See A Feathery Dozen Near The American River

With its bike trails, horse trails and footpaths through unspoiled forests and parkland and along stretches of both rocky and sandy riverbanks, the American River Parkway is an inspired choice to walk, run, fish and ride your bike for miles and miles in natural surroundings.

But it’s also a great place to simply slow down and look around, taking stock of the natural world in many ways.

Wildlife to see includes graceful deer, cunning coyotes, industrious beavers, pesky ground squirrels and, yes, cold-blooded rattlesnakes that slither through rocks and grasses – and occasionally across the bike trail – in search of a pint-sized, warm-blooded meal.

Every so often, a mountain lion creates a stir by wandering onto the property and, more often than not, just as quickly disappearing into more remote areas.

In many ways, however, it is the vibrant, eclectic bird life that defines the parkway with music and color. Some birds forage. Some hunt. Some are hunted. They come in small, medium, large and extra large. They are cute and scary. They whistle. They sing. They honk. They squawk.

What follows is a list of 12 birds to go see and appreciate. Argue if you will about which birds we didn’t include. There is no better time to get out there and see the birds. The weather is not yet hot. The days are long. And many of the birds are mating and nesting.

Just last weekend we spotted the first mother goose of the season leading her family of fuzzy little goslings across the bike trail. In the days ahead, you’re apt to witness the same thing with wild turkeys and, in a much different and speedier way, California quail.

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New Study Identifies Roadkill Hotspots In Sacramento Region

A detailed inventory of animals killed on area roads has identified 22 areas in the Sacramento region where drivers are most likely to encounter wildlife crossing a roadway.

The release of the report on roadkill hotspots is considered a crucial tool to help drivers avoid possible fatal accidents and is being seen as a guide for scientists and agencies who seek to protect endangered species and other wildlife that cross roads and freeways.

The report, authored by Fraser Shilling of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center, culled volunteer observer reports of such incidents from 2009-2014 to establish where collisions between cars and animals were occurring.

The region’s hotspots include several points along Interstate 80 and and I-5. One is a stretch of I-80 over the Yolo Bypass where bird strikes are common.

Another is a stretch of I-80 where the freeway and Highway 49 converge in Auburn near the American River, “where there is no opportunity to go under the highway,” said Shilling, “so wildlife will go over it.”

Between April 1, 2010, and March 30, 2013, there were 365 crashes involving wildlife, livestock and other animals in the state Department of Transportation’s District 3, said Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger. The district includes Sacramento and 11 Northern California counties, covering I-80 from Davis to the California/Nevada state line and I-5 from north of Stockton to north of Orland.

Statewide, Caltrans inventoried 3,126 reported collisions involving animals, Dinger said.

One human fatality in Sacramento County has been attributed to a wildlife collision since 2006.

Shilling said the roadkill report was compiled with the help of 1,100 volunteer observers throughout the state, including himself. The survey is the most extensive database documenting animal and vehicle collisions in California.

“Last year it seems like there has been an increase in rate of deer getting hit,” said Shilling. He said observation of deer hit by autos more than doubled last year.

He speculates that the drought may have something to do with it.

“They’re moving around more,” said Shilling. “They get moisture from vegetation, and they were probably having a hard time getting enough to eat.”

Despite the increase in deer mortality, roadkill observations overall have gone down slightly this year, said Shilling.

He believes the decline is not reflective of animals avoiding roadways. Instead he believes that roadways are decreasing wildlife populations, resulting in fewer roadkill observations.

The roadway hotspot with the most animal deaths is State Route 70 near Portola Valley. That stretch of road had 343 animals from 25 species killed in the roadway.

Shilling said that the numbers are deceptive, as the large majority of encounters between cars and animals go unreported.

The actual mortality on freeways and highways and streets is “much, much higher than this report represents,” said Doug Long, one the most prolific observers contributing to the database, with more than 3,000 roadkill observations logged since the effort began six years ago. Long is professor of ecology and biology at St. Mary’s College.

During a drive from Riverside to Oakland, Long used a special application on his phone to log 80 different species of roadkill he encountered on the drive. These include a wide variety of species – from snakes to birds, he said.

“You have to remember that the data points in the report have been collected by people (who) represent a very small fraction of all the people in California,” said Long.

Long said it is likely that 99 percent of encounters between wildlife and vehicles are never recorded.

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American River Parkway Spring Clean Up Is Set For This Saturday

There’s still time to volunteer to work at The Annual American River Parkway Spring Clean Up.

For the 9th year in a row, a spring clean-up of the 23-mile American River Parkway will happen this Saturday, April 11.

“With the water levels so low we have access to so much of the riverbed where so much trash is and if we can help remove that when it does rain and we get a normal precipitation the waterways will not be dirty.”-Dianna Poggetto with the American River Parkway Foundation says.

Poggetto says it goes from 9 to Noon and they’ll provide food and water:

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Governor Issues Mandatory Water Cuts As California Snowpack Hits Record Low

Standing in a dry brown meadow that typically would be buried in snow this time of year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered the first mandatory water cutbacks in California history, a directive that will affect cities and towns statewide.

