SOS:Save Our Snags

Hello Jane and All Bird Lovers,

While the attention of many Santa Cruz residents is riveted on the Homeless Camp behind Gateway Plaza, there is another drama unfolding less than a block away, a drama tucked  behind the Tannery – on the river itself, along  the branches of live trees, in cavities of old snags, and under the eaves of the housing complex.  This drama is almost invisible to members of our human species who whiz by overhead on Highway 1, speed by on bicycles or walk by chatting excitedly with friends.  Hidden from most of these community members are priceless natural treasures to be enjoyed if a person just sits or stands quietly in even a small but natural woods, with ears and eyes open and a good pair of binoculars in hand. I feel so lucky to live very near to this spot, and to have grown up with a mother who opened my mind and heart to the world of birds at a very young age.

For some reason, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers were on my mind as I walked with my friend Rick earlier this week.  I had only seen a Nuttall’s once in my life and it was behind the Tannery.  I said to Rick, “Oh, I would really love to see a Nuttall’s Woodpecker today.”  And, lo and

Nuttall's Female in nest best
Female Nuttall’s Woodpecker inside potential nesting cavity, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 15, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

behold, within minutes not only was I looking at a beautiful male Nuttall’s Woodpecker busily foraging for insects along the trunk of a tree, but at a female Nuttall’s poking her head out of a cavity in an old snag nearby – a very likely nesting spot!  Joy!  This is exactly where our beloved mentor, Steve Gerow, would have expected to find a Nuttall’s Woodpecker. In Steve’s extremely useful list of the 122 species that regularly depend on the urban river, he comments that many riparian species like the Nuttall’s “could breed in the lower river area if there were somewhat more natural habitat conditions.” Inspired by Steve,

Nuttalls male  best
Male Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 15, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

I have talked for years about restoring the Benchlands (the only area along the urban river without a levee) as a fully riparian ecosystem. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to leave the County Building after some tedious or distressing county business and take a peaceful and restorative walk along a narrow path through a natural snag-inclusive riparian woodland, then wander down for a peek through the willows at at our beautiful urban river?  Wouldn’t it be nice for shoppers in Santa Cruz to take a short foray into a sun-dappled, bird-filled woodland?  Did you all see this photo from sometime in the 1920’s in a recent edition of the Sentinel?  We could restore this woodland and restore ourselves in the process. It’s doable!

Image_0
“Santa Cruz is hardly recognizable in this circa 1920 view up the San Lorenzo River from Beach Hill. The river edge was heavily vegetated with willows and other trees. To the right of the white building is the Soquel Avenue Covered Bridge, demolished in 1921. The flood-control levees would not be built for almost 40 years.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, Section B2, March 17, 2019 

As if the woodpeckers weren’t treasure  enough, I went back the next day and had another once in a lifetime experience. I think you all know by now how inexplicably attached I am to Pied-billed Grebes. In fact it’s been a bit of an obsession ever since I discovered a floating nest of these intriguing creatures in 2015. I have been quite aware that I haven’t seen a single grebe on the river yet this spring, and was feeling a little bereft.

Head extended
According to BNA, this horizontal head posture is a typical courtship behavior of the Pied-billed Grebe, as well as lifting itself out of the water to display its white breast.  Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

So you can imagine how excited I was when I not only spied one in the river, but found it engaged in very unusual behavior.  It was extremely agitated, splashing around wildly, quivering its wings, then extending them, contorting its body into unusual postures, lifting itself halfway out of the water, exposing its white breast, then rising almost completely out of the water with wings again fully extended!

Rising up and splashing
Pied-billed Grebe engaged in almost regular intermittent splashing behavior, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This went on for at least  five minutes. What was going on?  There was no other grebe to be seen.  Was it a courtship display? Was the object of its intentions hidden somewhere in the dense vegetation on the river bank?  Was this grebe engaged in  territorial defense if some kind?  I snapped photo after photo, hoping to capture a few of these wild moments on my camera.

Extended wings
Pied-billed Grebe with fluffed feathers, extended wings, and a determined look!  Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

When I got home, I checked my Birds of North America bible for more information.  BNA reports that in sexual displays, as well as territorial displays and also ‘triumph ceremonies’ (after copulation or after defeat of an aggressor), the grebe will exhibit some of the same frenzied and contortionist activity I witnessed – though not all.  So it is hard to know exactly what was going on since at this time of year birds are both valiantly protecting their nesting territories and desperately trying to find mates.  I could hardly believe it when the grebe finally lifted itself fully out of the water (below), with only it’s feet underwater.  Powerful legs, powerful wings, powerful will! Let’s hope our little grebe is successful at achieving his goals.  He was sure giving it a good try!

