Have you ever heard that high pitch, urgent duckling call echoing across the water? It’s the signal that a little one lost track of its MALLARD Mama and is attempting to re-unite with her. It took a while to locate the duckling, who was ricocheting by the shore. Surveying the area by the Crescent bridge, I spotted a Mama with 4 ducklings across the river. Of course I assumed that the lost feather-ball belonged to her and started to worry about her mother instinct as she ignored the desperate call. The itty loner started to cross the river, was chased back by a male MALLARD. This ordeal called for some foraging to replenish its strength. Once fortified the little one resumed its “Mama” call. It swam upstream, staying close to the shore, gaining more distance to its oblivious Mama across the river. My nerves were fraying, because unification with the lax mother looked gloomy. 3 salivating CROWS landed on rocks right next to the swimmer, who dashed to open water to be chased back by a female MALLARD. The duckling stopped paddling, bobbing up and down, decided feeding was in order, nibbled on algae at a safe distance from both dangers and then resumed the alarm call. From upstream came a ‘Mama’ quack, which catapulted the duckling into a levitating swim frenzy towards the quack. I was sure that a happy ending was on its wings and was peeved when the advancing MALLARD Mama with 2 ducklings pecked at the approaching lost soul, sending it into the MALLARD couple path, who started chasing it. Just then a quacking MALLARD Mama materialized on the rescue scene. She attacked the couple, retrieved her little escapee and swam towards a big rock by the Riverside Ave. shore, which turned out to be 9 piled up ducklings, staying safely out of harms way. After some intense Mama quaking and lots of duckling peeping, Mama needed a snack to get ready for further feather mothering.
Last Thursday a speaker at the Planning Commission meeting wondered if there really was any wildlife worth considering along the river since it was a man made flood control structure. Whenever I hear that kind of statement I ponder if the person has actually spend some time by the river, because the river and its banks flourish with wildlife in spite of the years of habitat neglect. It’s true that the rich and diverse wildlife takes time to discover as it pursues its life. Wildlife is not greedy for our applause nor does it compete for our attention nor is it eager to feed our egos, it simply and unpretentiously lives. 2 Commissioners tried to figure out if paddling, kayaking could be included in the ‘Recreation’ EIR category, which thankfully wasn’t within the EIR scope. Do you think the paddling issue is being dragged back on the table in a roundabout way?
To-day I watched a GREEN HERON fly across the water and remembered the sad fate of juvenile GREEN HERON trying to escape the paddler flotilla, ending up in the PEREGRINE’s talons. A few minutes later a low flying COOPER HAWK passed by, which allowed us to look directly into each other’s eyes. It was an exquisite moment of 2 beings acknowledging each other’s presence and meaning no harm to the other. The NORTHERN- rough winged SWALLOWS were darting in and out of their bank crevice nests. The OSPREY was flying towards the Trestle tree, clutching a good sized fish. Do you think the Thursday speaker would still wonder about river wildlife worth considering if he had experienced this 20 minutes sequence?
I landed rather hard and unceremoniously on my derriere two weeks ago. This scary and painful incident has confined me to my house, mostly birdless except for the ongoing mischief of the Scrub Jays in my backyard. Finally, hungry to be with my river and birds again, my cane and I picked our way carefully down to the Benchlands. My friend Jim Rollins, who accompanied me, suddenly said he saw what looked like a wounded bird on the sandbar next to some screeching gulls. As a result of his quick eye, I got to see for the first time the broken wing display of a KILLDEER, trying in this case to distract the two gulls away from what was almost certainly a nest. I didn’t manage to move fast enough to get a photo, so here is a Google substitute. The Killdeer apparently gulled the gullible gulls who hopped after her, then lost interest and took off. It all calmed down and for at least a half hour the Killdeer foraged peacefully along the edge of the sandbar – ‘broken wing’ miraculously healed.
