Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Foggy Day in London Town

Actually, at Point Reyes Station and Point Reyes National Seashore, but that's one of my favorite songs--as sung by the great Judy Garland.

Matty and I went to Point Reyes today -- what an amazing place. Sadly, we were socked in by some very thick fog, but I managed to get some decent pics... and two lifers! (possibly three, but I'll need your verdict on that--see later in the post.)

First, the lifers! I have been hoping to see what I call the Elvis of the bird world for some time, and I was not disappointed; check out the stylin' hairdo on this California Quail:Here he is with his little family (most of them--he has another young one farther ahead of him on the path but he was too blurry to make out, so I cropped him out):I like how he's the only one who's hitting the hair product; Mommy and Baby have far to go to get a bouffant like Daddy's. I had to pull a Mary when I saw Daddy posing on the post; I hit the brakes, whipped the car around, drove back at a creeping pace, and snapped his pic. He then fluttered to the ground and called his family together, and they hot-footed it into the thicket of plants there at the roadside, peeping all the while.

Here's lifer #2, which incidentally also merited a hit-the-brakes-and-turn-around maneuver, a Western Grebe!
This was in Tomales Bay, not the ocean. After (ahem) kinda-sorta stopping traffic while executing a U-turn to get us back on our way after getting the pic, Matty informed me that there would be no more Lifer Quick-stops. Good thing we were on the way home at that point!

I also saw this White-crowned Sparrow way up at the top of the cliffs near the lighthouse:And hey--isn't that an egg to his/her left? And a baby to his/her right?! Let me get more of the picture:Wow! I got a lot more there than I thought! Cool! But do you think that the egg will hatch? I mean, that baby looks pretty far along for him to be from the same clutch as the egg, unless the egg is part of a new clutch. We can hope, right? Still very cool!

Oh, and to clean up some old business regarding lifers: I'd been seeing what I had presumed were female Western Scrub Jays all over the place around here until I found out that the females of that species look much like the males. The birds I was seeing were robin-sized and -shaped, with a buffy-rufous patch on their heads and their undertail coverts. I finally figured out that I was seeing California Thrashers when I noticed that sharp metallic "CHEEK!" I keep hearing everywhere was coming from these same brown and buffy birds. So that was Lifer #210, and the California Quail and Western Grebe take the official ABA count up to 212! Woo hoo! I will try to get a pic of the Cali Thrasher because they're actually kinda pretty, if a little plain. The one I last saw had his head feathers fluffed up almost like a crest; he must've been pissed off at something (but not me; I kept a respectful distance from him!). I have been focusing so much on the markings and the body that I have completely missed the long decurved bill, but I'll check that out next time (I know just where to go on campus to see lots of them) when I get a photo.

So--we drove along Sir Francis Drake Road, along the peninsula that juts out (and has the lighthouse at its tip), and went all the way to the tip. I wish it hadn't been foggy or it would've looked like this:instead of like this:Can you see the waves hitting the beach down there? Maybe a little? Now imagine it's really windy and the fog is thick like Texas drizzle AND you're only wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Now it's really like you were there with us!

In addition to the above postcard, I also got this cool guide to California coastal birds, which is kinda cartoon-y but very handy and helpful. Here's their Western Grebe:and here's another picture of my Western Grebe:See the similarities? : )

Here are a few photos of what it looks like going out to the tip of the coast and up to the lighthouse, complete with young Tule Elks (I think--or else they're very woolly deer) and dairy cows wandering around all over the place:

Do you see the big brown furry Sea Lions in that last pic? Life mammal! Also saw a couple of gray Harbor Seals too, another life mammal!

Now--here's where I'm wondering if I'm seeing plain old Double-crested Cormorants or Brandt's Cormorants:
Brandt's Cormorants would be lifers, but gees--can YOU tell whether they have that head bump or not? I can't. What do you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Toolin' around town

Today, I had some job interview-y type stuff to do, AND I had to stay away from the house all day because they were putting new sealcoat on our road, so I played vagabond all day and just whiled away the hours until my temp-service interview by looking around. First, I drove out to some vineyards and got some nice shots in the morning mist:

After driving around for a while, I decided to go to the public library and do some research. I found Ken Kaufman's big ol' bird guide and flipped around, looking at the different migratory patterns and times out here in the west. I've been spending a lot of time reading lately (as I've been in airports and stuff), and I'm learning that the bird population out here is much different than it is back east. For instance, if all these Western field guides are to be believed, did you know that these common Eastern birds are rare and/or non-existent out west?
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Blue Jay
Field Sparrow
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Eastern Wood Pewee
Tufted Titmouse
Black-capped Chickadee
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Indigo Bunting

I know I've been hearing what sounds like a Northern Cardinal's warning "chink!" but I think it must be something else, because there's been neither crest nor feather of a NoCard out here. But I will have plenty to look as the year progresses:
Western Scrub Jay (they're everywhere)
Acorn Woodpecker
Varied Thrush
Western Wood Pewee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Western Bluebird
California Thrasher
Oregon Junco
Lazuli Bunting
Bullock's Oriole

So there's that. I also checked into what sparrows I might see during the "winter" here (when it's like forty -- brrrr!) and found a nice list with some real surprises for an Eastern birder:
Lark Sparrow--how about that crazy face pattern?
Sage Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow--golden!

I also had to look up the meaning of Western terms like "chaparral" and "desert wash." Interesting. Sounds like I'll be doing a lot of hiking in the drier areas around here. There are lots of trails and stuff to explore.

After driving around the vineyards for a while, I went to Santa Rosa to look around. First stop, childhood hero Luther Burbank's house. If you don't know what Luther Burbank did, shame on you! He's the father of hybridization, grafting bits of one kind of tree onto another, etc. He loved Santa Rosa, thinking it was the best place for growing plants year-round. (gotta agree with him there, so far) Here are some pics from his home and gardens. The actual house:Very tiny, no? They had four acres but his wife had to sell some and now there's only 1.6 acres left. It's still pretty impressive, though--I would LOVE to live among so many winding garden paths and plants:

He did a lot of work with fruits and other food plants, including the strawberries and quince shown here.

He also had a lovely rose garden with several hybrids he created:

My mom would love this place; so many flowers! He had herb gardens, cutting gardens, food gardens--you name it, the guy messed with it, always with the aim of improving the sweetness of the berry or the beauty of the flower. There's something a little vain and presumptuous about "improving" the works of Nature, but the guy's heart was in the right place.

This seat was carved out of Burbank's favorite tree, a giant Cedar of Lebanon that he grew from a seed and near which he wished to buried. The tree had to be cut down in 1989 because it had root disease, but a local craftsman carved this beautiful two-seat throne out of a big piece of the tree; the seat is now in the front yard of the house: I sat in it and was completely comfortable, cool breezes blowing on me, relaxing in Nature.

Finally, I took the scenic route home and shot this pic of the mountain that I can see out my bedroom window:Man, I love this place.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happiness in Texas

Despite the heat (at least 100 every day), I had a great time in Texas. My kid sister Mary married her long-time boyfriend Jim in a lovely ceremony. I didn't take my camera because I was so busy helping Mary with everything from bustles to keys, but I got one decent pic on the cellphone right after we left the chapel and made preparations to go into the reception:
left to right: my niece Olivia (brother Ricardo's daughter), Jim (he wasn't ready for this shot), Mary, Ricardo, Mommy and Daddy

It was an exciting but exhausting weekend, as busy as it was fun. I saw a lot of my cousins I hadn't seen in forever, and we all exchanged "friend me on Facebook"'s for future contact, and I realized that keeping in touch with family and keeping the traditions going is now up to us, our generation, not our parents. We all live so far apart, but if we don't make an effort to get together unless there's a special occasion, how will our kids (well, not MY kids, but you know I mean) know each other? How will they realize they are part of a larger family? It was a lot to think about, and I feel I have a big responsibility ahead of me to start the ball rolling. I want to know my cousins, my nieces and nephews, and I want them to know me, but that can only happen if we all make an effort. Like I said--it's a lot to think about.

