my crowing & river walk harvest

Good Morning Barabara & Nature Lovers,

spring greetings to you from the river levee…

Your last post reminded me of our previous CROW discussion. I had mentioned the steady City increase of CROWS over the last few years, which seemed to coincide with the plastic sheets covering of nearby farms. As you mentioned the CROWS like open area and they used to forage on agriculture land, but now I rarely see them there anymore since the soil is buried under sun heated plastic. CROWS live in groups and their City population explosion caused my bird bias watcher dilemma after watching them hacking ‘my’ songbird fledglings to pieces. Mind you: I am not falling out of my ‘Nature love’ tree over wildlife feeding itself. It’s just their presence can severely decrease the smaller bird flocks as I have witnessed in my neighborhood. CROWS are scavengers and definietly no dummies. So people’s sloppy litter habits are CROWS’ fast food dreams come true: the fishermen leave and the CROWS arrive, picking over the left behind bait and unfinished snacks. The tourists come and the CROWS join them, rumaging through their trash. The Benchland camps litter arrived, welcomed by an ever increasing amount of CROWS. My Westside friend told me that the CROWS arrive by the hundreds in the evening to roost close to Meder Park.
Last week my levee walks harvested these anecdotes and photos for you:

a sparrowed tree…

SATURDAY: On this early morning only 3 other levee walkers had the critters enjoying their tranquil habitat. Unhindered by human traffic they calmly foraged in the grass, bushes and along the shoreline. A sun bathed WHITE-crowned SPARROW was feeding on a Gumplant seed pod on a dried out stalk, ignoring the pods on the ground. Again I didn’t see any Golden-crowned SPARROWS nor did I hear them. They have been sparse along the levee this winter season and rarely have I heard their distinct call. An unknown bird call from the big Cypress trees by the Kaiser Stadium had me cranning my neck, trying to locate the bird in the thick branch clusters. A HAWK, dashing into the tree, helpfully pinpointed the mystery bird, who crashed out of the branches, pursued by the RED-shouldered HAWK. Seeing them fly, the escapee clearly was a FALCON, because of the long narrow tail and smaller body size. The chaser returned to the Cypress, was joined by an other RED-shouldered Hawk. After a brief discussion they headed over to the Jessie St Marsh trees.

getting ready for mouse hunt…

SUNDAY: I arrived at the Mike Fox Re-Vegetation project to water the donated plants from the generous Elkhorn Nursery. The RED-shouldered HAWK eyed me alertly from a nearby tree. It flew over to a pole, triggering a short lived CROW attack. Suddenly the HAWK’s body tensed, shot off its perch, zipped down to the river, returned to the pole and ate its mouse catch, smacking its beak while watching me water, got bored and flew off. A GREEN HERON startled me, when it practically landed right next to me by the Riverside Ave. bridge. A young woman came up and asked me what bird I was watching. I loaned her my monocular and she was so excited to see the GREEN HERON at the waterline that she made my day.

GREEN HERON delights young woman….

TUESDAY: Saw my levee friends on the Trestle path and had a wonderful schmooze about river birds. She brought up that he had heard the OSPREY call above their Seabright area homes. Running outside he saw 2 OSPREY circle above him, calling to each other before heading North. It turned out that only a few streets over I had heard that their call at the same time. Just like him, I had run outside to see 2 OSPREYS and a HAWK circling above me and then heading North. We had to marvel about that coincidence and cherish our neighborly river connection.

AMERICAN COOT showing off ‘ready to breed’ dot on top of beak…

THURSDAY: My daughter asked me what I thought about Benchland campers’ tents right by the river waterline. I was unaware of that and went to check it out. Turns out the usual campsite had been cleared for cleaning. This meant that campers had moved their tents down to the river and were using the tree branches for their clothes lines, were washing clothes in the river and their trash was piling up right next to the water. Looking around I didn’t see any birds. I talked briefly to the Rangers, who were busy containing the campers activities as best as they could. The City is working on finding an agreeable location that will have less environmental impact. It looks like the achievement will be accomplished by the beginning of March.
Chirpy cheers to you all, jane


Where Are You Going, Crows?

