Hello Sparrows, Good-bye Orioles

Good Morning Jane – and good morning to you, too, Bruce Bratton – and all our other readers.

Why that opening, you readers might wonder.  Well – Bruce Bratton, got me and Jane to thinking about the greeting of this blog when he invited us  onto his radio show a couple of weeks ago.  With decades of media experience behind him, he  gently challenged us about addressing only each other  in our blog, and not the rest of you. What do you think? Do you feel excluded? Should we change this convention?  Be sure to check out Bruce’s KZSC radio show, Universal Grapevine, as well as his online column called Bratton Online. Lots of juicy material.

The birding life has been all about sparrows for me this last week. I really liked a comment that I read on the Monterey Bay Bird Google Group this week. Pete Sole wrote,

“Others in the country may have their first frost, falling leaves, etc, but to me, it is the soft song of the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW in our garden, that gently 
announces fall’s arrival to those that listen.”

Exactly my sentiments, Pete. Last year I even got tears in my eyes when I heard what sounds to my old ears as an autumnal lament. Listen for that plaintive 3-note descending whistle if you haven’t heard it yet.  It is all over town.  But the sparrow is not lamenting as far as I know. She sings that song over and over as she establishes her winter territory after her long trip south from breeding grounds as far away as the northern tip of Alaska. A long journey to my backyard and Santa Cruz.

I actually heard the other ‘crowned’ sparrow first, the WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

White-crowned juvenile
Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow

She arrived in my backyard, which backs up to the river levee, on September 26. As soon as I heard her slightly more perky song, I got in my car and headed over to General Feed and Seed for my first of season 20# bag of in-the-shell sunflower seeds. I wanted to give her a good welcome home meal.   The White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows usually arrive within days of each other, and sure enough, the Golden-crowned Sparrow sang to me just three days later. The banks of the levee behind my house are filling up with them now, and I get a good share of the spillover from there. It took them less than 24 hours to find my seeds and they’ve been chowing down ever since.

Another recent and very welcome guest in my riverside backyard have been two Allen’s Hummingbirds. The Allen’s have an incredibly small range, breeding mostly in California and then spending the winter in Mexico.

Allen's Hummingbird
Juvenile female Allen’s Hummingbird (?)  September, 2017, in Cape Honeysuckle hedge between Water and Highway 1, west side of levee  

They get to Santa Cruz as early as March and usually stay no longer than early October. So this will almost surely be my last glimpse. The Allen’s love my neighbor’s Cape Honeysuckle bush, and seem to want to harvest the last drop of nectar before they push on south. The other breeding hummingbird in Santa Cruz, the Anna’s, stays around all year. The Anna’s is the hummer I usually see in my garden.  One of the joys of birding in recent years is my gradual attunement to the seasonal changes of each species.


To top off my backyard sightings was a lingering female HOODED ORIOLE, also pumping herself up on the juicy Cape Honeysuckle offerings before setting off for Central America.

Hooded Oriole 5
Female Hooded Oriole, October 3, 2017, Cape Honeysuckle, between Water and Highway 1, west side of levee.  

In that respect, Randy Wardle, a star local birder, is starting a new monthly column in the Albatross (and online), listing the species that we can expect to arrive and/or leave each month. This will be a wonderful gift to the birding community and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it regularly.

Well, as you well know, the final 2030 Parks Master Plan is about to be approved a week from today, on October 10. Many, many thanks are owed to you,Jane, and quite a few others for working hard to insert more language into the final draft protecting the enviroment!!! Many thanks to Jean Brocklebank, Rachel O’Malley, Michael Lewis, Gillian Greensite, Celia Scott and Peter Scott for all their hard work on the PMP over months and months – all leading up to the City Council meeting next Tuesday.

Thank you especially Jane and Jean, for paying attention to the River part of the Master Plan. I really have not fully grasped what a bureaucratic stepchild our River is. Now that Parks and Recreation has officially dropped the San Lorenzo River from the list of 8 Open Spaces over which it has primary jurisdiction, who will be the new Mama? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it. According to Mauro Garcia, it is officially Public Works. But the focus of Public Works has never included environmental protection except as strictly required by federal and state law. It is a yearly struggle, as you know, to get them to even consider the environmental damage they inflict on the river each year. Yet they are in charge of the river by default because of their primary responsibility for flood control.

