Measure M for Birds and Humans

Hi Jane and all,

As I think I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been spending most of my time these days trying to protect some habitat for my own species. I’ve saved all of my bird walking energy for canvassing the neighborhoods for Measure M, the rent control ballot measure.  At 80 years old I have to measure out my walking time carefully.

It’s funny how protecting human habitat and bird habitat in Santa Cruz kind of amounts to the same thing. Birds and people in Santa Cruz are being driven out primarily due to commercial and recreational development for financial gain. Some people think, and even say, ‘well, if birds get driven out of the San Lorenzo River (or people out of Santa Cruz),  they can always go somewhere else’.  That’s just plain wrong for animals and just as wrong for humans.  Animals establish their territories for specific reasons (safety, food and water availability,  nesting habitat, etc.  They do this at considerable expense, and depend on that habitat to survive.  With humans, we also move into a place for specific reasons – family, friends, nearby schools, services, quiet, the neighborhood, the cost. We want to stay there for these reasons. Our homes aren’t interchangeable for  homes anywhere.  Measure M would protect the 5500 humans that now live in their rented homes and would be covered by Measure M, but will be vulnerable to eviction the day Measure M loses.   Let’s not let that happen.  Let’s keep birds and humans safe in their homes!

two close crows
Two American Crows, talking things over – perhaps.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I did take one walk where I captured some photos that made me smile, especially these two crows either schmoozing, begging, or perhaps plotting an assault on a hapless  hawk; and this row of very well behaved pigeons in perfect formation.

pigeons in a row
14 pigeons, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I sometimes think that pigeons would make good candidates for military school. They are impressive in both their flight formations and their battlement line-ups!



There are many new signs of ongoing efforts  by the Public Works Department to control our River.  Here’s a photo of the surface of the riverbed that has been ploughed into furrows in hopes that a fast flowing stream will carry away some of the excess sediment that will otherwise have to be dredged. I hope it works.

roughing up
Flood Control, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was surprised to see this unfamiliar little creature which I am guessing is a juvenile CALIFORNIA TOWHEE. Also a late breeder.

towhee juv
Juvenile California Towhee, October 14, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I also stepped back with surprise at my first sight of a hammock on the Riverwalk, hung skillfully between a redwood tree and the exercise station.  A fashionable new trend for the unhoused?

Hammocking on the River, October 14, 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman,

Finally, stealing a moment to take a short walk at twilight, I was happily drawn into the magic of a solitary Pied-billed Grebe outlined against the silky, sunlight-infused  surface of the River.

grebe in sunset
Pied-billed Grebe at sunset, San Lorenzo River, October 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here’s a quote from John Muir about why you and I, Jane, go back again and again to the same place – even though the urban river isn’t exactly pure wilderness:

“So abundant and novel are the objects of interest in a pure wilderness …it matters little where you go or how often to the same place.  Wherever you chance to be always seems at the moment of all places the best; and you feel that there can be no happiness in this world, or in any other, for those who may not be happy here.”  John Muir

May we all find happiness wherever we find ourselves.













the river keeps us in the moment…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Naturaphiles,

SPOTTED SANDPIPER & KILLDEER foraging breached shore…

That’s chirpy news that one of our 4 river SPOTTED SANDPIPERS introduced its dipping self to you. I think you are right that it was so far up river since the lagoon condition down here has left the little shore bird with limited foraging opportunity. But a week ago on Sunday morning the drained river presented its breach look: low water level exposing the banks and the river shores. The dark, water-soaked rocks and muddy brown river bed were the perfect backdrop for the sparkling white SNOWY EGRETS, who preferred teetering on the rocks. Obviously they were reluctant to get their bright yellow feet mucky. The USGS water graph showed that the river mouth opened early Sunday morning between 2-3 am at a 3.6’ high tide. It’s interesting that this low wave tide achieved to open the river berm, which had looked fairly high and wide the previous day. On my walk several of my river compadres voiced their disappointment about the underachieving plastic pipe. It was supposed to regulate the water level, thus evade the quick, uncontrolled river drains, which cause the slower fish to strand on the rocks and the bigger fish to wash out to the ocean before they are ready. This week the river mouth closed again and the lagoon water is rising. I wonder if these fluctuations of the water temperature and heights are affecting the fish and the feathered water dwellers. For the City the repeated, drastic river drains are gentle on their purse strings, because they eliminate the expensive, wildlife expert controlled breaches.

