Phoenix Rising

Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Lovers,

Mythological phoenix, image from Google

An unusual  flaming bird was cited on the San Lorenzo River on November 10. It was witnessed by  the heads of both the Santa Cruz Police Department and Fire Department as well as by many unhoused members of our community.  Six days later, by order of the City of Santa Cruz, the bird was deliberately flushed from an enclosed area at the corner of Highway 1 and River St.

By now you may have guessed that I am slyly speaking of the mythological PHOENIX – and of Camp Phoenix, the short-lived homeless  encampment located on the site of the former Ross Camp , next to the River and Felker St. Bridge. The encampment,  organized by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union,   managed to provide a safe space to live for at least 50 unsheltered people in our community – until residents  were awakened at 6 a.m November 16th and told that they were “trespassing” and had 10 minutes to leave.  Take Back Santa Cruz is the group that,  among others, is accused by many of putting pressure on the City to do this.

Lucero Luna, unsheltered resident of Santa Cruz and activist with California Homeless Union. Photo by B. Riverwoman

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness or help with the  encampment during its short life.  But walking downtown last week, I saw a small, older woman trudging along the Mall, holding up a large banner commemorating Desiree Quintero.   (Desiree was  one of the women leaders at Ross Camp who was killed October 27 by a falling tree in the Pogonip while  visiting a friend and former resident of the Ross Camp. ) I introduced myself and asked the woman about Desiree and Camp Phoenix.  I learned that the woman’s name was Lucero Luna and that she had just been released from jail after peacefully refusing to leave Camp Phoenix in an intentional act of civil disobedience. I told her I wrote a blog about birds and people on the river and asked her if I could interview her for my blog.  She happily agreed to talk to me.

Desiree Quintero, homeless activist, died October 27, 2019, photo by B. Riverwoman

Lucero believes, like many in the unhoused community, that Desiree would still be alive if the Ross Camp had not been shut down.  “She would definitely be here with us if the unhoused had been given their rights,”  said Lucero. “But the City decided to shut down Ross Camp and force people back into the parks, alcoves and the Pogonip.  The Pogonip was where Desiree died.”  Lucero’s eyes filled with tears as as she talked about Desiree.

 

Dignity Village, Portland, Oregon, Google Image

I told Lucero that I was especially interested in the Camp Phoenix concept of a self-managed community of unhoused. Lucero told me that the local organizers had been inspired by Dignity Village in Portland, a self-governing village created by a group of unsheltered persons whose  website says   “we came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of the public parks… and created a green, self-governing village that has now been in existence for 19 years.”

Camp Phoenix adopted the “Five Rules” of Dignity Village to guide their young encampment. Lucero listed the five for me – no violence; no theft; no alcohol or drugs within a one-block radius; no constant disruptive behavior; and at least 10 hours per week of work for village upkeep. Anyone who breaks any of these rules must leave.

I asked Lucero how the camp had worked for the five days that it existed. “We were so proud of what we were accomplishing, even in the short time that we were there” said Lucero.  “On Sunday, the first day, we had to deal with huge piles of wood chips dumped on the lot since the Ross Camp was closed.  So we decided to have a Wood Chip Raking Party.  Many Santa Cruz people worked together with camp residents to spread the chips evenly. . It was great! We worked really hard.  When we finished, people could set up their tents.”

Lucero told me that Food Not Bombs had donated $2000 for portapotties, handwashing stations and tents.

The first day the encampment was opened, Lucero was one of the organizers who sat at the entrance, welcoming new residents and handing them all a copy of the Five Rules. Judging from what a friendly, open-hearted person Lucero seemed to be, I can imagine that the new residents received a warm welcome from her!

At first, it seemed to the organizers that the City was working with them.  According to Lucero, “ police chief Mills visited and we didn’t get any sense from him that this was illegal.  We thought we were protected by the new federal law, Martin v. Boise.”  (That is the law that guarantees that a City  may not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City can provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.)  Lucero told me that the fire chief also visited us and told organizers that  the tents  had to be 5 feet from each other and 3 feet from the fence around the camp. The residents also  created  a wide path down the middle for easy fire and police vehicle access.

“We were careful to follow what they told us,” said Lucero. “We  kept someone stationed at the entrance around the clock to welcome new residents.”  Camp hosts rotated hourly health checks throughout the the camp, day and night, in order to make sure that people were safe and that the tents were properly placed.

“We all felt really hopeful,”Lucero told me.  “We were keeping the camp really clean.  Previous residents were happy to be back in their community.  We were planning to have a community garden at the far end of the camp. Someone offered to create a solar charger for our cell phones. Art projects were being thought about.”

Then the City shut down the camp.  “They crushed a lot of peoples’ dreams,” said Lucero.  “They woke us up at 6 a.m and told us we were trespassing and had ten minutes to leave.  I decided to do civil disobedience.  I peacefully refused to leave.  I was arrested and taken to jail. “

I asked Lucero how the City could close down the camp now that the federal case of Martin v. the City of Boise had established that a City could not arrest or cite people for sleeping on public property unless the City could provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.  Lucero said that the City is now trying to get around this new federal law by claiming that the Phoenix Camp was occupying a closed-off area. “The City itself closed off the area, and is now using “Trespassing” as the official charge, claiming that “trespassing” isn’t covered under Martin v. Boise.”

Lucero said that the City has just crafted a new ordinance that they will present at the Tuesday, November 25th City Council meeting, The new ordinance will  propose new ways to circumvent Martin v. Boise.   The City chambers was packed.   I attended  as did Lucero and other homeless men, women and children..  I saw roughly 40 housed and unhoused community members speak out strongly against the  new ordinance. Speakers included a member of the ACLU as well as a lawyer for the California Homeless Union who warned the Council that they could easily open themselves to a lawsuit if they pursued this course.  Community activist Scott Graham pointed out that the spirit of Martin v. Boise was being violated by the new ordinance.  The whole point of that  case, he said,  was to protect the homeless from citation or arrest if there was no other place for them to sleep. The new ordinance, according to him, tries to get around that.   As a result of overwhelming community unhappiness with the proposed ordinance, the Council voted unanimously to return the ordinance for reconsideration to the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH), made up of a broad spectrum of community members, including currently homeless representatives. But it remained unclear to me (I left towards the end when it was past 11 pm.) how the unsheltered were to manage in a City with even fewer spaces than last year and continuing unclarity about their legal rights.

Still,  it was a great meeting.  I love it when we see democracy alive and well in Santa Cruz – covered by Community Television.  Stay tuned.

I always want to know more about the lives of the people who are currently unsheltered in Santa Cruz. What landed them on the streets?   I asked Lucero if she would be willing to tell me about her life.  She was somewhat reluctant, not wanting to dwell on the hardships.  But she said she knew that this was part of what the community needed to know in order to contradict the stereotypes. So she talked to me quite openly.  She grew up in extreme poverty in Mexico, part of a family of 11 people, all living in one large room that was used for storage of harvested food as well as for sleeping and eating. She remembers sleeping on a lumpy dirt floor that she would try to make more level each night.    She remembers that from age 4 she was expected to help with the planting each year.  She remembers the little cloth bag called a morales, filled with corn,  bean and squash seeds, and planting first a corn seed, then a  bean seed, then the third sister, the squash seed.

She was sent to a one-room school for a short time, but because of the crowded and chaotic conditions of the “school” and because she suffered from undiagnosed auditory processing disorder, she was declared “unteachable” and forced to leave the school . At age 9, she tried to defend her mother against physical abuse by her father, was raped by a relative, and was also forced to leave home in order to help with family finances. She worked five days a week as a live-in nanny and a domestic, returning on weekends to “work even harder” she said with her sunny smile.  At 11 years she left her home state in Zacatecas to get domestic work in Jalisco, and at 14 years old was brought to the U.S. by her grandmother to get work in the U.S. It wasn’t until she reached the age of 18  that she finally had a chance to return to school.

