Berkeley Butterfly Walk

June 03, 2010

by Steven Finacom

About a dozen people joined eminent UC entomologist Jerry Powell on Saturday, May 29, 2010 for a leisurely butterfly-watching walk along trails at the top of Berkeley’s Panoramic Hill.

Views from the higher southeast elevations of Panoramic Hill were stupendous. The Bay spread out, visible from Santa Clara County to San Pablo Bay, sunny skies prevailed, and light breezes made for a pleasant ramble through meadows along the crest, then back along one of the fire trails on the shady north-facing slope of Strawberry Canyon.

A coyote, hawks and songbirds completed the wildlife cameos along the walk.The late rains meant that much of the seasonal landscape is still green.

More than a dozen butterfly species were spotted and identified by Powell and others on the walk.They included the California Ringlet, Lorquin’s Admiral, Umber Skipper, Sara Orangetip, Field Crescent, Mournful Duskywing, Red Admiral, Chalcedon Checkerspot, Anise Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Pale Swallowtail, and Western Tiger Swallowtail.

Powell said that there were fewer species than he expected of this time of year, possibly due to the cooler weather earlier this spring.

Powell is a Professor in the Graduate School at UC Berkeley and Director Emeritus of the Essing Museum of Entomology, where he started working in 1961.His primary research interest is certain types of small moths.

When the group finally spotted a Sara Orangetip–a white butterfly with vivid orange patches on the wing ends–fluttering along the trail in Strawberry Canyon, I thought of Berkeley native David Brower hiking these same hills as a boy in the 1920s, and looking for butterflies, including the Orangetip.

At that time the Berkeley hills were undeveloped in their upper reaches, but also largely unprotected.Residential development would eventually sweep to the summit, north of the UC campus and south of Claremont Canyon.In the 1970s a sustained, and ultimately successful, struggle began to protect most of Claremont Canyon from residential development.

Hundreds of residential lots had already been subdivided for development, but almost all were eventually bought and incorporated into the East Bay Regional Park District.

The walk was sponsored by the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, a non-profit that grew out of that land use struggle and now works to protect and restore the natural environment of the canyon behind the Claremont Hotel.

This Saturday, June 4, the Conservancy is sponsoring another free walk, a “geology ramble” led by Martin Holden, from 10 am to noon.Meet at the Stonewall Road trailhead to the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve.A vigorous climb is involved.

For more details see the Conservancy website

See Professor Powell’s website, and if you want to know more about butterflies, visit the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) website