missing & discovering…

Good Morning Barbara and all you other Nature Snugglers,

I didn’t read that article you were referring to in your last post, Barbara, therefore I appreciated your grant updates and insights. We all learned a lot thanks to you. The fish most certainly don’t need more lights shining into the river. It sounds like we’ll be busy at the public meetings for the plan design should the City receive the grant.


Has anybody else noticed the absence of our usual river winter migrants? I keep hoping to see more petit-ish HORNED and EARED GREBES performing their rapid dives, that drive any photographer out of their minds. This season we have a record of 1 EARED GREBE, who stayed for a short while. And were are the elegant, well sized WESTERN and CLARK’S GREBES? Have you been missing their royal float-by as they watch you on the levee? So far I haven’t had that thrill of catching sight of the slender RED-throated LOON moseying on the river.

No RED-throated Loon on the river this year…

Thinking that I just happened to be at the river at the wrong time, I checked the e-bird Hotspot for the San Lorenzo River to see if other birders recorded better winter migrant results. Looking at the reports it became obvious that the other birders didn’t have any better luck then me. The BUFFLEHEAD and GOLDENEYE count is way down as well. Frankly I have never seen so few winter migratory species visit our river. It’s time to find out if they are lollygagging on other waterbodies or if they just didn’t arrive this winter season.
I love that “Wait!~ what is that?” moment when I scan the river landscape. That odd shape among the rocks on the other side. That flicker of light catching in the bird’s feathers in the tule. The quick leaf movement in the bush as a bird nibbles on the delicious bugs. These moments of discovering that the rock is actually a GREAT BLUE HERON preening its feathers and that the light flicker was caused by a GREEN HERON are magic micro reminders of Nature’s abundance, ready to be enjoyed at any time.

GREAT BLUE HERON blending in with the rocks…

The rain has been taking care of the Estuary Project plants we have put in at the path by the Trestle bridge. The area is doing nicely and the rice straw is behaving well: it’s staying in place in spite of the strong winds we have had. We are experimenting with straw as mulch, because it allows the ground insects, such as ground bees, easy access to the soil. We decided to try this approach in the hope of supporting the declining insect population, which deserves all the help we can offer. After all insects play a vital part in the ecosystems and feed many critters. We have been ‘liberating’ the established Toyon bushes from encroaching branches of neighbor bushes and trees. That pruning resulted in more winter berries for the CEDAR WAXWINGS, who cleaned the red Toyon fruit off their stems within a week. This year there was an increase of CEDAR WAXWINGS sightings along the river, so it looks like our Estuary Project efforts are literally and successfully bearing fruit. This coming Saturday is our fun work day and we love to have you join us. For more info.: click here
May Nature’s gifts expand your heart, jane

Cedar Waxwings resting after stripping Toyon berries off the stems…

$8.5 Million for What?

Dear Jane and Other Lovers of Birds and Wildlife,

Recently paired mallards preening behind the Tannery on the San Lorenzo River, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was very pleased with this lucky image of a  MALLARD couple that I took behind the Tannery.  Don’t you all agree that this newly formed pair seems likely to enjoy a harmonious future together, engaged as they are in a moment of perfectly synchronized head scratching!  I love this time of year when these common but beautiful waterfowl are in full breeding plumage,  pairing up all along the river as they begin to claim their separate nesting territories.

As I walked upstream towards the Tannery, passing  underneath the Highway One Bridge, I was impressed once again at how much the wildlife scene changes once you cross that boundary.  Suddenly, dramatically, you find yourself in a much more natural area   –– without a levee; with large stands of native trees (redwoods, sycamores, alders, willows); with fallen logs;  with native shrubs and with far more birds!

Almost immediately I saw a lot of movement in the canopy of a huge Arroyo Willow just a stone’s throw from the noisy highway.  These trees can grow up

 An arroyo willow just north of Highway 1, behind the Tannery, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Townsend’s Warbler in Arroyo Willow behind Tannery, January 5, 2020, photo by B. Riverwoman

to 35 feet  in moist and rich riverside soil and I think this willow was  at least that high. As I stood there craning my head upward, I saw seven bird species busily harvesting a buggy lunch from that one tree. RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS flitted from branch to branch in their usual frenzied way. Two gorgeous TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS took a slightly more leisurely approach to their insect search, allowing me a moment to take a photo.  Several CHICKADEES bustled from branch to branch, perhaps signaling to each other their raspy contentment at a juicy bug.  ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS flashed their metallic green colors as they also feasted on the protein-rich insects that they need in addition to nectar.  A lone SONG SPARROW bared its crisply brown-striped white breast as it indulged in the insects that it also needs in addition to its more regular diet of seeds.   A YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER made a brief appearance, gleaning a few bites before she pushed on.  Later the same tree was filled with BUSHTITS, hanging upside down to reach their small protein bars..

What a rich source of food and cover this one willow provided to a diversity of species.  What a pity to think that most of its siblings just a few blocks downstream are hacked to the ground each year during the annual flood control work.  These poor saplings  never get the chance to welcome all the insects that attract all the birds and butterflies and bees to this ecologically important native tree.  This is why I strongly support the  restoration of  the Benchlands to its natural riparian woodland state, increasing rather than decreasing the amount of green space and habitat in our urban landscape..  I would love for the city to  develop policies for the protection and enhancement of our natural resources rather than policies that potentially threaten these resources?

I bring this up because of the possibility of the City’s receiving an $8.5 million state grant to improve the Riverwalk.  This  dramatic case in point, featured in the  December 25th issue of the Good Times,  was enthusiastically hailed by the newspaper as an exciting vision for the future of the river. The application submitted by the City proposes to transform the current Riverwalk into a safer, more beautiful, and more functional river parkway with an emphasis on serving low income communities with less access to parks.  That formulation complies on the surface with the stated purpose of the grant which is  funded through Proposition 68, a $4 billion state initiative, approved by voters in 2018,  aimed largely at supporting equitable access to parks throughout the state.  But is our City’s application for these funds seriously focused on providing equity?  And will it promote more green space in the City?  The main focus of the grant seems to be on  improved bikeways ( more  asphalt),  more lights for people (counter-indicated for birds and other wildlife), lots of ceramic art that celebrates nature (why not encourage the community to look at the real wildlife before them) and river-facing restaurants and coffee houses whose customers can enjoy the river as a scenic backdrop (but probably not a wildlife habitat). Will the low-income communities be able to afford these river-facing eating establishments?

Judging from some of the people pushing this vision, namely Greg Pepping, chair of the Planning Commission and Claire Galloglly, Transportation Planner for the City, I can’t help but wonder if downtown economic development isn’t the silent driver behind this plan “for the poor”.  Greg Pepping, who is widely quoted in the Good Times article, is also executive director of the Coastal Watershed Council, an agency whose goals and values often seem more aligned with  Chamber of Commerce goals than with environmental goals..

The application  for the river parkway was submitted jointly by the Economic Development Department, the Public Works Department and the Parks and Recreation Department, listed in that order.   The leading environmental groups in our community, the  Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, have not yet, as far as I know,  been  consulted in planning for the transformation of this major wildlife habitat within our City’s boundaries. According to a conversation I had with Noah Downing of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, grant writers have already met with representatives, including children, of the Beach Flats area.  According to Downing, more conversations with low-income communities and with environmental groups will happen if the grant is received.

Still, I worry that all this money might end up serving the residents of future luxury apartments as well as the many spandex-suited bicyclists who I suspect do not live on the river but currently dominate the pathway.  If the pathway is improved, will it not attract even more speeding bicyclists? Apparently if the proposed Park “touches” a low-income area, it qualifies for the grant. Will the residents of the low-income neighborhoods that do exist along the Riverwalk really use the area as a park area? How does the City plan to attract this population?  Right now its kind of scary out there for pedestrians like me, not because of the homeless but because of speeding bicyclists. Will low-income  neighborhoods along the river even survive as the City gentrifies?

I’d like to thank Council member Drew Glover who, when this matter first came before the City Council last summer, asked the City staff some of these same searching questions regarding equity and protection of wildlife habitat. I am so distressed that there is an attempt to recall this passionate, intelligent and articulate advocate for the poor and for the environment.  I hope Santa Cruz voters  will not be misled by developers and real estate interests who are pouring lots of money into removing  the important voices of Drew and Chris Krohn from our Council. I hope all our readers will vote No on the Recall, and at the same time cast a “Just in case” vote for Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice.  Both of these former mayors are strongly opposed to the recall but have nobly stepped out of retirement to protect the progressive majority on the Council – just in case the recall of either Glover or Krohn succeeds.  For the sake of the environment, and for the sake of low-income members of our community, let’s make sure the recall of two staunch environmentalists, and advocates for the poor,  fails.

I will probably be  writing more about this in the future if the Department of Economic Development et al receive the grant money.

Click here to see my eBird list for my short visit to the Tannery this week.

Did anyone get a chance to read John Muir’s essay on the AMERICAN DIPPER?  I hear that one was spotted in Santa Cruz County for the first time in several years –  somewhere in Mt. Herman.  I’m very motivated to go in search of it.

Campsite just north of the River St. Bridge on the East side of the river. January 5, 2020. Photo by B. Riverwoman

More and more tents are going up along the river and on the bridges.  It is  comforting to me to see that at least the homeless will have reclaimed a small measure of safety,  dignity and warmth after being summarily booted from the Ross and  Phoenix camps.   I am very grateful for the recent decision of the Supreme Court to let the ruling of the lower court stand, the ruling that requires that outside sleepers not be legally cited if other shelter is not available.   This last Sunday I saw one man raking his “front lawn”, a serious effort to keep the place tidy.  I hope portapotties will soon be provided, for the sake of  both the people and the river.  Until our society is ready to provide better alternatives, I hope the City can work with the homeless to find   humane and environmentally responsible solutions that meet everyone’s needs. 

Camper rakes the area around his tent next to the Water St. Bridge on the east bank of the river. January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Lean-to tucked into the small build-out on the Water St. Bridge, January 5 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

May the inequity between the rich and the poor, and between  human and non-human species, be gradually remedied.  That is my ardent wish for the day!

Good birding to all.










Nature gifts us her masterpieces…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Celebrators,

early morning CANADA GEESE saunter…

Standing early at the river point, I hear their honking in the distance, knowing that any moment their bodies will be visible in the sky, disclosing their flight intent. From my observation these big birds fly in loose formation when they are out for a fly-saunter such as a new, close by feeding site. The leisure outings seem to require a lot of loud honks. When they are ready to cover greater distance they fall into wing for that famous CANDA GEESE ‘V’ alignment that involves less honks until it comes to the landing when heated honking breaks loose. Listening to their reverberating sound exchange I expected to see a loose arrangement line, which turned out to be case. 10 Canada Geese flew over me, touched down upstream and their loud landing proclamation guided 5 more to the chosen location. 

I bet you all gained great Christmas count insights from Barbara’s report. Peripherally many of you have noticed a change in bird presence and/or their behavior, so the count helps to document these alterations. Any of you are welcome to join us for the next Christmas count.

SNOWY PLOVER warming up in the morning sun…

I want to address a Facebook post that was about a loose, owner less dog racing around on the State Beach chasing SNOWY PLOVERS, who are experiencing a population decline. The Seabright Beach used to filled with SNOWY PLOVERS, cuddling in the early mornings in any sand indentations, waiting for the sun to warm them up. For a long time they disappeared and in the last 2 years, we have recorded the return of a few.

dog chasing SNOWY PLOVERS…

So if any of you know this dog and its owner, please let me know, because I want to tell the owner that any chased bird has to spend a size specific amount of energy to escape, which depletes the bird’s resources, who then has has to feed more to make up for the depletion, reducing its necessary resting and decreasing the already compromised food sources. I plan to have a good interaction, because I know that as residents and beach goers we love and enjoy what Nature gifts us and in return we have to take pride in how we caringly steward our gifts.

