Breakfast with the Birds

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Watchers,

For five years I’ve been writing about what I see when I go bird-visiting on the San Lorenzo River.  But this week I will tell you a little about the many birds that visit me during the winter months – all regulars on the river that I have managed to   lure to my mobile home by the river with a steady supply of black oil sunflower seeds, millet, suet and water.

Dominant golden-crowned sparrow and expert seed cracker. Note distinct gold cap and thick black eyebrows.   December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I love starting my day by having breakfast with my flying friends.  Before I eat I always first clean out and refill the birdbath, then sweep away the discarded sunflower shells from the patio and front steps, then carefully wash away the inevitable poop.  As I work , I see the birds flitting impatiently from branch to branch above my small patio.  Oh dear, have they been waiting very long?  If I am later than usuals, I feel guilty.  I busily refill my tube feeder, sprinkle seeds on my front steps and on the squirrel chair, and settle down on my couch with green tea and muesli to see the show.  I am hungry, too. The birds and my squirrel  now quite accustomed to my routine, immediately swoop down to have their breakfast with me.   It’s such a satisfying way to start a new day.

Same golden-crowned sparrow, side view, December 9, 2019. Backyard. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Almost always, the birds that descend first are the migrant GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS. When they hop onto my front steps, right outside my glass doors, I get a good chance to study their crowns – some with very noticable gold caps and some with only the slightest hint of gold.  A researcher at the UCSC Arboretum gathered a lot of data about the hierarchical behavior of golden-crowned sparrows. finding  that it correlates with the size and intensity of the gold patch on the tops of their heads..  I have now also become someone who is  fascinated with watching who chases whom. What I see definitely confirms the pattern the researcher describes.  The birds with bright yellow caps  drive off the ones with less colorful caps.  (The gold cap, or lack of, is not associated with gender.)

I have been very happy to have a SONG SPARROW visit me for the first time this year.  This brave little soul also flew right onto the landing of my front steps and looked me directly in the eye.  I love the insouciance of its foot placement.

Song Sparrow. in casual pose.outside my glass door.   December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

And of course I welcome the non-native but handsome HOUSE SPARROWS in spite of their questionable nesting habits.

One male and four female house sparrows. Females have wide buffy eyebrows.Backyard, December 10, 2019. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Curiously, I have observed only one WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW in my patio so far this winter. I wonder if they feel too confined on the narrow patio between my house and the fence?  They are much more plentiful on the wilder and more open spaces on the river, usually outnumbering  the golden-crowned sparrows.

Scrub Jay, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It’s fun to watch the different behaviors of different species at the feeders. The large SCRUB JAY prefers to pick up his meal from the ground, but will sometimes attempt to grab a seed from the tube feeder and  then fly down to the ground to  break it open – or sometimes to swallow  whole.

The sparrows are also ground foragers,  much preferring to find  their food on the ground or bushes, rather than trees and feeders.   But if they are hungry they will all try their luck at the tube feeder .

The HOUSE FINCHES, for whose size, feet and beaks the feeders are perfectly designed, sit for long periods on the feeder rungs, expertly manipulating the sunflower seeds until the shells break loose and are shoved  out of their mouths.   The finches  stay perched on the small tube rungs until driven off by another bird.

 

Chickadee, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Tree-feeding CHICKADEES and OAK TITMICE visit me much less frequently.  When they do, they  sail in for just long enough to grab a seed from the feeder,  then find cover at a safe distance to hammer away at the shell and  extract the tasty meat from inside.

The BEWICK’S WREN, whose long, thin curved beak is not at all suited to cracking open a sunflower seed still visits the tube feeder to pick out the millet seeds, usually consuming them while standing on the thin rung which suits her small size.   She has been visiting much more often since the cold weather hit and I put up the suet feeder.

 Bewick’s Wren, m,..,.,../ Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The CALIFORNIA TOWHEE,  a ground forager like other birds in the sparrow family, is too large and chunky to ever attempt feeding from the tube feeder.

California Towhee, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Both the towhees and the MOURNING DOVES.  tend to wait until the first round of birds have left and then humbly peck away at all the leftover seed on the ground or steps.  . The doves  seem the most timid, never  venturing

Mourning Dove, Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

onto my steps. The golden-crowned sparrow is the pluckiest, flying right onto the post by my glass door and sometimes singing its three-note song while looking straight at me.  Is it saying ‘thank you’.  Is it saying ‘more please’.  Is it reminding that this is its established territory?  Whatever it is saying, I’m sure it is aimed very personally at me!

