Of Crows and Owls

Dear Jane and Fellow Friends of the Wild,

Crows are getting on peoples’ nerves these days. My neighbor Alicia told me recently that she got  extremely mad at an AMERICAN CROW that she saw eating a songbird this last summer. She said emphatically that she would never like crows again, that in fact she now hated them.  I had thought that crows were only scavengers of dead animals, but according to Ehrlich’s major reference, “The Birder’s Handbook,”  book,  crows will indeed eat not only birds’ eggs but also nestlings.   Perhaps Alicia’s songbird was a nestling, prematurely fallen from a tree.  Nonetheless, crows are basically scavengers,  usually eating what we grow or toss, as evidenced by  this crow having his morning croissant dipped in river water.

Crow dipping his croissant, San Lorenzo River, May 14, 2017, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Cooper’s Hawk, Jan. 1, 2019 San Lorenzo River, riverine reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Is it possible the crows are getting even pushier these days? Recently I saw three  AMERICAN CROWS harassing  a COOPER’S HAWK who was perched on a telephone line over the river minding his own business.  The crows took turns diving at the   raptor who, for the moment, was the hapless target of crows rather than the predator of hapless songbirds.  The hawk finally flew off,  probably deciding

Attacked Cooper’s Hawk with 3 other crows. Preening afterwards. September. 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

that life was too short to take on this particular group of well-organized  ruffians.  One of the crows promptly plopped himself down on the spot where the hawk had been and started happily preening, no doubt relishing his recent triumph.



Snowy Egret landing on San Lorenzo River, November 2016, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My daughter Kate, visiting from Sacramento,  went out on the river for a run this last week. Just as she was approaching the Riverside Bridge, she saw a SNOWY EGRET flying in with her feet out, grawking loudly at two crows, presumably signaling her territorial rights or intentions.  The crows were facing her and squawking back, energetically flapping their wings for added effect.  Kate said that there was much uproar for a few seconds, then the two crows flew away grumbling and the egret landed. One for the other side – and a delicate egret at that!  (The egret photo is from a few years back – with no crows. )


Crow exploring a plastic bag. November 25, 2015, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

My everpresent curiosity about crows was now piqued, I returned once again to my wonderful book titled “In the Company of Crows and Ravens” by John Marzluff (Yale University Press 2005.)  Marzluff has some fascinating stuff about how crows co-evolved with humans ever since earliest history.  He goes so far as to say that our social evolution might be partly determined by the need to cooperate in order to protect ourselves from predatory and scavenging crows during the hunting and gathering era, and especially in agricultural times – thus the  agricultural term “scarecrow”!   He says that in turn, “much of the culture of today’s american crow is a direct response to our ancestors’ agrarian culture.”  He then brings it down to the present moment and, interestingly,  mentions high-rise buildings.  “The roosting culture of many corvids has also responded to the warmth, protection, and vertical structure that our cities provide.”  This makes me wonder if  we should be using this argument in our challenges to the seven-story luxury buildings being planned for downtown Santa Cruz!  Will they attract unwelcome crows as they did in Berlin where, Marzluff says, winter evenings were marked by the arrival of thousands of crows onto the glass skyscrapers to roost communally in a warm, safe location.  The main point Marzluff is making, of course,  is that we ourselves are responsible for crow behavior since our lives have always been, and still are, so closely intertwined

Yet in our indignation at crows, let’s not forget that not only hawks, falcons and owls eat other birds, but so do our beautiful river friends, the great blue herons and  black-crowned night-herons. And crows, for the most part, eat only carrion, not live animals.  No matter how we cut it, it’s a hard life for those little songbirds.  No wonder they are constantly looking over their shoulders!

Great-horned Owl, Google Image

Speaking of owls, two other neighbors, Batya and Cass, separately reported to me that about 10 p.m. on Thursday last week they saw, independently,  two owls circling overhead near the river, their underwings white and one of them at least emitting a screech that could have been the begging call of a juvenile GREAT HORNED OWL, or could have been the similar sound of a BARN OWL.  Both Batya and Cass also heard the inimitable hooo-hooo of the Great Horned Owl.  It seems kind of unlikely that both species would have been out and about at the same time, but who knows.  In any case, we know there was at least one great-horned owl and possibly two barn owls to boot. Ah – I wish I had seen that!  Maybe the appearance of both owls presaged the Climate Strike actions the next day which started in more or less the same area. That would be cosmically satisfying.   It was more likely, though, that the birds were attracted by all the newly opened-up space created by the flood control work.

