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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Creek Runs Dry

Many thousands of hitch fry were stranded in fast-shrinking pools as the creek dried up this week. The mud surrounding some of the pools was densely laced with duck tracks, likely a sign of mergansers seeking the tiny fish.

In a matter of hours the swimming multitudes were lodged in the mud, dead. If the creek is ever restored to its year-round flow, hitch numbers should increase exponentially. Bullfrog tadpoles, too, died in significant numbers. These amphibians, introduced here from East of the Rockies, are not well adapted to creeks which dry up suddenly in mid summer. They require a longer transition period from egg through tadpole to frog. Still, far too many of them do survive in more permanent waters to out-compete native frog species.

The gravel bed of the creek is preferred habitat for dozens of crying killdeers desperate to get away from man. Green herons haunted the last puddles in the shade of alien tamarisk.

There was time enough this year for most of the Western toad and Pacific tree frog tadpoles to mature. Pudgy toadlets dispersed in all directions, many successful at finding congenial habitats, where irrigation regularly moistened earthen edges of planted areas.

Now that this stretch of creek is dry, a road crew bulldozed and graded a ford across the creek renewing Renfro Crossing.
Nearby, ospreys watched disconsolately from their new nest atop the Granite Construction gravel elevator.

In 1922 the Bensons planted a fig tree. Eighty-eight years later this mother fig is comprised of many trunks and an immense canopy, which meets the ground. To be beneath it on a hot day is to be relieved of blinding glare and bathed in green light and pungent smells of fruit and earth.

Yet another cat devoured yet another bird in the shelter of the fig tree.

A noisy frenzy of mobbing starlings alerted me to the ripeness of the season's first figs.

In the field, shaggy now, American goldfinches clambered about on seed heads.

A monarch butterfly sipped the nectar of a buddlea.