Since I wasn’t able to get out on the river for a real walk, I thought I’d check out eBird’s latest postings about the San Lorenzo. To my delight, I discovered two wonderful reports from Gary Kittleson, one from June 7 reporting 42 species and one from today, June 13, reporting 35 species. The most unusual sighting was a SANDHILL CRANE, reported to be circling over downtown Santa Cruz for about 10 minutes, then heading southesat towards Loma Prieta!!
He also saw 2 PIED-BILLED GREBES on the river, the first sighting this summer. I’m sure you understand how my heart went pit-a-pat when I saw this. I can hardly wait to get out on the river, find them and see if they are near some inviting tules that will make a a good nesting site. Who knows, I might get another chance to be a Grandma to some late-season Pied-billed Grebe babies.
And on the subject of babies, Kittleson’s two postings listed a total of 11 (!) species of juveniles either seen or heard. They were MALLARDS, COMMON MERGANSERS, RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS, AMERICAN KESTREL (very significant sighting), BLACK PHOEBES, COMMON RAVENS, SCRUB JAYS, NORTHER ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, DARK-EYED JUNCOS AND COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. Here are photos snagged from Google images of 6 of the 11 just to get a feel for all the babies living on the river right now!!
The politics of the river these last two weeks has been pretty hairy! There is the beginning of a strong push from both public and private directions that would allow private interests to essentially take over some of our public lands. The promoters are so much better funded and better organized than we are. Let’s hope that those of us who care about democracy, and about protecting our environment, can get some traction.
First of all, there was the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting yesterday where, as you know, you and I were crowded into a packed room with about 50 mountain bikers and 30 environmentalists, all doing our best to make our respective cases before the Commissioners. The City staff (Parks and Rec) was asking the Commissioners to recommend to City Council that an innocent enough sounding phrase be incorporated into the Parks Master Plan. The few but momentous words were ” to recommend to the City Council that the final Parks Master Plan 2030 include recommendations for exploring additional mountain biking and multi-use trail opportunities in Pogonip Open Space and DeLaveaga Park.” The operative word was ‘exploring’. Parks and Recreation Department is clearly wanting to get a green light from the City to pursue its obvious enthusiasm for more mountain bike trails in Pogonip and DeLaveaga Park. This is their foot in the door. The city staff got its way, but with a split four to three vote, with Meyers, Brown and Evans voting ‘no’. As I said in my last post, readers can read all about this issue on the Pogonip Watch website. I was very pleased that Celia and Peter Scott chose to post my letter to the City on the website. In that letter I provide some information about how strict limits on mountain biking in the North and East Bay are pushing mountain bikers southward to Santa Cruz. I asked the question as to whether our City council would be able to muster the resolve to also set clear limits. So far, the answer seems to be ‘no’. But the City Council itself has yet to weigh in. I strongly encourage readers to check out Pogonip Watch, study the material, and let the City Council know what you think.
Then, this afternoon, the City Council took up the question of ‘Parklets’. The proposed ordinance again seems so innocent, but the implications are far reaching and provide cause for very serious concern. Here are two paragraphs from my letter to the City Council: “The ordinance threatens the democratic process whereby land use decisions are made by our city government and not by private groups and individuals. If this ordinance is passed, it opens the door to many abuses in which corporations, businesses, agencies, recreational groups and individuals with the financial resources can determine what kinds of activities will take place in our forests, rivers, wetlands and open spaces – as well as our neighborhood and community parks… For early signs of this already happening, it is only necessary to look at the pump track on the Benchlands (paid for with $25,000 from the Rotary Club), the proposed mountain biking in the Pogonip and DeLaVeaga Park (promoted by the bicycle industry), the environmentally problematic summer takeover of the environmentally sensitive Benchlands by the recreational and food industry (promoted by the Coastal Watershed Council)”
