The Grreat Outdoors


A Stroll Along the Slough

There are many wetlands near the area in which I work. Struve Slough is in the backyard of the building I sit inside every day from 8 to 5. About once a week I exit the cubicle, go out to my car to change into sturdy shoes, and head out of the back parking lot to the entrance of the sandy trail along the waterway.

Depending upon the time of year, the slough can resemble anything from a series of rivulets trickling around mudflats to a long, narrow duck-covered lake. The walking path travels alongside, about 4-12 feet from the edge of the water and up above waterlevel by at least 3 feet. The surface is flat, well maintained and wide enough for 3 people to walk alongside. It’s a nice little bit of semi-wilderness set in close proximity to the office-building park, a strip mall, some condos, a few main roads. Not too far to the west, the slough flows under the highway and out to the Pacific.

I think that in some communities, a marshy area such as this might have been filled in and paved over; but coastal California in the current century is big on the conservation of wetlands. I am one of many who are grateful for the chance to spend a lunch hour observing nature while getting some exercise in the Spring sunshine.

This area is popular with birdwatchers and dogwalkers as well. Often when I’m going in to the workplace at 8 a.m., unfamiliar cars will arrive in the parking lot and people with dogs and leashes, or binoculars and cameras, will climb out of their vehicles and head in the opposite direction that I do.

Sometimes I have my camera as well when I venture out at Noon, but most times I’m not stopping for very long to look out over the water and birdwatch; I tend to have a goal in mind. I’ll time my walk to see how long it takes me to get to the 7-11 for a Slurpee and back at a brisk pace; or I’ll be running errands and decide to take the path along the slough and under the bridge to the stores instead of hopping in my car and driving over the bridge. Once in a while I’ll go about halfway along the route and stop to sit on one of the benches and read my book.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few wild creatures dwelling here alongside civilization. My co-workers and I have seen muskrats, coyotes, ground squirrels, feral cats, raccoons, skunks, and even a litter of fox cubs in the bushes along the water.

The bird life is amazingly varied. Red-shouldered hawks soar above, keening their hunting cries. Swallows and swifts dart about from willow trees to the roofs of nearby buildings. Rushes are home to small birds such as flycatchers, rosy finches, and red-winged blackbirds; I’ve also seen great-tailed grackles here, which I’ve heard are rare for central California. Occasional Canadian geese and large flocks of snowy-white pelicans arrive in Fall and float in small armadas across the surface of the slough.

This April, the ducks have landed in force. Northern pintails, the ubiquitous mallards, coots, Northern shovelers, lesser scaups, widgeons and cinnamon teals are everywhere. Common larger waterbirds include cormorants, great blue herons, snowy and great egrets, and bitterns.

Since the recent rains, the slough’s in “duckpond” mode. Once the water recedes a bit so that mudflats and reeds become more visible the shorebirds will again dominate: plovers, avocets, dowitchers, sandpipers, snipes, and the elegant black-necked stilts. These little wading birds are my favorite.

A slow stroll with stops for birdwatching or photography might take about 35 minutes from the parking lot entrance to the place where the trail ends up parallel to the sidewalk of a busy main street. On a brisk-walking, purposeful day, I can get from my workplace to the shopping areas, stop at a store or two, and back to my desk in just about an hour. There are a few intersections that branch off of the main path, some of which I have not ventured down yet. I have walked the trail under the bridge, or over it onto the street and sidewalks for a ways before returning to the sand-and-gravel surface. I heard recently from a dogwalker that there is a connection somewhere that takes you along the other side of the slough for a half-loop walk, so I intend to take one of the unexplored side-paths sometime soon to see where I end up.