Becalmed

Dear Jane and Santa Cruz nature lovers,

Thanks, Jane, for your ‘breaking’ (and concerning) inside story of the most recent breach of the sand bar.  Good to have your bright eyes, and the bright eyes of your friends, on the river!

I took my first leisurely walk along the River for the first time in many weeks, soaking in the peacefulness of the slow-moving river, and falling into a very dreamy state myself. The sand bar must be back in place since the river is still very high up on my end.  As I walked along, I could feel my body relax into almost perfect resonance with the smooth, gray silence of this becalmed river.  It seemed a perfect emblem of my newly found protection from the roiling waters of the election season.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, San Lorenzo River, November 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

As always, I marveled at the self-control and patience of a GREAT BLUE HERON, standing motionless and utterly concentrated, waiting for the moment to strike.  I wish I could have mustered this kind of contained power during the last few months.

As I ambled south on the River, wondering where all the MALLARDS had gone, I reached the Duck Pond and almost stumbled back as a huge flock of these highly sociable creatures came flapping and honking right in front of me, lowering their landing gear to create a huge splash in a small pond.  They quickly settled into a calmer state, just like me.

Mallard
Mallard in Duck Pond, November 12, 2018

I had wondered whether I would see any difference in bird life because of the terrible fires up north. I saw nothing that might be suspicious. The familiar birds were all there.  I did a Google search and found an interesting article on the Audubon Society website about the effect of wildfires on birds.  Not so surprising, birds are also susceptible to lung damage from smoke inhalation or polluted air as well as exhaustion while trying to escape. But they clearly are not as vulnerable as humans – with all our physical encumbrances and our major flaw,  the inability to fly away.   Indeed, many new feeding possibilities open up for some birds after a fire.   Click here  if you are interested in reading more.

Which brings me to the possible discovery of a protected snake species next door to my house.    I found my friend and neighbor, Batya, anxiously protecting a small snake from two troublesome cats, and waiting for another neighbor to bring a container.

Unknown
San Francisco Garter Snake, federally endangered, google image

After scooping the terrified and frozen snake into a can and hurriedly returning it to the levee, she consulted a reptile field guide and realized belatedly that the patterning was much closer to the federally endangered San Francisco Garter Snake than the more common Red-sided Garter Snake she had imagined before releasing it.  We ran out to the levee to try to get a photo, but it had moved on.  So no photo documentation of what could have been a big find. But here is the Google image in case you are looking for snakes as you walk the River.  I almost never see snakes except after a major disturbance like the vegetation removal each year.  The San Francisco Garter Snake’s normal habitat is limited almost entirely to San Mateo County so it would be very unusual to find it in Santa Cruz.

It’s sad to walk through San Lorenzo Park these days.  Chain link fences surround almost all the green areas where Santa Cruzans, including the homeless, used to find temporary respite.

Fence
New fencing just south of the Chinatown Bridge, river on the right, November 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The erection of the fences happened simultaneously with the closing of the Homeless River Street Camp on October 30th, turning 50 campers back onto the City streets with nowhere to go. It was especially maddening to have the City tell us that the fences were coincidental, and that they are simply there to allow for routine maintenance.  I scratch my head when I read the words ‘focused maintenance’ on the signs!  What, pray tell, is that.  C’mon folks! Let’s at least call a spade a spade. I have lived in Santa Cruz for 39 years and never seen so much fencing.

Sign
“Focused Maintenance, Public Safety” sign on the Benchlands.  So different from last year when the homeless were offered secure campsites in this spot with portapotties and sinks.  

I did manage to smile when I saw the controversial pump track, the Rotary Club’s solution to homeless camping, itself surrounded by the chain fence.  Ironic, isn’t it?

pump track
Pump Track entrapped by chain link fence

If anyone wants the City to find a better way to address the homeless situation than pump tracks or chain link fences, you can join a protest at the Santa Cruz City Post Office at 4 pm this Thursday, November 15.   Bring tents, sleeping bags, blankets and tarps if you want to spend the night in solidarity with the homeless.

Later on Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m., there will be a wonderful opportunity to hear a specialist talk about her research on the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, a common  winter bird here in Santa Cruz but one that exists only on the west coast.  Theodora Block,a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz who is studying how individual behavior impacts the social structure of these sparrows, will be the speaker at the monthly Bird Club Meeting at the Museum of Natural History. For more information go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website.  I’m including a link, click here,  to an article written this last summer by the same team of researchers studying dominance patterns among Golden-crowned Sparrows.

And here is my eBird report from two days ago.  Click here

Muir Quote of the Week: “The forests, too, seem kindly familiar, and the lakes and meadow and glad singing streams.  I should like to dwell with them forever.  Here with bread and water I should be content.”

It’s so good to have a river in one’s life.

Barbara

 

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