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  1. I was told that in the Tilden Nature Area there is a tree grown from one of the seeds taken on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon.  Is this true?  If so, is it marked and/or easy to find?  I feel a little silly asking about this since I've never heard of it before, but I'm kind of a space nerd.
  2. Every fall, I see tarantulas crawling around at some of the parks. What are they doing and where are they the rest of the year?
  3. Is a newt a type of lizard?
  4. I just received a field guide on Wildflowers of Northern California. What is the rarest flower we have here in the regional parks?
  5. When is the best time of year to see whales in the Bay Area?
  6. Our family did a hike on Sunday, and saw a very unusual tree near the intersection of Camp Ohlone Road and Backpack Road, near the park boundary. The tree was about 50 yards of the trail, still upright, but long since dead, was covered with holes roughly 5/8" in diameter that were tightly stuffed with nuts. How the holes got there (woodpeckers?), we had no clue, and how the nuts got in the holes (squirrels?) was even more of a mystery. Weird! If anyone knows more about these, please write back with an explanation!

Answers

1. I was told that in the Tilden Nature Area there is a tree grown from one of the seeds taken on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon.  Is this true? If so, is it marked and/or easy to find?  I feel a little silly asking about this since I've never heard of it before, but I'm kind of a space nerd. Thanks, - Chris

Tarantula Dear Chris - Alan Kaplan, retired naturalist at Tilden Nature Area, provides the following information:
Stuart Roosa was an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission to the Moon (in January 1971) who had a forest service connection (he had been a smoke jumper). He brought tree seeds with him, they circled the moon (he was the command module pilot and did not descend to the Moon surface). The seeds came back and were planted out at a variety of US Forest Service nurseries; one was in Placerville, CA and that was the source of the Moon Trees, one of which is in the Regional Parks  Botanic Garden, at the rear of the garden, and another at the entrance to Tilden's Environmental Education Center. This one can be easily found: the two benches at the entrance form a "V" shape and the point of the "V" points to the tree. There is a NASA web page devoted to the moon tree titled, "The Moon Trees". 

2. Every fall, I see tarantulas crawling around at some of the parks. What are they doing and where are they the rest of the year? - Derek Lewis, San Ramon

TarantulaDear Derek - Lucky you to see these wonderful arachnids roaming about the parks! You'll find them in many places, especially crossing roads, typically in the drier East Bay locations such as Sunol, Morgan Territory, Del Valle, and Mount Diablo during September and October. What you're seeing are likely male tarantulas ambling about in search of mates. Tarantulas reach maturity at between 7-10 years at which time the males search for females ready to lay eggs. Tarantulas are around all year but much more secretive during summer, spring and winter, coming out only at night to hunt for food. You can identify a tarantula burrow by looking at the ground for small holes lined with a bit of silk. Remember to leave these marvelous creatures be. Don't touch because although not deadly, they are venomous and can bite. And alas, for the poor guys out there looking for mates, males die within a year of mating, sometimes being eaten by the female. With a diet rich in insects and male tarantulas, females may live over 20 years. EBRPD offers interpretative programs and hikes each fall in search of tarantulas. Cat Taylor, Naturalist at Sunol Regional Wilderness

3. Is a newt a type of lizard? - Ashley Chambers, Castro Valley

NewtAshley - Even though a newt looks like a small brown lizard, it's actually an amphibian - they don't have scales. You may be seeing quite a few of them during the winter season. California newts rest all summer in preparation for the slow steady journey to breeding ponds or streams in winter. Other animals don't like to eat newts because there is poison in the newts' skin. It's a good idea not to touch one, and if you do, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water afterwards. Learn more about newts on one of our naturalist-led newt programs coming in January and February.

What's the biggest danger to newts in the East Bay?
Cars! One of the biggest dangerous to newts is actually being run over by cars. In fact, at the East Bay Regional Park District, we close South Park Drive at Tilden Regional Park for about five months during newt migration season. This is one of the most frequently crossed paths for newts going from the highlands to Wildcat Creek. We started closing the road 21 years ago but before we did, we worked with U.C. Berkeley to better understand the impact cars were having on the newt population. Before closing the road, we picked up hundreds of dead newts who were tragically crushed by cars. Today, the newts are safely enjoying their migration and visitors have the opportunity to observe them in their natural setting.

4. I just received a field guide on Wildflowers of Northern California. What is the rarest flower we have here in the regional parks? - Rosie Andres, Berkeley, Ca

Clarkia franciscanaRosie - We estimate to have 150 different species of wildflowers here in the East Bay Regional Parks. However, one of the rarest of them all is the Presidio clarkia (Clarkia franciscana). This federally endangered plant is found in only two locations in the world. One is at the Serpentine Prairie in Redwood Regional Park and the other is the San Francisco Presido. Presidio clarkia is a beautiful, lavender-pink native flower that blooms in May through June and grows only on serpentine soils. It is so rare and fragile that is has been listed as endangered for almost 30 years -- one of the oldest listings in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's endangered handbook. Named after Captain William Clark, co-leader and botanist of the Lewis and Clark party, the Presidio clarkia played an important role in research conducted from the 1950s-1990s. This unique native plant was significant in shedding light on processes of evolution and plants, and it is famous in that respect. The East Bay Regional Park District is working on a preservation program to protect the surviving Presidio clarkia found at Redwood Regional Park.

5. When is the best time of year to see whales in the Bay Area?

WhaleRight now! Mid to late March is the peak of the Gray Whale migration in the Bay Area as an estimated 15,000 whales head north to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. December and January are good months as well, when they migrate south. Gray Whales stay close to shore so you can often observe them from the coast. This annual Gray Whale migration is perhaps the longest migration of any mammal, encompassing a roundtrip of 10-12,000 miles that takes between 4 and 6 months!

After feeding all summer in the nutrient rich waters north of Alaska, the whales head south to their winter breeding and calving grounds in the lagoons of Baja California. The mothers and calves are generally last to leave Baja, so expect to see moms and babies later, toward April and sometimes May.

Gray Whales are one of the few mammals where the females are larger than the males, weighing up to 40 tons. Newborns weigh between 1,100 and 1,500 pounds and are about 15 feet long, quite a large animal considering the gestation period is only 12-13 months. Gray whales are also known for their white patches interspersed on their gray bodies, where barnacles and whale lice attach themselves and live. It is believed that an average whale carries as much as 400 pounds of barnacles and lice on its body.

We're lucky to see Gray Whales at all. Hunted extensively in the late 1800s through the early 1900s, they nearly became extinct. It was estimated that as few as 2,000 Gray Whales remained when protection was finally established in 1946 through an international agreement. Today, the population is an estimated robust 17,000 to 20,000, and they were removed from the endangered species list in 1994.

Learn more about Gray Whales at the Crab Cover Visitor Center. You can also join Naturalists Nancy or Michael for the upcoming annual whale watching expeditions. Every trip is different, with chances of seeing Gray Whales along with Harbor Seals, Sea lions, Sea Otters, and a variety of birds. Our trips are aboard the 'New Captain Pete', leaving out of Half Moon Bay.

Tree with holes stuffed with nuts6. Our family did a hike on Sunday, and saw a very unusual tree near the intersection of Camp Ohlone Road and Backpack Road, near the park boundary. The tree was about 50 yards of the trail, still upright, but long since dead, was covered with holes roughly 5/8" in diameter that were tightly stuffed with nuts. How the holes got there (woodpeckers?), we had no clue, and how the nuts got in the holes (squirrels?) was even more of a mystery. Weird! If anyone knows more about these, please write back with an explanation! - Mike B.

Dear Mike,
Acorn WoodpeckerYour tree is being used as a granary by Melanerpes formicivourus, the Acorn Woodpecker. These fascinating birds work communally to store and defend thousands of acorns in trees, buildings and anything else they can drill a hole in. The caches increase the group's ability to survive lean times during the winter. Insects make up a major part of the diet and the birds can be seen in swooping flight as they "flycatch" from the tops of trees. Acorn woodpeckers are also communal, cooperative breeders with 1-7 breeding males and 1-3 breeding females. Adult offspring from previous years remain to help with incubation and feeding of the young.

Melan = black
erpes = creeper
formic = ant
vor = eat, devour

The Creeping Black Anteater

Anthony Fisher, Naturalist at Sunol Regional Wilderness