On September 24th I began to fret about the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS who I knew were due back from  their summer breeding grounds in British Columbia and Alaska. Where were they?  The white-crowned sparrows had already been back a week.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, April 16, 2019, El Rio MHP backyard near river, in full breeding plumage just before heading north to breeding grounds in Canada or Alaska. Photo by B. Riverwoman

I checked my noteook where I try to keep a list of the arrival and departure dates of migrants.   I noticed that the first GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW arrived last year on September 25. Unbelievably, the next day, I heard the plaintive descending whistle of the Golden-crowned in my back yard, returning on exactly the same date as last year!  Incredible!  I haven’t gotten a photo of a returnee yet, but here’s one from April of this year, just before this Golden-crowned left for the north in her brightest breeding plumage. The males and females of this species are indistinguishable.

May you all have a wonderful experience of wildness this week, either far away or in your backyard. .









river transitions…

Dear Barbara and Nature Jubilatiors,

It’s that time of year when the bird parents are getting sick and tired of their food begging offspring. The bird teenagers can’t believe that their feathered parents are heartlessly ignoring their incessant, high screech calls for food supply. It must be a rude awaking for the juvenile birds to face this transition from being pampered to the ‘Get a hold of yourself and grow up!’ message. Gull youngsters are really successful in driving their parents out of their minds with their begging pursuit. Their piercing cries and crowding in on the parent, force the crazed progenitor to distant themselves by walking away from that annoying behavior. Of course the ‘kid’ throws all restraints to the wind, lowers its body, extends its neck and races after the escaping parent with high frequency, fast succession screams. The hoped for result disappears into the air: the parent flies off, leaving a silent, stunned feathered minor grounded, having to face bird reality…

WESTERN gull parent escaping from teenager…

A few weeks ago this odd gull episode happened by the Riverside Ave. bridge: a group of adult WESTERN gulls let the world know that their lives were in disarray. These calls get activated when a Hawk is circling too close to a gull nest, which was not the case since they were crowded on a sandbank. The reason they were beside themselves was the presence of a juvenile HEERMANN’S gull, who was trying to figure out how to calm the outraged WESTERN group. It tried to slither away, which resulted in the adults converging on the youngster, so it stopped and lowered submissively its head. This greatly satisfied the grown-ups, shut them up and they walked away. Feeling safe, the adolescent stepped into the water. That clearly was the wrong move: the supposedly mature gulls gathering around the flustered HEERMANN’S gull and exploded into an other racket. The young gull carefully kept inching away to a safe distance, where it was ignored and able to forage.

young HEERMANN’S gull dealing w/annoyed WESTERN adult gulls…

The migratory birds haven’t yet arrived in full force at the river. Each season birders are scanning the sky, waters and land to see what species are coming back when, because that is how we keep track of the bird population. BTW: Randy Wardle’s monthly list is a wonderful resource for which bird species you can expect in our area. Birders have noticed the decline of numbers and species over the years as reported in the latest study, revealing the loss of over 3 billion birds since 1970 in Northern America. The good news is that we can personally invite them into our bird friendly gardens and lend our voices for their legal protection. My own suggestion: plant succulents sparsely, because I have observed that they have no blossoms, seeds, fruit nor shelter for birds.

female OSPREY…

I heard the call, but I couldn’t remember right away the owner’s name. Then the call owner smoothly glided in: the OSPREY, who produces diverse, exotic sounds that tend to throw me. The glorious bird didn’t land in the Trestle trees but continued out to the ocean. A little later I met up with my river compadre and he told me that he just had seen the female OSPREY in the Trestle trees and an other one was circling high above. Clearly raptors mating choices are in full swing! It’s so wonderful to have these compadres connections, because we each add a detail to fill out a fuller river wildlife picture.

yearly visit of BLACK-crowned NIGHT-HERON since 2016…

The BLACK-Crowned NIGHT-HERON is down here on its yearly visit during the upstream Flood Control work. I was so happy to read your positive experience with everything and everybody. You certainly did amazing work for the improvement and awareness of the Flood Control protocol!! From what you describe, it sounds like the procedure is following the Streambed Alteration Agreement revisions of the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife that were initiated by the Sierra Club. So all these efforts will have a beneficial outcome for our river critters: HALLELUJAH!! from jane

Beauty and the Beast

Dear Jane and other lovers of wildlife,

Starting this Friday, September 20th,  we are all invited to join in a week-long series of hopefully historic Climate Strike events culminating a week later,  on Friday, September 27th,  in citywide student walk-outs.  On that last day, students at colleges,





high schools and middle schools across Santa Cruz will leave their schools in early afternoon, march downtown, converge at Wells Fargo bank on River and Front St. at 2:15 p.m., then march to the future downtown Green Commons at the Farmers Market parking lot for speeches and activities, starting at 4 p.m.  Click here to go to the Climate Strike website for information on lists of all the activities, sponsoring organizations, free films, community art projects and more!  You can participate in any or all of these,  during the week-long build-up to the big day – and on the big day itself.

I personally plan to start out the week as a rabbit, walking down Pacific Garden Mall to my  probable doom at the hands of  some sinister  climate change forces that I’m told will be waiting for us hapless animals somewhere around New Leaf Market. For that fun event you can join me and others at the Town Clock about noon on Monday, the 23rd.

Well – the major flood control work on the levee is now into its second week, and this female HOUSE FINCH seems to epitomize the story.  She was clearly relishing

House Finch in Blackberry Thicket, San Lorenzo River, riverine reach, September 8, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

the sweet fruits of the season, her stained beak testimony to many indulgent days of gourmet delights.   She was in the same spot not only before the cutting, but a week after the chainsaws entered the picture!  I sent this photo to the City Council members and council member Cynthia Mathews wrote me back saying this reminded her that she also liked to go out gathering wild berries at this time of year and that she still hoped to make some blackberry pies this season.  I was pleased to get that note.

The crew this year is taking pains to protect the blackberry thickets, the coyote brush, the coastal live oak and a few other natives.  And I have to say that the levee banks look more park-like this year, getting closer to achieving that sweet point between protecting non-threatening habitat and  still complying with the Army Corps flood control prescriptions. A big shout-out to Public Works staff , who are definitely on board this year in terms of compliance with the City’s governing documents and also  more interested in protecting some of the understory native plants that don’t pose a threat in terms of flood control.  I sympathize with their situation.  It’s a heavy burden to be responsible for protecting a City against a potentially devastating flood, especially in this time of increasing consciousness about sea-level rising.

I was particularly thrilled to see the crew chief, Randy Clayton, on Monday, the 9th, the first day of the mowing.  There he was, loping down the Riverwalk towards us in his wide-brimmed leather cowboy hat, hailing me with a “Hi, Grandma!” and giving me a big hug.  It was a far cry from two or three years ago when he was so peeved at me for my constant complaints and interference  that he threatened to ‘throw me in the chipper’.  I knew he’d been really sick last year and in the hospital with major heart surgery. I thought he might have died.  Instead, there he was, totally resurrected,  with his new heart and broad grin, ready to take on the grueling job of vegetation removal once again. He’s gotten this city contract for years, going back to when he used to drive a team of draft horses to power the mower!

Firecracker penstemon from which an Anna’s Hummingbird was imbibing just before I took this photo. San Lorenzo River, riverine reach, September 9, 2019.

Over the years, Randy has come to know the names and nesting places of some of the birds,  as well as the names of many of the native trees and shrubs.   And he knows by heart the Army Corps and City specifications as to which trees can be cut and which ones must be spared.  I’m so glad the City continues to contract with him.  (I can name at least one contractor the City sometimes uses who couldn’t care less about protecting a blackberry patch or an innocent  young willow with a narrow trunk.)  The Public Works folks, the mowing contactors, and I have  been squabbling for so many years that this year it almost felt like  a love-fest by comparison.

Randy also seems to have assembled a sensitive crew.  I had a sweet conversation  just yesterday morning with Randy’s foreman.  I commented to him that I really appreciated how much protected flora had been left this year and how much better this was for the wildlife as well as the humans. . He grinned and said “I tried to trim up the trees so they looked nice.  That’s what I do at my house and it makes things look like a park.”  I had to agree.  The crew has also created little groves of willows along the bank, as prescribed in the governing document, making it possible to catch occasional  glimpses of the sparkling water shining through the Arroyo willows.  I didn’t go down to the river this year with my 15-foot measuring pole, but I feel more confident than I did in the past that we’re all on the same page.  I think we’re  all doing the best we can with an ever-changing and complex river habitat.

Next year I’m hoping to recruit some California Native Plant Society folks to help me collect a little more data about some of the understory natives like the grasses and

Umber Skipper (poanes melane) on Valerian flower. East levee bank, riparian reach, September 14, 2019, pre-cutting.

small plants  that have established themselves on the levee bank  and that provide habitat for butterflies, bees and other creatures tinier than birds, creatures I’m slowly becoming more aware of myself, thanks to some of your posts, Jane.