not an EAGLE…

I came early to prep for our monthly Estuary Project day, which got waylaid because I just had to check on the birds…big time consuming mistake! There was a large bird high up in the Trestle trees, which looked odd and requiring some deciphering time~ after all it might be an EAGLE visiting the river. After looking at it from various angels, a part of the large bird moved up the branch, disclosing itself as the PEREGRINE and the other, remaining part was its breakfast draped over a branch fork, whose legs dangled down. Prior to the move, both were positioned in a way that they looked like 1 bird. After that discovery, I hustled to catch up on the prep work, leaving the PEREGRINE to its meal. I just love my volunteers!

awesome volunteers taking a Holiday bustle break…

Here 11 amazing volunteers had gathered at 9am on a Saturday morning in the midst of the Holiday bustle, a few days before Christmas, eager to get native plants into the ground, spreading straw and enjoying each others company. For the last 3 years each one of the Estuary Project volunteers has added a special something to the levee habitats and I am grateful to have worked with each one. So here is to the many Estuary Project participants: Humongous Thanks for your time and efforts that resulted in the mighty impressive Estuary Project success!

SPOTTED SANDPIPER on the rock throne…

The ever busy, little SPOTTED SANDPIPER took time out to chase off the other SPOTTED SANDPIPER, who temporally had forgotten that its place was on the downstream cliff boulders from the Trestle bridge. For months the upstream terrain owner had tried to make it crystal clear that no buts and ifs would change that set-up, flying home its point by determined, wild, high speed pursuits. The other SPOTTED SANDPIPER quickly retreated, leaving the satisfied terrain trainer on its rock throne.

OSPERY greeting the morning…

The critters like to remind the Sierra Club members to be sure to send in their ballots before Jan. 12 deadline and thank the members, who voted for Erica and I.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and may your 2020 year be sprinkled with many heart warming Nature gifts, jane

Counting the Days, Counting the Birds

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Revelers,

It has been three days since some of us celebrated the darkest day of the year and the beginning of increasing light.  If any of you are looking for a quiet way to celebrate this time of year, I recommend reading John Muir’s chapter on the Water-Ouzel in his book “The Mountains of California”.  It is an astonishing essay written by a wild-nature ecstatic about a bird who –  like Muir himself –  sings joyfully amidst the coldest, snowiest, most blustery surroundings.    I am going to have a traditional family Christmas this year, for which I am very grateful.  But I have loved my quieter holidays reading that revealing essay – which offers the perfect window into Muir’s soul, and into the soul of the  Ouzel. It’s all about singing  hallelujah through the hard times.  Click here to read it online and see a photo of this small and nondescript bird.

One of the best parts of the Christmas season for me is the Annual Christmas Bird Count, a tradition dating back to 1900 when U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman introduced the idea of counting birds on Christmas instead of killing them! What a great idea.  This year as I birded my regular patch on the urban river, I got to see my first BONAPARTE’S GULL, thanks to Jeff Manker, my co-CBC birder.  This gull is a smaller and more graceful version of the larger, much more common  WESTERN AND CALIFORNIA GULLS. Jeff also helped me sort these out.  Thanks Jeff!

Bonaparte’s Gull, San Lorenzo River downstream from Soquel Bridge, December 14 2019 (Christmas Bird Count) Photo by B. Riverwoman

On that first historical count, 27 counters counted 90 species.    Today  thousands of volunteer birders,  from across the country and the world,  fan out into every birdy nook and cranny, doing our best to count every single pigeon and every single gull we lay eyes on during the designated days and hours. Click here  for more info on this wonderful tradition – the earliest and longest running example of citizen science in the country.

Here in Santa Cruz County, those who count owls are up long before dawn, those who count offshore birds hire a boat and set out to sea for the day.  The rest of us try to keep going all day from sunrise to sunset.  Then, at the end of the day, the thirteen tired team leaders of the Santa Cruz County area, plus as many team members as are still awake, gather to share food and report  on this year’s results.  This year we found 161 species,  low for our area.  The lowest counts during the past ten-year period were 161 in 2010 and 163 in 2012.  The highest count for this same period was 174 in 2013 and 2017.

As I mentioned above,  I lucked out this year.  I got paired with Jeff Manker to cover the San Lorenzo River from the trestle up to Highway 1 and then beyond to beind the Tannery.   I didn’t know Jeff before count day, but learned that he was taking over this coming fall as the new President of the Board of the Monterey Birding Festival.  He has also taught an ornithology class at Gilroy High School (kudos to Jeff and to Gilroy) and is currently working on a high school ornithology curriculum for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.

