Tag Archives: gray-fox

The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 2


This is the second of a two-part series I’m calling “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills. You can see Part 1 here:

The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 1

As I said in Rethinking Berkeley, Naturally! I’m going to try to post more often and have less of a “hard science” aspect to these posts, unlike my Extreme Science blog.

In this second part, I’ve included some of the animals you can run into in the Hills—some you see all the time, and others, like the gray fox, are quite illusive. There are also some amazing skies in this series of photos. As a self-confessed weather nut, I never get tired to seeing the play of clouds over the San Francisco Bay and the Hills.

And so, let’s kick off Part 2 with some images of magnificent Bay Area clouds!

If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.


These clouds, of course, are cirrus, which in this area so often are the heralds of distance storms marching in from the North Pacific for Gulf of Alaska. Cirrus clouds typically form above 23,000 feet (about 7,000m), in the cold region of the troposphere and are typically composed of ice crystals.  In the view looking at the North Bay, you can see both the sweeping cirrus unicus and the denser cirrus fibratus.

This sunset was really dramatic and foreboding. I was in the Hills directly above the UCB Campus, looking across the Bay, past the Campanile (lower right) and toward the Golden Gate Bridge.  A big Pacific storm was approaching, as the rapidly lowering sky foretold.  The clouds in this picture are mostly altostratus and altocumulus, which are medium-level clouds.

This is perhaps my all-time favorite summer picture that I’ve taken in Strawberry Canyon.  To me, it captures just about everything I love about the Berkeley Hills—the Eucalyptus and Oak trees, the beautiful golden hills, and a sky with gorgeous, puffy cumulus.  It was hot, it was summer, and I was on my way up Centennial Drive to my beloved fire trails!

The color of the lichen on the trees in Strawberry Canyon are especially deep and brilliant after a rainstorm.  I love how this yellow species contrasts with the moss.

I’m always amazed at the different moods of the Bay throughout the day.  This grey sunset marked the end of yet another heavy late spring rain storm.

California poppies!  Just seeing them makes me smile.  Did you know Native Americans used  poppy leaves medicinally?  They also ate their seeds.  Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked, although apparently the effect is much milder than that of opium, which contains a much more powerful class of alkaloids.

If you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen one of these little critters. The Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus nigris) is actually a non-native species, probably introduced to California around the beginning of the 20th century.   You can see them throughout the Berkeley Hills, and there’s quite a population of them on the Berkeley campus.  I’ve yet to see a native Western Gray Squirrel on my hikes, but I keep looking for them.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (left) vs. Western Gray Squirrel (right)

I met this young female Fox Squirrel on the North Campus near the Life Science Building.  If you stop and make a “tchi tchi” noise, you can almost always make a Fox Squirrel stop and see if you have some goodie for them.  Having raised a squirrel from the age of a blind pup, I know lots of squirrel communication sounds, and she seemed amazed at my vocabulary!

This fat and muscular male lives in Strawberry Canyon.  He too was intrigued by my squirrel talk, and stopped to observe me, although the squirrels in the Canyon are much more wary of humans than the ones on campus.

A gray fox!  I wrote about this encounter at this post:

Gray Fox in Strawberry Canyon and a Mother Fox’s Wisdom

I made a lot of noise to get the fox to turn lift its sleepy head and turn toward me.  No doubt he wondered what the crazy human was doing! But I was so excited to see a gray fox  that I didn’t want my picture to be nothing but a gray lump on that fallen tree.  I wish I had had a telephoto lens to see more of this magnificent creature, which apparently, is one of the few foxes that can climbs trees.  This one was sleeping at least 20 feet off the ground. (Be sure to click image for close-up!)

Here is a small cluster of ladybugs I saw this spring.  In October of 2009, after our record rainstorm,  I came upon an astonishing gathering of what had to have been hundreds of thousands of ladybugs along the fire trail off Centennial Drive.  I wrote about this amazing ladybug gathering here:

They are the Lady(bugs) of the Canyon

Here is an amazing insect you are apt to run across in the Berkeley Hills, especially after a rain, the aptly named banana slug.  This one was nearly 10 inches long and as big around as a small banana.  Many people find them “gross,” and I know it can be what we humans call a “pest,” but I think it’s a beautiful animal.  I watched this one for about 10 minutes as it gracefully moved about 3 feet from the pavement into some vegetation.

