Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,
Why am I so happy to see a delicate pink ribbon still dangling from some scrubby little bush along the levee bank?
Well– because those ribbons were finally placed there this year by the City to warn the mowing crew to leave the native Coyote Bush alone. These low growing shrubs pose no flood threat, but have perished as collateral damage in the City’s grander mission of removing the large-diameter trees like Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows and Box Elders. The pink ribbons remind me that change is slow, but if we keep asking year after year, the City does listen. I hope that in the future many more of the smaller native plants, important to the diversity of the habitat, will be flagged in order to ward off the chainsaws.
I had another ‘first-time-on-the-river’ experience this week, spotting a BAND-TAILED PIGEON perched high overhead on a telephone wire. Even more interesting, she was a juvenile. What was a juvenile Band-tailed doing on the river. Why was she alone instead of in a flock where you usually find these birds? Why have I never seen this year-round resident on the River before. I also started wondering why doves and pigeons (the columbidae family) favor telephone wires.
I decided to do a little research on this unlikely river bird. I found out that Band-tailed pigeons usually stay close to their flock except when breeding. I also learned that they lay only one egg per nest – perhaps explaining why this juvenile was still alone. It turns out that these birds prefer coniferous and oak forest habitats. Maybe their high wire preferences are because these wires are the closest urban equivalent to the high branches in their normal forest habitats. And to my surprise, I found out that this particular species is the closest genetic relative of the extinct Passenger Pigeon. For this reason, the species has been widely studied in an effort to bring back the extinct species
Band-tailed Pigeons and MOURNING DOVES are the two native members of the pigeon and dove family that reside year-round in Santa Cruz.
The Mourning Dove occurs throughout the U.S, but the Band-tailed Pigeon’s range is more limited, extending only along the western parts of Washington, Oregon, California and south to northern Argentina. Its population plunged before the Federal Migratory Game Bird Act of 1918 was passed, due to severe hunting. But it has now recovered and is not longer listed as endangered. Cheers to all the survivors on our River and to all those environmentalists before us who help save threatened plants and animals.
The other two common members of this family, the ROCK PIGEON and the EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, are introduced species. The former is an old timer, having been introduced, I learned, very early in the 17thcentury from Europe, Africa and other parts. The Eurasian Collared-dove, on the other hand, is an upstart. It is native to subtropical Asia and, believe it or not, didn’t arrive in North America until the 1980’s. At that time it entered Florida and has since become one of the great bird colonizers, spreading rapidly across the country. They breed throughout the year, three to four broods being common. Unfortunately, they are known carriers of parasites that can spread to native birds via commingling at feeders and by consumption by predators.
Since I learned that bad news, I’ve been discouraging them from foraging in my backyard where my House Finches, California Towhees and winter sparrows forage. Sad. Before I got wiser, I used to love to see them. During one walk this week, I saw at least one of all four members of this Columbidae family.
As for continuing juveniles, there are still many young SCRUB JAYS hopping around with telltale fluff popping out all over. I laughed out loud earlier in the week to see a young House Finch on a telephone wire with its parent. The teen-ager would edge its way along the wire until it got very close to the mother, who would then scuttle further down the wire, the scene repeating itself again and again. And today, I smiled as I watched two somewhat dazed looking young crows, fully feathered except for just a few wisps of down on their still fairly naked faces. The sight that pleased me the most was this juvenile JUNCO, busily foraging along the sidewalk with a group of adult Juncos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a juvenile Junco.
On a sad note, I think I will have to reconcile myself to the fact that the PIED-BILLED GREBES have not been able to successfully produce any young this year. This is the first time there haven’t been young PBG’s on the River in the four years that I have been watching. Here’s a photo of Stripey, the product of the first nest of Grebes that I discovered in 2015, the highpoint of my river birdwatching. I’m especially sad since I watched the hard working parents try several times to build nests, foiled each time by the suddenly rising or falling river due to the artifical breach of the sand bar.
I met an enthusiastic bird lover named Andy Davis this week while he was out keeping our river clean with the Downtown Street Team.
If some of our readers haven’t met members of this team yet, stop and talk with them. They’re out on the River everyday and know a lot about what is going on. Andy reported the discovery recently of a very large gopher snake, good news on the state of our River’s ecosystem. Somehow she survived the flood chainsaws and bulldozers. When I said to Andy how great it was that the DST is keeping an eye on the wildlife, he said to me, “That’s what we’re here for –to protect the river.” Thanks, Andy.
My friend Jeff Caplan, an ardent advocate of birds, is sponsoring a Bird Fun Festival on Saturday and Sunday, September 15 and 16th, at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz. There will be a bilingual walk from Beach Flats Park to the MAH, starting Saturday at 10 a.m. with events to follow at the MAH. Sunday will be focused especially on bird related activities for children. It sounds like lots of fun. I will be there on Sunday with a cooperative nesting bird game to play with kids ages 7 to 11. Hope to see some of you there. Click here for the full website.
Quote of the Week
“I care to live only to entice people to loook at Nature’s loveliness. Heaven knows that John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.” John Muir
I hope everybody is enjoying the remaining young birds of the season. They are growing up fast. Happy Birding!