Thursday, February 18, 2016

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

February 15, 2016

I had three days off last weekend.  A lot of people did, apparently.  I went out to Point Reyes on Sunday and it was a nightmare.  There were people everywhere.  The roads were closed in some places.  I had gone out to see the elephant seals but couldn't get to the lookout point.  I just drove home without doing anything.

Black-necked Stilt -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I was determined to have a better experience on Monday.  Pongo and I went to Merced National Wildlife Refuge.  A place like that would never get very crowded, I figured.

Northern Shoveler & Cinnamon Teal -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
There were more people there than on a normal weekend day, but I was basically right.  We saw maybe twenty cars over the course of the auto tour.  That's probably a little more than average, but it never felt crowded.  Plus, these people were all fellow nature nerds, meaning waves and smiles and the occasional brief conversation about birds and wildlife during brief encounters.  It's a very different crowd from my other nerd clan, the record store nerds.  There, we're all convinced of our superiority to all the other nerds in terms of taste in music and collected catalog.  No smiles.  No conversation.  Just smug looks of mutual condescension.

Northern Shoveler -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Ruddy Duck -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Ross's Goose -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
There's not much of a narrative to this day.  It was a fairly typical trip to the refuge.  We saw a lot of squirrels and rabbits, which Pongo loves to see.  He thought about jumping out the window to give chase a couple of times but was able to stifle those urges on this trip.  We saw a couple of great horned owls.  More often than not we see owls at this refuge.  We saw sandhill cranes, but none were close to the road.

Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Ross's Goose -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Great Horned Owl -- Merced National Wildlife Refuge, CA

Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl Sunday

What do you do on Super Bowl Sunday?  Do you watch the game?  Do you use it as an opportunity for an adventure knowing most people will be at game watching the game?

Brown Pelican -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
I've done both.  Sometimes Jim hosts Super Bowl parties and I go over to his house to watch the game.  I'm more likely to do that if a local team is involved.  We don't have cable at home but we have an HD antennae, so I can watch the World Series, the NBA Finals, major golf tournaments and a number of NFL games.  That's about all there is for sports on regular television anymore.  I'm not all that into watching sports anyway.  I like listening to sports on the radio.

Willet & Marbled Godwit -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
One of the great things about summer road trips is finding baseball broadcasts while driving.  I'm a Giants fan, so I'll listen to their games whenever possible.  Padres.  Dodgers.  Angels.  Diamondbacks.  Rockies.  Mariners.  I've listened to all of their broadcasts.  Hanging out at the campsite drinking a beer with the game on while cooking up a little dinner, tough to beat that scenario.

AT&T Ballpark, San Francisco, CA
OK, I'm way off topic.

Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday.  The San Francisco Forty-Niners hosted the Super Bowl down in Santa Clara.  I don't know why they aren't called the Santa Clara Forty-Niners now, their stadium is roughly forty miles from San Francisco.  Whatever.  I headed over to the City to watch the game at a party at my friend's house over there.  I left early thinking the traffic might be bad.  It wasn't.  No problem, that gave me a chance to take some pictures.

Formerly Simpson Bible College, San Francisco, CA
Simpson Back in the Day
I got together with my wife at Simpson Bible College in San Francisco in the mid-eighties.  That's where I met my friend Jim, also.  It was a small college with just over two hundred students.  I stopped by for a few pictures.  I'm not at all into religion anymore (nor is my wife or Jim), but this place is still kind of special.  The entire school and the dorms were in this one building.  It would not be an exaggeration to say this was a tight little community.  The current occupants of the building (the college moved to Redding in the late eighties) have paved over every square inch of the place, but it used to be an attractive campus.  Oh well.  It was still fun to see the old building.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
I headed out to Ocean Beach before making my way to the Super Bowl party.  We've had wonderful winter weather lately, but that was nowhere in sight on Sunday.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky.  I hate blue skies when taking pictures.  Nothing to be done about it, though.  The Great Highway runs along Ocean Beach and some of it has crumbled into the sea in the last couple of decades.  The dunes I took this picture from extended out much farther toward the ocean thirty years ago,

Man, I'm old.

Mark's Back Yard, San Francisco, CA
Anyway, the Super Bowl party was fun.  I didn't watch much of the game.  It was a fun day, all in all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Colusa & Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges

January 30, 2016

It's winter in California.  In the mountains that means snow.  Most people don't think of snow and winter sport when they think of California, but the Sierras are the tallest mountain range in the lower forty-eight with world class ski resorts in some area.  The Winter Olympics were hosted here in 1968.  We don't get much snow in the Central Valley.  There, winter is all about the birds.  Well, at least it is for me.

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Mallard -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
A lot of birds winter in California.  Growing up in Oregon, I was used to seeing the ducks and geese flying overhead in spring and fall.  I never really wondered where they were headed, but now I know.  Most were heading to California's Central Valley.  Some birds actually winter in Oregon, but I wasn't aware of that either.  It's only been within the last few years that I've developed an decent understanding of bids' migratory habits.

Green-winged Teal -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
My first stop on Saturday was at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.  It was my first time there.  It's a nice refuge to visit, next time I'll bring Pongo along.  He went with my wife and our other dog Charlie to the dog park instead of joining me on this trip.  I think he'll like it.  It has a three mile auto tour and a nice walking trail alongside one of the big ponds.

Snow Goose -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Greater White-fronted Goose -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Northern Shoveler -- Colusa National Wildife Refuge, CA
I guess I should have mentioned earlier, if you're not interested in pictures of birds that are commonly seen in these Central Valley refuges you won't find much of interest in this post.

Northern Pintail -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Northern Pintail
This entry should give you a pretty good idea of why I don't consider myself to be a birder.  There are no rarities here.  Most of these birds can be found by the hundreds--if not thousands--at any of the valley's refuges.  I suspect most birders wouldn't even bother with pictures of northern shovelers or pintails.  It only takes the effort of driving to a refuge to guarantee seeing one of these birds.  I don't really get off on seeing rarities.  I'm not even after bird shots, necessarily.  A coyote or otter sighting is much more exciting to me than any bird I've ever seen.  I'm not judging one way or another, I just see a difference between what I'm up to and what I see on a lot of bird blogs.  I follow a lot of bird blogs, it's a great way to learn about birds.

Pacific Pond Turtle -- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Great Horned Owl -- Colusa National Wildife Refuge, CA
At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a couple of things I've never seen before.  First, I saw a redhead.  That's a lifer bird, for me.

Redhead -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Second, I saw a patrol car at the entrance of the refuge.  It was there when I arrived and still there when I left.  I'm sure it was present in response to the knuckleheads who have occupied the Malheur refuge.  I don't care for politics, but the wildlife refuges and National Park System are undoubtedly the one thing this country has gotten right.  I have no respect for what these gun-wielding idiots have done up there in Oregon and it angers me to see law enforcement officers posted guard in front of a wildlife sanctuary (and hunting ground).  These few salvaged spots belong to all of us: person, beast and fowl.  Ninety-five percent of the Central Valley has been taken up by farming, ranching and urban development, it's imperative that we save that remaining five percent for posterity.

OK, I'm done.  Hopefully it'll be another three years or more before I get up on a soapbox again.

Cinnamon Teal -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA