Finally, Good News for the Glen Canyon Owls

This post is reprinted from

The last two years weren’t good to the famous Glen Canyon Great Horned Owls. All the work that was going on, the removal of trees near the nesting tree, the changes to the canyon – they disturbed the owls enough that there were no babies. Even though there’d been other successful nests in San Francisco.

That’s changed this year. The owls are back with a trio of baby owls. Here are some shots taken by wildlife photographer Janet Kessler.

glen canyon owlet 2015 copyright janet kessler

Three baby owls!

Three baby owls!

Mama owl standing guard

Mama owl standing guard

Two baby owls together

Two baby owls together

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Meanwhile, here’s another Glen Canyon bird – a Steller’s jay. This picture is also courtesy Janet Kessler.

steller jay glen canyon - copyright Janet Kessler

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Glen Canyon’s Full of Stairs

glen canyon steps - copyright tony holiday

One of the many new staircases in Glen Canyon

The ‘Trails’ project, used as an excuse to remove over 30 trees, is well under way in Glen Canyon. The hillside is getting covered with staircases. Earlier, there were gradual sloped trails, punctuated with short sections of shallow steps. Now, there are wooden box steps, installed at considerable expense, supposed to make access easier.

If you happen to be one of the lucky people with a lot of stamina and a stride that matches the pitch of the steps, that may actually be true. But people we spoke to find they’re tiring and hard on the knees. Instead of being able to determine your own step length, it’s determined for you by the staircases.

As someone said as a comment on the website on an article about Glen Canyon:

‘The Escher print is EXACTLY how all those stairs in Glen Canyon strike me. EVERYONE is complaining about them: that all those stairs hurt their knees, or that it’s so much more difficult to walk now, that the magical “wild” has been too tamed, that it no longer is a natural place, but a gardened place with sidewalks. Those who don’t seem to mind all the stairs are young folks who run with earphones plugged into their ears, oblivious to everything that’s around them — they use the park as their outdoor “stair master” checking their timings on their iPhones at the top of the stairs. Even some of the construction workers told me that the number of stairs was “crazy” — that it was obvious that RPD had “money to burn”.’

Here’s the article ‘Glen Canyon with Stairs and Coyote’ from the website, being republished here.


This is one of our “park visitor” series – first person accounts of our parks, published with permission.


Source: Wikipedia (fair use)

It was dusk when I climbed down into Glen Canyon from the Christopher Playground. It’s been some months since I visited it last, and I was saddened by the changes stemming from SF Recreation and Parks “trails” project.

All the hillside trails have been made into staircases. It reminded me of a drawing by Escher: they’re nearly as as difficult to walk. The risers of the box steps are high and the pitch not suited to everyone. Tiring and hard on the knees, and so it will effectively restrict access to many people.


But then a coyote came out of the bushes. I was delighted, though not surprised. Coyotes inhabit most of the city now, and the park has coyote-spotting signs up at the Christopher playground. But what followed was a surprise (to me, anyway!)

The park is surrounded by urban areas, and an emergency vehicle was racing by on the street above, siren wailing. “Watch,” said my companion. “He’s going to howl with the siren.” And sure enough – the little coyote raised his muzzle to the sky, gave a few barks, and then howled along with the siren.

I managed to get a blurry photograph. coyote howlingA few dogs from nearby homes responded with a woof or two, but they weren’t serious. The siren-coyote duet continued until the vehicle raced away and the sound faded. The coyote sat down, convinced, I thought, that it had told off the intruder into its territory and announced who really occupied this space.

The dusk deepened, and this magical moment was broken by flights of mosquitoes. I’ve been to Glen Canyon many times over many years, and these are a new thing for me. Wonder if it’s anything to do with the Islais Creek – and the felling of the bat trees.

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Bees in Glen Canyon – Lose Some, Win Some

 We’ve reported here before about the bee tree that was cut down as part of the “improvements” to Glen Canyon Park – and the one that was killed by mistake when someone thought it was a nest of yellow-jackets, not bees. This meant that only one of the three wild bee trees was still a living hive. We recently had both good news and bad news. There’s still only one bee tree, but the bees have proved resilient.

Karen Peteros wrote this note, which is published with permission.



Scott Mattoon and I have been working with RPD [San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department] Capital Improvements since 2011 to minimize adverse impacts Glen Canyon Park improvements could have on our feral honey bee colonies.

exposed hive with bees (Photo- Scott Mattoon)

Exposed hive with bees (Photo – Scott Mattoon)

One bee tree was lost on the hill above the Rec Center. Despite many many meetings with RPD, and a negotiated agreement to cut that bee tree at 25′ and otherwise leave it alone, the subcontractor failed to get that instruction and cut the tree at 5′. The trunk split and the colony exposed, but I was able to save the remaining bees and queen and install them in a Langstroth hive.

The bee tree that Scott discovered to have had its hive opening spray-foamed shut a few years back (above where Islais Creek goes underground) due to mistaken identification as a culprit of a nearby sting incident, seems to have reopened and a swarm moved in last year. That colony has done well, and recently swarmed (I understand Philip Gerrie retrieved the swarm).

revived hive

Revived hive – Photo (c) Janet Kessler

the bee tree that was killed has bees again

The bee tree that was killed has bees again. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

After many discussions, emails and meetings with RPD, Scott and I have convinced RPD to leave that tree alone for now. It has a substantial lean but, if it were to fall, it would not cross the path especially if RPD would cut off the top limbs right above the crotch where the limbs grow out of the main trunk. That’s been our recommendation but it has not yet been done to reduce the risks if it were to fall.

As usual RPD does what it wants — under-doing things by not cutting the limbs to reduce the risks if the tree were to fall which has been their stated concern but also over-doing things by placing the orange fence around the tree unreasonably suggesting the bees are a safety hazard when they are not. Nonetheless, the orange fence has served to be educational to bring park goers’ attention to honey bees in a natural habitat.

Finally, the very large mother bee tree, fenced down near Silvertree, with the opening in the base is undisturbed but the colony died out after many years of perpetuating itself.

I have not seen any bee activity there since late last year. 

the remaining bee tree

The old bee tree. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

Give the wax moths another year or more and, hopefully, the cavity will be cleaned out sufficiently to be deemed suitable by a future swarm looking to set up residence.

Karen Peteros,
Glen Park neighborhood resident & beekeeper
San Francisco Bee-Cause

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Trail Missteps in Glen Canyon

Trail work has been racing ahead in Glen Canyon. Today, we were visiting the area just below the Christopher Playground.  There’s a new trail now. (Number 2 in the picture below.) It runs above a shallow drainage channel (Number 3) and the trail that runs along it (4), which will presumably be closed since the two trails connect the same points.  Another shallow drainage channel (1) that carried rainwater run-off into Islais Creek – and also functioned as a trail –  is being closed and planted over.

trails work in Glen Canyon 2

Except. There’s a reason that the drainage channels exist. And a reason the trail was on the downhill side of the channel. Channel 3 caught the water running off the hill and kept trail 4 dry on rainy days.

The new trail has got seeps all along it, making it muddy even on a dry day like yesterday. It’s catching the same runoff, but it’s not a channel. It looks like this.

seeps and mud on new trail

The drainage channel – shrouded in black net for some unknown reason – is full of standing water.

old drainage canal with water

We have no idea what it’s doing to the stability of the hillside, but luckily there are no homes in that vicinity. We hope the blocking of the drainage channel (1) isn’t having a negative impact, but we won’t know until a year of heavy winter rains. Where will the water go then? Wherever it wants.

Here’s what the drainage channel and path looked like three years ago, in February 2011. We can’t see what was objectionable about it and required a new trail that essentially connected the same points.

drainage channel and path Feb 2011

Here’s what the whole scene looked like in February 2011.

Same scene in Feb 2011There’s been another change, too; some trees that screened the homes next to the Canyon have been removed (5), giving it a more urban feeling (and probably improving the views for the homes there).

trails work in Glen Canyon 2

What’s next?  Here’s the plan for all the trail work in Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Trails Project

And once the Trails project is over, next up will be “Urban Forestry” and more tree removal. Glen Canyon is being “Improved.”

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Return of a Rehabilitated Owl

It’s so wonderful to be able to post good news about Glen Canyon and its wildlife. Wildlife photographer Janet Kessler recently sent around this item about a one-eyed owl that has been released in the Canyon after rehabilitation.

Rehabilitated One-Eyed Owl Returned to the Canyon!

The injured owl found in a Glen Canyon neighbor’s yard in September has been rehabilitated and returned! We now have a one-eyed Great Horned Owl living in the area!

owl eye treatment

The Peninsula Human Society (PHS), which rehabilitated the owl, found blood pooling in both of the owl’s eyes — something often seen with head trauma, and there was ulceration of one eye. However, unusually for trauma, there were no broken bones and the beak was not injured, so the cause of the injury still remains a mystery. The PHS treated the owl for a month with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pain medication, and kept the owl long enough for the blood to drain out of the eyes.

When all was said and done, one eye had recovered, but the other will remain permanently blind. A friend suggested we name the owl “One Eyed Jack”!

Great Horned Owls have large eyes proportional to their bodies, so removing the blind eye was not an option since this could have affected the owl’s balance during flight.

Even with one eye, this owl will be able to perceive depth and hunt accurately. The asymmetrical ear positions on the sides of their heads help owls perceive the location of their prey.

Please call Animal Care & Control, WildCare (a rescue organization), or Peninsula Humane Society if you find an injured wild animal. There is a possibility the animal can be saved, and it definitely can be kept from further pain.

Thanks!  Janet Kessler

2013-09-30 at 10-50-12 one-eyed great horned owl

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Sad Death of a Glen Park Barn Owl

dead barn owl

A year ago, one of Glen Canyon’s Great Horned Owls was found dead – poisoned by eating rats that had eaten rat poison.

Now another  dead owl has been found. It’s a barn owl this time. Neighbors want to find out if the cause of death was rodenticide poisons again. They have taken the owl to WildCare – a not-for-profit wildlife rescue organization – for coordination of a necropsy (i.e, an animal autopsy) and toxicology report. They do not have funding to test animals brought in dead by the public and the fees must be paid for by the interested parties. The cost is anticipated to be around $300. Your assistance to help defray the cost would be appreciated.

Edited to Add: The money was raised, the necropsy was performed. Our suspicions proved true. It was rat poison. Read here for details: Rat poison killed the Glen Park owl.

If you’re willing to contribute,  please reference “Barn Owl Patient #1754.”

  • Via phone, please contact WildCare’s Stewardship Manager, Jan Armstrong, 415-453-1000, ext. 13,
  • Online,, where there’s a link to donate by credit card
  • Send a check directly to WildCare, 76 Albert Park Lane, San Rafael, CA 94901.

There’s an important effort going on to limit the use of the most dangerous rat poisons. You may read about WildCare’s Rodenticide Diagnostics & Advocacy Program on their website. If you have additional questions about rodenticides, you may contact Wildlife Solutions Manager, Kelle Kacmarcik who is coordinating this effort at 415-456-7283, ext. 23.

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Canyon Disappointments – by Tony Holiday

Tony Holiday is a trekker and blogger based in San Francisco. He recently re-visited Glen Canyon, and was disappointed with the destruction he saw there. This post is re-published (with minor edits) from his blog, Stairways are Heaven . Visit his blog for more pictures, and more trails reports from all over San Francisco. (An earlier trek through Glen Canyon – before most of the destruction along the trail – is described HERE.)

Thirty-six steps descend into Glen Canyon Park from Elk, the route recently taken for a south-to-north hike. The lower south part of the park is bare and depressing to look at with all that ongoing construction. Workers were also doing something up at the side of the guardrail where Diamond Heights Blvd. starts near Berkeley Way.

Disappointed to see that one of the big old trees on the main trail is now a stump. This is near a short set of wood steps leading up to one of the eastside trails. There are stumps and huge logs laying around.

Main trail, southeast side – stump

When one has grown used to the certain look of a uniquely wild park over many years, it’s difficult to get used to when people who should know better go to such extremes with their version of “park improvements.” Tree limbs have been chopped off all the way along the lower trail as one moves south to north.

