With a Little Help From My Friends

Hello Jane and Fellow Celebrants of the Natural World,

In spite of the heart-breaking destruction of the natural world, there is still so  much to see and love.  Perhaps the ghosts of extinct insects that I never learned to celebrate will feel some bitterness at that remark.  But we all live in our severely blinkered worlds and do our best to celebrate what comes our way.

The river has offered us some exciting new sightings this last week, none of them discovered by me due to a  few ill advised  moves that provoked my back into rebellion.   But thanks to friends and eBird I still managed to keep abreast of some of the mysterious comings and goings on the river.

The biggest news in terms of a rarity was Alex Rinkert’s sighting February 17 of a female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE just upstream of the trestle bridge near

 Female Barrow’s Goldeneye, San Lorenzo River estuary, February 17, 2020, alone and later with group of Common Goldeneyes. Sighting and Photo by Alex Rinkert.

the mouth of the river.. According to Alex, the Barrow’s Goldeneye has not been seen in the entire County since winter 2009-10. a full decade.   Only a birding expert like Alex could have made the identification since it is almost indistinguishable from the Common Goldeneye that we see all the time at this time of year. Below is a photo of a female COMMON GOLDENEYE  for comparison:

Female Common Goldeneye, MaCaulay Library, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology  photo

: The discovery has stirred up quite a bit of excitement among local bird aficionados as they confirm the identifiation. Here is Alex’ amazing description, providing an illuminating  peek into the world of birding experts using all their skills to observe and record every obscure detail of a bird’s anatomy and plumage to assure correct identification of a rare sighting. Can you tell them apart, especially the head shape and the size of the beak?  I think you have a better future as a serious birder than I do.  Below is the description that Alex made in eBird.

Alex Rinkert Feb. 17, 2020, 9:40 a.m. “Female actively diving and preening just upstream of the trestle. Head and bill shape were typical of Barrow’s. The head was peaked at the forehead when loafing (i.e., not preening or diving). The bill was noticeably curved up at the base and toward the tip, and the contrasting dark nail at the tip of the bill seemed wide. The bill color and pattern was not the typical bright orange often associated with Barrow’s but is apparently within the range of variability in this species. The basal third or half of the bill was blackish and the distal end was a pale flesh-orange. The amount of color visible on the bill depended on the direction the bird was facing. Often the bill looked almost entirely dark but when in a profile view or straight on, the color was evident as it is in many of the photos. During our long observation we were able to directly compare the body size of this bird to numerous female Commons and this bird appeared slightly larger, but the difference in size was not noticeable except when they were side by side. Photos reveal six fully white secondaries and possibly a seventh that is partially white, as well as no white bar on the lesser covs. The pale yellow iris and the scattered white feathers on the lesser coverts suggest this is an adult female.”

“Common Goldeneyes can have an extensively yellow bill, but these aberrant individuals tend to have a completely yellow bill instead of a broad flesh-orange tip with a dark nail, and the bill and head shape is unlike Common. A hybrid was carefully considered in light of the somewhat darker bill color, but the bill shape and head (especially for an ad female) was typical of Barrow’s, as was the wing pattern.”

Here are two responses from Monterey Bay Birds listserv where rarities are often reported.

Liam Murphy February 17, 2020 7:37 pm  “I refound the Barrow’s this evening about 1 hour before sunset. It had moved upstream a bit, just above the first sweeping bend, but still below the Riverside Ave Bridge. Alex’s notes are spot on.  The color in the bill is not obvious from a distance.  There is more color on the bill than on some of the Commons, but it’s a duller orange with a hint of pink (some of the Commons have a limited bright orange bill tip).  The small size of the bill is really what stands out from a distance.”

Alexander  Gauguine Feb. 18 5:19 pm  Female Barrow’s Goldeneye now present just downstream of Trestle Bridge San Lorenzo with 4 female Commons. (Many more Common’s further upstream.)

It’s quite a blessing to have so much birding expertise in our community.

I did a little research and found out that the Common Goldeneye can be found during the winter in all 48 lower states and Alaska, but breeds almost solely in Canada and Alaska.  Much less common, the Barrows are only found along the west coast from southern California up to Alaska during the winter. During breeding season, this species leaves the states almost entirely and moves inland in Canada and Alaska.

The discovery  of the Barrow’s upstaged another wonderful discovery on  February 15 by friends Michael Levy and Batya Kagan. They saw  a pair of

Male Hooded Merganser with crest fully extended, behind Tannery above Highway 1, discovered by Michael Levy and Batya Kagan, photo by Batya Kagan.

HOODED MERGANSERS swimming just upstream of Highway 1 Bridge behind the Tannery. Above is Batya’s photo of the male Hooded Merganser with his elegant crest extended in full breeding display.  I was thrilled to hear about this.  I have been waiting for another glimpse of these gorgeous winter migrants for five years now.  Below are three photos I caught five years ago in 2015  at almost the same time of year, and in the exact same area.   I was lucky enough to catch the male in both full display mode and with his crest pulled in, and the female with her beautiful chestnut hairdo fully poofed out. I wonder if they take turns displaying their charms to each other. They don’t breed here but they clearly start courting early and before they reach their breeding site. I think I would also stretch out the courting season if I were this beautiful.

Hooded Merganser pair, February 25, 2015, behind Tannery,  male on left in full breeding display with crest fully extended  Photo by B. Riverwoman
Hooded Merganser pair, February 25 2015, behind Tannery, female on right with crest in full display, male with crest lowered. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I liked learning on the Cornell website that baby Hooded Mergansers leap from their nests, when they are only one day old.  Bold babies!  Or pushy moms?  “Their mother checks the area around the nest,  then calls to the nestlings from ground level. From inside the nest, the little fluffballs scramble up to the entrance hole and then flutter to the ground, which may be 50 feet or more below them. In some cases they have to walk half a mile or more with their mother to the nearest body of water.”

And as another gift to me in my semi-homebound state, Batya also found a RING-NECKED DUCK in the same area behind the Tannery. I’ve seen this duck only occasionally in the Duck Pond and  never behind the Tannery in a natural setting. Thanks again, Batya!   .

Ring-necked Duck, San Lorenzo River above Highway1 behind Tannery, February 17, 2020, Photo by Batya Kagan.

Save yourself the trouble of looking for the ringed neck that gives this bird its name.  It’s almost impossible to see.  Apparently there is a chestnut collar on the bird’s black neck that 19th century biologists used to describe the species.  The speciments were dead which I guess made it easier to see the brown ring.  The best field marks are the pointed head and the white ring on the bill. We in Santa Cruz get to see both the Ring-necked Duck and the Hooded Merganser as they over-winter along the west coast of the U.S and Canada.  Both species  fly north to Canada during breeding season but like the Hooded Mergansers and a lot of our winter water fowl, they are in breeding plumage during most of the time they are with us.

I met Yosi Almog several weeks ago who is building an owl house on his property.  The Cornell Lab is encouraging people to create more nesting boxes for local birds as natural nesting sites continue to shrink.  CLICK HERE to see expert advice from the Cornell Lab’s website  on how to build them.    I’d love to hear about any successes you have. Good luck, Yosi.

With best wishes to all our local breeding birds, many of whom are busy scouting out nesting sites, building nests and even incubating (some hummingbirds).

“Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.”  from a Sioux prayer

With gratitude for all that is “natural, wild and free” (from Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac)

Barbara

 

 

visitor surprises…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Enjoyers,

dawn visitor…

The other morning the moist shore sand bore witness of night and dawn beach visitors. According to the left behind paw and bird feet prints lots had been going on while I was sleeping. I love trying to decipher what animal belongs to what print. My favorite scenario is to compare several imprints of the same species and try to figure how many individuals had been present, because~ just like us~ each animal has their unique walk. A great chewy food source for the imagination are the prints that just disappear into the no-where, because the ‘what-happened?’ plots are fun to play with.

testimony of busy MALLARD palaver…

Yes, Barbara, you are right: the Canada Geese are right on schedule for the February 1st through September 15 nesting season. For about a week I have been seeing them circle back and forth over the river, honking to high heaven and I wondered about their behavior. I think I discovered the reason for their restless river flights during my ride-along with Erica, who is on the Park & Rec. maintenance crew,. Remember last year’s CANDA GOOSE nest on the river island across the Benchland and Trader Joe’s parking lot that fit the bill( or eggs for that matter) for a safe nesting spot? Well, the CANADA GEESE parents obviously questioned the potential nest safety requirements, because the island is occupied with sprawled out camp sites. I watched one C. GOOSE land on the previous year breeding spot, crane its neck for a better look at the campers, walk back and forth and fly off. Personally I agree with the CANDA GEESE couple assessment of this situation: the island is not the right place for campers to be. I hope that the feather couple will locate a safe nesting ground.

last year’s river nesting result…

I was starring off into space, working out the logistics for various Estuary Project volunteer groups, not really paying attention to the birds flying above me. But for whatever reason I turned around and looked up, right at the OSPREY, who was hovering over the water, eyeing its future meal. She plummeted into the water, came up empty beaked and dashed off into the sky to have a discussion with a RED-shouldered HAWK, who was rocking gently in a wind current above the river. They circled each other for a while and then they both flew to the Trestle trees. The OSPREY landed on its favorite bare branch while the RED-shouldered HAWK snuggled into the foliage, where its undetectable. That wonderful interruption blew my brain fog away and if you want to see the logistic result then come and join us on Feb.15 from 9am-11am down by the Boardwalk/Trestle path. Here is more info. 

I want to leave you with a video that will make you smile and no! I won’t tell you why. So enjoy and cherish your Nature moments with gusto, jane

OSPREY getting ready for RED-shoulder HAWK discussion…

 

Recall is for the Birds, Vote NO

Dear Jane and Fellow River Ramblers,

My apologies to the birds for my title.  But I couldn’t resist.

Red-tailed hawk, Google image

I think I may actually have  gotten a glimpse this morning of two RED-TAILED HAWKS in a rare courtship ritual – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I saw two raptors with the telltale bright orange tails circling higher and higher
until  I could no  longer see them. I thought maybe the strong winds were helping lift them to these unusual heights, and that they were flying around at that altitude for pure joy.  But it did seem unusual. I couldn’t remember  ever  seeing  hawks, certainly not a pair,  soaring  that  high.  When I looked it up at home, I read that these hawks typically carry out their courtship rituals very high up in the air – up to 1000 feet!  And courtship season typically begins in late February through March.  Aha!  According to the book, the ritual includes circling, touching each other and diving on half-closed wings at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.  I didn’t see any tentative touching or daredevil diving, but I did see the hawks circling higher up than I’ve ever seen them. This species is said to mate for life, but when a mate dies, the mateless hawk’s ritual sky-dance courtship must begin again.  Or sometimes, according to the book, a pair will engage in the aerial acrobatics in order to strengthen pre-existing pair bonds before going into the breeding.   Since they mate for life and the breeding window is small, I may never get to see even this much of their sky dance again in my life.

First of season CANADA GEESE, November4, 2020, San Lorenzo Park, Photo by B. Riverwoman

It’s sweet, isn’t it, that nowadays our walks along the river often include welcoming back old friends like the Red-throated Loon that you so happily reported on last week  and this pair of  CANADA GEESE that was my first-of-season sighting this year . My neighbor Batya told me that she saw a flock of about 10 a week ago  – earlier and more numerous than ever reported on the urban stretch of the river as far as I know.  This was confirmed by your park ranger friend.  Last year you might recall that Alex Rinkert who leads the Bird Breeding Project in Santa Cruz County asked us to report any breeding behavior of these geese – since their populations seem to be moving south.  And sure enough, we saw a second year of three families on the urban river in 2019, an increase from the previous year.   It looks like we may see even more this year.  I especially love these good parents for their mutually supportive and highly protective parenting.

Have readers read the classic Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold?  I love this book.  Here’s what Leopold has to say about the spring arrival of Canada Geese in Wisconsin:

A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese.  I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Peta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof”

I’m afraid I was once that lady.  I’m grateful to local birding guides who have helped me become more aware of all the avian wonders around me. .

Common goldeneye with unusual white breast. A hybrid?  San Lorenzo River near Laurel St. Bridge, November 4, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And speaking of dear old friends, this morning I saw  a dear PIED-BILLED GREBE, hanging out on the cold and windy river with the COMMON GOLDENEYE, above.  Since the Grebe is a solitary soul (part of my attraction to it, I suppose) I think the Goldeneye, who is generally more convivial, may have become separated from her flock and decided to find comfort in a new friend. Or was she rejected by her flock for her unusual plumage? For whatever reason, they continued swimming close to each other, almost alone in an otherwise pretty empty river between Soquel and Laurel Streets.  I didn’t even notice until I saw the image on my computer that the Grebe’s bill had changed back from its non-breeding drab color to its breeding colors of bright white with a dark black stripe.  That’s another winsome aspect of this nondescript bird – it’s modest and unusual breeding display (males and females are indistinguishable and they both sport beautiful bills during breeding season).  I’m happy to know that my little grebe is ready and willing again this year.

Common Raven, San Lorenzo Park, November 4, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

As for chattiness, this opinionated RAVEN had a lot to say to me this morning, if only I had the ears to hear.  Maybe it was saying No to the Recall.

Which – eh –brings me to the Recall – which has been occupying a lot of my time and keeping me from the river.  I strongly believe that this recall not only sets a terrible precedent for democratic governance but threatens to upset our new environmentally responsive majority.   Our new Mayor, Justin Cummings captured the crux of the matter when he said,

 “Recalls are intended to remove elected officials who commit crimes or who abuse their powers in office. Regular elections, not recall elections, are the way that members of the public are supposed to make clear their various policy priorities. What is happening in this recall is an attempt to pre-empt and undermine the normal electoral process, and the voters should reject it.”

Two key points that Justin did not mention are that  (1) this recall began immediately after the November 2018 election, long before accusations of misconduct were directed against Drew Glover and Chris Krohn. and (2) that the recall was instigated and funded – to the tune of close to $100,000 (!)  – by outside development and real estate interests (using the local anti-rent control group Santa Cruz Together as its funnel).  And they had the nerve to call it  a “grassroots movement”!  Takeover by wealthy, outside interests is what our community  should be seriously concerned about, not a regrettable but minor lapse in civility by hard-working and committed civil servants.   You can read lots more about the recall if you go to Stopsantacruzrecalls.org.  

