AUGUST PARK E-VENTURES
PERFECT DAY: LIFE’S A BEACH IN MARIN
Get some exercise, enjoy ocean breezes, and taste local flavor with this self-guided day trip exploring the Golden Gate National Parks in a corner of Marin County.
At a Glance
Length: just under 5 miles
Approx. duration: 2.5 hours
Begin at Muir Beach, park in Muir Beach parking lot. Check out the Muir Beach restoration project. On-site staff can tell you more about creek restoration, the endangered coho salmon, and the task our biological monitors will take on during this year’s work.
Next, hit the Middle Green Gulch Trail which winds you through the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. They provide organic produce at several local farmers’ markets on the weekends, as well as at Greens Restaurant.
Once you reach Coyote Ridge, take in the view, turn right and veer left at next fork down the Coastal Fire Road. Continue north onto the Coastal Trail towards Pirates Cove.
Tip: pack a lunch or some snacks and take a break at Pirates Cove beach.
Return to Muir Beach along the Coastal Trail. Continue past the parking lot and walk along Pacific Way to the Pelican Inn for some traditional English fare and, if you’re lucky, hear some tunes by one of the many local bands who perform there! Finish up with a pint around the fireplace or relax in the sun on the front lawn.
Want more? Volunteer at Muir Beach and Marin and become a Parks Conservancy member to get behind-the-scenes tours, more insider tips, and other great benefits.
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FINDING NATURE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
The Crissy Field Center’s mission is to make environmental education and national parks more accessible to those who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. Yes, this means bringing students to the natural and cultural resources of the Presidio—but this can also mean making educators aware of the resources right in their own backyards! Through a new guide, now they can lead explorations of the wonders in their own neighborhoods.
Nancy Caplan, education lead for the National Park Service, partnered with Crissy Field Center to develop Finding Urban Nature (FUN): An Educator’s Guide to Exploring San Francisco Natural History. Created in response to overwhelming demand from teachers, the FUN guide is designed to help educators locate and learn about parks and natural areas near their schools, and provide enough background information so that they would feel comfortable exploring these areas with students.
To acclimate educators with this new resource guide, the Center is teaming up with Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) and SF Recreation and Parks Department in August for a two-day training Nature in Your Neighborhood. The sessions will highlight the natural and cultural history of three southeastern parks, Heron’s Head, McLaren, and Candlestick Parks. Educators and SFUSD Teachers will be able to explore these parks, learn natural and cultural history content and activities, earn a stipend, and gain confidence in taking their youth to the parks.
“We hope that educators and teachers are able to gain some new insight to parks that maybe they haven’t accessed themselves before,” says Charity Maybury, the Center’s senior urban ecology specialist who is coordinating the training sessions.
The Crissy Field Center has had a long-standing relationship with LEJ and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks. In fact, Charity interned with the Natural Areas and Volunteer Departments when she was an AmeriCorps member and worked with the Youth Stewardship Program. Kimberly Keifer, the Crissy Field Center’s contact with Rec and Parks, used to work for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. LEJ is also philosophically aligned with the Center.
“We have collaborated on trainings with LEJ in the past and it has worked out great,” Charity says. “I think we have the same values around education, the populations we serve and a vision for a socially and environmentally just society.”
Registrations for the sessions continue to come in—a sure indicator of the desire to bring more youth to the parks and to make the outdoors more relevant to educators and students alike. This training is perhaps a prelude to a series in the future, and Charity is excited about the potential of the new resources to affect young people.
“I hope that the outdoors is a vehicle that helps empower the youth and that they become leaders, stewards and advocates for their environment, where they live, work and play,” she says.
Read more and download the FUN Guide
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OSPREY: EARLY BIRD OF THE GOLDEN GATE
By Allen Fish, GGRO Director
One of the pleasures of watching this great big raptor migration flow over the skies of the Marin Headlands for the past two decades is to get to know the regular timing of various species. In most years, we see 19 different species of hawk, kite, eagle, falcon, kestrel, osprey, vulture, and harrier, and each of these has its own window of appearance over the Golden Gate National Parks.
For some species, like the Broad-winged Hawk, the window is very tight. Most Broadies fly by between September 10 and October 20, and only rarely does one stay later or winter in the Bay Area. For other species, the migration is a four-month leisurely affair with no apparent peak. This is especially true for Northern Harriers and American Kestrels, two species that happen to breed and winter in the Bay Area as well.
But the species that starts the whole thing off at the Golden Gate, the flagship raptor of the annual fall migration parade, is the Osprey. Osprey are magnificent raptors, great loose-winged fishers of the world’s lakes, rivers, estuaries, and near-shore waters.
With a wingspan equivalent to a man’s height, the Osprey also possesses a double-jointed elbow that allows the bird to do a full hover. A hover is no mere flap; it is a full figure-eight sweep of the outer wing. That, combined with a little breeze, can keep an Osprey in a precise position for minutes at a time.
