Christmas Bird Count Finds 55 Species On The Urban San Lorenzo River

Hello Jane,

What frosty mornings we are having! Having grown up in Minnesota, it feels like Christmas to me!

Thanks for all the useful information on fish in your last post.  That is a still undiscovered world for me and your information gave me a good step up.

Well, the December 17th Christmas Bird Count in Santa Cruz County has come and gone.

Green-winged Teal, December 18, 2016, San Lorenzo River, seen by Gary Martingale, Google image

It’s good our San Lorenzo River area had two teams this year, since there was more than enough to keep us busy.  Between the team that you led on the lower part of the urban river and the team that David Sidle led on the upper end (with me assisting) we succeeded in finding 48 distinct species!  If we add the 7 additional species that Gary Martingale saw on the River the next day (including a GREEN-WINGED TEAL and a WILSON’S SNIPE, two species that I’ve never seen on the river! ) we get a  grand total of 55 species found on the river in just over 24 hours!  

Wilson’s Snipe, December 18, 2016, San Lorenzo River, seen by Gary Martingale, Google Image

One of my favorite gifts to pass on to people at this time of year is Chapter 13 of John Muir’s The Mountains of California, his ecstatic account of the small, torrent-loving bird, the AMERICAN DIPPER, often called the WATER OUZEL.    I recently found the chapter online so can now easily pass it on to all our readers. Click here. I have always felt that in writing about his beloved WATER OUZEL, John Muir was also writing about himself.

Here is one of the opening paragraphs of the chapter: No cañon is too cold for this little bird, none too lonely, provided it be rich in falling water. Find a fall, or cascade, or rushing rapid, anywhere upon a clear stream, and there you will surely find its complementary Ouzel, flitting about in the spray, diving in foaming eddies, whirling like a leaf among beaten foam-bells; ever vigorous and enthusiastic, yet self-contained, and neither seeking nor shunning your company.

Water Ouzel (American Dipper)  Google Image

The Water Ouzel rarely occurs  on the San Lorenzo River, one of the bird’s southernmost points.   But in searching eBird, I learned that local birder Shirley Murphy spotted one on January 27, 2015, in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. And very surprisingly, two normally solitary ouzels were spotted together by Shantanu Phukan on February 14, 2014,  on Zayante Creek at Redwood Camp in Felton. Shantanu reported that these Water Ouzels were either ‘scuffling or mating’ but he decided they were doing the latter since they ‘resumed foraging very peaceably next to each other.’ The date of the sighting seems to offer further proof that they were mating! Since none of these rare birds were found during the Christmas Bird Count this year, I am now challenged to go searching for one. Wish me luck.  Usually our posts stick to the urban river between the Trestle and Highway 1.  But we are connected to the upper river – and I just wanted to pass on this inspiring piece from John Muir  at this point in history.

Here is the eloquent and ecstatic last paragraph of the chapter:

Such, then, is our little cinclus, beloved of every one who is so fortunate as to know him. Tracing on strong wing every curve of the most precipitous torrents from one extremity of the Sierra to the other; not fearing to follow them through their darkest gorges and coldest snow-tunnels; acquainted with every waterfall, echoing their divine music; and throughout the whole of their beautiful lives interpreting all that we in our unbelief call terrible in the utterances of torrents and storms, as only varied expressions of God’s eternal love.

What a naturalist and what a writer!

We all may be facing some icy political challenges in the years ahead. We can learn from the spirit of the little Ouzel.

With best wishes for the courage and grace to meet a challenging New Year,


2 thoughts on “Christmas Bird Count Finds 55 Species On The Urban San Lorenzo River

  1. Hey Barbara, I read the Water Ouzel essay. I never knew he was such a good writer and I got more respect for the little dippers. I loved your closing link between the Ouzel spirit and what we need in these harrowing times.

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