Secure Housing for All Creatures of the Earth

Dear Jane and other lovers of the hilarious in nature,

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!

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

Female or first year male Black-headed Grosbeak, near river in a backyard garden, August, 2018, Photo by B Riverwoman 

summer visitors, the BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, 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.  I don’t know if my backyard Grosbeak is a male or female, since in their first year they often look the same.  All I know is that it was not a second year male whose solidly black head and deep orange breast 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

Black-headed Grosbeak, August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Juvenile House Finch on feeder, August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Somewhat  older juvenile male House finch on feeder near river, August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Adult male House Finch, August 2018, Photo by B.Riverwoman

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

Juvenile Cowbird, August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Newly created roadway along edge of riverine reach of river .  August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Closeup of road next to the outer channel of the river, separated from main channel by a stretch of willows.  August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Tree sprinkler

Water tank for irrigation of City plants.  August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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

Mystery Insect in my garden, August 2018, Photo by B. Riverwoman

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.









It’s Not About Education: An Advanced Placement Student Tells Her Story

Not just students with special needs are negatively affected by standardized testing. Here is a story by a white, middle class student who consistently took Advanced Placement classes in a high school near Stockton, California. For her, standardized tests were not only a burden in themselves, but signaled a more general failure to meet students’ real educational and counseling needs. She writes:

Megan Williamson

Megan Williamson

“I remember feeling so impatient, because every year we would have to take standardized testing. They’d spend an hour telling you where to write your name, be sure to fill in the bubble completely, if you color outside of the bubble your tests will blah blah blah. It would be a whole hour of instruction just about where to write your name. The teachers seemed so stressed. I had teachers who really enjoyed teaching, and standardized testing wasn’t teaching. It was something that they had to do, not something they wanted to do or thought was a valuable use of time in the classroom. But we were required to do it.”

“I wasn’t aware in the beginning of any threat of teachers being fired or schools getting shut down – but I wondered why there was more stress on standardized testing than on the regular tests of material we were learning in class. I learned later that a lot of school websites publish the school ratings on the standardized tests, including all the data on demographics and scores. Bad results could reflect badly on the schools – that’s why there is so much pressure. Teachers and schools are afraid they will look bad. It’s not about education.”   Continue reading

“I Wish All Schools Were Like Renaissance”

I think Jorge Martinez and Pasi Sahlberg would agree about some fundamental educational values.  Who are Jorge and Pasi and what are their values?  Jorge is an immigrant from Mexico and a junior at Renaissance High School, an alternative high school in Watsonville.  He is also a talented rap artist.  This blog features an essay he wrote about his educational experiences here in Santa Cruz County.  Pasi Sahlberg is currently a Finnish guest professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He was a schoolteacher, teacher educator and policy advisor in Finland, the country that is usually cited as having the best school system in the world.

Jorge photoI know Jorge would appreciate the banner slogans at the top of Pasi Sahlberg’s blog, Pasi Sahlberg .  They capture Jorge’s personal experiences. The provocative banners say,  “The worst enemy of creativity is standardization” and  “To prepare young people for a more competitive economy, our school systems must have less competition.”   In the first banner, Sahlberg is pointedly referring to the controversial standardized tests in K-12 that are infecting our public education system, the newest version of which are the Common Core tests. In the second, he challenges the highly competitive environment that seems to characterize our schools more and more.

Jorge moved to Santa Cruz County from Mexico when he was five. He did well throughout elementary and middle school, working hard and making steady progress.  Key to his success were the English Language Development (ELD) classes available to him in the early years.  Nonetheless, he suffered under the regimen of standardized testing.  And in his sophomore year, when ELD classes were suddenly dropped, his steady progress was slowed.  Forced to go to an alternative school, he is now a passionate advocate of the school’s alternative approach.  According to Kim Sakamoto, one of Jorge’s teachers at Renaissance, the school emphasizes cooperation, exploration, dialogue, small groups, choice, trust and community. It de-emphasizes standardized tests.   Jorge says, “We are family here.  We help each other.”  Jorge might easily have been a drop out.  He  is now determined to realize his dream of  becoming a police officer.

You can read Jorge’s full essay below.  Here is what he has to say about standardized testing.

“The STAR tests were a big thing.  Every year we had to take them.  They would show how smart or dumb you were. My mom would tell me that in reality it doesn’t show how smart you are.  But each year my score was ‘below basic’.  I felt really sad, letting my mom see those scores.  You do all your homework.  You attend class every day.  And still you don’t do well.  It’s not that the teachers are not teaching me right.  But the tests didn’t test what I had learned.  Also, when you take the tests, everybody has to stay in the room for two hours.  Nobody can talk until the last student is finished.  Since I was usually the last one working on my test, it was very embarrassing.  All the other kids were just waiting for me to finish.  Sometimes it was so embarrassing that I just hurried to fill in all the bubbles without even reading the questions.  Lots of us in ELD, we would begin to think that school was not our thing.  People would say, ‘maybe the field is your thing’.  I had friends who felt that school was not their thing and they dropped out.”   Continue reading

Triple P – Problematic Parenting Program

The desire to be in control is such a common and understandable human tendency that we forget that human progress is generally measured by the gradual giving up of control along with the wise sharing of power.  Political progress, we generally agree, moves from totalitarianism to democracy, from slavery to freedom.


But, sadly, we forget.  We stumble.  Or maybe we just fall into the false belief that the means don’t affect the ends, i.e. that we can use top down decision making to achieve positive ends.  John Dewey, great American philosopher and educator,  wrote many pages on this fundamental fallacy in education.  It’s worth reading.

I’d like to talk here about how this universal drama between hierarchical and horizontal control is being played out in the world of parent education in Santa Cruz County. Continue reading

A Charter Chain in Santa Cruz County? It’s a 501(c)3 But Is It a Public Benefit?

In her new book, Reign of Error, just out last month, Diane Ravitch offers a stinging attack on Education Management Organizations (EMO’s), the charter school chains that are proliferating throughout this country. She compares them to Walmart or McDonalds, education organizations with many of the same goals and tactics as more typical corporations. Some are large chains, like the notorious Rocketship Schools in San Jose (who have recently hit the front pages of local newspapers due to the outrage that teachers and parents are feeling about their takeover of neighborhood schools.) And some, Ravitch says, are just small entrepreneurs, eyeing covetously the large pot of money in the public school system. I had thought that Santa Cruz was free of these chains, but learned from a friend that I was wrong. Santa Cruz County now seems to be hosting one of the small EMO’s. Continue reading