breached river…

Do keep us informed about your stunning 6000 truck loads news. The fact is that our river is facing quite a few upcoming projects: the Trestle bridge path widening, the installation of the river mouth culvert, the bankfull project, the Front St. development on the river side and the Hyw.1 bridge widening.

upstream view from the pedestrian bridge…

On early Friday my friend and I started our river walk at the San Lorenzo Park pedestrian bridge, which offers a rich river visual with its willows and big trees along the shore. The birds were lazy that morning and showed up in the middle of our walk. They hijacked my conversation skills in the middle of our talking, because I got sidetracked with pointing out the bird activities all around us: the 2 KINGFISHERS were having a their usual heated discussion about their ongoing territory issues, the GREEN HERON was flushed upriver, voicing loudly its displeasure about being displacement, the WHITE-crowned SPARROWS silently watched us walk by, the WESTERN KINGBIRD was chasing the KINGFISHER away from its beloved dead tree, the AMERICAN COOTS were munching on their favorite algae, the mystical red dragonflies hovering over the water and a PIED-billed GREBE forced down its breakfast fish. I invited my friend to join our ongoing Estuary Restoration Project on Oct. 20th from 9-11am at Mike Fox Skateboard Park and of course you all are invited as well.

WESTERN KINGBIRD in its beloved dead tree…

This Sunday morning I got misty walking down the Trestle path under the Eucalyptus trees, because the recently removed undergrowth has robbed the familiar local and migratory land birds of their relished food source. Gone are their conversational chirps, their little dashing bodies through the foliage, the cheery colored bodies of the WILSON and TOWNSEND’S migratory WARBLERS. Now silence reigns there, which turned me inward until one falling ‘leaf’ snapped me out of my reverie: it was oddly shaped and descended slowly, floatingly. A second look unveiled the ‘leaf’ to be a small feather. Feathers flow off the tress here and there from the preening CORMORANTS, but this feather snow was coming from a localized spot, indicating that a HAWK was having breakfast. It took some time to spot the juv. COOPER HAWK, sitting high up on a bare branch, watching me while feasting as my “Bon appetite” stoke in my throat.
River moments greeting to you all, jane

our river juv. COOPER HAWK…

Cigars All Around!

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It happened!  As I glanced down at the river from the Water St. Bridge, there it was, the sight I had been waiting for all summer.  As I stared with amazement at this very, very late-arriving juvenile,  I felt as if I were back in Bible times, experiencing the avian equivalent of Sarah’s miraculous motherhood.  Just like Sarah, through some combination of sheer determination and blind faith, the modest little grebes hung in through multiple nest failures, finally producing one solitary baby.  I immediately named the young grebe Isaac.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the latest breeding Pied-billed Grebe family  in Santa Cruz County history!  What a will to survive.

best PBG
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe with parent, still with distinct black and white breeding colors in bill.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River just north of Water St. Bridge.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I watched the mom for a long time.   She wasn’t diving, presumably  digesting her last fishy meal until she could regurgitate the indigestible bones and spiny parts and begin to fish again.   It was very cute how the juvenile kept pressing up close to the parent as if wanting more food.  Then suddenly there was some unexpected drama.

PBG excited
Pied-billed Grebe rises out of water.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

First, the adult grebe rose up out of the water with an energetic flapping of wings; then a second adult apeared out of nowhere, triggering all three to lift themselves laboriously out of the water (no small feat for a Pied-billed Grebe) and ‘patter-fly’ upstream for a short sprint, half flying, half walking on the water.  This was also a first for me.  I had never seen a PBG try to fly, much less three in a row.    According to BNA, what is referred to as ‘patter-flying’  is typical aggressive behavior for these grebes.  Was Sarah exasperated with Abraham for some reason?  Or vice-versa?

As most of you  know, I have had a special place in my heart for Pied-billed Grebes ever since I discovered a nest in 2015, monitoring the little family anxiously until I saw the lone offspring become independent.  Click here for the full story.

