Cuddle puddle ladybug huddle in Redwood Regional Park!

By Paul Belz

“How many ladybug species do you think live in California?” East Bay Regional Parks naturalist Michael Charnofsky asked a group of 100 ladybug seekers.

Convergent lady beetles (Hippodamia convergens). Photo: Lee Aurich

Convergent lady beetles (Hippodamia convergens). Photo: Lee Aurich

“100,000!” an eight year old boy called. Michael laughed and stated that around 175 species live in California, while approximately 5,000 species live across the world. Tens of thousands of red and black spotted convergent ladybugs (Hippodamia convergens) gather every year for the winter in Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park, but nobody really knows for sure why they come to exact certain locations.

Investigators believe that these ladybugs probably spend spring and summer in coastal areas. They pass their time feasting upon soft-bodied insects, especially aphids, small insects that are the bane of local gardeners. “In its lifetime, a ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids,” Michael said. “Aphids are small, but ladybugs aren’t that big either!”

“What are their predators?” a hiker asked.

“One flew in my mouth once!” another hiker exclaimed. “They taste terrible.”

“Most animals would agree,” Michael said. “Ladybugs excrete a yellow substance when they’re scared.” This toxin doesn’t kill the predator, it just tastes lousy. The color red is often a natural warning that an animal is unpalatable. Any animal that’s tried to eat a ladybug will recognize and avoid them in the future.

Looking at the ladybugs clustered on the blackberry bushes by Stream Trail, Photo: Lee Aurich.

Looking at the ladybugs clustered on the blackberry bushes by Stream Trail. Photo: Lee Aurich.

The number of aphids drops as autumn brings cooler weather. Ladybugs, like many animals, use hibernation as a survival strategy during cold times when food is scarce. “To reach their hibernation locations, ladybugs probably follow the wind currents,” Michael said. Investigators believe that ladybugs make use of the winds blowing inland from the coast to migrate to their hibernation locations in cool areas of the coastal range, such as Redwood Regional Park.

Rising air carries them up the slopes of the East Bay hills, and down into Redwood Regional Park. The new arrivals find scent markers from the previous seasons’ ladybugs to find the places where their parents gathered during the previous winter. Hikers often find huge clusters hibernating on fence posts, trail markers, tree stumps, on the ground, under leaf litter, and many other surfaces.

Some researchers speculate that the ladybugs aggregate to stay warm. Michael questioned this hypothesis- “Why would they cluster in this location here if they wanted to stay warm?” he asked. The canyon where the Stream Trail passes through is colder in winter than surrounding areas of Redwood Regional Park, other parts of Oakland, and the coastal areas. Like all ectothermic or “cold blooded” animals, ladybugs’ body temperatures fall when they come to a cooler habitat. They need less energy to live, so they can hibernate and survive without needing to eat.

Cluster of ladybugs at the Prince and Stream Trail junction in 2013 . Photo: Lee Aurich.

Cluster of ladybugs at the Prince and Stream Trail junction in 2013. Photo: Lee Aurich.

The group hiked along the Stream Trail, toward the foot of the Prince Trail where tens of thousands of ladybugs had gathered earlier in the winter. Michael described Redwood Regional Park as a healthy second growth forest. Perhaps some of the world’s largest trees grew here until the region was clear-cut during the 1840s through the 1860s. The forest is protected now. “Maybe in a thousand years it will be similar to the way it was before the 1840s,” Michael said. A chickadee called “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” from the shaded forest. Redwood Creek, which supports trout that swim from San Leandro Reservoir, rang with rushing water.

Michael said that the thousands of ladybugs that gathered near Prince Trail had left already, wakened by the early warm weather. Many others remained near a lower meadow. The group photographed them as they clung to fence posts, trail markers, and blackberry shrubs.

They become active and mate on warm, late winter days like this one. They may aggregate so they can find mates. ”When they’re out eating aphids during the summer, they can’t necessarily find each other,” Michael said. “When they gather to hibernate there are lots of other ladybugs to choose from.” This generation will return to the Coast to eat, lay eggs and die. Their children will hatch, eat aphids through the summer, and perhaps return here next autumn to continue the cycle.

The group found a large group of yellow mushrooms with remnants of delicate veils dangling from their caps. “Fairies live around here,” an excited five year old cried. She found no fairies, but was thrilled to find the ladybugs!

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Mushrooms in Redwood Regional Park

By Paul Belz

Imagine a redwood forest that is home to strange little life-forms of all shapes and colors. “Mushrooms are interesting to me… because they’re like the flowers of winter. They appear when not a lot of other things are happening in California’s coastal forests,” East Bay Regional Parks naturalist Trent Pearce told a large group at Redwood Regional Park. “Why are mushrooms interesting to you?”

“They look like crazy aliens,” one hiker said.

“They have a hidden side and an emergent side.”

 “They’re not plants or animals.”

 “They sometimes grow in perfect circles.”

Fungi are a separate kingdom of life from plants, animals, and bacteria. The surreal organisms we call ‘mushrooms’ are the fruiting bodies of mycelium, filamentous strands that look like spider webs. Spores, which all fungi use as reproductive cells, develop within the gills or other structures of the fruiting body until wind or animals scatter them. A lucky spore might land in a spot where it can produce its own mycelium, which grows until it touches a compatible mycelium web. The two organisms will share genetic material, and produce new fruiting bodies that will continue the cycle.

Amanita phalloides. Photo: Trent Pearce

Death cap (Amanita phalloides). Photo: Trent Pearce

Trent grinned and showed the crowd a beautiful specimen that is California’s deadliest mushroom, the death cap (Amanita phalloides). When you’re first learning to identify mushrooms, it’s a good idea to start with the most deadly ones so you know what to never eat! This handsome amanita has a large, shiny greenish cap, with white gills on its underside, a ring of tissue around the middle of its stalk, and a bag like structure at the stalk’s base. While all mushrooms are perfectly safe to touch, you’d never want to eat a death cap – they can cause acute liver failure. Mushroom enthusiasts, especially novice ones, must be aware of the death cap.

Our group walked into a redwood grove near the Canyon Meadows Staging area. We quickly found coral fungi, which really do resemble undersea corals, and rabbit-foot inkcap (Coprinopsis lagopus) a mushroom that auto-digests and turns to black mush as it releases its spores. Trent pointed out a group of candy caps (Lactarius rubidus), reddish-brown mushrooms that were growing at the base of a redwood. They are members of the Lactarius genus, a group that oozes milky latex when flesh is disturbed or scratched. Candy caps are known for smelling strongly of maple syrup, and their sweet smell and edibility make them a tasty addition to cookies and other desserts. Trent emphasized that it is illegal to gather mushrooms and take them from East Bay Regional Parks since this activity further disturbs the already beleaguered area.

Redwood rooter (Caulorhiza umbonata). Photo: Trent Pearce

Redwood rooter (Caulorhiza umbonata). Photo: Trent Pearce

Saprotrophic fungi release enzymes that break down organic material like leaf litter and dead wood so they can absorb amino acids and other nutrients. Redwood rooters (Caulorhiza umbonata), which are very common among these trees, are saprobic upon leaf letter. Trent plucked a large one from the soil so he could share the long taproot-like structure that rises from deep within the soil. He pointed out the caps of two redwood rooters. The younger one had a smooth, oval shape, while the older was flatter and frillier since the mycelium had flooded the mushroom with water, making it very photogenic.

Boletes also thrived in damp gorge of Redwood Creek. These mushrooms lack gills; their spores develop in tubes that fill spongy surfaces on the bottom of their caps. Trent shared a Suillus, a slimy bolete that looks quite haggard after a few days. He recommended that mushroom enthusiasts learn to identify the fruiting bodies during different stages of their short lives. Waxy caps, which have thick, widely spaced gills and bright, slimy caps sprouted nearby. Trent promised that the hike would end with a surprising group of waxy caps.

“This is one of the easiest wild mushrooms to identify,” Trent said, showing a broad, white mushroom that grew from a rotting log. The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) gets nutrients by breaking down wood from dead trees, but there is also some evidence that it and other saprotrophic fungi can parasitize living plants as well. This is one of the most popular edible mushrooms and many enthusiasts raise it at home on mulch, cardboard – anything that’s wood based. “They grow quickly, almost as soon as a raindrop hits them,” Trent said.

