river tapestry…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Admirers,

wishing you fruitful recovery…

Ohh…Barbara!!I I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with some health issues. I am sending you soothing healing wishes. Our fellow Nature compadres and I will miss your rich, lively blog posts while you are recuperating. May your recovery be swift so that your current health situation turns into a vague memory.

glittering beauty…

It’s interesting how my relationship with the river life has changed since I have been working so much on maintaining the newly placed native plants. I am not walking along the levee, but stay put in one place for some time. Now the critters around me are disclosing their relationships with their surroundings and weave a tapestry of their daily activities: The presence of the beautiful Red-tailed Hawk is squawked to all by the CROW, who has a vocal cord issue. It sounds like announcer has a slight case of laryngitis. Maybe that is why only 1 or 2 other CROWS arrive for the co-mopping session. The Red-tailed Hawk knows the drill, flies into the Sycamore branches until the CROWS give up on chasing reinforcement and abandoned their dive bombing scheme. Then the raptor positions itself on the lamp pole, surveys the hunting grounds along the levee banks for the best prey options. The Mike Fox ANNA’s HUMMINGBIRD accompanies me on my work route, watching calmly from above, perching on its favorite branches along our course. The HAIRSTREAK butterflies really don’t like sharing their chosen plants and its blossoms. When an intruder arrives their antennas get busy wiggles and the butterfly turns to face the nervy new-comer for a proper assessment. A fellow HAIRSTREAK is most definitely not welcome and the message is delivered by a landing attempt on top of the schmarotzer, who takes off, only to return to its newly discovered morsels. This claiming dispute can go on for minutes and usually the original plant owner gets to stay.

claiming ownership of blossom…

Finally I saw my first 3 MALLARD ducklings of this year. I had looked up from weeding, because I heard repeated wing splashing on water, which is rarely a good sign, and I saw 2 male MALLARDS ruffling their wings back into place, swimming innocently along the tule line. There was movement in the tule, but it was impossible to see who caused it. One of the males charged at the shifting reeds and solved the mystery movement by flushing out a Mama MALLARD with her 3 tiny ducklings. Male MALLARDS can make life hell for a Mama MALLARD when they get it into their heads to chase after her. This Mama was unwilling to accept hell and started to attack the males, who swam away from her out to the open river. The furious Mama pursued them, followed by her 3 tiny ducklings. Now they were all in the middle of the river without the protective tule shield for the brood. I saw the RED-tailed HAWK swoop off its lamp pole and descend at rapid speed towards the water, aiming for the MALLARD group. The duckling mother had her back turned to the hunter and her beak embedded in one of the male’s wings, who was getting alarmed by this development. He flung himself sideways right next to the ducklings, thus foiling the predator’s target. The warrior Mama had a few more quacks to say, took her little ones back to the sheltering tule, the males swam upstream, looking for more trouble and the HAWK returned to the lamp pole for further hunting possibilities.

my 1st duckling sighting for this year…sorry for bad pic.

I am so happy to tell all of you that our Dave from the DST group is no longer houseless and that he now works 2 jobs. For over a year he shared his gentle smiles with us on our Estuary Project Saturdays as he enjoyed learning about restoration. He succeeded conquering a hard road and I hope he is darn proud of his achievement for which I salute him wholeheartedly!!
Greetings from the river tapestry~ jane

searching for river answers…

Good Morning Barbara and stay safe Nature Wanderers,

CLIFF SWALLOWS in the sky…

Your delight of listening to Vandana Shiva took me right back to attending her interview up at UCSC a few months ago. My friend urged me to go with her, saying that I would love this Ecofeminist, because we spoke the same earth language. After her first sentences I felt like I had known her forever, although I had never heard of her nor read any of her books. It was the most curious experience~ this woman was meandering through my core and carefully harvesting my innermost earth truths and saying it out loud to a big audience. It’s wonderful that Vandana Shiva touched us both so deeply. It did amuse me that she said my truths with an Indian accent instead of my German one.

no weeds: Calif. Lilac snuggled into rice straw…

Okay..I might bore you with my planting episodes, but you have to bear with me just one more time: on Saturday the last of over 300 native plants got housed. That feat was achieved in approx. 21 days with some friendly help and our arms tell the tale of toiling with heavy clay soil and rocks. The new native plants are doing very well, because the rain spirit sent her life giving cheer after each planting. Now you get to hear the result of our rice straw experiment on the levee by the Trestle parking lot. We tested 4 rice straw applications: thick, medium, little and no straw mulching. The thick straw layer has no weeds coming up and the native plants are thriving. The results deteriorated according to the amount of straw applied. The plants with no straw nest grew the least and look a little anemic. I am glad we did that experiment, because it shows that rice straw is an excellent weed suppressor plus it enhances native plant growth. Now I have to convince the Boardwalk maintenance crew to leave the straw in place and not remove it…may they get used to the new straw look!

my watering & weeding set-up: wagon thanks to a kind donator & debris sack is re-purposed Verve burlap bag…

The river life has a season rhythm that I swear has crept into my blood. By the end of February I find myself searching for the ducklings in the tule along the water edge, where they are feverishly discovering what the river menu has to offer them. So you can imagine what state I am in, because I have not seen 1 duckling in the Estuary this year. In all my river years I have never encountered no downstream ducklings. So I asked my levee compadres if they had sighted any lower river fluff-balls and they hadn’t. There were very few San Lorenzo River duckling reports on e-bird and now we wonder what is going on…The nice discovery was that e-bird reports mentioned birds hanging out in the plants we put in.
This year there is very little nest building activity going on in the Estuary section. I wonder if that is due to the greatly increased COVID-19 levee traffic. No matter what time of day I go to the levee, there is a constant flow of people either walking, biking, skating, jogging etc. Plus a lot of people walk with their dogs, who are mostly leashed. BC(Before COVID) there were parts of the day with no or very little path traffic. The COVID levee hustle coincided with the bird breeding season and maybe the future parents went looking for a quieter neighborhood? But where?


There are 2 PELAGIC CORMORANTS loafing around by the Trestle bridge. Up to now they share a friendly sibling relationship and breeding seems the furthest thing from their mind. Maybe they are building a deeper connection or are actually siblings? Many times a male MALLARD in his bright orange galoshes stands close by on the rocks. Is he vying for their tree trunk or keeping them company? They do make an interesting Trio.
Enjoy your leisure nature visits as you discover critter magic~jane~

Elephants in the Ganges

Dear Lovers of Ecological Balance,

Just an hour ago I heard the inspired ecological prophetess, Vandana Shiva, report with great delight that elephants were returning to the Ganges.  I felt a distinct thrill of recognition run through me as I connected this to our struggle to protect the San  Lorenzo River from commercial and recreational development and to preserve it as a wildlife area.  No matter if the river is in India or America, when we humans back off a bit, the original inhabitants may return.  I am a little sad that the City of Santa Cruz has of today officially opened the Riverwalk.  I imagine there are wild creatures out there who have enjoyed the brief respite from humans.

Vandana was live streaming  this morning on  a Webinar sponsored by the Right Livelihood Center at UCSC on the subject of Covid19: Crisis and Opportunity.  She traces the Covid 19 crisis directly to commodifying food, commodifying nature.  Protection of the forest, protection of a diversity of seeds, protection of wildlife is required to truly protect our health, she says.  That was her message in a nutshell- that we have to change our relationship to nature, and to farming,  if the earth is to be healthy, and if all of those of us  locked down on this earth are to be healthy.    If we don’t get this balance right, we are condemned to continuing pandemics, social breakdown and of course, climate chaos.   Her message helped me make new connections and inspired me with the need for international solidarity.

Here you and I are, in an already over-developed community, trying to protect a small patch of urban river from the the growth addiction of big developers and their willing and self-interested  collaborators like the local Chamber of Commerce.  Profit-motivated designs for our river as a backdrop to upscale restaurants, hotels and luxury condos, never seemed right to most of us.  That’s why Jane and I started this blog – to see the river through the lens of its original occupants rather than through a lens of human pleasure and profit.   But it’s so helpful when a visionary like Vandana Shiva helps us make the connection between growth addiction and a pandemic like Covid 19.  It helps us understand a little better how we all fit into the larger picture.

Shiva has just widened the vision of what we are doing here in our blog, and what hundreds of thousands of small groups of people around the world are doing, to honor the natural world and stop the forces of development that threaten this world.  She is helping us understand the connection between elephants in the Ganges, an obscure and microscopic virus, and protecting wildlife wherever we find it – not only in the pristine wilderness areas, but in our own urban backyard in Santa Cruz.  She is helping us understand what it means to achieve real health in a world currently controlled by powerful anti-health forces masquerading as promoters of health, i.e. Big Pharma, Agribusiness and so many more.  The ecological disaster caused by these players has created the real pre-existing conditions, including mass poverty and ecological destruction,  that underlie the current pandemic.

Keep washing your hands and practicing physical distancing – or whatever else it takes to stay alive in this emergency – so that we can continue to create an international ecological movement for a healthy world.  That is Vandana Shiva’s vision.  I will try to include a link to her talk in my next post.

My computer has crashed again and I’m writing this laboriously with my thumbs!  I had some good stories and photos, especially about a hungry juvenile hawk and a hapless squirrel.  Those  stories will have to wait until next time.  But I wanted to tell you about Shiva’s talk right away.

As we go back into the local parks, including the Riverwalk, I know I will be even more motivated to treat the wild plants and animals with all the respect they deserve, knowing that our health and their health depend on living in balance with each other.

Amazed to be alive at such a dramatic moment in the earth’s history.






Spring at the River…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Explorers,

DOUBLE-crested CORMORANT fishing in the river…

It’s so good to read you post again, Barbara! What a month you had~ that pain sounds intense. I gather your backyard became your Nature paradise, which helped your recuperation nicely. Aren’t you glad that Nature enjoyment is high on your list? Just looking out the window offers you spring blossom greeting and stepping outside you hear the birds serenading the season in excelsis. I am sure your stay safe walks are filled with happy gratitude to see that Nature is continuing her ancient cycles while our lives are upside down. As we are wading through our creative resources of how to entertain ourselves and stay well, Nature is busy hosting a grand coming out party for her leafy, furry, feathered, scaly debutantes. Now isn’t that a splendid omen for our new future?

bee harvesting Calif Lilac, planted last year…

I guess you could say that spring is pulsing through my veins, because I have been busy with pulling weeds in the Laurel St bridge island, so that the newly planted native species have room to grow and spread unhindered. As I mentioned our Estuary volunteer Project got cancelled, which not only left over a 150 native plants begging for soil housing, but also an impressive wood pile, aching to be spread. So I turned my daily stay safe virus walks into habitat improvement activity. This entailed staying put in one area and getting to know the daily walkers, their dogs and kids, drug dealers and their clientele, the lovers and their happiness. Since this site is right by a light signal intersection, I was treated to a wide range of loud music. Over the last 2 weeks I learned that young men mostly listen to angry, hard core or whining music. Young women listen mainly to love yearning tunes. Many truck driving men like country tunes. It seems that once people reach their forties, they no longer turn up their radio dials, so I have no idea what they are listening to. I have been on a mission to get all this work done, because I observe the benefits of the native plants for the river critters: the bees feeding on the blossoms of now established Calif. Lilac and the moth resting under the Gum-plant.

intimidating large wood chip pile…

I think you would be proud of me, Barbara, if you saw how seriously I take our ‘Protect Wildlife’ motto. I am absolutely without prejudice when it comes to pointing out that certain conducts are harmful to the river habitat. This includes insisting that the camps get removed from the waterline in order to protect the waterfowl’s breeding grounds or preventing anybody walking up or down slopes so erosion and ground nester disturbances are avoided. Who knew that protecting wildlife was an exercise of daily civil courage and education. You be happy to know that we have planted more Toyon bushes in order to increase the CEDAR WAXWING food sources in the Estuary section. This species adores the red Toyon berries~ a flock of these little beauties can strip a bush bare within 20 minutes. We have 5 more big Toyon bushes ready to be planted, which hopefully carry fruit by coming winter. I think our efforts are having the wished for results, because people have mentioned that the CEDAR WAXWING presence has increased along the river.

early morning empty beach…

Slipping a “R” into the COVID-19 could very well be a Freudian slip since I feel the same about the virus and the CROWS. I am just not fond of overwhelming, invasive traits, although the sound of COVID-19 is surprisingly beautiful. The interesting thing is that CROW population is way down on the beach and along the river. Then again less people, less tourists means less food litter thus putting a dent in the CROWS food supply. The RED-tailed HAWKS are benefitting from not being mobbed by up to a dozen CROWS. The harassment of one or two CROWS doesn’t interfere with their courtship flights right above me. A few CLIFF SWALLOWS have returned and they are examining last year’s nests, determining what remodeling is required for successful breeding. My wish for you is that you stay safe and well while you enjoy the Spring cycle~jane~

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.








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.







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.

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.

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.

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

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)




%d bloggers like this: