The way things shook out last night, we would have had to rush to the Oakland ferry slip for our usual Friday night round-trip. So we decided to take it easy and do something else. “Something else” turned out to be going down to Cesar Chavez Park, the former Berkeley garbage dump, down on the bay. The Dog was so excited when he realized where we were going that he climbed into Kate’s lap in the front seat of the car when we got close to our destination. We parked right before the sun set, and took a long walk that looped down to the edge of the park, where the landfill ends and the bay sweeps out toward the Golden Gate, Angel Island and Marin County. A single sailboat was tacking along the waterfront, zigzagging its way back toward a berth in the Berkeley Marina.
Over the last few weeks, Scout (a.k.a. The Dog) seems to have become obsessed with ground squirrels that apparently infest Chavez Park, the place we take him to run. He’ll stop near a fresh burrow and give it the once over; every once in a while, he’ll dive nose first into one and start digging furiously. So far as we can tell, he’s never come close to catching anything; most of the time I figure the squirrels are looking out from some other entrance to their burrows and having a good laugh.
But maybe not.
The other day, we saw a great blue heron in the meadow we cross on our way to the off-leash area. Scout was so fixated on squirrel world that even when we were within 100 feet of the bird, which stood about 30 or 36 inches tall, he was oblivious to it. We gave it a wide berth, in any case. When we came back about 40 minutes later, it was still there, though it had moved about 100 yards or so across the grass. It wasn’t until I stopped and watched that I realized it, too, was hunting whatever is in those burrows (Scout still was paying no attention, though I put him on the leash so he wouldn’t go charging after the heron once he spotted it). It struck twice while I watched, plunging its beak into the burrow holes, but it came up with nothing.
After a while, a couple stopped and watched what was going on. The guy said he’d seen herons catch squirrels in the field–impale them on their beaks, then sort of toss them up and swallow them. “A couple of times I’ve seen herons out their with their beaks completely red with blood.” I think the herons have a couple advantages over Scout and his like: they’re stealthier, they strike suddenly, and if they hit their target, there’s no fight.
Not sure if the bird above is the same one we saw the other day or not (didn’t have my camera with me then). It was in the same place, anyway (for a local reference in the picture: that big white building that appears above the telephone pole in the middle distance is the Claremont Hotel, which is probably three miles in a straight line from where we were; the high point in the hills beyond is Vollmer Peak Round Top, about 1,900 1,760 feet above sea level and about six eight miles away).
On a walk with the usual suspects in Chavez Park this evening. Above: Clouds running over the ridge between the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais (Angel Island is silhouetted in the middle distance). Below: Mount Tam from the Chavez Park meadow (left) and from one of the trails in the off-leash dog zone (right). Over the past 10 years, we probably went down to this park about once or twice a year; most of my walking and local outdoor recreatin’ has been done in the other direction, up in the hills. Since The Dog arrived among us in May, we’ve probably been down there three or four times a week on average. The view is different every day.