Riot on the River

Hi Jane,

Water is joyfully gushing everywhere these days.   Heavy rains, high tides, all this shifting energy! Just the roar of the river is sweet – loudly proclaiming its new power to energize everything it touches.   Between Highway 1 and Water St., the river has luxuriantly spread itself out – right up to the edge of the levee slope, tripling or quadrupling its width!

alder in flood
Alder tree with very wet feet

Did you know that you can get a daily e-mail report on the height and speed of the river by writing For instance, this morning the river was 9.79 feet and it was flowing at 621 cubic feet per second. (For comparison, the cfs was 30,000 during the flood of 1955). Let’s hope the river doesn’t get too rambunctious!

willows in flood
Willows taking a dip!

The mallards love it. One day recently, after one of the big rains, I found 68 mallards all happily feeding in the newly created shallow wetlands near Highway 1. This is ideal habitat for mallards – better for them I am sure than the Duck Pond where their diet is mostly white bread.   Just a few days later  the river had already risen too high and the mallards were mostly gone. I suspect they went down to Jessie St. Marsh, near your end of the river, where the water is calmer and the vegetation higher. My friend Rick and I counted 41 mallards swimming around happily in that newly drenched and baptized marshland.

Jessie St. Marsh 1.20.16
41 mallards in Jessie St. Marsh after heavy rains.

Did I miss the courtship season for the mallards? Almost all of them that I see on the river are already contentedly paired up, feeding, resting or swimming together with their mates. I saw two males in prime breeding regalia, green heads shimmering in the sun. But, sadly, they were swimming together, bobbing their heads as if they were courting. Were they rejects who still had futile hopes of finding a mate?

Mallards in flood waters 3

Some very surprising visitors have been turning up on my trips to the Tannery. Most surprising were your good friends, the COMMON GOLDENEYES and BUFFLEHEADS,  that usually hang out in the salty end of the river.  For some mysterious reason they have been motivated to visit me upstream at the freshwater end.  I have seen 3 female goldeneyes and a male and female pair of Buffleheads during my last three visits to the Tannery.  That is definitely the furthest upstream I have ever seen them. Did the rains have something to do with their unusual behavior? They were doing a lot of diving so there must be something tasty for them up this way. I wonder what it is.

night heron and golden eye
Common Goldeneye swimming upstream past a Black-crowned Night-heron behind Tannery, 1.24.16

About two weeks ago I found, to my delight, a pair of WOOD DUCKS, mostly strangers to the river. I’m hoping that they were hunting for a good nesting site.  The dense woodland area behind the Tannery has some fallen trees with cavities that are exactly what wood ducks are looking for. Could these be the same parents that raised a family here last year?  I’m going to start posting my observations of Tannery Birds at a new hotspot on eBird – called the Tannery Art Center.   The habitat and sightings behind the Tannery are so different than downriver that I think they deserve their own spot.  This is the habitat that was destroyed downriver because of urbanization and the levee.

Several days ago I found a WESTERN GREBE all the way up past the San Lorenzo Park footbridge, easily swimming against the strong current. These birds are usually ocean dwellers that sometimes venture as far as the estuary.  Another weather-related phenomenon?

Western Grebe

The COMMON MERGANSERS are just the opposite. They like to go with the flow. I saw a pair happily riding the fast current downstream as they love to do. I even saw one adventuresome mallard sailing down the middle of the river where the current was strong – for all the world as if she were a merganser.   Usually they cling to the bank in strong currents. I wished her well on her daring adventure.

Just to throw a human being into the mix – this morning I met an old Chinese man who was out collecting wild fennel on the river. He didn’t speak English so I asked him in Chinese what he was collecting. Turns out he was from northern China and they like to put fennel in their dumplings. He runs a Chinese restaurant in town. I want to go there and check out his wild fennel dumplings!

Happy wonderful rain days to you.




2 thoughts on “Riot on the River

  1. lovely meanderings and witnessing of life on the river dear Barbara… Hope to see you one day soon, Karen


  2. Very interesting to hear changes in the birds movements that may be weather related. Really want to try the man’s Chinese dumplings!!! Love that you could talk to him.

Leave a Reply to blasec57 Cancel reply