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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Semi-Hidden Frog Habitat of Brisbane

We got an invitation to visit a place I'd never heard about--a restored frog habitat in Brisbane, that sweet town just south of San Francisco, nestled in a bayside cleft of San Bruno Mountain. 

Our new friend and naturalist extraordinaire, Paul Bouscal from San Bruno Mountain Watch, who has accompanied us on a group hike on the mountain, was rip-roaring eager to show us this "frog habitat." 

So on a blue Sunday afternoon in March, we went to see what all the hullabaloo was about, and boy were we happy we did. 

The Rendezvous Point
Paul told us to meet him at a parking lot in a suspiciously industrial part of Brisbane. As we cruised into the parking lot at 100 Cypress Lane, our car windows rolled down, we heard an intense amphibious bellowing. Somewhere amongst the enormous warehouses and tell-tale arroyo willows there were hundreds of frogs. The kids were thrilled! We were thrilled! This certainly was something to get excited about. We parked and saw that a creek that is the remnant of a freshwater marsh fed by seeps ran alongside the parking lot. And it was full of frogs!

The Frogs 
Pacific Chorus Frogs, also known as Pacific Tree Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) can be found from Canada to Mexico along the West Coast, and if you live in San Francisco or nearby, you can find a whole bunch of them in Brisbane. They range from brown to green, and the size we most commonly saw was equivalent to a phalange of my finger.  

What Was and Is--Flora and Fauna

This riparian habitat is part of restoration project spearheaded four years ago by a fellow named Jim McKissock, his volunteer group, EarthCare, and assistance from San Bruno Mountain WatchJust a year ago the water in some areas was anaerobic and full of mosquitos, but now the critters include frogs, tadpoles, and water striders galore. 

Volunteers have removed Pampas grass, ivy, acacia, fennel, privets, and pines in order to bring back rushes, cat tails, tule, water ferns, and more. Anise swallowtail butterflies showed up on the water parsley, and other blooming plants include clarkia, ceanothus, lupine, sticky monkey flower, yarrow, evening primrose, yampa, wax myrtlecheckerbloom, and more.   

Rails to Trails
A railroad ran through here over a century ago, built in 1905. The frog habitat is located along part of Crocker Park Rails to Trails, where in the old-time days the train ran inland to fetch the quarried greywacke from out of San Bruno Mountain. 

Heading East to the Ice House
We meandered along the trail, the old rail line, heading towards the bay. 

We went through an old rail tunnel that ran beneath Bayshore Boulevard (though I've driven that road many times, I had no idea there was a tunnel below). I love tunnels, and this one was particularly cool--short in length, high ceilinged, and full of sunshine on either end.  

Back outside we came to huge puddles filled with thousands of squirming tadpoles, which was a delight for the children. 

We continued on our eastward path, passing an old brick building which Paul said was once an ice house. Back in the day, some rail cars would pick up blocks of glacial ice, originally from Tuolumne, to chill perishable goods moving up and down the rail lines. 

The big hill to our immediate north is Ice House Hill, but I never knew it until walking with Paul, who talked all about the history, plants, and animals of the area. I silently mused about how I'd like to explore there, some day. I've cruised up and down Bayshore Boulevard many times, often wondering about that hill, intensely curious about the horses I've seen grazing there. 

Mission Blue Nursery

We walked south alongside the active commuter rail line, the
kids thrilling at every passing train (and there was plenty of room between us and the Cal Train), the engineers pulling their whistles when we made the universal gesture of honking a horn as they passed. 

Not more than three minutes walk south from the old ice house was the Mission Blue Nursery. There's a road that also leads there, of course, coming from the south end. The nursery was amazing, filled with hundreds of native plants that will go towards restoration projects and be sold to you and me for our gardens and yards. We hung out for a little while, letting the kids poke around, and then returned to the frogs. 

*                    *                      *


Map to the Starting Point of this Hike

View Larger Map