Don’t Forget Leona Canyon, This Year

All the bigger parks usually get our attention, but we did another full walk at Leona Canyon over the holidays.  You ramble through a beautiful canyon, complete with “babbling brook” sound effects.

Start at the southern Canyon Oaks trail head, right past the condos.  Now walk from this open area into the woods after a quarter mile or so.  This is the nicest wide trail, with a slight uphill grade as the canyon envelops you.  You could stop by the bench and return, for a quick 1.5 mile walk with the dog or kids.

Leona Canyon Map

There are other options, too.  Less than a mile in, you may turn right on an unmarked trail (Artemisia) that rises several hundred feet, ending near Skyline Blvd.  Or continue along and catch the signed trail (Pyrite) on the left, which meanders up the opposite canyon hillside.  Both of these trails are very good uphill workouts, and I highly recommend them.

If you keep going on the main canyon trail, then you will eventually head up and up to Merritt College.  The views make this out-and-back 2.7 miler worth it.  You feel so removed, yet are just tucked away from the surrounding ridges and civilization.

Want company the first time?  The East Bay Regional Park District has planned some special Leona Canyon events.  Learn about the indigenous peoples and how they lived among the berries and willows, appreciate the local birds, or else go for a nice walk with Fido and his friends in the canyon.  Here are details:

  • Sunday Stroll — February 20th, from 10:00am – 12:00pm.  Sara Fetterly will lead this moderate hike from Canyon Oaks trailhead to Merritt College and back.  Native American plant uses are highlighted along this scenic path.  This short stroll is great for families, and dogs are welcome.  No advanced registration is needed.  For more info, call (510) 544-3187.
  • Tuesdays For The Birds — March 15th, from 7:30am – 9:30am.  Enjoy bird life with guide Bethany Facendi, through Leona Canyon.  All levels of birding experience welcome.  Bring water, sunscreen and binoculars or scopes.   No advanced registration is needed, but call (510) 544-2233 for trailhead location.
  • Volunteer Day — Sunday, March 20th, from 10:00am – 2:00pm.  Help showcase the self-guided trail “Local Indian Uses of Plants.”  Protect and promote featured native plants by weeding and pulling non-native invasive grasses and shrubs, and selectively pruning native plants.  Lunch, tools and gloves provided by leader Mike Charnofsky, and volunteers ages 10+ are welcomed at the Merritt College trailhead.  Registration is required, by calling 888-327-2757 (option 2, 3) or online (program #26057).
  • Birding By Ear — Sunday, March 27th, from 9:30am – 11:30am.  Join Michael Charnofsky for this concert experience.  Yes, it does count when you identify a bird by its song. Learn to identify bird songs in this beautiful canyon.  Meet at the Canyon Oaks Dr. Staging Area.  No advanced registration is needed.  For more info, call (510) 544-3187.

What I like best about Leona Canyon is that it feels like an oasis, and isn’t well-known like the nearby Chabot, Joaquin Miller, Sibley, Huckleberry or Redwood Regional Parks.  It’s a small park, but there are those who love it.

Foxes Get Comfortable Too

We’re used to seeing deer, raccoon, skunks and occasional turkeys around our homes.  In the past few weeks, people living in the hills between Oakland and Berkeley have spotted a fox or two lounging right in their backyards!

Normally, the foxes are spotted running in stealth mode. I have seen them scurrying along, particularly on open hillsides in the East Bay Regional Parks. This photographic proof is fascinating, since the fox looks like some domesticated cat or dog.

Wild Life in the North Hills serves as our active repository for sightings, especially in the northern reaches of Oakland.  All neighbors are encouraged to take snapshots of mammals, birds, insects, plants and more.  The recent finds are uploaded for the month, and then categorized accordingly.  We’re impressed by Kay Loughman, an expert birder who faithfully oversees and maintains this great resource.

Dreams Almost Fulfilled: Shepherd Canyon

As you know, Martin Luther King Day has become a day of service.  Why not come and volunteer at Shepherd Canyon Park, where dreams are almost fulfilled?  This place has come a long way, though a work crew’s needed tomorrow — just show up at Escher Gate, at 9am sharp.

Through dogged volunteerism, Shepherd Canyon has been transformed from a literal trash heap to a thing of beauty.  While the park is a respite for all visitors today, it used to be filled with cars, city-dumped debris and more. Here’s the damning, photographic proof from late 2001.

The Car Park: Let’s begin with this vintage vehicle, nestled below in the creek bed. There were other rusties in the park, and we can’t imagine the efforts taken to dump cars in this remote spot! It’s baffling they weren’t pulled out years before.

The Teenage Wasteland: Check out more “crime scene” evidence, where locals had their late-night parties. This teenage (sorry) wasteland is ridiculous, because all the drinking detritus could have been easily carried out.

The City Dump: Look at this debris deposited by the City of Oakland! Yes, this old concrete was something that (we believe) Public Works threw in the upper meadows, never envisioning the open space decades later. The place looked pretty depressing, right?

Thanks to Shepherd Canyon’s Homeowners Association’s (SCHA) website for recording the canyon history, including this dumping evidence and subsequent clean-up.  Since the SCHA’s initial clearing efforts, their Ecopullers continue to restore the area and trails.  If you live in a nearby canyon, it’s worth stopping by tomorrow — to check out the progress and work the land.

Superlocal Rain and Weather

When the severe weather arrives, we are always trying to gauge what’s happening right in the Oakland Hills.  Somehow reports from Oakland’s airport or other Bay Area locales doesn’t cut it.

The superlocal weather stations are currently reporting through Wunderground online.  Enter your address, and the site returns the nearest reporting location to you.

Or click to see live and historical weather at these locations:   Indian Way — Joaquin Miller — Piedmont Pines — Above Thornhill.

As you are probably aware, there’s a hazardous weather warning  issued by the National Weather Service for the Bay Area.  We assume you have already battened down the hatches.

Yes, the rains and floods do happen this time of year.  Remember to pay attention and clear nearby storm drains of debris and leaves — whether you have officially adopted a drain or not.

To protect your turf, come and pick up sandbags and plastic sheeting at the Public Works’ satellite office:  5921 Shepherd Canyon Road.  If you are experiencing storm-related damage, then make sure to call Oakland’s Public Works Call Center at (510) 615-5566 for emergency help.

Montclair Virtual Art Gallery: Meet David Miller

Just as there are poet laureates, our East Bay Parks laureate should be artist David M. Miller.  He creates beautiful watercolors and oils, and shares our local scenery, weather and moods perfectly.

Let’s start with this Redwood Regional Park painting, which captures second generation trees and filtered light so well.  The image literally feels like the walks we take all the time, while wandering around the hillside trees.

Miller likes to experiment with different kinds of work, and created this thistle as a focal point for Wildcat Canyon scenery.  Using watercolor and ink, he’s able to shift from a typical view to something that’s…typically all over our socks after a walk.

We next travel to Lake Chabot, where Miller’s watercolor plays up the lakeside itself.  Notice the prominent reeds and growth around the large reservoir, along with the subtle colors which emerge here.  This image lets you stop and soak in the place, especially during the summer season.

Wrapping up the local parks tour, Miller captures a slightly ominous Tilden Park sunset.  We experience an imperfect, past-peak sunset, which contributes to our discomfort.  Add in the birds, and this painting feels a bit like Hitchcock, no?

David Miller lives in Berkeley, but we’ll claim him as a Montclarion.  His love of the Oakland and Berkeley hills is outstanding, and his plein air painting honors our place.  He grew up at Point Reyes, and embraced his artistic side while working as an engineer.  Now he insists on painting every single day, and experiments with political and other genres as well.

For the past decade, Miller has created and displayed his artwork around the Bay Area.  He last showed his works locally, at the Montclair Gallery, back in 2008.  Since then, he has been part of featured and group shows nearby.  Visit David’s website here, which lists his schedule and presents an even larger virtual gallery.  You may reach him at or call 510-816-9581.

Native Plant Sale

The Friends of Sausal Creek (FOSC) will hold its fall Native Plant Sale on Sunday, October 24, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Joaquin Miller Park Native Plant Nursery. A flyer can be downloaded here.

Native plant experts will be available all day to help shoppers pick appropriate plants for their specific planting areas. This year’s plant sale will feature workshops and live music throughout the day to celebrate completion of the nursery’s expanded shady propagation and growing area and new teaching circle.

11:00  Native Bees and Your Garden with Jennifer Smith

12:00  Native Bird Connections:  Live Owls and Raptors of the Watershed!

12:30  Gardening with Native Plants

1:00    Keeping Urban Chickens with Thomas Kriese

1:30    Growing and Propagating Native Plants with Karen Paulsell

There will also be tables to visit, including Alameda County Master Gardeners to answer your gardening questions and “The Spider Chick” Linda Erickson with awesome live arachnids, plus face painting for the kids. Live music will be provided by Harlan James Bluegrass Band and Juke Joint Johnny. This year’s sale is an event not to be missed! Bring your family, neighbors, and friends…and, if possible, a cardboard box to get your plants safely home with you.

Douglas Iris

For more information, please visit the website, email, or call (510) 501-3672. To volunteer to help before or during the sale, contact or call (510) 325-9006.

The nursery is located in Joaquin Miller Park on Sanborn Road. From Highway 13, go east on Joaquin Miller Road. Turn left on Sanborn and park near the community center. Follow signs to the nursery, about 1/4 mile.

Creek to Bay Day

Head out to your favorite creek this Saturday to rip up that Himalayan Blackberry and Algerian Ivy.

Many of the local events for Creek to Bay Day involve removing the invasive species that choke the natives growing on the banks of the area’s creeks: douglas iris, yellow-eyed grass, and monkey flower to name but a few.  Here’s where you can find a Creek to Bay Day event near you. Kimra McAfee of Friends of Sausal Creek reminds volunteers to bring gloves, water, and plenty o’ sunscreen.