when passion calls…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Passion-eers,

KILLDEER watching me…

Was that the beginning of a roof top romance? Will the romance result be a nest? Could it be that I was watching a tradition in the making? As you know, I have been hoping for the return of the KILLDEER couple. They have nested for the last 3 years by the Riverside Ave. bridge. 2 years in a row in the Fruit Orchard, which puts Andy in a bind, because it makes work there impossible and he enjoys being the feather-puff godfather. Wistfully I would listen to reports of nesting KILLDEERS upstream, missing that sight downstream. So when I heard that unique KILLDEER call, I froze in place and scanned the grounds all around me. Then the call came again from higher up. Lifting my eyes to the roof top across the street, I saw the KILLDEER watching me, matching my frozen stance. It made me laugh to catch the 2 of us behaving the same way. Just then the other KILLDEER appeared over the roof top, walking by the frozen one with a swashbuckling attitude, who snapped into action, following the promising tail swagger around the corner. Their lively roof top activity looked nest promising.

MALLARD couple crossing the Trestle bridge…

Before I tell you about these next situations a brief nutshell explanation is in order: my love for Nature is a passion, which is a willingness and a free choice to surrender to the emotions that my passion creates, which often amounts to translating Nature’s communication language to fellow human beings. Therefore I am no longer mortified to find myself yelling down the river point cliff at a young woman and a State Ranger on top of my lungs. Both were lingering over a drift wood pile, sending a KILLDEER into high panic. The agitated bird tried to lure the humans away from the nest: repeatedly running a short distance with dragging wing while vocalizing, stopping, collapsing into the sand with wide out spread wings. Neither human picked up on the KILLDEER’s request for needed space. When the young woman understood my translation of the bird’s communication she waived and left. The Ranger communicated that he would leave after carefully removing a big log on which a MEADOW LARK was perched, who waited until the tractor gripped the log before it flew off. 4 fledglings peeled out of a close by bush and followed the parent up the cliff. When things finally settled back down, the MEADOW LARK family and KILLDEER returned to pursue their lives. My next encounter was with 2 young men, who were in the search of a board that one of them had thrown into Jeb’s wonderful restoration project. I know the hard work that went into creating that luscious native vegetation and so had to ask them to please not step on the plants. One of them was really understanding, apologized and got his friend to stop breaking the bushes and they left.

camping mistake…

Next was the man in the tent at the bottom of the river bank. His mistake was camping next to the bush where I had seen the SONG SPARROW disappear with food in its beak. This bird is an ever elusive ground, low bush nester. Now it was flying agitated back and forth. This called for pointing out that camping was inappropriate next to a SONG SPARROW nest. That news didn’t go over great and we had a heated discussion, which was well worth it, because he packed up & left. Later I saw the SONG SPARROW dash into the bush with food in its beak.

Trestle path is open…

Well, the new Trestle path is open and people are using it. It is wider, which seems to create the Goldfish bowel effect: Goldfish rapidly grow to take up the extra bowl space. Single filing is a thing of the past~now people enjoy walking, biking next to each other, taking up the extra space, resulting in the prior dilemma: passing is difficult. Life has a curious sense of humor: the men were dismantling the safety structure, which was installed to prevent construction materials from falling into the river. One beam decided that the precaution didn’t apply to safety material, got loose and plunged into the river…I welcome the return of the PEREGRINE FALCON, the OSPREY, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, WARBLERS, SONG SPARROW to the Trestle tree area.
Passion greetings to you all, jane

SONG SPARROW announcing its territory…

Political Alliances – Avian and Human

Dear Jane and Friends of the Wild,

May 9, 2019, San Lorenzo River, 2 gulls and 6 crows harass a Red-tailed Hawk at bottom left. Two gulls are slightly apart in photo but were flying close by most of the time. Photo by B. Riverwoman

My favorite bird moment on the river this last week was the sight of 2 GULLS flying with  6 AMERICAN CROWS in a joint attack on a long-suffering  RED-TAILED HAWK!   The action took place very high up in the sky so at first I didn’t see the two white streaks among the black ones. Then I did a double take.  Were those really gulls joining forces with the crows?   It sure looked that way as the gulls wove in and out among the crows  But it made sense when I thought about it.  The Red-tailed Hawks are predators on the nests of both.  As I left the levee, grinning from ear to ear,  I ran across my friend, Marilyn Strayer, who was also looking heavenward with a big smile on her face. A new and unlikely  political alliance was being born in front of our eyes.

I am so happy to follow up my report in my last blog with photos of another WOOD DUCK family!  This time with seven (7) little ones.   I was also really grateful to get an e-mail from Alex Rinkert,  head of the Breeding Bird Atlas II project, pointing out the historical significance of some of my sightings:

…all those are valuable to the Atlas,  especially the Canada Goose and Wood Duck. The former was not nesting in Santa Cruz during Atlas 1 (1987-1993) so your observation documents range expansion. The latter is one of few breeding records we have for Wood Duck and adds more support for their nesting along the lower San Lorenzo, where there is very little nesting habitat for them.

