why the OSPREY? Defending dead trees…

Good Morning Barbara and all you River Friends,

CROW chasing OSPREY…

So…what is it with the CROW? I have no clue why it started to mob the fishing OSPREY. Last year I observed a CROW harassing an OSPREY and since then that occurrence has increased. We all know CROWS are relentless when it comes to chasing after HAWKS and FALCONS, because these 2 species will raid CROW nests. But now they are going after OSPREY? I used to see CROWS and OSPREY sitting peacefully side by side in the Trestle Eucalyptus tree. I assumed they friendly co-existed because the OSPREY eats only fish. I hope this new scenario isn’t becoming the new norm: the OSPREY is circling over the river, briefly slowing down, moving on and suddenly splashes into the water, rising with a fish in its talon. A screeching CROW dashes up out nowhere, catapults itself at the OSPREY, who is trying to avoid the ruthless attacker, attempting to hang on to the fish. The CROW, being a skilled aviator, forces the OSPREY into an erratic flight pattern that is unusual for the gliding fisher. Sooner or later the fish drops back into the water. The CROW couldn’t care less about the lost meal and won’t let up harassing the OSPREY until it heads upstream. It’s curious that no other CROWS join the OSPREY mobbing. Is it just this single CROW that has a peeve with the OSPREY or have you seen the same behavior upstream?

downtown planned development….

I am going to chime in a little on your reporting of the tangled City and Corps of Engineers river situation. Yes, the Corps is enticing the City to sign off on the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan that was negotiated last June by the Corps Staff and Jim Panetta for the tune of $ 2.5M. Previously the City has balked at accepting the river responsibility, because the 2014 Corps 100 year flood report was put into question by the the Feb. 7th 2017 storm flooding. This 2014 Corps report was used to meet the FEMA accreditation standards that keeps the flood insurance low. Without the FEMA accreditation the fees will double, not welcomed news for developers, who are keen on constructing their 7 plus story buildings close to the river.

what our future will look like…

The Corps put an end to the City’s balking by informing them that no money was available to update the 2014 report nor did they any longer certify levees. Ever engineer savvy, the Corps did suggest that the City consider the ‘bankful channel’ to fulfill the FEMA accreditation standards. And wasn’t it wonderful that the sign off allowed the City to finally access the $1.81M Congress credit for the 2000 Soquel bridge expense. That amount could be applied to the $5M ‘bankful channel’ project and hopefully make FEMA happy. The remaining $688,000 of the $2.5M will be applied to the levee repair by Bank of America.

some CLIFF SWALLOW fledglings resting in dead tree…

And as this complicated process unfolds I am a small time recipient of the Corps’ maintenance requests for the 2018-19 Operation/Maintenance Plan. As you can imagine I was not happy to hear that the Estuary Reach vegetation was on their radar, which readied me to stand in front of the whole Corps and defend the meager vegetation in that Reach. Especially the dead trees on the water bank, which are the only hunting perches for the KINGFISHER, BLACK PHOEBE and the migratory flycatchers. The fledglings of the migratory SWALLOWS use them as a rest station, the SONG SPARROWS need them for their spring songs, the Calif. TOWHEEs access them for their mating chase and the migratory GOLDEN and WHITE CROWN SPARROWS gather in them for their long chats and sing-alongs. They are an important food source for the  WOODPECKERS. I have advocated for these dead trees for years to the City, who kindly spared them and now I hope to high heaven that they will be saved once again. I would love to take the Corps team on a San Lorenzo River walk and show them what a vital, important role vegetation and dead trees play in the life of birds and wildlife. It just might give them new insights…

SONG SPARROW singing spring song in dead tree…

Your sharing John Muir is so enriching and in return I share “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an American native, scientist and single mother. Her message of giving gratitude and honor to Nature’s offerings is very inspiring and heart warming.
In that spirit: keep your fingers crossed for the dead trees, jane