Female Purple Finch,, note distinctive broad white eyebrow and white auricular area, very different from female House Finch. Google Image.

It seemed to me that Jeff saw four times as much as I saw in a fraction of the time it took me to find a bird.  I learned a lot from him.  With his finely-honed high school teaching skills, he managed to help me overcome not only my mental block about gull identification, but got me to identify my first female PURPLE FINCH.  I loved my first meetings with the delicate BONIPARTE’S GULL and the sweet-faced MEW GULL two gulls who are here only during the winter month.

After 3 hours I temporarily left to attend a meeting, but Jeff pushed forward, returning to the Laurel St. Bridge area to find the TROPICAL KINGBIRD, a rarity which has been hanging out in the vicinity for several weeks now. I saw the same species in the approximately the same area 3 years ago and took this photo.   Later he went back and found the reclusive SORA near the Soquel bridge, also almost the exact area where I spotted a Sora in 2014.

Tropical Kingbird, San Lorenzo River, downstream from Soquel Bridge, October 2017 Photo by B. Riverwoman
Sora, San Lorenzo River, well concealed in tules on east side of river between Soquel and Laurel St. Bridges, August, 2014, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the afternoon, it was great to have you, Jane, join our team as we continued upstream from the Tannery.  Approaching the river through Evergreen Cemetary on Ocean St. Extension, I got to see my first flock of BLUEBIRDS of the year.  For the list of species identified in our sub-section of the San Lorenzo River, click here  We found a total of 48 species ( 1147 individuals)  including six species of gulls.

The dramatic tradition at the evening gathering features the lead organizer reading  the name of each species on the “on list”, pausing after each species name to hear if at least one team has identified it.  For common birds like sparrows and jays, thirteen voices would ring out ‘yes’.  But then, after some names, there was a chilling silence – signifying that there had not been a single sighting.  Two species lost their standing – the Willet will continue to be “on list” but will now be listed as uncommon;  and the Forster’s Tern, who has been missing for five years, will be removed from the list of those we can expect to see in Santa Cruz County  After each silence we were, of course, all wondering if this was just a blip, or a trend.  Was this part of the 3 billion bird loss reported several months ago by Cornell in its ground-breaking study that I wrote about recently?    The concern was palpable among all these bird counters and bird lovers.  I could hear sighs and see folks shaking their heads. .The Water-ouzel is still on the “on list”, having been  sighted on river rapids   in Henry Cowell State Park within the last ten years.   But it  hasn’t been sighted for many years. Will it also be removed from the list in the coming years?

I hope some of you readers, including beginning birders, will consider joining us next year.  All levels of birding can be helpful in counting large numbers and in watching for movement.   The more attention we bring to our birds – and other wildlife, the more we can hope to protect the habitat on which these precious  creatures depend for their lives.

May we all enjoy an enLIGHTening holiday.




tyrants & drift…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Cheerleaders,

The other morning I decided to brave the cold, wet morning weather, because I just had to treat my eyes to the ocean and river vista. After a few days of rained out river visits the magnetic call to the water bodies won out. So there I stood, rain soaked pants, wet eyes glasses, wind blown, taking in the wild ocean and river, feeling elated by the view. It was surprising to see very little drift wood on the beaches. Usually the strong storms litter the shoreline with all sizes of wood debris, turning beach-goers into happy driftwood collectors as they fantasize about their future craft projects. Instead there were huge kelp piles lining the sand-line. The gulls were harvesting the kelp for food, protecting their patch with screeching at any other gull intruder.

kelp only on sand-line~no driftwood…

I really appreciated your supportive words for Erica’s and my candidacy for the Sierra Club Executive Committee elections. We are both strong voices for the rights of the environment to be considered for any project’s decision and planning phase. Some see that as obstruction, which I find ironic, because not including the environment concerns into decision making got us into the current environment mess…If you are a Sierra Club member then Erica and I encourage you to read our statements, which hopefully will gain your vote approval for us. You birders might enjoy hearing that the Santa Cruz Bird Club supports voting for me, which is a chirpy honor.

