Nuptial Plumes,Wounded Grebe and Early Warbler

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Lovers,

The shifting seasons, the  wild weather, and the whims of fate continued to shake up the normal behaviors of our winged friends these last two weeks.

A lone PELAGIC CORMORANT  seems to have chosen to temporarily abandon its normal habitat along the ocean cliffs in order to try  its luck fishing  away from the high waves.

Breeding Pelagic
Pelagic Cormorant in new breeding plumage, San Lorenzo River near Riverside Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

While other regular residents moved off the fast-flowing river, the cormorant moved in. As an ocean fisher, I guess it is better adapted than the regular river residents to taking on the challenge of a river moving at a clip of 750 cubit feet per second.  I was excited to see this shiny black creature all decked out in its fresh new breeding plumage, especially since I have never seen its delightfully named white ‘nuptial plumes’.   I imagine they function somewhat like runway lights.  If you look closely, you can see the red spot that is also part of the breeding plumage.  I think the green iridescence on the long, slender throat is present year round, but it can’t hurt this sleek beauty’s chances of a successful conquest.  I learned that in spite of its name it is not a true pelagic bird since the word pelagic signifies that the bird spends most of its time over the open sea.  Instead, Pelagic Cormorants do most of their fishing close to the ocean cliffs  where they also breed and roost.  Alarm flags went up for me when I read in Birds of North America that ocean kayaks and other human traffic increasingly pose a serious threat to the nests of this cormorant, for whom the Central Coast is about as far south as it breeds.  While our City is busy ‘keeping Santa Cruz safe,’ I hope it does not forget our smallest cormorant.

Another bird that is primarily an ocean-dweller, a WESTERN GREBE,  seems to have paddled upriver for a sadder reason.

Western Grebe
Western Grebe, with wounded leg, on bank of San Lorenzo River near Laurel St. Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Can you see the foot splayed out at an awkward angle underneath her body.  At first I wondered why she was resting on a sandbank underneath the Laurel St. Bridge.  Then I saw  her stand and lurch towards the river, one leg trailing behind her, wings flapping wildly to keep her balance.  I was happy to see her diving once she reached the river, but wonder if she will be able to chase down the fish she needs with only one strong leg to propel and direct her.

If the cormorant’s behavior  was informed by the search for quieter waters than the Bay, and the grebe’s by the search for a place to heal, this pint-sized YELLOW WARBLER was an early harbinger of the seasonal  flow of migratory warblers.  The bright yellow insect lover arrived far earlier than the normal date of early April when Santa Cruz sees it highest number of this  species passing through our area on its nocturnal passage to as far north as Alaska.  Since it is so early in the season, eBird

Yellow warbler
Yellow Warbler, Google Image

challenged me on this one, but my friends Michael Levy and Batya Kagan excitedly reported to me a week ago that they had seen this same bird, so I studied it carefully and made my best case to the Cornell experts.  Unfortunately, the tiny bird was flitting so rapidly through the willow thickets that my camera was never able to catch up with it. This Google image captures exactly what I saw.

And then there are those birds just being playful and eccentric.  I counted 56 MALLARDS on my walk two days ago,  44 of them hunkering down in the Duck Pond to escape the rapid current and all but one hugging the banks.   But not this one!

Mallard paddling nowhere
Mallard, midstream, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

He was the only one in midstream, paddling his little orange-webbed feet as fast as he could and going absolutely nowhere.  Was he trying to figure out how hard he needed to paddle to go absolutely nowhere. Or maybe he was being much more utilitarian, using the river as a  treadmill to build female-chasing muscles. It is, after all,  the beginning of the mallard mating season.

I have never seen so many CANADA GEESE on the river in past years – 16 by my count.  8 of

Canada Goose Profile
Cana

them were lolling about at the Duck Pond, while others were playing along the edges of the river where the water was  pretty slow-moving. Strangely, right next to the Grebe with the wounded leg was this goose standing on one leg, shifting his weight far to one side to keep from toppling.  But no worry, his other leg was fine.  Birds often conserve heat by tucking one leg underneath their feathers.  But might this goose have also been standing in solidarity with the Grebe?  Who knows.

Goose on one leg
Canada Goose, San Lorenzo River, February 17,  2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Although a relatively common bird, I don’t think I have ever recorded a ROBIN on the river.

