Archive for October, 2012

An Era of Restoration & Understanding

Sometime in the 70s a murder victim washed up on a bay shore. The police knew to go ask a scientist — where might this body have come from? The answer it turned out was the Golden Gate Bridge. Gangs used to think of it as a good place to dump bodies, thinking they’d soon be carried out to sea, never to be seen again. But our bay waters are more complicated than that. It turns out that the surface water tends to move out to see, but the undercurrents — where a dead body might sink — move inland.

Scientists have spent a good amount of effort and equipment puzzling this out. Not dead bodies per se, but with boats like the Polaris and the Long Fin that are out there collecting and measuring.

The story of our San Francisco Bay is a long one, and for a long time a sad one – impacted as it is by all the hunting, mining, fishing, filling, draining, blowing things up, alien invasions, trash, and dam building that has effected its waters over the last 150 odd years in particular.

Many of those impacts are ongoing and difficult to control (alien species being a good case in point). But the last 50 years has seen an increase in those who would wish to protect, understand, and restore our waters. No longer does the bay stink, and serve as the collective trash dump.

There us still plenty of nature to be found here – the estuary is open ended a mixing bowl of rivers and tides and the bay still serves as a murky nursery to many species of fish. Little fish thrive, there are seals, sea lions, and the only recently returned porpoise. The larger estuary is still a stopover on the Pacific Flyway.

What many people and organizations are working on now is bringing more of that nature back. Bringing us back to a hopefully healthier mix of urban and natural: there are grand 50 years plans to restore salt ponds to wetland, which have has already begun with great signs; plans to restore underwater bay meadows of eel grass — a good habitat for all sorts of creatures and which secures the mud; plans to see if beds of Olympia oysters can be built. We are aiding some species more at risk than others — like for the Clapper Rail — building floating homes where they are safer from all the raccoons and other meso-predators out there.

There are of course risks and additional challenges in all of this — plans for more fill, or the possibility of erosion of the bay bottom which has been securing gold mining mercury for decades. And this is of course, where we hope the science will come in to aid our understanding, help us meet challenges, shift courses, and have a healthy bay for us all to enjoy.

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Joel Pomerantz volunteered to take over our November 15th spot (Laura Cunningham had to cancel, but we hope to reschedule her for next year). Joel , our local nature historian, will share a dozen or more secret windows into San Francisco’s natural history and infrastructure such as whether Twin Peaks were always, or will always be, twins. Find out how City Hall was designed, then redesigned, to withstand quakes, why the Highway One tunnel through the Presidio isn’t really a tunnel, and of course, Joel’s main research, a little SF water history.

Joel is a writer and educator who has been delighting in the discovery of the hidden nooks and crannies of SF’s past and present. He’s spoken with us a couple times in the past (on underground streams and the history of transportation in Golden Gate Park). You can learn more about him on his website: http://www.joelpomerantz.com/

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The UNnatural History of San Francisco Bay
Guest Speaker: Ariel Rubissow Okamoto and Kathleen M. Wong
7:30pm, Thursday, October 18th, 2012
FREE at the Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 

Natural History of San Francisco Bay Book CoverJournalist and author Ariel Rubissow Okamoto and science writer Kathleen M. Wong will answer a few burning questions from their new book Natural History of San Francisco Bay: How do you “make” a wetland if you’re not Mother Nature? If you throw a dead body of the GG Bridge where will it end up? Why splashing in the surf off Crown Beach might you give something like poison oak?

The book itself “delves into an array of topics including fish and wildlife, ocean and climate cycles, endangered and invasive species, and the path from industrialization to environmental restoration.”

> Get the book: Natural History of San Francisco Bay
> more about Ariel
> more about Kathleen

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Life Cycles

Becky Jaffe is a biophiliac. E.O. Wilson made the term up to describe “the connection human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” Except that for Becky, that connection is sought consciously with great care and effort. She is a photographer, an artist, and amateur naturalist with a keen eye for what the rest of life has to offer. A favorite subject of hers is insects, watching them peer back up at her, but this past lecture (9/20 Bay Area Life Cycles), Becky gave us a tour, not so much of place, but of time — and the creatures that can be found. One of the most delightful things about nature is about how regular she can be in her habits:

Photo by Becky Jaffe "Nest Builder"

September finds tarantula’s migrating. A good spot to find these is on Mt Diablo, as the males come out to look for the decorated burrows of females.

In October, preying mantis like it hot and can be found mating in places like Walnut Creek. You might see a female eat the head or entirety of her consort. or not, as it doesn’t ALWAYS happen.

Sandhill cranes come to Lodi in November – flocks half a million strong. There’s a dictionary by which you can decode their elaborate dances – performed in courtship, or for their mate of 25-30 years.

In Monterey in December you might find Bald Eagles starting to build their massive nests.

January, newts come out from underneath the leaf detritus into the creeks. The male and female clasp together for hours, while other males mights form tussling balls to and combat and lay eggs. There was some discussion on their toxicity and the evolutionary “war” waged between them and garter snakes (make sure to wash your hands if you ever pick one up).

February, in claremont canyon, you a pair of nesting great horned owl who caused a stir this past year swooping down on dogs. The owl will come back to the same tree, the same branch. Everyone was talking about this pair, and a five year old was overhead saying, “better than TV!”

In March, male elephant seals battle at Ano Nuevo state park. Or you might find a tranny wild turkey — 20% of females have the same beard out of the chest as the males. Or lady bugs in Redwook Park clustered together in the thousands.

April has Egrets nesting together in Alameda, possibly to protect themselves from marauding corvids – even though they squabble amongst themselves constantly. Becky has some amazing photos of one male proudly displaying twigs he tore from trees. His mate if he had one would go on to actually build the nest — but he was apparently still looking.

She also told the story of one particular Egret parasite who has a life cycle that includes a snail, a tadpole, and frogs who end up growing extra legs – making them easy targets for Egrets where the cycle begins anew. There are apparently 4 parasites for every non-parasite!

In May, dragon flies and damsel flies mate as strange contortionists. The different cycles of insects we often ignore beyond caterpillars, but many other species have their own interesting cycles of growth.

Go to Lake Merritt in June, and you might find “Hank” the white pelican joined by other migrating pelicans. Hank was injured and can not fly, but over the years he seems to have accumulated friends who come to visit him while on their way to other destinations. You’ll also might find the nests of cormorants.

July has swallowtails emerging from cocoons, beavers building dams in Martinez, and hummingbirds building their gorgeous little expandable nests (Becky passed around a sample).

Hawk Hill in August to see the migration of these fabulous creatures.

All this and much much more for those who have a mind to pay attention.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
– Mary Oliver




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