Thursday, September 10, 2009

Walter Kitundu bird talk, tonight!

Walter Kitundu is a Multimedia Artist with the Exploratorium, Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and a Distinguished Visiting professor of "Wood Arts" at the California College of the Arts. He is also a wildlife photographer, with a specialty in hawks and other raptors.

Wondering if you should go? Check out his website and wonder no more. These photos will be AMAZING on a big screen.

Randall Museum
199 Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94114
7:30-9 pm.
Free and open to everyone.
For more information, go to

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

coming home to roost

Houston birdhouse, October 2008

Recently, I was directed to a lovely art piece in Brooklyn called for the birds, described as "Building birdhouses/roosting boxes so that are built-to-suit local bird species using cast off materials." Nice, right? So I was sad to look at the pictures and see that some of the houses had perches on the outside.

Please please please, if you are going to put up a birdhouse, please DON'T put a perch on the outside. As far as I know, there are no native birds that require a perch to get in or out of a nestbox. After all, if you didn't give them a box, they'd nest in a tree, or maybe your roof, and those don't have perches on them. The only purpose of a perch is to give birds that want to eat the wee birds inside a place to sit comfortably while they're dining. We've made life in the city hard enough for many of our native birds, and plenty easy for house sparrows and crows, don't sabotage your own good deed with an unnecessary perch.

End rant. Thanks.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

summer in the city

Oh San Francisco.....why do you have to do summer like you do?

"The Golden Gate is the only complete breach in the Coast Range, which borders the Pacific for most of California’s length. As a result, the Bay Region is the meeting place of continental and oceanic air masses. Through the funnel of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, the immense aerial forces of sea and land wage a continual war, and the tide of battle often flows back and forth with regularity.

Along most of the Coast Range, the sea air and its fog reach the heads of the canyons and are stopped by the higher ridges from penetrating farther inland. But at the Golden Gate, the only sea-level breach in the mountains, the wind moves through the range, bringing with it the masses of condensed moisture. At the maximum, an estimated million tons of water an hour float through the Gate as vapor and fog."

Geologic Map of California from the USGS, with the Coast Range shown in light green, and the break at the Gate in the black square

As grumpy as this summer fog can make me, I can't deny how amazing it is to stand in the Mission and watch the fog pour over Twin Peaks. It's the air and the atmosphere made visible in this incredible, tactile way. A million tons. That's amazing.

Get the short story on San Francisco Summer Fog from Bay Nature Magazine "Cutting Through the Fog: Demystifying the Summer Spectacle" (where the above quote came from) or the long story in this book from the same author.

"There's always a chance for new discoveries and surprises"*

image of Smooth Owl's Clover from the Presidio Trust press release

1917 was the last time Smooth Owl’s Clover was last seen at the Presidio. That is, it was the last time it was seen until April 2009, when staff of the Presidio Trust spotted the bright yellow flower not seen in the Presidio in 92 years emerging from the soil.

from the SF Citizen:
Wildflowers Coming back to San Francisco’s Presidio – “Smooth Owl’s Clover” Rediscovered

*title quote also pulled from the Presidio Trust press release. A good motto, no?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

water bears

Have I ever told you about water bears?

If I haven't, I'm really sorry because water bears are amazing. Water Bears (aka Tardigrades = slow walkers ) are microscopic, water-dwelling, segmented animals with eight legs. The biggest adults can reach a body length of 1.5 mm, the smallest a wee 0.1 mm.

Water bears are considered "polyextremophiles", a fancy word that means that they are able to survive in conditions that humans and most other living things would find absolutely dreadful. Some can survive temperatures of -273°C (close to absolute zero), temperatures as high as 303 °F, 1,000 times more radiation than humans, almost a decade without water, and even the vacuum of space.

If you want to try your hand at bear-hunting, you may not have to leave the comfort of your own yard. To find some around your house, your best bet is to look somewhere that is intermittently or permanently damp. The most likely place in a backyard is in clumps of moss or lichen found in damper parts of yards such as the base of trees and walls, in plant pots, and on roofs or gutters.

Put the moss clumps they can be dry when collected in a small shallow dish and thoroughly wet with rainwater so that there's a centimeter of standing water in the dish. Let the moss stand in the water overnight, then remove the excess water from the dish and (this water can be discarded at this point). Use your hands to squeeze the moss clumps out to remove more water from the moss. Collect the squeezed water in a smaller dish or watch glass. Search this dish of water under a stereo microscope at 40x, or the lowest power of your compound microscope. Putting a black background behind your glass might help you see the specimens you've collected. You may need to look awhile in order to find water bears in your sample. Other critters, like worms and rotifers, are likely to be much more abundant. While I have a soft spot for these tiny bears, some of the other creatures are also quite amazing and incredible to watch.

When you're done searching, don't forget to put the moss clump and water back where you found it!

Tardigrade Appreciation Headquarters
Science Friday film about Water Bears

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Moths of San Francisco

Brought to you by the fine folks of the San Francisco Naturalist Society

"Come learn about the diversity of local moths and the biology of their caterpillars. San Francisco Naturalist Society general meeting. Free and open to everyone. Moth expert Dr. Jerry Powell received his B.S. (1955) and Ph.D. (1961) from UC Berkeley. He spent his long career at the University and he currently holds the titles of Professor of the Graduate School and Director Emeritus of the Essig Museum of Entomology."

Tomorrow! June 11, 2009
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Randall Museum
199 Museum Way
San Francisco, CA 94114

Friday, June 5, 2009


It's that time of year, when the city is full of lots of hardworking bird parents protecting their carefully constructed nests and the precious cargo inside of them. Protecting your babies from threats can make any critter a little testy, and our feathered friends are no exception.

Have you heard about (or been attacked by) a brewer's blackbird at Front Street and California in downtown San Francisco. Then you may have had the distinctive pleasure of meeting "Swoops" guard-bird extraordinaire.

Check it out.

Like other legendary testy creatures in San Francisco, this creature has fans who chronicle it's every exploit in blog

You've been warned.