Dear Jane and All Friends of the Wild,
One of the many delightful and unexpected pieces of birding advice I got this last weekend was to ‘walk like a vegetarian’. I haven’t tried it yet, but next time I see a bird that I really don’t want to scare away, I will bend down slowly and at least pretend to nibble on a leaf. Jeff Caplan, who led the delightful workshop on bird language that I attended, says he has tried it and it works, even with groups of people who nibble their way past a bird who decides they aren’t a threat and doesn’t fly away.
This was the second time I had attended this class on bird language, and it just gets better. Not only has Jeff studied for many years with Jon Young, the Native American-trained author of What the Robin Knows, but he is himself a sensitive observer of nature and an engaging teacher of both young and old. He immediately gets people sharing their stories, imitating bird language, acting like birds, coming up with their own theories about what birds are feeling and thinking, and evoking lots of laughs with his sense of humor. The class isnot only fun, but models the best kind of participatory and discovery approach to teaching. Amidst all buzz, Jeff managed to teach us how to identify the five types of bird language, ie. songs, contact calls, begging, alarm and aggression. After the indoors portion of the class, Jeff took us up on the river levee to practice our new skills, and then back to India Joze for a delicious feast, included in the low price of the workshop. Jeff is recently returned from Ecuador where he teaches bird language to young people who live in the rain forest, a way to help them learn to love and protect their environment.
As a result of Jeff’s class, I am quickly turning into a lazy birder. Jeff encourages birders to find a sit spot and just sit! According to Jeff, we are more likely to connect on a gut level with the birds around us if we can sit non-threateningly, watch and listen attentively, and stay curious. You are the great exemplar of that, Jane, and the depth of your connection with birds is a striking testimony to this approach to birding.
I strongly encourage anyone who wants to spend a lovely morning with a lovely man to sign up for a workshop. Go to Jeff’s Facebook page and see if there is a local workshop coming up. Click here if you want to see the one academic part of the workshop, a quite technical but fun video on bird language.
Inspired by Jeff, I decided to confine my walk this week to the nearby Chinatown Bridge where I stood in just a few spots for more than an hour. I broke my camera so my words will have to carry the story today.
The first thing I saw was an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD, mysteriously foraging along the steel railing of the bridge. I let my curiosity lead me to take a closer look. What could a hummingbird want along the railing? Spiderwebs! Nesting materials! When I got home I went back to Paul Erlich’s The Birders’ Handbook (every birder must absolutely own this amazing resource book) and found the following under Anna’s Hummingbird: Nests are “loosely made of plant down, forb leaves, bud scales, flowers, bark strips, bound with spider’s silk, lined with plant down.” So the little hummer was collecting the sticky spiderwebs to glue the rest of its nest together.” Thanks, Jeff.
Later, on the mowed grassy area at the east end of the bridge I watched with curiosity a very discerning DARK-EYED JUNCO picking up a piece of dry grass, then dropping it, then picking up another. After a good bit of quality control work, it flew off with with its chosen blade of nesting material.
I posted both these observations on eBird as breeding information, and sent a copy to Alex Rinkert, the Bird Breeding Atlas leader in our area. He wrote back, confirming my observations and adding that this is probably the second or third brood for both these species. It reminded me that I’d recently seen an Anna’s doing mating displays not far from the bridge. Maybe the mating was successful and now the happy couple has moved onto nesting.
My happiest moment was seeing my third WOOD DUCK family on the river this season, this time a mama with one little wood duckling, both slipping into view from the safety of the overhanging willows along the bank into a quiet backwater, separated from the force of the main channel by a sandbar. The water along the edge of the sandbar was filled with small brown rocks, providing perfect cover to the little brownish puff of life that was the baby wood duck.
I also saw from the bridge both an adult and a first summer GREEN HERON, A GREAT BLUE HERON and 4 COMMON MERGANSERS. As usual, the Mergansers were swimming along together at a business-like clip, their half-submerged heads and bodies elongated like the fish they chase. All of a sudden, I saw them all lift up out of the water as if with one mind, practically flying forward while their feet paddled the air, then diving and stirring up a sizable wake behind them. My guess is that they had spied a large, tasty and now frightened fish and their empty stomachs and early-morning predator instincts were hugely excited. Later I saw them all resting on a sand bank, looking quite satiated!
Click here for the checklist of the 17 species I saw from my ‘standing spot’ along the Chinatown Bridge.
As for the suggested name change of the bridge, it is still being pondered by the City. Here’s the story I’ve heard. The last remnants of Santa Cruz Chinatown occupied the piece of land where the old Riverfront Theatre was located. When the area was destroyed in the flood of 1955, it was never rebuilt. George Ow, well-known local businessman and philanthropist, remembers when the garden of his grandmother (with whom he lived in his early years) was located on the current theatre spot. Then, just a year ago, in June 2018, Ow sent a letter to the City Council urging that the city officially adopt the name Chinatown Bridge for the footbridge that is across the street from the theatre and extends to San Lorenzo Park. The idea was provisionally approved by the Council, and has been winding its way for a year through various City Commissions, including the Arts Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Historical Commission before it hopefully returns to the current Council for final approval. I love the new name and hope our City will honor and commemorate the rather tragic history of the Chinese in our community by adopting this name for the bridge and perhaps creating some relevant art. I plan to continue using it whether or not it gets approved. I especially love it because of my history with China and because it may be a new ‘sit spot’ for me. If you want to read a little bit more, check out this Sentinel article from a couple of weeks ago.
This will be my last blog post for two months. I am hoping to do some personal writing in July and August, as well as visit friends and family out of town. I will be back on September 3rd with my next post.
I hope you all have a good summer with lots of time in gardens and wild habitats. Don’t forget to nibble on a hopefully edible leaf if you want to study a special bird.