Sorrows and Joys

Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,

My blog voice has been silent for about a month now – first my computer crashed,  then a vertebrae in my spine compressed,  and finally the worldwide pandemic came to our  town – all three within the same month.  Grappling with the enormity of the pandemic on top of everything else momentarily overwhelmed me.

But here I am today, at my repaired computer, finally sitting up, and praying that the osteoporotic curve in my back and the pandemic curve of COVID-19 will both flatten and that all of us and our loved ones will come through this. Let’s hope this tragic time leads to inner and outer transformation throughout the world.

I loved reading about your hummingbird nest discovery, Jane.   It once again reminds me that the river is not only an eating and resting place for birds, but a place where birds  give birth.  The corollary is that it is a place we must protect as a wildlife refuge and not as a recreational area. That is the goal we set  when we conceived this blog more than five years ago, and  the one we still hold to.  PROTECT WILDLIFE.

Rufous Hummingbird, google image

Speaking of hummingbirds, I was thrilled to see two  migrant RUFOUS HUMMMINGBIRDS darting madly in and out of the huge Mexican honeysuckle bush in my neighbor Bob’s yard.  I always feel a little ambivalent when the Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds arrive each spring from their winter home south of the border.  It is exciting to see these beautiful birds, especially the male Rufous with his orange-tinted coppery feathers and iridescent red throat.  But I always feel a little ambivalent as well, knowing that our less belligerent and year-round ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS will probably have their well-established territories, and maybe even their nests, usurped by the two pushy selasphorus species.

Allen’s Hummingbird, September 28, 2017, El Rio MHP, Mexican Honeysuckle, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My neighbors on the other side,  Michael Levy and Batya Kagan,  both birders,  have been discussing with me  at some length if the bird we are seeing is a Rufous or an Allen’s.  The Allen’s mostly have a green back and rufous colored belly and flanks, while the entire back, belly and breast of the Rufous is pretty much  an orange-tinted coppery color.  The throat (gorget) of the Rufous in good light is a stunning iridescent red color, while the Allen’s is more orangish.  There are exceptions but we finally agreed that what we were seeing was the Rufous.  It had to be a migrant passing through, since this species breeds mostly in Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska.  The Allen’s, on the other  hand, have a much more limited breeding area, confined basically to a thin strip along the coast of California. So, it was a privilege to catch a glimpse of the Rufous on its 3900 mile-long journey from Mexico to southern Alaska.

I read a little more about the  Rufous and discovered this species has the longest flight of any hummingbird in the world, and the northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird in the world. Such accomplishments may explaiin why it is also extremely aggressive, having been reported to chase chipmunks from their nests. They trace a counter-clockwise movement during their migration, flying up the Pacific coast in the spring and returning in the fall via the Rocky Mountains.  So now is the time to get a look at them.  If you miss them now, you will have to wait until next spring.  If you see a coppery hummingbird later in the  summer you can be  pretty sure it is a nesting Allen’s you are seeing.

The SCRUB JAYS have been very actively courting in my backyard, pecking each others’ beaks quite energetically as they prepare to mate.   I think the highpoint of my backyard birding during the last month has been the sight of a male scrub jay just two days ago flying towards his lady love with a big red Mexican honeysuckle flower in his beak (see photo of honeysuckle bush above).  He landed right next to her in my apple tree, brought the flower to her beak, she promptly accepted the gift and swallowed it. How I wish I had a photo of that for all of you. You’ll just have to imagine it!

Before I was laid low by a collapsed vertebrae, I caught this intriguing photo of a RED-TAILED HAWK on the levee. I knew that owls had incredibly flexible necks, but I did a double take before I could figure out that this was a red-tailed hawk whose head had  turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He certainly has it on me in terms of bone flexibility.