Bruce Van Allen, who has been paying close attention to the River for decades, said that during his long history with the River, it’s been considered a multi-departmental responsibility. As Bruce points out, the Planning, Police, Fire and Water Departments all have jurisdiction over aspects of the River. He said that is why back in 2003 the City put the development of the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP) in the City Manager’s Office.

Now the City is talking about hiring an official River Coordinator. Will that be the go-to person for our environmental concerns? You can imagine how fruitful that will be considering all the other interests we will be (and are) competing with.  Environmental concerns will have no more weight with a river coordinator that it does now.  Maybe less.  At least Parks and Recreation has as part of its mission the protection of Open Spaces.

We need an Open Space Department, equal to other departments and existing solely to protect Open Spaces and environmental integrity.   That way we might get  someone at the helm who is a dedicated advocate for the environment only.  That will be a while in coming, won’t it!  But we have to keep pushing.

I was very happy to see that there is much more in the current PMP about creating native habitats in the City Parks. That is progress.

May the birds and all of us stay safe on our long journeys.








10 thoughts on “Hello Sparrows, Good-bye Orioles

  1. Hi Barbara ~ You asked us if we agree with Bruce Bratton, that you should address others in your blog. No, I do not agree. I have enjoyed this conversation between you and Jane. I fell like I am in the room with the two of you as you converse with one another. I like that feeling. Please do not change your format. It is unique. It is you. It is to my liking! Thanks, Jean

  2. I like San Lorenzo River mysteries just the way it is, a delightful conversation between two delightful people about the delightful wildlife along the San Lorenzo River.

    Let there be more delight!

  3. Hi Barbara,
    Please continue addressing Jane in your blog and add “other interested readers.” I appreciate reading your timely river Bird details and seeing your photos. Thanks so much! Alison

    1. Thanks, Alison! I miss our birding trips south. You are sort of responsible for this blog since it was Nanci’s bird class that led me to the river – via Lisa Sheridan! We are definitely thinking about our greeting. I know I am writing to everyone when I write, as well as Jane, but it’s been fun writing it as a letter to Jane and receiving her responses to me. I wonder how the tone would change if we added ‘other interested readers’. Good birding to you! Barbara

  4. Barbara, my husband and I love your blog. I am a native Californian, family from SC, parents still have a house there, we were married there, etc, but I’ve been living in NYC for 23 years. We are birders and nature lovers and adore to get the news from the west.

    I’ve always been curious about the mysterious Jane! I guess I thought this was a letter to a friend which you made public, but I do appreciate you acknowledging that we are also out here following, so I don’t feel quite so nosey! And when you refer to something she has mentioned, we always feel a little left out. Thank you for your delightful insights, your sightings, and your tireless efforts to keep the blessed San Lorenzo and all open spaces safe during this seemingly careless time. Onwards!
    Tina and Andy, gazing west through binoculars from NYC

    1. So happy to know our blog is reaching a former SAnta Cruz bird lover in NYC! I was really surprised to realize that you have not been seeing Jane’s pieces to me. We take turns posting every Tuesday and all the pieces are public, part of the same blog. You have some juicy reading ahead of you! Loved your word ‘nosey’. That is kind of the fun of reading the private letters of others and a little of what we imagined would be the ‘feel’ of the blog. But I am often aware as I write that Jane already knows some of what I am writing about (especially the political aspects) so it is also just a literary convention.

      Anyway, we are so ‘careless’ of this precious world. Thanks for still caring!

  5. Hi Barbara, so far I am the one malcontent who (sort of) agrees with Bruce. There is a certain homey charm to the way you are doing it now, and it probably doesn’t make much difference to your readers. But I’d kind of like to be addressed directly, even though it would not be personal. Environmentalists already have enough of a challenge being perceived as an odd in-group. On another topic, I’m glad you nabbed a picture of the oriole!!!

  6. As a regular reading I need no special invitation to read, but great idea to expand your influence any way you can.

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