Sunday, August 9, 2015

West Coast Neighbors (Or, We Have Phoebes Here, Too!)

After almost a year sharing a yard and house wall with friendly Eastern Phoebes back in Ohio, I've come to really love these little flycatchers. So I was super happy to discover that we have phoebe neighbors here in California, too! A Black Phoebe keeps showing up in our back yard to hunt for flying insects, and it doesn't seem to mind at all when I hang out with it (just a few yards away):
 

Goodness, what a handsome bird. It almost looks like it's borrowed a junco's outfit:
 

This phoebe looks downright fearsome from some angles; I wouldn't want to be a bug flying through our yard with this creature on the prowl:
 

But really, I can't think of phoebes as anything but friendly, and I'm so glad to find that this Black Phoebe is just as endearingly bold as the Eastern Phoebes I'm more familiar with:
 

There was also a lot of tail-wagging in between bursts of flight from the fence. Thank you for letting me hang out while you hunted, lovely phoebe:
 

Here are a couple other representative neighbors from our new yard (although I took these pictures about a month ago). Eurasian Collared-Doves are big and loud, and they're constantly calling from the tops of electrical posts and trees around our house:
 

Apparently these big doves have displaced most of the native Mourning Doves around here; indeed, I've only come across one Mourning Dove since we've moved in. These creatures are certainly a prominent feature of the neighborhood!

A few Ten-lined June Beetles have shown up in our yard so far:
 

What a monster! But it's a pretty cute one:
 

I love that we get amazing animal visitors even in our tiny yard. :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Otters!

I know that the Arcata Marsh is famous around here for its birds, and I did see lots of cool feathered creatures when I visited there on Wednesday morning. But I was extraordinarily happy when I came across two of these mammals hunting in a lake:


River Otters! The first ones I've ever seen in the wild I think! Ahhh, so cool. They kept diving underwater, showing their thick pointed tails:


Then they'd come back up chewing on what I'm guessing were little fish:


Oh my goodness. Now I can add otters to the list of crazy and amazing things I can see just minutes from my house. Northern California just gets more and more magical.

Here's a video of the two otters doing their thing. I love their little chomping jaws whenever they come up with food:

 

OK, yes, there were lots of other things to see at the marsh while I was there. When I arrived, the tide was out, and Arcata Bay was one giant mudflat:
 

A couple of hours later, the same spot looked like a different place:


The shorebirds are starting to show up in big numbers here on their southward migration (yes, it's that time already). Here's part of a mixed group of bigger shorebirds, mostly Marbled Godwits in this picture:
 

Hundreds of little sandpipers were in attendance at this marsh as well, although only a few came anywhere near my camera. Here's my first Western Sandpiper, with its pale gray-brown back and dark legs:
 

Of course this Least Sandpiper a few yards away looks completely different:
 

... Right. My best bet for distinguishing between these two birds is going to be leg color (dark vs. yellow) for a while yet.

A bunch of Willets were hanging around:
 

And a fancy Long-billed Curlew was pulling some sort of food from the marsh mud:
 

I continue to be thrilled to have Song Sparrows around (after these birds were such a friendly fixture in our old Connecticut yard they became my favorite sparrows for sure), and I met tons of these guys in the fields near the marsh. Hello handsome bird:
 

This Song Sparrow was foraging and preening as normal despite not having any tail feathers:
 

A family of Mallards was making funny shapes in a pond:
 

I saw quite a few of these pretty Anise Swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon), looking a bit like half-sized Tiger Swallowtails:
 

The Arcata Marsh is one of the public nature places closest to my house, and I'm more than happy to take advantage of its nearness. It really is a lovely place:
 
 

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!