Double joints are also one of the physiological features that afford the Osprey a unique place in the world of raptors. This one species is given a whole taxonomic family of its very own, Pandionidae. Other features specific to Osprey include a reversible outer toe, and rough micro-bumps on their footpads known as spicules—adaptations to ease the carrying of slippery fish.
Osprey begin to show up as soon as we begin counts on Hawk Hill in mid-August, actually even before. Once during a late July training weekend, I watched an Osprey fishing on Rodeo Lagoon, not known to be a regular Osprey spot. Osprey numbers increase in September and peak about mid-month; our highest historical Osprey count was 35 sightings in one day. Then the flight falls dramatically in October, with just a few Osprey trickling by through November.
Osprey are not just migrants in the Bay Area; they are also found nesting near the reservoir edges north of Mount Tamalpais, and in coastal regions along Tomales Bay. The preferred Osprey nesting habitat is adjacent to clear, usually shallow, fishable fresh or salt water. The immense stick nest is built in a large, broken-top conifer or on a manmade structure, and is often used year after year if not disturbed. A great, easily observed osprey nest is often placed annually on a manmade pole at Millerton Point along Tomales Bay’s east side, just a few miles north of Point Reyes Station.
San Francisco Bay is at an interesting juncture in the world of Osprey. We are at the northern limit of the species’ winter range in California. Many Osprey winter in southern California; many Baja Osprey are known to be year-round residents. At least some Pacific Northwest Osprey are known to migrate as far south as the Chilean coast.
In 1971, biologist Charles Henny obtained locations from the federal Bird Banding Lab for all the banded North American Osprey that had been recovered to date. After plotting almost 650 points on a map, Henny learned that many Osprey spent the winter in the Caribbean islands and across South America.
But one fascinating pattern emerged for young Osprey in particular: after leaving their natal territories and migrating south for thousands of miles to winter in South America, they didn’t come back in the spring. At least not right away.
Imagine that a young Osprey has worked hard in its first fall of life to migrate to South America. The oceanic up-wellings are strong and fishing is great off the coast of Chile, so the Osprey hunts and gains ability and strength and mass through the winter. Spring arrives but rather than join the older Ospreys on the northbound flight to Washington, New York, Nova Scotia, and the like, our young Osprey stays put. Few first-year raptors of any species are actually ready to nest, but this is especially true for large birds. So why fly north? Why not just forego the northbound flight, and put in a few years of fishing in the tropics and subtropics?
No one knows for sure, but this seems to be the decision that some Osprey make: they essentially get an extended spring break. Some return to North America and breed as two-year olds, and most others return to North America as three-year olds. It makes intuitive sense that Osprey would delay their return migration, but this pattern is extremely rare in raptor species, so it remains mysterious—another reason I find the flagship Osprey so darned interesting.
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INSTITUTE OFFERS FREE TICKETS TO “HOME”
As part of the 2011 Sausalito Film Festival, hosted at Cavallo Point-the Lodge at the Golden Gate in Fort Baker, the Institute at the Golden Gate will sponsor an expert panel and complimentary screening on August 20 of Home—exclusively for Institute and Parks Conservancy community members!
Home is a stunning feature-length film produced as a nonprofit project with a mission to raise public awareness of our changing climate and the human impacts on the place we call home. The film, directed by photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand and narrated by Glenn Close, spans 54 countries using only aerial photography to capture Earth from above as a way to convey a compelling message.
“As part of the Institute’s mission to advance environmental action, we chose to highlight this film as a way to induce deep thinking about the human elements of climate change in a way that only the medium of film can,” says Andrew Leider, Program Manager at the Institute.
Following the film on August 20, the Institute and the Sausalito Film Festival will co-host a panel of experts of environmental filmmakers and activists, followed by a hosted reception. Stay tuned for more details on the panel portion on the Institute’s website at www.instituteatgoldengate.org. Learn more about Home at the film’s website, www.homethemovie.org.
Register for tickets to the event at www.sausalitofilmfestival.com. Please use promo code “goldengate” to receive your free tickets. Tickets will go quickly so take action before August 1 when tickets are released to the public.
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SEVEN MONTHS MAKING MY BED(S)
By Kathryn Deery, Redwood Creek Native Plant Nursery AmeriCorps Intern
Redwood Creek Nursery is tucked among a secret grove of buckeyes just down the road from majestic Muir Woods. Visitors in a rush to get to the National Monument often pass by our little nursery without even a glance. Although small, the nursery is constantly bustling with activity.
The majority of the plants grown will be sent off to Muir Beach to aid in the creek restoration project. To provide enough plants to restore endangered coho salmon habitat, we use nineteen division beds located at Muir Beach to help meet our quota.
What is a division, you might ask? Many species of plants form thick clumps of roots and will spread by growing specialized structures called rhizomes. One may take a “division” of a plant by digging it out of the ground and either prying apart or cutting the roots of the plant to make several smaller clumps. We plant these divisions in the hopes that for every few clumps we receive an extra individual. The task of filling the beds was given to me in my first week at the nursery. The task seemed daunting at first, but I slowly worked my way through each species.
For months I hiked out into the glorious Redwood Creek watershed to seek out populations of native sedges, rushes, and grasses. Once a bountiful population was located, I got to work digging up the plant. Some species were easy to find and practically jumped out of the ground and into my bags.
However, a few species were a little more stubborn. The creeping wild rye (Leymus triticoides) loved to play hide and seek in a field of invasives. I feared losing a shoe or even a leg retrieving the slough sedge (Carex obnupta) from a mucky swamp. Each species provided a new challenge. Digging up and pulling apart clumps of the plants often felt like surgery. I used a variety of tools depending on the growth habit of the species. The thing about field work is it can be tedious and physically exhausting, but it also takes you to hidden gems and beautiful vistas you never knew existed.
Day after day, I slowly worked my way through division beds. It took care and love to tuck each individual into its bed for the next six months. Once the rains arrive and planting season begins, these divisions will be dug up and planted into a newly restored area.
One day, I tenderly planted my last creeping wild rye (Leymus triticoides) division and stood up to wipe the sweat from my brow. I was accustomed to my daily routine of working on the division beds at Muir Beach. It had been seven months, so it took a moment for the realization to hit me. I had just planted my 6,800th plant! I jumped for joy, fists pumping into the air, clicking my heels and shouting, “I’m done!” I imagined a packed stadium filling the air with applause.
As I regained my composure and looked around, the only members of my audience were the chirping red-winged black birds—and a smirking hiker.
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SLIME TIME: FUN FACTS ABOUT BANANA SLUGS
For their size, banana slugs (Ariolimax sp.) are extremely charismatic mollusks. People are always excited to discover these yellow/brown/black slugs that slide in a trail of slime around the northern Pacific coast. Something about their slimy bodies is just so intriguing. What’s fun about these little guys is that their slime serves a multitude of uses.
Think of it as a slug’s “Swiss Army knife!"
When these speedsters move about (their top recorded speed clocks in at a whopping .025 mph!) they need a trail to get home. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving crumbs in the forest, a slug leaves its slime along the way. The slug smells its trail home, not through a nose, but through its entire body.
Additionally, its slime is a mucus coating that prevents dehydration, protects its squishy body from sharp objects, and discourages predators with its foul taste. If a slug is attacked from the rear it can also use its slime to stun or blind its assailant for a moment as it “scampers” away.
Just like the rest of us, slugs need to mate. Their slime contains pheromones that help them find mates (this is not too hard when you are hermaphroditic, like the banana slug!) The parent then hides the 75 or so clear eggs in a damp, dark, spot.
Banana slugs have two sets of tentacles. The longer, higher pair has the eyeballs on the tips. The shorter, lower pair is for sensing chemicals, such as the mating pheromones. These tentacles are very nimble and can be quickly retracted to safety. Since this slug can only move at a speedy 6.5 inches per minute, quick retraction is necessary.
Don’t think you can take these little guys lightly! The average banana slug, about 0.25 pounds in weight and 8 inches in length, has more teeth than a shark! These savage slimers eat detritus, worms, centipedes, and other slugs. As decomposers, banana slugs play an important role in the ecosystem and contribute to the nutrient cycle.
So keep your eyes open for them as you explore the parks, and try to stay on their good (though somewhat slimy) side!
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PARK TRAILS TO ENLIGHTENMENT
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a huge park with a lot of land, so that means these national parks border many entities, from state parklands to residential neighborhoods, and even a Zen Buddhist center! All of these neighbors work together with the park to help one another cooperatively accomplish their goals.
For your next outing, try something new in the park and visit one of our park partners, the San Francisco Zen Center at Green Gulch Farm. Established in 1962 by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the San Francisco Zen Center is now one of the largest Buddhist sanghas outside of Asia. One of its three practice centers, Green Gulch Farm, is nestled in western Marin County, and borders the Golden Gate National Parks.
The Center’s farm grows organic produce that’s available at several local farmers’ markets and used in the cuisine of two nearby restaurants—Greens and the Pelican Inn. Green Gulch also offers many opportunities for meditation—they have a Sunday public program, tea gatherings, as well as extended stay workshops and retreats. Or you can explore the Center by taking one of their many classes and learn how to bake bread, cultivate and cook lavender, or refine your writing skills.
Get a taste of what Green Gulch Farm has to offer by taking a stroll through its campus or volunteer during their Watershed Work Week (September 11-16), and enjoy an opportunity to stay as a guest at the Center. Learn more at www.sfzc.org.
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