Birds Seen in Centennial Park, Vacaville

American Kestrel

Black Phoebe


California Quail

Lesser Goldfinch

Mourning Dove

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Scrub Jay

Rock Pigeon

Centennial Park
Vacaville, CA

The Falcon Thief by Joshua Hammer

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The Falcon Thief

Birds on the Santa Cruz Pier

The Happiness of Swallows

Before my sister left the city of Santa Cruz four weeks ago, she took a walk with me down Laurel Street and showed me an entrance to Neary Lagoon. “You will love it here,” she said, her eyes glinting, her smile true. The clouds overhead were turning dark gray. “Isn’t it supposed to rain, Alice?” I asked her. She said she didn’t think so.

We started into the wetlands, walking on the wooden path that becomes a floating bridge on the water. We walked under a canopy of trees, which opened up to a deck overlooking a stretch of water:  there were ruddy ducks and coots in the water! I was absolutely delighted, just as my sister predicted, and I told her so – just as the clouds broke open and poured on us! We were laughing as we ran as fast as we could back to the car.

So my first trip to Neary Lagoon was memorable, but cut short by the rain. Today, I decided to go back, alone. I brought my binoculars. I already knew the birds would be waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to see them.

I was surprised, however, when upon retracing my steps down Laurel Street and entering the wetlands, I found a flock of goats pastured on the shore next to the wooden path! There were mama goats, and baby goats, so small and darling, all chewing away at the tall grasses. I paused and took pictures, talking to the goats, who were at least somewhat curious to hear a human talking to them. I walked on.

Soon I came to the part of the floating wooden path where the tree swallows and violet-green swallows were swooping and circling above the water. Beautiful! A man out cycling with his young daughter stopped and talked with me about the birds. He said he thought cliff swallows were also in the mix. A line from Keats’ poem, “To Autumn,” drifted across my mind: “… and gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”

I walked on and found wood ducks, some quite young, interspersed with mallard ducks – mostly females. I wondered where the green-headed males had got to … There were a few pie-billed grebes on the water as well. Later, I saw a mourning dove fly up into a tree and a black-capped night heron flutter down across a streamlet to the bank. A dark crow flew across the bright sky.

Besides the avifauna, there was the flora, which was lush and diverse throughout the wetlands. A favorite moment of mine was when I was passing by a blackberry bush in flower under a cherry-plum tree that had dropped its fruit all over the path. The smell was clean and sweet. Two sweethearts were sitting together on the grass nearby, talking together.

I walked both through and around the lagoon, and so came full circle to where I had begun, passing through the swooping swallows again. They were so glad-hearted in flight! They came very close to me as they circled and did their figure-eights in mid-air. I looked at them and thought, “I wish I could be as happy as a swallow.”

I am at a crossroads in my life, and it is difficult to be happy when trying to get clarity about which is the best way to go.

But when I quieted my thoughts and just looked at those birds, the smile came back to my face. I couldn’t help it! The happiness of swallows made me glad-hearted, too, in that moment.

After that, I walked past the flock of goats, down the path, and back to my car. I got in, rolled down the window to feel the breeze, and reviewed my pictures in my cell phone. Then I started the engine, drove out of the city, up Highway 1, taking the Soquel San José Road exit so that I could return to my place in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Postscript: These were the songs that were playing on the radio: 

Backyard Birding: Santa Cruz Mountains

American Crow

American Robin

Barn Swallows

psaltriparus minimus

Black Phoebe

California Towhee

California Quail

Dark-eyed Juncos

House Finch

Mountain Chickadee

Mourning Dove

Northern Scrub Jay

Pacific Slope Flycatcher

Red-tailed Hawk

Spotted Towhee

Stellar’s Jay

Tree Swallows

Wild Turkeys

… and mama deer with their fawns

and coyotes, oh my!


Birds by West Cliff, Santa Cruz, CA



Pelagic Cormorants, nesting;
California Brown Pelican in flight;
California Gull on a rock

…  and sea lions on an island
and a seal in the water!


In honor of black birders everywhere

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Birds on New Zealand Notes

My sister recently returned from New Zealand, and when she did, she brought back a little bit of coin and cash … which have images of birds on them! Delightful. ❤

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Birds on New Zealand Notes #1

Birds on New Zealand Notes 2

“The Loneliness of Birds” by D.R. Wagner

They knew angels by their names.
They were heralds for them, carrying
Banners and strings of lights that became the stars.

They were the lovers of the trees.
Their feathers are soft for this reason.
Their songs were known by all of the land.

In the Fall, the angel began turning
All ways before the gates of Eden.
Dreams no longer had birds.

Their music became notes spun in the throat,
The screaming of hawks, the iterations of starlings,
The lexicons of cuckoos, all troubling the seasons.

These birds fly above our heads, are afraid
When we move toward them, squawk and gesticulate
When we try to call them to ourselves.

We are not salvation for them. The clouds
Are princes of the atmosphere, the rain
Heralds of earth’s breathing.

Birds watch now with cool eyes.
They speak only to their kind.
They remember always that which has been lost.

D.R. Wagner

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four lines from e.e. cummings