How to Bike on Alabama Without Biking Up Alabama (Hint: Follow the Bernal Chicken)

Alabama Uphill
I bike down Alabama in the morning to get to work, which, with the combination of awful pavement, loose gravel, and the 67 bus (which seems to only come when I am biking) feels like tempting death. On the way home, there’s no way I can make it back up that hill.

Or, there WAS no way! Another cyclist let me in on a little secret:

This route has steep parts, but there’s some flat in there, the roads are in better shape than Alabama, and there’s less traffic. It’s so pleasant, in fact, that I’ve been biking down the hill this way, too.

The Lower Haight has The Wiggle. Maybe it’s the season, but I think this looks kind of like the outline of a peep. Is Bernal too laid back and private to name a bike route? (NO! — Ed.) I’m not suggesting we get signs or bikes painted on the road, but based on the shape of the route, let’s call this shortcut the Bernal Chicken, just among friends?

PHOTO:Looking up Alabama Street, by Telstar Logistics

So Many Wild Creatures in the Neighborhood!

Bernalwood has all kinds of awesome creatures and plants all over the place; you just have to look a little bit, and learn how to figure out what you’re seeing.

It also helps if you have an awesome camera or lens. I don’t know anything about cameras, but luckily, Logan Bartling seems to have one. Also luckily, in addition to writing an excellent blog about birding on Alcatraz, he lives in Bernal Heights, and kindly shared some recent photos with us.

The very top photo is a Western scrub jay. This shiny guy is an Anna’s hummingbird. They have a funny little wheezy squeak, like an over-loved dog toy. I hear it all the time on Bernal Heights Blvd., and can usually find the source sitting on a sunny branch.

Red-tailed hawk. You know when there’s a movie set in a crazy jungle or somewhere super-exotic and wild and you hear the high-pitched terror-inducing cry that tells you, “this is a crazy location?” That’s a red-tailed hawk.

A pocket gopher. Gardeners and dogs know these guys.

The fearsome Jerusalem cricket. Ew!

A pair of kestrels. Logan claims that the kestrels follow him. My hunch: he just knows when and where to look for them. He says he’s seen them lately along Bayshore and up on Powhattan and Bernal Heights Blvd.

Photos: Logan Bartling of Maganrord.

The Oxalis Weed: An Uninvited Guest That Never Leaves

Every winter after the rain, oxalis starts popping up. Maybe even during the rain; I don’t know for sure. But one thing is certain: On that day when you glance up on a walk and think, “oh, it’s green again,” part of the reason for the change in color is oxalis.

Bane of gardeners, this aggressive weed grows in yards, between sidewalk cracks, on hillsides, in planter boxes. The oxalis we all hate is Oxalis pes-caprae, a native of South Africa. (Which also gave us ice plant. Thanks a lot, South Africa.)

Oxalis is just about impossible to get rid of. Our La Lenguan neighbors have it, too. Actually, it’s all over the city. I’ve never had any luck eradicating it. I’ve heard that what you really have to do is dig down and remove every single god-forsaken bulb. One of these letters to the Chronicle from 2007 suggests getting chickens. So there’s that option.

It’s also known as sourgrass–and also, apparently, as Bermuda buttercup (though I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before). In small quantities it’s even edible. You can chew the flower stalk or eat the leaves; it’s kinda peppery-lemony, like a woodsy lemon drop.

Oxalis afficianados will point out that not all oxalis are bad. In fact, we even have some nice native ones, including redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), which grows in redwood forests. But the oxalis known as oxalis is a serious pain. To part on a really cranky note, this essay by science writer David Quammen explains much more eloquently than I ever could why most weeds suck.

Savvy Spotters Say Bernal’s Birds Are Not So Sexy

San Francisco’s annual Christmas Bird Count happened last week. (The counts don’t have to be on Christmas, just around that time.) The Golden Gate Audubon Society is still tallying the final results, but here’s the initial report on the birds of Bernal Heights: Not so exciting.

Tom White, who led the group that covered Bernal, said they didn’t see anything spectacular up here — certainly not any candidates for bird of the day. (For the uninitiated, birding is a slightly competitive activity.) Participants in Christmas Bird Counts count everything: crows, pigeons,  starlings, and ravens.

Between the Hill, Holly Park, and one of the community gardens, the Bernal group also counted Anna’s hummingbirds, a mockingbird, robins, house finches, pygmy nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, and two American kestrels. Mundane stuff. To them.

So Bernal’s not a hot birding spot — or at least it wasn’t the morning of the Christmas Bird Count. But we do have some nice birds. My favorites are the colorful scrub jays, squawking from a yard near you. The kestrels are cool, too: they’re tiny, colorful falcons. You can find them sometimes if you see a bunch of upset pigeons, but no hawk. Check nearby branches; chances are there’s a badass little kestrel hanging out. Even in the city, it’s a jungle out there.

Photo: A local hummingbird, by Molly Samuel

This Old Tree Is Actually the Most Unpretentious Bernal Heights Native You’ll Ever Meet

San Francisco natives like to talk about the fact that they were born here. It’s like they’re a rare species threatened by invasives on their little peninsula. If trees could talk, this blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) would probably give you an earful about it, too.

“The tree is believed to be a genetic remnant of San Francisco’s original flora, pre-(European) settlement,” explains Mei Ling Hui, the Urban Forest Coordinator from San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “People think the seed it grew from was unearthed and sprouted after the road was cut around Bernal Hill as part of a WPA project.”

Okay, so it’s not a majestic-looking tree — it kind of looks like a big bush. But it’s an important one to the City. In fact, it’s one of San Francisco’s landmark trees. The Landmark Tree Program protects the city’s old, interesting, or special trees. We have lots of nice trees in San Francisco, but like many of our nice humans, most of them aren’t from here.

Bernal’s blue elderberry is like a time capsule. When you look up at it — it’s in the tangle of blackberries where Folsom dead-ends into Bernal Heights Blvd. on the north side of the hill — narrow your vision a little. Ignore the eucalyptus, and the radio tower, and the airplanes going by, and treat yourself to a glimpse of really old San Francisco.