|Santa Ynez River. Solvang CA|
Beautiful river, no? Good healthy riparian vegetation including willow and cottonwood trees, two beaver favorites and nice tule thickets. And, at least in the stretch I investigated, no invasive Arundo donax, the ubiquitous bamboo looking, water sucking, flammable, inedible, outcompeting the natives, scourge of southern California watersheds. All in all seems to be a promising river with good flows and nice vegetation- where are all the beavers? Well truth be told, I was not actually expecting to see a live one- but beaver sign would be still be a success in my books. And this is what anyone looking for beaver should expect- you will not see them but if you look carefully you can find their sign. And you will probably get wet, muddy, cut up a little and maybe get a tick or two. That's why I call it a safari.
I pushed forward into the riparian jungle, more determined than ever to find evidence of Castor canadiensis. I made my way through a debris flow from the last storm season, disturbing a nest of rats. And then things started to change, the river was increasingly obscured by vegetation, disappearing into a tangle of willows, tule, and muck. I saw that instead of a well defined river bank like I had observed so far, the water was slowing down and backing up, creeping up out of the thicket. Suddenly a large flock of red-winged blackbirds. A great blue heron. Every couple of hundred feet I would hear the gurgling sound of moving water. Well now or never, time to dive in and see what is causing the sound...
Ok, maybe some of you are thinking that those little "micro-dams" might just be naturally occurring little snags of dead vegetation forming at specific choke spots on the river, fair enough.... But what about this...
No doubt about it, only one critter in North America is going to do that to a tree, I was in a series of beaver ponds. And the beaver(s) had ingeniously arranged these ponds by taking advantage of the normal contours and hydrological features of the river. They did not make the classic bank to bank dam, but a series of small, porous dams. Cool.
I also routinely found floating, uprooted tules. The rhizome is edible and perhaps beavers had done this.
|Large, shallow rocky section before the beaver thickets on the right. I found some weird algae here|
Now here is where things get all weird. As I moved out of the beaver thickets into a particularly wide, shallow, and rocky section of the river I noticed some strange submerged vegetation.
Looks almost like a tidal pool at the ocean, no? Those pinkish plants look like sea anemones almost, but they are not and I believe I have seen them before- if you know what they are let me know in the comments btw. But those brownish plants- looks a lot like kelp? But I am 15 miles from the ocean and at about 500 feet above sea level, this is fresh water. Take a closer look...
I don't know about you but that looks like a brown algae, except brown algae is almost exclusively salt/brackish water. I did a little internet sleuthing when I got home and although there are some rare filamentous types in isolated spots in California I could find no reference to a thallus forming freshwater brown algae in our fresh waters. So I contacted a person in the know when it comes to freshwater algae and lets just say the results are.... pending but may be very, very interesting. But I will be back to collect some samples for further analysis. It could be some weird type of cyanobacterial film or, tentatively, a new species. * Update it is a cyanobacteria Nostoc.
So all in all a good trip- I did not see a live beaver, but plenty of beaver-sign, and possibly discovered a new species. I can live with that.
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