Jun 27, 2009

Lake Merced

I finished up my vegetation sampling at Lake Merced on Wednesday. Perhaps I should say that I finished the fieldwork portion of the sampling: I still have some outstanding grasses from Twin Peaks to identify. I also have to go back to Bayview, Twin Peaks, and Glen Canyon to do some additional mapping with the dinosaur GPS. Again, I'm writing this post as my ArcGIS images load, however I hope to rectify that problem today by clipping the giant aerial photographs!

Of course it's gorgeously sunny out. Today is the Really Really Free Market in Dolores Park, where there will be thousands of people gathering for the Dyke March as well. I'm gonna have to go later.

Right now my mind is on Lake Merced, where I spent a week in the narrow margins between the roadway and the shoreline. If you look at the photo, you can see that roads hug the lake, leaving about 50 meters of dense scrub to the water edge in most spots. Larger areas are utilized for Harding Golf Course (obvious in the upper right part of the top image) and a shooting range on the west shore in the whitest area. It's difficult for me to say which of these exclusive, expensive visitor uses I despise more. The golf course takes up more space and required an 18 million dollar fiscal input a few years back, but the shooting range is an audible nusiance regardless of where you are on the lake. Both contribute toxins to the lake water and surrounding habitat, as if this heavily impacted refuge for birds needs more challenges after decades of manipulation and pollution.

I digress. There are lengths of narrow strips of habitat at Lake Merced, and some wider bits as well. The steep lake walls now support vegetation following drastic reductions in water levels. Like much of SF, the soil is sand, particularly on these dried out lake walls. Thus getting down to the willow stands often involved a lot of sliding. Getting back to the top, flat areas of the park can be like climbing sand dunes with slopes up to 38 degrees, dotted with poison oak in some locations. Most people don't go into these areas, which is great for the birds who call the lake home for all or part of the year. Dense stands of scrub, dominated by willow or coyote bush, provide excellent nesting habitat for scores of avian species.

I mentioned the cormorant rookery in a previous post, which is found not in the scrub but in a stand of invasive eucalyptus trees. It's an amazing sight to enjoy in a city. I counted 26 adult cormorants and two herons in this stand on Wednesday. In this pic you can see a heron flying away, several adult cormorants and their nests. The herons seemed a bit off, I don't understand why they were kicking it with the cormorants, often displaying their wings and generally distressing the cormorants. Maybe they eat baby birds or eggs. I dunno. Maybe I was misinterpreting the whole thing.

I was a bit surprised by the results of my research at Lake Merced. Overall floral diversity is low in willow scrub. I knew that. I saw that in Glen Canyon. But it's really low at Lake Merced. I suppose part of that is because the willows have moved so much with shifting lake levels. Very low floral diversity, but very high avian diversity. So many variables. Urban habitat is confounding. I'm worried about writing up this research. For now I'm going to tinker with some maps.

Jun 24, 2009

Notes on Skipping

I've gotten some questions about skipping (the British term for dumpster diving) so I thought I'd put some thoughts out there.

Lots of people skip, many of them skip way more than I do. In London I really only skipped food and some materials to set up my room initially. My friends skipped furniture, wood for bonfires, household things for new squats, and food, of course. We had one friend who would leave at night with the bike trailer and return it full of fancy things from Wasterose. After holidays we'd have way too much ornamental chocolate.

Some people cringe when you say that you skip food. Some really freak out, which is really silly. There's a big difference between marketable and edible food. When you go into a grocery store, do you buy bruised apples? Of course not! There are 200 apples in front of you and you're paying for it, so you sort until you find a perfect apple. I do the same if I'm buying produce. A lot of what I skip is is entirely edible, but some blemish makes it unlikely to sell. A lot of the rest is stuff that seems to have accidentally fallen into the skip! Eventually you get used to seeing perfect food in bins and the exasperation fades. But I've had about 50 conversations, post skipping, that started with, "What is wrong with this potato?"

Ok, so that's produce. Then there's packaged food. Note that many items have 2 dates on them. One is sell by, the other is use by. I mostly stopped eating animal products when I returned to California because we have such great food. (Ok, I mess up sometimes, like Monday night when I blindly took a slice of frittata at a big dinner. Geeze). But I will eat skipped dairy. If I find yogurt that is being tossed on it's sell by date, then I'll take it home and enjoy it over the next two days. Whole eggs in bins make me really sad. Often a carton or flat is tossed because a few broke and got the container a bit gross, but the others are edible. Consider that a grocery store doesn't have extra cartons on hand to re-package the useable food.

For food, I have my preferences for skipping. In London I rounded up the stuff on the street after weekend vegetable markets. I cleaned up after produce stands during the week on my way home from uni or the Library House. In SF ... well, I like some nice produce spots that shall remain nameless. Some folks are way into grocery stores, of course. Slightly torn packages can land you with 5 lbs of rice, sugar, flour, or perfectly edible cookies. I hit a few grocery store skips every now and then but they're not my favorite. In SF I'm more likely to plow through green bins in search of vegetables.

Our culture of perfection has created a shitload of waste (and weird genetic modifications of food). Our culture of lawsuits and liabilities, and lack of common sense has delivered a lot of waste. In the spirit of the latter, I should say that skipping requires common sense. Grocery stores can be quite territorial about their trash, so be careful. Respect that other people are using these sources of food: Don't make a mess! Don't take more than you can use or distribute. Clean your food. If it needs to be cooked, then be thorough about that. I don't eat meat, ever.

If skipping seems too weird, maybe you can ask your local (as in small business) grocery store about their waste. My local shop used to let me go into the back and go through the produce that they were tossing. I still had to claw through the green bin, but it was inside and during the daytime, which might make some folks more comfortable. Local bread makers often give away their extras at the end of the day as well. Check around. Folks who love creating food or nourishing their communities don't like to see waste either. Often their hands are tied by bureacratic bullshit that prevents them from redistributing their goods en masse when they've moved past marketability. But on an individual basis I've found some shops quite reasonable.

A few weeks ago I was going through the green bins at a local shop when the manager, who I've known in the neighborhood for at least 5 years, came out. He said hello and went about his work. He probably had good faith that I wouldn't make a mess, and he knows that I still spend money in there, even if I look for free food as well.

Finally, don't let anyone make you feel like a criminal for skipping. The injustice is in the waste.

And in all the other crazy shit that feeds us:

Land Conversion
Water Diversion, Pollution, Theft
Habitat Loss
Animal Cruelty
Fucked Up Working Conditions and Wages
Distribution Inequalities
Worldwide Grain Prices
Genetic Modifications
Family Farm Destruction
Wasteful Subsidies

Jun 20, 2009

Crazy Crustacean

Today I was flushed out of the willows on the south side of Lake Merced by this mad crustacean. It scared the crap out of me, which is slightly pathetic given its size. But it just kept coming like a zombie. I was banging into willows trying to get out of the stand before it ... I dunno, tried to pinch my giant boot or something.

Anyone know what this thing is? Seen on the edge of a freshwater lake in San Francisco, about 1/2 mile or so from the beach at 3pm. As you can see, it has a black body and red legs. (If you click the pic it will get bigger.) It's aggressive attitude may not be apparent but this critter is not shy.

I also saw hummingbirds, double crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), ducks, baby ducks, coots, damselflies, and marsh wrens. And pigeons and sea gulls. And lots of Salix (willow) and Rubus (blackberry). And mosquitos in droves.

Jun 19, 2009

Science and Wanting Again

I'm writing this post as my Mac loads giant aerial photographs into a remotely run Windows machine that allows me access to ArcGIS software. Animals produce young faster than I produce maps. Every time I zoom in or out of the photos, it takes 5-20 minutes for the image to reload. Complicating matters is the fact that the giant air photo files are on my Mac, forcing the remote Windows machine to access my hard drive. Yeah, that's because I don't have enough profile space through my university to put these files onto the remote server.

Is this making your head explode? It's making my head explode. My endeavors with science are always adept at proving Murphy's Law, if nothing else.

I asked for a disk quota increase at my university. Well, my prof did. I think that request might have been blown of by the IT folk cuz I never heard back. So my prof suggested that I cut the air photos (which are actually 5 different files per photo). To do this, I require a PC. Or Windows on my Mac. I don't actually have enough space to partition my hard drive to run Windows. So I need a PC. Back to wanting! Do I really want to get a PC just to cut some air photos? No. Will I? Maybe. I don't have time to load these things otherwise.

I could ditch the air photos, I suppose, but they're amazing! Yesterday at the office I was able to rectify the errors of the dinosaur GPS by zooming in to a level at which I could distinguish the parking signs I'd used for annotation during the fiel mapping. (nb I don't recommend using parking signs for such descriptors: There are too many of them!) As much as I'd love to work from the office, there's only one computer with Arc, and the staff have pressing things to accomplish. In other words, I'm kinda in the way at times, though no one ever makes me feel that way. I was on a roll yesterday, but had to quit about 30 minutes from finishing. And frankly, I like to do computer work at night, not during sunny days when the fieldwork is calling me!

But processing these maps is required before I can sample. Lake Merced is a patchwork of sites that I can't keep straight without decent maps. Even with decent maps I keep screwing it up.

Ooh, my image has loaded. Time to export and print. Time to hit the north side of the lake, where I'm working under a double breasted cormorant rookery. There's so much guano there that you can see it in the air photos. From across the lake it looks like someone has spray painted the tule and willows white. Photos soon!

Jun 15, 2009

Closing California's State Parks, Part 2

Last year the jet commuting "green" governator of California proposed closing 48 state parks. We fought that off, retaining beautiful examples of the state's ecological diversity.

The proposal has jumped this year to 80% of all of our state parks. That translates to 220 parks statewide, every single state park in Santa Cruz County. This is chilling because it is widely known that state parks only cost about 0.1% of our budget and that over 80 million people visit our parks each each year, adding tourist spending to local economies. Call your legislator and the govenor if you live in California or have ever enjoyed a book by a Beat writer. The California State Parks Foundation has contact info.

If you don't know how diverse California is, then consider that the list includes parks on beaches, bays, deserts, woodlands, redwoods, mountains, reservoirs, natural lakes, riparian corridors, and poppy valleys. Nearly every state park that I've enjoyed is on the list. Andrew Molera in Big Sur? Talk about killing a community, that town depends on the parks for tourist revenue. Morro Bay State Park and State Beach? Are you kidding? Mono Lake Tufa State Nature Reserve? Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Angel Island, and Candle Stick (all in or serving San Francisco)? Half Moon Bay?

We can't keep people out (not a solution anyway), so we'll just have people using trails and other facilities with no maintenance or conservation. No erosion control. No trail stabilization. No rangers to help prevent fires. Fire wardens to watch for fires? No fire mitigation conservation (like controlled burns or even clearing understory that has accumulated due to fire supression). Fire hazards alone make this proposal ridulously expensive.

I also don't think I'm paranoid when I say that once the parks become a liability to the state, they'll be demonized, deemed blighted by unsupervised use (think atvs, dumping, and whatever else). Once that happens, and as the state sinks deeper into "crisis", they'll be sold. I see Home Despot selling the Sequoias of Armstrong Woods IN the former Armstrong Woods State Park in my darkest nightmares. Other results may include the philanthropic purchasing of these parks by rich people/organizations who will privatize them.

Yes, California has huge decisions to make about its budget. But this one is just stupid. Perhaps we should start talking about the percent of the California budget spent on prisons. Or maybe we should talk about entitlements. How much money are we spending on well deserved healthcare for government employees because private insurers are driving up the costs for everyone? Or hell, how about the amount of money we spend on elections and their unrealistic results because of the obscenely misused initiative process.

We need to tackle the big problems. California has been dealing with the little, stop gap decisions since the dot com bust. We've been raising transit fairs while reducing service, raising tuition while packing classrooms, and backing off our conservation commitments for years. It hasn't worked.

Right now we can try to protect these lands by begging our government to reconsider. If we lose there, what will we do to ensure that they remain open space for biodiversity and essential environmental processes that enable us to breathe and drink clean water? Indigenous people in Peru are fighting the government and oil giants in defense of the Amazon that provides them with life and home, and all of us with oxygen. Similar struggles are taking place everywhere in defense of the last bits of wildness supporting all life on our planet. What will I, my community, my family do to ensure that we can all breathe, eat, drink, and be sheltered?

Jun 12, 2009

Mmmmm, Food

It's lunchtime in San Francisco. I skipped breakfast to go skipping actually. I know most people say dumpster diving here, but skipping is a term I picked up in London that I'm keeping. It sounds nicer and is so much easier to say. Anyway, I'm feasting on stir fry with leeks, yellow and anaheim peppers, carrots, spinach, and fresh lemon juice. I added some chickpeas and put it over rice/quinoa. (Did you know that quinoa is in the same genus, chenopodium, as goosefoot?)

I've been training myself to like sweet peppers because you can always find them in skips. I still cut them in big pieces so I can pick them out when I've had enough. I love hot peppers, and thus have 5 types growing in the garden. Apparently earwigs love peppers too, cuz they're eating the hell out of ours. They're also going for the lettuce, Brussel sprouts, and my flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.

I kinda wish they'd shoot for the plums. I know I should stop maligning the plums. They've been yummier this year than ever, and with the help of some nifty folks, the first tree was fully harvested. I did my usual deliveries, batches of bread, and 2 small jars of jam. Then I posted on Neighborhood Vegetables for folks to come get what they could . That worked perfectly! A family came to get plums as the youngest loves them. And some folks from the Free Farm Stand got the rest to distribute before they became over ripe.

For the first time we really didn't let any go to waste, granted, there is another tree ripening at the moment. Loquats are in right now. Lettuce is harvestable but I skipped 4 heads today so I'm letting the leaves keep growing (just because I like earwigs or something). I don't think the corn is going to make it, but I could be wrong. I'm the only one who's grateful for our foggy weather, but it's definitely inhibiting grown in the vegetable patch. (And now that I'm finished with all of my grassland plots, the sun can come on for all I care.)

My native patch isn't food for humans, but it is definitely food for invertebrates. The patches would be bigger but Blake unintentionally slaughtered two of my plants for lettuce space. I got misty over one of them, but I'm not going to go there. Instead, I'm happy with the current buffet for bees, moths, other bugs.

Here's a moth on Phacelia californica. (You can double click the pix to see them full size.)

And here's something stingy on yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium).

The bigger patch with some grey water to go on at dusk. In the back is the Ribes sanguineum. The yellow flowers are Grindelia hirsutula or gum plant. To the right are some volunteer poppies that joined the patch, Eschscholzia californica. The ones sticking up to the right and front of the Ribes are Scrophularia californica (bee plant). And the white flowers are the yarrow.

Poppy, yarrow, and gum plant close up.

Jun 10, 2009

Cellphone Free (For the Moment)

My ancient phone broke last week. I held onto it when I left for London last summer, brought it back out for use at the SF airport to call my housemate about getting in the flat. My sister gave me that phone. Sometimes I had to pull the antennae out with my teeth for an adjustment to get it to work. I was stoked that it still worked when I landed. Some numbers were outdated. For example, I gave two people the number for a mutual friend only to discover that, in fact, I was giving out the number to the Presidio YMCA. Oops.

Now the phone is officially dead. I briefly missed it as an alarm clock. Then I remembered that my handy dandy anonemeter (wind meter) also serves as a piercing wake up call. I can check the time on my GPS or the ipod that my clients gave me last year. The darn phone never did tell me interesting things like elevation, slope angle, or compass bearing like the rest of the gadgets weighing me down these days. One less thing in my pocket.

As I've taken my time telling people that I'm back in SF, I felt no rush to tell people that my phone broke. I thought I'd get another one off Craigslist pretty quickly. I have not. I went to my (evil) service provider's shop to see if they had refurbished phones. Nope. Only online if you sign up for a 2 year contract. Umm, no thank you. Wow do I miss the European cellphone systems, where pay as you go is affordable and you only pay if you're the one making the call.

