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Rivers of Migrating Birds

Dear Jane,

I discovered an amazing new feature on eBird this week – what they call a Birdcast Migration Forecast. Have you found that yet? Click here for the link.   I checked out the migration forecast for this week, April 14-21 for our region and read the following:

“Scattered light to locally moderate flights begin the weekend, gradually increasing in extent through Monday and Tuesday. By Tuesday the first of two new weather system arrives at the coast, and begins to shut down movements as it passes through the region on Wednesday….” It’s like a weather report on birds!   And, quite reasonably, birds prefer not to fly through bad weather so they stick around.  (I tend to hunker down, too, and not go birding.  But perhaps I need to get out more in the rain to see who is visiting us.)

Central, Mississippi, Pacific and Atlantic Flyways

Even more interesting is the website’s prediction of arrival times as well as peak and departure times. For instance, the migration of Northern Rough-winged Swallows  in our western region (more or less the red color on the left) usually peaks on May 4 and is over on May 27. I guess that means that after that date, we can expect that the ones we see have decided to settle down and raise their babies right here in Santa Cruz. Cliff Swallows peak later, on June 19, and pretty much are finished traveling by the end of June.

Two weeks ago when I last wrote you, there were mostly NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS swooping around the Water St. Bridge. Yesterday, there were still quite a few disappearing into the holes under the bridge where they build their nests. But there were many more CLIFF SWALLOWS dashing about. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of them building their mud nests yet. I did see two of them fly up to an old mud nest only to find two HOUSE SPARROWS squeezed inside the nest facing off with them. The Cliff Swallows left. Sad.

I discovered from this same website that the GREEN HERON migration through the western state region will peak on May 10 and the last ones will pass through on June 10. Of course, some members of this species are year-round residents in Santa Cruz. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a Green Heron on the river. Where are they?

And speaking of all the birdy wonders of the Internet, I have been opening my Larkwire app quite often recently in my earnest attempts to learn the songs of the migrating birds, especially the warblers.  If readers don’t know about Larkwire, I highly recommend this very helpful and amusing App. It allows you to create playlists of any birdsongs that you want to learn, then test yourself with identification games that give you immediate feedback. There are skill levels from beginner through intermediate, advanced and master. It’s way more fun than crossword puzzles, in my opinion. Warning! It can also be frustrating and addictive.

I think I now have both the migrating WILSON’S WARBLER and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER songs at least temporarily impressed on the sandy soils of my brain. I ran into my birding friend, Michael Levy, a couple of days ago who told me that he had just seen a yellow warbler in the cottonwoods on the Benchlands and thought it might be an Orange-crowned. When I walked down there, sure enough, I heard the trill of the Orange-crowned that I had been listening to on my iPad. I looked but the singing bird was high in the cottonwood canopy, and I never did find her. Of course, in the narrow coastal band where we live, some Orange-crowned Warblers are year-round residents, so these may not be migrants. But they certainly sing more in the spring. To me the OCW trill is easier than almost all the other warbler trills – sounding like someone running their finger over a comb. The notes of the other warblers are more separated, though still burbly and warbly.

Speaking of bird apps, I now have downloaded Sibley, Audubon and iBird onto my iPad. Each app has different strengths.   Sibley is basically a digitalized version of the book, with the addition of the songs and calls of the bird. It’s the best for bird identification. The Audubon app has an amazing map feature that shows you where a specific species has appeared in our area in the last couple of days! iBird includes photos of the species as well as a drawing, and also has a lot of interesting bird lore. I think they are all well worth the relatively low price!

I was so interested in your photo of the emerging sand bar at the mouth of the river and your comments on the sand build-up. Here’s my version of this same phenomenon from upriver – next to the Water St. Bridge. There is now a whole new beach area where there used to be only river ­– while the river is now constrained within even more narrow boundaries.

Sediment build-up just north of Water St. Bridge, San Lorenzo River April 14, 2017

The Parks and Recreation Commission meeting last week was interesting. I hit a new record by speaking three times, on three different subjects. During Oral Communications, I urged the Commissioners to take seriously the advice of the famous biologist E.O.Wilson in his end-of-life appeal to set aside half the earth for wildlife. His book, Half the Earth, justifies this radical strategy as the only way we can protect the dangerously threatened bio-diversity of the planet.

I also expressed concern about the City’s proposed Adopt-a-Park Program, which would partner the City with private individuals and agencies. On the surface it sounds like a great idea, but I expressed concern about lots of commercial money finding its way into city planning and policy. We have already seen how donations backed by commercial interests have driven the paddling and mountain bike campaigns that threaten the environmental integrity of our river and open spaces. Of course, your wonderful little park on the river I would fully support.

Finally, I spoke about the proposed redesign of the San Lorenzo Park. I was comforted to hear the Chair of the Commission, Donna Meyers, express a personal preference for leaving the Benchlands undeveloped, or even as an area for some restoration. That was also what I advocated. As you’ve heard me say quite often, I am hoping the City will realize that the east bank of the river between Water and Soquel (the Courthouse side) is the only stretch of the downtown river where there is no levee, and which therefore could actually be restored to something approaching its original habitat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a riparian woodland to walk through so close to downtown. I think our community would love that. I certainly would.

The next meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission is on Monday, May 1, from 4 to 6 at the City council Chambers. New mountain bike trails in the Pogonip are first on the agenda, followed by more discussion of the Parks Master Plan!  Click here to visit the website. I hope our readers will be able to write letters or show up for this meeting. I expect Mountain Bikers to be out in force.  I hope environmentalists will turn up as well!

Wishing us all well on our personal migrations from wherever to wherever.


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