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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Moving Downstream in the Watershed

I wandered downstream in the watershed starting at the headwaters of Kelsey Creek on Cobb Mountain. Here the stream's banks are crowded with alders. The creek flows down from the mountains where cougars drink, crosses Big Valley, where wood ducks and mergansers nest in its riverine trees, and discharges its water into Clear Lake. The lake finds its outlet at its southern extremity in the Anderson marsh, where Cache Creek cuts its way through the Inner Coast Range and eventually joins the Sacramento River on its way to the sprawling estuary of the California Delta, Suisun Bay, San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate. Along the way there are bald eagles, river otters, canoeists, tule elk, pear orchards, vineyards, black bears, snow geese, American white pelicans, cities, oil refineries, bridges, brown pelicans, California sea lions, oil tankers, freighters, tugs, sailboats, harbor porpoises and leopard sharks.

A mossy matriarch oak near the headwaters.

A car killed a mourning dove.

Columbian black tail deer on both sides of a "deer-proof" fence.

A vineyard near Clear Lake's outlet.

Anderson Marsh at the south end of the lake.

Tule elk cows in the Cache Creek Canyon. Thanks to one sensitive rancher the species was saved from extinction in the early 20th Century. Conserved and relocated herds generated from a bare handful of survivors of the great 19th Century slaughter are now found it scattered locations.

Surrounded by industrial agriculture, a few fresh water marshes have been saved along the Sacramento Valley in a series of State, Federal and private refuges. These are the loci of immense flocks of winter migrant waterfowl from Canada and Alaska, particularly snow geese, pintails, gadwalls, teal, shovelers, mallards, wigeon, white fronted geese, tundra swans, and sand hill cranes. Colusa County is just downstream from Lake County. Here the waters can spread out some in the rainy season. We stopped at Grey Lodge Wildlife Refuge, lying North of the Sutter Buttes. Standing under a honking multitude of snow geese, I felt the rare pleasure of immersion in natural abundance. California's millions of humans seemed very far away. This pocket is an almost intact fragment of the Valley of Old. Seven raptor species were visible, waiting for opportunities.

White face ibis forage in a flooded rice field.

Sunset over Walker Ridge, the divide between Lake and Colusa Counties, seen from the Sacramento Valley.