Reflections – Beauty and the Beast

Dear Jane,

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I uploaded this photo taken near Water St. Bridge and discovered the reflection of a CLIFF SWALLOW cozied up near the  PIED-BILLED GREBE.   Even the grebe looks surprised, or do I imagine things?

PBG w/ swallow shadow – Version 2
Pied-billed Grebe surprised at rare “underwater” visitor?  San Lorenzo River near Water St. Bridge, August 18, 2017


Red beaks, orange beaks, thin beaks, thick beaks! I enjoyed your riff on tern identification. It certainly mirrors my own squinty-eyed efforts to grasp the nuances of what distinguishes one member of a species from another.

I have been focusing all my birding energy  between Highway 1 and Water St. where the annual flood control assault will soon  begin. Isn’t it strange that we both live in fear of our own species damaging this other family of creatures that we love.   For you last week it was breaching the sand bar, for me this week the threatened assault on the bird-filled habitat of the levee. I laughed out loud at the irreverent little ditty you concocted regarding the  breaching.  It helps to  introduce a little satire in the face of habitat damage doesn’t it!

Anyway, this year the flood control work seems to be delayed. In fact, I was told on August 7th that the Department was still in the process of hiring a contractor.  I have been calmer since  Mark Dettle, director of the Public Works Department, spoke to City Council in the spring and assured them that vegetation removal would not begin this year until after the official end of breeding season – August 15. So far, so good. Thank you, Mr. Dettle, for keeping that promise.

This week I have been especially thinking of this very scruffy and awkward juvenile GREEN HERON that I saw on August 18. What a hairdo. Is she still

Green Heron Juv with crest 1
Juvenile Green Heron, August 18, 2017, west side of San Lorenzo River between Water St. and Highway 1.

dependent on parents to feed her? How will she respond to the bulldozers and chain saws?

And, believe it or not,  I am still seeing  MALLARD families – this one swimming together in tight formation.

Mallard family of 7 juvs
7 Mallard juveniles, August 18, San Lorenzo River, between Water St. and Highway 1 Bridges.

I believe that the young ones are still somewhat dependent on the parent. Most of the Mallards, though, are resting up after the long breeding season. I counted 104 along the short stretch between Highway 1 and Water St. – most of them just lolling about. Breeding is hard work.


I tend to forget that even though we say good-bye to our local breeding swallows, we are likely to see more flying by from further north as they also head to their wintering grounds in Central America. Here is a mixed group of swallows, including CLIFF SWALLOWS and VIOLET- GREEN SWALLOWS that I discovered resting on a telephone wire this last week.

Swallow Congregation
Mixed swallow gathering, mostly Cliff Swallows, a few Violet-Green swallows. August 18, 2017, San Lorenzo River, between Highway 1 and Water St. Bridges.

This would be a very unusual sight during breeding season since the swallows are wonders of endless movement and energy, seeming never to stop as they sweep through the air seeking insects for themselves and their offspring.




Sadly, three huge pine trees lining the river side of the County Building were brought down this last weekend.

Last of three huge pine trees to be removed along river side of County Building.  August 19, 2017.

I inquired as to the reason, but the workers said they didn’t know and shooed me away for safety reasons. The trees looked very healthy to me. I stood transfixed and horrified as the last of the three was beheaded. I just hope that the County had a good reason. This is where the rare PLUMBEOUS VIREO was discovered several years ago.






I was intrigued by a little show put on by two SNOWY EGRETS in the same area as the Green Heron and Night-Heron. One egret was bouncing up and down, with plumed crest dancing high in the wind, in hot pursuit of another egret.

Egret Courting 2 – Version 2
Snowy egrets in territorial skirmish.  August 18, San Lorenzo River, between Highway 1 and Water St. Bridge

I couldn’t imagine a  a mating dance at this time of year, and confirmed this by checking Birds of North America.  It sounds like it may have been a  territorial skirmish.  Maybe some uppity juveniles were encroaching into adult territory? Usually the Snowies are spaced at some distance from one another along the river, each in its own domain. In this case, were the juveniles  staying too close to mama and having to learn a hard lesson. Just a guess. I had been surprised to see four of them all together.

I ran into our new river friend Alan and he told me that he is preparing another video that he will soon share with us and our readers. Such a delight to have him watching the birds with us on the levee. Do you know that in my three years of birding the levee, I have never, except for the few organized bird trips, run into anyone besides you with a pair of binoculars. It is no wonder that this stunning daily drama is unknown to most members of our community. Of course, 99% is  unknown to me. But I treasure the small glimpses I get.  Here is my eBird list for this last week  which includes 25 species- click here

Quote of the Week:

When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s live may be – I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beatuy on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.  Wendell Barry

Filled with gratitude that a river, with its wild inhabitants, flows outside my door.







4 thoughts on “Reflections – Beauty and the Beast

  1. According to my scientific calculations, the grebe can’t see the swallow in the water because from the grebe’s point of view, the reflection is not at that location. That location is reserved for an observer standing where you were. The swallow was in the air somewhere to the grebe’s left (i.e., the far side of the grebe from you), and if there were a visible reflection it would have been also off the grebe’s left shoulder. However, the grebe is indeed surprised, because s/he never expected to show up in a fashionable blog like this.

  2. Barbara — this is another marvelous post — letting me visit vicariously with a part of nature I don’t have contact with, along with meditative comfort for the sadness of how precarious all this is.

    1. Thank you, Ed. Perhaps at our age we project ephemerality onto everything. I just read a quote from Plato that I like. ‘Time is the moving image of eternity’. Precarious and eternal both.

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