Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Parrot pauses to look at me

While the parrots have been dubbed the “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” you will see and hear the parrots all over San Francisco.  Most of my friends didn’t believe me when I explained why our phone conversations were being interrupted by wild screeching and chattering noises.  “Hang on,” I’d say, “the parrots are flying by again.”

I was moved to write about our neon-colored friends this afternoon because they could not stop squawking this afternoon.  My initial annoyance with the noise level gave way to sympathy when I realized the cause for their agitation:  the air show, part of this week’s Fleet Week festivities, had caught them unawares.  Parrots, meet the afterburners of the Blue Angels.  Just don’t get in their way!  (Plug:  look for some Fleet Week photos here soon!)

These parrots are not indigenous to San Francisco.  While they may hail from Ecuador and Peru, you’ll think they were born downtown once you see them in action.  Have you seen a parrot fly?  Perhaps not — likely you’ve only seen them in captivity, or in photographs.  These are quite agile pilots, and their speed and dexterity will shock you.  As will their screech — these birds are loud!

The parrots have even found themselves listed on Yelp — surely a feat worth mentioning.  Love them or hate them, the parrots are here to stay.  Hate them, though, and surely Yelp is the best place to vent frustration fueled by their constant chatter.  I often see them in large flocks, ranging in size from ten parrots to more than thirty.

My first run-in with the parrots, only several feet above me!

My first run-in with the parrots was during my first week here in San Francisco.  I was just heading down from Coit Tower when I noticed a peculiar road heading down from the area.  It was dark, shaded by trees coming down the side of the hill.  Comprised of wooden walkways, as well as a very out-of-place street sign, this walkway runs down the side of the hill and connects many houses on the way down.  Halfway down the hill, loud birds from the trees above startled me, and I looked up, only to find a parrot staring right back at me, several feet above my head.  It chattered away, chewing on some berries, looking down at me without a care in the world.  While they have grown used to our presence, loud noises will still spook them.  Constantly on guard, they will be gone in an instant if a visitor makes too much noise.

Parrot surveying my apartment, with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

A few weeks later, I ran into the parrots again.  This time, they were downtown, in some very tall trees near the Ferry Building.  They like to travel between Telegraph Hill and downtown, in a route that (happily) includes airspace above my building.

Mark Bittner is the author of Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the book and video that shed some light on these beautiful Bay Area squawkers.  He explains exactly what types of birds they are:

Most of the birds in the flock are of a species known variously as the cherry-headed conure, red-masked conure, and red-headed conure – all pet trade names. Ornithologists call them red-masked parakeets, and the scientific name is Aratinga erythrogenys. In the summer of 1995, a female mitred conure (or mitred parakeet, Aratinga mitrata) showed up. She began to breed with the cherry heads, and continued to do so until at least 2006.

Mark spent six years studying the birds and raising public awareness of their presence in our backyards.  He has since moved on to new topics, but his web page provides more information on the birds, their origins, and the best places to see them.  Visit his “parrot pages” here, and his main web page here.

You can see more of my parrot photos in my gallery right here.

Return to Alcatraz

Sun sets on the north side

On a return trip to Alcatraz, I had the pleasure of attending a night tour, which provided a much darker, more intimate experience than the daytime trips.

We were fewer in number, which meant a quieter, more secluded self-guided tour of the cell block.  There was something about the gloominess that made the ceilings seem higher, the bars that much thicker.

The city lights were another thing that must have driven the inmates mad.  You could see San Francisco during the day, sure; but at night you could see all of the lights, and (according to one guide) even hear the occasional dinner party.

Broadway in the cell block

There were some stories I hadn’t heard on previous trips.  One passageway still bore its scars from the infamous “Battle of Alcatraz” — marks in the concrete were subtle reminders of the grenades and shells dropped to subdue holed-up escapees.  A makeshift memorial to William A. Miller occupies one cell.  This correctional officer who successfully hid the yard key sought by the inmates during the escape.

There were several escape attempts, but this one, being the most famous, was the only one discussed in any great detail.  More information on the history of the island is available from the U.S. National Park Service, the Bureau of Prisons, and (of course) from Wikipedia.

D Block, where the roughest prisoners were held.  This block held the isolation cells.

An ironic twist to our visit was at the end of the night, when rangers began to close down the prison for the evening.  Despite our best attempts to lose ourselves in the cell block, we were located and herded back down to the dock.  We were being kicked out of Alcatraz.

View my entire gallery of Alcatraz from that evening here.  You can also see photos from my second trip (2007) and from my first (2004).

Tour de Fat 2009

They called him ZZ Top

This past weekend, San Francisco was proud to host Tour de Fat (as in Fat Tire beer), whose mission involves “spreading the good word about the positive societal offerings of the bicycle.”  The tour, run by New Belgium brewing company, was free, and offered a unique collection of bicycles to ride.  At its conclusion, one volunteer traded his car for a commuter bike.  Sadly, I did not stay for the end, but I did get some photos around the middle of the day.

I’ve never found Golden Gate Park to be particularly well signed, so it took me a while to remember how to get to Speedway Meadow.  Once I found it, however, the popularity of the Tour was readily apparent:  it was packed with bicyclists of all shapes and sizes with two things in common:  a love for bikes, and a love for beer.

An arena opposite the large stage held a variety of unique bicycles for attendees of all ages to try.  There were conventional bikes bearing Fat Tire’s logo, bikes with more wheels than necessary, bikes which pivoted in odd ways, bikes with off-center axles, and (pictured) even a bike with feet instead of wheels!

Building Speed on Feet

My favorite bikes were the sneaker-bike and one with multiple wheels that rose up behind the bicyclist and spun in unison with the rear wheel.  People of all ages were trying out the bikes, with varying levels of success.  You can see more examples of these crazy bikes in the gallery.