Dear Jane and Friends of the Wild,
My favorite bird moment on the river this last week was the sight of 2 GULLS flying with 6 AMERICAN CROWS in a joint attack on a long-suffering RED-TAILED HAWK! The action took place very high up in the sky so at first I didn’t see the two white streaks among the black ones. Then I did a double take. Were those really gulls joining forces with the crows? It sure looked that way as the gulls wove in and out among the crows But it made sense when I thought about it. The Red-tailed Hawks are predators on the nests of both. As I left the levee, grinning from ear to ear, I ran across my friend, Marilyn Strayer, who was also looking heavenward with a big smile on her face. A new and unlikely political alliance was being born in front of our eyes.
I am so happy to follow up my report in my last blog with photos of another WOOD DUCK family! This time with seven (7) little ones. I was also really grateful to get an e-mail from Alex Rinkert, head of the Breeding Bird Atlas II project, pointing out the historical significance of some of my sightings:
…all those are valuable to the Atlas, especially the Canada Goose and Wood Duck. The former was not nesting in Santa Cruz during Atlas 1 (1987-1993) so your observation documents range expansion. The latter is one of few breeding records we have for Wood Duck and adds more support for their nesting along the lower San Lorenzo, where there is very little nesting habitat for them.
I love this kind of historical perspective on the movement of populations, especially important now when so many species face imminent extinction . Thanks to Alex and to Atlasers all over the country for their painstaking attention to detail. (I have still not figured out how to enter my data correctly on the Atlas Excel sheets and Alex was trying to help me! )
Wood Ducks use the cavities in old fallen logs for their nests. Maybe the County’s noble effort to educate us all on the greatness of old logs paid off with those seven little fluffy Wood Ducks. I feel silly to be so excited about fallen logs. But I am not alone. At the recent conference on the river I picked up a glossy brochure called ‘Stream Wood’ and I’ve been reading and re-reading it. I suspect it was written at least in part by that amazing woman Kristin Kittleson, who I believe works in the Water Resources Program of the County. I know for sure that she is a lover of fallen logs and I have heard her speak quite eloquently about how important they are – how they can control water flow, enhance water quality, protect fish and fish eggs and offer habitat for a wide range of animal species. Plus they are so beautiful as water spills over and around them. No longer will Kristin allow us to cut them up and haul them away. They are a key part of the ecology of a river. And can provide a nesting spot for Wood Ducks!
My observations of CANADA GOOSE that Alex Rinkert referred to were further downstream. I found one handsome family with the five fluffy juveniles cuddled up together on the edge of the Duck Pond, then later foraging with their ever-watchful parents on the grassy area nearby. Shortly after that I spotted another family with just two juveniles below the Water St. Bridge, pictured below. I also saw a family with two goslings behind the Tannery on another day, but it could have been the same family.
Just past the Duck Pond, I ran across what at first I thought were five Juncos. But when I looked more closely the coloring was all off. I went into my panicky photo snapping mode, thinking I had just discovered a new species on the river. I could hardly wait to get home, download them, and identify my new find. It turned out they were, after all, DARK-EYED JUNCOS. But juveniles! That explained the strange markings. This was my first look at Junco juveniles. They were foraging in leaf litter underneath the redwoods close to the Children’s Park in San Lorenzo Park, apparently unperturbed by my excessive camera clicking.
I have been noticing that a lot of Mallards are back in pair formation, after a month or so of absent females (presumably on their nests) and packs of idle drakes lolllng about on the banks. But that has changed. These last weeks I have seen agitated male and female chases as well as cuddling pairs. It seems like they are working on second families.
.In addition to the waterfowl above, I have seen other evidence of breeding to report to eBird and Alex – KILLDEER (pair flying and calling together), NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (carrying nesting material and also dipping briefly into mud banks), and, thrillingly, a pair of YELLOW WARBLERS (in chasing pattern, across from Trader Joe’s). Here are my two eBird checklists, click here and here, if you want to check out all the species I saw these last two weeks.
I know all of you, like me, were shocked and disheartened by the May 6th report from the United Nations announcing that one million species are threatened with extinction, “many within decades”. It’s hard to think about for even a moment.
But if we don’t try our best to stop it, who will? I want to take time here to acknowledge the truly excellent work that you, Jane, do in both loving nature deeply and immersing yourself in the hard but necessary organizational work of protecting the natural world. Since we met just about five years ago (working to stop recreational paddling on the river), you have taken on leadership roles of all kinds– as Conservation Chair of the Bird Club, as Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club, as appointed member of the City Parks and Recreation Commission, and as lead person in the Lagoon Re-vegetation Project. I am in awe! Organizing on that scale is hard but so important to success. And, of course, you write your amazingly observant and delightful stories on our blog. Thank you for all of this!
The rest of this blog is a brief follow up to my last post on Ross Camp – for those of you who are interested.
On May 6, the illegal Ross Camp was closed for good. Sixty people from the camp of 200 residents signed up for the legal camp at 1220 River St. and were taken there by bus along with each camper’s two bins of belongings, all that was allowed. They had been warned that they would again be evicted from that temporary spot in two months with no assured shelter after that. (But as I understand it, the intention of the City is to try and connect these campers with services during these two months.) A few others were moved into empty beds in previously existing housed programs. Most have, understandably, once again dispersed into the parks, doorways, woods, and sidewalks of Santa Cruz. Some opportunists have probably left town. So far the City is not publicizing the numbers. Since camping arrests are no longer legal (Boise v. Martin), trespassing arrests in the last week have been way up according to the statistics just published this week by the Police Department.
On Monday, May 9, the day that the Ross Camp was sealed off for good, I went to pay my last sad respects to what had suddenly become an eery ghost town, devoid of people and filled only with abandoned tents and the roar of bulldozers. Outside were two women, one sobbing and cradling a bicycle like a young child and one woman named Hope shaking her fist and cursing loudly at the milling police rangers and First Alarm employees. I couldn’t bear to linger and crossed the Felker St. Bridge. That was the moment when I discovered the seven baby Wood Ducks, cosmically positioned to lift my spirits!
I fell into a very dark emotional place the next day. It wasn’t that I loved that place. No one really loved it, including the residents. One homeless man told me on the last day that he wouldn’t “wish this on his worst enemy.” I had spent a good amount of time there, and in many ways it did include exactly what critics described – drugs, crime, and trash (though I personally, in five prolonged visits, never saw a single needle and I did see beautifully kept tents and even artistic embellishments. The main pathways were usually kept clear of trash by the residents.) There was also despair, rage and grief. And because it was so visible, it attracted occasionally vicious harrassment from some drive-by oppponents. I guess the sign carried by one homeless woman expressed my overriding feeling about it all – ‘If you don’t have a better solution, please don’t take away our solution. It’s the best we have”. What homeless people did have at the Ross Camp that they lacked before was more community, more protection, and some growing awareness and even empathy from the Santa Cruz community of their desperate situation.
I expect we are all deeply sobered by this very visible eruption of the physical pain, mental suffering and social failing that is normally hidden in the the shadows of our fair City. Can we now reflect on this failure/success and come up with a better answer?
After leaving the sealed off camp on Monday, and letting the Wood Duck babies heal my bruised soul, Brent Adams happened along and invited me to take a short tour of his Storage Program, just across the footbridge from the closed Camp. Brent is a controversial figure in our town, someone who is very warm-hearted and hard-working but who can be harshly critical at times of both homeless advocates as well as City officials. He says he wants to create constructive solutions to homelessness, not just protest. He almost single-handedly raised the funds for a small but beautifully organized and much-needed storage center for the homeless. He proudly showed me 483 large plastic tubs, each labelled with the name of a homeless individual. There was another room filled with medical supplies, clothes organized by size and gender , as well as a lobby/meeting space/reception area. Brent took time off from my ‘tour’ to bring out, one by one, 6 pairs of women’s pants, size 4 to 6, for a very thin, pale and dishevelled young woman. She finally found a pair that she liked. I was impressed by Brent’s kindness. He told me that sometimes a homeless individual will stop by to simply spend time with the contents of his or her bin, often just to pore over family photos. Brent always makes the bins available. Unfortunately, the building that now houses the program is about to be sold to a developer and Brent will have to find a new place. Brent lives in a van.
In spite of the unique blinders that all of us wear, I believe that everyone– the homeless, the City, the residents, the police, the activists – have done their best. There is no point in castigating each other.
My own hope is that Brent’s vision of a real Transitional Encampment like the ones being experimented with successfully in Seattle, will someday be considered seriously by Santa Cruz. I really don’t see any other solution.. Unfortunately, I don’t think our City government is yet ready to imagine authorized shelter in tents, nor some level of self-governance by the houseless themselves. But emergency conditions require new and creative solutions. Seattle has succeeded in finding a some kind of balance between emergency shelter and human dignity. We can do it, too.
I hope you all get to see some bird babies before they all grow up. Maybe you would even consider Atlasing. It’s made me so much more aware of breeding behavior.