Site icon San Lorenzo River Mysteries

What Are Wood Clusters?

Dear Jane,

A belated CONGRATULATIONS on your restoration feat!! Lots of hard work, community participation, collaboration with AmeriCorps, etc! Quite a project to pull off with all your other obligations. Good work, Jane!

I had a nice outing on the short stretch between Water and Highway 1 this morning – still blinking with surprise at the presence of sunshine. I was writing down what I saw and ended up with 18 species! I’m always surprised at the diversity hidden within what at first seems an empty landscape. Here is the link to the complete eBird  list.

My favorite photo of the day was of this notorious species – the bold and beautiful EUROPEAN STARLING, an introduced species that unfortunately drives our cavity-nesting natives out of their normal habitat. I read that about 100 individual starlings were first introduced into New York City in 1890. Now there are supposed to be 200 million across the entire U.S. Quite a success story from their point of view. It might be fitting to make it our national bird. Anyway, isn’t it beautiful in the sunlight!

European Starling, San Lorenzo River 3.7.17

A little later I spied a small flock of LESSER GOLDFINCHES, pretty birds that have been avoiding my thistle feeder (or me?) this winter. I was pleased with myself when I recognized the drawn-out rising whistle – teeeyeeee, teeeyeee. Fortunately, it builds its nest in bushes or at the mid-level of trees, so hopefully shouldn’t be in competition with the Starling.

Lesser Goldfinch, Bright Female, San Lorenzo River, 3.7.17

I was keeping an eye out for any signs of nesting activity, but saw only an AMERICAN CROW with a big bundle of some yellowish vegetation in its mouth. I’ll keep looking.

I spotted a few MALLARDS and AMERICAN COOTS still managing to negotiate the rough conditions of the river, hugging the banks and nibbling on foliage. But the river is not a very welcoming place these days for our migrant and resident divers like the COMMON MERGANSERS, PIED-BILLED GREBES, COMMON GOLDENEYES and BUFFLEHEADS. I think they need calmer and/or deeper water to successfully catch their prey without an undue expenditure of energy.  Perhaps these old friends of ours have found refuge in Neary Lagoon, Antonelli’s Pond or some other more protected environment.  I saw some Common Goldeneyes at  Neary Lagoon during a Bird Club walk recently.

According to the USGS website, the water was flowing this morning at 557 cubic feet per second, still pretty fast for this time of year. The median for this date (March 7) according to the same source is 123 cfs.   It seems that all the tributaries that drain into our river upstream are still pouring lots of water into the main stem of the river.   It’s beautiful to have a river running through our city.  Hopefully our water birds will come back when it calms down a bit.

The birds are blissfully unaware of the churning political river in Santa Cruz, including lots of disagreement about how we should relate to our natural environment. I attended the 3rd Annual Symposium on the San Lorenzo River this last Saturday. My favorite moment was when Don Alley, an aquatic biologist who has monitored fish populations and habitat conditions in central California watersheds and lagoons for decades, said that it was very important that people become activists on behalf of the environment. He said, for instance, that it is the mission of the Water Department to provide water for Santa Cruz residents, and that they won’t do much more unless we apply pressure. I thought that was a pretty brave thing to say considering he is the go-to biologist that the City hires when it needs an expert. Importantly, he said that Santa Cruz County has now changed its attitude towards wood in the river. In the past it was seen as the possible cause of logjams, whereas now it is seen as protection for fish. He said that he does not use the word ‘logjam’ any more but instead uses ‘wood clusters’.

Fallen tree behind county building, San Lorenzo Park
Fallen willow near pedestrian bridge, San Lorenzo Park

I’ve been studying these ‘wood clusters’ along the river, trying to grasp whether they actually constitute a flood control threat. How can one know? It is important to know since it is the primary reason that so many of the trees on the river are cut down every fall. Nor are they left to rot naturally.  Instead they are thrown in the chipper.   I hope that at least the trees that have fallen will be left for the fish and the birds. They are such important habitats for both.

In another political riffle, I attended the monthly meeting of the Santa Cruz City Parks and Recreation Commission. Unfortunately, the environmentally friendly Christine Polochek has stepped down and has been replaced by J.M. Brown who ran unsuccessfully for City Council. Judging from what he said during the campaign, it seems his primary interest in the river is its potential for economic and recreational development and not as a riparian wildlife habitat. Maybe he has changed. He is also on the Board of the Coastal Watershed Council whose guiding philosophy seems to be in alignment with having-your-cake- and-eating-it-too philosophy. I fail to understand how these two perspectives can co-exist in one organization, how you can degrade the environment with one hand and protect it with the other.

I spoke before the Commission and asked them for more details about the proposed zipline for the San Lorenzo Park that turns up in the Master Plan budget. What’s that about? Before the meeting I happened to bump into the City forester and asked her what she knew. She hadn’t heard about it – although ziplines are usually anchored to trees. Later she told me that she had checked and was told that it was still in the “conceptual” stage. Hmmmm. I must talk to the P & R Department and find out what’s happening. I’ll keep you posted. Is this another pump track?

Seems there are more ‘mysteries’ than the natural mysteries we intended when we chose the title of our blog!

Again, congratulations on your restoration and community building work!












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