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Will Birds Leave When Rippers Arrive?

In pump track lingo, you don’t ride. You rip! That’s exactly what I’m afraid of! Ripping near a wonderful wildlife habitat. Pump tracks just don’t belong in vulnerable wildlife habitats.

Early on Sunday morning, I decided to take my birding chair out to the Benchlands behind the County Building and just sit, watch and listen. I didn’t want my birding to be part of the problem of scaring birds. I wanted to do the opposite of ripping. I wanted to see what birds would visit me in the relatively small area that the City wants to turn into a site for a noisy pump track.

I had no sooner arrived and parked my car by the County Building when I caught a glimpse of  a large bird taking cover in the lower part of a pine tree near the County Building.  It disappeared.   I stood stock still, waiting.  Then suddenly the bird shot out of the tree and landed on a nearby branch,  crouching dramatically and poised to pounce.   It  was a juvenile RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.  It gave  me the best look and photo I’ve ever gotten. Will this elegant hawk continue to hunt in this area if bicycles are ripping and zipping around in circles?  This is all I can think about these days when I see a gorgeous hawk or delicate hummingbird or hard-working grebe on the Benchlands.  Please don’t steal this from us, City of Santa Cruz!

After the hawk excitement, I needed to find my sit spot. My rule for myself was that I wouldn’t go any further north than the Water St. Bridge, and no further south than the south end of the County Building, more or less the  stretch  that the pump track will occupy. I picked my way carefully down to the river, opened my portable chair and sat down to wait. Not a homeless person in sight.  I was the only suspicious character.  I didn’t have to wait long. In less than two hours I saw 18 species of birds in that small area!

This is important!  Of the 18 species I saw, one species, the MALLARD,  is on the Audubon list of species that are endangered by climate change (losing 50% or more of their range by 2050).  Yes, our common friend, the mallard!   Hard to believe.  Add to that four more species that  are on the threatened list (losing more than 50% of their range by 2080) – the COMMON GOLDENEYE, COMMON RAVEN, HOUSE FINCH, and PINE SISKIN.  I saw each one of these birds on the pump track site within a period of two hours.  

Then I went down again this morning for just ten minutes and saw a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (endangered) AND A FEMALE BREWER’S BLACKBIRD (threatened), both near the footbridge that crosses San Lorenzo Park just south of the pump track area. That adds up to a total of two endangered birds and five threatened birds, among the 20 total that I saw in the last two days.  Although the night-heron and the blackbird were not strictly within my stretch, I have seen both birds further south near the pump track area. So I counted them here as well.  If you want to see the total list of birds that I saw on the 21st, check my eBird posting.

Here are the photos I took of the two endangered species.

Black-crowned Night-heron, Endangered, near San Lorenzo Park  footbridge, Feb. 22, 2016
Male Mallard in breeding plumage, Endangered,  near proposed Pump Track, Feb. 21, 2016

Below are the photos I took of the five threatened species (as distinct from endangered species) that I saw on Sunday and Monday. Clockwise from upper left they are Brewer’s Blackbird, House Finch, Common Goldeneye, Common Raven, Pine Siskin.


I sit here at my computer dreaming of the   day when the City of Santa Cruz and all its residents will fall in love with these amazing creatures as I have.  A year ago I had no idea there was so much abundance on the river.  And I was supposedly a birder!   I had binoculars and had even gotten my bird badge in Girl Scouts.    I can’t blame people.  I am becoming more keenly aware of how totally ignorant I am about the insect and plant life of the river. We all have a long and humbling  journey ahead of us if we want to live harmoniously with other species on our planet. Glad to be on this learning journey with you, Jane.

Sending special good wishes to the mallards and black-crowned night herons, perhaps the most vulnerable of all the species I saw during the last two days.  Remember the passenger pigeons?  They once darkened the sky.  Now they are gone.  Forever.





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