Of Bushtits and Blankets

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers,

As I fall back on my yearly strategies to stay warm during these cold days – pea soup, more blankets, fleecy slippers –  I am once again sobered by the  determination of the small songbirds who have to work so much harder than me to keep warm.

Pretty bushtit
Bushtit, San Lorenzo River, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I learned recently that one of the reasons that tiny Bushtits like the one  pictured here are almost always seen in flocks of 6 to 30 is because they also roost together at night, huddled in tight masses to prevent heat loss.  Judging from this photo, they are also very good at fluffing up their feathers to make a neat little down jacket for themselves when they aren’t huddling.

And please take a look at these pleasingly plump birds, a CALIFORNIA TOWHEE and ROCK DOVE (Feral Pigeon) with their inflatable down jackets –a better evolutionary strategy, it seems, than depending on Patagonia or, in my case, Good Will.

Puffed up Cal towhee
California Towhee, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Puffed up pigeon
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

House Finch glelaning in Curly Willow
House Finch, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Of course, the most important heat protection strategy of a bird is finding enough food on which to survive. Here’s a HOUSE FINCH I saw this week exploring the vegan riches along a beautiful branch of curly willow.  House finches eat almost no high-protein insects, but seem to do well on their plant-based diet. Of course, I like to hear this.

I shiver when I see songbirds taking baths in this cold weather. When I saw this GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW and House Finch staring at each other so seriously  from the roof of a home near the River, I thought they might be exchanging their

Golden-crowned and House Finch discuss bath house
Golden-crowned Sparrow and House Finch, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

unique insights on how to stay warm.  Or maybe they are conversing about how titillating it is to take a cold bath on a cold day!

Click here to see my last eBird posting of the 24 species I saw in little more than an hour on the river just two days ago.

 

There is so much bad news on the environmental front that I was very happy to receive an article forwarded to me by Patricia Matejcek titled ‘Terrific Win for California Birds”.

Audubons's Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s), San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, December 9, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It was about California’s  strong message to the federal government stating  its intent to continue protecting migratory birds in spite of federal legislation that would roll back the longtime legal protections of the Migratory Bird Act. As I spotted this YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER as well as the migrant RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS that are now  now flitting everywhere in the trees along the urban stretch of the river, I wanted to let them know that California is on their side in spite of Trump.

Last week I Levee certification Projectsaw the first concrete signs of the enormous flood control project that is slowly ratcheting up, possibly leading to what I now call the ‘dreaded dredging’ project. Employees of the engineering contractor MBK were out with their surveying instruments, recording and measuring everything from the placement of lampposts to topographical details of the levee.  If their results show that the levee will not provide protection against a 100- year flood, then the City is in trouble – flood-wise, financially, and environmentally.  Let’s hope these guys can find the evidence to convince FEMA that we are ready for the big flood.   Or – I’ll say it again – maybe we should just start packing our bags in readiness to leave the flood plain to the floods, and to all the habitat and wildlife that this departure of ours would support.

And coming full circle back to where this blog began four years ago – i.e. resisting recreational boating on the river – I chatted with these two Water Department employees as they were out measuring water quality.

Testing Water Qualityu
Water Department employees testing water quality, December 90, 2018

They were paddling along slowly but still managed to startle and flush out a GREAT BLUE HERON who screeched raucously and non-stop as she indignantly flew up river, finally finding respite at the top of a big pine tree.  Yes, even a single boat on the river for very good purposes, can dramatically disturb the avian wildlife of the river, even the usually unflappable Great Blue!

 

FGBH in retreat from Water Department canoe
Great Blue Heron retreating from boat, San Lorenzo River between Water and Soquel, December 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I hope some of you get to the Council Chambers tonight when our new Council is officially seated. Just imagine!  The top vote getter in the election was Justin Cummings, who has a PHD in eolutionary biology!   Am I dreaming?

Muir quote of the week:

“ After witnessing the bad effect of homelessness, developed to so destructive an extent in Califonia, it would assure every lover of their race to see the hearty home-building going on here and the blessed contentment that naturally follows it.”

John Muir (1838-1914)

This encampment just behind Ross Stores near the Felker St. Bridge is not exactly what John Muir had in mind, I know.   campsiteBut I can’t help but think that the closeness to the river and a few trees, plus the independence, provide at least some healing to those who, like the birds,  have to work harder than most of us to stay warm  during this chilly time of year.   The City provides porta-potties and trash pick-up and otherwise leaves the campers alone.

Stay warm, stay active, stay faithful to our feathered and non-feathered friends.  Happy Holidays to all.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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