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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
The heavy fog drizzle confronted the Red-shouldered Hawk with a bad feather day, which it endured with downcast patience.
Sometimes I have to defer to some topnotch birders to bring you the hottest bird news from the levee.
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.
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.
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.
I greet all of you with some good news for the San Lorenzo River birds: The City of Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Department hired a qualified Biologist for their 6 weeks annual mowing time to survey the San Lorenzo River levee for nesting birds. Without a doubt this is a most welcome approach, because no mowing will take place around active nests that can be located on the ground, in crevices, low bushes and dead trees depending on the bird species. The Park & Rec. staff’s willingness to adjust to that mowing strategy is a win-win solution for the Feb. 1st to August 15 bird nesting season and the necessary maintenance work. The Park & Rec. staff is showing commendable stewardship with this much celebrated bird-friendly practice. It will be exciting to see the areas that will be mowed later, because currently they are safely sheltering nesting bird parents.
And yes! this announcement was submitted to the Sentinel, which I hope gets published, so that the good news spreads out.
I figured out where the KILLDEER have taken up residence. They are nesting over at the Seabright Beach in restored dune area. Over time I have noticed a steady bird population increase at this site. So when Jeb Bishop, the extraordinaire project lead, told me that his volunteer group had sighted a KILLDEER and an egg in the dunes, it was an excellent excuse to take a walk with him! It’s always a pleasure to get a chance to have him introduce me to his natives plant friends, who are happily thriving under his group’s care. As we walked towards the river mouth, I spotted a KILLDEER, who tried to lure us away from the nest to which she returned quickly. Then we saw an other adult, which thrilled us. As we walked on we sighted an other KILLDEER hunkered down, causing us to celebrate with whispered hoots. We went into overjoy when a KILLDEER chick walked out of the dune grass towards its Mama, who got up to release an other chick. It surprised us to see 2 KILLDEER couples breeding in such close vicinity plus that they made it safely through the busy Memorial Day week end. Obviously Jeb’s hard work is offering native plants and birds a welcoming home.
Our restoration projects are not that far apart and yet they greatly differ from each other. The main contrast is that the river jurisdiction is shared by an amazing amount of Federal, State, County and City agencies, who have specific guidelines. One of them is the 1999 San Lorenzo River Levee Project Plan, which specifies what native plants can be planted where. Also our soils are world’s apart: his is sandy, the Estuary Project has mostly clay soil with patches of dumped soil, testifying of the long ago levee construction. This soil condition makes it challenging to find just the right plant for each spot, which has taught me to navigate between high hopes, realistic expectations and celebrating each native plant’s survival. Understandably I am mushy proud of what my volunteer group has achieved. I just have to give you to this link, because Christine and Elana from the County Volunteer Centerdid a wonderful job highlighting the positive aspects of the San Lorenzo River.
Ahh~ja~the ground squirrels, the mighty bane of the U.S. Army Corps of (levee)Engineers…According to my river observation there is a correlation between increased ground squirrel, CROW population, declined raptor, owl, falcons presence and trash. I see an abundance of Ground squirrels and CROWS where easy access to plenty of trash is available such as the Mike Fox Skate Park, Boardwalk parking lot, houseless camps, levee events, because they view trash as a fast food store. The raptor, falcons and owls did their best to keep the ground squirrel population in check, but then the CROWS spread their trash craws to each other, resulting in a hefty CROW increase. This was bad news for the raptors, falcons and owls, because CROWS love to make their hunting impossible by spending their time on bomb dive them. The ground squirrels celebrate the CROW behavior by lust-ly multiplying their tribes.
My German friend and I were standing on the San Lorenzo Park bridge, watching a small, whitish bird foraging in the shallow water next to a GREEN HERON. The unknown bird was far away and in constant motion, making it hard to id it. Finally thanks to my lousy pic. and the bird book we realized that it was a migratory RED-necked PHALAROPE. I was pretty jazzed to see my first GREEN HERON of this year sharing the river with a rare bird.
Dear Jane and Other Good Friends of Killdeers, Falcons and Ospreys,
What wonderful stories you told last week, Jane. I loved the rooftop romance of the Killdeers. And the drama only built after that! Significant that the trestle gets congested no matter how wide it is built – just like Highway 1. “When will they ever learn….”
There was a rumor circulating this last week that the fenced off stretch of the Riverwalk between Highway 1 and Water St. was because the City was doing some kind of ground squirrel eradication. Of course, all my fears about pesticides were triggered. So I packed my weapons of pen and paper and sallied forth this morning to confront the enemy, only to learn from a worker that the City was just repairing the sidewalks. Oh! In the meantime, I did a little research on Otospermophilus beecheyi, fondly known to rodent scientists as Beechies.
First, do you remember the excitement a year ago when someone reported spotting a BURROWING OWL on the east bank of the river between Water St. and Highway 1? Well – it turns out that these odd owls do like to make their homes in the abandoned burrows of Beechies. Not only that, but I ran across a scientific study, click here, that said that the Beechies actually protect the underground-dwelling owls from predators by sounding alarms before the owls themselves can pipe up. It’s too bad that we don’t have more Burrowing Owls on the levee to take advantage of all the cozy and safe burrows that lace the levee. These animals had their intra-species systems so well worked out before we came along.
I found another study, click here, that explores the kind of levee vegetation that might discourage Beechies from building their labyrinths underneath levees. The conclusion of the study was that grass and low shrubs are no good, but trees might possibly work. Do you think we could we use this study to encourage the City to plant more trees on the levee? I picked up the interesting statistic that the average ground squirrel burrow in California is 27 feet long and 30 inches deep. These numbers, according to the authors, are not long enough to completely ‘transect’ and ‘perforate’ a levee, the biggest fear. But the authors also point out that beechie burrows have been known to be as long as 872 feet (!) and as deep as 27 feet! Collapsing, water “piping” and erosion seem to be the three main problems created by all this homebuilding – not too different from the effects of our human homebuilding along the river. It is quite understandable that the City is concerned. I heard someone suggest that installing owl boxes might help. Now that’s a solution I could really get behind.
The CLIFF SWALLOWS have moved back en masse to the Water St. Bridge this year, to reclaim their old somewhat worse-for-wear nests that they abandoned in the last couple of years. Who knows what brings them back. I am glad to say that this year I have seen only one HOUSE SPARROW squatting in the swallow nests, perched brazenly in the doorway of its stolen site while the original builders dash frenetically back and forth, busily patching their broken nests. The lazy year-round House Sparrow will probably claim one of these newly patched nests next year. Harrumph! The river was swollen by rains that day, covering the muddy banks where the swallows usually gather their mud. So the resourceful creatures moved their mud-gathering operation up to little pools along the Riverwalk itself.
I have also seen quite a few NORTHERN ROUGH –WINGED SWALLOWS flying about, a few of them flying into the vents under the bridge where they nest. I’ve never actually seen the nest of a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, although theses birds are so common on the river in the summer. I caught this one actually sitting still for a moment on the corner of an apartment building. I wonder if it was guarding a nest. I’ve read that they normally nest in cavities in old trees, five feet high or more. In our tree-denuded levee bank, there are unfortunately no such trees. Was this swallow forced to to settle for a rooftop nest?
I wandered down to the Tannery area, as I am wont to do these days, hungry for the woodland feeling that exists just steps from my door. I caught a glimpse of this eye-catching new art work in the process of construction – almost ready for the Ebb and Flow Festival in two weeks.
The artist is Jayson Fann and the sculpture is created entirely out of driftwood collected on the Main Beach during this year’s winter storms. Pretty wild. I like it – like that it’s a nest.
Still – nothing comes close to nature’s creations. I sat by the river for a long time this week, staring at all the natural sculptures, like this piece of stream wood. Later I stopped to relish this willow catkin, so beautifully designed to flirt with the wind and so propagate it’s kind. Nature’s art.
