Dear Barbara,

I was thinking about your great MALLARD observations as I saw a group of them standing by the Trestle shore yesterday morning.They were busy with getting their feathers lined up for the day, for which they prefer solid ground underneath their feet.This is not the case for most of the other river birds, who enjoy a full “bathtub” experience.

So this morning I entertained myself by watching their bathing rituals. As I walked along the levee I passed the different bird groups. Each species has their specific “home” spot on the river. I know I’ll see the BUFFLEHEAD group from the Trestle to the Riverside bridge. The COMMON GOLDENEYE assembly will be present by the Riverside bridge. The GULLS like the spot right behind Boardwalk yard & so on….

splashing Gull
splashing Gull

Their predictable behavior is truly astounding, which includes their morning feather cleaning. This action is takes time, focus & a lot of splashing.


From my observations their “bathtub” procedure entails: dunk the head into the water as deeply as possible, submerge the body partially, bring the head back up out of the water, stretch neck high, let water run over back of the body, raise whole body slightly above water surface, flap wings rigorously the whole time, repeat same steps 2 or 3 more times. Then start preening the individual body parts. The beak ”combs” the flight feathers, special attention is given to their underside closest to the body. The chest gets a thorough going over & then the neck is stretched over the back of the body, where the beak explores further cleaning potentials.After that exhausting chore, the birds rest for a second, stare off into space as if going over their bath check list & on second thought repeat the whole process again 2 or 3 times.

female C.MERGANSER neck bend
female C.MERGANSER neck bend

The duration & intensity of this so natural seeming cleaning leaves me wondering how I could achieve the same washing results with my grandsons.

I just returned from our morning levee walk and am thinking about all the little adventures, discussions, brainstorming & bird observations we had. It’s kind of unbelievable that we packed so much into a couple of hours. What a great way to connect with the river community: a leisure walk on the levee, meeting people like the jolly woman in the wheel chair, whose dog Princess had escaped her harness & how we tried to get Princess back into the harness while the woman assured us that Princess won’t bite us although Princess kept growling, which really undermined her statement. Finally we succeeded to install Princess in her harness lopsided. Then we stared at the empty water rings, which every river bird watcher is familiar with. It tested our determination to know, who that bird was we had so briefly sighted & then so swiftly disappeared. It amazed us how long the birds can stay under water while we waited for their re-surfacing. Our patience was rewarded with identifying 3 COMMON GOLDENEYE & 2 HORNED GREBES. What a truly enjoyable walk we had.

I mentioned that I was going to tell you about the exuberant ‘bridge woman’. She was partnered up with a very quiet man. During the bad winter weather, they slept with others under the Riverside bridge. As I walked by in the morning we exchanged greetings & then she continued busily sorting out her group’s life: she urged this man to redeem his can stash, told an other one to make sure to eat properly, suggested that a third one better check on his buddy, who had been missing for days. Then she decided to put me under her wing as well: ‘Now, don’t get too wet!’ became my daily instruction. What really blew me away was that she had a thick book amongst her meager belongings. I am still sorry that I didn’t ask her what she was reading. Every morning they left the area in pico bello shape & nobody could tell that anybody had spend the night there. When the weather changed they all migrated & without her cheery instruction I am now left to my own devices.

Oh, before I forget: as you know the City is working on the 15 yrs. Parks Master Plan, which will involve 3 community meetings in March. Have you seen any dates & times announced for those meetings? I am keeping my eyes open for them, because we had planned on attending them.

Rich levee walk experiences greetings


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