Nature Notebook, August 24, 2017


The solar excitement is over, so pack up your viewing glasses for the next seven years, until the next total solar eclipse will be seen in the United States on April 8, 2024.  

Now is the time for berry picking: blackberries and huckleberries have long been a sweet treat, their abundance an end-of-summer gift to be gathered and eaten fresh or stashed in the freezer. Baking with berries in winter always reminds me of summer in the midst of the cold and rain. Fact: what we recognize as a berry is actually a cluster of small fruits—called drupelets—each with its own seed.

Acorn woodpeckers are on the move, preparing for the upcoming ripening of oak acorns by making “granary trees.” They drill holes into tree bark, utility poles and old fence posts. A colonial species living in groups around their granaries, these woodpeckers have a distinct red patch on the head. They also practice cooperative breeding, in which more than two birds tend the nest; usually three males and two females watch over the eggs. They fill their drilled holes with acorns, and as the acorns dry and shrink, they move them to smaller holes. The rotting acorns also serve as a hatchery for insects, which become a winter food source as the typical summer menu of flying insects fades. My favorite group to watch is on Portola Avenue, where they have drilled the utility pole and the oak limbs around it.