May 9, 2019, Wood Duck with one of 7 babies. Just north of Felker St. Footbridge, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I love this kind of historical perspective on the movement of populations, especially important now when so many species face imminent extinction .  Thanks to Alex and to Atlasers all over the country for their painstaking attention to detail.  (I have still not figured out how to enter my data correctly on the Atlas Excel sheets and Alex was trying to help me! )

Brochure on Stream Wood produced by the Resource Conservation District (RCD), the County of Santa Cruz Environmental Health Services, the County Santa Cruz Public Works and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Wood Ducks use the cavities in old fallen logs for their nests.  Maybe the County’s noble effort to educate us all on the greatness of old logs paid off with those seven little fluffy Wood Ducks.  I feel silly to be so excited about fallen logs.  But I am not alone.  At the recent conference on the river I picked up a  glossy brochure called ‘Stream Wood’ and I’ve been  reading and re-reading it.  I suspect it was written at least in part by that amazing woman Kristin Kittleson, who I believe works in the Water Resources Program of the County.  I know for sure that she is a lover of fallen logs and I have heard her  speak quite eloquently about how important they are – how they can  control water flow, enhance water quality, protect fish and fish eggs and offer habitat for a wide range of animal species.  Plus they are so beautiful as water spills over and around them.  No longer will Kristin allow us to cut them up and haul them away.  They are a key part of the ecology of a river. And can provide a nesting spot for Wood Ducks!

Canada Geese family, San Lorenzo Park near Duck Pond, May 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My  observations of CANADA GOOSE  that Alex Rinkert referred to were further downstream.  I found one handsome family with the five fluffy juveniles cuddled up together on the edge of the Duck Pond, then later foraging with their ever-watchful parents on the grassy area nearby.  Shortly after that I spotted another  family with just  two juveniles below the Water St. Bridge, pictured below.  I also saw a family with two goslings behind the Tannery on another day, but it could have been the same family.

 May 9, 2019, near Water St. Bridge, San Lorenzo River, two young Canada Geese, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Two  parents of the goslings hovering watchfully  nearby.
Juvenile Dark-eyed Junco, one of five, near Children’s Park, San Lorenzo Park, May 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Just past the Duck Pond, I ran across what at first I thought were five Juncos. But when I looked more closely the coloring was all off.  I went into my panicky photo snapping mode,  thinking I had just discovered a new species on the river. I could hardly wait to get home, download them, and identify my new find.  It turned out they were, after all, DARK-EYED JUNCOS.  But juveniles!  That explained the strange markings. This was my first look at Junco juveniles.  They were foraging in leaf litter underneath the redwoods close to the Children’s Park in San Lorenzo Park, apparently unperturbed by my excessive camera clicking.

Mallard pair resting near Duck Pond, May 9, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I have been noticing that  a lot of Mallards are back in pair formation, after a month or so of absent females (presumably on their nests) and packs of idle drakes lolllng about on the banks. But that has changed. These last weeks I have seen agitated male and female chases as well as cuddling pairs.  It seems like they are working on  second families.

.In addition to the waterfowl above, I have seen other evidence of breeding to report to eBird and Alex –  KILLDEER (pair flying and calling together), NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (carrying nesting material and also dipping briefly into mud banks), and, thrillingly, a pair of YELLOW WARBLERS (in chasing pattern, across from Trader Joe’s). Here are my two eBird checklists, click here and here, if you want to check out all the species I saw these last two weeks.

I know all of you, like me, were shocked and disheartened by the  May 6th report  from the United Nations announcing that one million species are threatened with extinction, “many within decades”.   It’s hard to  think about for even a moment.

But if we don’t try our best to stop it, who will?  I want to take time here to acknowledge the truly excellent work that you, Jane, do in both loving nature deeply and immersing yourself in the hard but necessary organizational work of protecting the natural world.  Since we met just about five years ago (working to stop recreational paddling on the river), you have taken on leadership roles of all kinds– as  Conservation Chair of the Bird Club, as Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club, as appointed member of the City Parks and Recreation Commission, and as lead person in the Lagoon Re-vegetation Project. I am in awe!  Organizing on that scale is hard but so important to success.  And, of course, you write your amazingly observant and delightful stories on our blog.  Thank you for all of this!

The rest of this blog is  a brief follow up to my last post on Ross Camp – for those of you who are interested.

The new legal encampment at 1220 River St. with 60 City provided tents and surrounded by barbed wire.
Tents with storage container at left. Breakfast and lunch are provided and shuttle service 3 times a day.

On May 6,  the illegal Ross Camp was closed for good. Sixty people from the camp of 200 residents signed up for the  legal camp at 1220 River St. and were taken there by bus along with each camper’s two bins of belongings, all that was allowed.  They had been warned that  they would again be evicted from that temporary spot in  two months with no assured shelter after that.  (But as I understand it,  the intention of the City is to try and connect these campers with services during these two months.)  A few others were moved into empty beds in  previously existing housed programs.  Most have,  understandably, once again dispersed into the parks, doorways, woods, and sidewalks of Santa Cruz. Some opportunists have probably left town.  So far the City is not publicizing the numbers. Since camping arrests are no longer legal (Boise v. Martin), trespassing arrests in the last week have been way up according to the statistics just published this week by the Police Department.

On Monday, May 9, the day that the Ross Camp was sealed off for good, I went to pay my last sad respects to what had suddenly become an eery ghost town, devoid of people and filled only with abandoned tents and the roar of bulldozers.  Outside were two women, one sobbing and  cradling a bicycle like a young child and one woman named Hope shaking her fist and cursing loudly at the milling police rangers and First Alarm employees. I couldn’t bear to linger and crossed the Felker St. Bridge.  That was the moment when I discovered the  seven baby Wood Ducks, cosmically positioned to lift my spirits!

