Monday, 20 March 2017

California Nature Highlights

 Caitlyn and I just got back from a great time in sunny California!  We flew into LA and spent the week traveling as far south as San Diego, east to Joshua Tree National Park and all the way up to San Francisco.  The driving was a bit tiring, but the wildlife and nature that we saw was well worth it! Below are some of my favourite shots of the scenery and wildlife we encountered.

We spent Saturday evening and most of the day on Sunday in Los Angeles and area, and one of our highlights was hiking in Griffith Park (near the Hollywood sign).  I didn't really care for the touristy stuff, but was happy to bird watch on the trails and scrub that is prevalent throughout this area.

One of my favourite species I saw here was the numerous Acorn Woodpeckers!  They were loud and conspicuous throughout the area.

Acorn Woodpecker
 Allen's Hummingbirds were by far the most common hummingbird in LA, followed by Anna's.
Allen's Hummingbird

Bewick's Wren
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

We also stopped by the La Brae Tar Pits in central LA.  It was really neat to learn all about the cool fossils that they found from ice age animals that sunk into the tar.  I also got to see some cool birds including these California Gulls.

Most of the day on Monday was spent in San Diego, which was experiencing some very foggy conditions.  The air was quite cool by the water, and the water was frigid.

Heerman's Gull
 We enjoyed watching the nesting Brandt's Cormorants on the sea cliffs near La Jolla.  Lots of people think they are ugly, but up close the eye and throat colour is striking!

Brandt's Cormorant

La Jolla coastline
 Lots of Sea Lions were also lazing about on the shore just feet away from tourists.  Some of them were branded/tagged for a research study.

In the afternoon on Monday we drove several hours to Joshua Tree National Park where we camped overnight.  This spot is a real gem that I would recommend checking out.  I could spend days exploring the desert in Joshua Tree - which comprises both part of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

This is our camping spot - car camping but still pretty neat!
One of my bird highlights was seeing my first ever Costa's Hummingbird.
Costa's Hummingbird

 Cait and I had fun exploring the desert and found all sorts of interesting wildlife.

 Gambel's Quail were mostly very secretive except for this one that was found singing in the morning sun.
Gambel's Quail

Black-throated Sparrow

We had fun hiking the Skull Rock trail, named for this creepy looking rock.  Can you see the face?

Joshua Trees

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Cholla Cacti 
 Caitlyn and I went on a long hike out to Lost Palms Oasis, which turned into a hot, sweaty march.  We underestimated the length of the trail, which always seems way longer when its 90 degrees out!  We got to the end of the trail and turned around but not before Caitlyn took a bit of a spill and scraped up her leg!

Collared Lizard??  -update: Zebra-tailed Lizard, thanks Mark

On Wednesday we were in Santa Barbara, which is definitely the most beautiful city of the trip (and really the only city I actually liked).  It has a small feel, is neat and tidy and has a perfect mountain backdrop and ocean front views.

Wednesday night was spent camping at Morro Bay State Park.  There was plenty to see in this small park that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  The mudflats were a boon for migratory shorebirds, and we saw hundreds of Marbled Godwits, Willets and Longbilled Curlew.

Long-billed Curlew!

Marbled Godwit
 We were really excited to see this Sea Otter cruise by in front of us as we stood on the shore.
Sea Otter
 Several dozen Brant were also present in the bay. Nice to see this species in such abundance.
Our plan was to head to Big Sur on Thursday and spend the day hiking and looking for birds (like California Condor).  However, we quickly found out that hwy 1 was closed north of Ragged Point and the Big Sur itself was also closed!  We decided on a whim to go to another national park I found on the map that was more inland called Pinnacles National Park.  I'm sure glad I did because this place was not only beautiful, but loaded with birds!

Acorns stored in this pine by an Acorn Woodpecker!
We hiked up the Condor Gulch trail and within a few minutes saw our first California Condor!!  This is still a very rare bird that was essentially extinct in the late 80s and all birds were brought into captivity to protect the remaining birds.  Lead shot from bullets was poisoning these birds, leading to catastrophic declines of this magnificent bird.  The global population of this species is now approaching 500.  Although the birds we saw were up really high, the enormous size (10ft wingspan) was readily apparent.
California Condors

California Condor
 As we were leaving the park I saw a large bird chasing something, it was a Golden Eagle!  We watched as it quickly killed this ground squirrel before carrying it away.  I was really happy to get this shot below!  It was one of two Golden Eagles that we saw on hwy 25 that day.