I really appreciated, Jane, your much more thorough discussion last week  of the river dredging project that we may be facing in 2019.  I’ve been doing a little more research and am in a state of shock.  At the City Council meeting I heard Mark Dettle, the Public Works Director, say that the operation will require the removal of  75,000 cubic yards of riverbed soil.  Did I really hear that?  Just now I asked Google to explain to me how much 75,000 cubic yards was.   Unless I got my math wrong, I think it amounts to  6000 dump trucks full!!  Is that possible?   That’s way beyond anything that is tolerable in a wildlife setting.  Will there be any birds or mammals or frogs or insects left after such an operation?.  The more I think about it the more I shudder.  And for what?  To achieve FEMA certification in order to  save the downtown businesses the cost of flood insurance?  Our City planners should be thinking about moving the City off the flood plain, especially now that we are almost definitely assured that sea level rise will push river levels beyond the level acceptable to FEMA– with or without dredging!   I think it is time for us birders to sit down with Public Works and have a heart to heart talk!  I hope my math is wrong.

Is this what we can expect in 2019 on the Riverwalk?  6000 dump trucks filled with riverbed dirt?  Google Image. 

Your  bewildered reflections in your last post about the OSPREY and the AMERICAN CROW were very to the point.  This was brought home to me yesterday when my neighbor called to alert me to an OSPREY perched on the tip of the redwood tree directly across the river from my house.  I ran to my back window and, sure enough, there was the Osprey and it was still being pursued by the constant – and unwelcome –companion, an American Crow !  Perhaps the Osprey vainly hoped that it might shake the pesky crow if it just moved upstream from the river mouth.  But a determined crow with a serious grudge apparently doesn’t give up that easily.

Osprey and crow
Osprey being harassed by an American Crow, October 1, 2018, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, photo by B. Riverwoman

I spotted one of those well–camouflaged  SPOTTED SANDPIPER that eluded me for so long – much further north than I have ever seen one before.  Was the water level too high down on your end of the river to provide sufficient sand bar areas for this solitary shorebird to satisfy his appetite? These inconspicuous little birds keep so busy, excitedly bobbing their heads up and down the entire time they are foraging.

I’m so happy to have the GOLDEN-CROWNED and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS back from their summer haunts – extending as far north as the Bering Sea.  When they first arrive they sing and sing, making sure that any passer-bys understand that there are no vacancies down below.

WC sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow, San Lorenzo River, September 28, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

After about a month, once they’ve solved their housing problems, the non-stop singing ends and they can concentrate on eating my sunflower seeds.  I just noticed for the first time that although the winter range of the White-crowned Sparrows covers the whole U.S., the Golden-crowned Sparrows inhabit a far more limited range from Washington through California. They are rarities to everyone except those of us lucky to live on the west coast.  Maybe that is why rents are so high in Santa Cruz!

Quote of the Week:

One of my favorite gifts for nature lovers is a very long essay by John Muir, dedicated entirely to his most beloved bird, the Water Ouzel.  I think the bird is a soul-mate of Muir.  This bird is common in the cold rapids of the Sierras, but has actually been reported as well  on some more swiftly flowing rapids further north of the urban San Lorenzo River. Here is a brief quote from Muir’s essay:

“How romantic and beautiful is the life of this brave little singer on the wild mountain streams, building his round bossy nest of moss by the side of a rapid or fall, where it is sprinkled and kept fresh and green by the spray!  No wonder he sings well, since all the air about him is music; every breath he draws is part of a song, and he gets his first music lessons before he is born; for the eggs vibrate in time with the tones of the waterfall. Bird and stream are inseparable, songful and wild, gentle and strong, the bird ever in danger in the midst of the stream’s mad whirlppols, yet seemingly immortal.”

May you all have a wild and songful week!





why the OSPREY? Defending dead trees…

Good Morning Barbara and all you River Friends,

CROW chasing OSPREY…

So…what is it with the CROW? I have no clue why it started to mob the fishing OSPREY. Last year I observed a CROW harassing an OSPREY and since then that occurrence has increased. We all know CROWS are relentless when it comes to chasing after HAWKS and FALCONS, because these 2 species will raid CROW nests. But now they are going after OSPREY? I used to see CROWS and OSPREY sitting peacefully side by side in the Trestle Eucalyptus tree. I assumed they friendly co-existed because the OSPREY eats only fish. I hope this new scenario isn’t becoming the new norm: the OSPREY is circling over the river, briefly slowing down, moving on and suddenly splashes into the water, rising with a fish in its talon. A screeching CROW dashes up out nowhere, catapults itself at the OSPREY, who is trying to avoid the ruthless attacker, attempting to hang on to the fish. The CROW, being a skilled aviator, forces the OSPREY into an erratic flight pattern that is unusual for the gliding fisher. Sooner or later the fish drops back into the water. The CROW couldn’t care less about the lost meal and won’t let up harassing the OSPREY until it heads upstream. It’s curious that no other CROWS join the OSPREY mobbing. Is it just this single CROW that has a peeve with the OSPREY or have you seen the same behavior upstream?

downtown planned development….

