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!