Sunday, May 22, 2016

Under the Tallest Trees in the World

Yesterday, Paul and I explored further into the Redwood National and State Parks than we'd yet been. We drove several miles down a winding gravel road, through a locked gate (we had to get the passcode from the visitor's center first), and then hiked to the Tall Trees Grove, where exist -- literally -- the tallest trees in the world. The redwood tree that held the wold record for tallest tree until 1994 is in this grove, and the current world record holder is somewhere in the area, although it's not marked and there's no trail to it. We've seen lots of big trees already, but we figured we had to take a trip to this place while we still live in the area, if only to be able to say we'd done it. Besides, redwoods are awesome, and I'll take any chance I can get to explore these woods.

Here's the area from a nearby overlook:

More tall trees, plus mist (it was an overcast, sometimes-rainy kind of day):

And here's the grove from ground level:

Of course, the trees were huge and impressive -- as redwoods are -- although we couldn't get an especially accurate sense of their height from our lowly position on the ground. We couldn't even see the tops of most of these trees! (I guess that says something in itself.)

So we wandered around these giant trees, just generally being impressed. And in the process, we found lots of interesting things to look at on the forest floor.

The molluscs were out in force, chief among them that famous denizen of the pacific coastal forest, the Banana Slug. :)

This individual wasn't huge by Banana Slug standards, but it was still pretty darn big; here's a penny for comparison:

We found another Banana Slug in the process of consuming a leaf:

I've never actually thought about how slugs eat before, and this creature's very normal biting action really surprised me! I made this rather shaky video with my iPhone -- it's still weirdly shaky even after YouTube's stabilization process, probably because I was filming the slug so close up -- so watch if you're up for it. You can hear the crunch of each bite; mmm, what a crispy leaf:

We kept finding snails all over the place as well, including a bunch of these large and beautiful Pacific Sideband Snails:

And I'm not sure of the exact species of these smaller, ghostly pale snails that kept showing up, but they were also quite cool:

Lots of Yellow-spotted Millipedes were sharing the forest floor with the molluscs, including this pair of millipedes who were on the move despite being otherwise engaged:

A chipmunk (one of a couple of species in this area, but I'm not sure which one) watched us carefully while it worked over an acorn from atop a moss-covered trunk near the path:

And as if these woods weren't already fantastical enough, we found several blooming coralroot orchids sprouting up like little intricate flags next to the path. I'd never seen coralroot blossoms in person before, even though various species of coralroot also exist in the woods in the eastern U.S. These are strange, leafless, parasitic plants that get their nutrients from their host fungi underground. And then they send up these beautiful little flowers; some of the flower spikes we saw were more than a foot (maybe two feet) tall:

Here's a closer view of this Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata; perhaps this is some particular variety that lacks the usual spots on this flower's lower lip):

We also found Pacific Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana), with its narrower purple-and-yellow flowers:

I love orchids, and finding new members of this diverse and fascinating family in the wild is always extra exciting for me. Yay, orchids!

And that about sums up our tall trees adventure: redwoods, molluscs and other crawling critters, and orchids. I'll add that before we even got to the woods, we had a treat in the form of Cliff Swallows nesting under the canopy outside the visitor's center:

It was so cool to see these little birds swooping around and guarding nests-in-progress that ranged from barely a ledge (like in the picture above) to fully enclosed bowls:

There are so many interesting things to see out there!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Long-tailed Weasel

I met a new mammal at the Arcata Marsh this morning! While walking down a path lined with piles of large rocks next to the bay, I thought I saw a small furry thing dash across the path ahead of me (and just behind a passing bicyclist). So I waited for a bit, watching the rocks, and wouldn't you know it, a beautifully auburn animal popped out:

It's a Long-tailed Weasel! What a lovely, pointy, weasely face it has:

This is the third time I've come across a creature in the weasel family among piles of large rocks next to water, although the previous two times that creature was an American Mink: I met the first mink at Naugatuck State Forest in Connecticut and the second at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve in Ohio. And I've never seen these creatures in any other habitat. So as far as I can tell, weasels and minks live in piles of large rocks next to water, and that's it.

Big rocks, little weasel:

In any case, this weasel spent the next several minutes working its way along the rocky stretch, popping in and out of crevices as it went. I wonder what it was doing in there. Hunting? Checking on a burrow? Just getting from one end of the area to the other? The weasel seemed remarkably unconcerned about me and the several other people (and dogs) that passed right by, although my camera clicks briefly drew its attention:

It paused for only a few seconds at a time before continuing on its way. Sometimes its path took it over the rocks rather than under them:

I kept walking when the weasel was out of sight, and it would always pop back up again, sometimes just a few feet away from me. Ah, you beautiful creature!

I can't believe how bold this weasel was. It must have been at least little wary, but it just wasn't interested in hiding. It certainly gave me plenty of time for pictures. I love this charismatic face:

And again! Note also the lovely little brown spot on its chin:

That extra long and thin body must be helpful when you're sliding between rocks:

In case you haven't had enough of this wonderful creature yet -- these pictures don't even show its black-tipped tail! -- here's a brief video of this weasel moving along the rocks. Of all of the people walking by, was I really the only one to notice this small but bright dash of red and orange fur? Or maybe I'm the only one who'd never seen a Long-tailed Weasel before.

