Bernal Neighbors Baffled by Big Bird of Prey


Over the weekend Bernalwood received several reports that a rather large bird of prey  had been seen loitering in several Bernal Heights back yards. It began when this big bird was spotted in the backyard of Neighbor @Mop_Head, who speculated that the creature might be a Peregrine Falcon.

On Sunday, Neighbor Erin spotted a similar bird near College Avenue:

Over on Facebook, there were many theories. Perhaps it’s a juvenile red-tailed hawk? Or a coopers hawk? Or maybe a kestrel?

So what kind of critter is it? To answer that, Bernalwood shared the photos with ace birdwatcher Neighbor John, who theorizes:

A little hard to tell, but I’d say it is a juvenile Coopers Hawk. It’s a bit difficult to tell the size and a super similar looking hawk, though smaller is a Sharp Shinned.

Both are reasonably common around here. It would be great to think that this might be one of the two Red Tails that fledged from the nest on the north side of Bernal a month or two ago, but it’s too small and doesn’t have the right markings. For me the key is the dark stripe on the underside of its neck. Peregrines have a mostly white neck. As Coopers get older they add a rufous color to their necks and shoulders. And, as with all hawks, seeing them in flight is key to identification.

UPDATE: 3 August, 1 pm: Neighbor John and his bird-spotting son Eddie shot this photo this morning on the hill.  John says:

Eddie and I saw a hawk on our walk this morning, both in flight and in the tree above the Gates steps on the south side of the hill (see attached photo), and the young birder is “very clear” that it is a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk:


Neighbor Tamara reports that she spotted this bird on the hill two days ago:


PHOTOS: Top, @MOP_HEAD; below, @ecmesser

New Map Reveals the Lost Waterways of Bernal Heights


In his amazing new Seep City map of San Francisco’s lost creeks, springs and waterways, natural history researcher Joel Pomerantz reveals the places where groundwater once flowed in Bernal Heights.

Here’s the story it tells:

[On the map] today’s land forms are shown with 5-foot-interval contour lines. At this level of detail, we can easily see where human activity has filled extensive portions of the bay and where streets, highways, reservoirs and railroad grades cut into hills.

Our city had significantly more water before it was developed. Consequently, most of the water shown is from historical sources. The purple squiggles are bedrock springs found today. Natural and artificial lakes present today are outlined in white. Creeks of today are highlighted yellow.

Only a couple creeks still flow on the surface today. Finding them can be a challenge without this map. Some are virtually unknown.

The detail is remarkable. Here’s a close crop of northeast Bernal, with Precita Creek running along the upper part of the map and draining into the intricate Islais Creek watershed (where Bayshore stands today). Notice also the two active springs on the northern slope of Bernal Hill:


And when you pull back to look at the city as a whole, you see how Bernal fits in to a much larger ecosystem:


Want a copy of Joel’s maptastic creation? Visit his Kickstarter page, where you can order a map in your favorite size.

IMAGES: Courtesy of Joel Pomerantz

Thursday: Bernal Brothers Exhibit Awesome, Big-Format Wilderness Photography


Neighbor Tim Mullen and his brother Mike are in the large-format photographic printing business, and tomorrow evening, May 14, he and his brother are hosting an exhibit of some California wilderness photos. Naturally, you are so invited:

Tim Mullen of the 200 block of Elsie Street here, writing to let you know of an event taking place on Thursday, May 14 that may be of interest to Bernalites.

I’m half of the Mullen Brothers Imaging team that made the historic photos that were on display at Pinhole Coffee. The other half of this team, Brother Mike, is working on the massive task of photo-documenting all of the lakes of Desolation Wilderness (just West of Lake Tahoe). There are hundreds of lakes there, both named and un-named. The project focusses on the natural beauty of this pristine wilderness, but also touches on the ideas of solitude in a state of 34 million people and the very timely issue of water scarcity.

On May 14, from 6 to 9 PM, our company Mullen Brothers Imaging will host a gallery exhibition of many of the images collected to date. Out gallery is at 2040 Oakdale Ave. in 94110.

PHOTO: Mullen Brothers Imaging

Spotter’s Report: Which of These Bernal Birds Is the Mostest Cutest?


Neigbor John and his 7 year-old son Eddie have been out bird-watching again, and they bring us this update on some of the avians they’ve spotted recently around Bernal Heights:

Getting good focus on the birds is really hard, as they move around a lot, and the plants have a tendency to attract the auto zoom. But we have great birds on the hill, and this is one way to share them.

Here are three super cool birds all found in less than fifteen minutes in the pine trees just up Bernal Heights Boulevard near the gate on the north side of the hill.

The first is a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. We are more familiar with the Ladder Backed Woodpecker, but it generally doesn’t come this far north and the red is a bit further back on the head of the Nutthall’s, which you can clearly see here. There must be a ton of bugs in the dead trunk just up from the live pines as this woodpecker was pecking ferociously:


The Pygmy Nuthatch and Chestnut Backed Chickadee are in a dead heat for cutest bird on the hill. Here’s the Pygmy Nuthatch:


Birds standing still in the nice light is a highly unnatural act, and the cutest birds seem to be the most shy. Here’s the Chestnut Backed Chickadee:


It looks like we also have a pair of Red Tailed Hawks nesting on the hill. If you look closely, you can see nesting material in the hawk’s beak. I hope we can look forward to a few months of serious hawk activity:


PHOTOS: Neighbor John and Neighbor Eddie

An Introduction to Our Local Sparrows, as Spotted Recently on Bernal Hill


Neigbor John and his 7 year-old son Eddie live on Lundys. They’re heavy into bird-watching, and they inform us that Bernal Heights is actually a rather lively place to spy the local avians.

Neighbor John tells Bernalwood:

Here are three photos I took while bird watching with Eddie this morning. Within 100 yards on the south slope of Bernal Heights Blvd. we saw all three of the varieties of sparrows that can be seen on the hill.

The White Crowned Sparrow is obvious, with the distinctive white stripes on its head. They are currently in their “first winter” plumage:

White Crowned Sparrow

The second is the Golden Crown Sparrow, also in the first winter plumage. While you can clearly see the gold color on its head, the color will brighten as we head into spring:

Golden Crowned Sparrow

The House Sparrow is actually an ally of the finches. It has a distinctive, if boring, slate gray scalp, which is more than made up for with the black breast and colorful brown back:

House Sparrow

One of the lessons we are learning from bird watching with Eddie is to take joy in watching common birds. And, when you look closely, they have interesting stories as well!

PHOTOS: Neighbor John and Eddie

Neighbor Stumped by Mysterious Trunk of Sidewalk Tree


Over the break, Neighbor Matthew wondered about the odd tree in front his house on Wool Street:

What’s the deal with the strange Bernal trees that are stumpy on the bottom and narrower on top? See attached photos. I have noticed these while running all over the ‘Wood Hood. This photo is from in front of my house on Wool Street. I’m stumped (wakka wakka wakka) as to whether these trees grow this way naturally, whether they had some sort of disease, or whether a smaller tree was somehow transplanted into a previously larger tree.

Any insight from Bernal’s many armchair arborists?

PHOTO: Neighbor Matthew