Red-tailed Hawk looking backwards, April 4, 2020, Riverine stretch, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Same hawk, about to take flight from willows in same area. Photo by B. Riverwoman
Roadway dotted with privet berry poop, March 17, 2020, El Rio MHP, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Also, before my double confinement, my neighbor Batya showed me a huge flock of about 150 CEDAR WAXWINGS congregating on a tall sycamore tree, chattering excitedly in their high-pitched, thin voices that I almost can’t hear.  They had been feasting for days on the purple berries of a Privet tree nearby and had  created a purple polka-dotted roadway to memorialize their visit. Errhh, thanks guys.

Part of a flock of 150 Cedar Waxwings in a sycamore tree, El Rio MHP, March 17, 2020, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Batya pointed out to me that these birds are among the few that exist primarily on fruits. I began to wonder how they could find enough fruits, and also began to wonder why we either saw huge flocks of them, or otherwise none.  We did a little research and discovered that their fruit-eating ways are connected to their nomadic ways.  They have to cover huge stretches of territory, gorge on the fruits in season, and then move on to a new area where fruits are just coming in.

Jane, I loved your spelling of COVID-19 as CORVID-19.  Maybe a Freudian slip, suggesting your displeasure at certain crow behaviors?  Or was it the helpful/unhelpful work of Microsoft Word?

Here’s a bonus photo of a bushtit nest that was discovered on the ground near the Chinatown Bridge way back in 2015 on a Bird Club  walk with our beloved and deceased  bird guru Steve Gerow who identified the empty nest for us.

Empty bushtit nest discovered on the ground in San Lorenzo Park, May 16, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Be well, everyone.  Stay connected to Nature, our great teacher. We are going through something BIG together.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

the rhythm of life…

Dear Barbara and fortunate Nature Lovers,

NORTHERN ROUGH-winged SWALLOW cleaning off the migratory dust…

Barbara, I hope you got your computer fixed. I sure missed reading your post last week and hope you’ll be back in the blog saddle with your next river report. Did no computer and cancelled meetings allow for lots of time outside?
Aren’t we lucky that our passion is Nature as we are facing times when we are asked to adjust to a ‘new norm’ and deal with uncertainties on so many levels. I do feel badly for my fellow humans, whose passions are confined in the ‘stay safe’ cage such as Team Sports. It’s easy for us to keep the CORVID-19 required social distance when we visit Nature. Never has it felt so endearing to be outside, enjoying the buds explode into enchanting beauties, watch the future bird parents flit through the scenery, looking for the perfect nesting material, listen to the bumblebees’ buzz as they stumble from one blossom to the next, welcoming the NORTHERN ROUGH-winged SWALLOWS back. Being in Nature is a wonderful reminder that life wants to live and that in all this chaos the rhythm of life continues to hum.

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD fledglings dozing in the sun….

There was a fair amount of river event adjustments to deal with in the last 2 weeks. I have this restoration project rule that our volunteer work should not disturb any breeders during nesting season. Therefore I had asked a biologist to check for active bird nests in the area for the big volunteer event. Serendipity worked its magic when that event was cancelled within hours that I found out that there was an active ANNA’S Hummingbird nest right smack in the middle of that site.

getting crowded in that nest….

We would have roped off the nest kingdom, minimized sound and activities, but, let’s face it, so many volunteers close by would not be a bird’s mother dream come true. Instead the nestlings were allowed to enjoy an unbothered chick-hood. They must have fledged because the nest was empty 2 days ago.

empty nest…

Since 2 volunteer planting events were cancelled over a hundred donated plants got stranded on my friend’s truck bed and in my garden. It was a daunting sight that made me instantly tired. I started to plant a few a day, but that didn’t seem to decrease the truck bed load. Fortunately the plants are being housed and 1 day I’ll tell you how…
Now I am on a mission to locate the elusive BUSHTIT nest, because I have been seeing a future parent hunting for the perfect nesting goodies.
Sending you all good health river-greetings, jane

River relationships weave their magic…

A pleasant Good Morning to you, Barbara, and all you Nature Devotees,

I’ll miss the AmeriCorps & DST crew…

It has been a while since my last meandering river saunter. I have I been frequently to the river~ just in a different format as you might recall from my previous disclosure. Last Thursday was the grand finale of the AmeriCorps & DST members working together for 6 weeks. The members did a fabulous job of completing our goal and our accomplishment looks spectacular~ okay…since I might be a little bias, you should go and check it out for yourself. I admit that I got melancholic as I watched them walk away, because during the 6 weeks we got to know each other quite well and built relationships. I will miss each one of them and our good collaboration as a crew.
So this morning was my first-in-a-long time river visit. It was so superb to slide into my familiar river mode, which always bathes me in peaceful joy. Well, actually I splashed into my bliss when I spotted the juv. RED-tailed HAWK in the Trestle trees, watching me cross the street. Having watched the youngster hunt for some time I can attest that its skills have greatly improved due to lots of practice. It’s a relief to observe that the juvenile is mastering the food supply issue, because starvation is one of the causes that many juvenile HAWKS don’t survive their first year.

introduction to bliss…

Then the BUFFLEHEADS & COMMON GOLDENEYES captured my attention, because their behavior shows that they are preparing to migrate up north for breeding. Both species were clustered in large, head bobbing groups, no longer intermingling nor dotting the river with small batches. It’s intriguing to watch the males’ heads bob up and down, then perform their vertical beak stretch. From my perspective the movement sequence is arbitrary, then again the 2 species might find that assessment clueless to the finer nuances mating conduct. Then there is that quirky male BUFFLEHEAD behavior: males spend a mighty amount of time and energy on fighting over a female, who keeps distancing herself from them and who they have to chase all over the place. They ignore several perfectly suitable females in the flock, who seem to be willing and able to enter a relationship.

BUFFLEHEADS getting ready to migrate…

As previously reported: we have been using rice straw for mulching and I have been keeping my eyes open for critters in the straw section. Lately ground foraging birds are pecking in the straw, an indicator that insects are present, which is good sign for birds and insects~ considering that the insect population dropped 40% and we lost 1 in 4 birds in last 40 years. The weeds are either absent or minimal in the straw mulched soil. Interestingly enough our wood chip places are absent of ground foraging birds as well as snakes and lizards. It will be great if the declining ground feeders such as TOWHEES, JUNCOS, ROBINS, BLACKBIRDS, migratory SPARROWS will benefit from the straw mulching.

Calif. Lilac snuggled into rice straw…

We like to invite you to join us for our habitat restoration work. The Estuary Project will meet Saturday, the 21st from 9am-11am and click here for details. It will be great to welcome you.
My intent starring at the gulls made a levee promenader curious what I was watching. I told him I wasn’t sure if I had spotted a rare gull or a common one, changing its feather decor for its next year cycle. We ended up having a great conversation that entailed him going down the steep bank to pull a jump bike out of the river after I meowed about the bike battery in the water. He instantly became a Hero in my river book and he proved my point: the river invites us to meet good hearted people. River magic greetings to you from jane

ground feeding BREWER’S BLACKBIRDS…

Speak Their Names and They Will Appear

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Slowed down by a “slippery and wiry” pulse this week (I’m intrigued by the language of acupuncture), my birding has been mostly confined to a few sunny hours in my backyard.  Fortunately, my backyard is immediately adjacent to the levee and river, just upsteam from the Water St. Bridge.  A pretty wide array of  birds fly in from the river for their steady stream of dependable treats.

This last Saturday, my neighbor Batya, who serves as my good-luck charm in birding, appeared with her binoculars, declaring that she was looking for a Savannah Sparrow, hopefully hidden among the four other species of sparrows that hang out here.  I told her that I was longing to see a LINCOLN’S SPARROW, and that I would happily join her far-fetched effort. I had never seen a Lincoln’s Sparrow on the river, much less my backyard.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Backyard near San Lorenzo River, Feb. 29, 2020,  awaiting turn at millet bird feeder. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Within two minutes of sitting down, we noticed a movement in a nearby Japanese maple tree. A bird hopped out onto a branch, making  itself very visible. It was cautiously eyeing the hopper bird feeder filled with millet. At first glance, It looked like another SONG SPARROW, pretty common in my backyard these days.   But wait! It had