puffed up migrant tyrant…

During a brief rain break I saw the feisty SAY’S PHOEBE perching on a bush twig, all puffed up and motionless, which is uncommon for this little migrant tyrant, who arrived a couple months ago. The resident BLACK PHOEBE fell out of its bushes when the SAY’S PHOEBE showed up in its terrain. It tried to explain that its presence wasn’t welcomed whatsoever by insistently chasing and bomb-diving the SAY’S PHOEBE, who was not deterred by these affronts. Instead it literally took the species family name ‘Tyrant Flycatcher’ to new heights: it would zoom high above the BLACK PHOEBE then plummet itself at its cousin, pursue it relentlessly, not allowing the local tuxedo bird to rest anywhere in its beloved terrain.

BLACK PHOEBE in tuxedo..

Lately I have not seen the BLACK PHOEBE, but the SAY’S PHOEBE is now present all the time. PHOEBES earned their family name by being tremendously territorial, so I imagine the BLACK PHOEBE is counting the days until this intrusive migrant bully flies back to its northern breeding grounds.

heading out to sea…

I was watching a feather navigating the rapid river flow as it was being dragged out to the open sea, when I noticed the male MERGANSER with a female in tow. I was surprised to see him decked out in his breeding outfit. I hope these 2 didn’t get their breeding dates mixed-up!

isn’t this the wrong time of year for the breeding outfit?

I like to invite you to join us at the Estuary Project. It takes place this Saturday- 21st- from 9am-11am at the Trestle bridge by the Boardwalk parking lot. We’ll be planting natives, spreading straw, liberating natives from their dead wood and have a good time hanging out together. Click here for more details.
Wishing you all a peaceful Merry Holiday Season and Happy Nature Bathing, jane


Breakfast with the Birds

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Watchers,

For five years I’ve been writing about what I see when I go bird-visiting on the San Lorenzo River.  But this week I will tell you a little about the many birds that visit me during the winter months – all regulars on the river that I have managed to   lure to my mobile home by the river with a steady supply of black oil sunflower seeds, millet, suet and water.

Dominant golden-crowned sparrow and expert seed cracker. Note distinct gold cap and thick black eyebrows.   December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I love starting my day by having breakfast with my flying friends.  Before I eat I always first clean out and refill the birdbath, then sweep away the discarded sunflower shells from the patio and front steps, then carefully wash away the inevitable poop.  As I work , I see the birds flitting impatiently from branch to branch above my small patio.  Oh dear, have they been waiting very long?  If I am later than usuals, I feel guilty.  I busily refill my tube feeder, sprinkle seeds on my front steps and on the squirrel chair, and settle down on my couch with green tea and muesli to see the show.  I am hungry, too. The birds and my squirrel  now quite accustomed to my routine, immediately swoop down to have their breakfast with me.   It’s such a satisfying way to start a new day.

Same golden-crowned sparrow, side view, December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Almost always, the birds that descend first are the migrant GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS. When they hop onto my front steps, right outside my glass doors, I get a good chance to study their crowns – some with very noticable gold caps and some with only the slightest hint of gold.  A researcher at the UCSC Arboretum gathered a lot of data about the hierarchical behavior of golden-crowned sparrows. finding  that it correlates with the size and intensity of the gold patch on the tops of their heads..  I have now also become someone who is  fascinated with watching who chases whom. What I see definitely confirms the pattern the researcher describes.  The birds with bright yellow caps  drive off the ones with less colorful caps.  (The gold cap, or lack of, is not associated with gender.)

I have been very happy to have a SONG SPARROW visit me for the first time this year.  This brave little soul also flew right onto the landing of my front steps and looked me directly in the eye.  I love the insouciance of its foot placement.

Song Sparrow. in casual pose.outside my glass door.   December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman


And of course I welcome the non-native but handsome HOUSE SPARROWS in spite of their questionable nesting habits.

