river puzzling…

Good Morning Barbara and fellow Naturaphiles,

LONG-tailed DUCK getting ready for tail attack…

Remember my last post about the dive crazed, shy Long-tailed DUCK? Well, that very same little, compact DUCK adjusted nicely to the feathered river life rhythm. It floated relaxed on the water, curiously eyeing the birders, who flocked to the levee to see its rare appearance. My birder friend wanted to see it. So we headed to the spot, where I had seen the DUCK for the last few days, sunbathing on a rock close to the shore. And sure enough: there was the LONG-tailed DUCK, snoozing the morning away. As we admired it, one eye opened, took us in and closed again. A young MERGANSER was circling the coveted sun spot, obviously hoping for a friendly rock sharing experience. The feathered teenager came slowly closer, casually hung out next to the enticing rock then ever so gingerly climbed up, clinging to the rock’s edge. A few seconds later the MERGANSER sought a more cozy position, which entailed turning its back towards the rock owner, who gave it a thorough examination, decided that sight was not appropriate and delivered a well aimed, feisty peak to that derrière. The MERGANSER wagged the tail and didn’t take the hint to move it. So the attacks were repeated until the intruder got the message and slid off the boulder. Satisfied the LONG-tailed DUCK watched the rude guest swim off to smaller lounging place, never ever getting up from its resting repose.

the 15′ buffer zone gets marked…

On Saturday I saw the official announcement in the Sentinel for the Flood Control Work. My heart already broke on Wednesday when I found out about the early July 16th start date, which is one month sooner than last year. In 2017 the bulldozers entered the Flood Control area after August 15th and finished their work before the Oct. 15th cut-off time. The environmentalists & birders were thrilled, because the 2017 date corresponded to their repeated plea to adhere to the Federal/State Feb.1st-Aug.15th protected bird breeding season. They wrote letters of praise to the Public Work’s Staff for their welcomed schedule change and urged that this timeline should be repeated in 2018. After all it is possible to include positive environment consideration in planing the necessary work schedules as Sonoma demonstrates. So seeing on black & white that the old way had returned was hard to take!! Some people ask me why I get so upset about the untimely vegetation bulldozing in the riparian corridor, because after all the birds can just fly away. Well, actually fledglings are lousy flyers. Furthermore bird offsprings benefit greatly by going through an undisturbed growth cycle. The valuable time of proper feeding, resting, flying practice, allows them to grow into strong, healthy adults, who will have better survival chances. Birds mature quickly and so every day matters in their growth process. That’s why one extra month makes such a vital difference and because they are denied that time my heart breaks for them.

Cliff Swallow fledglings being fed…

This morning you and I were drawn to the work site like moths to light to watch the scope of work being carried out. The bird alarm sounds had accompanied my walk to the area, where the bird precaution talk had been completed, the biologist was monitoring the site, the 15’ buffer zone was being marked, the tools were active, the native plants were getting flagged and you had spotted the PIED-billed GREBE nest in the river. I am sure we’ll be back to-morrow to check out the new river look.

juvenile duckling chasing tiny ones…

Sometimes I observe unusual bird behavior, i.e. this one: on Sunday a loud, agitated MALLARD squabble echoed over the water. I saw several MALLARDS swimming back and forth, rising half way out of the water and charging at each other. It looked like male behavior during breeding season. Getting closer I was surprised to see 2 female adults, 4 almost full grown, 1 juvenile and 2 tiny ducklings. The 2 adult females were battling each other, the 4 almost full grown ones were charging at the juvenile and the 2 itty ducklings. One of the adult females flew off, leaving 2 pitiful peeping ducklings behind. As if that wasn’t enough the 4 almost adults started chasing them, assisted by the 1 juvenile. The deserter came back, called her 2 ducklings and they swam upstream. The 4 trouble makers followed them, vocalizing soft sounds continuously when suddenly they swam across the river. There they squawked loudly to high heaven while one after the other raised their bodies, flapped their wings wildly, dove under, came up and repeated this unique behavior. Once they were done with that, they returned demurely and escorted Mama and ducklings down the river while whispering soft sounds continuously…
Signing off with kind river greetings to you all, jane

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celebrating the new…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow Nature fans,

survivors allowed to stay…

I have some wonderful news to share: the ‘survivors’ were allowed to survive the recent mowing! The City maintenance crew did a fabulous job of weaving the mower around the native plants thanks to the direction of their Field Supervisor. What is so thrilling is that he had listened to my ‘survivors’ plea and integrated it into this year’s mowing. And what a pleasant visual it created: native plants form green wildlife friendly oases along the path instead of brown, barren ground. Now the natives can spread and fill in along the path, which will cut down on mowing, consequently save time and money. The best part is that wildlife will have food sources and shelter over the summer, which had been eliminated in the past. As you can imagine: I am celebrating this very positive win-win scenario!

when survivors where not allowed to stay…

The other morning I was checking the river mouth and I heard the distinct KILLDEER alarm sound. It took me a while to locate the source down by the Seabright beach, because their bodies blend in so well with the background. The KILLDEER was sitting on a tuft of vegetation in the sand. Since they are famous for flimsy nests in unsafe locations, I wondered if she was breeding, which would be a little late for the season. All of the sudden a little KILLDEER chick popped out from underneath the mother. Chicks’ slip underneath their mothers when danger is close by and she lowers her body to hide them.

KILLDEER chick slipping underneath Mama…

The first time I saw that protection behavior the mother had 4 feather puffs hiding underneath her and not a trace of them was showing. Interestingly this mother didn’t have a co-parent and so was performing double duty. Usually one parent keeps an eye on the offspring, which is not an easy task, because the little ones are a bundle of energy, careening around like spinning tops. Meanwhile the other parent performs the never ending task of keeping the two safe. I got exhausted watching her doing all these tasks on her own!
The same morning the Fruit Orchard Killdeer parent was incredibly preoccupied protecting their one bundle-of-joy from any potential danger: the CROWS needed to get chased away, the ground-squirrels had to be kept at a safe distance, the MALLARD Mama and her ducklings were told in no uncertain terms they were not welcome to come ashore and when a third adult KILLDEER arrived it had to be set straight about that idea. The arrival of the intruder had me wondering if this was the ‘lost’ partner of the lone Seabright beach parent…

single parent on ground-squirrel duty…

An ‘odd’ duck became my ‘mystery’ bird for two weeks. The first time I saw it by Trestle bridge I thought it was a small, peculiar colored female MALLARD. That proved to be wrong, because it kept rapidly diving for extended times. The ‘mystery’ duck was hell bound to avoid any identification efforts. It would show up on the other side of the river, where I couldn’t get a clear view of its markings. The few times it was closer it teased me with rigorous diving activity with just enough time to catch some white eye marking. So I ended up with dozens of blurry diving rings pics. and non the smarter who I was looking at. Then James Maughn posted on MBB list that he had seen a female LONG-tailed DUCK on the San Lorenzo River. When I saw his photos, I knew that he had solved the mystery, because I recognized the white eye marking.

is she flirting with the photographer James Maughn?

The LONG-tailed DUCK has some ‘odd’ characteristics amongst the duck species: it spends most of its time under water, sets the record with its 200 feet dives and its vocalizations. They breed in the high Arctic, flocks pass the non-breeding season flying low over the high sea/ big lakes where the males show off their finest plumage. Their breeding grounds have rich oil and gas resources. This poses high risk to their breeding grounds and their population on the west coast is declining. That is one more reason to voice our opposition to opening the Arctic to drilling. So I do hope many of you get to visit the river and see the unusual guest, jane

effects have causes…

Good Morning Barbara & Nature Celebrators,

flirting CASPIAN TERNS…

I am a firm believer that talking with people is a treasure chest that is filled with informational jewels, just waiting to be discovered. The other morning my treasure trove was dressed up as my neighbor on his levee run. We always exchange bird sightings and because he is a Marine Biologist, he always reveals some interesting inside stories. When I mentioned the strong, steady presence of the CASPIAN TERNS this year, he wondered if that was due to the Columbia River situation, which raised my river  immediately. That’s because in my world view the Columbia water is a cousin to our San Lorenzo River, consequently connected. He told me that the hatchery had to supply the Columbia with salmon to counteract the river dams, which unbalanced the salmon population. The TERNS had overpopulated there, because the Army Corps of Engineers with their paper wise thoughtfulness had supplied the skilled feathered fishers with breeding ground right next to the open door to the eternal full fish larder. The situation got so bad that now attempts are underway to discourage the CASPIAN TERNS airbnd stay. The same state of affairs applies to the CORMORANTS, who also dipped into the salmon feast. My neighbor mentioned that TERN and CORMORANT sightings had increased along the coast since the displacement efforts had started. Maybe that explains those long lines of CORMORANTS close to the river mouth.

CORMORANTS visiting river cousin?

That was painful to see! As you know, I am on a mission to safe the survivors from the 2003 San Lorenzo Urban River Plan(SLURP). These native plants were part of a huge Restoration Project that cost a lot of money and took much work and time. As I told you before, I have a soft spot and admiration for the feisty plants that have persisted through repeated mowing down, vandalism and various abuses. After the last unfortunate mowing debacle, the plants had finally fought their way back and the future looked bright because I discovered open City minds for a friendly plant survivors’ approach. So I was heartbroken when I saw the Boardwalk parking path: once again the blooming Wild Roses had been shaved down to the bare ground. I know that the City levee maintenance crew didn’t do that. This left the Seaside Co. as the potential culprit, because their maintenance crew thrives on spiffing up the levee for Holidays and Memorial weekend was just 2 days away. Unfortunately their interest/knowledge in native plants and bushes is obviously pitiful low.

Wild ROSE all gone…

The bird parents are so busy feeding their fledglings that they have no time for any lengthly perching. They are climbing towards their peek parenting season and it shows: they get thinner while the brood gets fatter and grows at accelerated speed. It’s amazing to watch all the various happenings: the CROWS chasing the RED-shouldered HAWK, who is eyeing the KILLDEER nest as potential fledgling food, the TOWEES protecting their nest in the low bushes, the BLACK PHOEBE carrying bugs to the nest, the MERGANSERLINGS flitting to catch fish… There are only a few non parents, who bath in their resort mode and the RED-breasted LOON and female COMMON GOLDENEYE are 2 of them. Both are migratory birds that are spending their summer with us.

river mouth impressive sand pile…

Have you had a chance to take a look at the river mouth lately? If you did, I bet you thought you had ended up in the Sarah Dunes by accident. The sand pile by the Main Beach is just mind blowing high. It will be part of the berm along the river mouth that meanders towards the Main Beach side. The berm’s purpose is to prevent the summer lagoon from flooding the Boardwalk Beach. Every year I watch with fascination if and when the river mouth gets breached. I assure you: It beats mystery movies.  So be sure to come to the river, because it’s never dull down here, jane

let’s connect to avoid disconnect…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Lovers,

dreamy early morning…

Sometimes the river mornings are truly exquisite. The momentum is dreamy, peaceful and soothing. The birds are slowly waking up, a few are still sleeping, some are getting ready forage and others are sitting in their favorite spots, surveying serenely their territory. Even the CROWS are quietly walking on the shore next to the sleeping MALLARD while the SPOTTED SANDPIPER is slowly wading through the water and the RED-throated LOONS is drifting in the current. Other mornings the wildlife activity is in full swing. The head down, tail in the air MALLARDS are eating their early morning meal, the RED-shouldered HAWK is gliding over the banks, triggering the alarm calls amongst the river wildlife residents as they rush for cover. The GREEN HERON is following the CORMORANT in the hope that its quick breakfast beak will spear a fleeing fish along the shoreline.

active early morning …

Last week I got a call from a river lover, who was really concerned and upset about the EBB and FLOW light installation on the Soquel Ave. bridge. I wasn’t aware of the 12 metal poles on each bridge side holding the light cables. Of course my first thought landed on the active CLIFF SWALLOW nests underneath the bridge ledges. Since I wanted to see for myself what the caller had talked about, I found myself standing on the levee path by the bridge, watching the installer put the final touches on the installation. There were about a dozen CLIFF SWALLOWS circling above the bridge and none entered a nest in the 50 min. I spend at the site. I couldn’t help but think that the construction had/was impacting their breeding/nesting activity. It was hard to know if intact nests were active or not. Naturally I wondered about the broken nests: were they destroyed by drilling vibration to mount the 6 bolts into each pole base? Were they old nests? Unfortunately my CLIFF SWALLOW nest outreach to other birders and river lovers didn’t turn up any factual details.

the puzzling CLIFF SWALLOW nests….

So I am left with the questions: Why celebrate the river with a light installation that effects the protected migratory birds and other wildlife? How and where did that disconnect happen? Don’t get me wrong! I love art, I love people celebrating nature. I just happen to think that nature has to have a voice at the planning table to avoid these kind of disconnects.

12 light show poles…

I relish meeting up with one of my river enjoyers on the levee walk. It’s the perfect setting to exchange our latest ‘ feather news’. The other day I saw Robin on the levee while I was trying to decipher why 2 gulls were having this insane interaction. One gull had the other by the neck, trying to push it under water, both their wings flapping wildly. The neck biter succeeded to keep the other submerged and I was sure the poor thing was drowning, because its wing action was becoming slower and weaker. It gathered all its force, resurfaced and attempted to return the vicious favor to its opponent. As we watched the disturbing scene, we contemplated several scenarios: ‘ it’s a territorial issue’, ‘it’s a mating ritual’, ‘it’s a food fight’, ‘have no idea what’s going on…’.

disturbing gull scene…

And then John walked up and told us he had just seen Mama MERGANSER and her 11 ‘merganserlings’ (as Robin calls them), which send us into a swoon festival about this adorable family. Separately each one of us had kept an eye on them for the last three weeks and whenever we meet up, we rejoice that the Mama has managed to keep ‘our’ merganserlings safe, inline and healthy. We have observed them resting on the log, torpedo-ing for food through the water, checking out the tule larder and cheered their rapid growth. Obviously they have charmed us. The other day 2 ‘merganserlings’ surfaced, hanging on to the same fish: one had hold of the head, the other was clamping down on the tail. The lively fish tugging stopped the other siblings in their tracks, viewing the spectacle from a safe distance. The winner got so occupied with its meal that it missed the family departure. Realizing that everyone was downstream, the little one raced after them, looking like it was running on the water surface.
Celebrating connecting…jane

portray of ‘our’ MERGANSER family…

sharing river experiences with you…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow River Aficionados,
Last Saturday we were heading downtown along the river levee when a big white dog and a woman in the Mike Fox fruit orchard send me into high alarm mode. I whipped the car into an illegal parking spot, exploded out of the car, stopped traffic crossing the street, took a deep breath and told the woman and her five friends that the KILLDEER had returned to the orchard for an other ground nesting attempt. I explained that the mother would try to distract them from the nest by leaving it and faking a broken wing. The woman welcomed the explanation, because it shed light on her baffling encounter with the KILLDEER, who was now standing on the roof across the street, watching us intently. I emphasized that it was important for people and dogs to stay clear of the nest and that bird predators made nesting success hard enough as it was. After showering the group with more KILLDEER nesting habits, the group pledged to stay away from the nest, furthermore protect it from the CROWS and the RED-shouldered HAWK. We parted, exchanging Thank Yous, because now our common goal was the safety of the KILLDEER nest.

let’s protect the KILLDEER nest…

Many of you have gathered rich river tales and observations and to-day I am sharing two reader responses to my river walk discoveries… I enjoyed how their input added new layer to the post. I thank the musical Michael Levy and Mac for permission to quote them.
Here is Michael and Batya’s encounter with a Mallard family:
‘Batya and I found a mom mallard with 12 ducklings (the same family?) in a very urban place on Saturday afternoon: At the meeting of Pacific Ave. and Front St. South of Laurel. They were at the base of the old stone steps that used to lead up to a Victorian manor on Beach Hill (gated off now). She was trying to lead them up the steps but they couldn’t make the leap. We were terrified that she would lead them out into the street, which seemed dangerous even though there was a crosswalk right there. With a minimum of shepherding from us, she eventually opted to lead them on the sidewalk up Front Street toward the arena and Laurel St. I almost died from the cute factor, but was pretty worried about them too. Before reaching the arena, she veered into the property of the mental health facility with the ducklings in tow, and I am not sure if they could get access to the river that way. I sure hope so. We headed for dinner downtown and I hope they got dinner at Cafe San Lorenzo, because I am not sure how long duckling energy supplies last away from water and its yummy edibles.’

