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!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Catching Up With 2015: Yard Birds

As 2015 winds to a close, I finally find myself with time to share some sightings I've had in my pocket for a month or two!

Our little suburban-yard-on-a-peninsula has been doing an amazing job of attracting birds, and I love seeing the feathered creatures that show up to pick over the dirt/weeds or grab sunflower seeds from our feeders. Since about November (when I took most of these pictures), the cast of characters has stabilized, and I've gotten to know some of these northwestern birds pretty well.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are so dainty -- especially compared to the White-breasted Nuthatches I'm much more familiar with. We don't have any White-breasted Nuthatches in our yard, but we do get frequent visits from their smaller, fairy-like cousins:

This fellow posed for me before diving down to grab a sunflower seed; nuthatches are so pointy:

And they get extra adorable when all puffed up:

Seed obtained, it's off to a nearby pine tree for processing:

Black-capped Chickadees are often around:

But Chestnut-backed Chickadees are especially frequent visitors. I love these little birds in their fancy brown vests:

Down on the ground (but sometimes bold enough to come up to the feeders), we get lots of sparrows. Our Dark-eyed Juncos are of the Oregon sub-species, with their brown bodies and coal-dipped heads:

The Fox Sparrows here are also different from the eastern version of this species; they're darker ("Sooty," as the subspecies name says):

I think Fox Sparrows have the handsomest triangle-patterned breasts:

These are almost certainly my favorite sparrows around here; they're big and bulky and beautiful, and they're super fun to watch as they dig up the ground:

The totally new sparrow for me is the Golden-crowned Sparrow, another bulky-looking bird that's often running over the ground in our yard:

Golden-crowned indeed, although these winter adults and juveniles are pretty plain compared to the adults in their summer breeding costumes (which I've not yet seen in person):

Even in the winter, I think these sparrows are quite handsome:

As for finches, House Finches stop by every few days:

But our most constant finch visitors since about mid-November are the Pine Siskins:

What beautiful yellow highlights you have in your wings, fancy bird:

These little birds are extremely bold -- we can easily stand inches away from them as they eat from our window feeders -- and they're also incredibly bossy. (The Pine Siskins who showed up at our feeders last winter in Ohio were the same way.) If one of our siskins wants to eat from the feeder, it will invariably scare off other birds (including other siskins) who want to try to grab a seed. Some siskins are almost always around -- we often have one bird camped out at each of our three feeders -- but a few times so far we've gotten some big flocks of siskins coming through our yard all at once. Paul took this video of one of our Pine Siskin fiestas in early December; I'm sure traveling in a big flock like this has its advantages, but it sure doesn't let anybody get food easily from our small feeders:

It's been such a treat to get to know our November and December yard birds. Who knows what birds will show up in our yard in the new year!

(And now... more catching-up posts. Stay tuned!)