One male and four female house sparrows. Females have wide buffy eyebrows.Backyard, December 10, 2019. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Curiously, I have observed only one WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW in my patio so far this winter. I wonder if they feel too confined on the narrow patio between my house and the fence?  They are much more plentiful on the wilder and more open spaces on the river, usually outnumbering  the golden-crowned sparrows.

Scrub Jay, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It’s fun to watch the different behaviors of different species at the feeders. The large SCRUB JAY prefers to pick up his meal from the ground, but will sometimes attempt to grab a seed from the tube feeder and  then fly down to the ground to  break it open – or sometimes to swallow  whole.

The sparrows are also ground foragers,  much preferring to find  their food on the ground or bushes, rather than trees and feeders.   But if they are hungry they will all try their luck at the tube feeder .

The HOUSE FINCHES, for whose size, feet and beaks the feeders are perfectly designed, sit for long periods on the feeder rungs, expertly manipulating the sunflower seeds until the shells break loose and are shoved  out of their mouths.   The finches  stay perched on the small tube rungs until driven off by another bird.


Chickadee, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Tree-feeding CHICKADEES and OAK TITMICE visit me much less frequently.  When they do, they  sail in for just long enough to grab a seed from the feeder,  then find cover at a safe distance to hammer away at the shell and  extract the tasty meat from inside.

The BEWICK’S WREN, whose long, thin curved beak is not at all suited to cracking open a sunflower seed still visits the tube feeder to pick out the millet seeds, usually consuming them while standing on the thin rung which suits her small size.   She has been visiting much more often since the cold weather hit and I put up the suet feeder.

 Bewick’s Wren, m,..,.,../ Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The CALIFORNIA TOWHEE,  a ground forager like other birds in the sparrow family, is too large and chunky to ever attempt feeding from the tube feeder.

California Towhee, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman


Both the towhees and the MOURNING DOVES.  tend to wait until the first round of birds have left and then humbly peck away at all the leftover seed on the ground or steps.  . The doves  seem the most timid, never  venturing

Mourning Dove, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

onto my steps. The golden-crowned sparrow is the pluckiest, flying right onto the post by my glass door and sometimes singing its three-note song while looking straight at me.  Is it saying ‘thank you’.  Is it saying ‘more please’.  Is it reminding that this is its established territory?  Whatever it is saying, I’m sure it is aimed very personally at me!


Squirrel waiting its chance. Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Squirrel, hiding behind my glorious Bloodgood Japnese maple, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I have a special chair where I leave seeds for a very cute and mischievous squirrel who is intensely interested in the seed I put on my front steps for birds  only..  Unfortunately, if I let the squirrel onto the steps, she will chase the birds away and then schnarf up half the seeds in short order, at least 10 seeds at a time, half of which seem to fall out of her mouth as she stuffs the rest in with her tiny little hands.  As a result,  I have become a quite strict squirrel trainer.  I chase the squirrel back to her seed-filled chair, while the birds stay on the landing of the steps.  When my breakfast is over, I sweep the seeds from the steps onto the ground for all to eat.  I like to believe that I am thus slowly training the squirrels never to eat on the steps.  Whether my efforts at behavior modification for squirrels is successful is dubious. But once chased off, she does return to her chair – though I often see her peeking at me from behind something, maybe waiting for her chance to test a few limits.

Other birds who have  visited my home this winter are BUSHTITS, ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS, and my beautiful  HERMIT THRUSH, who feasts  on the red berries on my native cotoneaster bush, far from the other birds.  She has  spent about a month here, single-handedly eating every single berry down to the very last one – which disappeared yesterday.  I’m sad to say I probably won’t see her again until next year.

Such a wealth of visitors.  How can I feel lonely? As I approach my 82nd birthday,   I expect I may do more backyard birding and fewer excursions down the river.  When I was in 6th grade, my mother, who taught me to love birds, had a library book called Birds at my Window, about an old woman who watched birds.  For some reason, even at that young age, I was thrilled with the book.  I was shy and  hated giving oral book reports in class, but I remember forgetting my self-consciousness as I reported enthusiastically on my love of this particular book.  Maybe I am coming full circle on this theme in my life.