P1110142
American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This should bring my total number of birds seen on the urban river stretch to 109.  Thank you eBird!   True, this falls significantly short of the 147 species seen by my awesome co-blogger!  But we both have quite a ways to go, Jane,  to catch up with Steve Gerow who peaked at 177 birds on this same urban stretch !  With all this documented bird life, it should be kind of hard for the City to make a case, as they have in the past,  that the river has no wildlife value and therefore should be opened to all kinds of recreational and commercial activity.

Starling
European Starling, American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here is the non-native but handsome EUROPEAN STARLING relishing the same berries as the robin, just inches away.  Click HERE to see my complete list of 32 species seen during my last outing.

John Muir quote of the week:

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”.  

High waters or low, in honor of all Yosemite lovers, including John Muir and Sherry Conable, keep flying, keep singing.

Barbara

 

 

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HAPPY RIVER VALENTINE…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Valentine greetings from the Trestle…

Valentine’s Day will be celebrated this week and I send you all ‘Happy Valentine’ chirps. Traditionally we express your love to your 2 legged heart’s choice on this occasion. Since I have the enduring tendency to adjust customs and traditions to my liking, I take Valentine’s Day as a red opportunity to decorate one of my passions with some kind of action. As you guessed correctly: Nature is my choice. So on the morning of the 14th I’ll decide on my caring action. I enjoy the combination of the spontaneous Valentine’s expression and the planned demonstrations for my 2 legged choices.
I want to let you know that our ongoing ‘Estuary Project’ will happen on SAT. 16th from 9 am-11 am. We welcome you to join us for restoration work on the San Lorenzo River banks. Like more info? Then click on ‘San Lorenzo River Estuary Project’.

GREAT HORNED OWL-googled

You are not going to believe, who Gillian and I heard on Thursday at 8:30pm by the County building! A GREAT HORNED OWL, hooting in the dark. Then Gillian saw it fly to the window ledge, barely visible in the dark. By then I was hooting and hollering with delight, because for years I heard the rumor that we have OWLS along the river. The GREAT HORNED OWL flew up to the corner ledge, where its silhouette show up better and hooted for the other one to come on over. After a minute of hoot coaxing the other GREAT HORNED OWL flew in, they had a lengthy hoot discussing until one had enough of the cold concrete, flew to the top of the tree and continued hooting from its pleasing setting. Gillian commented that the OWLS were probably missing the County building trees, which I am sure they are.

CROW enjoying the closed Trestle path…

On Sunday I checked on the construction progress of the Trestle path. It looks like the work is proceeding slowly. The only visible changes are the wood covered rail ties, the beginning demolition of the East path, Trestle conjuncture and the installation of a horizontal projecting beam. I am curious if only the rains and storms are to blame for the downtempo pace or if other issues are at play as well. I am eagerly awaiting the installation of the net, which will protect the river from any falling construction debris. In the meantime I am keeping my fingers crossed that none of the Eucalyptus trees will be removed!

SANDERLINGS here to stay…

The SANDERLINGS have become regular shore guests and the gulls have gotten used to their presence. When the little puff balls-on-busy-legs first arrived, the gulls were peeved hosts. The much bigger birds spent useless time chasing the agile little ones down the sandbank. The speedy SANDERLINGS would dodge the giants easily while still foraging. Now I see the two species calmly feed side by side. I love to figure out how and why this shift occurred. I doubt that the birds are the same individuals throughout this shift, so how and why did the gulls’ behavior change and why did the skittish SANDERLINGS remain so unperturbed?

male MALLARD checking out BLACK TURNSTONE…

MALLARDS are water grazer and their feeding pace is similar to the land grazers: eat here a little, check out that spot over there, clean a little, rest a lot, etc. So when I saw 4 MALLARDS zooming across the river, aiming towards a spot under the Trestle trees, they had my attention. I checked that cliff area and saw what I thought was a TOWHEE at the waterline, but when 2 more appeared, I had doubts, because more than 2 TOWHEES in close vicinity is ultra rare. Looking more carefully the mistaken birds turned into migratory BLACK TURNSTONES, who only breed in coastal sedge marshes in western Alaska. I didn’t expect that the river visitors were the MALLARDS’ destination, but they were! All 4 MALLARDS decelerated at the waterline, climbed slowly on the rocks and took turns checking out the new shoreline additions.

female MALLARD inspecting BLACK TURNSTONE….

The BLACK TURNSTONES kept moving around, totally at ease with the MALLARDS’ inspection. The MALLARDS came to the consensus that the new ‘kids’ on the shore were okay and started a little nibbling here and there. When I walked by again, they were still enjoying each other’s company.
Happy Valentine to you all,
jane ❣

Mud, Wind and Rain

Dear Jane and Other Windblown, Rainsoaked Adventurers,

It’s been a pretty wild week, hasn’t it!  Even thunder and lightning slipped in for a short visit  under cover of  dark.  I do miss my Minnesota thunderstorms.

