Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rocky Shore Birds

OK, I'm a bit late with this post. Way back in the beginning of October, Paul and I walked out onto the jetty in the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area to see what ocean creatures we could find. It was a windy day, with lots of big splashing waves, but that didn't bother the dozens of birds foraging on the barnacle-covered, wave-washed rocks.... I have very little experience with rocky ocean shores, and I was super excited to get to meet two new-to-me species of birds that specialize in this harsh habitat: Black Turnstones and (aptly-named) Surfbirds!

These birds were scampering all over the rocks, moving quite a lot like big bugs. We got some closer views whenever the waves pushed the birds up onto the jetty. Surfbirds are hefty and handsome:

And I was especially impressed with the Black Turnstones' costumes. The white edging on those dark wing feathers is just so cool:

This Black Turnstone got all puffy during a grooming session. So many fancy feathers!

These birds blended in so well with the rocks where they were foraging, and we only got an idea of their numbers when they flocked together after a big wave. These Surfbirds were waiting for their feeding ground to open back up, I think:

Here's a brief video of these birds doing their thing (apologies for the loud wind noises); the Black Turnstones are the really fancy/stripey ones in flight:

The Surfbirds and Black Turnstones definitely stole the show, but there were lots of other creatures around, too. A Double-crested Cormorant flew by (of the various species of cormorants we have here, I'm most familiar with Double-crested Cormorants from my time in the eastern US):

A Common Murre was fishing near the jetty, showing a winter costume that's very different from the sleek black outfits we saw on these birds here in June:

We didn't get to stay out on the ocean as long as we would've liked because the waves started splashing up onto the jetty, heralding danger (hmm, that low tide didn't last very long). I'm very glad we got to meet all those fancy ocean creatures while we were there!

Friday, October 2, 2015

First Feeder Birds

Oof, did all of September just go by? Things are pretty hectic around here right now, so I'm just grabbing whatever scraps of time I can find to be outside (and it's not nearly enough). Fortunately for me (because I need nature to be happy), our neighborhood birds have become an ever stronger presence in our yard over the past month. Yellow-rumped Warblers -- with yellow throats, here in the west -- have been foraging in the pine trees over our house in the evenings, the Black Phoebe continues to hunt in our back yard, and I even looked outside the other day to see a Northern Waterthrush (a rare bird for this area) poking through my little aphid-filled garden.

Even better, the birds have found our window feeders! When we put the feeders up a couple of months ago, I was pretty skeptical that any birds would find them at all, since our house is relatively exposed, without a lot of low trees or bushes to attract passing birds and help direct them to the feeders. Plus, Tufted Titmouses have historically been the birds to first discover our window feeders in Connecticut and Ohio, and we don't have any titmouses here in Northern California! But as it turns out, our Chestnut-backed Chickadees are an equally exploratory and adventuresome species. These handsome little birds discovered the feeders a few weeks ago, and now we get daily visits. Sometimes they bring along the Black-capped Chickadees (who I've noticed tend to forage higher up in the trees in our yard, while the Chestnut-backs do more work around our fences and buildings), and most recently a few Red-breasted Nuthatches (wonderful squeak toys!) have shown up as well. Birds! Up close!

This Chestnut-backed Chickadee sat at one of our feeders, chirping and snacking, for several minutes the other day while I snuck around outside with my camera:

I love, love, love, these birds with their fancy brown vests! How do you make a chickadee even cuter? Dress it up in a little coat:

Sorry, Black-capped Chickadees, you're wonderful as well, and I love having your familiar faces around, but in this particular yard, the Chestnut-backed Chickadees are the biggest characters:

Keep coming back for more seeds, fancy birds:

While I'm already here, here are some pictures from the scattered moments I've had outside over the past several weeks. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was looking a bit more natural (and very fluffy) in the eucalyptus trees next to our driveway:

In the first week of September, on a walk through the dunes, a hummingbird (I'm not sure of the species) zoomed out next to the path and posed for a few pictures:

I love the flashes of green on the back of its little head:

Way back in mid-August, I watched a bunch of American Crows picking through some beach-goers belongings at Big Lagoon County Park. These crows know how to find food:

Next to the lagoon, a Great Blue Heron was perched in a tree, not the kind of setting I'd expect for these birds:

If you're wondering, yes, everywhere around here is awesome.

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


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!