The winter rains have arrived, the hills have turned green again, and it's a beautiful time of year to explore your regional parks -- between storms, of course.
Though it's colder and sometimes wetter, winter brings fresh air, running streams, migrating birds and even some early-season wildflowers.
Here are a few tips to help keep your regional park winter safari safe and enjoyable:
Ardenwood: Programs showcasing the park's overwintering butterflies continue at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont.
For "Marvelous Monarchs," meet at the park's granary to hear a talk about the butterflies' life cycle, make a butterfly craft to take home, then walk to the eucalyptus grove to see the butterflies in "person." The program is from 11 a.m. to noon this Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 22, 23, 29 and 30. And there are walks from the granary to the grove from 1:30 to 2:15 on those same dates.
Leaders are Chris Garcia, Jenna Scimeca and other Ardenwood naturalist staff. Heavy rain cancels. Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., just north of Highway 84 in Fremont. For information on entry fees, call 510-544-2797. Parking is free.
BLACK DIAMOND: Although the underground mine tours won't begin again until March, there's still a lot to see and do at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch.
White and pink manzanita and Christmasberry shrubs adorn the park's hills at this time of year. Naturalist Bob Kanagaki will lead a hike to view these and other seasonal colors from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
The hike is free of charge, though Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended. Meet Bob at the park's innermost parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750. If it's raining, the hike is canceled.
SOLSTICE HIKE: The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is generally considered to be the start of that season. This year it's Dec. 21. Naturalist "Trail Gail" Broesder will celebrate it with an early morning hike from 6:15 to 8:15 a.m. that day, from Tilden's Environmental Education Center to the top of Wildcat Peak to catch the sunrise. The hike is for ages 10 and older and free of charge; bring your own coffee. For more information, call the center at 510-544-2233.
TILDEN: The Over-the-Hills Gang, that informal, intrepid group of hikers ages 55 and older, will explore the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley on a walk from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., led by Tilden supervising naturalist Dave Zuckermann. For information, call 510-544-2233.
REDWOOD REGIONAL: For the younger set, naturalist Sara Fetterley will lead a free "Hike for Tykes" from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, starting at the Skyline Gate entrance to Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. It's on Skyline Boulevard just south of Evergreen Avenue.
Never strenuous, the tyke hikes are designed for young children accompanied by parents. Strollers are not recommended. For more information, call 510-544-3187.
EASTSHORE: Bird-watching enthusiasts will enjoy a walk from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Eastshore State Park, led by naturalist Anthony Fisher. Meet at the Seabreeze Market lot at the foot of University Avenue in Berkeley. The program is free. For information, call 510-544-2233.
INVASION ABATEMENT: French broom is an introduced plant that crowds out native species. Volunteers are needed for a work session at 9 a.m. Sunday to help sweep the broom from Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland Hills.
If you're willing, meet at the Sibley entrance on Skyline Boulevard just south of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Tools will be provided. For information, call 510-544-3111.
Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at email@example.com.