Elephants in the Ganges

Dear Lovers of Ecological Balance,

Just an hour ago I heard the inspired ecological prophetess, Vandana Shiva, report with great delight that elephants were returning to the Ganges.  I felt a distinct thrill of recognition run through me as I connected this to our struggle to protect the San  Lorenzo River from commercial and recreational development and to preserve it as a wildlife area.  No matter if the river is in India or America, when we humans back off a bit, the original inhabitants may return.  I am a little sad that the City of Santa Cruz has of today officially opened the Riverwalk.  I imagine there are wild creatures out there who have enjoyed the brief respite from humans.

Vandana was live streaming  this morning on  a Webinar sponsored by the Right Livelihood Center at UCSC on the subject of Covid19: Crisis and Opportunity.  She traces the Covid 19 crisis directly to commodifying food, commodifying nature.  Protection of the forest, protection of a diversity of seeds, protection of wildlife is required to truly protect our health, she says.  That was her message in a nutshell- that we have to change our relationship to nature, and to farming,  if the earth is to be healthy, and if all of those of us  locked down on this earth are to be healthy.    If we don’t get this balance right, we are condemned to continuing pandemics, social breakdown and of course, climate chaos.   Her message helped me make new connections and inspired me with the need for international solidarity.

Here you and I are, in an already over-developed community, trying to protect a small patch of urban river from the the growth addiction of big developers and their willing and self-interested  collaborators like the local Chamber of Commerce.  Profit-motivated designs for our river as a backdrop to upscale restaurants, hotels and luxury condos, never seemed right to most of us.  That’s why Jane and I started this blog – to see the river through the lens of its original occupants rather than through a lens of human pleasure and profit.   But it’s so helpful when a visionary like Vandana Shiva helps us make the connection between growth addiction and a pandemic like Covid 19.  It helps us understand a little better how we all fit into the larger picture.

Shiva has just widened the vision of what we are doing here in our blog, and what hundreds of thousands of small groups of people around the world are doing, to honor the natural world and stop the forces of development that threaten this world.  She is helping us understand the connection between elephants in the Ganges, an obscure and microscopic virus, and protecting wildlife wherever we find it – not only in the pristine wilderness areas, but in our own urban backyard in Santa Cruz.  She is helping us understand what it means to achieve real health in a world currently controlled by powerful anti-health forces masquerading as promoters of health, i.e. Big Pharma, Agribusiness and so many more.  The ecological disaster caused by these players has created the real pre-existing conditions, including mass poverty and ecological destruction,  that underlie the current pandemic.

Keep washing your hands and practicing physical distancing – or whatever else it takes to stay alive in this emergency – so that we can continue to create an international ecological movement for a healthy world.  That is Vandana Shiva’s vision.  I will try to include a link to her talk in my next post.

My computer has crashed again and I’m writing this laboriously with my thumbs!  I had some good stories and photos, especially about a hungry juvenile hawk and a hapless squirrel.  Those  stories will have to wait until next time.  But I wanted to tell you about Shiva’s talk right away.

As we go back into the local parks, including the Riverwalk, I know I will be even more motivated to treat the wild plants and animals with all the respect they deserve, knowing that our health and their health depend on living in balance with each other.

Amazed to be alive at such a dramatic moment in the earth’s history.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

Sorrows and Joys

Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,

My blog voice has been silent for about a month now – first my computer crashed,  then a vertebrae in my spine compressed,  and finally the worldwide pandemic came to our  town – all three within the same month.  Grappling with the enormity of the pandemic on top of everything else momentarily overwhelmed me.

But here I am today, at my repaired computer, finally sitting up, and praying that the osteoporotic curve in my back and the pandemic curve of COVID-19 will both flatten and that all of us and our loved ones will come through this. Let’s hope this tragic time leads to inner and outer transformation throughout the world.

I loved reading about your hummingbird nest discovery, Jane.   It once again reminds me that the river is not only an eating and resting place for birds, but a place where birds  give birth.  The corollary is that it is a place we must protect as a wildlife refuge and not as a recreational area. That is the goal we set  when we conceived this blog more than five years ago, and  the one we still hold to.  PROTECT WILDLIFE.

Rufous Hummingbird, google image

Speaking of hummingbirds, I was thrilled to see two  migrant RUFOUS HUMMMINGBIRDS darting madly in and out of the huge Mexican honeysuckle bush in my neighbor Bob’s yard.  I always feel a little ambivalent when the Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds arrive each spring from their winter home south of the border.  It is exciting to see these beautiful birds, especially the male Rufous with his orange-tinted coppery feathers and iridescent red throat.  But I always feel a little ambivalent as well, knowing that our less belligerent and year-round ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS will probably have their well-established territories, and maybe even their nests, usurped by the two pushy selasphorus species.

Allen’s Hummingbird, September 28, 2017, El Rio MHP, Mexican Honeysuckle, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My neighbors on the other side,  Michael Levy and Batya Kagan,  both birders,  have been discussing with me  at some length if the bird we are seeing is a Rufous or an Allen’s.  The Allen’s mostly have a green back and rufous colored belly and flanks, while the entire back, belly and breast of the Rufous is pretty much  an orange-tinted coppery color.  The throat (gorget) of the Rufous in good light is a stunning iridescent red color, while the Allen’s is more orangish.  There are exceptions but we finally agreed that what we were seeing was the Rufous.  It had to be a migrant passing through, since this species breeds mostly in Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska.  The Allen’s, on the other  hand, have a much more limited breeding area, confined basically to a thin strip along the coast of California. So, it was a privilege to catch a glimpse of the Rufous on its 3900 mile-long journey from Mexico to southern Alaska.

I read a little more about the  Rufous and discovered this species has the longest flight of any hummingbird in the world, and the northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird in the world. Such accomplishments may explaiin why it is also extremely aggressive, having been reported to chase chipmunks from their nests. They trace a counter-clockwise movement during their migration, flying up the Pacific coast in the spring and returning in the fall via the Rocky Mountains.  So now is the time to get a look at them.  If you miss them now, you will have to wait until next spring.  If you see a coppery hummingbird later in the  summer you can be  pretty sure it is a nesting Allen’s you are seeing.

The SCRUB JAYS have been very actively courting in my backyard, pecking each others’ beaks quite energetically as they prepare to mate.   I think the highpoint of my backyard birding during the last month has been the sight of a male scrub jay just two days ago flying towards his lady love with a big red Mexican honeysuckle flower in his beak (see photo of honeysuckle bush above).  He landed right next to her in my apple tree, brought the flower to her beak, she promptly accepted the gift and swallowed it. How I wish I had a photo of that for all of you. You’ll just have to imagine it!

Before I was laid low by a collapsed vertebrae, I caught this intriguing photo of a RED-TAILED HAWK on the levee. I knew that owls had incredibly flexible necks, but I did a double take before I could figure out that this was a red-tailed hawk whose head had  turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He certainly has it on me in terms of bone flexibility.

Red-tailed Hawk looking backwards, April 4, 2020, Riverine stretch, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Same hawk, about to take flight from willows in same area. Photo by B. Riverwoman
Roadway dotted with privet berry poop, March 17, 2020, El Rio MHP, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Also, before my double confinement, my neighbor Batya showed me a huge flock of about 150 CEDAR WAXWINGS congregating on a tall sycamore tree, chattering excitedly in their high-pitched, thin voices that I almost can’t hear.  They had been feasting for days on the purple berries of a Privet tree nearby and had  created a purple polka-dotted roadway to memorialize their visit. Errhh, thanks guys.

Part of a flock of 150 Cedar Waxwings in a sycamore tree, El Rio MHP, March 17, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Batya pointed out to me that these birds are among the few that exist primarily on fruits. I began to wonder how they could find enough fruits, and also began to wonder why we either saw huge flocks of them, or otherwise none.  We did a little research and discovered that their fruit-eating ways are connected to their nomadic ways.  They have to cover huge stretches of territory, gorge on the fruits in season, and then move on to a new area where fruits are just coming in.

Jane, I loved your spelling of COVID-19 as CORVID-19.  Maybe a Freudian slip, suggesting your displeasure at certain crow behaviors?  Or was it the helpful/unhelpful work of Microsoft Word?

Here’s a bonus photo of a bushtit nest that was discovered on the ground near the Chinatown Bridge way back in 2015 on a Bird Club  walk with our beloved and deceased  bird guru Steve Gerow who identified the empty nest for us.

Empty bushtit nest discovered on the ground in San Lorenzo Park, May 16, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Be well, everyone.  Stay connected to Nature, our great teacher. We are going through something BIG together.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speak Their Names and They Will Appear

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Slowed down by a “slippery and wiry” pulse this week (I’m intrigued by the language of acupuncture), my birding has been mostly confined to a few sunny hours in my backyard.  Fortunately, my backyard is immediately adjacent to the levee and river, just upsteam from the Water St. Bridge.  A pretty wide array of  birds fly in from the river for their steady stream of dependable treats.

This last Saturday, my neighbor Batya, who serves as my good-luck charm in birding, appeared with her binoculars, declaring that she was looking for a Savannah Sparrow, hopefully hidden among the four other species of sparrows that hang out here.  I told her that I was longing to see a LINCOLN’S SPARROW, and that I would happily join her far-fetched effort. I had never seen a Lincoln’s Sparrow on the river, much less my backyard.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Backyard near San Lorenzo River, Feb. 29, 2020,  awaiting turn at millet bird feeder. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Within two minutes of sitting down, we noticed a movement in a nearby Japanese maple tree. A bird hopped out onto a branch, making  itself very visible. It was cautiously eyeing the hopper bird feeder filled with millet. At first glance, It looked like another SONG SPARROW, pretty common in my backyard these days.   But wait! It had

Feb.29, 2020 Lincoln’s Sparrow at hopper feeded, backyard, El Rio

those telltale crisp stripes on its breast. .  Batya and I didn’t move a muscle, not wanting this prize to fly away.  We carefully went over every detail. The heads of the two species are almost exactly the same – same crown, same eyebrow, same auricular, same whisker.  But then you get to  the throat and  the breast.  The cosmic designer of this close, but more delicate, cousin of a song sparrow must have used a long, thin and finely bristled brush to paint the more delicate streaks on the throat and the buffy breast.  Convinced that we were looking at a Lincoln’s, I risked taking a photo.  Batya went for the books.  We triumphantly confirmed the identity. Yes, it was!   A LINCOLN’S SPARROW.  My first!  And in my backyard! Unlike the ubiquitous Song Sparrow, whose year-round range covers almost the entire United States, this far less common cousin breeds in the Sierras, Canada, and Alaska, and turns up here in Santa Cruz only in winter.  Furthermore, it’s winter range is very limited – mostly along the California, Oregon and Washington coast in the U.S. and then south of the border.  A special visitor!  Next time you see a “song sparrow” look again.  It may be a Lincoln’s.  Or if you are in a grassy field, you could be looking at a Savannah’s, also a winter guest.  Be sure to tell Batya.  She was a good sport about the Lincoln’s, in fact as excited as I was.  But I’m sure she is still dreaming of a Savannah’s.

For Comparison, Song Sparrow, Backyard near San Lorenzo River,  December, 2019  millet on post, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The day after our sparrow success, I was bundling door hangers for the election and talking about birds with Sandra and Peter Nichols, two other bird enthusiasts and river walkers.  I told them about the Lincoln’s and Sandra got a smile on her face and told me a somewhat similar story of prescience that happened quite recently.   Here’s the story as I remember Sandra telling it:

Belted Kingfisher, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman, October 23, 2015

“I especially love the BELTED KINGFISHER, the Wood Ducks and the Hooded Mergansers.  I can’t stand it if I don’t see these birds at least once a year. Recently, Peter and I were walking along the river and thnking that we hadn’t seen our special kingfisher perched on her special spot on a wire just upstream from the Riverside Bridge.  I began to worry that the City had for some reason removed the wire and inadvertently gotten rid of one of the kingfishers’ favorite fishing perches.  We had passed the spot when I thought about this so I wanted to make sure to check it on the way back.  I had a really positive attitude, feeling somehow that I was going to see the kingfisher. And, yes, it was there, perched on the wire that we had been looking for and missed. The wire was there, the female kingfisher was there, and we were happy.”

Sandra’s face was wreathed in smiles as she told me this story and described how beautiful the Belted Kingfisher is, especially the female.  She said mischievously, “the female has two beautiful necklaces, not just one like the male.  And one of the necklaces is a beautiful russet color. I just love this bird.”

And I just love hearing stories like this.  How did Sandra know she was going to see this bird?  They are  not that common on the river. My only photo dates back to 2015 and doesn’t do this handsome bird justice.   I agree that it is a magical bird and in fact have a watercolor painting of a female kingfisher in my living room.

It is almost equinox so I was not surprised to get an e-mail this week from Alex Rinkert saying that, “Spring is just around the corner so the time has come to begin Year 4 of the Santa Cruz County Breeding Bird Atlas II…this will be the penultimate year of field work. Nearly 100 atlasers have contributed observations to the project over the years. We have maintained a large contingent of regulars but are still hoping to attract new atlasers and re-interest former atlasers.”

If you are a birder but have never done atlasing before, there will be two trainings this year, March 22nd and 28th from 9-11.  Please contact Alex at arinkert12@comcast.net to register for the free training.  I took it two years ago and learned a lot about how to look for evidence of breeding that I had never really thought of.  CLICK HERE to go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website for more information on the project.  I especially recommend opening the document called “ Breeding Codes” which will give you a clearer sense of what the training includes.

Just after writing this, I looked out my window and saw a SCRUB JAY with the temerity to

Scrub Jay, San Lorenzo River,  Riverine Reach,  Oct. 26, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

actually break off a small branch of my Japanese maple and fly away with it.  I guess that will be the first entry in my breeding bird report this year, i.e. CN-carrying nest material. I may report my indignation but also my sincere hope that she nests nearby and that her family flourish

 

I created a little altar for my mail-in ballot this year.  May people who love our natural environment be elected to office, up and down the ballot.

Barbara


 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

With a Little Help From My Friends

Hello Jane and Fellow Celebrants of the Natural World,

In spite of the heart-breaking destruction of the natural world, there is still so  much to see and love.  Perhaps the ghosts of extinct insects that I never learned to celebrate will feel some bitterness at that remark.  But we all live in our severely blinkered worlds and do our best to celebrate what comes our way.

The river has offered us some exciting new sightings this last week, none of them discovered by me due to a  few ill advised  moves that provoked my back into rebellion.   But thanks to friends and eBird I still managed to keep abreast of some of the mysterious comings and goings on the river.

The biggest news in terms of a rarity was Alex Rinkert’s sighting February 17 of a female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE just upstream of the trestle bridge near

 Female Barrow’s Goldeneye, San Lorenzo River estuary, February 17, 2020, alone and later with group of Common Goldeneyes. Sighting and Photo by Alex Rinkert.

the mouth of the river.. According to Alex, the Barrow’s Goldeneye has not been seen in the entire County since winter 2009-10. a full decade.   Only a birding expert like Alex could have made the identification since it is almost indistinguishable from the Common Goldeneye that we see all the time at this time of year. Below is a photo of a female COMMON GOLDENEYE  for comparison:

Female Common Goldeneye, MaCaulay Library, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology  photo

: The discovery has stirred up quite a bit of excitement among local bird aficionados as they confirm the identifiation. Here is Alex’ amazing description, providing an illuminating  peek into the world of birding experts using all their skills to observe and record every obscure detail of a bird’s anatomy and plumage to assure correct identification of a rare sighting. Can you tell them apart, especially the head shape and the size of the beak?  I think you have a better future as a serious birder than I do.  Below is the description that Alex made in eBird.

Alex Rinkert Feb. 17, 2020, 9:40 a.m. “Female actively diving and preening just upstream of the trestle. Head and bill shape were typical of Barrow’s. The head was peaked at the forehead when loafing (i.e., not preening or diving). The bill was noticeably curved up at the base and toward the tip, and the contrasting dark nail at the tip of the bill seemed wide. The bill color and pattern was not the typical bright orange often associated with Barrow’s but is apparently within the range of variability in this species. The basal third or half of the bill was blackish and the distal end was a pale flesh-orange. The amount of color visible on the bill depended on the direction the bird was facing. Often the bill looked almost entirely dark but when in a profile view or straight on, the color was evident as it is in many of the photos. During our long observation we were able to directly compare the body size of this bird to numerous female Commons and this bird appeared slightly larger, but the difference in size was not noticeable except when they were side by side. Photos reveal six fully white secondaries and possibly a seventh that is partially white, as well as no white bar on the lesser covs. The pale yellow iris and the scattered white feathers on the lesser coverts suggest this is an adult female.”

