bonding with the river life…

Good Afternoon to you Nature Appreciators,

spring arrival of tree trunk…

Well, I am still on a Lupine rescue mission. You can find me in the early morning spraying them down with water. These plants deserve my saving efforts, because they so wanted to live: growing big, setting blossoms that bloomed beautifully until the aphids attacked. It looks like a few plants will pull through. After washing the sticky aphid gook off my hands, I always check on the big tree trunk that had been washed down by one of the heavy winter storms and is now a cherished hang out spot for the birds. I am very fond of the stranded giant, because it testifies that its life force is determined to flourish. Its leaves stayed alive, although a powerful rainstorm ripped it out of the ground and forced it to take a wild ride downstream. Now the BLACK PHOEBES are thrilled to be able to hunt its insects right over the water. The MALLARDS and COMMON MERGANSERS schnoz safely inside of the branch tangles. The GREAT BLUE HERON frequents it for its lengthly preening sessions. Obviously the birds treat this tree trunk as a welcomed addition to their daily lives.

tree trunk is now birds favored hang out spot…

I like to invite you to come this Saturday 8/17 to the ongoing Estuary Project and join our restoration improvements. You’ll get to meet good people and enjoy making a difference together. Click here for more info.

Firecracker Skimmer…

It was truly astounding how many dragonflies were whizzing around at the Mike Fox Park by the Riverside Ave. bridge. Counting them was impossible, but I estimate that there were at least 50 of them. There was amazing variety of species present: Firecracker Skimmers( don’t you love that name?!), Blue Dasher, Common Green Darner and dark brown, purple, bronze ones that I had never seen before. The sunshine made their shiny wings glitter in the air and sparks would explode off the bushes when they moved. It was like standing in a fairy tale scene.

our beloved river point ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD…

The Jamaican man and I have shared our a silent love for the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD for over a year. Whoever arrived first at the river point would point out wordlessly its location, because we didn’t want to scare it off. Then we watch it together quietly until little beauty had enough of being starred at and zoom off. We smile at each other and give each other a thumb ups good-bye. I hadn’t seen the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD nor the Jamaican man for a couple of weeks and wondered what happened to both of them. Then the Jamaican man was back and he asked if I had seen our shared love. When I told him that I hadn’t, he bend his head and sadly said:”The bird is dead”. I suggested that the A. HUMMINGBIRD might have found a different food source. He din’t think so since our bird hadn’t looked well the last few times he had seen it. Its feather look dull and it was puffed up. A couple of days later a friend of mine told me that she missed seeing the A. HUMMINGBIRD at the river point. It touched me that the little feather-ball had been a joyous part of our lives.

KINGFISHER enjoying her perfect perch…

I hadn’t seen the KINGFISHER for a while, so it was a treat to see her sitting on the wire that crosses the river. The changed shoreline had me worried for this impressive fishing bird, who prefers perches close to or above the water. But now the sediment created wide sandbanks and her perches are no longer close to the waterline. The KINGFISHER has an unusual nest preference: they excavate a 1 to 8 feet long tunnel with their specialized long, flat toe and sharp claws into sandy banks. As you can imagine this accomplishment takes several weeks and the KINGFISHERS reuse their channel nests for years. It’s interesting that SWALLOWS figured out that they can co-nest with the excavators by digging small chambers into the walls for their nesting needs.
To-night,Tuesday 13, I’ll be talking about the river on Bruce Bratton’s ‘Universal Grapevine’ radio show. So turn your dial to KZSC 88.1 to catch our talk~ until then cheers to you, jane

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San Lorenzo River’s many joys & a few ‘yikes!’

Good Morning to all you fellow Nature adorers,

I want my PEREGRINE back!

Ever since the Trestle bridge construction I haven’t seen the PEREGRINE perch on its favorite, high perch in the Eucalyptus tree. I keep looking up in the hope to see the sight of that beautiful Falcon. This shows optimism, because during the bridge building the CROWS moved into the lower branches, from where they could easily harvest the workers left overs. Then a RAVEN couple build their nest a few trees over, much to the chagrin of the CROWS, who have been endlessly complaining about the RAVENS’ nest location. Yet both black, loud vocalizers would unit in a second to mob the PEREGRINE, should it attempt to return. Their attacks are scary as the juvenile RED-shouldered HAWK found out, who had been chased out of its safe Jessie St. Marsh nursery perch when the huge soil drilling equipment moved in. The young Raptor kept ducking lower and lower on the branch, trying to keep its balance. If this was its first encounter with ceaseless dive bombing then it got a royally baptism to the bane of its future life.

fairytale GREY HAIRSTREAK…

Right now the seed eaters are feasting on a wide variety of seeds. The BUSHTITS, HOUSE and a few LESSER GOLD FINCHES favor the seeds of the native Mugwort. Did you know that the oil of its crumbled leaves relieve the poison oak itch? A dainty, lite-blue Butterfly rested on the Mugwort, long time enough for me to fall in love with its fairytale physique. Thanks to Santa Cruz Critters, Ken and Andy identified it as a GREY HAIRSTREAK. The ground squirrels are eagerly munching on the grass seed pods, which makes me wonder if they could be enticed to mow the levee, thus eliminate the heavy equipment.

ground squirrels eating weed seeds…

Remember the observation that we had more Ladybugs this year? Well, I am glad about that, but they are clearly overwhelmed by the aphid infestation on our Lupines, who had been doing magnificently well until the aphids literally sucked the life out of them. So now I am on a rescue mission: every second day I remove the aphids from the surviving Lupines. And yes, I leave the areas alone that have Ladybugs or their larvae on them. I caught 2 Ladybugs taking a break for some important leisure time.

Ladybugs enjoying leisure time…

Jeb Bishop from Groundswell Coastal Ecology and I enjoy swapping our Project observations. Recently he reported a wasp at his Seabright beach site that I had just seen in my Estuary area. Obviously our efforts are making a difference since we both noticed an increase of critters species.
Quoting Jeb: A cliff buckwheat (a native, Eriogonum parvifolium) near our work site was alive with quite a few insects.  We spotted a new species on it, the striking wasp in the photo.  Tiffany identified it for us as a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumons), and posted it on iNaturalist where you can get more info. Thanks, Tiffany!

Great Golden Digger Wasp…

Last Saturday morning I was down by the Riverside Ave. bridge, planning to get ready for the Estuary Project work day when I heard the familiar CANADA GOOSE honk. And of course my curiosity won out over my prep-task. It turned out that an adult didn’t like a good looking, slender one that was trying to approach the group. Wayne, our City tool delivery man, joined me. Together we watched how the heavier set C. GOOSE extended its neck low above the ground and charged at the resisting intruder, who waited to the last moment to execute a nonchalant retreat. Satisfied the winner webbed footed back to the group, not realizing it was being followed. The honk from an other C. GOOSE gave the friendly invader away and the same scene repeated itself 4 times until the group took to the water and swam away, leaving a lonely GOOSE behind. After giving it some thought, it opted for waddling down the sandbank in the same direction, then decided swimming was more efficient for catching up with the others. Wayne and I regretted to see a re-run of the same scenario. The next day I was greeted at the Trestle bridge by the honks of a lonely C. GOOSE. Then it spotted a MALLARD couple and decided to try its ‘Let’s be friends’ move with them. Feeling overwhelmed by this overture they escaped to the cliff rocks. After several attempts the GOOSE clambered onto the slippery surface and stood next to the couple. Together they watched me, watching them until I felt like an intruder, so I left…wishing them and all of you magical encounters, jane

CANADA GOOSE exploring friendship…

 

get ready…

Good Morning to you all, who enjoy the wonder of Nature,

SNOWY EGRET having breakfast

I was standing stock-still on the bank in the early morning, because a fly was busy entertaining me with cleaning its 2 front limbs. This required rigorously scrubbing them back and forth, short pause, tongue action on each limb, then rubbing them again thoroughly. The SWALLOWS kept zooming really close to me and I knew I was serving as their welcomed breakfast warmer, because my body heat and breath was supplying the close by insects with the warmth they need for flying. SWALLOWS only eat insects, consuming an amazing amount of them, so I served as their food provider. In the cool evenings bats harvest insects that surround people, because the human body heat keeps the insects flying. People freaked out when the bats dive at them, thinking they are being attacked, not realizing that actually they are being saved from insect attacks.

it’s not cool to breach the river mouth…

Going to the river is a surrender to surprises. Not only was I surprised, but stunned by the man, who brazenly was breaching the river mouth that morning. He was trench digging while his dog raced excitedly around him. The river water was slowly slithering towards its mighty friend, the ocean. Unfortunately I was standing on the top of the river point and my only option was to yell down to him to close up the channel. He looked up, waved, kept digging. I screamed some more and he gestured he couldn’t hear me-yeah, right! I knew, he could! Since I don’t own a cellphone, I raced home and made my tattle calls. When I went back an other man was filling in the trench and a Police Officer arrived to help him. Of course the digger and his dog were gone. I have an aversion to breaches, because the river water literally gets sucked out and the fish suffer from that sudden water level drop.

man & Police Officer closing up the river mouth…

I was checking on the newly housed native plants when I heard CANADA GEESE honks in the air. Looking up, I saw 10 heading towards me at the Riverside Ave. bridge. They landed across the river, organized themselves into a single file, facing upriver, obviously watching something I couldn’t see. Then I heard a CANADA GOOSE honk upriver. The flotilla started a long, eager honk conversation with the other invisible honker. Finally I saw a group of 9 CANADA GEESE swim around the river bend, heading towards their waiting friends. This caused a loud salutation exchange and the arrivers accelerated their speed. I realized that the younger geese were being escorted downstream from the San Lorenzo Park, because they couldn’t fly yet. Both groups mingled together, then assembled into an orderly V formation, younger ones tucked in the middle, and swam to a spot, where they all could line up and mow the grass.

CANADA GEESE forming greeting line…

It’s always excruciating hard for me to look at the Front St. proposed development along the river and hear that this immense 75’-85’ high project is looming over our City future. It’s triggers severe wiggles of all my river protective antennas, because the buildings will change the river visuals. The fauna and flora habitats will be impacted by the building mass. Extensive time, money and planning went into the project and I bemoan that environmental protection planning ranked low in that process. Russell Brutsche’s new, great-as-always painting gives you a vivid taste of our future. Be sure to check out his art work that will make you smile and cry.
www.russellbrutsche.com

Russell Brutsche: art of a “developed” car-centric downtown

Lately the RED-shoulder HAWK call has become a familiar river back drop. Usually I hear this vociferation in the late winter, early spring, when HAWKS stake out their breeding territory and advertise for a mate. So I couldn’t figure out why that call was echoing now across the river. It wasn’t our river RED-shoulder HAWK, because our beauty would be people watching at the river as the sound would reach us from a safe distance. One day the call visited my neighborhood, a few streets away from the river. Then last week I was standing with a birding friend outside my house, when we heard that call. Both of our heads turned to the sky, scanning for the RED-shoulder HAWK. My friend calmly announced: “ Oh..there it is!” “Where?” “Right behind your house on the pole”. And sure enough there was a juvenile RED-shoulder HAWK, looking straight at us. The mystery of the unabating calling was solved: it’s the young raptor begging for food. In my excitement of finding out that we have this teenager by the river, I squeezed my friend’s arm, apologizing instantly. We both stared at it until it got tired of that and flew off. I love to know if our river RED-shoulder HAWK is the parent.
Sending you all sunny river greetings and inviting you to join us this Sat.,the 20th from 9am-11am for the Estuary Project. Click here for more details:
jane

juvenile RED-Shouldered HAWK-image from All About Birds

migratory shift is here?

Dear Nature Compadres,

2 migratory CANADA GEESE enjoying the river point…

Well, here we are! Waltzing through the rest of the summer without our Barbara, who is taking a posting sabbatical. We’ll dearly miss her river stories, insights & information tidbits. Upon her return, she’ll will delight us with her posts again. In the meantime my bi-monthly river observations will float your way.

female COMMON GOLDENEYE is here?

I was watching three shapes moseying along the tule edge. I had no problem identifying 2 of the trio as a MALLARD couple, but the third one had different shape and movement. When I tried to get better view of it through my monocular, I couldn’t find it: the rascal had disappeared! Assuming that it must be hiding in the tule, I kept scanning the vegetation. Finally I decided to write the bird off as a mystery appearance, walked on and found myself starring at a migratory COMMON GOLDENEYE, preening herself on a log. Her sight surprised me, because this duck diver was out of sync with her river timing. She is supposed to arrive in the fall and leave in the spring. True, 3 summers ago we had an injured female COMMON GOLDENEYE, who spent the summer with us. I figured that she had been well enough to migrate up north with the others since I hadn’t seen her in a year. It’s so frustrating to not be inter-species lingual! I wanted to ask her, if she was our river COMMON GOLDENEYE or a very early fall arrival. And if she was our river Mam’selle, where had she been hanging out?

