Friday, May 27, 2016

A Busy Raven and More at the Marsh

As promised, here are the rest of my sights from Tuesday afternoon's visit to the Arcata Marsh. The Pacific Tree Frogs were my favorite part of the trip, but -- as usual -- there were lots of other cool creatures out and about as well!

A Common Raven was actively working close to the ground in one part of the marsh, and calling back and forth with its partner in a nearby tree:

I remain very impressed by these imposing birds:

I have to assume that this raven and its partner were in the process of building a nest, since I can't think of any other reason why this bird would have been carrying around what looks like mud in its beak (which it would swallow and bring back up again periodically):

This raven was also being either very industrious or very destructive; I watched it rip apart branches and lichen on a small tree -- keeping up a stream of calls the whole time -- but it didn't seem to actually keep any of this material. Here's a video of this raven at work (?):

And here's a second video of this raven calling after it moved to another tree; I'm always happy for the chance to admire Common Ravens, and I hope I wasn't bothering this bird too much by hanging around:

Small lovely butterflies (some crescent species, I think) were fluttering around near the bay:

Yarrow blossoms were popular feeding stations:

I've noticed small holes in the mud before, but this was the first time I saw the little crabs (so many crabs!) that went with them:

A few Bonaparte's Gulls were visiting the marsh on their way north; they looked like they were very much in need of a molt:

A Song Sparrow was digging through cattail fluff and making an adorable mess:

I thought this little bird was after the fluff for nesting material, but it didn't end up carrying much of the stuff away. Perhaps it was finding bugs (or seeds) instead? Either way, playing in cattail fluff looks like fun. Here's a video of this resourceful sparrow:

As of today, we have exactly one month left before the move. One more month in which to experience as much of northern California's amazing nature as I can! Let's do it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pacific Tree Frogs

I've been so hoping to see a Pacific Tree Frog for a while now. I've heard these secretive little frogs calling several times at the Arcata Marsh, and OK, I did actually find a tree frog hopping around inside a garden center soon after we moved here last summer, but somehow that doesn't feel like it counts. I love amphibians, and I've had a distinct lack of amphibian encounters since moving to California.

So imagine how happy I was when I glanced down next to the path at the Arcata Marsh yesterday afternoon and saw a bright green blob resting on a leaf among horsetail shoots and Queen Anne's Lace:

A Pacific Tree Frog! Do you see it? (It's just to the right of center in the above picture.) The little frog was wonderfully handsome up close:

Yay, tree frog! And then once I saw this one frog, I spotted another a few feet away:

And then another:

I ended up finding five (!) frogs along this small stretch of path. I have no idea why so many of these creatures were out in the open. Is this normal afternoon behavior for these frogs? Or were they perhaps avoiding some danger on the ground? (I did see the tip of a retreating snake's tail at one point.)

Some of the frogs chose blackberry leaves for their resting platforms (again, find the frog in this next picture):

I loved seeing the subtle variations in color and pattern among these little jewel-like amphibians, and a blackberry leaf makes for quite a dramatic stage:

One of the frogs had a beautiful brown-dappled pattern on its back. Pacific Tree Frogs apparently come in a few different colors, and individual frogs can even change colors over time. This individual's costume might be my favorite:

I have more sights to share from yesterday's visit to the marsh, but I was too excited about the tree frogs to let them wait. Hooray for beautiful amphibians!

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!