Goodbye, Steve

Steve Gerow 1, Younger Lag, 10-3-08.jpg David Suddjian
Steve Gerow at Younger Lagoon.  Photo by David Suddjian

Dear Jane,

Your report on Steve Gerow’s death hit me hard. I didn’t really know him personally – only as an awed beginner on many of his famous bird walks. But the breadth of his knowledge about the natural world inspired almost everyone who joined those walks, and his generosity of spirit and great humility inspired love. I was among the many who loved him!

When I read the date of his death, May 10, I realized that he must have responded to my most recent ID request only 11 days before he died! He wrote, “Hi Barbara,This one took me a while to figure out.  But I think it is a just-fledged juv. European Starling. Steve ” He knew ahead of time that he had only a short time left to live, but most of us didn’t know that.  We continued to ask him questions and he chose to respond generously to all of us right down to the end.

I also think back to 2014 when we were beginning the anti–paddling campaign. Eager to have a solid list of the different species that occurred on the river, I made an attempt to compile a list using eBird. I sent it to him to ask his opinion. He wrote back with great kindness,  letting me know that he had been planning to create such a list and that he thought he could complete it in a month or so. I didn’t know at the time that he had very recently been diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer, although several people in the Bird Club had been noticing that he had been having more difficulty breathing on uphill grades. In spite of his worries and declining health, he sent me a vastly improved list that integrated so many of his personal observations over the decades.  It was an annotated list divided into the four categories of Birds that Breed on the River, Birds that Do Not Breed on the River But Are Present on the River During Breeding Season, Birds that Breed in the More Natural Area Upstream from Highway 1, and Birds that Do Not Breed on the River (Migrants, Winter Residents, etc.) For each species Steve provided information on where the species builds its nest, what months it is present, whether it is common or rare on the river, and lots of other invaluable information that can be found nowhere else, including eBird. I hope readers will check out this list of 122 Species on the ‘Links’ page of this blog.  (I bet some folks haven’t even noticed this page!)  It is the first resource mentioned.  I use it all the time myself, and also hand it to city officials  who are still struggling  to believe that our river is really a wildlife habitat of great diversity and importance.

Thank you, Steve Gerow, for all you did for birds, humans and the planet.

Speaking of the wildlife value of our river, wasn‘t it nice to receive an e-mail from James Maughn last week reporting his discovery of a Western Pond Turtle just below the Water St. Bridge – a rare sighting of a California Species of Special Concern.  According to the California Department of Water Resources, this species  was also under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an Endangered Species. According to the website, the causes of population decline include “habitat loss and alteration, population fragmentation, little or no recruitment, introduction of alien species (e.g. bullfrog) and predation on young especially by raccoons.”

Western Pond Turtle, Water St. Bridge area, April 2017, seen and photographed by James Maughan.

On May 14 I was sitting quietly by the river behind the Tannery when suddenly a family of 8 tiny baby COMMON MERGANSERS and their mother shot out from the overhanging vegetation right under my nose  and headed downstream at a rapid pace. I leaped up and followed them as best I could until they reached the Highway 1 Bridge. There they paused, seemed to consider their next step, and finally turned back upstream. Steve comments in his list that the birds require cavities in logs, so generally nest in the area where I first saw them.   A week later, my friend Michael Levy told me that he had seen not one but two (!) separate merganser families swimming and fishing below the Highway 1 Bridge. One family, he said, had 8 babies, so that must be my family. The other had three.

8 Baby RedBreasted Mergansers
Common Merganser family, May 19, 2017, behind Tannery 

My friend Batya Kagan also saw a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON this week, a year-round resident but not recorded as breeding on the river. I was jealous. I haven’t seen one of these for quite a while.

Black-crowned Night-heron acting mysteriously!

I can’t quite figure out what the wild-spirited swallows are doing. I have only been seeing a sprinkling of CLIFF SWALLOWS since I reported the frenzy of swallows about a month ago. But then, mysteriously, last week I ran into another small tornado of 12 Cliff Swallows all gathering mud again near the Water St. Bridge. Are they still nest-building this late? I watched them but couldn’t catch them heading towards any obvious sites.

Cliff Swallow
Cliff Swallow gathering mud near Water St. Bridge, May 21, 2017

I hope all our readers will go to the Pogonip Watch website before June 12 and register your feelings and ideas about a new Parks and Recreation proposal that would add up to three new trails in the Pogonip. This proposal, heavily pushed by the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MboSC) will come before the council on that date. Please attend if you can, or write letters. Even though the Pogonip may seem to some of our readers remote from the San Lorenzo River, its creeks drain into the San Lorenzo at several points, and when trails are degraded like the steep technical trail they are proposing, the eroded land dumps even more sediment into the river. This, of course, is in addition to degrading the wildlife habitat and the serenity and beauty of that precious urban green space. Please sign the online petition. Click Here.

I hope my upsteam mergansers make it down to your end of the river before they are too grown up.  I know you will love them.  They usually find good fishing down at your end!

Good luck to babies all over the world – human, feathered, finned and four-footed.










3 thoughts on “Goodbye, Steve

  1. So sorry to hear about Steve. A number of years ago, we would see him quite often at Arana Gulch observing birds. He always seemed so peaceful and a taking in sights and sounds that most of the rest of us didn’t even notice.

  2. A correction about the second Merganser family I saw: There was a Merganser mom sitting on a sandbar with at least five young ones clustered underneath her. This was in the early evening, and in the morning they were gone.

  3. I am sorry that you lost a good friend and it seems as though the environment also lost a champion. I signed the petition and sent my comments. If Santa Cruz can not hold the line for the environment what chance the rest of the country? I am so dismayed at trump’s latest criminal act. It feels as though the current administration has declared war on the environment. Fight back Santa Cruz. Hands off the San Lorenzo river.
    And thank you again for the lovely articles.

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