Welcome, friends of the Berkeley Hills and nature lovers!
Just like last year, we had some powerful October rains, though nothing like record breaker on October 14th of 2009, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported:
“It was the worst October storm the Bay Area has experienced since 1962, when terrible weather famously disrupted the World Series between the Giants and the New York Yankees.
San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Livermore all set rainfall records for a single day in October. Nearly 4 inches fell in downtown Oakland, almost 20 percent of what the city usually gets during an entire year.
And just like last year, after the record storm, I found a number of very large ladybug masses in Strawberry Canyon along the fire trail: (Note, you can click on any of the images below to see a desktop-sized image.)
Compared to last year’s massing, however, this was a rather modest gathering, maybe several thousand. But in October of 2009, the gathering was monumental! The swarm thickly covered plants for at least 20 yards, compared to about 4 feet this time. As I wrote in that post:
I read that a gallon jar will hold from 72,000 to 80,000 ladybugs. If that’s the case, then the number alongside the fire trail had to be way, way over a hundred thousand, maybe two or three hundred thousand! It was astonishing, and somehow touching, to see so many little creatures in a brief moment of community.
Perhaps this gathering will grow in the days ahead. I’m very curious to see if the numbers build, and I still wonder, as with the 2009 storm, if the big rains had anything to do with the gathering, or whether the ladybugs always head up into the canyons in late October.
By the way, last year’s post includes a ton of fascinating information and folklore on ladybugs that I think you’ll really enjoy if you haven’t read it yet:
One of the best things about the rain, especially the first big rain after nearly half a year of typical summer drought, is how wonderful it smells in the Hills and how vibrant the colors are! The mosses and lichen, especially, almost seem to glow in deep greens and yellows:
Looking at the moss and lichen, I also found discovered I was being eye-balled by one of the many Fox Squirrels in the Canyon:
This orb spider web was especially beautiful in the sun:
Another beastie you will usually see after a good rain are the beautiful—and often, huge!—banana slugs:
A lot of people go, “Ugh, slimy slugs!” and I know that banana slugs can be a pest, but I you get down on the slugs level, and watch it move, it’s an incredibly graceful animal. It’s very responsive to its environment and is far from stupid, a term I’m reluctant to use looking at any marvel of nature, no matter how humble.
When I find slugs in the middle of the fire trail, I always move them to the side of the trial they were heading for, because, sadly, I’ve seen way too many smooshed slugs by runners and walkers who didn’t see these little wonders.
This particular day, after the rains, I noticed hundreds and hundreds of small, fluttering creatures in the air. Clearly, flying was not their forte, and yet, the air was filled with them. On closer examination, I discovered that they were some kind of termite. My camera doesn’t have a close-up lens, but they looked very much like this:
At first, I wondered if they might not be flying ants, but I did a little research and was able to confirm from their body shape and wing structure that they were in fact termites:
I also learned that in areas like ours, which have a distinct dry season, the winged (or “alate”) caste members of termite nests leave in large swarms after the first good soaking rain. The alates are the reproductive caste. They fly off to find a new nesting sight, shed their fragile wings, mate, and start a new colony. I noticed alates all through Strawberry Canyon and over into the Claremont Canyon as well. There must have been tens of thousands of them, fluttering precariously in the air.
I was not the only one noticing this mass exodus. When I came to the sunnier parts of the Canyon, I started seeing lots of Western Fence lizards, running from cover to snap up some hapless alate that landed too close:
There must have been a lot of stuffed Western Fence Lizards that evening, because the alates seemed endless in numbers—natures way of making sure that enough termites survived to carry forward the species.
On my way down Claremont Canyon, I came across this lovely, but rather faded and battered butterfly:
I believe this is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), one of the many lovely butterflies you will often see in the Canyons. (Kudos to Kay Loughman’s wonderful Wild Life in the North Hills website, which has some great images and information to help nature lovers identify plants and animals of our area.)
Yes, the fire trails in the Berkeley Hills can be muddy after a big rain, but there are many rewards for braving the mud. As I said, the fresh smell of the wet earth and vegetation is simply wonderful. The washed and soaked plants and lichen are so vibrant. I’ve also noticed that, for some reason, one tends to see more wild animals out right after a rain than at other times.
I hope enjoyed this post and that you will take find time to explore for yourself the amazing and beautiful ecosystem, that is the Berkely Hills. Hope to see meet you on the trails some day!