Coopers’ Hawks Arrive, Army Corps Leaves

Dear Jane and Fellow Bird Travelers,

It seems that both of us, Jane, have been shuddering a little at the predatory behaviors of the notorious COOPER’S HAWK, the “bird hawk” that prefers small birds over all other foods.  You can tell when a Coopers’ is in the area because there will be an initial wild chorus of alarm calls and then absolute silence.  Just yesterday I experienced this right in my backyard  – one moment a chorus of bright song, and then, as if the birds were of one mind, total silence.  It was eery.   I immediately suspected a Cooper’s Hawk, especially since my neighbor Bob has been reporting to me that one has been hiding in the dense foliage of his Cape Honeysuckle hedge (next to the River) for about two weeks now. Earlier this week Bob came out his front door, only to recoil when he saw an insouciant Cooper’s Hawk feasting on the remains of a dead CALIFORNIA TOWHEE.  It saw Bob but casually consumed the last morsels before it flew off. Bob has had a very hard time forgiving that hawk!

Here are some photos I was lucky enough to capture of their cousins, the SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, taken on the River last November during migration season.  Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller, but equally fond of dining on small birds, and equally clever at catching them.  For all I know, the Coopers’ Hawks that Bob saw, and that I saw, could have been Sharp-shinned Hawks.  They are difficult to tell apart, except for the size.

Sharp shinned adult
Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult, .  November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B.Riverwoman


Sharp-shinned juv copy
 Sharp-shinned Hawk, juvenile, November 2017, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Isn’t it amazing how the special small wing structure and long tail of these hawks allow them to successfully negotiate what seem almost impenetrable tree canopies, canopies that deny entry to our bulkier Red-tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks.   It continues to amaze me how each species finds it own way of adapting to the environment in order to survive. I can’t help but wonder if some of the many juvenile HOUSE FINCHES that I wrote about, and pictured in my last blog, were the victims of the Cooper’s predations.  I hav been noticing that the numbers of finches at my bird feeder has lessened rather dramatically this last week and I’ve read that these hawks are drawn to backyard bird feeders.  That makes me squirm.  Should I keep feeding my birds?   More power to the KINGFISHER that you saw chase off a Cooper’s last week, and to the AMERICAN CROW that I saw do the same thing this week.  Be it said that the Cooper’s Hawk did not give up without quite an aerial dust-up.

Well, the good news is that – according to the bar chart in eBird, click here the Coopers’ hit their fall migratory peak from mid-September to mid-October as they return from their breeding grounds further north and in the interior. They are pretty much right on schedule! According to the range maps, they are, for the most part, not  regular residents in coastal California, living mostly inland. So let’s “enjoy” them as best we can during their short visit and then, on behalf of the small birds, wish them a rather grateful farewell.

I hate to admit that I have been wondering lately why I never see male COMMON MERGANSERS  these days, only the brown-headed female. As I watched seven ‘females’ resting on a sandbar this week,  I imagined a matriarchy of female mergansers.  Then I imagined males too proud to hang out with females.  Silly me – always making up anthropocentric stories!

Male and/or female Common Mergansers, near Chinatown Bridge, September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I finally, and sensibly.  turned to the Sibley field guide and was reminded that males are almost exactly similar in appearance to females (and juveniles) from July through October, until breeding season begins in November.  We should be able to identify the males as males in a month or so.


Like the Mergansers,  male MALLARDS will soon regain their breeding elegance  –  one month earlier than Mergansers,  in October.  It’s so funny to see them now, inelegantly coming into their own, their heads looking as if they were wearing threadbare green velvet bonnets.

As you pointed out, Jane, a few AMERICAN COOTS are also back.  The will soon become the most commonly seen bird on the river, but right now it is special to welcome them back after a cootless summer.  I actually enjoy their shenanigans all winter long.

Four coots
American Coots hang out with one Common Merganser. September 14, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman, 

I haven’t seen any Golden-crowned Sparrows yet, or Eared Grebes, but I read on the Monterey Bay Bird list that they have alrrived elsewhere in the County.  I’m eagerly awaiting the Golden-crowned’s plaintive whistle, the official beginning of fall in my calendar.  Click here to see my  eBird post this last week.

