Sharing Spaces in San Francisco, California

Well! I’m back! One of the reasons Ive loved writing this blog (and have also not posted in a long time) is that it is somewhere I could share my full unadulterated feelings and opinions. It is about more than bird watching. It was about bird watching in relation to my life and the world at large. For the last year Ive underwent a lot of drastic and at times jarring changes. Simply put – I didnt feel like sharing them in my blog. But now after roughly a year and a half, I have returned! I have new birds, new stories, and new tales of birding by public transit to share with you! I even have a few opinions to share!

Bewicks Wren – Battery Godfrey, Presidio, San Franciso, California

Over the last year, I spent time in Mexico, Toronto, exotic Windsor Ontario, and Quebec City.  I had stints in Detroit (with my family) and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most recently my travels took me to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. Over the  years my birding has evolved to have more of a focus on the listing aspect (like Pokemon! you gotta catch ’em all) and I was looking forward to seeing some new species. My boyfriends family lives near AT&T Park and while we did rent a car for several days, I spent several days birding via public transit in the immediate San Francisco area.

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head, San Franciso, California

For me, San Franciso is a place where you can have super conflicting experiences all while standing in the same spot. While standing still you can experience extreme wealth and poverty sandwiched on top of each other.  You can see extreme natural beauty and extreme congestion and resource waste all at once. There’s cultural and racial diversity but socioeconomic segregation is super evident. That being said, San Francisco birding did not disappoint and I enjoyed that there were so many great areas for bird photography available without a car.  Although I learned the hard way that your experience with the BART can vary wildly depending what line you are riding, I found it to be a very nice public transit system overall.

My two favorite birding locations that were easily accessible by by BART were Herons Head Park and the Sutro Bath/Land End/Sutro Heights Park area. Herons Head, in particular, offers some great opportunities for bird photography, particularly if you time it right and arrive when the tide has gone out. Heron’s Head is reached by taking the K or T train and then walking down Cargo Way or Evans (roughly 15 or so minutes). They have bathrooms but I didnt notice any restaurants or coffee shops in the vicinity. Lands End was reached easily (for me anyway) by taking the 38R Bus Line. They had clean bathrooms and a handful of restaurants nearby.

Spotted Sandpiper – Herons Head – San Francisco, California

Since both parks are in the city, they attracted a variety of people for a variety of uses. Besides the bird watchers the main human inhabitants at Herons Head were dog walkers, and the majority of the people I encountered were friendly and respectful that I was bird watching. In fact, the people who were the most crotchety and uncomfortable to be around were other bird watchers.  My boyfriend and I were birding one day (thats right! I converted my new boyfriend into a birder!) and we got stuck on a path behind a group of birders loudly bemoaning the dog watchers and every other human inhabitant of the park. They complained, and pointed out a bird to each other, and complained some more. They griped louder and louder until we couldnt take them anymore and passed like we were in a car on a freeway. Every time we got within earshot of them they were still complaining about the dog walkers. They increased their volume when people they disapproved of got close in an effort to communicate their disdain. They were the first of many exhibits of ‘Green Space Entitlement’ I encountered while in San Franciso. Luckily shortly after we ran into the gripers we ran into a wonderful lady birding solo whose friendliness and helpfulness reinforced my beliefs that not all bird watchers are curmudgeons.

Greater Yellowlegs – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

I think anyone who has spent a lot of time in National or even local parks understands Green Space Entitlement. Its basically when any one subset of park users decide that enjoying their hobby should take precedence over other users hobbies. In extreme cases, it manifests itself to people deciding that their use of the park is the only acceptable use, and everyone else should be banned.  More common examples include; groups of stroller-pushing mothers that refuse to break formation and run you off the sidewalk, bicyclists yelling at you to get out of the way even when you are already standing to the side and bird watchers intentionally loudly griping about other people in earshot in an effort to make them feel uncomfortable. At Lands End it manifested itself in a trail runner who decided to run on one of the busiest days of the year and scream ‘EXCUSE ME! JESUS!’ and ‘CHRIST!” at everyone he was trying to pass.  I once even heard of a local park that was receiving pressure to ban walkers during a midday hour so a yoga class did not have to be disturbed by others conversations.

Says Phoebe – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

Snowy Egret before it was flushed by a dog. Herons Head, San Francisco, California.

You see, one of the curses about beautiful places is that other people want to visit them too. In addition, we live in a world of ever decreasing green spaces which results in the few we have being super crowded. Ive never been so happy to have a flexible schedule and be able to visit parks in off-peak hours than in San Francisco. Even though I am writing a blog post about tolerance for others in community spaces, would I rather just have a park all to myself without having others bother me? Abso-fucking-lutely. No one is an infinite well of tolerance and there will always be the occasional person who tests your patience. For example, one day at Lands End a guy climbed out onto one of the large rocks and flushed every bird from its comfortable resting spot. Its not that he just flushed the birds, it was that was literally hopping and leaping around the wet and slimy rocks while his friend happily snapped photos. I started getting super worried he would slip and fall in his quest for the perfect Instagram or Facebook photo.

Sutro baths on a sparsely populated day.

Man standing on poop covered rock. The large rock is shown above in the ocean.

We also need to have objective conversations about when the behavior of others actually hurt the birds or other animal inhabitants of the park. For example at Herons Head there were a decent amount of fisherman. For the most part, I view recreational fisherman as an important ally in the battle to save our spaces. Ive actually never met any serious recreational fisherman who didnt care deeply about the environment, clean up after themselves, or follow the rules of the spaces they are fishing. One day at Heron’s Head I happened to spot a bit of fishing bait and tackle while I was photographing a Willet. It was a reminder of what a danger lead tackle and weights can be to birds. For example, many studies are showing that the Common Loon population is decreasing specifically due to lead poisoning from these factors. Would it be out of line to say something to people we see using lead weights and tackle? There are a lot of questions we need to ask about sharing our spaces without, in my opinion at least, making it uncomfortable for people to use them.

Willet with Bait and Tackle – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

Willet with Bait – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

You see, I am super pessimistic and scared of the way conservation is trending in the United States. The recent decision regarding Bears Ear and Grand Staircase Escalate are really loud announcements about the current administration’s attitude towards those who enjoy our National and local parks. I think one of the greatest tools we have in this fight is forming large coalitions of people to help defend these attacks on our land. While I wish there were enough bird watchers in the US that we could become a super powerful lobbying bloc, I think our best hope is banding together with other groups to make our voices as loud and numerous as possible. One of the best ways to ensure this happens to let people have access and enjoy the space for a variety of purposes. We need to make our spaces comfortable for multiple types of users so when their existence is threatened the largest number of people come forward to oppose it.

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

So here I am writing this post, asking my readers to do one of the hardest things possible – compromise. You see, I dont particularly enjoy being surrounded by large field trips of children when birding, no one likes having their birds flushed by dogs, and no one (least of all the bicyclist) likes the idea of being hit by someone pedaling at full speed. But I believe its better to zoom out, look at the bigger picture, and tolerate the inconveniences that come with sharing spaces than have the place I bird turn into a parking lot. Remeber at the end of the day that the vast majority of this behavior is simply that – an inconvenience.  You are there to enjoy yourself and enjoy nature. Everyone else there is trying to simply do the same thing, no matter what form they are expressing it in.  There are a variety of ways to enjoy our shared green spaces, and no use has priority over another. Know that at the end of the day if anyone ever tries to sell off the spaces you love you will have many more people in the fight with you.

Black Turnstone – Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California


Thats all for now! I sign off with the sentiment that I will hopefully be able to get another post or two done by the end of the month!

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