Somehow she managed to rise above all these challenges, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, even became a family daycare trainer with West Ed, one of the best early childhood consulting agencies in the state of California.  As a former childcare worker, I bonded with Lucero around this!

Lucero  eventually  managed to get her own home, but was eventually pushed out onto the streets by a combination of  domestic violence, foreclosure, chronic hospitalization and post-surgical complications. Since 2001 she has been on the streets, first as what she calls “a vehicle dweller”  and since July of this year sleeping  at night in a protected area on the Pacific Garden Mall. She is 55 years old.  She has become a soft-spoken but ardent and seemingly tireless advocate for the what she calls the “unsheltered” or “houseless”.

In some ways, Lucero never forgot her childhood..  She told me that even when she was housed in Ventura, she felt guilty about enjoying such luxury while the homeless were being dumped along the river bottom.

A young man named Cloud that I met while talking to Lucero at the Food Not Bombs dinner on Sunday night praised Lucero, describing how Lucero gently cared for an incontinent man whom Cloud had found helplessly lying in front of the Bank of America, unable to stand up or walk.   Cloud called Food Not Bombs who transported the man to the only place available which was Camp Phoenix.  “Lucero was the one who welcomed the man to the Camp, gently cleaned him, found him new pants, and helped him get a tarp, a mat, and some cushioning cardboard. The next day she also found him a wheelchair.”

Cloud told me that he “lives in hope that people will open their minds and understand that the defining sign of a  culture is how we treat the most vunerable.”   He is a quiet, gentle man – dressed in a long skirt, and a longtime member of the Rainbow Tribe  He had wanted help Camp Phoenix create truly democratic meetings like the ones in the Rainbow Tribe. . He never had the chance.  The first meeting was scheduled for the day that the Camp was shut down.

While talking to Lucero and Cloud, I  also had a chance for a quick word with Alicia Kuhl, perhaps the major leader and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Homeless Union which organized Camp Phoenix.   I asked her how she felt when they shut down Camp Phoenix. She said that for several days, she was depressed and stayed in bed.  “They had temporarily killed our hopes and dreams.  But now we will organize and come back with a plan.”

I feel the City must find a way to draw on the vision, energy and experience of people like Lucero, Cloud, Alicia and many more.  If we can support these dedicated people, maybe someday there will be a Phoenix Village in Santa Cruz that the whole community, including the unsheltered, can be proud of.

Buddhist prayers often include words of gratitude and respect for “all living creatures”, including the flora, the fauna and all human beings.

Let’s include similar words in our Thanksgiving celebrations.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

river life styles…

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow Nature Lovers,

OSPREY & CORMORANTS sharing Trestle trees…

That’s so great , Barbara, that you came downriver and got to schmooze with ‘my’ feathered friends. Although there isn’t a great distance between the Estuary and Riverine stretches, their fauna and flora are worlds apart. Your upstream Riverine section is thickly vegetated while downstream is an open area, which makes birdwatching more accessible. Whenever I stroll through your terrain I always suspect that I only see a fraction of the birds and the rest remain little mysteries, hiding in the bushes.

the male COMMON GOLDENEYES are here…

Well, the male COMMON GOLDENEYES arrived and brought with them an electric energy. The females no longer leisurely forage, visit the BUFFLEHEAD flock occasionally, join the AMERICAN COOTS for a little swim-along. That life style went down the river and has been replaced with lots of fast and furious diving by both sexes, raising their bodies out of the water, throwing their heads back, short spurt take offs and splashy landings. The water is literally churning around the COMMON GOLDENEYES flock. The BUFFLEHEADs across the river are hard at work mimicking the COMMON GOLDENEYES. That fascinated me, because they hadn’t exhibited that conduct prior to the male GOLDENEYES’ arrival. Usually the BUFFLEHEADS and GOLDENEYES display this kind of behavior shortly before they migrate back to their northern breeding grounds.
For the last week I have been spending a lot of time down by the Trestle bridge, outlining the work for the Estuary Project day. What a different bird experience that was compared to walking! I became aware of the birds’ life nuances and listened to their varied sounds with which they communicated. I learned that the PEREGRINE rules over the Trestle trees and that the CORMORANTS and OSPREY abide the Falcon’s orders. If the approaching OSPREY received one short, sharp call then she was permitted to land on the lower bare branch, two calls meant landing in the trees was denied and there were no buts and ifs about that. The PEREGRINE would resort to bomb diving the OSPREY until she left. Sometimes she circle, pretending to fly off and return the back way to a tree at the end of the grove. The CORMORANTS would loudly protest the orders, circle the trees and settle for the uncomfortable perches, huddling close together, muttering complaints deep down their throats. There were times when the PEREGRINE could have cared less who was sharing the trees and the OSPREY, RED-shouldered HAWK, CORMORANTS, KINGFISHER took advantage of it, resting peacefully in the sun.

COMMON MERGANSER gliding upstream…

And then there were the two COMMON MERGANSERS, floating around by the Trestle, obviously not interested in each other. One would drift by, heading upstream and a little later the other one would glide downstream. It is surprising to see them hang out separately since they prefer a flock life style.

the mighty Estuary Project volunteer team…

We got a lot done on our Estuary Project Saturday thanks to the Aptos High Girl Soccer Teams, DST Members and Community volunteers, including Robin, who interrupted his morning walk to carry plants for me. The girls tackled all the tasks with vim and vigor and did amazing work. Many of the girls had never done restoration work before and I was impressed how open they were to that new experience. It was a joy to see such a big group of people working together for the benefit of the river habitat, which will make the critters happy.
Cheery chirps to all of you, jane

The Familiar and the Strange

Dear Jane and Nature Lovers All,

Male bufflehead, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I happily accepted your invitation, Jane, to visit our newly arrived and elegant friends, the BUFFLEHEADS and GOLDENEYES,  at your end of the river.   I never fail to be amazed that they find their way back each year from their breeding grounds in Canada.  I have to admit that it has taken me too many years to figure out that many waterbirds assume their breeding plumage in the fall while songbirds and shorebirds wait until spring to dress up in their courting finery.  I don’t know why. After all, they all give birth in the spring. Here is the handsome male Bufflehead I saw yesterday with his glamorous iridescent neck and forehead.   It took me at least thirty shots to catch this elusive guy above water.  They barely catch their breath before diving in search of another fish..

Mixed flock of gulls, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman


Like you I also saw the poor Buffleheads pushed out of their area, this time by a flock of about 200 gulls, all splashing and squawking.  They are an unruly bunch, these gulls, especially when they spot a cousin who has found an especially desirable treat.  I saw this peaceful scene near the Riverside Bridge  suddenly erupt into a  a wild and noisy chase with the whole family demanding a share of the treat.  A small group of five Buffleheads, busily fishing nearby, were forced to beat a quick retreat once the  uproar began. They huddled  about 30 yards from the good fishing spot they had thought was theirs – losing precious fishing time until things settled down again.

I was also glad, Jane, that you pointed out that the male Goldeneye lingers behind while the female arrives here first. There was no male visible on yesterday’s walk either, although I saw 12 females (and perhaps juveniles) with their distinctive pointy heads and bright golden eyes.

Female Goldeneye, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman
Eared Grebes, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, near trestle, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I was happy to   catch sight of maybe the first two fall arrivals of  EARED GREBES on the river.  These  little brown waterbirds seem quite nondescript compared to Buffleheads and Golden-eyes – until one gets a close-up look at their fluffy crinolines peeking out from behind, quite enticing don’t you think!   As you know, I am quite partial to grebes.

Eared Grebe from four years ago,  San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, 2015, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-crested Cormorant on Eucalyptus branch near trestle, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And like you, Jane, I am always pleased to see the  now familiar OSPREY and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS hanging out on those tenacious eucalyptus trees,   In spite of the bad rap these non-native trees get, there is no denying that they provide great habitat for our  fishing friends like the ospreys and cormorants.  .

Double-crested Cormorant, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, November 11, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I had seen a Double-crested Cormorant a little earlier in my walk,  drying her wings after a fishing expedition.  This spot was  upstream from the trestle on a fallen snag, another favorite place for her.   I never tire of watching cormorants do this.

And now in the opposite category of creatures occupying unusual spots.  I was a little surprised to see this lordly GREAT BLUE HERON high in a tree, instead of on the more usual river bank or open field.

Great Blue Heron, Oct. 26, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

In the same vein, I was quite amused to see the little peon GROUND SQUIRREL  below,  also perched somewhat perilously, and unusually high up,  in a shrub.  I imagined that the little fellow was a bit surprised to find himself so high, maybe contemplating how to get down. I wonder if something chased him up there?   I have rarely seen a ground squirrel sit still for so long in such a visible place.

 

Ground Squirrel, November 11, 2019, San Lorenzo River, Estuarine Reach, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Click here to see  my eBird list of the 22 bird species I saw yesterday.

Quote of the Day.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”

Henry David Thoreau

May we all enjoy some close up looks at the natural wonders around us, even in the middle of a City.

Happy birding to all,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Lorenzo River welcomes BUFFLEHEADS & GOLDENEYES…

Good Morning Barbara and all you Nature Enjoyers,

male BUFFLEHEAD & his harem…

As you know, I my vigilant eyes have roamed the river water surface in the hope to see the appearance of migratory waterfowl, especially the adorable BUFFLEHEADS. On October 29 my wait was rewarded with the sight of 1 male BUFFLEHEAD and his harem of 4 females in tow. They had the skittish behavior of newcomers, which meant that any perceived threat sent them under the water surface. This disappearance mania eases off as they get familiar with their winter neighborhood. The goosing PIED-billed GREBE obviously didn’t approve of the new crew: it circle the small flock, dive down and stay out of sight. All of the sudden the male BUFFLEHEAD would burst into a dash away from the females, but wouldn’t dive. I couldn’t make head or tail of these perplexing speed zooms until I noticed that the PIED-billed GREBE would pop up close to the male. After 4 repeats of this scenario, the male BUFFLEHEAD cleared the water decks, because he was fed up with the sneaky gooser and his devoted harem trailed behind him upriver. Do you think the PIED-billed GREBE knew he save himself some time by chasing off the male because the 4 females would follow him?

2 female GOLDENEYES joined the BUFFLEHEAD flock…

For the last 6 years I noticed that the female GOLDENEYES don’t subscribe to the BUFFLEHEAD harem concept, because they arrive before the males, who meander in approx. a week later, decorated in their stunning plumage. I watched the 2 female GOLDENEYES checking out the growing flock of 18 BUFFLEHEADS. After swimming back and forth on the other side of the river, they decided that it was okay to join their migratory cousins. Slowly they approached. The BUFFLEHEADS were agreeable to their company and the GOLDENEYES melted smoothly into the flock.

City is opening the river mouth…

The City opened the river mouth on October 28 and drained the water below 5’5″. It used to be that the City was careful to not let the water level go below 5’5″, because that height was established as beneficial for the fish. In the past I have seen Biologists with nets, pulling out fish at the opened river mouth, but not this time.

female OSPREY on her favorite branch…

There is something gentle and reassuring to see the same river birds in their familiar places. It creates a sense of affinity with these critters as I walk the levee. There is the tiny Anna’s Hummingbird that always buzzes me as a walk by the plum tree. Sometimes it comes so close that it seems to get ready to land on me. In the beginning I was worried that I was close too its nest, but I noticed that no other people were getting buzzed like me. The TOWHEE couple by the Boardwalk parking lot forage along the path. When a person approaches, they sound alarm and both flit into their hiding spot in their favorite elderberry bush. I see them peeking down at the people, waiting for them to pass, so that they can resume their food rummaging. The royal OSPREY in the Trestle trees peers down at me as I stare mesmerized up at her. I consider my ‘feathered regulars’ a part of my extended family and I am always happy to see them.
Be sure to come to the river and welcome our migratory winter guests, jane

