Keep Sonoma County beaches free to all
The CA Coastal Commision is proposing new fees for access to many points along the Sonoma County coast. There are other ways to finance these incredibly beautiful areas, areas that should be accessible by all regardless of income level. Help keep beach access free! Passage of this could set a precedent that will have potentially negative effects now and in the future to how the public accesses public land.
Sign the petition
Check out the website
Attend the CA Coastal Commision meeting in Santa Rosa this Wednesday April 13th
Check out the facebook page
Thanks for checking this out, I don’t often write about political matters directly on this blog, but this is an important local matter for which you can have a voice!
Mountain Caribou Initiative!!
A few friends of mine are working on a really important project focused on documention, research, and education pertaining to a fascinating animal – the mountain caribou. This type of caribou is facing grave threats to its very survival due to a variety of factors including resource extraction and human recreation.
To read more about the mountain caribou and the project, you can check out the following links. They include some incredible photographs and information about this beautiful animal and the efforts being undertaken to help save it.
mountain caribou project facebook page
mountain caribou blog and film teaser
They are currently using Kickstarter to fund the next phase of the project, and only have 15 days to go to reach their goal! If you can help out with even a small donation, everything helps.
Thanks for taking time to check out the project!
one more of the Cooper’s hawk …
As I was winding down my day while traveling in southern CA recently, I had the pleasure of watching a showdown between a juvenile red-tailed hawk and an adult Cooper’s hawk (likely a female). When I got back to the house where I was staying, I noticed the juvenile red-tailed hawk perched in a relaxed manner on the peak of the house next door, watching the sun go down.
This hawk is most likely about 1 year old, quite an accomplishment to have survived its first year (raptors have mortality rates in the first year as high as 70%!). Juvenile red-tailed hawks lack a red tail, often have lighter colored eyes than adults, and have some spotty patterns on the belly band (versus more streaking in adults). It seemed relaxed as it faced the setting sun, evidenced by its fluffed-out feathers and its left leg lifted up into its belly feathers. You can see on the right leg, there appears to be a band on this bird – possibly it was caught and banded during the migration last year.
I relocated to a second-story balcony which afforded better views of the bird, and as I stood there watching suddenly another raptor appeared on the scene! On a power line at about eye-level to me, an adult female Cooper’s hawk alighted and assumed a similar relaxed pose to the red-tail, with one foot up as it surveyed the area.
Cooper’s hawks are part of the Accipter genus of birds in the Accipitridae family, and can be extremely difficult to discern from their close relative the sharp-shinned hawk – a smaller version of this bird. Most raptor species exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning the females are larger than the males. What makes the identification of a Coopers versus a sharp-shinned hawk especially difficult in addition to very similar plummage is that a male Coopers can be about the same size as a female sharp-shinned hawk. In the above picture, there are some really helpful features that help key this bird as a Cooper’s hawk.
rounded termination of the tail feathers (versus more straight across in sharp-shinned)
dark “cap” on the head feathers (versus more of a full hood on a sharp-shinned hawk)
eyes are placed more towards the front of the skull (sharp-shinned hawks’ eyes seem almost in the center of their skull when viewed from the side)
thicker tarsus, or leg bone (sharp-shinned get their name from having an incredibly thin tarsus)
I am not 100% certain that this bird is a female, but that is my initial guess based on size relative to the red-tail (which I thought could be a female based on her large size – but again, no great scale for reference).
The Cooper’s hawk didn’t remain relaxed for long – as soon as it spotted the red-tailed hawk perched above it became much more alert, dropping its leg down and staring intently (though, to be honest, all these birds seem to only have a single facial expression – and if there is one word for it, it is “intense”).
She relocated to a place on the power line closer to the red-tail to get a better look …
In the above picture, you can see the white feathers that protrude below the tail on its ventral side. This is a helpful feature to identify accipiters in the field from a distance, but one needs to be aware that Northern harriers have a similar white patch that appear on their dorsal side.