An artist’s tent home at Camp Ross on May 6, last day of the camp. Thanks to Abbi Samuels, strong homeless advocate, for introducing me to this site. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I  fell into a very dark emotional  place the next day.  It wasn’t that I loved that place.  No one really loved it, including the residents. One homeless man told me on the last day that he wouldn’t “wish this on his worst enemy.”   I had spent a good amount of time there, and in many ways it did include exactly what critics described – drugs, crime, and trash (though I personally, in five prolonged visits, never saw a single needle and I did see beautifully kept tents and even artistic embellishments.  The main pathways were usually kept clear of trash by the residents.) There was also despair, rage and grief. And because it was so visible, it attracted occasionally vicious harrassment from some drive-by oppponents.  I guess the sign carried by one homeless woman expressed my overriding feeling about it all – ‘If you don’t have a better solution, please don’t take away our solution. It’s the best we have”.  What homeless people did have at the Ross Camp that they lacked before was more community, more protection, and some growing awareness and even empathy from the Santa Cruz community of their desperate situation.

I expect we are all deeply sobered by this very visible eruption of the physical pain, mental suffering and social failing that is normally hidden in the the shadows of our fair City.  Can we now reflect on  this failure/success and come up with a better answer?

Entrance to Brent Adam’s Storage Program near Felker St. Bridge Photo by B. Riverwoman

After leaving the sealed off camp on Monday, and letting the Wood Duck babies heal my bruised soul,  Brent Adams happened along and invited me to take a short tour of his Storage Program, just across the footbridge from the closed Camp.  Brent is a controversial figure in our town, someone who is very warm-hearted and hard-working but who can be harshly critical at times of both homeless advocates as well as City officials.  He says he wants to create constructive solutions to homelessness, not just protest.  He almost single-handedly raised the funds for a small but beautifully organized and much-needed storage center for the homeless.  He proudly showed me 483 large plastic tubs, each labelled with the name of a homeless individual.  There was another room filled with medical supplies, clothes organized by size and gender , as well as a lobby/meeting space/reception area.  Brent took time off from my ‘tour’ to bring out, one by one, 6 pairs of women’s pants, size 4 to 6, for a very thin, pale and dishevelled young woman.  She finally found a pair that she liked. I was impressed by Brent’s kindness. He told me that sometimes a homeless individual will stop by to simply spend time with the contents of his or her bin, often just to pore over family photos. Brent always makes the bins available.  Unfortunately, the building that now houses the program is about to be sold to a developer and Brent will have to find a new place. Brent lives in a van.

In spite of the unique blinders that all of us wear, I believe that everyone– the homeless, the City, the residents, the police, the activists – have done their best.  There is no point in castigating each other.

My own hope is that Brent’s vision of  a real Transitional Encampment like the ones  being experimented with successfully in Seattle, will someday be considered seriously by Santa Cruz.  I really don’t see any other solution..  Unfortunately, I don’t think our City government is yet ready to imagine authorized shelter in tents, nor some level of self-governance by the houseless themselves.  But emergency conditions require new and creative  solutions.  Seattle has succeeded in finding a some kind of balance between emergency shelter and human dignity.  We can do it, too.

I hope you all get to see some bird babies before they all grow up. Maybe you would even consider Atlasing.  It’s made me so much more aware of breeding behavior.















this is different…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Enjoyers,

Pat Farley taking Mickey for a walk…

I was taking photos of the Trestle path when my neighbor and river point compadre, Pat Farley, walked up with his dog in a wagon. Mickey is getting old and walking is becoming an ordeal for the big Belgium shepherd dog. That day was their second outing with the new set-up, which is proving to be very satisfactory for both. Pat and Mickey have a harmonized relationship, where they just sync up with each other as they move through life. We talked about the path progress, which is coming along rapidly now that the weather improved. Pat and I used to feel sorry for the workers, who were getting hammered by the rain, cold and wind. Mickey gave the restless sign, so they moved and I took photos of the tree that the Public Work Department saved thanks to adjusting the path design. It’s wonderful that the big tree was allowed to stay so that it can shade the water, the path and be a home, food source for birds, bees and butterflies.

path design saved Trestle tree…

Finally the cute, tiny feather balls arrived on the water. In the last week I saw 2 MALLARD Mamas showing off their newly hatched joy bundles. One batch of ducklings had a Dad in tow, which in recent years has become a rare sight. This year the air isn’t filled with female quakes as the male MALLARDS pursue them in the sky. I am happy to report that the Mamas are not being harassed by the males. Honestly that is a refreshing relief, because in the last 2 years the aggressive male behavior had escalated and was hard to watch.

finally! the cute feather balls are here…

There is still a big flock of CLIFF SWALLOWS busily building nests under the Crescent bridge, which is across from Jessie St. Marsh. As I mentioned that is a new location for them. I think the reason for their presence at that bridge is the abundance of mud: highly treasured by the CLIFF SWALLOWS, because it’s a necessity for their nest building. Hanging over the railing, I entertained myself watching them dig their beaks into the mud, resurfacing with a bill load, flying off and returning for more. They do that approx. 500 times to complete a comfy nest.

