Birds in the Garden
Western Scrub-Jay feeding from blossoms of Puya chilensis in the South American Area
by Melanie Hofmann
Strawberry Canyon has it all – a vigorous year-round stream, lush riparian vegetation that follows the stream, and surrounding hillsides with native coastal chaparral and open grasslands.
The U.C. Botanical Garden, located on 36 acres at the upper end of the canyon, features not only the stream and the riparian habitat but extensive collections of plants from around the world.
The Garden, with its shady glens and open hillsides, has attracted birders almost from the time it moved up into the Canyon in 1923 from its original home at the west end of the Berkeley Campus. Its publication, “Birds of the UC Botanical Garden,” (click to download) lists 100 species, many of which are year-round residents. Others are seasonal residents, and some are casual visitors.
Every season offers its pleasures. In the winter, the garden is full of wintering sparrows along with Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and gaudy Red-breasted Sapsuckers. Most winters, Varied Thrushes can be heard and sometimes seen in the denser areas of the Garden.
In the spring, the canyon and the garden resound with glorious songs from breeding singers like Black-headed Grosbeaks, Warbling Vireos, and the Pacific Wren. Partial songs of Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes can be heard briefly before they leave for their summer haunts.
Red-shouldered Hawk perching in a spent agave stalk in the New World Desert
by Paul Licht
For at least the last decade, the Garden has had its own Red-tailed Hawk – an unusual partial leucistic bird with a white mantel and a pale breast. Seen year-round, it is easily identifiable as a distinct individual. Most years, it is paired with a normal colored morph.
Along with welcoming a steady stream of birding visitors, many with cameras in addition to binoculars, the Garden offers quarterly Saturday morning walks co-led by Chris Carmichael, associate director of horticulture and collections, himself an avid birder. Golden Gate Audubon member Phila Rogers was asked to step in as a co-leader when expert birder Denis Wolff moved to Oregon.
Even if birding is slow, Chris, with his deep knowledge of plants, has wonderful stories to tell, rich with examples of how the local native birds have adapted to exotic plants.
“Certain plants seem to act as a bird magnet,” Chris explains. “One such plant is the honey bush (Melianthus major) growing in the South African area. The dark maroon blossoms of this plant are favored by nectar feeders such as Hooded Orioles who come to the Garden each spring. But I’ve also seen Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Townsend’s Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, California and Spotted Towhees, Steller’s Jays, and Black-headed Grosbeaks visiting the melianthus as well.
Allen's Hummingbird feeding on Nicotiana tomentosiformis in the South American Area
by Melanie Hofmann
“The Garden’s rich floral display yields hummingbirds year-round,” continues Chris. “Both Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds are breeders, with Rufous Hummingbirds coming through during migration. The Rufous Hummingbirds have been known to spend the winter, often favoring flowers in the Mexican and Central American Areas, including salvias, penstemons, and the vining Peruvian Lily relative, Bomarea.
“Hooded Orioles, who arrive in the spring, nest in the palms in the Cycad and Palm Garden which surround the Conference Center. They generally choose one of the many fan (in contrast with feather) palms. They are clearly adaptable, choosing non-native palms, as our specimens of native Washingtonia filifera are still too small to host nesting orioles.”
Chris points out that: “not surprisingly, certain native bird species favor Garden areas that correspond to their natural habitat. Wrentits, California Thrashers, and Scrub Jays are most commonly seen in the far upper reaches of the Garden, closest to coastal scrub growing outside the fence line. Just within the Garden, the macquis habitat of the Mediterranean Area is sometimes considered to be ecologically comparable to the chaparral habit of California. Similiarly, within the Garden’s collection, Brown Creepers and Hermit and Varied Thrushes are frequently encountered in the densely-wooded parts of the Asian and Eastern North American Areas.”
This year in April, GGAS and the Garden hope to co-sponsor our second annual bird sit, with an emphasis on quiet listening – not only to individual bird songs and calls but to the rich acoustical environment of stream and wind sounds.
For most of its long history, the Garden was free. But since the University has drastically cut back on funding the Garden, an admission fee of $10 for adults and $8 for seniors is now charged. Of course, a better choice is to become a Garden member and come for free almost every day of the year. And be sure to stop by the Garden shop where there are a variety of publications and a deck full of plants for sale.
Bug Days at the Garden
Newts in the Garden
Photo by Laurie Twitchell
The Garden is home to two newt species, Taricha torosa (California newt) and Taricha granulosa (rough-skin newt). The winter rains prompt the newts to migrate to the Garden's Japanese Pool where their mating behaviors can be easily observed by visitors. The Garden is offering several opportunities to get up close and personal with newts including a podcast with Garden Director Paul Licht.
Click here to read Contra Costa Time's Newts return to Berkeley, looking for love by Joan Morris
Click here to read San Francisco Chronicle's Newts perform rites of spring at UC by Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan
Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Christian Collins
Newt Podcast by Garden Director Paul Licht
Paul Licht began his career as a zoology professor at UC Berkeley. When presenting him with the Berkeley Citation, his colleagues noted "his research into the factors that determine sexual differentiation, sexual maturation and reproductive physiology in a wide variety of species-including amphibians, reptiles and mammals-has resulted in more than 300 publications and has made him one of most respected comparative endocrinologists in the world."
Click HERE if you are having trouble listening to this podcast
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) by Melanie Hofmann
The rich fauna of the UC Botanical Garden has always been a source of interest for visitors, particularly the Garden's abundant (and easily seen) newts, lizards and birds. Undergraduate student Greg Pfau did a study on Garden wildlife and writes, "Plants in the Garden are grouped to represent the natural habitats where they are found in the wild. Several of these habitats have plants similar to the adjacent natural plant communities of north coast scrub and mixed oak woodland. This similarity, along with the proximity of the garden to wild areas, has led local wildlife to take advantage of the Garden as a foraging and living area." Read the study, Nightlife at the Garden: Animal Visitors in the Garden's Newsletter.
Illustrated Guide to Common Animals of the East Bay Hills
Identify the birds at your backyard feeder, the bees and butterflies in your garden and that snake crawling across the driveway with this laminated field guide just published by the Garden and available in The Garden Shop for only $8.95.
New! Due to popular demand the Garden is taking mail and phone orders for our faunal guide, The Illustrated Guide to Common Animals of the East Bay Hills by mail or phone. Guides are $12 each including mailing and sales tax.
Click here to download a form for mail orders.
Phone 510-643-2755 to place your order with a credit card.
A Guide to the Garden's Rich Animal Life
by Paul Licht, Director
As trained zoologists, Chris Carmichael, Associate Director of Collections & Horticulture, and I were immediately captivated by an idea brought to us last year by docent Michael Chinn to create a guide to the animals of the Garden. Our rich fauna has always been a source of interest for visitors (besides the ever popular birds and bees, few children can resist the abundance of newts in winter and lizards in summer); but the only resources were the commercial guides, typically focused on a single group of animals, like birds, reptiles or butterflies.
As the project evolved, our goal was to provide a single general reference to all the common animals of the Garden, which basically encompass the fauna of the surrounding East Bay Hills. The result was a laminated field guide with beautiful original illustrations of 10 reptiles, 5 amphibians, 18 mammals, 61 birds and 21 insects plus the banana slug. Illustrations were provided by local artist Dana Gardner, already widely experienced in producing such field guides. This is a first of its kind for us and we hope will further heighten the appreciation for all that is wonderful about our environment. These efforts were supported by gifts from the Leo O. Dorji fund and Tom and Karen Mulvaney.
Winter Bird Walk
Saturday | February 8 | 9 am- 10:30 am
REGISTER ONLINE HERE
Winter is a surprisingly active time for birds in the Garden. Join expert birder, Phila Rogers, and Chris Carmichael, Associate Director of Collections and Horticulture for this lovely morning walk through the Garden. Heavy rain cancels this walk.
Docent Explainers: Newts
Sunday, February 9 & Saturday, February 15 | 11:30 am - 1 pm
FREE WITH GARDEN ADMISSION
Come visit the Japanese Pool at the Garden where the newts are having all kinds of fun. A docent will be available to explain the newt activity and maybe even net a newt or two for a close-up look, while explaining the newt's life-cycle and habitat.