Of Bushtits and Blankets

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers,

As I fall back on my yearly strategies to stay warm during these cold days – pea soup, more blankets, fleecy slippers –  I am once again sobered by the  determination of the small songbirds who have to work so much harder than me to keep warm.

Pretty bushtit
Bushtit, San Lorenzo River, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I learned recently that one of the reasons that tiny Bushtits like the one  pictured here are almost always seen in flocks of 6 to 30 is because they also roost together at night, huddled in tight masses to prevent heat loss.  Judging from this photo, they are also very good at fluffing up their feathers to make a neat little down jacket for themselves when they aren’t huddling.

And please take a look at these pleasingly plump birds, a CALIFORNIA TOWHEE and ROCK DOVE (Feral Pigeon) with their inflatable down jackets –a better evolutionary strategy, it seems, than depending on Patagonia or, in my case, Good Will.

Puffed up Cal towhee
California Towhee, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Puffed up pigeon
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

House Finch glelaning in Curly Willow
House Finch, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Of course, the most important heat protection strategy of a bird is finding enough food on which to survive. Here’s a HOUSE FINCH I saw this week exploring the vegan riches along a beautiful branch of curly willow.  House finches eat almost no high-protein insects, but seem to do well on their plant-based diet. Of course, I like to hear this.

I shiver when I see songbirds taking baths in this cold weather. When I saw this GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW and House Finch staring at each other so seriously  from the roof of a home near the River, I thought they might be exchanging their

Golden-crowned and House Finch discuss bath house
Golden-crowned Sparrow and House Finch, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

unique insights on how to stay warm.  Or maybe they are conversing about how titillating it is to take a cold bath on a cold day!

Click here to see my last eBird posting of the 24 species I saw in little more than an hour on the river just two days ago.

 

There is so much bad news on the environmental front that I was very happy to receive an article forwarded to me by Patricia Matejcek titled ‘Terrific Win for California Birds”.

Audubons's Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s), San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It was about California’s  strong message to the federal government stating  its intent to continue protecting migratory birds in spite of federal legislation that would roll back the longtime legal protections of the Migratory Bird Act. As I spotted this YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER as well as the migrant RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS that are now  now flitting everywhere in the trees along the urban stretch of the river, I wanted to let them know that California is on their side in spite of Trump.

Last week I Levee certification Projectsaw the first concrete signs of the enormous flood control project that is slowly ratcheting up, possibly leading to what I now call the ‘dreaded dredging’ project. Employees of the engineering contractor MBK were out with their surveying instruments, recording and measuring everything from the placement of lampposts to topographical details of the levee.  If their results show that the levee will not provide protection against a 100- year flood, then the City is in trouble – flood-wise, financially, and environmentally.  Let’s hope these guys can find the evidence to convince FEMA that we are ready for the big flood.   Or – I’ll say it again – maybe we should just start packing our bags in readiness to leave the flood plain to the floods, and to all the habitat and wildlife that this departure of ours would support.

And coming full circle back to where this blog began four years ago – i.e. resisting recreational boating on the river – I chatted with these two Water Department employees as they were out measuring water quality.

Testing Water Qualityu
Water Department employees testing water quality, December 90, 2018

They were paddling along slowly but still managed to startle and flush out a GREAT BLUE HERON who screeched raucously and non-stop as she indignantly flew up river, finally finding respite at the top of a big pine tree.  Yes, even a single boat on the river for very good purposes, can dramatically disturb the avian wildlife of the river, even the usually unflappable Great Blue!

 

FGBH in retreat from Water Department canoe
Great Blue Heron retreating from boat, San Lorenzo River between Water and Soquel, December 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I hope some of you get to the Council Chambers tonight when our new Council is officially seated. Just imagine!  The top vote getter in the election was Justin Cummings, who has a PHD in eolutionary biology!   Am I dreaming?

Muir quote of the week:

“ After witnessing the bad effect of homelessness, developed to so destructive an extent in Califonia, it would assure every lover of their race to see the hearty home-building going on here and the blessed contentment that naturally follows it.”