After that,  I hope to talk to Public Works about jointly coming up with a plan to save more of these plants that pose no threat to flood control objectives. It might require extra funds to carry out this kind of more labor-intensive selective plant removal.  But maybe some of the money could come from Parks and Rec.  I have to say I was disappointed that Public Works did not invite the contracting biologist or the city arborist  to mark the natives this year.  But it appears that Randy pretty much handled much of it on his own.  Each year gets a little better.   And I’m getting a little more patient.

For the first time this year I learned about the  scary Yellow Jacket drama –  scary for the yellow jackets, and scary for the humans.   Just yesterday, as I was about to leave the levee, I saw a big white truck pull up on the Riverwalk with Santa Cruz County Mosquito and Vector Control written on it. I went over and introduced myself to Steve, gave him my card with the Pied-billed Grebe on it, and asked him what was going on.  He was very friendly and took enough time to briefly explain that the mowers had found twelve large nests of yellow jackets in the short stretch along the westside of the levee banks between Water St. and Highway 1, and that several of the guys cutting willows had been stung.

He told me that the male  worker wasps get especially aggressive at this time of year, just before they all die off for the winter.  He told me that only the fattened up and inseminated queens survive the winter months, often going into complete hibernation until they start new tribes in the spring.    I asked him what chemicals the County used and he showed me the bottle of Drione that he said they inject into the hole in the ground where the nests are.  I later did a little google investigating and hope to find out more about possible side effects of this chemical on other wildlife.  The yellow jackets are native insects, and according to Wikipedia, “ are important predators of pest insects”.

Steve from Santa Cruz County Mosquito and Vector Control, eradicating a nest of Yellow Jackets, Riverine Reach, September 17, 2019, Photo by B.Riverwoman

Steve apologized for having to get back to work, then donned a full white bodysuit with protective headgear and descended  the levee bank with a crew member who showed him the location of a remaining willow thicket on the levee toe. The crew hadn’t been able to cut it down because of an especially aggressive wasp attack the day before.   Several hours later I got a phone call from Steve, apologizing again for not being able to take more time to answer my questions  and asking if there was anything else I needed to know.  Wow!  That is really government accountability in action.  Sadly, he told me that while he was removing the wasps, the unprotected crew member, had been badly stung.

Checking the levee both before and after the mowing, I have been struck this year by how many of the water fowl continue to hang around.  They may have no choice, other territories being taken.  Not only before, but almost immediately after the mowing I  have seen a GREAT BLUE HERON, a SNOWY EGRET, a BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERON, a GREEN HERON,  COMMON MERGANSERS,  PIED BILLED GREBES, and a BELTED KINGFISHER.  I also saw  three  first-of-season AMERICAN COOTS under the Water St. Bridge, waterfowl who   who are ubiquitous  during the winter months but breed elsewhere in the area during the summer.  Great Blue Heron, foraging in freshly mown levee floor, September 14, 2019, Photo by B. RiverwomanThis Great Blue Heron, particularly unflappable,  was calmly foraging in the disturbed soil while the chainsaws whined loudly from the other side of the river.


I haven’t really come to any hard and fast conclusions about the long term effects on the songbirds, who depend on the willows and other riparian trees for cover, food and rest.  (At least we haven’t had to worry about late nesters this year since the mowing started more than a month later than usual.)  I went out three times the week before the cutting (Sept. 1,2,8) and found 22, 19 and 19 species, respectively,  on the pre-cutting days.  On my first trip out after the cutting I saw a total of 15 species, including songbirds.  I saw some Wilson’s Warblers before the mowing and a pair of chasing YELLOW WARBLERS after the mowing.  Both of these species could be migrants or year-round residents. The CALIFORNIA TOWHEES, like the Great Blue Herons, appreciate the disturbed soil so are doing fine.  And of course the BLACK PHOEBE keeps on singing and chasing airborne insects through it all.  I haven’t seen any SONG SPARROWS this week but there weren’t that many in the week before the mowing.  Best of all was my first-of-season sighting of two WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS on September 14th,

FOS White-crowned Sparrow, September 14, 2019, riverine reach, photo by B. Riverwoman

one an adult and one a first winter, busily exploring the east bank after their long flight south from Alaska.  Readers can go to eBird and study my five pre- and post-cutting lists for other conclusions.

My neighbor, Bob, who has lived at El Rio for three decades, told me he saw a beautiful juvenile Pacific Gopher Snake last week, the first one he said he has seen for years.  Mostly we see garter snakes here, but rarely.  Was the gopher snake a refugee from the river cutting?  Or is new attention to river wildlife helping more creatures survive?

