Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Day Two

February 22, 2014


  • Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs
My grandmother passed away.  I made this trip up to Oregon to attend her funeral.  This was the day of her service.  I spent the morning at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge just South of Salem.  As you can probably imagine, I was in a more contemplative mood that normal.

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
My grandmother was ninety-six years old.  My grandfather passed away about four years ago and she has been miserable without him.  Her only wish since his passing has been to join him on the Great Golf Course in the Sky.  That's where I'm sure he must be, and although I've never known my grandmother to so much as grip a golf club, I suspect if that's where he is then surely that's where she must be as well.

Canada Goose -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
My grandparents met in April of 1941.  Grandpa was renting a room from a couple in Seattle.  When the younger sister of the wife he was renting the room from moved in, they started hanging out together and must have fallen in love almost immediately.  She was engaged to someone else, but she quickly broke it off and were married in August of 1941.  Can you imagine?

Red-tailed Hawk -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
My great-grandmother did not approve of my grandmother's decision and said she wanted nothing to do with the union.  Grandpa was a man of the world.  He smoked.  He danced.  He must have listened to that wild big band music of the era.  So I'm told, anyway, I never witnessed any such thing first-hand.  Great-Grandma did not approve of such things.  Of course, in December of 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  My grandfather joined the Army and was stationed in Alaska.  My father was born in July of 1942.  Grandma had to flag down a cab to take her to the hospital.

Bald Eagle -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Raising a child on her own in Seattle proved to be too much for Grandma.  She sucked it up and went back to my great-grandmother, who welcomed her and the baby with open arms.  My impression of Grandma and Great-Grandma was that they were very close.  Tolerance and forgiveness are two of life's most important gifts.  Apply liberally whenever and wherever needed.

Red-tailed Hawk -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
As you can see, I didn't get any great pictures from this morning spent at the refuge.  It was time well spent, though, as I reflected on the passing of one of the most important people in my life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge & Mount Shasta

Day One

February 21, 2014


  • R.E.M. -- Chronic Town / Murmur
  • The National -- Trouble Will Find Me
  • Steve Martin & Edie Brickell -- Love Has Come or You
I made another trip up to Oregon last weekend.  It's the third trip in four months.  Unfortunately, like the first journey in November I was going up to attend a funeral.  I'll get into that in a later post, but for now I'll just that it was a bittersweet event.

Snow & Ross' Geese -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
American Goldfinch
I drove up Interstate Five and stopped for a visit at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Pongo loves that place.  I thought about bringing him along for the trip, but I was afraid he'd have to spend too much at parents' house in a crate and we weren't sure how well he'd do away from the other dogs for that long.

Songbirds were apparently laying siege to to the Visitor's Center.  They made a spectacular racket, but they were difficult for me to spot.  I found some goldfinches around the feeders that are set up outside.  Some sort of defense perimeter, I guess.  I saw a few other birds, but not nearly enough to account for all of the noise.  It was a covert operation these birds seemed to be operating.  I mean, aside from all the chirping.

Coyote, Snow & Ross' Geese -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
There was a strange scene where a coyote was hanging out with a flock of about a thousand snow and ross' geese.  The geese didn't seem to mind the presence of the predator.  Judging by the poor shape of the coyote's coat, I suspect the coyote wasn't in the best of shape.  It looked like he'd either been burned or had a nasty case of mange.  Poor guy.  Being a wild animal is tough.

Gadwall -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
There was still a couple of big flocks of geese, but a lot of the ducks had already left for their summer homes. There were thousands of pintails at the reserve in November, but I only saw a few on this trip.  There were still a lot of northern shovelers and a bunch of gadwalls, though, as well as some other stragglers.  I even saw a few cinnamon teals.  Pretty birds.

Cinnamon Teal -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I made a couple other stops on the way up to Salem, but nothing too exciting.  I won sixty bucks playing roulette at Seven Feathers Casino.  I also stopped to take a few pictures of Mount Shasta.  I arrived at my parents' house around 9:00.  A new brew pub opened up down the street.  That's nice.

Mount Shasta, CA

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Back to San Luis

February 14, 2014

I've made four visits to San Luis Wildlife Refuge since September.  I've followed how the place changes over the winter.  From the looks of it, winter is winding down, at least based on the populations of some of the birds I saw.  Well, what I didn't see, really.

Double-crested Cormorant -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

The pintails are gone.  So are the snow geese.  Pintails are early migrators.  They're usually in the first wave of birds to arrive in California in the fall and the first to leave.  I don't know what the geese's deal is.  They may have just moved farther up the valley.  San Luis flooded their fields later in the year than the reserves North of Sacramento.  I assume that's how it works in general, the birds show up here later because it's farther South and they empty out sooner.

Sheep -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
The herd of sheep surprised me.  They were contained inside a temporary fence on the auto tour route.  I'm not sure if they're there to keep the grass down or what.  Goats are used for grass maintenance in the bay area.  There's a guy who drives his herd around and sets them up wherever people need the grass eaten down.  You never know where you'll bump into those goats.

Red-tailed Hawk -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I saw a lot of hawks and other birds of prey on this tour.  No eagles, though.  No owls, either.  Bummer.  The hawks and harriers and kites and kestrels were cool, though.  I suppose the hawks are easy to see in part because the trees are so bare.

