Whether you are a longtime bird watcher or a beginner who would like to find out more about this fascinating hobby, East Bay Regional Park District schedules lots of naturalist-guided birding walks.

There's a free program almost every week somewhere within the two East Bay counties, and all levels of experience are welcome. Bring binoculars or scopes if you have them.

For example, the Monday birding group steps out from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 22, at Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline in Richmond under the guidance of naturalist Anthony Fisher. It's a flat, easy hike to see shorebirds and learn some history, too, along San Francisco Bay.

In East Contra Costa County, naturalist Mike Moran has been gathering data for years on birds of prey, and you can help. It's a rewarding pastime, because the east side of Mount Diablo has one of the highest populations of hawks, falcons and eagles almost anywhere.

Mike will venture out on the Marsh Creek Regional Trail in Brentwood from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. No experience is necessary; Mike will show you how to identify the birds. It's a free program, but registration is required. Call 1-888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program 30292.

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    A rugged, five-mile hike to explore Oil Canyon at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch is planned for 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, led by naturalist Eddie Willis.


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    The payoffs are beautiful views and tales of the elusive "black gold" for which the canyon is named.

    Designed for ages 10 and older, the hike is free, but registration is required. Call 888-327-2757, select option 2 and refer to program 30243.

    The park district continues its campaign to remove invasive French broom plants from the parklands with a volunteer project starting at 9 a.m. Oct. 21, at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland.

    If you participate, bring gloves; tools are provided. The park entrance is just south of the intersection of Skyline and Grizzly Peak boulevards. Call 510-544-3111 for reservations and information.

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    Harbingers of Halloween, those globular orange fruits known as pumpkins, are beginning to appear in supermarket bins. They also will be the featured attraction in a free program from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Environmental Education Center in Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley. The host is naturalist James Wilson.

    The center is located at the north end of Central Park Drive, accessible via Canon Drive from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley. For information, call 510-544-2233.

    By the way, when you scour out your pumpkin to make a Jack-o'-lantern, don't throw away the seeds. It's messy, but you can separate them from the pulp and toast them in the oven for a chewy, tasty snack.

    There are lots of recipes online. Just google "pumpkin seed recipes" and pick one. There are lots of ways to cook the pumpkin meat itself, too. After all, it's edible like many other squashes.

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    At Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, the Halloween Train will be rolling down the tracks from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays, Oct. 19 and 26, Saturdays, Oct. 20 and 27, and from 7 to 9 p.m. Sundays Oct. 21 and 28.

    It's an evening ride through fields and woods, mildly frightful, designed for families with children ages 12 and under. Tickets are available at the gate on arrival. They cost $6 for adults and $4 for children ages 3-12.

    Reservations and information for groups of 10 or more can be obtained by calling 866-417-7277.

    The Halloween Train is staged by the Railroad Museum at Ardenwood. The farm is located at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard, just north of Highway 84 in Fremont.

    Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.

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    Astronomy buffs will enjoy watching the Orionid meteor shower with naturalist Cat Taylor from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, from a vantage point at the intersection of Del Valle Road and Mendenhall Road south of Livermore. The program is for ages 6 and older.

    According to a site on the Internet, the Orionid shower results from the Earth passing through dust released by Halley's comet. The meteors appear to emanate from a point near the constellation Orion.

    Meet at the top of the hill on the way to Lake Del Valle. It's a good place for stargazing, farther from city lights. Bring a flashlight, blanket, hot beverage and a jacket. For information, call 510-544-3242.

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    The Wednesday Walkers, that informal, intrepid group of hikers welcome to all-comers, is taking a lap around Lake Chabot starting at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 24.

    This one is a moderate to strenuous nine-mile trek. Great views of the lake and the possibility of glimpsing its bald eagle residents are the payoffs.

    Meet at the Lake Chabot Marina on Lake Chabot Road just north of Castro Valley. For information, call 510-544-3282 or email cgarcia@ebparks.org.

    Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.