But, let’s face it, if we don’t slow down Climate Change, our small efforts are for naught!  So let’s devote next week, if we can, to addressing the big picture.

Warm greetings to the wild life and not-so-wild life, including humans.












The PEREGRINE and OSPREY are back!!!

Good Morning to you Nature Embracers and welcome back to Barbara,

You certainly hit the ground running after your time off: diving right into the annual Flood Control Work and its various issues. I can’t wait to read your observations on that topic and it’s good to have you back.

San Lorenzo River in 1965…

I am sure you all shudder looking at the above picture of the San Lorenzo River! Often people say that the present river is just a draining ditch. Personally I vehemently disagree and the old picture proves my point. Aren’t we all grateful that the river was liberated of its concrete ‘chains’ by dedicated people, who worked hard to find the best possible solutions? Can any of you imagine our life without this view?

San Lorenzo River in 2019…

The other day 2 Raptors were sitting side by side in the cypress tree close to the Kaiser Stadium. It was such a peaceful visual as they preened themselves, then taking in the scenery together. They were too far away for identification. Watching them I wonder if they had paired up to embark on their parenthood experience, because Raptors’ meet-ups and mating start around this time of year. It would be elating to have raptors nest by the river, wouldn’t it?

2 HAWKS enjoying each other’s company…

I was standing at the river point, scanning the trestle trees and my heart skipped a beat when I saw that beloved silhouette way up on the bare branch. I raced over to the trestle and the coveted sight was gone. Disappointed I made my way to the bridge, where I noticed small feathers raining down. Scanning the area I spotted my hoped for treasure: the PEREGRINE was back, eagerly devouring its meal on high voltage power pole. I was so happy to see the Falcon again after such a long time and felt sorry for the bird, to whom I offered my gratitude for sustaining the PEREGRINE’s life.

PEREGRINE eating breakfast…

Later that morning I was talking with my neighbor at the bridge when Jon, a river compadre, walked up. Right away he told me that he had finally seen the PEREGRINE again. My poor neighbor tried to make sense of our Falcon exchange since our words flew giddily back and forth, fueled by our excitement that the river PEREGRINE had returned. It didn’t help that we used short cut references to our previous conversations, which left my neighbor in the dark. We slowed down and explained why we were so enthusiastic. She was thrilled to learn that we had such a wonderful bird at the river since we told her more than she ever expected know about a PEREGRINE. The 3 of us parted with Falcon joy in our good-bye smiles.
That same morning I returned from watering the Estuary Project plants, where the butterfly was feeding on a blossom.

Monarch feeding on a blossom…

Jon saw me, waved and pointed up to the trestle trees. Instantly I stopped the car and found out that he had just spotted the OSPREY on its favorite branch. I knew Jon understood why I took off like lightening: I was on a mission to find ‘our’ OSPREY.

The river OSPREY has returned!

When my eyes found him, my whole being filled with happy relief: the beauty had reappeared after 10 months of absence. It was a special treat to watch him for a long time!! Going back to the car, I couldn’t find my keys…after searching around, it dawned on me that I had dashed off, leaving them in the ignition at a busy street…the bird spirits had watched over me: the car was waiting for me with the keys ready to go! What a wonderful, magically morning Nature had gifted me: the sightings of the elusive PEREGRINE and OSPREY, a great exchange with Jon and my neighbor and an un-stolen car.
Sending you all magic river greetings, jane

Of Channels, Charts and Chainsaws

Dear Jane and all Friends of the Flora and Fauna of the San Lorenzo River,

Hooker’s Primrose, native annual, San Lorenzo River, September 2, 2019, , Photo by B. Riverwoman

One of my favorite Buddhist sayings is  “The life of a sage is one mistake after another.”  This phrase consoles me as I stumble forward in my life. Today I am going to write about some  possible  blunders I may have quite innocently been making in regards to the river.  I’ll be interested in the opinions of you readers.

But first let me say that it feels really good to be back writing about the river after two months on vacation.  A thousand thanks to you, Jane, for holding up more than your half of heaven with a faithful contribution every two weeks.  As usual, your posts have been full of delightful observations and insights. I can’t imagine there are many others in the City who have such a keen eye for the unique vagaries of both birds and people on the river, and who can write about the fish and the flora, the insects and the mammals, with more liveliness.

In this blog piece I am going to focus mostly on plant life –not so much on the names and photos of actual plants but on the much-dreaded annual flood control work that is required by both our local and federal (Army Corps of Engineers) governments and which is about to begin in the next weeks.  Of course,  none of us want our city to be flooded.  We can be grateful that our Public Works Department takes very seriously their mission to prevent such a catastrophe. And it is indeed sobering that the El Rio Mobile Home Park where I live, right next to the levee,  is the officially designated spillway or ‘levee breakout section’ in case of a levee breach.

Teasel, a native plant, photo by B. Riverwoman, September 3, 2019

Yet it is also not to be forgotten that our City has a proud history of not allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to call all the shots, to exaggerate the dangers.  Every year the challenge for us wildlife advocates is to continue this honorable tradition, finding the wiggle room within flood control requirements that will protect as much flora and fauna on the river as is possible within the constraints of local and federal law.

A little history might help here.  In cities like Los Angeles, flood control work by the Army Corps of Engineers imprisoned many beautiful rivers inside straight concrete ditches, creating blight rather than beauty, horrors rather than habitat.  We can get a small, first-hand taste of that distasteful reality if we look at the concrete ditch hemming in Branciforte Creek  that drains into the River just below Soquel Bridge.  Los Angeles has only recently begun to dig itself slowly and painfully out of its former mistake.

Here in Santa Cruz,  we escaped such a fate only through the combined efforts of a progressive City Council led by Chris Krohn, environmentally committed staff persons like Joe Hall, and many community activists like Bruce Van Allen and, yes, you Jane.  In 2003, you and Bruce and many others  agreed to serve on a River Task Force that finally succeeded in delivering a  win/win agreement where a  stubborn ACE and an equally stubborn City came to an agreement that was designed  to protect as much riparian wildlife habitat as possible – within the constraints of adequate flood control.  The resulting 79–page document, titled the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (or SLURP),  plus its 127-page Appendix A titled the Lower San Lorenzo River and Lagoon Management Plan,  was adopted in 2003 and has been the official governing document regarding river management for the last 16 years. (Readers can find online links to both these documents on the ‘Links’ page of this blog. Scroll down to “Important City Documents”.).  In my opinion, it is Appendix A (or what I call the Swanson Report), much more than the main document, that is by far the most interesting document from an environmental point of view. It includes a tremendous amount of information about existing native and non-native plants at the time it was adopted in 2002; recommended thinning prescriptions on each of the three reaches; plus sections on flood control constraints, lists of fish and bird species, hydrology and geology, many photos and charts, and much more.  It is a treasure trove and would take years to truly digest.It also happens to include Table 8  titled Species List for Revegetation in the Riverine Reach which happens to be the  chart that, right this moment, is perplexing me immensely!  See the chart and  discussion later in this article.


After you drew me into the anti-kayaking campaign in 2014, Jane, I began to pay more attention to what was going on in this river, especially the ‘riverine reach’ right behind my house – from the Felker St. Pedestrian Bridge to the Water St. Bridge. Like you, I became very distressed about the ‘scalping’ of the levee each fall by bulldozers and chainsaws. During 2015 and 2016, I tried to understand if there was anything constructive that I could do to protect more habitat – apart from pestering the poor chainsaw crew that I soon realized  were just trying to follow what their little SLURP chart said, as best they could.  Here’s the chart we were all arguing about:

The  foreman of the cutting crew, Randy Clayton,  carried this scrap of paper with him at all times, and so did I.  I eventually came to realize that the City was cutting much more  along the toe of the levee than was allowed by this document –  mostly I guessed because the City wanted to remove vegetation that provided hiding places for illegal campers. I pointed this out to Public Works in 2017 and somehow managed to persuade them, after a good deal of back and forth, that if they were going to remove the 10-foot strip that was protected habitat along the toe of the levee, then they needed to make up for that habitat loss by adding it somewhere else, maybe along the required 5-foot swath immediately adjacent to the river. Otherwise, they would be out of compliance with SLURP.   It worked! The City agreed to do that in 2017, and continued the practice in 2018. I was, for a brief moment, proud of this achievement.

In addition, in 2018, Public Works began marking some smaller native shrubs (mostly coyote bush)  with orange ribbons to declare them off bounds for cutting.   And, perhaps even more importantly, they asked the consulting biologist to train the cutting crew in what to cut and what not to cut, based on the SLURP chart modified by our informal agreement the previous year.

