Broken Wing Displays and Broken Politics

Dear Jane,

I landed rather hard and unceremoniously on my derriere two weeks ago.   This scary and painful incident has confined me to my house, mostly birdless except for the ongoing mischief of the Scrub Jays in my backyard. Finally, hungry to be with my river and birds again, my cane and I picked our way carefully down to the Benchlands. My friend Jim Rollins, who accompanied me, suddenly said he saw what looked like a wounded bird on the sandbar next to some screeching gulls. As a result of his quick eye, I got to see for the first time the broken wing display of a KILLDEER, trying in this case to distract the two gulls away from what was almost certainly a nest.   I didn’t manage to move fast enough to get a photo, so here is a Google substitute.  The Killdeer apparently gulled the gullible gulls who hopped after her, then lost interest and took off. It all calmed down and for at least a half hour the Killdeer foraged peacefully along the edge of the sandbar – ‘broken wing’ miraculously healed.

kileer broken wing display
Killdeer in broken wing display, Google image

Since I wasn’t able to get out on the river for a real walk, I thought I’d check out eBird’s latest postings about the San Lorenzo. To my delight, I discovered  two wonderful reports from Gary Kittleson, one from June 7 reporting 42 species and one from today, June 13, reporting 35 species. The most unusual sighting was a SANDHILL CRANE, reported to be circling over downtown Santa Cruz for about 10 minutes, then heading southesat towards Loma Prieta!!

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane, circling over Santa Cruz, June 13, 2017


He also saw 2 PIED-BILLED GREBES on the river, the first sighting this summer.  I’m sure you understand how  my heart went pit-a-pat when I saw this. I can hardly wait to get out on the river, find them and see if they are near some inviting tules that will make a a good nesting site.  Who knows, I might get another  chance to be a Grandma to some late-season Pied-billed Grebe babies.

And on the subject of babies, Kittleson’s two postings  listed a total of 11 (!) species of juveniles either seen or heard. They were MALLARDS, COMMON MERGANSERS, RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS, AMERICAN KESTREL (very significant sighting), BLACK PHOEBES, COMMON RAVENS, SCRUB JAYS, NORTHER ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, DARK-EYED JUNCOS AND COMMON YELLOWTHROATS.  Here are photos snagged from Google images of 6 of the 11 just to get a feel for all the babies living on the river right now!!



scrub jay
Juvenile Scrub Jay, Google image
NRWS juvenile
Juvenile Northern Rough-winged Swallow, google image
rshawk juv
Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, Google image
kestrel juvenile
Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, Google Iimage
common yellowthroat juvenile
Juvenile Common Yellowthroat, Google image
Chestnut-backed_Chickadee with fledgling_l09-20-003_l_1
Juvenile Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Google image



The politics of the river these last two weeks has been pretty hairy! There is the beginning of a strong push from both public and private directions that would allow private interests to essentially take over some of our public lands. The promoters are so much better funded and better organized than we are. Let’s hope that those of us who care about democracy, and about protecting our environment,  can get some traction.

First of all, there was the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting yesterday where, as you know, you and I were crowded into a packed room with about 50 mountain bikers and 30 environmentalists, all doing our best to make our respective cases before the Commissioners. The City staff (Parks and Rec) was asking the Commissioners to recommend to City Council that an  innocent enough sounding phrase  be incorporated into the Parks Master Plan. The few but momentous words were  ” to recommend to the City Council that the final Parks Master Plan 2030 include recommendations for exploring additional mountain biking and multi-use trail opportunities in Pogonip Open Space and DeLaveaga Park.” The operative word was ‘exploring’. Parks and Recreation Department is clearly wanting to get a green light from the City to pursue its obvious enthusiasm for more mountain bike trails in Pogonip and DeLaveaga Park. This is their foot in the door. The city staff got its way, but with a split  four to three vote, with Meyers, Brown and Evans voting ‘no’.   As I said in my last post, readers can read all about this issue on the Pogonip Watch website. I was very pleased that Celia and Peter Scott chose to post my letter to the City on the website. In that letter I provide some information about how strict limits on mountain biking in the North and East Bay are pushing mountain bikers southward to Santa Cruz. I asked the question as to whether our City council would be able to muster the resolve to also set clear limits. So far, the answer seems to be ‘no’. But the City Council itself has yet to weigh in. I strongly encourage readers to check out Pogonip Watch, study the material, and let the City Council know what you think.

Then, this afternoon, the City Council took up the question of ‘Parklets’. The proposed ordinance again  seems so innocent, but the implications are far reaching and provide cause for very serious concern. Here are two paragraphs from my letter to the City Council: “The ordinance threatens the democratic process whereby land use decisions are made by our city government and not by private groups and individuals.    If this ordinance is passed, it opens the door to many abuses in which corporations, businesses, agencies, recreational groups and individuals with the financial resources can determine what kinds of activities will take place in our forests, rivers, wetlands and open spaces – as well as our neighborhood and community parks…  For early signs of this already happening, it is only necessary to look at the pump track on the Benchlands (paid for with $25,000 from the Rotary Club), the proposed mountain biking in the Pogonip and DeLaVeaga Park (promoted by the bicycle industry), the environmentally problematic summer takeover of the environmentally sensitive Benchlands by the recreational and food industry (promoted by the Coastal Watershed Council)”  

Logo for Coastal Watershed Council sponsored event called Watershred, an event promoting mountain bike and skateboarding companies in Santa Cruz held on the Benchlands along the San Lorenzo river on June 11, 2017

And speaking of the Coastal Watershed Council, I just cannot wrap my mind around what they are doing. They continue to carry on their historical good work of measuring water quality. But the non-profit’s focus seems to be more and more on promoting the river as a playground and commercial development area. I really fail to see how this contributes to helping our community connect to the real river, i.e. the riparian ecosystem. As a result, I just couldn’t get that excited about the recent Ebb and Flow celebration on June 10th and 11th, in spite of all the good art and creative floats, and in spite of the fact that the grandchild of a friend of mine created a wonderful movable sculpture of a duck! It all seemed like a smoke screen to me, something to cover the real intent behind ‘revitalizing the river’ movement. I was especially blindsided by the Watershred (what a word!) event on the Benchlands this last weekend, an event which was promoted as an introduction to all the companies in the area and outside the area that contribute to making Santa Cruz a ‘mecca for action sports’. The list of participants constitutes an excellent list of the action sports industry that is promoting mountain biking in the Pogonip. Here are some of the companies that had stands and demonstrations at the event: Santa Cruz (maker of mountain bikes and skateboards), Blix Electric Bikes, Calfee Design (bamboo bikes), Zero Motorcycles (electric motorcycles), Inboard Technology (electric skateboards) Future Motion (electric self balancing board), Archer Components (electric mountain bike shifters) and more. Is the Riverwalk now to be populated with electric skateboards and electric bikes? For whose benefit? Certainly not mine, since I already fear the numbers and speed of the non-motorized bikers.

Well, it’s not a pretty picture in terms of protecting our beautiful wildlife habitat. So let’s keep telling people about the river that we are connecting to – a peaceful urban oasis with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. I actually think that most residents of our city are looking for this kind of river experience, not the carnival atmosphere envisioned by some of our city boosters.

A peaceful and birdy week to you,











2 thoughts on “Broken Wing Displays and Broken Politics

  1. “I landed rather hard and unceremoniously on my derriere two weeks ago.” Next time let’s make sure we set up a ceremony. And a pillow.
    About Pied-Billed Grebes, I was at Struve Slough a week ago and it was nothing but Pied-Billed Grebes. I think I saw 20 of them and maybe one or two Mallards.

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