News from the  City Council meeting last week was sobering, especially what it included about my end of our River. Based on a City study of the heavy rains in 2017, it seems that the levees “may not contain a Corps-projected 100 year flood in certain reaches ot the flood control project (approximately Soquel Ave to Highway 1).”  In its report, the City barely disguises its frustration when it writes in the report, “ The Corps acknowledged a possible change in levee performance but also indicated that their levee performance report finalized in 2014 went through an extensive process to complete and represents the Corps’ best estimate of the project’s performance at this time”.  In other words, the Corps is sticking with an old study in spite of new findings!   The Corps will cut off its contract with the City, returning full oversight and financial responsiility to the Santa Cruz. .  The City must now  go begging for money to implement something they call the Bankfull Project, which I think means some kind of supposedly less environmentally damaging variation on dredging to remove the sediment build-up between Water St. and Highway 1 that has heightened the risk of flooding.  That, not to put too fine a point on it, is precisely where I live. I guess we human and avian residents of this riverine reach can expect a rough ride in a couple of years, as heavy duty machinery rips up the river bed.   How dearly we all pay when we meddle with nature.

I have been so enthralled with the biography and writings of John Muir lately.  He was way ahead of his time, in spite of his lacking academic credentials, in understanding how glaciers (and not a natural catastrophe) carved out the Yosemite Valley.  He loved glaciers and wrote about them to a friend:

Quote of the Week:

“Man, man: you ought to have been with me.  You’ll never make up what you have lost today. I’ve been wandering through a thousand rooms of God’s crystal temple. I’ve been a thousand feet down in the crevasses, with matchless domes and sculptured figures and carved ice-work all about me.  Solomon’s marble and ivory palaces were nothing to it.  Such purity, such color, such delicate beauty!  I was tempted to stay there and feast my soul and softly freeze, until I would become part of the glacier.  What a great death that would be!”                      John Muir

Muir goes so far beyond any writer I have ever read in his capacity for total ecstasy in nature.

May we all, including our City leaders, channel just a little of Muir’s ecstatic appreciation for the wonders of nature.  Wouldn’t that be easier than grinding out all these Environmental Impact Reports?





river dream…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow River Friends,

many critters live along the river…

As you know, I love to talk endlessly about the river. Jean Kratzer from the new Santa Cruz radio station innocently asked me if I was willing to be recorded as we talked on levee walk about the San Lorenzo River. She is working on a river story for her program. I was in heaven and the birds obviously were in support of my opinion that their habitat is an amazing treasure. The migratory RED-throated LOON rocked on the river, watching us looking at it. The COOPER HAWK swooped down, landed on the bank, which really infuriated the KINGFISHER. The much smaller bird so no reason to hold back with her territory screeches and bomb-dived the bigger bird merciless. Clearly both their hunting opportunities were ruined and the COOPER HAWK took off. Just to be sure that it understood clearly to never ever enter the KINGFISHER’S hunting area again, the fishing expert chased the HAWK quite a distance inland, stressing her fortissimo message with blitz-y attacks. Upon return the KINGFISHER flew back and forth near the abandoned SWALLOW nests, which was unusual. That came to a dead stop when the down stream KINGFISHER was trying to sneak by her. So off she went to set the next intruder straight. One of Jean’s questions was: What was my dream version for the San Lorenzo River? That question tempts for a long answer, because of the many components that play into making my dream come true. All too often the river issues receive quick, short term ‘fixes’ that result in long term unwanted outcomes. Pressed to sum it up, I would say: All river involved agencies and river advocates take a deep breath, sit down together and acknowledge that their joint highest goal is mindful river protection and stewardship for its habitats with our fused integrity. Committing to this objective all approaches/actions would get filtered through that lens. Yes, it would take time, but then again any artist, business person knows: producing any successful prototype takes innovative thinking, time, money & effort. Personally I think that this concept is worth applying to our river, a Natural Infrastructure. I would love to see the river thrive thanks to good care and watch the community be proud of what was achieved.

