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Vagrant Snow Goose Lingers on River

Dear Jane and Nature-loving followers,

As I approach my 80th birthday, everything – every new bird species, every new bird song, every curious new bird fact – they all seem like little gifts piled one upon the other like gifts under a Christmas tree.

Snow Goose near confluence of Branciforte Creek and San Lorenzo River.  Photo by Barbara Riverwoman, December 12, 2017

My most recent gift was this vagrant SNOW GOOSE, almost certainly the same one that you reported on so delightfully in your last blog post, Jane. (I haven’t yet seen the Cackling Goose you also discovered, but I’m  keeping my eyes open). I did a little research on the Snow Goose on eBird and discovered that this species has never been reported on the San Lorenzo River in the last one hundred years! And it has been extremely rare in all of Santa Cruz County  throughout the last one hundred years (averaging 15 at this peak time of migration).   Our hapless, solitary visitor seems to have been blown away or strayed away  from a large flock that normally moves south through  the Central Valley.  Suddenly interested in this bird, I also checked BNA and found out that these powerful birds  have been reported to fly 1800 miles without stopping to rest, and can ascend as high as 25,000 feet. Furthermore,  the Snow Geese that may stop to winter in California can come from as far away as Siberia! Snow Geese apparently take their merry time on the trip south, lingering on marshes, estuaries, slow rivers as well as rice and corn fields, the latter providing an especially rich food source that may contribute to the population increase in this species.

There may still be time to check out this unusual visitor.  As of yesterday,  December 12, the Snow Goose was still on the River, foraging peacefully on the grassy area just north of the new Branciforte footbridge, at the confluence of Branciforte Creek and San Lorenzo River. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit and say ‘hello’. However nice it is to see this bird, though, I hope that she leaves soon and is able to rejoin her flock wherever they may be. I am worried about her.

Isn’t eBird wonderful! Just a few clicks and you can find out not only where a bird is located in your area, but the history of its presence on the San Lorenzo River for the last hundred years. I hope by now all our readers have checked out this amazing website and maybe even started to become citizen scientists yourselves. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. This last week, two top birders in our area, Phil Brown and David Sidle reported 48 species (!) that they spotted during a three-hour hike up and down the river from Highway 1 to the Trestle. Impressive! I made a quick search for migrants and found 13 on their list. I hope you all will  check out Phil and David’s list.  Just click here. They didn’t see the Snow Goose, but their list suggests once again how many species depend on our urban river for sustenance.

And speaking of protecting our urban wetlands, a neglected marshland right in the middle of our City finally got the positive attention from the City that it has long deserved. Jessie St. Marsh, which drains into the San Lorenzo River just before the river enters the sea, was the subject last week of a a two-hour long meeting in the community room of the Police Headquarters.  Noah Downing of Parks and Recreation and Steve Wolfman of the Public Works Department made the major presentations, followed by lots of input from the community. Gary Kittleson, biological consultant, was on hand to answer wildlife questions and Jessie St. Marsh advocates and activists, Rachel O’Malley and Vicki Winters, were there, continuing their decades-long effort to protect this degraded but important wetland.   For the first time in my memory, there was a notable shift in the level of collaborative feeling between city staff and members of the community who want to protect and improve the Marsh as a wildlife habitat. Many of us from the community were very happy, for instance, to hear that if the current proposal is enacted, the distressing annual destruction of tules and cattails  will not be necessary, saving lots of beautiful and ecologically valuable wetland habitat.

41 mallards counted in Jessie St. Marsh after heavy rain. Photo by Barbara Riverwoman, 2015

A question that many of us environmentalists left with was whether we would be able to someday remove the enormous amount of  landfill dumped years ago in  the Lower Estuary (the end of the Marsh that is closest to the river).  If the landfill were removed, it would not only double the size of the Marsh but restore it from its current freshwater marsh status to its original brackish lagoon status. According to O’Malley, a professor of environmental studies at San Jose State, brackish wetland habitat is a more critical habitat to protect than even freshwater marshes. But for the moment, given the time of year, let’s celebrate the commitment of the City to restore the Upper Marsh.

Hoping that you all have a grateful and hopeful bird-filled holiday.







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