“Common Goldeneyes can have an extensively yellow bill, but these aberrant individuals tend to have a completely yellow bill instead of a broad flesh-orange tip with a dark nail, and the bill and head shape is unlike Common. A hybrid was carefully considered in light of the somewhat darker bill color, but the bill shape and head (especially for an ad female) was typical of Barrow’s, as was the wing pattern.”

Here are two responses from Monterey Bay Birds listserv where rarities are often reported.

Liam Murphy February 17, 2020 7:37 pm  “I refound the Barrow’s this evening about 1 hour before sunset. It had moved upstream a bit, just above the first sweeping bend, but still below the Riverside Ave Bridge. Alex’s notes are spot on.  The color in the bill is not obvious from a distance.  There is more color on the bill than on some of the Commons, but it’s a duller orange with a hint of pink (some of the Commons have a limited bright orange bill tip).  The small size of the bill is really what stands out from a distance.”

Alexander  Gauguine Feb. 18 5:19 pm  Female Barrow’s Goldeneye now present just downstream of Trestle Bridge San Lorenzo with 4 female Commons. (Many more Common’s further upstream.)

It’s quite a blessing to have so much birding expertise in our community.

I did a little research and found out that the Common Goldeneye can be found during the winter in all 48 lower states and Alaska, but breeds almost solely in Canada and Alaska.  Much less common, the Barrows are only found along the west coast from southern California up to Alaska during the winter. During breeding season, this species leaves the states almost entirely and moves inland in Canada and Alaska.

The discovery  of the Barrow’s upstaged another wonderful discovery on  February 15 by friends Michael Levy and Batya Kagan. They saw  a pair of

Male Hooded Merganser with crest fully extended, behind Tannery above Highway 1, discovered by Michael Levy and Batya Kagan, photo by Batya Kagan.

HOODED MERGANSERS swimming just upstream of Highway 1 Bridge behind the Tannery. Above is Batya’s photo of the male Hooded Merganser with his elegant crest extended in full breeding display.  I was thrilled to hear about this.  I have been waiting for another glimpse of these gorgeous winter migrants for five years now.  Below are three photos I caught five years ago in 2015  at almost the same time of year, and in the exact same area.   I was lucky enough to catch the male in both full display mode and with his crest pulled in, and the female with her beautiful chestnut hairdo fully poofed out. I wonder if they take turns displaying their charms to each other. They don’t breed here but they clearly start courting early and before they reach their breeding site. I think I would also stretch out the courting season if I were this beautiful.

Hooded Merganser pair, February 25, 2015, behind Tannery,  male on left in full breeding display with crest fully extended  Photo by B. Riverwoman
Hooded Merganser pair, February 25 2015, behind Tannery, female on right with crest in full display, male with crest lowered. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I liked learning on the Cornell website that baby Hooded Mergansers leap from their nests, when they are only one day old.  Bold babies!  Or pushy moms?  “Their mother checks the area around the nest,  then calls to the nestlings from ground level. From inside the nest, the little fluffballs scramble up to the entrance hole and then flutter to the ground, which may be 50 feet or more below them. In some cases they have to walk half a mile or more with their mother to the nearest body of water.”

And as another gift to me in my semi-homebound state, Batya also found a RING-NECKED DUCK in the same area behind the Tannery. I’ve seen this duck only occasionally in the Duck Pond and  never behind the Tannery in a natural setting. Thanks again, Batya!   .

Ring-necked Duck, San Lorenzo River above Highway1 behind Tannery, February 17, 2020, Photo by Batya Kagan.

Save yourself the trouble of looking for the ringed neck that gives this bird its name.  It’s almost impossible to see.  Apparently there is a chestnut collar on the bird’s black neck that 19th century biologists used to describe the species.  The speciments were dead which I guess made it easier to see the brown ring.  The best field marks are the pointed head and the white ring on the bill. We in Santa Cruz get to see both the Ring-necked Duck and the Hooded Merganser as they over-winter along the west coast of the U.S and Canada.  Both species  fly north to Canada during breeding season but like the Hooded Mergansers and a lot of our winter water fowl, they are in breeding plumage during most of the time they are with us.

I met Yosi Almog several weeks ago who is building an owl house on his property.  The Cornell Lab is encouraging people to create more nesting boxes for local birds as natural nesting sites continue to shrink.  CLICK HERE to see expert advice from the Cornell Lab’s website  on how to build them.    I’d love to hear about any successes you have. Good luck, Yosi.

With best wishes to all our local breeding birds, many of whom are busy scouting out nesting sites, building nests and even incubating (some hummingbirds).

“Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.”  from a Sioux prayer

With gratitude for all that is “natural, wild and free” (from Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac)

Barbara

 

 

Recall is for the Birds, Vote NO

Dear Jane and Fellow River Ramblers,

My apologies to the birds for my title.  But I couldn’t resist.

Red-tailed hawk, Google image

I think I may actually have  gotten a glimpse this morning of two RED-TAILED HAWKS in a rare courtship ritual – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I saw two raptors with the telltale bright orange tails circling higher and higher
until  I could no  longer see them. I thought maybe the strong winds were helping lift them to these unusual heights, and that they were flying around at that altitude for pure joy.  But it did seem unusual. I couldn’t remember  ever  seeing  hawks, certainly not a pair,  soaring  that  high.  When I looked it up at home, I read that these hawks typically carry out their courtship rituals very high up in the air – up to 1000 feet!  And courtship season typically begins in late February through March.  Aha!  According to the book, the ritual includes circling, touching each other and diving on half-closed wings at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.  I didn’t see any tentative touching or daredevil diving, but I did see the hawks circling higher up than I’ve ever seen them. This species is said to mate for life, but when a mate dies, the mateless hawk’s ritual sky-dance courtship must begin again.  Or sometimes, according to the book, a pair will engage in the aerial acrobatics in order to strengthen pre-existing pair bonds before going into the breeding.   Since they mate for life and the breeding window is small, I may never get to see even this much of their sky dance again in my life.

First of season CANADA GEESE, November4, 2020, San Lorenzo Park, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It’s sweet, isn’t it, that nowadays our walks along the river often include welcoming back old friends like the Red-throated Loon that you so happily reported on last week  and this pair of  CANADA GEESE that was my first-of-season sighting this year . My neighbor Batya told me that she saw a flock of about 10 a week ago  – earlier and more numerous than ever reported on the urban stretch of the river as far as I know.  This was confirmed by your park ranger friend.  Last year you might recall that Alex Rinkert who leads the Bird Breeding Project in Santa Cruz County asked us to report any breeding behavior of these geese – since their populations seem to be moving south.  And sure enough, we saw a second year of three families on the urban river in 2019, an increase from the previous year.   It looks like we may see even more this year.  I especially love these good parents for their mutually supportive and highly protective parenting.

Have readers read the classic Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold?  I love this book.  Here’s what Leopold has to say about the spring arrival of Canada Geese in Wisconsin:

A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese.  I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Peta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof”

I’m afraid I was once that lady.  I’m grateful to local birding guides who have helped me become more aware of all the avian wonders around me. .

Common goldeneye with unusual white breast. A hybrid?  San Lorenzo River near Laurel St. Bridge, November 4, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And speaking of dear old friends, this morning I saw  a dear PIED-BILLED GREBE, hanging out on the cold and windy river with the COMMON GOLDENEYE, above.  Since the Grebe is a solitary soul (part of my attraction to it, I suppose) I think the Goldeneye, who is generally more convivial, may have become separated from her flock and decided to find comfort in a new friend. Or was she rejected by her flock for her unusual plumage? For whatever reason, they continued swimming close to each other, almost alone in an otherwise pretty empty river between Soquel and Laurel Streets.  I didn’t even notice until I saw the image on my computer that the Grebe’s bill had changed back from its non-breeding drab color to its breeding colors of bright white with a dark black stripe.  That’s another winsome aspect of this nondescript bird – it’s modest and unusual breeding display (males and females are indistinguishable and they both sport beautiful bills during breeding season).  I’m happy to know that my little grebe is ready and willing again this year.

Common Raven, San Lorenzo Park, November 4, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

As for chattiness, this opinionated RAVEN had a lot to say to me this morning, if only I had the ears to hear.  Maybe it was saying No to the Recall.

Which – eh –brings me to the Recall – which has been occupying a lot of my time and keeping me from the river.  I strongly believe that this recall not only sets a terrible precedent for democratic governance but threatens to upset our new environmentally responsive majority.   Our new Mayor, Justin Cummings captured the crux of the matter when he said,

 “Recalls are intended to remove elected officials who commit crimes or who abuse their powers in office. Regular elections, not recall elections, are the way that members of the public are supposed to make clear their various policy priorities. What is happening in this recall is an attempt to pre-empt and undermine the normal electoral process, and the voters should reject it.”

Two key points that Justin did not mention are that  (1) this recall began immediately after the November 2018 election, long before accusations of misconduct were directed against Drew Glover and Chris Krohn. and (2) that the recall was instigated and funded – to the tune of close to $100,000 (!)  – by outside development and real estate interests (using the local anti-rent control group Santa Cruz Together as its funnel).  And they had the nerve to call it  a “grassroots movement”!  Takeover by wealthy, outside interests is what our community  should be seriously concerned about, not a regrettable but minor lapse in civility by hard-working and committed civil servants.   You can read lots more about the recall if you go to Stopsantacruzrecalls.org.  

As for Chris Krohn and Drew Glover, both are srong environmentalists who are supportive of protecting the San Lorenzo River as a wildlife habitat.  If we lose them and get Don Lane and Renee Golder, I believe it will be a setback for a green future in Santa Cruz.  Don Lane supported recreational boating on the San Lorenzo River when he was on the Council, the issue that triggered this blog.  Renee Golder has been registered as a Republican most of her adult life. Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice, on the other hand,  oppose the recall and have generously stepped forward as  “just in case’ candidates who are committed to upholding the progressive views of Chris and Drew i the event they are recalled  Let’s hope not!   I urge readers to vote NO on the recall and YES on Katherine and Tim.

When Drew Glover was running for City Council in 2016, he carefully listened to me talk about the importance of protecting the wildlife habitat of the river from commercial and recreational development and memorized the fact about the 122 bird species who depend on the urban river for their survival. He used this information in several campaign forums.  Drew is the founder of Project Pollinate, an organization committed to raising public awareness about our threatened ecosystem.   Click here for a very  interesting video of him describing the work of his five-year old organization.

Chris Krohn has been an active environmentalist long before his first 4 years as a City Council member from 1998 to 2004.  He was part of a progressive majority that got the current San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP) passed in 2003, a plan that offered far more habitat protection than the levee projects of many other cities.   Chris Krohn has actively solicited the input of Jane and me and many other local environmentalists in considering the environmental impact of issues before the City Council. He has worked hard to put environmentally aware community members  on some of the leading City Commissions.

The following statement in support of Krohn and Glover, and against the recall, was recently released by the Sierra Club:

The Sierra Club is against the recall of Counncilmembers Drew Glover and Chris Krohn in the March 3, 2020 election. Council members Glover and Krohn originally earned the Sierra Club’s endorsement through a rigorous vetting process that identifies candidates who prioritize the world’s climate and our local biodiversity.  As elected officials, both have energetically followed through on their commitment to the environment. 

 Both councilmembers are important to the council majority that protects our local environment.  They have taken the lead in providing free bus passes to downtown employees, supporting our City’s urban tree canopy, protecting the site of the downtown Farmer’s Market from development into a $40 million parking structure, managing UCSC growth in the context of finite natural resources, renovating our downtown library at the civic center, requiring that a minimum 20% of new housing be kept affordable to local workers, and protecting our greenbelt from overuse and degradation. 

 Council members Glover and Krohn have supported Sierra Club priorities, and now we need to suppport their voices on the Council.

 We hope you will join with the Sierra Club in voting AGAINST the recalls of Drew Glover and Chris Krohn.  For more information on how to help, please visit stopsantacruzrecalls.org

 Please vote NO on the recall.  Vote YES for Katherine and Tim.

Click here to see my eBird checklist from Feb. 4, 2020

I hope you have time in your life to to make some new wild friends, or visit some old ones.

Barbara

 

Of Sleepy Herons and Invisible Wood Elves

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Huggers,

Sunday afternoon the sky was a soft gray, the air was chilly and I was inclined to take a nap.  But I also wanted to take a last look at the river before I sat down to write this blog.   As soon as I arrived at the levee, I spied a half-dozing GREAT BLUE HERON, reflecting my mood exactly.  Her royal shagginess was sleepy but also watchful. Maybe she was engaged in what is called “unihemispheric” sleep, an ability of some birds to keep one eye open while resting the other side of their brain with that eye closed. But this behavior seemed more like my behavior, opening my eyes a little,  then closing them, not really ready to wake up.  In any case,  I caught the heron with eyes closed, then half-open, then all the way open. Not wanting to disturb her further, I quickly took these photos, then pocketed my camera and  went on my way.

Great Blue Heron, San Lorenzo River near Water St. Bridge, January 19, 2020,  3 photos by B. Riverwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a few steps downstream I could see four or five campers moving slowly around their tents under the Water St. Bridge.  I stopped to chat with a soulful looking man named Paul Magdaleno.  After repairing a scavenged and tattered tent,  digging a  little drainage ditch alongside the tent, and adding a small garbage can, he and the

Paul Magdaleno, drummer, grower, camper under Water St. Bridge. January 19, 2020 Photo by B. Riverwoman

others had been told in the morning that they would all have to leave by sundown. He seemed resigned to his fate, tidying up but not yet breaking camp.   I learned that he was a drummer, grew up in a hippie family that loved the Grateful Dead, had made a living for years growing marijuana and dreamed of forming a band called the Invisible School Bus. I also learned from him that the Water St. Bridge attracts quite a community of musicians that gather and play together. He identified Lito in the next tent as an excellent drummer.

Drums belonging to Lito, drummer and guitarist. Water St. Bridge, January 19, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

So I went over to meet Lito who let me take a picture of his drums.  I can’t imagine how he manages these drums as an unsheltered person.  I gave him my blog card and we talked about the name River Mysteries.

Then a kind of magical thing happened.. Another nearby camper overheard our conversation and said,  “River mysteries? What kind of river mysteries?”  I told him about how you and I, Jane, started this blog as a way of protecting the river from recreational and commercial “development”.  We thought if we could help others see what we were slowly learning to see – all the hidden mysteries of the birds and plants and water – we might persuade the city to go slow on  “development”.

This man, Guy, told me he had been curious about the name of our blog  since he had spent twenty years doing research on crypto-hominids, or “crptids”.  He said he could show me where they lived along the river if I showed him the photos on my camera.  I handed him my camera and he scrolled back,  then zoomed in to a photo with a lot of trees and undergrowth. That, he said, is where they lived and could be seen – if people had the eyes to see.  He had seen them and communicated with them.  He said that people thought he was crazy.  I said I totally understood what he was saying.  I have been reading Tolkien lately. And had I not just been zooming in on the Great Blue Heron  15 minutes earlier, looking for more understanding of what is hidden.  He didn’t want his photo taken but said that he was a carpenter and a fly fisherman.  I gave him my card, told him to call me if he wanted to discuss river mysteries some more, and we shook hands.

Santa Cruz City park rangers under Water St. Bridge getting ready to help campers move their belongings. January 19, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Just then two park rangers pulled up under the Bridge. I  talked to one of them, a very friendly man who was happy to explain to  me what was happening.  He and his fellow rangers had been there earlier in the day and let the campers know that they would have to clean up their camps by sundown and would not be allowed to return for 24 hours – until the area had been inspected and cleaned. The two rangers good-naturedly pitched in, helping the campers load unwanted stuff into trashbags and throwing it all in the back of the truck.  Campers and rangers alike seemed to carry out the process with as much mutual respect as possible under the conditions.  I felt sad and grateful at the same time.  I felt oddly connected to both the campers and the  rangers.  This terrible thing is happening to all of us, bringing out the best – and sometimes the worst – in people.

We have a lot to be grateful for in the way our police and rangers are struggling to deal with a really insoluble problem.  Unfortunately, while we all  obsess and argue about this and that band-aid solution,  our country drags its feet about  addressing the root causes of poverty, homelessness and high rents.  Until that time, let’s hope our little Santa Cruz community has the patience and kindness to keep applying temporary band-aids  until that  revolution (hopefully peaceful) arrives.

Andy Mills, Santa Cruz police chief, google image

I heard that Andy Mills, our police chief, spent all day this last Friday with his officers, slowly negotiating with a man who had kidnapped a one-year-old child.  At the end of the day, the man finally released the child in exchange for some cigarettes.  Andy is getting a lot of criticism right now from Keith McHenry and others about another new set of  homeless policies, supposedly harsher than Newsom’s new standards.  But I want to at least give credit to Police Chief Mills and his team  for this possibly life-saving accomplishment.

I was excited this last week to see two female WESTERN BLUEBIRDS on the river for the first time in my five years of watching this area.   These two members of the thrush family were busily  foraging for insects in the new grass.  This species didn’t make it onto Steve Gerow’s list of 122 regular residents of the levee stretch.    I read that Western Bluebirds are expanding their range in southern California.  Maybe here too?

Western Bluebird foraging for insects, San Lorenzo River, riverine reach, January 13, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

According to eBird, this sighting  brings my new  total to 112 species seen on the levee..  I’m pleased that eBird keeps track for me.  Readers should know that Jane is way ahead of me with a total of 148!  She would be too modest to say so. And the person who has the highest total for this patch is our beloved teacher, now deceased, Steve Gerow.  During his too short a life, he recorded a total of 177 species on the downtown stretch, from Highway 1 to the river mouth.  But Jane and I don’t spend much time thinking about numbers of species seen.  We are both too obsessed in getting to know and understand all the quirky life experiences of even one species.

Since there are so many GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS on the river and at my feeders,  since they come so far to hang out with us in the winter, and since they are limited to such a narrow strip along the west coast and up into Canada and Alaska, I feel like they are very special birds and friends.  I was therefore  excited to stumble across a research session up at the Arboretum last week where Professor Bruce Lyon, along with PhD graduate student Theadora Block,  have been carrying out research on the social behaviors of this species for close to 20 years now.  I have always wanted to know more about  how the research was actually carried out.  Luckily,  I spied the team sitting at a picnic table and was invited to watch.   The research team worked quickly.  Two students were tasked with

Banded golden-crowned sparrow in cage awaiting measurements.  UCSC January 9, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

collecting the birds. one at a time,  from about a dozen traps  concealed in  a dozen separate places  not far away. A bird would be delivered to Block, after which  she would skillfully take their measurements,  draw blood with a tiny needle for later DNA testing, then gently release the small creature back into the wild.  Block would call out the numbers, and Lyon would record the data.  Of course I felt squeamish, wondering whether the data collected was worth the effect on the birds. But the birds themselves seemed peaceful,

Theodora Block, taking measurements of Golden -crowned Sparrow at Arboretum, Jan. 10, 2020  Photo by B. Riverwoman

Theadora was extremely gentle and experienced, and it was all over very quickly.   Hopefully, as we learn more about birds’ health, migration patterns, population numbers, social behaviors, etc., we will be better able to respect our fellow inhabitants of this planet.  For a very interesting article on the research project, click here. 

May you all see something new and magical this week.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

$8.5 Million for What?

Dear Jane and Other Lovers of Birds and Wildlife,

Recently paired mallards preening behind the Tannery on the San Lorenzo River, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was very pleased with this lucky image of a  MALLARD couple that I took behind the Tannery.  Don’t you all agree that this newly formed pair seems likely to enjoy a harmonious future together, engaged as they are in a moment of perfectly synchronized head scratching!  I love this time of year when these common but beautiful waterfowl are in full breeding plumage,  pairing up all along the river as they begin to claim their separate nesting territories.

As I walked upstream towards the Tannery, passing  underneath the Highway One Bridge, I was impressed once again at how much the wildlife scene changes once you cross that boundary.  Suddenly, dramatically, you find yourself in a much more natural area   –– without a levee; with large stands of native trees (redwoods, sycamores, alders, willows); with fallen logs;  with native shrubs and with far more birds!

Almost immediately I saw a lot of movement in the canopy of a huge Arroyo Willow just a stone’s throw from the noisy highway.  These trees can grow up

 An arroyo willow just north of Highway 1, behind the Tannery, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Townsend’s Warbler in Arroyo Willow behind Tannery, January 5, 2020, photo by B. Riverwoman

to 35 feet  in moist and rich riverside soil and I think this willow was  at least that high. As I stood there craning my head upward, I saw seven bird species busily harvesting a buggy lunch from that one tree. RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS flitted from branch to branch in their usual frenzied way. Two gorgeous TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS took a slightly more leisurely approach to their insect search, allowing me a moment to take a photo.  Several CHICKADEES bustled from branch to branch, perhaps signaling to each other their raspy contentment at a juicy bug.  ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS flashed their metallic green colors as they also feasted on the protein-rich insects that they need in addition to nectar.  A lone SONG SPARROW bared its crisply brown-striped white breast as it indulged in the insects that it also needs in addition to its more regular diet of seeds.   A YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER made a brief appearance, gleaning a few bites before she pushed on.  Later the same tree was filled with BUSHTITS, hanging upside down to reach their small protein bars..

What a rich source of food and cover this one willow provided to a diversity of species.  What a pity to think that most of its siblings just a few blocks downstream are hacked to the ground each year during the annual flood control work.  These poor saplings  never get the chance to welcome all the insects that attract all the birds and butterflies and bees to this ecologically important native tree.  This is why I strongly support the  restoration of  the Benchlands to its natural riparian woodland state, increasing rather than decreasing the amount of green space and habitat in our urban landscape..  I would love for the city to  develop policies for the protection and enhancement of our natural resources rather than policies that potentially threaten these resources?

I bring this up because of the possibility of the City’s receiving an $8.5 million state grant to improve the Riverwalk.  This  dramatic case in point, featured in the  December 25th issue of the Good Times,  was enthusiastically hailed by the newspaper as an exciting vision for the future of the river. The application submitted by the City proposes to transform the current Riverwalk into a safer, more beautiful, and more functional river parkway with an emphasis on serving low income communities with less access to parks.  That formulation complies on the surface with the stated purpose of the grant which is  funded through Proposition 68, a $4 billion state initiative, approved by voters in 2018,  aimed largely at supporting equitable access to parks throughout the state.  But is our City’s application for these funds seriously focused on providing equity?  And will it promote more green space in the City?  The main focus of the grant seems to be on  improved bikeways ( more  asphalt),  more lights for people (counter-indicated for birds and other wildlife), lots of ceramic art that celebrates nature (why not encourage the community to look at the real wildlife before them) and river-facing restaurants and coffee houses whose customers can enjoy the river as a scenic backdrop (but probably not a wildlife habitat). Will the low-income communities be able to afford these river-facing eating establishments?

Judging from some of the people pushing this vision, namely Greg Pepping, chair of the Planning Commission and Claire Galloglly, Transportation Planner for the City, I can’t help but wonder if downtown economic development isn’t the silent driver behind this plan “for the poor”.  Greg Pepping, who is widely quoted in the Good Times article, is also executive director of the Coastal Watershed Council, an agency whose goals and values often seem more aligned with  Chamber of Commerce goals than with environmental goals..

The application  for the river parkway was submitted jointly by the Economic Development Department, the Public Works Department and the Parks and Recreation Department, listed in that order.   The leading environmental groups in our community, the  Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, have not yet, as far as I know,  been  consulted in planning for the transformation of this major wildlife habitat within our City’s boundaries. According to a conversation I had with Noah Downing of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, grant writers have already met with representatives, including children, of the Beach Flats area.  According to Downing, more conversations with low-income communities and with environmental groups will happen if the grant is received.

Still, I worry that all this money might end up serving the residents of future luxury apartments as well as the many spandex-suited bicyclists who I suspect do not live on the river but currently dominate the pathway.  If the pathway is improved, will it not attract even more speeding bicyclists? Apparently if the proposed Park “touches” a low-income area, it qualifies for the grant. Will the residents of the low-income neighborhoods that do exist along the Riverwalk really use the area as a park area? How does the City plan to attract this population?  Right now its kind of scary out there for pedestrians like me, not because of the homeless but because of speeding bicyclists. Will low-income  neighborhoods along the river even survive as the City gentrifies?

I’d like to thank Council member Drew Glover who, when this matter first came before the City Council last summer, asked the City staff some of these same searching questions regarding equity and protection of wildlife habitat. I am so distressed that there is an attempt to recall this passionate, intelligent and articulate advocate for the poor and for the environment.  I hope Santa Cruz voters  will not be misled by developers and real estate interests who are pouring lots of money into removing  the important voices of Drew and Chris Krohn from our Council. I hope all our readers will vote No on the Recall, and at the same time cast a “Just in case” vote for Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice.  Both of these former mayors are strongly opposed to the recall but have nobly stepped out of retirement to protect the progressive majority on the Council – just in case the recall of either Glover or Krohn succeeds.  For the sake of the environment, and for the sake of low-income members of our community, let’s make sure the recall of two staunch environmentalists, and advocates for the poor,  fails.

I will probably be  writing more about this in the future if the Department of Economic Development et al receive the grant money.

Click here to see my eBird list for my short visit to the Tannery this week.

Did anyone get a chance to read John Muir’s essay on the AMERICAN DIPPER?  I hear that one was spotted in Santa Cruz County for the first time in several years –  somewhere in Mt. Herman.  I’m very motivated to go in search of it.

Campsite just north of the River St. Bridge on the East side of the river. January 5, 2020. Photo by B. Riverwoman

More and more tents are going up along the river and on the bridges.  It is  comforting to me to see that at least the homeless will have reclaimed a small measure of safety,  dignity and warmth after being summarily booted from the Ross and  Phoenix camps.   I am very grateful for the recent decision of the Supreme Court to let the ruling of the lower court stand, the ruling that requires that outside sleepers not be legally cited if other shelter is not available.   This last Sunday I saw one man raking his “front lawn”, a serious effort to keep the place tidy.  I hope portapotties will soon be provided, for the sake of  both the people and the river.  Until our society is ready to provide better alternatives, I hope the City can work with the homeless to find   humane and environmentally responsible solutions that meet everyone’s needs. 

Camper rakes the area around his tent next to the Water St. Bridge on the east bank of the river. January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Lean-to tucked into the small build-out on the Water St. Bridge, January 5 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

May the inequity between the rich and the poor, and between  human and non-human species, be gradually remedied.  That is my ardent wish for the day!

Good birding to all.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: