river friends & fighters…

Chirpy Good Morning Barbara & Fellow Nature Lovers,

lone CACKLING GOOSE…

A couple of weeks ago I encountered your neighbors, Michael & Batya on the search for the MERLIN, who had been spotted along the river while I was busy identifying a GOOSE. It didn’t fit the CANADA GOOSE profile. Using the white neck ring as ID clue I was pretty sure it was a CACKLING GOOSE. Later Michael informed me that the ID key is the shorter beak and smaller that differentiates these 2 species. This CACKLING GOOSE passed the days by the Tule and swimming blasé on the river. All this changed after James Maughn announced the arrival of the SNOW GOOSE. When I looked for the new comer a few hours later, I saw the SNOW GOOSE calmly grazing the young grass right next to the bustling levee path. At first I didn’t see the CACKLING GOOSE who stayed safely behind the SNOW GOOSE, placing the new friend as a shield between itself and the path’s traffic. The SNOW and CACKLING GOOSE are flock migrants and to see a single member of these species is unusual. Both species mate for life and breed up in the Tundra. They solved the single issue very nicely by befriending each other. During the next few days the CACKLING GOOSE became more brazen and the two GEESE mowed side by side the tender grass along the path. One morning I came around the bend and faced them just a few feet away. The three of us froze in our tracks, staring at each other, assessing the situation. The SNOW GOOSE evaluated me with a direct, penetrating look that made me hope I pass its muster. I started my usual wildlife exit: moving slowly backwards, which seems to cause the least stress to animals and detoured around them while they watched me with great interest. Once they felt satisfied with my conduct, they resumed their mowing. A few days later I saw the MERLIN by the Laurel bridge, the SNOW GOOSE has left…off to Mexico?…leaving the CACKLING GOOSE behind.

we are friends: SNOW GOOSE & CACKLING GOOSE…

For the last couple of weeks the Trestle trees have housed up to 80 CORMORANTS in the mornings. They doze in the rising sun, preen for the day, chatter to each other and make the PEREGRINE and OSPREY mighty unhappy. Neither one will land in their favorite river trees when this CORMORANT crowd is present. The OSPREY perches on the Boardwalk rides, facing the trees, ignoring the harassing CROWS. The PEREGRINE checks to see if its cherished branch is claimed by a CORMORANT, tries to chase the intruder off and if that fails, flies off. Usually the FALCON and the OSPREY perch simultaneously in the trees since there is no food competition between them: the OSPREY is on a stringent fish diet. The other morning I was watching the OSPREY, sitting on the Log ride when I heard the PEREGRINE’s call, whose circling had successfully dislodged the CORMORANT off its favorite branch. That sight proved to be too much for the OSPREY. With lightening speed it plunged onto the PEREGRINE with a high screech, talons extended, ready for attack. The PEREGRINE twisted rapidly sideways with outstretched talons, warding off the OSPREY. The two birds are well known for their amazing speed and plunges, which they executed on each other, screeching to high heaven. Then they both plummeted close to the trees. That development unnerved the huge amount of CORMORANTS and they all exploded out of the trees, filling the air with flapping wings. The surprised fighters flew off in different directions…

OSPREY eyeing the crowded Trestle trees…

I have been exchanging river sightings with Robin, who is also a morning levee walker. It has been fun to find out who Robin sees on the same stretch and swap stories about the feathered river regulars and surprise visitors. It was exciting to learn that he had seen a shy, elusive AMERICAN BITTERN on the north bank a couple of weeks ago. I am looking forward to hearing about Robin’s sightings so that I can share them with you.

elusive AMERICAN BITTERN(google image)

And talking about sharing: I am curious if you have master explaining why you love Nature? Frankly I have never been able to sum up my Nature love with a stunning, crisp statement. Instead I ramble on with various reasons, always feeling my word vocabulary is failing my love. Care to share your experience about defining your Nature love?
Feathered greetings to all of you, jane

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river love confessions…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature lovers,

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spell casting SPOTTED SANDPIPER…

I love the spell a bird can cast on me and charm me as the SPOTTED SANDPIPER did. It started a couple of winters ago, when I caught sight of a small, white chested shorebird across the river, bobbing along a narrow sand bank and then it disappeared and I was left with: ‘who was that?’. Then one morning I saw a little bobbing bird on the rocks by the Trestle bridge, same size, same yellow legs as the previous shorebird, but it had a spotted chest… so was I looking at a different shorebird species? I found out that it was a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, who announces ‘ready to breed-yahoo!’ with brown spots on chest and ‘not-breeding…thank you very much’ with a virgin white chest. It enjoys long, thorough baths that call for a redefinition of cleanliness. It’s really hard to tell the sexes apart, because they look very similar. The female chest spots are supposed to be bigger and you need the male next to her to compare the difference. The female is the one, who chooses and initiates the courtship with her desirable feathered prince and entitles him with the task to incubate their eggs. Last summer I learned the river resident was a female SPOTTED SANDPIPER, because she chased unfit males away. Then one day two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS were facing each other and bobbing vigorously up and down. From then on the two foraged peacefully together on the rocks. I missed them when they disappeared for about 3 weeks and was beside myself with joy when I spotted 2 adults and 4 chicks foraging on the rocks. After some family time the male faded out of the picture and Mama instructed the chicks to find their own foraging terrain. Now the 4 ‘chicks’ are spread out along the Laurel St. and river-mouth section and looking mighty fine.

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spots on chest announce: ready to breed!

I love standing on the river bridges! The height allows me to gaze into the water as well as an extended view up and down the river. But my Wednesday morning view from the Trestle bridge gave me a severe case of the ‘Blues’.  The evening before the City Council had rubber-stamped the Planning Department’s 70’-85’ building height request along Front St., making developers giddy with joy. I stared towards the downtown, knowing that one day 70’ buildings will line the river that are higher than any recently built downtown buildings and 20’ lower than the Palomar. There is no doubt in my mind that this high density building mass will effect the riparian corridor and its wildlife! The heavy, intense, lengthly construction alone, necessary to support such building mass, will create havoc for the river environment. Plus there are three more river projects in the pipeline… our poor river is facing some tough times…

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a view slated to change…

I love those spontaneous connections with other river walkers. On Sunday morning a RED-Shouldered HAWK by the Trestle bridge triggered such an encounter with 2 fellow observers. We exchanged one river bird story after an other, discovered that we have walked the levee for years, that we couldn’t believe we had not met before, that Bob’s neighbor’s Redwood tree gets visited by an EAGLE. Bob mentioned that he had never seen an OSPREY along the river and asked if I had. Just as I launched into my river OSPREY story, he said: “I can’t believe it!” as he looked upriver. I turned to check what he meant and faced the incredible river magic: the OSPREY was flying low towards us with a fish in its talons and pulled up to land in the Trestle tree. We were giddy with the OSPREY’s perfect timing, tried to guess its unusual call and yodeled about Ann and Bob first San Lorenzo River OSPREY sighting. We parted, hoping to meet again to continue our cheery connection.I continued my walk, stopped to watch one of ‘my’ SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and was joined by young man, who asked what I was looking at. He was from Italy, where they nick-name SANDPIPERS “dancers”. Right then the OSPREY passed us, flying very low over the water, racking the surface with its extended legs. The young man watched in awe while the mighty fish hunter repeated its talon cleaning procedure several times, signaling that it had finished its breakfast. We shared how essential Nature experiences were for our soul and emotional well-being. In our good-bye we shared our pleasure to have experieced the river together.

fish
San Lorenzo River’s OSPREY with fish…

river chirps from jane

San Lorenzo River re-entry

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

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little RUDDY DUCK…

In the early morning hours I obeyed the siren’s allure to check on the river after my evening return from Europe. We all know, I love the San Lorenzo River and I was curious to find out how I would experience the river after 3 weeks absence, seeing other landscapes, observing a few other bird species, hearing different languages. My European birding had been meager, because in Venice only the pigeons exist. The other birds dash quickly across the sky. The lack of vegetation and tourist invasion make this architecturally fabulous place difficult for birds to rest and forage. Of course the 11 story high cruise ships, blocking the most beautiful sights, have also done environmental harm: they raise the water level and damage Venice surrounding salt meadows. This condition has severely impacted the local and migratory bird population. There was a noticeable bird population decline in Munich’s English Park, which is a huge area with vast meadows, gigantic trees, creeks and ponds. I am used to seeing a large variety of bird species there, but this time it was feather poor. My friend, who lives next to the park, told me that she has noticed less birds in the last 2 years and that she is missing their songs.

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BUFFLEHEADS are back…

As it turned out it was the perfect day for a river re-acquaintance exploration: the early, calm morning was nudging the wildlife to get ready for breakfast, the regular levee walkers were feasting their eyes on the rising sun over the ocean, stopping to talk about their latest bird observations, WHITE-crowned SPARROWS were warming themselves in the first sun rays and 15 of my beloved migratory BUFFLEHEADS were gently rocking on the water. I soaked in the images of the river, ocean, various birds, butterflies, lizard as they confirmed my long held take on the San Lorenzo River: Santa Cruz is darn fortunate to have such a unique place right in the middle of town. I just let myself drift, didn’t take any notes nor record the birds I saw, instead I just let the river enchant me with its sights, satisfied to realize why I’ll keep advocating for its environmental rights.

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CORMORANTS early morning fishing frenzy…

A few days later I visited the river again and this time the water by the trestle bridge was boiling with 60 foraging CORMORANTS. Fish were jumping out of the water, PIED-billed GREBES were chocking while swallowing oversized fish. COMMON MERGANSERS were torpedo fishing, seals were goosing 24 BUFFLEHEADS, who fled the unsettling scene. The nervous RUDDY DUCK tried to zig-zag  through the hectic fishing crowd. The EARED GREBES kept diving to avoid the water surface traffic jam. 20 SNOWY EGRETS stood fish guard along the shore, ready to pounce on their breakfast. The KINGFISHER kept trying to dive between the mayhem while the OSPREY was perched high up, laconically watching the crazed scene, which made his breakfast dives impossible. It was obvious that the river had laid out one fine banquet for the fishing birds to gorge on. The algae eaters on the other webbed foot, like the MALLARDS and AMERICAN COOTS, were clinging to the shore lines, anxiously staying away from the fishing fever. To be frank: I hope these weren’t steelheads that the birds were devouring…

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EARED GREBES avoiding fishing traffic…

Downstream re-entry greetings from jane

steelhead count up, singing a different tune…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow Nature Lovers,

First off I want to thank all of you, who commented on Bruce’s suggestion to re-evaluate our greeting opening to be more reader inclusive. Some of you expressed that you would welcome a reader acknowledgement cheer. Since Barbara & I write our stories for our blog readers, we’ll be investigating an enticing greeting format. Do let us you what you think of our exploration and thanks Bruce for addressing this topic.

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returning steelhead to San Lorenzo River

As promised, I am back with an update of the Thursday Sept. 21st river seining: The approx. 1113 steelhead haul was biggest the biologists ever had. This unexpected amount exceeded their permit that specifies how many fish can be handled within a certain time to avoid undue stress for fish. So the biologist had to cut their monitoring, etc. short and release most of the steelhead back to the river. I bet the next permit will request for extended monitoring time. Right now there a lot of steelhead and other fish species in the lower river. A big “Hurray” to all, who worked hard on that great turn around for the steelhead population.

Golden Crown Sparrow
GOLDEN-crowned SPARROW(googled)

Yes indeed: the GOLDEN CROWN and WHITE CROWN migrating SPARROWS have arrived in full force along the river. On my levee walks they amuse me with their determined hopping attempts to reach the various seeds of high grasses that have escaped the City maintenance mower and other grass eliminations. This year the GOLDEN CROWN’s mournful song sounds differently. The songs I am hearing in my backyard and by the river don’t have that pitched mourn that I am used to. Instead I am listening to much softer notes, lacking that high pitch. Both species vary their tunes according to regions, which makes me wonder if the present GOLDEN CROWNS are from a different area than the previous ones. If that is the case then where did our sharp pitch migrants go? Are any of you hosting them? I always examine the newly arrived migrants for their appearance: weight, size and feather shine, because it tells stories about their trip and their summer hang out. Both species have arrived looking big, plumb, healthy, feathers shiny and intact. This means that their summer terrain offered a nourishing menu, that they ate well on their journey and they didn’t encounter feather battering storms. Our migratory birds testify how each region supports their environment. A big, alert, bright eyed, calm, healthy, shiny bird had a good life start, which means good habitat protection. So big thanks to you nature stewards and hopefully we send the feathered visitors back in equally good condition. BTW: have you visited Neighborhood Naturalist yet? If not I bet you’ll enjoy this is informative website.

last year's COMMON GOLDENEYE....png
last year’s COMMON GOLDENEYE…

As of yet there haven’t been any San Lorenzo River reports about these winter guests: EARED GREBES, who showed up last year on Sept. 16th, and the COMMON GOLDENEYE, who arrive Sept. 24th/16. According to e-bird these species aren’t frolicking on other local waterbodies either. Previously I lamented about the sparse AMERICAN COOT. So far I have counted 6 COOTS downriver, a far cry from last year’s numbers. It will be interesting to see how migration season unfolded when I return in November. Until then and thanks for keeping an eye on the river, jane

season changes…

Hi Barbara,

escaping parent…

Breeding season has taken its toll on the feathered parents. Their feathers are less shiny, their bodies slim. They are ignoring the food call of their chirping, screeching almost full grown fledglings. Now the parents will fly to locations that don’t allow for their off spring to perch next to them while the young ones circle around, puzzled over this new development. The fledglings settle on a perch close to the parent, puff up and their food calls decline. Then they venture out on their own looking for food. Not all species have that upbringing pattern, i.e. the KILLDEER chick forages right after hatching.

AMERICAN COOT taking a levee walk…

Has anybody else noticed the lack of AMERICAN COOTS on the lower river? As of yet there was one lonely Coot searching for algae, which the red-eyed vacuum cleaners love to devour. This summer we didn’t have our annual lengthily coastal lagoon. The river mouth miraculously never stayed closed long enough to grow the natural occurring algae. Last year at this date we recorded 16 Coots and within a couple of days there were 39 COOTS and 2015 resembled 2016. Is the absent algae a foreboding omen of no COOTS this season? It makes me wonder how the lack of the annual lagoon will affect the river ecosystem. And since I brought up the rarely close river mouth, this might interest you: the river mouth had sand-barred around Sept. 16th, the lagoon formed, water level was rising, causing flooding all the way up to the Benchland and increased the water level further upstream. On the night of 22nd to 23rd the sandbar breached around 2am and the river drained down. Wasn’t the Flood Control work was scheduled to begin on the morning of the 23rd? If so a rock of relief must have fallen off the project supervisors chest.

Biologists hard at work…

On Thursday morning the biologists recorded the fish they had seined earlier. It’s fascinating to watch them work: they stand at a table and each person has an assigned task. Deeply focused they measure, tag, weigh the fish and then return them to the river. I’ll try to find out what the fish count was and hopefully I’ll be able to spread good news about the steelhead count. The fish are running in the river and the CORMORANTS are popping to the surface with fish in their beaks. That reminds me of the scenario I watched at the river mouth: The ocean had several patches where birds were absorbed in some serious feeding frenzy. An un-countable amount of TERNS were swirling through the air, twisting, elegantly diving with successful fish results. The gulls were crazed by their accomplishment and would chase after the TERNS ruthlessly and just wouldn’t let up. The TERNS tried to get away while gulping down the fish, which takes some prey maneuvering. A few times that didn’t work well and they dropped the fish. The gulls, with lightning speed, would race after the desired trophy. I guess that is one way to deal with bad fishing skills…

it’s blooming…

The river plum-tree is blooming and the Coyote Bushes keep on blooming, which I found out is the correct time thanks to a reader. Alan Martin’s creative river video arrived for your enjoyment and I am waiting for the first migratory waterbird to show up….jane greetings

Nature flukes?…not giving up…

Good Morning Barbara,

Lotus from the duck pond
Lotus from the duck pond

I survived the grueling maze of the DEIR for the Downtown Recovery Plan and sent off my comments. I noticed that the Santa Cruz Bird Club concerns for the San Lorenzo River bird population had received some Mitigation Measures attention. Of course I thought the DEIR findings should have addressed the riparian corridor has a complex environment with its biodiverse microclimate ecosystems that interact with the others. Therefore it stands to reason that any impact on one ecosystem effects the others. Instead the Front St. river stretch was removed from its riparian interactive relationship and floated isolated through the DEIR.

blooming now?

So on Friday morning I decided to air out my DEIR soaked brain and go to the ocean, where the stunning absence of birds on the water and in the air surprised me. I saw a few gulls, but didn’t spot any of the usual ocean suspects like the TERNS, PELICANS, CORMORANTS. I went to check on the river mouth, where a dozen gulls were hanging out without any of their customary comrades such as MALLARDS, MERGANSERS, PIED-billed GREBES, CORMORANTS. The vegetation on the bank had no birds flitting through them. Let me tell you that I don’t like such a bird void. It’s creepy!
Thinking that the river would offer some normalcy, I headed for my levee walk. That was a wrong assumption. More perplexities were eager to meet me: the Coyote bushes were blooming and Poppies were birthing new seedlings.

poppy seedling in early fall?

Both plants are supposed to do their deed in spring instead of early fall. This out-of season quirk is making me nervous, because these plants offer early spring food to Birds and Bees. This wasn’t the end of oddities: although I was tickled to finally see 2 CORMORANTS in the river, I was dumbfounded by their behavior. One was circling around the other while showing off what a stunning stick it had it had retrieved. The fine achievement was eyed curiously, which was the cue for the finder to fly off with the stick in tow. I have seen this behavior in the spring breeding season, but not in the early fall. Then 2 KILLDEER were performing their catch-me-if you-can mating dance by the Riverside Ave. bridge while a CLIFF SWALLOW was peeking out of a nest. Now the question is: Did I happen to see a few peculiar Nature flukes or is something else going on?

KILLDEER on wrong schedule?

Your superb Flood Control report offered such an in-depth insight of all the toils ups and downs. I rejoiced what all your hard work has achieved: a better method for the vegetation removal. So you can imagine that I am keen to hear more details about the grievous occurrence that happened next.

Here is my promised ‘bankfull’ update: The City has secured funding to create a ‘bankfull channel’ between Highway 1 and Water St. bridge. The work doesn’t technically qualify as ‘dredging’. This article sums up the background and details. My research about pros and cons for ‘bankfull channels’ has left me in the dark and it’s time to locate an expert.

determined survivors…

I just love my little native survivors! After my failed rescue attempt, resulting in their heartbreaking July mow down, they are struggling back. The Wild-rose, Coyote bush and Yarrow are shyly reappearing and I am not giving up on saving them from the mower.
I am excited about our Sept. 19th radio interview with Bruce Bratton on KZSC.org from 7pm-7:30pm. We’ll have fun talking about our San Lorenzo River….till then, jane

Integration is possible…

preparing the meal...
preparing the meal…

Good Morning Barbara,
Just like you I get drawn in by SNOWY EGRETS and their interesting feeding behavior. They stand in shallow water, preparing for a meal by stirring the mud gently with their yellow feet in hope of raising a food morsel to the surface. The black legs barely quake and the body is motionless while the white beauty stares concentrated at the water. The body tenses just a little, the feet move quicker, the legs quiver faster and then the beak strikes like lightning and spears something, which slowly glides down the throat, visible by the descending bump in the neck. This SNOWY EGRET had located a food treasure chest, because it fed in the same spot for a long time.

got it!
got it!
before Flood Control Work
before Flood Control Work

Thanks to your alert that the Flood Control Work started, I headed bravely down to the Riverine Reach where the crew was working. It’s always hard to see a year’s worth of habitat
vegetation growth being taken down within a few hours. The cut down, bundled willows sadly lined the levee banks. I celebrate your diligent efforts to integrate the Flood Control Work with habitat needs and I can’t wait to read your on-the-scene report.
The next day Shelley and I checked on the work progress, which was in full swing. Afterwards we crossed the Water St. bridge to say ‘Hi’ to our busy friend Alan while a huge HAWK circled over us. The Water St. bridge is good place to watch groups of MALLARDS in the Riverine Reach, but there were only 7 MALLARDS present. We were surprised to find our path blocked at your beloved Benchland by lengthy fencing. We learned that the upcoming Taco & Tequila event also required many toilets.

Benchland fence...
Benchland fence…

So after our detour we stood on the San Lorenzo Park pedestrian bridge and observed the amazing amount of MALLARDS in that river stretch. More than likely the upstream Flood Control chaos had relocated the refugees downstream, triggering squabbling MALLARDS in heated discussions about space claims, resulting in little resting and feeding. This was a perfect example of what happens when birds lose their habitat and have to relocate: the refugees take up habitat space and food from the established bird population and both sides spend a lot of their time and energy on territory fights.The reason is that a habitat section can only support a certain number of bird, especially when they require the same living conditions and food source.The fighting takes a measurable energy toll on the birds. If the birds don’t replenish their energy level with eating and resting their survival and procreation chances go down,i.e. the offspring from a depleted parent is not as strong as a fledgling from a well fed, well rested one. As I looked down at the repeated territory blow-ups, I cringe to think how the wildlife habitat will be impacted by the 7 story buildings along the river from Soquel Ave. to Laurel St bridge where we currently have 1 story structures. It’s hard to understand why a supposedly environment friendly City chooses to ignore the San Lorenzo Urban Plan, which integrates the wildlife habitat protection with the City housing needs with 5 story buildings and instead decides on such heights and building mass right next to a watershed, Open Space area in the floodplain. Well, I circled the Sept. 8th on my calendar: the deadline to submit comments on the EIR for the Front St. 7 & 8 story concept. Did you mark your calendar?

preening feather-do
preening feather-do

Yesterday morning the RED-throated LOON was back, occupied with preening its feather-do while a stunning amount of resting TERNS dusted the beach white.
And next time I’ll tell you about “bankfull” until then, jane