I ventured out the day before the big storm was predicted to hit, always loving it when the sky turns dark and foreboding, and everything seems slightly ominous.  The world holds its breath.

I don’t know if I just imagined it, but the birds seemed to be congregating in larger groups than usual that day.  A pretty large flock of  LESSER GOLDFINCHES seemed

Lesser Goldfinch flock
Flock of LesserGoldfinches with one House Finch, El Rio Mobile Home Park on levee, February 1, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

agitated as they flitted about in a leafless grape arbor, close to the levee.   I saw a  group of 18 AMERICAN COOTS hugging  the banks, a larger congregation than I usually see.  When things get rough, stick together.   I thought of your very interesting comments, Jane, in your last blog, on how the birds near the besieged trestle seem to be anticipating danger and disruption ahead of time.  Since birds probably don’t think into the future, does the space between now and the future collapse into the present.  Do they live in some kind of timeless, non-cognitive world that folds the future into the present?

Two  CANADA GEESE  near the Chinatown Bridge, seemed preoccupied with

Geese Fixing Tailfeathers
Two Canada Geese, San Lorenzo River near Chinatown Bridge, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

tuning up their tail feathers, while a GREEN HERON once more took refuge in the quiet waters of the Duck Pond, peering  around anxiously rather than actively concentrating on the fishing.   Was I just projecting or was all of nature, including me,  waiting for something to descend upon us?  While we filled our cars with gas, the birds lubricated their feathers, took cover, and gathered in protective groups.

Green heron
Green Heron, Duck Pond, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My pre-storm outing  concluded rather grandly.   Just as I approached my gate, I spied a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in a tall redwood on the levee just up from he County Jail. Then, suddenly,  a COOPER’S HAWK came shooting  over my head, landing  on a nearby eucalyptus tree just behind Bank of America.  After studying her for a minute, I turned back to  the other hawk and my eye was led skyward to  an OSPREY perched at the pinnacle of another tall redwood  just across the street from the County Building, all visible at the same time from the spot where I stood.   A bank, a county government building and a jail!  And a rapturous raptor moment for me in urban Santa Cruz.

According to eBird, I have now reported on a total of 109 species seen on the urban stretch of the river  – they keep count for you!  But it’s not about numbers.  For me it’s about trying to imagine what it is like to be a solitary pied-billed grebe, or a busily grooming goose,  or a nervous green heron.

The storm hit Saturday, and I stayed hunkered down inside – but went out again the next day during a sunny break.  The wind was still high, and the river looked like soft coffee ice cream.  Wouldn’t that be nice!  Here are two photos, the first on February 1 before the storm hit, and the second on February 3, during a lull in the storm.  It shows the huge loads of sediment that the  river was bearing to the sea, and also suggesting the layers of silt it may unfortunately  – for us humans – be laying down on the bottom of the river.

Here are two photos of the river, before and after the storm, looking north  from the  Chinatown Bridge towards Water St.Bridge.

Looking north Feb. 1
Looking upstream from the Chinatown Bridge  to the Water St. Bridge, February 1, 2019, before the heavy rains came. Photo by B. Riverwoman
Feb. 3 looking north 2
Looking upstream from the Chinatown Bridge  to the Water St. Bridge, February 3, 2019, after the heavy rains came. Photo by B. Riverwoman

There were almost no diving waterfowl on the river after the storm – except two COMMON GOLDENEYE that were not diving.  Even with their bright yellow eyes, which might be good for seeing in murky water  (I think of the eyes of owls), they were still just floating along on the surface, not fishing.  This brave KINGFISHER was also out and about,

Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher, San Lorenzo River, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

but I never saw him leave the telephone wire.  Maybe the thought of plunging into that fast-moving river of coffee and cream just wasn’t enticing.  He was no doubt hungry.  What should he do?

The PIGEONS, on the other hand, whom I rarely see feeding, seemed to be enjoying the wild wind.  A flock of about 75 would lift up together, sail in elegant formation above the houses and trees, settle to rest for a moment in a tidy line along a telephone wire, then, as if of a single mind, in perfect synchrony, happily abandon themselves again to the wind!

Pigeons in the wind
Pigeons returning to telephone wire in high wind, February 3,  2019, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Two top birders in the area, Lois Goldfrank and Phil Brown,  visited our stretch of the river on January 13 and reported a PALM WARBLER and a LINCOLN’S SPARROW.  I have found the latter bird only once in my life, but will re-double my efforts.

For those of you who still don’t know about Monterey Bay Birds (mbbirds) Google Group, I strongly encourage you to subscribe.  You can get regular updates by e-mail of interesting sightings throughout the County.  This week Randy Wardle posted his monthly report on what birds we can expect to see leaving, arriving and breeding this month – jam-packed with useful information.  One of the things he mentioned is that ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS and BUSHTITS are already nesting  and DARK-EYED JUNCOS and other cavity nesters may begin this month as well.  All San Lorenzo regulars. Keep your eyes open.

Here are my two e-Bird lists this week: February 1 and February 3. 

John Muir quote of the week:

“The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Special love to one whose soul was shaken deeply by the storm of life, who sought peace in the wilderness of the  Sierra Nevada and who has now abandoned her dear self to the wind and the waves.  Rest in peace,  brave  woman.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

transitioning together…

Good Morning Barbara and riveted River Friends,

The low shrubs and the tall Eucalyptus trees, lining the path to the Trestle bridge, mirror the desolate path over the river since the area was fenced off. Not only was the life rhythm changed for us humans, who regular used the path, but clearly our frequent feathered critters are effected as well.

shy SANDERLINGS enjoying no path noise…

The little SPOTTED SANDPIPER, who usually could be seen foraging under the bridge along the Cliff shore, has been absent shortly after the barrier appeared. The Trestle trees have been void of the once familiar sight of the OSPREY, RED-shouldered, RED-tailed HAWK and PEREGRINE FALCON. The SONG, White-crowned, GOLDEN-crowned SPARROWS are not flitting through the path trees and bushes. Missing are twitters of the busy YELLOW-rumped WARBLERS and BUSHTITS, who used to harvest their food there. Nor has the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER frequented that area. The ANNA’s HUMMINGBIRD in residence is still present and feeds on the recently opened Eucalyptus blossoms. There are less COMMON GOLDENEYES and BUFFLEHEADS under the bridge and its vicinity. I find this bird behavior change fascinating, because the path construction hasn’t even started yet. So far the only work activity has been across the river on the Boardwalk side. I am surprised to observe that the erection of the fence triggered a modified bird movement, which I expected when the heavy construction work gets activated on the bridge. Are the repeat foraging guests already sensing, responding to the onslaught on their habitat? That wouldn’t surprise me, because I believe that wildlife is much smarter than we give them credit for. For the last 2 weeks I have noticed that the shy SANDERLING flock is preferring the cliff shore under the bridge, which they previously avoided. They seem to relish the lack of traffic noise from above. Yesterday I watched the flock work their way slowly upstream towards the bridge with the SPOTTED SANDPIPER in tow. The tag-along drew the line in the shore as they got close to the bridge. The little shorebird turned around and commenced with its perpetual solitary foraging. Isn’t nature riveting?

ANNA’s HUMMINGBIRD in the Trestle shrubs…

The early morning hazy ether suddenly carried TERN screeches to the river point. I couldn’t locate them because the haze made their white bodies invisible above the water. Finally I orientate myself on their hunting water splashes. This allowed for brief glimpses of their bodies ascending, but I was never able to see their markings clearly, so I have no idea if they were ELEGANT, FOSTERS or CASPIAN TERNS. After a few minutes their screeches and dive splashes stopped abruptly. was their quick, ghost-like appearance was just a brief stop-over on their migratory journey?
After the storms, when the ocean was still showing off their turbulent waves, a WESTERN GREBE decided to check out the comparatively calm river water. Two others arrived at the same idea and for the next few days the 3 of them enjoyed their river stay. I am always amazed how long they can dive and they never ever re-surface where you expect them to show up again.

WESTERN GREBE taking a break in the river from the wild ocean…

I couldn’t believe it when I saw a CROW with a branch in it’s beak! It’s a sign that spring is in the air, nesting is on the horizon and new little additions will open up our hearts to life’ s miracles.
So until next time enjoy watching the magic of spring arrive, jane

Let’s Restore the Benchlands

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird, Tree and Wild Mushroom Lovers,

Hardly believeable, is it Jane!  It is now just slightly over four years that you and I have been busy bloggers, celebrating all the wild surprises that await  nature lovers along this short stretch of urban river.  And of course, the more I learn, the more there is to protect.

I think between us we must have reported on most of the 122 species that our beloved and deceased master bird guru, Steve Gerow, identified as regular inhabitants of the urban river, species who depend for their survival on this stretch between the estuary and Highway 1.

steve-gerow-1-younger-lag-10-3-08-david-suddjian
Steve Gerow, master birder and teacher at Younger Lagoon., died 2018,  Photographer unknown. 

This number of 122 species, according to eBird, grows to 214 if you include rarities, as well as primarily ocean and beach species that occasionally appear a short ways up the river. But it was the 122 species that most concerned us when we  started this blog, and it is these same species that we will probably try to protect for the rest of our lives.

Well, today, I want to stretch the rules of our blog just a little bit.  I want to venture just a few steps north of our usual stretch to the area behind the Tannery, an area that because it is more truly riparian has the ability to show us how our river might have appeared before the levees were built. And, more importantly for this blog, how it might still exist if the City were to develop a plan to restore the Benchlands to a riparian woodland like the one behind the Tannery.  It took me more than a year to realize that – ah, yes – the Benchlands is the only area in our urban stretch of river which has no levee.  That means that it is a real wetland, open to flooding, which, by definition,  makes it a true riparian area.  It also means that it the only stretch along the entire urban river, strictly speaking,  that is open to true riparian restoration, as opposed to revegetation.

As most of of you know by now, this is my dream for the future – that the Benchlands be restored to the natural riparian woodland and wetland that it was in past years.  My dream is that it would be a protected area in the heart of downtown –with winding paths under native alder, sycamore, cottonwood and box elder trees, a slightly wild area that would include fallen trees, tangles of native backberries, wild mushrooms and all the other rich flora that grow naturally  along the damp edge of a river.  It would provide the public with easy access to a world of peace, quiet, and natural beauty in the heart of the downtown, a place with a few benches where people could sit quietly to rest during a lunch break or after an afternoon of shopping downtown.   I invite readers to take a little walk behind the Tannery sometime and try to visualize duplicating this environment on the Benchlands.

Here are  three of the birds that I saw this last week that never or rarely go south of Highway 1, but might try it if the environment was inviting.   Two of these birds  need dense and large wooded areas for their survival.  The third is highly dependent  on a certain tree for both its feeding and nesting habitat.

Stellar's Jay
STELLAR’S JAY, Tannery, January 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

The first bird is the STELLAR’S JAY, A common species in THE Santa Cruz Mountains and behind the Tannery, but one that I have absolutely never seen south of Highway 1.   It is as if there is some kind of invisible wall or sign that forbids a Stellar’s Jay from going south of that line.  I think the invisible sign must say ‘The dense coniferous forest ends here.  Proceed at your own risk.”  These jays are a species that love coniferous/deciduous forests and apparently do not consider the small patches of redwoods in the well-groomed Benchlands a suitable habitat.  I don’t blame them.  Perhaps we could lure them a little south if there were denser stands of older, coniferous trees in the Benchlands.

Another species that is tightly tied to a specific habitat is the small  OAK TITMOUSE.   As its name suggests, this species depends heavily on one tree, preferring to nest, roost and find its preferred insects and spiders along the branches and trunks of large oak trees. I saw two of these nondescript little gray/brownish birds this week,  hopping about in an enormous and beautiful oak tree behind the Tannery.  Although I failed to get a photo, here is one I took last March just south of Highway 1 on the east side of the river, on an old oak tree that somehow survived the levee construction

titmouse
Oak Titmouse on Oak Tree, San Lorenzo River between Highway 1 and Water St., March 25, 2018 Photo by B. Riverwoman

Although common in their range, these titmice have one of the most limited ranges of all the birds in California, almost always occurring in the Pacific Slope (west of the Sierras) and extending only from southern Oregon to Baja. Because oak woodlands in California have been depleted by 25 to 50% since 1900,  due to expanding agriculture, rangeland and urbanization, these nondescript little birds are very vulnerable.  I’d love to plant some large oaks in the Benchland to provide at least a little more apropriate habitat for these common but threatened birds.  I see them occasionally at my seed and suet feeders, but I suspect they are only visiting under pressure, and would much rather be foraging further north in a more natural  habitat..

Another bird that I have seen in the Benchlands on only one or two occasions is a more frequent resident of the  the Tannery woodlands.  It is one of my favorites – the BROWN CREEPER that spirals up the trunk of a tree, using its long, curved beak to forage for insects under the bark . When it reaches the top, it may fly back down to the

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper, Tannery, January 19, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

bottom of the tree and start up again, or fly off to another tree and start over again from the bottom.  (As I was trying to catch this photo of the Creeper, my camera lit on what I thought was the Creeper, but oddly, it had stopped moving. Guess what it was!  Yes, a very birdy looking leaf.   I had to quickly regroup to catch up with the real Creeper.)

Leaf, not bird
Believe it or not, this is a leaf, pretending it is a Creeper, on the same tree branch as the Creeper.!  January 19, 2019, photo by B. Riverwoman

Brown Creepers depend on large old trees, actually building little hammocks underneath the loose bark on living trees or dead snags. According to Birds of North America, old growth trees (ideal for creepers) are increasingly scarce in North America and elsewhere in the breeding range. According to this same source, “bark surface area, depth, and complexity of bark furrows in large trees and sloughing of bark in dying or dead trees offer unique foraging and nesting opportunities not available on smaller trees”.  Given this fact, it is amazing that we still see Brown Creepers in the Benchlands, much less the urban stretch of the river.   You can see that the tree that attracted this Brown Creeper behind the Tannery was most definitely not old growth, though still providing some loose bark behind which insects are hiding!  Birds may continue to survive long past the time when they can enjoy the habitat to which they are best adapted.  But how much does it stess them?  How close to the edge of extinction do they exist?  What is their reproductive success? I am always asking myself these questions.

Here are my two Tannery e-bird lists from this week, 21 species on the 19th and 12 species on the 21st.

January 19, 2019

January 21, 2019

My friend Batya accompanied me on one of my Tannery trips introducing me to her old friend, the Shaggy Mane mushroom.  I was quite astonished at the changes that this mushroom goes through as it ages.  Below is a slide show (the wonders of Word Press) that shows three stages of the mushroom, from quite firm, to slowly ‘deliquescing’ to absolutely oozing and dripping black goo.  The show includes brave Batya, smelling and touching this formidable wonder.  Let’s also bring back the Shaggy Mane to the Benchlands so we can all enjoy its curious habit of  deliquescing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And although Monarchs are everywhere, this one was clearly enjoying something that it was drawing out of the tender buds of a willow.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nearby place where city workers and shoppers could go to take in the world of jays, titmice, creepers, mushrooms, butterflies – and a real woods?  Shouldn’t we be making more room, rather than less, for these incredible natural miracles in our own backyards?  Let’s talk it up!

Monarch suckingon willow buds
Monarch Butterfly dipping into a willow bud.  Tannery, January 19, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

John Muir quote of the day,

“Any fool can destroy trees. Trees cannot run away and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones.  Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests.  During a man’s life only saplings can be grown, in the place of the old trees – tens of centuries old, that have been destroyed.”

With all due respect to John Muir, and considering what resilience the Brown Creeper and Oak Titmouse exhibit,  let’s give those small gray and brown birds every chance to continue. Let’s lure them a little bit south and let everyone get to make their acquaintance.

Congratulations to nature lovers Gillian Green and Dawn Schott-Morris, who – thanks to the new Council Majority – were appointed yesterday as members of the Parks and Recreation Commission.  So glad you will have their support, Jane, in protecting the natural treasures of Santa Cruz.

Adelante,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

birds in the rain & ‘Nature bathing’

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Bathers,

Rainy season always vividly demonstrates the different behavior of land birds versus waterfowl. My rain approach mimics the land bird precipitation attitude: it’s best to avoid get soaked. I see them huddle together in the protective bushes. Their feathers fluffed up to keep warm as they wait for a rain break. I can tell a break is coming up when the ground-feeders start coming out to feed on seeds. The insect flyers are not so willing to come out for their insect chase while drops are still falling. As soon as the rain eases up, the bush, tree insect eaters start scurrying through the foliage. These distinct actions illustrate the diverse food sources of the various bird species. When there is a vegetation balance then there is a varied assortment of food available and in turn the birds keep the insects in check.

P1150385.JPG
LESSER GOLDFINCHES feeding on seeds…

The longer I work on the Estuary Restoration Project the more I notice which bird species is lacking food sources on the levee and we plant natives accordingly. Presently I am on a mission to replenish the lost toyon bush trees, because I noticed that the beautiful Cedar-waxed Wings flock had finished off the few berries in no time. It’s interesting to see them fly to the areas where there used to be toyon berries waiting for them in the winter and fall. After observing one too many times the flock head for their old food source patches, make a brief dip and fly on, I am determined to make a positive change for them. You might like to join us making this change at our next Estuary Project day on Sat. 19th from 9-11am at the Riverside Ave. bridge. Click for more info.

The river birds are not perturbed by the rain. They pursue their diving, foraging, meandering  life as the wetness from the sky showers on them. Then again they are used to having their lower body wet all the time…

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PIED-billed GREBE devouring a crab…

Monday morning the river point welcomed me with a fierce, gusty wind, which gave me instantly teary blurred vision through which I peeked at the whipped up ocean and a few flying birds. It was eerie to see the gull bare river shore. One gull flew in, briefly touched down and took of again. The flying birds, who braved the wind, did a lot of sideway drifting, obviously unable to keep their wished for course. I didn’t see one bird on the turbulent ocean surface.

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empty gull shore…

Land and water birds lay low during heavy winds for obvious reasons. Many ocean birds seek shelter on the river during storms and some show wing injuries, which often heal, spending time in the river.P1150409.JPG

The Trestle path is now fenced off. The only construction related activity I have seen has been the big equipment vehicle trying to maneuver the sharp turn up the Boardwalk ramp. It looked like that attempt failed. Meanwhile I am trying to adjust to missing my familiar Trestle path observations spots, not meeting my cherished levee compadres, not visiting with my feathered friends at our customary time and place. Right now I am a drifter, exploring new river routes, so I can still ‘bath’ in Nature, which is like the old Japanese tradition of ‘forest bathing’. This practice promotes balancing out the social, urban living with its crushing impacts and ‘forest bathing’ is considered a form of medicine. I can see the specific benefits of this tradition and I also know that any ‘bathing’ in any of Nature’s territory has a healing effect on many people. How can we not feel refreshed watching a SPOTTED SANDPIPER taking a rigorous bath?P1020490.JPGExploration greetings to all you Nature bathers, jane

When Going With the Flow Gets Rough

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Heavy rains  last Saturday and Sunday shook up the world of the river’s water fowl, challenging them to take cover, find new fishing grounds, or in the case of at least one of the species, simply jump on the swiftly flowing waters for what looked to me like a a joy ride! I even caught my first glimpse of  a Harbor Seal on the river,  just south of the Water St. Bridge!

The river crested sometime on Sunday at 13.5 feet, just 2.5 feet short of flooding.  When I  ventured out on Monday morning, the river was a grande dame, pridefully and powerfully flowing to her watery mansion in the great ocean.  Although by Monday morning  the velocity had slowed from  Sunday’s peak of 4000 cubic feet per second to only 1200 cubic feet per second, I suspected it would still present a challenge to the water birds.  And, indeed, things were a bit topsy-turvy.

I found one female COMMON MERGANSER who had clearly taken refuge in the glassy quiet of the Duck Pond, an unusual spot to find a  find a Merganser.  Was the river water too fast  for successful fishing?  Or was it too murky?

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Female Common Merganser in San Lorenzo Park Duck Pond, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Common MErgansewer in Duick Pond
Same female Common Merganser with new, exotic species. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Later I saw a pair of the Mergansers taking advantage of the high velocity current to take a swift ride to the mouth.  This is one of their favorite strategies in calm weather – fly upstream, then jump on the free river bus to carry them effortlessly back downstream, fishing and resting as they go. On Monday I didn’t see them fishing at all.

A few BUFFLEHEAD were retreating to the quieter Branciforte cement channel –more like the lakes and ponds that they generally prefer.    But later I was surprised to

Bufflehead in Branciforte Creet Channel
A barely visibleBufflehead  heading upstream on  Branciforte Creek, a partially cemented tributary  that enters the downtown river at the Soquel Bridge.  Photo by B. Riverwoman, January 7, 2019

see a pair of Bufflehead on the open river, alternately rising up out of the water and flapping their wings.  This sounds a little like a Bufflehead mating behavior described as “a head-dip, followed by a wing-flapping, then a rapid bow ending with a resounding slap of the wings against the side of the body.”   I’ll have to keep my eyes open to see if I can catch the rest of the display ritual.  In any case, Bufflehead hormones seem to be flowing, right along with the high water flows.

Buffleheads mating on high water
Mondayh morning after river height on Sunday at 12.5 feet, just 3.5 short of 16 to topof levee
Buffleheads mating on high water
Possible female Bufflehead mating display, San Lorenzo River, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

A GREAT EGRET AND SNOWY EGRET were doing their best to adapt to the high waters.

