Reaching for Sweetness

Good Morning Jane,

Mallard Tasting Blackberries
Mallard reaching for wild blackberries between Water St. and Hwy 1 Bridges. 

I couldn’t take my eyes off this MALLARD, stretching her neck, egret style, to get that last reachable and scrumptious blackberry. I feel I am doing the same thing with the last berries of the season – savoring them while they last.  And, indeed, this photo is emblematic of my old age, reaching for the last sweet tidbits of life.  I’m grateful for all  these sweet bird sightings  along the San Lorenzo River.

Crow juvenile 1
Juvenile Crow

This juvenile AMERICAN CROW won the ‘Scruffy, Fluffy and Puffy Award of the Week” , hands down. There she was, balancing bravely on a on the edge of a building, gamely setting off on life’s precarious journey. I had to laugh out loud. The SCRUB JAY juvenile came in second on my scorecard of fluffs.

Fluffy scrub jay
Juvenile Scrub Jay

The mallard babies continue to amuse me by refusing to act like mallards as they dive again and again underneath the surface of the river. Their parents haven’t been able to explain to them yet that diving is for other ducks, not mallards! These babies are still intent on exploring the whole range of possible duck behaviors without any respect for their definition as dabblers, not divers. This week I saw at least two families of Mallards, one family of 7 babies and one family of 4. It was the frisky young of this latter family that entertained me with their playful diving.  I hope these babies find a good place to roost at night when the mowers arrive.

4Mallard babies
Five juvenile mallards, resting between dives, August 3, 2107


I had one unusual sighting this week, a migratory WESTERN KINGBIRD that I had never seen before.

Ash throated flycatcher
Migratory Western Kingbird, east side of river between Water St. and Highway Bridges, August 3, 2017

Checking eBird, I learned that it is a species whose appearance peaks in Santa Cruz in early May, apparently on its way to breeding grounds further north or inland in the lower mountain regions of California. Then it peaks again between now and mid-September as the birds head back to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. I felt relieved that we could offer her a little riverside hospitality before the chain saws and bulldozers arrive to cut down the willows that she was perched on so innocently. I am expecting the annual onslaught to begin any time after August 15, the date that the state says is the end of breeding season and the date after which the Public Works flood control work begins.  We won’t be very welcoming to late-arriving Kingbirds and many other migrants once that happens.

Another highlight of the week was spotting two young BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS stalking fish while I stalked them.

stalking Black-crowned Night Heron 7
First Summer Black-crowned Night-heron, fishing between Highway 1 and Water St. Bridges, probably born in early spring, 2017

For whatever purposes, we are all interested in one another. Neither of these Night-herons had achieved their handsome black and white adult outfits, making them a little harder to identify. I immediately checked Sibley when I got back and that wonderful guide had both of my bird birds – a ‘first summer’ bird probably born  at the beginning of breeding season near February or March, as well as a ‘juvenile’ probably born sometime in July.   Was the parent also around? Where were they born?  Was it one family or two?

Black-crowned Night Heron Juvenile 1
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron, August 3, 2017, between Highway 1 and WaterSt. Bridges. probably born in June or July, 2017

Steve Gerow says that they do not breed in the lower San Lorenzo but are present “with some regularity during the breeding season.” I guess that means that they must breed nearby. They are mysterious birds! I always get a little thrill when I spy their inscrutable presence lurking motionless in some hidden spot. The two young ones were actively fishing, something I don’t usually get to see. Maybe these young ones haven’t learned yet that they are supposed to be nocturnal hunters.

Kids' wildlife banners
Banners at exercise station up from Ross Store

I somehow never took time to appreciate the color banners just up from the Ross store on the west side of the River. There are  based on the drawings and comments of young children, and they are my favorite art on the Riverwalk. . I was disappointed that the bird banner used the number 238 for total count of birds  on the river.   including the shore birds and ocean birds that frequent the mouth of the river. The number 238 is an impressively high number,  but includes rare sightings as well as birds that are really shore birds and ocean birds, not dependent on our river for their survival.   I prefer the number 122 that Steve Gerow used to describe the number of species that actually depend for their lives on the urban stretch of river between Highway 1 and the trestle.

Recent news turned 122 into another good number!   It is the number of member nations in the United Nations that voted last week to make nuclear weapons illegal. (Of course the United States and all other nuclear-weapon-equipped countries are not among that number.) I’m sure every single species of the 10,000 bird species that exist in the world would concur with the majority of the General Assembly. But the bullies win – at least in the short term.

Here are my eBird checklists for August 3  and August 6, 28 species in all.

Quote of the Week “Nothing in the world is as a yielding and receptive as water.  The receptive triumphs over the inflexible.”  Lao-tzu

Give my best to the birds at your end of this tender stream of wild life.




2 thoughts on “Reaching for Sweetness

  1. Another wonderful treasure trove of birding life along the San Lorenzo River from a wonderful nature writer. Thank you!

Leave a Reply