CLIFF SWALLOW w/mud load in beak…

Across the river a juvenile Gull was looking around for something to do. It stood by the waterline, contemplating mischief, pondering how to achieve that task and then went into action after surveying the scene in both directions. The Gull focused on the near-by sleeping MALLARDS, slowly walked close to them, stopped, stretched its neck and pecked one sleeper’s back, who exploded to his feet, looking with surprise at the Gull. The other MALLARD got up slowly up to find out if it should be worried about the Gull’s next move. The Gull clearly wanted a more dramatic MALLARD reaction and started chasing its first victim up the bank.

juv. Gull chasing m. MALLARDS up the bank…

The other MALLARD was no fool, used its own common sense and cleared off the shore. After that accomplishment the Gull looked around, saw an other MALLARD group, walked over and chased them off the sandbar. The next group saw the approaching Gull and delivered a dramatic burst into the air, avoiding the chasing fiend. Satisfied the mischievous chaser preened its feathers. When that was done, it took a leisurely walk up and down the empty shoreline. It was unexpected to watch the Gull’s behavior, because Gulls and MALLARDS usually coexist very nicely together. Then again~ maybe feathered teenagers are not that different from human teenagers, whose middle name is mischief…Well, the big equipment arrived again at the river mouth. Huge amounts of sand were shoved to shape a berm along the Boardwalk and the Main Beach. This berm will prevent the river from getting any wrong meander ideas, i.e. wandering into the Boardwalk Beach area. It will be interesting to see if the Boardwalk will clean the tourist litter that is left behind on the other side of the new berm, which the kids welcome as their new fun slide.

new berm and beach litter…

If you are able to join us for the next Estuary Project day on Saturday, May 18th from 9am-11am you’ll experience the wonderful side-effect of restoration work: Feeling happy that you are helping to improve the San Lorenzo River wildlife habitat.
River morning greetings to you from jane

This is All We Have. Don’t Take It Away.

Dear Jane and other friends of the natural world,

I’m going to take a slight detour this week and focus on the ‘people’ side of our River Mysteries blog.   In just two days, the 200 or more homeless  campers at Camp Ross will be forced to evacuate with no clear plan from the City on where they are all to go. Many will no doubt return to our river banks,  the Pogonip and City Parks – with the inevitable environmental impact.  And the campers will lose the community of friends and fellow sufferers that they have built and value, and the safety it affords them.

Part of the reason that you and I have focused on the urban river, and especially birds, is that urban wildlife and habitat is so sorely misunderstood, neglected and mistreated.   I feel that, in the same way, the very vulnerable human population of homeless campers is badly understood and treated disrespectfully.  Under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings have a right to be treated with dignity.Far end of Camp Ross near the welcome sign. The irony speaks for itself. .

So –  for the last couple of weeks I have left my binoculars at home and instead carried a notebook and pen as I headed up river to the crowded Ross Camp wedged into a small space between the Ross Store and the glitzy “Welcome to Santa Cruz’ sign at the main highway entrance to Santa Cruz. I wanted to know who was living there,  wanted to know from their own mouths what they were struggling with.

I visited five times, and each time I came away touched and sobered, depressed and impressed, shocked and thrilled.  It is that kind of camp!  It needs a combination of John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman and Charles Dickens to tell the story, as well as a first rate modern documentary film.  This report, long as it is, is extremely superficial.  Nonetheless, it was an important experience for me,  and I hope others will be interested in the  people I met and learned from. I have changed all the names except three who gave me permission to use their  full name.

I’ll start with the most important thing that I learned.  I used to think that food, water and shelter were the most important elements of meeting our human survival needs, a la Abraham Maslow.   But after talking to at least twenty people from the camp, I have begun to revise that belief.  In some cases at least, community seems to be as important to survival as water. ALICEa quiet, beautiful and slightly dishevelled young  woman told me, “A lot of people here don’t have family.  This is what we have. Don’t take it away unless you can give us something better.”  This sentence still brings tears to my eyes as I write it.  Can’t the wonderful community of Santa Cruz  understand this basic truth and build their programs on this foundation.  City workers go home after a hard days work to children, spouses, parents, friends. Will they really deny ‘family’, and the safety this provides,  to those who may need it most.  It is not enabling to be humane.

One woman I talked to at length was  MAGGIE ROCHELLE, not a homeless person but an art instructor in Houston, Texas and a  mother who had not heard from her son, Alan, in three years.  She had done some serious detective work and had followed her son from Houston to Santa Cruz.  As she said, “If he had lived out in the woods, I would never have found him.  But he was at the camp here and I found him!” Last week, she drove him to Oakland to help him buy a banjo and he has been playing at the camp ever since.  Her son has not yet broken free of his drug habit, but Maggie feels that he seems to be doing better, the two of them are more connected, and she is more hopeful about his future.  She has visited Alan in the camp almost every day for a month, even staying with him in his tent for three days to learn more about his life.  As I talked to her yesterday,   another young man who had been the one to lead her to her son’s tent on the first day strolled by. He had disappeared and she had been worried. But he had been at the Janus drug recovery center for 52 days, had put on 30 pounds, and was neatly dressed and shaven.  He was completely out of touch with his own mother and seemed almost as happy to see Maggie as she was to see him.  Maggie had tears in her eyes as she gave him a warm embrace..  A little love goes a long ways, especially in a homeless camp.

Two friends help Rune,  a  60 year old man at Camp Ross, who has just overdosed. He was immediately given Norcan by a friend and survived.  County  health workers who happened to be on site follow with medical supplies.  

