Hello Jane and Nature Lovers,
Powerful natural forces have been reshaping the fast-flowing river, braiding new streams around the old channel and artistically depositing wave-like sculptures of sand along the edges. Just up the slope from these sand dunes lies the Ross Homeless Camp, the tragic product of powerful human forces that consign human beings to a life of mud, fear, cold, discrimination and humiliation.
Here are some of some random images I snapped of the Ross Camp, hopefully not too intrusive and suggestive of some of the powerful social forces roiling the camp. I only took these four shots so as not to be obnoxious. Here’s what these images suggested to me. People who can’t afford to live inside houses in Santa Cruz want the privacy and the dignity that goes with having personal space, no matter how humble. Thus the signs on the large blue and white tents say ‘Private Property’ and ‘Do Not Enter’. Humorous, poignant. We all need familiar, comforting objects like a large teddy bear, objects that go with having a space 24/7. Without a permanent space, how can these objects be carried around? We all need to feel like hiding under a blanket sometimes. Here’s the homeless version. People in the camp may both welcome the protection and services provided by the City and at the same time resent the intrusion of officers who drive up and start questioning the the first people they see on the walkway. That’s how I interpreted what I was seeing. As I stood there, the old man near the porta-potties seemed eager to get away. The officer kept pressing closer. The other officer seemed to be listening respectfully, maintaining distance. Just a superficial, uninformed peek at some human life on the river these days.
Further south along the river, I stopped to talk to a young man named Joshua who was busy weaving flowers out of palm fronds . He and his two friends, who were sharing a guitar, told me that they have chosen not to participate in the Ross Camp for a variety of reasons and have instead set up a pretty comfortable looking camp under the Water St. Bridge with a folding chair and an elevated bed. Joshua who agreed to let me use his name and photograph him, told me he learned the art of weaving palm fronds from a South Pacific Islander and has adopted it. “Other people see a useless palm frond, but I see a way to get food for 2 or 3 days.” One of Joshua’s friends told me that he had grown up in Santa Cruz, had suffered from chronic depression, had managed to hold down a job for 10 years, had succumbed to drugs but then overcome that. He was very disturbed by the littering associated with living without homes and told me that he tried to do a lot of cleaning up. Joshua said he was enjoying the ‘mud hens’ (or AMERICAN COOTS) who were swimming and foraging nearby, birds who have also chosen the Water St. Bridge as their home during the stormy weather.
This week I saw my first Western Pond Turtle this week, clinging to the bank of the Duck Pond.
This turtle is the West Coast’s only native freshwater turtle, and is listed as a “species of special concern” in California. It has fared worse in the State of Washington where it is listed as ‘endangered, and in Oregon where it is listed as “sensitive/critical”. In 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list this species under the Endangered Species Act, along with 52 other amphibians and reptiles. In 2015 the Service made an initial finding that the turtles may qualify for protection. According to one source, these turtles do not live primarily in ponds, but in rivers and often on land. They are one of the creatures we need to be very concerned about when Public Works is doing its vegetation removal each year. With all the re-vegetation work that people like you, Jane, (as well as groups like the Coastal Watershed Council) are doing on the levee, maybe the bulldozers and chain saws will gradually disappear.
In my eBird report this week, I reported seeing three species exhibiting breeding behaviors: Two BUSHTITS chasing each among delicious catkins on a willow tree, and two CANADA GEESE settled comfortably near the Soquel Bridge, both qualifying as “P – pair in suitable habitat’; and an AMERICAN CROW breaking a small branch off a tree and flying off with it, qualifying as “CN – Carrying Nesting Material. (If you look carefully at the crow photo, the whole vertical branch next to her bill is the one she carried off – three times as long as the crow). I love participating even a little in the Breeding Bird Project, and encourage everyone who’s interested to get trained. I learned a lot last year. Trainings are Saturday, March 9, Thursday, March 14, and Saturday, March 16. Go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website for details. Click Here
I saw one BUFFLEHEAD and one COMMON GOLDENEYE on my outing this week, probably the last to leave the river for breeding grounds elsewhere? The Bufflehead worried me a little. It was in the same spot near the Laurel St. Bridge when I saw it two weeks ago, and it wasn’t fishing. I first saw the Goldeneye in the Duck Pond, and then later in the river. I was happy to see it diving vigorously, hardly spending a second above water. That made it hard to catch this shot, but I finally succeeded.
And here is significant news – I saw my first-of-season swallow – three of them. I’m guessing this one resting on the the telephone wire near Riverside Bridge is a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW though I’m not sure. The wing projects past the tail which is one sign. Hundreds of swallows have been in South County for several weeks, but I don’t think any have been reported on the urban river yet.
And here’s an odd pair – A DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT AND A COMMON MALLARD, sharing refuge on a tiny island, safe from the rapid current moving at a clip of about 1000 cfs. The cormorant seemed to think it was odd, too, and tried to chase the mallard off their little island. But the mallard hung on to the unusual new relationship, though accepting a more marginal status. Were the head up, head down postures a sign of the agreed on dominance roles? Maybe the mallard can’t find a girlfriend in spite of his brilliant colors. Most of the mallards are all paired up by now and hanging out together.
I’m sad to say that the wounded WESTERN GREBE that I saw two weeks ago is still hanging out by the Laurel St. Bridge. The river seems to also serve as a kind of refuge for wounded sea birds.
Here is my latest eBird checklist with 34 species. Click Here.
Quote of the week from the March/April edition of Sierra by Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
“Of all the tools we rely on to fulfill our mission, the most indispensable is the principle that every citizen can participate in the electoral process. Any assault on our democracy is also an assault on public lands, healthy communities and a stable climate. If we fail to defend out democracy, then nothing that we hope to protect – and nothing that we’ve already protected–will be safe.”
Click Here for full article.
Stay active, stay well, watch birds!