I am going to chime in a little on your reporting of the tangled City and Corps of Engineers river situation. Yes, the Corps is enticing the City to sign off on the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan that was negotiated last June by the Corps Staff and Jim Panetta for the tune of $ 2.5M. Previously the City has balked at accepting the river responsibility, because the 2014 Corps 100 year flood report was put into question by the the Feb. 7th 2017 storm flooding. This 2014 Corps report was used to meet the FEMA accreditation standards that keeps the flood insurance low. Without the FEMA accreditation the fees will double, not welcomed news for developers, who are keen on constructing their 7 plus story buildings close to the river.

what our future will look like…

The Corps put an end to the City’s balking by informing them that no money was available to update the 2014 report nor did they any longer certify levees. Ever engineer savvy, the Corps did suggest that the City consider the ‘bankful channel’ to fulfill the FEMA accreditation standards. And wasn’t it wonderful that the sign off allowed the City to finally access the $1.81M Congress credit for the 2000 Soquel bridge expense. That amount could be applied to the $5M ‘bankful channel’ project and hopefully make FEMA happy. The remaining $688,000 of the $2.5M will be applied to the levee repair by Bank of America.

some CLIFF SWALLOW fledglings resting in dead tree…

And as this complicated process unfolds I am a small time recipient of the Corps’ maintenance requests for the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan. As you can imagine I was not happy to hear that the Estuary Reach vegetation was on their radar, which readied me to stand in front of the whole Corps and defend the meager vegetation in that Reach. Especially the dead trees on the water bank, which are the only hunting perches for the KINGFISHER, BLACK PHOEBE and the migratory flycatchers. The fledglings of the migratory SWALLOWS use them as a rest station, the SONG SPARROWS need them for their spring songs, the Calif. TOWHEEs access them for their mating chase and the migratory GOLDEN and WHITE CROWN SPARROWS gather in them for their long chats and sing-alongs. They are an important food source for the  WOODPECKERS. I have advocated for these dead trees for years to the City, who kindly spared them and now I hope to high heaven that they will be saved once again. I would love to take the Corps team on a San Lorenzo River walk and show them what a vital, important role vegetation and dead trees play in the life of birds and wildlife. It just might give them new insights…

SONG SPARROW singing spring song in dead tree…

Your sharing John Muir is so enriching and in return I share “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an American native, scientist and single mother. Her message of giving gratitude and honor to Nature’s offerings is very inspiring and heart warming.
In that spirit: keep your fingers crossed for the dead trees, jane

Coopers’ Hawks Arrive, Army Corps Leaves

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It seems that both of us, Jane, have been shuddering a little at the predatory behaviors of the notorious COOPER’S HAWK, the “bird hawk” that prefers small birds over all other foods.  You can tell when a Coopers’ is in the area because there will be an initial wild chorus of alarm calls and then absolute silence.  Just yesterday I experienced this right in my backyard  – one moment a chorus of bright song, and then, as if the birds were of one mind, total silence.  It was eery.   I immediately suspected a Cooper’s Hawk, especially since my neighbor Bob has been reporting to me that one has been hiding in the dense foliage of his Cape Honeysuckle hedge (next to the River) for about two weeks now. Earlier this week Bob came out his front door, only to recoil when he saw an insouciant Cooper’s Hawk feasting on the remains of a dead CALIFORNIA TOWHEE.  It saw Bob but casually consumed the last morsels before it flew off. Bob has had a very hard time forgiving that hawk!

Here are some photos I was lucky enough to capture of their cousins, the SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, taken on the River last November during migration season.  Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller, but equally fond of dining on small birds, and equally clever at catching them.  For all I know, the Coopers’ Hawks that Bob saw, and that I saw, could have been Sharp-shinned Hawks.  They are difficult to tell apart, except for the size.