“My” beloved northeast trail has seen some clearing too since I last visited. Now it’s easier (a bit too easy!) to navigate the lower trails. I liked it when it was overgrown and “hidden” and I had to crawl under tangles and branches to get to it. I’m now, however, able to look down at Islais Creek from this side of the trail.

Northeast trail – now see-through

Changed my mind a while back about thinking it’d be cool if this trail could be cleared out to Portola (and thus up to Twin Peaks Blvd. and into that park as a continuation) because those in charge don’t seem to know when to quit.

Was naively hoping for minimal clearing, no tree-felling, and a pedestrian skyway over busy Portola (yeah, right), as in just enough space for hikers to navigate without being chewed up alive by brambles, but hopefully leaving the across-the-trail tree limbs alone.

Instead of concentrating on eliminating trees alongside the trail, why not construct more skyways across curvy, dangerous-to-cross streets like O’Shaughnessy, Clarendon, and Portola, to name a few, so one can move easily and safely from one greenspace to another. They’re spending taxpayers’ money on the wrong things.

Thought they did a good job with the new Twin Peaks trail up from Portola, but so far am not impressed with the so-called “improvements” in the lower Canyon. Alongside the extended stairway on the south side of the popular climbing rocks (ascends from the lower trail near the fence and boardwalk), there’s still that ugleee black fencing. Take it down already!

Greenery – and ugly black fencing

The picture below is the newer stairway on the north side of these rocks; love this one.

New staircase

At least now there are still some tree limbs to climb over on the extreme northside trail, but who knows how long this’ll last. Wish they’d stop trying to eliminate the remaining bits of wildness in our urban parks. Canyons are supposed to be “wild.”

After viewing the mess they’ve made so far, I now hope this north end stays tangled and up-and-back after all, and I’m sure the resident wildlife will back me up on this. And not every trail on earth needs to be bike-friendly. The trail still, fortunately, doesn’t go much past the school playing field gate.

School playing field gate

Noticed a pile of old clothes and an old chair in the area this time. A campsite back there too?

Chair in Glen Canyon

Both northernmost trailheads are easier to see now (pic 10) from the trail above.


Out of the park climbing to the shopping center, first up 13 steps to Turquoise Way (no street sign seen when you get to this first Diamond Heights street).

Out of the canyon into the Diamond Heights ‘hood

The stairway continues directly across the street to Amber: 65 steps total to this second street up from the Canyon, pic 12.


At Amber it’s a short walk (right turn), maybe a couple of blocks, to the next stairway up, Coralino (132 steps), that ascends to Cameo. Coralino is unnamed on the street but named and shown on Google Maps (maps).

Coralino to Cameo, 132 steps

Up Cameo to Duncan and the Little Red Hen community garden (last pic) at the Police Academy. The next street is Diamond Heights Blvd. (right turn) for the Diamond Heights Shopping Center and Christopher Park.

The Little Red Hen Community Garden, Diamond Heights, San Francisco

The Little Red Hen Community Garden, Diamond Heights

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Glen Canyon Park: Nine Months after Tree Destruction

This article has been reprinted from the San Francisco Forest Alliance’s website.

Video update to the Glen Canyon Park tree demolition project

All these trees are gone

This tree is gone – the entire area is now bare ground. Click to see the 9-month update video.

San Francisco’s Wreck and Park Department is now calling this “The Glen Canyon Playground and Tennis Court Project“. This is only a continuation of the mis-information that have been provided as the Glen Canyon Park Improvement Plan (note: they are spending $5,800,000 of the 2008 Park Bond Fund for Glen Canyon “renovations”).

You will be seeing in this new video a bit more than just preparations for a new playground and 2 new tennis courts. The damage to Glen Canyon Park by the city is significant; we thought the project was the “removal and pruning of select trees”, but it is much more than that. And the wonderful children’s climbing tree is now gone; it once stood behind the Rec Center.

screen cap from Glen Park 9-month video

But San Francisco’s Rec & Park Department cuts down healthy and treasured trees.

