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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Water Season

After February storms Kelsey Creek was in spate this week. The first of the migrating hitch had been reported in the lower reaches. I pushed off in the canoe downstream from Kelseyville into the labyrinthine channels divided by willow and cottonwood islands. Pairs of mallards, canada geese, wood ducks, and great blue herons flushed. Ospreys, great egrets, and common mergansers were also present. Otters like the family of three my bother, Brian, photographed a couple of months ago at Las Gallinas ponds in Marin County are likely pursuing the hitch up the creek.

The gates of the water retention structure are closed. Water is spilling powerfully over the top. Hitch have no chance of mounting it. The structure was built in answer to the loss of the creek's natural ability to recharge the aquifer annually through its deep bed of gravel. When gravel mining operations over decades stripped out this natural sponge down to the relatively impervious layer of underlying clay the aquifer suffered. Water surged quickly down the length of the creek to the lake.
The structure is designed to allow water to linger in place long enough to begin to work its way into the aquifer. It is a clear illustration of the way one unthinking abuse of a natural system has unanticipated ongoing negative consequences, in this case the severe diminishment of our native spawning runs of fish as well as the destruction of the creek's innate recharging qualities.

Winter light in Lake County as seen in the orchards can make one wish to be a plein air painter.

Luis took a moving shot at the sky from his car, with results resembling those of Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt.

Lake County has some spectacular vernal pools, the biggest of which is Boggs Lake not far from Bottle Rock Road at Harrington Flat. For most of the year Boggs Lake is a tule marsh with limited areas of surface water. But in winter it resembles an ocular lens reflecting the skies. It mirrors the surrounding hillside forests of Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, black oak and madrone.
Although within the town limits of Kelseyville, Boggs Lake is in the mountains at 3,000' as opposed to Big Valley's 1,400' elevation. The difference in elevation makes for a radically different vegetation from that of the valley floor.

Like many once pristine parts of our county, Boggs Lake was slated to become yet another trailer park. Citizens mobilized and got the Nature Conservancy interested in protecting this incredible place. Now the Lake County Land Trust is involved in a
transition to take over management of the Boggs Lake Preserve.

For three weeks every November the sky at dusk over the tule marshes of Boggs Lake is the arena for spectacular displays. Hundreds of thousands of starlings swarm and gyrate in maneuvers designed to elude predation by hawks. The concentration of life force amplified by the sound of a million beating wings is a thrill to experience. After massing, splitting off and reconstituting itself in every imaginable shape, the flock finally settles down to roost for the night in the relatively secure tules.
My friend, Andrew, who lives in a log cabin overlooking Boggs Lake, took these shots of the starlings and a pursuing hawk or falcon.

Now, in the season of abundant water, many thousands of Western toads and Pacific tree frogs make an equally impressive racket as they clamor for mates. Andrew loves to demonstrate an amphibian phenomenon he discovered. Andrew has a few strategically placed spotlights on his wooded property aimed to illuminate tree trunks. When, well into the night, the frog chorus is at its most tumultuous, Andrew simply flips off the light switch and marvels as the entire frog army of Boggs Lake goes almost completely silent before gradually starting up again.