Friday, July 24, 2015

Fern Canyon

How is everything in Northern California so cool? Really, every new place I visit turns out to be absolutely amazing. It's an awesome streak indeed, and I have every reason to think it'll just keep going.

This past Sunday, Paul and I visited Fern Canyon in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Even after getting to the park, it took a long drive down a tiny winding dirt road (and through some streams that were worryingly deep for my little car) before we arrived at the trailhead for the canyon. It was worth it:
 

Oh boy, was it ever worth it:
 

Yes, that's a footbridge in the bottom right of the above picture. Here's another picture with Paul for scale:
 

I mean, seriously, what is this place? We wandered along the gurgling stream and scrambled over giant fallen tree trunks that have been so worn by weather and peoples' feet that they felt like stone. All while vertical walls of ferns towered on either side:
 

Most of the ferns were these gorgeously dainty Five-finger (or Western Maidenhair) Ferns (Adiantum aleuticum):
 

Thick carpets of moss covered the walls where little waterfalls trickled down (looking very cool from below):


What look to be some rather large liverworts were growing among the moss in some spots:
 

Here's one more picture looking up at that waterfall, because I just love how these ferns look from below:
 

Birds flitted around -- mostly at the top of the canyon -- but we came across very few other creatures while we wandered and marveled at our surroundings. Except for a few of these big yellow monsters... Banana Slugs!
 

And we met several cool creatures on our way to and from Fern Canyon. Just before we crossed into the park, we saw my second (Paul's first) herd of Roosevelt Elk, looking majestic and peaceful in a meadow right along the highway:
 

(The elk in the middle left actually looks pretty skinny; I hope she's OK.)

A few stocky babies were hanging out in this herd. I love those faint spots and that extra-fuzzy neck:
 

One fawn took the time for some very vigorous feeding (Mom seemed unfazed at the punching-bag treatment):
 

Then, coming out of Fern Canyon and walking briefly onto the neighboring beach (because of course amazing woods and beaches are right next to each other here), we found some smaller creatures to admire, including this (probably) Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes mylitta):
 

A brilliant red (I think) Cardinal Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum illotum) patrolled near a small stream:
 

This intricately patterned moth (unknown species) was remarkably well hidden in the vanishing shade of a tiny piece of driftwood:
 

I still have so many new places I want to visit, and old places I want to visit again. I guess I'll just have to get outside as much as I can!

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Few Tide Pool Sights

On Sunday, Paul and I checked out one of the last types of environments that we hadn't yet explored around our new home: tide pools! Luffenholtz Beach County Park is a small park with dramatic cliffs and rocky shores a short drive north from our house. Paul said it's the most beautiful beach he's ever seen, and it's hard to disagree:


Down in the tide pools, we found multi-colored anemones:
 

A colony of big Gooseneck Barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus) clung to the underside of some rocks:
 

And fancy Lined Shore Crabs (Pachygrapsus crassipes) foraged among rocky crevices:


Mmm, this crab was enjoying a green leafy meal:
 

I love the colors and patterns on these crabs! This individual would have been well hidden, if it weren't for all that bright green, yellow, and red:
 

Northern California continues to amaze me. Whether in forest, field, marsh, or shore, there's awesome wildlife everywhere you turn!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Roosevelt Elk

You'd think all the dunes, ocean, and marshes near my new home would be plenty enough to explore... but let's not forget about the redwood forests! On Friday morning, I drove up to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is part of the Redwood National and State Parks that protect a big chunk of redwood forest in the area. My main goal was to check out a trail among old-growth redwoods, and I did make it there eventually, but I got sidetracked when I passed a herd of Roosevelt Elk right next to the highway:


My first elk! Roosevelt Elk are apparently the largest of the several subspecies of elk in North America, and a sizable population lives in these parks. Even if I hadn't spotted this herd, I couldn't have missed all the cars and people lined up along the sides of the road to check them out. These are popular animals for sure. Most of the individuals in this herd were females or young males with little stumpy antlers (there were a few fawns as well), but one male in particular was looking very impressive indeed:
 

I've read that mature male elk live separate from females during the summer, so perhaps this is a relatively young individual just with particularly well-developed headgear. Or maybe there's more to these animals' summer living arrangements than I understand. In any case, he was magnificent, and he seemed to know it:
 

I sat in my car with my camera pointing out the window and he came walking directly my way. Ah, he's like a supermodel:
 

I was getting a little nervous with this big animal so close (these elk are still dangerous even if they are really used to people!), but I had to take a couple more pictures before I rolled up the window:
 

I love all the different types of fuzziness on this guy; antlers, forehead, and neck:
 

Oooh my goodness. By this point I had realized that I'd forgotten to charge my camera's battery and it was almost drained. And the elk were wandering off into the forest anyway. So I continued on my way, and soon I was walking through a dense redwood forest:
 

And under big flowering Pacific Rhododendrons:
 

I didn't realize how much I'd missed being the woods until I was actually there:
 

(And I wonder if the trees in "normal" forests are going to look small to me after living here. It doesn't seem likely. These trees still just look huge.)

A few Columbia Lilies (Lilium columbianum) dangled brilliant blooms next to the path:
 

All those freckles are quite pretty from below:
 

After some time in the woods, I made my way back home, and wouldn't you know it, I passed the same herd of Roosevelt Elk along the highway again. This time, the herd was dozing in a small clearing next to a campground:
 

Male and female, old and young:
 

Look, a baby:
 

These creatures looked so peaceful:
 

And the same male from earlier that morning was resting now, but he was no less magnificent:
 

Sleepy boy:
 

Yes, redwood forests are amazing. I'm excited to explore more again soon!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Out on the Ocean

I think the ocean is awesome, and I know so little about the creatures that live there, especially away from shore. Unfortunately, as I discovered on a whale-watching trip a few years ago, I get quite seasick if I actually go out on the open water. So when I learned that there's a jetty at the mouth of Humboldt Bay -- a short drive from our house -- where one can walk nearly half a mile out onto the ocean, I was intrigued. Open water with ocean birds, mammals, and waves, but no rocking floor to try to stand on? Yes please!

On Friday afternoon, at low tide (apparently this place gets dangerous when the tide is high), Paul and I took a trip out to the north jetty at the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area, and it was indeed awesome. I don't often get to see waves from this perspective:


And surfers are downright novel for me; there were several people out enjoying the waves on Friday:


Yes, the ocean is intense:


I'm learning that Common Murres are quite, well, common at the shores around here, and a few of these birds were swimming in the water close to the jetty. This is such a handsome bird up close; I love that line behind its eye, and those big paddling feet and sleek pointed wings (so useful for moving underwater):


This murre had just popped up from a dive in this next picture, and it's still got its protective nictitating membrane covering its eyes:


An Osprey was hunting over the fog-shrouded waves:


It made some impressive dives, although I didn't see it actually catch anything:


Brown Pelicans were cruising around; these birds are downright massive, especially compared to the gulls that kept trailing them hoping for fish:


A few ocean mammals showed up, too! This Harbor Seal seemed to be watching us for a bit:


And a few Harbor Porpoises went by!


I can't believe I live in a place where I can see marine mammals. The birds and scenery are awesome, too, of course, but whenever I'm near open ocean I'll certainly be watching the waves for fins and faces. There's so much to see around here, and I'm still just getting started!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Some Very Vocal Birds at Arcata Marsh

I've started exploring the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary over the past couple of days. Just a few minutes drive from my house, this place is a nice combination of fresh and saltwater marshes, grasslands, and bay. And it doubles as a wastewater treatment facility for the town, which is pretty cool (and not something I ever would have realized if it wasn't publicized).

Apparently the Arcata Marsh is a very popular spot for birdwatching (judging by its thousands of eBird checklists), and I certainly saw a lot of birds when I walked along some of its marshes and grasslands yesterday afternoon. There was so much activity! The air above the marshes was filled with swooping swallows and swifts -- I'm still figuring out how to identify all the swallow species we have here! -- and birds were calling all over the place. Pretty much everywhere I went, I heard Marsh Wrens, although I didn't know that's what I was hearing until this individual jumped boldly out of the cattails (where all the other birds were apparently hiding) and sang:



(You can hear a Song Sparrow singing in part of that video as well. I love Song Sparrows and I'm so glad to find them here.)

I saw a Marsh Wren only once while I lived in Connecticut, and that was a very brief glimpse through some dense reeds. The Arcata Marsh, by contrast, is practically overflowing with these small boisterous birds:


Sing it, Marsh Wren!


What a lovely little creature:


This wren made a few trips in and out of the cattails, and I eventually saw its nest, woven so neatly into the leaves at the marsh's edge:


Although much smaller in number -- at only four individuals -- the marsh's Common Ravens were certainly rivaling the Marsh Wrens for noisiness. This raven called from a tree near the path for several minutes, with other ravens nearby occasionally adding their voices; I love these birds' shaggy throats and their croaking calls, and I'm still getting used to the idea of ravens as "common" birds:

 

Most of the other creatures I met at the marsh were much less noisy, though still very active. Here's my first close encounter with a local hummingbird, a female, although I'm not sure whether she's an Allen's Hummingbird or a Rufous Hummingbird (I can't believe I live in a place with more than one hummingbird species):


Well, she's gorgeous, whatever she is:
 

I was happy to see so many familiar (to me) birds at the marsh as well. Male American Goldfinches are just as flashy out here in the west as they are in the east:
 

Hello, Black-capped Chickadee (post-bath):
 

A fly-by from a handsome Great Egret is always welcome:
 

I'm not sure what to make of these two Cedar Waxwings' behavior:
 

One waxwing was begging for food, and the other waxwing was feeding it, but it's awful early in the season for fledgelings (I think), and these birds both have the sleek filled-out costumes of adults. Perhaps this behavior falls under the umbrella of courtship? Or maybe this is a second-year bird falling back into old behaviors? Do either of those things even happen? In any case, there was certainly an exchange of food, which I'm sure made the begging waxwing very happy:
 

With bonus saliva:
 

There were other creatures besides birds out and about, of course. This Western Tiger Swallowtail was absolutely gorgeous; I don't know that I've ever seen such a pristine wild butterfly:
 

I also met my first Californian reptile! (I actually met this creature in another part of the marsh the previous afternoon.) This is one of the multiple types of Garter Snakes in the area, showing beautiful red markings; I haven't been able to quite narrow it down to species, but it's certainly a lovely creature:
 

I'm sure there are many, many more things still to discover in the Arcata Marsh. (I keep reading that there are River Otters there.... Otters!) I'm looking forward to exploring this place further in the months to come!