Busy with the vegetation survey, I have little time to arrange to get a new, used phone. I'm pretty tired when I leave whatever park I'm working. And I might have gotten a bit too social for a second, so I'm really trying to focus right now. Thus phone free life is kinda nice.

Or it was. Until this morning when a man got weird with me on Twin Peaks. I felt a bit intimidated and wished I had a phone. Then I wished that I hadn't wished I had a phone. I wished that people were more optimistic and kind. Later I wished that when I told the man about my work, which he perceived as inconveniencing him, that he appreciated my love of the land and commitment to conserving its integrity. But in that (rare) moment when I felt intimidated by his exasperation, I wished for a phone.

But I'm not searching Craigslist tonight for a phone. I swear they're all new on CL these days. What's up with that, anyway? I'm content for the moment to not have a phone. Removed from the weirdness, I'm confident that the guy was ok. For sure he was reluctant to descend that 35 degree slope to reach me and only got within shouting distance.

Whatever. Besides being intimidated, the other rarity today was the sighting of a rabbit in San Francisco. Apparently we used to have plenty. Local naturalist and habitat restoration guru, Jake Sigg, told me that he used to see them in Golden Gate Park, but that they've become quite rare, with people occasionally seeing them on Twin Peaks. I saw a sweet little bunny while biking on the east side of the hills, just coming around the south peak around 9:30 AM. I thought fondly of Louis Rex, the rabbit that I lived with in London. Granted Louis is way bigger than this little brush rabbit, who I scared half to death. Damn I wanted a picture of that furry butt crawling into the coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis). But no dice. I'm so slow and poor with the photo taking. A nice (used, of course) camera may be something I invest in if my life as an outdoorsperson is to continue.

I'll write more about Twin Peaks soon, much in the same fashion as Bayview and Glen Canyon. 'Til then, enjoy these pictures from a sunny day up there.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) surviving under 100% French broom (Genista monspessulana) cover.

View to the bay on Burnett. This sharp slope evidences human intervention for a road cut. Researching the history of my four parks (Bayview, Glen Canyon, Twin Peaks, and Lake Merced), I'm learning a lot about road cuts and other excavations for home construction.
Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia rubicunda) on the bottom of that same sharp slope, demonstrating that nature and beauty cling to that which we leave it.

Jun 5, 2009

Glen Canyon!

In the past week I've spent most of my days in Glen Canyon, sampling areas where Cape ivy (Delairea odorata), seen here attempting to devour a willow (Salix lasiolepis), has affected habitat. The willow scrub along the riparian corridor is a completely different habitat than the grasslands of Bayview Hill. Delving into this canyon offers an experience quite separate from the hiking of San Francisco's undeveloped hilltops. Rather than summiting a slope to gaze over our pretty city, bay, and/or ocean, getting lost in this recessed park is like pretending you're not in the city at all for a second. Sometimes the birds even drown out speeding cars on O'Shaughnessy.

Glen Canyon has meant new plants, new animals, and new challenges in my project. Sometimes the new animals are the new challenges. I thought a pugnacious hummingbird was going to poke me with it's needle beak on Monday. As weirdly intimidating as that was, the real challenge has been not freaking out about the snakes. I've seen 8 snakes in as many days (7 garters, 1 ring neck). One morning I saw 4 in about 90 minutes.

In the past I have been known to bolt as a result of ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), even once in Glen Canyon. I'm pretty sure that if I ever saw that movie, Snakes on a Plane, that I'd have a heart attack as it would combine my two great fears. However, I've been ridiculously chill about my serpent friends in Glen Canyon. I'm thinking that I've learned to dig 'em because I've had to crawl on my belly to get through the willows a time or two. They also tend to piss off pretty quickly, enabling me to suppress the shudders and squeals with a bit of dignity. I did manage to catch some pictures of number 8, who I saw yesterday on the edge of the willows to the northwest of the canyon.