Incidentally, Kristin Kittleson, the champion of stream wood that I talked about in my last blog, sent me a gentle note reminding me that Wood Ducks can use stream wood for protection, but not for nesting. For nesting, the ducks need a dry cavity in a living tree that is standing – for protection from the elements and predators. Silly me. Thank you Kristin.
May you all have many good nature walks this week!
Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Passion-eers,
Was that the beginning of a roof top romance? Will the romance result be a nest? Could it be that I was watching a tradition in the making? As you know, I have been hoping for the return of the KILLDEER couple. They have nested for the last 3 years by the Riverside Ave. bridge. 2 years in a row in the Fruit Orchard, which puts Andy in a bind, because it makes work there impossible and he enjoys being the feather-puff godfather. Wistfully I would listen to reports of nesting KILLDEERS upstream, missing that sight downstream. So when I heard that unique KILLDEER call, I froze in place and scanned the grounds all around me. Then the call came again from higher up. Lifting my eyes to the roof top across the street, I saw the KILLDEER watching me, matching my frozen stance. It made me laugh to catch the 2 of us behaving the same way. Just then the other KILLDEER appeared over the roof top, walking by the frozen one with a swashbuckling attitude, who snapped into action, following the promising tail swagger around the corner. Their lively roof top activity looked nest promising.
Before I tell you about these next situations a brief nutshell explanation is in order: my love for Nature is a passion, which is a willingness and a free choice to surrender to the emotions that my passion creates, which often amounts to translating Nature’s communication language to fellow human beings. Therefore I am no longer mortified to find myself yelling down the river point cliff at a young woman and a State Ranger on top of my lungs. Both were lingering over a drift wood pile, sending a KILLDEER into high panic. The agitated bird tried to lure the humans away from the nest: repeatedly running a short distance with dragging wing while vocalizing, stopping, collapsing into the sand with wide out spread wings. Neither human picked up on the KILLDEER’s request for needed space. When the young woman understood my translation of the bird’s communication she waived and left. The Ranger communicated that he would leave after carefully removing a big log on which a MEADOW LARK was perched, who waited until the tractor gripped the log before it flew off. 4 fledglings peeled out of a close by bush and followed the parent up the cliff. When things finally settled back down, the MEADOW LARK family and KILLDEER returned to pursue their lives. My next encounter was with 2 young men, who were in the search of a board that one of them had thrown into Jeb’s wonderful restoration project. I know the hard work that went into creating that luscious native vegetation and so had to ask them to please not step on the plants. One of them was really understanding, apologized and got his friend to stop breaking the bushes and they left.
Next was the man in the tent at the bottom of the river bank. His mistake was camping next to the bush where I had seen the SONG SPARROW disappear with food in its beak. This bird is an ever elusive ground, low bush nester. Now it was flying agitated back and forth. This called for pointing out that camping was inappropriate next to a SONG SPARROW nest. That news didn’t go over great and we had a heated discussion, which was well worth it, because he packed up & left. Later I saw the SONG SPARROW dash into the bush with food in its beak.
Well, the new Trestle path is open and people are using it. It is wider, which seems to create the Goldfish bowel effect: Goldfish rapidly grow to take up the extra bowl space. Single filing is a thing of the past~now people enjoy walking, biking next to each other, taking up the extra space, resulting in the prior dilemma: passing is difficult. Life has a curious sense of humor: the men were dismantling the safety structure, which was installed to prevent construction materials from falling into the river. One beam decided that the precaution didn’t apply to safety material, got loose and plunged into the river…I welcome the return of the PEREGRINE FALCON, the OSPREY, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, WARBLERS, SONG SPARROW to the Trestle tree area.
Passion greetings to you all, jane
My favorite bird moment on the river this last week was the sight of 2 GULLS flying with 6 AMERICAN CROWS in a joint attack on a long-suffering RED-TAILED HAWK! The action took place very high up in the sky so at first I didn’t see the two white streaks among the black ones. Then I did a double take. Were those really gulls joining forces with the crows? It sure looked that way as the gulls wove in and out among the crows But it made sense when I thought about it. The Red-tailed Hawks are predators on the nests of both. As I left the levee, grinning from ear to ear, I ran across my friend, Marilyn Strayer, who was also looking heavenward with a big smile on her face. A new and unlikely political alliance was being born in front of our eyes.
I am so happy to follow up my report in my last blog with photos of another WOOD DUCK family! This time with seven (7) little ones. I was also really grateful to get an e-mail from Alex Rinkert, head of the Breeding Bird Atlas II project, pointing out the historical significance of some of my sightings:
…all those are valuable to the Atlas, especially the Canada Goose and Wood Duck. The former was not nesting in Santa Cruz during Atlas 1 (1987-1993) so your observation documents range expansion. The latter is one of few breeding records we have for Wood Duck and adds more support for their nesting along the lower San Lorenzo, where there is very little nesting habitat for them.
I love this kind of historical perspective on the movement of populations, especially important now when so many species face imminent extinction . Thanks to Alex and to Atlasers all over the country for their painstaking attention to detail. (I have still not figured out how to enter my data correctly on the Atlas Excel sheets and Alex was trying to help me! )
Wood Ducks use the cavities in old fallen logs for their nests. Maybe the County’s noble effort to educate us all on the greatness of old logs paid off with those seven little fluffy Wood Ducks. I feel silly to be so excited about fallen logs. But I am not alone. At the recent conference on the river I picked up a glossy brochure called ‘Stream Wood’ and I’ve been reading and re-reading it. I suspect it was written at least in part by that amazing woman Kristin Kittleson, who I believe works in the Water Resources Program of the County. I know for sure that she is a lover of fallen logs and I have heard her speak quite eloquently about how important they are – how they can control water flow, enhance water quality, protect fish and fish eggs and offer habitat for a wide range of animal species. Plus they are so beautiful as water spills over and around them. No longer will Kristin allow us to cut them up and haul them away. They are a key part of the ecology of a river. And can provide a nesting spot for Wood Ducks!
My observations of CANADA GOOSE that Alex Rinkert referred to were further downstream. I found one handsome family with the five fluffy juveniles cuddled up together on the edge of the Duck Pond, then later foraging with their ever-watchful parents on the grassy area nearby. Shortly after that I spotted another family with just two juveniles below the Water St. Bridge, pictured below. I also saw a family with two goslings behind the Tannery on another day, but it could have been the same family.
Just past the Duck Pond, I ran across what at first I thought were five Juncos. But when I looked more closely the coloring was all off. I went into my panicky photo snapping mode, thinking I had just discovered a new species on the river. I could hardly wait to get home, download them, and identify my new find. It turned out they were, after all, DARK-EYED JUNCOS. But juveniles! That explained the strange markings. This was my first look at Junco juveniles. They were foraging in leaf litter underneath the redwoods close to the Children’s Park in San Lorenzo Park, apparently unperturbed by my excessive camera clicking.
I have been noticing that a lot of Mallards are back in pair formation, after a month or so of absent females (presumably on their nests) and packs of idle drakes lolllng about on the banks. But that has changed. These last weeks I have seen agitated male and female chases as well as cuddling pairs. It seems like they are working on second families.
.In addition to the waterfowl above, I have seen other evidence of breeding to report to eBird and Alex – KILLDEER (pair flying and calling together), NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (carrying nesting material and also dipping briefly into mud banks), and, thrillingly, a pair of YELLOW WARBLERS (in chasing pattern, across from Trader Joe’s). Here are my two eBird checklists, click here and here, if you want to check out all the species I saw these last two weeks.
I know all of you, like me, were shocked and disheartened by the May 6th report from the United Nations announcing that one million species are threatened with extinction, “many within decades”. It’s hard to think about for even a moment.
But if we don’t try our best to stop it, who will? I want to take time here to acknowledge the truly excellent work that you, Jane, do in both loving nature deeply and immersing yourself in the hard but necessary organizational work of protecting the natural world. Since we met just about five years ago (working to stop recreational paddling on the river), you have taken on leadership roles of all kinds– as Conservation Chair of the Bird Club, as Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club, as appointed member of the City Parks and Recreation Commission, and as lead person in the Lagoon Re-vegetation Project. I am in awe! Organizing on that scale is hard but so important to success. And, of course, you write your amazingly observant and delightful stories on our blog. Thank you for all of this!
The rest of this blog is a brief follow up to my last post on Ross Camp – for those of you who are interested.
On May 6, the illegal Ross Camp was closed for good. Sixty people from the camp of 200 residents signed up for the legal camp at 1220 River St. and were taken there by bus along with each camper’s two bins of belongings, all that was allowed. They had been warned that they would again be evicted from that temporary spot in two months with no assured shelter after that. (But as I understand it, the intention of the City is to try and connect these campers with services during these two months.) A few others were moved into empty beds in previously existing housed programs. Most have, understandably, once again dispersed into the parks, doorways, woods, and sidewalks of Santa Cruz. Some opportunists have probably left town. So far the City is not publicizing the numbers. Since camping arrests are no longer legal (Boise v. Martin), trespassing arrests in the last week have been way up according to the statistics just published this week by the Police Department.
On Monday, May 9, the day that the Ross Camp was sealed off for good, I went to pay my last sad respects to what had suddenly become an eery ghost town, devoid of people and filled only with abandoned tents and the roar of bulldozers. Outside were two women, one sobbing and cradling a bicycle like a young child and one woman named Hope shaking her fist and cursing loudly at the milling police rangers and First Alarm employees. I couldn’t bear to linger and crossed the Felker St. Bridge. That was the moment when I discovered the seven baby Wood Ducks, cosmically positioned to lift my spirits!
I fell into a very dark emotional place the next day. It wasn’t that I loved that place. No one really loved it, including the residents. One homeless man told me on the last day that he wouldn’t “wish this on his worst enemy.” I had spent a good amount of time there, and in many ways it did include exactly what critics described – drugs, crime, and trash (though I personally, in five prolonged visits, never saw a single needle and I did see beautifully kept tents and even artistic embellishments. The main pathways were usually kept clear of trash by the residents.) There was also despair, rage and grief. And because it was so visible, it attracted occasionally vicious harrassment from some drive-by oppponents. I guess the sign carried by one homeless woman expressed my overriding feeling about it all – ‘If you don’t have a better solution, please don’t take away our solution. It’s the best we have”. What homeless people did have at the Ross Camp that they lacked before was more community, more protection, and some growing awareness and even empathy from the Santa Cruz community of their desperate situation.
I expect we are all deeply sobered by this very visible eruption of the physical pain, mental suffering and social failing that is normally hidden in the the shadows of our fair City. Can we now reflect on this failure/success and come up with a better answer?
After leaving the sealed off camp on Monday, and letting the Wood Duck babies heal my bruised soul, Brent Adams happened along and invited me to take a short tour of his Storage Program, just across the footbridge from the closed Camp. Brent is a controversial figure in our town, someone who is very warm-hearted and hard-working but who can be harshly critical at times of both homeless advocates as well as City officials. He says he wants to create constructive solutions to homelessness, not just protest. He almost single-handedly raised the funds for a small but beautifully organized and much-needed storage center for the homeless. He proudly showed me 483 large plastic tubs, each labelled with the name of a homeless individual. There was another room filled with medical supplies, clothes organized by size and gender , as well as a lobby/meeting space/reception area. Brent took time off from my ‘tour’ to bring out, one by one, 6 pairs of women’s pants, size 4 to 6, for a very thin, pale and dishevelled young woman. She finally found a pair that she liked. I was impressed by Brent’s kindness. He told me that sometimes a homeless individual will stop by to simply spend time with the contents of his or her bin, often just to pore over family photos. Brent always makes the bins available. Unfortunately, the building that now houses the program is about to be sold to a developer and Brent will have to find a new place. Brent lives in a van.
In spite of the unique blinders that all of us wear, I believe that everyone– the homeless, the City, the residents, the police, the activists – have done their best. There is no point in castigating each other.
