Rockin’ Oakland: A Walk Along the Hayward Fault

By Paul Belz

“This is something you’d see in a textbook, right here in Oakland,” Andrew Alden told a group of 50 explorers who stood near the entrance to the Oakland Zoo. He showed a creek that flowed from the hills and turned abruptly to the right as it hit the Hayward Fault and described the creek’s behavior as a sure sign of a right lateral strike-slip fault line. His presentation showed that Oakland’s wildness is always with us, even in a quiet neighborhood.

The Hayward Fault is made up of the Pacific plate on the west and the North American Plate to the east. The North American plate side of the Hayward Fault remains still while the Pacific plate moves horizontally to the north at a rate of about 2 millimeters per year; this behavior defines it as a strike-slip fault.

Hayward Fault image: UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. Strike-slip image: USGS.

Hayward Fault image: UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. Strike-slip image: USGS.


Like other faults, the Hayward Fault is a geological zone instead of a visible crack in the earth. The Hayward Fault is 100 yards wide, but “Faults are not easy to see,” Andrew said. “They’re easier to see if you’re up in an airplane. You’ll see the alignment of landforms and how streams change directions.”

Our Hayward Fault is part of the San Andreas Fault system that extends from Cape Mendocino in the north to the Gulf of California in the south. The Hayward Fault extends along the base of the East Bay Hills from Alum Rock in San Jose to Point Pinole, about 74 miles. It parallels parts of Interstate 13, cuts straight under Hayward City Hall and the University of California football stadium, and passes through a number of cities including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, El Cerrito, Hayward, and Fremont. The Hayward Fault could give us a minute long earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1-7.6, causing the moving block to quickly shift two meters to the north. Another fault lies across the Bay from Point Pinole; if quakes occurred on both regions at once, the earthquake could reach 7.5 magnitude, putting about 150,000 housing units out of commission throughout the Bay Area.

Walking through  Blandon Road to get to our next stop. Photo: Jennifer Luna

Walking through  Blandon Road to get to our next stop. Photo: Jennifer Luna

The group walked through quiet neighborhoods with neat lawns, coast live oaks, and Monterey pine trees. Andrew, a writer and editor who has a degree in geology, pointed out how the curb on Encina Avenue leans northward along the road. He mentioned that motion along the fault often results in cracks in sidewalks, roads, gas lines, and water mains.

Andrew pointed out a steep vacant lot along a hillside, and said that there may have been houses here that had fallen apart because of the fault’s motion. The homes in this neighborhood were largely built between the 1920s and the 1950s, before the 1971 San Fernando earthquake led to zoning restrictions. Now new houses must pass geological site studies to make sure fault motion won’t make them collapse. No one will be able to build on the steep, empty lot!

Earthquakes occur on the Hayward Fault every 150 years on the average. They do not happen regularly- realistically, they can occur every 60 – 300 years. The last quake happened in 1868, 140 years ago. “I like the idea of earthquakes,” Andrew said. “I like the little ones. They’re cool, they’re like the earth talking to me. “ He shook his head when he mentioned the major quakes.

This is a beautiful valley, a real nice place to live,” he continued. “It’s like living on a volcano. You can spend your whole life there and be fine, or you can be there when it goes off. These are chances we all take. If you live here, you know that!”

King Estates Open Space. Photo: Jennifer Luna

King Estates Open Space. Photo: Jennifer Luna

The explorers left the neighborhood and walked into King Estates Open Space. A woman named Ms. Ivy once owned this rolling grassland dotted with coyote bush, poison oak, and the occasional coast live oak tree before the City of Oakland acquired it in 1956. Bald, unforested hills like these were once typical of those parts of Oakland that lie outside of the redwood belt.

Hills and other spectacular changes in elevation are signs of an unsteady earth. 90% 0f the Hayward Fault’s energy is produced by the northward drift of the Pacific plate. The other 10% comes from pressure that pushed these hills upward. Depressions like Lake Temescal result when the two sides of the Fault pull away from each other. Andrew said that the gravel here was an unusual collection of pebbles that had been deposited by an ancient stream. He wanted to study this area to determine their origin point- the fact that they were not completely rounded indicated that the stream was a short one.

Andrew pointed out other features as the group circled back to the hike’s beginning point. Arroyo Viejo and other streams had shifted as much as 60 – 80 miles as the fault block moved north like a conveyer belt. “Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley study places like the Himalayas,” he concluded. “They don’t consider their backyard very interesting, but I think it’s exciting!” Oakland’s geology will give him material to investigate for years!

To learn more, check out Andrew Alden’s blog about Oakland geology here, and Tanya Atwater’s fantastic geoscience animations here!

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Speak up to save Knowland Park- Tues, Nov 18 from 5:30-8 pm!

THIS IS IT: Last chance to protect Knowland Park!

Please come to the Oakland City Council meeting on Tues 11/18 from 5:30 – 8 pm.

Where: Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Council Chambers, 3rd Floor

Please RSVP here if you can attend:

Beautiful and wild Knowland Park is home to native wildlife that includes rare and threatened species, and it was deeded to the city of Oakland to remain a public park forever. The Oakland Zoo wants to take over the heart of it (77 acres of prime habitat on western ridge) for an exhibit of species that are now regionally extinct due to development, plus a restaurant, gift shop, offices, meeting rooms, and a gondola ride that will transport Zoo visitors uphill to the ridgetop development. This is not conservation. Once the chain-link perimeter fence goes up and the richest portion of Knowland Park is bulldozed, it’s gone forever.