Here is a reminder [Beginning of Glen Canyon Park tree destruction] of what was once there. On January 10, 2013 we reported on the start of this demolition project by the city. The grand eucalyptus trees at the Elk Rd entrance, over a century old, were quickly destroyed. Hundreds of other trees in the canyon, the ones the children love and climb in, the ones the birds nest in and bats hide in, the ones that feed the and protect the wildlife of this canyon – all will be gone by the time this project is completed next year.


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A Beautiful Canopied Alcove is Destroyed: Then and Now

Everyone we know is deeply upset at the continued defoliation of our park — especially the previously untouched wilderness areas. Here, one of our kids’ primary climbing trees has been removed. The trees in this alcove were not hazardous — they were a part of a network of trees along a trail that was unique. The gnarled and twisted trees added character, charm and sparkle to the park — they were part of a magical trail in a forest right in the center of San Francisco. It’s gone. Why?

The “log over the creek” along this trail is also going to be replaced with a boardwalk. At the planning meetings, everyone wanted the old fashioned log retained. It was so “Tom Sawyer”. How special that this park had this special place so unique to a city park.  At the planning meetings hadn’t we decided it could be simply widened by about a foot?

Why are we allowing Park and Rec to do this to our park? No one we’ve spoken to wants these extensive capital changes except for the people doing the work — of course they are getting paid or it.  But all we wanted was the trails fixed, not widened and altered with bigger and more stairs , and we wanted the existing trees and landscape retained.

300 more trees will be coming out. But it’s not just the trails and the trees which are being altered and removed. It’s also the underbrush and thickets that have always made this park into the natural wilderness that we all love — it serves as a habitat for our very special animal population. But the growth is more and more sparse these days with more and more growth removal, and what is left is bare dirt and sparse grasses. How can a handful of “nativists” have gained control of the plan for the park. Why aren’t the rest of us included in the plan?

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Last chance: See Glen Canyon’s Outback Trail before it’s Tamed

If you love the secret, twisty mysterious Outback Trail that runs along the west side of the creek in Glen Canyon, this would be a good time to see it. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department is just about to start improving it, to make it the lower end of the “Creeks to Peaks” trail that will go up to Twin Peaks. It’s going to be a lot less adventurous experience – more like the existing trail on the other side of the creek. A lot of the branches that have to be climbed over or ducked under will be gone.

We think it’s a bit like widening and paving a narrow country road to make a 2-lane highway; it’ll be easier to use but a lot less charming.

For a story from the Glen Park News, which supports the changes, detailing what’s planned over the next 15 months, click HERE. (They call it, for some reason, the ‘Banana Slug Trail’ though we’ve always heard it called the Outback Trail or the Secret Trail.)

In brief:

  • Some 32 trees will be removed, including many of the twisty willows.
  • The trail will be regraded and compacted.
  • Retaining walls will be added on both sides of the trail (steel posts, plank walls)
  • A bridge across the creek, with concrete pylons, and railings.


We went by there at dusk recently. A lot of undergrowth has been cleared since we first visited it perhaps three years ago, making it much more exposed than before. Nevertheless,  it was magical.

through low tree tunnels

Trees arched right over the trail, which wound beside the creek. In some places, they looked almost like a maze.

spiral grove

This is the Darlene Tree; someone inscribed the name of their beloved on it.

daphne tree

twisty tree

This one’s called the Whomping Willow (Harry Potter fans will get the reference!). Sadly, it may be under threat of removal. SFRPD will try “heavy pruning” first. That probably means most of the trunks and branches will be gone even if some of the tree is left.

whomping willow

whomping willow sign

This is the Rainbow Tree, and it’s being removed.

rainbow tree

rainbow tree sign

This is the beam crossing the creek. It’s going to be replaced with a bridge with concrete pylons and a boardwalk.

beam bridge over the creek


Back in January 2012, when the San Francisco Forest Alliance first learned of the plan to remove nearly all the willows, we created a map of the trail and trees in an effort to save them. We think that SFRPD is actually trying to preserve some of these trees, though without the horizontal branches that give the path its character. In response to a query, Karen Mauney-Brodek said, “Please also note that we are attempting to prune rather than remove trees whenever possible and will have our contractor retain a taller than usual trunk for the “ticket tree” unless trunk decay is determined to be a hazard to children and trail users.”

The beloved quirky trees of Glen Canyon Park

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