Several columns ago, I described the annual migration made by tarantulas in search of mates. Well, tarantulas aren't the only animals that do that. Another wanderer in search of love is the newt, which is a variety of salamander.

And the East Bay Regional Park District stops traffic to help the newts along.

Newts are cute little guys. They are about six inches long, brown in color with yellow-bronze bellies. During the summer months, they lie dormant under logs or in holes in the ground. When the rains come, they emerge and crawl to ponds and streams, there to make more newts.

Newts' skin has a poisonous component, though park naturalists say that hasn't deterred predators such as raccoons and garter snakes from eating them. Nevertheless, it's best not to pick up and handle the newts.

Besides, it's illegal to collect them and remove them from the wild. And newts don't live long outside their natural habitat.

At Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley, South Park Drive runs between the newts' summer homes and their winter mating grounds along Wildcat Creek.

So the road is closed to vehicle traffic from Nov. 1 to March 31, along its entire length from Grizzly Peak Boulevard to Wildcat Canyon Road. You can still walk or bicycle on the road and watch the newts crawling slowly toward the creek.

For motorists, the alternative routes into the park from Grizzly Peak Boulevard are Golf Course and Shasta roads.


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Tilden isn't the only park with newt activity. You can see them in ponds at Briones Regional Park near Martinez, and at Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness in southern Alameda County, among other places.

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    The Monday Birders, an informal group open to all, will seek out the birds of Briones Regional Park during a strenuous four-mile hike from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 5, led by naturalist Anthony Fisher.

    Meet at the innermost parking lot at Briones' Bear Creek entrance, which is on Bear Creek Road about five miles east of San Pablo Dam Road in Orinda Village. For more information, call 510-544-2233.

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    At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, 90-minute underground tours of the Hazel-Atlas Silica Sand Mine are scheduled on weekends through November, before the mine is closed until March.

    Tours encompass both history and geology. Due to safety regulations, participants must be 7 or older.

    Tickets cost $5 per person. Advanced reservation tours are at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A 10 a.m. tour is available for groups of 10 or more. First-come, first-served tours are at noon and 3 p.m.

    To make advance reservations, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2. First-come, first-served tickets can be purchased at the underground Greathouse Visitor Center. Plan to arrive at least an hour before tour time.

    If you can't make a mine tour, Greathouse is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends, with photos and artifacts from the park's mining days. All ages are welcome, and it's free of charge.

    Black Diamond Mines is located at the end of Somersville Road, four miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. Parking costs $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

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    A short and steep but scenic 2.6-mile hike is the plan on Nov. 7 for the Wednesday Walkers, another informal group open to all. It's at Bishop Ranch Regional Open Space in the hills of San Ramon.

    Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the park entrance. To get there, take the Bollinger Canyon Road exit from I-680 in San Ramon. Go west to San Ramon Valley Boulevard and turn left. In less than a mile, turn right on Morgan Drive. Look for the staging area on the left, and park on the street.

    For more information, call naturalist Chris Garcia at 510-544-3282.

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    Also at Tilden Park, there's a kid-friendly program planned from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Kid's Garden next to the Environmental Education Center.

    Naturalist aide Morgan Rani Evans will supervise chores to ready the garden for winter. Young gardeners will be rewarded with a seedling to take home and plant in the spring.

    The wildlife at nearby Jewel Lake will be the focus of a program from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, hosted by naturalist Trent Pearce. He'll set up a spotting scope to help you see what's going on. Meet at the bench by the lakeshore.

    And from 2 to 3:30 p.m. the same day, Trent will lead an easy walk to check out the variety of native and exotic trees in the Tilden Nature Area.

    All three programs are free. The Environmental Education Center is located at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive. For more information, call 510-544-2233.

    Ned MacKay writes about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.