As for Chris Krohn and Drew Glover, both are srong environmentalists who are supportive of protecting the San Lorenzo River as a wildlife habitat.  If we lose them and get Don Lane and Renee Golder, I believe it will be a setback for a green future in Santa Cruz.  Don Lane supported recreational boating on the San Lorenzo River when he was on the Council, the issue that triggered this blog.  Renee Golder has been registered as a Republican most of her adult life. Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice, on the other hand,  oppose the recall and have generously stepped forward as  “just in case’ candidates who are committed to upholding the progressive views of Chris and Drew i the event they are recalled  Let’s hope not!   I urge readers to vote NO on the recall and YES on Katherine and Tim.

When Drew Glover was running for City Council in 2016, he carefully listened to me talk about the importance of protecting the wildlife habitat of the river from commercial and recreational development and memorized the fact about the 122 bird species who depend on the urban river for their survival. He used this information in several campaign forums.  Drew is the founder of Project Pollinate, an organization committed to raising public awareness about our threatened ecosystem.   Click here for a very  interesting video of him describing the work of his five-year old organization.

Chris Krohn has been an active environmentalist long before his first 4 years as a City Council member from 1998 to 2004.  He was part of a progressive majority that got the current San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP) passed in 2003, a plan that offered far more habitat protection than the levee projects of many other cities.   Chris Krohn has actively solicited the input of Jane and me and many other local environmentalists in considering the environmental impact of issues before the City Council. He has worked hard to put environmentally aware community members  on some of the leading City Commissions.

The following statement in support of Krohn and Glover, and against the recall, was recently released by the Sierra Club:

The Sierra Club is against the recall of Counncilmembers Drew Glover and Chris Krohn in the March 3, 2020 election. Council members Glover and Krohn originally earned the Sierra Club’s endorsement through a rigorous vetting process that identifies candidates who prioritize the world’s climate and our local biodiversity.  As elected officials, both have energetically followed through on their commitment to the environment. 

 Both councilmembers are important to the council majority that protects our local environment.  They have taken the lead in providing free bus passes to downtown employees, supporting our City’s urban tree canopy, protecting the site of the downtown Farmer’s Market from development into a $40 million parking structure, managing UCSC growth in the context of finite natural resources, renovating our downtown library at the civic center, requiring that a minimum 20% of new housing be kept affordable to local workers, and protecting our greenbelt from overuse and degradation. 

 Council members Glover and Krohn have supported Sierra Club priorities, and now we need to suppport their voices on the Council.

 We hope you will join with the Sierra Club in voting AGAINST the recalls of Drew Glover and Chris Krohn.  For more information on how to help, please visit stopsantacruzrecalls.org

 Please vote NO on the recall.  Vote YES for Katherine and Tim.

Click here to see my eBird checklist from Feb. 4, 2020

I hope you have time in your life to to make some new wild friends, or visit some old ones.

Barbara

 

uniting & healing river magic…

Good Morning Barbara and fellow Nature Celebrators,

‘my’ RED-throated LOON arrived…

In my last post I was lamenting that I hadn’t seen ‘my’ RED-throated LOON on the river. One of our readers responded right away, mentioning that she saw a LOON a day prior to my post. She also brought up that the recent Christmas bird count reported a 30% decline of birds recorded, which mirrors my observation of the low migratory waterfowl presence. The day after my post I met up with my levee compadre, and I was so happy to hear that a RED-throated LOON was waiting for me upriver. We booth just about jumped up and down like excited kids. I rushed to find ‘my’ bird and sure enough there it was: preening the beautiful feathers, taking a few dips to put them in place. Once in awhile the healthy looking bird checked on me and continue its absorbing morning beautifications, resulting in a great success. Watching the RED-throated LOON I mused how remarkable it was how we are weaving this rich river community network with our readers.

RED-tailed Hawk gliding over the San Lorenzo River…

The day after my Sierra Club Executive Commission election defeat I let the river magic wash over loss wound and greeted Nature’s healing powers. And yes, the election campaign was a hurtful experience, which didn’t surprise, but was unpleasant to go through. So it was soothing to see the SPOTTED SANDPIPER at its favorite rock and it was exciting to see an other one close by, announcing the early phase of potential mate selection. The AMERICAN COOTS flotillas decorated the water surface and a few COMMON GOLDENEYES moseyed along the cliff edge, exploring the rocks for breakfast choices. I let the slow, easy life pursuit of the wildlife spread a calming, peaceful blanket over my turbulent soul and surrendered to the moment. I want to thank all of you Sierra Club members, who honored me with your vote. Your voice matters a lot to me, because it encourages and supports me to continue standing up for the environment.

AMERICAN COOT nibbling on kelp…

It was a pleasure to take a walk with Sandi, who had been introduced to me by her nephew, the prior Project Manager of the Santa Cruz Downtown Street Team(DST). He took the brilliant introduction step, because he had read my blog post that referred to his aunt’s FB report about the Seabright dog that had audaciously chased the poor SNOWY PLOVERS, which was hard for Sandi to watch since she is a dog trainer. We had wonderful, quirk filled walk that was packed with river life: the various birds, showing her the restoration work the DST members had achieved, the guy who threw his bike in the waterline bushes and flushed birds and who took kindly to my educational talk, even considering coming to the Estuary Project work day. Sandi and I even managed to find time to exchange great brainstorming ideas for the river.

OSPREY checking out fish lunch…

What is it with life that hands me a battery dead camera when I observe something astounding? I faced that dilemma as I was coming around the Crescent bridge bend where a beautiful, healthy RED-shouldered HAWK was having an AMERICAN COOT breakfast right by the waterline. As always I felt sorry for the feast victim and as usual I bridged that pity with knowing that bird hunters don’t kill for hoarding sake, but everyday survival. Satisfied I didn’t show any interest in sharing the meal, the gorgeous HAWK kept filled its empty belly, only occasionally eyeing me until I gave the RED-shouldered HAWK its eating privacy.

Tony Elliot, our Park & Rec. Director, stopping by our work site…

It will be so exciting to introduce the Estuary Project volunteer crew to the new, working tools that were donated by a river compadre, who we have impressed with our Estuary Project efforts. My compadre thoroughly, deeply enjoys the river and birds, so I can’t wait to work with the volunteers and new tools to improve the habitat further for thriving critters, who will be lovingly celebrated by the donator and all of us. And I like to assure the reader, who saw the beautiful CEDAR WAXWING at the river that more of their food sources are on the planting menu horizon.
Here is to the river that unites us with its magic!!
Cheers & chirps, jane

Of Sleepy Herons and Invisible Wood Elves

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Huggers,

Sunday afternoon the sky was a soft gray, the air was chilly and I was inclined to take a nap.  But I also wanted to take a last look at the river before I sat down to write this blog.   As soon as I arrived at the levee, I spied a half-dozing GREAT BLUE HERON, reflecting my mood exactly.  Her royal shagginess was sleepy but also watchful. Maybe she was engaged in what is called “unihemispheric” sleep, an ability of some birds to keep one eye open while resting the other side of their brain with that eye closed. But this behavior seemed more like my behavior, opening my eyes a little,  then closing them, not really ready to wake up.  In any case,  I caught the heron with eyes closed, then half-open, then all the way open. Not wanting to disturb her further, I quickly took these photos, then pocketed my camera and  went on my way.

Great Blue Heron, San Lorenzo River near Water St. Bridge, January 19, 2020,  3 photos by B. Riverwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a few steps downstream I could see four or five campers moving slowly around their tents under the Water St. Bridge.  I stopped to chat with a soulful looking man named Paul Magdaleno.  After repairing a scavenged and tattered tent,  digging a  little drainage ditch alongside the tent, and adding a small garbage can, he and the

Paul Magdaleno, drummer, grower, camper under Water St. Bridge. January 19, 2020 Photo by B. Riverwoman

others had been told in the morning that they would all have to leave by sundown. He seemed resigned to his fate, tidying up but not yet breaking camp.   I learned that he was a drummer, grew up in a hippie family that loved the Grateful Dead, had made a living for years growing marijuana and dreamed of forming a band called the Invisible School Bus. I also learned from him that the Water St. Bridge attracts quite a community of musicians that gather and play together. He identified Lito in the next tent as an excellent drummer.

Drums belonging to Lito, drummer and guitarist. Water St. Bridge, January 19, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

So I went over to meet Lito who let me take a picture of his drums.  I can’t imagine how he manages these drums as an unsheltered person.  I gave him my blog card and we talked about the name River Mysteries.

Then a kind of magical thing happened.. Another nearby camper overheard our conversation and said,  “River mysteries? What kind of river mysteries?”  I told him about how you and I, Jane, started this blog as a way of protecting the river from recreational and commercial “development”.  We thought if we could help others see what we were slowly learning to see – all the hidden mysteries of the birds and plants and water – we might persuade the city to go slow on  “development”.

This man, Guy, told me he had been curious about the name of our blog  since he had spent twenty years doing research on crypto-hominids, or “crptids”.  He said he could show me where they lived along the river if I showed him the photos on my camera.  I handed him my camera and he scrolled back,  then zoomed in to a photo with a lot of trees and undergrowth. That, he said, is where they lived and could be seen – if people had the eyes to see.  He had seen them and communicated with them.  He said that people thought he was crazy.  I said I totally understood what he was saying.  I have been reading Tolkien lately. And had I not just been zooming in on the Great Blue Heron  15 minutes earlier, looking for more understanding of what is hidden.  He didn’t want his photo taken but said that he was a carpenter and a fly fisherman.  I gave him my card, told him to call me if he wanted to discuss river mysteries some more, and we shook hands.

Santa Cruz City park rangers under Water St. Bridge getting ready to help campers move their belongings. January 19, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Just then two park rangers pulled up under the Bridge. I  talked to one of them, a very friendly man who was happy to explain to  me what was happening.  He and his fellow rangers had been there earlier in the day and let the campers know that they would have to clean up their camps by sundown and would not be allowed to return for 24 hours – until the area had been inspected and cleaned. The two rangers good-naturedly pitched in, helping the campers load unwanted stuff into trashbags and throwing it all in the back of the truck.  Campers and rangers alike seemed to carry out the process with as much mutual respect as possible under the conditions.  I felt sad and grateful at the same time.  I felt oddly connected to both the campers and the  rangers.  This terrible thing is happening to all of us, bringing out the best – and sometimes the worst – in people.

We have a lot to be grateful for in the way our police and rangers are struggling to deal with a really insoluble problem.  Unfortunately, while we all  obsess and argue about this and that band-aid solution,  our country drags its feet about  addressing the root causes of poverty, homelessness and high rents.  Until that time, let’s hope our little Santa Cruz community has the patience and kindness to keep applying temporary band-aids  until that  revolution (hopefully peaceful) arrives.

Andy Mills, Santa Cruz police chief, google image

I heard that Andy Mills, our police chief, spent all day this last Friday with his officers, slowly negotiating with a man who had kidnapped a one-year-old child.  At the end of the day, the man finally released the child in exchange for some cigarettes.  Andy is getting a lot of criticism right now from Keith McHenry and others about another new set of  homeless policies, supposedly harsher than Newsom’s new standards.  But I want to at least give credit to Police Chief Mills and his team  for this possibly life-saving accomplishment.

I was excited this last week to see two female WESTERN BLUEBIRDS on the river for the first time in my five years of watching this area.   These two members of the thrush family were busily  foraging for insects in the new grass.  This species didn’t make it onto Steve Gerow’s list of 122 regular residents of the levee stretch.    I read that Western Bluebirds are expanding their range in southern California.  Maybe here too?

Western Bluebird foraging for insects, San Lorenzo River, riverine reach, January 13, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

According to eBird, this sighting  brings my new  total to 112 species seen on the levee..  I’m pleased that eBird keeps track for me.  Readers should know that Jane is way ahead of me with a total of 148!  She would be too modest to say so. And the person who has the highest total for this patch is our beloved teacher, now deceased, Steve Gerow.  During his too short a life, he recorded a total of 177 species on the downtown stretch, from Highway 1 to the river mouth.  But Jane and I don’t spend much time thinking about numbers of species seen.  We are both too obsessed in getting to know and understand all the quirky life experiences of even one species.

Since there are so many GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS on the river and at my feeders,  since they come so far to hang out with us in the winter, and since they are limited to such a narrow strip along the west coast and up into Canada and Alaska, I feel like they are very special birds and friends.  I was therefore  excited to stumble across a research session up at the Arboretum last week where Professor Bruce Lyon, along with PhD graduate student Theadora Block,  have been carrying out research on the social behaviors of this species for close to 20 years now.  I have always wanted to know more about  how the research was actually carried out.  Luckily,  I spied the team sitting at a picnic table and was invited to watch.   The research team worked quickly.  Two students were tasked with

Banded golden-crowned sparrow in cage awaiting measurements.  UCSC January 9, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

collecting the birds. one at a time,  from about a dozen traps  concealed in  a dozen separate places  not far away. A bird would be delivered to Block, after which  she would skillfully take their measurements,  draw blood with a tiny needle for later DNA testing, then gently release the small creature back into the wild.  Block would call out the numbers, and Lyon would record the data.  Of course I felt squeamish, wondering whether the data collected was worth the effect on the birds. But the birds themselves seemed peaceful,

Theodora Block, taking measurements of Golden -crowned Sparrow at Arboretum, Jan. 10, 2020  Photo by B. Riverwoman

Theadora was extremely gentle and experienced, and it was all over very quickly.   Hopefully, as we learn more about birds’ health, migration patterns, population numbers, social behaviors, etc., we will be better able to respect our fellow inhabitants of this planet.  For a very interesting article on the research project, click here. 

May you all see something new and magical this week.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

missing & discovering…

Good Morning Barbara and all you other Nature Snugglers,

I didn’t read that article you were referring to in your last post, Barbara, therefore I appreciated your grant updates and insights. We all learned a lot thanks to you. The fish most certainly don’t need more lights shining into the river. It sounds like we’ll be busy at the public meetings for the plan design should the City receive the grant.

EARED GREBE with AMERICAN COOT…

Has anybody else noticed the absence of our usual river winter migrants? I keep hoping to see more petit-ish HORNED and EARED GREBES performing their rapid dives, that drive any photographer out of their minds. This season we have a record of 1 EARED GREBE, who stayed for a short while. And were are the elegant, well sized WESTERN and CLARK’S GREBES? Have you been missing their royal float-by as they watch you on the levee? So far I haven’t had that thrill of catching sight of the slender RED-throated LOON moseying on the river.

No RED-throated Loon on the river this year…

Thinking that I just happened to be at the river at the wrong time, I checked the e-bird Hotspot for the San Lorenzo River to see if other birders recorded better winter migrant results. Looking at the reports it became obvious that the other birders didn’t have any better luck then me. The BUFFLEHEAD and GOLDENEYE count is way down as well. Frankly I have never seen so few winter migratory species visit our river. It’s time to find out if they are lollygagging on other waterbodies or if they just didn’t arrive this winter season.
I love that “Wait!~ what is that?” moment when I scan the river landscape. That odd shape among the rocks on the other side. That flicker of light catching in the bird’s feathers in the tule. The quick leaf movement in the bush as a bird nibbles on the delicious bugs. These moments of discovering that the rock is actually a GREAT BLUE HERON preening its feathers and that the light flicker was caused by a GREEN HERON are magic micro reminders of Nature’s abundance, ready to be enjoyed at any time.

GREAT BLUE HERON blending in with the rocks…

The rain has been taking care of the Estuary Project plants we have put in at the path by the Trestle bridge. The area is doing nicely and the rice straw is behaving well: it’s staying in place in spite of the strong winds we have had. We are experimenting with straw as mulch, because it allows the ground insects, such as ground bees, easy access to the soil. We decided to try this approach in the hope of supporting the declining insect population, which deserves all the help we can offer. After all insects play a vital part in the ecosystems and feed many critters. We have been ‘liberating’ the established Toyon bushes from encroaching branches of neighbor bushes and trees. That pruning resulted in more winter berries for the CEDAR WAXWINGS, who cleaned the red Toyon fruit off their stems within a week. This year there was an increase of CEDAR WAXWINGS sightings along the river, so it looks like our Estuary Project efforts are literally and successfully bearing fruit. This coming Saturday is our fun work day and we love to have you join us. For more info.: click here
May Nature’s gifts expand your heart, jane

Cedar Waxwings resting after stripping Toyon berries off the stems…

$8.5 Million for What?

Dear Jane and Other Lovers of Birds and Wildlife,

Recently paired mallards preening behind the Tannery on the San Lorenzo River, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was very pleased with this lucky image of a  MALLARD couple that I took behind the Tannery.  Don’t you all agree that this newly formed pair seems likely to enjoy a harmonious future together, engaged as they are in a moment of perfectly synchronized head scratching!  I love this time of year when these common but beautiful waterfowl are in full breeding plumage,  pairing up all along the river as they begin to claim their separate nesting territories.

As I walked upstream towards the Tannery, passing  underneath the Highway One Bridge, I was impressed once again at how much the wildlife scene changes once you cross that boundary.  Suddenly, dramatically, you find yourself in a much more natural area   –– without a levee; with large stands of native trees (redwoods, sycamores, alders, willows); with fallen logs;  with native shrubs and with far more birds!

Almost immediately I saw a lot of movement in the canopy of a huge Arroyo Willow just a stone’s throw from the noisy highway.  These trees can grow up

 An arroyo willow just north of Highway 1, behind the Tannery, January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Townsend’s Warbler in Arroyo Willow behind Tannery, January 5, 2020, photo by B. Riverwoman

to 35 feet  in moist and rich riverside soil and I think this willow was  at least that high. As I stood there craning my head upward, I saw seven bird species busily harvesting a buggy lunch from that one tree. RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS flitted from branch to branch in their usual frenzied way. Two gorgeous TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS took a slightly more leisurely approach to their insect search, allowing me a moment to take a photo.  Several CHICKADEES bustled from branch to branch, perhaps signaling to each other their raspy contentment at a juicy bug.  ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS flashed their metallic green colors as they also feasted on the protein-rich insects that they need in addition to nectar.  A lone SONG SPARROW bared its crisply brown-striped white breast as it indulged in the insects that it also needs in addition to its more regular diet of seeds.   A YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER made a brief appearance, gleaning a few bites before she pushed on.  Later the same tree was filled with BUSHTITS, hanging upside down to reach their small protein bars..

What a rich source of food and cover this one willow provided to a diversity of species.  What a pity to think that most of its siblings just a few blocks downstream are hacked to the ground each year during the annual flood control work.  These poor saplings  never get the chance to welcome all the insects that attract all the birds and butterflies and bees to this ecologically important native tree.  This is why I strongly support the  restoration of  the Benchlands to its natural riparian woodland state, increasing rather than decreasing the amount of green space and habitat in our urban landscape..  I would love for the city to  develop policies for the protection and enhancement of our natural resources rather than policies that potentially threaten these resources?