With new measurements showing the state’s mountain snowpack at a record low, officials said California’s drought is entering uncharted territory and certain to extend into a fourth straight year. As a result, Brown issued sweeping new directives to reduce water consumption by state residents, including a mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water use.

On Wednesday, Brown attended a routine snow survey at 6,800 feet in the Sierra Nevada, near Echo Summit on Highway 50 along the road to Lake Tahoe. The April 1 survey is an annual ritual, marking the end of the winter season, in which automated sensors and technicians in the field strive to measure how much water the state’s farms and cities will receive from snowmelt.

The measurements showed the snowpack at just 5 percent of average for April 1, well below the previous record low of 25 percent, which was reached last year and in 1977.

California’s mountain snowpack is crucial to determining summer supplies, normally accounting for at least 30 percent of total fresh water available statewide. The poor snowpack means California reservoirs likely already have reached peak storage and will receive little additional runoff from snowmelt, an unusual situation.

“We’re standing on dry grass, and we should be standing in five feet of snow,” Brown said. “We’re in an historic drought, and that demands unprecedented action.”

Brown’s executive order directs California’s more than 3,000 urban water providers to collectively cut their water use by 25 percent compared with 2013. The State Water Resources Control Board is expected to impose the new restrictions by mid-May, setting a different target for each agency depending on how much water its customers use per capita and conservation progress since last year.

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American River Parkway Life Vest Stations Open Two Months Early

The Sacramento region’s current run of unseasonably warm weather has prompted the American River Parkway Foundation to launch its Kids Don’t Float life vest program two months early.

The foundation announced that it began providing life vest stations at several locations along the parkway Monday.

The Kids Don’t Float program allows individuals to borrow a life jacket while enjoying the Sacramento area’s waterways. In 2008, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance requiring life preservers to access public waters within the county. The ordinance specifies that it is unlawful for parents to permit children younger than 13 years old to enter public waters unless the child is wearing a life preserver. Violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of $500 and/or six months in jail.

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Drought Threatens American River Fish

Endangered steelhead about to hatch in the American River could soon be killed by low flows and warm temperatures caused by the drought, a sign of the ongoing struggle over scarce water supplies.

The fish, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act, are beginning to hatch from eggs in riverbed gravel. They require water cooler than 57 degrees to survive. Temperatures are already warmer than that due to record-breaking heat this month and low river flows caused by a fourth year of drought in California.

As hatchlings – also known as alevins – the fish have not yet matured into fully formed fish and are unable to swim.

“It’s the most sensitive life stage. They can’t go elsewhere and they’re highly sensitive to flows,” said Tom Gohring, executive director of the Sacramento Water Forum, a coalition of Sacramento water agencies and environmental groups that monitors the river. “If things continue to be bad … they will perish in the gravel.”

The problem is a shortage of water in Folsom Reservoir caused by the drought. Although the reservoir now holds more water than at this time last year, it is expected to be in worse shape by the end of summer.

That’s because the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at its lowest level in recorded history – just 8 percent of average as of Thursday. As a result, it will provide little runoff to refill the reservoir in the months ahead. Weather patterns diverted storms away from California most of the winter, leaving January and March as the driest in more than 100 years of record keeping.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom and Nimbus dams on the American River, dropped water flows in the river to 500 cubic feet per second on Thursday. That falls below a flow standard negotiated with the Water Forum to protect the river environment, but it is allowed in cases of severe drought, Gohring said.

“That was primarily an effort to help conserve water based on the persistent drought conditions,” said Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore. “Everything is being done to make sure the water supply we have is being used to the best of our ability, and we’re working with others to stretch it.”

Water stored in Folsom Reservoir serves a number of urban water suppliers in the Sacramento region, as well as farm irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley.

Reclamation has a limited ability to monitor temperatures in the river on its own. So the Sacramento Water Forum, which is funded mainly by local water agencies, hired a consultant to install temperature probes at strategic locations in the river. Those revealed that water temperatures have already exceeded 57 degrees, Gohring said.

The problem has been aggravated by record-breaking heat in the Sacramento area last week. On Friday, Sacramento Executive Airport saw a high of 83 degrees, breaking the previous record of 79 degrees set in 1986. Downtown reached 85 degrees, which tied the record from 1923.

Reclamation responded by boosting water releases from Folsom Dam. The water is being released from gates in the face of the dam – a rare occurrence – in order to access cold water deeper in the reservoir. That cooler water is expected to reach the lower American River, where steelhead spawn, starting Sundaymorning.

The additional water flows will be temporary, lasting only into the afternoon on Monday. But officials hope it will be enough to help the emerging steelhead. Sacramento temperatures are expected to cool down to a more seasonable 70-degree range on Tuesday.

“If water temperatures become a detriment to fish, they will make an adjustment to try and cool the water a bit,” Moore said. “We are conserving as much as we can, and every little bit counts.”

