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January 3, 2018

 

Dear Skyliners,

 

I hope everyone had some good holidays.

 

At Skyline, we've got some rain today and a forecast of up to a couple of inches on the way over the next week.  We've taken advantage of this near record dry December to get a jump on the thistles and other invasives by notching up our vinegar spraying.  Since late November, we've been out spraying a total of 19 times - 328 gallons of vinegar so far.  We're in great shape for the new year.  Big thanks to our spray team of Francesca, Cynthia, Angela, Mike, Tom and Josh.  

 

We still have more spraying to do, but we are now ready to turn our January focus to planting new plants and to hand weeding to finish up the cleared areas.  Sunday should be clear weather, so Siesta Gate at 9:30.  Please let me know if you can make it.

 

But now, I wanted to take some time to review and celebrate some of our many accomplishments in 2017.  None of these would have been possible without the great turnout of volunteers we've had.  We logged 710 volunteer work shifts last year.  That compares with 311 for 2016.  That's a huge increase.  Working in partnership with EBMUD Watershed, our role  is truly the work of the ants (and the Ents) and many hands, all of us, make it happen.  So, congratulations all around.

 

In this, special thanks go to those folks who have stepped forward to develop a piece of the project:  to Francesca, for involving the Trail Dogs, Take to the Hills, and Berkeley Path Wanderers in our many Skyline Trail improvements; to Bob, for keeping our plant list and for involving Berkeley Rotary and campus Rotaract in volunteer work and project funding; to Margaret, for leading our outreach, recruiting, website and Calflora efforts; to Cynthia for coordinating EBMUD staff and volunteers in our huge Siesta Gate clean up; and, to Vijay and Amy for setting up and operating our Facebook page.  An effort this size needs many leaders who take the bit in their teeth and help pull us all forward.

 

In 2017, we expanded our botanical survey list of natives at Skyline Gardens from 237 to 253. Skyline Gardens truly is the most botanically diverse area of its size in the entire East Bay, now by a margin of over 75 species.  New species are appearing more slowly now, as we have literally scoured many acres on our hands and knees.  We've found most of these new ones while out chasing thistles or hand weeding.  Here are two of last year's new charmers:

 

First is Foothill Clover (Trifolium ciliolatum):

This and other native clovers were once more common in California meadow areas.  Invasives and overgrazing have taken a huge toll.  We found a patch of these in the scree along Grizzly Peak Blvd.  We've collected seeds and hope to repopulate these in our high ridge meadow areas, where they should be right at home.

 

Next is Blue Larkspur (Delphinium patens):

We found just one plant weeding thistles under the oak tree at Nine Grass Bend.  There should be others on northerly slopes, but so far just this one.  Could we ever have too many of these?

 

Restoring the cap of Barberry Peak has been a big focus this year.  The area is very rich in native plants, but was being overwhelmed with Italian thistles and invasive annual grasses.  So we launched 2017 by weeding the whole area by hand.  Here's some of the first day's results:

Poppies, Soap root, Blue Dicks, Phacelia, bunch grasses, rocks and lichen - all liberated from the suffocating and surrounding brew of invasives.  Breathe free, dear friends.

 

Here we are in late January, pushing downhill to the border of shrubs :

Just look at thse piles of weeds!  In all we devoted some 80 hours of hand labor to weeding the cap of Barberry Peak.  Our strategy: reclaim the high ground; seeds spread downhill.

 

Here's a shot of efforts rewarded: 

Glorious poppies, three species of native bunch grasses and a host of others.  All the plants in this picture are now native.  Barberry Peak has become one of the best poppy spots in all of Skyline Gardens.  And they are seeding and spreading this year.

 

While weeding we discovered two husky native thistles, most likely from seed we had brought uphill in 2016.  And with all that rain, these two bloomed in just one year.   

Here they are on a foggy day in late May - our grand sentinels of the peak. 

 

And here's a close up:

Now, who doesn't love this one?  These, too, are making babies, even in this dry year.  In similar rocky areas at the top of Mt. Diablo, these native thistles never make thickets.  They scatter about like grace notes, perhaps one every 10 to 15 feet.  Wouldn't that be something to see at Skyline?

 

And here's the best news of all - this year there are hardly any invasives coming up in this area.  Ten days ago, several of us spot-weeded there.   My guess is about ten hours of hand weeding will take care of Barberry Cap for this year - down from 80 last year.  Our hope is rooted in this kind of tangible progress.

 

Wherever we have worked, we find a huge reduction in our number one adversaries, Italian Thistle and Hemlock.  Areas where we sprayed and hand cut them last year, like the thicket near the picnic table, are virtually free of new seedlings this year.  The vinegar is especially effective at this stage on thistles, so we are expanding our reach this year.

 

Beyond the plant world, 2017 was a year of major improvements in the Skyline Trail itself.  Over a period of eight months, the East Bay Trail Dogs completely rehabbed the upper trail section between Steam Trains and Siesta Gate.  EBMUD underwrote the project with tools and many loads of rock and gravel.  Here's a photo of what we call the Zig-Zag section:

The year before, those lovely switchbacks were a slippery and dangerous gulch.  Now, the Lace Plant (Cow Parsnip) are singing their hosannas. 

 

Then, there is the new hiking entrance at Siesta Gate:

Boy, was that a project: Contra Costa Public Works, EBMUD legal, EBMUD rangers, Trail Dogs, volunteers, even my son-in-law.  And, special, undying thanks to Jim and the Take to the Hills folks for crafting those beautiful benches.  And look at that view!!

 

And yes, there was more, much, much more - from the wasps to the moths to the lichens - and, of course, the fellowship.   

 

Let us count our many blessings as we return again in the new year. 

 

Happy Trails,

 

Glen