I bring this up because of the possibility of the City’s receiving an $8.5 million state grant to improve the Riverwalk.  This  dramatic case in point, featured in the  December 25th issue of the Good Times,  was enthusiastically hailed by the newspaper as an exciting vision for the future of the river. The application submitted by the City proposes to transform the current Riverwalk into a safer, more beautiful, and more functional river parkway with an emphasis on serving low income communities with less access to parks.  That formulation complies on the surface with the stated purpose of the grant which is  funded through Proposition 68, a $4 billion state initiative, approved by voters in 2018,  aimed largely at supporting equitable access to parks throughout the state.  But is our City’s application for these funds seriously focused on providing equity?  And will it promote more green space in the City?  The main focus of the grant seems to be on  improved bikeways ( more  asphalt),  more lights for people (counter-indicated for birds and other wildlife), lots of ceramic art that celebrates nature (why not encourage the community to look at the real wildlife before them) and river-facing restaurants and coffee houses whose customers can enjoy the river as a scenic backdrop (but probably not a wildlife habitat). Will the low-income communities be able to afford these river-facing eating establishments?

Judging from some of the people pushing this vision, namely Greg Pepping, chair of the Planning Commission and Claire Galloglly, Transportation Planner for the City, I can’t help but wonder if downtown economic development isn’t the silent driver behind this plan “for the poor”.  Greg Pepping, who is widely quoted in the Good Times article, is also executive director of the Coastal Watershed Council, an agency whose goals and values often seem more aligned with  Chamber of Commerce goals than with environmental goals..

The application  for the river parkway was submitted jointly by the Economic Development Department, the Public Works Department and the Parks and Recreation Department, listed in that order.   The leading environmental groups in our community, the  Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, have not yet, as far as I know,  been  consulted in planning for the transformation of this major wildlife habitat within our City’s boundaries. According to a conversation I had with Noah Downing of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, grant writers have already met with representatives, including children, of the Beach Flats area.  According to Downing, more conversations with low-income communities and with environmental groups will happen if the grant is received.

Still, I worry that all this money might end up serving the residents of future luxury apartments as well as the many spandex-suited bicyclists who I suspect do not live on the river but currently dominate the pathway.  If the pathway is improved, will it not attract even more speeding bicyclists? Apparently if the proposed Park “touches” a low-income area, it qualifies for the grant. Will the residents of the low-income neighborhoods that do exist along the Riverwalk really use the area as a park area? How does the City plan to attract this population?  Right now its kind of scary out there for pedestrians like me, not because of the homeless but because of speeding bicyclists. Will low-income  neighborhoods along the river even survive as the City gentrifies?

I’d like to thank Council member Drew Glover who, when this matter first came before the City Council last summer, asked the City staff some of these same searching questions regarding equity and protection of wildlife habitat. I am so distressed that there is an attempt to recall this passionate, intelligent and articulate advocate for the poor and for the environment.  I hope Santa Cruz voters  will not be misled by developers and real estate interests who are pouring lots of money into removing  the important voices of Drew and Chris Krohn from our Council. I hope all our readers will vote No on the Recall, and at the same time cast a “Just in case” vote for Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice.  Both of these former mayors are strongly opposed to the recall but have nobly stepped out of retirement to protect the progressive majority on the Council – just in case the recall of either Glover or Krohn succeeds.  For the sake of the environment, and for the sake of low-income members of our community, let’s make sure the recall of two staunch environmentalists, and advocates for the poor,  fails.

I will probably be  writing more about this in the future if the Department of Economic Development et al receive the grant money.

Click here to see my eBird list for my short visit to the Tannery this week.

Did anyone get a chance to read John Muir’s essay on the AMERICAN DIPPER?  I hear that one was spotted in Santa Cruz County for the first time in several years –  somewhere in Mt. Herman.  I’m very motivated to go in search of it.

Campsite just north of the River St. Bridge on the East side of the river. January 5, 2020. Photo by B. Riverwoman

More and more tents are going up along the river and on the bridges.  It is  comforting to me to see that at least the homeless will have reclaimed a small measure of safety,  dignity and warmth after being summarily booted from the Ross and  Phoenix camps.   I am very grateful for the recent decision of the Supreme Court to let the ruling of the lower court stand, the ruling that requires that outside sleepers not be legally cited if other shelter is not available.   This last Sunday I saw one man raking his “front lawn”, a serious effort to keep the place tidy.  I hope portapotties will soon be provided, for the sake of  both the people and the river.  Until our society is ready to provide better alternatives, I hope the City can work with the homeless to find   humane and environmentally responsible solutions that meet everyone’s needs. 

Camper rakes the area around his tent next to the Water St. Bridge on the east bank of the river. January 5, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Lean-to tucked into the small build-out on the Water St. Bridge, January 5 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

May the inequity between the rich and the poor, and between  human and non-human species, be gradually remedied.  That is my ardent wish for the day!

Good birding to all.

Barbara