Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Short-eared Owl and More at Arcata Bottoms

Whew! It's been a ridiculously hectic and stressful several weeks (but I am elated to report that I have recently reached the end of the process that was causing so much stress, hence why I have the time to write this now). This past Saturday, I decided I needed a break, so I went out to visit the Arcata Bottoms, an area of low-lying pastures and fields bordering the bay near my house. I drove slowly along roads behind farms, and I wandered into the marshy fields in a neighboring wildlife area, and it was quiet, full of creatures, and just wonderful.

I drive by this area on the way to work every day, and I'm always astonished by the number of raptors I regularly see here -- perched on fence posts and power lines -- as I speed past. Driving slowly and walking in the fields on Saturday was much more fun, and there were birds of prey everywhere I looked. Northern Harriers coursed low over the fields and picked up furry morsels:
 

Northern Harriers have such interesting faces, and I'm always glad to meet these sleek hunters:
 

White-tailed Kites are still an amazingly exotic bird for me, but they're downright common in these fields right now. I saw at least four individuals during my visit, sometimes hovering or hunting but mostly perched on trees:
 

What an awesome bird:
 

Fence posts made for especially popular lookout points. White-tailed Kite:
 

Northern Harrier:
 

More White-tailed Kites:
 

Ah! Owl!!
 

I knew that Short-eared Owls hang out in these fields in the winter, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one, but having a Short-eared Owl fly out right in the middle of the afternoon and land ahead of my car -- then proceed to hunt in the field next to the road -- was basically astonishing. My first Short-eared Owl! Oh my goodness.
 

Owls are certainly amazing, and as far as I'm concerned, days with owls in them are some of the best days. I love this creature's rounded wings, fuzzy feet, and black-eyeliner eyes:
 

Oh, you wonderful creature:
 

So that was amazing. Other highlights from the visit include a dainty Savannah Sparrow, a bird I haven't seen since my time on the Connecticut shore:


And around 1500 Cackling Geese foraging in the pastures. Here's a portion of the expansive flock:
 

This was my first time seeing Cackling Geese fairly close up, and they really do strike me as shrunken Canada Geese. Don't your necks stretch any longer, birds?
 

The geese made for some striking patterns, especially in such big numbers:


And once again, Northern California continues to amaze me. Even the most normal-seeming places -- fields, pastures -- have awesome wildlife, including lots of creatures I've never seen before (and am not likely to see again any time soon once I leave). The stress-inducing process I mentioned at the beginning of this post was a job hunt, and the end of that process means that I will be relocating yet again over the summer, back to the other side of the country. The eventual (permanent? is that even possible?) location is a very exciting one (for me), but I'll leave those details for another time. For now, I plan to take advantage of my remaining months in Northern California to explore the area as much as possible. There's still so much to see, and I'm so happy to have my outdoors time back!

Friday, January 1, 2016

An Eeping Elk, and Other Holiday-time Sights

My sister came to visit for Christmas (yay!), and Paul and I got to show her all the awesome things about Northern California. There were rainy hikes (and later, hikes with sunshine!), trips to the beach, a sunset over the Pacific Ocean, and lots and lots of food. :D I didn't take many pictures during this awesome and relaxing family time, but I do want to share some of the cool creatures we met while exploring.

In Redwood National and State Parks, we drove slowly past a herd of Elk browsing next to the road. How nice of these Elk to pose with their statue (note also the wonderfully fuzzy trees in the background):


One young Elk was very vocal, which was a cool surprise. (We thought surely the sound was coming from a bird... until this big mammal showed us otherwise.) I'm not sure what all this Elk's "eep"-ing meant, but I'm hoping it was more of a chatty communication with the rest of the herd than a pitiful cry. Either way, the second Elk in the above picture didn't seem to have much patience for the young Elk; it got a little kick as they moved on:



A couple of days later, from the trail on Trinidad Head, we watched the ocean and were rewarded with a glimpse of a migrating whale (or maybe two) in the distance:
 

A whale! See it? (Right there!) I'm not exactly sure of the species, but it's most likely a Gray Whale, since they migrate south in big numbers down the coast around this time. I've been very much hoping to see a whale while we're living here, so I'll take it!

A couple of Wrentits (not a wren... not a tit... it's a Wrentit!) briefly showed themselves in between long foraging sessions deep in the bushes:
 

These birds are apparently very good at skulking, and I was happy to get to see their funny round bodies and little beaks. This Wrentit was after some dangling red berries:
 

I had actually had another brief encounter with a Wrentit a few days earlier while walking near the dunes. Hello funny bird!
 

