Sunday, April 24, 2016

Not Upsetting Everybody

This post is about California Quail!

I saw my first California Quail when we visited Mount Shasta in March. A male quail ran/scuttled across the road ahead of my car while we were driving through town, and I was very excited (quail!) and pulled over to look at it. Unfortunately, I stopped in front of a house, and dogs started barking, and a lady in a robe came out to see if everything was OK and also to tell me: "you're upsetting everybody." I really don't like to upset people (let alone everybody!) so of course I apologized and we went on our way. (I'm not trying to be snarky; I really should've been more aware of my surroundings.)

But then this past Thursday afternoon, I got my second chance to see quail! Paul and I were driving on the very end of the peninsula on the north side of Humboldt Bay, coming back from the dunes there, and we saw a group of small pudgy birds feeding in the grass near the side of the road. Ahh, quail!

And with no other people around or other cars on the road, I could sit and admire these awesome birds to my heart's content! The males were super fancy, with stripes, masks, and bobbing head-ornaments:

And the females were beautiful as well:

I love the wash of pale feathers on the male's forehead:

And the white line from his beak to his eye that seems to give him a goofy grin:

And I'm entranced by the intricate pattern of feathers around the back of both the male's and female's necks:

What incredibly fancy birds! Here's a video of these two foraging, with the male's feathery ornament bobbing all over the place:

I'm so glad I got to see California Quail -- the state bird -- to help round out my California experience.

And while I'm already sharing fancy birds at the dunes, here's a lovely White-crowned Sparrow who was hanging out in a nearby Yellow Bush Lupine:

Yay, birds! 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

More Marsh Sights

Last Saturday, Paul and I found ourselves awake unusually early, and we went for a walk at the Arcata Marsh before breakfast. I was expecting to find an extraordinary amount of dawn-time activity, but the marsh was just as active as I usually see it (which is to say, very active). Even so, it was cool to see some creatures in their morning routine. A couple of male Buffleheads were rolling onto their backs in the water and preening their pristine white bellies. I've never seen ducks do this before, and this just won Buffleheads several more cuteness points in my mind (they were already pretty cute to begin with):

Saturday's early morning light wasn't great for picture-taking, but I was back at the marsh on Tuesday afternoon when there were just as many creatures to see (with better light to see them by). Song Sparrows were singing and setting up territories along almost every stretch of the path:

And of course Marsh Wrens were all over. Little wren, does your tail get any higher?

Hundreds of shorebirds were flocking in the mudflats, and one Marbled Godwit (with a strangely crooked beak) was foraging right next to the path:

A group of five Great Egrets looked particularly fancy surrounded by mud:

This Canada Goose seems to have found a great nesting place on top of an old (redwood?) trunk with great marsh views:

A White-tailed Kite was hovering over the meadow, watching for furry morsels below:

I'm super impressed by the hovering skills of these raptors:

And this kite sure picked a lovely place to hunt:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Assorted Sights (and Sounds) at the Arcata Marsh

The Arcata Marsh almost always has something new to show me, and I've gotten behind on sharing things from my visits to this awesome place. So here are some sights from the second half of March!

Cinnamon Teal are a totally new bird to me, and the marsh has given me some wonderfully sunlit views of these handsome males:

This Cinnamon Teal was curled up and resting in the shade, but his rusty color and fancy feathers were still very impressive:

I've seen Red-breasted Mergansers many times from afar (especially on the East Coast), but I was very happy to admire this male as he fished in one of the ponds close to the path:

I love his wispy hairdo, serrated bill (all the better for catching fish!), and those black-and-white-striped feathers on his sides:

Tiny droplets of water on his face caught the sunlight at certain angles, making him look especially glamorous:

I tried hard to find the frogs that were making constant raspy calls from either side of the path in the middle of the afternoon, but the little creatures were well hidden in thick blackberry hedges. These sounds are so amazing -- they sound to me like despondent "whyyyyyy"s -- and after some internet searching I'm fairly certain they're the land calls of Pacific Tree Frogs. I was happy to be in the middle of this weird conversation:

A Red-tailed Hawk overhead is always a nice sight:

And I'm still enjoying the novelty (for me) of seeing Common Ravens everywhere:

And look, it's my first local lizard! This Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea) was sunning itself next to the path and allowed me to take its picture:

After a minute or so, though, the lizard snuck ever so quietly -- in small jerking movements -- out of the spotlight:

There are so many wonderful animals at the marsh!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Visiting Mount Shasta

I've been living in Northwestern California for about nine months now, and I feel like I've explored the coastal areas pretty well (beach, marsh, redwood forest, although of course there's always more to explore with these awesome places). And now, finally, I can add mountains to the list.

In mid-March, Paul and I drove a few hours east and north, through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and up to Mount Shasta, a 14,000 ft peak at the southern end of the Cascades. We narrowly skirted a big rain/snow storm (actually rescheduled our travel plans to avoid it) and spent three perfectly sun-filled days driving past breathtaking scenery and exploring a totally new environment for both of us.

One of the main things we wanted to do, of course, was get up onto the mountain. We were able to drive partway up Mount Shasta (up to about 7,000 ft) on a highway that's kept plowed through the winter. There was more mountain still to go, but this was plenty high enough for me. And it was definitely winter at this elevation. Look, a mountain!!

We walked for a bit along paths made by skiers and snowmobiles, heading a little further up the mountain, and surrounded by stately trees and blue skies and so much snow:

Given that we could see the very tops of signposts peeking out of the snow near our feet, we estimated we were walking on at least four feet of packed snow. Wow. Every once in a while we'd take a wrong step and sink down a foot or two.... But mostly the footing was stable. Aside from a few other people, some very happy dogs, and a passing snowmobile or two, the place was just immensely clean and quiet. I have missed snow very much, and mountains are incredible places. The view from this elevation was, unsurprisingly, amazing:

There were so many delightful things to see on the mountain. Despite the snow (or maybe because of all the moisture melting snow brings?) many of the trees were covered with this shockingly green lichen (also note at least one bright-green tree in the above picture):

Mountain Chickadees were flitting from tree to tree, mostly high above our heads, but at one point a couple of chickadees came down to forage in a shorter tree nearby, and I got to admire these wonderful little birds up close:

This chickadee seems to have been sipping from a little stream of sap that was dripping from this tree's trunk:

These little birds were constantly moving from branch to branch, picking up morsels of something or other from between needles:

I was so happy to get to hang out with these fancy chickadees:

And of course, I think any chickadees are adorable, even when they have scowling eyebrows:

I could have stayed up on the mountain much longer, but we hadn't anticipated how strong the sun would be up there (now I know!), and besides, there were plenty of other places to explore. So we headed down the mountain again.

In the woods and scrub around the mountain's base, we saw lizards (too stealthy and fast for me to get decent pictures of them) and birds and lots of other creatures. A little Douglas Squirrel sat huddled in a tree near the path:

Hundreds of little moths (I haven't been able to identify the species, but they were about 1/2 inch or smaller) flashed bright pink wings as they puddled on the paths and made little flurries in the air:

I got to admire the strangely red (presumably living) and gray (dead) portions of branches on abundant Manzanita bushes, which were also in full bloom:

A large Canada Goose sat near the edge of a cliff overlooking a gorge (with that white forehead, I believe this is a subspecies of Canada Goose I've not encountered before):

I also saw my first California Quail while in the town of Mount Shasta -- one male even ran across the road with his little head-doodad bobbing! No pictures, however, because it was a residential area. What must it be like to live in a place where quail wander into your yard?

On the drive back west, we stopped at Shasta Lake to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns, which were great. (Mountains and caves in one trip? Goodness!) I wasn't able to manage pictures inside the cave, but the outside scenery was no less amazing. Here's a view of the (man-made) lake:

And some particularly craggy cliffs nearby (a Peregrine Falcon pair had a nest near here):

One of my favorite parts of this stop, though, was the family of Acorn Woodpeckers that made a huge presence here. Is this bird actually real? What a weird woodpecker!

These woodpeckers were calling raucously to one another and flying up to snatch insects out of the air and stash them in crevices in the trees:

I knew Acorn Woodpeckers were famous for making stores of acorns in trees, but I had no idea they did the same for insects as well ( confirms this is so). A couple of Steller's Jays were joining in on the insect-snatching action as well, sometimes getting into tussles with the Acorn Woodpeckers when one of the birds got too close to the other:

I love every part of the Acorn Woodpeckers' weird outfit, but I especially enjoy the stripey-splotchy black pattern on its breast:

So yes, a trip to Mount Shasta and surrounding areas was definitely a good idea! Here's to sun and mountains and snow and woods and amazing new animals. And now I'm back in Humboldt County, making the most of my last few months in Northwestern California. I've fallen behind on local sights to share, so expect more posts soon!