The sky above the river is dotted with the returned migratory SWALLOWS, so be sure to take a minute to watch their delightful, zippy, zig-zack flights. The mornings and later afternoons are the best times to catch them chasing after their insect food-source. The NORTHERN ROUGHED-winged and VIOLET-green SWALLOW species have come back and still missing on the scene are the BANK, TREE and CLIFF SWALLOWS. Once they arrive our spring messenger crew is assembled along the river, where the different species have their favorite spots: CLIFF and BANK SWALLOWS frequent the lower river bridges, VIOLET-green SWALLOWS love the stretch between the HYW 1 and Water St., NORTHERN ROUGHED-winged flit along the entire urban river reach. It always amuses me how birds and humans share the habit of returning to their preferred ‘restaurants’. The RUBY-crowned KINGLET definitely aims for very specific breakfast trees and bushes, skipping right over the same vegetation to land on its morning plate. The BUFFLEHEADS and COMMON GOLDENEYES adhere to that pattern as well. There are certain spots in the river where they always forage, ignoring other places.
These observations are of great interest to me, because working on the levee restoration it is important to know how the birds and critters respond to the new ‘restaurant’ in their habitat. Birds don’t take new 1gal trees and bushes seriously and snub them vehemently~ not that I blame them, because the young plants are of little use for food, perching or sheltering. It takes on an average of 2 years before birds start testing the flora as a valid part of their lives. The juice sucking insects, on the other hand, are ready to explore any new plant instantly, which makes it hard to get the plants through the important 1st year. If the thirsty munchers can be controlled then the plant can establish itself solidly and is not prey to that kind of insect invasion anymore. My prime example is the yellow Lupine that I rescued from an Aphid infestation in the beginning of this year and is now in full beautiful bloom. This shows there is always room to do better for the river as our Sentinel Op-Edsuggests.
Last Saturday we had our Estuary Project work day, which was a special occasion. The Downtown Street Team(DST) planted 3 buckeyes in memory of the members, who they lost last year. Together the DST members dug the big holes, planted the trees, put straw nests around them and watered them with their messages written on water-soluble paper. Community and DST members gathered and shared time to say good-bye and know that the trees will grow in memory of these DST members.
Yesterday I watched the diminished winter migratory flock of the BUFFLEHEADS and COMMON GOLDENEYES. There are about 4 female and male BUFFLEHEADS left, who seem quite content on the river. The 6 female COMMON GOLDENEYES appear unperturbed that the males already took off to the boreal breeding grounds. Isn’t it curious that the female GOLDENEYES are the first to arrive and the last winter guest to leave? BTW: the COMMON GOLDENEYE species nests in tree cavities just like the COMMON MERGANSER. This breeding behavior requires mature trees close to the chosen waterbody. This time of year the summer and winter migratory birds overlap, which generates a lot of “Welcome back!” and “Farewell ’till late fall” greetings. And yes, I am still waiting to greet the adorable river ducklings…hopefully soon. Chirpy River cheer to you~ jane
Spring is decorating the river flora with a wide variety of green hues. Nature has this magic touch of making sure that the perfect green appears to emphasize the plant’s blossom color. In the last 10 days my river visits have been sparse, because various San Lorenzo River topics were Zoom flowing through my life. Although I miss my physical river big time I take heart that I was still engaged with the river. You probably you have heard about the proposed Ordinance Amendment for regulating temporary Outdoor Living. It is on to-day’s City Council agenda. As you know I strongly care for the houseless Downtown Street Team(DST) members and the river ecosystems. And since I interact with both I have a different perspective than the people, who are barely familiar with either houseless individuals or the river vegetation.
The one thing I learned is that the houseless population is as diverse as any other human group. Unfortunately the bad apples catch our attention and become the yard stick for the rest. It’s a fact that I have confrontations with houseless campers, who have destroyed newly housed native plants and/or cut tree branches. The other fact is that I also have had those interactions with neighbors over illegally removing mature trees during nesting season. I have worked with DST members, who knew more about the river habitats than some of my dear friends. I do know that a safe setting takes a lot of anxiety out of a houseless person’s life and that the bad apples do irreparable environment damage. So my wish is that the City and County can find a solution for a safe location that prevents environment damages.