3 Billion Birds Lost

Dear Jane and Other Heartsick Lovers of our Vanishing Birds,

Did you see the  just released cover of the 2019 autumn edition of Living Bird?  It was shocking. Instead of the usual gorgeous photo of a gorgeous bird, the cover was almost solid black, with one lone feather way down in the right hand corner,  and the words “3 Billion Birds Lost” in the other  corner.

Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4
Living Bird Cover, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 4

The lead story, based on a study  from the top scientific journal Science, reported that in just the past 50 years, more than 1 in 4 birds has disappeared across North America.  That is catastrophic!  According to the lead author of the Report,

These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife, and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.

Many of the bird families that have lost the most ground, according to the study,  are the common ones.   The hardest hit are the blackbird family, finch family, lark family, sparrow family and warbler family.  Some of our common birds on the river were singled out as suffering the biggest losses.

Song Sparrow in flood waters, January 22, 2017, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

According to the study, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS have lost 30% of their populations, SONG SPARROWS  (this is the one that choked me up) have lost 20% of their populations,  and DARK-EYED JUNCOS have lost a third of their population.  I know that from now on,  every time I hear the whistle-buzz-trill  of the song sparrow singing its heart out every spring,  it will be like a tiny dagger in my heart. I have come to love these plain little songsters.

According to Steve Gerow,  red-winged blackbirds used to breed along the riverine reach of the urban river. But I don’t think I’ve  even seen a red-winged blackbird since I took this photo in 2015, much less seen any sign of breeding.

Red-winged Blackbird, March 9, 2015, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

A consolation is that I know that there were breeding song sparrows and breeding juncos this year during breeding season.  This little junco was hopping around with brothers and sisters in San Lorenzo Park this summer, not the safest habitat, but they seemed to be surviving.

Junco juvenile 3 (best)
Juvenile Dark-eyed Junco, Summer 2019, San Lorenzo Park, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The author reminds us of the extinction  of passenger pigeons, the complete loss of which no one would have have believed possible. But they are gone forever.

The article in Living Bird didn’t mention our common WESTERN SCRUB-JAY , but it did cite the STELLAR JAY  as one of the most heavily affected species, losing 29% of its population.  I’ll do more research on the scrub jay and let you know what I find out.

Srub Jay
Western Scrub-jay, October 26, 2019, Riverine Reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

 

Stellar Jay
Stellar’s Jay , May 19, 2017, behind Tannery, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

The authors of the study are quick to point out that all is not lost – wood duck populations are up 50%, raptors up 200%.  We have both on our river. Their numbers are up because they were identified in the past as threatened and conservation efforts were successful.  The other co-author of the study, Adam Smith, offers this  message of hope:

“The successes of the past are the candles in the dark that will guide us towards solutions in the future.”   

And speaking of bringing hope, I just read in the paper that Desiree Quintero, who I wrote about in my May 1 post this last summer, was killed by a falling tree in a small camp in the Pogonip.  She was a strong and compassionate leader at Ross Camp, bringing hope to many other women in the camp.   If you missed that blog, you can read about her here.  May this brave woman rest in peace.

Let’s make every effort to protect our avian and  human species, especially the most threatened.  

You can  click here for my eBird list of  October 12 (22 species) , and here  for my October 26th list (26 species) . 

In the category of comic relief, I had to laugh out loud as I watched a mischievous AMERICAN CROW teasing a Ground Squirrel by sneaking up behind it and pecking at its tail!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  And once wasn’t enough.  The crow returned again and again, repeating his sneak attack, causing the  hapless squirrel to jump in surprise  and then run off.  But it couldn’t have been too painful since the squirrel also kept coming back for more.  It didn’t look that different from kids playing some kind of tag game on the playground.

