Good Afternoon Jane,
It is so awesome to watch a quiet stream turn into a churning, seemingly out-of-control expanse of dirt-laden waters, racing ahead at breakneck speed. Our River seems to have caught the spirit of our nation’s inaugural moment.
As I walked along the swollen and silt-laden river yesterday, the wind was blowing and the sky was leaden. At first I saw almost nothing except a few insouciant crows calmly foraging along the Riverwalk. Then I noticed a narrow, protected backwater filled with AMERICAN COOTS. And to my surprise, I spied a diminutive Pied-billed Grebe swimming close to the Coots, very unusual behavior for this stand-offish species. The Coots were happily feeding on the emergent vegetation, but the poor little Grebe, who couldn’t fish in such shallow waters, kept swimming back and forth as if wondering how to reach the deep and calm waters where she could find her preferred diet of fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs and the like. She disdains greens. I’m sure she must have been hungry after so many days of raging waters.
I walked as far as the the Soquel Bridge where I suddenly saw a lot of activity near the spot where Branciforte Creek joins the River. There I finally found most of the regulars on the river, all cozied up together, resting and peacefully foraging for food. There were 8 MALLARDS, 7 AMERICAN COOTS, 5 COMMON GOLDENEYES, 3 COMMON MERGANSERS, 1 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT and 1 PIED-BILLED GREBE. With the notable exception of the Coots, these species usually keep their distance from each other or at least stick with their own kind. It was interesting to see them all together and I regret not getting a good photo. My theory is that the creek waters could not easily break into the powerful forward thrust of the river and so created a kind of calm backwater.
The one and only exception to the prudent behavior of all the other birds was one very adventuresome Coot who deliberately swam out to the middle of the River and was swept along on a short but wild ride down the River! After about a minute of this thrilling experience, and perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of her plan, she began to turn sideways, then backwards, and then with a wild flapping motion, raised herself out of the torrent and flew quickly back to the shore. A teen-ager, I’m sure, exploring the limits of the possible!
I am still surprised at the occasional Mallard that does not show the traditional male or female plumage. Here is a very pretty one I saw mixed in with a group of wild Mallards – all calmly munching on emergent vegetation in a small eddy cut off from the main river by a new little island. The patch of white on her primaries could be a sign that she is a Domestic Duck, or a hybrid offspring of a Domestic Duck that has bred with a wild Mallard. I need more information on these beings. This one seemed perfectly at home with the wild Mallards.
It seems that more storms are lining up on the ocean and probably headed in our direction. I’m sending best wishes to our brave little friends on the river! I’m also hoping our reckless human species makes it through the physical and political storm without major damage.