John Muir (1838-1914)

This encampment just behind Ross Stores near the Felker St. Bridge is not exactly what John Muir had in mind, I know.   campsiteBut I can’t help but think that the closeness to the river and a few trees, plus the independence, provide at least some healing to those who, like the birds,  have to work harder than most of us to stay warm  during this chilly time of year.   The City provides porta-potties and trash pick-up and otherwise leaves the campers alone.

Stay warm, stay active, stay faithful to our feathered and non-feathered friends.  Happy Holidays to all.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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working for the river future…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Kindred Spirits,

OSPREY in Trestle tree…

For the last two weeks it has been hard to get to the river and I dearly miss my river schmooze time. It’s actually curious how being so involved with the river has curtailed my meandering river sleuthing time. Then again I am really excited about all the activities that prevent my walks, because I am so convinced that they’ll benefit the river and the environment in the long run. This one project of many is really exhilarating: Donna Meyers, one of our new City Council members, and I talked about creating a Downtown Street Team(DST) Natural Resource Stewardship Pilot Program. We envisioned empowering the homeless community members with basic restoration skills to find jobs in the public and private sectors. So we drew up a plan, got the DST Director Greg Pensinger on board as well as the Park & Rec. Department and the City Manger Office.

Downtown Street Team members, Donna Meyers and Susie O’Hara taking part in the Pilot Program

Last week we had our first 2 days, which turned out amazing. The DST members asked really good questions and absorbed the material quickly. On the 2nd day they were able to identify various native plants, lay out a basic restoration work plan and embrace the restoration motto: bless the mess. One participant commented that restoration work required that she let go of her ‘tidy landscape is good’ approach. Donna & I envision that the DST members will be integrated into the river levee plant maintenance and that their skills/approach will benefit the vegetation and consequently the bird and wildlife habitats. For that future I gladly give up my beloved river walks plus it was a lot of fun to work with Donna for our deep mutual love: the environment and the river. Also it has been a truly great pleasure to co-work with all involved so smoothly and be so supported by the City Staff.

one of the reasons for saving the Trestle trees…

The other day I was trying to see if the BURROWING OWL had returned to the Seabright Beach cliff. I looked up at the Trestle bridge trees and was thrilled to see the OSPREY sitting on her branch. Her sight always gives me a sense of peace, because she signals that the river is feeding her and that all is well in her food cupboard. I wonder how she’ll react to the upcoming Trestle bridge construction, which will widen the path. As you can imagine I have been fiercely objecting to any Eucalyptus trees removal, whining continuously to Public Works that the trees HAVE TO BE PROTECTED for the various raptors, PEREGRINE FALCON, OSPREY, CORMORANTS, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS and GREAT BLUE HERONS. The start of the construction has been delayed for a month and is supposed to begin on Dec. 6th.
This will bring disruption to all of us, who frequent the river. Keep your fingers crossed that the construction goes as planned, avoiding time over-runs.

GREAT-BLUE HERON perched in the Trestle trees…

Last not least: are you a Sierra Club member? In that case I want to give you heads-up: in the beginning of December you’ll receive ballot mailer for the election of new Santa Cruz Executive Committee members. So take a look, mark your choices and send it off in time.
And to be perfectly honest: I love to get your vote… and so would Gillian Greensite, who has a long, dedicated environmental history.

Now I am off to the 3rd day of the Pilot Program and send you bright river future greetings, jane

you guessed right: PEREGRINE FALCON in Trestle tree…

Holiday on the River

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers,

The river was celebrating yesterday.  Filled with the rain offerings from hundreds of small tributaries in the San Lorenzo River watershed, blessed by a perfectly sunny day, and clearly filled with a plenitude of fish, it was the kind of birding day that we all  dream of.  A glorious array of feathered creatures came to the party.

A newly arrived and delicately sculptured EARED GREBE, with her bulging petticoat in full display, came floating along as if slightly bewildered at this annual  change of venue.  “Where am I,” she seemed to be asking.  “And where is my flock?”

P1100448
Eared Grebe, San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

She was accompanied slightly further downstream by three other migrating waterfowl species, including two sleeping RUDDY DUCKS, with their beaks buried deeply in their feathers and their eyes  opening only occasionally to make sure everything was safe.

 

ruddy duck, female
Sleeping Ruddy Duck, San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Walking south just a bit further I finally got to see what I haven’t seen yet this season, the most elegant of all migrants, the handsome black and white male BUFFLEHEADS that you have been reporting now for some time, Jane.  I’m always surprised at how early they don their breeding plumage – sometime in October.  And how beautiful this plumage is!   Seen in the right light, their headdresses give off a shimmering display of iridescent colors.  Quite an evolutionary accomplishment!  They spend so little time between their underwater diving forays that I simply was not fast enough to capture a photo. Their regular migratory sidekicks, the golden-eyed and velvety brown-headed  COMMON GOLDENEYES were diving not far away and almost as hard to catch above water.

fishing escape
What I usually catch, at best, when I try to photograph a Pied-billed Grebe, a Bufflehead, or a Common Goldeneye

In the migrating songbird category, a few flashes of bright yellow brought me my first sight of the returning LESSER GOLDFINCHES while a large flock of migrant WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS foraged industriously on the ground among the grasses, hopefully enjoying what Santa Cruz has to offer in the way of a winter diet.

Year-round residents were also out in force.  I had barely stepped onto the levee walk, when I spied three shining  COMMON MERGANSERS,  sailing swiftly and purposefully upstream, searching for the surface dwelling fish.

Merganswers, Out Swimming
One male and two female Common Mergansers, San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

Nearby 4 DOUBLED-CRESTED CORMORANTS  and 2 PELAGIC CORMORANTS were busily diving  for their choice of fishy treats from the deeper reaches of the river.

pelagic  cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant with dark black feathers gleaming in the sun. San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

Like the Ruddy Ducks, a GREAT BLUE HERON also appeared to be feeling sleepy, perhaps after fishing all night long.  She was tucked weirdly into a fork between two sycamore branches, and like the duck, only opened one eye occasionally to take a peek before settling back into turpitude.

GBH resting
Great Blue Heron wedged into a sycamore tree. San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

I almost missed seeing this nattily outfitted KILLDEER, so small and well camouflaged picking its way carefully between the river and the rocky shore.

killdeer
Killdeer, San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Unlike me, she seem not at all excited when, in quick succession,   two loudly expostulating BELTED KINGFISHERS competed with a cackling GREEN HERON for the honor of noisiest fly-bys on the river.

 

I also got very distracted by my odd little friends, the AMERICAN COOTS.  I watched with amusement as one busy Coot plucked experimentally at a floating piece of vegetation that she had discovered, only to be visited by a perhaps curious or covetous cousin.  They seemed to discuss the situation, then the cousin left and the original Coot gave what I imagined was a big happy splash to think that she had her treat all to herself again.

 

 

6. Splash, it's mine!
Social coot in solitary enterprise. San Lorenzo River, November 26, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was especially happy to count 8 PIED-BILLED GREBES, more than I have ever counted on one day.  Needless to say, they were all fishing quite separately, definitely not a flocking type.  And my wish came true when I found an OSPREY holding court from the top branches of that tall sycamore at your end of the river, Jane, her regular  throne, I believe.

In all I spotted 26 species in my two-hour walk. Click here for the list. What an avian feast.  And unlike my earlier Thanksgiving feast (sans turkey) it didn’t make me fat!  Just very happy!