And speaking of the Coastal Watershed Council, I just cannot wrap my mind around what they are doing. They continue to carry on their historical good work of measuring water quality. But the non-profit’s focus seems to be more and more on promoting the river as a playground and commercial development area. I really fail to see how this contributes to helping our community connect to the real river, i.e. the riparian ecosystem. As a result, I just couldn’t get that excited about the recent Ebb and Flow celebration on June 10th and 11th, in spite of all the good art and creative floats, and in spite of the fact that the grandchild of a friend of mine created a wonderful movable sculpture of a duck! It all seemed like a smoke screen to me, something to cover the real intent behind ‘revitalizing the river’ movement. I was especially blindsided by the Watershred (what a word!) event on the Benchlands this last weekend, an event which was promoted as an introduction to all the companies in the area and outside the area that contribute to making Santa Cruz a ‘mecca for action sports’. The list of participants constitutes an excellent list of the action sports industry that is promoting mountain biking in the Pogonip. Here are some of the companies that had stands and demonstrations at the event: Santa Cruz (maker of mountain bikes and skateboards), Blix Electric Bikes, Calfee Design (bamboo bikes), Zero Motorcycles (electric motorcycles), Inboard Technology (electric skateboards) Future Motion (electric self balancing board), Archer Components (electric mountain bike shifters) and more. Is the Riverwalk now to be populated with electric skateboards and electric bikes? For whose benefit? Certainly not mine, since I already fear the numbers and speed of the non-motorized bikers.
Well, it’s not a pretty picture in terms of protecting our beautiful wildlife habitat. So let’s keep telling people about the river that we are connecting to – a peaceful urban oasis with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. I actually think that most residents of our city are looking for this kind of river experience, not the carnival atmosphere envisioned by some of our city boosters.
I practically raced down to the river after hearing that the 1st world leader had neanderthaled by kissing the Paris Climate Agreement good-bye. I needed to gain some kind of sanity and nature has always been my healer, stabilizer with her earthy magnificence. Right now is the perfect time to dip into her restoring elixir of life juju: the abundant display of young life melts the heart into a tender puddle. Everywhere I look new life is forming, taking wobbly baby steps towards finding a safe home on this planet. The WOOD DUCK Mama just caught sight of me and herds her little ones to a secluded spot under the motto: “ better safe than sorry”. The MERGANSER matriarch is keeping an alert eye on me as her fluff balls meander on the shore. She voices a sound and her brood clusters closer around her. She doesn’t perceive me as an immediate threat, but she obviously she leans toward the cautious side. The BLACK PHOEBE just informed her fledglings about my presence. They cease their food begging sounds, sit stock still in their hiding place, while the parent tries to distract me by zooming close to me. So much determined life force is guiding the parents to steer their offspring around dangers and obstacles. I feel my deep love for nature rise strongly inside my core and the sane connectedness spreads through my being. I have experienced this healing Nature process all through my life, so you can imagine how I mourn that the most powerful world leader has deemed Nature’s beauty shreddable. And just then a gorgeous SWALLOWTAIL butterfly landed close to me…Nature is so magic…
It’s so intriguing how a bird species attracts my attention and the RED-throated LOON has lured me in. Since last fall they have appeared now and then on the river, never staying very long, always elusive, their slender, grayish bodies blending in with the water. Last week one was swimming behind the Boardwalk junk yard. I figured the traveller was taking a brief break on its northerly migratory trip and be gone in a day or two, but it kept hanging around and then a few days later an other RED-throated Loon appeared, keeping respectful distance from the other. Then a day ago the 3rd one showed up in full breeding regalia, which we hardly ever get to see, because that plumage stage occurs at the breeding ground. Are these 3 RED-throated LOONs late heading up north or are breeding grounds shifting?
On June 12th we’ll know if the River Coordinator position will receive the money in the 2018 budget. By voting to fund this new position at their last budget meeting, City Council responded positive to the high ranking request of the City Summit Riverwalk participants.The River Coordinator will have to be well versed in environmental County/City/ State & Fed. regulations/laws to steer the San Lorenzo River wildlife habitat into safe waters and have the golden touch with Community organizations efforts to make Santa Cruz proud of its Natural Resources.
standing up against neanderthaling greetings, jane
Your report on Steve Gerow’s death hit me hard. I didn’t really know him personally – only as an awed beginner on many of his famous bird walks. But the breadth of his knowledge about the natural world inspired almost everyone who joined those walks, and his generosity of spirit and great humility inspired love. I was among the many who loved him!