Help us tell City Council they must not vote to give away our public parkland. The Zoo has room to build their project BELOW the ridge. We can still have a great Zoo and save Knowland Park. Note: You can sign up for a 1-minute statement, or if you don’t want to speak, you can cede your time to other speakers.

Please join us in our final appeal to City Council. We need every single supporter to stand with us. Thank you!

Visit for more information.

Knowland Park. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda

Knowland Park. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda

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For the love of moth…

By Constance Taylor

Perusing the shelves of the library looking for reference books about moths, I couldn’t find a single one. There were books dedicated to termites, lobsters, crabs, coral, slugs & snails, the friggin’ kraken- the dozens of books about butterflies I found mentioned moths as an aside, but nary a tome was dedicated entirely to moths, the far larger portion of Lepidoptera. An internet search for popular scientific literature about moths also yielded slim results. Considering the staggering diversity and beauty of many moths, I was surprised to find that few nerds had written book length (or even magazine article length) love letters to these critters.

Order Lepodiptera is made up of butterflies and moths; butterflies are often day-flying and brightly colored, which is probably why the amount of attention paid to them seems skewed when compared to the brain melting variety of moths. Within Lepidoptera, butterflies are contained in two superfamilies: Papilionoidea (true butterflies) and Hesperioidea (skippers). The remaining 42 superfamilies are all moths! About 6,000 moth species of can be found in California alone, compared to approximately 500 species of butterflies in our fair state. Moths in Oakland can be as innocuous as the tiny specks that try to fly up your nose on warm nights, or hummingbird-sized wraiths colored like storm clouds at sunset. With that much diversity, where does one even start to understand basic identification?

Orange tortrix (Argyrotaenia franciscana) and common sheep moth (xHemileuca eglanterina ), two moths found in California. Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda

Orange tortrix (Argyrotaenia franciscana) and common sheep moth (Hemileuca eglanterina), two moths found in California.      Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda


Fortunately, Ken-ichi Ueda, amateur lepidopterist and moth enthusiast, was willing to help initiate newbies such as myself to the basics of moth identification. We had our Wild Oakland moth walk in Knowland Park on a warm October evening- Fall in the temperate Bay Area is the best time to find these (usually) nocturnal flyers.

Ken-ichi (at left) checks out a moth that's landed on the sheet. Photo: Constance Taylor

Ken-ichi (at left) checks out a moth that’s landed on the sheet. Photo: Constance Taylor

Meeting a half hour before sunset, we found a good spot to set our light traps to lure our quarry. The traps consisted of a rope tied between two trees, a white sheet clipped to the rope, and an ultra-violet light hanging over the sheet. The moths are lured to the light and then land on the sheet, where they often stay motionless long enough to photograph or take a good look at them.

While we waited for the sun to set, Ken-ichi answered questions about moth natural history and identification.

“Why are moths attracted to light?”

No one really knows. There’s a theory that moths navigate by the light of the moon- if they keep the moon at a certain angle, they can fly in a straight line. If there’s a light source nearer to them, they’ll get confused and start to fly in circles around it.

“How do moths avoid getting eaten by predators?”

Oooh, another question that gets a lepidopterist’s heart pumping faster. Bats are the primary predator of night-flying moths; some moths can emit high-frequency sounds that might confuse a bats’ echolocation, but the sound might also advertise that a moth tastes disgusting and warn away any bat that hears it. Additionally, day-flying moths can mimic unpalatable insects like wasps, mimic toxic butterflies like pipevine swallowtails, or be toxic themselves.

From left to right: wasp mimic tiger moth (Isanthrene crabroniformis), male promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) with colors that mimic the pipevine swallowtail, toxic 5-spot burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii). Photos: Photolera Claudinha, Janice Stiefel, Tristram Brelstaff.

From left to right: wasp mimic tiger moth (Isanthrene crabroniformis), male promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) with colors that mimic the pipevine swallowtail, toxic 5-spot burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii). Photos: Photolera Claudinha, Janice Stiefel, Tristram Brelstaff.


“What are the differences between moths and butterflies?”

Fuzzy bodies, fuzzy antennae, and they fly at night, right? Response: Sometimes, sometimes, and sometimes. Generally speaking, butterflies have thin antennae with club-like tips and fly during the day, while moths have furrier antennae with no club on the tip, fly at night, and have fuzzier bodies to trap heat as the sun goes down. But like everything else in nature, there are many exceptions; there are brightly colored day-flying moths and drab night-flying butterflies.

Some lepidopterists claim that all butterflies are actually day-flying moths, while others maintain that butterflies and moths are more distinct. Evolutionarily speaking, all the important moth families were around by the time the first butterflies appeared; the oldest butterfly fossil is about 55 million years old, whereas primitive moths are estimated to have appeared about 195 million years ago.

Since moths are so diverse, Ken-ichi’s lesson for the evening was teaching us the differences between the two of the largest superfamilies of moths we were most likely to see- Geometroidea (geometrids) and Noctuoidea (noctuids). When at rest, geometrids look flat because they hold their wings horizontally and have slim abdomens, whereas noctuids “stick up” more because of their fatter abdomens; they also look like they’re wearing a “hairy vest” on their thorax. Of course there are exceptions and similarities galore across species, but if you ever want to impress someone with your knowledge of moths just start saying “geometrid” and “noctuid” a lot.

From left to right: geometrid, noctuid. Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda

From left to right: geometrid, noctuid. Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda


As it got darker, moths started to fly to the light trap and we saw some gorgeous species like the lichen moth and the gold striped filbertworm moth. We didn’t see the large and stunning Edward’s Glassywing that lives in Knowland Park, but rumor has it one needs to stay out ’till the wee hours of the morning for this moth to make an appearance. Let me know if you see one!

From left to right: lichen moth (Bryolymnia viridata), filbertworm moth (Cydia latiferreana), Edward's Glassywing (Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii ). Photos 1&3 by Ken-ichi Ueda, photo 2 by Anna363.

From left to right: lichen moth (Bryolymnia viridata), filbertworm moth (Cydia latiferreana), Edward’s Glassywing (Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii ). Photos 1&3 by Ken-ichi Ueda, photo 2 by Anna363.

Checking out the moths! Photo: Constance Taylor.

Checking out the moths! Photo: Constance Taylor.

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Sausal Creek Watershed: Land of redwoods and fog

By Paul Belz

I’ve done over 2,000 tours of Oakland by walking, bike, any non-motorized way you can imagine,” Grey Kolevzon told group of 50 enthusiastic hikers. “This is one of my favorite places.” Our band of explorers had hiked through groves of bay laurels, coast live oaks, and introduced Monterey pines; they now stood on Redwood Peak, which marks the highest spot of the Sausal Creek watershed at 1,679 feet. If a raindrop falls on one side of the peak it flows into Sausal Creek, and if it falls on the other side of the peak it flows into the Contra Costa County watershed.

Watershed diagram from the US EPA

Watershed diagram from the US EPA

Ecologists use the term watershed to describe a major water body such as a stream, its tributaries, and the surrounding land. Grey told the group that their explorations of parts of Sausal Creek would show how each watershed has a unique microclimate, along with a special group of plants and animals. “We spend our days wrapped in human language. A watershed is the language of the land,” he said.

Grey, who is an agro-ecology instructor at Laney and Merritt Community Colleges, also coordinates garden programs for Oakland Public Schools. He loves to teach through stories, and shared an article that described the Sausal Creek watershed as it existed for thousands of years. Salmon and trout leaped in the streams. Elderberry, blackberry, toyon shrubs, and many native grasses covered the hillsides and gave elk, deer, and antelope a good home.

Condors soared overhead in those days, while song sparrows sang “Sweet-sweet SWEET! I’m so sweet!” and California quails called “Chicago! Chicago!” Coyotes stalked hares and rabbits while peregrine falcons dove to catch band tailed pigeons. All animals, including California grizzlies and mountain lions, respected the shy, humble skunks. Grizzlies, elk, antelopes, and condors have vanished, but the other plants and animals still live in the watershed.

At the beginning of the 20th century, ten sawmills operated near today’s Redwood Regional Park- more people lived in lumber camps in the hills than in the bustling city of Oakland! Grey described photos taken in the early 1900s. They showed bare grasslands occupying the redwood’s turf. “One thing that people didn’t expect when the redwoods were logged was that the creeks would dry up the next year,” he said.

Standing in a 35 foot wide fairy ring. Photo: Constance Taylor

Standing in a 35 foot wide fairy ring. Photo: Constance Taylor

Today, the redwoods in the Oakland hills are second or third growth, meaning that they sprouted from stumps after the original trees were logged. We gathered in one of these “fairy rings”- it was 35 feet wide! The original parent trees in this grove were so tall and wide that sailors used them to guide their ships into the San Francisco Bay. The Ohlone, who thrived in this region for thousands of years, historically left redwood forests alone. Grey speculated that they understood how the trees contributed to the watershed’s health.

The group hiked down a slope to a spot where runoff and underground water form Sausal Creek’s headwaters. Young coast redwoods grow tall and thickly enough to gather summer’s fog and absorb its moisture, creating a cool, moist microclimate. “Welcome to California’s temperate rainforest,” Grey said. “It can be 100 degrees in the flatlands and still cool here.” Much of the water vapor the redwoods collect adds to the flow in Sausal Creek.

Redwoods can live for 2,000 years, and have shallow root systems that can cause them to topple in strong wind storms. However, redwoods also link their roots together underground to support each other, which provides added support against the wind as well as allowing them to share water and nutrients.

East Bay Regional Parks, Friends of Sausal Creek, Friends of Joaquin Miller, and other organizations now protect the Sausal Creek watershed and its young redwoods. Grey asked the group to spend a minute in silence, thanking the redwoods for their services to the watershed. “I grew up exploring these parks with my friends. I wouldn’t have survived without them,” he said. ”My mother says I cried for the first six weeks of my life, but I stopped when she took me to Muir Woods. I have a feeling it was because of the redwoods.”

Grey remarked that today’s children and adults aren’t spending much time exploring places like these, but to keep these areas protected people need to experience and understand these ecosystems. When people just turn on a tap instead of collecting water out of a creek, natural bodies of water start to seem like inconveniences that cause floods or property damage instead of life-supporting necessities. “Maybe this is why streams have been culverted or made to flow through tunnels. Restoring these streams is a way to remember what our water is, how it gets to us, and what a watershed is.”

Restoration area- sedges and aquatic plants in foreground, redwood and oak groves in background. Photo: Constance Taylor

Restoration area- sedges and aquatic plants in foreground, redwood and oak groves in background. Photo: Constance Taylor

The hike ended with a visit to a watershed restoration project. Boards on the hillsides slow water’s downhill flow, allowing it to deposit silt. This sediment encourages the growth of native plants. The area appeared dry when we saw it, but underground water supports cat tails at the center of a circular area. Native sedges surround these aquatic plants, which were engulfed by coyote bush and native blackberries. Three different environments- redwood forest, oak forest, and chaparral, all overlap at this special place.

Thanks for coming to the Park,” Grey said as the explorers got ready to return to their cars. “These places will be preserved because of our visits and attention.”

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Insect pinning with the Insect Sciences Museum of California

By Kevin Hong

Pinned insect with label. Photo: Constance Taylor

Pinned insect with label. Photo: Constance Taylor

Kevin here!

What is insect pinning? Simply put, it is the pinning of caught insect specimens into a case so that the specimens can be studied and displayed. It’s a method for naturalists to survey insect populations within geographical regions, and to learn what lives where. Properly done, each pinned specimen should also have a label with information accurate as possible for the time and space within the insect was caught, such as date, time of day, and latitude / longitude. Besides the advantage of having this information neatly tacked to the specimen, pinning prevents the brittle insect bodies from breaking by freeing the specimen from surface contact or direct handling for further observation.

On August 9th, we met in front of the Joaquin Miller Ranger Station for our insect pinning event led by Eddie Dunbar from the Insect Sciences Museum of California (ISMC). To begin the afternoon, we forayed into the park to hunt for insects toting nets and small, cylindrical vials to hold specimens. Eddie advised us to look in bushes, under rocks and logs, on leaves, windowsills, and car bumpers to find insects. Among the insects we saw in the woods and blackberry bushes were bees, flies, false tarantulas, grass spiders, wood beetles, termites, a tropical centipede, and a Jerusalem cricket.

Eddie Dunbar in the green shirt, talking about where to find insects. Photo: Constance Taylor

Eddie Dunbar in the green shirt, talking about where to find insects. Photo: Constance Taylor

After bug hunting we regrouped at the picnic tables in front of the Joaquin Miller Ranger Station and put our insect specimens into kill jars – jars containing paper towels soaked in ethyl acetate (the active ingredient in nail polish remover) – that would slowly and relatively peacefully incapacitate and kill the insects in preparation for pinning. An alternative method of incapacitation, and probably the best one if you can do it, is to put the container with the bug inside a freezer for about twenty to thirty minutes. The balance of an insect’s being depends on its body temperature relative to its environment’s temperature, so any insect (or spider, or any other sort of arthropod) will slow down and eventually die peacefully after spending enough time in a freezer.

Pinning insects. Photo: Constance Taylor

Pinning insects. Photo: Constance Taylor

Since the focus of this event was to practice technique, the only insects we put in the kill jars were those that occur in great abundance and aren’t in any way threatened as a species.

Leveling an insect and label. Photo: Constance Taylor

Leveling an insect and label. Photo: Constance Taylor

After waiting about fifteen minutes, the insects were ready. Eddie gave us our own insect pinning kits, each containing two clear plastic boxes with Styrofoam floors on the inside for collecting insects, stainless pins, a wood block for making specimens and labels level, forceps, and a loupe. We pinned the insects level and into the Styrofoam bases of our boxes, along with a small strip of flea collar for deterring pests from getting to the specimens. “Dead insects are a surprisingly popular protein source for live ones,” Eddie told us. The flea collar – specifically ones that contain propoxur – prevents pests from getting into your collection. Eddie warned specifically against collars or mothballs with paradichlorobenzene, as they will produce vapors that will weaken the plastic of your collection box.

Insect collecting is a fantastic way to create a record of what lives in an area, but keep in mind that many open spaces, including all of the East Bay Regional Parks, require a collection permit (for this event we were able to collect under the permit held by the ISMC). If you want to record or identify an insect without collecting (i.e. killing) it, you can take a picture of it and post your photo to

Happy bugging!

A couple visiting Oakland decided to pin their experience of the whole day! Photo: Constance Taylor

A couple visiting Oakland decided to pin their experience of the whole day! Photo: Constance Taylor

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Dock fouling organisms at Jack London Square Marina

By Constance Taylor

First of all, what the heck is a fouling organism?

Essentially it’s all the stuff, native or introduced, that attaches itself to human-built structures to the point that it prevents those structures from functioning properly. At Jack London Square Marina, for example, the marine fouling organisms that glue themselves to the floating docks can build up so much that the docks will start sinking! Periodically the docks are scraped off to remove the barnacles, mussels, sponges, tunicates, and everything else that’s taken up residence on the submerged surfaces. They re-colonize fast enough though, and when Ken-ichi Ueda, founder of iNaturalist and fan of fouling organisms, took us to examine the docks on July 12 there were plants and critters aplenty to poke at and examine.

“Make sure to check out the differences between what’s growing on the floating docks versus the stationary structures,” Ken-ichi instructed at the beginning. Organisms on the floating docks are constantly submerged, while the stationary substrate such as the pilings driven into the harbor bed have dry periods when the tide is out. Looking at the floating docks is like being able to see what lives yards down in the depths of the water; anything that needs to be underwater all the time won’t be able to survive drying out during a low tide. Barnacles, mussels, and some algae encrusted the stationary pilings, while the floating docks had a far greater abundance of species underneath.

Adult Caprella mutica.  Photo: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Adult Japanese skeleton shrimp (Caprella mutica). Photo: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Laying on our stomachs and trying to not lose sunglasses and hats in the water, we found native and non-native species alike as we pulled up gobs of sponges and seaweed. Some of the most abundant critters were Japanese skeleton shrimp (Caprella mutica), a transplant that most likely came to Oakland via ballast water dumped in the harbor from shipping traffic. These strange looking crustaceans are omnivores that eat everything from decaying plant matter to each other; in turn, they’re eaten by fish and can act as an important link in the food web between microscopic plankton and larger animals. I pulled up a piece of red seaweed the size of my palm and took a close look… it was crawling with hundreds of itty bitty little skeleton shrimp! Lacking a larval stage, hatchlings come out of their eggs looking like tiny versions of the adults.

Unlike the skeleton shrimp, the many tunicates (also known as sea squirts) we found that day change significantly as they mature from larvae to adult. Hatching from eggs as free swimming, tadpole-like larvae, young tunicates have a nerve cord and rudimentary brain. But once they find a good spot to settle down they plonk headfirst onto their substrate of choice, absorb their tail, nerve cord, and “brain” back into their body, and never move again. Those absorbed parts are recycled into the digestive, circulatory, and reproductive organs the adult tunicates need to spend the rest of their lives as stationary filter feeders. The brain is an expensive luxury the larvae need to find a good home, but is unnecessary when the adult gives up the trappings of a moveable life.

From left to right: vase tunicates (Ciona intestinalis), golden star tunicates (Botryllus schlosseri), and solitary tunicate (Styela clava). Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda

From left to right: Vase tunicates (Ciona intestinalis), Golden Star tunicates (Botryllus schlosseri), and Solitary tunicate (Styela clava). Photos: Ken-ichi Ueda (Vase & Golden Star), Constance Taylor (Solitary)

Red beard sponges, brittle sea stars, spaghetti worms, and dozens of other organisms caked the sides of the dock as I squinted through the sunscreen residue stinging my eyes. Schools of small silvery fish too fast to catch (we tried), darted in front of us as we peered into the water. One crowd-pleasing find was Aplysiopsis enteromorphae, a sea slug that can be found munching algae in intertidal areas.

Aplysiopsis enteromorphae. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda

Aplysiopsis enteromorphae. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda


“We found an Elysia!” I heard Ken-ichi call. Oooh! It was the animal I had been hoping to see. Elysia hedgpethi is a frilly, elegant, dark green sea slug flecked with spots of iridescent turquoise that can be found on Bryopsis, a type of algae it likes to eat. E. hedgpethi, also known as Hedgpeth’s Sapsucker, has managed a rare evolutionary feat; it possesses chlorophyll-synthesizing genes that can photosynthesize sunlight into supplemental sugars for itself!

That… is… awesome.

It breaks open algal cells with its radula and sucks out the contents. The ingested chloroplasts move through digestive glands that branch into the parapodia, the ruffles on the sides of its body, and will continue to photosynthesize for up to ten days!

Elysia hedgpethi. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda

Elysia hedgpethi. Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda


Wild Oaklanders on the dock!  Photo: Constance Taylor

Wild Oaklanders on the dock! Photo: Constance Taylor

So often, hearing a value-laden term like “fouling” can inspire instant antagonism towards entire communities of species. It can cloud our sense of amazement, and we forget to take a closer look at how fantastic these other lives are. I’m certainly not advocating for monocultures of organisms that elbow everything else out of house and home, but studying the dock fouling organisms at Jack London Square Marina and learning some of the different ways they survive in the world is a good reminder that every plant and critter has its own captivating magic, and introducing ourselves to introduced species can be a pretty marvelous way to spend a Saturday.

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Map making as a way of knowing

By Paul Belz

Do people really know where we live? “I grew up in a rural area on the east coast,” Judy Goldhaft told an enthusiastic group of seekers. “When I got out here, I was astounded that I didn’t know one tree or one plant. The flowers – where did they come from?”

Judy directs The Planet Drum Foundation, a San Francisco organization that has emphasized bioregional thought since the 1970s. Planet Drum calls a bioregion a unique ecologically defined area. Climate, geology, soils, and landforms define a bioregion, and determine which native plants and animals live there. Human communities also deeply interact with the natural world around them.

Some environmental thinkers see people’s lives as separate from their surroundings and focus on our negative impacts on the earth. Mid twentieth century scientists and activists focused on negative actions such as litigation to prevent people from polluting, overdeveloping, and otherwise harming their world. “It’s what you don’t do to protect the place where you live,” Judy commented.

Planet Drum Foundation definitely recognizes the ways people harm our world, but stresses that we can also connect with our home places. “What are the proactive actions you can take to make your region sustainable? “Judy asked. The excited group mentioned alternative energy, public transit, permaculture and farmers’ markets as positive projects.

Judy stated that our current ecological changes require people to understand their bioregions. “Things are changing faster than they have since the ice ages,” she said. “We have seen the ice age and it is us.” We impact on the world in both large and small scales. Climate change leads to sea level rises; it also contributes to rapid evolution in microorganisms and the development of new diseases. “Microorganisms are very adaptable,” Judy reflected. “We need to be just as adaptable.”

People often create maps that deepen their knowledge and connection with their surroundings, and help them think about sustainable directions for their local cultures. The group examined several bioregional maps. One showed the development of the San Francisco Bay Area between the 1750s and 1990s, including changes in the shoreline.

Another map presented the perspective of people in northern Scandinavia, with the North Pole as the center of the world. This map shared pictures of weavings and musical instruments from the area. “This is more than a map of the land, it’s a map of their culture,” Judy said. A map of the Ish River Watershed included a poem that described all the towns whose names end in “-ish”.

Judy now distributed paper and markers and guided people through the process of bioregional map making. She asked everyone to indicate the direction north on their maps, and to mark an X to show their homes. People drew the dominant water bodies near their neighborhoods – San Francisco Bay, Lake Merritt, and local streams. They added clouds that showed storm’s paths.

The map makers laughed and shared information as they drew landforms, including the highest point in the area. Judy mentioned that streams flowing downhill distribute soils. When several people mentioned that they didn’t know which soils were in their areas, Judy said, “Part of what this map will do for you is to help you figure out what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Native plants came next. People drew redwoods, California buckeyes, coyote bush, poison oak, poppies, and many others. Judy commented that while eucalyptus trees are an invasive pest in the Shasta bioregion, koalas control these trees’ populations in their native Australia. Microorganisms there break down the acidic leaves that change the chemistry of northern California’s soils.

Now the excited designers added coyotes, red tailed hawks, banana slugs, and other native animals. Judy mentioned that ground squirrels are native to California; early settlers from the eastern United States imported the tree squirrels they missed from home.

The last step was to show human influences on the area. The artists drew the most negative human action, and the most positive. Judy stressed that these suggestions were subjective and unique to each person. She asked each group member to think of a name for their map, one that expressed their feelings towards the bioregion.

Mapmakers now took turns sharing the maps they named “Ever Changing Land”, “Lake Merit Bioregion”, and “The Berkeley Slide.” They showed negative human impacts such as freeways and the lack of public transit, high rises that crowd the Berkeley bay shore, urban runoff into Lake Merritt and other water bodies, and trash that winds up in landfills. Positive impacts included recent improvements to Lake Merritt, daylighting of creeks, Oakland’s pollination corridors, and neighborhoods where citizens debate community issues.

Judy praised the mapmaker’s focus on their surroundings. “Many people – PhDs, activists and many others across the world have developed these maps,” Judy said. “How you use your map will be determined by how you feel about it.

“I think of it as a little like a love affair,” she concluded. “When you meet someone, and you want to instantaneously know everything about them. Maps go on and on, there is so much more information you can add.”

May the relationships deepen!

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Buzzin’ Insect Ilustration with Tim Manolis

By Ellen Hong

“I assume that the reason most of you guys are here is either that you already love drawing insects or that you want to learn how to,” naturalist and professional scientific illustrator Tim Manolis said, addressing the dozen eager students, ranging from age 5 to 60, sitting inside the Rotary Nature Center. With no professional bug drawing experience, I was excited to learn a new skill and glad that he decided to get started with the instruction right away.

“So there’s a very different approach to drawing vertebrates vs. invertebrates,” he explained. “When you’re drawing birds or mammals, it pays to know what’s on the inside–the bones, the skeletal system–for example, when drawing the skull, you want to know where the eye sockets are in relation to the jaw.” The opposite is true for insects, however: “What you see on the outside is pretty much what you get.”

Tim then illustrated for us the basic plan of the insect, which includes three main structures: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen.

Basic outline of an insect, drawn by Tim Manolis. Photo: Ellen Hong

Basic outline of an insect, drawn by Tim Manolis. Photo: Ellen Hong


As Tim pointed out, an insect’s head is where all the sensory organs are. The thorax, divided into three segments, is where the legs and wings come off of. The abdomen, made of ten segments, is attached to organs used for reproduction.

As for drawing the legs, Tim told us that it’s pretty difficult to capture exactly how the legs come off the insect’s body. There are many parts of the leg that are important to include: the coxa, femur, tibia, trochanter, and tarsus. It can be tricky to capture all of them correctly.

Tim explaining insect leg structures. Photo: Ellen Hong

                                                                                                                               Tim explaining insect leg structures. Photo: Ellen Hong

It’s also vital to take perspective into account. Whether drawing from the side or from above, insects will look very different from different angles.

For a “standard winged insect,” Tim told us that there are two wings on either side–typically a hard covering on top of a single set of wings. Beetles specifically have Elytra as a hardened forewing, with their main wings used for flight hidden underneath.

Some two-winged insects have halteres, tiny knobbed structures on the wings almost too miniscule to be seen, that are partially vestigial but thought to be used for balance in flight.

Certain types of insects don’t have wings at all, however. Insects that may look like ants may really be female wasps. Especially in insect caste systems, there may be, for example, worker insects that are non-winged while higher-authority insects possess wings.

“Once you have a good idea of an insect’s build/parts, then you can start to look at real insects and identify the structures,” Tim told us. He doesn’t do a lot of field drawing himself, however–mainly because of how difficult it is to do with insects. But according to Tim, dragonflies are the easiest insects to draw live, especially when they’re sitting still.

“Draw as much as you can,” Tim advised about field sketching in general. He said that capturing as many key features as possible is important, especially if we wish to identify the species later on. In his own experience, after drawing a dragonfly hanging from a tree, Tim was able to label the creature as a spot-winged glider because he had incorporated very important details; the dark spots at the tips of the dragonfly’s wings were telling marks.

As for advice on what materials to use when field sketching, Tim said that the best sketchbooks for drawing insects are ones that are pretty small, about 6×8 in. and bounded by rings, so that the pages separate and flip open easily. He doesn’t use anything fancy when it comes to pencils; No. 2 pencils or even mechanical ones are fine. A hand lens is also handy to carry around in the field, and bringing a handheld watercolor set with a plastic vial of water is ideal for any colored drawings. Tim also likes to carry around little orange pill bottles for capturing insects out in the field, so that he can bring them back to draw and release them later.

Beetle used for drawing practice. Photo: Ellen Hong

Beetle used for drawing practice. Photo: Ellen Hong


Bee used for drawing practice. Photo: Ellen Hong

Bee used for drawing practice. Photo: Ellen Hong

It was time for us to practice what we had learned! Tim passed around some clear boxes with insects inside of them and gave us 15 minutes to try our own hand at drawing them. After some practice, Eddie Dunbar–insect expert of the Wild Oakland team–offered to take us out to the pollinator gardens to catch some insects.




Before heading out, Eddie shared his main rules about handling nets:

1) Be careful with your surroundings–watch out for others!
2) No nets over your heads (it’s dangerous!)
3) Don’t drag your net on the floor

After some time in the Mediterranean Garden, the group had captured a pretty good variety of insects for drawing, including some bees and spiders. We got back to the Rotary Nature Center and freely practiced with the live bugs, Tim walking around to help us if needed.

Tim was a wonderful teacher, and the illustration class was a relaxing yet totally fun way to spend my afternoon. Thanks so much to Tim Manolis for his time, and thanks to everyone who came out to the lesson! I hope everyone enjoyed themselves and gained something from the class.

Check out Tim’s field guides if you haven’t already; they’re awesome!

California Natural History Guides by Tim Manolis. Photo: Ellen Hong

California Natural History Guides by Tim Manolis. Photo: Ellen Hong










Ellen Hong is a senior in high school and interns for Wild Oakland.

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Saving Knowland Park, an Oakland Treasure

By Paul Belz

Purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra). California's state grass!  The root system can be 20 feet deep, making the plant very drought resistant. Photo: Constance Taylor

Purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra). California’s state grass! The root system can be 20 feet deep, making the plant very drought resistant. Photo: Constance Taylor

“’Subtle’ is a good word for Knowland Park,” Laura Baker told a group of Saturday explorers. “It’s not in your face.” She pointed at purple needle grass, one of fourteen native grass species that grow in this little known preserve. The fact that only 1% of California’s native grasslands remain is one of many reasons to preserve this hidden gem

Wildflowers and shrubs dotted the Park’s steep green slopes as they rolled towards the Bay. Knowland Park lies above I-580 and the Oakland Zoo. It includes five native plant communities: native grasslands, oak woodlands, coastal scrub, riparian corridors, and coastal chaparral. While chaparral that grows near the Pacific is protected from development, inland communities such as Knowland Park’s are vulnerable.

 “The first thing a lot of people say when they first encounter chaparral is, “Ewww!” Laura chuckled. “There’s lots of dead wood, and plants are twisted. This is how they adapt; they twist to capture sunlight. Areas that are overgrown and shaded die off.” Lichens of all colors engulf the shrubs’ stems. These mazes offer fine habitat to thrashers, wren-tits, California towhees, spotted towhees, California quail, and many other birds. They hide and blend in with the chaparral, but their dawn chorus can be deafening.

The City of Oakland technically owns the Park, but it grants administration to the East Bay Zoological Society. This private group plans to expand Oakland Zoo into the Park. A gondola will bring visitors up the hillside to an exhibit on wolves, grizzly bears, and other California animals that have gone extinct due to habitat loss.

Standing in an area that would be developed under the expansion plans. This area would no longer be accessible to hikers or other wildlife. Photo: Constance Taylor

Standing in an area that would be developed under the expansion plans. This area would no longer be accessible to hikers or other wildlife. Photo: Constance Taylor

A fence will block hikers’ access to the coastal chaparral community, which will be paved and covered with forty buildings. Most of these will be the size of single story houses; a visitor’s center and interpretive center will each cover 10,000 square feet. The visitor’s center, which may be three stories tall, might include a restaurant and a gift shop.

Nest of a dusky-footed woodrat high in an oak tree.  Photo: Constance Taylor

Nest of a dusky-footed woodrat high in an oak tree. Photo: Constance Taylor

Laura, who works with Save Knowland Park, suggested that the East Bay Zoological Society feels the exhibit’s educational value will outweigh its environmental impact and that the project will generate income for the Zoo. However, the California Native Plant Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Save Knowland Park argue that the expansion is being planned on the most sensitive and biodiverse area of the park- not only are there rare plant communities and threatened grasslands, the preserve is home to the endangered Alameda whip snake. Dusky footed wood rats, which are a species of special concern, also depend on the rare plant communities. The proposed development lies between wildlife migration corridors; gray foxes, coyotes, mountain lions and other species use this this area to find food, mates, and new territory.

The project’s critics feel that there is enough undeveloped area in the current Zoo to give the exhibit a home. One of the hikers commented that she is an enthusiastic zoo member and supporter. Still, she mentioned that ecological models recommend that development be limited in space, and discourage sprawl. She hoped the East Bay Zoological Society would take this recommendation to heart.

Oakland’s City Council must approve the project before it can go forward. Laura commented that many city council members do not know that this issue is unresolved. She recommended that Park supporters contact their representatives. Save Knowland Park and its allies will use hikes and other strategies to educate citizens about the Park.

The hikers discovered native plants such as Indian soap root, sticky monkey flowers, blue eyed grass, and Indian warrior. Pocket gopher mounds covered the grasslands. “We love them!” Laura laughed. “They support enormous diversity. Lizards, salamanders, and snakes live in their burrows. Hawks, coyotes, opossums and others prey on them.”