A man I met on my first visit was KEVIN SCOTT JONES, 57 years old, a wiry, lively man with long curly brown hair tumbling down to his shoulders.  He danced around and talked with great animation as he explained a little about his life to me and Councilmember Sandy Brown.  He had grown up with an abusive stepfather in Felton,  his home had burned to the ground when he  was seven years old,  he had been living outside since then, except when he had a girlfriend or was in jail.   Ironically, he committed his first ‘crime’ when he took some gold coins from under the bed of a housemate who owed him money.  He did it  in order to keep a promise to a girlfriend that they wouldn’t end up on the streets.  Over the course of his life, he ended up spending a total of 20 years behind bars.  He said he usually sleeps during the days and only goes out at night when there is less tempation to steal.  He has cancer and is in constant pain, bleeding every time he urinates. He said he is impervious to cold after having lived outside so many years.   He said his nickname was ‘Nobody’ and proudly showed us the word boldly tattooed in large black letters on his back. He loves the community aspect of Ross Camp and told us that he knows the names of most people in the camp. People know him, too. For me the most significant moment of our talk came when someone from outside the Camp walked up to him in stockinged feet and said he needed a pair of shoes to be allowed to get into court for his own hearing.  Kevin asked for his shoe size and then immediately took off his own shoes and gave them to the man.  Kevin said he does not need a house, much less a managed shelter. He does not want medical care.   He likes the community aspect of the Ross Camp, but  would also love just a small piece of land that he can control himself, and on which he might even be able to build a small cabin. Nobody created the land.  Why shouldn’t a small but fair share of it belong to Nate? Who is stealing from whom?

On my walk up to the Camp I met TOM,  a young man in his 20’s with a sensitive face and gentle demeanor.  He was traveling the coast, working on organic farms, interested in permaculture and justice, and clearly trying to come to grips with the terrible injustices in the world.  He was circling around the Ross Camp, trying to make sense of it, but not able to enter that world so much tougher  than the world he came from. He had stayed briefly at the Veterans shelter and was searching for a sanctioned place where he could simply hang a hammock in exchange for some kind of service, a tent being too heavy to carry everywhere.  He said he became delusional when he didn’t get good food to eat. He was very understanding of both sides in the conflict between the housed and unhoused, pointing out how isolated many housed people were, how many of those people are working hard and are still close to homelessness themselves.   He talked about communal land trusts as a good answer, but said that the banks control the market and they are stopping positive social change.  He also longed for a ‘festival culture’ of dancing and gardening.   Would it be so hard to find some land and put up some hooks where the lovely Toms of this world could hang their hammocks as they search for peace and justice for all of us?

I met DANE, in his sixties,  not at the Ross Camp but just outside the only entrance to a spanking new Benchlands campground in a large grassy area that stretches along the river in San Lorenzo Park.  A middle-aged white man, well-dressed and clean shaven, Dane was re-visiting his history by visiting this tightly-managed camp, much like the River St. Shelter where  Dane had stayed last year period of homelessness.  “The River St. Shelter  saved my life. It gave me a stable place to get over a temporary setback and find housing again”.  Dane and I learned from the four guards at the one entrance  to the Benchlands Campground that   campers are offered free tents on platforms, free sleeping bags, clean water. The City also promises transitional services to help people find medical treatment, drug treatment, housing, jobs.  It seems like it might be a camper’s dream come true.  But very few are biting.  Why?

First open day at Benchlands Campground, but few applicants.. 20 Coleman tents set up with one security guard and  three City employees at entrance.

Because the Benchlands Campground is scheduled to be open for only 7 days, and was never intended as anything more than a place to temporarily ease the evacuation of the Ross Camp.  Nor is the City’s promise of two months at the River St. Shelter after the Benchlands close an enticement to most of the Ross campers.   Why did the City think that the Ross campers would choose this option – forsaking their community and their freedom for five days at the chain-link fence surrounded Benchlands and then two months in a dusk to dawn only camp.  Is it any wonder that the homeless lose their faith in the  City.     I don’t think the City has met or or really listened to most of the people I talked to at the Ross Camp.

DESIREE  QUINTERO (her real name)  is a 54-year-old woman with thyroid cancer and the political and moral strength of a bulldog. She is intelligent and articulate, a determined leader of the camp, a former firefighter and the the first-named  plaintiff on the lawsuit Quintero v. the City of Santa Cruz, which challenged the legality of closing the Ross Camp.  (The lawsuit lost in the local court, was temporarily overruled in the federal district court in San Jose but was finally sustained in federal court on Monday, April 29.. All residents at the Ross Camp will be forcibly evicted this Friday, May 3.. The word is that the campers are planning to occupy another ‘illegal’ site.

Desiree Quintero near entrance to Ross Camp

Desiree flinches slightly when I ask her about her childhood, but says matter-of-factly “My mother beat the hell out of me. I still suffer from PTSD as a result.”  She is proud that she never physically hurt her own four children, and  visibly thrilled  about the good careers they have made for themselves.   She shakes her head when she tells me that she tried to get into the Page Smith program for three years.  “I was never bad enough’ to get accepted – no drug problem, no CPS, no bad driving record. Just homeless.”  She would love to  love to get into subsidized senior housing, since market rate housing is far beyond what she can afford.  She uses CBD’s, the non-high marijuana for the pain associated with her cancer.  She loves the community that has grown up at the Ross Camp, seems to know almost everyone by name, and talks to everyone. “I’m especially interested in protecting women.  Any female can come here to the Ross Camp and nobody is going to mess with them.  I am fighting for the women more than anything.” She shakes her head again when she hears that the Benchlands camp will check for weapons at the gate.  “We all carry weapons” she said,  showing me her buck knife in a belt pouch.  “We carry them to protect ourselves, cut rope, etc. Every homeless person needs a knife. How can we move to the Benchlands?”

“I would love a   round-the-clock Homeless Center with storage and showers and kind people. It’s all about being respectful and kind.”  She believes the homeless can govern themselves and has worked hard to make that a reality at the Ross Camp.  .She would like a non-profit like Food Not Bombs to be the official manager, not the City.

Desiree introduced me to CHERYL(50’s) a slightly beaten down looking middle-aged woman with what looked like a permanently damaged, probably blind eye.  She does not live in the Ross Camp but visits friends there while camping on the nearby tracks.  I asked her if she felt safe there.  “I’ve got a boyfriend, my knife and an attitude”, she responded with humor and barely concealed pride.  Her voice was surprisingly strong.

MICHAEL SWEATT is a tall, handsome, black man, probably in  his thirties,  articulate,  a leader in the camp and one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit against the City.  He grew up in Kentucky where he admits he suffered a lot of violence both at home and from other kids in the neighborhood.  “I never had a childhood, I’m jealous of those who got that, I always have to be the adult,” he says.  He has lived in Santa Cruz for 23 years.  His campsite is completely shipshape, and he has Michael Sweatt

put a lot of effort into keeping the whole camp clear of as much trash as possible.   But when others, especially “outsider party kids”, trash the Camp he becomes  enraged.  He knows that a lot of people in Santa Cruz  stereotype all campers as trashing the camp and he hates it when a few campers feed that image.

MELANIE is a young, healthy looking  pregnant woman from Watsonville who is due to deliver in June.  She told me that she is homeless because of ‘unhealthy relationships and drugs’.  “I have relapsed several times, but I really want to be clean again.  I am much happier when I am.”

EUGENIA isa very thin, fine-boned. well dressed  Hispanic looking woman who had just gotten out of jail.  “I thought my boyfriend would be at the Camp, butI found out yesterday that he was sentenced to nine more years in prison. I just can’t stand it. The whole thing has been  so bogus, so unfair”

There is no point concealing the lives of suffering, humiliation and hopelessness that lie close to the surface of so many of the people at the Camp.  The pain has led to criminal behavior, drug addiction, and mental health problems.  The campers are poor and so they may steal.  They are in physical and mental pain, sometimes excruciating, and so they may self-soothe with drugs.  They are living in unjust and discriminatory world that leaves many of them enraged.  They are victims since childhood of racism and rape, poverty and prison, bad homes and bad schools.

There is commonality, but, as  I’ve tried to show, each person’s story is different, and the needs are different.  Dane needed a structured shelter with a lot of rules that the City feels comfortable in providing.  Tom needs a place where he can hang his hammock, eat healthy organic food, and work on social justice issues.  Desiree needs subsidized senior housing, but also a community of people that she can serve, especially women.  Nate needs a small plot of land on which to build a small house.  Many of them would welcome drug rehab programs or mental health programs where they felt respected and where they had a voice in their own lives and treatment.  Many have already tried to make it, again and again, in such programs but something hasn’t worked.

Many of the  people I talked to have not experienced the kind of respect from the people in power that they deserve, nor have they been encouraged to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Until the City can adopt an attitude, as well as policies and programs, that clearly recognize the intrinsic dignity of every person in our community, how can we not support the movement of the homeless to build their own world as best they can, with at least a decent campground, clean drinking water, the right to govern themselves, and the right to occupy a piece of public land.

It is, of course, not the fault of our City or County leaders that homelessness exists.  The problem is rooted in something much deeper, namely an economic system that valorizes greed and undercuts human connections.  But some cities are doing better than we.   I hope we will also step up to the plate.

Here is my quote of the day, which can refer to non-human species as well as humans.  The earth, after all,  belongs to all kinds of species.

“The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air.  It is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.”                                                                  Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 1879

I’m so happy to report that I found my first WOOD DUCK family up behind the Tannery last week.

May we guarantee safe habitats for all living creatures. especially the most vulnerable. May the Ross Camp morph into something that works well for both the campers,  all other humans in our City, and the non-human creatures that populate our river.













did you notice?

Cheering your New Morning,
I love mornings. They open the gate to let in the day’s adventures. My morning river walks limber up my mind, soul and spirit since they are filled life’s unpredictability, which can be magical, sad, puzzling, humorous and or ??? They are perfect for getting me ready for the rest of my new day.

early morning at the San Lorenzo River…

Have you noticed the flux of COMMON GOLDENEYES on the river? Sometimes 1 or 2 are present, then the next day there are 9 to 11, then they are totally absent to show up the following day in full force. Actually they should have left, because they are supposed to be thinking of the future generations, frolicking around up north in preparations for breeding. For us it is an uncustomary treat to see the young males cast their juvenile plumage aside and start show-casing their stunning adult attire.
There is male BUFFLEHEAD, who likes to hang out between Riverside Ave. and Laurel bridge. 2 weeks ago I saw a female with him, but now she is gone. It is odd to see him alone. BUFFLEHEADS usually hang out with their flock ..then again he seems quite contend foraging and diving at his own leisure. He should be up north as well, working on his mating skills.

one of the few CLIFF SWALLOWS at the Riverside Ave. bridge…

I noticed a heavy decline of CLIFF SWALLOWS’ interest in nesting under the ledges of the Riverside Ave. bridge. Traditionally that has been their favorite breeding location. Robin, a river connoisseur, also noticed less CLIFF SWALLOW activity there. It appears that they they migrated to the other bridges. Now the ‘why’ questions are storming around in my head: Has the common danger of nest parasites invaded their old homesteads and doomed their usual remodeling as hazardous for their brood? Has the high, sandy sediment build up covered their mud spots, which they use for nest mortar? Did the heavy, late rains change their food source? I have noticed more NORTHERN Roughed-wing SWALLOWS at the Riverside Ave. bridge. They are crevice nesters, honing in on the light fixtures underneath the bridge. This spring I have observed a new NORTHERN Roughed-wing SWALLOWS behavior: they are chasing after their cousins in a menacing manner, at times tangle up with them in mid-air. It turns out that our path wood chips are their preferred nesting material. The NORTHERN Roughed-wing SWALLOWS clearly favor the Cedar chips and carefully select the best fibers, reminding me of people searching for the perfect piece of wood at lumber yards.

one of the many NORTHERN ROUGHED-winged SWALLOWS…

The other day there was a LESSER YELLOWLEG along the shore behind the Skate Park. This is another bird species, who should have flown north by now to work on the offspring assignment. But there it was, relaxed and feasting on river yummies.

delaying migration?







I haven’t seen 1 little duckling fluff ball on the river. At this time of year they delight us with their adorable cuteness. I have seen 10 small feather puffs in a box though. They were rescued by the meridian maintenance crew from the busy Ocean St meridian, where they were found with no mother in sight. Alex Lopez and Dan Ayers are my heroes, because they safely gathered the tiny lost souls in a box and took them to the wonderful Native Animal Rescue, where they will be taken care of until they are big enough to be set free. I cheer these 2 men, who took the time to follow the call of kindness: looking out for the young, helpless beings.

City meridian crew rescue ducklings…

I noticed 2 kayaks parked underneath the Trestle bridge. After ogling the RED-throated LOON’s foraging, I turned around to witness the occupied kayaks heading upstream as all the water birds started to flush. I was far away from them and couldn’t get their attention away from navigating the shallow water. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore and yelled on top of my lungs: “NO!”, which snapped the kayaker’s head up in my direction and made the nearby couple jump. I shouted down to the trespassers that boating is prohibited on the river and that it is nesting season. They turned around and headed to the ocean after they unstuck themselves from the high sediment. I hadn’t realized that several people had gathered around me, which turned into the perfect occasion to explain why boating on the river was a bad idea. River morning greetings, jane

Where Have All the Young Birds Gone?

Feeling tired and a little sick lately, I haven’t taken my usual walks from Water to Laurel and back again.  Instead, this week, I took a fold-up chair and settled myself in a sunny spot next to the river behind the Tannery, staying for two hours, dozing off at least half the time.  That’s birding when you get to be eighty.   Of course, the great birder, Jon Young (What the Robin Knows), says that choosing a regular ‘sit spot’ makes for the best birding.

Even at 11 o’clock in the morning there were birds all around me, singing their hearts out.

Song Sparrow, San Lorenzo River between Felker and Water Bridges, April 17, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Most insistent were the quick staccato songs of the JUNCOS, and the complex and irrepressible warbling of many SONG SPARROWS.
After a while I heard the distinctive buzz of a SPOTTED TOWHEE in the nearby underbrush, the squawk of a STELLAR’S JAY from a tall eucalyptus and the hammering of a WOODPECKER from a distance.  But I felt far too lazy to set out in search of  any of them.  Their songs, the light-filled river and the shadowy complexities of the storied canopy graced me with more than enough magic.

Emma McCrary Trail
Spotted Towhee, San Lorenzo River, April 5,  2017, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was awake long enough to see a COMMON MERGANSER shoot by on the surface of the swiftly flowing river, its triple-jointed rubbery body stretched out flat to what seemed twice its length, intent on its hunting.  But, again,  I was far too slowed down to even attempt a photo.

Finally, I heard something stir below me, turned just slightly  and caught a short glimpse of the  intense metallic blue and deep russet colors given off by the feathers of the GREEN HERON in just the right light.  (In some lights the cap and wing feathers have a mossygreen heron green appearance, and in other lights the feathers appear to be all slate gray). Almost immediately the Green Heron took flight, no doubt disturbed by my slight motion.  I thought of you, Jane, and made my apologies. I find myself so drawn to that lovely patch of urban woods behind the Tannery.  Maybe I’m trying to dream into being a similarly rich environment on the Benchlands.

When I got home, I decided to take a little walk down memory lane.  I was wondering what we had seen in earlier years during this month.  (It’s great that, without any effort on our part, Word Press keeps our more than four years worth of blogs neatly categorized according to months.)

It made me a little sad to see this WOOD DUCK family from April 15, 2016. I haven’t seen even one Wood Duck on the river this spring, much less a whole family.

Wood duck
Wood Duck Family, near Laurel St. Bridge, San Lorenzo River, April 20, 2016, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was impressed once again at this amazing photo you took, Jane, of a HORNED GREBE  (below) in full breeding plumage in April 2017 , a rarity since they usually leave for their breeding grounds before they reach this stage of glory.   As far as I know, we didn’t get to see even one of the drabber versions of this  species  this winter. much less this bird in full regalia.

HOrned Grebe Jane Mio
Horned Grebe in full breeding plumage, March 11, 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by Jane Mio

As I was poring my way through these old blogs, I came across this April 2016 photo of the Mallard mama who stayed with her nest in the Benchlands even after City mowers cut

Faith exposed
Mallard on exposed nest in Benchlands after City  mowing, April 11, 2016, photo by B. Riverwoman

down her high grass hide-away in preparation for Earth Day. Yes, very ironic! For Earth Day!  As some of you readers may remember, I had a little dust up with one of the city employees as I tried my best to let her know that it was breeding season and there could well be ground nesters, especially mallards, in those ‘ugly’ weeds.   But this doughty and determined weeder was very resistant to turning off her weed whipper. I immediately called the City but they simply ordered the employee to continue. Several days later my friend Batya told me about the exposed nest and the faithful mom- and I took this photo. The two eggs never hatched. Of course, I spilled out the whole story in my blog that week.