Hello Jane and All Other Bird Lovers,

Lately I’ve been stumped when people ask me ‘What’s with all the crows these days?”  Like me, they are astonished and mystified at the huge numbers of these darksome creatures that sometimes, especially at sunset, seem to be taking over the skies here in Santa Cruz.  (Spoiler alert: It turns out that crow populations are not increasing nationwide nor is a Hitchcock nightmare about to descend upon us.)

10 crows in tree
Crows gathering in pre-roosting site,  February 4, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman

I decided I had better do a little online research and also pay closer attention to the actual crows around me!  Here’s what I discovered when I googled ‘Why are there so many crows?’  First of all, the huge concentrations of crows  is a five-month winter phenomenon, starting sometime in November and ending in March when the crows disperse to their individual territories to start building their nests and raising their young.   Add to this the fact that large flocks of crows head south each year from Canada for the more hospitable  winter climate of the states, adding large numbers to the ranks of local crows.   Further add to this the fact that crows are wonderfully communal creatures, mating for life, and even depending on first and second year non-breeding siblings to help raise their new broods.  During breeding season they are isolated from the rest of their clan .  But once the kids are raised,  I like to imagine,  the crowd-loving crows all get together in  raucous celebration of their temporary freedom  from childcare responsibilities and in joy at hanging out with the rest of their  huge clan that they don’t get to see for nine months.  Whatever the true motivations and feelings are,  these intrepid socialists gather in the hundreds, the thousands and even – in at least one documented case in Oklahoma – in the millions  – with the purpose of all sleeping in a few trees together!  It’s called roosting.  Why do they do this?  Primarily for safety say the experts.  During the long winter nights, they are especially vulnerable to nighttime predators like  Great-horned Owls.  Roosting in large groups gives them more protection.

Crow entering tree
Another crow flies in to pre-roosting site, February 4, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the process of reading about crows, I also discovered that crows  were originally drawn to agricultural lands outside of cities.  But they were unwelcome guests –– driven off by guns, firecrackers and furious farmers who didn’t appreciate their fine brains.  So over time the crows  have congregated more and more in urban areas like ours – another reason that we see so many of them.  They are mostly ground foragers preferring open spaces with just enough nearby trees for cover.  They are never found in  densely vegetated areas like forests.  Being undiscriminating omnivores, they will eat just about anything – from wild plants and seeds to carrion and human garbage.  This is another reason we city dwellers see so many of them.  We have so much garbage lying around.

The one thing that I wasn’t able to find out from the online literature was more about their roosting.   Close to sundown, I got to witness first hand  large flocks of crows (about 250)   flying in from all directions and assembling on some sycamores and cottonwoods along the river. They never stopped emitting their strident chatter,  creating a huge, cacophonous racket that never stopped.   Some of them hopped into the river for a very splashy bath, others  got a drink of water, others gathered bedtime snacks along the sandbars and most of them settled into an already crowded tree for the night.  I assumed they had found their night time roosting spot and were settling in for the night. I seems I was wrong.

drinking crow
Crow getting a drink of water near pre-roosting site. February 4, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman
crows - flock of 270
Crows bathing together in river north of Water St. Bridge, near pre-roosting site, anuary, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman

The second time I watched the scene, I again saw them all settling into  the cottonwoods along the Benchlands.  But I hung around longer this time.  After about 30 minutes it slowly dawned on me that they were peeling off alone or in groups of 2 or 3 , leaving the tree I was photographing more and more empty – until it was entirely bare.  Now I saw dark shapes slipping silently downstream in the twilight, no longer a loud chorus of wildly chattering birds.

two crows flying
Crows leaving pre-roosting site, heading off downstream, February 4, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Were the sycamores that I had been watching  only a way station?   It suddenly made sense to me that the wily crows might not have wanted to advertise their actual sleeping place with so much drama.  It was as if they had chosen their first place as a site where they could  greet each other,  pass on messages of the day, bathe, snack, and maybe talk about where they would go next.  But perhaps haunted by memories of furious farmers with guns, or of Great Horned Owls (crows have prodigious memories), they understandably did not want to advertise where they actually planned to spend the night.   I tried to follow them.  I crossed the bridge, followed them downstream in the direction they were all going and peered out into the distance.  But no sounds and no flocks.  They had given me the slip!   I went home and started reading and discovered the term ‘pre-roosting site’.   Ah!  That was the concept I needed to understand what I had just seen.   I am now seriously on the trail of a final roosting site!  I’m wondering how many birds might be found there.  I wish I could tell them I carry only a camera and a loving heart, not a gun.  Nor do I want to eat them.  I’m a vegan.

While in pursuit of the departing crows I saw 10 CANADA GEESE AND 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE,  calmly nibbling away on the grassy lawns near the Duck Pond.  This was only my second sighting of the latter less common goose, bringing my total goose species to three this year – including the much rarer Snow Goose I wrote about several months ago.  The orange legs, white forehead shield and pinkish beak of the Greater White-fronted Goose give her quite a fanciful look, don’t you think?

Greater White-fronted Goose.jpg
Greater White-fronted Goose, February 4, 2018, grassy lawn near Duck Pond, photo by B. Riverwoman

Bad as the world can seem some days under the new Trump regime, there is still lots to crow about, isn’t there!  At least in the world of birds. Let’s keep cawing loudly about these wonderful birds on our river!

My best to all lovers of nature.






river watching…

Good Afternoon Barbara & Nature Lovers,

HAPPY, CHIRPY, CHEERY BIRTHDAY wishes to you, Barbara. As you mentioned, you celebrated your 80 times circling around the sun and now have many new adventures ahead of you. I know that your vim and vigor will allow you to sail right into life’s amazing fullness and bring you joy.

‘old’ river mouth

Will our ‘old’ San Lorenzo River mouth ever return? Or has the high & wide berm established itself permanently there? Even last week’s high tide waves weren’t able to put a dent into the berm. Remember that last year Coastal Commission granted Public Works request to build a berm by the Main Beach to prevent flooding due to summer lagoon and channelize the river mouth towards the Wharf? The ‘new’ river mouth closed only a few times last year thus creating lagoon condition. From my lay-person observations, the new berm seems to have allowed more sand build up in front of the ‘old’ river mouth. Has the added Main Beach berm added to the widening of the Main and Seabright Beaches? The ‘new‘ river mouth is flatter, from which the grateful seals benefit since catching fish is easier in shallow water. And of course I curious if that will effect the steelhead count…

current ‘old’ river mouth

Last Saturday Nature offered me a rare, exquisite treat: our river female OSPREY was taking a bath across from the Trestle trees. Usually the OSPREY couple prefers bathing behind the Mike Fox skateboard park, but that was occupied by 2 fishermen. So she had to make do with this new cleaning location, which required a lengthy security check of her surroundings. Once she deemed herself safe she drank some water (was she checking the water quality?), then she dipped her head in, decided she wanted more depth, waded into deeper water, dunked head and neck several times, shook the water off and rechecked her surrounding carefully. Safety concluded, she waded in further & plunged her whole body under water, surfaced, shook her wings to send the water drops flying. This bathing ceremony lasted quite a while, then she took to the air while shaking off the water and landed on a Trestle tree branch to let the sun dry her. I wished all of you could have witnessed this spectacular event, because it was magnificently impressive: the strength of her body was visibly vibrating with a majestic life force and her strong flapping wings illustrated her undeniable powerful mastery of the sky. The rest of my day was soaked with joy that I saw the OSPREY’s bathing ritual.

take off…

Frankly I don’t recall seeing such a steady, big presence of COMMON GOLDENEYE on the San Lorenzo River as this winter season. There have been large flocks in previous years, but they haven’t stayed for any length of time. This year the average beak count has been in the forties on the lower section. The BUFFLEHEAD flocks on the other hand have been fairly small and more skittish this season. They keep diving and surfacing at any perceived threat: a COOT gets too close to the flock and down they go, a gull comes in for the landing and down they go. Their skittish behavior uses up their energy, which they have to replenish with food and rest, but that is difficult due to their jittery conduct. The BUFFLEHEAD crowd clears their favorite area below and above the Riverside Ave. bridge when the anglers show up for 3 days a week. Overall the anglers have been disappointed by their steelhead catches, which were have been small in body size and quantity.


May Nature’s beauty kiss your eyes and soul, jane

Nightlife on the River

Dear Jane and Bird-loving Readers,

Congratulations, Jane, on your recent cascade of honors. We learned earlier this week that you were re-elected to serve on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club! And now, just this afternoon, you were unanimously elected by the City Council to serve on the Santa Cruz City Parks and Recreation Commission. Fantastic! A strong voice for the environment will now take her rightful place at the table.   I can hear the birds and other critters cheering.

Meanwhile, our city – and the developers that they work with so closely –  are busily trying to bring more nightlife to the river.   Human nightlife, that is.  But what about the existing nightlife of the river, the non-human variety? I admit my own ignorance on this subject.   But recently my visiting son has been bringing me reports based on his nightly trips over the Water St. Bridge on his way back from the gym. Every night he sees a GREAT BLUE HERON standing motionless  on a small reed-blanketed island,  separated from the river bank by a narrow and shallow eddy of water.  The eddy he guesses, is only about 5 feet wide, seeming to offer minimal protection from night predators. I have been surprisingly excited to hear these reports, like a child wanting to know what adults do after we kids go to bed. My son reports that the heron’s eyes appear to be shut. Is she asleep? Is she both asleep and awake? Does she leave a slit open like the Buddha? Is she safe from night-time predators? I checked a Cornell University site and learned for the first time the ability of some species to be both asleep and awake at the same time:

“Some (birds) can even sleep with one eye open, as half of their brain is alert while the other is asleep. This is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS) and it allows the sleeping bird to spring into action quickly from rest if a threat approaches while still being able to satisfactorily rest if no threat arises. Ducks and waterfowl are particularly good at this….Species that use this adaptation may even be able to sleep while flying!

coyote 2
One of two coyotes watching a Great Blue Heron near the Water St. Bridge about 9 P.M,, January 20, 2017

Then three nights ago, adding to my excitement, my son brought especially interesting news about the heron’s life. As he stood watching the heron from the bridge, he saw a coyote run past, followed almost immediately by a second one. The second coyote made eye contact with my son, then retreated into the shadows. The first one soon doubled back, moving closer to the edge of the water nearest the heron and fixing his eyes on her. My son judged that the coyote was about twenty feet away from the heron at this point. Was he considering the possibility of splashing through the shallow eddy between him and the heron? A moment later, the heron took flight. About an hour later I persuaded my son to go back to the bridge with me to see if the heron had returned to her nightly spot. The coyotes were gone, and the heron was nowhere to be seen. I hope the heron has a safe backup spot for spending the night?

As we looked upstream for the heron, I spied in the distance a juvenile BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON standing in the middle of the river, moving slowly downstream as she stalked her underwater prey. I had never seen these nocturnal hunters at night, never seen them actively stalking fish in the middle of the river. During the day they are usually seen perched on some tree branch that extends out over the river.   I had assumed they fished from there.

Night Heron at night
Juvenile Black-crowned NIght-Heron actively fishing midstream just north of Water St. Bridge about 10 pm, January 20, 2017.
From Water St. Bridge at night
River and levee  just north of Water St. Bridge.  Juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron appears as  small white dot where eddy on the right converges with the bank of the river. January 20, 2017

I try to do a bird count at least once every two weeks for the citizen science online website called  eBird. This week I found 28 species in the short space between the Water St. and Laurel St. Bridges. Click here to see the list.  Among the 28 species recorded, I was excited to find the relatively rare and slightly magical BROWN CREEPER, spiraling upwards around the trunk of a craggy-barked tree, using her delicate and perfectly adapted curved bill to dig out insects hiding underneath the bark.

brown creeper
Brown Creeper, San Lorenzo Park bench lands.  Photo by Barbara Riverwoman

Other birds seem to flit about randomly in pursuit of their prey. But the little Creeper is always so systematic in her search, starting at the bottom of a tree, then spiraling her way up to the top, only to return again to the bottom of the tree to start over.

