Berkeley Wildlife: Street Deer


I’ve mentioned several times in the last couple of years–here and here, for instance–that it has become pretty commonplace to encounter deer here in the Berkeley flatlands (and in the hills, some deer are getting ornery.) Still, today’s experience broke new ground. First, during a noontime walk, The Dog startled a good-sized young adult deer–I’m guessing it was a male–that had been browsing the plants along a driveway adjacent to a vacant lot or overgrown backyard on Monterey Street. The deer bolted into the trees and watched us. Then a woman pulled into the driveway. She said she wasn’t surprised we had happened upon the deer. “There’s a family of three living in there,” she said. “The poor things are just running out of room.” She also mentioned that a dead deer was lying on the street nearby. Hit by a car? I asked. “No–it must have been sick. It doesn’t look like it was injured.” She added that someone had called Berkeley Animal Control.

Her description didn’t prepare me for the fawn that lay along the sidewalk two doors down. A beautiful animal. Surprisingly, The Dog wasn’t interested. I took a few pictures, and we continued on our walk. When we get home, I called animal control myself. When someone came on the line, I told them I wanted to report a dead deer on a street in North Berkeley. “Would that be the one on … Monterey?” the attendant asked. “Yeah, that’s the one.” “We already know about that,” she said. “Any ETA for when you might be out there?” “No. We have one officer in the field, and emergency calls come first. So ….”

I wonder how long it will take word to spread in the carrion-eating community of the choice meal awaiting out there.

Berkeley After Dark: Fourth Street


Kate and I dropped into Brennan’s last night–the undead version that has opened in Berkeley’s old Southern Pacific train station across the parking lot from the old location. The old location was razed to make way for a massive block of condominiums, the top floors of which will have an intimate view of traffic on the University Avenue overpass. Maybe the condos atop the former Brennan’s site will experience some unquiet moments as tipsy patrons from ages past try to find their way to the old bar. If so, it will be the most lively after-dark activity in the neighborhood.

The new Brennan’s has one or two things going for it. The station is a beautiful Mission-style building and the bar’s proprietors went to great lengths to recreate a replica of the old, barnlike dining room in their new, more confined space. The place features Brennan’s familiar inexpensive meat-and-mashed potatoes menu, served from steam tables along a cafeteria line. It’s got beaucoups high-def big-screen TVs for sports fans, and the bar still has the best Irish coffees anywhere.*

But for myriad reasons, Brennan’s night-time business has died. Last night, we walked in about 10:30, an hour when you might expect to find a bar still revving up. There were about half a dozen people in the place. From what I’ve heard about the profit margin in bar alchohol sales, the gradual disappearance of that trade has got to have eaten into the owners’ income from the place. But they seem content to just let it continue dwindling. The Saturday night bartender is a taciturn sort, maybe given to sad contemplation of the absence of customers and consequent dearth of tips. In the two or three times I’ve done business with him, he gives the impression of rendering service glumly and a little unwillingly; the only act I saw him perform with any alacrity was switching off the “open” sign and most of the bar lights at 11 p.m. on the dot. He did not have to chase us out–we got the message.

We sat and talked in the car for awhile. The rain that had been falling on and off all evening started again as we started up the car. I stopped around the corner from Brennan’s to take a picture of the Spenger’s sign in the rain. Haven’t eaten there for ages, though we used to get takeout chowder from there regularly. Acquaintances who have partaken of Spenger’s fare have suggested that the sign may be the restaurant’s best offering.

*Statement not based on actual research.

Berkeley Frost: Spicule Watch


As related in earlier winters , sometimes Berkeley gets cold enough that frost settles over the town. Well, settle isn’t really the right word, since the frost crystals actually grows in what appears to the layperson to be a magical process of sublimation. The crystals are called spicules, which resemble little spikes or hairs when they form on a cold surface.

Speaking of our weather, one of our local TV weatherfolk, KTVU’s Bill Martin, referred to it as “Chicago cold” last night. And not once but twice he advised viewers that they’d want to take action to make sure plants, pets and “the elderly” were protected from the weather’s effects. The elderly? We brought our own resident grandparent in from the unheated shed in the backyard.

frost120809a.jpg frost120809b.jpg

Berkeley Autumn

tree120109.jpgBy our effete bayside standards, tonight counts as a cold night. The temperature is dropping into the 30s here and below freezing in places farther from the water. For the next couple of days, anyway, we won’t be getting out of the 40s here. The scene above is from several days ago. The high was probably in the low 60s, perhaps the last day of a prolonged beautiful dry warm autumn. It already seems like that season is over.  


We’ve been having a string of clear evenings in the Bay Area, perfect for watching the nightly fly-by of the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis. When the shuttle and the station are docked, they appear as a single, bright star moving from (roughly) west to east. The Atlantis undocked early this morning and rapidly moved away from the station. This evening one of the ships appeared in the northwest, then the other–the space station trailed by the shuttle, I think. From San Francisco, they seemed to move nearly straight overhead, then rapidly vanished into the Earth’s shadow when they were still high above the horizon.

