In Spite of the Drought

Pacific Aster

Pacific Aster

Even with the yearslong drought, there is still plenty of life on the Mountain. The Mountain is so dry - it is almost painful to experience, but plants and animals do survive. There are late blooming wildflowers, some finding protected locations, but the lack of water has taken it toll. The very hardy Pacific Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) is not uncommon at this time of year and you will even find it baking in the sun along the Saddle Trail's edge. Think drought-tolerant California native - suitable for your garden!

I ventured up to the Saddle area with birding on my mind. Since it was already noon (I'll never make a serious birder since I'm not an early riser) I didn't hold out a lot of hope, but it was sunny and not windy. These were good signs - at least to see the usual supects. But it's Fall and there are birds migrating to their wintering grounds, and San Bruno Mountain hosts its share of travelers.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

The first Golden-Crowned Sparrows have arrived and can usually be seen hanging around with resident White-Crowned Sparrows, foraging on the ground - flying quickly to the scrub when they feel threatened. This one was "hiding" in a thicket of non-native blackberries. This plant is terribly invasive and difficult to control, but it provides food for both animals and humans. Check out the blackberry picker - he's got a big bucket for blackberry pie, he says. I think it's illegal to collect in a State Park, but this species of blackberry is non-native and there's plenty for everyone, unfortunately.

Blackberry "thief"

Blackberry "thief"

It's a conumdrum, but non-native and invasive plants are sometimes attractive to birds, animals and insects and substitute for an absent native plant - providing nectar, berries and seeds.

Umber Skipper on Bull Thistle

Umber Skipper on Bull Thistle

Nectar and pollen feeding insects often use a variety of flowers in their diet. It's true that many insects, like butterflies, may have strict plant species requirements for laying eggs and providing food for larvae, but nectar for adults is a different thing. This Umber Skipper is feeding on the flower of the dreaded, invasive Bull Thistle. Birds, especially Goldfinch, love the thistle seeds and use the thistle "down" for nest building. Goldfinch have adapted to breed late in the season to take advantage of matured thistle.

So it wasn't a bad couple of hours up on the Mountain. In addition to just the joy of being outdoors I saw another new arrival for my bird list, a Hermit Thrush skulking in dense Arroyo Willows near Colma Creek. They arrive as early as September to the SF Peninsula. It's always exciting to see your first-of-the-season migrant.

I highly recommend a couple of hours on the Mountain - in spite of the drought.

    — Alane Gray, Mountain Watch Volunteer

Hermit Thrush - Winter visitor

Hermit Thrush - Winter visitor