 

Squirrel waiting its chance. Backyard, December 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Squirrel, hiding behind my glorious Bloodgood Japnese maple, Backyard, December 10, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I have a special chair where I leave seeds for a very cute and mischievous squirrel who is intensely interested in the seed I put on my front steps for birds  only..  Unfortunately, if I let the squirrel onto the steps, she will chase the birds away and then schnarf up half the seeds in short order, at least 10 seeds at a time, half of which seem to fall out of her mouth as she stuffs the rest in with her tiny little hands.  As a result,  I have become a quite strict squirrel trainer.  I chase the squirrel back to her seed-filled chair, while the birds stay on the landing of the steps.  When my breakfast is over, I sweep the seeds from the steps onto the ground for all to eat.  I like to believe that I am thus slowly training the squirrels never to eat on the steps.  Whether my efforts at behavior modification for squirrels is successful is dubious. But once chased off, she does return to her chair – though I often see her peeking at me from behind something, maybe waiting for her chance to test a few limits.

Other birds who have  visited my home this winter are BUSHTITS, ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS, and my beautiful  HERMIT THRUSH, who feasts  on the red berries on my native cotoneaster bush, far from the other birds.  She has  spent about a month here, single-handedly eating every single berry down to the very last one – which disappeared yesterday.  I’m sad to say I probably won’t see her again until next year.

Such a wealth of visitors.  How can I feel lonely? As I approach my 82nd birthday,   I expect I may do more backyard birding and fewer excursions down the river.  When I was in 6th grade, my mother, who taught me to love birds, had a library book called Birds at my Window, about an old woman who watched birds.  For some reason, even at that young age, I was thrilled with the book.  I was shy and  hated giving oral book reports in class, but I remember forgetting my self-consciousness as I reported enthusiastically on my love of this particular book.  Maybe I am coming full circle on this theme in my life.

Some of you will be glad to know that Lucero Luna, whom I wrote about in my last blog piece, has found temporary housing for the winter.  Thanks to all of you who wrote me expressing your appreciation for that article.  My life has taught me that we are all connected   – people, animals, plants. When we start to live that way –and why not now – most of our problems will disappear.

If you are a Sierra Club Member, please support our ardent lover of nature and river blogger, Jane Mio, for the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club. I also highly recommend Erica Stanojevic and Bob Morgan for the other two open seats on the  Committee.  Votes are due January 1, but please mail your ballot early.

May this holiday season be a time of warm connections for all of you with all forms of life.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

busy river scrutiny…

Good Morning Barbara & all you Fellow Nature Admirers,

seal dreaming of annoying the OSPREY…

As you recall our Estuary Project had achieved finding new homes for native plants by the Trestle path. For the past 12 days I have been hand-watering them, tying them over until the expected rain could soak their roots better thoroughly. I was inspecting the plants when I the hovering shape appeared above me, which I wrote off as a gull, seeking river shelter from the arriving storm. Then the flash raced through my head that gulls don’t hover flapping their wings, so a closer look turned the gull into an OSPREY, scrutinizing something in the water. I assumed that it was hunting, getting ready for his lighting fast plunge to catch a fish, but he kept flying off, circle back and hover over the same spot. I was curious what was holding the OSPREY’s attention and so edged closer to the river bank. And there was a seal, watching the bird angler in the air. I figured neither one was excited sharing the fish breakfast table with the other one. The staring contest continued for a while until the seal slowly descended under the water surface and the OSPREY flew upriver.

the cause of my roller coaster emotions…

A few days later I was down at the Mike Fox Skatepark, frustrating myself with examining the damage the tent campers had done to the vegetation in that area. I am dealing with a situation that has taken me on a roller coaster ride of a wide range of emotions. The reason for my quandary is: community volunteers and houseless members of the Downtown Street Team have restored that site for months with native plants and liberated some of the overgrown, neglected naive plant survivors. We were all happy and proud of the plants for responding so well with new growth. Then the campers moved in and either cut down the plants to make a smoother sleeping surface or crushed the plants by storing their belongings on them. I have asked them to please not damage the vegetation, with the result that my request was ignored and more vegetation was damaged. Asking Rangers to help explain to the campers that they were damaging public property got me nowhere and resulted in the appearance of 2 additional tents. Now I was looking at 5 tents, the bare banks, which are eroding quickly due to lost vegetation, heavy foot traffic and the current rains. The financial $1000 loss of the plant expenses is hard to take, but what sends me through the roof is the waste of all our volunteer work, which were many hours of dedicated restoration efforts. Your last post was a heartwarming report about the dilemma of the houseless population, which is, without question, intensely horrible. I am well aware that houseless people vary just like family and neighbors: some are great to get along with and some hear a different drum. These campers hear a drum that hurts the environment, which I find hard to deal with.

migratory YELLOW-rumped WARBLER keeping an eye on me…

Yesterday there was a short rain break, which allowed for a dry river visit and watching the birds eagerly dashing around for food. The shy YELLOW-rumped WARBLER dared to come out into the open, pecking at some goodies on the path while keeping an attentive eye on me.

rain soaked PEREGRINE…

The wet PEREGRINE and RED-tailed HAWK were sitting in the Trestle trees, ignoring each other, because preening their soaked plumage took up all their beak time. 5 DOUBLE-crested CORMORANTS were taking advantage of the rain break. Perched on a cliff rock, they were spreading their wings wide open in the hope to dry them out. The river level is high and the water flows rapidly, making the AMERICAN COOTS swim sideways when they attempt to cross the river. The rain started again, sending me home enriched with river observations that feed my soul.

proposed Front St Project…

You might be interested in the public scoping/content meeting for the Front St. project, which is the 7 story high development adjacent to the river, current location of Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, India Joze’s, University Copy Service businesses. The meeting will address the environmental information to be included in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The development has received little community attention since it’s not affecting any residential neighborhood. Yet this project will impact the character of Santa Cruz as well as the river habitats.
The meeting takes place:
Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 5:30p.m. at the Louden Nelson Center, Multi-purpose Room, at 301 Center Street in Santa Cruz.
http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/government/city-departments/planning-and-community-development/active-planning-applications-and-status/front-st-riverfront-apartments

Sending you river love greetings, jane

Phoenix Rising

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Mythological phoenix, image from Google

An unusual  flaming bird was cited on the San Lorenzo River on November 10. It was witnessed by  the heads of both the Santa Cruz Police Department and Fire Department as well as by many unhoused members of our community.  Six days later, by order of the City of Santa Cruz, the bird was deliberately flushed from an enclosed area at the corner of Highway 1 and River St.

By now you may have guessed that I am slyly speaking of the mythological PHOENIX – and of Camp Phoenix, the short-lived homeless  encampment located on the site of the former Ross Camp , next to the River and Felker St. Bridge. The encampment,  organized by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union,   managed to provide a safe space to live for at least 50 unsheltered people in our community – until residents  were awakened at 6 a.m November 16th and told that they were “trespassing” and had 10 minutes to leave.  Take Back Santa Cruz is the group that,  among others, is accused by many of putting pressure on the City to do this.

Lucero Luna, unsheltered resident of Santa Cruz and activist with California Homeless Union. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness or help with the  encampment during its short life.  But walking downtown last week, I saw a small, older woman trudging along the Mall, holding up a large banner commemorating Desiree Quintero.   (Desiree was  one of the women leaders at Ross Camp who was killed October 27 by a falling tree in the Pogonip while  visiting a friend and former resident of the Ross Camp. ) I introduced myself and asked the woman about Desiree and Camp Phoenix.  I learned that the woman’s name was Lucero Luna and that she had just been released from jail after peacefully refusing to leave Camp Phoenix in an intentional act of civil disobedience. I told her I wrote a blog about birds and people on the river and asked her if I could interview her for my blog.  She happily agreed to talk to me.

Desiree Quintero, homeless activist, died October 27, 2019, photo by B. Riverwoman

Lucero believes, like many in the unhoused community, that Desiree would still be alive if the Ross Camp had not been shut down.  “She would definitely be here with us if the unhoused had been given their rights,”  said Lucero. “But the City decided to shut down Ross Camp and force people back into the parks, alcoves and the Pogonip.  The Pogonip was where Desiree died.”  Lucero’s eyes filled with tears as as she talked about Desiree.

 

Dignity Village, Portland, Oregon, Google Image

I told Lucero that I was especially interested in the Camp Phoenix concept of a self-managed community of unhoused. Lucero told me that the local organizers had been inspired by Dignity Village in Portland, a self-governing village created by a group of unsheltered persons whose  website says   “we came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of the public parks… and created a green, self-governing village that has now been in existence for 19 years.”

Camp Phoenix adopted the “Five Rules” of Dignity Village to guide their young encampment. Lucero listed the five for me – no violence; no theft; no alcohol or drugs within a one-block radius; no constant disruptive behavior; and at least 10 hours per week of work for village upkeep. Anyone who breaks any of these rules must leave.

I asked Lucero how the camp had worked for the five days that it existed. “We were so proud of what we were accomplishing, even in the short time that we were there” said Lucero.  “On Sunday, the first day, we had to deal with huge piles of wood chips dumped on the lot since the Ross Camp was closed.  So we decided to have a Wood Chip Raking Party.  Many Santa Cruz people worked together with camp residents to spread the chips evenly. . It was great! We worked really hard.  When we finished, people could set up their tents.”

Lucero told me that Food Not Bombs had donated $2000 for portapotties, handwashing stations and tents.

The first day the encampment was opened, Lucero was one of the organizers who sat at the entrance, welcoming new residents and handing them all a copy of the Five Rules. Judging from what a friendly, open-hearted person Lucero seemed to be, I can imagine that the new residents received a warm welcome from her!

At first, it seemed to the organizers that the City was working with them.  According to Lucero, “ police chief Mills visited and we didn’t get any sense from him that this was illegal.  We thought we were protected by the new federal law, Martin v. Boise.”  (That is the law that guarantees that a City  may not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City can provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.)  Lucero told me that the fire chief also visited us and told organizers that  the tents  had to be 5 feet from each other and 3 feet from the fence around the camp. The residents also  created  a wide path down the middle for easy fire and police vehicle access.

“We were careful to follow what they told us,” said Lucero. “We  kept someone stationed at the entrance around the clock to welcome new residents.”  Camp hosts rotated hourly health checks throughout the the camp, day and night, in order to make sure that people were safe and that the tents were properly placed.

“We all felt really hopeful,”Lucero told me.  “We were keeping the camp really clean.  Previous residents were happy to be back in their community.  We were planning to have a community garden at the far end of the camp. Someone offered to create a solar charger for our cell phones. Art projects were being thought about.”

Then the City shut down the camp.  “They crushed a lot of peoples’ dreams,” said Lucero.  “They woke us up at 6 a.m and told us we were trespassing and had ten minutes to leave.  I decided to do civil disobedience.  I peacefully refused to leave.  I was arrested and taken to jail. “

I asked Lucero how the City could close down the camp now that the federal case of Martin v. the City of Boise had established that a City could not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City could provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.  Lucero said that the City is now trying to get around this new federal law by claiming that the Phoenix Camp was occupying a closed-off area. “The City itself closed off the area, and is now using “Trespassing” as the official charge, claiming that “trespassing” isn’t covered under Martin v. Boise.”

Lucero said that the City has just crafted a new ordinance that they will present at the Tuesday, November 25th City Council meeting, The new ordinance will  propose new ways to circumvent Martin v. Boise.   The City chambers was packed.   I attended  as did Lucero and other homeless men, women and children..  I saw roughly 40 housed and unhoused community members speak out strongly against the  new ordinance. Speakers included a member of the ACLU as well as a lawyer for the California Homeless Union who warned the Council that they could easily open themselves to a lawsuit if they pursued this course.  Community activist Scott Graham pointed out that the spirit of Martin v. Boise was being violated by the new ordinance.  The whole point of that  case, he said,  was to protect the homeless from citation or arrest if there was no other place for them to sleep. The new ordinance, according to him, tries to get around that.   As a result of overwhelming community unhappiness with the proposed ordinance, the Council voted unanimously to return the ordinance for reconsideration to the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH), made up of a broad spectrum of community members, including currently homeless representatives. But it remained unclear to me (I left towards the end when it was past 11 pm.) how the unsheltered were to manage in a City with even fewer spaces than last year and continuing unclarity about their legal rights.

Still,  it was a great meeting.  I love it when we see democracy alive and well in Santa Cruz – covered by Community Television.  Stay tuned.

I always want to know more about the lives of the people who are currently unsheltered in Santa Cruz. What landed them on the streets?   I asked Lucero if she would be willing to tell me about her life.  She was somewhat reluctant, not wanting to dwell on the hardships.  But she said she knew that this was part of what the community needed to know in order to contradict the stereotypes. So she talked to me quite openly.  She grew up in extreme poverty in Mexico, part of a family of 11 people, all living in one large room that was used for storage of harvested food as well as for sleeping and eating. She remembers sleeping on a lumpy dirt floor that she would try to make more level each night.    She remembers that from age 4 she was expected to help with the planting each year.  She remembers the little cloth bag called a morales, filled with corn,  bean and squash seeds, and planting first a corn seed, then a  bean seed, then the third sister, the squash seed.

She was sent to a one-room school for a short time, but because of the crowded and chaotic conditions of the “school” and because she suffered from undiagnosed auditory processing disorder, she was declared “unteachable” and forced to leave the school . At age 9, she tried to defend her mother against physical abuse by her father, was raped by a relative, and was also forced to leave home in order to help with family finances. She worked five days a week as a live-in nanny and a domestic, returning on weekends to “work even harder” she said with her sunny smile.  At 11 years she left her home state in Zacatecas to get domestic work in Jalisco, and at 14 years old was brought to the U.S. by her grandmother to get work in the U.S. It wasn’t until she reached the age of 18  that she finally had a chance to return to school.

Somehow she managed to rise above all these challenges, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, even became a family daycare trainer with West Ed, one of the best early childhood consulting agencies in the state of California.  As a former childcare worker, I bonded with Lucero around this!

Lucero  eventually  managed to get her own home, but was eventually pushed out onto the streets by a combination of  domestic violence, foreclosure, chronic hospitalization and post-surgical complications. Since 2001 she has been on the streets, first as what she calls “a vehicle dweller”  and since July of this year sleeping  at night in a protected area on the Pacific Garden Mall. She is 55 years old.  She has become a soft-spoken but ardent and seemingly tireless advocate for the what she calls the “unsheltered” or “houseless”.

In some ways, Lucero never forgot her childhood..  She told me that even when she was housed in Ventura, she felt guilty about enjoying such luxury while the homeless were being dumped along the river bottom.

A young man named Cloud that I met while talking to Lucero at the Food Not Bombs dinner on Sunday night praised Lucero, describing how Lucero gently cared for an incontinent man whom Cloud had found helplessly lying in front of the Bank of America, unable to stand up or walk.   Cloud called Food Not Bombs who transported the man to the only place available which was Camp Phoenix.  “Lucero was the one who welcomed the man to the Camp, gently cleaned him, found him new pants, and helped him get a tarp, a mat, and some cushioning cardboard. The next day she also found him a wheelchair.”

Cloud told me that he “lives in hope that people will open their minds and understand that the defining sign of a  culture is how we treat the most vunerable.”   He is a quiet, gentle man – dressed in a long skirt, and a longtime member of the Rainbow Tribe  He had wanted help Camp Phoenix create truly democratic meetings like the ones in the Rainbow Tribe. . He never had the chance.  The first meeting was scheduled for the day that the Camp was shut down.

While talking to Lucero and Cloud, I  also had a chance for a quick word with Alicia Kuhl, perhaps the major leader and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union which organized Camp Phoenix.   I asked her how she felt when they shut down Camp Phoenix. She said that for several days, she was depressed and stayed in bed.  “They had temporarily killed our hopes and dreams.  But now we will organize and come back with a plan.”

I feel the City must find a way to draw on the vision, energy and experience of people like Lucero, Cloud, Alicia and many more.  If we can support these dedicated people, maybe someday there will be a Phoenix Village in Santa Cruz that the whole community, including the unsheltered, can be proud of.

Buddhist prayers often include words of gratitude and respect for “all living creatures”, including the flora, the fauna and all human beings.

Let’s include similar words in our Thanksgiving celebrations.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

river life styles…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

OSPREY & CORMORANTS sharing Trestle trees…

That’s so great , Barbara, that you came downriver and got to schmooze with ‘my’ feathered friends. Although there isn’t a great distance between the Estuary and Riverine stretches, their fauna and flora are worlds apart. Your upstream Riverine section is thickly vegetated while downstream is an open area, which makes birdwatching more accessible. Whenever I stroll through your terrain I always suspect that I only see a fraction of the birds and the rest remain little mysteries, hiding in the bushes.

the male COMMON GOLDENEYES are here…

Well, the male COMMON GOLDENEYES arrived and brought with them an electric energy. The females no longer leisurely forage, visit the BUFFLEHEAD flock occasionally, join the AMERICAN COOTS for a little swim-along. That life style went down the river and has been replaced with lots of fast and furious diving by both sexes, raising their bodies out of the water, throwing their heads back, short spurt take offs and splashy landings. The water is literally churning around the COMMON GOLDENEYES flock. The BUFFLEHEADs across the river are hard at work mimicking the COMMON GOLDENEYES. That fascinated me, because they hadn’t exhibited that conduct prior to the male GOLDENEYES’ arrival. Usually the BUFFLEHEADS and GOLDENEYES display this kind of behavior shortly before they migrate back to their northern breeding grounds.
For the last week I have been spending a lot of time down by the Trestle bridge, outlining the work for the Estuary Project day. What a different bird experience that was compared to walking! I became aware of the birds’ life nuances and listened to their varied sounds with which they communicated. I learned that the PEREGRINE rules over the Trestle trees and that the CORMORANTS and OSPREY abide the Falcon’s orders. If the approaching OSPREY received one short, sharp call then she was permitted to land on the lower bare branch, two calls meant landing in the trees was denied and there were no buts and ifs about that. The PEREGRINE would resort to bomb diving the OSPREY until she left. Sometimes she circle, pretending to fly off and return the back way to a tree at the end of the grove. The CORMORANTS would loudly protest the orders, circle the trees and settle for the uncomfortable perches, huddling close together, muttering complaints deep down their throats. There were times when the PEREGRINE could have cared less who was sharing the trees and the OSPREY, RED-shouldered HAWK, CORMORANTS, KINGFISHER took advantage of it, resting peacefully in the sun.

COMMON MERGANSER gliding upstream…

And then there were the two COMMON MERGANSERS, floating around by the Trestle, obviously not interested in each other. One would drift by, heading upstream and a little later the other one would glide downstream. It is surprising to see them hang out separately since they prefer a flock life style.

the mighty Estuary Project volunteer team…

We got a lot done on our Estuary Project Saturday thanks to the Aptos High Girl Soccer Teams, DST Members and Community volunteers, including Robin, who interrupted his morning walk to carry plants for me. The girls tackled all the tasks with vim and vigor and did amazing work. Many of the girls had never done restoration work before and I was impressed how open they were to that new experience. It was a joy to see such a big group of people working together for the benefit of the river habitat, which will make the critters happy.
Cheery chirps to all of you, jane

The Familiar and the Strange

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers All,

Male bufflehead, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I happily accepted your invitation, Jane, to visit our newly arrived and elegant friends, the BUFFLEHEADS and GOLDENEYES,  at your end of the river.   I never fail to be amazed that they find their way back each year from their breeding grounds in Canada.  I have to admit that it has taken me too many years to figure out that many waterbirds assume their breeding plumage in the fall while songbirds and shorebirds wait until spring to dress up in their courting finery.  I don’t know why. After all, they all give birth in the spring. Here is the handsome male Bufflehead I saw yesterday with his glamorous iridescent neck and forehead.   It took me at least thirty shots to catch this elusive guy above water.  They barely catch their breath before diving in search of another fish..

Mixed flock of gulls, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman


Like you I also saw the poor Buffleheads pushed out of their area, this time by a flock of about 200 gulls, all splashing and squawking.  They are an unruly bunch, these gulls, especially when they spot a cousin who has found an especially desirable treat.  I saw this peaceful scene near the Riverside Bridge  suddenly erupt into a  a wild and noisy chase with the whole family demanding a share of the treat.  A small group of five Buffleheads, busily fishing nearby, were forced to beat a quick retreat once the  uproar began. They huddled  about 30 yards from the good fishing spot they had thought was theirs – losing precious fishing time until things settled down again.

I was also glad, Jane, that you pointed out that the male Goldeneye lingers behind while the female arrives here first. There was no male visible on yesterday’s walk either, although I saw 12 females (and perhaps juveniles) with their distinctive pointy heads and bright golden eyes.

Female Goldeneye, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Eared Grebes, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, near trestle, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was happy to   catch sight of maybe the first two fall arrivals of  EARED GREBES on the river.  These  little brown waterbirds seem quite nondescript compared to Buffleheads and Golden-eyes – until one gets a close-up look at their fluffy crinolines peeking out from behind, quite enticing don’t you think!   As you know, I am quite partial to grebes.

Eared Grebe from four years ago,  San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-crested Cormorant on Eucalyptus branch near trestle, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And like you, Jane, I am always pleased to see the  now familiar OSPREY and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS hanging out on those tenacious eucalyptus trees,   In spite of the bad rap these non-native trees get, there is no denying that they provide great habitat for our  fishing friends like the ospreys and cormorants.  .

Double-crested Cormorant, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I had seen a Double-crested Cormorant a little earlier in my walk,  drying her wings after a fishing expedition.  This spot was  upstream from the trestle on a fallen snag, another favorite place for her.   I never tire of watching cormorants do this.

And now in the opposite category of creatures occupying unusual spots.  I was a little surprised to see this lordly GREAT BLUE HERON high in a tree, instead of on the more usual river bank or open field.

Great Blue Heron, Oct. 26, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the same vein, I was quite amused to see the little peon GROUND SQUIRREL  below,  also perched somewhat perilously, and unusually high up,  in a shrub.  I imagined that the little fellow was a bit surprised to find himself so high, maybe contemplating how to get down. I wonder if something chased him up there?   I have rarely seen a ground squirrel sit still for so long in such a visible place.

 

Ground Squirrel, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Click here to see  my eBird list of the 22 bird species I saw yesterday.

Quote of the Day.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”

Henry David Thoreau

May we all enjoy some close up looks at the natural wonders around us, even in the middle of a City.

Happy birding to all,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Lorenzo River welcomes BUFFLEHEADS & GOLDENEYES…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Enjoyers,

male BUFFLEHEAD & his harem…

As you know, I my vigilant eyes have roamed the river water surface in the hope to see the appearance of migratory waterfowl, especially the adorable BUFFLEHEADS. On October 29 my wait was rewarded with the sight of 1 male BUFFLEHEAD and his harem of 4 females in tow. They had the skittish behavior of newcomers, which meant that any perceived threat sent them under the water surface. This disappearance mania eases off as they get familiar with their winter neighborhood. The goosing PIED-billed GREBE obviously didn’t approve of the new crew: it circle the small flock, dive down and stay out of sight. All of the sudden the male BUFFLEHEAD would burst into a dash away from the females, but wouldn’t dive. I couldn’t make head or tail of these perplexing speed zooms until I noticed that the PIED-billed GREBE would pop up close to the male. After 4 repeats of this scenario, the male BUFFLEHEAD cleared the water decks, because he was fed up with the sneaky gooser and his devoted harem trailed behind him upriver. Do you think the PIED-billed GREBE knew he save himself some time by chasing off the male because the 4 females would follow him?

2 female GOLDENEYES joined the BUFFLEHEAD flock…

For the last 6 years I noticed that the female GOLDENEYES don’t subscribe to the BUFFLEHEAD harem concept, because they arrive before the males, who meander in approx. a week later, decorated in their stunning plumage. I watched the 2 female GOLDENEYES checking out the growing flock of 18 BUFFLEHEADS. After swimming back and forth on the other side of the river, they decided that it was okay to join their migratory cousins. Slowly they approached. The BUFFLEHEADS were agreeable to their company and the GOLDENEYES melted smoothly into the flock.

City is opening the river mouth…

The City opened the river mouth on October 28 and drained the water below 5’5″. It used to be that the City was careful to not let the water level go below 5’5″, because that height was established as beneficial for the fish. In the past I have seen Biologists with nets, pulling out fish at the opened river mouth, but not this time.

female OSPREY on her favorite branch…

There is something gentle and reassuring to see the same river birds in their familiar places. It creates a sense of affinity with these critters as I walk the levee. There is the tiny Anna’s Hummingbird that always buzzes me as a walk by the plum tree. Sometimes it comes so close that it seems to get ready to land on me. In the beginning I was worried that I was close too its nest, but I noticed that no other people were getting buzzed like me. The TOWHEE couple by the Boardwalk parking lot forage along the path. When a person approaches, they sound alarm and both flit into their hiding spot in their favorite elderberry bush. I see them peeking down at the people, waiting for them to pass, so that they can resume their food rummaging. The royal OSPREY in the Trestle trees peers down at me as I stare mesmerized up at her. I consider my ‘feathered regulars’ a part of my extended family and I am always happy to see them.
Be sure to come to the river and welcome our migratory winter guests, jane

3 Billion Birds Lost

Dear Jane and Other Heartsick Lovers of our Vanishing Birds,

Did you see the  just released cover of the 2019 autumn edition of Living Bird?  It was shocking. Instead of the usual gorgeous photo of a gorgeous bird, the cover was almost solid black, with one lone feather way down in the right hand corner,  and the words “3 Billion Birds Lost” in the other  corner.

Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4
Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4

The lead story, based on a study  from the top scientific journal Science, reported that in just the past 50 years, more than 1 in 4 birds has disappeared across North America.  That is catastrophic!  According to the lead author of the Report,

These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife, and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.

Many of the bird families that have lost the most ground, according to the study,  are the common ones.   The hardest hit are the blackbird family, finch family, lark family, sparrow family and warbler family.  Some of our common birds on the river were singled out as suffering the biggest losses.

Song Sparrow in flood waters, January 22, 2017, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

According to the study, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS have lost 30% of their populations, SONG SPARROWS  (this is the one that choked me up) have lost 20% of their populations,  and DARK-EYED JUNCOS have lost a third of their population.  I know that from now on,  every time I hear the whistle-buzz-trill  of the song sparrow singing its heart out every spring,  it will be like a tiny dagger in my heart. I have come to love these plain little songsters.

According to Steve Gerow,  red-winged blackbirds used to breed along the riverine reach of the urban river. But I don’t think I’ve  even seen a red-winged blackbird since I took this photo in 2015, much less seen any sign of breeding.

Red-winged Blackbird, March 9, 2015, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

A consolation is that I know that there were breeding song sparrows and breeding juncos this year during breeding season.  This little junco was hopping around with brothers and sisters in San Lorenzo Park this summer, not the safest habitat, but they seemed to be surviving.

Junco juvenile 3 (best)
Juvenile Dark-eyed Junco, Summer 2019, San Lorenzo Park, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The author reminds us of the extinction  of passenger pigeons, the complete loss of which no one would have have believed possible. But they are gone forever.

The article in Living Bird didn’t mention our common WESTERN SCRUB-JAY , but it did cite the STELLAR JAY  as one of the most heavily affected species, losing 29% of its population.  I’ll do more research on the scrub jay and let you know what I find out.

Srub Jay
Western Scrub-jay, October 26, 2019, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Stellar Jay
Stellar’s Jay , May 19, 2017, behind Tannery, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The authors of the study are quick to point out that all is not lost – wood duck populations are up 50%, raptors up 200%.  We have both on our river. Their numbers are up because they were identified in the past as threatened and conservation efforts were successful.  The other co-author of the study, Adam Smith, offers this  message of hope:

“The successes of the past are the candles in the dark that will guide us towards solutions in the future.”   

And speaking of bringing hope, I just read in the paper that Desiree Quintero, who I wrote about in my May 1 post this last summer, was killed by a falling tree in a small camp in the Pogonip.  She was a strong and compassionate leader at Ross Camp, bringing hope to many other women in the camp.   If you missed that blog, you can read about her here.  May this brave woman rest in peace.

Let’s make every effort to protect our avian and  human species, especially the most threatened.  

You can  click here for my eBird list of  October 12 (22 species) , and here  for my October 26th list (26 species) . 

In the category of comic relief, I had to laugh out loud as I watched a mischievous AMERICAN CROW teasing a Ground Squirrel by sneaking up behind it and pecking at its tail!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  And once wasn’t enough.  The crow returned again and again, repeating his sneak attack, causing the  hapless squirrel to jump in surprise  and then run off.  But it couldn’t have been too painful since the squirrel also kept coming back for more.  It didn’t look that different from kids playing some kind of tag game on the playground.

Planning Mischief
American Crow pestering ground squirrel, October 22, 2019, riverine reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Good birding to all,

Barbara