Golden Eagle and ground squirrel

On Friday we crossed the Golden Gate bridge and headed to the world famous Muir Woods National Monument. The trees here are enormous California Redwoods and Sequoias, some of which are 3,000 years old!!

We didn't see any Spotted Owls, but did see this Great Horned Owl that was calling in broad daylight to its mate.  I noticed this bird was very pale, a trait common to southwestern Great Horned Owls.

Great Horned Owl

This was the fifth "big" trip Cait and I have done together, and it turned out to be another memorable one! We were happy to hear that we missed the big blizzard and crappy weather that hit while we were away!

Monday, 27 February 2017

California Adventures

I'm going to be heading to California for March break with Cait for a week.  We are planning to travel from San Diego up to San Francisco, stopping along the way to see the sights.  We are going to camp at various spots including Joshua Tree National Park, Redwood State Park and at spots along the coast!  We will be flying from Buffalo to Los Angeles and then flying out of San Jose after our trip is over.

I will also be heading back to California in August to do the annual backpacking trip with Jensen, Kyle and Mike.  We are planning to stop at Yosemite and hike some trails and then do a longer backpacking trip in Ansel Adams Wilderness.  We will be flying into and out of Las Vegas.  This is my first time booking a trip in the Sierra Nevadas, and it is a bit of a pain.  Unlike many other wilderness areas, the ones in California get heavy usage, and so permits are awarded based on a quota system of first come-first serve.  With 30 million people within just a few hours drive, these fill up fast!  Yosemite is apparently booked almost immediately.

I did some research and picked us a spot on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas.  We will travel through part of the John Muir trail, Pacific Crest Trail and will camp for 5 nights in some of the most scenic parts of this mountain range.  The Sierra Nevadas have some towering mountains, including Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S at 14,505ft.  We will be a good ways to the north of this, but will still have plenty of mountains to choose from.  We are planning to climb Mount Ritter, the 16th highest in California at just over 13,000ft. I took a shot of a 3D rendering from Google Earth of the area we are planning to stay in Ansel Adams Wilderness.  I love using Google Earth for trip planning, it is really helpful to visualize the terrain!

Mount Ritter is in the background

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Eastern Ontario Boreals

Every now and then you get on a hot streak and can't seem to miss.  My friend and co-worker James Barber and I had one of those streaks from Monday-Tuesday while doing some field work in eastern Ontario in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (near Cornwall).  

Our luck began when we stumbled across a Great Gray Owl perched on a road sign!  It was completely indifferent to our presence, and I manged to get a few decent shots out the window of the car.  It eventually flew from its perch to a nearby fence post where it perched.  We watched it for a few minutes and then continued on our way, finding another just a few hundred metres down the road!  We decided to press our luck and actually made a few wrong turns in our state of 'owl fog' before coming back to the honey hole.  We discovered possibly a third Great Gray a bit further down the road.

Great Gray Owl

The third (or second) bird hunting as it was getting dark
The next day we got an early start, and checked the owl spot on our way up to our work site.  We were unable to locate any of the owls.  I think that the best time is between 4pm to dusk.  However, we did find a Northern Shrike (one of two we saw that day).  Shortly thereafter we discovered a flock of robins and starlings eating crab apples beside a quiet road and found three Bohemian Waxwings! 

Bohemian Waxwing

Our luck continued as James picked out an Evening Grosbeak among a flock of several hundred robins flying over!

As we were standing there looking for the grosbeak, a Northern Shrike flew right up to us and perched in a nearby tree!  It eventually flew off over head, making the nearby starling nervous.  

Northern Shrike - note the hooked beak

After work we decided to press our luck further by driving 20 minutes up to the Lafleche Landfill to look for Gyrfalcon.  Although unsuccessful, we did see over 100 Glaucous Gulls!  What a spectacle! Our hearts skipped a beat as we saw a large falcon perched way off in the distance, but upon closer examination it turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon.  It treated us to an entertaining few moments after it flew from its perch, taking a swipe at a nearby Rough-legged Hawk before gaining serious altitude thousands of feet in the air before plummeting down to the earth, splitting a flock of starlings in half and narrowly missing its target.  A great cap on a wonderful 24 hours of birding!  

Lafleche Landfill
We also came across some interesting winter tracks in the snow, anyone want to take a guess what made them (we saw the animal that made it).

What made these imprints in the snow?