$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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counting the Days, Counting the Birds

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Revelers,

It has been three days since some of us celebrated the darkest day of the year and the beginning of increasing light.  If any of you are looking for a quiet way to celebrate this time of year, I recommend reading John Muir’s chapter on the Water-Ouzel in his book “The Mountains of California”.  It is an astonishing essay written by a wild-nature ecstatic about a bird who –  like Muir himself –  sings joyfully amidst the coldest, snowiest, most blustery surroundings.    I am going to have a traditional family Christmas this year, for which I am very grateful.  But I have loved my quieter holidays reading that revealing essay – which offers the perfect window into Muir’s soul, and into the soul of the  Ouzel. It’s all about singing  hallelujah through the hard times.  Click here to read it online and see a photo of this small and nondescript bird.

One of the best parts of the Christmas season for me is the Annual Christmas Bird Count, a tradition dating back to 1900 when U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman introduced the idea of counting birds on Christmas instead of killing them! What a great idea.  This year as I birded my regular patch on the urban river, I got to see my first BONAPARTE’S GULL, thanks to Jeff Manker, my co-CBC birder.  This gull is a smaller and more graceful version of the larger, much more common  WESTERN AND CALIFORNIA GULLS. Jeff also helped me sort these out.  Thanks Jeff!

Bonaparte’s Gull, San Lorenzo River downstream from Soquel Bridge, December 14 2019 (Christmas Bird Count) Photo by B. Riverwoman

On that first historical count, 27 counters counted 90 species.    Today  thousands of volunteer birders,  from across the country and the world,  fan out into every birdy nook and cranny, doing our best to count every single pigeon and every single gull we lay eyes on during the designated days and hours. Click here  for more info on this wonderful tradition – the earliest and longest running example of citizen science in the country.

Here in Santa Cruz County, those who count owls are up long before dawn, those who count offshore birds hire a boat and set out to sea for the day.  The rest of us try to keep going all day from sunrise to sunset.  Then, at the end of the day, the thirteen tired team leaders of the Santa Cruz County area, plus as many team members as are still awake, gather to share food and report  on this year’s results.  This year we found 161 species,  low for our area.  The lowest counts during the past ten-year period were 161 in 2010 and 163 in 2012.  The highest count for this same period was 174 in 2013 and 2017.

As I mentioned above,  I lucked out this year.  I got paired with Jeff Manker to cover the San Lorenzo River from the trestle up to Highway 1 and then beyond to beind the Tannery.   I didn’t know Jeff before count day, but learned that he was taking over this coming fall as the new President of the Board of the Monterey Birding Festival.  He has also taught an ornithology class at Gilroy High School (kudos to Jeff and to Gilroy) and is currently working on a high school ornithology curriculum for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.

Female Purple Finch,, note distinctive broad white eyebrow and white auricular area, very different from female House Finch. Google Image.

It seemed to me that Jeff saw four times as much as I saw in a fraction of the time it took me to find a bird.  I learned a lot from him.  With his finely-honed high school teaching skills, he managed to help me overcome not only my mental block about gull identification, but got me to identify my first female PURPLE FINCH.  I loved my first meetings with the delicate BONIPARTE’S GULL and the sweet-faced MEW GULL two gulls who are here only during the winter month.

After 3 hours I temporarily left to attend a meeting, but Jeff pushed forward, returning to the Laurel St. Bridge area to find the TROPICAL KINGBIRD, a rarity which has been hanging out in the vicinity for several weeks now. I saw the same species in the approximately the same area 3 years ago and took this photo.   Later he went back and found the reclusive SORA near the Soquel bridge, also almost the exact area where I spotted a Sora in 2014.

Tropical Kingbird, San Lorenzo River, downstream from Soquel Bridge, October 2017 Photo by B. Riverwoman
Sora, San Lorenzo River, well concealed in tules on east side of river between Soquel and Laurel St. Bridges, August, 2014, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the afternoon, it was great to have you, Jane, join our team as we continued upstream from the Tannery.  Approaching the river through Evergreen Cemetary on Ocean St. Extension, I got to see my first flock of BLUEBIRDS of the year.  For the list of species identified in our sub-section of the San Lorenzo River, click here  We found a total of 48 species ( 1147 individuals)  including six species of gulls.

The dramatic tradition at the evening gathering features the lead organizer reading  the name of each species on the “on list”, pausing after each species name to hear if at least one team has identified it.  For common birds like sparrows and jays, thirteen voices would ring out ‘yes’.  But then, after some names, there was a chilling silence – signifying that there had not been a single sighting.  Two species lost their standing – the Willet will continue to be “on list” but will now be listed as uncommon;  and the Forster’s Tern, who has been missing for five years, will be removed from the list of those we can expect to see in Santa Cruz County  After each silence we were, of course, all wondering if this was just a blip, or a trend.  Was this part of the 3 billion bird loss reported several months ago by Cornell in its ground-breaking study that I wrote about recently?    The concern was palpable among all these bird counters and bird lovers.  I could hear sighs and see folks shaking their heads. .The Water-ouzel is still on the “on list”, having been  sighted on river rapids   in Henry Cowell State Park within the last ten years.   But it  hasn’t been sighted for many years. Will it also be removed from the list in the coming years?

I hope some of you readers, including beginning birders, will consider joining us next year.  All levels of birding can be helpful in counting large numbers and in watching for movement.   The more attention we bring to our birds – and other wildlife, the more we can hope to protect the habitat on which these precious  creatures depend for their lives.

May we all enjoy an enLIGHTening holiday.

Barbara

 

 

Breakfast with the Birds

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Watchers,

For five years I’ve been writing about what I see when I go bird-visiting on the San Lorenzo River.  But this week I will tell you a little about the many birds that visit me during the winter months – all regulars on the river that I have managed to   lure to my mobile home by the river with a steady supply of black oil sunflower seeds, millet, suet and water.

Dominant golden-crowned sparrow and expert seed cracker. Note distinct gold cap and thick black eyebrows.   December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I love starting my day by having breakfast with my flying friends.  Before I eat I always first clean out and refill the birdbath, then sweep away the discarded sunflower shells from the patio and front steps, then carefully wash away the inevitable poop.  As I work , I see the birds flitting impatiently from branch to branch above my small patio.  Oh dear, have they been waiting very long?  If I am later than usuals, I feel guilty.  I busily refill my tube feeder, sprinkle seeds on my front steps and on the squirrel chair, and settle down on my couch with green tea and muesli to see the show.  I am hungry, too. The birds and my squirrel  now quite accustomed to my routine, immediately swoop down to have their breakfast with me.   It’s such a satisfying way to start a new day.

Same golden-crowned sparrow, side view, December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Almost always, the birds that descend first are the migrant GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS. When they hop onto my front steps, right outside my glass doors, I get a good chance to study their crowns – some with very noticable gold caps and some with only the slightest hint of gold.  A researcher at the UCSC Arboretum gathered a lot of data about the hierarchical behavior of golden-crowned sparrows. finding  that it correlates with the size and intensity of the gold patch on the tops of their heads..  I have now also become someone who is  fascinated with watching who chases whom. What I see definitely confirms the pattern the researcher describes.  The birds with bright yellow caps  drive off the ones with less colorful caps.  (The gold cap, or lack of, is not associated with gender.)

I have been very happy to have a SONG SPARROW visit me for the first time this year.  This brave little soul also flew right onto the landing of my front steps and looked me directly in the eye.  I love the insouciance of its foot placement.

Song Sparrow. in casual pose.outside my glass door.   December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

And of course I welcome the non-native but handsome HOUSE SPARROWS in spite of their questionable nesting habits.

One male and four female house sparrows. Females have wide buffy eyebrows.Backyard, December 10, 2019. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Curiously, I have observed only one WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW in my patio so far this winter. I wonder if they feel too confined on the narrow patio between my house and the fence?  They are much more plentiful on the wilder and more open spaces on the river, usually outnumbering  the golden-crowned sparrows.

Scrub Jay, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It’s fun to watch the different behaviors of different species at the feeders. The large SCRUB JAY prefers to pick up his meal from the ground, but will sometimes attempt to grab a seed from the tube feeder and  then fly down to the ground to  break it open – or sometimes to swallow  whole.

The sparrows are also ground foragers,  much preferring to find  their food on the ground or bushes, rather than trees and feeders.   But if they are hungry they will all try their luck at the tube feeder .

The HOUSE FINCHES, for whose size, feet and beaks the feeders are perfectly designed, sit for long periods on the feeder rungs, expertly manipulating the sunflower seeds until the shells break loose and are shoved  out of their mouths.   The finches  stay perched on the small tube rungs until driven off by another bird.

