Soras: Heard But Not Seen

Hi Jane and Birding Aficionados,

One week left to the election and I am still donning my canvassing hat more often than my birding hat. Hopefully my next blog will be based on some serious birding.

I can only report that I read with a twinge of jealousy Shantanu Phukan’s eBird report this week about once again hearing (but not seeing) a SORA,  the sound emerging from among the tules down by the  Laurel Street Bridge.  I bustled down there this morning at about the same hour that Shantanu heard this elusive creature – but no luck.

google hi res
Sora, photo by Google

So here I am again – borrowing from Google a photo of this shy and solitary member of the rail family, so different than it’s gregarious and social cousin, the common American Coot who is also reappearing in large numbers on the River these days.  Here’s a photo that I took of a Sora in 2015, in its most typical, hidden-from-view, spot.

Sora hiding
Sora., San Lorenzo River, north of Laurel Bridge, 2015, photo by B. Riverwoman

Soras breed as far north as the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada, then fly back along the California Coast about this time of year on their way to Mexico and points south.  The Central Coast of California is the only spot in the entire U.S. where Soras are reported to also dwell year-round.  I wonder if Shantanu’s Sora is a migrant or a regular.  I suspect the former since she is being reported during the fall migratory season and is rarely seen at other times.

Here, for comparison,  are the Sora’s cousins, the highly visible and gregarious  AMERICAN COOTS .

American coots
Flock of American Coots, San Lorenzo River, 2015, photo by B. Riverwoman

Also in the heard but not seen category was a  GREAT-HORNED OWL heard from the direction of the River last Friday night as I was sitting around a campfire here at El Rio..  So good to know they are out there.

owl
Great Horned Owl, Google image, 

And shortly afterwards we heard the almost nightly cries of coyotes coyotewho are rumored to be parading down the riverwalk and even wandering into the mobile home park.  My friend Batya says she often hears the coyotes responding to the sirens of the ambulances at night.    I love it when nature begins to encroach on civilization.

 

Quote of the Week:

“Contemplating the lace-like fabric of streams outspread over the mountains, we are reminded that everything is flowing, going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Rocks flow from volcanoes like water from springs, while the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood globules in Nature’s warm heart.”  John Muir

May we  vote for those people and measures that we judge best suited to nourish the flow of life on our amazing planet.

Barbara

 

 

 

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Measure M for Birds and Humans

Hi Jane and all,

As I think I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been spending most of my time these days trying to protect some habitat for my own species. I’ve saved all of my bird walking energy for canvassing the neighborhoods for Measure M, the rent control ballot measure.  At 80 years old I have to measure out my walking time carefully.

It’s funny how protecting human habitat and bird habitat in Santa Cruz kind of amounts to the same thing. Birds and people in Santa Cruz are being driven out primarily due to commercial and recreational development for financial gain. Some people think, and even say, ‘well, if birds get driven out of the San Lorenzo River (or people out of Santa Cruz),  they can always go somewhere else’.  That’s just plain wrong for animals and just as wrong for humans.  Animals establish their territories for specific reasons (safety, food and water availability,  nesting habitat, etc.  They do this at considerable expense, and depend on that habitat to survive.  With humans, we also move into a place for specific reasons – family, friends, nearby schools, services, quiet, the neighborhood, the cost. We want to stay there for these reasons. Our homes aren’t interchangeable for  homes anywhere.  Measure M would protect the 5500 humans that now live in their rented homes and would be covered by Measure M, but will be vulnerable to eviction the day Measure M loses.   Let’s not let that happen.  Let’s keep birds and humans safe in their homes!

two close crows
Two American Crows, talking things over – perhaps.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I did take one walk where I captured some photos that made me smile, especially these two crows either schmoozing, begging, or perhaps plotting an assault on a hapless  hawk; and this row of very well behaved pigeons in perfect formation.

pigeons in a row
14 pigeons, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I sometimes think that pigeons would make good candidates for military school. They are impressive in both their flight formations and their battlement line-ups!

 

 

There are many new signs of ongoing efforts  by the Public Works Department to control our River.  Here’s a photo of the surface of the riverbed that has been ploughed into furrows in hopes that a fast flowing stream will carry away some of the excess sediment that will otherwise have to be dredged. I hope it works.

roughing up
Flood Control, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was surprised to see this unfamiliar little creature which I am guessing is a juvenile CALIFORNIA TOWHEE. Also a late breeder.

towhee juv
Juvenile California Towhee, October 14, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I also stepped back with surprise at my first sight of a hammock on the Riverwalk, hung skillfully between a redwood tree and the exercise station.  A fashionable new trend for the unhoused?

hammock
Hammocking on the River, October 14, 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman,

Finally, stealing a moment to take a short walk at twilight, I was happily drawn into the magic of a solitary Pied-billed Grebe outlined against the silky, sunlight-infused  surface of the River.

grebe in sunset
Pied-billed Grebe at sunset, San Lorenzo River, October 12, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Here’s a quote from John Muir about why you and I, Jane, go back again and again to the same place – even though the urban river isn’t exactly pure wilderness:

“So abundant and novel are the objects of interest in a pure wilderness …it matters little where you go or how often to the same place.  Wherever you chance to be always seems at the moment of all places the best; and you feel that there can be no happiness in this world, or in any other, for those who may not be happy here.”  John Muir

May we all find happiness wherever we find ourselves.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cigars All Around!

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It happened!  As I glanced down at the river from the Water St. Bridge, there it was, the sight I had been waiting for all summer.  As I stared with amazement at this very, very late-arriving juvenile,  I felt as if I were back in Bible times, experiencing the avian equivalent of Sarah’s miraculous motherhood.  Just like Sarah, through some combination of sheer determination and blind faith, the modest little grebes hung in through multiple nest failures, finally producing one solitary baby.  I immediately named the young grebe Isaac.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the latest breeding Pied-billed Grebe family  in Santa Cruz County history!  What a will to survive.

best PBG
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe with parent, still with distinct black and white breeding colors in bill.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River just north of Water St. Bridge.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I watched the mom for a long time.   She wasn’t diving, presumably  digesting her last fishy meal until she could regurgitate the indigestible bones and spiny parts and begin to fish again.   It was very cute how the juvenile kept pressing up close to the parent as if wanting more food.  Then suddenly there was some unexpected drama.

PBG excited
Pied-billed Grebe rises out of water.  September 28, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

First, the adult grebe rose up out of the water with an energetic flapping of wings; then a second adult apeared out of nowhere, triggering all three to lift themselves laboriously out of the water (no small feat for a Pied-billed Grebe) and ‘patter-fly’ upstream for a short sprint, half flying, half walking on the water.  This was also a first for me.  I had never seen a PBG try to fly, much less three in a row.    According to BNA, what is referred to as ‘patter-flying’  is typical aggressive behavior for these grebes.  Was Sarah exasperated with Abraham for some reason?  Or vice-versa?

As most of you  know, I have had a special place in my heart for Pied-billed Grebes ever since I discovered a nest in 2015, monitoring the little family anxiously until I saw the lone offspring become independent.  Click here for the full story.

I really appreciated, Jane, your much more thorough discussion last week  of the river dredging project that we may be facing in 2019.  I’ve been doing a little more research and am in a state of shock.  At the City Council meeting I heard Mark Dettle, the Public Works Director, say that the operation will require the removal of  75,000 cubic yards of riverbed soil.  Did I really hear that?  Just now I asked Google to explain to me how much 75,000 cubic yards was.   Unless I got my math wrong, I think it amounts to  6000 dump trucks full!!  Is that possible?   That’s way beyond anything that is tolerable in a wildlife setting.  Will there be any birds or mammals or frogs or insects left after such an operation?.  The more I think about it the more I shudder.  And for what?  To achieve FEMA certification in order to  save the downtown businesses the cost of flood insurance?  Our City planners should be thinking about moving the City off the flood plain, especially now that we are almost definitely assured that sea level rise will push river levels beyond the level acceptable to FEMA– with or without dredging!   I think it is time for us birders to sit down with Public Works and have a heart to heart talk!  I hope my math is wrong.

1
Is this what we can expect in 2019 on the Riverwalk?  6000 dump trucks filled with riverbed dirt?  Google Image. 

Your  bewildered reflections in your last post about the OSPREY and the AMERICAN CROW were very to the point.  This was brought home to me yesterday when my neighbor called to alert me to an OSPREY perched on the tip of the redwood tree directly across the river from my house.  I ran to my back window and, sure enough, there was the Osprey and it was still being pursued by the constant – and unwelcome –companion, an American Crow !  Perhaps the Osprey vainly hoped that it might shake the pesky crow if it just moved upstream from the river mouth.  But a determined crow with a serious grudge apparently doesn’t give up that easily.

Osprey and crow
Osprey being harassed by an American Crow, October 1, 2018, San Lorenzo River between Water and Felker Bridges, photo by B. Riverwoman

I spotted one of those well–camouflaged  SPOTTED SANDPIPER that eluded me for so long – much further north than I have ever seen one before.  Was the water level too high down on your end of the river to provide sufficient sand bar areas for this solitary shorebird to satisfy his appetite? These inconspicuous little birds keep so busy, excitedly bobbing their heads up and down the entire time they are foraging.

I’m so happy to have the GOLDEN-CROWNED and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS back from their summer haunts – extending as far north as the Bering Sea.  When they first arrive they sing and sing, making sure that any passer-bys understand that there are no vacancies down below.

WC sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow, San Lorenzo River, September 28, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

After about a month, once they’ve solved their housing problems, the non-stop singing ends and they can concentrate on eating my sunflower seeds.  I just noticed for the first time that although the winter range of the White-crowned Sparrows covers the whole U.S., the Golden-crowned Sparrows inhabit a far more limited range from Washington through California. They are rarities to everyone except those of us lucky to live on the west coast.  Maybe that is why rents are so high in Santa Cruz!

Quote of the Week:

One of my favorite gifts for nature lovers is a very long essay by John Muir, dedicated entirely to his most beloved bird, the Water Ouzel.  I think the bird is a soul-mate of Muir.  This bird is common in the cold rapids of the Sierras, but has actually been reported as well  on some more swiftly flowing rapids further north of the urban San Lorenzo River. Here is a brief quote from Muir’s essay:

“How romantic and beautiful is the life of this brave little singer on the wild mountain streams, building his round bossy nest of moss by the side of a rapid or fall, where it is sprinkled and kept fresh and green by the spray!  No wonder he sings well, since all the air about him is music; every breath he draws is part of a song, and he gets his first music lessons before he is born; for the eggs vibrate in time with the tones of the waterfall. Bird and stream are inseparable, songful and wild, gentle and strong, the bird ever in danger in the midst of the stream’s mad whirlppols, yet seemingly immortal.”

May you all have a wild and songful week!

Barbara

 

 

 

Coopers’ Hawks Arrive, Army Corps Leaves

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It seems that both of us, Jane, have been shuddering a little at the predatory behaviors of the notorious COOPER’S HAWK, the “bird hawk” that prefers small birds over all other foods.  You can tell when a Coopers’ is in the area because there will be an initial wild chorus of alarm calls and then absolute silence.  Just yesterday I experienced this right in my backyard  – one moment a chorus of bright song, and then, as if the birds were of one mind, total silence.  It was eery.   I immediately suspected a Cooper’s Hawk, especially since my neighbor Bob has been reporting to me that one has been hiding in the dense foliage of his Cape Honeysuckle hedge (next to the River) for about two weeks now. Earlier this week Bob came out his front door, only to recoil when he saw an insouciant Cooper’s Hawk feasting on the remains of a dead CALIFORNIA TOWHEE.  It saw Bob but casually consumed the last morsels before it flew off. Bob has had a very hard time forgiving that hawk!

Here are some photos I was lucky enough to capture of their cousins, the SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, taken on the River last November during migration season.  Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller, but equally fond of dining on small birds, and equally clever at catching them.  For all I know, the Coopers’ Hawks that Bob saw, and that I saw, could have been Sharp-shinned Hawks.  They are difficult to tell apart, except for the size.

Sharp shinned adult
Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult, .  November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B.Riverwoman

 

Sharp-shinned juv copy
 Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile, November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Isn’t it amazing how the special small wing structure and long tail of these hawks allow them to successfully negotiate what seem almost impenetrable tree canopies, canopies that deny entry to our bulkier Red-tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks.   It continues to amaze me how each species finds it own way of adapting to the environment in order to survive. I can’t help but wonder if some of the many juvenile HOUSE FINCHES that I wrote about, and pictured in my last blog, were the victims of the Cooper’s predations.  I hav been noticing that the numbers of finches at my bird feeder has lessened rather dramatically this last week and I’ve read that these hawks are drawn to backyard bird feeders.  That makes me squirm.  Should I keep feeding my birds?   More power to the KINGFISHER that you saw chase off a Cooper’s last week, and to the AMERICAN CROW that I saw do the same thing this week.  Be it said that the Cooper’s Hawk did not give up without quite an aerial dust-up.

Well, the good news is that – according to the bar chart in eBird, click here the Coopers’ hit their fall migratory peak from mid-September to mid-October as they return from their breeding grounds further north and in the interior. They are pretty much right on schedule! According to the range maps, they are, for the most part, not  regular residents in coastal California, living mostly inland. So let’s “enjoy” them as best we can during their short visit and then, on behalf of the small birds, wish them a rather grateful farewell.

I hate to admit that I have been wondering lately why I never see male COMMON MERGANSERS  these days, only the brown-headed female. As I watched seven ‘females’ resting on a sandbar this week,  I imagined a matriarchy of female mergansers.  Then I imagined males too proud to hang out with females.  Silly me – always making up anthropocentric stories!

mergansers
Male and/or female Common Mergansers, near Chinatown Bridge, September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I finally, and sensibly.  turned to the Sibley field guide and was reminded that males are almost exactly similar in appearance to females (and juveniles) from July through October, until breeding season begins in November.  We should be able to identify the males as males in a month or so.

 

Like the Mergansers,  male MALLARDS will soon regain their breeding elegance  –  one month earlier than Mergansers,  in October.  It’s so funny to see them now, inelegantly coming into their own, their heads looking as if they were wearing threadbare green velvet bonnets.

As you pointed out, Jane, a few AMERICAN COOTS are also back.  The will soon become the most commonly seen bird on the river, but right now it is special to welcome them back after a cootless summer.  I actually enjoy their shenanigans all winter long.

Four coots
American Coots hang out with one Common Merganser. September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman, 

I haven’t seen any Golden-crowned Sparrows yet, or Eared Grebes, but I read on the Monterey Bay Bird list that they have alrrived elsewhere in the County.  I’m eagerly awaiting the Golden-crowned’s plaintive whistle, the official beginning of fall in my calendar.  Click here to see my  eBird post this last week.

News from the  City Council meeting last week was sobering, especially what it included about my end of our River. Based on a City study of the heavy rains in 2017, it seems that the levees “may not contain a Corps-projected 100 year flood in certain reaches ot the flood control project (approximately Soquel Ave to Highway 1).”  In its report, the City barely disguises its frustration when it writes in the report, “ The Corps acknowledged a possible change in levee performance but also indicated that their levee performance report finalized in 2014 went through an extensive process to complete and represents the Corps’ best estimate of the project’s performance at this time”.  In other words, the Corps is sticking with an old study in spite of new findings!   The Corps will cut off its contract with the City, returning full oversight and financial responsiility to the Santa Cruz. .  The City must now  go begging for money to implement something they call the Bankfull Project, which I think means some kind of supposedly less environmentally damaging variation on dredging to remove the sediment build-up between Water St. and Highway 1 that has heightened the risk of flooding.  That, not to put too fine a point on it, is precisely where I live. I guess we human and avian residents of this riverine reach can expect a rough ride in a couple of years, as heavy duty machinery rips up the river bed.   How dearly we all pay when we meddle with nature.

I have been so enthralled with the biography and writings of John Muir lately.  He was way ahead of his time, in spite of his lacking academic credentials, in understanding how glaciers (and not a natural catastrophe) carved out the Yosemite Valley.  He loved glaciers and wrote about them to a friend:

Quote of the Week:

“Man, man: you ought to have been with me.  You’ll never make up what you have lost today. I’ve been wandering through a thousand rooms of God’s crystal temple. I’ve been a thousand feet down in the crevasses, with matchless domes and sculptured figures and carved ice-work all about me.  Solomon’s marble and ivory palaces were nothing to it.  Such purity, such color, such delicate beauty!  I was tempted to stay there and feast my soul and softly freeze, until I would become part of the glacier.  What a great death that would be!”                      John Muir

Muir goes so far beyond any writer I have ever read in his capacity for total ecstasy in nature.

May we all, including our City leaders, channel just a little of Muir’s ecstatic appreciation for the wonders of nature.  Wouldn’t that be easier than grinding out all these Environmental Impact Reports?

Barbara

 

 

 

Secure Housing for All Creatures of the Earth

 

Your photo and story, Jane, on Captain Coot, proudly sweeping by the astonished Mallards while sailing his cardboad ship down the river, was one of your funniest of the year!

 

A slight glitch in my posting this week.  I  posted this piece to my education site by mistake.  When I tried to move it back to this San Lorenzo River Mysteries Site, I  lost photo captions and some links.  If you would like to see the original post, you can click here and go to my other, now mostly moribund, education site.  That way you can also take a peek at my former life!

I’ve been busy working on the Yes on M campaign (rent control), specializing, it seems, in trying to save the homes of human as well as avian creatures.   I am perhaps unreasonably partial to the idea of a world where every sentient being  has secure housing!  Anyway, for this reason, as well as having a cold, I haven’t been out on the River this week .   Fortunately the river has come to me in the form of many new  riparian dwellers visiting my overgrown native garden, separated from the river by a single fence.  My sunflower seed feeder is a major attraction, as well as a rotting log I introduce a while back.  I hope the native plants factor in the equation somewhere.  I really don’t have the vaguest understanding of the ecology that I am blindly trying to create.  But I think it is working.

I have not been lucky enough in the past to catch many glimpses of our colorful

Grosbeakon fence

summer visitor, the BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, so you  can imagine how happy I’ve been to have one of these showy creatures appear as a regular visitor in my backyard for the last two weeks.  She (or he?) seems to love my sunflower seeds.  Weirdly, it is impossible to  know if my backyard Grosbeak is a first year male or a female, since in their first year the two are indistinguishable.  All I know is that it was not a second year male whose solidly black head and deep orange breast clearly identify it as a breeding male.  Unfortunately, one of those hasn’t visited yet.

I also read that this species loves to feast on  Monarch butterflies, one of the few bird species that can successfully process the toxins in Monarchs that would kill or sicken another bird. Both Monarchs and Black-headed Grosbeaks return to the mountains of central Mexico in the winter – unfortunately for the Monarchs.

curious grosbeak

But I forgive the Grosbeaks since they are one of those lovable birds that share the duties of incubating and feeding their young. Here is a good website connected with Cornell University  that I use to collect some of these interesting tidbits of information – All About Birds. 

 

I’ve heard that HOUSE FINCHES tend to be late breeders and the recent mobbing of my tube feeder by all kinds of fluffy and scruffy young finches seems to prove the truth of this.

House finch juvenile

The tube is absolutely cleaned out by evening each day.   I also wonder if some of them might be molting adults. I wonder where they nest.

House Finch juv male

Here is a video of house finches feeding their young – slightly overproduced for my taste, but a nice intro to my sightings of them after they are out of the nest.

Adult male House Finch

Parent finches regurgitate food for the young, making it possible as we see in the film to feed many for quite a while.   Click here.

I saw a juvenile COWBIRD perched near my house for the first time that I remember.  A parasitic brooder, often leaving an egg in the nests of  House Finches, I wonder if this juvenile was inadvertently raised as a sibling of one of my finches above..  He looks a bit bewildered and stranded, don’t you think?

Cowbird juvenile

Passing the 80 milestone has kept me from getting down to the  estuary end of the river very much – so I much appreciate first hand news and photos of the breaching.   What did you think of the Sentinel coverage of this phenomena?  It cleared up some questions that I have had. For readers who didn’t see the article, click here for the link.

I don’t think I  have mentioned  my concern about the dirt road that the City built along the east side of the river bank on the riverine reach (Water to Highway 1) while they were doing their flood control work a month ago.

New path along East Bank of riverine stretch

Here is a photo of the road as well as a close-up that shows how close the road comes to the river.  I am worried that rangers and police will begin patrolling the area in their trucks, creating a disturbance to the wildlife and setting a bad precedent for the future in terms of how close humans should get to the river.  I know that there are some commercial and recreational developers that would just love to create more paths right next to the river. I would love to walk there myself,  – but I don’t think it bodes well for habitat protection.  I am likely to hear and see more if I am not disturbing what I want to hear and see.

New road

Have you seen this mighty sprinkling can heaving its way down the Riverwalk?

Tree sprinkler

I talked to the driver and he told me that it brings water to thirsty native plants that are newly planted and need a little extra support. If we ever get the river levee re-planted with natives, and they get established, maybe this will become the dinosaur that it resembles.  But I definitely appreciate the restoration work that seems to have taken off on the levee and Riverwalk.

Here is the bonus photo for the day, a mysterious insect that graced my garden for a moment.  I would love to begin to learn the names of these visitors.

Mystery Insect

Quote of the Day

No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste.  Everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons.

John Muir

May we all learn to respect the right of all living creatures to a secured place to live.

Barbara

 

 

 

The Power of a Pink Ribbon

Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,

Why am I so happy to see a delicate pink ribbon still dangling from some scrubby little bush along the levee bank?

P1090338
Coyote Bush (Baccharis) flagged for protection. August 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

Well– because those ribbons were finally placed there this year by the City to warn the mowing crew to leave the native Coyote Bush alone.  These low growing shrubs pose no flood threat, but have perished as collateral damage in the City’s grander mission of removing the large-diameter trees like Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows and Box Elders.  The pink ribbons remind me that change is slow, but if we keep asking year after year, the City does listen. I hope that in the future many more of the smaller native plants, important to the diversity of the habitat, will be flagged in order to ward off the chainsaws.

I had another ‘first-time-on-the-river’ experience this week, spotting a BAND-TAILED PIGEON perched high overhead on a telephone wire.  Even more interesting, she was a juvenile.  What was a juvenile Band-tailed doing on the river.  Why was she alone instead of in a flock where you usually find these birds?   Why have I never seen this year-round resident on the River before.  I also started wondering why doves and pigeons (the columbidae family)  favor telephone wires.

Band-tailed Pigeon juvenile
Juvenile Band-tailed Pigeon, between Felker and Water Bridges, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I decided to do a little research on this unlikely river bird.  I found out that Band-tailed pigeons usually stay close to their flock except when breeding.  I also learned that they lay only one egg per nest – perhaps explaining why this juvenile was still alone.  It turns out that  these birds prefer coniferous and oak forest habitats.  Maybe their high wire preferences are because these wires are the closest urban equivalent to the high branches in their normal forest habitats.  And to my surprise, I found out that this particular species is the closest genetic relative of the extinct Passenger Pigeon.  For this reason, the species has been widely studied in an effort to bring back the extinct species

Band-tailed Pigeons and MOURNING DOVES are the two native members of the pigeon and dove family that reside year-round in Santa Cruz.

Mourning dove 3 copy
Mourning Dove, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The Mourning Dove occurs throughout the U.S, but the Band-tailed Pigeon’s range is more limited, extending only along the western parts of Washington, Oregon, California and south to northern Argentina.  Its population plunged before the Federal Migratory Game Bird Act of 1918 was passed, due to severe hunting.  But it has now recovered  and is not longer listed as endangered.   Cheers to all the survivors on our River and to all those environmentalists before us who help save threatened plants and animals.

The other two common members of this family, the ROCK PIGEON and the EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, are introduced species.  The former is an old timer, having been introduced, I learned, very early in  the 17thcentury from Europe, Africa and other parts. The Eurasian Collared-dove, on the other hand, is an upstart.  It is native to subtropical Asia and, believe it or not,  didn’t arrive in North America until the 1980’s.    At that time it entered Florida and has since become one of the great bird colonizers, spreading rapidly across the country. They breed throughout the year, three to four broods being common.  Unfortunately, they are known carriers of parasites that can spread to native birds via commingling at feeders and by consumption by predators.

Eurasian Collared-dove
Eurasian Collared-dove in my backyard next to levee, August 15, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Since I learned that bad news, I’ve been discouraging them from foraging in my backyard where my House Finches, California Towhees and winter sparrows forage.  Sad.  Before I got wiser, I used to love to see them.    During one walk this week, I saw at least one of all four members of this Columbidae family.

 

 

scrub jay juv
Juvenile Scrub Jay, August 2018, San Lorenzo River

As for continuing juveniles, there are still many young SCRUB JAYS hopping around with  telltale fluff popping out all over. I laughed out loud earlier in the week  to see a young House Finch on a telephone wire with its parent. The teen-ager would edge its way along the wire until it got very close to the mother, who would then scuttle further down the wire, the scene repeating itself again and again.   And today, I smiled as I watched two somewhat dazed  looking young crows, fully feathered except for just a few wisps of down on their still fairly naked faces.  The sight that pleased me the most was this juvenile  JUNCO, busily foraging along the sidewalk with a group of adult Juncos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a juvenile Junco.

Junco juv
Juvenile Junco, August 20, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. RiverwomanEnter a caption

On a sad note, I think I will have to reconcile myself to the fact that the PIED-BILLED GREBES have not been able to successfully produce any young this year.  This is  the first time there haven’t been young PBG’s on the River in the four years that I have been watching.  Here’s a photo of Stripey, the product of the first nest of Grebes that I discovered in 2015, the highpoint of my river birdwatching.  I’m especially sad since I watched the hard working parents try several times to build nests, foiled each time by the suddenly rising or falling river due to the artifical breach of the sand bar.

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Stripy, the first baby Pied-billed Grebe that I learned to love.  Photo from August 2015 by B. Riverwoman

I met an enthusiastic bird lover named Andy Davis this week while he was out keeping our river clean with the Downtown Street Team.

Andy Davis
Andy Davis, DST, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

If some of our readers haven’t met members of this team yet, stop and talk with them. They’re out on the River everyday and know a lot about what is going on.  Andy reported the discovery recently of a very large gopher snake, good news on the state of our River’s ecosystem.  Somehow she survived the flood chainsaws and bulldozers.   When I said to Andy how great it was that the DST is keeping an eye on the wildlife, he said to me, “That’s what we’re here for –to protect the river.”  Thanks, Andy.

My friend Jeff Caplan, an ardent advocate of birds, is sponsoring a Bird Fun Festival  on Saturday and Sunday,  September  15 and 16th, at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz.  There will be a bilingual walk from Beach Flats Park to the MAH, starting Saturday at 10 a.m. with events to follow at the MAH.  Sunday will be focused especially on bird related activities for children.  It sounds like lots of fun.  I will be there on Sunday with a cooperative nesting bird game to play with kids ages 7 to 11.   Hope to see some of you there.  Click here for the full website. 

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Quote of the Week

“I care to live only to entice people to loook at Nature’s loveliness.  Heaven knows that John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.”  John Muir

I hope everybody is enjoying the remaining young birds of the season.  They are growing up fast.  Happy Birding!

Barbara

Alone or Together, Trying to Survive

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Travelers,

As I write this article, it is August 6th, Hiroshima Day.  I light a candle, take out my Buddhist prayer bead made from the wooden propeller of a Japanese airplane, and sing a Japanese song against nuclear war.  I do a little ritual on this day almost every year,  sometimes with others, sometimes by myself.  This year for the first time my small prayer for peace includes all living species. I wonder why it has taken me so long to add other species to my thoughts on Hiroshima Day.

I almost always return from my walk along the degraded River with such a strange sense of peace.  Maybe it is precisely because it is so degraded that the life it protects offers such a message of hope.  So much wildness has survived so much human violence.

On my walks this week, I was struck by how some birds spend most of their time together, while other species spend most of their time alone.  They have all figured out different strategies on how  to give life a chance., give peace a chance.  But how different their lives must be depending on what has worked to keep them alive and flourishing.   Today’s blog is dedicated to all the birds who have learned to live in flocks and also those who spend most of their time alone.  Many different evolutionary strategies have helped them make it this far!

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9 Canada Geese, swimming near Benchlands, August 1, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman

As I walked along the River I saw 9 CANADA GEESE swimming along in an almost straight line, reminding me always of what a closely knit group of social beings they are.  I saw 18 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS fishing and taking a rambunctious early morning bath together, then swimming off purposefully in formation to continue their fishing downstream.  I hailed 85 ROCK PIGEONS in three separate flocks, one large flock creating a magic circle in the air while another flock spaced itself evenly along a stretch of telephone wire.   I was delighted to see 15 beautiful COMMON MERGANSERS  on the river bank just south of the Chinatown Bridge, preening and resting together.

Cormorants
9 Double-crested Cormorants (among a flock of 18) fishing together south of Soquel Bridge, August 1, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman
Mergansers
9 Common Mergansers (among a flock of 15) hauling up below Laurel St.Bridge to rest and preen, August 1, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Pigeons
29 Rock Pigeons, August 1, 2018, photo by B. Riverwoman

Interspersed among these gregarious groupies were the loners –

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret, August 1, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

the spectral SNOWY EGRET, dignified and graceful,  foraging  in the muddy banks and shallow waters for crunchy crustaceans, elusive fish and buried insects; the busy SPOTTED SANDPIPER plunging his pointed beak again and again into the sand bar between Laurel and Riverside, a spot he has pretty much claimed for his own year after year;  the Belted Kingfisher  perching briefly on a branch before rattling on down the river in search of a better vantage point; the unusual and mysterious RED-THROATED LOON, whose rare lingering on the River for two summers is a mystery we will probably never understand, and of course my very special little PIED-BILLED GREBE, who almost certainly has a mate not too far away, but almost always fishes alone.

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Spotted Sandpiper, August 1,  2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman
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Belted Kingfisher, October 23, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman
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Pied-billed Grebe on the move, August 1, 2018 Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Here is my eBird checklist with the names of all 20 species, blessed survivors, that I saw on my river outing this week.  Click here.

The SWALLOWS seem mostly gone.  I saw a few remnant CLIFF SWALLOWS still whirling about near the Laurel St. Bridge, but they will presumably be flying a little straighter once they head  south.

May all human beings figure out a way to survive peacefully, together or alone, with their own kind and with all living creatures.

Barbara