From newts to ladybugs and beyond at East Bay parks

From newts to ladybugs and beyond at East Bay parks

From newts to ladybugs and beyond at East Bay parks
Newt photographed in Wildcat Creek, Nov. 2015, by Trent Pearce. (Courtesy East Bay Regional Parks District)

SAN FRANCISCO EAST BAY AREA (Nov. 28, 2021) — As is the case every rainy season, South Park Drive at Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley is closed to vehicle traffic to make the road safe for newt migration.

Newts are a variety of salamander, five to six inches long, with brown backs and gold bellies. Cute little guys.

Their life cycle involves lying low under rocks and logs in the woods and fields during the dry season. When the rains come, they migrate to ponds and streams to reproduce.

At Tilden, the migration route crosses South Park Drive on the way to Wildcat Creek, which would be potentially fatal to the newts if vehicles were allowed.

Park visitors are welcome to walk and bicycle on South Park Drive during the closure. But be advised: Newts have a toxin on their skin, so keep your dogs away from the newts and don’t handle the newts yourself.

Please don’t collect newts for home terrariums, either. It’s illegal to remove any plant or animal from the regional parks.

Though South Park Drive is closed, you can access Tilden Regional Park from Grizzly Peak Boulevard via Golf Course Drive.

Hey, lady!

Ladybugs photo by Debbie McCarthy.

Newts are not the rainy season’s only easily visible natural phenomenon in the regional parks. There’s also the annual ladybug convention at Reinholdt Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, among other places.

Ladybugs cluster by the hundreds on the bushes and fences around the junction of Redwood’s Stream and Prince trails. By the way, dogs are supposed to be on leash on the Stream Trail.

Formally called ladybird beetles, the insects cluster during cold winter weather, then disperse when the weather warms in springtime. Ladybugs are beneficial insects, because they prey on aphids, which gardeners and farmers consider a pest species.

They are preyed upon in turn by frogs, wasps, spiders, dragonflies and some kinds of birds. This despite the ladybugs’ defense mechanism of secreting an oily, foul-tasting fluid when threatened.

If you’d like to see the ladybugs at Redwood in the company of naturalist Michael Charnofsky, join his Saturday Stroll 10 a.m.-noon on Dec. 4. It’s three fairly easy miles through a beautiful redwood forest. You may see some mushrooms, too, if it has been raining.

This is a free program and registration is not necessary. Meet him at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area at the end of the road that enters the park from Redwood Road in Oakland, about two miles past the intersection with Skyline Boulevard.

Tie one on

Tie-dying your own garment is the plan during a 2-4 p.m. program on Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Environmental Education Center in Tilden Nature Area. Bring a white cotton item. Naturalist Trent Pearce will provide the dye and instructions.

This is a free, drop-in program. It’s wheelchair accessible; masks are required. Rain cancels. For information, call 510-544-2233.

Let it rain

Speaking of rain, there’s a rain-themed hike planned by naturalist Kevin Dixon 9-11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5, at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch.

Rain or shine, Kevin will lead a 1½ to 2-mile hike along some steep and rocky trails in search of signs of nature’s rejuvenation during the wet season. Wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather.

This program is free, but registration is required. Minimum age for participants is 7. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended.

To register, call 888-327-2757 and select option 2.

A place to call home

Winter can be a struggle to survive for some animals. With this in mind, naturalist Betty Villalta will host a program 10-11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5, at Sunol Regional Wilderness. She will show how to turn your backyard into a winter sanctuary for wildlife, including making and taking home a bird feeder.

The park is at the end of Geary Road off Calaveras Road, five miles south of I-680 and the town of Sunol. The parking fee is $5.

This free of charge program requires registration. Call 888-327-2757, option 2.

There’s always a lot to see and do in the regional parks during December. For the full story, visit

Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at