Planning Mischief
American Crow pestering ground squirrel, October 22, 2019, riverine reach, San Lorenzo River, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Good birding to all,

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

steelhead bonaza, levee leak, new life…

Good Morning Barbara & fellow Nature Enjoyers,

Biologists checking their catch…

The City biologists finished seining for this year. As of the end of last month their boats and nets are no longer roving in the river. The 12 month seining cycle ended in September. Now the biologists are writing their reports and we have to wait until next July 1st to read their findings. It’s darn hard to wait that long and so I kibitz as much as I can while they seine. Since I was in fishing around for any information, I welcomed Zeke’s note that on 9/ 23 Coastal Watershed Council was hosting a seining talk of the City of Santa Cruz Water Department’s Watershed Section and Hagar Environmental Science. Chris Berry, the Watershed Compliance Manager, impressed us all with his engaging presentation.We couldn’t believe our ears when he told us that at their last seining at the Trestle bridge they counted over 10000 steelheads, which was the biggest haul in a long time. The good news was that these steelheads were predominately wild, who have a better ocean survival rate than the hatchery ones. It turns out that hatchery life doesn’t steel them for the ocean. The biologists are not certain why the count was so high this year. They expect that the late rain created a higher, steady river flow and had a positive effect on the spawning and rearing. Chris mentioned this interesting observation: the biologist had tagged some juveniles down river on their way to the ocean. Later in the season they found these juveniles again up the river, which indicates they did an atypical backtrack.
Finding the Pink Salmon in the San Lorenzo caused quiet the excitement, because it was the first time since 1914. Biologists are re-evaluating their lagoon perception: a closed river mouth was thought to be necessary for the steelhead to adjust to the ocean salt water, but the river mouth stayed open for most of the year, resulting in a very high steelhead count. It will be interesting to hear if fish behavior is being trolled by Climate Change.

spreading the net for seining…

It’s a good thing that Chris is familiar with my enthusiastic bird preoccupation, because he took it in good stride that his speech was interrupted by my excited outburst: “Look there are 2 HAWKS sitting in the Trestle trees!” The HAWKS stayed for the entire talk and provided me with the perfect visual background while I listened to Chris.

2 HAWKS listening to Chris…

I don’t have any current pictures for you, because my camera is sick in the lens, leaving me photo blink-less. There are so many times, when I miss not being able to capture an image, then again there is a simple pleasure in just staying with the unfolding moment: the hunt for that perfect photo is replaced by letting Nature unfurl. Since I do enjoy sharing river images with you, would you cross your fingers that my lens can be healed?
I am getting fidgety, because my beloved BUFFLEHEADS haven’t shown up yet. Every time I go to the river, I scan the water for their presence. You all be the first to know when I see them.
The Public Works Dept. seems to have a headache on their hands: the levee has a leak. Public Work staff and Company workers are taking measurements, discussing and walking back and forth on the levee across from Jessie St. Marsh. At this point they are in the process of figuring out how to deal with it. I am happy to report that so far the native plants haven’t been stepped on.

Monarch caterpillar feasting on native Milkweed…

That was pretty thrilling to see the plump Monarch Butterfly caterpillar devastate the leaves of the native Milkweed. A few days later it was gone, hopefully turning itself into a beautiful Monarch and testifying that our Estuary Project efforts are creating enriching wildlife habitat.

Milkweed seed pod: future life…

Sending you all river greetings, jane

Silence, then Shrilling, then Silence

Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,

Twenty-two species graced the River yesterday as I ambled, stopped, peered up into the trees, then down into the river,  slowly feeling myself enter that peaceful state that this river almost always confers on me.   With the dark shadow of local politics weighing heavily on me these days, I am especially grateful to this eternal flowing presence, restoring some level of sanity to my life.

I had noticed that you, Jane, had posted on eBird a sighting of an EARED GREBE on the 9th, and someone named  George Cook posted a Greater Scaup on October 4th – two first-of-season arrivals on the river. I decided to venture into your salty end of the river this week and, if lucky, offer my personal welcome back greeting  to these two winter migrants, the first a regular on the winter river, and the second something of a rarity.

