot.

BROCHURES AND INFORMATION

Here’s Wildcare’s page  “Stop! Don’t Prune Those Trees!”  It explains the problem in a user-friendly way, and also gives references of two bird-friendly arborists who can do emergency work if needed.

 “Spring (and summer!) are busy baby season— procrastinate now!

When is wildlife nesting? There is some variation, but most wild animals have their babies in the spring, between March and June. However, many species will also have a second brood in July or August if food supplies are sufficient. If you can plan to trim your trees in the winter months, you can completely avoid the possibility of damaging a nest. It’s also a healthier time for the trees, when the sap has gone down and trees will be in their dormant phase. Call WildCare at 415-456-7283 if you’re unsure when it is a safe time to trim or remove a tree. “

The Golden Gate Audubon Society has published an excellent brochure:  Healthy Trees, Healthy Birds that is available as a PDF on their website. Here are pictures of the brochure (the download will be clearer and can be printed).

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 1

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 2

IT’S ILLEGAL TO DISTURB BIRDS’ NESTS

Disturbing – or worse, destroying – a birds nest is illegal. It’s a strict liability offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine per offense.  There are laws at the Federal, State and City level. Here’s what they say:

  • Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This applies to over 1,000 bird species, including many that are found in San Francisco. It makes it ” …illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird…” (“Taking” means to harass, harm, or pursue a bird.)
  •  California State Code 3503, 3503.5: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird, except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.”  California State Code 3503.5 relates to birds of prey: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or destroy any birds in the orders Falconiformes or Strigiformes (birds-of-prey) or to take, possess, or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation adopted pursuant thereto.”
  • San Francisco County Municipal Code 5.08: It’s unlawful “to hunt, chase, shoot, trap, discharge or throw missiles at, harass, disturb, taunt, endanger, capture, injure, or destroy any animal in any park...” (with exceptions for small rodents like gophers).

The general rule is to stay 50 feet away from song-bird nests, and 500 feet from raptor nests.

TREES IN “POOR CONDITION” ARE GREAT FOR BIRDS

Sometimes, trees are removed because they’re in poor condition – dead or dying. Those are often the very trees that birds love, especially those that nest in cavities. Like this flicker (a kind of woodpecker) nesting in a half-dead eucalyptus tree. If you weren’t watching very patiently, you would have no idea that a family of young birds (three in this case) were being raised here.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet KesslerPLAYING SAFE

The only safe way is to NEVER cut trees or thin dense bushes during the nesting season – and even when working in the off-season, typically September to February, to be very observant and watchful before starting work.

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree

Bees in Glen Canyon – Update

 We’ve reported here before about the bee tree that was cut down as part of the “improvements” to Glen Canyon Park – and the one that was killed by mistake when someone thought it was a nest of yellow-jackets, not bees. This meant that only one of the three wild bee trees was still a living hive. We recently had both good news and bad news. There’s still only one bee tree, but the bees have proved resilient.

Karen Peteros wrote this note, which is published with permission. [This was originally published at Save the Trees of Glen Canyon Park.]

BEE TREES IN GLEN CANYON by Karen Peteros

Scott Mattoon and I have been working with RPD [San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department] Capital Improvements since 2011 to minimize adverse impacts Glen Canyon Park improvements could have on our feral honey bee colonies.

exposed hive with bees (Photo- Scott Mattoon)

Exposed hive with bees (Photo – Scott Mattoon)

One bee tree was lost on the hill above the Rec Center. Despite many many meetings with RPD, and a negotiated agreement to cut that bee tree at 25′ and otherwise leave it alone, the subcontractor failed to get that instruction and cut the tree at 5′. The trunk split and the colony exposed, but I was able to save the remaining bees and queen and install them in a Langstroth hive.

The bee tree that Scott discovered to have had its hive opening spray-foamed shut a few years back (above where Islais Creek goes underground) due to mistaken identification as a culprit of a nearby sting incident, seems to have reopened and a swarm moved in last year. That colony has done well, and recently swarmed (I understand Philip Gerrie retrieved the swarm).

revived hive

Revived hive – Photo (c) Janet Kessler

the bee tree that was killed has bees again

The bee tree that was killed has bees again. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

After many discussions, emails and meetings with RPD, Scott and I have convinced RPD to leave that tree alone for now. It has a substantial lean but, if it were to fall, it would not cross the path especially if RPD would cut off the top limbs right above the crotch where the limbs grow out of the main trunk. That’s been our recommendation but it has not yet been done to reduce the risks if it were to fall.

As usual RPD does what it wants — under-doing things by not cutting the limbs to reduce the risks if the tree were to fall which has been their stated concern but also over-doing things by placing the orange fence around the tree unreasonably suggesting the bees are a safety hazard when they are not. Nonetheless, the orange fence has served to be educational to bring park goers’ attention to honey bees in a natural habitat.

Finally, the very large mother bee tree, fenced down near Silvertree, with the opening in the base is undisturbed but the colony died out after many years of perpetuating itself.

I have not seen any bee activity there since late last year. 

the remaining bee tree

The old bee tree. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

Give the wax moths another year or more and, hopefully, the cavity will be cleaned out sufficiently to be deemed suitable by a future swarm looking to set up residence.

Karen Peteros,
Glen Park neighborhood resident & beekeeper
San Francisco Bee-Cause

McLaren Park: Stairways, Wildflowers, and Great Blue Heron

This is another of our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our San Francisco parks. This is by Tony Holiday, a San Francisco hiker and blogger. It’s adapted from his blog, Stairways are Heaven and published with permission.

Go HERE for the original post on McLaren Park (and more pictures).

 

1 Starts from Visitacion Ave.

Passing on recent pix of a McLaren Park stairway that some SF stairway walkers may not be familiar with: The longest in the park with 195 steps, and starts up at the dead-end of Campbell Ave  in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. It’s set back a bit from the street, thus slightly “hidden.”

195 steps

195 steps

Down into Vis Valley neighborhood

Down into Vis Valley neighborhood and out to Campbell Ave

It climbs past Visitacion Valley Middle School and up to Visitacion Ave. When you reach the top, continue up steep Visitacion to divided Mansell.

hidden stairs at dead end of Campbell

South of Mansell is the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. North of Mansell, to the east of the park, is the Portola ‘hood.

From the foot of the stairs, this time downhilled on Campbell a couple of streets to Delta. Left on Delta to the next street up, Tucker, and onto the skinny, steep, rough concrete walk (seven steps to start).

Delta pathway Tucker to Tioga

INTO THE PARK

At the top of this pathway, the next cross-street up is Tioga, then Wilde. Turn left on Wilde to Ervine for a steep curving trail into the park, the old observation tower above.

Vis Valley below

You can’t see the stairs until you’re partway up (about 56 steps) at the top of which are a couple of Philosopher’s Way musing stations and view benches.

Musing Station on the Philosophers Way

There’s a seriously steep trail off the stairway, also up to the view benches.

Steep trail up from the stairway

Especially love the south, open space part of McLaren with big sis San Bruno Mountain across, everything green and wildflowery now at both parks.

san bruno mountain in the distance

San Bruno mountain in the distance

What is this flower seen south of Mansell?

[Webmaster: Gaillardia?]

wildflowers

Unfortunately one of the nearby musing station plaques had been graffitied-upon; hope there are ways to remove the paint from the artwork.

Check out these daisies all over the place, just north of the tennis courts, with Bernal Hill in distance.

Daisies on the lawn, Bernal Hill in the distance

A favorite trail descends to Lake McNab that starts a short distance below the tennis courts, north of Mansell.

Trail to Lake McNab

It’s steep, switchbacked, hard-packed dirt.

Trail sign climbing back up

Critters seen: a squirrel (too far away), a lizard (too fast), and this guy.

great blue heron gopher-hunting

McLaren is around 318 acres and the third largest park within SF city limits. However, since the Presidio’s a national park, some people don’t include it when talking about acreage, even though it’s larger than Golden Gate Park. So one is likely to hear city park McLaren still spoken of as being the second largest SF park.

Great Blue Heron - long-legged beauty

Good News on Rat Poison in California

dead barn owl found in Glen Canyon ParkAs our readers will know, we’ve been concerned about the use of second-generation rat poisons that cause death by slow internal bleeding. The poisoned mice and rats are likely to be captured and eaten by other animals – owls, coyotes, dogs, cats, hawks. When this happens, they can get poisoned too, and we’ve seen two owls die this way: a barn owl and a Great Horned Owl. These poisons are currently available in stores, and anyone can buy and use them – without knowing they could harm wildlife, pets, and even small children who pick up the bait by accident.

So here’s the GOOD NEWS! California is passing legislation restricting the sale of these products only to licensed applicators, which means that they won’t be available in stores for unthinking use by people who don’t realize their effects. (A link to the actual proposed legislation is HERE.)

The San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFDOE), which has been working on this for years, sent round a message about it, saying:

‘The California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has announced that it is designating the certain hazardous rat baits as “restricted materials.”

These are the products that the US EPA concluded (way back in 2008) pose an “unreasonable risk,” and tried to remove from the consumer market. The active ingredients affected by the DPR decision are brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, and difethialone.

Restricting pesticide products means that they may only be applied by licensed applicators, or by those meeting the definition of “private applicator.” In essence, you will no longer see these products on the hardware store shelf. Considering all the data that has been amassed on poisonings of pets, wildlife and children, we consider this a very positive step.”

They asked for emails to be sent to the DPR thanking them to dpr13002@cdpr.ca.gov

If this is an issue you care about, please send them an email of thanks. We’d also like to thank all the organizations that have been involved in trying to get these restrictions, and all those that have campaigned against these rodenticides.