A Brown Creeper

Dear Jane,

I was lucky enough this last week to see a tiny BROWN CREEPER hitching itself up a Black Cottonwood tree in San Lorenzo Park. This tiny bird, only twice the size of an Anna’s Hummingbird, feeds only on the largest of trees, especially on trees with rough, peeling bark in in dense, old-growth conifer forests.  I found her rapidly creeping up the 60-foot tall cottonwood tree with great agility and purpose, holding onto the craggy bark with her claws, propping herself up with her long tail, and quickly probing under each piece of loosened bark to find the spiders and insects that she loves. I was excited, but also a little worried.  Perhaps she has been driven to San Lorenzo Park because of excessive logging in our area.

BROWN CREEPER about 2/3rd up the right side of the Black Cottonwood tree, San Lorenzo Park,   November 11, 2016


Brown Creeper, photo from Birds of North America 

She did exactly what the books say she does – flying to the bottom of a tall tree, then creeping up the tree rather rapidly in a spiraling motion, now appearing, now disappearing. When she reached a point where the rough bark ended, she flew to the bottom of a neighboring tree and starting up again. She is the only bird in North America that feeds herself this way.

I was so enamored of this unusual find that I talked about it pretty much non-stop for several days. My playful 50-year old daughter Kate even initiated a game of Brown Creeper with me this weekend. In case you don’t know, the way you play Brown Creeper is to pretend your fingers are claws (they are actually). You skitter them across the table to your partner until you collide, then return to the edge of the table and do it again.

Another very endearing part about Brown Creepers is that they build tiny hammocks as nests, so small that they can be concealed underneath loose pieces of bark on dead trees. Steve Gerow thinks that our local Brown Creepers probably nest in other more natural areas upstream where there are snags and fallen trees, dispersing  in the winter months to San Lorenzo Park.  I hope the City will understand why I feel quite fierce in protecting the Park from recreational development. There is too much happening here already. San Lorenzo Park is the  only place on the urban river where there are trees like the Black Cottonwoods tall enough and craggy enough to attract the Creepers.

Although the  inconspicuous creeper captured my greatest attention this week, I also watched with my usual curiosity when five AMERICAN CROWS decide to attack a RED-TAILED HAWK. I still don’t think that the hawks take it very seriously. After all, the hawk is the predator of the crow, not the other way around. This hawk flew off when the five crows got too pesky, but then flew back to the same spot shortly afterwards. The inflamed crow attack sputtered out shortly afterwards, with the hawk perched peacefully in the same place where the attack began.  As I’ve written earlier, crows never forget an outrage against them, and this attack may simply be the crows’ reminder to the hawk that they will never forget that this particular hawk harmed or threatened one of their own.

AMERICAN CROW harassing a RED-TAILED HAWK, San Lorenzo Park, November 11, 2016

Earlier on my walk, I saw a RED-TAILED HAWK near the Water St. Bridge devouring something high up on a telephone pole. I couldn’t see what it was. Who knows, it could have been the same hawk.  The prey could even have been a crow although hawks prefer small mammals.

RED-TAILED HAWK devouring something, upstream of Water St. Bridge, November 11, 2016

This week’s walk totaled 28 species between Highway 1 and San Lorenzo Park.  Readers can see the total list on eBird. I also found a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a species that is on the California list of Species of Special Concern (SCC).

I read with interest your story of the drama of the shifting sands of the sandbar – and how the ‘river pulses through the veins’ of all us river watchers – birders, fisherpeople, surfers, city staff! I’m sure that the more we watch something, the more it enters into our bodies at a cellular level. If our minds extend way beyond our physical brains, which physicists now say they do, little wonder that we are drawn to places that are not on any Google calendar of events but are on the ‘ogling calendar’ in our minds!

On recent walks, I haven’t managed to get past the pedestrian bridge in San Lorenzo Park, even though I had wanted to get far enough downstream to welcome back the BUFFLEHEADS, EARED GREBES AND GOLDENEYES you wrote about. I am eager to see my friends down there. These are all creatures that are on the Audubon list of birds endangered by climate change. Since I found that out, I can never look at them without feeling that they are even more precious than before.

Thank goodness there are birds to heal us in the aftermath of the recent election. One small action I plan to take this week is to join a local solidarity action with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.  Kathleen Crocetti, the woman who has created the beautiful porcelain mosaics on the bridges and behind the Tannery,  has called this action.  We will  gather at 4 p.m. this Friday, November 18, at the Clock Tower, then march to the San Lorenzo River at 4:30 where we will join hands along the river to express our solidarity.  I hope many river protectors will join us!

Who knows where the river will lead us. But I trust it.











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