Some of you will be glad to know that Lucero Luna, whom I wrote about in my last blog piece, has found temporary housing for the winter.  Thanks to all of you who wrote me expressing your appreciation for that article.  My life has taught me that we are all connected   – people, animals, plants. When we start to live that way –and why not now – most of our problems will disappear.

If you are a Sierra Club Member, please support our ardent lover of nature and river blogger, Jane Mio, for the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club. I also highly recommend Erica Stanojevic and Bob Morgan for the other two open seats on the  Committee.  Votes are due January 1, but please mail your ballot early.

May this holiday season be a time of warm connections for all of you with all forms of life.












busy river scrutiny…

Good Morning Barbara & all you Fellow Nature Admirers,

seal dreaming of annoying the OSPREY…

As you recall our Estuary Project had achieved finding new homes for native plants by the Trestle path. For the past 12 days I have been hand-watering them, tying them over until the expected rain could soak their roots better thoroughly. I was inspecting the plants when I the hovering shape appeared above me, which I wrote off as a gull, seeking river shelter from the arriving storm. Then the flash raced through my head that gulls don’t hover flapping their wings, so a closer look turned the gull into an OSPREY, scrutinizing something in the water. I assumed that it was hunting, getting ready for his lighting fast plunge to catch a fish, but he kept flying off, circle back and hover over the same spot. I was curious what was holding the OSPREY’s attention and so edged closer to the river bank. And there was a seal, watching the bird angler in the air. I figured neither one was excited sharing the fish breakfast table with the other one. The staring contest continued for a while until the seal slowly descended under the water surface and the OSPREY flew upriver.

the cause of my roller coaster emotions…

A few days later I was down at the Mike Fox Skatepark, frustrating myself with examining the damage the tent campers had done to the vegetation in that area. I am dealing with a situation that has taken me on a roller coaster ride of a wide range of emotions. The reason for my quandary is: community volunteers and houseless members of the Downtown Street Team have restored that site for months with native plants and liberated some of the overgrown, neglected naive plant survivors. We were all happy and proud of the plants for responding so well with new growth. Then the campers moved in and either cut down the plants to make a smoother sleeping surface or crushed the plants by storing their belongings on them. I have asked them to please not damage the vegetation, with the result that my request was ignored and more vegetation was damaged. Asking Rangers to help explain to the campers that they were damaging public property got me nowhere and resulted in the appearance of 2 additional tents. Now I was looking at 5 tents, the bare banks, which are eroding quickly due to lost vegetation, heavy foot traffic and the current rains. The financial $1000 loss of the plant expenses is hard to take, but what sends me through the roof is the waste of all our volunteer work, which were many hours of dedicated restoration efforts. Your last post was a heartwarming report about the dilemma of the houseless population, which is, without question, intensely horrible. I am well aware that houseless people vary just like family and neighbors: some are great to get along with and some hear a different drum. These campers hear a drum that hurts the environment, which I find hard to deal with.

migratory YELLOW-rumped WARBLER keeping an eye on me…

Yesterday there was a short rain break, which allowed for a dry river visit and watching the birds eagerly dashing around for food. The shy YELLOW-rumped WARBLER dared to come out into the open, pecking at some goodies on the path while keeping an attentive eye on me.

rain soaked PEREGRINE…

The wet PEREGRINE and RED-tailed HAWK were sitting in the Trestle trees, ignoring each other, because preening their soaked plumage took up all their beak time. 5 DOUBLE-crested CORMORANTS were taking advantage of the rain break. Perched on a cliff rock, they were spreading their wings wide open in the hope to dry them out. The river level is high and the water flows rapidly, making the AMERICAN COOTS swim sideways when they attempt to cross the river. The rain started again, sending me home enriched with river observations that feed my soul.

proposed Front St Project…

You might be interested in the public scoping/content meeting for the Front St. project, which is the 7 story high development adjacent to the river, current location of Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, India Joze’s, University Copy Service businesses. The meeting will address the environmental information to be included in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The development has received little community attention since it’s not affecting any residential neighborhood. Yet this project will impact the character of Santa Cruz as well as the river habitats.
The meeting takes place:
Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 5:30p.m. at the Louden Nelson Center, Multi-purpose Room, at 301 Center Street in Santa Cruz.

Sending you river love greetings, jane