It always surprises me a little not to see others out staring at these objects as they pass over, or that passers-by don’t ask what I’m looking at. A big-city rule, I guess: avoid the harmless-looking guy staring into the sky just in case he’s a lunatic. One time, a co-worker happened upon me watching the space station go over a nearby park. “What happened?” she asked. “Did a bird shit on you?” I told her about the space station and pointed at it. She glanced toward the sky, gave me a look that said she didn’t quite believe anything like that was up there at the moment, and moved on.

Tonight in Berkeley, meantime: Kate knew the twin apparitions of space station and shuttle would become visible at 6:22. She called several neighbors to alert them. While I watched from the lower western edge of Potrero Hill, she had nearly a dozen people out in the street here in our neighborhood for the three-minute show. That’s just one of the things I love about this block: that people will come out to see a night-time sky display–lunar eclipses, comets, meteor showers, whatever’s on tap–and just hang out for a few minutes.

There’s another double-viewing Thanksgiving night. Check your local listings on NASA’s Satellite Sightings Information page.



There’s a Saturday morning routine that takes us by a restaurant for coffee and pastries followed by a pause at the King Middle School garden (so the dog can watch the chickens) and a stop at the schoolyard to sit and consume previously mentioned food items.

Then there’s a Sunday morning routine: different direction, different cafe, no pastries, and no stops. But we do walk along the old Santa Fe right-of-way, and our path takes us past an old storefront on Hearst Street that has been turned into a gallery.

The picture above: the gallery a couple Sundays ago. I’m a sucker for artfully arranged miscellany, I guess.

Walking Conundrum


In a neighborhood in the hills just northeast of campus, Virginia Street climbs and twists to a dead end just above a short avenue called La Vereda Road. At the very top of Virginia, you find yourself in what appear to be a couple of private driveways. It looks like you’ve reached the top. But there’s a path with jury-rigged railings and steps, some nicely carpentered, some hand-cut into a very steep slope. Going up to the top, your way is blocked by the fence and gate above. One sign seems to invite you to go farther; another sign warning of serious federal consequences — the land on the other side belongs to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — and a heavy lock on the gate stop you in your tracks. Except for the fact someone’s going out of their way to maintain access across private property up to the gate, I’d think the gate is always locked. I’ve been up there maybe half a dozen times, have never found anyone on the street who knows what the deal is and have struck out looking online for any info. Maybe calling the lab is my next step, or maybe someone who reads this will have a key for that lock. (Below: the view from the gate, shot through my sunglass lens.)



The something new I learned this minute: that the preferred plural form of chrysalis offered in the Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary is chrysalides; the main stress is on the second syllable and the last syllable is pronounced “deez.” Me, I would have guessed, and written, chrysalises–and the M-W unabridged lists that second. (The abridged dictionary entry, which is not so different from the unabridged one, is here.)

Anyway, these chrysalides are both of the anise swallowtail variety. The one on the left is probably a couple weeks old and is strapped onto a fairly conspicuous spot on a fennel plant next door. It’s about two weeks old and has started to show that yellow color along its abdomen in just the last couple of days. That little piece of material below it is its last larval skin (see “Mascot Caterpillar” for what these guys look like before they go into the chrysalis).

The chrysalis on the right is also an anise swallowtail. It’s older–but I’m not sure how much older. It attached itself to the rarely visited north side of our house (don’t believe your monitors–the stucco isn’t really pink). When I first saw it back there this afternoon while on a foliage-clearing expedition I thought it was a curled-up leaf stuck to the wall. I’m not coordinated enough to do the “hold you thumb next to it so we get the scale” trick; but like the other chrysalis it’s maybe an inch and a half long. If you click on the picture, you can see the chrysalis looks like it’s cracking. Don’t know whether that’s a sign the adult butterfly is ready to emerge or not.

Maybe we’ll be tweeting its progress.

Mascot Caterpillar


Last year, Kate started using anise swallowtail butterflies as part of the biology unit in her second-grade class. As the name might suggest, the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) are partial to anise (fennel) plants and their relatives; in some areas, the go for citrus, too. Our neighbor has a healthy stand of fennel in one corner of his yard, and the last two springs the plants have hosted anise swallowtail eggs and larvae (caterpillars). The one pictured here is apparently in its fifth and final “instar” (larval stage) before becoming a pupa (or, as I’ve always thought of it, “going into its chrysalis”). It’s an amazing little street-side biology lab we have here. (Oh, yeah: And you get a dollar if you can tell me what that little brown spheroid at the caterpillar’s posterior end is.)

Further reading:

UC Irvine Butterflies of Orange County: Anise Swallowtail
Berkeley’s Anise Swallowtails
Butterflies and Moths of North America: Anise Swallowtail
Wikipedia: Anise Swallowtail
Wikipedia: Butterflies



Yesterday’s top Berkeley bird: This great blue heron, which was hunting in the meadow near the off-leash dog area in Chavez Park near the Marina. The place is crawling with ground squirrels, and you see herons and egrets stalking them — or staking out their burrows, anyway — fairly frequently. Other people in the park have told me they’ve seen a heron catch a squirrel — spear it, then swallow it whole. That’s what this one did as we passed yesterday, though I didn’t actually see the spearing part. It tossed its catch into the air and caught it, then took several minutes to work it down. I don’t think it was keen on flying while it was trying to swallow such a big lump of protein, and I was able to approach to about 30 feet with my non-telephoto-equipped digital camera for this shot.