And then there was the levee lights topic with its potential night light pollution impact. It was very informative to share a meeting with the Santa Cruz Group of International Dark-sky Association(IDA). My main concern was to get the best wildlife friendly lighting, because artificial night light impacts the hunting of the nocturnal owls and bats, including the raptors, who are twilight hunters. There is this additional topic of interest: The CA Coastal Commission received an Appeal for the proposed 81 feet high Front Street/Riverfront project. You can e-mail your comments with the subject line A-3-STC-21-0013 Riverfront Mixed-Use Building to the CA Coastal Commission by March 5th 2021 at CentralCoast@coastal.ca.gov
It was especially wonderful to work with DST crew and my friend at the Mike Fox Park. It was a welcome highlight during my river visit drought. The City’s COVID guidelines require that our volunteer groups remain small. That group size reduction didn’t hold us back from having a good time planting 16 native plants in less than 2 hours. If you would watch us work together then you would notice the easy flow of our camaraderie. Who knows maybe one day you join us~
Previously I have mentioned that the river water level is so low. Nothing has changed. Now you can watch the waterfowl walk across the river to reach the swimming depths. There are a few stretches that allow the Mallards to swim and dive for their food goodies. I see the OSPREY circling over the river and refraining from diving, knowing full well that the shallow water would break her neck. The KINGFISHER’s hunting perches are now reduced to a small set of willows that hang over a deeper water section. Mary, a DST member, was telling me that she kept her eyes open for the KILLDEERS, who favor wide shoreline areas. Actually I have been expecting to see more shoreline birds along the low water line. Maybe they will arrive when I return to my usual river walking…In the meantime my eyes are feasting on the great number of picturesque SNOWY EGRETS, who are adorning the banks. Sending you happy spring chirps~ jane
A reader’s comment reminded me what a great adventure it is to walk through the door of discovery. I remember how I fell in love with water bodies and how I slowly unwrapped their treasures. Looking back I am grateful for stumbling through that door, which resulted in decades of opening San Lorenzo River gifts that I didn’t know wanted to learn about~ Hydrology?~ really?! Sediment build-up? isn’t that for engineers?!. The amazing part is that these topics actually turned out to be fascinating. The plants and critters have always charmed me and then I discovered that each had their own, big universe story to tell such as the GREEN LACEWING. Who would suspect that this insect with its incredible textured, delicate wings and oversized eyes starts out as a larva that is nick-named ‘the Aphid Lion’. This little beast is able to satisfy that ferocious aphid appetite with its strong jaws and a handy paralyzing venom supply. Once I discovered that fact it made sense that the GREEN LACEWING was hanging out next to the aphid invested Evening Primroses.
Of course I first checked to see if the PEREGRINE was on its Trestle perch throne before attending to the Buckeye trees. Satisfied that it was present, I turned my mother-hen scrutiny on the recently planted Buckeyes. Right now these trees are in the limbo phase, testing their new home if it is worthwhile to put down roots. I happened to look up at the Peregrine and was surprised to see its previously relaxed body tensed in high alert, starring upstream. Scoping the sky and the river I didn’t find anything to explain the PEREGRINE’s body language, so I turned back to my task. A few minutes later I saw a big bird moving towards the Trestle. Behind me the PEREGRINE let loose a penetrating shriek. As the shape came closer these alarm calls increased in frequency and volume. The new arrival was the OSPREY, who was planning to land on one of her favorite bare branches. That attempt was greeting with the PEREGRINE’s high speed plunge, aiming straight at the OSPREY, who managed to land anyway, dodging the unfriendly welcome. The obviously ticked off PEREGRINE kept trying to dislodge the fish eater from every possible direction while the pestered OSPREY flattened her body, swiveling her head, avoiding the fury loaded attacks. Obviously the usual peaceful tree sharing had come to a screeching halt. Maybe the PEREGRINE is already feeling its mating itch~ after all a safe, raptor free territory could prove to be very appealing to the bride-to-be. Maybe the OSPREY and the PEREGRINE actually share the same tingling, because the OSPREY has been calling from her perch and far off ‘somebody’ is answering her lure. Raptors and Falcon are early nesters, which requires laying timely claim on enticing ‘homes’ and a smart mate plans ahead…
Finally we managed to arrange an Estuary Project work day again! After an extended break the DST Membershave joined the restoration efforts twice now. It was good to work together again and pick up a familiar ‘normal’, because as a houseless community they have faced an extra hard COVID road. As you know we have restored native habitat together for the last 2 years, which has been a rewarding experience. It was so astounding to see all of us fall right back into our work rhythm and watch the various restoration skills flow right out of their fingertips. We managed to click off all our section goals: pruning bushes, planting native Black Sage, dead heading natives plants and spreading their seeds plus some weeding. And here is my confession list: I admit I am enamored with our camaraderie that creates an open atmosphere of learning, teaching, talking, laughing with each other. I confess I delight in hearing people compliment their work. I wish that my hope bears results. My hope is that City/County/State agencies hire ‘my’ DST Members for the needed restoration work in the fire locations. It would be such a win-win solution, because they already have the skills, the focus, the know-how for this type of work and the agencies create jobs forthe DST Members. So I invite you to join my Happy New Year wish for all of us~ MAY HOPE BECOME REALITY~jane