So that was amazing. I left the weasel to its business. On the other side of the path, a Song Sparrow sang in my direction:

And a couple of big Caspian Terns dove after fish in the bay:

In a meadow, a Yellow-breasted Chat sang loudly from the very top of a tree and then did a weird, halting, half-hovering/half-falling dance in the air. I didn't get a video this time (and I haven't been able to find a video of this weird display online), so I'll keep an eye out for this behavior again when I'm next at the marsh. I'm sure I won't be able to stay away from this place for too long!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Early May at the Marsh

I visited the Arcata Marsh last Saturday (May 7) and again on Monday, curious to see how the place is changing as spring progresses. I am sorely missing my familiar eastern spring migration, and I haven't found anything so dramatic here, but there is certainly seasonal change. And there were plenty of May-ish things to see at the marsh!

Big purple lupine blooms (I'm not entirely sure of the species) filled big patches of field near the paths:

On Sunday, I saw a Green Heron keeping watch over a rather precarious-looking nest:

And I watched an adult Orange-crowned Warbler gathering caterpillars and other goodies:

While its frumpy fledgling waited in the bushes (look at that stump of a tail!):

Monday afternoon was sunny and warm, and a Red Admiral was out and about:

These two dragonflies were gearing up to produce the next generation; they flew around a lot while interlocked like this, which strikes me as quite a feat:

Dozens of Cliff Swallows were swarming around and under the eaves of a building near the bay. This must be a good nesting place! I love watching swallows in any situation, but it was especially cool to see all these birds in one place, and to watch the patterns of their shadows on the bright wall:

Here's a video of the Cliff Swallows swooping and swarming:

Great Egrets adorned rocks in the bay:

In a nearby pool, an Eared Grebe hunted over (I think) an eelgrass bed:

I've only seen Eared Grebes before in their plainer winter costumes, and I'm really liking this individual's fancy bronze face-tufts:

The coolest part, though, was seeing what the grebe brought up from underwater. I'm not sure what this little morsel is, but it looks soft and shiny:

At one point the grebe brought up a pipefish, a fish in the same family as seahorses, and certainly not a creature I've ever seen in the wild before:

I think I can see the seahorse resemblance from this angle:

The pipefish was quite a big catch for a little grebe, and it took some struggling, but the grebe finally worked the pipefish down, head first and tail waving:

Toward the end of the afternoon, I watched a male Allen's Hummingbird doing his absolute best to impress a female. Here's the male (I'm identifying him as an Allen's Hummingbird because of the green feathers on his back, although it's not impossible that he's actually a similar looking Rufous Hummingbird, since those birds are also in this area now):

And here's the discerning female:

The male would alternate between perching, feeding, and performing aerial acrobatics that involved swoops and dives and whistles of air through his feathers. At one point I watched him dance back and forth in the air right in front of the female's face, dazzling her with his fancy feathers and fancy moves. (I really should have thought to take a video.) All of this took place in the middle of a huge and blooming blackberry patch; the plentiful flowers clearly made this an attractive spot for the hummingbird pair:

Here's the male again:

I only got to see the full effect of his costume a few times, but those moments made quite an impression!

While I was watching the hummingbirds, a male Common Yellowthroat popped out for what is surely the closest and clearest view I've had of these usually secretive birds:

I'm sure it wasn't a coincidence that I was standing in a blind at the time. What a gorgeous creature!

Nests, courtship, flowers, babies.... That sounds like May to me!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Big Lagoon

On Sunday Morning, I wandered on the beach at Big Lagoon, enjoying the warm breeze and totally clear and sunny skies. Sun! Yay! A couple of sailboats were out on the lagoon; goodness, but this is a lovely place:

As far as I can tell, there's pretty much always something blooming in Humboldt County, but even so, it was nice to see the dunes dotted with colorful spring flowers. Beach Morning Glory (Calystegia soldanella) and Beach Evening Primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia) spread their blooms out over the sand:

The many American Silvertop (Glehnia littoralis) plants looked weirdly flat, like squashed shrubs:

The Beach Pea (Lathyrus littoralis) blooms were very pretty indeed, floating over silvery leaves:

And carpets of invasive Ice Plant (Carpobrotus chilensis) were putting on quite a show:

I kind of love the colors on this Ice Plant blanket at the base of a cliff:

Several Northern Rough-Winged Swallows were swooping around the cliffs, vying for nesting spots. I love watching swallows in flight, but I was also happy when this one perched briefly so I could take its picture:

Doesn't this look like a nice place to raise a family?

Surf Scoters were foraging near the shore and handling the waves with ease. Watch out, funny duck:

Big waves aren't really a problem, I guess, when you can dive right through them:

Many people come to the beach next to Big Lagoon to look for agates, and indeed I got sucked into picking up and sorting through all sorts of beautiful stones (and this wasn't the first time either!). The closer you look at the ground on this beach, the more stones with gorgeous colors and interesting patterns start to stand out. So many cool rocks! This picture doesn't do them justice:

I even found my first agates on this trip (one is right in the middle of the above picture). They're tiny, but very shiny, and oh so intricate:

What a great -- and relaxing -- morning with beautiful weather and interesting nature on the beach!