 

Chickadee, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Tree-feeding CHICKADEES and OAK TITMICE visit me much less frequently.  When they do, they  sail in for just long enough to grab a seed from the feeder,  then find cover at a safe distance to hammer away at the shell and  extract the tasty meat from inside.

The BEWICK’S WREN, whose long, thin curved beak is not at all suited to cracking open a sunflower seed still visits the tube feeder to pick out the millet seeds, usually consuming them while standing on the thin rung which suits her small size.   She has been visiting much more often since the cold weather hit and I put up the suet feeder.

 Bewick’s Wren, m,..,.,../ Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The CALIFORNIA TOWHEE,  a ground forager like other birds in the sparrow family, is too large and chunky to ever attempt feeding from the tube feeder.

California Towhee, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Both the towhees and the MOURNING DOVES.  tend to wait until the first round of birds have left and then humbly peck away at all the leftover seed on the ground or steps.  . The doves  seem the most timid, never  venturing

Mourning Dove, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

onto my steps. The golden-crowned sparrow is the pluckiest, flying right onto the post by my glass door and sometimes singing its three-note song while looking straight at me.  Is it saying ‘thank you’.  Is it saying ‘more please’.  Is it reminding that this is its established territory?  Whatever it is saying, I’m sure it is aimed very personally at me!

 

Squirrel waiting its chance. Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Squirrel, hiding behind my glorious Bloodgood Japnese maple, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I have a special chair where I leave seeds for a very cute and mischievous squirrel who is intensely interested in the seed I put on my front steps for birds  only..  Unfortunately, if I let the squirrel onto the steps, she will chase the birds away and then schnarf up half the seeds in short order, at least 10 seeds at a time, half of which seem to fall out of her mouth as she stuffs the rest in with her tiny little hands.  As a result,  I have become a quite strict squirrel trainer.  I chase the squirrel back to her seed-filled chair, while the birds stay on the landing of the steps.  When my breakfast is over, I sweep the seeds from the steps onto the ground for all to eat.  I like to believe that I am thus slowly training the squirrels never to eat on the steps.  Whether my efforts at behavior modification for squirrels is successful is dubious. But once chased off, she does return to her chair – though I often see her peeking at me from behind something, maybe waiting for her chance to test a few limits.

Other birds who have  visited my home this winter are BUSHTITS, ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS, and my beautiful  HERMIT THRUSH, who feasts  on the red berries on my native cotoneaster bush, far from the other birds.  She has  spent about a month here, single-handedly eating every single berry down to the very last one – which disappeared yesterday.  I’m sad to say I probably won’t see her again until next year.

Such a wealth of visitors.  How can I feel lonely? As I approach my 82nd birthday,   I expect I may do more backyard birding and fewer excursions down the river.  When I was in 6th grade, my mother, who taught me to love birds, had a library book called Birds at my Window, about an old woman who watched birds.  For some reason, even at that young age, I was thrilled with the book.  I was shy and  hated giving oral book reports in class, but I remember forgetting my self-consciousness as I reported enthusiastically on my love of this particular book.  Maybe I am coming full circle on this theme in my life.

Some of you will be glad to know that Lucero Luna, whom I wrote about in my last blog piece, has found temporary housing for the winter.  Thanks to all of you who wrote me expressing your appreciation for that article.  My life has taught me that we are all connected   – people, animals, plants. When we start to live that way –and why not now – most of our problems will disappear.

If you are a Sierra Club Member, please support our ardent lover of nature and river blogger, Jane Mio, for the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club. I also highly recommend Erica Stanojevic and Bob Morgan for the other two open seats on the  Committee.  Votes are due January 1, but please mail your ballot early.

May this holiday season be a time of warm connections for all of you with all forms of life.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phoenix Rising

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Mythological phoenix, image from Google

An unusual  flaming bird was cited on the San Lorenzo River on November 10. It was witnessed by  the heads of both the Santa Cruz Police Department and Fire Department as well as by many unhoused members of our community.  Six days later, by order of the City of Santa Cruz, the bird was deliberately flushed from an enclosed area at the corner of Highway 1 and River St.

