river puzzling…

Good Morning Barbara and fellow Naturaphiles,

LONG-tailed DUCK getting ready for tail attack…

Remember my last post about the dive crazed, shy Long-tailed DUCK? Well, that very same little, compact DUCK adjusted nicely to the feathered river life rhythm. It floated relaxed on the water, curiously eyeing the birders, who flocked to the levee to see its rare appearance. My birder friend wanted to see it. So we headed to the spot, where I had seen the DUCK for the last few days, sunbathing on a rock close to the shore. And sure enough: there was the LONG-tailed DUCK, snoozing the morning away. As we admired it, one eye opened, took us in and closed again. A young MERGANSER was circling the coveted sun spot, obviously hoping for a friendly rock sharing experience. The feathered teenager came slowly closer, casually hung out next to the enticing rock then ever so gingerly climbed up, clinging to the rock’s edge. A few seconds later the MERGANSER sought a more cozy position, which entailed turning its back towards the rock owner, who gave it a thorough examination, decided that sight was not appropriate and delivered a well aimed, feisty peak to that derrière. The MERGANSER wagged the tail and didn’t take the hint to move it. So the attacks were repeated until the intruder got the message and slid off the boulder. Satisfied the LONG-tailed DUCK watched the rude guest swim off to smaller lounging place, never ever getting up from its resting repose.

the 15′ buffer zone gets marked…

On Saturday I saw the official announcement in the Sentinel for the Flood Control Work. My heart already broke on Wednesday when I found out about the early July 16th start date, which is one month sooner than last year. In 2017 the bulldozers entered the Flood Control area after August 15th and finished their work before the Oct. 15th cut-off time. The environmentalists & birders were thrilled, because the 2017 date corresponded to their repeated plea to adhere to the Federal/State Feb.1st-Aug.15th protected bird breeding season. They wrote letters of praise to the Public Work’s Staff for their welcomed schedule change and urged that this timeline should be repeated in 2018. After all it is possible to include positive environment consideration in planing the necessary work schedules as Sonoma demonstrates. So seeing on black & white that the old way had returned was hard to take!! Some people ask me why I get so upset about the untimely vegetation bulldozing in the riparian corridor, because after all the birds can just fly away. Well, actually fledglings are lousy flyers. Furthermore bird offsprings benefit greatly by going through an undisturbed growth cycle. The valuable time of proper feeding, resting, flying practice, allows them to grow into strong, healthy adults, who will have better survival chances. Birds mature quickly and so every day matters in their growth process. That’s why one extra month makes such a vital difference and because they are denied that time my heart breaks for them.

Cliff Swallow fledglings being fed…

This morning you and I were drawn to the work site like moths to light to watch the scope of work being carried out. The bird alarm sounds had accompanied my walk to the area, where the bird precaution talk had been completed, the biologist was monitoring the site, the 15’ buffer zone was being marked, the tools were active, the native plants were getting flagged and you had spotted the PIED-billed GREBE nest in the river. I am sure we’ll be back to-morrow to check out the new river look.

juvenile duckling chasing tiny ones…

Sometimes I observe unusual bird behavior, i.e. this one: on Sunday a loud, agitated MALLARD squabble echoed over the water. I saw several MALLARDS swimming back and forth, rising half way out of the water and charging at each other. It looked like male behavior during breeding season. Getting closer I was surprised to see 2 female adults, 4 almost full grown, 1 juvenile and 2 tiny ducklings. The 2 adult females were battling each other, the 4 almost full grown ones were charging at the juvenile and the 2 itty ducklings. One of the adult females flew off, leaving 2 pitiful peeping ducklings behind. As if that wasn’t enough the 4 almost adults started chasing them, assisted by the 1 juvenile. The deserter came back, called her 2 ducklings and they swam upstream. The 4 trouble makers followed them, vocalizing soft sounds continuously when suddenly they swam across the river. There they squawked loudly to high heaven while one after the other raised their bodies, flapped their wings wildly, dove under, came up and repeated this unique behavior. Once they were done with that, they returned demurely and escorted Mama and ducklings down the river while whispering soft sounds continuously…
Signing off with kind river greetings to you all, jane


Troubled Teens in the World of Swallows

Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,

Once again I return with a story of the wonders of one’s own backyard! I was headed out this week for a walk along the River, about to go through the back gate of my mobile home park  that borders the levee. Something made me turn around and look up.  I blinked my eyes with wonderment as my gaze took in a row of 31 swallows, perched at regular intervals along a telephone wire.

swallows lined up, evening
8 of the 31 Violet-green Swallows lined up on a telephone wire next to the San Lorenzo River, July 6, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Usually I find these summertime visitors swooping over the river at breakneck speeds,  rarely if ever pausing to rest or pose for a photo.. Now here they were all lined up for me to enjoy and study at my leisure. What was going on?  I lost no time – immediately snapping about 150 photos, without much idea of what I was recording!