And speaking of Thanksgiving, I am filled with gratitude that Santa Cruz has chosen Justin Cummings, a person with deep environmental values, as one of the three new city councilperson.  The second top vote-getter, Donna Meyers, also has an impressive record over the years of serving in various  capacities related to the protection of the environment, but  I worry that she may not be able to withstand the powerful pressures of the real estate and development forces in town.  Drew Glover and Greg Larson are now third and fourth for the three available seats, separated by only twenty votes as I write this.  A real nail biter!  Drew will be strong on the environment as well as most social justice issues I care about, and I am rooting for him.  One oddity of the campaign, overlooked by most, is that David Yarnold, the  CEO and president of   the National Audubon Society, was on the long list of endorsers for Greg Larson.  What, I wonder, is that connection?  If Larson is elected, I hope to ask him about that!

I attended an absolutely wonderful Bird Club event two weeks ago that had me sitting on the edge of my seat during the whole brilliant presentation.

GCSP dominatn
Dominant Golden-crowned Sparrow (Google image)

The speaker was Theodora Block, a member of a research team at the UCSC Arboretum who has been studying the behaviors of GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS for the last six years.  She is continuing the work of the lead researcher Bruce Lyons, who has been studying this species for 20 years!  What a wealth of information.

The focus of her talk was how the size and intensity of gold color on the head of this migratory species is a signal of each bird’s place in a dominance hierarchy. A bird with the brightest and largest patch of gold places him or her at the top of the hierarchy.   Just below the top bird in terms of status is the the bird with the strongest side patches of black, a bird who is still not fully established in the chain of command and thus is still quite aggressive.

GCSP lower
Less dominant Golden-crowned Sparrow (Google image)

Below these two top birds are variations of black and gold, fading away to only the slightest wash of pale yellow and dull mottled grey/black coloring for the bird at the bottom of the dominance chain.

As I think I’ve mentioned, the range of the Golden-crowned sparrows is pretty much limited to western Washington, Oregon and California.  I wonder if this species is being studied anywhere else in such depth. They fill my backyard every winter, so I am now busily trying to see if I can detect any signs that my sparrows are following the dominance rules!  Flocks tend to return to the same spot year after year, so I am very unlikely to see one of the tagged Arboretum birds in my back yard, and an now assuming that many of my backyard birds are my friends from past years.

 

I opened my John Muir book in search of a good quote for this week and, in perfect synchronicity, the book fell open to this quote on gold-seeking! I think John Muir would sympathize strongly with Theodora Block’s version of gold seeking.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself;  and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air.  It will help you in your efforts to bring to these people something better than gold.” John Muir

May we all find a way to build a world more deeply centered in Nature and distant from the  accumulation of external wealth.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

steelhead,snakes, migratory arrivals….

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow River Lovers,

Santa Cruz Biologist getting ready to count San Lorenzo River fish

The steelhead fishing season is coming up, which always triggers my river fish population curiosity. So I did some sleuthing and heard this from Chris Berry, Watershed Compliance Manager: Nic Retford, one of his Staff members, recorded the recapture of a fish, who was tagged in June 2017 at 90mm in the lagoon by Jeff Hagar and was recaptured in between Hwy 1 and Water Street by Don Alley at 363mm in September 2018. This is pretty exciting because it indicates that this fish returned to spawn upstream. The final 2018 fish report will be out in June 2019 and I suspect that it will show lower steelhead numbers than last year according to my various fish conversations. The main topic amongst fish protectors is the proposed year-round water diversion by the City of Santa Cruz Water District. I promise to tell you more about this topic the next time.
What a snake coincidence! We both had scaly encounters within 2 weeks. It was thrilling to read about Bayta’s rare San Francisco Garter Snake find, which supports my suspicion: we actually have no idea how much wildlife the San Lorenzo River harbors. My encounter was with a Gopher snake thanks to my neighbor, who stopped her levee walk to ask about the new bird influx and of course I eagerly shared my ‘who is who’ knowledge. As we talked I kept having this eerie feeling of being watched, but I didn’t see any people or land birds in the shrubs.