Sharp shinned adult
Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult, .  November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B.Riverwoman


Sharp-shinned juv copy
 Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile, November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Isn’t it amazing how the special small wing structure and long tail of these hawks allow them to successfully negotiate what seem almost impenetrable tree canopies, canopies that deny entry to our bulkier Red-tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks.   It continues to amaze me how each species finds it own way of adapting to the environment in order to survive. I can’t help but wonder if some of the many juvenile HOUSE FINCHES that I wrote about, and pictured in my last blog, were the victims of the Cooper’s predations.  I hav been noticing that the numbers of finches at my bird feeder has lessened rather dramatically this last week and I’ve read that these hawks are drawn to backyard bird feeders.  That makes me squirm.  Should I keep feeding my birds?   More power to the KINGFISHER that you saw chase off a Cooper’s last week, and to the AMERICAN CROW that I saw do the same thing this week.  Be it said that the Cooper’s Hawk did not give up without quite an aerial dust-up.

Well, the good news is that – according to the bar chart in eBird, click here the Coopers’ hit their fall migratory peak from mid-September to mid-October as they return from their breeding grounds further north and in the interior. They are pretty much right on schedule! According to the range maps, they are, for the most part, not  regular residents in coastal California, living mostly inland. So let’s “enjoy” them as best we can during their short visit and then, on behalf of the small birds, wish them a rather grateful farewell.

I hate to admit that I have been wondering lately why I never see male COMMON MERGANSERS  these days, only the brown-headed female. As I watched seven ‘females’ resting on a sandbar this week,  I imagined a matriarchy of female mergansers.  Then I imagined males too proud to hang out with females.  Silly me – always making up anthropocentric stories!

Male and/or female Common Mergansers, near Chinatown Bridge, September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I finally, and sensibly.  turned to the Sibley field guide and was reminded that males are almost exactly similar in appearance to females (and juveniles) from July through October, until breeding season begins in November.  We should be able to identify the males as males in a month or so.


Like the Mergansers,  male MALLARDS will soon regain their breeding elegance  –  one month earlier than Mergansers,  in October.  It’s so funny to see them now, inelegantly coming into their own, their heads looking as if they were wearing threadbare green velvet bonnets.

As you pointed out, Jane, a few AMERICAN COOTS are also back.  The will soon become the most commonly seen bird on the river, but right now it is special to welcome them back after a cootless summer.  I actually enjoy their shenanigans all winter long.

Four coots
American Coots hang out with one Common Merganser. September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman, 

I haven’t seen any Golden-crowned Sparrows yet, or Eared Grebes, but I read on the Monterey Bay Bird list that they have alrrived elsewhere in the County.  I’m eagerly awaiting the Golden-crowned’s plaintive whistle, the official beginning of fall in my calendar.  Click here to see my  eBird post this last week.

News from the  City Council meeting last week was sobering, especially what it included about my end of our River. Based on a City study of the heavy rains in 2017, it seems that the levees “may not contain a Corps-projected 100 year flood in certain reaches ot the flood control project (approximately Soquel Ave to Highway 1).”  In its report, the City barely disguises its frustration when it writes in the report, “ The Corps acknowledged a possible change in levee performance but also indicated that their levee performance report finalized in 2014 went through an extensive process to complete and represents the Corps’ best estimate of the project’s performance at this time”.  In other words, the Corps is sticking with an old study in spite of new findings!   The Corps will cut off its contract with the City, returning full oversight and financial responsiility to the Santa Cruz. .  The City must now  go begging for money to implement something they call the Bankfull Project, which I think means some kind of supposedly less environmentally damaging variation on dredging to remove the sediment build-up between Water St. and Highway 1 that has heightened the risk of flooding.  That, not to put too fine a point on it, is precisely where I live. I guess we human and avian residents of this riverine reach can expect a rough ride in a couple of years, as heavy duty machinery rips up the river bed.   How dearly we all pay when we meddle with nature.