Colors from back
Juvenile, Male Violet-green Swallow, El Rio Mobile Home Park, San Lorenzo River, July 7, 2018,  In spite of the telltale downiness, this juvenile must be pretty close to adulthood.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

Judging from all the fluffiness on the breasts and bellies of the birds, I figured out pretty quickly that almost all of the 31 birds were juveniles.   Only once did I glimpse a parent feeding a young one, somehow managing to capture this photo of a young one’s urgent hunger pangs.


violet green begging baby
Begging juvenile Violet-green Swallow.  El Rio Mobile Home Park, San Lorenzo River, July 9, 2018.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

Most of the perched birds were approximately adult size.  And looking more closely, I realized that most of them were some complex combination of brown, white, gray and black, with little sign of the vivid green backs and iridescent violet tails of the adult male, nor the duller violet and green of the female.

creamy gape 3
Female juvenile Violet-green Swallow, El Rio Mobile Home Park, next to San Lorenzo River, July 6, 2018.  Note downy undersides, creamy white gape, marbled marking over eye, lack of much green and violet color on back and wings, shorter primary wings.    Photo by B. Riverwoman
Juvenile male 2
Juvenile Male Violet-green Swallow, El Rio Mobile Home Park, next to San Lorenzo River, July 6, 2018.  Note green back and cap, clean white over eye suggesting a male.  Still downy, no visible gape., slightly longer  primaries.

When I got home, I checked BNA for the breeding schedule of Violet-green Swallows. It reported that on the West Coast, this species normally arrives in early May, lays its eggs sometime between mid-May and mid-June, that the eggs normally take 15 days to hatch, and that the babies then stay in the nest for an average of 27 days before they fledge.   Calculating quickly, I realized that this fit exactly with what I was seeing.  Our Violet-greens did arrive in early May and so might be expected to leave the nest sometime between July 1 and August 1.   And here they were, 31 adult-sized but still downy fledglings  on July 6, right on schedule.

According to BNA, before the young have fledged and are still cozily nestled in their nests,  they feast  on a protein-rich diet of insects, actually growing heavier than their parents.  Then, during their last week as nestlings,  their weight returns to roughly the same weight as the parents.  So this is what I was looking at ––  fledglings that were already adult sized but still showing the downiness of the nestling.

As I was watching them I was struck by the incessant activity of many of them.   itching 5I was lucky to run into Kitty Stein at a Bird Club event on the weekend and told her about all the babies. She is very active in the local Breeding Bird Survey and asked to visit the scene.  She helped me solve the problem of why they were incessantly preening. They weren’t preening. She suggested that they were probably  scratching themselves in order to relieve the itchiness caused by their pin feathers (new feathers) pushing through their skin – just like a human baby’s teething woes.  In addition, I learned from BNA, that the young birds are vulnerable to surface parasites,  adding to  their pin feather discomfort.


itching 3
Juvenile female Violet-green Swallow, El Rio Mobile Home Park, San Lorenzo River, July 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Another plausible explanation for their ‘preening’ behavior is that the juveniles were removing the waxy coating that sheathes their pin feathers, something that has to happen before the new feathers inside the wax can unfurl. But since the young ones had presumably managed to fly successfully to the telephone wire, we know that at least their wing feathers were already functioning pretty well. Still – there remained enough downiness on other parts of their bodies that they might have been removing wax on these breast feathers as well as scratching themselves.  So much for a teen-age swallow to deal with!

There were also some fledglings that were sitting without moving?  What about them?  BNA had an explanation for that as well.  It said that ‘sunbathing’ helps juveniles control the parasites by raising the temperature of the body to a point that seems to either drive away the parasites or kill them.  According to the BNA the juveniles can go into a trance while sunbathing and lose their balance. I saw that!  Here’s a juvenile I caught almost tipping off the wire, perhaps falling asleep and waking just in time to right herself.

Balancing Act
Juvenile Violet-green Swallow on the right regaining his (?) balance, skillfully using his growing primaries. El Rio Mobile Home Park, San Lorenzo River. July 6, 2018. Photo by B. Riverwoman

And below,  for comparison’s sake is a photo of an adult female Violet-green Swallow with some subtle brown marbling on its cheeks to distinguish it from the snowy-cheeked male, but with no down on its breast and belly.  Here, also,  you can see clearly the long primaries extending way past the end of the tail.

Long wings 2
Female Violet-green Swallow, El Rio Mobile Home Park, San Lorenzo River, July 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman


Honestly, I’m not 100% sure about any of the above identifications.  But I thought that if I stick my neck out and make my best guess, I may get back more info from readers.  Feel completely welcome to challenge me.

Changing subjects rather drastically, –  it was nice, wasn’t it, Jane, that Mark Dettle, the head of the Public Works Department, chose to notify both of us, as well as many other stakeholders, about the Department’s upcoming plans to begin their annual flood control work all along the river.  They know how concerned we get each year!  But it wasn’t at all nice to learn that they may be planning to push the beginning date even earlier than August 1. I know that you have been in touch with Mr. Dettle about this and I plan to send a letter tomorrow. I think we both agree that in order to protect breeding birds on the River, the beginning date should be August 15 at the earliest and preferably September 1. I know Public Works worries about early  rains and the availability of contractors.   They clearly have their own set of problems and do their best to make it all work. Hopefully the schedules of the rain gods, the contractors and the breeding birds can be coordinated.

Did readers see the article in the Sentinel on July 6 about the new City laws regarding sewage leakages into the San Lorenzo River? Some property owners are not going to like the required inspections and costs of fixing sewer pipes on their private property.  But the news made me happy and I think I speak as well for the birds.  There have been just too many reports of sewage leakage seriously contributing to the fecal bacteria count in the River.   We humans and the birds all drink out of the same river.  Click here to read the full story.

All happiness to birds and people!









celebrating the new…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow Nature fans,

survivors allowed to stay…

I have some wonderful news to share: the ‘survivors’ were allowed to survive the recent mowing! The City maintenance crew did a fabulous job of weaving the mower around the native plants thanks to the direction of their Field Supervisor. What is so thrilling is that he had listened to my ‘survivors’ plea and integrated it into this year’s mowing. And what a pleasant visual it created: native plants form green wildlife friendly oases along the path instead of brown, barren ground. Now the natives can spread and fill in along the path, which will cut down on mowing, consequently save time and money. The best part is that wildlife will have food sources and shelter over the summer, which had been eliminated in the past. As you can imagine: I am celebrating this very positive win-win scenario!

when survivors where not allowed to stay…

The other morning I was checking the river mouth and I heard the distinct KILLDEER alarm sound. It took me a while to locate the source down by the Seabright beach, because their bodies blend in so well with the background. The KILLDEER was sitting on a tuft of vegetation in the sand. Since they are famous for flimsy nests in unsafe locations, I wondered if she was breeding, which would be a little late for the season. All of the sudden a little KILLDEER chick popped out from underneath the mother. Chicks’ slip underneath their mothers when danger is close by and she lowers her body to hide them.

KILLDEER chick slipping underneath Mama…

The first time I saw that protection behavior the mother had 4 feather puffs hiding underneath her and not a trace of them was showing. Interestingly this mother didn’t have a co-parent and so was performing double duty. Usually one parent keeps an eye on the offspring, which is not an easy task, because the little ones are a bundle of energy, careening around like spinning tops. Meanwhile the other parent performs the never ending task of keeping the two safe. I got exhausted watching her doing all these tasks on her own!
The same morning the Fruit Orchard Killdeer parent was incredibly preoccupied protecting their one bundle-of-joy from any potential danger: the CROWS needed to get chased away, the ground-squirrels had to be kept at a safe distance, the MALLARD Mama and her ducklings were told in no uncertain terms they were not welcome to come ashore and when a third adult KILLDEER arrived it had to be set straight about that idea. The arrival of the intruder had me wondering if this was the ‘lost’ partner of the lone Seabright beach parent…

single parent on ground-squirrel duty…

An ‘odd’ duck became my ‘mystery’ bird for two weeks. The first time I saw it by Trestle bridge I thought it was a small, peculiar colored female MALLARD. That proved to be wrong, because it kept rapidly diving for extended times. The ‘mystery’ duck was hell bound to avoid any identification efforts. It would show up on the other side of the river, where I couldn’t get a clear view of its markings. The few times it was closer it teased me with rigorous diving activity with just enough time to catch some white eye marking. So I ended up with dozens of blurry diving rings pics. and non the smarter who I was looking at. Then James Maughn posted on MBB list that he had seen a female LONG-tailed DUCK on the San Lorenzo River. When I saw his photos, I knew that he had solved the mystery, because I recognized the white eye marking.

is she flirting with the photographer James Maughn?

The LONG-tailed DUCK has some ‘odd’ characteristics amongst the duck species: it spends most of its time under water, sets the record with its 200 feet dives and its vocalizations. They breed in the high Arctic, flocks pass the non-breeding season flying low over the high sea/ big lakes where the males show off their finest plumage. Their breeding grounds have rich oil and gas resources. This poses high risk to their breeding grounds and their population on the west coast is declining. That is one more reason to voice our opposition to opening the Arctic to drilling. So I do hope many of you get to visit the river and see the unusual guest, jane

It’s Moulting Time

Dear Jane and Bird Lovers,

mallard drake molting green
Male mallard beginning to moult, June 23, 2018, Duck Pond, San Lorenzo Park, photo by B. Riverwoman

I got engrossed this last week with the slightly ridiculous sight of the elegant male MALLARDS going through their annual post-breeding moult.  For three or four weeks now – during late summer and fall –we can expect to see the drakes first losing their sheen and then seeming to lose their masculinity!   The poor things not only lose those gleaming green heads  but during the 3-4 week moult period they are transformed into creatures that are almost indistinguishable from the females. Imagine!

mallard in molt 1
Male mallard in slightly later stage of moult, Neary Lagoon, formerly an oxbow in the San Lorenzo River, now cut off from main channel, June 16, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman  click here for checklist

What an ignominious state for these high testosterone creatures. The only vestige of their masculine dignity are  their yellow bills – the single feature by which I can still distinguish them from the female. So if some of you readers think that there are only female mallards around,  check the bill.  If it’s yellow it’s a male, if it is orange and black it’s  the female.  I hope these males won’t resent my showing them on a bad hair day.  I kind of like their subdued and feminized stage.


These gentlemen also lose the ability to fly during this annual moult.  And there’s more.  The process of losing old feathers and gaining new ones is also very energy consuming, so they have to spend more time foraging for high-protein food than usual. (Mallards are usually vegetarians but eat a lot of high-protein insects and crustaceans during breeding and moulting.)

The baby Mallards are coming in all sizes these days. I found a single eensy-teensy one all alone with its probably faithful mother this last  Saturday. Then the next day I found another family (below) of half-grown Mallards foraging along the concrete Branciforte Channel.

Mallard Branciforte Ck
Mallard Family, Branciforte Creek, June 24, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And finally I spotted a family of six under the Water St. Bridge in which the young ones were almost as large as the mother but still traveling together.  According to the BNA, the only difference between a female mom and both her older male and female children is that the children don’t have the bright blue speculum (not the medical kind but the feathery kind) as part of their secondary flight feathers. I guess they only win this stripe of maturity after three or four months when they will be able to fly.

I am so amused that the GREEN HERON – that I used to think of as a shy, reclusive bird – is actually quite habituated to urban environments. As I think I mentioned in a recent blog, one was even reported as nesting in downtown Santa Cruz.

green heron stalking 2
Green Heron, Duck Pond, San Lorenzo River, June 23, 2018 Photo by B.Riverwoman

And now I have twice spied this elegant fowl foraging happily in open view in the Duck Pond, much-frequented by humans.  She was delicately picking her way over the lily pads, then paused, stealthily elongated her body in one smooth ripple, stretched her neck forward, waited for just a moment, then threw herself out of range of my lens as she snatched a hapless fish who imagined that it was safe under the lily pad. It was only after I later uploaded my photos to my computer that I realized that my few wild camera clicks after she attacked actually caught her with a fish in her mouth. Lucky shot.

green heron stalking 3
Green Heron with fish in bill, Duck Pond, San Lorenzo Park, June 23, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Speaking of the Duck Pond, I am happy that the City Council will be considering a sweet, down-home proposal this very afternoon which I can wholeheartedly support – i.e. they are going to vote on changing the name of the San Lorenzo River Pedestrian Bridge (a mouthful) to the Chinatown Bridge! I love it! It is a lot easier to say, distinguishes it from the other pedestrian bridge near Highway 1, and – most importantly – it honors that spot where our own Chinatown used to exist from the 1860’s until the last remaining building was destroyed in the flood of 1955.   Click here to read a little more about the history of Chinatown in Santa Cruz. I read that the City will also install a historical plaque memorializing the Chinese presence along the river.