There was a particularly interesting interaction between a red-tailed hawk and a northern harrier.  I initially encountered the hawk seen in these pictures as he was sitting in a tree.  He (or she) let me take a lot of pictures from what turned out to be a pretty close location.  When the hawk flew off I thought it was because he'd tired of my presence, but after looking at the pictures I was surprised to see a build up of mosquitoes around the hawk.  I suspect the bird moved off to the nearby pond shore because of the insects.

Red-tailed Hawk -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA (did I just miss a great shot or what?)
Enter the northern harrier.

Northern Harrier -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA 
For whatever reason, the harrier didn't like where the hawk had decided to land.  So, the harrier buzzed the hawk a couple of times.  The hawk didn't seem to be too bothered. The harrier landed on a bush a couple of hundred yards away and it looked like that was the end of the tiff.  The hawk went about its business getting a drink of water and the harrier sulked over in the corner.

Northern Harrier -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA 
The hawk hadn't forgotten and he (or she) hadn't forgiven.  After taking a long, reflective drink of water, the hawk lit out after the harrier and the two disappeared in in the distance.  For all I know they're still duking it out.

Red-tailed Hawk -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

White-tailed Kite -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

Monday, February 10, 2014

Muir Woods National Monument & Point Reyes National Seashore

February 9, 2014

We're in the midst of a major drought here in California.  You wouldn't know it from these pictures, though.  We've had a bit of rain here over the last week.  In Alameda we got an inch or so over the weekend.  I heard on the radio while I was driving around Marin on Sunday that there were places there that got up to seven inches over the same time frame.  I believe it.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I started Sunday's activities at Muir Woods National Monument.  The rain was coming down pretty hard.  Redwood Creek was running high and swift.  A ranger told me that the creek had risen four feet overnight.  While I was there the creek breached its bank near the visitor center turning the wooden pathway into a bridge of sorts.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I love Muir Woods in the rain.  The place is small and usually very crowded on the weekends.  The rain drives a lot of people away, which is nice because this is a place that's best experienced when the only hustle and bustle is coming from the water in the creek and the wind in the trees.  There are no screaming kids in the rain, no loud tourists yelling between the trees.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I left my new camera in the car while walking through Muir Woods.  I took my old camera, and it got so wet it stopped working toward the end in spite of my best efforts to keep it dry.  It seems to work OK now, no permanent damage apparently.

Bolinas Lagoon, CA
After a good drenching at Muir Woods, I drove up Highway One to Point Reyes.  The road was in rough shape.  There were a lot of large rocks in the road that had been washed down from the roadside cliffs and a few mud flows blocked one lane of traffic.  The road was flooded here and there, including a section near Bolinas Lagoon where it was almost a foot deep in the shallowest section.  That was fun.

Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
I hiked up Drake's Beach where I encountered a solitary elephant seal hauled out on the beach.  I'm always concerned about bothering the seals I encounter on the beach, and I have to wrestle with wanting to get closer to the animals than is allowed.  I have to remind myself that these animals need their space just like I do.  It's tough, though.

Elephant Seal -- Drake's Beach, Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
As usual, there were plenty of deer and cattle to be seen.  It wouldn't be a trip to Point Reyes without seeing deer and cows.  Red-tailed hawks, too, those birds seem to thrive on the Point.

Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lake Merritt

Here Comes the Rain Again

February 2, 2014

Yoshika was down in Los Angeles this weekend, so I had to stick close to home to take care of the dogs.  It was raining on Sunday, which was a good thing.  It's only the second rain of the winter.  It's looking like it's going to be a very dry year.

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA
I went to Lake Merritt late in the day to take a few pictures.  Nothing too exciting, frankly.  The sky was overcast, but the sun was shining through a bright patch of open sky above the lake.  Well, it was until it fell behind a bunch of gray clouds.  There were a lot of birds on the water, and I finally caught a glimpse of the rare tufted duck on the lake.

Tufted Duck -- Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA
The tufted duck has been wintering at the lake the last few years.  That's what I've read online, anyway.  He blends in well with the dozens of scaups that inhabit the lake.  He blends in so well, in fact, that I didn't realize I'd seen him until I got home and looked at the pictures.  I zeroed in on him in a few pictures because he did seem to stand out a little from the rest of the ducks, but not enough for me to realize I was looking at a different type of bird altogether.

Black-crowned Night Heron -- Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA
The black-crowned night herons were hanging out. as usual.  These birds like to nest in the trees in Chinatown and leave awful messes on the cars that park underneath the trees.  I know this from experience.  It's amazing how close they'll let people approach them in the park, though.  All of the birds seem to be like that.  I've stood within two feet of a great egret near the nature center on a previous visit.  I guess they're used to people feeding them.

A cooper's hawk was checking out what was on the menu near the visitor center.  Again, I was able to get pretty close to the bird.  He eventually flew off.  I guess he wasn't too interested in having duck for dinner.

I think it was a cooper's hawk anyway.  I'm not completely convinced.  A couple walked up while i was taking pictures and took a few stabs at identifying it.  I could only tell them why it wasn't a harrier or a peregrine falcon or a kestrel, I couldn't tell them with any conviction what it actually was.

Black-crowned Night Heron -- Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA
Anyway, it was nice to have a little rain.  It wasn't nearly enough to put much of a dent in the current drought, and I'm not grumbling about the warm, sunny days we've been experiencing, but it was a nice reminder that we're still deep in winter.  Here's hoping we get a few big storms passing through in the upcoming weeks.  The state desperately needs it.

Ruddy Duck -- Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA