Interpretive Panels and Nest Boxes – Yes!


Dear Jane,

Since I read your last post, I am obsessing about the Seaside Company occupying (colonizing!) the mouth of the river. Your piece hit a sensitive nerve – several people talked to me about it, feeling shocked and sad.

Every time I walk by the Boardwalk parking lot along the Riverwalk, I see in my mind’s eye all the migratory shorebirds that might be filling the flood plain, a flood plain that is now covered with asphalt. How can a private company take over and profit from rivers and oceans and wildlife habitat? How can Santa Cruzans just ignore all the environmental violence and neglect that you detail with such well-directed outrage? Of course, I also, inadvertently, ended up living in the same flood plain. How do we all get caught up in this mess?

Well, I guess that is our job, Jane. There are quite a few of us trying to raise our own consciousness, and the consciousness of all Santa Cruzans. Let’s keep talking and working together! I learn something new about the environment every day.  Just writing this blog ends up teaching me something new each time.

Yes, interpretive panels!!! I understand that the Parks and Recreations Department has offered to put up three interpretive panels on the Riverwalk – one on birds, one on fish, and one on city history. I know they are trying to respond to our concerns, but I am just not satisfied with that!! How can one panel on birds represent 122 regular residents of the river? I think this would be a disservice. It carries the wrong message. I’ll just say it! I would like 22 interpretive panels on the birds – one for each family of birds.  Why not ask for what would be truly informative, rather than a token and misleading panel? Here is my first rough list of the possible subjects for 22 panels. What do you think?

Herons and Egrets, Dabbling Ducks, Diving Ducks, Fishing Raptors, Ground-feeding Raptors, Gruiformes, Shorebirds, Gulls, Pigeons and Doves, Owls, Hummngbirds, Blackbirds, Sparrows, Corvids, Swallows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Wrens, Warblers, Thrushes, Waxwings, Finches.

Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Can you imagine such wildlife panels down the whole stretch of the western side of the river? This would give the Riverwalk a very special character. No one could ignore 22 panels with 60 or 70 species depicted! People might not see the actual birds, but they would be constantly reminded as they walk and pedal along the river that the birds are there, all around them, whether they see them or not. Who knows? They might be inspired to buy a pair of binoculars and join the world of birders.

I do feel strongly that we would have to reach out to all stakeholders in such a venture – the Santa Cruz Bird Club, Museum of Natural History, the Sierra Club, the Marine Lab, and many individuals who care about wildlife education. The information on the panels needs to be created and carefully vetted by experts. What are your thoughts about the relative virtues of paintings vs. photos? I get excited just thinking about panels! As we all know, City Council member Richelle Noroyan has been a strong advocate for more data on river wildlife (I’m looking forward to your report on the recently released Baseline Bird Report). I have also seen our City Council member, Cynthia Chase, show considerable interest in interpretive panels. Let’s talk to them about this.

I’ve been fighting off one ailment or another the last two weeks so I haven’t had much time out on the river. I did get out once last week and almost immediately ran across this beautiful AMERICAN KESTREL perched on a telephone wire close to my house.

American Kestrel, Riverine Reach, April  2016

I rarely see this elegant bird, our smallest and most delicate falcon. Did you know that kestrels take very well to nest boxes? I just read that in my BNA bible. My bible also said that there is increasing public interest in participating in nest-box programs. Now that’s a great idea. Count me in! Let’s push for kestrel boxes! According to Steve Gerow, one kestrel pair nested near the river several years ago, but there have been no successful nestings reported in recent years. If we had boxes, everyone would be asking about them, and learning about kestrels.

I recently joined a very informative tree identification walk through the Benchlands, sponsored by the Coastal Watershed Council and led by Leslie Keedy, the city’s urban forester. (It was pleasant to be momentarily on the same page as CWC!) Leslie had prepared a great handout with the names of almost all the trees on the Benchlands, along with lots of information on each. I’m pretty sure she’d be happy to share it with others if asked. Her e-mail is Also ask to be put on her mailing list for future tree walks.  Leslie may be interested in planting more native riparian trees in the Benchlands.

As I’ve said, wearing binoculars is like walking a dog.  Lots of people stop and share bird stories, including homeless folks.  Here are a few encounters I’ve had in the last month or so.   A blind homeless man in front of the County Building said to me “It is like a symphony here in the morning, so well orchestrated with all the birds creating space for other bird songs.”  It turned out he knew about the Weavers, the group featuring Pete Seeger that was my introduction to folk music.  I sat down on the grass with him and we talked folk music for about a half hour.  Another younger man named ‘Dog’ told me that ‘bird’ was his first word.  Another man told me about an owl that regularly hunts at night near Trader Joe’s – and suggested I look for it between the half and full moon.  And a homeless woman looked through my binoculars and said she wanted to get a pair for herself since she is out there all the time.

There will be an event this Thursday at 7 pm at the Live Oak Grange to benefit the late Berta Caceres’ environmental nonprofit in Honduras. It will feature a talk by Professor Fernando Leiva from UCSC called “Decolonizing Our Minds.” It sounds relevant to our concerns.

I’ll end with this quote from the poet Jack Gilbert. It pretty well captures my daily dilemma. “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. That makes it very difficult to plan out the day.”

Keep saving, keep savoring,






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