A handsome Hermit Thrush was dashing around an open area at the top of Trinidad Head, pausing every few feet to stand up tall and survey the ground for morsels:
 

The Hermit Thrush seemed to be having a successful hunt, and I was happy to admire its wonderfully dappled chest and its rusty tail:
 

At the shore, a trio of Black Oystercatchers were foraging in the waves:
 

Oystercatchers are such strange-looking birds, and after getting to know American Oystercatchers during my time in Connecticut, I'm glad I got to meet this western species:
 

It was so wonderful to be able to explore with my family around the holidays. The past few months have been very busy, and I haven't been able to get outside nearly as much as I would like. But I am looking forward to a whole set of new adventures and opportunities in the new year. Hello, 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Catching Up With 2015: Point Reyes

OK, one last catch-up post! A few days before Thanksgiving, Paul and I drove down to San Francisco to explore that city for the first time. Just like people say, it's a very cool place, and we had a great time. On the way back up north, we decided to visit Point Reyes National Seashore, and that turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip. We drove miles and miles off the highway, into what seemed increasingly like the middle of nowhere. And it was raining. A lot. We figured even with the downpour, we might drive up to an overlook, maybe hop out of the car for a few seconds to look around, then head back to the highway. But somehow, as we crossed into to the park, the rain stopped, and even the clouds went away! It was still very cold and very windy (somehow we always end up at the top of high windy spots during our vacations...) but we actually got to explore, and we saw lots of awesome things.

Let's start with the mammals. A bunch of Elephant Seals were hauled out on a beach where they apparently return every year to breed. I've certainly never seen these big creatures before, and I don't know when I'll get a chance to see them again; very cool:


None of the monstrous adult males were present, but the females and younger seals were strange enough, with their pointy noses and loud blubbery calls. A couple of seals were tussling in the water near where we stood on the cliff (territorial or amorous, I don't know!):


There was plenty of motion on the beach, too. Look at all the funny noses!


The seals took turns complaining loudly:


As we drove on through the park toward the actual point, a few other big mammals showed up as well. Black-tailed Deer (a subspecies of Mule Deer, it seems) watched us from fields near the road:


This male Black-tailed Deer was looking very impressive indeed:


He ambled across the road in front of us and joined two females nearby:


Just a little ways past the deer, we were surprised to see another creature in the road:


Coyote! I was worried that this creature was injured, but it got up and walked away when our car passed.... Hopefully the coyote was just relaxing on the warm pavement (although this is definitely not a safe place to doze). Injured or not, our car inched very close to this creature before it finally moved on, and it was amazing to see this guy (or girl) up close:


So dog-like, and also not:


Be comfortable, coyote, but don't rest here too long:


The bird life on Point Reyes was similarly amazing. A flock of young Western Meadowlarks foraged next to the road:


And I met two totally new birds in the alien landscape on the very top of the point. (And I should say, standing in that place felt like being at the edge of the world, with all the buffeting winds and ocean on every side. It was incredible.) First, there was a Say's Phoebe (yes, that's the ocean in the background):


Then a Rock Wren (is that a skull?):


The park was also a haven for raptors. A tiny American Kestrel perched on a little rock ledge near the road:


And we saw many Red-tailed Hawks, including this rather damp individual early in our visit:


The coolest views of Red-tailed Hawks, though, were when we were high up on the point and saw these creatures soaring practically at eye level:


The wind was so strong that the hawks were barely moving; they seemed more like tethered kites floating in the air. What an awesome sight:


Oh yeah, and the views from the point were incredible. Goodness, what a place:


There are so many amazing places in northern California. I just need to see as much as I can while I'm living here!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Catching Up With 2015: Arcata Bottoms

Every day on my way to work, I drive by a bunch of low-lying pastures and fields in an area that I now know is called Arcata Bottoms. (What a great descriptive name.) I didn't pay much attention to this area -- except to admire its views -- until early November when I began to occasionally glimpse a big white bird hovering over the fields as I drove past....


I really, really wanted to see one of these birds up close, so on Saturday, November 21, I brought my camera with me and drove down some side roads in the bottoms. It was a gray, overcast sort of day, but sure enough, I found the big white hunter. It's a White-tailed Kite!


White-tailed Kites (and kites in general, for that matter) are entirely new for me, and I'm super impressed by these birds. They're white raptors! And they hover! This bird ended up hovering very near my car as it looked for a furry meal in the grass below. I love those dark wing patches:


At times it was hovering almost directly above my head (boy would I not want to be a rodent with this creature lurking above):


After a few seconds of hovering, the kite would wheel and dive; gah, look at those talons:


I made a brief video of the hovering kite in action; I'm still so impressed by this gorgeous raptor's skills:

 

At least one of the kite's dives was successful, and it ended up perched on a fence post with a furry morsel in its grasp, giving me a new (if distant) view of this awesome creature:


Mmm, small mammal meal:


The White-tailed Kite drew me onto these back roads, but then once I started exploring the area, there turned out to be an amazing amount of wildlife here. Flocks of sparrows and blackbirds foraged in the shrubs and farmland, a tiny American Kestrel hunted from a power line, and the many small waterways were dotted with ducks and shorebirds. Two little Pied-billed Grebes were diving up and down in the water:


A large flock of Cackling Geese (like Canada Geese with strangely shrunken heads and necks) flew around calling before finding a suitable field in which to land:


And although I'm not normally a cow person (and they're hardly wildlife), I was charmed by several of these big creatures. Like this lady, who kept an eye on me the whole time I was nearby:



And this calf, who demonstrated both the definition of cuteness and the usefulness of prehensile tongues:


With all the rain we have been getting in recent weeks, waterways and pools are even more numerous in Arcata Bottoms now, and I know there are many, many birds out there. After some research on eBird, I also now know that this place has owls. I have a feeling I will be returning to Arcata Bottoms soon!