San Lorenzo River welcomes BUFFLEHEADS & GOLDENEYES…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Enjoyers,

male BUFFLEHEAD & his harem…

As you know, I my vigilant eyes have roamed the river water surface in the hope to see the appearance of migratory waterfowl, especially the adorable BUFFLEHEADS. On October 29 my wait was rewarded with the sight of 1 male BUFFLEHEAD and his harem of 4 females in tow. They had the skittish behavior of newcomers, which meant that any perceived threat sent them under the water surface. This disappearance mania eases off as they get familiar with their winter neighborhood. The goosing PIED-billed GREBE obviously didn’t approve of the new crew: it circle the small flock, dive down and stay out of sight. All of the sudden the male BUFFLEHEAD would burst into a dash away from the females, but wouldn’t dive. I couldn’t make head or tail of these perplexing speed zooms until I noticed that the PIED-billed GREBE would pop up close to the male. After 4 repeats of this scenario, the male BUFFLEHEAD cleared the water decks, because he was fed up with the sneaky gooser and his devoted harem trailed behind him upriver. Do you think the PIED-billed GREBE knew he save himself some time by chasing off the male because the 4 females would follow him?

2 female GOLDENEYES joined the BUFFLEHEAD flock…

For the last 6 years I noticed that the female GOLDENEYES don’t subscribe to the BUFFLEHEAD harem concept, because they arrive before the males, who meander in approx. a week later, decorated in their stunning plumage. I watched the 2 female GOLDENEYES checking out the growing flock of 18 BUFFLEHEADS. After swimming back and forth on the other side of the river, they decided that it was okay to join their migratory cousins. Slowly they approached. The BUFFLEHEADS were agreeable to their company and the GOLDENEYES melted smoothly into the flock.

City is opening the river mouth…

The City opened the river mouth on October 28 and drained the water below 5’5″. It used to be that the City was careful to not let the water level go below 5’5″, because that height was established as beneficial for the fish. In the past I have seen Biologists with nets, pulling out fish at the opened river mouth, but not this time.

female OSPREY on her favorite branch…

There is something gentle and reassuring to see the same river birds in their familiar places. It creates a sense of affinity with these critters as I walk the levee. There is the tiny Anna’s Hummingbird that always buzzes me as a walk by the plum tree. Sometimes it comes so close that it seems to get ready to land on me. In the beginning I was worried that I was close too its nest, but I noticed that no other people were getting buzzed like me. The TOWHEE couple by the Boardwalk parking lot forage along the path. When a person approaches, they sound alarm and both flit into their hiding spot in their favorite elderberry bush. I see them peeking down at the people, waiting for them to pass, so that they can resume their food rummaging. The royal OSPREY in the Trestle trees peers down at me as I stare mesmerized up at her. I consider my ‘feathered regulars’ a part of my extended family and I am always happy to see them.
Be sure to come to the river and welcome our migratory winter guests, jane

steelhead bonaza, levee leak, new life…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow Nature Enjoyers,

Biologists checking their catch…

The City biologists finished seining for this year. As of the end of last month their boats and nets are no longer roving in the river. The 12 month seining cycle ended in September. Now the biologists are writing their reports and we have to wait until next July 1st to read their findings. It’s darn hard to wait that long and so I kibitz as much as I can while they seine. Since I was in fishing around for any information, I welcomed Zeke’s note that on 9/ 23 Coastal Watershed Council was hosting a seining talk of the City of Santa Cruz Water Department’s Watershed Section and Hagar Environmental Science. Chris Berry, the Watershed Compliance Manager, impressed us all with his engaging presentation.We couldn’t believe our ears when he told us that at their last seining at the Trestle bridge they counted over 10000 steelheads, which was the biggest haul in a long time. The good news was that these steelheads were predominately wild, who have a better ocean survival rate than the hatchery ones. It turns out that hatchery life doesn’t steel them for the ocean. The biologists are not certain why the count was so high this year. They expect that the late rain created a higher, steady river flow and had a positive effect on the spawning and rearing. Chris mentioned this interesting observation: the biologist had tagged some juveniles down river on their way to the ocean. Later in the season they found these juveniles again up the river, which indicates they did an atypical backtrack.
Finding the Pink Salmon in the San Lorenzo caused quiet the excitement, because it was the first time since 1914. Biologists are re-evaluating their lagoon perception: a closed river mouth was thought to be necessary for the steelhead to adjust to the ocean salt water, but the river mouth stayed open for most of the year, resulting in a very high steelhead count. It will be interesting to hear if fish behavior is being trolled by Climate Change.

spreading the net for seining…

It’s a good thing that Chris is familiar with my enthusiastic bird preoccupation, because he took it in good stride that his speech was interrupted by my excited outburst: “Look there are 2 HAWKS sitting in the Trestle trees!” The HAWKS stayed for the entire talk and provided me with the perfect visual background while I listened to Chris.

2 HAWKS listening to Chris…

I don’t have any current pictures for you, because my camera is sick in the lens, leaving me photo blink-less. There are so many times, when I miss not being able to capture an image, then again there is a simple pleasure in just staying with the unfolding moment: the hunt for that perfect photo is replaced by letting Nature unfurl. Since I do enjoy sharing river images with you, would you cross your fingers that my lens can be healed?
I am getting fidgety, because my beloved BUFFLEHEADS haven’t shown up yet. Every time I go to the river, I scan the water for their presence. You all be the first to know when I see them.
The Public Works Dept. seems to have a headache on their hands: the levee has a leak. Public Work staff and Company workers are taking measurements, discussing and walking back and forth on the levee across from Jessie St. Marsh. At this point they are in the process of figuring out how to deal with it. I am happy to report that so far the native plants haven’t been stepped on.

Monarch caterpillar feasting on native Milkweed…

That was pretty thrilling to see the plump Monarch Butterfly caterpillar devastate the leaves of the native Milkweed. A few days later it was gone, hopefully turning itself into a beautiful Monarch and testifying that our Estuary Project efforts are creating enriching wildlife habitat.

Milkweed seed pod: future life…

Sending you all river greetings, jane

river offerings…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow River Lovers,

CROWS stuck ashore…

I could hear the CROWS complaining from far away as I was walking to the River Point. Stepping up to the railing I saw aprox. 25 CROWS lining the shoreline, wailing their protest to high heaven. Only after scanning the scene more closely did I discover the reason for their revolt: the OSPREY was in the water cleaning its talons on the sand in the water. The CROWS were beside themselves, because the OSPREY was beyond their attack reach since they don’t go in the water beyond their ‘ankles’ and flying low over the water isn’t part of their attack repertoire. When the cleaning was completed the OSPREY flew to the top of a roof and the CROWS were ecstatic: finally they were able to bomb-dive their perceived threat, who could have cared less about their hysteric behavior. The CROWS came to their senses, landed next to the unperturbed OSPREY and they all quietly surveyed the view.

OSPREY and CROWS quietly sitting together…great scene justifies bad photo

It’s so interesting to read your insights about the CROWS. My observations of them have been very unpleasant and disturbing, leading me to admit that I detest them. This state of mind always surprises people, but it’s a fact: some birders have strong bird species likes and dislikes. The CROWS increasing presence along the river is fostering the decline of the rodent control, because the HAWK species are prevented from hunting due to being chased off by the CROWS. This not only impacts the adult HAWKS survival, but their fledglings as well. Plus CROWS are raiding songbirds nest and eat ducklings. I guess we represent the two sides of the CROW coin…

Santa Cruz Climate Change March…

The Santa Cruz Climate Change March carried me along its ‘river’ ebb and flow. Connecting with people, who love this planet and the environment, was exalting and easy, creating wonderful interactions that will be forever housed in my heart. One of these connections got triggered by complimenting a t-shirt message and a lively conversation ensued. It turned out that the owner of the shirt and his wife were from the small conservative town Greeley, Colorado. His wife disclosed that he owned several of the notable t-shirts, which he wore to his weekly Saturday protest on the stairs of the Court House. Bob started his protest after he fulfilled his mother wish to drive her to a place where she could watch the current President’s inauguration. After he dropped her off, he went straight to the Court House stairs to protest against the President. Now the ongoing demonstration has grown into the famed group called ‘Court House Steps’. It was splendid that Bob and Mary marched with their grandchildren in the Santa Cruz “Climate Strike”, giving me a chance to hear their unusual story.

peaceful morning foraging…

Last Sunday morning I had a much needed river moment that wiped out my ‘to-do’ tasks and my daily worries, because I was happily absorbed watching the peaceful gathering of foraging birds by the Trestle bridge rocks. The SPOTTED SANDPIPER skittered around on the slippery rocks that proved treacherous for the GOLDEN-crowned SPARROW, who almost slid into the water. 2 AMERICAN COOTS and a group of MALLARDS were nibbling on the rock algae. The GREAT BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET and 10 CORMORANTS were harvesting fish from the river. The BLACK PHOEBE was raking the air for flying insects. I was grateful for that bird life scene, because I had been funk-ish since that Thursday levee walk with the Planning and Economic Departments. The Front St. river elopement was addressed, which breaks my heart with its 75 feet height, which surely will impact the river habitats. The universe was clearly on my side when it sent the man, who stopped to listen to the talk and then said that the river had such a rich wildlife that would be pushed out with that development.
Wishing you exalting, diverse river moments, jane

CORMORANTS harvesting fish…

river transitions…

Dear Barbara and Nature Jubilatiors,

It’s that time of year when the bird parents are getting sick and tired of their food begging offspring. The bird teenagers can’t believe that their feathered parents are heartlessly ignoring their incessant, high screech calls for food supply. It must be a rude awaking for the juvenile birds to face this transition from being pampered to the ‘Get a hold of yourself and grow up!’ message. Gull youngsters are really successful in driving their parents out of their minds with their begging pursuit. Their piercing cries and crowding in on the parent, force the crazed progenitor to distant themselves by walking away from that annoying behavior. Of course the ‘kid’ throws all restraints to the wind, lowers its body, extends its neck and races after the escaping parent with high frequency, fast succession screams. The hoped for result disappears into the air: the parent flies off, leaving a silent, stunned feathered minor grounded, having to face bird reality…

WESTERN gull parent escaping from teenager…

A few weeks ago this odd gull episode happened by the Riverside Ave. bridge: a group of adult WESTERN gulls let the world know that their lives were in disarray. These calls get activated when a Hawk is circling too close to a gull nest, which was not the case since they were crowded on a sandbank. The reason they were beside themselves was the presence of a juvenile HEERMANN’S gull, who was trying to figure out how to calm the outraged WESTERN group. It tried to slither away, which resulted in the adults converging on the youngster, so it stopped and lowered submissively its head. This greatly satisfied the grown-ups, shut them up and they walked away. Feeling safe, the adolescent stepped into the water. That clearly was the wrong move: the supposedly mature gulls gathering around the flustered HEERMANN’S gull and exploded into an other racket. The young gull carefully kept inching away to a safe distance, where it was ignored and able to forage.

young HEERMANN’S gull dealing w/annoyed WESTERN adult gulls…

The migratory birds haven’t yet arrived in full force at the river. Each season birders are scanning the sky, waters and land to see what species are coming back when, because that is how we keep track of the bird population. BTW: Randy Wardle’s monthly list is a wonderful resource for which bird species you can expect in our area. Birders have noticed the decline of numbers and species over the years as reported in the latest study, revealing the loss of over 3 billion birds since 1970 in Northern America. The good news is that we can personally invite them into our bird friendly gardens and lend our voices for their legal protection. My own suggestion: plant succulents sparsely, because I have observed that they have no blossoms, seeds, fruit nor shelter for birds.

female OSPREY…

I heard the call, but I couldn’t remember right away the owner’s name. Then the call owner smoothly glided in: the OSPREY, who produces diverse, exotic sounds that tend to throw me. The glorious bird didn’t land in the Trestle trees but continued out to the ocean. A little later I met up with my river compadre and he told me that he just had seen the female OSPREY in the Trestle trees and an other one was circling high above. Clearly raptors mating choices are in full swing! It’s so wonderful to have these compadres connections, because we each add a detail to fill out a fuller river wildlife picture.

yearly visit of BLACK-crowned NIGHT-HERON since 2016…

The BLACK-Crowned NIGHT-HERON is down here on its yearly visit during the upstream Flood Control work. I was so happy to read your positive experience with everything and everybody. You certainly did amazing work for the improvement and awareness of the Flood Control protocol!! From what you describe, it sounds like the procedure is following the Streambed Alteration Agreement revisions of the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife that were initiated by the Sierra Club. So all these efforts will have a beneficial outcome for our river critters: HALLELUJAH!! from jane

The PEREGRINE and OSPREY are back!!!

Good Morning to you Nature Embracers and welcome back to Barbara,

You certainly hit the ground running after your time off: diving right into the annual Flood Control Work and its various issues. I can’t wait to read your observations on that topic and it’s good to have you back.

San Lorenzo River in 1965…

I am sure you all shudder looking at the above picture of the San Lorenzo River! Often people say that the present river is just a draining ditch. Personally I vehemently disagree and the old picture proves my point. Aren’t we all grateful that the river was liberated of its concrete ‘chains’ by dedicated people, who worked hard to find the best possible solutions? Can any of you imagine our life without this view?

San Lorenzo River in 2019…

The other day 2 Raptors were sitting side by side in the cypress tree close to the Kaiser Stadium. It was such a peaceful visual as they preened themselves, then taking in the scenery together. They were too far away for identification. Watching them I wonder if they had paired up to embark on their parenthood experience, because Raptors’ meet-ups and mating start around this time of year. It would be elating to have raptors nest by the river, wouldn’t it?

2 HAWKS enjoying each other’s company…

I was standing at the river point, scanning the trestle trees and my heart skipped a beat when I saw that beloved silhouette way up on the bare branch. I raced over to the trestle and the coveted sight was gone. Disappointed I made my way to the bridge, where I noticed small feathers raining down. Scanning the area I spotted my hoped for treasure: the PEREGRINE was back, eagerly devouring its meal on high voltage power pole. I was so happy to see the Falcon again after such a long time and felt sorry for the bird, to whom I offered my gratitude for sustaining the PEREGRINE’s life.

PEREGRINE eating breakfast…

Later that morning I was talking with my neighbor at the bridge when Jon, a river compadre, walked up. Right away he told me that he had finally seen the PEREGRINE again. My poor neighbor tried to make sense of our Falcon exchange since our words flew giddily back and forth, fueled by our excitement that the river PEREGRINE had returned. It didn’t help that we used short cut references to our previous conversations, which left my neighbor in the dark. We slowed down and explained why we were so enthusiastic. She was thrilled to learn that we had such a wonderful bird at the river since we told her more than she ever expected know about a PEREGRINE. The 3 of us parted with Falcon joy in our good-bye smiles.
That same morning I returned from watering the Estuary Project plants, where the butterfly was feeding on a blossom.

Monarch feeding on a blossom…

Jon saw me, waved and pointed up to the trestle trees. Instantly I stopped the car and found out that he had just spotted the OSPREY on its favorite branch. I knew Jon understood why I took off like lightening: I was on a mission to find ‘our’ OSPREY.

The river OSPREY has returned!

When my eyes found him, my whole being filled with happy relief: the beauty had reappeared after 10 months of absence. It was a special treat to watch him for a long time!! Going back to the car, I couldn’t find my keys…after searching around, it dawned on me that I had dashed off, leaving them in the ignition at a busy street…the bird spirits had watched over me: the car was waiting for me with the keys ready to go! What a wonderful, magically morning Nature had gifted me: the sightings of the elusive PEREGRINE and OSPREY, a great exchange with Jon and my neighbor and an un-stolen car.
Sending you all magic river greetings, jane

San Lorenzo River steelhead update…

Good Morning to you Nature Enjoyers,

breaching action…

You won’t believe what my eyes saw again!! At 6:40 am last Saturday 3 men were hectically digging a trench, trying to breach the river mouth that had closed 2 days ago. One of the shoreline fishermen was yelling at them and I chimed in with a furious “NO BREACHING!!!”. The men’s heads snapped up to the river point, where I was floating in a cloud of anguish for the fish’s safety. Any summer lagoon breaching is bad for the steelhead and the sudden artificial breaching is particularly harmful: The water literally gets sucked out of the river and the fish get stranded on the rocks and shores. The ones that avoid that fate get sucked out to the ocean, where many are unable to survive. The reason being is that that steelhead have to transition from freshwater to saltwater over time. Therefore the abrupt breaching denies them to acclimatize naturally to saltwater. Furthermore the saltwater rushes in and displaces the slow downstream freshwater flow, impacting the water conditions for the steelhead still moving downstream. Click HERE for further info. and keep your fingers crossed for the steelhead welfare.

fish tail rings…

Fish are jumping and the water is low~went through my head as I was watching the many silver darts exploding out of the water. The little fish bodies pierce the water surface straight up, arch gracefully and dive back in, leaving their ‘fish rings’ to tell their tail tale. The City Biologists have been seining the San Lorenzo River for the last 3 months and experience has taught me that these summer months will deliver the steelhead numbers. So I turn into fish Pavlov dog at t his time of year, salivating for any fish news morsels I can devour. Of course I would love to join the biologists as they count, measure, clip the fins of the steelhead. I tried that a few times and learned that was a really bad idea. So instead I pestered the Chris Berry, the Watershed Manager of the Santa Cruz City Water Dept., and his crew, who patiently indulge me with fish news via e-mail. I found out that June had a lot of juvenile steelhead in the SLR lagoon, which didn’t hold true for July.

steelhead make my heart sing…

August was a steelhead bonanza that included some very small young-of the-year steelhead, which is unusual. This sometimes happens, because they may have been fish that came from the late run spawners, implying that spawning occurred in May of this year. Although this year’s river hydrology was pretty atypical, it is very good for anadromous salmonids like steelhead. The reason that the water quality and flow are good this year is due to the frequent, moderate precipitation events this winter and late spring rain in particular. So far the water condition has remained good, because the cold temperature dissolves the oxygen well. It will be interesting to see how the water condition changes as the swell picks up and the river flow drops off through the rest of the dry season.
Now the waiting begins for the release of the final yearly report, which takes place after all the reported details have been vetted that were submitted in July.

Biologist carefully returning counted fish to the river…

Last week I was intensely absorbed, watching, who I think, was the only remaining CLIFF SWALLOW at the Riverside Ave. bridge. It flew to nest, deposited food quickly, dashed back into the sky, almost immediately returned with more food supply. It was truly astounding to watch that little bird speed feed the late hatched offspring. All the other CLIFF SWALLOWS had left in stages approx. 2 weeks ago. This year the CLIFF SWALLOWS arrived in 2 separate batches at different times. Consequently some of them started building their nests when the others had already completed theirs.

last CLIFF SWALLOW at Riverside Ave. bridge…

So this last migrant parent was ultra busy getting the kid(s?) on the sky road and it looks like the effort paid off, because now no CLIFF SWALLOW is gracing the air anymore until next spring. Soon our winter migratory guests will turn the page on the next river life chapter and I am eager to see that story unfold.
River greetings to you all, jane

bonding with the river life…

Good Afternoon to you Nature Appreciators,

spring arrival of tree trunk…

Well, I am still on a Lupine rescue mission. You can find me in the early morning spraying them down with water. These plants deserve my saving efforts, because they so wanted to live: growing big, setting blossoms that bloomed beautifully until the aphids attacked. It looks like a few plants will pull through. After washing the sticky aphid gook off my hands, I always check on the big tree trunk that had been washed down by one of the heavy winter storms and is now a cherished hang out spot for the birds. I am very fond of the stranded giant, because it testifies that its life force is determined to flourish. Its leaves stayed alive, although a powerful rainstorm ripped it out of the ground and forced it to take a wild ride downstream. Now the BLACK PHOEBES are thrilled to be able to hunt its insects right over the water. The MALLARDS and COMMON MERGANSERS schnoz safely inside of the branch tangles. The GREAT BLUE HERON frequents it for its lengthly preening sessions. Obviously the birds treat this tree trunk as a welcomed addition to their daily lives.

tree trunk is now birds favored hang out spot…

I like to invite you to come this Saturday 8/17 to the ongoing Estuary Project and join our restoration improvements. You’ll get to meet good people and enjoy making a difference together. Click here for more info.

Firecracker Skimmer…

It was truly astounding how many dragonflies were whizzing around at the Mike Fox Park by the Riverside Ave. bridge. Counting them was impossible, but I estimate that there were at least 50 of them. There was amazing variety of species present: Firecracker Skimmers( don’t you love that name?!), Blue Dasher, Common Green Darner and dark brown, purple, bronze ones that I had never seen before. The sunshine made their shiny wings glitter in the air and sparks would explode off the bushes when they moved. It was like standing in a fairy tale scene.

our beloved river point ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD…

The Jamaican man and I have shared our a silent love for the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD for over a year. Whoever arrived first at the river point would point out wordlessly its location, because we didn’t want to scare it off. Then we watch it together quietly until little beauty had enough of being starred at and zoom off. We smile at each other and give each other a thumb ups good-bye. I hadn’t seen the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD nor the Jamaican man for a couple of weeks and wondered what happened to both of them. Then the Jamaican man was back and he asked if I had seen our shared love. When I told him that I hadn’t, he bend his head and sadly said:”The bird is dead”. I suggested that the A. HUMMINGBIRD might have found a different food source. He din’t think so since our bird hadn’t looked well the last few times he had seen it. Its feather look dull and it was puffed up. A couple of days later a friend of mine told me that she missed seeing the A. HUMMINGBIRD at the river point. It touched me that the little feather-ball had been a joyous part of our lives.

KINGFISHER enjoying her perfect perch…

I hadn’t seen the KINGFISHER for a while, so it was a treat to see her sitting on the wire that crosses the river. The changed shoreline had me worried for this impressive fishing bird, who prefers perches close to or above the water. But now the sediment created wide sandbanks and her perches are no longer close to the waterline. The KINGFISHER has an unusual nest preference: they excavate a 1 to 8 feet long tunnel with their specialized long, flat toe and sharp claws into sandy banks. As you can imagine this accomplishment takes several weeks and the KINGFISHERS reuse their channel nests for years. It’s interesting that SWALLOWS figured out that they can co-nest with the excavators by digging small chambers into the walls for their nesting needs.
To-night,Tuesday 13, I’ll be talking about the river on Bruce Bratton’s ‘Universal Grapevine’ radio show. So turn your dial to KZSC 88.1 to catch our talk~ until then cheers to you, jane