Snowy Egret struggling with high water
Snowy Egret, San Lorenzo River, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

These beauties prefer mud bars and shallow water, where their long bills can easily probe the mud for the crustaceans, small fish, insects and worms that they relish.  On Monday the Great Egret abandoned the River entirely, richly rewarded by the swampy pools in San Lorenzo Park.  The Snowy seemed to be faring less well, still exploring her normal areas on the edge of the water, but seeming to find that her usual spots were not so productive in a flood.  Perhaps this delicate creature can’t handle the chunkier morsels that are edible by the Great Egret.

Great Egret with Work
Great Egret with worm, San Lorenzo Children’s Park, San Lorenzo River, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This  egrets’ cousin, the GREAT BLUE HERON, looked glorious in the wind, settling comfortably on a sand bar where she could probably sustain herself until things settled down a little.

Great Blue Heron in high river
Great Blue Heron, Sandbar near Chinatown Bridge, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

A MALLARD was also wisely laying low, foraging in quiet backwaters  as she also waited for things to calm down a little.

Mallard taking cover from high river
Mallard in cattail thicket, San Lorenzo River, January 7, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I always wonder why my stubborn little PIED-BILLED GREBES would choose to fight a fast river flow rather than find a quieter lake where this species usually prefer to hang out.  Pied-billed Grebe out in high riverOn Monday, most apparently did go elsewhere.  I saw only one grebe between the Water St. Bridge and the Riverside Bridge.  One possible answer, an important consideration, is that maybe this particular grebe is low on the totem pole, forced to accept an inferior territory.  Or maybe she is stronger than the others and can handle the fast life of a river.  Maybe she likes adventure sports!

Songbirds, were of course “above it all”,  simply happy to have a little sun on their feathers and unaware of the river changes that the waterfowl were contending with.  Finches muching on Sycamore fruit A small flock of HOUSE FINCHES were busy nibbling at the spiky seed balls that form on sycamore trees during the winter, balls that will spill their seeds in the spring.

And above them all was this COOPER’S HAWK, hardly moving a muscle, quietly marshaling its energy before its next sneak attack on an unsuspecting songbird.

Cooper's Hawk

Here’s the eBird LINK to the 31 species I found between Water and Riverside  on Monday.  I never fail to be amazed at the diversity and drama of this urban river.

Bankfull Channel

I talked to City Council member Chris Krohn about my concerns regarding the possible upcoming Bankfull river dredging project.  He sent on a list of my questions to Public Works Director, Mark Dettle, who responded promply with some helpful information.  Here’s what we know so far:

After decades of oversight, the Army Corps of Engineers, as we already know, is turning over the Levee Project to the City of Santa Cruz.  A problem that has arisen in this turnover process, according to Dettle,  is that actual 2017 flows “were about 1 foot higher than model predictions in the reach between Water Street and the Highway 1 Bridge.”  In other words, the City will not be protected against the 100-year flood, and will then have to face serious insurance problems.  Dettle wrote, “When this was brought to the CORPS’ attention, they were not interested in studying this issue and are proceeding with the project turnover.”  That response places the responsibility to get FEMA certification squarely on the slight shoulders of our City.  According to Dettle, it is the reason that the City is being forced to consider a Bankfull Channel Plan.

Dettle reported that the City is pursuing this plan “to increase sediment carrying capacity”.  He said, “The Bankfull design is a deeper, narrower channel in the larger channel so the low stream flows still have sufficient velocity to move the sediment out of the reach.”  He said that Public Works is ‘doing the environmental analysis now.”  When asked about whether the channel would be straight or winding, he said it ‘does not have to be a straight channel.”  I wonder if this is possible or feasible?

We also asked Dettle to comment on whether the City is working with the County to control erosion upstream, a major cause of downstream sediment buildup.  Dettle said that the city has had discussions with the County and Scotts Valley on this issue, but that “since a lot of the proerty is in private ownership, it is much more difficult to control the sediment loading.”  He added, “A lot of this material is a good source of beach sand.”

So the taxpayers of Santa Cruz may be burdened with a multi-million dollar dredging project that will be highly disruptive to wildlife because the County does not, or cannot afford to, enforce erosion control laws upstream.  This seems like a perfect emblem of what is wrong with a lot of our society.  The underlying causes are not addressed and the negative effects are felt ‘downstream’.

John Muir quote of the week:

“How little I know of all the vast show (of Nature), and how eagerly, tremulously hopeful of some day knowing more, learning the meaning of the divine symbols crowded together on this wondrous page.”

I’m glad we chose the word San Lorenzo River Mysteries for the name of our Blog.

May we all keep feeling the mystery of it all!

Barbara