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June 1 , 2018

Dear Skyliners,


Thistles and Spurge, Thistles and Oats, we've been cutting them steady for now several weeks.  This long, cool spring has meant that these invasive plants have been slow to bloom and set seeds; so we've had a great chance to clear large areas before they sow their seeds.


It's glorious work, and if we cut them down before their seeds ripen, and do that two years running, they will be basically gone in that area.  What an opportunity!!  We have cleared vast areas already.  And the season is nearly done; perhaps one or two more days of it.


We'll be at it again on Sunday, 9:30 at Siesta Gate.  Please let me know if you can make it. 


Here's our basic tool.  We call it our thistle catcher.  It's a sickle weeder on 3 feet piece of plastic pipe.  


We slice down thistles, spurge, and wild oats.  It goes fast and the work is satisfying.  With each swipe, we strike another blow for freedom.  And after a couple of hours, no need for the gym today.  


Others have seen them and wanted them too.  Redwood Park ordered four.  Sibley Park has ordered six for their volunteers, and now six more, one for each ranger.  


When we get a gang of folks going, we can work miracles.  Here we are cutting Spurge (Euphorbia oblongifolia) above EBMUD's Berkeley Hills Reservoir.  

Spurge is a perennial, but we are cutting off the yellow flower heads to prevent seeding.  This time of year, it's all triage.  Later on, in summer, when we have more time, we'll dig and pull them by the roots.


Here's a long swath of Italian Thistles we've cut just below Water Tank Road

With the clearing of this patch just below the road, and others along the slope this year, we have now completed the clearing of the half mile east slope between Siesta Gate and the Reservoir. Next year it will just be mop-up here.  It's taken us two years and many work days, but the end is now in sight.


While cutting thistles on the ridge, we came upon this:

Thirteen large eggs in a foot-and-a-half nest.  Who is this?  Wild Turkeys.  After we moved on, Mom moved back in and we saw her back on the nest, warming her eggs.


Wild Turkeys are getting more and more common in the East Bay.  They are native to eastern North America.  Benjamin Franklin proposed the Wild Turkey for the national bird, not the Bald Eagle.  Imagine that --Turkeys on our money, Turkeys on our jets -- now that's a road not taken...


Ecologically, Turkeys are controversial here, as they've just arrived in California in the last twenty-five years.  Some of the rangers call them "feathered rats" and note that they are seeing fewer snakes and lizards since the Turkeys arrived.  Turkeys will eat almost anything.  Others point out that California has endured much more serious disrupters in the not too distant past - bears, ground sloths, mastadons, and you name it used to roto-till the state.  In the Spurge area, we found an earlier nest, but this one had a huge pile of Turkey feathers with every broken egg.  


We had conflicting feelings, about what would be the right thing to do.  But, our maternal instincts won out, and yours probably would have, too.    


Happy Trails,



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