Friday, December 29, 2017

The End of the Run: A Birding Hike by the Mokelumne River

Mokelumne River

Date: November 4, 2017
Place: Mokelumne River Day Use Area, Clements, California
Coordinates: 38.222577, -121.033918
Length: about 2 miles
Level: easy

Last November my family went to the Annual Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival again, three years after the last time we participated. As always it was a beautiful, highly educating, and a well coordinated event. Apparently it had also become more popular in the last three years because more than a month before the festival nearly all of the tours I wished to sign for were already fully booked. So we ended up doing tours we had already done before, and had a great time nonetheless. I posted here about this festival on the first year we attended it. This time I post on specific trail we took a tour on last November - the Mokelumne River Trail.
We arrived at the trailhead early in the morning and the air was still cool. The sky was overcast and remained so throughout the hike. Our guide gathered everyone and we descended to the riverfront to take a look.

A few mergansers were swimming at the edge of our view. Closer to us swam a coot. Pappa Quail spotted a great blue heron in the nearby vegetation.
Great Blue Heron

This hike marked a birding leap for our elder chika. After years of shrugging it of she finally developed an interest n also photographing the birds, not just sighting and calling them out to us. We gave her a simple point 'n shoot camera and now we had a difficult time dragging her off from the river bank to begin the hike.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The trailhead was a bit further away from the river bank and fr a few minutes we walked with the river out of our sight. Not that there was any doubt where it was - the thick band of willow and sycamore trees were indicative enough. Off the water though, there were different plants. One of them even bloomed. A wildflower blooming at the end of November is almost sure to be a composite -this family seems to have blooming representatives year-round.
Common Madia, Madia elegans 
Our walk was very slow. While we were not in a large group, near everyone there was a birder and every bird sighting had everyone stopped a a long while until everyone got a good view and several photoshoots. My elder choke fell perfectly in with this bird-photographing group.
Acorn Woodpecker 
Poaaibly the most common bird we saw there that day was the turkey vulture. There were many of them there and on this early hour they were all still sitting in the trees.
Turkey Vulture 
No bird is left unsighted when hiking with a group of experienced birders. Soon someone spotted a red-shouldered hawk perched up on a tree and everyone pointer binoculars and cameras in that hawk's direction, as did my chika.
Red-Shuddered Hawk 
Promptly we reconnected with the Mokelumne River. Gaps in the vegetation allowed us to get right to the river bank. Salmon fish were jumping in the water, but capturing the exact moment other jump had proved quite a challenge. All I managed was to catch the splash eft when the fish fell back into the water.
Mokelumne River
I didn't expect to see any bloom there but there was some.
Swamp Verbena, Verbena hastata 
One of the wildflowers that were blooming there still was familiar to me from the old world. Sure enough, it turned out to be an introduced species gone wild.
Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria, non-native
We continued walking slowly up the path until we reached the base of the Comanche Dam. This dam blocks the run of trout and salmon fish to their ancient spawning sites. Nowadays the fish spawning is facilitated by people.
At the base of the Comanche Dam that locks the Camanche Reservoir of the Mokelumne River there is now a fish hatchery facility to facilitate the ongoing procreation of steelhead trout and chinook salmon.

The fish, desperate to get to their spawning site jump rapids and waterfalls on their way upstream, but jumping at the man-made barriers is futile.
Chinook Salmon
And it is also very sad to watch.
Chinook Salmon
At the facility there is a 'fish ladder' which is a passage through which the fish enter and swim up the current to holding pools where they are kept until ready to spawn.
Passing through the Fish Ladder
I naively assumed that the fish spawn inside these holding tanks, but our guide soon explained the process to us. The females are kept until they are 'ripe'. Then they are sliced open and the eggs are extracted from their bellies and mixed with semen that was extracted from the males. To the shocked faces of her audience she added that the fish die anyway even after natural spawning. While n one asks the opinion of the fish on this matter, I an only guess what their choice would have been.
The holding pools
While the facility is designed for fish, other animals make use of it.
Rock Pigenos
The fish hatchery facility is open to the public. As expected, there are areas that are fenced off. Small birds, however, have no problem with these fences.
Rock Wren 
What is done with all the dead fish after the eggs and sperm are extracted from them? The question came up and the guide answered something which I was too distracted to hear. Some of the fish at least, ended up as vulture chow. 
Turkey Vultures having sushi 
After looking around the fish hatchery the guide gathered us and led us through the facility's parking lot to the back road where we started looping back to the trailhead. Oak trees lined along the road. At least three species of oak.
Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni var. wislizeni 
Keeping in mind the purpose of this hike, Pappa Quail ket looking for birds and found them even in the thick foliage of the evergreen coast live oak.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet on a Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
In a certain place the oak trees were whitewashed with vulture droppings, indicating that these trees were the vultures' favorite roost. These trees looked like ghosts and reeked horribly. We moved on at a quickened pace. 

It was a short walk back to the parking lot of the Mokelumne River Day Use Area where we had started the hike. The clouds that hung over us all morning begun to drip a light, intermittent drizzle. We completed the hike without spotting any new exciting birds or stopping at any additional interest points. All that time we saw very few people other than our birding group. I should think that the place is more popular in the warm spring and summer weather, but birding-wise, water is its best season.

I would have loved to see this place the way it was before the damming of the river, but that is only for the imagination now. The area, lovely as it is today, is heavily man-managed. The river course, the fishery, the vegetation, and through those - the birds.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tide Low, Tide High, Birds Eat, Birds Fly. A Day Overcast and A Day of Sun. Two Days of Hiking and Birding Fun, at the Hayward Regional Shoreline


Dates: December 2 and 3, 2017
Place: Hayward Regional Shoreline, Hayward, California
Address: 3010 W. Winton Ave, Hayward, California
Length: 3.2 miles
level: easy

The Hayward Shoreline had been a regular hangout for us Quails when we lived nearby and I still miss going there on a regular basis. Last week I solidified a tentative plan I had to take my family hiking group there on Sunday and since it has been a few months since my last visit, I decided to go there on the Saturday before.
On Saturday morning as I was getting ready Pappa Quail and the younger chika said they'll join me.
Surprisingly, the elder chika decided to stay behind.
The sight that welcomed us at the parking lot was very similar to what we saw when I was there for the 4-H hike a couple of years ago - a puddle of rain water on the road and a gaggle of geese using it as a water hole.
Canada Geese gather for a drink. Dec. 2
California ground squirrels are plenty there. Not that t's difficult to see or photograph hem, but they're so common that we hardly bother with it anymore. Still, they are very cute to watch and usually also very cooperative photo models. I was surprised to see how many of them live between the boulders right at the water line - a precarious home choose considering the long reach of the bay water.
California Ground Squirrel, Dec. 3
We entered the Shoreline from the W.Winton gate intending to hike south along the Gogswell Marsh and finish at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. I had left my bike at the Interpretive Center to get back to my car when we'd finished the hike.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS on Dec. 2.
The bay waterfront never gets snow, but the thick layer of Coyote Brush seeds can give the impression some times.
Coyote Brush, Dec. 2
And even as late in season as December, something will always be blooming along the coast. And most often the blooming plant would be of the aster family.
Gumweed, Dec. 2
We walked along the slough toward the Bay waterfront. Great egrets are permanent residents of the Hayward Shoreline and are sure to be seen there, usually nearby a great blue heron.
Great Egret, Dec. 2
We hardly ever note the presence of mallards anymore, since they seem to be everywhere. But Pappa Quail did photograph this pretty drake, saying he looked very cute. 
Mallard drake, Dec. 2
Saturday was gray and overcast but Sunday was clear and beautiful. We had a terrific view all around and a nice, clear view of San Francisco across the bay. 
View of San Francisco and Mount Tamalpeis, Dec. 3
While we didn't have that great view on Saturday, we did get to see many, many birds. Most of them - shorebirds. And most shorebirds look very much the same to me. There are some, however, that are quite distinct and easy to identify. The curlew is one of these species, and it is almost certain to see them any day in the Hayward Shoreline.
Curlew, Dec. 2
The greater yellowlegs is also a fairly common shorebirds but I am never sure about its identity unless I see its legs. And even then it could be mistaken, if its legs are too muddy to show the if yellow color. Thankfully there are two real birders in my family, and I leave the identification to them.
And some bird I identify by default. A quarter of a mile south of the canal mouth the trail curves back inland along a second canal. There at bank of the second canal bloomed a tobacco bush. That tobacco is a non-native species and I didn't pay attention to it on Saturday. On Sunday however, I did photograph ot. It looked pretty n the sunshine, but the main reason was the little Anna's hummingbird that was feeding from its long, tubular flowers. I knew it was Anna's because it is the only hummingbird series that overwinters in the Bay Area.
Anna's Hummingbird feeding on Nicotiana glauca, Dec. 3
That trail segment leads back inland along a low and flat hill. Low and flat, and dry land with drylands vegetation, that is home to many little bush birds. 
White-crowned sparrow, juvenile, Dec. 2
Pappa Quail made sure none of this little brown birds escaped his camera. He also took the time and effort to identify them. I don't think I could have.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, juvenile
Past the low hill the trail turns back south and takes right through the wetlands. On a levee at first and then on a long overpass.
The wetland is being taken over by an aggressive non-native cordgrass that chokes the native pickleweed. There is much concern about this but I'm not sure what will be or can be done about it.
Cordgrass, Dec. 3 
When I hiked there with my hiking group on Sunday, as we walked along that part of the trail a large gaggle of Canada geese that were on top of that hill suddenly took to the air in a big commotion. It didn't take long to see what had startled them - a  glider parachute hovered behind the birds. It must have looked like a huge raptor to them.
Glider and geese
Much of the Shoreline trail is on levees that used to hold the salt pond of Cargill Corporation. Many of these salt ponds were made nature preserves and sone were converted back into sat marshes. The conversion involves the breaching of the levees and allowing bay water to flood the wetlands with the tide cycle.

At the time of our family hike there in Saturday the tide was low. Very, very low. The little cove that opened up when the levee was breached was a wide mudflat with just a trickle of water on its side. The mudflat was covered with shorebirds of different species. They were all busy feeding - poking the mud for the mollusks and crustaceans that leave there.
Feeding Grounds
Papp Quail took close up photos of the feasting birds. They were of the usual crowd that flocks to the low tide mud exposed: sandpipers and other little shorebirds.
The dunlins were the bigger in this flock, and they were mostly stationary, methodically feeding at the same spot of their choice.
The smaller sandpipers foraged more and kept moving around, poking the mud here and there, then moving on to a different spot to poke some more.
Least Sandpiper
The sandpiper movement between the dunlins gave the mud flat a constant shimmer and shine that was very pleasing to see.
Western Sandpipers
In the fringes of the feeding flock foraged a few bigger birds. Not part of the flock but keeping a close distance to it. 
The bridge over the levee breach is long and as is very common, we saw anglers sitting there with their lines in the water. The west of the bridge on the bay side also showed exposed mud flats extending quite far into the bay. This particular corner seems devoid of birds but the image is cropped - there were quite a few shorebirds poking in the mud to the left of the image.
Exposed mudflats, Dec. 2
A cloud of small birds circled the water, then came together into a long thin line formation close over the water surface and flew north.
Traffic on Sandpiper Lane, Dec. 2
While I was looking toward the bay Pappa Quail focused on the birds feeding in the mud.
American Avocet, Dec. 2
While all the birds we saw that day were the same old crowd we were quite familiar with but it was cool to see them feeding and sometimes squabbling. Pappa Quail got some very nice behavior shots of the feeding birds.
Curlew eating fish, Dec. 2
And there was much food to go around. Fish and crabs and everything else mud-living that thrives so well in the SF Bay tidal zone.
Willet eating crab, Dec. 2
I wonder where all of these birds go when the tide is high ...
Marbled Godwit
A jogger came by from behind and past us. All the birds that were feeding down at the cove not minding us or the angles took flight. A cloud of birds of at least three different species, all moving in unison, their wings shimmer in the faint sunlight, shadowing the shiny mirror-like mud below.
Dec. 2
I followed the cloud of birds as it murmurated to and fro, eventually flowing over and across the bridge and settling on the mudflats on the bay side and resume their feeding.
Dec. 2
The cove, previously teaming with the foraging shorebirds was now empty, displaying only the thin trickle of water extending from the salt marsh to the bay.
Dec. 2
Quite a striking contrast with how the exact same place looked like on the following day, at the peak of high tide.
Dec. 3
The high tide on Sunday, December 3, wasn't any regular high tide but a king tide, when the water rise particularly high due to the combined gravitational pull of moon and sun. The sight of the multitude of birds were not there of course but we were duly impressed by the beauty of the flooded salt marshes and coves.
There are very few spots along the trail where it is convenient to just sit and relax. One such point is at the edge of the former levee past the long bridge over pass where there are makeshift (and nor very stable) benches and a very nice view of the bay. When I was there with my hiking group the wind was blowing strong and cold so we didn't stay there for too long.
Dec. 3
Going on southward and closer to the San Mateo Bridge the trail splits. The left turn leads east and back north to complete a loop around the salt marsh. That loop I hiked a couple of years back with the Redwood 4-H Hiking Project. Now we were continuing on south to the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center.
There too on Saturday the birds filled the low tide -exposed mudflats. The mud shone and flickered in the sun that was already setting at the time.
Between the Salt Water and the Sea Strand, Dec. 2
On my hike there on Sunday everything was flooded and the water sparkled blue under the bright early afternoon sun, complementing very nicely the reddish pickleweed.
Dec. 3
Salt marshes play a very important role in the Bay's ecology. One of its functions is the purification of water, done naturally by microorganisms that live in the mud. East of the salt marsh is the City of Hayward Wastewater Treatment Facility where the city's wastewater is cleaned to a point it can be released back into nature, making its way back into the bay.
Hayward Wastewater Treatment Facility, Dec. 3
The trail leads south along the shoreline for almost a mile past the overpass bridge. Then it curves back east and inland, a slough on the north and SR 92 on the south, with a narrow canal and another field of pickleweed in between.
The tide was already coming in when Pappa Quail, younger chika and I made it around the curve and over the little bridge across the slough. It was cloudy, and getting near twilight time.
The slough, Dec. 2
That bridge is where cliff swallows build their nests in springtime. There were no nests there this time of course (I did check!).
On the following day the tide was receding when me and my hiking group arrived to the same place.
Dec. 3
The sun was shining bright still and the current going out to the bay was strong. Little shorebirds were already appearing at the narrow, newly exposed strip of mud at the slough banks.
Receding Tide. Dec. 3
While we didn't see any swallows nests there that weekend, there were warblers present and Pappa Quail photographed one on the fence near the slough.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dec. 2
That almost of a mile between the bay shore and the Interpretive Center is a trail I've hiked many, many times. It took me a while to figure out what was that toppled-looking wind operated device that's lying there by the water and when I found out it impressed me as a very cool idea. It is an Archimedes Screw - a wind-powered water pump. The idea is quite genius (as was its designer). The screw that us there is a model only and isn't used to pump the water though. There is a smaller model at the interpretive center where visitors can check the device in person.
Archimedes Screw, Dec. 2
The Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center is Located in the last inland building before going on the San Mateo Bridge westbound. And inland isn't the most accurate description either because the building is elevated on poles founded deep in the mud.
I think it is a very cool looking building but the inside is also very rewarding as it has a shoreline nature exhibit room, an art display, and an elevated observation deck.
The center is managed by the naturalists of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) who run wonderful educational programs there for kids and for adults.
The Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center
I left Pappa Quail and my chika at the interpretive center, found my bike where I had left it earlier and rode it to the W. Winton staging area to get the car. When I left the center the incoming tide was just beginning to flood the building area, and by the time I was back with the car it was almost dark.

Tides come and go twice every 24 hours. Each tide is different and a shoreline area looks different each day and each hour. The tide cycle is crucial to the ecological health of our bay shores. It is important to keep it coming.