Cigars All Around!

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It happened!  As I glanced down at the river from the Water St. Bridge, there it was, the sight I had been waiting for all summer.  As I stared with amazement at this very, very late-arriving juvenile,  I felt as if I were back in Bible times, experiencing the avian equivalent of Sarah’s miraculous motherhood.  Just like Sarah, through some combination of sheer determination and blind faith, the modest little grebes hung in through multiple nest failures, finally producing one solitary baby.  I immediately named the young grebe Isaac.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the latest breeding Pied-billed Grebe family  in Santa Cruz County history!  What a will to survive.

best PBG
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe with parent, still with distinct black and white breeding colors in bill.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River just north of Water St. Bridge.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I watched the mom for a long time.   She wasn’t diving, presumably  digesting her last fishy meal until she could regurgitate the indigestible bones and spiny parts and begin to fish again.   It was very cute how the juvenile kept pressing up close to the parent as if wanting more food.  Then suddenly there was some unexpected drama.

PBG excited
Pied-billed Grebe rises out of water.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

First, the adult grebe rose up out of the water with an energetic flapping of wings; then a second adult apeared out of nowhere, triggering all three to lift themselves laboriously out of the water (no small feat for a Pied-billed Grebe) and ‘patter-fly’ upstream for a short sprint, half flying, half walking on the water.  This was also a first for me.  I had never seen a PBG try to fly, much less three in a row.    According to BNA, what is referred to as ‘patter-flying’  is typical aggressive behavior for these grebes.  Was Sarah exasperated with Abraham for some reason?  Or vice-versa?

As most of you  know, I have had a special place in my heart for Pied-billed Grebes ever since I discovered a nest in 2015, monitoring the little family anxiously until I saw the lone offspring become independent.  Click here for the full story.

I really appreciated, Jane, your much more thorough discussion last week  of the river dredging project that we may be facing in 2019.  I’ve been doing a little more research and am in a state of shock.  At the City Council meeting I heard Mark Dettle, the Public Works Director, say that the operation will require the removal of  75,000 cubic yards of riverbed soil.  Did I really hear that?  Just now I asked Google to explain to me how much 75,000 cubic yards was.   Unless I got my math wrong, I think it amounts to  6000 dump trucks full!!  Is that possible?   That’s way beyond anything that is tolerable in a wildlife setting.  Will there be any birds or mammals or frogs or insects left after such an operation?.  The more I think about it the more I shudder.  And for what?  To achieve FEMA certification in order to  save the downtown businesses the cost of flood insurance?  Our City planners should be thinking about moving the City off the flood plain, especially now that we are almost definitely assured that sea level rise will push river levels beyond the level acceptable to FEMA– with or without dredging!   I think it is time for us birders to sit down with Public Works and have a heart to heart talk!  I hope my math is wrong.

1
Is this what we can expect in 2019 on the Riverwalk?  6000 dump trucks filled with riverbed dirt?  Google Image. 

Your  bewildered reflections in your last post about the OSPREY and the AMERICAN CROW were very to the point.  This was brought home to me yesterday when my neighbor called to alert me to an OSPREY perched on the tip of the redwood tree directly across the river from my house.  I ran to my back window and, sure enough, there was the Osprey and it was still being pursued by the constant – and unwelcome –companion, an American Crow !  Perhaps the Osprey vainly hoped that it might shake the pesky crow if it just moved upstream from the river mouth.  But a determined crow with a serious grudge apparently doesn’t give up that easily.

Osprey and crow
Osprey being harassed by an American Crow, October 1, 2018, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, photo by B. Riverwoman

I spotted one of those well–camouflaged  SPOTTED SANDPIPER that eluded me for so long – much further north than I have ever seen one before.  Was the water level too high down on your end of the river to provide sufficient sand bar areas for this solitary shorebird to satisfy his appetite? These inconspicuous little birds keep so busy, excitedly bobbing their heads up and down the entire time they are foraging.

I’m so happy to have the GOLDEN-CROWNED and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS back from their summer haunts – extending as far north as the Bering Sea.  When they first arrive they sing and sing, making sure that any passer-bys understand that there are no vacancies down below.

WC sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow, San Lorenzo River, September 28, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

After about a month, once they’ve solved their housing problems, the non-stop singing ends and they can concentrate on eating my sunflower seeds.  I just noticed for the first time that although the winter range of the White-crowned Sparrows covers the whole U.S., the Golden-crowned Sparrows inhabit a far more limited range from Washington through California. They are rarities to everyone except those of us lucky to live on the west coast.  Maybe that is why rents are so high in Santa Cruz!

Quote of the Week:

One of my favorite gifts for nature lovers is a very long essay by John Muir, dedicated entirely to his most beloved bird, the Water Ouzel.  I think the bird is a soul-mate of Muir.  This bird is common in the cold rapids of the Sierras, but has actually been reported as well  on some more swiftly flowing rapids further north of the urban San Lorenzo River. Here is a brief quote from Muir’s essay:

“How romantic and beautiful is the life of this brave little singer on the wild mountain streams, building his round bossy nest of moss by the side of a rapid or fall, where it is sprinkled and kept fresh and green by the spray!  No wonder he sings well, since all the air about him is music; every breath he draws is part of a song, and he gets his first music lessons before he is born; for the eggs vibrate in time with the tones of the waterfall. Bird and stream are inseparable, songful and wild, gentle and strong, the bird ever in danger in the midst of the stream’s mad whirlppols, yet seemingly immortal.”

May you all have a wild and songful week!

Barbara

 

 

 

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