Friday, December 2, 2016

The Dead on the Watershed: Our Fertile Snags

“Why are all those dead trees still here?” a Sawyer Camp Trail walker asked us as he eyed the newly restored habitat for the first time. 

Actually, you’ll see them all along the trail—snags (tall, dead and bare standing trees) that we’ve purposely left in place throughout the habitat restoration area and elsewhere in the watershed. 

In death, they are more of a natural resource than ever for an abundance of other life. Their loose bark harbors beetle, ants, and other insects that are food for birds, rodents and animals. Butterflies, bats and small animals find shelter there too.

Cavities drilled by woodpeckers become nests for swallows, flycatchers, and other “secondary cavity-nesters." With bills too small to drill their own nests, they depend on holes put there by others. Male songbirds sing out from open limbs to attract mates or declare nesting territory. Hawks and Bald eagles perch high on a snag to guard a nearby nest and watch for prey.  Trunk hollows become winter dens for raccoons, squirrels and other small animals.

Also in the restoration area, we’ve left scatterings of logs to decay where they are for the same reasons. As the wood decomposes, its nutrients mix into the soil, making it more fertile for healthy new plants.
Insects, salamanders, snakes, and mice take shelter in the rotting logs, and they in turn are prey for other, larger species. During the rains, the damp rotting wood and leaves give rise to mushrooms and other fungi. And the mushrooms are food for everything else—from insects to mammals--including deer in severe winters when other foraging is scarce.

In short, that dead wood provides more sustenance for the neighborhood wild than it did in life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks for the Activists of Tomorrow

This Thanksgiving we’re grateful for a new wave of young environmentalists—like these three students from a nearby middle school  They’re focusing on a year-long "Animal Allies" project featuring the rare and endangered wildlife of the Peninsula Watershed, and they're sharing their findings and pictures with the rest of us at

 A favorite species--they said during a recent visit to the Sawyer Camp Trail--is the Marbled murrelet, a California-endangered seabird. For their nests, murrelets gravitate to one particular Peninsula Watershed canyon. Cloaked in pristine old-growth forest, it is a unique locale that provides the heights, dense canopy and seclusion the secretive species needs to reproduce. 

Check out what the middle school team says on murrelets, the watershed’s nesting Bald eagle pair,  the ”amazing”  Mountain lion, and more at the link above. 

Thanks, Allies, for helping to lead the way!.  

 Marbled Murrelet photo by: Mojoscoast

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life on the Watershed: The Mystery of the Migrating Monarchs

It's called the "king of the butterflies."

We still see Monarch butterflies at this time of year, gliding gracefully by on the watershed and other local green areas. They’re actually on the road, traveling miles per day (sometimes 50 miles, 100, or even more). Destination: their ancestral wintering grounds

These late fall Monarchs differ from others we see in spring and summer in one critical attribute—longevity. Hatched in September or October, they’re now in migration and will live six to eight months (as opposed to their spring and summer forebears that feast on the nectar of seasonal flowers for a brief few weeks before dying).

The fall butterflies are the fourth generation. And they’re making the same journey as their great great grandparents did the year before. The wintering grounds themselves are certain stands of tall trees where up to thousands of  Monarchs cluster every year to hibernate. 

How they know just where to go four generations later is one of  nature’s mysteries.

They’ll emerge from hibernation in February or March, and reproduce to launch the next cycle of migrants northward (each of the next three generations traveling further north). Then, next year at about this time, the fourth-generation descendants of the butterflies we’re seeing today will make the same long journey south,   

Destination: the same wintering grounds. .     

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Last of the Seeding

November 10—Crews finished hydroseeding the last of the Habitat Restoration work area along the Sawyer Camp trail this morning. The trail remained open, while pedestrians and cyclists proceeded with a little more caution than usual as they made their way past the equipment. The hydroseed is a native grass mix sprayed onto the newly exposed slopes.  New young grasses are already sprouting  throughout the 22-acre area, and all of them should  be fully established by early spring. We’ll continue to watch out for returning invasive non-native vegetation, and acorn plantings will follow. 
Faces on the Trail: Following the morning's  progress was the SFPUC's Project Construction Manager Molly Vora. She and others on our construction team frequently bike the trail to the work site instead of driving. They cut back on inconvenience to others, minimize their carbon footprint—and get exercise too.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sawyer Camp Trail Alert: Watch for Vehicles Thursday Morning, November 10

We will complete the last section of hydroseeding in our habitat restoration area, near mile marker 2, Thursday morning, November 10, approximately 9 a.m to 12 noon (weather permitting).

The trail will remain open to through traffic, but please watch for vehicles, a barricade, and/or a traffic control monitor in that area. Signs will be posted at the trail entrances.

Hydroseeding spreads seeds from native plants so that by the spring the area will be restored with native plants and grasses.

Thank you for your continued cooperation and understanding.    

Friday, November 4, 2016

November Dresses Her Best for Sawyer Camp Trail Reopening

The toyon bushes were garnished with bright red berries, newly hydroseeded grasses were already greening the slopes, clusters of black-tailed mule deer grazed the plentiful new food supply, and people were loving it all. 

It was the first day of November, and the first in three months that a mid-section of the Sawyer Camp Trail was open again for weekday use. Some walkers even stopped to admire the straw-filled fiber rolls, which will naturally decompose over time. They are there to prevent erosion and keep stormwater from flowing into drainages, creeks and the reservoir.

The approximately 2-1/2-mile segment had been closed Mondays through Fridays for public safety during habitat restoration on nearby watershed lands. The job included the removal of about 22 acres of non-native invasive acacia trees that, over the decades, had choked out and displaced the original oak woodland forests.

Another key component of our restoration is what we've left in place—like the tall dead trees shown in the distance at left. Hawks and other raptors will perch there to watch for prey or guard their young in nearby nests. Also left behind were large downed logs that will decompose into various stages of woodsy debris--and habitat for various wildlife species. 

Our workers will finish hydroseeding native grasses on the newly exposed slopes next week. Acorn plantings and healthy young forests will follow. 


Friday, October 28, 2016

Sawyer Camp Trail Reopens for Weekday Through Use November 1

It’s no trick—you’ll be able to work off your Halloween treats the next day, when the entire Sawyer Camp Trail will reopen for weekday through use. 

The Tuesday, November 1 reopening follows the three-month closure of a southern trail mid-section on weekdays for public safety during habitat restoration.

Our crews will continue to work in the area, and one more closure of the mid-section, for a few hours only, may be necessary later in November.  Signage will be posted at the trail entrances.

Also coming up is a brand new resurfacing of the trail’s entire southern half by spring 2017. This will require a closure from the southern entrance to the Jepson Laurel for approximately two weeks, and notices will be posted in advance. 

Over the next couple of years, we’ll also keep watch for any re-sprouting of the invasive, non-native acacias. Acorn plantings will follow as soon as the area is ready for them.   

The work in the Sawyer Camp Trail vicinity is part of a long-term project throughout the watershed to bring back and maintain about 180 acres of native oak woodland and grassland habitats—and the many plant and wildlife species that depend on them.

Our thanks to the Sawyer Camp Trail community for your patience and cooperation!