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
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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

good news for the birds…

Good Morning Barbara & all you Nature Friends,

Mama MERGANSER snoozing with her offspring…

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.

KILLDEER on a nest in the Seabright Beach dunes…

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.

we delight in how well our Blue Star is spreading…

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 Center did 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.

CROW bomb diving PEREGRINE…

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.

RED-necked PHALAROPE…googled:rnph_letoile_081008

Sending you all river sparkle greetings, jane

Of Dirt and Mud

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.

Cground squirrel 2
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi, (google image)

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 Cliffies near riverwalk bestyears.  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.

Cliffies in mud Best
Same Cliff Swallows as above.

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?

Violet Green Swallow
Violet-green Swallow near Water St. Bridge, May 20, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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.

Large Tannery Sculpture
Spirit Nest by Jayson Fann,   Tannery Art Center, May 20, 2019.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

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.

Log in water
Stream wood in river behind Tannery, May 27, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Willow catkin
Willow Catkin, behind Tannery, May 4, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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!

Barbara