Feb.29, 2020 Lincoln’s Sparrow at hopper feeded, backyard, El Rio

those telltale crisp stripes on its breast. .  Batya and I didn’t move a muscle, not wanting this prize to fly away.  We carefully went over every detail. The heads of the two species are almost exactly the same – same crown, same eyebrow, same auricular, same whisker.  But then you get to  the throat and  the breast.  The cosmic designer of this close, but more delicate, cousin of a song sparrow must have used a long, thin and finely bristled brush to paint the more delicate streaks on the throat and the buffy breast.  Convinced that we were looking at a Lincoln’s, I risked taking a photo.  Batya went for the books.  We triumphantly confirmed the identity. Yes, it was!   A LINCOLN’S SPARROW.  My first!  And in my backyard! Unlike the ubiquitous Song Sparrow, whose year-round range covers almost the entire United States, this far less common cousin breeds in the Sierras, Canada, and Alaska, and turns up here in Santa Cruz only in winter.  Furthermore, it’s winter range is very limited – mostly along the California, Oregon and Washington coast in the U.S. and then south of the border.  A special visitor!  Next time you see a “song sparrow” look again.  It may be a Lincoln’s.  Or if you are in a grassy field, you could be looking at a Savannah’s, also a winter guest.  Be sure to tell Batya.  She was a good sport about the Lincoln’s, in fact as excited as I was.  But I’m sure she is still dreaming of a Savannah’s.

For Comparison, Song Sparrow, Backyard near San Lorenzo River,  December, 2019  millet on post, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The day after our sparrow success, I was bundling door hangers for the election and talking about birds with Sandra and Peter Nichols, two other bird enthusiasts and river walkers.  I told them about the Lincoln’s and Sandra got a smile on her face and told me a somewhat similar story of prescience that happened quite recently.   Here’s the story as I remember Sandra telling it:

Belted Kingfisher, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman, October 23, 2015

“I especially love the BELTED KINGFISHER, the Wood Ducks and the Hooded Mergansers.  I can’t stand it if I don’t see these birds at least once a year. Recently, Peter and I were walking along the river and thnking that we hadn’t seen our special kingfisher perched on her special spot on a wire just upstream from the Riverside Bridge.  I began to worry that the City had for some reason removed the wire and inadvertently gotten rid of one of the kingfishers’ favorite fishing perches.  We had passed the spot when I thought about this so I wanted to make sure to check it on the way back.  I had a really positive attitude, feeling somehow that I was going to see the kingfisher. And, yes, it was there, perched on the wire that we had been looking for and missed. The wire was there, the female kingfisher was there, and we were happy.”

Sandra’s face was wreathed in smiles as she told me this story and described how beautiful the Belted Kingfisher is, especially the female.  She said mischievously, “the female has two beautiful necklaces, not just one like the male.  And one of the necklaces is a beautiful russet color. I just love this bird.”

And I just love hearing stories like this.  How did Sandra know she was going to see this bird?  They are  not that common on the river. My only photo dates back to 2015 and doesn’t do this handsome bird justice.   I agree that it is a magical bird and in fact have a watercolor painting of a female kingfisher in my living room.

It is almost equinox so I was not surprised to get an e-mail this week from Alex Rinkert saying that, “Spring is just around the corner so the time has come to begin Year 4 of the Santa Cruz County Breeding Bird Atlas II…this will be the penultimate year of field work. Nearly 100 atlasers have contributed observations to the project over the years. We have maintained a large contingent of regulars but are still hoping to attract new atlasers and re-interest former atlasers.”

If you are a birder but have never done atlasing before, there will be two trainings this year, March 22nd and 28th from 9-11.  Please contact Alex at arinkert12@comcast.net to register for the free training.  I took it two years ago and learned a lot about how to look for evidence of breeding that I had never really thought of.  CLICK HERE to go to the Santa Cruz Bird Club website for more information on the project.  I especially recommend opening the document called “ Breeding Codes” which will give you a clearer sense of what the training includes.

Just after writing this, I looked out my window and saw a SCRUB JAY with the temerity to

Scrub Jay, San Lorenzo River,  Riverine Reach,  Oct. 26, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

actually break off a small branch of my Japanese maple and fly away with it.  I guess that will be the first entry in my breeding bird report this year, i.e. CN-carrying nest material. I may report my indignation but also my sincere hope that she nests nearby and that her family flourish

 

I created a little altar for my mail-in ballot this year.  May people who love our natural environment be elected to office, up and down the ballot.

Barbara


 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

San Lorenzo River keeps us busy…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Lovers,

RED-throated LOON stretch
RED-throated LOON stretch

Our RED-throated LOON treated me to a rare sight: practicing the famous LOON stretch~ at least I think that is what it was doing. During mating season the well skilled divers raise their bodies straight out of the water and flap their wings wildly. You can’t mistake it for a take-off attempt, because waterfowl leans forward for that action. The RED-throated LOON kept at its maneuvers until finally the whole body was above the water, only the feet were below the river surface and after a few encores, it was serious preening time. Watching this scene I was reminded of my GOLDEN-crowned backyard SPARROW, who has been working on his song that just doesn’t come out right. He keeps getting stuck in this one section that silences him for a couple of minutes and then needs to be repeated with same result. I hope one day my backyard Sparrow gets to experience the same satisfaction as the RED-throated LOON.

P1180311
working on the perfect stretch…

Well, it looks like the river mouth Culvert needs further detail adjustments before it goes to the City Council. It’s a tricky construction: putting long pipes along the cliffs to the ocean. Of course I wonder how the sediment deposit plays into that, because the huge amounts of sand that are moved from the Main Beach to build the summer berms, wash into the river, creating extended shorelines and raising the riverbed. The storms didn’t make a dent into diminishing the sediment build-up and the river channel has gotten so narrow that people can cross the river to the other side. The culvert is intended to keep the river water level at 5’5” to prevent flooding during summer lagoon season.

P1180095
narrowed river channel…

I am not sure what was up with the two WHITE-crowned SPARROWS~ they really didn’t like the harmless little CHICKADEE, who was minding his on bug business, flitting through the Cottonwood tree. The two torpedoes came out of nowhere and zeroed in on the petite insect eater and let their torpedo beaks hammer out the message:” We want you to leave immediately!!”. The CHICKADEE, being no dummy, raced off. It crossed my mind that the SPARROWS were defending a nest, but they are winter migratory birds, who breed up north, so I have no clue what triggered their unfriendly behavior.

20200220_101800
here is what we achieved last Thursday….

The last 4 Thursday mornings have been so rewarding and filled with awe. “Why”, you ask?  Because I have been working with the AmeriCorps & Downtown Street Team(DST) members on the river levee restoration. It is a heart opening experience ~ all of us working together on the same goal at the Mike Fox Park ~ improving habitat and to feel so supported by our tools, plants, mulch donors and to have Linda Skeff’s AmeriCorps Team in the urban river stretch.  The Team is from the Valley Women’s Club ‘s ‘SLV Native Habitat Restoration Program’. It is so great to see ‘my’ DST members becoming skilled restoration-ers. Together we have accomplished clearing bermuda grass, spread Jackson Landscape’s famous mulch over that area, planted many of our native plants that were donated by the Elkhorn Nursery. And BTW let me tell you: only the people who have wrestled with bermuda grass removal know that we deserve medals for our achievement! So if you see us working the next 2 Thursday mornings by the Riverside Ave. give the Team members an approval wave/honk and please don’t let us hold you back from dropping off yummies between 8am-10am:)

Cheers and Chirps to you all, jane

20200220_101722
BIG THANK YOU to the awesome AmeriCorps & Downtown Street Team members…

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: