McLaren Park stories
 tales past and present
of our favorite park


McLaren Park stories

Mural detail
SMP photo by Ken McGary


WALC students painted this awe-inspiring artistic interpretation of McLaren Park. Anyone with children enrolled in SFUSD has probably seen this mural, as it is featured prominently at the school district's headquarters on Franklin Street.

McLaren Park mural by WALC students
located at SFUSD headquarters on Franklin Street
SMP photo by Ken McGary

McLaren Park: The natural and cultural history
by Chris, Ramses, Karyn, Highdee and Candace




Wilderness Arts and Literacy Collaborative (WALC) brings San Francisco high school students into McLaren and other city parks to learn about environmental science, restore native habitats, and express their interactions with nature in artistic ways.  This video highlights some of their recent activities in McLaren Park. 

Volunteers for Outdoor California
Trail Work in McLaren Park with SFRPD August 8th-9th, 2009

Volunteers for Outdoor California  (V-O-CAL) brings together concerned citizens and environmental activists to build trails in California parks and open spaces.  This video documents a trail-building event in McLaren Park a couple of years ago.  It features SFRPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg expounding on the natural beauty of McLaren Park, and Natural Areas Program Manager Lisa Wayne explaining the importance of reducing social trails to minimize human impact in a natural area.  And did you know there is a campground in McLaren Park?!

Hawk and Bird Stories from McLaren Park

We see Cooper's hawks year 'round. A pair nests in Burton high school near Olmstead and flies overhead and does battle with ravens heading to Colby high trees. (the parrots and conures also fly over Darmouth, but I digress).  The best place to see red hawks is in the patch of dead trees right on the side of Persia just east of Sunnydale Ave. We look for them there every morning and count it a good day if we see one there.

Red-tail hawk
Redtail hawk in flight
SMP photo by Ed Brownson

Also have seen a very large, pale chest, dark winged hawk several times - not sure what it is; not osprey, probbaly not Gray hawk (wings & back too dark) that seen near Vistacion overlook and entrance to off leash dog park (proposed disk golf area). And, possibly a harrier hawk- dark brown, very large and likes to fly close to the ground. They are known to be on San Bruno Mtn so it's not far. Seen between the two loops of Shelley drive near dog park (and proposed disk golf area). Well, I posted on the Portola listserve to identify the hawk we saw. It was very large, and very pale (nearly white) gray chest- no bands or stripes- and very dark back and wings. When we first saw it I said "holy cow, there is a penguin on top of that tree!" and saw it closer several times after that. Not an osprey - I know those well. So my best guess was a dark-morph Harrier. I identified as Harrier after doing some research, part of it was the ground-hunting habit and part reading that it is around San Bruno mtn. It had no red or banding on it and was darn big.

A wee bit east of Sunnydale, a Great Horned Owl flew right across in front of the car, south side across to north side (proposed disk golf area) a few months ago.  We definitely saw the owl. It was near and distinct big blunt head and blunt wings. Odd because on Earth Day, my daughter (12) pulled a card from a "spirit guide animal" tarot deck and it was The Owl. It said she would attract owls to her. Well, a few days later we were hiking Mt Davidson at sunset and a big owl flew over our heads and not long after that, the McLaren owl..also not long after dusk. So freaky!

Mallards at McLaren's Upper Reservoir
SMP photo by Ed Brownson

Someone posted on The Portola listserve they had been seeing Gray Hawk pair - probably up from Mexico- in the park last year. When I looked at that description they seemed to be overall pale color, not the high contrast one I saw.  I also did see it a few years ago sitting atop a pine tree in the meridian near Shelley Drive early one very foggy AM.

I did a bit of research to determine if the small, distinctly banded hawks we were seeing were Sharp Shinned or Coopers. The only way to tell is if edge of tail is blunt straight cut across, or pointed.  I choose Cooper's as they seemed more common in this far west coast range.

Another place we often see a red hawk (not sure which kind!) is on the lawn near the palm tree directly across from the amphitheater entrance. Both last summer & this summer. Bathing in the irrigation sprinkler and looking interested in the gopher holes. Was surprised it stayed on the ground after several cars came & went. There also is some red hawk at end of Brazil near June Jordan HS (former Burbank MS) would often see/hear it when I worked there. May be part of the Sunnydale canyon crew.

We have seen a Great Blue Heron several times in or around McNab lake and, oddly, the covered-over reservoir on University. One came to my kid's birthday party at the roundhouse a few years ago. Also saw it at the reservoir, right outside the yello Victorian on Bacon, during a meeting about seismic upgrades- we thought it funny the bird showed up for a community meeting. I also saw one flying over Geneva near Bayshore a few weeks ago, looking like it was heading to attend an event at the Cow Palace.  A year or two ago saw Downy Woodpecker on telephone poles & trees near foot of Dartmouth/University reservoir several times, but not lately.

Suzi Weaver Sept. 13, 2010

Great horned owl
Photo by Brendan Lally from Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday evening while walking my dog Wes around McNabb Lake we saw a flock of Canadian geese lining the lake -- I counted around 20.  I didn't get a chance to take a picture and thought that maybe they'd still be there Monday morning.  Well, they weren't, but when I went up to the reservoir late Monday morning just as I was about to get back into my car in the parking lot I heard the distinct sound of "honking" and sure enough there was a flock of about 30 Canadian geese flying and landing right into the reservoir.  I'm not sure if these were two separate flocks, but they were sure cool to see.  I'm hoping another flock may be on they're way soon.

Also, lately we've been hearing the wild green parrots flying over our backyard on Burrows -- they're pretty noisy, so if you happen to hear a strange group of birds that you may never have heard before, take a look and they just may be the parrots.

Rita Hontalas Sept. 14, 2010

Today while on my late morning walk with Wes I saw my first mixed kettle of raptors circling above the amphitheater -- I counted 8 in the beginning and then some more joined in a few minutes later to a count of about 14 -- since I didn't have my binoculars this time (wouldn't you know it)  I had to go mostly by silhouette -- several turkey vultures, red tails, red shoulders and one cooper's.  Then just as I pulled into my driveway 2 red shoulders were soaring and vocalizing above my house -- maybe they followed me home 

I have to say this was a pretty cool encounter and I'm sure it won't be the last since we're in the height of the migration season -- keep your eyes to the skies -- you never know what you might see.

Rita Hontalas Oct. 6, 2010

Back To Top