Alameda Accepts Unique Chance for Unique Nature-based Park

Rick Lewis -- Black Oystercatchers, black birds identified by their red bills and pink legs, search for food on the rocks at the edge of Seaplane Lagoon.
Rick Lewis -- Black Oystercatchers, black birds identified by their red bills and pink legs, search for food on the rocks at the edge of Seaplane Lagoon.

Alameda Accepts Unique Chance for Unique Nature-based Park

Alameda is creating an ecological park with a walkway though a wetland where we could see wetland birds while giving those birds more space while accommodating rising seas. It’s currently called “De-Pave Park” because the plan is to remove the pavement once used by Navy vehicles on almost all of the western edge of Seaplane Lagoon. The City Council on November 7 made the decision to create the largest possible park by using the full space for wildlife habitat, removing all buildings in the park space. I am excited to see what new birds will visit the new park.

More than 150 species of birds currently use wetlands habitat adjacent to the De-Pave Park area, the lagoon, and the shoreline near the Ferry Terminal. Wading birds would use the new De-Pave wetlands. From fall into spring Black-bellied Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, American Avocet, Western and Least Sandpipers visit the wetlands just behind the fence on the Veterans Administration-Alameda Point. An expanded wetland might provide more nesting area for Black Oystercatchers; I often see a pair of these medium-sized, black birds, identified by their red bills and pink legs, searching for food on the rocks at the edge of the lagoon. Juvenile Snowy Egrets that now hang out in the shallow water at Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary would find their way to a new west-end wetland.

Many Alamedans know that the VA Reserve hosts the largest Northern California nesting colony of endangered California Least Terns. The Wildlife Reserve was created to protect the birds, which have nested in the small gravel areas between the Naval Air Station taxiways since the 1970s. They fish in the bay and lagoon from April through August. The lagoon also provides different-sized fish to different-sized terns, Forster’s, Elegant and Caspian, distinguished by size, bill color, and calls — with different pitches and rhythms.

Removing the buildings will lessen one danger faced by the nesting Least Terns. Peregrine Falcons perch on the roof of the larger building at the entry to the park space, surveying the colony; they eat young and adult birds. For several years, a Red-tailed Hawk nested on that building, feeding its young by raiding the Least Tern colony.

Birds that now use the lagoon will continue to visit, perhaps in greater numbers. Western and Clark’s Grebes spend winter and spring in the lagoon. Some birders have reported seeing them with long, elegant necks curved as they run across the water in their courting dance. Surf Scoters, with their longish yellow and orange bills, spend the winter. When a Black or White-winged Scoter joins them, birders from around the Bay descend to see the rare visitor. At least once, a young Common Murre found its way from the Farallon Islands to the lagoon, where it learned to dive for fish. With more wetlands, and perhaps a nesting platform, the new park might attract an additional nesting pair of Osprey.

Some of the thousands of Brown Pelicans that now roost in a crowd on the breakwater and fish in the lagoon might also roost on rocks in a restored wetland, giving us all a closer view of these birds so many of us treasure. Once threatened with extinction, they were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2009, but still face threats from warmer and higher seas.

Before the ferry started frequent crossings, the lagoon hosted a lethargic Humpback Whale that seemed to need a place to rest. Named Allie by her many visitors, the recovered whale eventually slipped out of the lagoon into the Bay and, we hope, back into her usual migratory path. An expanded wetland might again make the lagoon attractive to whales and provide habitat for generations of fish to feed our local harbor seals and other marine mammals.

The bigger the wetland, and the further from buildings, the more birds might use a nature-based De-Pave Park, making it unique within the city’s roster of parks. Let members of the City Council know that birds, marine mammals, and we humans appreciate that they approved a new ecological park empty of commercial buildings.

Marjorie Powell is a member of the Golden Gate Bird Alliance and its Alameda Conservation Committee, Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve.

This article is part of a series on local birds organized by the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, the Alameda Conservation Committee of Golden Gate Bird Alliance (GGBA). The Oakland Christmas Bird Count happens on Sunday, Dec. 17; more information is available on the GGBA website.