 

During this same trip, A BEWICK’S WREN began singing non-stop over a spot I had chosen for sitting. When I finally decided to move to a new spot nearby, this little bird began to issue a rapid-fire alarm call.   From my new vantage point I quickly figured out what the fuss was about when I spied the wren slipping into a fairly large space behind a sizable patch of loosened bark very near where I was standing.

Potential nest of Bewick's
Potential nesting site for Bewick’s wren underneath a large chunk of loosened bark.  The wren was observed inside this spot just before the photo was taken.  Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 19, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

She disappeared before I could get a photo of the bird inside the bark,, but here are photos of the potential nesting spot, as well as the fierce little bird just before she tucked herself into this space. These wrens usually stick fairly close to the more natural areas north of Highway 1, but sometimes disperse south, including to the suet cage in my back yard!

 

Bewick wren with worms?
Bewick’s Wren, with worms(?) or nesting materials (?), near potential nesting site above, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

As I sat in my first spot, I also got a brief glimpse of a HERMIT THRUSH, a shy bird rarely seen south of Highway 1.  This one crept up right behind where I was sitting motionless.  I luckily turned my head and glimpsed her pretty well concealed in a woody thicket, foraging in the large sand deposits left after the recent storms.

Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Although I once spied one of these thrushes in the area behind the Ross Store several years ago, I have never seen another one that dispersed even that short a distance from the natural riparian habitat above Highway 1.

To top off the morning, I looked up and saw five VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, all swooping around some vent holes in the roof of the Tannery, but never actually entering. Violet-greens are cavity-nesting birds, newly arrived in Santa Cruz and at this time of year looking for existing holes in trees or in buildings.

Violet Green at Tannery
Violet-green Swallow, Tannery Loft, Tannery, San Lorenzo River, March 18, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I didn’t learn until just recently that the ranges of the other common swallows along the river, i.e. the Northern Rough-winged, Tree and Cliff swallows, all extend across the entire United States.  Only the Violet-green Swallow is confined to the western U.S., Canada and Alaska.  They are therefore not only special, but definitely one of the most beautiful swallows, with their shimmering green and violet feathers, white scalloped faces, and snowy white breasts.  Unfortunately, they rarely sit still long enough to give us a good look.  I was lucky to catch this one pausing for a rare daytime respite, although the photo doesn’t do her justice.

Finally, returning to the subject of restoring the Benchlands, here is a 1960 photo of the San Lorenzo River taken from a great new collection of essays called Landscapes, Activism that Shaped Santa Cruz County, 1955-2005, published by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in 2018.

levee 1960
San Lorenzo River, April, 1960,  between Soquel Bridge (at bottom),  Water St. Bridge (in middle),  and Highway 1 Bridge at top.    Shows nearly total clearing within the redevelopment project area (Benchlands and San Lorenzo Park) after completion of the San Lorenzo River levees and Branciforte Creek channel. See the realigned curve of Dakota St crossing over Branciforte Creek and connecting to Soquel Ave. 

In the collection is an extremely informative essay on the history of local activism that saved the San Lorenzo River from looking like this  photo,  taken just after the Army Corps of Engineers had its first go at building a very low levee following the historic flood of 1955. Early activism has brought the river a long ways from being a cement ditch.  Don’t you agree that it’s time to take the last step and fully restore the Benchlands to its original grandeur as a full riparian ecosystem?      

Happy spring birding to all, and happy activism!

Barbara

 

 

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sweet and wet…

Good Morning Barbara & River Fans,

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD toeing the sign…

I kept wondering what people thought of us as they were driving past us…We had our great event on Saturday morning, which was hosted by Karlee & Lindsay, 2 interns of the Watershed Stewardship Program in partnership with AmeriCorps, serving at the NOAA SW Fisheries Science CenterNOAA. Part of their program was to host an event of 60 volunteers. Yes, that is right: 60! So what people saw were all these volunteers working in the pouring rain from the Laurel St to Riverside Ave. bridge. Personally I thought that was mind-blowing awesome, especially considering that we all maintained our high spirits. Looking around I saw the volunteers working, talking, laughing as the rain dripped off their bodies. Some of the task proved to be a patience challenge as Brian his crew found out and any of you, who ever attempted to remove Pampas Grass, will understand what they were up against.

our partial tool stash…

The other incredible event part was the co-working/organizing that took place with a variety of people. It’s hard to not get gushy and mushy as I tell you that ‘my’ Park & Rec. Staff~Leslie Keedy, Mike Godsy, Jordan, Lori~ did a laudable job of walking that extra 100miles to create a successful event plus Mike did impressive work at his station and kept a guiding eye on all of us.

