The earliest wildflowers are starting to appear now in regional parks and other East Bay open spaces where manzanita flourishes, which is almost everywhere.
Manzanita is Spanish for "little apple." The name derives from the tiny fruit that follows the flowering. It tastes like crab apple and was an important part of the Native American diet. Animals like it, too.
At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch you can find the white and pink flowering manzanita along the Chaparral Loop Trail and the Ridge Trail, above the Somersville town site.
If you look under the manzanita, you may notice another early blooming flower called Indian warrior. Indian warrior is deep magenta in color, shaped a bit like a bottlebrush or a bandsman's pompom. It's semi-parasitic, often drawing nourishment from the roots of the manzanita beneath which it grows.
Naturalist Bob Kanagaki will lead a hike to see Black Diamond Mines' flowering manzanita from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Meet him at the parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4.
The hike is free, canceled if it's raining. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is staffed. For information, call 510-544-2750.
MORE NEWTS: Newts, those seasonally salacious salamanders, are still engaging in their annual mating behavior in local ponds and streams. Naturalist Eddie Willis will lead a half-mile walk to a newt pond from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday at Briones Regional Park near Martinez.
Meet at the trailhead at the upper end of Old Briones Road off Alhambra Valley Road. Old Briones Road is a left turn about 100 yards west of the intersection of Alhambra Valley Road and Reliez Valley Road. The program is for ages 6 and older. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
birding at garbage mountain: You can view birds of prey and water birds, too in what might seem an unlikely location Sunday by joining naturalist Anthony Fisher. He plans a 2.8-mile walk on the Landfill Loop Trail around Garbage Mountain in Richmond, from 9 a.m. to noon. Meet at the parking lot at the west end of Parr Boulevard off Richmond Parkway. The hike is free. For information, call 510-544-2233.
CHICKENS, CHICKENS, CHICKENS: Hens are the heroes of a program from 10:30 a.m. to noon Sunday at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, led by interpretive student aide Julia Burks. Participants will collect eggs, feed the chickens, and maybe meet the rooster, too.
Then from 2 to 3 p.m., water snakes and other aquatic reptiles will take center stage in a program conducted by interpretive student aide Morgan Rani Evans. In the Chinese calendar, this is the year of the water snake, so Morgan will relate some horoscope-based predictions.
Both programs are free. Meet at the Environmental Education Center, which is at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive. For information, call 510-544-2233.
ALAMEDA: Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda continues its series of free public programs every Saturday and Sunday in February and beyond. Programs for children start at 11 a.m. on Sundays, with stories, crafts, and nature activities.
"Catch of the Day" for all ages is from 2 to 3 p.m. both days. On Saturday and Sunday, the theme is "fabulous fish." Chow call is from 3 to 3:30 p.m., when the staff feeds the crab, flounder, perch and pipefish in the center's large aquarium. Crab Cove is located at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue in Alameda. For information, call 510-544-3187.
MLK SHORELINE: Farther down the Bay, there's a free Saturday Stroll scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline in Oakland, led by naturalist Sara Fetterly.
It's a flat, easy walk of just more than two miles, with lots of birds to see along the way, possibly including the rare and endangered clapper rail. Dogs are welcome but must be on leash. Meet Sara at the Arrowhead Marsh Staging Area. It's accessed via Swan Way off Doolittle Drive. For information, call 510-544-3187.
LAST CALL FOR MONARCHS: Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont bids farewell to its overwintering monarch butterfly population with one final program from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Naturalist Chris Garcia will guide walks to the butterfly grove and talk about how we can all help to keep the beautiful insects returning to the area. For information, call 510-544-2797.
By the way, I misspoke in a previous column. Reader Harry Kaya informs me that the monarch butterfly is not the state insect, and he's correct. That honor goes to the California dogface butterfly. The dogface was sometimes called the "flying pansy," which gives you an idea of its appearance. I still like the monarchs.
Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.