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FROM SEA TO CEMENT-A Walk Along The San Gabriel River

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Conservation | Volunteering | Birds | Mammals | Turtles

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Their dorsal fins popped up smoothly from the glassy surface of the waters just beyond the river’s outlet. These two bottlenose dolphins were a fitting beginning to my walk. My goal for the morning was to journey from the mouth of the San Gabriel River where these dolphins were patrolling for prey, to where the river bed turns into a cement channel as part of the flood control system of the Los Angeles basin’s watershed while taking note of the wildlife seen along the way; about a 4 mile journey upriver.

The dolphins only traveled briefly into the mouth of the river before heading out north along the coast. As I began my walk up the path running along the rocky levy, Western gulls and Caspian terns squawked overhead. Amongst the rocks were California ground squirrels foraging in the crevasses of the levy. These beach squirrels were more desensitized to people than the ones I would later encounter along the river.

About a mile up the river, Double-Crested cormorants and Brown pelicans increased in numbers. At a mile and a half up river I sighted my first sea turtle of the morning as it popped its head up near the first bend in the river. This was a small green sea turtle that I usually refer to as a “Squirt-Head”. This sighting was followed moments later by another sea turtle, a medium sized one. This area was almost a mile from the power plants and was the furthest down river from the warm waters of the outflows that I’ve seen a sea turtle in the river.

As I passed the 2nd Street Bridge and entered the prime sea turtle area of the outflow region, the wildlife activity increased greatly. Numerous small schooling fish could be seen in the river being pursued by larger fish, possibly Corbina or White Sea Bass, which occasionally jumped clear of the water. Cormorants could also be seen feeding on these schools while a Belted Kingfisher surveyed the waters from one of the hand rails above the first outflow. There was also a large Red-Tailed hawk circling high above the river. There were at least 6 sea turtles in the area, one of which was a large turtle that looked like the one we call “Dude”. Past the last warm water outflow just before the 7th Street Bridge the San Gabriel River started to turn into a more classical river setting with mats of reeds and plants lining the banks. I noted Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Night Herons, Coopers Hawks and Turkey Vultures along this stretch. There were also shy ground squirrels amongst the rock.

Past the 7th Street Bridge, the mats of reeds and plant life increased greatly. Dozens of blackbirds, possibly Redwings, could be seen and heard hiding in the reeds.

After walking four miles up the river I finally reached the divide where the wild river turns into a storm channel up above the 405 Freeway Bridge. The amount of wildlife activity in this area amazed me. There were several hundred birds concentrated where the cement ended and the mud started. In this fresh water area, pelicans could be seen dive feeding into the river, cormorants pursued fish underwater, Black Necked Stilts foraged along the cement river channel that flowed more like a creek, and an Osprey flew back and force along the river occasionally making unsuccessful dive with its talons extended to capture fish. Many of the shore birds and diving birds used the dry cement river bed as sort of a front porch or deck where they could sit and relax between foraging runs.

On the four mile walk back I noted some coyote droppings in a couple of areas.

When I finally got back to my starting point at the beach I ran into the same friendly squirrels that I saw earlier. Kind of a neat way to end the walk as these little critters ran right up to me in a curious manner, probably looking for a handout.

FROM SEA TO CEMENT-A Walk Along The San Gabriel River
The Green Sea Turtle nicknamed "Dude" blows water out of his nose while surfacing in the river.  | Pam Ryono
FROM SEA TO CEMENT-A Walk Along The San Gabriel River
Past the 7th Street Bridge, the banks of the San Gabriel turns into a more classical river setting.  | Hugh Ryono
FROM SEA TO CEMENT-A Walk Along The San Gabriel River
A panoramic view of where the San Gabriel River becomes part of the storm drain system for the basin's watershed.  | Hugh Ryono

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Rick Quarton

Thursday, October 02, 2008 12:06 AM

Here in Alaska we are often amused at the stereotypes that outsiders have of us.  I’m afraid we are just as guilty of stereotyping you guys.  When someone says southern California, we think of concrete and freeways.  And wildlife is something you see in the zoos.  Except for, of course, pigeons.

I’m amazed at all the wildlife you could enjoy on your 4 mile hike.  I just wish more people would get out and appreciate what nature we have all around us.  Sea turtles?  Awesome!


Hugh's avatar


Sunday, October 05, 2008 04:45 PM

Hi Rick,

When I worked up in Alaska for a short while I was amazed that you could see a moose right outside of your front door in a major city (Anchorage). Its an impressive state for wildlife.

As for Southern California, wildlife has a way of adapting to this urban environment. This morning I found of pair of adult California sea lions foraging nearly 3 miles up the San Gabriel River right below a freeway on-ramp bridge. Who would of thought that you could find a couple of 700 pound carnivore foraging so close to LA commuters?


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