But my joy has been short lived.  Now I am pulling my hair out about the possible significance of  Table 8 , above, a list of the plant species recommended by SLURP for revegetation on the riverine reach, I realized that I may have been too hasty in suggesting the so called win/win solution of moving the 10-foot strip towards the river. I now notice that  the trees that were supposedly to be planted along the levee toe were the white alder and the yellow willow, very different from the arroyo willows along the bank of the river.  Why had the Native Vegetation Network that had helped write this part of SLURP been that specific about the specific trees at specific points on the levee bank.  Had I sacrificed bio-diversity for mathematical equialence?  I realize I just don’t know enough about these trees, what habitat they require, how they differ from the other trees in terms of water needs, wildlife value, etc.  I have no easy answer today and want to post this piece before midnight. I am also wondering about the direction that red willows and box elders be planted on the upper levee slope, and that the black cottonwoods and California sycamores be planted maybe halfway down.  Were these four trees meant to be subjected to the same 6″ trunk limit as the alders and yellow willows at the toe of the levee?  Why didn’t the other chart say so?  I am thinking we need input from some native plant specialists.

Maybe a few readers will be as obsessed as I am about this matter of trees (and shrubs and grasses) on the levee and will be willing to study these two charts to see how they relate to each other.  In any case, I willingly confess to being in a state of confusion.    I’m allowing myself to happily  follow the path of the blundering sage, the better to learn a few new things.

Coast Live Oak, Native plant, San Lorenzo River, September 3, 2019, Photo by B Riverwoman

The main question is how can we protect the maximum amount of wildlife habitat while still respecting the key goal of protecting the City from destructive floods. That’s the challenge.  Let’s all work together.

Here are my two most recent eBird lists from earlier this week – 22 bird species on Sunday, click here  and 19 bird species yesterday, click here.  I’ve been seeing lots of Wilson’s warblers but have no idea if they are some year round residents or migrants on their way south from as far north as Alaska.

Yesterday, near the Water St. Bridge, I also saw this  winsome rabbit looking at me very solemnly as if to question my human intentions. She had good reason.   Her habitat is especially threatened by the upcoming flood control work. Cross your fingers that she makes it through with her home intact.

Rabbit, near Water St. Bridge, September 2, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Thank you all for caring. And may you all enjoy your own personal and very safe habitat.







San Lorenzo River steelhead update…

Good Morning to you Nature Enjoyers,

breaching action…

You won’t believe what my eyes saw again!! At 6:40 am last Saturday 3 men were hectically digging a trench, trying to breach the river mouth that had closed 2 days ago. One of the shoreline fishermen was yelling at them and I chimed in with a furious “NO BREACHING!!!”. The men’s heads snapped up to the river point, where I was floating in a cloud of anguish for the fish’s safety. Any summer lagoon breaching is bad for the steelhead and the sudden artificial breaching is particularly harmful: The water literally gets sucked out of the river and the fish get stranded on the rocks and shores. The ones that avoid that fate get sucked out to the ocean, where many are unable to survive. The reason being is that that steelhead have to transition from freshwater to saltwater over time. Therefore the abrupt breaching denies them to acclimatize naturally to saltwater. Furthermore the saltwater rushes in and displaces the slow downstream freshwater flow, impacting the water conditions for the steelhead still moving downstream. Click HERE for further info. and keep your fingers crossed for the steelhead welfare.

fish tail rings…

Fish are jumping and the water is low~went through my head as I was watching the many silver darts exploding out of the water. The little fish bodies pierce the water surface straight up, arch gracefully and dive back in, leaving their ‘fish rings’ to tell their tail tale. The City Biologists have been seining the San Lorenzo River for the last 3 months and experience has taught me that these summer months will deliver the steelhead numbers. So I turn into fish Pavlov dog at t his time of year, salivating for any fish news morsels I can devour. Of course I would love to join the biologists as they count, measure, clip the fins of the steelhead. I tried that a few times and learned that was a really bad idea. So instead I pestered the Chris Berry, the Watershed Manager of the Santa Cruz City Water Dept., and his crew, who patiently indulge me with fish news via e-mail. I found out that June had a lot of juvenile steelhead in the SLR lagoon, which didn’t hold true for July.

steelhead make my heart sing…

August was a steelhead bonanza that included some very small young-of the-year steelhead, which is unusual. This sometimes happens, because they may have been fish that came from the late run spawners, implying that spawning occurred in May of this year. Although this year’s river hydrology was pretty atypical, it is very good for anadromous salmonids like steelhead. The reason that the water quality and flow are good this year is due to the frequent, moderate precipitation events this winter and late spring rain in particular. So far the water condition has remained good, because the cold temperature dissolves the oxygen well. It will be interesting to see how the water condition changes as the swell picks up and the river flow drops off through the rest of the dry season.
Now the waiting begins for the release of the final yearly report, which takes place after all the reported details have been vetted that were submitted in July.

Biologist carefully returning counted fish to the river…

Last week I was intensely absorbed, watching, who I think, was the only remaining CLIFF SWALLOW at the Riverside Ave. bridge. It flew to nest, deposited food quickly, dashed back into the sky, almost immediately returned with more food supply. It was truly astounding to watch that little bird speed feed the late hatched offspring. All the other CLIFF SWALLOWS had left in stages approx. 2 weeks ago. This year the CLIFF SWALLOWS arrived in 2 separate batches at different times. Consequently some of them started building their nests when the others had already completed theirs.

last CLIFF SWALLOW at Riverside Ave. bridge…

So this last migrant parent was ultra busy getting the kid(s?) on the sky road and it looks like the effort paid off, because now no CLIFF SWALLOW is gracing the air anymore until next spring. Soon our winter migratory guests will turn the page on the next river life chapter and I am eager to see that story unfold.
River greetings to you all, jane

bonding with the river life…

Good Afternoon to you Nature Appreciators,

spring arrival of tree trunk…

Well, I am still on a Lupine rescue mission. You can find me in the early morning spraying them down with water. These plants deserve my saving efforts, because they so wanted to live: growing big, setting blossoms that bloomed beautifully until the aphids attacked. It looks like a few plants will pull through. After washing the sticky aphid gook off my hands, I always check on the big tree trunk that had been washed down by one of the heavy winter storms and is now a cherished hang out spot for the birds. I am very fond of the stranded giant, because it testifies that its life force is determined to flourish. Its leaves stayed alive, although a powerful rainstorm ripped it out of the ground and forced it to take a wild ride downstream. Now the BLACK PHOEBES are thrilled to be able to hunt its insects right over the water. The MALLARDS and COMMON MERGANSERS schnoz safely inside of the branch tangles. The GREAT BLUE HERON frequents it for its lengthly preening sessions. Obviously the birds treat this tree trunk as a welcomed addition to their daily lives.

tree trunk is now birds favored hang out spot…

I like to invite you to come this Saturday 8/17 to the ongoing Estuary Project and join our restoration improvements. You’ll get to meet good people and enjoy making a difference together. Click here for more info.

Firecracker Skimmer…

It was truly astounding how many dragonflies were whizzing around at the Mike Fox Park by the Riverside Ave. bridge. Counting them was impossible, but I estimate that there were at least 50 of them. There was amazing variety of species present: Firecracker Skimmers( don’t you love that name?!), Blue Dasher, Common Green Darner and dark brown, purple, bronze ones that I had never seen before. The sunshine made their shiny wings glitter in the air and sparks would explode off the bushes when they moved. It was like standing in a fairy tale scene.

our beloved river point ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD…

The Jamaican man and I have shared our a silent love for the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD for over a year. Whoever arrived first at the river point would point out wordlessly its location, because we didn’t want to scare it off. Then we watch it together quietly until little beauty had enough of being starred at and zoom off. We smile at each other and give each other a thumb ups good-bye. I hadn’t seen the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD nor the Jamaican man for a couple of weeks and wondered what happened to both of them. Then the Jamaican man was back and he asked if I had seen our shared love. When I told him that I hadn’t, he bend his head and sadly said:”The bird is dead”. I suggested that the A. HUMMINGBIRD might have found a different food source. He din’t think so since our bird hadn’t looked well the last few times he had seen it. Its feather look dull and it was puffed up. A couple of days later a friend of mine told me that she missed seeing the A. HUMMINGBIRD at the river point. It touched me that the little feather-ball had been a joyous part of our lives.

KINGFISHER enjoying her perfect perch…

I hadn’t seen the KINGFISHER for a while, so it was a treat to see her sitting on the wire that crosses the river. The changed shoreline had me worried for this impressive fishing bird, who prefers perches close to or above the water. But now the sediment created wide sandbanks and her perches are no longer close to the waterline. The KINGFISHER has an unusual nest preference: they excavate a 1 to 8 feet long tunnel with their specialized long, flat toe and sharp claws into sandy banks. As you can imagine this accomplishment takes several weeks and the KINGFISHERS reuse their channel nests for years. It’s interesting that SWALLOWS figured out that they can co-nest with the excavators by digging small chambers into the walls for their nesting needs.
To-night,Tuesday 13, I’ll be talking about the river on Bruce Bratton’s ‘Universal Grapevine’ radio show. So turn your dial to KZSC 88.1 to catch our talk~ until then cheers to you, jane