river dream…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow River Friends,

many critters live along the river…

As you know, I love to talk endlessly about the river. Jean Kratzer from the new Santa Cruz radio station innocently asked me if I was willing to be recorded as we talked on levee walk about the San Lorenzo River. She is working on a river story for her program. I was in heaven and the birds obviously were in support of my opinion that their habitat is an amazing treasure. The migratory RED-throated LOON rocked on the river, watching us looking at it. The COOPER HAWK swooped down, landed on the bank, which really infuriated the KINGFISHER. The much smaller bird so no reason to hold back with her territory screeches and bomb-dived the bigger bird merciless. Clearly both their hunting opportunities were ruined and the COOPER HAWK took off. Just to be sure that it understood clearly to never ever enter the KINGFISHER’S hunting area again, the fishing expert chased the HAWK quite a distance inland, stressing her fortissimo message with blitz-y attacks. Upon return the KINGFISHER flew back and forth near the abandoned SWALLOW nests, which was unusual. That came to a dead stop when the down stream KINGFISHER was trying to sneak by her. So off she went to set the next intruder straight. One of Jean’s questions was: What was my dream version for the San Lorenzo River? That question tempts for a long answer, because of the many components that play into making my dream come true. All too often the river issues receive quick, short term ‘fixes’ that result in long term unwanted outcomes. Pressed to sum it up, I would say: All river involved agencies and river advocates take a deep breath, sit down together and acknowledge that their joint highest goal is mindful river protection and stewardship for its habitats with our fused integrity. Committing to this objective all approaches/actions would get filtered through that lens. Yes, it would take time, but then again any artist, business person knows: producing any successful prototype takes innovative thinking, time, money & effort. Personally I think that this concept is worth applying to our river, a Natural Infrastructure. I would love to see the river thrive thanks to good care and watch the community be proud of what was achieved.

river feeding SNOWY EGRETS…

I hope your cold has departed and you are in full swing of birding for the migratory WARBLERS, who are starting to arrive. They are such small birds, who love to hide behind foliage. It takes endurance and patience to spot them. It seems that they remind us to slow down just like this season is. The busy summer is turning its leaves over to the sedate fall and I like to think that the WARBLERS help us adjust to the change.

testing culvert concept…

Well, it seems like you won’t be reading any more breach reports this year. The hopes run high for the involved agencies and the City that the buried pipe on Main Beach will turn out to be a successful ‘test case’ for the planned year-a-around culvert. This is different to the previous design, which planned to remove the culvert before winter storms and re-install it in the spring. The latest Sentinel article explains why there are high expectations attached to the test result.

just a few of the many MALLARDS…

This morning the river was surprisingly low in spite of the closed river mouth. The 50 MALLARDS or more were gobbling up their breakfast and 10 PIED-billed GREBES spend their time diving. There is one PIED-billed GREBE, who has mingled with a MALLARD group for the past week. I am starting to wonder if it knows it’s a diving PIED-Billed GREBE. There was an odd gull looking bird swimming on the river and now begins my windy ‘Who is that? journey. Next time I’ll let you know what I find out and until then you all enjoy your mystery river visits, jane

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river deserves win-win solutions…

Good Morning Barbara & River Enjoyers,
This time of year is the transition period of summer to fall migratory birds, which brings a lull to our bird sightings. The SWALLOWS pretty much left us by now except for a few CLIFF SWALLOW stragglers, getting a late migratory start. Slowly the first WARBLERS will show up in our area. We’ll be thrilled to welcome back the WILSON WARBLER with its black cap on its yellow head, the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER with its black and yellow head striping and the black and white BUFFLEHEAD to name a few.

innovative A. COOT exploring new transportation method…

Who says that birds are not innovative? Obviously this AMERICAN COOT proved that wrong. The A. COOT was using a discarded cardboard as an energy saving transportation to leisurely float down the river, grab some yummies off the edge, rest a little and sail by the surprised MALLARDS, who rushed out of the way of the unconventional bird travel device.

tree gone, tent there…

I hadn’t been to the lower river in a few days, because I was busy recording the disturbing vegetation vandalism between Laurel St. and Trestle bridge. Returning to my familiar, lower river stretch I saw that the big, healthy Trestle Eucalyptus had fallen victim to PG&E’s safety zealousness, exposing the prior camouflaged blue camper tent (its resident uses the remaining big tree trunk as his table). In my perfect win-win world, only the Eucalyptus‘s top would have been trimmed back from the wires, the planned Trestle trail would have woven around the tree and the SONG SPARROWS, migratory WARBLERS, BUSHTITS would still have their favored shelter and food source available. The SONG SPARROWS’ perch in that tree was the perfect performance spot to drizzle their enticing songs on us Trestle path users. And if that habitat disappearance wasn’t enough, the Eucalyptus bank had received a severe pruning job: branches on the big trees had been removed, small trees and undergrowth are gone. Starring at the scene, my heart ached, because the bird, butterfly, bee habitat at the Eucalyptus grove is obviously decimated. And how was I going to explain to the GREAT BLUE HERON why its favorite perch got axed. In my perfect win-win world more branches and undergrowth would have remained to intercept the flow of heavy rain and storm water run-off.

soil erosion potential?

This would prevent the soil from washing down the steep bank into the river thus stabilizing the bank and trees. Additionally it wouldn’t have changed the vistas so drastically: the bushy green is gone, replaced by bare tree trunks that now offer a panorama of once hidden buildings and the Boardwalk and its huge parking lot, previously barely visible, bombard the eyes. As you all can tell: it has been a hard vegetation week for me!

drastic vista change…

On Saturday the cliff overlook presented yet an other creative Main Beach sands-cape: a high, long berm along the Main Beach shoreline that solicited some interesting interpretations: Seaside Co. wanted to keep people out of the ocean, City was blocking high waves, City was trying to get rid of beach sand, etc. As you know the river water level is still high due to the lagoon.

high river level allows MALLARDS to use foot path…

The City’s attempt to keep the river mouth open this summer was doomed, because State and Fed. agencies required that the work had to be done by hand tools. This turned out to be impossible since the river mouth berm had become too wide and high. From my previous experience it looked like the City was getting ready to do a controlled breach, which is always suspenseful to watch.

long, high berm received many interpretations….

Looking down Monday morning at the river mouth my guess was correct: the bulldozers were pushing sand around while the biologists were doing their final seining. My neighbor told me that 2 pipes had been buried on the Main Beach, which will maintain the river water level at 5 feet. Checking on the progress in the afternoon my cliff compadre told me that the controlled breach had been a successful and we watched the bulldozers dig trenches horizontally across the old river mouth. Then I walked home, humming my mantra: environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect(Mohith Agadi). River love to you from jane

river changes…

Good Morning Barbara & Riverphiles,

open river mouth changes river life…

The rapid river mouth changes in the last week have been astounding. In my last report you read how the river was seeping into the San Lorenzo Blvd.Then the river mouth opened around mid-night from the 30th to the 31st. The 4’ high tide created a new look for a couple of days until the river mouth closed again. It is fascinating to see how these various waterscapes appeal to different bird species. The PELICANS cherish the short lived lagoon islands, which have been populated by 30 to 70 PELICANS. If endless grooming time allows, they waddle around, doze as picturesque statues until they take off in unison and fly a wide circle. Most of them land back on the resort island and a few decide on an ocean visit and are replaced by new comers. The ELEGANT and CASPIAN TERNS screech with fish-hunting joy when the river is lagoon-ing. They bomb-dive for fish, barely avoiding collision with each other and drive the fish stealing gulls berserk, who are in a frenzy, trying to decide which TERN to rob of their prey. The CORMORANTS and TERNS benefit from each others fishing styles: the CORMORANTS flush the swimmers upward, the diving TERNS flush the fish downward. Does anybody know if fish are deaf? The loud TERN screeches should warn the fish that quilled hunters are on the loose and dash instantly for the deeper cliff channels instead of staying in the middle of the lagoon, presenting easy targets. The Shorebirds such as prefer the open river mouth. In the early morning they carefully ‘graze‘ the waterline, make their way slowly past the river towards the Seabright beach, where early human risers and dogs cut their visit short. They fly off and don’t return until an other day.

Western Sandpipers ‘grazing’ at the river mouth…

It’s the time in the breeding season when the feathered parents have reached the limits of patiently responding to the incessant begging call of their brood. Now the brood’s ‘feed me’ call tends to get either a sporadic response or is totally ignored. Sunday morning a gull parent tried to escape the pesky offspring, who was obviously unwilling to grow up. This proved to be a quite difficult case of ‘kicking the young out of the nest’. The youngster followed the parent in the air, landed almost on top of its sire in the water, raced in the sand after the potential food source while screeching non stop. Finally the parent fled to the open sea and of course the peeved teenager followed. Plainly the young gull was no match for the progenitor’s speed: swiftly the gap between them widened. As you see, family issues are not species specific.

Pelicans enjoying new river island…

A couple of weeks ago I saw the Soquel bridge light installation in the evening. The different colored lights streamed back and forth in the dark. The art piece appeared for the EBB & FLOW festival and I thought it would stop once the event was over. The impact of the construction work for the installation had me already concerned for the SWALLOW nests underneath the bridge ledge. And now I am staring my concerns for the nocturnal, diurnal wildlife hunters in the eye. How are the moving lights effecting their nightly, twilight feeding? I know there are Owls, Hawks, Black-crowned Night Herons and Shorebirds along the river. They use the night, twilight for find food for their survival. In addition the San Lorenzo River is in the Pacific flyway of migratory birds, many of whom fly at night. Looks like it’s time to honor my wildlife concerns with some( whom am I kidding?always ‘much’) research and outreach work, which includes you all. Thanks for sharing your information how light across a waterbody effects nocturnal, diurnal hunters. The birds and I appreciate that!

light installation across the river…

Here is a little update for you: The COMMON GOLDENEYE and the RED-throated LOON are still residing on river between Laurel St bridge and river mouth. The amount of ELEGANT, CASPIAN TERNS, CORMORANTS and juv. HEERMANN’s gulls has been staggering at the river mouth/Trestle. The SPOTTED SANDPIPER is back between Trestle and Riverside Ave. bridge, where only a dozen or so CLIFF SWALLOWS remain. On Sat. 8/18th we’ll be working on our ongoing Restoration Project and we love to have you join us.
Sending you all sparkly river greetings, jane

Whimbrels by the river mouth…

unbelievable…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

San Lorenzo River’s high water level

Early Friday morning I just had to take a look at the river mouth from the cliff ‘Point’, because the river water gage was just below the 7’ level, causing water to seep into the street, the Boardwalk parking lot and is flooding the Riverside St. underpass. The Main Beach sight must make the Seaside Co. and the various river agencies mighty nervous, because the river is steadily swallowing up the Boardwalk Beach. A visitor and I scanned the impressive water body for birds while commenting on the small sand islands in the middle of the river that once were a gigantic sandpile. We both caught sight of the preening MERGANSERS on the one small island, when the visitor said:” Is that young MERGANSER? It looks so small and is much lighter.” I didn’t see what he was talking about until I inched closer to him and sure enough: hidden behind one of the MERGANSERS was a smaller, lighter bird. The other 3 birds obstructed a clear view, but we decided that it wasn’t a MERGANSERLING(as Robin calls them). Finally our mystery bird collaborated, stood up, walked away from its friends and we both clearly saw the white eye marking, characteristic for our feathered river visitor: the LONG-tailed DUCK. As we parted, we agreed that it was interesting that the quilled visitor and locals were so comfortable hanging out together…walking away I thought that our plumed remark applied to the two of us as well…

our river visitor, the LONG-tailed DUCK…

You won’t believe this: the PEREGRINE finally fulfilled my wish to see its hunt plunge that same morning. As usual I scanned the Trestle trees for the Falcon, who I hadn’t seen for a while and I was disappointed to not see the familiar shape high in the tree. Resigned I headed up stream when I saw the well known shape head for the trees, land on the highest branch, shake its feathers and commence to survey the scene: the fleeing pigeons, the disturbed chattering of the CORMORANTS sitting on the branches, the silenced songbirds and the unperturbed GREAT BLUE HERON staring in the water for its fish breakfast. Satisfied to see its return, I continued my walk when suddenly a dark shape blitzed 4’ away from me into a flying pigeon. That hit made an eerie, loud thud sound, sent the pigeons feathers snowing down on the water, left the PEREGRINE empty taloned, because within a split second the pigeons veered sharp left and escaped death. The Falcon re-perched itself and I suspected that my ‘plunge’ observation had arrived, because the PEREGRINE was in hunting mode. And sure enough after a short wait, the predator literally fell off the branch, dropped like a stone towards the water, wings tucked tightly to the body, inches above the water surface the wings moved ever so slightly as it blasted towards a pigeon on a boulder. Once again fate favored a potential victim, because right in front of the hunter a CORMORANT burst out the water, barely avoiding a collision the predator sharply pulled up, missing out on its meal. The saved victim flew off, thanking its lucky stars (I am sure), the CORMORANT swam in circles, looking stunned, the Falcon shook itself and flew back to the trees. I am still flabbergasted that I got to witness the unbelievable spectacle!!

re-perching PEREGRINE

As you know I was celebrating the great Park & Rec. Staff mowing job, which saved the survivor plants and I was devastated when I discovered that somebody has mowed down many off them. I got worried about my other survivor plants, expecting the worst, I raced to check on them.

surviving Calif. Fuchsia spreading…

Thank heaven, they were untouched and doing amazingly well. It was unbelievable to see how far the Calif. Fuchsia, Coyote bushes, Dogwood, low manzanita bush had spread since we had freed them of weeds, dead wood and gave them new soil. A Swallowtail, several Monarchs enjoyed the revival of the survivor plants with me.
Relishing the ‘unbelievable’, jane

Tiger Swallowtail resting on a ‘survivor’…

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

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