Vagrant Snow Goose Lingers on River

Dear Jane and Nature-loving followers,

As I approach my 80th birthday, everything – every new bird species, every new bird song, every curious new bird fact – they all seem like little gifts piled one upon the other like gifts under a Christmas tree.

Snow Goose
Snow Goose near confluence of Branciforte Creek and San Lorenzo River.  Photo by Barbara Riverwoman, December 12, 2017

My most recent gift was this vagrant SNOW GOOSE, almost certainly the same one that you reported on so delightfully in your last blog post, Jane. (I haven’t yet seen the Cackling Goose you also discovered, but I’m  keeping my eyes open). I did a little research on the Snow Goose on eBird and discovered that this species has never been reported on the San Lorenzo River in the last one hundred years! And it has been extremely rare in all of Santa Cruz County  throughout the last one hundred years (averaging 15 at this peak time of migration).   Our hapless, solitary visitor seems to have been blown away or strayed away  from a large flock that normally moves south through  the Central Valley.  Suddenly interested in this bird, I also checked BNA and found out that these powerful birds  have been reported to fly 1800 miles without stopping to rest, and can ascend as high as 25,000 feet. Furthermore,  the Snow Geese that may stop to winter in California can come from as far away as Siberia! Snow Geese apparently take their merry time on the trip south, lingering on marshes, estuaries, slow rivers as well as rice and corn fields, the latter providing an especially rich food source that may contribute to the population increase in this species.

There may still be time to check out this unusual visitor.  As of yesterday,  December 12, the Snow Goose was still on the River, foraging peacefully on the grassy area just north of the new Branciforte footbridge, at the confluence of Branciforte Creek and San Lorenzo River. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit and say ‘hello’. However nice it is to see this bird, though, I hope that she leaves soon and is able to rejoin her flock wherever they may be. I am worried about her.

Isn’t eBird wonderful! Just a few clicks and you can find out not only where a bird is located in your area, but the history of its presence on the San Lorenzo River for the last hundred years. I hope by now all our readers have checked out this amazing website and maybe even started to become citizen scientists yourselves. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. This last week, two top birders in our area, Phil Brown and David Sidle reported 48 species (!) that they spotted during a three-hour hike up and down the river from Highway 1 to the Trestle. Impressive! I made a quick search for migrants and found 13 on their list. I hope you all will  check out Phil and David’s list.  Just click here. They didn’t see the Snow Goose, but their list suggests once again how many species depend on our urban river for sustenance.

And speaking of protecting our urban wetlands, a neglected marshland right in the middle of our City finally got the positive attention from the City that it has long deserved. Jessie St. Marsh, which drains into the San Lorenzo River just before the river enters the sea, was the subject last week of a a two-hour long meeting in the community room of the Police Headquarters.  Noah Downing of Parks and Recreation and Steve Wolfman of the Public Works Department made the major presentations, followed by lots of input from the community. Gary Kittleson, biological consultant, was on hand to answer wildlife questions and Jessie St. Marsh advocates and activists, Rachel O’Malley and Vicki Winters, were there, continuing their decades-long effort to protect this degraded but important wetland.   For the first time in my memory, there was a notable shift in the level of collaborative feeling between city staff and members of the community who want to protect and improve the Marsh as a wildlife habitat. Many of us from the community were very happy, for instance, to hear that if the current proposal is enacted, the distressing annual destruction of tules and cattails  will not be necessary, saving lots of beautiful and ecologically valuable wetland habitat.

Jessie St. Marsh 1.20.16
41 mallards counted in Jessie St. Marsh after heavy rain. Photo by Barbara Riverwoman, 2015

A question that many of us environmentalists left with was whether we would be able to someday remove the enormous amount of  landfill dumped years ago in  the Lower Estuary (the end of the Marsh that is closest to the river).  If the landfill were removed, it would not only double the size of the Marsh but restore it from its current freshwater marsh status to its original brackish lagoon status. According to O’Malley, a professor of environmental studies at San Jose State, brackish wetland habitat is a more critical habitat to protect than even freshwater marshes. But for the moment, given the time of year, let’s celebrate the commitment of the City to restore the Upper Marsh.

Hoping that you all have a grateful and hopeful bird-filled holiday.








There’s Gold in the River

Dear Jane and Fellow River Lovers,

Yes, I’ve been finding gold in the urban stretch of the San Lorenzo River! But not the same gold as the downtown developers covet. The gold nuggets I’m talking about are eyes – the mysterious golden eyes of river habitants. Walking along the River a few days ago, I was fascinated by the intense gold eyes of a newly arrived migratory bird, the COMMON GOLDENEYE. It is almost as if there is a high-power lamp burning inside that sleek and elegant body. The eyes are eery, like a creature from a different world. I studied these powerful swimmers as they dove, surfaced and immediate dove again, probing the gravelly or sandy bottom of the river in search of crustaceans and mollusks. (Unfortunately, they also like salmon eggs, but I don’t think they will find those between the Soquel and Riverside Bridges.)

Male Common Goldeneye, November 27, 2017, between Laurel St. and Riverside Bridges

When I finally tired of looking at the handsome Goldeneyes, I walked a little further downriver, panning the river for more gold with my precious binoculars. And sure enough, I found some more  gold nuggets, htough much smaller,  imbedded beneath the high forehead of the GREATER SCAUP, my first encounter of the year with this migratory water bird. Pretty good gold prospecting out there on the river these days.

Greater Scaup
Greater Scaups, November 27, 2017,  between Laurel St. and Riverside Bridges, two in back are female, left in front is male, none appear to be in full breeding plumage yet. 

When I got home to my computer, I remembered the photo I took of the fierce gold eyes of a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK that I saw a week ago, and added that to my priceless gold collection for this posting.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk, November

And of course I should mention the all-too-common and ignored BREWER’S BLACKBIRD, flocks of which can be seen almost anytime and any place in Santa Cruz, somehow finding sustenance as they busily forage along sidewalks and asphalt. The glossy purple-tinted black male has tiny, mean-looking little yellow eyes that always send a bit of a shiver down my spine. The light brown female is kinder looking with dark brown eyes.

I did a little research on bird eye-color and discovered that the eye color of immature birds often changes as they grow older, just as in humans. Both Goldeneyes and Scaups have brown eyes as youngsters which turn yellow as they grow into adulthood. (Red-tailed Hawks reverse this pattern, with their eyes changing from yellow to brown, while the yellow eyes of a young Cooper’s Hawk turns deep red as it reaches maturity.) No one seems to have come up with a functional reason for eye color. Any of you readers have any information or a personal theory?

As I was snooping around for more information on the Common Goldeneye, I learned that this is one of the last waterfowl to leave the northern boreal forest where it breeds (Canada and Alaska). Their arrival in the lower U.S. typically peaks in the third week of November. Ours were right on schedule! I think this completes the gathering of our most common winter waterfowl friends in Santa Cruz – first the Buffleheads , then the EARED GREBES, then the Goldeneyes and Scaups. Who am I missing?

Eared Grebe

As with our resident Mallards, this is the beginning of breeding season for the energetic and somewhat aggressive Goldeneyes. The BNA had some fascinating information on the mating displays of Common Goldeneyes that makes me want to get right out there with my folding chair and watch the gymnastics of these ardent creatures. They carry on their courtships starting in December and, very oddly, they carry the displays out in small groups of three or four males and a few females! How efficient. Sort of like speed dating.

Very interesting was BNA’s description of their “spectacular and complex courtship behavior.” According to the studies quoted, the courtship displays include 13 distinct moves – Head-throw, Slow Head-throw-kick, Fast Head-throw kick, Bowsprit, Head-throw bowsprit, Nodding, Masthead, Ticking, Head-flick, Head-forward, Head-up-pumping, Head-back, and Head-back bowsprit. The BNA describes the details of each of these moves, expressing the opinion that “The most distinctive of these displays is the Head-throw-kick, where the male thrusts his head straight forward, then lowers it to his rump with his bill pointed back past vertical, at which point he utters a single, grating call, thrusting his head rapidly forward while kicking water out with his feet.”

That’s what I call an active river. Robert Singleton and the other civic boosters don’t really need to work so hard to ‘activate the river’. The Goldeneyes are doing it for them. In fact, if we could only schedule the Goldeneyes, we wouldn’t need the Golden State Warriors for excitement. There’s a lot of pretty fast and complex action going on just over the levee from the Arena – right there at Laurel. And it’s free!

The homeless encampment continues on the Benchlands, appearing pretty peaceful and orderly, with lots of police and rangers directing and monitoring the situation. HOMELESS CAMPIt is hard to understand why our ex-police chief, Kevin Vogel, wrote such a condemnatory letter to the editor about the terrible dangers the encampment presents. I walked out the day after the big rain and was so happy to see good strong rain tarps covering most of the 30 or more tents. Under the sponsorship of the new police chief,   , about 40 or 50 people were able to be dry and legal as they got a good night’s sleep. And the housing is cheap. I hope the City supports this new approach until we can provide something at least as good.

Of course, I still dream that the Benchlands can one day be restored to a natural riparian woodland – with a few benches and paths for those weary of the downtown bustle and appreciative of a few moments of peace in an urban setting. But that must wait for the right moment and the right leadership. As a Buddhist teacher said, ‘you can’t push the river’.

Wishing you all many golden days on the river.



Light and Dark on the River

Hello Jane and all our followers,

I am luxuriating in the rich autumnal light these days – the sky, the water, the trees – all are transformed. Everything seems aglow in that special ‘slant of light’ that brings life into high relief as it slowly surrenders to dormancy and death.

Bufflehead, Male and Female
Newly arrived Male and Female Bufflehead between Riverside and Laurel St. Bridges – in a flock of 11.  November 14, 2017

Light patterns on the river mesmerize me.  The luminous quality of the light helps screen out not only the city noise and buildings, but even, for a moment, the presence of tormented souls curled up silently in pain or screaming curses at no one in particular. The full spectrum of our life in Santa Cruz is out here on the river. But the harshness seems to fade away under the  magic of light and water. I fall into a kind of revery.  I go back to the river again and again – to learn once more what is so easy to forget.  I hope it is also healing to those experiencing homelessness.

Returning from the river, I watched the City Council meeting last night  with a mixture of resignation and  frustration. (I’m so glad you were there to speak up for the birds.)  The majority of the Council, of course, did what we knew was inevitable – rubber stamping the Downtown Commission’s development plan and pretty much ignoring  or putting off major environmental concerns.  Only Chris Krohn and Sandy Brown voted ‘no’.   What is most  maddening to me is  the term ‘activating the river’. With no hope of turning around the juggernaut of capitalism in Santa Cruz, I at least yearn for Confucian ‘rectification of language’.  The river does not need activation.  Let’s start by getting rid of that phrase!   Non-human life along the river is enormously active and complex, even if it is unseen and unappreciated.   What ‘activation’ means for most people is a bustling downtown with lots of humans (with money) and lots of things being bought and sold.   Why not just say that openly–  and not pretend that it has anything to do with the river.  I guess the City likes the idea of a scenic backdrop to all the bustle and exchange of money.  I guess that is where the river comes in.

The river itself, as I often say, provides key habitat for 122 species of birds not to speak of fish, insects, etc.  Rivers and wetlands are the most damaged ecosystem in our country and throughout the world.  Santa Cruz is contributing to that sad statistic.    It is so easy to mock Trump and company as we ourselves fall under the spell of build, build, build, despoil, despoil, despoil.   Climate change denial is alive and well in Santa Cruz.

I got my first glimpse today of the returning BUFFLEHEADS, dressed in their elegant black and white breeding plumage.

Bufflehead displaying
Bufflehead with extended wings.  November 14, 2017

I keep forgetting that for many waterfowl, including the common MALLARD, this is breeding season! The season starts  in October when the Buffleheads return from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska in full breeding plumage.  I guess they mate here, then head north again in May to lay their eggs and raise their young.    Do you think this Bufflehead with extended wings was doing some kind of mating display?  The AMERICAN COOT seems uninterested.  When the Planning Commission talks about activating the river, do they include the active mating dances of the Buffleheads?  Just joking.

I saw two Mallards last week doing a very long and animated mating dance.  The male and female faced each other, bobbing their heads up and down in perfect synchrony for quite a while, followed immediately by a 3-second copulation. Admirable balance. Will there still be mallards actively mating in the river once the the City ‘activates’ the river?  Not joking.


Cormorants drying out
Double-crested Cormorants drying their wings, near Laurel St. Bridge, November 14 2017

were scudding along the surface of the river this morning at a mighty pace, then diving, surfacing, diving again and finally resting and digesting their fishy meals on this old twisted stump – the light pouring through their drying feathers.  I’m sure all of you readers share with me fear that all the fancy new bars, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops (a human habitat) will ultimately destroy the habitat that supports  these wild creature .   And where will they go, I ask?

Alan Lozano, the river-loving maintenance person from Parks and Recreation, told me that since the homeless camp has been set up in the Benchlands, the GREAT BLUE HERON that regularly inhabits this

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron between Soquel and Riverside Bridges, November 14,2017

area has not been seen. I told him the Heron might be the same one that I had seen lower down on the river this morning, bathed in light. But even the saintly Great Blue can’t live on light alone! Hopefully the Heron is also finding good meals downstream.  But as we know,  birds must choose their domains carefully and can suffer if pushed into inferior territories. Still, all things considered, I am excited about the experiment on the Benchlands.  It seems to be a positive experiment in human decency. I wish it well. I hope it leads to something more permanent.

I was encouraged to see some native habitat restoration work going on between Soquel and Laurel St. on the east side of the river, sponsored by the City in

Restoration Project
Restoration project near Mimi De Marta Dog Park,

conjunction with the Coastal Watershed Council. Ice plant is being replaced with Coyote Bush, Manzanita, Tules, Gumweed and Native Blackberry. It’s cause for celebration when you see an agency that was actively promoting habitat-degrading recreation (paddling on the river) shift  to habitat preservation.

Hopefully, we will never hear again about putting boats on the river. But if we do, the City and CWC can expect more energetic resistance.   Just saying.

Here is the latest list of 28 species   that I saw yesterday and posted to eBird. Alan Lozano also shared with me a rather spine-tingling tale about the OSPREY that I saw yesterday and that regularly hangs out on the tall redwood just north of Water St.  He saw it plunge into a flock of seagulls resting on an island in the river. The osprey pinned one gull to the ground, attacking it again and again but failed to either kill it or carry it off. Probably too heavy.

And on that rather raw note, I bid you a light-filled week on the River!












Comings and Goings

Dear Jane and everyone who reads our blog!

The mysterious comings and goings of the San Lorenzo sand bar continue. The highly independent-minded sand bar has recently decided to block the normal  flow of the river to the sea, raising the lagoon level so high that it has swamped the Riverwalk section that runs under the Riverside Bridge. This sand bar phenomenon always surprises me. It is such an odd maneuver of nature – so good for wildlife and so inconvenient for humans. I’m sure all the Steelhead that you reported on last week, Jane,  are celebrating this creation of a safe transitional nursery for their young ones before they are forced out to sea when the bar is breached. But in the meantime the Seaside Company will grumble as the river water seeps sideways into their underground machinery. It is illegal for individuals to artificially breach the sand bar, but will the City make a move in the next days or weeks? Until two years ago I was unaware of this annual drama.  Now I watch this drama unfold almost every year – a compelling story of humans and nature  at cross purposes.

Funny that there aren’t more birds out chasing all the Steelhead in the newly formed Lagoon. I went out yesterday, seeking my first EARED GREBE

Eared grebe with dirty ears and neck - Version 2
Eared Grebe, photo by B.Riverwoman, July, 2015

of the season after reading that Shantanu Phukan found his first one last week. But no luck. By mid-October they should be here in significant numbers. Where are they? The problem in getting so familiar with a patch of nature is that we expect the kids home at a certain hour and worry when they are not here!

My most unusual discovery this week was a TROPICAL KINGBIRD perched on a willow tree near the river behind Kaiser Arena – a lifebird for me.

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird, near Kaiser Arena, October 15, 2017, San Lorenzo River

According to BNA, it is a common bird with a normal range from Mexico to central Argentina. They started venturing northward 75 years ago, beginning to nest in Arizona and New Mexico. A small number are now seen dispersed along the Pacific Coast in the winter. Lucky me – I not only got to see one but it sat still long enough for me to take a photo of its bright yellow belly.

Western Grebe
Western Grebe, October 15, 2017

Walking the loop between Soquel Bridge and the Trestle – and back – I also caught sight of a  WESTERN GREBE in fall plumage, and a PELAGIC CORMORANT pumping along, slim and radiant as always. 19 species in all swam or flew into my ken, and the next day Shantanu Phutan found 20 species, at least half of them different from mine. So, roughly, a total of 30 species reported last week   on the river. I hope you take time to click the two links above.  Such a great resource.

Pelagic Cormorant – Version 2
Pelagic Cormorant, October 15, 2017


On the human side of the equation – a seismic wave continues to ripple through the Benchlands right now, a fascinating phenomenon apparently generated in part by the new police chief.

The homeless are now allowed to legally pitch tents from 9 pm to 6 am, something homeless advocates have been seeking for decades. The campers are allowed the privacy and relative safety of their tents at night as long as they take them down on time and tidy up their camps. With close ranger and police supervision, the campsites looked  amazingly shipshape at 9:30 a.m. as I accompanied homeless advocate Phil Posner through the area.

Phil is working with a local group of activists, city staff and elected officials on creating a permanent homeless shelter. Altar 1BenchlandsAmong the 7 campsites on the Benchlands that I I visited with him, there were two that included altars with flowers, both created by homeless women. One woman told me that her altar was in memory of a woman ‘loved by all’ who had recently died at the age of 26. Altar 2 BenchlandsThis is the tragic and invisible part of the iceberg that we  don’t get to see.


We have a good friend of the river in Alan Martin, a Parks and Recreation Department employee who monitors the river almost daily in his shiny white truck, grabbing a few moments to record  both the human and non-human dramas of the river.  He recently sent me this video that he whimsically calls  A Garbage Truck With a View.  Check it out!

More on the political front….I attended the meeting of the City Council on October 10 where the City made its final decision on whether to approve the preliminary Parks Master Plan before it heads to the state for an Environmental Impact Report.   We knew that  the imperfect but significantly improved Plan would pass.  But most of us environmentalists in the chambers that day were unprepared by a last minute motion made by Councilmember Martine Watkins that put mountain biking back on an action priority list. Krohn and Brown supported the major Plan but held strong on opposing Watkins’ motion in favor of the biking industry push for speeding up the process of getting more mountain bikes in Pogonip and DeLaveaga. Another predictable 5-2 vote on the environment. Expect a battle over that one! We need two more strong environmentalists on the City Council if we are going to protect our treasured green spaces from the onslaught of trail-hungry mountain bikers.

Quote of the Week:

“The only biodiversity we’re going to have left is Coke versus Pepsi. We’re landscaping the whole world one stupid mistake at a time.”   – Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

Gratitude to all those who went before us who showed us how to  protect and promote  species other than ourselves.

Happy birding to all!















Hello Sparrows, Good-bye Orioles

Good Morning Jane – and good morning to you, too, Bruce Bratton – and all our other readers.

Why that opening, you readers might wonder.  Well – Bruce Bratton, got me and Jane to thinking about the greeting of this blog when he invited us  onto his radio show a couple of weeks ago.  With decades of media experience behind him, he  gently challenged us about addressing only each other  in our blog, and not the rest of you. What do you think? Do you feel excluded? Should we change this convention?  Be sure to check out Bruce’s KZSC radio show, Universal Grapevine, as well as his online column called Bratton Online. Lots of juicy material.

The birding life has been all about sparrows for me this last week. I really liked a comment that I read on the Monterey Bay Bird Google Group this week. Pete Sole wrote,

“Others in the country may have their first frost, falling leaves, etc, but to me, it is the soft song of the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW in our garden, that gently 
announces fall’s arrival to those that listen.”

Exactly my sentiments, Pete. Last year I even got tears in my eyes when I heard what sounds to my old ears as an autumnal lament. Listen for that plaintive 3-note descending whistle if you haven’t heard it yet.  It is all over town.  But the sparrow is not lamenting as far as I know. She sings that song over and over as she establishes her winter territory after her long trip south from breeding grounds as far away as the northern tip of Alaska. A long journey to my backyard and Santa Cruz.

I actually heard the other ‘crowned’ sparrow first, the WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

White-crowned juvenile
Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow

She arrived in my backyard, which backs up to the river levee, on September 26. As soon as I heard her slightly more perky song, I got in my car and headed over to General Feed and Seed for my first of season 20# bag of in-the-shell sunflower seeds. I wanted to give her a good welcome home meal.   The White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows usually arrive within days of each other, and sure enough, the Golden-crowned Sparrow sang to me just three days later. The banks of the levee behind my house are filling up with them now, and I get a good share of the spillover from there. It took them less than 24 hours to find my seeds and they’ve been chowing down ever since.

Another recent and very welcome guest in my riverside backyard have been two Allen’s Hummingbirds. The Allen’s have an incredibly small range, breeding mostly in California and then spending the winter in Mexico.

Allen's Hummingbird
Juvenile female Allen’s Hummingbird (?)  September, 2017, in Cape Honeysuckle hedge between Water and Highway 1, west side of levee  

They get to Santa Cruz as early as March and usually stay no longer than early October. So this will almost surely be my last glimpse. The Allen’s love my neighbor’s Cape Honeysuckle bush, and seem to want to harvest the last drop of nectar before they push on south. The other breeding hummingbird in Santa Cruz, the Anna’s, stays around all year. The Anna’s is the hummer I usually see in my garden.  One of the joys of birding in recent years is my gradual attunement to the seasonal changes of each species.


To top off my backyard sightings was a lingering female HOODED ORIOLE, also pumping herself up on the juicy Cape Honeysuckle offerings before setting off for Central America.

Hooded Oriole 5
Female Hooded Oriole, October 3, 2017, Cape Honeysuckle, between Water and Highway 1, west side of levee.  

In that respect, Randy Wardle, a star local birder, is starting a new monthly column in the Albatross (and online), listing the species that we can expect to arrive and/or leave each month. This will be a wonderful gift to the birding community and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it regularly.

Well, as you well know, the final 2030 Parks Master Plan is about to be approved a week from today, on October 10. Many, many thanks are owed to you,Jane, and quite a few others for working hard to insert more language into the final draft protecting the enviroment!!! Many thanks to Jean Brocklebank, Rachel O’Malley, Michael Lewis, Gillian Greensite, Celia Scott and Peter Scott for all their hard work on the PMP over months and months – all leading up to the City Council meeting next Tuesday.

Thank you especially Jane and Jean, for paying attention to the River part of the Master Plan. I really have not fully grasped what a bureaucratic stepchild our River is. Now that Parks and Recreation has officially dropped the San Lorenzo River from the list of 8 Open Spaces over which it has primary jurisdiction, who will be the new Mama? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it. According to Mauro Garcia, it is officially Public Works. But the focus of Public Works has never included environmental protection except as strictly required by federal and state law. It is a yearly struggle, as you know, to get them to even consider the environmental damage they inflict on the river each year. Yet they are in charge of the river by default because of their primary responsibility for flood control.

Bruce Van Allen, who has been paying close attention to the River for decades, said that during his long history with the River, it’s been considered a multi-departmental responsibility. As Bruce points out, the Planning, Police, Fire and Water Departments all have jurisdiction over aspects of the River. He said that is why back in 2003 the City put the development of the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP) in the City Manager’s Office.

Now the City is talking about hiring an official River Coordinator. Will that be the go-to person for our environmental concerns? You can imagine how fruitful that will be considering all the other interests we will be (and are) competing with.  Environmental concerns will have no more weight with a river coordinator that it does now.  Maybe less.  At least Parks and Recreation has as part of its mission the protection of Open Spaces.

We need an Open Space Department, equal to other departments and existing solely to protect Open Spaces and environmental integrity.   That way we might get  someone at the helm who is a dedicated advocate for the environment only.  That will be a while in coming, won’t it!  But we have to keep pushing.

I was very happy to see that there is much more in the current PMP about creating native habitats in the City Parks. That is progress.

May the birds and all of us stay safe on our long journeys.








Fishing for Information

Hi Jane,

Aaaah! The havoc being wreaked on our poor river! I think my last report painted  to rosy  a picture.

I haven’t wanted to visit the devastated area. So much was being cut! I tried to imagine how I would feel if an alien species suddenly began mowing down my living room, my bedroom, my kitchen.   That is the sad story that the SONG SPARROWS, KILLDEER, COMMON  YELLOWTHROAT, CALIFORNIA TOWHEES,BLACK PHOEBES and many other songbirds would tell us if they could.


I guess I have become a little obsessed with making sure that every single inch of vegetation that is legally protected as wildlife habitat is left alone. I decided to buy 10-foot bamboo pole to measure exactly what the City was cutting down.

Me  with 10-foot bamboo  pole.  Here the  operation left the  required 15 feet along the wetted edge of the  river.

You can see that I attached a red flag at the end.   It makes it easy to measure. I am hoping that the City will see me coming with my red-headed pole and at least know I am watching.



Since my last post, I have been getting the sense that there is controversy behind the scenes about what to cut and what not to cut.   I was told by one of the workers that they had been instructed to leave only 15-feet total on BOTH sides of the river. I went rushing over to check this with Jonathan, the crew chief and son of the original owner who used to clear the levee using a couple of draft horses.  I like both these guys. They care about the river.  Jonathan reassured me that the law was 15 feet on each side. But the next day when I ran into him he told me he was no longer allowed to talk to me. What’s up?

Yesterday I submitted a letter to the Public Works Commission where I cut to the quick. In the letter I said,

“My confusion centers around the problematic role of law enforcement agencies in the determination of vegetation removal. Because the levee banks attract illegal campers, law enforcement has always had an interest in removing as much vegetation as possible, a factor that is at odds with the governing document.”

I frankly don’t see any other explanation. Why else would Public Works want to cut more than is legally allowed by the Army Corps of Engineers. I think some of our efforts must focus on bringing the role of law enforcement into the light.

Here’s a photo of the demolished homes of our riverside bird friends,all  bundled and ready to be thrown  in the chipper.   May they forgive us.

cut & bound
For the first time this year, the cut down  willows are bundled and hauled by hand up  the banks of the river and run through  a chipper, to be disposed of  elsewhere.

Here is a photo of my friend  Batya discovering a raccoon track on the Riverwalk.  How  has this nocturnal creature’s  life  been affected by  the loss  of the thick cover along  the river?

The Monterey Birding Festival is taking place this Saturday, September 23. It is too late to register online, but people can register onsite during the day.

Quote of the Week by Grey  Hayes:

“Wildlife conservation is a public priority, but Santa Cruz citizens sleep while politicians and business leaders threaten to deprive future generations of opportunities for the wildlife experiences we have today.”

GreyHayes has taught at UCSC and is an active advisor to the California Native Plant Society. He has co-authored management plans for protected natual areas and published work in scientific and popular jounals. His focus is on restoration ecology and invasion biology. See his website at

Keep on  flying, Jane!




Debris or Not Debris

Hi Jane,

Instead of a beautiful bird, my letter this week features a wood chipper and a dump truck!

Chipper and dump truck, flood control, 2017

What, you might well ask, is this about?  Well,  the truck symbolizes the minor drama that unfolded on the levee banks this last week as the City carried out its annual assault on the native willows, alders, cottonwoods, box elders and sycamores. This time, oddly, it was the City staff and the contractors that seemed most agitated, not me.

It seems that someone up the bureaucratic chain (probably at the federal level) decided that it was time to enforce a section of the federal Clean Water Act that requires the City to truck away all vegetative debris from the river where it could possibly ‘have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife or recreational areas. “ It was explained to me that part of that adverse effect has to do with adding nutrients (including nitrates) to the water that could encourage algae bloom.  Adapting to this new twist apparently delayed the start of the mowing season to August 23 this year. The City actually hired Donna Meyers, a longtime local river analyst, to measure the volume of the debris so as to calculate the actual quantity of pollutants that would be added. It will be interesting to hear her results.

Most people don’t get too excited about orange ribbons, either. But I do!

Orange ribbon marking the edge of the 15-foot protected buffer zone.

These particular ribbons marked a 15-foot buffer along the river edge, beyond which the cutting crew was not allowed to apply their chain saws.   This is new!  For me, the ribbons celebrate an official 10-foot addition to what has previously been protected, bringing the City back into compliance with the guidelines set out in the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP)).  As you well know, we  have been pestering the city about complying with SLURP guidelines for four years now.  This year the City actually invited the biologist, Gary Kittleson, as well as analyst Donna Meyers, to do the training of the seven or eight crew members.   I not only had the joy of hearing Kittleson instruct the crew on the legal buffer width, but heard him provide information to them about the WESTERN POND TURTLE and TIDEWATER GOBEY, two endangered species that live in the river. “If you see a turtle, call me on my cell”, said Kittleson as he gave the crew his phone number. “I’ll be right down to rescue it!”

But in spite of our laudable human efforts to apply some braking action to our habitat destruction, this annual buzz cut of the river bank is a sober reminder of what we are doing to our planet. Native trees are being cut down, animals are dying,
the birds that remain are stressed.

dead snake on levee after mowing
Dead gopher snake, seen beside Riverwalk august 27, 2017, 4 days after start of flood control work. 


Downed Cottonwood
August 25, 2017.  Two downed native cottonwoods.  All willow trees whose trunk is over 3 inches diameter at breast height must be removed.  All other native riparian trees (cottonwoods, box elders, alders, sycamores) whose trunk is over 6 inches in diameter must be removed.

I realized this year more than I have in previous years exactly what you were talking about, i.e. that the numbers of water foragers like MALLARDS AND COMMON MERGANSERS, as well as the shore fishers like the GREAT BLUE HERON, GREEN HERON, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and SNOWY EGRET, don’t have much choice when the mowers descend.

black-crowned Night-heron – Version 2
Black-crowned Night-heron seen on Sunday, August 27th in regular fishing spot near mowing area.

They move up and down river to get away from the noise and activity, but if good fishing and foraging exist close to the mowers, they pretty much have to stick around. Where would they go? Other territories have already been claimed by other birds. It would stress the birds even more to fight for new territory.  How do we measure the diminished amount of fish and crustaceans they’re able to catch while under siege, not to speak of how the stress affects their reproductive success in the future. I hope no one dares say to either of us “Oh, they can just go somewhere else.” They might get an earful.

Here are before-and-after-shots of the west levee bank taken from the Water St. Bridge,  on August 23rd and August 25th.

All this because we built our city on a flood plain!

Quote of the week:

“Everyday is a Sabbath to me. All pure water is holy water and this earth is a celestial abode.” John Burroughs.

Well–let’s just keep on bearing witness. I loved your report on the magical feet of the SNOWY EGRET, a subject that delights us both!


P.S. Filipina Warren is the new person in Public Works in charge of overseeing the flood control work each year. I asked her if she had updated information on when mowing in the transitional and estuarine reach would begin. She said it hadn’t yet been decided. I even heard elsewhere that they may not mow at all in those stretches this year. I wonder why? That would certainly be good news.