When I read the date of his death, May 10, I realized that he must have responded to my most recent ID request only 11 days before he died! He wrote, “Hi Barbara,This one took me a while to figure out. But I think it is a just-fledged juv. European Starling. Steve ” He knew ahead of time that he had only a short time left to live, but most of us didn’t know that. We continued to ask him questions and he chose to respond generously to all of us right down to the end.
I also think back to 2014 when we were beginning the anti–paddling campaign. Eager to have a solid list of the different species that occurred on the river, I made an attempt to compile a list using eBird. I sent it to him to ask his opinion. He wrote back with great kindness, letting me know that he had been planning to create such a list and that he thought he could complete it in a month or so. I didn’t know at the time that he had very recently been diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer, although several people in the Bird Club had been noticing that he had been having more difficulty breathing on uphill grades. In spite of his worries and declining health, he sent me a vastly improved list that integrated so many of his personal observations over the decades. It was an annotated list divided into the four categories of Birds that Breed on the River, Birds that Do Not Breed on the River But Are Present on the River During Breeding Season, Birds that Breed in the More Natural Area Upstream from Highway 1, and Birds that Do Not Breed on the River (Migrants, Winter Residents, etc.) For each species Steve provided information on where the species builds its nest, what months it is present, whether it is common or rare on the river, and lots of other invaluable information that can be found nowhere else, including eBird. I hope readers will check out this list of 122 Species on the ‘Links’ page of this blog. (I bet some folks haven’t even noticed this page!) It is the first resource mentioned. I use it all the time myself, and also hand it to city officials who are still struggling to believe that our river is really a wildlife habitat of great diversity and importance.
Thank you, Steve Gerow, for all you did for birds, humans and the planet.
Speaking of the wildlife value of our river, wasn‘t it nice to receive an e-mail from James Maughn last week reporting his discovery of a Western Pond Turtle just below the Water St. Bridge – a rare sighting of a California Species of Special Concern. According to the California Department of Water Resources, this species was also under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an Endangered Species. According to the website, the causes of population decline include “habitat loss and alteration, population fragmentation, little or no recruitment, introduction of alien species (e.g. bullfrog) and predation on young especially by raccoons.”
On May 14 I was sitting quietly by the river behind the Tannery when suddenly a family of 8 tiny baby COMMON MERGANSERS and their mother shot out from the overhanging vegetation right under my nose and headed downstream at a rapid pace. I leaped up and followed them as best I could until they reached the Highway 1 Bridge. There they paused, seemed to consider their next step, and finally turned back upstream. Steve comments in his list that the birds require cavities in logs, so generally nest in the area where I first saw them. A week later, my friend Michael Levy told me that he had seen not one but two (!) separate merganser families swimming and fishing below the Highway 1 Bridge. One family, he said, had 8 babies, so that must be my family. The other had three.
My friend Batya Kagan also saw a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON this week, a year-round resident but not recorded as breeding on the river. I was jealous. I haven’t seen one of these for quite a while.
I can’t quite figure out what the wild-spirited swallows are doing. I have only been seeing a sprinkling of CLIFF SWALLOWS since I reported the frenzy of swallows about a month ago. But then, mysteriously, last week I ran into another small tornado of 12 Cliff Swallows all gathering mud again near the Water St. Bridge. Are they still nest-building this late? I watched them but couldn’t catch them heading towards any obvious sites.
I hope all our readers will go to the Pogonip Watch website before June 12 and register your feelings and ideas about a new Parks and Recreation proposal that would add up to three new trails in the Pogonip. This proposal, heavily pushed by the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MboSC) will come before the council on that date. Please attend if you can, or write letters. Even though the Pogonip may seem to some of our readers remote from the San Lorenzo River, its creeks drain into the San Lorenzo at several points, and when trails are degraded like the steep technical trail they are proposing, the eroded land dumps even more sediment into the river. This, of course, is in addition to degrading the wildlife habitat and the serenity and beauty of that precious urban green space. Please sign the online petition. Click Here.
I hope my upsteam mergansers make it down to your end of the river before they are too grown up. I know you will love them. They usually find good fishing down at your end!
Good luck to babies all over the world – human, feathered, finned and four-footed.
Steve Gerow, my bird mentor, has left his flock of birds and birders behind after bravely starring the cancer demon in the eye for some time. A few years ago I met him on one of his much sought after bird walks. I instantly fell in love with his settle, shy humor, his way of relating to the birds and their habitat. He had this wonderful way of seeing the entire setting: what kind of vegetation would attract what birds, rattle off the plant, bird names, interrupt himself to listen to a far off bird song. When I told him how hard it was for me to id birds from books, he offered graciously his id help with the result that my pics flew to his screen repeatedly, asking “Who is this?” He would return the answer with fabulous details of why it was that bird. For a long time I thought I was the only one who crawled on Steve’s screen with id dilemmas until you told me that Steve was also your to id resource. The full extend of his humble teaching surfaced when so many birders remembered his kind, gentle id help and his incredible bird, plant knowledge. He turned the urban San Lorenzo River stretch into an e-bird Hotspot. Steve listed 177 bird species in this area, which now ranks in 13th place out of a 100 Santa Cruz County Hotspots. He left us many valuable bird lists/records, which we will gratefully reference, remembering how fortunate we were to know a man like Steve, whose being was glowing with honest, gentle, sweet, shy kindness. I am looking forward to his “Happy Celebration of Life” gathering.
It was so thrilling to watch ‘my’ 2 little, adorable KILLDEER babies foraging along the river shore. Yes, the Fruit Tree Orchard batch has hatched and result is little brown cotton balls on stilts. Mama KILLDEER was sitting on her precious babies, hiding them from me. A cyclist stopped to tell me that the day before she had watched the parents bring their brood the river shore. She was thrilled to witness the wildlife scene right in town, at the same time her nerves got wrecked as the KILLDEER babies dodged the wildlife unaware levee traffic. It’s truly astounding how many dangers this little family has survived: the hunting RED-shoulder & RED-tailed HAWKS, the stalking CROWS, human traffic through the Orchard, dogs, RAVENS and heaven only knows what other perils they faced courageously. I must have missed spotting one stilted cotton ball, because a couple days later there were 3 of them, which made me happy.
So…it turns out the river mouth Culvert bit the financial sand dust for now. The reason being is that the complex and first of its kind design harvested only 1 submitted bid for $1.5 million and the City’s has only a $500,000 Culvert grant available. The City cannot fund the additional $1 million. The bid came in high, because the contractor would bear the risky uncertainties of an untested, intricate construction venture. Now the project is on the hold while the City assesses its options and explores additional potential funding opportunities for the future.
The river itself has begun to take back the river!
One of my neighbors, Sherry Conable, said happily, “It is beginning to look like a real river.” I was also happy to hear Bill Henry, a local expert on native plants, speak before the Parks and Recreation Commission recently, saying that he hoped that the City would protect the naturally forming meanders that have been created by the dramatic flows this last winter. I hadn’t realized how important these bends in a river are to the health of the entire ecosystem. And they are beautiful!
And speaking of intricate ecosystems – I was walking in the Benchlands on April 25 and noticed that the ground was absolutely covered with these white cotton pods that hold the seeds of the female Cottonwood trees.
I picked up a bunch to look at and maybe even try to plant. Then just a few days later I happened to run across some really interesting information about how the dropping of cottonwood seeds is exquisitely attuned to the time of year when the river is at just the right height to carry the seeds down the river for regeneration along its banks – not too long after the peak flooding. The author said that it is always late April or early May in California. Our pods were right on time! It seems that this kind of information is knocking at my brain more and more often, bringing home the awesome message of the extraordinary intelligence and interconnectedness of the animal and plant world. Unfortunately, it is only the Benchlands, the only flooded/riparian area along the entire stretch of the urban river, that is still potentially hospitable to such seeds.
On Saturday, I was out walking along the Riverwalk with my neighbor and fellow birder, Batya Kagan, when she pointed out to me an OSPREY soaring overhead.
For the first time I got a really good look at this elegant raptor in flight, looking just like this google image. The osprey seems to be fishing up here a lot. I am still waiting to see one perform its speed-of-light drop out of the sky, feet first, to grab up a fish with only its talons entering the water. I read that one of its four talons is reversible – allowing it a two by two grasp or a one by three grasp, whichever works best. Flexible! I also just learned that it is the only raptor that lives on an essentially fish-only diet. It still feels like a very new and amazing bird for me
At the other end of the familiarity spectrum is my old friend, the common and much maligned CROW.
I had to laugh at the cleverness of this urban exploiter as it took what appeared to be an old dried up croissant and dunked it in the river to soften it up. Sir Corvid even put its foot on the croissant to keep it from floating away until it reached the perfect consistency.
I don’t get to see KILLDEERS that often, so I was pleased to see three of them just a few days ago. They choose the darndest places to feed and even nest – including parking lots. Who knows – they might even have a nest right here on this very inhospitable seeming sand bar . The Killdeers are pretty casual about their nest building, just scraping a shallow indentation in some gravel in which to lay their eggs. This kind of nest is consequently called a ‘scrape’. I intend to go back and scan the area for a nest.
Well – I’m happy to say I have had two sightings of at least one WOOD DUCK family, once just below the San Lorenzo Park pedestrian bridge and once just below the Riverside Bridge. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of either. I’m hoping it is two separate families.
I’ve lost count of the numbers of MALLARD families I’ve seen so far this year. I think it must be close to 8. Here is one Mallard family that caught me off guard for a moment.
Why, I wondered, were there so many females together at this time of year, and why were they foraging like shorebirds or ploughing through the water like mergansers? I quickly realized that these were juveniles of one family that had reached almost adult size, but were still acting like juveniles, sticking close to their mom and exploring a range of different feeding behaviors. Soon, when they are closer to maturity, these behaviors will be extinguished and they will begin to act more like Mallards! I watched them for quite a while and also got to see the juveniles diving, another behavior almost unseen among adult Mallards. I remember that we both saw this behavior last year and had a good laugh. These babies will apparently try anything. They don’t know yet that they are dabblers, not divers or shorebirds.
During my last walk, the short stretch between the pedestrian bridge and Soquel Ave. was filled with swallows of all kinds – mostly VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, with at least one CLIFF SWALLOW and maybe 8 NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS. The huge masses of Cliff Swallows that I saw two weeks ago seem to have moved on to other nesting areas. Most of the old Cliff Swallow nests under the Water St. Bridge have been taken over by those pesky but handsome and pleasantly warbling HOUSE SPARROWS.
There’s been quite a bit of human buzz on the river, as the Coastal Watershed Council, the Arts Council, the Rotarians and other prepare for the Ebb and Flow festival on June 3. I stopped and talked to Greg Pepping, director of CWC, and Josh Tallis, native plant gardener. Greg, Josh and other volunteers were creating a small parklet along the Riverwalk just north of Trader Joe’s, pulling out invasives like fennel, dock, and wild radish while protecting or planting natives like black sage (salvia melllifera), mugwort (artemisia vulgaris), gumplant (grindilia) California poppy (eschscholzia californica), sticky monkey flower (diplacus aurantiacus), and manzanita (arctostaphylos). Just south of T.J.’s a few Rotarians were working on a small native plant parklet of their own. Of course none of these natives are riparian plants, since the levee precludes that possibility. But the plants are all natives and will hopefully provide habitat to native pollinators, birds, etc. I was sorry to see the fennel go, since it was so happy there, and I know there are locals who harvest it for food and birds who use it. Hopefully the area will soon fill in with natives.