I have been so enthralled with the biography and writings of John Muir lately.  He was way ahead of his time, in spite of his lacking academic credentials, in understanding how glaciers (and not a natural catastrophe) carved out the Yosemite Valley.  He loved glaciers and wrote about them to a friend:

Quote of the Week:

“Man, man: you ought to have been with me.  You’ll never make up what you have lost today. I’ve been wandering through a thousand rooms of God’s crystal temple. I’ve been a thousand feet down in the crevasses, with matchless domes and sculptured figures and carved ice-work all about me.  Solomon’s marble and ivory palaces were nothing to it.  Such purity, such color, such delicate beauty!  I was tempted to stay there and feast my soul and softly freeze, until I would become part of the glacier.  What a great death that would be!”                      John Muir

Muir goes so far beyond any writer I have ever read in his capacity for total ecstasy in nature.

May we all, including our City leaders, channel just a little of Muir’s ecstatic appreciation for the wonders of nature.  Wouldn’t that be easier than grinding out all these Environmental Impact Reports?





river dream…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow River Friends,

many critters live along the river…

As you know, I love to talk endlessly about the river. Jean Kratzer from the new Santa Cruz radio station innocently asked me if I was willing to be recorded as we talked on levee walk about the San Lorenzo River. She is working on a river story for her program. I was in heaven and the birds obviously were in support of my opinion that their habitat is an amazing treasure. The migratory RED-throated LOON rocked on the river, watching us looking at it. The COOPER HAWK swooped down, landed on the bank, which really infuriated the KINGFISHER. The much smaller bird so no reason to hold back with her territory screeches and bomb-dived the bigger bird merciless. Clearly both their hunting opportunities were ruined and the COOPER HAWK took off. Just to be sure that it understood clearly to never ever enter the KINGFISHER’S hunting area again, the fishing expert chased the HAWK quite a distance inland, stressing her fortissimo message with blitz-y attacks. Upon return the KINGFISHER flew back and forth near the abandoned SWALLOW nests, which was unusual. That came to a dead stop when the down stream KINGFISHER was trying to sneak by her. So off she went to set the next intruder straight. One of Jean’s questions was: What was my dream version for the San Lorenzo River? That question tempts for a long answer, because of the many components that play into making my dream come true. All too often the river issues receive quick, short term ‘fixes’ that result in long term unwanted outcomes. Pressed to sum it up, I would say: All river involved agencies and river advocates take a deep breath, sit down together and acknowledge that their joint highest goal is mindful river protection and stewardship for its habitats with our fused integrity. Committing to this objective all approaches/actions would get filtered through that lens. Yes, it would take time, but then again any artist, business person knows: producing any successful prototype takes innovative thinking, time, money & effort. Personally I think that this concept is worth applying to our river, a Natural Infrastructure. I would love to see the river thrive thanks to good care and watch the community be proud of what was achieved.

river feeding SNOWY EGRETS…

I hope your cold has departed and you are in full swing of birding for the migratory WARBLERS, who are starting to arrive. They are such small birds, who love to hide behind foliage. It takes endurance and patience to spot them. It seems that they remind us to slow down just like this season is. The busy summer is turning its leaves over to the sedate fall and I like to think that the WARBLERS help us adjust to the change.

testing culvert concept…

Well, it seems like you won’t be reading any more breach reports this year. The hopes run high for the involved agencies and the City that the buried pipe on Main Beach will turn out to be a successful ‘test case’ for the planned year-a-around culvert. This is different to the previous design, which planned to remove the culvert before winter storms and re-install it in the spring. The latest Sentinel article explains why there are high expectations attached to the test result.

just a few of the many MALLARDS…

This morning the river was surprisingly low in spite of the closed river mouth. The 50 MALLARDS or more were gobbling up their breakfast and 10 PIED-billed GREBES spend their time diving. There is one PIED-billed GREBE, who has mingled with a MALLARD group for the past week. I am starting to wonder if it knows it’s a diving PIED-Billed GREBE. There was an odd gull looking bird swimming on the river and now begins my windy ‘Who is that? journey. Next time I’ll let you know what I find out and until then you all enjoy your mystery river visits, jane

Secure Housing for All Creatures of the Earth


Your photo and story, Jane, on Captain Coot, proudly sweeping by the astonished Mallards while sailing his cardboad ship down the river, was one of your funniest of the year!


A slight glitch in my posting this week.  I  posted this piece to my education site by mistake.  When I tried to move it back to this San Lorenzo River Mysteries Site, I  lost photo captions and some links.  If you would like to see the original post, you can click here and go to my other, now mostly moribund, education site.  That way you can also take a peek at my former life!