Gopher Snake(googled)

Because Nature has been teaching me patiently that her dimensions extend beyond the eye level, I scanned every direction and looking down I found my ‘feeling watched’ culprit: a young Gopher snake with its body still half hidden in a ground squirrel tunnel, had its head slightly tilted in my direction and was starring straight in my eyes. Ever protective me instantly stepped between the neighbor’s dog and the snake and was surprised that dog hadn’t triggered a snake dash off reaction. Yes! the rumor is true: I dream of a river grant for an extensive fauna and flora study to gain some baseline data.

EARED GREBE among friendly AMERICAN COOTS…

I bet you would have been quite surprised to see one of your beloved PIED-billed GREBES chase after one of your migratory favorites, the EARED GREBE.
This lone cousin was foraging peacefully at the Riverside Ave. bridge when the PIED-billed GREBE appeared out of nowhere and attacked the relative. The EARED GREBE cleared the space with loud protesting sounds and nestled in with a small flock of amiable AMERICAN COOTS. The PIED-billed GREBE kept watching the group and when the EARED GREBE started to leave the safe assembly, the feisty locale readied for an other attack. The EARED GREBE dashed back to the migrant friendly AMERICAN COOTS. This was the first time that I have seen one of the usually docile PIED-billed GREBES act so hostile towards an other species.

COMMON GOLDENEYES are back in full force…

There are still 5 perky tailed RUDDY DUCKS sleeping the day away by the Riverside Ave. bridge. The COMMON GOLDENEYE are back in full force. On Sunday 30 COMMON GOLDENEYES were spread out between the river mouth and Riverside Ave. The BUFFLEHEAD are not as well represented as of yet and I hope there will be more coming in. Up to 40 PELICANS have adopted the river shore in the last week. The river mouth is open and the seals are trolling the river. I think they are goosing the CORMORANTS under water, because they pop out of the water like black rockets as the slick ocean swimmer slinks by.

frolicking PELICANS at the river shore…

Wishing all of you a pleasant Thanksgiving and the San Lorenzo River critters invite you to take an enjoyable levee walk, jane

Becalmed

Dear Jane and Santa Cruz nature lovers,

Thanks, Jane, for your ‘breaking’ (and concerning) inside story of the most recent breach of the sand bar.  Good to have your bright eyes, and the bright eyes of your friends, on the river!

I took my first leisurely walk along the River for the first time in many weeks, soaking in the peacefulness of the slow-moving river, and falling into a very dreamy state myself. The sand bar must be back in place since the river is still very high up on my end.  As I walked along, I could feel my body relax into almost perfect resonance with the smooth, gray silence of this becalmed river.  It seemed a perfect emblem of my newly found protection from the roiling waters of the election season.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, San Lorenzo River, November 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

As always, I marveled at the self-control and patience of a GREAT BLUE HERON, standing motionless and utterly concentrated, waiting for the moment to strike.  I wish I could have mustered this kind of contained power during the last few months.

As I ambled south on the River, wondering where all the MALLARDS had gone, I reached the Duck Pond and almost stumbled back as a huge flock of these highly sociable creatures came flapping and honking right in front of me, lowering their landing gear to create a huge splash in a small pond.  They quickly settled into a calmer state, just like me.

Mallard
Mallard in Duck Pond, November 12, 2018

I had wondered whether I would see any difference in bird life because of the terrible fires up north. I saw nothing that might be suspicious. The familiar birds were all there.  I did a Google search and found an interesting article on the Audubon Society website about the effect of wildfires on birds.  Not so surprising, birds are also susceptible to lung damage from smoke inhalation or polluted air as well as exhaustion while trying to escape. But they clearly are not as vulnerable as humans – with all our physical encumbrances and our major flaw,  the inability to fly away.   Indeed, many new feeding possibilities open up for some birds after a fire.   Click here  if you are interested in reading more.

Which brings me to the possible discovery of a protected snake species next door to my house.    I found my friend and neighbor, Batya, anxiously protecting a small snake from two troublesome cats, and waiting for another neighbor to bring a container.

Unknown
San Francisco Garter Snake, federally endangered, google image

After scooping the terrified and frozen snake into a can and hurriedly returning it to the levee, she consulted a reptile field guide and realized belatedly that the patterning was much closer to the federally endangered San Francisco Garter Snake than the more common Red-sided Garter Snake she had imagined before releasing it.  We ran out to the levee to try to get a photo, but it had moved on.  So no photo documentation of what could have been a big find. But here is the Google image in case you are looking for snakes as you walk the River.  I almost never see snakes except after a major disturbance like the vegetation removal each year.  The San Francisco Garter Snake’s normal habitat is limited almost entirely to San Mateo County so it would be very unusual to find it in Santa Cruz.

It’s sad to walk through San Lorenzo Park these days.  Chain link fences surround almost all the green areas where Santa Cruzans, including the homeless, used to find temporary respite.

Fence
New fencing just south of the Chinatown Bridge, river on the right, November 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The erection of the fences happened simultaneously with the closing of the Homeless River Street Camp on October 30th, turning 50 campers back onto the City streets with nowhere to go. It was especially maddening to have the City tell us that the fences were coincidental, and that they are simply there to allow for routine maintenance.  I scratch my head when I read the words ‘focused maintenance’ on the signs!  What, pray tell, is that.  C’mon folks! Let’s at least call a spade a spade. I have lived in Santa Cruz for 39 years and never seen so much fencing.

Sign
“Focused Maintenance, Public Safety” sign on the Benchlands.  So different from last year when the homeless were offered secure campsites in this spot with portapotties and sinks.  

I did manage to smile when I saw the controversial pump track, the Rotary Club’s solution to homeless camping, itself surrounded by the chain fence.  Ironic, isn’t it?

pump track
Pump Track entrapped by chain link fence

If anyone wants the City to find a better way to address the homeless situation than pump tracks or chain link fences, you can join a protest at the Santa Cruz City Post Office at 4 pm this Thursday, November 15.   Bring tents, sleeping bags, blankets and tarps if you want to spend the night in solidarity with the homeless.

Later on Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m., there will be a wonderful opportunity to hear a specialist talk about her research on the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, a common  winter bird here in Santa Cruz but one that exists only on the west coast.  Theodora Block,a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz who is studying how individual behavior impacts the social structure of these sparrows, will be the speaker at the monthly Bird Club Meeting at the Museum of Natural History. For more information go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website.  I’m including a link, click here,  to an article written this last summer by the same team of researchers studying dominance patterns among Golden-crowned Sparrows.

And here is my eBird report from two days ago.  Click here

Muir Quote of the Week: “The forests, too, seem kindly familiar, and the lakes and meadow and glad singing streams.  I should like to dwell with them forever.  Here with bread and water I should be content.”

It’s so good to have a river in one’s life.

Barbara

 

putting on the ‘observation cap’…

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow Nature Adorers,

The other morning I returned to the Fox Park trees, because the day before the trees had been humming with bird rustles and chirps but it was overcast & gloomy. This condition is hideous for me, because everything turns gray and flat. For the world of me, I can’t tell if I am looking at a leaf or a bird unless the bird sits right in front of me. My return was greeted by a sunny bird poor scenery. I decided to leave the bird barren Fox Park and head upstream. There were a few migratory LESSER GOLDFINCHES harvesting the tule seeds and the ground feeding WHITE- and GOLDEN-crowned SPARROWS were out-doing themselves with their hilarious soil-scratch dance, hopping around on their pink translucent legs.

dozing RUDDY DUCKS…

I caught sight of a group of sleeping birds on the river with their heads partially hidden underneath their wings. Their perky tails gave them instantly away as RUDDY DUCKS. They are one of our many winter guest species: a small, diving DUCK, who feeds at night and sleep-floats during the day. They come from the inland of Canada and some prefer to winter in Mexico. The sleepy drifters kept their heads tucked in, but would open one eye, look at me, close their eye again and return to Morpheus arms. The nosey AMERICAN COOTS just had to satisfy their curiosity and swam right into the middle of the clustered newcomers. The RUDDY DUCKS raised their heads, stared intently at the white beaked intruders, who realized they were not welcome and quickly rowed away. Then I focused on the trees, but they weren’t hosting any birds. Later on I told my birding friend about this experience and he said that his fall walks are filled with bird feast or famine presence. Have you encountered that same ‘Where are they?” sensation?

thinning berm…

My long time friend visited me and I schlepped her to the river outlook on Thursday, because I wanted to check on the old river mouth where the day before a bulldozer had moved sand to the side. We saw a real narrow berm that begged to be breached. And indeed: when we returned on Friday the river was drained. Together we stared at the changed scenery, the HEERMANN’S gulls and wondered what had happened.

HEERMANN”S gulls..

A few days later I found out what had happened from a river compadres: Friday morning the berm was a sliver and a group of people discussed how easy it would be to breach it. A surfer couldn’t take the temptation any longer, went down to the river mouth, dug a channel with his hands through the thin berm, the water couldn’t resist the offer to flow and thus the river was drained…Now this part stunned me: supposedly a City employee left when the surfer started digging, because he couldn’t watch it and nobody reported the illegal, broad daylight breaching.

old river mouth opened up…

Last week was just stuffed with campaign buzz and frenzy as you well know. I admire your élan, vim and vigor that you apply to the causes and candidates, dear and important to your heart and soul. In our current political situation voting is a necessity to save our moral sanity, the environment and a balanced future. Thank haven I can go to the river and visit that old time friend, who gifts me zany surprises and links me back into the present moment. I slip off the ‘worrying coat, slip on the ‘observation cap’ and smile once again at the Bufflehead’s quirky landing.
And now I am off to VOTE! and wishing birds could VOTE too… jane

who would the birds vote for?

Soras: Heard But Not Seen

Hi Jane and Birding Aficionados,

One week left to the election and I am still donning my canvassing hat more often than my birding hat. Hopefully my next blog will be based on some serious birding.

I can only report that I read with a twinge of jealousy Shantanu Phukan’s eBird report this week about once again hearing (but not seeing) a SORA,  the sound emerging from among the tules down by the  Laurel Street Bridge.  I bustled down there this morning at about the same hour that Shantanu heard this elusive creature – but no luck.

google hi res
Sora, photo by Google

So here I am again – borrowing from Google a photo of this shy and solitary member of the rail family, so different than it’s gregarious and social cousin, the common American Coot who is also reappearing in large numbers on the River these days.  Here’s a photo that I took of a Sora in 2015, in its most typical, hidden-from-view, spot.

Sora hiding
Sora., San Lorenzo River, north of Laurel Bridge, 2015, photo by B. Riverwoman

Soras breed as far north as the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada, then fly back along the California Coast about this time of year on their way to Mexico and points south.  The Central Coast of California is the only spot in the entire U.S. where Soras are reported to also dwell year-round.  I wonder if Shantanu’s Sora is a migrant or a regular.  I suspect the former since she is being reported during the fall migratory season and is rarely seen at other times.

Here, for comparison,  are the Sora’s cousins, the highly visible and gregarious  AMERICAN COOTS .

American coots
Flock of American Coots, San Lorenzo River, 2015, photo by B. Riverwoman

Also in the heard but not seen category was a  GREAT-HORNED OWL heard from the direction of the River last Friday night as I was sitting around a campfire here at El Rio..  So good to know they are out there.

owl
Great Horned Owl, Google image, 

And shortly afterwards we heard the almost nightly cries of coyotes coyotewho are rumored to be parading down the riverwalk and even wandering into the mobile home park.  My friend Batya says she often hears the coyotes responding to the sirens of the ambulances at night.    I love it when nature begins to encroach on civilization.

 

Quote of the Week:

“Contemplating the lace-like fabric of streams outspread over the mountains, we are reminded that everything is flowing, going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Rocks flow from volcanoes like water from springs, while the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood globules in Nature’s warm heart.”  John Muir

May we  vote for those people and measures that we judge best suited to nourish the flow of life on our amazing planet.

Barbara