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Gold Rush on the San Lorenzo River

Hello Jane,

I’m finding gold all along the river these days – with only binoculars and no pan!

Wilson’s Warbler, seen in willow thicket on San Lorenzo River Benchlands, March 23, 2017,(Google image)

During a three-hour walk this last Sunday, I was rewarded with my first glimpse of the migrating WILSON’S WARBLER. Was this tiny 4-inch nugget of gold, with its shiny black yarmulke, just passing through on its way north from Central America and Mexico, or might it choose Santa Cruz to raise its family? As it dove back into into the dense willow thicket along the river, I found myself hoping that it would be able to find a safer place to nest. Willow thickets along rivers are a favorite place for this species to breed, but the proximity of the new pump track and disc golf course might spell disaster for this tiny bird! I was very sad to read that the population of this species has declined sharply in the last several decades because it prefers to winter at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico – right where there has been so much development of luxury resorts and new residential areas.  As for its breeding range, the Audubon Society reports that there will be a 76% loss of summer range for Wilson’s Warblers by 2080. Sadly, our innocent recreational amenities contribute to that loss. Readers can click here to read more about the Audubon predictions for all bird species.

The Wilson’s Warbler is one of four warblers that are regulars on the downtown stretch of our river during the spring and summer months. Besides the Wilson’s, the YELLOW WARBLER is the only other regular migrant warbler on the river. I didn’t see one on Sunday, but I did hear our year-round resident, the handsome but reclusive COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.

Common Yellowthroat (Google Image)

I waited and waited for him to show himself but no luck. Luckily at this time of year, the male can usually be heard singing his heart out with a distinctive  witchity-witchity song – so you know he is around. The other year-round warbler on our river is the ORANGED-CROWNED WARBLER, a rather drab yellowish/olive creature who puts all its nuptial hopes on its bright orange crown. Unfortunately, the crown is rarely visible to humans.  I didn’t get to see one of those on Sunday.

As we welcome the summer migrants, it is time to say ‘Bon Voyage’ to two other ‘goldens’ – the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (as well as the WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW) and the AMERICAN GOLDFINCH.

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Google image)

I saw all three of these friends on Saturday, either lingering here for a while more before heading north, or otherwise passing through from more southernly parts on their way north. There’s no way of knowing.  The golden crown of the sparrow was much larger and brighter that it is during most of the winter, and the golden plumage of the goldfinch was spectacular.

American Goldfinch (google image)  seen April 2, San Lorenzo River, westside, near Water St. bridge.

I guess they are gussying themselves up early so they will be all set to begin courting when they arrive in in Canada and Alaska. I’m glad we get a chance to see them in their finery before they depart.


On March 23 I hit gold in a different way – with my first sighting of a new family – 7 little MALLARD ducklings foraging with their parents in shallow pools of water created by the river overflowing into the Benchlands. So early! How did the parents manage getting these babies all incubated and fledged during the heavy rains?!

Mallard family, male and female and 7 babies.  San Lorenzo River benchlands near pedestrian bridge, March 23, 2017

I saw them again on Sunday, resting in the Duck Pond that the City talks about removing.

Male and female mallard and 6 babies resting near Duck Pond, April 2, 2017

Will ‘Save the Duck Pond’ become our new rallying cry? Maybe. Reassuringly, a staff person in the Parks and Recreation Department recently told me that any re-design of San Lorenzo Park will only proceed after the Master Plan is in place, and after there is plenty of time for community input about the Park. I also got a sweet photo of a COMMON MERGANSER, some AMERICAN COOTS, and the MALLARDS, hanging out together at the Duck Pond.

American Coots, Mallard, female Common Merganser in Duck Pond, April 2, 2017

These avian species love the Duck Pond. Why would we take it away from them and all the humans that also love that pond? I’d personally like to see them remove the rather ugly and rarely used stage, providing more water for the birds and humans to enjoy. What do you think?

Oh yes, – I wanted to chime in on the returning swallows that you saw last week! I finally saw my first flock of newly arrived NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, about 14 of them sailing and swooping around the Soquel and Water St. Bridges. I managed to take a photo of one Northen Rough-Winged resting on a branch – a rare event. I think the poor dear may have been suffering from jet lag.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, near Water St. Bridge, April 2, 2017

No gold color on these long distance travelers, but they get a gold star for their efforts in getting all the way here from as far away as Panama.

I also caught one glimpse of a CLIFF SWALLOW. I wonder where they will build their mud nests now that the HOUSE SPARROWS are setting up camp in their old nests.

House Sparrow occupying last year’s Cliff Swallow Nest near Water St. Bridge April 4, 2017

In all, I saw 25 species of birds during my almost 3 hour walk on Sunday, including this BELTED KINGFISHER. I always love to see them! Click here for the list.

Belted Kingfisher, April 2, 2017, San Lorenzo River east side between Soquel and Laurel

And – encouraging news that I learned by attending an all-day city council and staff retreat this last weekend. During the goal-setting process, the city staff recommended that paddling be moved to Tier 3 of the ‘deliverables’ meaning that those projects will not be included in the two-year work plan. I’m not sure the city and staff reached consensus on this, but the project seems to be losing ground, at least for the foreseeable future. Hurrah! We need more nature walks and interpretive signage – and less recreation on the river.

I will extend a Buddhist prayer to the birds – may all birds be safe and healthy, may all birds be happy, may all birds reach their full potential.


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