Of Grebes and Grosbeaks

Dear Jane,

I read your last posting with a little shudder.  Yes, worrisome, isn’t it -the Planning Commission wondering about including paddling and kayaking in an upcoming EIR.  The shadow that won’t go away!  Glad it was outside the scope of whatever this was about.     And so glad you got to have a long, soulful eye-to-eye exchange with a COOPER’S HAWK!

A week ago I finally took my first bird walk after my fall.  I actually didn’t walk but sat – behind the Tannery, letting the birds come to me.  As usual, all was quiet as I slowly settled in and let the watchful birds get accustomed to my presence.  Then, suddenly, I saw what I had been waiting all summer to see.  A baby grebe swam into view.  I breathed in sharply!   My first juvenile PIED-BILLED GREBE of the year, the first one that has been reported on the river this year as far as I know. I suspect she must be the offspring of the two adult grebes Gary Kittleson reported seeing several weeks ago.  I think the parents must have built a nest further upstream this year due to the damage to the tule stands downstream caused by the high waters this winter.  The juvenile was nonchalantly swimming around behind the Tannery, not fishing for itself, nor with any sign of solicitous parents willing to feed it. I was so excited that I dropped my $400 camera in the sand, jamming the zoom and rendering it useless.  So here’s a commemorative photo of “Stripy”, my special baby grebe at about the same age, taken two years ago,

Stripy, my favorite juvenile Pied-billed Grebe, 2015, San Lorenzo River between Laurel and Soquel

From the same great spot, I also got my first glimpse this summer of a pair of BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, busily foraging in the willows behind the Tannery.

BH Grosbeak Hybe 21 2017
Male Black-headed Grosbeak, behind Tannery, June 21, 2017, captured before I ruined my camera.

Two years ago I could identify the song, but I’m having to learn it all over again. One source describes it as “a rich warble that is similar to that of an American robin but more fluent, faster, softer, sweeter and mellow with rising and falling passages that make the song much longer than the robin’s.”

Female Black-headed Grosbeak, (google image)

I went out birding recently with our faithful reader, Michael Levy, a professional pianist. He opined that the song is not too hard to identify. But, I’m still struggling.  Having an ear more sensitive to music would help.

My fall has reminded me of the joys of sitting still along the river.  I was scheduled to lead a bird walk along the river with a small  small group of environmentally concerned Quakers.  Not being able to walk far,  I decided to make the birding trip another sit-down trip in the Benchlands.  (Our local naturalist and bird lover, Jon Young, writes about this approach in his highly recommended book ‘What the Robin Knows’.) We sat quietly (or sort of) and let the birds come to us. Almost immediately, a GREAT BLUE HERON paraded slowy by in all its showy finery, followed by two drake MALLARDS in beginning eclipse, their brilliant green/purple heads well on their way to becoming a plain brown indistinguishable from the females. The biggest surprise was a BROWN CREEPER, spiraling up a nearby tree in its unique fashion, then flying back down for another ascent, and another…!

Brown Creeper (google image)

To most of the group it was not half as interesting as the glamorous Heron, but I think it was only the second or third time I have seen this deep woodland species in the much more public Benchlands. Did you know that not only do Brown Creepers hunt insects under the thick, craggy bark of large trees, but they also build their tiny nests under the bark! Was this young bird dispersed from its nest further away? Steve Gerow says they may nest in the Benchlands area but have definitely been recorded as nesters in Oceanview Park. Maybe they like parks?

Have you heard about the new Pterosaurus exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco? Did you know that Pterosauruses are not dinosaurs? Or that all our birds descend from dinosaurs, not the earlier Pterosaurus line. I’m definitely going to try to take in this exhibit.

As you well know, we will all have our final chance to weigh in with the Parks and Recreation Commission on the Parks Master Plan on Monday, September 11, 4–6 pm. This will be the last meeting before the Commission makes its final recommendation to the City Council. A big question is whether the City will let the mountain bikers (I am now calling them thrill bikers) get their desired downhill, technical trail in the Pogonip. I say ‘Just say ‘no’!’ Pogonip was not created for adventure sports. It was created to protect our natural resources and to provide a unique space for the quiet appreciation of nature.

Logo for Coastal Watershed Council (CWC) Ebb and Flow Fundraiser June 4, 2017

I hope our readers will visit Pogonip Watch website (http://www.pogonipwatch.org), read about how biking affects the San Lorenzo Watershed, and send in your comments. I like our friend Rachel O’Malley’s new slogan idea – Don’t Shred the Watershed!

Quote of the Week

Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife:

Come, hear the woodland linnet,

How sweet his music! On my life,

There’s more of wisdom in it.

(From the poem ‘The Tables Turned’ by William Wordsworth 1798)

May all beings hear the hidden music of the river!






4 thoughts on “Of Grebes and Grosbeaks

  1. As always, a wonderful post! Here’s hoping you are back to easy walking soon and so sorry about your camera lens!

  2. Such a fine report.

    Remind me as the September Parks and Recs meeting comes up. (Love those slogans).

    Hoping trump gives us a crisis-breather for that day.



  3. Updating Wordsworth:

    Screens! ’tis a bottomless addiction:
    Come, hear the Thrush’s fluting,
    How psychedelic! It’s no fiction,
    Life is there, not in computing.

  4. Thanks for another lovely post Barbara. I too am sorry about your camera. Try taking it to a repair shop before buying another.
    How are we going to organize against the Coastal watershed Council and the developers? The river is not big enough for birds and a multitude of kayaks or paddle boards.
    We should start to plan, lobby and gather support now. I will volunteer some of my time although I work between 50 and 60 hours per week. One thing we could do right away is to gather signatures “Hands off the San Lorenzo”. If it is targeted against the corporate interests I believe it will gather a lot of support in Santa Cruz. I am going to write to the Sentinel today or tomorrow and to the Good Times.

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