On the plane ride home, I took this photo somewhere over the desert (I guess):
(click for bigger) It's weird, isn't it? It looks like so many little rivulets. But I doubt we flew over anything but desert (New Mexico, Arizona, maybe Nevada a little). I thought it looked neat though.

It was so nice flying over California, seeing the miles and miles of fog rolling in onto the land from the ocean, the mountains, the lakes. It was also neat to feel so excited about coming home. I really like it out here, but I sure do miss my friends and family.

Niblet was very excited to see me. Here are some recent photos:
Just kidding! This is something I found at a cool little home and garden store in Guerneville! Here's the Nib:
My little guy, maxin' and chillaxin' in the Golden State.

Finally, I got some birding in on the last morning I was there; my mother and I went to Macallister Park and saw some birds, including this Black Vulture:

and a little Northern Cardinal family of a bald-headed daddy and his noisy wife feeding their two kids--here's the bald-headed daddy (click to embiggen) in take-off mode (lucky shot, though not too sharp):
and a LIFER! I'm 99.9% sure this is a Lesser Goldfinch!
Totally cool. We don't have Black Vultures out here, but we sure do have Turkey Vultures. I got a new birding book, The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and it says that TuVus' range is "expanding in East," which I think explains why there are so many more of them here than there were in PA. Not that there weren't lots in PA, but here one can see at least one TuVu in the sky at any given moment, anywhere, which is different than it was in State College or even Spring Mills.

Well--that's the latest, and if you care to offer any confirmation or disputation on the Lesser Goldfinch, please let me hear from you in the comments! Otherwise... it's 209!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gone to Texas, baby

Photo credit, even though I believe it's real and not an urban myth!

...for my sister's wedding. Be back next Wednesday!

(I tried to find a YouSeriesofTubes version of the Texas classic "Gone to Texas, Baby" by Terry Allen, but I couldn't. Sorry!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lifer 208 with photo!

Okay, I didn't say it was a good picture. But it's a picture! Of a Stellar's Jay! Note the crest!

This guy was perched in a tree above a very noisy crowd of people at a picnic spot in the middle of the Armstrong Woods near Guerneville. They even had a PARROT with them. I didn't get a photo of that. I was too disgusted... and confused! Why would a group of people (a) picnic in such a majestic woodland as this? and (b) bring a parrot to a picnic in the woods? He even had his own little perch, not even in a cage! (Now I wish I'd taken a picture.)

Anyway, that's lifer #208, and he was beautiful. The pic really doesn't do him a bit of justice.

I also saw these two Ravens (?) near the entrance of the woods. They were making the craziest sounds--like a snorting, pig-like sound.

As you can see, we went to the Armstrong Woods State Park today, and we were awed into absolute silence. Words just can't describe what I felt in there; Matty and I just had to stop and look at each other sometimes, and we were both choking up about every five minutes, moved to tears by the trees. I'll put the photos of the trees into a separate post, one with no words, because that's what they deserve. Please check the post below this one for those photos.

Did you know that there are redwoods in only three places in the entire world? The Coastal Redwood and the Giant Sequoia both grow in California. My family went to the Sequoia National Forest when I was in high school, so I saw those trees--and they really were huge. Coastal redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, and Giant Sequoias are the largest (shorter but fatter). Dawn Redwoods only grow in China.That's two of the three spots for redwoods right here, 45 minutes away from us. The only ones in the entire world--these trees that were saplings a thousand years before the common era.

And we saw them today.

Armstrong Woods, home of the redwoods