river feeding SNOWY EGRETS…

I hope your cold has departed and you are in full swing of birding for the migratory WARBLERS, who are starting to arrive. They are such small birds, who love to hide behind foliage. It takes endurance and patience to spot them. It seems that they remind us to slow down just like this season is. The busy summer is turning its leaves over to the sedate fall and I like to think that the WARBLERS help us adjust to the change.

testing culvert concept…

Well, it seems like you won’t be reading any more breach reports this year. The hopes run high for the involved agencies and the City that the buried pipe on Main Beach will turn out to be a successful ‘test case’ for the planned year-a-around culvert. This is different to the previous design, which planned to remove the culvert before winter storms and re-install it in the spring. The latest Sentinel article explains why there are high expectations attached to the test result.

just a few of the many MALLARDS…

This morning the river was surprisingly low in spite of the closed river mouth. The 50 MALLARDS or more were gobbling up their breakfast and 10 PIED-billed GREBES spend their time diving. There is one PIED-billed GREBE, who has mingled with a MALLARD group for the past week. I am starting to wonder if it knows it’s a diving PIED-Billed GREBE. There was an odd gull looking bird swimming on the river and now begins my windy ‘Who is that? journey. Next time I’ll let you know what I find out and until then you all enjoy your mystery river visits, jane

Secure Housing for All Creatures of the Earth


Your photo and story, Jane, on Captain Coot, proudly sweeping by the astonished Mallards while sailing his cardboad ship down the river, was one of your funniest of the year!


A slight glitch in my posting this week.  I  posted this piece to my education site by mistake.  When I tried to move it back to this San Lorenzo River Mysteries Site, I  lost photo captions and some links.  If you would like to see the original post, you can click here and go to my other, now mostly moribund, education site.  That way you can also take a peek at my former life!

I’ve been busy working on the Yes on M campaign (rent control), specializing, it seems, in trying to save the homes of human as well as avian creatures.   I am perhaps unreasonably partial to the idea of a world where every sentient being  has secure housing!  Anyway, for this reason, as well as having a cold, I haven’t been out on the River this week .   Fortunately the river has come to me in the form of many new  riparian dwellers visiting my overgrown native garden, separated from the river by a single fence.  My sunflower seed feeder is a major attraction, as well as a rotting log I introduce a while back.  I hope the native plants factor in the equation somewhere.  I really don’t have the vaguest understanding of the ecology that I am blindly trying to create.  But I think it is working.

I have not been lucky enough in the past to catch many glimpses of our colorful

Grosbeakon fence

summer visitor, the BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, so you  can imagine how happy I’ve been to have one of these showy creatures appear as a regular visitor in my backyard for the last two weeks.  She (or he?) seems to love my sunflower seeds.  Weirdly, it is impossible to  know if my backyard Grosbeak is a first year male or a female, since in their first year the two are indistinguishable.  All I know is that it was not a second year male whose solidly black head and deep orange breast clearly identify it as a breeding male.  Unfortunately, one of those hasn’t visited yet.

I also read that this species loves to feast on  Monarch butterflies, one of the few bird species that can successfully process the toxins in Monarchs that would kill or sicken another bird. Both Monarchs and Black-headed Grosbeaks return to the mountains of central Mexico in the winter – unfortunately for the Monarchs.

curious grosbeak

But I forgive the Grosbeaks since they are one of those lovable birds that share the duties of incubating and feeding their young. Here is a good website connected with Cornell University  that I use to collect some of these interesting tidbits of information – All About Birds. 


I’ve heard that HOUSE FINCHES tend to be late breeders and the recent mobbing of my tube feeder by all kinds of fluffy and scruffy young finches seems to prove the truth of this.

House finch juvenile

The tube is absolutely cleaned out by evening each day.   I also wonder if some of them might be molting adults. I wonder where they nest.

House Finch juv male

Here is a video of house finches feeding their young – slightly overproduced for my taste, but a nice intro to my sightings of them after they are out of the nest.

Adult male House Finch

Parent finches regurgitate food for the young, making it possible as we see in the film to feed many for quite a while.   Click here.

I saw a juvenile COWBIRD perched near my house for the first time that I remember.  A parasitic brooder, often leaving an egg in the nests of  House Finches, I wonder if this juvenile was inadvertently raised as a sibling of one of my finches above..  He looks a bit bewildered and stranded, don’t you think?

Cowbird juvenile

Passing the 80 milestone has kept me from getting down to the  estuary end of the river very much – so I much appreciate first hand news and photos of the breaching.   What did you think of the Sentinel coverage of this phenomena?  It cleared up some questions that I have had. For readers who didn’t see the article, click here for the link.

I don’t think I  have mentioned  my concern about the dirt road that the City built along the east side of the river bank on the riverine reach (Water to Highway 1) while they were doing their flood control work a month ago.

New path along East Bank of riverine stretch

Here is a photo of the road as well as a close-up that shows how close the road comes to the river.  I am worried that rangers and police will begin patrolling the area in their trucks, creating a disturbance to the wildlife and setting a bad precedent for the future in terms of how close humans should get to the river.  I know that there are some commercial and recreational developers that would just love to create more paths right next to the river. I would love to walk there myself,  – but I don’t think it bodes well for habitat protection.  I am likely to hear and see more if I am not disturbing what I want to hear and see.

New road

Have you seen this mighty sprinkling can heaving its way down the Riverwalk?

Tree sprinkler

I talked to the driver and he told me that it brings water to thirsty native plants that are newly planted and need a little extra support. If we ever get the river levee re-planted with natives, and they get established, maybe this will become the dinosaur that it resembles.  But I definitely appreciate the restoration work that seems to have taken off on the levee and Riverwalk.

Here is the bonus photo for the day, a mysterious insect that graced my garden for a moment.  I would love to begin to learn the names of these visitors.

Mystery Insect

Quote of the Day

No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste.  Everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons.

John Muir

May we all learn to respect the right of all living creatures to a secured place to live.





river deserves win-win solutions…

Good Morning Barbara & River Enjoyers,
This time of year is the transition period of summer to fall migratory birds, which brings a lull to our bird sightings. The SWALLOWS pretty much left us by now except for a few CLIFF SWALLOW stragglers, getting a late migratory start. Slowly the first WARBLERS will show up in our area. We’ll be thrilled to welcome back the WILSON WARBLER with its black cap on its yellow head, the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER with its black and yellow head striping and the black and white BUFFLEHEAD to name a few.

innovative A. COOT exploring new transportation method…

Who says that birds are not innovative? Obviously this AMERICAN COOT proved that wrong. The A. COOT was using a discarded cardboard as an energy saving transportation to leisurely float down the river, grab some yummies off the edge, rest a little and sail by the surprised MALLARDS, who rushed out of the way of the unconventional bird travel device.

tree gone, tent there…

I hadn’t been to the lower river in a few days, because I was busy recording the disturbing vegetation vandalism between Laurel St. and Trestle bridge. Returning to my familiar, lower river stretch I saw that the big, healthy Trestle Eucalyptus had fallen victim to PG&E’s safety zealousness, exposing the prior camouflaged blue camper tent (its resident uses the remaining big tree trunk as his table). In my perfect win-win world, only the Eucalyptus‘s top would have been trimmed back from the wires, the planned Trestle trail would have woven around the tree and the SONG SPARROWS, migratory WARBLERS, BUSHTITS would still have their favored shelter and food source available. The SONG SPARROWS’ perch in that tree was the perfect performance spot to drizzle their enticing songs on us Trestle path users. And if that habitat disappearance wasn’t enough, the Eucalyptus bank had received a severe pruning job: branches on the big trees had been removed, small trees and undergrowth are gone. Starring at the scene, my heart ached, because the bird, butterfly, bee habitat at the Eucalyptus grove is obviously decimated. And how was I going to explain to the GREAT BLUE HERON why its favorite perch got axed. In my perfect win-win world more branches and undergrowth would have remained to intercept the flow of heavy rain and storm water run-off.

soil erosion potential?