ducklings eating yummies…

Mac wrote that he had seen ‘a couple of times masked Weasels near the River Walk section that is near Pet Smart and Ross’s, which is to say between Hwy 1 and Water Street. They seem to like when the embankment has a lot of rocks that they can use for cover.’ To my great relief he also mentioned that Weasels primarily feed on rodents. He suggested to google the Long-tailed Weasel( Mustela frenata) for more info.

googled masked Weasel

The other morning a SNOWY EGRET was having a hell of a time eating its breakfast by the Riverside Ave. bridge. It had scored a good sized fish, that refused to go down the feared tunnel beak. Every time the white eye candy stretched the neck upward the fish slipped out. The SNOWY EGRET stared thoughtfully at it in the shallow water, picked it up again, tried to line it up for the big swallow, just ending up with same result. The fish drama took its final beak curtain when the wader managed to open its beak extremely wide and finally swallowed the slippery breakfast. After that stunning feat, it kept opening and closing its beak as the fish lump was sliding down the neck, which shows that eating well doesn’t mean it’s easy. Cheers to you all, jane

SNOWY EGRET w/breakfast challenge…

river walk discoveries…

Good Morning Barbara & Fellow Nature Fans,

CORMORANTS & LOONS at the river mouth

For the last two weeks the large amount of CORMORANTS has been truly stunning. They gathered outside the river mouth, where they line up in the hundreds in long lines or cluster in groups. The various migratory LOONS swam amongst the black crowd, unperturbed by the coming and going of the CORMORANTS. It’s the first time that I have seen so many of these 2 species congregate in one area.

Weasel (googled)

You won’t believe who I saw down by the river. A WEASEL! At first I thought the sun was playing tricks with a ground-squirrel’s coloring in the tule, but then the body shape and tail didn’t seem quite right for a ground-squirrel. In the hope of getting a better look at the critter, I stared intensely at the spot where it had disappeared. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some movement further down and there was the weasel, just walking around on the sandbank. So the rumors about river weasels are true. I admit that on one hand I was thrilled to know that the river habitat housed a weasel. On the other hand I was worried about the eggs of the nesting birds. Let’s hope the weasel’s diet needs are met in other ways.

Mama heads for the rocks…

The other day I heard the ducklings “Mama” peeps. And sure enough there they were, paddling at high speed down the river and no Mama in sight. This scene is the telltale sign that the mother was separated from her brood. She usually flees from a male Mallard, who can’t believe she doesn’t desire him. Last year I observed a similar scenario. So here I am again, watching the tiny feather balls panicked search for their Mama. Scanning the river I see no beak nor feather of her. Now I am getting panicky too, because this unprotected little brood is extremely vulnerable to predators. I hear quaking above me, followed by a landing splash. The ducklings race over to her and so does a male Mallard. She protests and leads her offspring up the bank rocks. The male has second thoughts about rock climb and hesitates. She grabs his pause by the feathers and hides her treasures between the rocks. Just then I see a dark shape plunge down 8’ from me. It’s the RED-shouldered HAWK, flying off with a rat in its talons. I confess that I was very relieved that the HAWK didn’t chose little ducklings for breakfast. I did feel sorry for the rat though…

CLIFF SWALLOWS collecting mud…

The CLIFF SWALLOWS are in high gear at the river bridge to get their nests ready for the eggs. They are gathering mud in very specific spots along the shore lines, obviously selecting the best quality of mud for successful nest building. Have you ever seen them hover over the ground, touch down quickly, peck up some mud, fly off to their nests, deposit that little mud piece and repeat the whole process for about 20 min.? Then they abruptly stop and perform their insect zig-zag hunt again. I used to think that they finished collecting mud, because their nests were completed. That is not the case since nest construction takes 1-2 weeks to apply the 1000-1400 mud pellets. Maybe they stop, because the mud changes consistency after they removed the top layer?

LAZULI BUNTING (googled)

My river walks are so filled with new discoveries, visits with familiar human and feathered friends. There is the glittering ANNA’s HUMMINGBIRD, siting on top of one of its two favorite trees. The other day I surprised myself when my “Hi, little fellow” greeting floated up to the well known beauty. The RED-shouldered HAWK has taught me to enjoy its majestic presence without taking photos. Now the relaxed rapture perches on the path signs when I pass by and disappear down the levee. A migratory LAZULI BUNTING teased me with its blue feathers when foraging through thick foliage. It had mercy on my questioning eyes and landed on a bare branch, allowing me to see its full beauty. As you know, I love connecting with other river lovers, so I like to introduce you to Palika Benton. She also writes about her San Lorenzo River experiences and I think you enjoy her tender river encounters.
Love to see you down by the river and just maybe you like to join us on Sat. 19th for the Estuary Project, jane

little MERGANSER catching a ride…

WHAT…?

Good Morning Barbara and fellow Nature Compadres,
I love all my contemplations that get triggered during the levee walks. It turns my river visits into adventurous explorations. All too often there is just one more sighting that seduces me to stay a little longer than planned. Frankly I don’t have much willpower to resist the call of Nature, which means that the dishes pile up in my sink since there are just so many hours in the day…

male Bufflehead…now?

What is the male BUFFLEHEAD doing on the river? The BUFFLEHEADS males migrated over 2 weeks ago and since then I haven’t seen feather or beak of a male. But there he was: paired up with a female. Did they arrive together or did he choose one of the 2 left behind spinsters? The last remaining COMMON GOLDENEYE kept her eyes on the couple from a safe distance.

lush survivors…

Well, I am once again on my crusade to save the survivors from the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan planting. As I mentioned before, these feisty natives are determined to buck repeated radical mowing and claim their right to live. Right now they are lush, green and spreading with vim and vigor. So keep your fingers crossed that my flag markers don’t keep disappearing, that my weeding circles around them help, that alerting maintenance staff to their location will save-guard their growth future.
The two RED-throated LOONs are still on the river, obviously avoiding the long trip up north. The red ‘getting-ready-to-mate’ marking on one of the birds is getting brighter and more distinct each day. So far that exterior signal hasn’t sparked the interior flame to migrate to the breeding grounds. Instead the RED-throated Loon lallygags on the water, takes a rest on the shore by the Riverside Ave. bridge, hangs out with other LOON, forages a little, evidently soaking up the pleasant Estuary life.

RED-throated LOON ignores red neck message

What great fun that was to introduce over 80 Mission Hill High Middle school students to the San Lorenzo River birds! Kathleen Crocetti’s art class students will be doing a mosaic bird mural along the river path across from Trader Joe’s. In preparation for the project she asked me to give a presentation to 3 classes about the river birds to be topped off with levee field trips. None of the students had ever birded before and two other birders joined me to open the students’ eyes to river’s bird cornucopia. It was really special to watch how a bird would leave one student cold while an other one was thrilled to high heaven by the bird.

PEREGRINE rendezvous…

This Sunday morning two regular levee visitors told me that they had heard Peregrine calls in the Trestle trees as an other one flew in, briefly perched and then 3 PEREGRINES flew out of the tree. One looked like a juvenile, who just might be the result of an earlier PEREGRINE rendezvous. PEREGRINES nest on cliff and building ledges. That made us wonder if the offspring had fledged somewhere nearby on the cliffs.

before…

The next time you drive by the T-intersection of Ocean St. & San Lorenzo River Blvd. be sure to check out the progress we made along the rock wall thanks to the 6 Downtown Street Team(DST). They joined the Estuary Project last Saturday to clear the weeds around previous year’s natives planting. The members worked hard and did a mighty fine job as you can see.

looking good...
looking good…

So when you see the yellow shirted DST group on the levee, be sure to thank them for helping change the river image.

DST crew making a change…

Thank you so much for your kind words for my 2018 Volunteer Award that came my way unexpectedly. To-day I just might get teary-eyed when I receive that honor…
Sending you spring river chirps, jane