Archive for the ‘Santa Monica Creek’ Category

Upper Santa Monica Creek!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

I haven’t done a Christmas bird count in more than 30 years. But on December 19, 2009, I’ll be fixing that. Carp is going to have its own count this year, thanks to the efforts of Rob Denholtz, one of my fellow salt marsh docents, and I can’t wait.

I set up some Google maps of the count circle, and have been scouting likely locations. Last Saturday I had a really thrilling day of birdwatching. I started before dawn at Carpinteria Creek, then went into the normally-inaccessible part of the salt marsh with Peter Gaede and Andrea Adams-Morden (more about that in a future post), and then got to do something really special.

I’ve talked before about Santa Monica Creek. The lower, channelized part of the creek runs through my neighborhood, but upper Santa Monica Creek, which is not channelized, is a little harder to visit. It runs though Rancho Monte Alegre, which used to be a working ranch, but now is owned by RMA Partners, a development firm that is building a number of high-end houses there. A few years ago RMA Partners got together with The Land Trust of Santa Barbara County and The Trust for Public Land, and placed more than 3,000 acres along upper Santa Monica Creek into a permanent conservation easement controlled by The Land Trust.

Eventually there is supposed to be public access to the area via a series of trails, but for now one can only visit it by special arrangement. With the upcoming Christmas count as my incentive, I got in touch with Tad Buchanan at RMA Partners, and he agreed to let us enter the parcel for a scouting trip, and again on the count day. Last Saturday we did the scouting trip.

It’s beautiful. Here’s the view we had as we started hiking up the dirt road that parallels the creek:


One of the neat things about the trip was that Peter Gaede came along. Peter is one of the best birdwatchers I’ve ever met; I always learn a lot when I get to go birding with him. Do you think he’s excited about getting a chance to check out habitat that hasn’t been actively birded in years, maybe decades?


Here are all my companions from the scouting trip. From left to right, that’s Peter Gaede, Andrea Adams-Morden, Geoff Stearns, and Rob Denholtz. They’re enjoying the view of the salt marsh, which was at a max high tide of about +6.3 at the time.


We saw lots of birds (naturally) but the most exciting thing we saw (for me at least) were all the fresh tracks on the road. Along this one stretch of road there were tracks of coyote, roadrunner, weasel, bobcat, and bear — two of them, a mother and her cub, I assume. That’s mama bear’s track on the left, and baby bear’s on the right:


This old cabin was just a few yards from the creek:


Finally, here’s some really nice riparian habitat where I know we’re going to get some great birds on the count day:


Santa Monica Creek: El Carro to the Salt Marsh

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

In my last post I took a walk along Santa Monica Creek north from El Carro Lane toward the mountains. This time I thought I’d take a walk in the other direction, from El Carro toward the salt marsh.

Near El Carro stands a tall sycamore, one of the last big trees along this part of the creek. Here’s a view looking up into its branches.


A little ways south of the sycamore, a footbridge crosses the creek. There are big bottlebrush bushes on each end of the bridge, with tons of bees (and Selasphorus hummingbirds). Here’s a shot looking north from “bottlebrush bridge”:


Here’s a view looking south from the bridge toward Via Real:


Down at Via Real, here’s the view looking back north:


Here’s the view looking south, across Via Real to the 101 freeway:


If you cross the freeway at Santa Ynez Avenue and head west along Carpinteria Avenue, you can rejoin the creek at the Carpinteria Avenue crossing. Here’s William looking north from there, with the 101 freeway in the distance:


Here’s the view looking south from a point along Sandyland Cove Road, toward the railroad crossing and the salt marsh:


Finally, here we are at the point where the concrete creek channel ends, looking back north past the railroad bridge toward the mountains:


Here’s the view from the end of the channelized creek looking south. Santa Monica Creek has now become a dredged channel through the salt marsh, winding toward the marsh entrance and the Pacific Ocean. That’s a young mute swan standing in the channel, just beyond a couple of American coots.


Santa Monica Creek

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

I took a walk the other day along Santa Monica Creek, entering where the bikepath starts at El Carro Lane, then turning north toward the mountains and walking along the dirt footpath that parallels the channelized creek:


There’s usually some pretty good bird watching along the creek (well, all bird watching is good), with an interesting assortment of species from the various habitats that come together there: The suburban area to the east (which includes my house), the open flower fields across the creek to the west, and a few big trees.

There used to be more trees along the creek, but in the decade and a half since I moved to Carp we’ve lost some of the biggest ones. An old oak died and was cut down a few years ago, and a big sycamore was taken out this past year. Here’s William standing next to the stump of the sycamore:


I’m not sure if the trees died as a result of changes in the environment (like the channelization of the creek, which happened in the 1970s), or if they were just at the end of their natural lifespans, but at least in the section just north of El Carro there don’t seem to be many new trees coming along to take their place.

Up closer to Foothill, though, the tree situation improves. The suburbs end, and while there are extensive greenhouses on both sides of the creek there is some open space, too, and some nice trees. These two young sycamores are growing next to the channel:


There were a number of interesting birds there the other day, including some black-headed grosbeaks, a pair of purple finches that I watched feeding for a while, and a pacific-slope flycatcher that I kept hearing, but never got a good look at. A neighbor of mine saw a white-winged dove in the area recently, and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled, but so far I haven’t seen it.

I’ve never followed the creek north of Foothill, but I’ve checked it out in Google Earth. The creek continues north in channelized form for another half mile, then twists through some big flood-control structures before reverting to its natural state. I was reading recently that the Rancho Monte Alegre development has donated some land with a conservation easement in the upper Santa Monica Creek drainage; supposedly there’s some good steelhead trout habitat up there. With the recent changes that have been made to remove barriers to steelhead migration on Carpinteria Creek, I wonder if Santa Monica Creek might be the next place that could benefit from some steelhead-friendly restoration.

During the 2006 Carpinteria City Council race, one of the candidates mentioned dechannelization at a candidate’s forum, prompting one of the other candidates to respond, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I realize there are people who view creeks as nothing more than drainage channels; certainly that view was well-represented when the decision was made to channelize lower Santa Monica Creek. But moving storm water downhill is only one of the things a creek does. Providing habitat, and giving people the chance to take a shady walk through a beautiful natural setting, are important, too.

When I looked at the concrete-lined channel of Santa Monica Creek the other day, I thought about that City Council candidate’s words. They were like concrete: There was no flexibility there, no possibility of change. What a ridiculous notion. Dechannelize the creek? Are you crazy?

Maybe the Santa Monica Creek channel will be lined with concrete for the rest of my life, and bringing up alternatives just makes me look foolish. But the longer I live, the more I come to realize that the things I think of as permanent aren’t always as solid as they seem. With enough time, and the steady application of the right kind of pressure, even concrete might eventually give way.