I didn’t find the migratory grebe, but I did find the GREATER SCAUP (pronounced sk-awe-p).   I almost missed this best bird of the day because some fellow river enthusiast saw my binoculars and, as often happens,  stopped to chat about birds.  (Carrying binoculars is almost like pushing a stroller or walking a dog. ) I was just telling him the name of the ‘white bird’ (Snowy Egret) when I fortunately glanced  back at the river and realized that I was looking at my Scaup – sailing upstream with two MALLARDS. I abruptly ended my conversation.

 

GREATER SCAUP, San Lorenzo River near Riverside Bridge, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

For you readers who haven’t met this bird yet, she is more likely to be seen at this time of year migrating south in flocks of as many as a thousand, usually seen on the open ocean during migration season, or resting inland on shallow wetlands. Skaups are one of only a very few duck species that are ‘circumpolar’ in their breeding, raising their young around the globe in places like Siberia and Alaska.  As a loyal Minnesota girl, I am especially partial to these birds who favor the norther regions.    I started wondering how long she had been on the road from her breeding grounds in Alaska,  and whether she would be staying here for the winter,  or pressing on further south.

I was sad to read in  Birds of North America that the  Greater Scaup are listed as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline,” which means that they have seen at least a 50% loss of their population in the last 40 years. According to this source, “several factors may be contributing to the Greater Scaup’s decline, including warmer water in Alaska, contaminants, disturbance, habitat degradation, and hunting…. from 2012–2016 hunters took on average 69,366 Greater Scaup per year.”  Maybe it is time to forbid hunting birds that are in ‘steep decline’.  If not now, when?  I dream of reaching the point in our evolutionary history when our deeply engrained predatory instincts yield naturally to  choices more in line with conservation goals.  But first we have to lose the taste for duck, which I used to love.  No more!

Osprey bathing ex
Osprey bathing in the river , San Lorenzo River near skateboard park, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

One of the treats of birding at your end of the river, Jane,  is the chance of seeing an OSPREY.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  This shaggy, almost mythical creature, with its astonishingly hooked beak that makes a sharp 90 degree turn downward,  came roaring out of nowhere, swooping way too close to 9 small KILLDEERS skittering along a sandbank on the edge of the river and shrilling loudly in alarm.

Killdeers 4 best
Four of seven killdeer, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Even though the book says that 99% of an Osprey’s food comes from live fish, I couldn’t stop worrying about that 1% that includes birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats, and salamanders.  Maybe the Osprey was just showing off as it skimmed the sandbank next to the killdeers. In any case, it spurned the killdeer as prey and returned to the sky, grandly circling overhead for a few turns, then returning to take a bath in the river, not too far from the killdeers but far enough so that the small songbirds calmed down and continued bobbing along on their own less dramatic but still predatory journeys .

Happily, Ospreys are a conservation success, their populations growing by 2.5% per year from 1966 to 2015!  Killdeer populations declined overall by about 47% between 1966 and 2014, with steeper declines in Canada and the West, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.  But they are a common species and not yet on the list of birds of concern.  Still….

crow with red cany best
Crow hammering mysterious orange edible, San Lorenzo River, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And in the controversial AMERICAN CROW department, I was impressed at the kitchen tool discovered by this clever crow.  The crevice in the rock seemed the perfect device for safely securing whatever this tough orange delicacy was that the crow hammered away at for quite some time.  Any guesses as to what the goodie might have been?

And don’t you all love the way that cormorants lift their heads so proudly as they swim along, like  this DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT  perhaps showing off her beautiful butterscotch-colored pouch.

Double-crested Cormorant, San Lorenzo River between Riverside and Trestle, October 14, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Check out my eBird list from yesterday – click here – if you want to see what else I saw on my healing walk downriver.

Quote of the Day: “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Robert Lynd, Irish poet and nationalist

May you all spend some time this week in a silent space.

Barbara