Left: Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is actually an iris, not a grass!  Right: Sun cups (Taraxia ovata) are also native to California and only found in western North America. Photos: Constance Taylor

Left: Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is actually an iris, not a grass! Right: Sun cups (Taraxia ovata) are also native to California and only found in western North America. Photos: Constance Taylor

Laura suddenly stopped to point out large puffball fungi that release clouds of spores. These ball shaped mushrooms sometimes create circles called “fairy rings” when the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) grow on the perimeter of the underground mycelium mat. The puffballs die and decay, fertilizing the soil so grasses can increase their range. Mycologists believe one of the fairy rings in Knowland Park might be the largest in the East Bay, and is possibly over one hundred years old, and is the largest !

Giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia pachyderma) Left: intact puffball.  Right: open puffball with billions of powdery brown spores. Photos: Constance Taylor

Giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia pachyderma)
Left: intact puffball. Right: open puffball with billions of powdery brown spores. Photos: Constance Taylor

Laura concluded, “We feel the authentic thing is to see the animals’ habitat, catch a brief glance of a coyote chasing a brush rabbit, to know they are here, and to know they are protected.”

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A “Pheasant” Afternoon Drawing Birds

By Ellen Hong

It’s not every day that you get to sit down with a real artist and get a lesson on bird illustration. On Saturday, March 8, I and about a dozen others had the pleasure of learning how to draw birds from Lisa Sindorf, a wildlife illustrator and expert in field sketching.

Lisa explains the basics- just start with two circles! Photo: Constance Taylor

Lisa explains the basics- just start with two circles! Photo: Constance Taylor

“It’s all about observation,” she explained. “Even though there may be harsh lighting, and the animals may be moving around, your job is to capture your observations.”

Lisa talked about how she always likes starting out her drawings with a light pencil, preferably a non-photo blue pencil. She uses this blue pencil to make the initial sketch, and then she goes over it with pen, and then may add watercolor later on.

“Use materials that aren’t precious to you,” she told us. “Buy the cheapest sketchbook, since you’ll be making hundreds of drawings. Give yourself permission to draw whatever comes out.”

Lisa’s step-by-step instruction for how to draw birds:

    • It’s important to think about grouping, so start from the biggest shapes before making your way to the smaller ones. Start out with the two biggest chunks of shapes: the body and head of the bird. Consider:
      1. Relative size. How big is the head compared to the body? — It may help to ask yourself how many heads can fit into the body.
      2. Relative position. Where does the head fall with respect to the body? How is the head aligned with the edge of the body
    • Next, look at lines and angles. There are 3 major things to look at:
      1. The angle of the wings
      2. The angle of the tail
      3. The angle the forehead makes with the beak

*One of Lisa’s tricks is to think in terms of a clock. What angle would the hour and minute hands make, and what time would it read?

*Also, angles are super important because they’re diagnostic. Capturing the right angles can tell you exactly what type of bird you’re looking at.

    • After all the initial shapes, lines, and angles are on your paper, you can start to add more detail to the face–starting with the eye. Ask yourself where the eye joins the face (angle is important!), and specifically, you can look at the “cheek circle”–the shapes and angles of the feathers covering the bird’s ears.
    • When drawing the wings of the bird, consider the fact that most birds’ wings form the shape of a parallelogram. Look at how long or how short each side of the parallelogram is and draw accordingly.

These were Lisa’s main tips, and she wanted to assure us this: “Will your drawing look real? Will it look like a fine-art illustration? Probably not–but if you observe something that you might not have noticed before, you are successful. You’re keeping a record for later, and that’s what’s important.” She also told us that it may be useful to make little annotations on your drawing–you may note that two lines are the same length or that the bird’s wings form a 45-degree angle with its body.

Practicing sketching.  Photo: Constance Taylor

Practicing sketching. Photo: Constance Taylor

After Lisa’s detailed lesson, it was time to draw! She gave us about 15-20 minutes to try all her tips firsthand, either by sketching some models of ducks she had brought along with her or by attempting to draw some live birds, since there were obviously many of them hanging around Lake Merritt.

From my own experience, drawing the live birds was HARD! Especially with them constantly moving around, I had so much trouble trying to figure out angles and the positions of certain parts of their bodies. It was definitely a challenge! This time to ourselves was really nice, however, and Lisa made sure to come around and check up on each of us, offering some helpful advice along the way.

After this individual drawing time, she gathered us all together again for some time to reflect on our experiences. She wanted to know what our experiences were like and how her tips and strategies worked out for us.

The feedback from the group was great; I gained insight from their comments and questions for Lisa, learning that holding your pencil up to measure angles may be one of the best ways to actually get the accurate angles. Also, it’s useful to define as many angles as you can; it will give you more details to be able to later identify the bird. And to what extent is it useful to stay committed to the initial two circles, the head and the body? “It’s not a huge commitment,” Lisa told us. “You can be flexible.”

Discussing what we learned.  Photo: Constance Taylor

Discussing what we learned. Photo: Constance Taylor

Ultimately, Lisa wanted to leave us with the message that the value in field sketching really is in the observations we make. It’s about really looking at nature, seeing things we hadn’t seen before, and capturing those moments by putting them onto paper.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks so much to Lisa for such a great lesson and a wonderful time! If you’re interested in her work, she’s having an art show at the Albatross Pub in Berkeley from January 30 until June 30. Check out her website as well!

Ellen Hong is a senior in high school and interns for Wild Oakland.

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