This would prevent the soil from washing down the steep bank into the river thus stabilizing the bank and trees. Additionally it wouldn’t have changed the vistas so drastically: the bushy green is gone, replaced by bare tree trunks that now offer a panorama of once hidden buildings and the Boardwalk and its huge parking lot, previously barely visible, bombard the eyes. As you all can tell: it has been a hard vegetation week for me!

drastic vista change…

On Saturday the cliff overlook presented yet an other creative Main Beach sands-cape: a high, long berm along the Main Beach shoreline that solicited some interesting interpretations: Seaside Co. wanted to keep people out of the ocean, City was blocking high waves, City was trying to get rid of beach sand, etc. As you know the river water level is still high due to the lagoon.

high river level allows MALLARDS to use foot path…

The City’s attempt to keep the river mouth open this summer was doomed, because State and Fed. agencies required that the work had to be done by hand tools. This turned out to be impossible since the river mouth berm had become too wide and high. From my previous experience it looked like the City was getting ready to do a controlled breach, which is always suspenseful to watch.

long, high berm received many interpretations….

Looking down Monday morning at the river mouth my guess was correct: the bulldozers were pushing sand around while the biologists were doing their final seining. My neighbor told me that 2 pipes had been buried on the Main Beach, which will maintain the river water level at 5 feet. Checking on the progress in the afternoon my cliff compadre told me that the controlled breach had been a successful and we watched the bulldozers dig trenches horizontally across the old river mouth. Then I walked home, humming my mantra: environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect(Mohith Agadi). River love to you from jane

The Power of a Pink Ribbon

Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,

Why am I so happy to see a delicate pink ribbon still dangling from some scrubby little bush along the levee bank?

Coyote Bush (Baccharis) flagged for protection. August 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

Well– because those ribbons were finally placed there this year by the City to warn the mowing crew to leave the native Coyote Bush alone.  These low growing shrubs pose no flood threat, but have perished as collateral damage in the City’s grander mission of removing the large-diameter trees like Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows and Box Elders.  The pink ribbons remind me that change is slow, but if we keep asking year after year, the City does listen. I hope that in the future many more of the smaller native plants, important to the diversity of the habitat, will be flagged in order to ward off the chainsaws.

I had another ‘first-time-on-the-river’ experience this week, spotting a BAND-TAILED PIGEON perched high overhead on a telephone wire.  Even more interesting, she was a juvenile.  What was a juvenile Band-tailed doing on the river.  Why was she alone instead of in a flock where you usually find these birds?   Why have I never seen this year-round resident on the River before.  I also started wondering why doves and pigeons (the columbidae family)  favor telephone wires.

Band-tailed Pigeon juvenile
Juvenile Band-tailed Pigeon, between Felker and Water Bridges, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I decided to do a little research on this unlikely river bird.  I found out that Band-tailed pigeons usually stay close to their flock except when breeding.  I also learned that they lay only one egg per nest – perhaps explaining why this juvenile was still alone.  It turns out that  these birds prefer coniferous and oak forest habitats.  Maybe their high wire preferences are because these wires are the closest urban equivalent to the high branches in their normal forest habitats.  And to my surprise, I found out that this particular species is the closest genetic relative of the extinct Passenger Pigeon.  For this reason, the species has been widely studied in an effort to bring back the extinct species

Band-tailed Pigeons and MOURNING DOVES are the two native members of the pigeon and dove family that reside year-round in Santa Cruz.

Mourning dove 3 copy
Mourning Dove, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The Mourning Dove occurs throughout the U.S, but the Band-tailed Pigeon’s range is more limited, extending only along the western parts of Washington, Oregon, California and south to northern Argentina.  Its population plunged before the Federal Migratory Game Bird Act of 1918 was passed, due to severe hunting.  But it has now recovered  and is not longer listed as endangered.   Cheers to all the survivors on our River and to all those environmentalists before us who help save threatened plants and animals.

The other two common members of this family, the ROCK PIGEON and the EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, are introduced species.  The former is an old timer, having been introduced, I learned, very early in  the 17thcentury from Europe, Africa and other parts. The Eurasian Collared-dove, on the other hand, is an upstart.  It is native to subtropical Asia and, believe it or not,  didn’t arrive in North America until the 1980’s.    At that time it entered Florida and has since become one of the great bird colonizers, spreading rapidly across the country. They breed throughout the year, three to four broods being common.  Unfortunately, they are known carriers of parasites that can spread to native birds via commingling at feeders and by consumption by predators.

Eurasian Collared-dove
Eurasian Collared-dove in my backyard next to levee, August 15, 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Since I learned that bad news, I’ve been discouraging them from foraging in my backyard where my House Finches, California Towhees and winter sparrows forage.  Sad.  Before I got wiser, I used to love to see them.    During one walk this week, I saw at least one of all four members of this Columbidae family.



scrub jay juv
Juvenile Scrub Jay, August 2018, San Lorenzo River

As for continuing juveniles, there are still many young SCRUB JAYS hopping around with  telltale fluff popping out all over. I laughed out loud earlier in the week  to see a young House Finch on a telephone wire with its parent. The teen-ager would edge its way along the wire until it got very close to the mother, who would then scuttle further down the wire, the scene repeating itself again and again.   And today, I smiled as I watched two somewhat dazed  looking young crows, fully feathered except for just a few wisps of down on their still fairly naked faces.  The sight that pleased me the most was this juvenile  JUNCO, busily foraging along the sidewalk with a group of adult Juncos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a juvenile Junco.

Junco juv
Juvenile Junco, August 20, 2018, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. RiverwomanEnter a caption

On a sad note, I think I will have to reconcile myself to the fact that the PIED-BILLED GREBES have not been able to successfully produce any young this year.  This is  the first time there haven’t been young PBG’s on the River in the four years that I have been watching.  Here’s a photo of Stripey, the product of the first nest of Grebes that I discovered in 2015, the highpoint of my river birdwatching.  I’m especially sad since I watched the hard working parents try several times to build nests, foiled each time by the suddenly rising or falling river due to the artifical breach of the sand bar.

Stronger  Legs each second. – Version 2
Stripy, the first baby Pied-billed Grebe that I learned to love.  Photo from August 2015 by B. Riverwoman

I met an enthusiastic bird lover named Andy Davis this week while he was out keeping our river clean with the Downtown Street Team.

Andy Davis
Andy Davis, DST, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

If some of our readers haven’t met members of this team yet, stop and talk with them. They’re out on the River everyday and know a lot about what is going on.  Andy reported the discovery recently of a very large gopher snake, good news on the state of our River’s ecosystem.  Somehow she survived the flood chainsaws and bulldozers.   When I said to Andy how great it was that the DST is keeping an eye on the wildlife, he said to me, “That’s what we’re here for –to protect the river.”  Thanks, Andy.

My friend Jeff Caplan, an ardent advocate of birds, is sponsoring a Bird Fun Festival  on Saturday and Sunday,  September  15 and 16th, at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz.  There will be a bilingual walk from Beach Flats Park to the MAH, starting Saturday at 10 a.m. with events to follow at the MAH.  Sunday will be focused especially on bird related activities for children.  It sounds like lots of fun.  I will be there on Sunday with a cooperative nesting bird game to play with kids ages 7 to 11.   Hope to see some of you there.  Click here for the full website. 


Quote of the Week

“I care to live only to entice people to loook at Nature’s loveliness.  Heaven knows that John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.”  John Muir

I hope everybody is enjoying the remaining young birds of the season.  They are growing up fast.  Happy Birding!


river changes…

Good Morning Barbara & Riverphiles,

open river mouth changes river life…

The rapid river mouth changes in the last week have been astounding. In my last report you read how the river was seeping into the San Lorenzo Blvd.Then the river mouth opened around mid-night from the 30th to the 31st. The 4’ high tide created a new look for a couple of days until the river mouth closed again. It is fascinating to see how these various waterscapes appeal to different bird species. The PELICANS cherish the short lived lagoon islands, which have been populated by 30 to 70 PELICANS. If endless grooming time allows, they waddle around, doze as picturesque statues until they take off in unison and fly a wide circle. Most of them land back on the resort island and a few decide on an ocean visit and are replaced by new comers. The ELEGANT and CASPIAN TERNS screech with fish-hunting joy when the river is lagoon-ing. They bomb-dive for fish, barely avoiding collision with each other and drive the fish stealing gulls berserk, who are in a frenzy, trying to decide which TERN to rob of their prey. The CORMORANTS and TERNS benefit from each others fishing styles: the CORMORANTS flush the swimmers upward, the diving TERNS flush the fish downward. Does anybody know if fish are deaf? The loud TERN screeches should warn the fish that quilled hunters are on the loose and dash instantly for the deeper cliff channels instead of staying in the middle of the lagoon, presenting easy targets. The Shorebirds such as prefer the open river mouth. In the early morning they carefully ‘graze‘ the waterline, make their way slowly past the river towards the Seabright beach, where early human risers and dogs cut their visit short. They fly off and don’t return until an other day.

Western Sandpipers ‘grazing’ at the river mouth…

It’s the time in the breeding season when the feathered parents have reached the limits of patiently responding to the incessant begging call of their brood. Now the brood’s ‘feed me’ call tends to get either a sporadic response or is totally ignored. Sunday morning a gull parent tried to escape the pesky offspring, who was obviously unwilling to grow up. This proved to be a quite difficult case of ‘kicking the young out of the nest’. The youngster followed the parent in the air, landed almost on top of its sire in the water, raced in the sand after the potential food source while screeching non stop. Finally the parent fled to the open sea and of course the peeved teenager followed. Plainly the young gull was no match for the progenitor’s speed: swiftly the gap between them widened. As you see, family issues are not species specific.

Pelicans enjoying new river island…

A couple of weeks ago I saw the Soquel bridge light installation in the evening. The different colored lights streamed back and forth in the dark. The art piece appeared for the EBB & FLOW festival and I thought it would stop once the event was over. The impact of the construction work for the installation had me already concerned for the SWALLOW nests underneath the bridge ledge. And now I am staring my concerns for the nocturnal, diurnal wildlife hunters in the eye. How are the moving lights effecting their nightly, twilight feeding? I know there are Owls, Hawks, Black-crowned Night Herons and Shorebirds along the river. They use the night, twilight for find food for their survival. In addition the San Lorenzo River is in the Pacific flyway of migratory birds, many of whom fly at night. Looks like it’s time to honor my wildlife concerns with some( whom am I kidding?always ‘much’) research and outreach work, which includes you all. Thanks for sharing your information how light across a waterbody effects nocturnal, diurnal hunters. The birds and I appreciate that!

light installation across the river…

Here is a little update for you: The COMMON GOLDENEYE and the RED-throated LOON are still residing on river between Laurel St bridge and river mouth. The amount of ELEGANT, CASPIAN TERNS, CORMORANTS and juv. HEERMANN’s gulls has been staggering at the river mouth/Trestle. The SPOTTED SANDPIPER is back between Trestle and Riverside Ave. bridge, where only a dozen or so CLIFF SWALLOWS remain. On Sat. 8/18th we’ll be working on our ongoing Restoration Project and we love to have you join us.
Sending you all sparkly river greetings, jane

Whimbrels by the river mouth…