Finally the Cooper’s hawk decided to move in on the red-tail – likely it has a nest in the area and did not like the red-tail hanging around too close. The Coop flew up on top of the chimney, and the showdown began. You can see the size difference fairly well in this photo (with the Coop on the right).
red-tailed hawk (left) and Cooper’s hawk
At this point, the red-tail took notice of the Coop but still had a leg up (no pun intended) and was facing away from it. In what had to be some sort of bird statement, the red-tail proceeded to slice (poo) in the direction of the Coop!
juvenile red-tailed hawk slicing
Casually, the red-tail then turned to face the Cooper’s hawk, then took off right in its direction flying just to the north of it. The Coop jumped off right after the red-tail and pursued! At first the red-tail tried to do some circles and gain altitude, but it eventually became a full on chase. There wasn’t much actual contact, but the Cooper’s hawk made its point and the red-tail seemed fine with relocating to a tree not too far away.
juvenile red-tailed hawk (left) and pursuing Cooper’s hawk adult
Awesome to see these birds and witness this close encounter!
this pair of ravens was keen on my sunset snacks at the top of Wildcat Peak / Tilden Alameda County CA
CA newt (Taricha torosa) tracks in soft muddy silt / Tilden Reg Park, Alameda County CA
You can see in this photo a great example of the understep walk that these awesome little creatures move in, with the five-digit rear feet landing just behind the four-digit front feet. So cool to see them walk. Note also the tail drag in the middle.
Vernal Equinox, Indiana Jones, PCN Petroglyphs, and Tracking
This evening I debated about doing my almost daily walk/wander/hike in the hills. I was feeling kind of lazy. It was a warm and clear day, and despite being thankful for all the rain of late, I was happy for some sun after almost 10 consecutive days of rain. The light was sublime out there, and I was content to just stay at home as it illuminated my house with golden yellow light warmed by a slight orange hue. I started doing some mundane tasks, and I randomly started watching a classic movie in the background, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great flick. It was right at the part of the movie when he enters the map chamber and the sun shines through the amulet on top of the staff illuminating the location of the holy grail.
Soon I noticed that the sun was setting outside, and the rays were coming through my window reminding me it was soon time to go walk if that was to be.
And thankfully so.
After a bit, I walked outside to watch the sunset from my backyard in the warm, still, March air. As I looked West, towards Mount Tam, I realized that the sun was setting almost perfectly behind the peak. But just to the left.
Then I thought, wow – I wonder if the sun will set exactly behind the peak on the vernal equinox, March 21st (four days from now)? Suddenly, I remembered the petroglyphs on the chlorite schist rock just 20 feet from me in my yard (that I blogged about over two years ago) …
Could they be related?
My mind continued on a virtual wander, as the sun illuminated the sky behind the Sacred Mountain across the Bay from me. What if the other petroglyphs- similar to what are in my yard, but just to the south in Canyon Trail Park – lined up with another celestial event? Perhaps the summer solstice? And what if I searched to the north, along a north/south line from my current position – would I find more rocks with similar markings that aligned that position with Mt Tam and the winter solstice? Do they exist, or did they (it’s totally possible that they have already been destroyed or covered over by development – so proof could be hard to find)?
Maybe watching Indiana Jones had me fantasizing too much. But, what if?
As I looked at the rock with the petroglyphs, I realized that with some level of imagination the rocks actually looked like the silhouette of Mt Tam! Maybe that part is a stretch of the imagination, yes. But, the equinox alignment, at a minimum, seems too obvious to discount as coincidence. But why this rock? Why here, where there are higher elevation points that would seem to my modern mind more “appropriate” as a place for something like this? Perhaps the topology or plant cover at the time they were carved might have yielded more obvious clues about that.
Regardless, I think Dr. Jones would be proud.
As I watched the light fading behind the Mountain, standing by the Rock, I looked up. Above the Rock that has a half-moon carved into it, and over the juniper tree beneath which it lies – there was the half-moon shining through. Magical!
Tracking is not just about animal track and sign. Tracking is a 24/7 part of our existence, something we all do to one degree or another in almost every aspect of our lives – but each of us with different levels of consciousness around it. We can track animals, water, stars, moods, stock markets, traffic patterns – everything, really. It is about awareness. Practicing awareness. Taking a moment to observe, instead of always “doing.”
To finish the evening, I stopped at a restaurant called Jupiter and sat down in the courtyard by the fire. As I looked up into the sky in that courtyard, above the hanging sculpture of Jupiter, there shined a bright thing in the sky … the actual planet Jupiter!! Aha!!! Good stuff.
I asked the server if she realized that Jupiter was shining above their Jupiter sculpture above us – she did not, and really didn’t seem all that impressed to know. She was tracking other things I guess.
The adventure and questions go on, hopefully more to come on this …
night life updates
Some photos and updates from the last few weeks. Spring seems to have started in the beginning of February this year, the buckeye trees (usually the first to bud and the first to lose their leaves) were budding in some places as early as the end of January. Since then, the warm and sunny weather has drawn out flowers and buds all around. Fortunately, as I write this, the rains have started again – and we are due for much more.
Great-Horned Owl and Mount Tam at sunset / Contra Costa County CA
Two weeks ago (week of Feb 15th), on two different nights, I saw the Wildcat Canyon “Bottomhill” great-horned owl couple mate. The timing coincides almost exactly with when I saw another pair mate last year – I thought maybe the weather would affect the pattern, but apparently not. It’s somewhat odd as most literature indicates great-horned owls being an early breeder (compared to other raptor species), and in many areas are on nests in January in the snow. I guess owl culture, like human culture here in the Bay Area, is different in these parts as well (I joke – probably the Mediterranean climate is a factor, though I’d be curious to know how breeding behavior here compares to other warm areas). As I get deeper into my own observations of the world and its critters, I realize how little we actually know. Scientists in the past seem to have been content to generalize regarding behavior, and while there are patterns and a spectrum of those behaviors that are “typical,” often in reality it may be different based on local factors. That’s what makes it fun to be out there. Personality and local flavor.
The female always seems to initiate the act, and she starts by chasing down the male on the occasions that I’ve witnessed it. She lands close to him, and starts to do a vocalization very similar to a juvenile owl. When the male flies towards her, she starts a repetitive “hoo hoo hoo hoo” sound that reminds me of a monkey. As the male mounts her, flapping for a few seconds, she lets out a high pitched vibrato whistle and then its over. It will be interesting to see what happens this year, as last year many of the nests didn’t appear to successfully raise any young (drought related?). There are four pairs whose territories I regularly walk through, with a possible fifth – then another not far away. Of all those pairs, I only confirmed one successful nest last season.
Great-Horned Owl and moon / Wildcat Canyon Reg Park CA
Despite the very dry February, the vernal pools are deep and wide from all the rain in January, and have been extremely active with tree frogs and California newts. The newts migrate from their hiding spots under leaf litter back to the area from which they hatched to mate and lay eggs. The frog chorus, if you can sneak up on them, is incredibly loud when nearby. Nights of wandering under warm skies and no winds to a live symphony of frogs, and owls flitting around, is pizza for the soul.
California newts in a vernal pond / Wildcat Canyon Reg Park CA
I caught a few interesting moon shots this month, one was a moon halo and the other was an interesting rainbow effect on clouds as the full moon rose last time.
canine track id study
the other week during a wander with my friend and mentor Jim Sullivan (see his website and tracking class offerings here) – an amazing tracker, naturalist, and all-around brilliant fella – and other great trackers like Ginger; we had a suburb opportunity to see some canine species’ track diversity laid out before us. it’s not often you get to see four canine species’ tracks together in decent substrate. identifying the differences between them can often be very challenging, so any chance to see any of their trails, also in varying substrates, is incredibly illuminating. to get to see all of them in one day avails an incredible study opportunity.
coyote vs red fox vs gray fox vs domestic dog – it is a study that is always ongoing for me, especially with partial tracks and trails. these species don’t always overlap geographically, and even if they do, often their seasonal movement patterns don’t overlap in such a way that you can see their tracks together, especially in one day. sometimes it is very obvious the difference, but sometimes it can be confusing given the right circumstances.
gray fox track / Bodega Bay area Sonoma County CA
small red fox track (likely non-native species, on left) and western coyote track (right)
red fox (R) and western coyote track (L) / track plates copyright Mark Elbrock’s book
the red fox tracks we found were on the small end of the spectrum – there was some debate about id due to the size. it was at the small end of the red fox size spectrum (and at the large end of the spectrum for gray fox), especially upon initial (eye-ball) inspection. but further analysis (and healthy, civil debate among accomplished trackers) left us concluding red fox. context, the full trail, and multiple tracks often help in track id. actually it’s often about context. having the chance to see full trails, and the way the tracks vary within each substrate, really help in honing the ability to discern one species from the other in the future when there is only a partial track or trail.
a snippet from my journal analysis of red fox vs coyote 2015
drawing and journaling is a great way to solidify the memory of ideas and patterns in the ol’ brain.
old friends in the Sky – and five planets in view over the next two weeks!
There is something familiar to me about this scene, and during this time of year I find it comforting to look up into a clear sky to see these stars shining down on me. How many of my ancestors looked up at the same sky and felt comforted too?
Easy to identify in the middle of the picture is the belt of Orion. In the bottom left portion of the frame is our brightest star in the sky, Sirius, the “Dog Star” (part of Canis major), one that has long been used for navigation and other purposes by our ancestors. Above it to the left is Procyon (8th brightest star in the sky, part of Canis minor), and forming a triangle with those two is Betelgeuse (9th brightest star in the sky) shining just above the Orion’s belt, also part of that constellation. The light of the waning moon (full yesterday) is illuminating some clouds on the left portion of the photo.
Don’t miss the special event over the next few weeks when all five of the planets visible to the naked eye are in view together! It occurs each morning just before dawn (45 min before) on the Eastern horizon. See this article in the Sky and Telescope magazine website for more details (SkyandTelescope.com).
the sunset tree
most nights when there is a visible Sun setting
small Birds of various plumage, perch
to watch the golden Sun disappear
behind the mountains holding back the sea
as our planet Earth spins into darkness;
they are at total ease … in a trance
as they sit and watch.
it seems they are getting a heavenly download
planted in their hearts
instructing them of their next birdly endeavors;
the sense of Peace that envelops them, and me
i think they are onto something,
2016 Jan 17 – a quick Arizona experience
I found myself briefly in Arizona this weekend, and despite it not being a planned “adventure,” of course I’m always tracking. Got some new tracks I’d never seen before.
I was in an area that is renowned as a birding hot spot, and it’s also not far from where there have been jaguar sightings. That’s right, JAGUAR. This place in southern Arizona in the Santa Rita mountains is an interesting ecology, high desert, and home to some of the only perennial creeks in these deserts. The Santa Rita mountains are in the shadows of Mount Wrightson.We broke out for a short hike in the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and though we didn’t see a lot of wildlife (it was midday), we spotted some nice tracks.
cfresh small mountain lion track (probably female) / Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve AZ
coati track / Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve AZ
We stumbled on some mysterious feed sign, it looked like broccoli barfed up in the middle of the trail. As we considered all possible solutions, including vegetarian humans that might have puked on the trail after a rough night at the Wagon Wheel, we finally came upon a solution …
osage orange fruits, a non-native that is present in the area
I determined that likely it was wood rats (tracks below) and also possibly squirrels that were opening up the fruits and leaving the broccoli-like remnant behind …
Beautiful country, I can’t wait to return.
javelina (collared peccary) tracks
Klamath Basin report VI – Butte Valley Finale
Cowboy boots ‘n mountain buttes
Pick-up trucks ‘n luckless ducks
Hungry hawks ‘n too-thin socks
Saw eagle with coyote, like I was on peyote
So comes to a close, my trip to the Klamath Basin
Ha!! Ah jeez. Not my best work there.
Regardless, some of the best action on my trip was saved for last. As I left the area, I stopped off in an spot that was reported to have large numbers of ferruginous hawks, a species that I had seen scant sign of in the Klamath Basin just to the north.
Initially I wasn’t seeing any raptors at all as I drove along some of the roads in the snowy flat lands that consisted primarily of ag fields or open, high desert ecosystems. Thee wild areas featured primarily rabbit brush and desert sage, with the occasional juniper tree. There were jack rabbit and coyote tracks all over the place.
I was shocked that there didn’t seem to be ANY raptors around an area that seemed like it would be full of prey. The reason? They were all in one spot. Literally. When I finally found the raptor swarm, there must have been over 100 birds of prey in the 360 degree view around me – and two coyotes! They were in a number of adjacent ag fields that hadn’t been plowed. The mice/vole/ground squirrels populations there must be outrageous. Everyone was there for lunch!
There was a line of telephone poles along the country road, and on almost every other pole there was at least one raptor – but sometimes as many as five on one pole! And sometimes multiple species! I had never seen anything like this.
There was an irrigation wheel line with eight segments on it, and I counted 19 raptors on it (including bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, rough-legged hawks, and red-tails)! In the immediate area were a lot of red-tailed hawks mostly perched on something, and all over the ground in the fields there were ferruginous hawks everywhere (probably 50+ of that species alone)!! There were also a good number of Northern harriers, bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, and at least one golden eagle. Plus the two coyotes. It was unbelievable.
What an incredible finale to my trip. It often happens that way – as if the Spirits of the Land are trying to get me to stay. I will certainly be back there soon.
Thank you Klamath Basin!
Links to more information on Klamath Basin:
Winter Wings Festival – being held this Feb 11-14th 2016!
Klamath Basin report V – immature bald eagles
No, they weren’t misbehaving.
Bald eagles take five years before they grow their adult plumage, and in the early years many people can mistake them for golden eagles since they don’t acquire the characteristic white head and tail until adulthood.
One bird was perched on a branch very close to the road, and we spent a long period of time together at a very close distance. The bird preened and seemed relaxed (which let me know I wasn’t too close, something I’m always ultra-sensitive to – I try to always be far enough away that the wildlife feels comfortable and not threatened). This bird appears to be a young bird in its second year of life (now approaching its second birthday) – wearing what is referred to as a Basic I plumage (1st year, or hatch year is called a “juvenile,” second year is Basic I, then Basic II, Basic III and adult). The feather pattern for each year are variable but generally unique, combined with beak and eye coloring, and help to distinguish the age.
Nearby was another young bird, and this one had plumage that was different than the first – indicative of Basic II plumage (a bird in its third year of life).
Along this same part of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, there was a solitary treeline that had almost 15 bald eagles in it – along with many red-tailed hawks and one golden eagle. A ranger I spoke to said that two weeks prior, he counted over 60 bald eagles (and a golden eagle) in the immediate area of the treeline! The density of birds makes it such that species that usually don’t tolerate each other in close proximity end up roosting right next to each other, as did many bald eagles and red-tails that I witnessed over the two days (though occasionally a red-tail would go after an eagle, just to remind it who was in charge).
Being in an area like this really allows for a deep study into field identification of birds because there are so many species in the area.
A great time of year to visit is in February during the Winter Wings Festival – events are planned over a long weekend catering to raptor viewing, including guided trips in the Basin, education programs, vendor displays (optics mostly), and more. This year it takes place the weekend of February 11-14, 2016.
Klamath Basin report IV- the coyote and the eagle
Once again, sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. Two days in a row seems pretty good, eh? Though for all I know while I took pictures of this coyote and golden eagle together, there was a mountain lion dancing with a wolf just down the road.
I had been watching a golden eagle that was perched on a low sign along the snow-covered road in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge for some time. There is something special about a close encounter with a golden eagle, and my breath leaves me every time I have an experience such as this. They are HUGE animals. Golden eagles can take down small deer! In other parts of the world where the eagles are slightly bigger and the wolves are slightly smaller, they kill wolves. This is an animal that is at the top of the food chain. An apex predator.
A beautiful one as well.
After observing the eagle for some time, it sliced (pooped) and took off to start hunting in the treeless wetlands around the wildlife refuge. Those wings!!!! Incredible to see an animal this size take flight.
After it took off, a quick movement caught my eye on the other side of the reeds along the snowy dirt road on which I was positioned. The roads are raised on levies to allow navigation through the wetlands. Most of the water is frozen though, and what I saw was a coyote moving away from me parallel to the road. Once my eyes locked onto it, it sensed it and increased its speed, changing from a trot to a full-on bounding gait as if I were in pursuit! I am willing to bet there are hunters out there that take shots at them.
Eventually it stopped running, being sure to look back at me as if to say “I see you and don’t think for a second I am not watching you, two-legged.” It started to move at a fast trot along and through the reeds on both sides of the road, often crossing it. It appeared to be hunting, possibly trying to flush prey or looking to scavenge a meal. Or, it was following another coyote trail and marking its territory. There are coyote trails all over the place out there. The prolific amount of prey there in the Klamath Basin attracts more than flying predators.
Eventually the coyote disappeared, so I started driving down the snow-covered road again. In just a hundred yards or so, I stopped because I saw the golden eagle again, hunting about 20 feet off the ground over the wetlands, almost like a Northern harrier. I slowed to a stop to watch the hunt, and not long after, the eagle landed on another short road sign just ahead of me.
Suddenly, I caught sight of the coyote again, briefly, and then it disappeared into the reeds on the other side of the eagle – then re-appeared right next to the eagle!! I couldn’t believe it. The eagle did not seem the least bit surprised to see the coyote, even as it passed directly by it not five feet away. Nor did the coyote seemed surprised or concerned – despite them being well within striking distance of each other!!!!! The coyote paused near the eagle, and the eagle sliced (almost on top of the coyote), then the canine came out into the roadway, shot me a glance, smelled a fresh coyote scat (confirmed once I drove up there after the encounter), then disappeared back into the tule reeds by the eagle.
As I approached in my vehicle, I passed the eagle and we had a moment of looking directly at each other. It is an experience that is intense and humbling. After I passed, the eagle took off, and I was able to
take a look at the scat and tracks. The coyote continued to hunt along
both sides of the road for a few hundred yards until finally it
continued south over a large berm.
Klamath Basin report III- northern harrier gets some supper
As mentioned in my last blog post, while I watched an otter consume a duck, a northern harrier came gliding down the canal and dropped down on a small bird in the vegetation on the side of the canal just 10 feet from the otter!
The whole time I’m shooting this scene the otter is just eating (and occasionally napping) away just 10 feet to the right. It was just ridiculous the amount of activity happening at this particular location.
One thing I noted while driving was that small birds were flying very close in front of my vehicle. I actually struck one of them, sadly. I’m wondering if their reaction time is slowed by the cold weather and if that gives an advantage to predators (who are primarily using gravity to drop down on their prey). Interesting to hear if anyone else has experience with this.
Klamath Basin report II- the otter and the (dead) duck
There is a lot of wildlife in the Klamath Basin, and not all of it has feathers.
Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time, and this was certainly one of those instances. With the incredibly low temperatures that were present for the last few days, there was almost no open water around – it was all frozen. One canal had some exposed water around an outlet pipe, with ice starting to encroach but enough open water to attract a small flock of water fowl.
I was out of my jeep watching a small group of pintails, green-winged teals, mallards and grebes in the small bit of open water, suddenly they “gently” flushed – they didn’t fly, but they walked out of the water. I didn’t flush them, but I couldn’t figure out what did. I turned for a moment to grab something in my jeep, when I looked back I saw what appeared to be a mallard duck struggling to get out of the water and onto the ice. Then I realized that it was actually the duck’s rear end that was out of the water! As my mind struggled to put the vision before me together, the duck slipped under the surface of the water. A few seconds later, a huge river otter popped up out of the water onto the ice with the (now dead) duck in its mouth!
I watched it consume the duck for almost an hour, occasionally it would retreat under water (sometimes with its meal!) when other people drove by or came too close (which unfortunately some did come too close).
There were times that the otter appeared to nod off after so much eating, but he wasn’t about to stop – he just needed some dinner naps. I’ve been there.
Otters are such a joy to watch, their behavior is always fascinating. Such beautiful, fun creatures. I’m sure the ducks felt differently.
During the time I was watching the otter, a northern harrier floated down the canal in the air and made a successful strike on a small bird – just 10 feet from the otter! I’ll put the series of pictures from that in the next blog …
The show wasn’t over though. After that a prairie falcon came in and made an unsuccessful strike on a small duck in the canal behind me! This place was a hot spot!
The other water fowl seemed to realize the otter was satiated, as they came back into close proximity of the otter as it was eating and even afterwards while he was still in the area. After the otter finished, another harrier moved in to scavenge the duck as the sun set.
I imagine it wasn’t long after I left that the coyotes I heard howling nearby moved in for the rest of the scraps. Their tracks were all over the Basin area, and I saw four of them during my two days there, moving at a rapid pace through the preserves as they hunted.
A ranger that I told about the encounter had been at the same location earlier and saw a bobcat. It was likely no coincidence that this spot was so active – the open water attracted the water fowl, which in turn attracted the predators.
Such a fun day. I stayed out past sunset watching everything unfold, and the temperature dropped quickly. I was happy to get back to town that night for a warm bed. Unfortunately I had some camera malfunction issues, so my shots aren’t as good as I’d hoped (auto-focus issues) – I learned the hard way to test new equipment more thoroughly before being out in the field! That is minor though – WHAT A DAY!!! It’s not often that you see this kind of show!! Very grateful to have the opportunity to be up there and that there are people protecting it. Check out KS Wild, one of the many groups helping the cause.
Klamath Basin report I
The Klamath Basin area is home to multiple National Wildlife Refuges (six of them!), and is a major stop-off for migrating water fowl along the Pacific Flyway during the autumn and spring. This flat high desert area (around 4000 feet elevation) straddles the border of Oregon and California and is just east of the Cascade mountain range. It is also host to a lot of agriculture, using waters diverted from the Klamath River to irrigate fields. The Basin sits in view of several volcanoes that are part of the Cascade range, and the area is of volcanic origins. It is truly a magical landscape. Recently it has become even more exciting as there are now two small wolf packs that call the Cascades just west of the Basin home (one of which is the famous OR-7 wolf, who at one point traveled to California and became the first confirmed wolf in CA since the 1930’s)!
