Nuptial Plumes,Wounded Grebe and Early Warbler

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Lovers,

The shifting seasons, the  wild weather, and the whims of fate continued to shake up the normal behaviors of our winged friends these last two weeks.

A lone PELAGIC CORMORANT  seems to have chosen to temporarily abandon its normal habitat along the ocean cliffs in order to try  its luck fishing  away from the high waves.

Breeding Pelagic
Pelagic Cormorant in new breeding plumage, San Lorenzo River near Riverside Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

While other regular residents moved off the fast-flowing river, the cormorant moved in. As an ocean fisher, I guess it is better adapted than the regular river residents to taking on the challenge of a river moving at a clip of 750 cubit feet per second.  I was excited to see this shiny black creature all decked out in its fresh new breeding plumage, especially since I have never seen its delightfully named white ‘nuptial plumes’.   I imagine they function somewhat like runway lights.  If you look closely, you can see the red spot that is also part of the breeding plumage.  I think the green iridescence on the long, slender throat is present year round, but it can’t hurt this sleek beauty’s chances of a successful conquest.  I learned that in spite of its name it is not a true pelagic bird since the word pelagic signifies that the bird spends most of its time over the open sea.  Instead, Pelagic Cormorants do most of their fishing close to the ocean cliffs  where they also breed and roost.  Alarm flags went up for me when I read in Birds of North America that ocean kayaks and other human traffic increasingly pose a serious threat to the nests of this cormorant, for whom the Central Coast is about as far south as it breeds.  While our City is busy ‘keeping Santa Cruz safe,’ I hope it does not forget our smallest cormorant.

Another bird that is primarily an ocean-dweller, a WESTERN GREBE,  seems to have paddled upriver for a sadder reason.

Western Grebe
Western Grebe, with wounded leg, on bank of San Lorenzo River near Laurel St. Bridge, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Can you see the foot splayed out at an awkward angle underneath her body.  At first I wondered why she was resting on a sandbank underneath the Laurel St. Bridge.  Then I saw  her stand and lurch towards the river, one leg trailing behind her, wings flapping wildly to keep her balance.  I was happy to see her diving once she reached the river, but wonder if she will be able to chase down the fish she needs with only one strong leg to propel and direct her.

If the cormorant’s behavior  was informed by the search for quieter waters than the Bay, and the grebe’s by the search for a place to heal, this pint-sized YELLOW WARBLER was an early harbinger of the seasonal  flow of migratory warblers.  The bright yellow insect lover arrived far earlier than the normal date of early April when Santa Cruz sees it highest number of this  species passing through our area on its nocturnal passage to as far north as Alaska.  Since it is so early in the season, eBird

Yellow warbler
Yellow Warbler, Google Image

challenged me on this one, but my friends Michael Levy and Batya Kagan excitedly reported to me a week ago that they had seen this same bird, so I studied it carefully and made my best case to the Cornell experts.  Unfortunately, the tiny bird was flitting so rapidly through the willow thickets that my camera was never able to catch up with it. This Google image captures exactly what I saw.

And then there are those birds just being playful and eccentric.  I counted 56 MALLARDS on my walk two days ago,  44 of them hunkering down in the Duck Pond to escape the rapid current and all but one hugging the banks.   But not this one!

Mallard paddling nowhere
Mallard, midstream, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

He was the only one in midstream, paddling his little orange-webbed feet as fast as he could and going absolutely nowhere.  Was he trying to figure out how hard he needed to paddle to go absolutely nowhere. Or maybe he was being much more utilitarian, using the river as a  treadmill to build female-chasing muscles. It is, after all,  the beginning of the mallard mating season.

I have never seen so many CANADA GEESE on the river in past years – 16 by my count.  8 of

Canada Goose Profile
Cana

them were lolling about at the Duck Pond, while others were playing along the edges of the river where the water was  pretty slow-moving. Strangely, right next to the Grebe with the wounded leg was this goose standing on one leg, shifting his weight far to one side to keep from toppling.  But no worry, his other leg was fine.  Birds often conserve heat by tucking one leg underneath their feathers.  But might this goose have also been standing in solidarity with the Grebe?  Who knows.

Goose on one leg
Canada Goose, San Lorenzo River, February 17,  2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Although a relatively common bird, I don’t think I have ever recorded a ROBIN on the river.

P1110142
American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

This should bring my total number of birds seen on the urban river stretch to 109.  Thank you eBird!   True, this falls significantly short of the 147 species seen by my awesome co-blogger!  But we both have quite a ways to go, Jane,  to catch up with Steve Gerow who peaked at 177 birds on this same urban stretch !  With all this documented bird life, it should be kind of hard for the City to make a case, as they have in the past,  that the river has no wildlife value and therefore should be opened to all kinds of recreational and commercial activity.

Starling
European Starling, American Robin, San Lorenzo River, February 17, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here is the non-native but handsome EUROPEAN STARLING relishing the same berries as the robin, just inches away.  Click HERE to see my complete list of 32 species seen during my last outing.

John Muir quote of the week:

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”.  

High waters or low, in honor of all Yosemite lovers, including John Muir and Sherry Conable, keep flying, keep singing.

Barbara

 

 

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