"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chasing the Green Hairstreak with a Baby

When I first heard the name Green Hairstreak Corridor in connection to some gardens in the Avenues, I thought, that's so San Franciscan, and so very punk rock. Then I learned the Green Hairstreak was the name of a tiny butterfly. 

The Green Hairstreak (Callophyrs rubi) on coastal buckwheat
Nature in the City led a recent butterfly walk from Hawk Hill to Turtle Hill, places I had never been (and I grew up in the City). We saw rare butterflies, a beautiful tiled staircase I've always wondered about, and climbed across Turtle Hill, a phenomenal "dune island" of sand, bedrock, and native plant.

Not only would I bring a kid on this hike, but visiting friends and locals like me who never happened to walk this path before.

Buckwheat in the back
The Green Hairstreak is not in reference to dyed hair, like I thought, but a nickel-sized green butterfly, Callophyrs rubi. Its wings are brown on top and electric green underneath, and it rests with wings shut so that only the green shows, bright emerald, trying to blend into the foliage.

Amazingly along the way, we saw the elusive Green Hairstreak---maybe five or six individuals resting, and perhaps laying eggs, on coastal buckwheat. It happened to be a sunny day, which increased our chances of seeing butterflies, according to lepidopterist Amber Hasselbring, who was on the hike. I found out later that the Green Hairstreak only flies for about a week in the spring. Lucky to see it, indeed.

Spotting butterflies
I might have this wrong, but the Green Hairstreak only has two local hosts (plants on which it lays its eggs): deer weed and coastal buckwheat, the latter a humble-looking plant planted in nooks and crannies, DPW-owned land, and parks dotting14th and 15th Avenue between Hawk Hill and Turtle Hill. The Green Hairstreak sups nectar from wild cucumber and seaside daisy, also planted in this corridor.

We met at 14th Avenue and Rivera Street, at the base of Hawk Hill. Hoover Middle School is right there too; apparently the kids are involved to some extent in cultivating native plants. (Right on to whomever is helping teach them to appreciate and care for their local environment!) 

Rocky Outcrop Park
We wandered up 14th Avenue, a mostly treeless, concrete slab, like much of the Avenues and my own neighborhood of Vis Valley. Paul Chasen from the Green Connections group of the SF Planning Department talked about the future vision of streets as green corridors. The City has changed a lot since I was a kid in the Eighties, and though I hated change in the Nineties, I'm actually excited about what it will be like twenty years from now, when my daughter is an adult.

We passed Golden Gate Heights Park, where I believe was a great big retaining wall made of concrete. Wild cucumber grows at its base (wouldn't it be cool to cover the wall with trellis?). At Rocky Outcrop Park, at 14th and Ortega, we saw some of the oldest coastal buckwheat, according to Melanie Trellis, a site steward with Nature in the City, and Diedre Martin, who's involved with the backyard nursery network. 
Moraga & 14th & 15th

At Moraga, between 15th and 16th, is an amazing staircase covered in tile mosaics. I've seen photos of this incredible project, but this was my first time here. Coupled with the Green Hairstreak corridor, the local residents are awfully lucky to have such cool things going on in their hood

The walk ended at Grandview Park, which locals call Turtle Hill, my new favorite place to hike for an amazing view. According to Park & Rec, it's a "dune island" made of bedrock and 140-million year old Franciscan chert, which is essentially lots of tiny sea critters. While up top, hawks and crows bandied around in the sky, a cold wind blew, and the view was clear all the way to the Farallones.

Turtle Hill, intersection of 14th &15th Avenues
Through great human efforts towards conservation--and the tenacity of the butterfly itself--the Green Hairstreak continues to exist in San Francisco. Most of its habitat has been destroyed, obviously. Just look at the concrete slab that most of the City is, especially in the Avenues. Groups like Nature in the City and Green Connections (and many others) want species like this to survive. It's incredible to think that what we plant in our gardens makes a difference.

Native Plant Nurseries:
Relevant Websites:

Starting Point (14th & Rivera, at the base of Hawk Hill):

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Meet at 14th and Pacheco on the
3rd Saturday of every month from
10 am - 1 pm

Bringing your own tools & gloves is welcomed!
Email stewards@natureinthecity.org if you have questions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

McLaren Park Hike from Wilde and Ervine on Sunday May 27th

Anyone who likes to hike outdoors and who has a baby, toddler, or kid is invited to this impromptu hike on Sunday the 27th.  :-)  Free, easy, fun, and most likely new walking terrain for people. 

McLaren Park Hike from Wilde and Ervine 

We’ll meet at 10 o’clock at an entrance to John McLaren Park at Wilde Avenue and Ervine Street, across from El Dorado Elementary School. Parking is easy and there’s a bus stop a block away.

We’ll meander uphill on a wide paved trail to an awesome observation lookout. There is one short staircase, otherwise this part is fine for strollers.

The rest of the walk is mostly on a flat, dirt trail that a big-wheeled stroller could handle, about a mile max, parallel to Mansell Street. We’ll walk in a westerly direction to a grassy meadow and another great view. Up close are native plant species such as live oak, coastal buckwheat, coyote brush, and purple needlegrass. We can look for hawks, Anna’s hummingbirds, and swallowtail butterflies, identify edible invasive species like wild mustard and wild radish, and find serpentine rock.

We’ll picnic along the way (bring your own water and food, and maybe something for kids to share), then retrace our route to Ervine and Wilde. We’ll walk at a toddler’s pace, more or less.

Hope you can make it!


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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ten AWESOME hikes in the southeastern part of San Francisco

McLaren Park's southside

The following hikes are within city limits, so you could combine several in one day, or fan them out through the long weekend. This is a partial list, and as a local who lives in Visitacion Valley, I lean towards introducing hikes within the southeastern quadrant of this city. Here there's sunshine more often than nought, less people and dogs on the trails, stunning views, and perhaps most exciting, native species that have not been eradicated, like in the more groomed parts of the city.

On Bayview Hill
1. Bayview Hill -- It's springtime now and the hill is covered with long green grass and patches of wildflowers, and hawks soar overhead. Enter on Key Avenue, walk uphill on the fire road to a one-mile loop at the top. You won't be disappointed. Look for lupine flowers (don't pick them!) and the Islais cherry, a food source for the Ohlone people, and one of the last stands of this endemic plant remaining in San Francisco. You could combine this hike with Candlestick Point, the Visitacion Valley Greenway (stopping on Leland Avenue for refreshments), and/or McLaren Park.

Trail off Ervine; McLaren Park

2. McLaren Park's southern slope -- There are two humble entrances that I recommend; the first is at the intersection of Wilde and Ervine where a concrete path meanders up to an old, defunct observation tower at the first peak; the second is a narrow dirt trail at the end of Ervine where coyotes wander and the hill slopes precariously, and excitingly, to either side of the path. The views are amazing, and perhaps one of the best times to visit is at sunset, or even when the moon is rising over Bayview Hill to the east. You and your friends will be amazed at the tranquility of the scene, and fall in love with San Francisco all over again. You could combine this hike with finding McLaren Park's labyrinth and/or the Visitacion Valley Greenway. 

Visitacion Valley Greenway
3. Visitacion Valley Greenway -- Most city locals still haven't heard about these parks, but they are perhaps the most beautiful in the city. Start at Hans Schiller Plaza on Leland Avenue, and walk uphill, passing through the Greenway's many connected parks that were once barely used, overgrown DPW land. Now there is a community garden, an herb garden, a children's garden, a native plant garden, and more. You could easily combine this hike with McLaren Park's southern slope and/or Bayview Hill. 

Candlestick Point
4. Candlestick Point -- Come here and imagine what it was like a hundred years ago when oysters were still good to eat from these waters. You'll find birds, and sometimes seals, and the quiet beaches are good for relaxation and introspection. You could combine this hike with India Basin, Bayview Hill, Heron's Head, and/or McLaren Park. 

Marshland along Heron's Head
5. Heron's Head Park -- This long stretch of land licks out onto the bay where seals bark and seabirds soar, and you are so close to the big ships you can see people on their decks. Heron's Head is an amazing place that shows what humans can do to recover blighted land and restore the orginal marshland, or a near equivalent. Check out the off-the-grid headquarters near the bathrooms at the start. Also, across the street from the parking lot is a native plant nursery that should be on every plant-lover's map. You should and could combine this hike with a walk to India Basin, which is visible across a short bay, and accesible by a dirt trail along the perimeter.