The wetlands themselves are estimated to be only 25% of what they once were, due to appropriation of land and water to agriculture. Many interests share this region, and it is often the subject of debate on how to best share the resources among all them, including Wildlife/Plants, Indigenous People, agriculture, hunters, birders, fishing folks, etc.
During the winter months, there is a very high population of raptors that migrate here to wait out the winter due to the availability of prey (and it should be noted that agriculture fields that are dormant often provide a home to many rodents, thereby attracting more raptors). Here during the winter can be found the highest density population of bald eagles in the continental U.S. outside of Alaska! I have been there previously and seen around 50 eagles in one 360 degree view! Not only that, there are a lot of northern migrants such as rough-legged hawks and ferruginous hawks, species not often seen this far west or south. Those in addition to golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, assorted falcons, many owls and more can be seen here.
I braved some cold temperatures, especially the first day – it was near 0 deg F. A ranger I spoke to said that in the morning he had seen a northern pintail (type of duck) that came out of some reeds and couldn’t get its wings to extend – they had frozen to its body during the night! That’s cold (it eventually did free its wings). Needless to say there weren’t many people out there besides me, but I was able to see some amazing sites and sights (which I’ll highlight over the next few blog posts).
A few of the birds during the trip:
My final picture of the first day is a great summary of the area. The sun had set over a half hour before I took this picture – I saw these birds sitting in a tree as I was driving out. My old jeep was not doing a great job of keeping the cold out, but despite my numb fingers and toes I got out to snap this shot. As you can see, the area does not have many trees, so they are coveted by many different birds. Because of the density of prey and lack of trees, often I see multiple species sharing a tree or telephone pole – a necessary truce. The large forms in the tree are a bald eagle on the left, and a red-tailed hawk on the right! They are buddies! At least for the night (usually I see red-tails chasing and harassing bald eagles). Sprinkled among mostly the tree on the left are many red-winged blackbirds as well.
Some great resources to learn more about the area:
Winter Wings Festival – http://winterwingsfest.org/
This February weekend (this year it is Feb 11-14 2016) focuses on raptors in the Klamath Basin area and attracts many people to the area. Tours and guides are available, as well as many other events. Definitely worthwhile!!!
Lava Beds National Monument is nearby, and Mount Shasta is not far to the south. The whole area is really magical, any time of year.
More to come …
The rains came!
I had forgotten what the sound felt like
gently singing me to sleep
A million little drummers
each striking just once
Beginning with one
Striving to find a rhythm
until they all become one hypnotizing song
My body hears it
forming a beat
That melds together into a hum
felt by every part of my being
Telling all who will listen
Slow down! Curl up!
Seek a warm bed
under roof, tree, bush or rock
It’s time to be with the rain!
Let the body soak with it
deep down into the earth
and feel the roots of us all replenished
I had forgotten how thirsty we were
until the rains came
2016 Jan 03 – Klamath Basin area trip preview
What an absolutely amazing place – the Oregon / Cali border, specifically the Klamath Basin area. I did my own version of a takeover of a National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon the past two days, but it was all peaceful, and I think much more exciting.
One of the especially amazing sites from my trip … just your typical scenario of a coyote and a golden eagle randomly next to each other (story to follow soon):
Western Coyote and Adult Golden Eagle / Lower Klamath NWR
Getting Crowded Up Here (from left): 2 Red-Tailed Hawks, 1 Ferruginous Hawk, 1 Red-Tailed Hawk, & 1 Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph)/ Butte Valley CA
young Bald Eagle (“Basic I” – 2nd year, close to 3rd year) / Lower Klamath NWR
The quantity and diversity of raptors found in this one area during the winter is astounding!
Happy New Year – more pictures and details on this trip coming soon …
2015 Nov 05 planets
Venus shines bright in the time just before the light of dawn to the south east, coming within 1 degree of faint Mars which lies far from us in its orbit, appearing much further away, while Jupiter hangs above them. The moon draws closer to the triad as it fades the next few days …
Venus shines bright at the lower left, with Mars just to its left – Jupiter shines above them, and the star Regulus shines equidistant between Jupiter and the waning quarter Moon
Venus shines brightest in the lower left of this frame, with Mars very close to it (slight red color) – Jupiter above