Author Archives: Elizabeth Weise

New GP Supe holds office hours at Higher Grounds March 24

Jeff Sheehy
District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy will hold neighborhood office hours on Friday, March 24, at Higher Grounds coffee house, 691 Chenery St., 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Come meet with our neighborhood supervisor to discuss ideas and concerns.

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Red-tailed hawks putting on remarkable territorial displays in Glen Canyon

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A red-tailed hawk, which fell from a Glen Canyon tree on January 24, 2017.

By Murray Schneider

Catherine Symon and her daughter, Natalie, experienced a unique event on January 24, as they left Glen Canyon’s Glenridge Nursery School. After school was dismissed, Symon accompanied four-year old Natalie along a path paralleling Alms Road, a path they’ve taken eight times a week for two years.

“I heard a rustling of branches high in a tree and had enough time to turn around,” said Symon, who lives on Mount Davidson. “Then there was a thud. I thought it might be another great-horned owl such as the one found dead last March.”

That owl was a victim of second generation rodenticide.

Instead, it was a red-tailed hawk, one of the most common birds of prey in North America. A keen-eyed hunter that circles for prey from Canada to Panama, the hawk is known for its brick-colored tail and preference for open spaces with mixed forests and grasslands.

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Catherine Symon and her daughter, Natalie, standing a few feet from where a hawk landed on the ground near Glenridge Nursery School on January 31, 2017.

“It was a remarkable sight,” said Symon, who is a medical writer. “It dropped straight down from a tree top about twenty feet from the creek. I thought for sure it was close to death, as it wasn’t moving save for some very slow, shallow breathing.”

The bird remained on its back for five minutes, only yards from Islias Creek, amidst ground stenciled with eucalyptus duff.

“Natalie still remembers its talons and feathers,” said Symon

“I took a photo,” she continued, “but a minute later three unleased dogs approached the slope.”

Sensing the intrusion, the hawk righted itself.

“It hopped to its feet, looked at one dog, then flew off,” she said. “Hopefully, it wasn’t injured; it certainly seemed to fly with no problems.”

Glen Canyon has its share of mice, squirrels, a raccoon or skunk or two, even coyotes, but no one has yet sighted a possum.

The odd behavior was probably part of a territorial display, said Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory.

“I have been seriously watching hawks since 1979, and I have seen only two raptors fall to the ground and heard of a third observed by a colleague,” Fish told the Glen Park News. “The third was two juvenile red-tailed hawks talon-grappling near Woodside. The biologist watched as they locked talons, did some spinning but as they fell, seemed unable to disengage. Both birds hit the ground, one righted itself and flew off, the other died.”

This is the time of year for such territorial displays, Allen Fish explained.

“Red-tailed hawks really go after one another about this time,” emailed Fish. “One of their routines, territorial or pre-nuptial, is to fly near each other, grab talons and spin. This is known as cartwheeling.”

As if doubling down, Catherine Symon experienced a second hawk encounter seven days later on January 31, either combat or courtship.

“It was at Glenridge about 12:30, near the Redwood stand,” said Symon. “A hawk was standing alone on the ground beneath a tree.”

The nursery school was transitioning between its morning and afternoon sessions. All but two children were inside.

Symon posted herself where the Willow Creek Trail begins, about a dozen feet from the downed raptor. She remained there, ready to alert dog walkers to bypass what she believed was another stricken bird. Mame Campbell, the school’s director, gathered the remainder of children and several parents and hustled them inside, then called Animal Control.

The solitary hawk eventually lifted off, winging to the building’s roof, soon joined by another.

While Symon didn’t witness the resumption of the cartwheeling, she’s seen hawks pin wheeling parabolas many times, as her southern-facing windows overlook Glen Park Elementary School, six hundred and fifty feet below.

From this height, she’s witnessed her share of feathered aerial acrobatics.

But her ground level perspective put a new spin on avian gymnastics.

“I have a much better appreciation now for how powerful and agile and, in the case of what Natalie and I witnessed on January 24, the resilience of these birds,” she said. “It looked so stunned, yet it flew away.”

As for Allen Fish, who makes a career studying raptors.

“I think the woman who stood next to the thud witnessed an extremely rare event.”

 

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Huge boulder plummets down side of Glen Canyon into path

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Franciscan chert bolder fell from eastern slope of Glen Canyon to Alms Road. Friends of Glen Canyon Park stare in astonishment. Feb. 22, 2017. Photo by Murray Schneider.

By Murray Schneider

A huge chunk of Franciscan chert rock plummeted from the eastern slopes of Glen Canyon to Alms Road sometime between February 15 and February 22. The ominous-looking boulder greeted a group of volunteers from Friends of Glen Canyon Park as they made their way along the fire road, destined for thickets of invasive mustard they were scheduled to remove north of Radish Hill along Coyote Crags Trail.

It is unclear if the recent deluge of winter rain, which has witnessed Islais Creek rise and run rapidly, was responsible for the giant rock rocketing down the hillside.

One fact is indisputable. If the boulder had careened down the drenched hillside while recreational dog walkers trailed behind their canines, a catastrophe might have taken place.

Curious, six Recreation and Park volunteers circled the boulder and studied it.

“Any natural area can be dangerous, especially rock canyons, said Rob Oreglia, who has volunteered with Rec and Park’ Natural Resources Division for fifteen years. “Chert fractures.”

Borrowing an expression from our national pastime, the Noe Valley resident continued:

“Mother nature has a way of batting clean up!”

“While the boulder will remain where it is, we’ve started to clear the mudslide,” said Joey Kahn, Rec and Park spokesperson. “It will take a couple of weeks, but the path is now clear and passable.”

If anyone needed proof that Glen Canyon is not an ornamental rose garden, the inert rock is ample evidence.

Glen Canyon is 70 acres of wilderness in the heart of the City.

It is the home to great-horned owls and red-tailed hawks, rare California grasses, oak and redwood trees, wild coyotes, bountiful California wildflowers, and the second longest above ground creek in the City.

Stillings Avenue’s Jim Hanratty, a Natural Resources Division volunteer, toed the boulder, confirming that Glen Park’s open space is also home to craggy chert outcrops.

Happily, most of the rock formation remained visible, in tact, looming large below Berkeley Way. Another volunteer, Sam Orr, who lives in Bernal Heights, stared up at Berkeley Way, estimating the distance and the rate of speed the rock may have gained plunging down the hill.

While Orr did his mental calculus, a women approached. She identified herself as a mother of Glenridge nursery school child. She wondered if the volunteer had heard of the mudslide blocking the trail paralleling Alms Road, a path Glenridge students have dubbed Banana Slug Way.

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Mud slide on road paralleling Alms Road that leads to Glenridge Nursery School. Feb. 22, 2017. Photo by Murray Schneider.

“The hillside gave way,” she volunteered. “The mud is obstructing the trail very close to the fairy tree and it’s dangerous. It’s been this way for days.”

The woman’s concern was reported to a Rec and Park gardener, who led the group to investigate. They crossed over Islais Creek, which is a far cry from San Jose’s Coyote Creek that crested its banks on February 21, causing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

The fairy tree is a hollowed-out wood perennial children have festooned with countless charms, dolls and trinkets paying homage to childhood favorites such as “Harry Potter,” and “Wind in the Willows.”

A sludge of mud greeted the volunteers. The glop had jumped a retaining wall and lay only a foot from a fence overlooking the creek, obstructing the path. Glenridge parents, escorting their children to school, must skirt the impediment.

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Islias Creek full and running. Feb. 22, 2017. Photo by Murray Schneider.

The hillside that ends at O’Shaughnessy Boulevard remained a mucky mire.

Rob Oreglia surveyed the hill that had given way. Now a large earthen pit stared back at him.

He continued looking at the hill, weakened and made unstable by a torrent of rain.

“Natural Areas are always changing,” he offered, still carrying three loppers he had used in the service of removing Himalayan blackberry. “Nature has a way of shaping such a space.”

Recreation and Park may steward Glen Canyon, but while Mother Nature has her way shaping Glen Park’s open space, Rec and Park isn’t idle.

It’ll shove back.

It’s a safe bet that once the rains abate, Banana Slug Way will be cleared.

The bolder on Alms Road?

Even Rec and Park can’t push it back up the hill.

It’s unclear at this time if it will stay in place.

If it remains where it is, though, it’s a testimony to forces bigger than any of us.

 

 

 

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