Down on its level, laying on my stomach to watch how its muscles propelled it along on a layer of mucous, I was reminded of a majestic (albeit, miniature) ocean liner as it glided along the pavement.

I came across this small (maybe 10 inch) snake walking down from the North Gate of the UCB campus.  I’m not sure what species it might be, but my best guess is some species of Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)—maybe a Forest Sharp-tailed snake.  If some herpetologist wants to weight in, that would be great! It was moving very fast to try to take cover, and I barely caught it on camera before it disappeared into the foliage.

Here’s another view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge near sunset.  A Pacific storm was heading our way, and the high cirrus and cirrostratus clouds that appeared in the West at the beginning of the day were beginning to give way to lower level altocumulus and stratocumulus.

The height of some of the redwoods in Strawberry Canyon is astounding.  I estimated that most of the trees in this grove were well over 110-120 feet tall.  Now that I live in Northern California, I hope some day soon to see the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest trees on earth, at Redwood National and State Parks.

I loved how these California poppies found a way to grow out of near solid rock along the upper fire trail at Strawberry Canyon.

When spring arrives in the Berkeley Hills, you really should climb up into them and see for yourself  how deep, rich, and varied the greens are.  After being brown all summer and through much of the winter, the hills are transformed by the winter and spring rains into an emerald wonderland.

One of the delights of walking up the streets that head up into the Berkeley Hills above the City of Berkeley are the little paths and well-kept lanes and walks that connect the lower and higher levels of the hills.  Here’s one of my favorite paths (for privacy, I won’t say where.) If you don’t have a copy, I highly recommend getting the Map of Berkeley Pathways which is put out by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.

More spring green near the top of Claremont Canyon.

I’ll end this post with a photo of a glorious sunset taken from the hills right above the UCB campus.  (You can see the Campanile behind  one of the Eucalyptus.)  I hope this two-part series, “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills” will inspire you to explore the Hills yourself and with loved ones and to always be alert for ways to preserve and protect this amazing natural treasure right at our doorsteps.

May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!


Gray Fox in Strawberry Canyon and a Mother Fox’s Wisdom


Yesterday, I headed up Centennial Road along Strawberry Canyon to take some more lichen and moss photographs. As I was walking along the trail by the road, I looked down in into the canyon and saw something seemed out of place on the big branch of a fallen tree.

Here’s what I saw:

(Note: you can click on any image to get a very large one you can download if you wish.)

At first, I couldn’t tell what kind of animal might be sleeping there. It certainly was a fairly large animal, but all I could see was a ball of fur. So, I called out, and it lifted up its head to listen. It was a gray fox!

I was really excited! This was my first fox sighting since I had moved West, and my first large predator sighting in the Berkeley Hills. In the East, the red fox is dominant, and I had seen a number of those in my time there, but never a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).  The fox never stood up so I could see more of it, but here’s a close-up of it looking up when I made a noise:

Not a red fox

This beautiful animal is easily distinguishable from the red fox, which is indeed quite reddish and has those characteristic “black stockings” on its feet.

A tree-climbing fox!

One of the things that surprised me about the gray fox was how high in the fallen tree it was, and how inaccessible it was. How the heck did it get up there? When I did some research, I came upon this fact at Wikipedia:

“The gray fox’s ability to climb trees is shared only with the Asian raccoon dog among canids. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up trees to escape predators such as the domestic dog or the coyote, or to reach tree-bound or arboreal food sources. It descends primarily by jumping from branch to branch, or by descending slowly backwards as a house cat.”

So, that explained it! The gray fox is a tree climber! I had no idea any fox could climb a tree. I watched the fox for about 10 minutes, and it seemed hunkered down for a good sleep. (The gray fox is mainly nocturnal though it’s also out at dawn or dusk.)

A Berkeley mountain-man hippie

As I was watching the fox, along came a fellow which I could only describe as a Berkeley “character.” He was dressed like a mountain-man hippie, with long hair in a ponytail and a big beard. As he approached, I asked him if he wanted to see a fox, and of course, he said yes. (I now wished I’d taken the fellow’s picture, as you’ll soon understand.)