By now you may have guessed that I am slyly speaking of the mythological PHOENIX – and of Camp Phoenix, the short-lived homeless  encampment located on the site of the former Ross Camp , next to the River and Felker St. Bridge. The encampment,  organized by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union,   managed to provide a safe space to live for at least 50 unsheltered people in our community – until residents  were awakened at 6 a.m November 16th and told that they were “trespassing” and had 10 minutes to leave.  Take Back Santa Cruz is the group that,  among others, is accused by many of putting pressure on the City to do this.

Lucero Luna, unsheltered resident of Santa Cruz and activist with California Homeless Union. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness or help with the  encampment during its short life.  But walking downtown last week, I saw a small, older woman trudging along the Mall, holding up a large banner commemorating Desiree Quintero.   (Desiree was  one of the women leaders at Ross Camp who was killed October 27 by a falling tree in the Pogonip while  visiting a friend and former resident of the Ross Camp. ) I introduced myself and asked the woman about Desiree and Camp Phoenix.  I learned that the woman’s name was Lucero Luna and that she had just been released from jail after peacefully refusing to leave Camp Phoenix in an intentional act of civil disobedience. I told her I wrote a blog about birds and people on the river and asked her if I could interview her for my blog.  She happily agreed to talk to me.

Desiree Quintero, homeless activist, died October 27, 2019, photo by B. Riverwoman

Lucero believes, like many in the unhoused community, that Desiree would still be alive if the Ross Camp had not been shut down.  “She would definitely be here with us if the unhoused had been given their rights,”  said Lucero. “But the City decided to shut down Ross Camp and force people back into the parks, alcoves and the Pogonip.  The Pogonip was where Desiree died.”  Lucero’s eyes filled with tears as as she talked about Desiree.

 

Dignity Village, Portland, Oregon, Google Image

I told Lucero that I was especially interested in the Camp Phoenix concept of a self-managed community of unhoused. Lucero told me that the local organizers had been inspired by Dignity Village in Portland, a self-governing village created by a group of unsheltered persons whose  website says   “we came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of the public parks… and created a green, self-governing village that has now been in existence for 19 years.”

Camp Phoenix adopted the “Five Rules” of Dignity Village to guide their young encampment. Lucero listed the five for me – no violence; no theft; no alcohol or drugs within a one-block radius; no constant disruptive behavior; and at least 10 hours per week of work for village upkeep. Anyone who breaks any of these rules must leave.

I asked Lucero how the camp had worked for the five days that it existed. “We were so proud of what we were accomplishing, even in the short time that we were there” said Lucero.  “On Sunday, the first day, we had to deal with huge piles of wood chips dumped on the lot since the Ross Camp was closed.  So we decided to have a Wood Chip Raking Party.  Many Santa Cruz people worked together with camp residents to spread the chips evenly. . It was great! We worked really hard.  When we finished, people could set up their tents.”

Lucero told me that Food Not Bombs had donated $2000 for portapotties, handwashing stations and tents.

The first day the encampment was opened, Lucero was one of the organizers who sat at the entrance, welcoming new residents and handing them all a copy of the Five Rules. Judging from what a friendly, open-hearted person Lucero seemed to be, I can imagine that the new residents received a warm welcome from her!

At first, it seemed to the organizers that the City was working with them.  According to Lucero, “ police chief Mills visited and we didn’t get any sense from him that this was illegal.  We thought we were protected by the new federal law, Martin v. Boise.”  (That is the law that guarantees that a City  may not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City can provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.)  Lucero told me that the fire chief also visited us and told organizers that  the tents  had to be 5 feet from each other and 3 feet from the fence around the camp. The residents also  created  a wide path down the middle for easy fire and police vehicle access.

“We were careful to follow what they told us,” said Lucero. “We  kept someone stationed at the entrance around the clock to welcome new residents.”  Camp hosts rotated hourly health checks throughout the the camp, day and night, in order to make sure that people were safe and that the tents were properly placed.

“We all felt really hopeful,”Lucero told me.  “We were keeping the camp really clean.  Previous residents were happy to be back in their community.  We were planning to have a community garden at the far end of the camp. Someone offered to create a solar charger for our cell phones. Art projects were being thought about.”

Then the City shut down the camp.  “They crushed a lot of peoples’ dreams,” said Lucero.  “They woke us up at 6 a.m and told us we were trespassing and had ten minutes to leave.  I decided to do civil disobedience.  I peacefully refused to leave.  I was arrested and taken to jail. “

I asked Lucero how the City could close down the camp now that the federal case of Martin v. the City of Boise had established that a City could not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City could provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.  Lucero said that the City is now trying to get around this new federal law by claiming that the Phoenix Camp was occupying a closed-off area. “The City itself closed off the area, and is now using “Trespassing” as the official charge, claiming that “trespassing” isn’t covered under Martin v. Boise.”

Lucero said that the City has just crafted a new ordinance that they will present at the Tuesday, November 25th City Council meeting, The new ordinance will  propose new ways to circumvent Martin v. Boise.   The City chambers was packed.   I attended  as did Lucero and other homeless men, women and children..  I saw roughly 40 housed and unhoused community members speak out strongly against the  new ordinance. Speakers included a member of the ACLU as well as a lawyer for the California Homeless Union who warned the Council that they could easily open themselves to a lawsuit if they pursued this course.  Community activist Scott Graham pointed out that the spirit of Martin v. Boise was being violated by the new ordinance.  The whole point of that  case, he said,  was to protect the homeless from citation or arrest if there was no other place for them to sleep. The new ordinance, according to him, tries to get around that.   As a result of overwhelming community unhappiness with the proposed ordinance, the Council voted unanimously to return the ordinance for reconsideration to the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH), made up of a broad spectrum of community members, including currently homeless representatives. But it remained unclear to me (I left towards the end when it was past 11 pm.) how the unsheltered were to manage in a City with even fewer spaces than last year and continuing unclarity about their legal rights.

Still,  it was a great meeting.  I love it when we see democracy alive and well in Santa Cruz – covered by Community Television.  Stay tuned.

I always want to know more about the lives of the people who are currently unsheltered in Santa Cruz. What landed them on the streets?   I asked Lucero if she would be willing to tell me about her life.  She was somewhat reluctant, not wanting to dwell on the hardships.  But she said she knew that this was part of what the community needed to know in order to contradict the stereotypes. So she talked to me quite openly.  She grew up in extreme poverty in Mexico, part of a family of 11 people, all living in one large room that was used for storage of harvested food as well as for sleeping and eating. She remembers sleeping on a lumpy dirt floor that she would try to make more level each night.    She remembers that from age 4 she was expected to help with the planting each year.  She remembers the little cloth bag called a morales, filled with corn,  bean and squash seeds, and planting first a corn seed, then a  bean seed, then the third sister, the squash seed.

She was sent to a one-room school for a short time, but because of the crowded and chaotic conditions of the “school” and because she suffered from undiagnosed auditory processing disorder, she was declared “unteachable” and forced to leave the school . At age 9, she tried to defend her mother against physical abuse by her father, was raped by a relative, and was also forced to leave home in order to help with family finances. She worked five days a week as a live-in nanny and a domestic, returning on weekends to “work even harder” she said with her sunny smile.  At 11 years she left her home state in Zacatecas to get domestic work in Jalisco, and at 14 years old was brought to the U.S. by her grandmother to get work in the U.S. It wasn’t until she reached the age of 18  that she finally had a chance to return to school.

Somehow she managed to rise above all these challenges, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, even became a family daycare trainer with West Ed, one of the best early childhood consulting agencies in the state of California.  As a former childcare worker, I bonded with Lucero around this!

Lucero  eventually  managed to get her own home, but was eventually pushed out onto the streets by a combination of  domestic violence, foreclosure, chronic hospitalization and post-surgical complications. Since 2001 she has been on the streets, first as what she calls “a vehicle dweller”  and since July of this year sleeping  at night in a protected area on the Pacific Garden Mall. She is 55 years old.  She has become a soft-spoken but ardent and seemingly tireless advocate for the what she calls the “unsheltered” or “houseless”.

In some ways, Lucero never forgot her childhood..  She told me that even when she was housed in Ventura, she felt guilty about enjoying such luxury while the homeless were being dumped along the river bottom.

A young man named Cloud that I met while talking to Lucero at the Food Not Bombs dinner on Sunday night praised Lucero, describing how Lucero gently cared for an incontinent man whom Cloud had found helplessly lying in front of the Bank of America, unable to stand up or walk.   Cloud called Food Not Bombs who transported the man to the only place available which was Camp Phoenix.  “Lucero was the one who welcomed the man to the Camp, gently cleaned him, found him new pants, and helped him get a tarp, a mat, and some cushioning cardboard. The next day she also found him a wheelchair.”

Cloud told me that he “lives in hope that people will open their minds and understand that the defining sign of a  culture is how we treat the most vunerable.”   He is a quiet, gentle man – dressed in a long skirt, and a longtime member of the Rainbow Tribe  He had wanted help Camp Phoenix create truly democratic meetings like the ones in the Rainbow Tribe. . He never had the chance.  The first meeting was scheduled for the day that the Camp was shut down.

While talking to Lucero and Cloud, I  also had a chance for a quick word with Alicia Kuhl, perhaps the major leader and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union which organized Camp Phoenix.   I asked her how she felt when they shut down Camp Phoenix. She said that for several days, she was depressed and stayed in bed.  “They had temporarily killed our hopes and dreams.  But now we will organize and come back with a plan.”

I feel the City must find a way to draw on the vision, energy and experience of people like Lucero, Cloud, Alicia and many more.  If we can support these dedicated people, maybe someday there will be a Phoenix Village in Santa Cruz that the whole community, including the unsheltered, can be proud of.

Buddhist prayers often include words of gratitude and respect for “all living creatures”, including the flora, the fauna and all human beings.

Let’s include similar words in our Thanksgiving celebrations.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

The Familiar and the Strange

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers All,

Male bufflehead, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I happily accepted your invitation, Jane, to visit our newly arrived and elegant friends, the BUFFLEHEADS and GOLDENEYES,  at your end of the river.   I never fail to be amazed that they find their way back each year from their breeding grounds in Canada.  I have to admit that it has taken me too many years to figure out that many waterbirds assume their breeding plumage in the fall while songbirds and shorebirds wait until spring to dress up in their courting finery.  I don’t know why. After all, they all give birth in the spring. Here is the handsome male Bufflehead I saw yesterday with his glamorous iridescent neck and forehead.   It took me at least thirty shots to catch this elusive guy above water.  They barely catch their breath before diving in search of another fish..

Mixed flock of gulls, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman


Like you I also saw the poor Buffleheads pushed out of their area, this time by a flock of about 200 gulls, all splashing and squawking.  They are an unruly bunch, these gulls, especially when they spot a cousin who has found an especially desirable treat.  I saw this peaceful scene near the Riverside Bridge  suddenly erupt into a  a wild and noisy chase with the whole family demanding a share of the treat.  A small group of five Buffleheads, busily fishing nearby, were forced to beat a quick retreat once the  uproar began. They huddled  about 30 yards from the good fishing spot they had thought was theirs – losing precious fishing time until things settled down again.

I was also glad, Jane, that you pointed out that the male Goldeneye lingers behind while the female arrives here first. There was no male visible on yesterday’s walk either, although I saw 12 females (and perhaps juveniles) with their distinctive pointy heads and bright golden eyes.

Female Goldeneye, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Eared Grebes, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, near trestle, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was happy to   catch sight of maybe the first two fall arrivals of  EARED GREBES on the river.  These  little brown waterbirds seem quite nondescript compared to Buffleheads and Golden-eyes – until one gets a close-up look at their fluffy crinolines peeking out from behind, quite enticing don’t you think!   As you know, I am quite partial to grebes.

Eared Grebe from four years ago,  San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-crested Cormorant on Eucalyptus branch near trestle, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And like you, Jane, I am always pleased to see the  now familiar OSPREY and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS hanging out on those tenacious eucalyptus trees,   In spite of the bad rap these non-native trees get, there is no denying that they provide great habitat for our  fishing friends like the ospreys and cormorants.  .

Double-crested Cormorant, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I had seen a Double-crested Cormorant a little earlier in my walk,  drying her wings after a fishing expedition.  This spot was  upstream from the trestle on a fallen snag, another favorite place for her.   I never tire of watching cormorants do this.

And now in the opposite category of creatures occupying unusual spots.  I was a little surprised to see this lordly GREAT BLUE HERON high in a tree, instead of on the more usual river bank or open field.

Great Blue Heron, Oct. 26, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the same vein, I was quite amused to see the little peon GROUND SQUIRREL  below,  also perched somewhat perilously, and unusually high up,  in a shrub.  I imagined that the little fellow was a bit surprised to find himself so high, maybe contemplating how to get down. I wonder if something chased him up there?   I have rarely seen a ground squirrel sit still for so long in such a visible place.

 

Ground Squirrel, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Click here to see  my eBird list of the 22 bird species I saw yesterday.

Quote of the Day.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”

Henry David Thoreau

May we all enjoy some close up looks at the natural wonders around us, even in the middle of a City.

Happy birding to all,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Billion Birds Lost

Dear Jane and Other Heartsick Lovers of our Vanishing Birds,

Did you see the  just released cover of the 2019 autumn edition of Living Bird?  It was shocking. Instead of the usual gorgeous photo of a gorgeous bird, the cover was almost solid black, with one lone feather way down in the right hand corner,  and the words “3 Billion Birds Lost” in the other  corner.

Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4
Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4

The lead story, based on a study  from the top scientific journal Science, reported that in just the past 50 years, more than 1 in 4 birds has disappeared across North America.  That is catastrophic!  According to the lead author of the Report,

These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife, and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.

Many of the bird families that have lost the most ground, according to the study,  are the common ones.   The hardest hit are the blackbird family, finch family, lark family, sparrow family and warbler family.  Some of our common birds on the river were singled out as suffering the biggest losses.

Song Sparrow in flood waters, January 22, 2017, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

According to the study, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS have lost 30% of their populations, SONG SPARROWS  (this is the one that choked me up) have lost 20% of their populations,  and DARK-EYED JUNCOS have lost a third of their population.  I know that from now on,  every time I hear the whistle-buzz-trill  of the song sparrow singing its heart out every spring,  it will be like a tiny dagger in my heart. I have come to love these plain little songsters.

According to Steve Gerow,  red-winged blackbirds used to breed along the riverine reach of the urban river. But I don’t think I’ve  even seen a red-winged blackbird since I took this photo in 2015, much less seen any sign of breeding.

Red-winged Blackbird, March 9, 2015, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

A consolation is that I know that there were breeding song sparrows and breeding juncos this year during breeding season.  This little junco was hopping around with brothers and sisters in San Lorenzo Park this summer, not the safest habitat, but they seemed to be surviving.

Junco juvenile 3 (best)
Juvenile Dark-eyed Junco, Summer 2019, San Lorenzo Park, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The author reminds us of the extinction  of passenger pigeons, the complete loss of which no one would have have believed possible. But they are gone forever.

The article in Living Bird didn’t mention our common WESTERN SCRUB-JAY , but it did cite the STELLAR JAY  as one of the most heavily affected species, losing 29% of its population.  I’ll do more research on the scrub jay and let you know what I find out.

Srub Jay
Western Scrub-jay, October 26, 2019, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Stellar Jay
Stellar’s Jay , May 19, 2017, behind Tannery, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The authors of the study are quick to point out that all is not lost – wood duck populations are up 50%, raptors up 200%.  We have both on our river. Their numbers are up because they were identified in the past as threatened and conservation efforts were successful.  The other co-author of the study, Adam Smith, offers this  message of hope:

“The successes of the past are the candles in the dark that will guide us towards solutions in the future.”   

And speaking of bringing hope, I just read in the paper that Desiree Quintero, who I wrote about in my May 1 post this last summer, was killed by a falling tree in a small camp in the Pogonip.  She was a strong and compassionate leader at Ross Camp, bringing hope to many other women in the camp.   If you missed that blog, you can read about her here.  May this brave woman rest in peace.

Let’s make every effort to protect our avian and  human species, especially the most threatened.  

You can  click here for my eBird list of  October 12 (22 species) , and here  for my October 26th list (26 species) . 

In the category of comic relief, I had to laugh out loud as I watched a mischievous AMERICAN CROW teasing a Ground Squirrel by sneaking up behind it and pecking at its tail!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  And once wasn’t enough.  The crow returned again and again, repeating his sneak attack, causing the  hapless squirrel to jump in surprise  and then run off.  But it couldn’t have been too painful since the squirrel also kept coming back for more.  It didn’t look that different from kids playing some kind of tag game on the playground.

Planning Mischief
American Crow pestering ground squirrel, October 22, 2019, riverine reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Good birding to all,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silence, then Shrilling, then Silence

Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,

Twenty-two species graced the River yesterday as I ambled, stopped, peered up into the trees, then down into the river,  slowly feeling myself enter that peaceful state that this river almost always confers on me.   With the dark shadow of local politics weighing heavily on me these days, I am especially grateful to this eternal flowing presence, restoring some level of sanity to my life.

I had noticed that you, Jane, had posted on eBird a sighting of an EARED GREBE on the 9th, and someone named  George Cook posted a Greater Scaup on October 4th – two first-of-season arrivals on the river. I decided to venture into your salty end of the river this week and, if lucky, offer my personal welcome back greeting  to these two winter migrants, the first a regular on the winter river, and the second something of a rarity.

I didn’t find the migratory grebe, but I did find the GREATER SCAUP (pronounced sk-awe-p).   I almost missed this best bird of the day because some fellow river enthusiast saw my binoculars and, as often happens,  stopped to chat about birds.  (Carrying binoculars is almost like pushing a stroller or walking a dog. ) I was just telling him the name of the ‘white bird’ (Snowy Egret) when I fortunately glanced  back at the river and realized that I was looking at my Scaup – sailing upstream with two MALLARDS. I abruptly ended my conversation.

 

GREATER SCAUP, San Lorenzo River near Riverside Bridge, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

For you readers who haven’t met this bird yet, she is more likely to be seen at this time of year migrating south in flocks of as many as a thousand, usually seen on the open ocean during migration season, or resting inland on shallow wetlands. Skaups are one of only a very few duck species that are ‘circumpolar’ in their breeding, raising their young around the globe in places like Siberia and Alaska.  As a loyal Minnesota girl, I am especially partial to these birds who favor the norther regions.    I started wondering how long she had been on the road from her breeding grounds in Alaska,  and whether she would be staying here for the winter,  or pressing on further south.

I was sad to read in  Birds of North America that the  Greater Scaup are listed as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline,” which means that they have seen at least a 50% loss of their population in the last 40 years. According to this source, “several factors may be contributing to the Greater Scaup’s decline, including warmer water in Alaska, contaminants, disturbance, habitat degradation, and hunting…. from 2012–2016 hunters took on average 69,366 Greater Scaup per year.”  Maybe it is time to forbid hunting birds that are in ‘steep decline’.  If not now, when?  I dream of reaching the point in our evolutionary history when our deeply engrained predatory instincts yield naturally to  choices more in line with conservation goals.  But first we have to lose the taste for duck, which I used to love.  No more!

Osprey bathing ex
Osprey bathing in the river , San Lorenzo River near skateboard park, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

One of the treats of birding at your end of the river, Jane,  is the chance of seeing an OSPREY.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  This shaggy, almost mythical creature, with its astonishingly hooked beak that makes a sharp 90 degree turn downward,  came roaring out of nowhere, swooping way too close to 9 small KILLDEERS skittering along a sandbank on the edge of the river and shrilling loudly in alarm.

Killdeers 4 best
Four of seven killdeer, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Even though the book says that 99% of an Osprey’s food comes from live fish, I couldn’t stop worrying about that 1% that includes birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats, and salamanders.  Maybe the Osprey was just showing off as it skimmed the sandbank next to the killdeers. In any case, it spurned the killdeer as prey and returned to the sky, grandly circling overhead for a few turns, then returning to take a bath in the river, not too far from the killdeers but far enough so that the small songbirds calmed down and continued bobbing along on their own less dramatic but still predatory journeys .

Happily, Ospreys are a conservation success, their populations growing by 2.5% per year from 1966 to 2015!  Killdeer populations declined overall by about 47% between 1966 and 2014, with steeper declines in Canada and the West, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.  But they are a common species and not yet on the list of birds of concern.  Still….

crow with red cany best
Crow hammering mysterious orange edible, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And in the controversial AMERICAN CROW department, I was impressed at the kitchen tool discovered by this clever crow.  The crevice in the rock seemed the perfect device for safely securing whatever this tough orange delicacy was that the crow hammered away at for quite some time.  Any guesses as to what the goodie might have been?

And don’t you all love the way that cormorants lift their heads so proudly as they swim along, like  this DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT  perhaps showing off her beautiful butterscotch-colored pouch.

Double-crested Cormorant, San Lorenzo River between Riverside and Trestle, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Check out my eBird list from yesterday – click here – if you want to see what else I saw on my healing walk downriver.

Quote of the Day: “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Robert Lynd, Irish poet and nationalist

May you all spend some time this week in a silent space.

Barbara