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…
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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

river nesting scenarios…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature friends,

spring fever ignites HOUSE SPARROWS

So… how are you all holding up as you witness the wild roller-coast ride of the breeding, nesting season? Let me tell you about a few nesting scenarios that have unfolded along the river:

OSPREY attempting a high voltage nest

On a wet, cold December morning the OSPREY was calmly surveying the scenery from the power pole by Trestle bridge. The mighty bird took off and returned shortly afterwards clutching a huge branch. It circled the power pole, obviously trying to figure out how to land with its load. Finally the risk-taker worked out how to touch down and not loose the building material. Placing the branch turned out to be tricky: the high voltage box was in the way. The beak & talons got busy maneuvering the obstacle to its allocated location. The builder examined the work, flew off and came back with a medium sized branch. Having gained confidence in its construction ability, the OSPREY landed right on top of the newly arranged branch. Unfortunately that was not a good decision: the branch started tipping and the contractor hopped over to the side, dropping the new bough. The beak and talons went back to work to situate the foundation branch better, which required some rest after the hard labor. The architect took off, brought back more building supply, landed this time on the pole, stretched down to place the addition on top of the branch. Alas, that didn’t work out at all: both branches fell to the ground. With calm regret the OSPREY looked at the branches on the ground, raised its head, took a river survey, flew off and didn’t return. For the next month I would see various branch evidence that the OSPREY hadn’t abandoned the nest building goal and after that the pole was bare. Obviously the universe was eager to prevent a potential high voltage disaster and tempted the OSPREY with an upstream tree to build a safe nest successfully.

safe OSPREY nest photographed by Gary Kittleson

I am happy: The CLIFF SWALLOWS are back! They were swooping around the old nests by Riverside Ave. bridge, cleaning out the accumulated mess since last year’s breeding season, getting ready for their upcoming broods.

CLIFF SWALLOWS busy w/nest re-modeling

The NORTHERN ROUGH-winged SWALLOWS perch on the wires and in the dead river trees, resting, preening and resting some more. They don’t subscribe to the incessant aviation habit that their cousins display such as the zippy CLIFF, VIOLET-green, TREE SWALLOWS. The 2 BANK SWALLOWS have disappeared and I wonder if they decide to check out other cavity nesting locations thus avoiding the many off leash dogs on the wide sandbanks.

NORTHERN Roughed-winged Swallow preening…

The current sediment buildup is impressive. There are sections in the lower river where it becomes a narrow strip, tempting people to walk along the shoreline while their dogs enjoy some bird and ground squirrel chasing, unaware that the KILLDEER, BLACK PHOEBE, female MALLARD are scurrying around in a high alarm state. Less sediment used to prevent access to the bank’s nesting areas, but the new condition exposes them to the peril of panicked parent-birds. And that brings me to an other changed river condition: I don’t believe anymore that the old river mouth will break open, in spite what the fishermen and surfers say. The river mouth continues its meandering flow along the Main Beach, giving seals, CORMORANTS and SNOWY EGRETS the golden opportunity to catch the helpless fish in the shallow water.

river reduced to narrow strip

The male BUFFLEHEAD and COMMON GOLDENEYE migrated and left eight female BUFFLEHEADS and COMMON GOLDENEYE behind. They enjoy each others company for short intervals, separate for a bit and come together again. This year the river hosted more males of each species. Did the males take off with their beak picked harem and left 8 spinsters behind? For a few days a male NORTHERN SHOVELER tried to befriend them and some MALLARD females, but that concept didn’t catch on and so he left.

shunned male NORTHERN SHOVELER

Around March 15th Mama KILLDEER returned to the Fruit Orchard by the Riverside Ave. bridge, where last year 4 little feather-balls had fledged. She sat on the ground in various spots, checking out nesting potentials. Finally a week later she settled on a site. That is when I roped off the area, gave heads up to City Staff and the Fruit Orchard people that we were once again on the mission to protect the upcoming birthing. People rejoiced hearing about the KILLDEER nest and were touched to catch a glimpse of her snuggled on her nest.

Mama KILLDEER trying out nesting spots

So you can imagine my distress on Monday when I didn’t find her tending her future brood. After looking around, waiting for a while, coming back a few hours later, I had to face that something bad had happened that caused her absence and my grieving heart ached for her.
Sad jane greetings…
PS: Come and join “Let’s Spruce Up the San Lorenzo River Levee”

San Lorenzo River harbors Estuary splendor…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Cherishers,

A. COOT water pecking…

Last week 3 AMERICAN COOTS and a female BUFFLEHEAD were determined to confuse me with their behavior. Three COOTS were escorting a female BUFFLEHEAD as they all 4 water pecked, a typical mating behavior for the BUFFLEHEAD and COMMON GOLDENEYE. The female was quite flattered by their attention. She swam closer to one COOT, who was encouraged to show his pleasure with an out off control water pecking action. She watched and suddenly moved away from the water splashing fiend. I wondered if she woke up from her Shakespearian love dream when a dignified male BUFFLEHEAD approached the lusty gathering, placed himself between the disappointed suitor and female. He wasted no time to court her, but she wasn’t impressed with him, instead she headed for her impossible dream: the sidelined COOT. The male BUFFLEHEAD stopped in his water tracks and 2 female BUFFLEHEADS arrived. They flanked the feathered wayward Mademoiselle and guided her back to the safe flock fold. What really throws me is that since then I have seen the COOTS show the same behavior with other female COMMON GOLDENEYE and BUFFLEHEAD. Have any of you river observers seen the same pattern?

female BUFFLEHEAD ignores suitor…

This sign at the San Lorenzo River point pretty much sums up my sentiment about Nature. The river definitely has a ‘hold on me’ ! It weaves itself through my everyday life: driving along the river my head whips in its direction, attempting to catch a fleeting glimpse of its activity. I tick off drivers as I miss the traffic light change, because I am watching the HAWK soar across the river levee. Nature infiltrates my conversations, flustering people as I pepper our talk with a quick:” there is a HAWK calling”, “look there is a native grass”, “that bird over there migrates soon”. That same Nature, River sentiment threaded itself in bright colors through your report about protecting breeding/nesting birds. Congratulations for turning that situation around for the benefit of future feathered parents.

tell it like it is…

It’s always exciting to hear what others experience along the river. Robin’s feather e-mail reports fascinate me, because we walk the same levee stretch at different times of the day. He sees birds that are gone by the time I arrive and vice versa. And here is his ‘I wish I had seen that too’ sighting:                    Hi Jane, After I read that you saw a bald eagle on the San Lorenzo I went down to look. There it was, HUGE, sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, on the ocean side of the trestle bridge. Not very regal looking, actually looked like it had been sprayed with a hose, kind of waterlogged and dismal. I haven’t seen it since. However . . I did see a Pacific Loon yesterday. Not a red-throated. That’s a new find for me.   Robin

just a few of the many…

Recently the river shore has been hosting an incredible amount of SNOWY EGRETS, proving that the San Lorenzo River estuary is an important breeding habitat for these stalkers. Did you know that in 1886 their long breeding head feathers were priced twice as high gold?
One day 30 SNOWY EGRETS picturesque decorated the waterline between the Trestle and Riverside Ave. bridge. The mating fever caused many feather raising squabbles, accompanied with short airborne attacks at the competitors, who either saw the attacker’s point of view and retreated or countered loudly with raised headgear feathers. Their mating debate was favorably sustained by many little fish that were pecked out of the water at high speed.
So I invite you to visit the river and experience its rich bird splendor… maybe you catch sight of the new migratory arrival: the CASPIAN TERNS, jane

new river guest: Caspian Tern

BALD EAGLE visits SAN LORENZO RIVER…

A pleasant Good Morning Barbara & Nature Aficionados,

BALD EAGLE in Trestle trees…

Last Sunday morning I heard the Peregrine shrieking its displeasure for all to hear as I approached the river. When I got closer I saw the Falcon popping off a new Eucalyptus tree spot, fly towards its old favorite branch, return briefly and repeat its agitated behavior. I am familiar with this ticked off action. It’s triggered by a HAWK or the OSPREY occupying the PEREGRINE’s beloved site. So I started scanning for the known transgressors and my monocular landed on a huge bird. At first I couldn’t compute who I was looking at and then I almost levitated with the realization: It’s a BALD EAGLE sitting on the PEREGRINE’s branch. Since the white head indicated that the raptor had reached the 4-5 year breeding stage, I wondered if the visitor had already found a life mate. Was the branch guest on the look out for a high tree to start building their huge nest? Of course I wanted to show every passerby this incredible sight when the PEREGRINE carried out an other one of its speedy bomb dives. The BALD EAGLE decided ‘enough was enough’ and flew off with the PEREGRINE tailing right behind in hot pursuit. This visual demonstrated their size difference: the Falcon looked like a STARLING chasing a HAWK. On one hand I was sad to see the powerful bird leave, on the other hand I was glad for our river OSPREY, because BALD EAGLES steal fish from them.
This was my first live BALD EAGLE sighting and I have to tell you: pics just can’t do justice to the breathtaking live appearance of this powerful and vibrant Accipitridae species!! You might like to know that there have been reports that a BALD EAGLE has been present at Schwann Lake, so the ‘small’ but mighty PEREGRINE succeeded with its territorial branch claim. Wait! Maybe not? Yesterday morning I heard the FALCON’S irritated call again and saw it perched high in the tree. Just as I took a pic. of PEREGRINE and CORMORANT perched neighborly to each other, a huge bird flew off the Eucalyptus tree. Again the PEREGRINE chased after it and the size difference made me wonder: Had the BALD EAGLE returned? This chase flurry was watched by the blasé OSPREY from a safe tree perch.

neighborly PEREGRINE & DBL. -crested CORMORANT

I was stepping closer to the bank to get a better look at the preening RED-throated LOON when out of the corner of my eye I caught a slight movement in the grass. It was a windless day, so I suspected a small critter caused the grass shiver. I turned into a statue in the hope of discovering the ‘who had done it’ imp. Within a few seconds the grass quiver resumed and a beautiful, healthy looking Santa Cruz Aquatic Garter Snake slithered over to the neighboring grass patch, where it vanished without a trace. The little ones amuse me with their ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ speed. Did you know that 18-28 inches long Garter Snakes go hunting in the water for frogs, their life expectancy is 10 years and that they don’t lay eggs? These snakes are viviparous, meaning that they birth live young ones, who developed inside of the parent’s body. I always consider a snake encounter a treat, because I regard them as a sign of a well balanced ecosystem and so I elatedly I continued my walk.