My own hope is that Brent’s vision of a real Transitional Encampment like the ones being experimented with successfully in Seattle, will someday be considered seriously by Santa Cruz. I really don’t see any other solution.. Unfortunately, I don’t think our City government is yet ready to imagine authorized shelter in tents, nor some level of self-governance by the houseless themselves. But emergency conditions require new and creative solutions. Seattle has succeeded in finding a some kind of balance between emergency shelter and human dignity. We can do it, too.
I hope you all get to see some bird babies before they all grow up. Maybe you would even consider Atlasing. It’s made me so much more aware of breeding behavior.
I was taking photos of the Trestle path when my neighbor and river point compadre, Pat Farley, walked up with his dog in a wagon. Mickey is getting old and walking is becoming an ordeal for the big Belgium shepherd dog. That day was their second outing with the new set-up, which is proving to be very satisfactory for both. Pat and Mickey have a harmonized relationship, where they just sync up with each other as they move through life. We talked about the path progress, which is coming along rapidly now that the weather improved. Pat and I used to feel sorry for the workers, who were getting hammered by the rain, cold and wind. Mickey gave the restless sign, so they moved and I took photos of the tree that the Public Work Department saved thanks to adjusting the path design. It’s wonderful that the big tree was allowed to stay so that it can shade the water, the path and be a home, food source for birds, bees and butterflies.
Finally the cute, tiny feather balls arrived on the water. In the last week I saw 2 MALLARD Mamas showing off their newly hatched joy bundles. One batch of ducklings had a Dad in tow, which in recent years has become a rare sight. This year the air isn’t filled with female quakes as the male MALLARDS pursue them in the sky. I am happy to report that the Mamas are not being harassed by the males. Honestly that is a refreshing relief, because in the last 2 years the aggressive male behavior had escalated and was hard to watch.
There is still a big flock of CLIFF SWALLOWS busily building nests under the Crescent bridge, which is across from Jessie St. Marsh. As I mentioned that is a new location for them. I think the reason for their presence at that bridge is the abundance of mud: highly treasured by the CLIFF SWALLOWS, because it’s a necessity for their nest building. Hanging over the railing, I entertained myself watching them dig their beaks into the mud, resurfacing with a bill load, flying off and returning for more. They do that approx. 500 times to complete a comfy nest.
Across the river a juvenile Gull was looking around for something to do. It stood by the waterline, contemplating mischief, pondering how to achieve that task and then went into action after surveying the scene in both directions. The Gull focused on the near-by sleeping MALLARDS, slowly walked close to them, stopped, stretched its neck and pecked one sleeper’s back, who exploded to his feet, looking with surprise at the Gull. The other MALLARD got up slowly up to find out if it should be worried about the Gull’s next move. The Gull clearly wanted a more dramatic MALLARD reaction and started chasing its first victim up the bank.
The other MALLARD was no fool, used its own common sense and cleared off the shore. After that accomplishment the Gull looked around, saw an other MALLARD group, walked over and chased them off the sandbar. The next group saw the approaching Gull and delivered a dramatic burst into the air, avoiding the chasing fiend. Satisfied the mischievous chaser preened its feathers. When that was done, it took a leisurely walk up and down the empty shoreline. It was unexpected to watch the Gull’s behavior, because Gulls and MALLARDS usually coexist very nicely together. Then again~ maybe feathered teenagers are not that different from human teenagers, whose middle name is mischief…Well, the big equipment arrived again at the river mouth. Huge amounts of sand were shoved to shape a berm along the Boardwalk and the Main Beach. This berm will prevent the river from getting any wrong meander ideas, i.e. wandering into the Boardwalk Beach area. It will be interesting to see if the Boardwalk will clean the tourist litter that is left behind on the other side of the new berm, which the kids welcome as their new fun slide.
If you are able to join us for the next Estuary Project day on Saturday, May 18th from 9am-11am you’ll experience the wonderful side-effect of restoration work: Feeling happy that you are helping to improve the San Lorenzo River wildlife habitat.
River morning greetings to you from jane