While in the Park, I walked over to check on two regular winter visitors to the Duck Pond, the so-called RING-NECKED DUCKS.  These birds have no ring around their neck

Ring-necked duck female
Female Ring-necked Duck in San Lorenzo Park Duck Pond, January 21, 2017, Photo by Barbara Riverwoman

but do display a very distinctive ring around their bill.  They also like to hang out at Westlake Pond – preferring, it seems, lakes to rivers. Although they resemble the Common Goldeneyes in their appearance, and dive like them, their diet is based mostly on plants and some mollusks, eschewing the sportier fish that engage the advanced skills of the  Goldeneyes.

Ring-necked duck, male
Male Ring-necked duck in San Lorenzo Park Duck Pond, January 21, 2017, Photo by Barbara Riverwoman

As I watched the Ring-necked Ducks, I suddenly heard an unusually raucous honking sound from a strangely patterned and unusually large female mallard. She was very aggressive, poking and prodding at the tail feathers of the male mallards. Who was she? Was she some kind of strange domestic hybrid like a Peking Duck? Anybody have any idea?

Humongous female mallard
half again as big as all the other feales. Very different marking on face. Very aggressive, very loud honk, almost like a goose.


Another odd sight this week was this COMMON GOLDENEYE north of the Water St. Bridge, sitting on a log. Goldeneyes rarely occur as far upstream as the Water St. Bridge, normally preferring the Estuarine reach of the river from Laurel St. Bridge to the mouth of the river.  Was it because of the high tide and the returning steelhead? And why was she sitting on a log? Have any of you ever seen a Goldeneye sitting on a log?

Common Goldeneye
Common Goldeneye just north of Water St. Bridge, January 21,2017, photo by B. Riverwoman

So many of the waterfowl are in breeding plumage at this time of year, including our resident mallards, coots and mergansers, as well as the migrating buffleheads and common goldeneyes. But my dear little PIED-BILLED GREBES have not yet taken on their breeding outfits. Maybe this explains in part why they tend to be the late breeders on the river. I find it so interesting that breeding attire for Pied-billed Grebes does not entail any changes at all in the color of feathers, but instead is displayed as a change in beak pigmentation!  Both display modest but elegant white beaks with a handsome black stripe. They also distinguish themselves from most other species by the fact that both the male and female go into breeding display mode, not just the male. There is no way a casual observer can tell them apart. One more reason I love the Pied-billed Grebes.

Pied-billed grebe
Pied-billed Grebe, not yet in breeding colors.  January 21, 2017. Photo by B. Riverwoman

And turning for a moment to human life on the river, I noticed an Asian- looking woman pulling up ‘weeds’ close to the

Chiese woman gathering lo-bo roots and leaves
Woman harvesting Asian green called lo-bo in Cantonese, probably ‘river spinach’ in translation.  January 21, 2017, photo by B. Riverwoman

pedestrian bridge leading into San Lorenzo Park. Another Asian woman was standing on the bridge and we easily slipped into conversation when I asked her in Chinese what her friend was harvesting (Full disclosure – my previous life was as a student and then teacher of classical Chinese literature.) In spite of her heavy Cantonese accent, I learned that the woman below us was harvesting a vegetable called lo-bo in Cantonese. As she chatted on in Chinese,

Asian vegetables
Lo-bo in Cantonese, river spinach in English.

I felt magically transported backwards in time, imagining that somehow the seeds of this vegetable were planted back in the days when the Santa Cruz Chinatown thrived along this very stretch of river in the area now occuped by Trader Joe’s. It was as if history was reasserting itself, brushing off our headlong rush into development and bringing back a lost age of gathering wild vegetables along the river. When a park ranger stopped to talk to the woman gathering the vegetables I was worried that he might stop her.  I was so pleased when  he simply warned her to wash them carefully. The next day I went out and harvested some myself, very cautiously sterilizing them first with the required amount of chlorine and then boiling them for good measure.   They were delicious, tasting like a combination between beet greens and spinach, without the acidic aftertaste of spinach.

The river binds us across time and space – and species, ethnicity and class. May it continue to do its cleansing work.

Happy Birding – and once again – thank you, Jane,  for taking on such a strong leadership role in our community on behalf of wild nature.







San Lorenzo River vignettes flowing your way…

Good Morning Barbara and Wildlife Lovers,

Eucalyptus blossom…home for insects, food to birds

Last Wednesday a bird chirp symphony was in full swing in the Eucalyptus trees by the Trestle path. The various bird species were ecstatic, because the sun had opened up the insect food larder again. The rainy days had left birds fairly empty beaked. Flying insects with their fragile wings don’t take to the rainy sky. The crawling insects avoid rain exposure and seek safe shelter. It would have been helpful to id the different birds by sound, because the birds moved so quickly through the foliage in pursuit of food that visual id-ing was difficult. Watching & listening to them, I observed that certain notes communicated that delicious munchies were available and invitation was extended to family members to come over for a taste. I took it as a good sign that the river trees provided such a diverse insect banquet since the insect population has dramatically declined over the last 27 yrs.(Germany 75%, North America approx. 46%).
My levee compadres, Ann, Bob & their friend walked up and we got to watch the PEREGRINE perch high in the trees as the Osprey on the log ride kept an eye on it. Next we heard an urgent bird call and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. The Osprey vocalized in return and I thought the female Osprey was luring him to the trees where she has been present on and off for the last month. Then we saw a medium sized bird circling the trees at rapid speed as its call increased to high annoyance level. It turned out that the PEREGRINE was determined to flush out a HAWK, who got the PEREGRINE’s point, flew off while the FALCON followed it, emphasizing its ‘furthermore…’ nagging of the HAWK’S inappropriate tree presence. Isn’t it interesting that the male PEREGRINE is 30% smaller than the female? This works out great for feeding the eyasses(HAWK & FALCON offspring), because the male is more agile and quick thus is able to catch small prey for the small beaks. Later both parents hunt to accommodate the eyasses rapid weight and size expansion: within the first 6 days the little ones double their size and after 3 weeks they increased their birth size 10 fold.

A fellow birder reported that the Wood Rats and different mice species are in their second year of irruption in California, Oregon, Montana, Utah. This might explain why there has been an increase of HAWK and OWL sightings in the river vicinity. Several levee compadres mentioned hearing OWL calls at night in Jessie St. Marsh and Ocean View Park. Be sure to check out SCRATS about the rodent poison harm.Thanks to my friend Robert I met the member of the Downtown Street Team(DST), who told me that there is a BURROWING OWL by the Water St. bridge. How exciting is that? The DST members are homeless people, who clean up litter and get helpful assistance to re-integrate themselves in a more stable life via navigating writing resumes, job interviews, getting ID cards and much more. In getting to know them, I am truly touched by their bird questions, their openness to learn about the river environment and their willingness to apply their new environment knowledge.

our PEREGRINE in Trestle tree residence…

Yes, you are right the PIED-billed GREBE likes hanging out with the other diving species, whose food preference complements the PIED-billed GREBE’s palate for aquatic invertebrates and fish. Have you noticed that PIED-billed GREBES join the other divers where the water level is high and stay by themselves in shallow water? Your little friends seems to have figured out that the COMMON GOLDENEYE and MERGANSER stir up the food source since they dive deeper, longer and make feeding more effective for the PIED-billed GREBE.


Yes, the last 3 blog years have been a rich experience. I am grateful to you, our blog reader, for enjoying what we share about our river. I shower my big THANK YOU to the feisty SAN LORENZO RIVER, the source for our blog. The river’s endless wildlife stories, unique beauty, fight for survival created our blog and will keep us busy blogging for you, jane
P.S. We welcome you to fling some pruners before the Women’s March…

The Ecology of Darkness

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Lovers,

Do you realize, Jane, that we have just passed the three-year anniversary of our blog! Our first post was January 8, 2015! It’s been a unique journey for me – and I look forward to more years of surprises. I have learned so much from focusing on the river, from your keen observations, and from all the conversations this blog inspires. Funny how adversity (the threat of recreational boating on the river) has inspired actions we never dreamed of, helping us see things we never expected to see.

Scharfenstein & Hernandez
L to R Joaquin and Lorenzo Pacheco in front, Michael Hernandez and Bob Scharfenstein in back, January 6, 2018, Riverside Bridge, Photo by B. Riverwoman

All the fish news in your last blog was extremely interesting to me.  I took your lead and introduced myself to Bob Scharfenstein as he was standing with a fishing pole next to the Riverside Bridge. Bob, a longtime fishing aficionado (afishionado?) told me that this spot used to be called Buckeye Hole, commenting nostalgically that “in the sixties, steelhead used to be elbow to elbow here.” Now, it seems, fisherfolk are allowed to fish for only three days a week for 3 months (December, January and February) and it’s all on a ‘capture and release’ basis unless the fish is a hatchery steelhead. Bob showed me a photo on his cell phone of a steelhead with an adipose fin (wild) and without an adipose fin (clipped in the hatchery). Pretty good news for our wild steelhead if people comply with the law. Right now, he said, the steelhead are 4-5 feet long, but can get as long as 20 feet.

It turned out that Bob is the son of Barbara Scharfenstein, the founder of the Bird Club. Bob told me that just days before Barbara died on September 14th, 2015, she mentioned to him that ‘my Yellow Warbler’ should be back soon. The Yellow Warbler appeared the day she died.  Bob is taking care of his mom’s birds now that she is gone.

As Bob and I were chatting, former mayor (1960-64) Michael Hernandez came along and joined the conversation. He and Bob shared river stories, compared fish tattoos and talked about their lives.  “Fishing is my life,” Michael said, introducing me to his two grandsons, Lorenzo and Joaquin, both named after rivers. He quizzed them on river lore and casting techniques, apparently proving to  Michael’s satisfaction that they had been paying attention to their grandpa.

Seal Upsteam
Sea Lion resting on side of San Lorenzo River between Riverside Bridge and Trestle, Jan. 6, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman

Obviously, Bob and Michael weren’t the only one with their minds on steelhead. Bob commented on the rather unusual presence of sea lions in the river and said, “they aren’t here for laughs!” Shortly after our conversation I spotted a SEA LION lounging on a rock, presumably with a belly full of steelhead, taking a break before taking off on another fishing trip.


DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS were actively fishing on the river in numbers I don’t usually see – joining Bob and Michael, the seals, osprey, and striped bass in pursuit of their prized prey.   Nor have I seen cormorants swimming along rapidly in formation like this. I can’t help thinking they look very satisfied.

seven cormorants
Seven Double-crested Cormorants swimming downstream between Riverside Bridge and Trestle, January 6, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I suspect this wading OSPREY had also just enjoyed a good meal. I’m glad our fisherfolk can still enjoy their sport but leave the wild fish for the birds, seals and striped bass to eat. They need them more than we do.

Osprey in river
Osprey in river north of Riverside Bridge, January 6, 2018 Photo by B. Riverwoman

There were more non-fishy wonders awaiting me once I tore myself away from my conversation with Bob and Michael.

I loved getting this photo of my little PIED-BILLED GREBE friend checking out a male COMMON MERGANSER. Pied-billed grebes are very solitary, but perversely seem very curious about other species, often poking their little beaks into groups of coots, mergansers, buffleheads and more. I guess I am a little grebe-like in this respect – perhaps another reason I am so fond of them.

Meganser & Piedbilled grebe
Male Common Merganser and Pied-billed Grebe, SLR, January 6, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Congratulations on posting your first video. You are raising the bar! I appreciated your pointing out that the huge gull congregations might be caused by storms out at sea that push the birds towards land. Don’t you love it when we see how  everything is connected to everything else.

Speaking of gulls, I love watching the communal baths of some of our very social birds. Here are some AMERICAN CROWS and SEAGULLS that I saw this week taking their baths together in the river.

I have been quite mystified about why I never see the shimmering rainbow plumage on the heads and necks of BUFFLEHEADS that appear in the photos of others. This week I was determined to look carefully and, sure enough, I saw the subtle breeding display.

Rainbow neck - bufflehead 2
Male and Female Bufflehead in breeding plumage, between Riverside Bridge and Trestle, January 6, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Jean Brocklebank just sent out a wonderful article by George Monbiot, (a well known British naturalist and writer) on the very subject of learning to see what we usually don’t see He starts out saying, “

“What you see is not what others see. We inhabit parallel worlds of perception, bounded by our interests and experience. What is obvious to some is invisible to others. I might find myself standing, transfixed, by the roadside, watching a sparrowhawk hunting among the bushes, astonished that other people could ignore it. But they might just as well be wondering how I could have failed to notice the new V6 Pentastar Sahara that just drove past.”

Monbiot says that there are 59 species of butterflies in the UK and 2500 species of moths. He says that “our failure to apprehend the ecology of darkness limits our understanding of the living world.” I know there are owls on the urban river stretch, but neither of us has reported on them. But the Benchland campers tell me they hear them often.

Well – we can only keep doing our best to make the wildlife of the river visible to ourselves and others. That’s what our blog is all about.  Even with out best efforts, though, I’m sure we miss 99 % of what’s there.

Happy birding to all, rain or shine!









fishing my memories while gathering observations…

Good Morning Barbara & you Nature Lovers,

a new trend? fly fishing from a step-stool?

The fishing season opened December 1st and the steelhead anglers are back, swinging their lines across the river between the Laurel St. and Riverside Ave. They are cheered on, advised by fellow fishers, who keep an alert eye on the steelhead movements from the banks and bridges. The casters are told where to aim their lines and when to try their fishing luck at an other spot. The fish tease the anglers’ passion by jumping out of the water at a safe distance from their bait. Steelhead river life is not easy right now: the Seals and big striped Bass are trying to devour them and anglers trying to catch them. Watching the scene brings back memories of Richard Wehner, who introduced me years ago to the deep waters of fishing fervor. He was a highly skilled, much admired fly-fisher, spending days standing in rivers, working long hours at the Hatchery, worrying over his batches of fish, celebrating good results and making sure that the fish were well treated. Talking to fisherman Larry I realize that Richard’s spirited legacy lives on: he remembered watching Richard carefully unhook small steelhead and tenderly returned them to the river. Larry and other anglers fondly remember Richard as a fisher-gentle-man with par excellent sportsman’s etiquette and few knew how generously he assisted people, groups in need, keeping them afloat and humbly concealing his kind hearted deeds. Larry’s topped off our conversation adding this bonus: a while back he had seen and netted Coho in the San Lorenzo River. P1110444.JPG

colossal gull congregation by the river mouth

Have you seen the colossal gull congregation down by the river mouth lately? Are there storms raging off shore? That would explain the hundreds of gulls by the river mouth, seeking solid land during the Ocean storms. The sand and the river are covered with an impressive variety of migrant and local gull species as you can see in my novice video. Now is the perfect time to test your gull id skills and question your sanity, because gulls are tricky to id. On fishing days the lower river is further clogged with COMMON GOLDENEYE and COOTS, who avoid the anglers.The birds are determined to claim their new water real estate space, which creates traffic jam and near collisions by the Trestle. The other day two COOTS got into a heated beak argument and chased each other through the tight feather crowd and kept careening into gulls, who tried to hop out of the way unsuccessfully. Only a few Bufflehead brave the water traffic chaos and mostly stay on the sidelines while the others hang out a little further upstream.

making peace…

In the last two weeks a female and male Osprey have been taking turns sitting in the Trestle trees, the Ferris-wheel and Log-ride. The Boardwalk rides have been re-appropriated as perfect perches by the Ospreys, who have arrived at ‘live -and let live’ terms with the CROWS, who decided after weeks of hysteric screeching and bomb diving the Ospreys that they actually liked them. Now they all perch together side by side on the rides as they survey the scenery. Maybe the Osprey couple is looking for a suitable nest location by the river?
I consider myself a fairly good wildlife observer and wildlife loves to prove me wrong, which totally amuses me and reminds me how easily we overlook beauty right next to us as we focus on a far away bird or are lost in our thought universes. The other day I was watching a GREEN HERON across the river and felt ‘somebody’ eye-ing me. I looked around and saw ‘nobody’, then I looked up and right next to me there was the RED-shoulder Hawk sitting on the path sign, studying me with its intense stare. My involuntary “Hi there” was acknowledge with a slight head tuck and a feather puff up shudder. What a superb reminder that humans and wildlife are keeping an eye on each other.

who is watching who…

I am looking forward to leading the river walk via the Sierra Club meetup on Saturday January 13th 9am-11am. Want to join us? Then click HERE to sign up. Love to see you…
Happy New Year chirps to all of you, jane