I’ve been busy working on the Yes on M campaign (rent control), specializing, it seems, in trying to save the homes of human as well as avian creatures.   I am perhaps unreasonably partial to the idea of a world where every sentient being  has secure housing!  Anyway, for this reason, as well as having a cold, I haven’t been out on the River this week .   Fortunately the river has come to me in the form of many new  riparian dwellers visiting my overgrown native garden, separated from the river by a single fence.  My sunflower seed feeder is a major attraction, as well as a rotting log I introduce a while back.  I hope the native plants factor in the equation somewhere.  I really don’t have the vaguest understanding of the ecology that I am blindly trying to create.  But I think it is working.

I have not been lucky enough in the past to catch many glimpses of our colorful

Grosbeakon fence

summer visitor, the BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, so you  can imagine how happy I’ve been to have one of these showy creatures appear as a regular visitor in my backyard for the last two weeks.  She (or he?) seems to love my sunflower seeds.  Weirdly, it is impossible to  know if my backyard Grosbeak is a first year male or a female, since in their first year the two are indistinguishable.  All I know is that it was not a second year male whose solidly black head and deep orange breast clearly identify it as a breeding male.  Unfortunately, one of those hasn’t visited yet.

I also read that this species loves to feast on  Monarch butterflies, one of the few bird species that can successfully process the toxins in Monarchs that would kill or sicken another bird. Both Monarchs and Black-headed Grosbeaks return to the mountains of central Mexico in the winter – unfortunately for the Monarchs.

curious grosbeak

But I forgive the Grosbeaks since they are one of those lovable birds that share the duties of incubating and feeding their young. Here is a good website connected with Cornell University  that I use to collect some of these interesting tidbits of information – All About Birds. 


I’ve heard that HOUSE FINCHES tend to be late breeders and the recent mobbing of my tube feeder by all kinds of fluffy and scruffy young finches seems to prove the truth of this.

House finch juvenile

The tube is absolutely cleaned out by evening each day.   I also wonder if some of them might be molting adults. I wonder where they nest.

House Finch juv male

Here is a video of house finches feeding their young – slightly overproduced for my taste, but a nice intro to my sightings of them after they are out of the nest.

Adult male House Finch

Parent finches regurgitate food for the young, making it possible as we see in the film to feed many for quite a while.   Click here.

I saw a juvenile COWBIRD perched near my house for the first time that I remember.  A parasitic brooder, often leaving an egg in the nests of  House Finches, I wonder if this juvenile was inadvertently raised as a sibling of one of my finches above..  He looks a bit bewildered and stranded, don’t you think?

Cowbird juvenile

Passing the 80 milestone has kept me from getting down to the  estuary end of the river very much – so I much appreciate first hand news and photos of the breaching.   What did you think of the Sentinel coverage of this phenomena?  It cleared up some questions that I have had. For readers who didn’t see the article, click here for the link.

I don’t think I  have mentioned  my concern about the dirt road that the City built along the east side of the river bank on the riverine reach (Water to Highway 1) while they were doing their flood control work a month ago.

New path along East Bank of riverine stretch

Here is a photo of the road as well as a close-up that shows how close the road comes to the river.  I am worried that rangers and police will begin patrolling the area in their trucks, creating a disturbance to the wildlife and setting a bad precedent for the future in terms of how close humans should get to the river.  I know that there are some commercial and recreational developers that would just love to create more paths right next to the river. I would love to walk there myself,  – but I don’t think it bodes well for habitat protection.  I am likely to hear and see more if I am not disturbing what I want to hear and see.

New road

Have you seen this mighty sprinkling can heaving its way down the Riverwalk?

Tree sprinkler

I talked to the driver and he told me that it brings water to thirsty native plants that are newly planted and need a little extra support. If we ever get the river levee re-planted with natives, and they get established, maybe this will become the dinosaur that it resembles.  But I definitely appreciate the restoration work that seems to have taken off on the levee and Riverwalk.

Here is the bonus photo for the day, a mysterious insect that graced my garden for a moment.  I would love to begin to learn the names of these visitors.

Mystery Insect

Quote of the Day

No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste.  Everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons.

John Muir

May we all learn to respect the right of all living creatures to a secured place to live.