Wilson's Warbler
Male Wilson’s Warbler, Google image

Finally, I explored the Branciforte Creek area on Sunday with my friend Nancy who spotted a tiny flash of yellow near the Branciforte and Carbonera Creek confluence area.  I was happy to realize that it was a male WILSON’S WARBLER, a summer visitor that I haven’t seen much on the river this summer. Here is the e-Bird checklist I posted.



Quote of the week: “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”                                                             -Terry Tempest Williams

Let’s keep  celebrating the birds, the river and lots of other astonishing things.





effects have causes…

Good Morning Barbara & Nature Celebrators,


I am a firm believer that talking with people is a treasure chest that is filled with informational jewels, just waiting to be discovered. The other morning my treasure trove was dressed up as my neighbor on his levee run. We always exchange bird sightings and because he is a Marine Biologist, he always reveals some interesting inside stories. When I mentioned the strong, steady presence of the CASPIAN TERNS this year, he wondered if that was due to the Columbia River situation, which raised my river  immediately. That’s because in my world view the Columbia water is a cousin to our San Lorenzo River, consequently connected. He told me that the hatchery had to supply the Columbia with salmon to counteract the river dams, which unbalanced the salmon population. The TERNS had overpopulated there, because the Army Corps of Engineers with their paper wise thoughtfulness had supplied the skilled feathered fishers with breeding ground right next to the open door to the eternal full fish larder. The situation got so bad that now attempts are underway to discourage the CASPIAN TERNS airbnd stay. The same state of affairs applies to the CORMORANTS, who also dipped into the salmon feast. My neighbor mentioned that TERN and CORMORANT sightings had increased along the coast since the displacement efforts had started. Maybe that explains those long lines of CORMORANTS close to the river mouth.

CORMORANTS visiting river cousin?

That was painful to see! As you know, I am on a mission to safe the survivors from the 2003 San Lorenzo Urban River Plan(SLURP). These native plants were part of a huge Restoration Project that cost a lot of money and took much work and time. As I told you before, I have a soft spot and admiration for the feisty plants that have persisted through repeated mowing down, vandalism and various abuses. After the last unfortunate mowing debacle, the plants had finally fought their way back and the future looked bright because I discovered open City minds for a friendly plant survivors’ approach. So I was heartbroken when I saw the Boardwalk parking path: once again the blooming Wild Roses had been shaved down to the bare ground. I know that the City levee maintenance crew didn’t do that. This left the Seaside Co. as the potential culprit, because their maintenance crew thrives on spiffing up the levee for Holidays and Memorial weekend was just 2 days away. Unfortunately their interest/knowledge in native plants and bushes is obviously pitiful low.

Wild ROSE all gone…

The bird parents are so busy feeding their fledglings that they have no time for any lengthly perching. They are climbing towards their peek parenting season and it shows: they get thinner while the brood gets fatter and grows at accelerated speed. It’s amazing to watch all the various happenings: the CROWS chasing the RED-shouldered HAWK, who is eyeing the KILLDEER nest as potential fledgling food, the TOWEES protecting their nest in the low bushes, the BLACK PHOEBE carrying bugs to the nest, the MERGANSERLINGS flitting to catch fish… There are only a few non parents, who bath in their resort mode and the RED-breasted LOON and female COMMON GOLDENEYE are 2 of them. Both are migratory birds that are spending their summer with us.

river mouth impressive sand pile…

Have you had a chance to take a look at the river mouth lately? If you did, I bet you thought you had ended up in the Sarah Dunes by accident. The sand pile by the Main Beach is just mind blowing high. It will be part of the berm along the river mouth that meanders towards the Main Beach side. The berm’s purpose is to prevent the summer lagoon from flooding the Boardwalk Beach. Every year I watch with fascination if and when the river mouth gets breached. I assure you: It beats mystery movies.  So be sure to come to the river, because it’s never dull down here, jane

Heeding the Call

Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,

That old enchantress, the River, always has a new trick up her sleeve!    This week I went to the exact spot where I found the wonderful little Wood Duck family  two weeks ago, hoping to see them again.  But the sloe-eyed mama and her babes were nowhere to be seen, maybe off shopping for all the vegan delights that the River offers a duck and her ducklings.

This time the flowing spinner of dreams had something else in store for me  – an avian concert the likes of which I haven’t heard for quite a while.  The woods along the river behind the Tannery was alive with the sound of music!  First I would hear a modest solo, then a different lilting voice would form a duet,  then many players would join in, sometimes building to a gloriously intricate and intriguing tangle of sounds.

I remember years ago taking a bird trip with David Suddjian, the famous local  birder and then president of the Bird club.  The walk was titled ‘Birding by Ear’.  I remember being absolutely astounded by what he could identify without seeing a single bird.  I had no idea this was possible. Now I have taken a few steps into that world, thanks to all the birders like David and Steve Gerow, who have patiently helped many of us along on this long path into a language that they didn’t teach at my high school.

Anyway, sitting by the river this week, I  ultimately identified the songs of six star performers – which, thanks to YouTube, I am now able to share with all of you (see below).   I haven’t tried playing these all at the same time.  That might give you a better sense of my experience!

I was especially excited to  identify my first SWAINSON’S THRUSH by sound.  The song starts out as a high, somewhat reedy warble, spirals upwards a couple of times, then finishes with only the spectral hint of a thin, fluty sound –  seeming to disappear into the clouds. Maybe the oboe/flute in the orchestra..  Click here.

The solid violin section of the avian symphony is provided by  the male HOUSE FINCH,  a slightly raspy warble that flits up and down the scale  in seemingly random musical acrobatics –before finishing on a high note.   Click here.

The migrant BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS held center stage for this morning’s performance,  Although the Grosbeak’s song is often shorter and a little more jerky than that of the House Finch, his warble is deliciously rich and liquid.  One or two of them sang constantly for the entire half hour I sat by the river, appearing in full view only once when three of them appeared to have a little dust-up in what I imagined to be the cello section of that morning’s orchestra.  Click here.

I wonder if it is the same modest little SONG SPARROW who appears in almost the same spot on the same tree – every time I sit in my chosen spot.  He is a most dependable singer and I was glad to hear his cheery and familiar  voice.  This video clip captures the most basic song – two initial cheeps, then a trill, then a final signature flourish.  Individual Song Sparrows dream up many variations on this basic structure, some quite a bit more complex, but this is the bare bones. Click here.

The PACIFIC SLOPE FLYCATCHER, also a migratory bird, plays a simple rustic flute – the same note over and over again .  The note  is a thin, ascendant whistle, that is quite easy to identify when the woods are quiet.   This shy, elusive bird whistles once, then pauses, then whistles again – easy to hear and identify but hard to find.  Click here

And, finally, in the percussion section, was the loud, resounding and repeated yelp of the PIED-BILLED GREBE, a sound that would seem to come from some mythical creature – certainly  not from the  little brown waterfowl whose modest appearance seems at odds with its deep feelings.  Click here.

For so many years, I missed all this music.  And what I know now  only makes me more aware of the vast world of animal feelings and language about which I know nothing at all.  May we all slowly develop the capacity to hear and sense and understand the mysterious voices of  the natural world – which is so close to us and so far away.

On a more political note – I called Beth Tobey of the Economic Development Department of the City regarding your concerns, Jane,  about the art installation over the Cliff Swallows nest.  I asked her if you and I  could meet with her to talk about the Ebb and Flow Event next year.   She indicated that she was interested in such a meeting but she hasn’t yet answered my e-mail about when this might happen.

There are only 11 more days to write the City’s Parks and Recreation Department about their planned recruitment of a new director.   I hope everyone who reads this blog will send an e-mail to Carol Scurich, acting director, at parksandrec@cityofsantacruz.com.  Please emphasize the importance of choosing someone who has experience and training in environmental protection; who will work to achieve a balance between recreational event planning  and environmental protection work;  and who will work collaboratively with environmental organizations in the community, i.e. the Sierra Club, the Bird Club, Friends of the Pogonip, Friends of the San Lorenzo River, Friends of Arana Gulch, Friends of Jessie St. Marsh, etc.  All our Open Spaces are under the jurisdiction of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.  The Department has a solemn responsibility to be good stewards of our natural treasures.

May we all learn to listen  to the birds and to each other!

Happy birding to all.

















Pied-billed grebes https://youtu.be/IIdb1vY-Q44

Swainson’s Thrush https://youtu.be/eEVeGx7Gzuo

black headed grosbeak  https://youtu.be/h-6mBM4lw38

Song sparrow. https://youtu.be/gnWG3Xv7hag

pacific slope flycatcher https://youtu.be/sqi0xyzFSxI

House finch https://youtu.be/hisjOh6_-cs


Sent from my iPad

let’s connect to avoid disconnect…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Lovers,

dreamy early morning…

Sometimes the river mornings are truly exquisite. The momentum is dreamy, peaceful and soothing. The birds are slowly waking up, a few are still sleeping, some are getting ready forage and others are sitting in their favorite spots, surveying serenely their territory. Even the CROWS are quietly walking on the shore next to the sleeping MALLARD while the SPOTTED SANDPIPER is slowly wading through the water and the RED-throated LOONS is drifting in the current. Other mornings the wildlife activity is in full swing. The head down, tail in the air MALLARDS are eating their early morning meal, the RED-shouldered HAWK is gliding over the banks, triggering the alarm calls amongst the river wildlife residents as they rush for cover. The GREEN HERON is following the CORMORANT in the hope that its quick breakfast beak will spear a fleeing fish along the shoreline.

active early morning …

Last week I got a call from a river lover, who was really concerned and upset about the EBB and FLOW light installation on the Soquel Ave. bridge. I wasn’t aware of the 12 metal poles on each bridge side holding the light cables. Of course my first thought landed on the active CLIFF SWALLOW nests underneath the bridge ledges. Since I wanted to see for myself what the caller had talked about, I found myself standing on the levee path by the bridge, watching the installer put the final touches on the installation. There were about a dozen CLIFF SWALLOWS circling above the bridge and none entered a nest in the 50 min. I spend at the site. I couldn’t help but think that the construction had/was impacting their breeding/nesting activity. It was hard to know if intact nests were active or not. Naturally I wondered about the broken nests: were they destroyed by drilling vibration to mount the 6 bolts into each pole base? Were they old nests? Unfortunately my CLIFF SWALLOW nest outreach to other birders and river lovers didn’t turn up any factual details.

the puzzling CLIFF SWALLOW nests….

So I am left with the questions: Why celebrate the river with a light installation that effects the protected migratory birds and other wildlife? How and where did that disconnect happen? Don’t get me wrong! I love art, I love people celebrating nature. I just happen to think that nature has to have a voice at the planning table to avoid these kind of disconnects.

12 light show poles…

I relish meeting up with one of my river enjoyers on the levee walk. It’s the perfect setting to exchange our latest ‘ feather news’. The other day I saw Robin on the levee while I was trying to decipher why 2 gulls were having this insane interaction. One gull had the other by the neck, trying to push it under water, both their wings flapping wildly. The neck biter succeeded to keep the other submerged and I was sure the poor thing was drowning, because its wing action was becoming slower and weaker. It gathered all its force, resurfaced and attempted to return the vicious favor to its opponent. As we watched the disturbing scene, we contemplated several scenarios: ‘ it’s a territorial issue’, ‘it’s a mating ritual’, ‘it’s a food fight’, ‘have no idea what’s going on…’.

disturbing gull scene…

And then John walked up and told us he had just seen Mama MERGANSER and her 11 ‘merganserlings’ (as Robin calls them), which send us into a swoon festival about this adorable family. Separately each one of us had kept an eye on them for the last three weeks and whenever we meet up, we rejoice that the Mama has managed to keep ‘our’ merganserlings safe, inline and healthy. We have observed them resting on the log, torpedo-ing for food through the water, checking out the tule larder and cheered their rapid growth. Obviously they have charmed us. The other day 2 ‘merganserlings’ surfaced, hanging on to the same fish: one had hold of the head, the other was clamping down on the tail. The lively fish tugging stopped the other siblings in their tracks, viewing the spectacle from a safe distance. The winner got so occupied with its meal that it missed the family departure. Realizing that everyone was downstream, the little one raced after them, looking like it was running on the water surface.
Celebrating connecting…jane

portray of ‘our’ MERGANSER family…