BEFORE…
AFTER…

 

 

 

 

Then there is Linda, my cohort for the Valley Women’s Club Estuary Project. She generously brought the Valley Women’s Club AmeriCorps Team to the event although they are working on plenty of other projects. The Valley Women’s Club Board jumped in to make food donations possible. The Conservation Committee of the Santa Cruz County Group of the Sierra Club voted to co-sponsor the event. And then there are my friends Dan and Sue, who are familiar with our Estuary work. Their presence was essential to help out in some ‘now what?’ moments. And Dan untangled me when I was twisting myself in knots with choosing locations for plants on Friday plus he brought the plants early on Saturday morning. Then there are the people from Central Coast Wilds Nursery, who so patiently put up with my time consuming plant hand picking. Jessica is my plant saint: she walks the plant aisles with me, points out plant possibilities, helps me pick out the perfect natives plus she joined us on Saturday. As you can tell: It was a magnificent crew that created a marvelous event.

some of the awesome event volunteers…

You might like to join us this Saturday ~the 16th @ 9am-11am~ for our ongoing Estuary Project day. We’ll be at E. side of the Riverside Ave. bridge. Click here for more details.                                                                                          This was so magic: I connected with Mark, a AmeriCorps member from New Jersey, because he is a birder. I told him about our river OSPREY and he said he would love to see it. Jokingly I said that maybe the Osprey would show for him. I was working at an other station and looking up I saw the Osprey circling above the river. I told the group that I was sorry that Mark wasn’t with us. Later Mark told me with shiny eyes that he had seen the Osprey. I was so happy for him and thanked the Osprey for its appearance.
Right now there is only 1 female COMMON GOLDENEYE left on the lower river. I wonder if she is the same one that stayed with us during last year’s Summer. Remember? She had an injury and couldn’t leave with the others.
The PELAGIC CORMORANT has been putzing around the Riverside Ave. bridge, looking mighty fine with his white breeding markings, which you have mentioned before. The other day he was sitting close to an other PELAGIC CORMORANT and I am hoping that they were discussing their parent future. Wouldn’t it be great to see their babies on our river?                       The PEREGRINE is only in the early morning in the Trestle trees. The Falcon isn’t taking kindly to the construction work, because it puts a kink in his meals: the PIGEONS don’t perch on the Trestle during construction work. I have seen the PEREGRINE hanging out in a tree a couple of blocks away from the river.

Sending sunny chirps to all of you, jane

Peregrine in the early morning…

We’re All Part of One Another

Hello Jane and Nature Lovers,

Powerful  natural forces have been reshaping the fast-flowing river, braiding new streams around the old channel and artistically depositing wave-like sculptures of sand along the edges.  Just up the slope from these sand dunes lies the Ross Homeless Camp, the tragic product of powerful human forces  that consign human beings  to a life of mud, fear, cold, discrimination and humiliation.

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Riverbank near Felker St. Pedestrian Bridge, streamflow  800 cubit feet per second. March 4, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here are some of some random images I snapped of the Ross Camp, hopefully not too intrusive and suggestive of some of the powerful social forces roiling the camp.  I only took these four shots so as not to be obnoxious.  Here’s what these images suggested to me.  People who can’t afford to live inside houses in Santa Cruz want the privacy and the dignity that goes with having personal space, no matter how humble.   Thus the signs on the large blue and white tents say ‘Private Property’ and ‘Do Not Enter’.  Humorous, poignant.  We all need familiar, comforting objects like a large teddy bear, objects that go with having a space 24/7.  Without a permanent space, how can these objects be carried around?  We all need to feel like hiding under a blanket sometimes.  Here’s the homeless version.  People in the camp may both welcome the protection and services provided by the City and at the same time resent the intrusion of officers who drive up and start questioning the the first people they see on the walkway. That’s how I interpreted what I was seeing.   As I stood there, the old man near the porta-potties seemed eager to get away. The officer kept pressing closer. The other officer seemed to be listening respectfully, maintaining distance.  Just a superficial, uninformed peek at some human life on the river these days.

Further south along the river, I stopped to talk to a young man named Joshua who was busy weaving flowers out of palm fronds .  He and his two friends, who were sharing a guitar,  told me that they have  chosen not to participate in the Ross Camp for a variety of reasons and have instead set up a pretty comfortable looking camp under the Water St. Bridge with a folding chair and an elevated  bed.   Joshua who agreed to let me use his name and photograph him, told me he learned the art of weaving palm fronds  from a South Pacific Islander and has adopted it.  “Other people see a useless palm frond, but I see a way to get food for 2 or 3 days.”  One of Joshua’s friends told me that he had grown up in Santa Cruz, had suffered from chronic depression, had managed to hold down a job for 10 years,  had succumbed to drugs but then overcome that.   He was very disturbed by the littering associated with living without homes and told me that he tried to do a lot of cleaning up. Joshua said he was enjoying  the ‘mud hens’  (or  AMERICAN COOTS) who were swimming and foraging nearby,  birds who have also chosen  the Water St. Bridge as their home during the stormy weather.

Joshua
Joshua, currently at home under the Water St. Bridge. March 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This week I saw my first Western Pond Turtle this week, clinging to the bank of the Duck Pond.

Western Pond Turtle
Western Pond Turtle, edge of Duck Pond, San Lorenzo Park, March 4, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This turtle is the West Coast’s only native freshwater turtle, and is listed as a  “species of special concern” in California.  It has fared worse  in the State of Washington where it  is listed as ‘endangered, and in Oregon where it is listed as  “sensitive/critical”.   In 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list this species   under the Endangered Species Act, along with 52 other amphibians and reptiles. In 2015 the Service made an initial finding that the turtles may qualify for protection.  According to one source, these turtles do not live primarily in ponds, but in rivers and often on land.  They are one of the creatures we need to be very concerned about when Public Works is doing its vegetation removal each year.  With all the re-vegetation work that people like you, Jane, (as well as  groups like the Coastal Watershed Council) are doing on the levee, maybe the bulldozers and chain saws will gradually disappear.

In my eBird report this week, I reported seeing three species exhibiting  breeding behaviors: Two BUSHTITS chasing each among delicious catkins on a willow tree, and two CANADA GEESE settled comfortably near the Soquel Bridge, both qualifying as “P – pair in suitable habitat’;   and an AMERICAN CROW breaking a small branch off a tree and flying off with it, qualifying as “CN – Carrying Nesting Material.  (If you look carefully at the crow photo, the whole vertical branch next to her bill is the one she carried off – three times as long as the crow). I love participating even a little in the Breeding Bird Project, and encourage everyone who’s interested to get trained.  I learned a lot last year.  Trainings are Saturday, March 9,  Thursday, March 14, and Saturday, March 16.  Go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website for details. Click Here

Bushtit in Willow
Bushtit, part of a chasing couple, in suitable nesting habitat, March 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Canada Goose Pair
Canada Geese, in suitable nesting habitat,  near Soquel Bridge,March 3, 2019, Photo by B, Riverwoman

 

Crow with nesting material
American Crow, breaking off branch of Sycamore Tree, about to fly off to build nest. March 4, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I saw one BUFFLEHEAD and one COMMON GOLDENEYE on my outing this week, probably the last to leave the river for breeding grounds elsewhere?  The Bufflehead worried me a little.  It was in the same spot near the Laurel St. Bridge when I saw it two weeks ago, and it wasn’t fishing.  I first saw the  Goldeneye in the Duck Pond, and then later in the river.  I was happy to see it  diving vigorously, hardly spending a second above water.  That made it hard to catch this shot, but I finally succeeded.

And here is significant  news – I saw my first-of-season swallow – three of them.  I’m guessing this one resting on the the telephone wire near Riverside Bridge is a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW though I’m not sure.  The wing projects past the tail which is one sign.  Hundreds of swallows have been in South County for several weeks, but I don’t think any have been reported on the urban river yet.

VG Swallow? Tree?
First of season swallow, likely Violet Green Swallow, near Riverside Bridge, March 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And here’s an odd pair – A DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT AND A COMMON MALLARD, sharing refuge on a tiny island, safe from the rapid current moving at a clip of  about 1000 cfs.   The cormorant seemed to think it was odd, too, and tried to chase the mallard off their little island.  But the mallard hung on to the unusual new relationship, though accepting a more marginal status.  Were the head up, head down postures a sign of the agreed on dominance roles?  Maybe the mallard can’t find a girlfriend in spite of his brilliant colors.  Most of the mallards are all paired up by now and hanging out together.

Mallard and Cormorant, Chinatown Bridge
Mallard and Double-crested Cormorant, Chinatown Bridge, March 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I’m sad to say that the wounded WESTERN GREBE that I saw two weeks ago is still hanging out by the Laurel St. Bridge. The river seems to also serve as a kind of refuge for wounded sea birds.

Here is my latest eBird checklist with  34 species.  Click Here.

Quote of the week from the March/April edition of Sierra by  Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“Of all the tools we rely on to fulfill our mission, the most indispensable is the principle that every citizen can participate in the electoral process. Any assault on our democracy is also an assault on public lands, healthy communities and a stable climate.  If we fail to defend out democracy, then nothing that we hope to protect – and nothing that we’ve already protected–will be safe.”

Click Here for full article.

Stay active, stay well, watch birds!

Barbara

river coexistence…

Good Morning Barbara & all you Nature Cuddlers,

sediment build up after storms…

My recent river visits include long stare pauses at the widening sediment sections in the river. The rain filled storms have caused impressive changes in the lower river reach. The area between Laurel St. bridge and the river mouth is now really shallow, the passage by the Riverside Ave. bridge has narrowed drastically.
This water condition is not ideal for the fish hunting OSPREYS, because they require a certain river depth and width to grab the fish. The other day I watched an OSPREY for a long time as it kept circling over the lower river. It never attempted one of its awesome fish plunges. So I wondered if my river compadres was addressing the OSPREY’S hunting dilemma when he said: ‘The sediment build up is chocking the river’.

placing the bucking beam…

It’s oddly fascinating that the construction of the Trestle path is roping me in. The other day I couldn’t take my eyes off the 3 workers, who tried to place a huge beam underneath the bridge. One man was standing above the water on a wood plank. The other 2 men were holding the free floating beam over the path railing with 2 heavy lines. Every time the man on the structure beam tried to guide the wood beam to its location, the beam would swerve and buck the 2 men off their spot. I couldn’t take the suspense and left…

f. MALLARD & SPOTTED SANDPIPER peaceful coexisting…

Lately I have been intrigued how different species share peacefully close vicinity. They rest, feed and are content to exist next to each other. They acknowledge their feathered neighbor, weave their way around them in their pursuit of life. When their paths cross, both species will stop, look at the other one while figuring out how to proceed. The bigger species is reluctant to move around the little, agile species, so most of the time the smaller species zoom by the bulky ones. It seems that it’s not easy to get a husky body moving plus it takes more energy. Animals are very good energy savers, so they like to avoid extra work.

little Shorebird w/the big gulls…

The busy SANDERLINGS have left the river shores and I miss seeing their small, white bodies dashing along the water line. The SPOTTED SANDPIPER’s plumage is changing into its weeding outfit and soon the chest spots will become pronounced. Of course I hope they will nest along the river.
The other day I saw a LOON foraging by the Trestle and it looked a little worn out with its feathers askew. The storms are hard on the migratory birds, so our river offers them a welcome refuge.

LOON taking a river break…

I have been getting ready for an other restoration project with 2 young interns from the Watershed Stewardship Program. They are required to host an event for their Program and I am thrilled to co-work with 2 young women, who are starting their careers in watershed protection. So come, meet them and cheer their efforts on Sat. March 9th from 9am-1pm.
Click on Watershed Stewardship Program for more details.
Sending you river chirps & wish you the best,
jane

Nuptial Plumes,Wounded Grebe and Early Warbler

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Lovers,

The shifting seasons, the  wild weather, and the whims of fate continued to shake up the normal behaviors of our winged friends these last two weeks.

A lone PELAGIC CORMORANT  seems to have chosen to temporarily abandon its normal habitat along the ocean cliffs in order to try  its luck fishing  away from the high waves.

Breeding Pelagic
Pelagic Cormorant in new breeding plumage, San Lorenzo River near Riverside Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

While other regular residents moved off the fast-flowing river, the cormorant moved in. As an ocean fisher, I guess it is better adapted than the regular river residents to taking on the challenge of a river moving at a clip of 750 cubit feet per second.  I was excited to see this shiny black creature all decked out in its fresh new breeding plumage, especially since I have never seen its delightfully named white ‘nuptial plumes’.   I imagine they function somewhat like runway lights.  If you look closely, you can see the red spot that is also part of the breeding plumage.  I think the green iridescence on the long, slender throat is present year round, but it can’t hurt this sleek beauty’s chances of a successful conquest.  I learned that in spite of its name it is not a true pelagic bird since the word pelagic signifies that the bird spends most of its time over the open sea.  Instead, Pelagic Cormorants do most of their fishing close to the ocean cliffs  where they also breed and roost.  Alarm flags went up for me when I read in Birds of North America that ocean kayaks and other human traffic increasingly pose a serious threat to the nests of this cormorant, for whom the Central Coast is about as far south as it breeds.  While our City is busy ‘keeping Santa Cruz safe,’ I hope it does not forget our smallest cormorant.

Another bird that is primarily an ocean-dweller, a WESTERN GREBE,  seems to have paddled upriver for a sadder reason.

Western Grebe
Western Grebe, with wounded leg, on bank of San Lorenzo River near Laurel St. Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Can you see the foot splayed out at an awkward angle underneath her body.  At first I wondered why she was resting on a sandbank underneath the Laurel St. Bridge.  Then I saw  her stand and lurch towards the river, one leg trailing behind her, wings flapping wildly to keep her balance.  I was happy to see her diving once she reached the river, but wonder if she will be able to chase down the fish she needs with only one strong leg to propel and direct her.

If the cormorant’s behavior  was informed by the search for quieter waters than the Bay, and the grebe’s by the search for a place to heal, this pint-sized YELLOW WARBLER was an early harbinger of the seasonal  flow of migratory warblers.  The bright yellow insect lover arrived far earlier than the normal date of early April when Santa Cruz sees it highest number of this  species passing through our area on its nocturnal passage to as far north as Alaska.  Since it is so early in the season, eBird

Yellow warbler
Yellow Warbler, Google Image

challenged me on this one, but my friends Michael Levy and Batya Kagan excitedly reported to me a week ago that they had seen this same bird, so I studied it carefully and made my best case to the Cornell experts.  Unfortunately, the tiny bird was flitting so rapidly through the willow thickets that my camera was never able to catch up with it. This Google image captures exactly what I saw.

And then there are those birds just being playful and eccentric.  I counted 56 MALLARDS on my walk two days ago,  44 of them hunkering down in the Duck Pond to escape the rapid current and all but one hugging the banks.   But not this one!

Mallard paddling nowhere
Mallard, midstream, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

He was the only one in midstream, paddling his little orange-webbed feet as fast as he could and going absolutely nowhere.  Was he trying to figure out how hard he needed to paddle to go absolutely nowhere. Or maybe he was being much more utilitarian, using the river as a  treadmill to build female-chasing muscles. It is, after all,  the beginning of the mallard mating season.

I have never seen so many CANADA GEESE on the river in past years – 16 by my count.  8 of

Canada Goose Profile
Cana

them were lolling about at the Duck Pond, while others were playing along the edges of the river where the water was  pretty slow-moving. Strangely, right next to the Grebe with the wounded leg was this goose standing on one leg, shifting his weight far to one side to keep from toppling.  But no worry, his other leg was fine.  Birds often conserve heat by tucking one leg underneath their feathers.  But might this goose have also been standing in solidarity with the Grebe?  Who knows.

Goose on one leg
Canada Goose, San Lorenzo River, February 17,  2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Although a relatively common bird, I don’t think I have ever recorded a ROBIN on the river.

P1110142
American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This should bring my total number of birds seen on the urban river stretch to 109.  Thank you eBird!   True, this falls significantly short of the 147 species seen by my awesome co-blogger!  But we both have quite a ways to go, Jane,  to catch up with Steve Gerow who peaked at 177 birds on this same urban stretch !  With all this documented bird life, it should be kind of hard for the City to make a case, as they have in the past,  that the river has no wildlife value and therefore should be opened to all kinds of recreational and commercial activity.

Starling
European Starling, American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here is the non-native but handsome EUROPEAN STARLING relishing the same berries as the robin, just inches away.  Click HERE to see my complete list of 32 species seen during my last outing.

John Muir quote of the week:

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”.  

High waters or low, in honor of all Yosemite lovers, including John Muir and Sherry Conable, keep flying, keep singing.

Barbara

 

 

HAPPY RIVER VALENTINE…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Valentine greetings from the Trestle…

Valentine’s Day will be celebrated this week and I send you all ‘Happy Valentine’ chirps. Traditionally we express your love to your 2 legged heart’s choice on this occasion. Since I have the enduring tendency to adjust customs and traditions to my liking, I take Valentine’s Day as a red opportunity to decorate one of my passions with some kind of action. As you guessed correctly: Nature is my choice. So on the morning of the 14th I’ll decide on my caring action. I enjoy the combination of the spontaneous Valentine’s expression and the planned demonstrations for my 2 legged choices.
I want to let you know that our ongoing ‘Estuary Project’ will happen on SAT. 16th from 9 am-11 am. We welcome you to join us for restoration work on the San Lorenzo River banks. Like more info? Then click on ‘San Lorenzo River Estuary Project’.

GREAT HORNED OWL-googled

You are not going to believe, who Gillian and I heard on Thursday at 8:30pm by the County building! A GREAT HORNED OWL, hooting in the dark. Then Gillian saw it fly to the window ledge, barely visible in the dark. By then I was hooting and hollering with delight, because for years I heard the rumor that we have OWLS along the river. The GREAT HORNED OWL flew up to the corner ledge, where its silhouette show up better and hooted for the other one to come on over. After a minute of hoot coaxing the other GREAT HORNED OWL flew in, they had a lengthy hoot discussing until one had enough of the cold concrete, flew to the top of the tree and continued hooting from its pleasing setting. Gillian commented that the OWLS were probably missing the County building trees, which I am sure they are.

CROW enjoying the closed Trestle path…

On Sunday I checked on the construction progress of the Trestle path. It looks like the work is proceeding slowly. The only visible changes are the wood covered rail ties, the beginning demolition of the East path, Trestle conjuncture and the installation of a horizontal projecting beam. I am curious if only the rains and storms are to blame for the downtempo pace or if other issues are at play as well. I am eagerly awaiting the installation of the net, which will protect the river from any falling construction debris. In the meantime I am keeping my fingers crossed that none of the Eucalyptus trees will be removed!

SANDERLINGS here to stay…

The SANDERLINGS have become regular shore guests and the gulls have gotten used to their presence. When the little puff balls-on-busy-legs first arrived, the gulls were peeved hosts. The much bigger birds spent useless time chasing the agile little ones down the sandbank. The speedy SANDERLINGS would dodge the giants easily while still foraging. Now I see the two species calmly feed side by side. I love to figure out how and why this shift occurred. I doubt that the birds are the same individuals throughout this shift, so how and why did the gulls’ behavior change and why did the skittish SANDERLINGS remain so unperturbed?

male MALLARD checking out BLACK TURNSTONE…

MALLARDS are water grazer and their feeding pace is similar to the land grazers: eat here a little, check out that spot over there, clean a little, rest a lot, etc. So when I saw 4 MALLARDS zooming across the river, aiming towards a spot under the Trestle trees, they had my attention. I checked that cliff area and saw what I thought was a TOWHEE at the waterline, but when 2 more appeared, I had doubts, because more than 2 TOWHEES in close vicinity is ultra rare. Looking more carefully the mistaken birds turned into migratory BLACK TURNSTONES, who only breed in coastal sedge marshes in western Alaska. I didn’t expect that the river visitors were the MALLARDS’ destination, but they were! All 4 MALLARDS decelerated at the waterline, climbed slowly on the rocks and took turns checking out the new shoreline additions.

female MALLARD inspecting BLACK TURNSTONE….

The BLACK TURNSTONES kept moving around, totally at ease with the MALLARDS’ inspection. The MALLARDS came to the consensus that the new ‘kids’ on the shore were okay and started a little nibbling here and there. When I walked by again, they were still enjoying each other’s company.
Happy Valentine to you all,
jane ❣

Mud, Wind and Rain

Dear Jane and Other Windblown, Rainsoaked Adventurers,

It’s been a pretty wild week, hasn’t it!  Even thunder and lightning slipped in for a short visit  under cover of  dark.  I do miss my Minnesota thunderstorms.

I ventured out the day before the big storm was predicted to hit, always loving it when the sky turns dark and foreboding, and everything seems slightly ominous.  The world holds its breath.

I don’t know if I just imagined it, but the birds seemed to be congregating in larger groups than usual that day.  A pretty large flock of  LESSER GOLDFINCHES seemed

Lesser Goldfinch flock
Flock of LesserGoldfinches with one House Finch, El Rio Mobile Home Park on levee, February 1, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

agitated as they flitted about in a leafless grape arbor, close to the levee.   I saw a  group of 18 AMERICAN COOTS hugging  the banks, a larger congregation than I usually see.  When things get rough, stick together.   I thought of your very interesting comments, Jane, in your last blog, on how the birds near the besieged trestle seem to be anticipating danger and disruption ahead of time.  Since birds probably don’t think into the future, does the space between now and the future collapse into the present.  Do they live in some kind of timeless, non-cognitive world that folds the future into the present?