This last weekend I also happened on a cheery pre-Ebb and Flow scene at the end of the pedestrian bridge where lots of folks were weaving yarn through the railings. The idea was that all the colors were colors of the river. The red yarn, someone explained to me, represents the bright red head of the male House Finch.
The river itself and the wildlife it attracts provide all the beauty and happiness I need. But there is no denying that the philosophy of ‘positive engagement’ rather than simply law enforcement is beginning to show good results. There is definitely a new festive spirit along the river.
Here’s a quote from the famous 19th century naturalist, John Burroughs:
“The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is ‘look under foot’. You are always nearer the divine and the true source of your power than you think.”
May your week be filled with wonderful things under your feet. You have taught me a lot about seeing things on the river than I never expected were there.
Last Friday Cat and I finally enjoyed our long planned levee walk. We had an exquisite time sharing our river love. We were meandering down from Laurel St when I saw movement by the Riverside Ave. bridge sandbar. A monuclur look disclosed a big flock of shore birds. Unfortunately we never got to id them, because the flock got spooked and flew off. Maybe your Saturday sighting of the SHORT and LONG-billed DOWITCHERS answered my Friday shore bird question: Who are they? The RED-throated LOON made its appearance for us. The mellow bird had been visiting the river for the last few days, swimming casually back and forth between the Trestle and Riverside Ave. bridge. Cat’s self-taught vegetation knowledge is impressive. He pointed out theCoast dudleya/ Coast live-forever and the Sand spurrey, both native plants growing on the river mouth cliff where our attention drifted to watching 40-50 small gulls below us. Some of them had them had the black beauty mark behind the eye: the tell-tale feature of a BONAPARTE’S gull. Mixed into that swirling cloud were black headed gulls: the migratory BONAPARTE’S gulls showing off their marital summer attire, ready to head up North to nest in trees.
Anybody attempting to id SWALLOWS is rewarded with dizziness, because the eyes try to follow their ziggy-zag high speed while the brain is trying to assimalte the bird’s markings. I used to just enjoy their ‘swallowishness” and not bother with what species was delighting me. Now I have adopted a helping tool: their location along the lower river stretch. mud nests on bridges are made by the CLIFF SWALLOWS. NORTHERN ROUGH-winged species dispear into bridge light fixtures and culverts. BANK cousins search the levee slopes for crevices. The TREE SWALLOWS circle the river across from Jessie St. Marsh and the few VIOLET-BLUE beauties always head towards the Beachflats.
Are the Harbor Seals taking over the lower river? The other day there were 22 between the river mouth and Riverside bridge. Their presence is a good indicator of a healthy river, which obviously supports a big enough fish population to feed the hungry Harbor Seals, who eat 5% to 8% of their bodyweight.This amounts to 10-18lbs. of fish per day per seal. So the 22 fishers pulled out a min. of 220lbs. of fish. This doesn’t include the fish the riverbirds consume. Harbor Seals and waterbirds will steal fish from each other: 2 days ago a Harbor Seal surfaced with a big fish and a DOUBLE-crested CORMORANT shut up right next to it, in hot pursuit of the fish. The CORMORANT, a mighty good fisher in his own right, just couldn’t reach the fish, because the Harbor Seal was practically levetating above the water trying to swallow the fish. Was I witnessing the continuation of the underwater drama? Had the Harbor Seal stolen the fish from the DOUBLE-crested CORMORANT, who kept pecking at the Harbor Seal until they both dove down again?
This Saturday morning bird watchers flocked excitedly to the San Lorenzo River overlook, because the rare FORK-tailed STORM-PETREL had been sighted by well respected birder, Alex Rinkert.The Ocean bird was tricky to spot, because it blended in so well with water color that we uttered lots of: ‘There it is! Now it’s gone. Wait I see it again. Over to left, now to the right, just lost it.’