As he admired the fox, he told me about encounters he’d had with foxes and how much he admired them. Then he said, “You want to hear a really great fox story? It’s a true one; it happened to an old girlfriend of mine.”

He sat down like he was an old friend and went on to tell his remarkable story.  The man was clearly a natural-born storyteller, but the way he  told his story had the ring of truth. As best as I can remember, here’s what he said:

A true story about a wise mother fox

“It happened in Colorado, up in the mountains where my girlfriend lived. One day she went out to her back porch, and she saw a gray fox standing, holding up a hurt leg. The fox didn’t run away when she saw it, even though it was close, but sat there, expectant like.”

“After the fox and my girlfriend sized each other up for a while, the fox then stood up, and turned to limp away. But it stopped and looked over its shoulder as if to say, ‘Well, are you coming?’

“So, my girl friend got her coat, and followed. The foxes leg was badly hurt, but it could still outpace my girl friend through the scrub brush. But each time she fell behind the fox would stop and patiently wait for her to catch up. As soon as she caught up, the fox moved on.”

A surprise in the woods

“To her surprise, the fox led her directly to a litter of fox kits, three of them. It was a mother fox, and the wounded fox had led her right to her den. The fox sat down at some distance, and watched, as if to say, ‘Well, there they are! I’m hurt and I want you to take them back with you and take care of them.'”

“The fox watched intently while my girl friend gathered up the kits and then followed her back to house. My girlfriend made a place for them near her house, where they’d be safe. The mother fox seemed satisfied, and then again, she looked at my girlfriend and seemed to say, “Well, can’t you see that they’re hungry? I haven’t been able hunt.”

“My girlfriend went inside and got some milk, which she gave to the pups. And then she got some meat, and threw it to the mother, who gobbled it down. After a while, the mother fox came over to the kits, and with a sigh, lay down with them.”

A refuge for a wounded mother fox

“And that’s the way it went. For 3 months, my girlfriend fed the fox while its leg mended, and soon, the mother was strong enough to give her own milk again. My girlfriend played with the kits everyday, and the mother never minded, although she always kept her distance.”

“The thee kits grew up fast, got teeth, and started to forage around themselves, though they always welcomed food from my girlfriend. And then one day, it was clear that the mother fox was going to leave. Although she trusted my girlfriend, she was obviously nervous being near humans.”

“One morning, my girlfriend came out, and the mother and kits were gone. She cried, and really missed them, but she knew that the wise mother had done the right thing.”

A final goodbye and thank-you

“Months later, in the late fall, with the first early snow, my girlfriend was out hiking, and suddenly, she saw a fox. Was it her fox? She stopped, and watched as the fox came to her—with a slight limp! It was the mother fox!  The fox came very close, and for  a long time, she  just sat there and looked into my girlfriend’s eyes, which were filled with tears. She said she felt the fox was thanking her. And then, the fox turned tail, and trotted off, with the slight limp from the old injury.”

“My girlfriend never saw the mother fox again, but did see other foxes from time to time, and she wondered if any of them were the kits grown up. Actually, she was glad the kits had ‘gone wild’ and were wary of humans. That was the safest thing for them so near to humans with guns. But to this day, she has a special love for foxes, and often thinks of the wise mother fox who came to her for help.”

“And that, my friend, is a true story. There’s more to animals than meets the eyes, eh?”

I agreed that indeed there is, and said good-bye to my mountain-man hippie storyteller.  I watched him lumber off, amazed at how often people can amaze you with their hidden depths.  Then, I turned and watched the gray fox sleeping for a while longer, thinking about the wise injured mother fox.

From all I know about animals, and from my own experiences with wounded animals over the years, I bet it happened just as my storyteller said. With that happy thought, and with a big love for my storyteller, for that sleeping fox, and for all the creatures in the canyon, I headed up the trail and into the hills.

A postscript: If this story of the mother fox moved you, you might also enjoy another true story of some amazing animals at my Metta Refuge blog.  The post is called The Compassion of the Swans.  You can read it here: