birds in the rain & ‘Nature bathing’

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Bathers,

Rainy season always vividly demonstrates the different behavior of land birds versus waterfowl. My rain approach mimics the land bird precipitation attitude: it’s best to avoid get soaked. I see them huddle together in the protective bushes. Their feathers fluffed up to keep warm as they wait for a rain break. I can tell a break is coming up when the ground-feeders start coming out to feed on seeds. The insect flyers are not so willing to come out for their insect chase while drops are still falling. As soon as the rain eases up, the bush, tree insect eaters start scurrying through the foliage. These distinct actions illustrate the diverse food sources of the various bird species. When there is a vegetation balance then there is a varied assortment of food available and in turn the birds keep the insects in check.

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LESSER GOLDFINCHES feeding on seeds…

The longer I work on the Estuary Restoration Project the more I notice which bird species is lacking food sources on the levee and we plant natives accordingly. Presently I am on a mission to replenish the lost toyon bush trees, because I noticed that the beautiful Cedar-waxed Wings flock had finished off the few berries in no time. It’s interesting to see them fly to the areas where there used to be toyon berries waiting for them in the winter and fall. After observing one too many times the flock head for their old food source patches, make a brief dip and fly on, I am determined to make a positive change for them. You might like to join us making this change at our next Estuary Project day on Sat. 19th from 9-11am at the Riverside Ave. bridge. Click for more info.

The river birds are not perturbed by the rain. They pursue their diving, foraging, meandering  life as the wetness from the sky showers on them. Then again they are used to having their lower body wet all the time…

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PIED-billed GREBE devouring a crab…

Monday morning the river point welcomed me with a fierce, gusty wind, which gave me instantly teary blurred vision through which I peeked at the whipped up ocean and a few flying birds. It was eerie to see the gull bare river shore. One gull flew in, briefly touched down and took of again. The flying birds, who braved the wind, did a lot of sideway drifting, obviously unable to keep their wished for course. I didn’t see one bird on the turbulent ocean surface.

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empty gull shore…

Land and water birds lay low during heavy winds for obvious reasons. Many ocean birds seek shelter on the river during storms and some show wing injuries, which often heal, spending time in the river.P1150409.JPG

The Trestle path is now fenced off. The only construction related activity I have seen has been the big equipment vehicle trying to maneuver the sharp turn up the Boardwalk ramp. It looked like that attempt failed. Meanwhile I am trying to adjust to missing my familiar Trestle path observations spots, not meeting my cherished levee compadres, not visiting with my feathered friends at our customary time and place. Right now I am a drifter, exploring new river routes, so I can still ‘bath’ in Nature, which is like the old Japanese tradition of ‘forest bathing’. This practice promotes balancing out the social, urban living with its crushing impacts and ‘forest bathing’ is considered a form of medicine. I can see the specific benefits of this tradition and I also know that any ‘bathing’ in any of Nature’s territory has a healing effect on many people. How can we not feel refreshed watching a SPOTTED SANDPIPER taking a rigorous bath?P1020490.JPGExploration greetings to all you Nature bathers, jane

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fractions have values…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Lovers,

glorious sunset view from the San Lorenzo River point…

On Saturday I was checking on our newly homed plants by Laurel St. bridge. I was happy to see that they were doing quite well. Of course I wasn’t so happy to see a man and his dog take a short cut through our restoration area, obviously unaware of the baby plants…lesson learned: mark the planting zone more clearly!!
Walking to the next plant section, I watched 4 fishermen unsuccessfully fly-fishing. The empty lines weren’t surprising since the steelhead count is down this year. Earlier I had seen the OSPREY flying low over the fishermen, heading downstream. She was in hunting mode: turning her head side to side, scanning the water for fish. I wondered if she would be able to catch anything with the fishermen blocking her usual hunting grounds. As it turned out, she scored! She returned with a fine catch in her talons, circled twice over the fishermen, who never looked up and missed the testimony of her fine hunting skills. She decided that she was done with the oblivious fellow hunters, flew over to the high Boardwalk ride and devoured her big meal.

OSPREY eating her catch…

The little episode amused me, because so much life happens around us and we only witness a fraction of it. This humbling experience accompanies us birder on every outing and we grin and bear it. We know that we might miss a rare bird sighting as we stare at movement in the dense foliage, which turns out to be a wind rustled leaf.

WESTERN SANDPIPERS amongst A. COOTS…

Then again, I enjoy my fragments: I was watching the WESTERN SANDPIPERS by the trestle cliff rocks, negotiating their foraging path through the unyielding AMERICAN COOTS flock, when suddenly they all exploded into every directions. Had I kept an eye on the Trestle trees, where I had seen the perched PEREGRINE earlier, then I would have caught sight of its plunge for a meal. Instead I watched it return empty taloned to its branch while the agitated A. COOTS were treading water in the middle of the river and the WESTERN SANDPIPERS had disappeared in search of safer shores. Across the river the small BONAPARTE’s gull had only briefly raised its head during the entire turmoil and busily resumed its foraging. A CROW watched the drama quietly from the phone pole without bursting into its usual bombing fit.

Trestle path closure sign…

It was sitting right above City sign, announcing the start of the Trestle path construction, which makes me misty, raises and ruffles my bird protection feathers. Yes, I am concerned that the raptors, falcon, CORMORANTS hunting perches/grounds are going to be impacted for at least 5 months, which will interfere with their feeding, life cycles. The river is their home and the trestle trees are the only high perches along the river edge, which these birds require for their hunting flights and roosting times. If these species feel displaced then they will try new territory, where they will intrude on other birds habitats and decrease food sources and life cycles for all. I know that the birds well being plays second fiddle in the construction scheme and therefore I feel misty for the COOPER, RED-tailed, RED-shouldered HAWKS, the OSPREYS, the PEREGRINES and the CORMORANTS…

PEREGRINE perched on TRESTLE tree branch…

As I was puzzling over the BONAPARTE and CROW behavior, worried about the Trestle tree birds I almost tripped over the brazen YELLOW-rumped WARBLER on the path. It was watching my approach, clearly pleased by my common sense to stop advancing and continued pecking on the ground. My good birding behavior was rewarded with a view of the bright yellow patch on top of its head.

meeting little YELLOW-rumped WARBLER…

A cyclist interrupted our tête-à-tête and a tiny, quick moving bird caught my attention, dashing around in a levee bush next to the path. Its olive-brown body blended right into the vegetation and I had a hard time id-ing it. Then the sun ignited the ruby head spot and I knew it was a RUBY-crowned KINGLET. Both species are migratory birds, whose wintering area stretches all the way down to Mexico.
Thanks to the Sierra Club members, who sent in their ballots. If you haven’t yet then you can still mail it before the extended 1/12/19 deadline.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and may 2019 bring you fulfilling abundance, jane

BLACK PHOEBE’s abundance…

setting it straight…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow River Meanderers,

As you can see: there are no photos in this post, because the apple giant crashed my iPhoto. Consequently this post is different, because I decided to tidy up loose ends and loop back to previously promised info. So wish me luck to get iPhoto back up and yes! in the meantime I’ll be biting my nails.

I want you, our readers, to know that your post comments matter a lot. Your feedback, update information add a lively dimension to our reporting. They are a wonderful way of connecting with you and let other readers share your scoop like these 2 inputs for this post:
As it turns out that I was wrong, when I wishfully wrote: “This is pretty exciting because it indicates that this fish returned to spawn upstream.” in my post ‘steelhead,snakes, migratory arrivals….’ Our fish expert reader pointed out that “ The 363mm re-captured steelhead was not an adult yet. It has been growing since it was first captured. It may have spent time in the lagoon/estuary and even in the Bay since then. Juveniles may grow quite large in the estuary/lagoon, where food is abundant. Most adult steelhead return from the ocean in late fall through spring to spawn, usually at 500 – 600 mm FL or larger. They go upstream as far as they can into their natal streams to spawn.”
Also my excitement ‘about Bayta’s rare San Francisco Garter Snake find‘ received her caution revision: “I consulted with a local naturalist, who he said it could have been a common garter snake that has a red form. Technically I guess the San Francisco garter snake is a sub-species of the common garter snake and are actually genetically identical but have some separation of territories. It’s not impossible it was a SF garter but they do not usually live south of San Mateo. The only way to tell them apart is the size of face plates … I guess the scales.”
I was talking with my birding friend from FT. Bragg about our annual Santa Cruz County bird count that took place last Saturday. She told me that the BRANDT CORMORANTS parents in her area didn’t feed their fledglings. None of the offspring survived and the birders have no explanation for that occurrence. What really stunned me was that this year no BRANDT CORMORANTS have been reported in our County. Of course I wonder if these 2 incidences are related? And what a difference a year makes: 6 PINE SISKINS were spotted this year while 370 were counted last year. Where are those cute little birds?
The Santa Cruz Water Rights Project is a complex issue. It involves many local, State and Federal agencies. The City proposes an increase of year-round diversion at Felton and to include Tait Street in the Project. The concern is that this proposal can potentially reduce the crucial habitat between Felton and Santa Cruz during the summer and dry years. Furthermore the proposed maximum diversion rates at both locations could result in more fluctuation of the lagoon/ estuary levels, impacting steelhead, salmon and bird population. It is hard to assess the Project, which references to the Conservation Plan, which is 18 years late of being completed. The Environmental Committee of the Valley Women’s Club stated in their comment letter that they have concerns about the assessment of population and housing growth on page 32. Their reason is: even if annual water extraction is not increased, the city will be able to extract more during dry and drought years. This will thus increase the available water during those years, with the potential to allowing greater population growth. This brings into question the assertion that, “The Proposed Project would not increase the City’s overall water supply to accommodate growth.” – Like I said before: This is a complex issue and I’ll keep you updated!

I wish you all a very chirpy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year with lots of wonderful river walks. Also cheers to our Sierra Club readers, who will be sending in their ballots before Jan. 12th(new deadline) for their ExCom candidates choices. jane

working for the river future…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Kindred Spirits,

OSPREY in Trestle tree…

For the last two weeks it has been hard to get to the river and I dearly miss my river schmooze time. It’s actually curious how being so involved with the river has curtailed my meandering river sleuthing time. Then again I am really excited about all the activities that prevent my walks, because I am so convinced that they’ll benefit the river and the environment in the long run. This one project of many is really exhilarating: Donna Meyers, one of our new City Council members, and I talked about creating a Downtown Street Team(DST) Natural Resource Stewardship Pilot Program. We envisioned empowering the homeless community members with basic restoration skills to find jobs in the public and private sectors. So we drew up a plan, got the DST Director Greg Pensinger on board as well as the Park & Rec. Department and the City Manger Office.

Downtown Street Team members, Donna Meyers and Susie O’Hara taking part in the Pilot Program

Last week we had our first 2 days, which turned out amazing. The DST members asked really good questions and absorbed the material quickly. On the 2nd day they were able to identify various native plants, lay out a basic restoration work plan and embrace the restoration motto: bless the mess. One participant commented that restoration work required that she let go of her ‘tidy landscape is good’ approach. Donna & I envision that the DST members will be integrated into the river levee plant maintenance and that their skills/approach will benefit the vegetation and consequently the bird and wildlife habitats. For that future I gladly give up my beloved river walks plus it was a lot of fun to work with Donna for our deep mutual love: the environment and the river. Also it has been a truly great pleasure to co-work with all involved so smoothly and be so supported by the City Staff.

one of the reasons for saving the Trestle trees…

The other day I was trying to see if the BURROWING OWL had returned to the Seabright Beach cliff. I looked up at the Trestle bridge trees and was thrilled to see the OSPREY sitting on her branch. Her sight always gives me a sense of peace, because she signals that the river is feeding her and that all is well in her food cupboard. I wonder how she’ll react to the upcoming Trestle bridge construction, which will widen the path. As you can imagine I have been fiercely objecting to any Eucalyptus trees removal, whining continuously to Public Works that the trees HAVE TO BE PROTECTED for the various raptors, PEREGRINE FALCON, OSPREY, CORMORANTS, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS and GREAT BLUE HERONS. The start of the construction has been delayed for a month and is supposed to begin on Dec. 6th.
This will bring disruption to all of us, who frequent the river. Keep your fingers crossed that the construction goes as planned, avoiding time over-runs.

GREAT-BLUE HERON perched in the Trestle trees…

Last not least: are you a Sierra Club member? In that case I want to give you heads-up: in the beginning of December you’ll receive ballot mailer for the election of new Santa Cruz Executive Committee members. So take a look, mark your choices and send it off in time.
And to be perfectly honest: I love to get your vote… and so would Gillian Greensite, who has a long, dedicated environmental history.

Now I am off to the 3rd day of the Pilot Program and send you bright river future greetings, jane

you guessed right: PEREGRINE FALCON in Trestle tree…

steelhead,snakes, migratory arrivals….

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow River Lovers,

Santa Cruz Biologist getting ready to count San Lorenzo River fish

The steelhead fishing season is coming up, which always triggers my river fish population curiosity. So I did some sleuthing and heard this from Chris Berry, Watershed Compliance Manager: Nic Retford, one of his Staff members, recorded the recapture of a fish, who was tagged in June 2017 at 90mm in the lagoon by Jeff Hagar and was recaptured in between Hwy 1 and Water Street by Don Alley at 363mm in September 2018. This is pretty exciting because it indicates that this fish returned to spawn upstream. The final 2018 fish report will be out in June 2019 and I suspect that it will show lower steelhead numbers than last year according to my various fish conversations. The main topic amongst fish protectors is the proposed year-round water diversion by the City of Santa Cruz Water District. I promise to tell you more about this topic the next time.
What a snake coincidence! We both had scaly encounters within 2 weeks. It was thrilling to read about Bayta’s rare San Francisco Garter Snake find, which supports my suspicion: we actually have no idea how much wildlife the San Lorenzo River harbors. My encounter was with a Gopher snake thanks to my neighbor, who stopped her levee walk to ask about the new bird influx and of course I eagerly shared my ‘who is who’ knowledge. As we talked I kept having this eerie feeling of being watched, but I didn’t see any people or land birds in the shrubs.

Gopher Snake(googled)

Because Nature has been teaching me patiently that her dimensions extend beyond the eye level, I scanned every direction and looking down I found my ‘feeling watched’ culprit: a young Gopher snake with its body still half hidden in a ground squirrel tunnel, had its head slightly tilted in my direction and was starring straight in my eyes. Ever protective me instantly stepped between the neighbor’s dog and the snake and was surprised that dog hadn’t triggered a snake dash off reaction. Yes! the rumor is true: I dream of a river grant for an extensive fauna and flora study to gain some baseline data.

EARED GREBE among friendly AMERICAN COOTS…

I bet you would have been quite surprised to see one of your beloved PIED-billed GREBES chase after one of your migratory favorites, the EARED GREBE.
This lone cousin was foraging peacefully at the Riverside Ave. bridge when the PIED-billed GREBE appeared out of nowhere and attacked the relative. The EARED GREBE cleared the space with loud protesting sounds and nestled in with a small flock of amiable AMERICAN COOTS. The PIED-billed GREBE kept watching the group and when the EARED GREBE started to leave the safe assembly, the feisty locale readied for an other attack. The EARED GREBE dashed back to the migrant friendly AMERICAN COOTS. This was the first time that I have seen one of the usually docile PIED-billed GREBES act so hostile towards an other species.

COMMON GOLDENEYES are back in full force…

There are still 5 perky tailed RUDDY DUCKS sleeping the day away by the Riverside Ave. bridge. The COMMON GOLDENEYE are back in full force. On Sunday 30 COMMON GOLDENEYES were spread out between the river mouth and Riverside Ave. The BUFFLEHEAD are not as well represented as of yet and I hope there will be more coming in. Up to 40 PELICANS have adopted the river shore in the last week. The river mouth is open and the seals are trolling the river. I think they are goosing the CORMORANTS under water, because they pop out of the water like black rockets as the slick ocean swimmer slinks by.

frolicking PELICANS at the river shore…

Wishing all of you a pleasant Thanksgiving and the San Lorenzo River critters invite you to take an enjoyable levee walk, jane

putting on the ‘observation cap’…

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow Nature Adorers,

The other morning I returned to the Fox Park trees, because the day before the trees had been humming with bird rustles and chirps but it was overcast & gloomy. This condition is hideous for me, because everything turns gray and flat. For the world of me, I can’t tell if I am looking at a leaf or a bird unless the bird sits right in front of me. My return was greeted by a sunny bird poor scenery. I decided to leave the bird barren Fox Park and head upstream. There were a few migratory LESSER GOLDFINCHES harvesting the tule seeds and the ground feeding WHITE- and GOLDEN-crowned SPARROWS were out-doing themselves with their hilarious soil-scratch dance, hopping around on their pink translucent legs.

dozing RUDDY DUCKS…

I caught sight of a group of sleeping birds on the river with their heads partially hidden underneath their wings. Their perky tails gave them instantly away as RUDDY DUCKS. They are one of our many winter guest species: a small, diving DUCK, who feeds at night and sleep-floats during the day. They come from the inland of Canada and some prefer to winter in Mexico. The sleepy drifters kept their heads tucked in, but would open one eye, look at me, close their eye again and return to Morpheus arms. The nosey AMERICAN COOTS just had to satisfy their curiosity and swam right into the middle of the clustered newcomers. The RUDDY DUCKS raised their heads, stared intently at the white beaked intruders, who realized they were not welcome and quickly rowed away. Then I focused on the trees, but they weren’t hosting any birds. Later on I told my birding friend about this experience and he said that his fall walks are filled with bird feast or famine presence. Have you encountered that same ‘Where are they?” sensation?

thinning berm…

My long time friend visited me and I schlepped her to the river outlook on Thursday, because I wanted to check on the old river mouth where the day before a bulldozer had moved sand to the side. We saw a real narrow berm that begged to be breached. And indeed: when we returned on Friday the river was drained. Together we stared at the changed scenery, the HEERMANN’S gulls and wondered what had happened.

HEERMANN”S gulls..

A few days later I found out what had happened from a river compadres: Friday morning the berm was a sliver and a group of people discussed how easy it would be to breach it. A surfer couldn’t take the temptation any longer, went down to the river mouth, dug a channel with his hands through the thin berm, the water couldn’t resist the offer to flow and thus the river was drained…Now this part stunned me: supposedly a City employee left when the surfer started digging, because he couldn’t watch it and nobody reported the illegal, broad daylight breaching.

old river mouth opened up…

Last week was just stuffed with campaign buzz and frenzy as you well know. I admire your élan, vim and vigor that you apply to the causes and candidates, dear and important to your heart and soul. In our current political situation voting is a necessity to save our moral sanity, the environment and a balanced future. Thank haven I can go to the river and visit that old time friend, who gifts me zany surprises and links me back into the present moment. I slip off the ‘worrying coat, slip on the ‘observation cap’ and smile once again at the Bufflehead’s quirky landing.
And now I am off to VOTE! and wishing birds could VOTE too… jane

who would the birds vote for?

shore discoveries…

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow Nature Ramblers,

male RUDDY DUCK’s summer outfit admired by AMERICAN COOT…

My recent state makes me sympathetic for the sailor’s spouse, who walks the shores and scans the horizon for the returning boat of her beloved. My eyes hope to detect the returning black and white migratory river fowl on the waters. It’s getting towards the end of October and our winter guests will begin to drizzle in. The EARED GREBE is usually the first to show up, but this year that tradition was interrupted by a male RUDDY DUCK, who decorated the river scene with his summer outfit.

dismantled pipe…

The river mouth is closed, the useless pipe has been removed from the Main Beach, the water is rising and the Benchland grass area is closed off for maintenance reasons and the algae is forming cluster islands. These are much cherished for different reasons by the MALLARDS, AMERICAN COOTS and PIED-billed GREBES: the MALLARDS & AMERICAN COOTS mumph away on the algae and the PIED-billed GREBES anchor themselves in the greenery, which prevents that unwanted drifting. In the early mornings there will be up to 7 moored sleepers in the islands while the other 2 species gently nibble the edges away. Last week several PIED-billed GREBES shared their berth arrangement with 3 NORTHERN SHOVELERS. Obviously this time of year is pretty exciting, because you just don’t know who is parading around on our river.

3 moored NORTHERN SHOVELERS…

And while I walk the shores I keep my eyes wide open for my beloved BUFFLEHEADS…waiting eagerly for their annual return…and on Sunday morning my anticipation ended: 2 birders told me that they had spotted 2 Buffleheads north of the Riverside Ave. bridge. After refraining from thank-you-kissing them for the great news, I rushed off to welcome ‘my‘ BUFFLEHEADS back. My heart yodeled with joy when I located them swimming on our river.

BUFFLEHEADS are back…

As I was walking the Trestle path the OSPREY was flying in with a fish in its talons and I instantly wished that Junko Yoshida was there to see this.

San Lorenzo River OSPREY enjoying her catch…

I had met her a few days earlier in the same location, because she had hoped to photograph the OSPREY catching fish. Ever since reading “Why the OSPREY?” she has been on the lookout for our white and black river fisher. She didn’t know she had a passion for raptors until she left the shores of Japan and saw them here.

Junko Yoshida’s took this photo of the San Lorenzo River RED-shouldered HAWK…

Junko showed me the results of her passion, which were various exquisite big bird photos. Her river RED-shouldered HAWK pics are stunning. I just had to ask if I could post them on the blog so you all could enjoy them too. So here they are including her charming story:
“Hi Jane,
It was very nice to meet you in person yesterday! Here are some red-shouldered hawk photos I took on my riverwalk last week.
At first I saw a pair of red-shouldered hawks perched on a street light pole near Pearl Street. Soon after I photographed them, a female just flew away. Typical reaction by hawks. But the male hawk just flew for 50 feet, perched on the chainlink right on the river path. A jogger passed by him really close, then another walker passed by. He just stayed there.

RED-Shouldered HAWK photographed by Junko Yoshida…

He did not seem to be afraid of people, not typical behavior for hawks. I point my camera and photographed him. He just looked right back at me. Got his really close face shot. I felt grateful he let me do so. He flew again for another 60 feet, then perched on another light pole. I could photograph him there, too.”
Happy BUFFLEHEAD greetings & here is to YES! on Measure M, jane