Today’s post features some of my favorite summer things in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons:
The first blackberries of the season!
Western Fence Lizards!
Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Ladybugs on Himalayan Blackberry plants
Now that summer is finally here, after a very rainy winter and cool spring, you’re likely to see lots of these in the canyons and Hills in the months ahead.
The Blackberries of the Berkeley Hills
Blackberries are not hard to find along almost any of the fire trails in either Strawberry or Claremont Canyons. So far, however, I’ve found the best picking and eating to be along Centennial Road and the fire trail that leads off of it into Strawberry Canyon.
On Centennial Drive, there are blackberries stands all long the pedestrian path up to the fire trail parking lot.
In many places along the trail, and along Centennial Drive the blackberry bushes are really thick. You have to be careful, though, because most of these plant are growing right on the edge of very steep drop offs. Trying to reach ripe berries that are tantalizingly out of reach, you can easily step off a cliff. Be very careful!
Just out of reach! Step off the trail too far, and you’ll tumble into the canyon!
Earlier this spring, you could see hundreds of blackberry flowers, foretelling the bounty to come:
Blackberry flowers are very delicate, with dozens of beautiful golden stamens.
The berries all start out a bright green and then get darker and darker purple as they ripen. Of course, the darkest colored berries, the ones that look black, are the sweetest and most delectable. This last hike I had all the berries I could eat, and it’s still early in the season.
Typical cluster of Himalayan blackberries
In researching this post, I discovered, to my surprise, that I’m probably seeing two species of blackberry plants in the canyons: the California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). The Himalayan blackberry is actually considered an invasive species.
Since its introduction in the 1880’s, the plant has spread widely and become naturalised. But because of its tasty fruit, it usually isn’t considered a pest. It seems to be the dominant blackberry in Strawberry Canyon.
There are two easy ways to tell the difference between the two species.
First: the flowers of the California blackberry (left) are much more slender than that of the Himalayan (right):
Left: California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) Right: Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)
Second, as is explained at Kay Loughman’s most excellent Wild Life in the North Hills website, the Californian has a three leaves and the Himalayan typically has five leaves. (The stems of the Himalayan are red and very thorny.)
Three Leaves = California blackberry — Five Leaves = Himalayan blackberry
The Summer Ladybugs of the Canyon
As I was walking up the lower Strawberry Canyon fire trail, I soon encountered hundreds and hundreds of flying ladybugs. They seemed to congregate in the warmest, sunniest parts of the of the trail, like this:
The ladybugs loved the warm, sunny places along the Strawberry Canyon fire trail, like this. There are actually hundreds of ladybugs in the air at this spot, but my camera couldn’t pick them up!.
I found very few ladybugs on the plants along the trail; most seemed to be flying about. It was such a scene of intense activity, compared to the very quiet but huge swarms I found on the blackberry plants last fall after the record October rainstorm:
If you’re lucky, in the fall or early winter, you’ll come upon huge ladybug swarms in Strawberry Canyon, like this one I saw last year.
I tried to catch the beautiful insects on camera, but they moved too fast and my humble camera just wasn’t up to the task, even though the air was thick with them. Here’s a close-up image of a ladybug flying that I collected some years ago doing research. Like all beetles, to fly, the ladybug has to lift her beautiful wing covers in order to free her wings for flight:
If you want to learn a lot more about ladybugs and see beautiful images of other species, be sure to check out my earlier post They are the Lady(bugs)of the Canyon.
On my way out of Strawberry Canyon, I took this shot across the Canyon to UC Berkeley’s historic Cyclotron:
The historic Berkeley Cyclotron and the North Bay on a gorgeous summer day.
The Western Fence Lizard
Once summer arrives, you can find the Western Fence lizard most places in the Berkeley Hills, but you rarely find them in the cooler, deeper parts of the canyons. They love the warmth and sun of the upper canyon, and you will often find them sunning themselves on canyon trails and roads.
The Western fence lizard enjoys a variety of habitats from grassland to broken chaparral to woodland and coniferous forests, although they avoid harsh deserts. I came across this one on the paved road near the top of Panoramic Way, above Claremont Canyon.
Western Fence lizards are also known as Blue-bellies, but unless you catch one or are in a vantage point where a displaying male shows off his underside, you might not know they have blue bellies. I’ve never been able to get close enough to a displaying male with my camera to catch his underside, but here’s a fine image from Wikimedia that shows it:
“Don’t I have a beautiful blue belly? I wonder if that cute babe over there notices!”
The Western fence lizard can be a long as 21 cm (8 inches), though I’ve only seen one that big to date. Here’s a juvenile I saw on my last hike. He had just squirmed around because an ant had tickled him:
“Hey, where’d you go? That tickled!”
And here is a larger Blue-belly with very unusual head markings. It looked like it had dipped its head into ink!
“The ladies find my black head cap irresistible!”
Vistas from the Claremont Canyon
I hiked out of Strawberry Canyon and crossed over to the trails of Claremont Canyon. From there, I usually head down Panoramic Way or Dwight Way and back through the UC Berkeley campus. The vistas from the tops of the Hills are different every hike and always so wonderful:
Nearing the end of the upper fire trail where it joins Panoramic Way. You can see the Bay Bridge and San Francisco City in the distance.
Milk Thistle and downtown Oakland in the distance
Looking at the Bay Bridge and San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge with distant fog
Flowering agave plants in Claremont Canyon
Goodbye, beloved Hills! Heading home!
May all beings be happy. May all beings find the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow. And may we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!