SANTA CRUZ GARTER SNAKE(googled:californiaherps)

Be sure to check out these 2 upcoming San Lorenzo River ventures:
1.The Estuary Project is happening on Sat. March 17th. Click here for info. details.
2. Jeff Caplan, the Director of CommonLanguageProgram.Com is leading a bilingual river bird walk on 3/24. How great is that? Click here to get more info. details. Don’t miss it: he is a fine birder with great knowledge and a good sense of humor.
Happy river greetings to all of you, jane

rainy river morning…

Look Out For River Nesters…

Good Morning Barbara & all you river-y Nature Lovers,

COMMON GOLDENEYE mating ceremony…

The buzzing wildlife proves that the February 1st date is correct as the official start for the breeding/nesting season. The river life is vibrating with high promises of future generations. Our migratory visitors, the COMMON GOLDENEYE and the BUFFLEHEADS, are gathering in big groups to present themselves as desirable mates. Now is prime time to visit the river to see their grande partnering performance. The land birds are flitting through the air, sitting in the trees and bushes, singing their heart out in the hope for a potential partner. For some birds the search has borne fruit and they are already occupied with building nests, such as the MALLARDS. Birds build nests in various locations along the river: rocky levee banks, grassland, underneath bushes, tree holes, tree branches, ground burrows, tule, gravel and sand. The breeding/nesting season is the head-up time for us humans to respect our fellow critters plunge into parenthood by staying clear of nests, avoid removing trees, bushes, brambles, grassland. I know, how difficult that is for us humans, because spring channels /triggers our inner ‘Spic and Span’ voice to include Nature, who dreads our zealous activities.

CINNAMON TEAL…not an ‘odd duck’

Coming across the Trestle bridge last week, I noticed an odd ‘Duck’ absorbed in foraging amongst AMERICAN COOTS. As I got closer the odd ‘Duck’ remodeled my perception and became a gorgeous CINNAMON TEAL. The sun was doing an epic job of highlighting the ravishing feather colors. This rust colored dabbler belongs to the Duck/Geese family, prefers short distance migration to marshes and ponds. Getting bored with its company, the Cinnamon Teal decided to meander over to the MALLARD crowd. As the beauty approached the females‘ heads snapped up, took a second look at the stunning approacher and determined this visit clearly had to be discouraged. Three Females lower their necks and charged at the Cinnamon Teal, who casually changed directions and took up foraging. On my way back, I saw the Cinnamon Teal had unearthed a friendlier MALLARD assembly that allowed her presence.

SONG SPARROW hoping for a mate…

The 17 SNOWY EGRETS along the river shore were debating who could be close to whom. There was lots of raised head feathers, jumping at each other, splashing water and crackling calls. Then they would calm down, stalking through the shallow water until one of them made a wrong move, provoking the next flurry fluster. In the meantime a SONG SPARROW was sweetening the air with a mating song in a nearby bush, a CANADA GOOSE couple was bathing amicably together, establishing that different methods can reach the same goal.

Downtown Streets Team hearing about river nesters…

On Jan. 16th I introduced you to Downtown Streets Team and over the last few months I have been exchanging bird observations with some members. Their interest and questions birthed the idea of introducing all the levee cleaning Teams to the river bird world. Their Director, Greg Pensinger, graciously arrange for our tour last Thursday. The breeding season was the perfect chance to talk about the various ground nesters since the Teams are likely to encounter them such as SONG SPARROW, JUNCO, TOWHEE, MEADOWLARK, KILLDEER, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, PIED-billed GREBE, MALLARDS. I acquainted them with the bird nest alarm systems they might witness along the levee: bomb diving, luring potential predators away from nest by faking injury, sharp, high pitch, repetitive agitated calls, bird bursting off the ground and bushes, back and forth flying above a location. It turned out to be a wonderful, interactive walk that fostered great questions, creative ideas, interesting observations, knowledge exchange and inspiring feedbacks. So many offered great, insightful remarks, that demonstrated they cared and” We need to protect the environment” was a repeated statement. A member’s shy reflection” They are just like us!” snuggled into my heart. I felt so fortunate to share my time with all of them. Their eagerness and willingness to learn about environment showed that they are definitely a part of the river stewardship Team. I proudly welcome them aboard with open arms!!!

Downtown Streets Team on the tour…

The other day I was checking on the Estuary Project by the Riverside Ave. bridge and discovered a RED-throated LOON preening itself meticulously on the sandbank. It felt like déjà vu, because months ago my last RED-throated LOON sighting had been in the same area. Of course I hope to see it again, but migratory visits are often fleetingly brief..                     Nesting greetings to you all, jane

RED-throated LOON visit…