RED-throated LOON makes CROW nervous…

I was walking towards the migratory RED-throated LOON, who was dragging itself ashore while keeping a watchful eye on me. I stopped to let it find its comfy spot, because the migratory bird was ready for its usual early morning siesta on the sand. The foraging CROW didn’t appreciate being so close to a long, pointed beak and flew off. I was honored to be regarded as non threatening, because after settling into the perfect position, the eyelids slowly closed, the body melted into relaxation as the dawning sun spread her magic. The RED-throated LOONS are a common sight during the winter and this spring/summer they have become an unusual regular appearance on our river. And yes, a peaceful joy descended on me as the 2 of us rested in each other presence.

CLIFF SWALLOWS are gathering nest mud now?

When I saw all the SWALLOW activity by Laure St. bridge, I gathered that the fledglings were practicing flying, landing and screeching for the parents to feed them. This is the normal behavior for this time of year. But then I noticed that the flight pattern was really close over a mud patch at the lower bank. Taking a closer look, I was dumbfounded to see that adult CLIFF SWALLOWS were picking up mud and dashing off towards the Riverside Ave. bridge. What were they doing, racing around with nesting material in their beaks? Did somebody forget to tell them that this not the time for nest building, but getting ready for their migratory departure? After-all the bridge ledges and phone wires are occupied with SWALLOW offsprings, preparing for their first long migratory journey.

resting CASPIAN TERNS …

Upriver 2 CASPIAN TERNS were walking around amongst a big group of gulls, dodging the mischievous teenage gulls, when fireworks detonated on the levee, causing the river birds to explode in every direction into the air. They flew off as far and as fast as possible, ending my bird watching morning! I waited a while to see if they come back, but then the silence and the bird empty scenery made me misty and I left, feeling sorry for the birds that have to pay the price for people’s amusement. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the fireworks turn out be all duds, which would a great treat for all critters. Sending you all peaceful Nature wishes, jane

Walk Like a Vegetarian

 

Dear Jane and All Friends of the Wild,

One of the many delightful and unexpected pieces of birding advice I got  this last weekend was to ‘walk like a vegetarian’.  I haven’t tried it yet, but next time I see a bird that I really don’t want to scare away, I will bend down slowly and at least pretend to nibble on a leaf.  Jeff Caplan, who led the delightful workshop on bird language that I attended, says he has tried it and it works, even with groups of people who nibble their way past a bird who decides they aren’t a threat and doesn’t fly away.

This was the second time I had attended this class on bird language, and it just gets better. Not only has Jeff studied for many years with Jon Young, the Native American-trained author of What the Robin Knows, but he is himself a sensitive observer of nature and an engaging teacher of both young and old. He immediately gets people sharing their stories, imitating bird language, acting like birds, coming up with their own theories about what birds are feeling and thinking, and evoking lots of laughs with his sense of humor.   The class isnot only fun, but models the best kind of participatory and discovery approach to teaching.   Amidst all buzz, Jeff managed to teach us  how to identify the five types of bird language, ie. songs, contact calls, begging, alarm and aggression. After the indoors portion of the class, Jeff took us up on the river levee to practice our new skills, and then back to India Joze for a delicious feast, included in the low price of the workshop.   Jeff is recently returned from Ecuador where he teaches bird language to young people who live in the rain forest, a way to help them learn to love and protect their environment.

As a result of Jeff’s class, I am quickly turning into a lazy birder.  Jeff encourages birders to find a sit spot and just sit!  According to Jeff, we are more likely to connect on a gut level with the birds around us if we can sit non-threateningly,  watch and listen attentively, and stay curious.  You are the great exemplar of that, Jane, and the depth of your connection with birds is a striking testimony to this approach to birding.

I strongly encourage anyone who wants to spend a lovely morning with a lovely man to sign up for a workshop. Go to Jeff’s Facebook page and see if there is a local workshop coming up. Click here if you want to see the one academic part of the workshop, a quite technical but fun video on bird language.

Inspired by Jeff, I decided to confine my walk this week to the nearby Chinatown Bridge where I stood in just a few spots for more than an hour.  I broke my camera so my words will have to carry the story today.

The first thing I saw was an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD, mysteriously foraging along the steel railing of the bridge.  I let my curiosity lead me to take a closer look.  What could a hummingbird want along the railing?   Spiderwebs! Nesting materials! When I got home I went back to Paul Erlich’s The Birders’ Handbook (every birder must absolutely own this amazing resource book) and found the following under Anna’s Hummingbird: Nests are “loosely made of plant down, forb leaves, bud scales, flowers, bark strips, bound with spider’s silk, lined with plant down.”   So the little hummer was collecting the sticky spiderwebs to glue the rest of its nest together.” Thanks, Jeff.

Later, on the mowed grassy area at the east end of the bridge I watched with curiosity a very discerning DARK-EYED JUNCO picking up a piece of dry grass, then dropping it, then picking up another. After a good bit of quality control work,  it flew off with with its chosen blade of  nesting material.

I posted both these observations on eBird as breeding information, and sent a copy to Alex Rinkert, the Bird Breeding Atlas leader in our area. He wrote back, confirming my observations and adding that this is probably the second or third brood for both these species. It reminded me that I’d recently seen an Anna’s doing mating displays not far from the bridge. Maybe the mating was successful and now the happy couple  has moved onto nesting.

My happiest moment was seeing my third WOOD DUCK family on the river this season, this time a mama with one little wood duckling, both slipping into view from the safety of the overhanging willows along the bank into a quiet backwater, separated from the force of the main channel by a sandbar. The water along the edge of the sandbar was filled with small brown rocks, providing perfect cover to the little brownish puff of life that was the baby wood duck.

I also saw from the bridge both an adult and a first summer GREEN HERON, A GREAT BLUE HERON and 4 COMMON MERGANSERS. As usual, the Mergansers were swimming along together at a business-like clip, their half-submerged heads and bodies elongated like the fish they chase.    All of a sudden, I saw them all lift up out of the water as if with one mind, practically flying forward while their feet paddled the air, then diving and stirring up a sizable wake behind them.   My guess is that they had spied a large, tasty and now frightened fish and their empty stomachs and early-morning predator instincts were hugely excited. Later I saw them all resting on a sand bank, looking quite satiated!

Click here for the  checklist of the 17 species I saw from my ‘standing spot’  along the Chinatown Bridge.

As for the suggested name change of the bridge, it is still being pondered by the City.  Here’s the story I’ve heard. The last remnants of Santa Cruz Chinatown occupied the piece of land where the old Riverfront Theatre was located. When the area was destroyed in the flood of 1955, it was never rebuilt. George Ow, well-known local businessman and philanthropist, remembers when the garden of his grandmother (with whom he lived in his early years) was located on the current theatre spot.  Then,  just a year ago, in June 2018, Ow sent a letter to the City Council urging that the city officially adopt the name Chinatown Bridge for the footbridge that is across the street from  the theatre and extends to San Lorenzo Park. The idea was provisionally approved by the Council, and has been winding its way for a year through various City Commissions, including the Arts Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Historical Commission before it hopefully returns to the current Council for final approval. I love the new name and hope our City will honor and commemorate the rather tragic history of the Chinese in our community by adopting this name for the bridge and perhaps creating some relevant art.   I plan to continue using it whether or not it gets approved. I especially love it because of my history with China and because it may be a new ‘sit spot’ for me. If you want to read a little bit more, check out this Sentinel article from a couple of weeks ago.

This will be my last blog post for two months. I am hoping to do some personal writing in July and August, as well as visit friends and family out of town. I will be back on September 3rd with my next post.

I hope you all have a good summer with lots of time in gardens and wild habitats. Don’t forget to nibble on a hopefully edible leaf if you want to study a special bird.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

CLIFF SWALLOW musings & critter feet…

Good Morning Barbara and River Lovers,

critter gloved hands…

I was sorting through my mystifying CLIFF SWALLOW observations when I sensed that I was being watched. I looked around expecting to see a human in the vicinity, but there was nobody. Then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye in the bush next to me. Our eyes met and I would be lying if I said it was love at first sight, because this is an old love story that began with setting sight on the WESTERN FENCE LIZARD ‘hands’. Their feet seem to have got hold of some fancy knight gloves and they are refusing to take them off. We stared at each other for a while. It stopped opening and closing its mouth when I proved to be a bad LIZARD conversation partner. Finally the little critter got to watch me walk backwards so I wouldn’t disturb its sun-bathing.

CLIFF SWALLOW nests under Crescent bridge…

And I returned to my CLIFF SWALLOW musings at the Crescent bridge. As I mentioned in a prior post, the CLIFF SWALLOW had been busier then ever building their nest there, but after the rains they disappeared. After 2 days waiting the air was still empty of the zoomers and the time for further investigation had arrived. I was happy to see Alan’s City maintenance truck by the bridge, because I felt safer in his company to take a closer nest look underneath the bridge. The 2 of us walked the length of structure and only saw a few finished nests, which seemed odd considering the prior CLIFF SWALLOW nest building frenzy in that location. There were quite a few broken nests and in some areas only the rim of nests was visible. Alan and I wonder what to think of our findings and I feared that somebody had knocked the nests down. Then it crossed my mind that the nests might have been compromised because of the mud quality that was more sandy this year. I was curious if the CLIFF SWALLOW numbers were going to go up again, which they didn’t. I had seen a few of them fly underneath the bridge and on Sunday I went underneath to check for active nests. There were about 15 to 20 that were smaller than the usual size. In the early morning hour 6 nests had parents flying in and out. Later in the day I might have located more active nests, because their food source, flying insects, would be available. It seems like there is more CLIFF SWALLOW musings on my horizon….

081-eucalyptus-tortoise-beetle-paropsis-sp-rr-713- googled

A few months ago Leslie Keedy, the City’s tree arborist, and I were talking at the Trestle bridge when this cute bug visited us. It wore quaint, yellow footwear and its back featured a intricate pattern. My bug delight was short lived when Leslie identified it as an Australian Tortoise Beetle, who enjoys re-designing the leaf edges of the Trestle Eucalyptus trees. I had forgotten about the ‘cute bug’ until I figured out that I wasn’t celebrating Ladybug larvae on the Trestle railing but facing Australian Tortoise Beetle larvae. Needlessly to say I am not excited to discover who they are.

YIKES! larvae of the Eucalyptus leaf re-designer on the move…

Here are some other river tidbits:
The City biologists were seining on Friday and Monday. It will be interesting to hear about the results.
The MALLARD Mama’s are still showing off their new brood arrivals.

MALLARD MAMA’s pride & joy…

The HOODED ORIOLE keeps bringing the teenage offspring to the river. The parent is getting to the stage of ‘ feed yourself’ as it tries to escape the demanding teenage food pursuit.
The RED-necked LOONS can be found foraging in the water when they are not resting on the shore bank.
A few CASPIAN TERNS fly over the river as they scan for fish, but I don’t see them dive for their meal. Then again the water is shallow and they need more depth for their plunges.
On the other beak the COMMON MERGANSERS are enjoying the shallow water level, because it makes for highly successful foraging. Every time they go down they come up with a fish in their beak.

bad feather day…

The heavy fog drizzle confronted the Red-shouldered Hawk with a bad feather day, which it endured with downcast patience.

 

 

Flycatchers, Finches and Fulminations

Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,

Sometimes I have to defer to some topnotch birders to bring you the hottest bird news from the levee.

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER GOGLE
Ash-throated Flycatcher, Google Image

As I was preparing to write this blog piece, I checked out eBird to see if there were any interesting reports out there. I admit I turned just slightly green with envy when I read Gary Kittleson’s late May posts.  As most of you  probably know, Gary is the professional biologist the City calls on to check out the bird situation when there is a City-planned disturbance to the levee habitat.  I was very surprised to read that he had found an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, as well as 6 PURPLE FINCH fledglings between the Water St. and Laurel St. Bridges.

I went right out this morning to see if I could find any of them.  Happily, I found not only one, but two of the flycatchers –  hopping about very visibly in the huge cottonwood tree just above the Mimi de Marta Park!  I think this is a life bird for me, or at least the first I’ve seen on the river. This summer visitor doesn’t venture much further than the northern part of our state from their wintering grounds in the deserts of western Mexico.  Here’s an interesting fact that I learned about this desert-dwelling species. Like the kangaroo rat and a few other animals that live in dry conditions, Ash-throated Flycatchers  don’t need to drink any water at all, meeting all their water needs from the insects and spiders that they consume – a kind of flying cactus!  I guess that is one reason that they feel at home in our summer drought conditions.

PURPLE FINCHES are also a species that have eluded me over the years.  I’m sure I have unknowingly seen these year-round residents on the river and even in my backyard, especially in the winter.

PURPLE FINCHES
Fledgling Purple Finches, Google image

But I still haven’t learned to positively distinguish them from the much more common and similar looking House Finch.  During breeding season they tend to hang out in forests and woods beyond the urban and suburban areas.  During the winter they are more likely to venture downtown, especially if we put out seeds. But I admit I have never been sure of an identification and so don’t have them on my list of river birds.

Gary also reported on lots more evidence of breeding – recently-fledged BUSHTITS,  HOUSE FINCHES and BLACK PHOEBES – as well as a LESSER GOLDFINCH carrying nesting material as well as singing male YELLOW WARBLERS and SONG SPARROWS – a possible indicator of courtship behavior.

Thanks to Gary for all the bird information.  Click here to see Gary’s full list for May 22.

The breeding birds that you can’t miss these days are the highly visible CANADA GEESE.  There is a tribe of three families (made up of 16 birds) that hang together wherever they go – with 5, 3 and 2 goslings respectively, 16 birds in all.   One day last week  I saw all sixteen of them swimming together on the river, then the next day all sixteen snoozing beside the Duck Pond, and then later  the same group of sixteen grazing together on the grassy knoll next to the pond. All of us goose watchers dotingly share notes on these remarkably family-centered birds.  Their social cohesion seems to pay off in reproductive success as they appear to be expanding southwards into Santa Cruz.  We may not be so doting in the future.  They have covered the grassy areas and sidewalks with astonishingly large droppings.

3 families, 16 birds
The tribe of sixteen Canada Geese (three pairs of adults and 10 juveniles)  swimming near the Chinatown Bridge, San Lorenzo Park, June 5, 2019, Photo by Barbara Riverwoman
Geese in Duck pond
The same tribe of sixteen Canada Geese resting and drinking at the Duck Pond, San Lorenzo Park, June 6, 2019, Photo by Barbara Riverwoman
Geese on Knoll
The tribe of sixteen Canada Geese foraging on the knoll  near the Duck pond,, San Lorenzo Park, June 6, 2019, Photo by Barbara Riverwoman

Rumors have circulated for some time now about the Duck Pond’s future being in danger of elimination.  The Duck Pond attracts a surprising number of waterfowl besides the ever present MALLARDS, including  GREEN HERON, COMMON MERGANSERS,  COOTS, EGRETS, and even an occasional RING-NECKED DUCK.  And the endangered WESTERN POND TURTLE has been spotted in this sweet oasis.   It is also beloved by many people who love the beauty and calm of that little spot.  So when I looked at the consent agenda for today’s City Council meeting, I got worried all over again.  The Department of Parks and Recreation is asking for the go-ahead from the City to apply for newly available money from the state whose purpose is “to create new parks, and rehabilitate and expand recreational opportunities” in “critically underserved communities.”  It sounds good!  But when you read a description of the specific project the City wants funded, it requires a second critical look.  The City’s proposal is the   “rehabilitation of aging infrastructure on the Santa Cruz Riverwalk and upgrades to certain recreational areas and parklands with access to the Riverwalk.”  The application is not only being submitted by Parks and Recreation but also by Economic Development, the Department that is focused on downtown development. I’m planning to ask for more specific information at the City Council meeting this afternoon.  Stay tuned.

In the category of a small step forward for birdlife on the river, I saw a crew on Soquel Bridge removing the long string of wavy blue lights put up for the Ebb and Flow Festival last year.  I was told by one of the guys that the City did not renew its contract for the coming year.  So down came the lights after this weekend’s festival.   Jane and I both expressed concern to the City’s Economic Development Department last year about the effect of the lights on wildlife.  Maybe somebody was listening.

And in the category of activities that disturb both humans and wildlife on the river, there has been an ongoing racket behind the Bank of America where the Army Corps of Engineers has been carrying out some major reconstruction on the levee.  The word from an engineer at the site is that  the wrong kind of dirt was originally used at the site, a dirt that turns to mud if it gets wet, threatening the stability of the levee in the event of a flood.  The bad dirt is all being removed and replaced with “engineered soil”, soil that has finely ground up rock in it.  Unfortunately the engineers decided that three trees had to be removed to make this possible.

Hope you are all getting out to see some wildlife on these summer days.  It may not be the best time of year for birding, but it sure is nice to stroll along the river in  warm weather.