Deadly galerina (Galerina marginata). Photo: Trent Pearce

Deadly galerina (Galerina marginata). Photo: Trent Pearce

Back in the forest, Trent pointed out a deadly galerina (Galerina marginata), a small brown fungi growing from wood. It vaguely resembles a candy cap but produces the same toxins as the death cap, making it deadly poisonous. Since it isn’t a Lactarius, it doesn’t bleed latex and doesn’t smell like maple syrup. People who gather edible fungi must learn to distinguish between these species. It isn’t clear why some fungi are poisonous; the compounds may simply be the byproducts of the organism’s digestive process as it secretes enzymes that break down plant material so the mycelium can absorb  nutrients.

At the walk’s end, Trent enthusiastically shared a group of small, orange waxy caps. “My friend who is writing a book about California’s coastal fungi says these have never been described in the literature,” he said. The parrot mushroom (Gliophorus psittacinus), which has a beautiful green waxy cap, is their closest relative. They may be a subspecies of that fungus, but mycologists suspect they could be a new species since parrot mushrooms show different coloration and cap features. Genetic sequencing will eventually reveal the truth. “This is only their second observation in the East Bay!” Trent said.

Undescribed waxy cap (Gliophorus fenestratus nom. prov.). Photo: Trent Pearce

Undescribed waxy cap (Gliophorus fenestratus nom. prov.). Photo: Trent Pearce

“Mycology is exciting to me,” Trent said, “because there are so many unknowns.” Mycologists estimate that between one and three million fungal species may exist, but only about one hundred thousand have been described by science. “It is hard to find new species of birds or trees, but there could be new species of fungi in your own back yard. You don’t have to have a PhD either, you can make valuable contributions to science with citizen observations.” Keep your eyes open and your camera clicking!

For more fantastic photos of mushrooms, check out Trent’s website: Left Coast Naturalist!

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Getting close to our winter guests

By Paul Belz

A group of about thirty curious birders stood at the edge of Lake Merritt, mere feet away from dozens of water birds. “This is the great thing about Lake Merritt,” said Marissa Ortega-Welch, coordinator for the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Ecological Education Program. We didn’t even need binoculars to see the intricate black and white patterns on the backs of the scaups paddling near our feet.

Scaup on left, close-up of black and white pattern on its back on the right. Photos: Constance Taylor

Scaup on left, close-up of black and white pattern on its back on the right. Photos: Constance Taylor

 

Eared grebes and American coots swam quietly then abruptly dove beak first towards the water’s depths. Egrets and a great blue heron waded on long stick-like legs, and held their slender necks still as they watched the water for passing meals. White pelicans rested on nearby islands while double-crested cormorants sat on buoys, spreading their wings to dry them. Some of these birds live here year round but many are only here during the winter, using Lake Merritt as a rest stop during their migration along the Pacific Flyway

Lake Merritt is an estuary, a former salt marsh wetland that still connects to the San Francisco Bay. It’s influenced by the tides, but a flood gate at 7th Street opens and closes to control the water level. Fresh water from many of Oakland’s streams floats on top of the Bay’s denser salt water, making the water brackish (a combination of fresh and salt water). Mayor Samuel Merritt worked hard to have the Lake proclaimed the nation’s first wildlife refuge in the 1880s, but the legislation may have been less about protecting wildlife and more about protecting humans. The legend goes that Mayor Merritt, who had a house by the Lake, pushed through the no-hunting laws after a bullet shattered his bedroom window! Regardless of why the legislation was passed, ornithologists have since been able to take advantage of this policy to band birds and study their migration routes. For many years, Lake Merritt was the site of the largest bird banding operation on the Pacific Flyway.

“This is my down and dirty method for learning how to identify the Lake’s birds,” Marissa said as she held up a printed silhouettes of bird bodies. She cautioned against using color as the most important clue in identifying ducks and other species, since males and females of the same species can be very different colors. Males are often brightly colored to attract females during mating season, while the drabber females are camouflaged so they can sit on nests without being spotted by predators. Marissa pointed out that the shape of the head, beak, feet, and body are a stronger indication of the species. The observer should notice the animal’s size next; color and patterns can be useful at this point. Marissa said that a bird’s behavior was important, and she recommended the use range maps (found in most field guides) to confirm that a particular bird would likely be in an area.

Cormorant, duck, grebe, egret/heron, gull (photos: 123rf.com, naturemappingfoundation.org, gograph,com, johnrakestraw.net)

Cormorant, duck, grebe, egret/heron, gull (photos: 123rf.com, naturemappingfoundation.org, gograph,com, johnrakestraw.net)

 

Lobed feet of a coot. Photo: Constance Taylor

Lobed feet of a coot. Photo: Constance Taylor

“There’s one bird here that might fool you with its shape,” Marissa said. The body of an American coot resembles that of a duck, but a close look at their white, pincer-like beaks and their long-toed feet shows that they are members of the rail family. These black birds dive to the Lake’s bottom to grab plants, while ducks often use their flatter beaks to strain the water and filter out their food. Coots’ feet aren’t webbed- their long, lobed toes make them good swimmers and help them walk on mud, where ducks might get stuck.

Canvasbacks swam among the crowd of scaups and coots. Canvasbacks have bills that connect to their heads like slides, and their reddish heads and white backs also make them stand out. “Some people say their backs look like a blank, white canvas,” Marissa said, “but I’ve heard that when hunters went out to get ducks, they’d bring a canvas sack with them to carry back the dead birds. They were told to ‘bring the canvas back’… full of ducks, that is!”

Canvasback swimming with the American coots. Photo: Constance Taylor

Canvasback swimming with the American coots. Photo: Constance Taylor

 

Grebes make up another family of bird that visits Lake Merritt during the winter. Up to 5 species have been spotted on the water at once- the small eared grebe, horned grebe, Western grebe, Clark’s grebe, and pied-billed grebe.

Some birders call grebes “hell divers” since they abruptly slide head first into the water to catch food, and vanish for long minutes. Grebes can be recognized by their broad beaks and relatively long necks. These birds have legs that are positioned so far back on their bodies that they can’t easily walk on land! However, the position of their legs makes them excellent divers and swimmers. They build floating nests to lay eggs and raise their chicks, and spend most of their life on the water. They don’t breed at Lake Merritt, so you probably won’t see a floating nest there… but let us know if you do!

Western and Clark’s grebes are famous for the synchronized dancing of males and females when they prepare to mate. They run across the water together, and bow their heads in a graceful greeting. Marissa mentioned that while these birds sometimes mate in other parts of the Bay Area, they usually wait until they’ve left for their northern range in March or April. Grebes who dance on Lake Merritt are probably practicing their moves for the real thing later on. Click here to see the dance! 

Great and snowy egrets sometimes confuse birders who rely mostly on size. Both species’ bodies are covered with bright white feathers, and both wade on long legs whose similarity to sticks may confuse fish. They stand quietly, and quickly snap snake-like necks forward to grab their prey in long beaks.

Marissa commented that most birds reach their lifelong sizes when they leave their nests; ducks and geese are one exception. Small snowy egrets are not baby great egrets. Snowies grow feather tufts on the backs of their heads, distinguishing it from the great egret’s smoother head. The snowies’ yellow feet and black beaks distinguish them from the larger great egrets, with their black feet and yellow beaks. “Spanish settlers called snowy egrets ‘golden foot’,” Marissa said. “That’s a beautiful name.”

Hank the white pelican lives at Lake Merritt year round because his injured wing prevents him from migrating. We saw him resting on one of the Lake’s islands, along with other white pelicans who join him for part of the year. These huge birds resemble brown pelicans, except for their larger size and white feathers. They swim together, gathering and driving fish in front of them until they dive and catch their prey. This behavior is very different from brown pelicans’, which fly above schools of fish and plunge downward, making big splashes.

Humans built the islands to give birds sheltered places where they can nest and find some peace and quiet. A raptor that Marissa said was probably a red shouldered hawk perched on a tree trunk. A green heron hid in the shadows at an island’s edge while a belted kingfisher sat in another tree. Blue billed ruddy ducks, whose upward pointing tails resemble Dennis the Menace’s distinctive cowlick, joined the throngs of swimming birds. Marissa proved that Lake Merritt is a great place for Oaklanders who want to get to know our water birds. It’s a spot where our world and theirs connect!

For a downloadable PDF of a basic guide to the birds at Lake Merritt, Grow Your Oakland has a great one here.

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Emergency Mushroom Walk to SAVE KNOWLAND PARK!

Have fun and sign the petition to Save Knowland Park!

When: Sunday Dec 28, 2014 from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm

Where: Knowland Park- we’ll meet at the Cameron Avenue entrance, a cul-de-sac off of Malcolm Avenue that dead-ends at the park. It’s fine to park on the street or any of the other nearby 1-block cul-de-sacs that are on the south side of the park. Click on the Dec 28 event in the “Upcoming Events” bar to your right for a Google Map location.

Why this is an “emergency” mushroom walk:

Poster created by art student Kaley Bales, inspired by Knowland Park.

Poster created by art student Kaley Bales, inspired by Knowland Park.

We want people to experience this amazing public open space because it’s under imminent threat of development by the Oakland Zoo. Friends of Knowland Park is working hard to get this issue on the ballot so the public can vote on what happens to its public land.

For this referendum effort we need 25,000 physical signatures from registered Oakland voters by January 9, 2015. There’s nothing you can mail in or sign via the internet- that means we need your help now!!! At the walk we’ll have petitions to sign as well as voter registration forms. Bring your friends!

  • To learn more about the issue, go to saveknowland.org or read the October 2014 East Bay Express article “Zoo Gone Wild”.
  • If you’d like to get a petition pack to collect signatures, e-mail knowlandreferendum@gmail.com
  • You can also donate to the referendum effort

And now, the mushrooms!

With the excellent rain we’ve been getting, you’ve probably been seeing the blooms of fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms) popping up everywhere. We’ll see what’s growing at Knowland Park, and also check out the ancient fairy ring of puffball mushrooms to see what surprises are there! The focus will be on learning to identify the larger mushroom species of the area and learning to read the landscape for where these various heterotrophs hide out and about their many roles in the local ecology.

Knowland Park's giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia pachyderma) Left: intact puffball.  Right: open puffball with billions of powdery brown spores. Photos: Constance Taylor

Knowland Park’s giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia pachyderma)
Left: intact puffball. Right: open puffball with billions of powdery brown spores. Photos: Constance Taylor

Please bring guide books if you have them. We will meet rain or shine! Tools that you may want to bring include a small pocket knife to dig with, a paintbrush to brush duff off with, and a jacket. You might also want to bring snacks, water, and dress for rain. There are no bathroom facilities at Knowland!With the excellent rain we’ve been getting, you’ve probably been seeing the blooms of fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms) popping up everywhere. We’ll see what’s growing at Knowland Park, and also check out the ancient fairy ring of puffball mushrooms to see what surprises are there! The focus will be on learning to identify the larger mushroom species of the area and learning to read the landscape for where these various heterotrophs hide out and about their many roles in the local ecology.

We’ll meet at the Cameron Avenue entrance, a cul-de-sac off of Malcolm Avenue that dead-ends at the park. It’s fine to park on the street or any of the other nearby 1-block cul-de-sacs that are on the south side of the park.

This walk will not include tasting or collection of mushrooms.

Your guide will be Damon Tighe, an amateur mycologist or five years and former research scientist at the Joint Genome Institute, where many fungal genomes have been sequenced for biofuel applications.

Check out our blogs about Wild Oakland’s 2012 and 2013 mushroom walks with Damon Tighe!

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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. http://seismo.berkeley.edu/hayward/hayward_fault.html Strike-slip image: USGS. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/glossary/?term=strike-slip

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: bit.ly/knowlandmeeting.

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 www.saveknowland.org 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 critters 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 www.inaturalist.org.

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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