The tight scheduling of water flows indicates how precious supplies have become.

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Man Rescued By Emergency Crews In American River

Search and rescue crews were able to pull a man from the American River near downtown Sacramento. Around 10:30 a.m.m Friday, emergency crews were contacted about a possible sighting of a man in the water near Tiscornia Park along Jibboom Street.

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California Drought Prompting Extraordinary Measures To Shield Salmon

State and federal wildlife officials this month are preparing extraordinary measures to shield Chinook salmon returning to spawn in California’s drought-depleted rivers.

Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon are producing their way upstream from the Pacific Ocean to start their annual spawning ritual. These fish, mainly created in hatcheries, make up the most abundant salmon run in California and are the principal catch for an ocean fishery that sustains thousands of jobs.

But the species has had wild population swings over the previous decade due to the fact of droughts, poor ocean circumstances and loss of habitat. Officials are hoping to prevent a different wild swing by taking action to support this year’s run, like some measures that have in no way been attempted in California.

At the American River Hatchery near Sacramento, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is installing water chillers at a expense of almost $1 million to guarantee water coursing via the hatchery doesn’t come to be lethally warm for salmon and other species hatched and raised there. The chillers, primarily giant refrigeration units, are in location at a couple of hatcheries about the state but had in no way ahead of been used on the American River.

And in case Sacramento River flows grow to be too low or as well warm, state and federal agencies are thinking about a different new tool: egg injection. In this approach, salmon eggs would be preserved in a hatchery until river temperatures cool off later this fall, then moved to the river and injected with a hose into gravel beds, where they theoretically would hatch on their own. Egg injection has been prosperous in Oregon and Alaska but has never been used in California.

Kevin Shaffer, salmon plan manager at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said egg injection is getting “seriously regarded as.” But it would be used experimentally, not as a broadly applied tool to shield the salmon run.

“We consider that’s the very best strategy, mainly because it is something definitely new to California,” Shaffer mentioned. “We could see some substantial die-off of organic eggs (due to the drought). But we could also see significant die-off of the injected eggs. We just don’t know.”

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Spring To Arrive Rain-Free In Sacramento And North State, Much Like Winter

The official arrival of spring today brings with it the realization that Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada have again been abnormally dry for the fourth straight winter.

The rainy season began in the fall with hope that the drought would be broken, but that was not to be.

With the exception of one big “Pineapple Express” in December and a good rain in February, Sacramento has been dry – and, lately, warm.

On Thursday, Sacramento set a record when the high temperature reached 81 degrees at Executive Airport, topping the previous mark of 80 degrees set in 2004, according to the National Weather Service.

The lack of rain was especially stark in usually soggy January when just 0.01 of an inch was recorded in Sacramento.

The winter also did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada. California’s water supplies are reliant on mountain snowpack that melts in the spring and fills reservoirs for summer use in cities and on farms.

The most recent snowpack survey showed that statewide the mountains have just 13 percent of the snowpack normal for this time of year.

“Generally our snowpack accounts for about a third of our state water supply,” said Brooke Bingaman, weather service meteorologist. “Not all of the 13 percent snowpack will end up in the reservoirs, some of it will soak into the ground. So the level our reservoirs are at now is essentially what we will have for the rest of the summer.”

The culprit behind the snowfall shortfall is a familiar meteorological villain – a high-pressure ridge that has shunted snowy storms to the north, Bingaman said.

In addition, the northern part of the state usually gets five to seven atmospheric rivers, large storms that can drop several inches of rain. This year, Sacramento got two such storms.

One hit in December, a month when 7.63 inches fell and another in February, when 2.28 inches of rain were recorded.

“Since Oct. 1, we have had 11.73 inches,” Bingaman said. “Normally we should have had 16.64. So we are at 70 percent of normal right now.”

Bingaman said Folsom Lake is 59 percent full, but it won’t get the usual snowmelt from the American River.

“December, January, February and March are typically our wettest months of the year,” she said. “Really, December was the only month that was really wet.”

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Folsom Lake Higher Now Than In All Of 2014

Folsom Lake levels are now higher than they ever were in 2014 – by about 1,000 acre-feet.

“We know we’re in the fourth year of a drought. We know that the snowpack is essentially at a fraction of what it normally is. We know we are going to need water later, so we are holding onto as much as we can now,” said Erin Curtis with the Bureau of Reclamation.

The bureau co-manages the lake with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Folks like Kent Wright knows that conservation mindset is much needed when it comes to managing releases for the water supply.

“Disturbing,” he said, when asked how the lake looked to him.

The lake is now at 572,000-acre feet or 103 percent of the average of what it’s held over the last 15 years.

Still that’s just 59 percent of capacity – something that concerns Wright every time he rides by.

“It scares me. It’s scary,” he said before taking off on a lake trail on his bike.

It’s a situation not lost on Rodrigo Lopez of Sacramento who comes out to the lake often to enjoy what water view is left.

“We need the rain, because we’re in a drought. Everybody’s talking about it, but what can we do?” he asked.

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