Pickleweed at India Basin
6. India Basin -- One of the last remaining vestiges of San Francisco marshland, and hallelujah, it is coming back. The powers that be are creating the Blue Greenway, which is essentially going to be a walking and bicycling area on the southeastern edge of San Francisco. Ultimately this will mean more people, but also more awareness for the natural beauty of the marshland, the birds that use it, and the ability to clean (t a limited extent) polluted waters that are our Bay. India Basin is a great place to wander around and identify pickleweed, for example, which is an edible plant normally (but don't eat it growing along the SF Bay, please). You can easily walk from here to Heron's Head. 

"Secret" trail up Bernal Hill
7. Bernal Hill -- The doggie folks have adopted this as their hill, but there is still room for wildlife. My 70-year-old mother hiked there the other day and saw a five foot snake with its head down a gopher hole. And on last year's winter solstice I sat at the peak where a klezmer band played to an audience of three as thick tongues of fog rolled across the city on either side of us.

8. Crocker Amazon -- Technically this is a separate park from McLaren, but you could fool me. If you go to the end of Dublin Street, or off of Moscow in the Excelsior, you can bypass the athletic fields and find the gem of a community garden, but further in is the absolutely beautiful park. There are trails lacing the hillsides, and walking right into McLaren Park is probably inevitable and highly recommended. It would be silly to not combine this hike with adventuring throughout McLaren Park, and if you are ambitious you could wind your way through the Visitacion Valley Greenway and end up on Leland Avenue for refreshments.

Labyrinth of McLaren
9. The labyrinth of McLaren Park --  The labyrinth is made of stone and love, and sits upon perhaps the highest part of the park. If you want to find it, you will. No more directions needed. Blessed be. 

Trail off of Arkansas Street
10. Potero Hill -- It is with hesitation that Potrero Hill is included as a hike, as it's not so wild, but I did grow up in this neighborhood and my heart remains on these streets that the 48 Quintara drives across, on the nearly hidden staircases, and on the two parks that have always been a refuge in my teenage years: Snake Park (officially McKinley Square), which runs along the curviest part of Vermont Street; and the unpaved parts of the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, off of Arkansas Street (which has just had a gentrified facelift that will thrill all lovers of playgrounds). But the best little area to hike on this hill is the wildish open space along Carolina and 23rd Street. Right now the grass is green with spring, but come Indian summer there still might be kids with pieces of cardboard who slide down the steepest part of the hill.  

On top of Corona Heights
 11. Corona Heights -- This is technically not in the southeastern quadrant, so we will consider this the odd man out, but not to be ignored in a list of great hiking spots with San Francisco. Like giant teeth poking out of the top of the hill, Corona Heights is a great destination with its 360-degree view that makes you feel like you are in the center of the city. This would be a great place to bring a date at night (a date who likes to walk, drink out of bag, and breath fresh air instead of perfume), where you could canoodle and notice how much the lights of city look like stars. Or come here in the day with a kid and throw down a blanket to have a picnic and cloud gaze. You could shake a stick at the Randall Museum, on its lower flanks, one of the best museums in this city, replete with native animals, and free to boot.

Lupine flowers in McLaren Park, found on the trail off of Ervine on the southern slope.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Take me back to Green River--Putah Creek, California

Creedence Clearwater Revival sang about a green river in the late 1960s, about barefoot girls and cool water, and it happened to be this particular river was Putah Creek, a mere sixty-nine miles from the city of San Francisco. So on one sultry May day we took our city slicking baby to this fabled setting for some bare-bottom bathing....

Turns out the water was about fifty degrees and fast flowing, so although the baby's bottom was bare, only her legs up to the knees went into the cold, green water. 

Putah Creek is a lovely mint-tea color, clear near the shore, wide, and apparently full of good eating trout, or so some high school boys told us. Oaks grow all around, and cottonwood trees drop so much white fuzz on the trails it looks like snow

We were fortunate to see a baby Pacific rattlesnake,well camouflaged among fallen leaves and dirt, and more fortunate that my husband, clad in sandals with big bare toes hanging out, didn't step on it. Only one or two rattles were on its tail, but babies are reputed to be fierce. With the high school boys watching beside us, it slithered away, whip-cracking fast.

The town of Winters is close by with plenty of provisions and nearby camping (we camped in a fig orchard the night before). The fishing area we hiked is in verdant foothills dotted with oaks and golden poppies. 

Putah Creek would be great on an Indian summer day with a passel of long-haired hippies and a potluck under the cottonwoods. In the meantime I'll dip my piggies in and call it a party