Two  CANADA GEESE  near the Chinatown Bridge, seemed preoccupied with

Geese Fixing Tailfeathers
Two Canada Geese, San Lorenzo River near Chinatown Bridge, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

tuning up their tail feathers, while a GREEN HERON once more took refuge in the quiet waters of the Duck Pond, peering  around anxiously rather than actively concentrating on the fishing.   Was I just projecting or was all of nature, including me,  waiting for something to descend upon us?  While we filled our cars with gas, the birds lubricated their feathers, took cover, and gathered in protective groups.

Green heron
Green Heron, Duck Pond, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My pre-storm outing  concluded rather grandly.   Just as I approached my gate, I spied a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in a tall redwood on the levee just up from he County Jail. Then, suddenly,  a COOPER’S HAWK came shooting  over my head, landing  on a nearby eucalyptus tree just behind Bank of America.  After studying her for a minute, I turned back to  the other hawk and my eye was led skyward to  an OSPREY perched at the pinnacle of another tall redwood  just across the street from the County Building, all visible at the same time from the spot where I stood.   A bank, a county government building and a jail!  And a rapturous raptor moment for me in urban Santa Cruz.

According to eBird, I have now reported on a total of 109 species seen on the urban stretch of the river  – they keep count for you!  But it’s not about numbers.  For me it’s about trying to imagine what it is like to be a solitary pied-billed grebe, or a busily grooming goose,  or a nervous green heron.

The storm hit Saturday, and I stayed hunkered down inside – but went out again the next day during a sunny break.  The wind was still high, and the river looked like soft coffee ice cream.  Wouldn’t that be nice!  Here are two photos, the first on February 1 before the storm hit, and the second on February 3, during a lull in the storm.  It shows the huge loads of sediment that the  river was bearing to the sea, and also suggesting the layers of silt it may unfortunately  – for us humans – be laying down on the bottom of the river.

Here are two photos of the river, before and after the storm, looking north  from the  Chinatown Bridge towards Water St.Bridge.

Looking north Feb. 1
Looking upstream from the Chinatown Bridge  to the Water St. Bridge, February 1, 2019, before the heavy rains came. Photo by B. Riverwoman
Feb. 3 looking north 2
Looking upstream from the Chinatown Bridge  to the Water St. Bridge, February 3, 2019, after the heavy rains came. Photo by B. Riverwoman

There were almost no diving waterfowl on the river after the storm – except two COMMON GOLDENEYE that were not diving.  Even with their bright yellow eyes, which might be good for seeing in murky water  (I think of the eyes of owls), they were still just floating along on the surface, not fishing.  This brave KINGFISHER was also out and about,

Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher, San Lorenzo River, February 3, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

but I never saw him leave the telephone wire.  Maybe the thought of plunging into that fast-moving river of coffee and cream just wasn’t enticing.  He was no doubt hungry.  What should he do?

The PIGEONS, on the other hand, whom I rarely see feeding, seemed to be enjoying the wild wind.  A flock of about 75 would lift up together, sail in elegant formation above the houses and trees, settle to rest for a moment in a tidy line along a telephone wire, then, as if of a single mind, in perfect synchrony, happily abandon themselves again to the wind!

Pigeons in the wind
Pigeons returning to telephone wire in high wind, February 3,  2019, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Two top birders in the area, Lois Goldfrank and Phil Brown,  visited our stretch of the river on January 13 and reported a PALM WARBLER and a LINCOLN’S SPARROW.  I have found the latter bird only once in my life, but will re-double my efforts.

For those of you who still don’t know about Monterey Bay Birds (mbbirds) Google Group, I strongly encourage you to subscribe.  You can get regular updates by e-mail of interesting sightings throughout the County.  This week Randy Wardle posted his monthly report on what birds we can expect to see leaving, arriving and breeding this month – jam-packed with useful information.  One of the things he mentioned is that ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS and BUSHTITS are already nesting  and DARK-EYED JUNCOS and other cavity nesters may begin this month as well.  All San Lorenzo regulars. Keep your eyes open.

Here are my two e-Bird lists this week: February 1 and February 3. 

John Muir quote of the week:

“The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Special love to one whose soul was shaken deeply by the storm of life, who sought peace in the wilderness of the  Sierra Nevada and who has now abandoned her dear self to the wind and the waves.  Rest in peace,  brave  woman.

Barbara