Volunteers make powerful connections at the Strawberry Hill Butterfly Habitat Restoration Project


Volunteers engaged in the Strawberry Hill Butterfly Habitat Restoration Project are making important connections – both to how their actions impact the natural world, and to each other. At every volunteer work day since the program’s inception in September 2010, expert guest speakers have provided lunchtime talks on ecology, botany, and natural history.

Renowned lepidopterist (butterfly expert) Liam O’Brien has spoken to the volunteer group on numerous occasions.  He has served as crucial consultant to the project, advising on prime locations for developing butterfly corridors on Strawberry Hill, as well as the selection of beneficial California native plants.  Liam is also an artist and created illustrations for the brochure Butterflies of San Francisco.

When out on Strawberry Hill, Liam excitedly points out various butterfly species as they float over the heads of the volunteers, and his passion for butterflies is contagious.  Liam’s goal is to turn every volunteer into a lepidopterist.  As Liam notes, “The first step in stewardship is being able to name the species you’re seeing.”

Thanks to an anonymous donation from a dedicated volunteer, a beautiful porcelain enamel sign with full color illustrations of butterflies by Liam O’Brien has been funded and was installed at the summit of Strawberry Hill in time for the project’s one year anniversary party in September 2011.  Liam was excited to invite his parents to the festivities, especially his mother June O’Brien, as she had always been supportive of his work as an artist. Sadly, Liam’s mother passed away two weeks before the anniversary celebration, so neither of his parents made it to the sign dedication.

The sign itself has a direct maternal connection: the donor for the sign contributed the funds in honor her elderly mother who passed away in 2010 – the mother was someone who studied and loved butterflies. In her later years the mother lost most of her memory, but even to the end she never forgot the species names for countless butterflies.

The November volunteer work day on Strawberry Hill was an especially poignant one: Liam O’Brien visited the summit with his father, Robert O’Brien, and his brother, Colin O’Brien, so they could finally see the sign and enjoy the butterflies floating about the summit.   Liam, Robert, and Colin had the opportunity to chat with the volunteer who funded the sign, and she talked about how her mother was with them in spirit. Just then a butterfly flitted closer.  A young boy volunteering that day wondered out loud, “Which butterfly is that?” and then used the sign as a guide to identify the species, and happily yelled, “It’s a Red Admiral!”  Liam and the rest of us smiled.  It was a good day indeed.

If you would like to become a lepidopterist and/or simply be involved in meaningful habitat restoration work on Strawberry Hill, please consider joining community volunteers, SF Parks Alliance, and the SF Recreation & Parks Department at the next volunteer work day.  We meet the second Saturday of every month at 10 am at the Stow Lake Boat House. For more information, contact Julia Brashares at julia@sfparksalliance.org or 415-621-3260. Our next workday is on Saturday, 12/10/2011.



Captions for Photos:
Robert O’Brien reads the sign illustrated by his son, Liam O’Brien, at the summit of Strawberry Hill.
Red Admiral basking in the sun on Strawberry Hill.



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