Tag Archives: Elaine Miller Bond

All aflutter: Berkeley insect lovers celebrate 40th year counting butterflies

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A hummingbird whirrs by, as a squirrel flicks its tail, flirting. A robin fluffs its feathers after bathing in the stream. Leopard lilies, columbines, even the cacti are in full summery bloom. But today, at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park, we’re here for the butterflies.

Alan Kaplan, an entomologist, educator, and retired Tilden Park ranger, meets me at the garden’s gate, where, already, I have spotted maybe five different types of butterfly, from a teensy so-called “blue” to a glamorous pipevine swallowtail.

Still, there are rules for counting butterflies in nature. So Kaplan gives me the rundown of the day’s event — the Fourth of July Butterfly Count (currently run by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) — held for its fortieth continuous year in Berkeley. … Continue reading »

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Friends in high places: Peregrine falcons soar above us

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Not long ago, Berkeleyside reader Patrick Hickey kindly sent in a photo of a beautiful bird of prey, perched on a tall building near his home in downtown Berkeley. I had my own suspicions (and sense of elation) over what kind of bird it might be. Then Rusty Scalf, teacher and trip leader for the Golden Gate Audubon Society, confirmed it: the bird was a peregrine falcon — the fastest animal on Earth. In California, not long ago, it was also one of the most endangered. … Continue reading »

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Darlings, not Draculas: Meet the bats of Berkeley

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Once you know what to look for, you might catch glimpses of California’s native bats, even around cities like Berkeley. I see bats near Tilden Park, flittering off into the dusk like tiny airborne scraps of leather. Others notice their pointy silhouettes in the light of the moon, sunset-painted sky, pond reflections, streetlights.

Field biologist Emilie Strauss holds fond memories of watching colonies of bats, fifteen years ago, when they flew out of exit holes in structures in and around UC Berkeley. One of their homes, fittingly, was the Life Sciences Building. … Continue reading »

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In a Berkeley park, a bluebird displays unusual behavior

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Last year, Rusty Scalf, teacher and trip leader for the Audubon Society, introduced me to a family of western bluebirds living and nesting in Berkeley’s San Pablo Park. This year, Scalf called me back. Apparently, a “mad man” had flown onto the bluebird scene.

“He’s like a Rambo,” Scalf said. “A worm bandit… a total behavioral outlier.”  “He,” the bluebird shown above, was a fledgling, a few weeks old, which undertook intensive hunting forays across the park. He even “mugged” a house sparrow and competed with his parents, beak-to-beak, for insects and worms — food he delivered to his younger brother and two sisters in the nest.

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Lynxes of the bird world: Cooper’s hawks nest in Berkeley

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They’re secretive, stealthy and quick. Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, calls them “feisty.” Cooper’s hawks, he says, are “the lynxes of the bird world” that pounce on pigeons and swoop between buildings. And, though Cooper’s hawks are hard to find, we know, at first fleeting glance, that we’ve seen something wild and unusual.

Until about 15 years ago, these woodland hawks made rare appearances in cities like Berkeley, and nesting here was practically unheard of. This spring, however, Fish estimates that Cooper’s hawks are constructing between five and 15 nests across the developed areas of Berkeley and Albany (excluding the hills) — evidence of their great swooping strides towards overcoming their bad reputation as “chicken hawks.” … Continue reading »

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The mystery and thrill: Shorebirds enjoy winter in Berkeley

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A wide variety of shorebirds winter in the San Francisco Bay waters, and in Berkeley in particular. A few, like the whimbrel (a type of curlew), migrate from as far away as the Arctic. Elaine Miller Bond, whose work on local wildlife we have been delighted to publish before, recently spent time photographing shorebirds at the Berkeley and Emeryville tidal zones and mudflats in the company of  Rusty Scalf, a teacher and trip leader for the Audubon Society.

According to Scalf, these shorebirds have “high odometer readings.” Yet, for foraging, they rely heavily on the fragile, narrow, often muddy habitat between dry land and water — a zone that is increasingly imperiled by global climate change.

Here, we publish a selection of Miller Bond’s gorgeous photos with extended captions written by her describing the birds and their habits. … Continue reading »

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Sitting on the dock of the bay: Birds throng Berkeley pier

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On Wednesday, author and photographer Elaine Miller Bond captured this shot of an amazing spectacle down at the Berkeley Marina.

“There were many hundreds, probably thousands, of seabirds (mostly cormorants) flocked together, feeding on the water,” she said. “Within minutes, the entire flock had taken flight and landed here, on the old pilings at the far end of the Berkeley Pier. Though we humans no longer use these derelict planks, birds can certainly be seen, ‘sitting on the dock of the bay.'” … Continue reading »

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Rare bluebird sightings bring happiness in a Berkeley park

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Birds are singing. Children are laughing and playing in patches of sunlight. And I am strolling through large fields of grass here at Berkeley’s San Pablo Park, aiming my camera at flocks of finches, sparrows — anything with wings — looking for flashes of sapphire blue.

“Are you here for the bluebirds?” asks a friendly father, lifting his gaze from his daughter’s stroller. Only one pair of bluebirds has moved into this popular neighborhood park, but they are well known and well loved.

“In 20 years, I can think, maybe twice, of when I ran into western bluebirds in a town like Berkeley,” says Rusty Scalf, a tall, red-headed birdwatcher known in city circles as the “Bluebird Guy.” In fact, he is a trip leader for the Audubon Society and an expert at spotting and identifying birds.

Rusty first noticed bluebirds in San Pablo Park in 2008 — a brilliant indigo male that glided overhead as he crossed the park on an errand. Knowing that bluebirds nest in tree cavities, Rusty quickly tracked down the woodpecker hole that had become their nest. It was located in the branch of a sycamore tree — a tree that Rusty would come to visit sometimes twice a day for five years. … Continue reading »

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In Tilden Park’s Jewel Lake: Spotting a rare river otter

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By Elaine Miller Bond

Camera in hand, Jen Joynt goes out to Bay Area parks, “looking for excitement.”

On a day last winter she started from the Tilden Nature Area, just looking for what she could see. She hiked up Wildcat Peak, where she found and photographed a pair of coyotes. As she headed back, she happened to meet birdwatchers she knew from previous outings. And they turned her afternoon of picture-taking into a brush with Tilden history: they asked if she had seen the otter.

“Oh no, I hadn’t seen the otter!”

Joynt’s mind went to the Tilden otters from two years ago — four of them observed for about a week in 2009. Prior to that, river otters had last been sighted in Tilden, according to park records, during the 1940s. … Continue reading »

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Up close with Berkeley’s wildlife at Tilden Regional Park

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Photographer Elaine Miller Bond didn’t have far to go to take these beautiful photographs of a coyote and a red-shouldered hawk. They were shot right here in Tilden Regional Park late last year. Read her descriptions of the encounters:

My eyes went straight to this coyote, crouching low in the grass, when I drove my usual road home. I pulled my car onto the shoulder, and surprisingly, the coyote seemed unfazed. It took leaping bounds; it dug with its paws; it waved its tail side to side as it stuck its snout down a hole — part puppylike, much bigger part: predator. The coyote pounced again, pressing its forepaws to the ground, and then threw its head back.

When it turned back my way, I saw that it was gnawing on a burrowing rodent, which a scientist later told me was a species of vole. For a photographer who spent months documenting the lives of prairie dogs (another burrowing rodent), I delighted in this visit to other side of the grass.

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