Of course, running across this photo also reminded me that  Earth Day was less than a week away.  I hastily sent the photo, as well as a link to the blog, to Tony Eliot, the new director  of Parks and Rec, asking him to please not mow the area this year.  But I was too late.

I’m grateful that he or someone  forwarded my e-mail to Gary Kittleson, the biologist and amazing birder with whom the city contracts to do all kinds of ecological work.  Gary immediately let me know that the City had actually sent him out to survey the area before the mowing this year.  That was good news.  He had found no visible nests, and the mowing was already done.  That was the bad news. Gary expressed surprise that he didn’t find anything, especially considering the fact that the Benchlands have been fenced off since early winter, eliminating almost all human traffic and making it a theoretically safer nesting place.  We are left to wonder where all the female mallards that we’ve been seeing over the last months have gone.  I’ve seen drakes hanging out in large numbers in recent weeks  but practically no females. Let’s hope we begin seeing families soon.  In previous years they have already been out and about by this time.

Four GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS were still feeding at my feeder this morning, but the numbers have been diminishing dramatically.  I am slowly saying my sad good-byes as they fill their tummies in preparation for the long trip to Alaska and the demands of breeding.  It has been such fun watching the dull stripes on the crowns of many of them gradually become intensely gold, outlined on each side by thick black eyebrows.  Here is a

golden crown splotchy
Golden-crowned Sparrow in early molt, March 22, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

photo of one of my Goldens from three weeks ago with splotchy eyebrows and a less regal  gold cap, followed by a photo of  a later stage molt from a couple of days ago.  One of the sparrows got to know me so well that it started peering in through my glass doors and emitting its plaintive two-note whistle if I was late in putting out their expected breakfast of black sunflower seeds.  I’ve gotten more dependable over the years and they have gotten more friendly and relaxed around me.


Golden-crowned in full head plumage 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow, late molt, April 13, 2019, Barbara’s feeder, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I hope you all know about the new Netflix series called Our Planet, narrated by none other than David Attenborough.  It stands out among nature programs by making the powerful climate change connection. The nature footage is the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s both heartbreaking and thrilling.  Don’t miss it.

Best to you all from an anxious granny waiting for babies to appear,



tasks are useful…

Good Morning Barbara and Nature Lovers,

CLIFF SWALLOW working on the nest…

I arrived early for our river walk rendezvous so that I could spread some wood chips around the newly planted native vegetation before my German friend arrived. The chip circles suppress weeds and also give the maintenance crew ‘native plant’ head’s up as they weed whack. Of course I got sidetracked watching the SWALLOWS acrobat-ing, careening above me. Then I had to stand stock-still to find out if the 2 BUSHTITS were building a nest in the bush next to me, because they kept flying in and out of that shrub. We are in the February 1st through August 15th nesting season I am on constant look out for nests since I don’t want to alarm the young parents with my presence close to their nests. It’s a waste on their energy resources to focus on ‘is she or isn’t she a threat?’. Clearly they have to attend to more important season tasks. So when my friend got there I had not completed my task, which we did finish together thanks to his kind help. As you can imagine, I basked in telling him in German about my endless river observations. During our walk we bonded with the river as we celebrated one observation after the other. Without a question the OSPREY was the highlight that made us giddy with its beauty. It was on the tippy tip of the Redwood tree that grows at the foot of the bank next to the elevated path. This combo allowed us to watch the OSPREY fairly close up, whose priority was pulling one wing feather at a time through its beak. When we left after a long time the OSPREY still wasn’t done with its feather beak combing task, necessary to achieve its superb flight. Saying our good-bye my friend and I agreed that the river had gifted us with many wonderful sights and that we were glad we took the time for this walk.

our OSPREY….

This situation was hell for birds: A young man was sitting peacefully on the river bank and sharing his breakfast with the MALLARDS, who were overjoyed by this unexpected food supply. They stood around him, waiting patiently for an other morsel coming in their way. The RED-throated LOON swam close to the shore, clearly interested in the MALLARD scene. An other young man showed up with his dog. He unleashed the look-alike wolf, who couldn’t believe its luck: MALLARDS nearby on the shore. The dog took off lightning fast, aiming for the breakfast eaters, who couldn’t believe their eyes while they were gauging if this was really true: a dog on the loose, racing straight at them. They decided that a peaceful meal had turned into hell and exploded into the air to land on the water.

creator of bird hell…

The breakfast benefactor yelled at the dog owner, whose dog was chasing the MALLARDS in the water. The RED-throated LOON dove down and re-surfaced at a safe distance. It became obvious that the dog was on fire with hunting fever, ignoring the helpless master’s calls, chasing after every bird in sight until land and water were feather empty. It took a while for the owner to get hold of his dog and as they left the previously peaceful man tasked the other man to become a responsible dog owner with some peppery comments.

welcome back, little KILLDEER…

Driving downtown, I did my usual river scan and saw a group of CANADA GEESE on the sandbank. Needlessly to say: I had to pull over to check them out. There were 10 of them, feeding in the low water, preening themselves and a few were starring off into space. It seemed that the river was a stop-over on their way up north. Watching them I heard the welcome sound of the KILLDEER above my head. That call got a response from the shore. Moments later both of them were walking close to each other on the shore. I was so happy to see them, hoping they decide to nest again by the Riverside Ave. bridge. Never before have I seen so many RED-throated LOONS in the river, also there are still some BUFFLEHEADS and COMMON GOLDENEYES present. Did they decide to spend the summer on the river?                                        Sending you river joy greetings, jane

COMMON GOLDENEYES still on the river…