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?
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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

the river keeps us in the moment…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Naturaphiles,

SPOTTED SANDPIPER & KILLDEER foraging breached shore…

That’s chirpy news that one of our 4 river SPOTTED SANDPIPERS introduced its dipping self to you. I think you are right that it was so far up river since the lagoon condition down here has left the little shore bird with limited foraging opportunity. But a week ago on Sunday morning the drained river presented its breach look: low water level exposing the banks and the river shores. The dark, water-soaked rocks and muddy brown river bed were the perfect backdrop for the sparkling white SNOWY EGRETS, who preferred teetering on the rocks. Obviously they were reluctant to get their bright yellow feet mucky. The USGS water graph showed that the river mouth opened early Sunday morning between 2-3 am at a 3.6’ high tide. It’s interesting that this low wave tide achieved to open the river berm, which had looked fairly high and wide the previous day. On my walk several of my river compadres voiced their disappointment about the underachieving plastic pipe. It was supposed to regulate the water level, thus evade the quick, uncontrolled river drains, which cause the slower fish to strand on the rocks and the bigger fish to wash out to the ocean before they are ready. This week the river mouth closed again and the lagoon water is rising. I wonder if these fluctuations of the water temperature and heights are affecting the fish and the feathered water dwellers. For the City the repeated, drastic river drains are gentle on their purse strings, because they eliminate the expensive, wildlife expert controlled breaches.

breached river…

Do keep us informed about your stunning 6000 truck loads news. The fact is that our river is facing quite a few upcoming projects: the Trestle bridge path widening, the installation of the river mouth culvert, the bankfull project, the Front St. development on the river side and the Hyw.1 bridge widening.

upstream view from the pedestrian bridge…

On early Friday my friend and I started our river walk at the San Lorenzo Park pedestrian bridge, which offers a rich river visual with its willows and big trees along the shore. The birds were lazy that morning and showed up in the middle of our walk. They hijacked my conversation skills in the middle of our talking, because I got sidetracked with pointing out the bird activities all around us: the 2 KINGFISHERS were having a their usual heated discussion about their ongoing territory issues, the GREEN HERON was flushed upriver, voicing loudly its displeasure about being displacement, the WHITE-crowned SPARROWS silently watched us walk by, the WESTERN KINGBIRD was chasing the KINGFISHER away from its beloved dead tree, the AMERICAN COOTS were munching on their favorite algae, the mystical red dragonflies hovering over the water and a PIED-billed GREBE forced down its breakfast fish. I invited my friend to join our ongoing Estuary Restoration Project on Oct. 20th from 9-11am at Mike Fox Skateboard Park and of course you all are invited as well.

WESTERN KINGBIRD in its beloved dead tree…

This Sunday morning I got misty walking down the Trestle path under the Eucalyptus trees, because the recently removed undergrowth has robbed the familiar local and migratory land birds of their relished food source. Gone are their conversational chirps, their little dashing bodies through the foliage, the cheery colored bodies of the WILSON and TOWNSEND’S migratory WARBLERS. Now silence reigns there, which turned me inward until one falling ‘leaf’ snapped me out of my reverie: it was oddly shaped and descended slowly, floatingly. A second look unveiled the ‘leaf’ to be a small feather. Feathers flow off the tress here and there from the preening CORMORANTS, but this feather snow was coming from a localized spot, indicating that a HAWK was having breakfast. It took some time to spot the juv. COOPER HAWK, sitting high up on a bare branch, watching me while feasting as my “Bon appetite” stoke in my throat.
River moments greeting to you all, jane

our river juv. COOPER HAWK…

why the OSPREY? Defending dead trees…

Good Morning Barbara and all you River Friends,

CROW chasing OSPREY…

So…what is it with the CROW? I have no clue why it started to mob the fishing OSPREY. Last year I observed a CROW harassing an OSPREY and since then that occurrence has increased. We all know CROWS are relentless when it comes to chasing after HAWKS and FALCONS, because these 2 species will raid CROW nests. But now they are going after OSPREY? I used to see CROWS and OSPREY sitting peacefully side by side in the Trestle Eucalyptus tree. I assumed they friendly co-existed because the OSPREY eats only fish. I hope this new scenario isn’t becoming the new norm: the OSPREY is circling over the river, briefly slowing down, moving on and suddenly splashes into the water, rising with a fish in its talon. A screeching CROW dashes up out nowhere, catapults itself at the OSPREY, who is trying to avoid the ruthless attacker, attempting to hang on to the fish. The CROW, being a skilled aviator, forces the OSPREY into an erratic flight pattern that is unusual for the gliding fisher. Sooner or later the fish drops back into the water. The CROW couldn’t care less about the lost meal and won’t let up harassing the OSPREY until it heads upstream. It’s curious that no other CROWS join the OSPREY mobbing. Is it just this single CROW that has a peeve with the OSPREY or have you seen the same behavior upstream?

downtown planned development….

I am going to chime in a little on your reporting of the tangled City and Corps of Engineers river situation. Yes, the Corps is enticing the City to sign off on the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan that was negotiated last June by the Corps Staff and Jim Panetta for the tune of $ 2.5M. Previously the City has balked at accepting the river responsibility, because the 2014 Corps 100 year flood report was put into question by the the Feb. 7th 2017 storm flooding. This 2014 Corps report was used to meet the FEMA accreditation standards that keeps the flood insurance low. Without the FEMA accreditation the fees will double, not welcomed news for developers, who are keen on constructing their 7 plus story buildings close to the river.

what our future will look like…

The Corps put an end to the City’s balking by informing them that no money was available to update the 2014 report nor did they any longer certify levees. Ever engineer savvy, the Corps did suggest that the City consider the ‘bankful channel’ to fulfill the FEMA accreditation standards. And wasn’t it wonderful that the sign off allowed the City to finally access the $1.81M Congress credit for the 2000 Soquel bridge expense. That amount could be applied to the $5M ‘bankful channel’ project and hopefully make FEMA happy. The remaining $688,000 of the $2.5M will be applied to the levee repair by Bank of America.

some CLIFF SWALLOW fledglings resting in dead tree…

And as this complicated process unfolds I am a small time recipient of the Corps’ maintenance requests for the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan. As you can imagine I was not happy to hear that the Estuary Reach vegetation was on their radar, which readied me to stand in front of the whole Corps and defend the meager vegetation in that Reach. Especially the dead trees on the water bank, which are the only hunting perches for the KINGFISHER, BLACK PHOEBE and the migratory flycatchers. The fledglings of the migratory SWALLOWS use them as a rest station, the SONG SPARROWS need them for their spring songs, the Calif. TOWHEEs access them for their mating chase and the migratory GOLDEN and WHITE CROWN SPARROWS gather in them for their long chats and sing-alongs. They are an important food source for the  WOODPECKERS. I have advocated for these dead trees for years to the City, who kindly spared them and now I hope to high heaven that they will be saved once again. I would love to take the Corps team on a San Lorenzo River walk and show them what a vital, important role vegetation and dead trees play in the life of birds and wildlife. It just might give them new insights…

SONG SPARROW singing spring song in dead tree…

Your sharing John Muir is so enriching and in return I share “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an American native, scientist and single mother. Her message of giving gratitude and honor to Nature’s offerings is very inspiring and heart warming.
In that spirit: keep your fingers crossed for the dead trees, jane

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

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…