Besides snakes and hummingbirds, I've seen red tailed hawks, a woodpecker, robins, about 10 other birds that I'll never know the names of, two species of lizard (alligator and maybe a fence lizard), and about a zillion mosquitos, spiders, beetles, bees, yellow jackets, dragon fly like creatures, and other equally important, though largely innocuous, bugs.

In addition to all of these critters, I've met new plants and become re-aquainted with some old ones. Getting into my sample sites has proven quite difficult. It's just dandy to ask GIS to demarcate random plots for sampling, but finding them in willow cover with the GPS is devilish. If I manage to find my spot, or can line myself up on a parallel or meridian and estimate how far into the willows to delve, I inevitably find myself tunneling through vicious Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) or my dear friend, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It often feels like I'm playing Twister with plants and getting my less-than-agile ass kicked. Ah, poison oak, such a chameleon! It acts like a vine in the willows, climbing well over my head as in the picture below. It's hanging over me, to my left, to my right, under my shoe, right where I just stuck my hand! The day I took this picture I almost washed my nostrils with technu.

In addition to noxious and intimidating plants, I've fallen in love with a few pretty or clever species. Scarlet monkey flower is not only beautiful, but it has a delightful, minty smell and a furry, sticky texture. I love it's tightly stacked, opposite leaves and the pronounced teeth on their margins. Long petioles (flower stalks) shoot elegantly out of the oddest places with absolutely no subtlety but all sorts of grace. I was losing the game of Twister trying to get a nice picture of the actual flower, but here's an overhead shot of the equally entrancing leaves of Mimulus cardinalis growing along Islais Creek.
Getting into wetter areas has provided an opportunity to work with larger specimens than the prostrate plants of grasslands. I still have to stare for about 5 minutes before cataloguing percent cover of each species. In grasslands I stare at waving, brownish graminoids, trying to actually see variety. In Glen Canyon's wetlands I mostly stare at green vines, though I also spend a lot of time surveying the different height layers of each plot, hoping to suss out different species at each level.

Trees have brought welcomed shade and vertical diversity to the sampling process. Sometimes I can use them to cross the creek without causing turbidity. Trees often allow me to hang my bag or GPS out of the reach of poison oak. When backlit by the sun, I can quickly begin to sort willow species based on the presence or absence of tiny teeth on the leaf margins. This elderberry, Sambucus racemosa L. var. racemosa has become a definite favorite, not in least because it has proven so easy to identify!

Besides trees and flowers, Glen Canyon supports weird life like moss, lichen, fungus, ferns, and fern allies. These evolutionarily old organisms reveal varying levels of complexity in structure and strategy. They're also just freaky looking, enhancing the mystique of each shady, squishy patch. Willows may host several lichens and mosses, none of which can I identify. I tend to call them things like "lichen spp. eerie green", "lichen spp. wispy", or "lichen spp. orange puke". I don't have to identify the lichens, mosses, and fungi because they are not plants! Hallelujah.

However I must reckon with ferns and fern allies. Ferns trip me out. I swear they all look alike. It takes me forever to figure out what pattern I'm seeing. Staring at a lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina var. cyclosorum) the other day I wondered if I'd accidentally eaten something hallucinogenic (I safely sample a lot of plant matter in the field) 'cause the darn plant seemed to change every time I glanced from my floral key back to the specimen. I bring them home and have the same problems with ferns. They're very repetitive in structure, such that I can't figure out where the patterns start and end. But one of their allies, known as giant horsetail or Equisetum telmateia, is native, abundant, and very easy to identify. These things make me ridiculously happy. It's weird too. Check it here in a juvenile form.

Glen Canyon, where I first participated in habitat restoration, often feels like my favorite San Francisco park. Getting into it's deep recesses, exploring areas I'd never seen previously, has definitely renewed my love for the linear gem below Twin Peaks. Speaking of those hills, I mapped areas of French broom (Genista monspessulana) importance up there today. I'll be moving into said grasslands tomorrow as the drying graminoids demand my attention lest I miss their miniscule flowers.

If you're going nuts with the Latin names, be tolerant. I'm trying to get comfortable with them in preparation for writing a ridiculously long research paper in July and August. Plus the more I see the names, the faster I can find them on my 10 page data sheets!