Summer in Full Swing: Far Northern California Style

Summer usually means a lighter wardrobe for most people. The winter coats and mittens are once again stored away and shorts and flip flops take their turn in the prime closet space. For some reason, I could never get used to that switch. I am a pants and shoes kind of person. When I lived in Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, and South Carolina, I often heard the question “aren’t you hot?!”.

Since moving to the North Coast of California, I can now answer that question with a ‘no’! No one will ever ask it though, since most locals sport hoodies and most tourists are puzzled by the lack of California’s signature sunny weather. Roving around in my short sleeve ranger uniform, I’ve been asked by tightly bundled tourists with chattering teeth if I lost my coat.

Fourth of July at Woodley Island–Brr!

Still, even with the daily highs creeping into the mid-60s and the fog shrouding what would be the scorching sun for most of the day, Summer is in full swing around here.

With the influx of tourists, we’ve been receiving bear reports all over the place. One was up at one of our backcountry campsites, so we had to go survey the damage done by unaware campers. Food scraps left are equivalent to slowly poisoning a bear. If the bear’s behavior can’t be changed, then there aren’t many options left if the bear becomes aggressive. The fellow we found looked to be a yearling. He met us at the car, followed us up the 1/4 mile to the sites, and casually munched on leaves as we walked past him. He did a few times half-heartedly jump up a tree trunk as we yelled and clapped at him. He was definitely that sickening melt-your-heart cute and anger welled up in my heart when I thought that someone purposely fed him as I watched him watch our movements for any sign that we would toss him a treat.  I think who ever gets caught feeding a bear should be the one to take the call a month later when it rips through a tent to get to human food. They should be the ones to euthanize the bear, that way they know how much that granola bar helped it in the end.

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Hopefully, there will be fewer sightings of this little guy as the summer goes on.

On the same topic of human/wildlife interactions, apparently the mice who moved in this winter or spring had scrounged up enough food to make a litter. We found them in a desk drawer and relocated three of them to a new grassy home. One parent escaped, but the two juveniles looked large enough to be on their own. They were sincerely reluctant to exchange the cozy shirt they found for a grassy, snake-ridden maze.

Other juveniles are striking out on their own and discovering the world, too. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was trying to comprehend the neck-breaking magic of glass windows, the whole time peeping loudly to its nearby parents.

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The Fourth of July week brought a flood of visitors, including a larger than usual beach-going crowd that for some reason couldn’t get along peacefully with the pelicans. The day after a pelican incident, we received a report of an injured pelican south of the visitor center. Since my rove time at Lady Bird Johnson was foiled by an overflowing parking lot, I set out to find the bird.

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When I found him, he looked exhausted with his eyes half way closed and head resting on his back. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with him, so I snapped some photos and started to head back to the visitor center to report on him. I decided to see if anything was amiss on his backside, and as I stepped over a nearby log, I finally saw his dilemma–fishing line! There was an obvious path in the shape of an arc around the log, making it look like he had been fighting for hours to get free. I phoned for a shirt and scissors, thinking I could throw the shirt over his head without much fuss. Good heavens, was I wrong!

After him snapping at a heap of surrendered shirts on the sand, we noticed this fellow was only being held by the evil line by three tips of his primaries. Figuring he could probably fly if only those three were bound together, we managed to cut the line, leaving only an inch dangling off the wing. He didn’t fly off immediately, so we put signs up so he could rest on the beach undisturbed. He was gone within a couple hours.

At Trinidad State Beach, the drama of Summer was playing out between bird species. The once steely-gray monoliths are now white-washed sea stacks boasting large and ruckusy sea bird colonies. Cormorants, gulls, terns, and murres, whose chicks are apparently just now fledging line the rocky contours.

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Much to the delight of the local scavenger population, about a dozen murre chicks have washed up on the beach in the past couple days.

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It didn’t take but a few circles for the Turkey Vulture to find its dinner. We had just stopped to examine one little murre washed up on the sand. The Turkey Vulture didn’t take nearly as much time was we did to examine the same little bird before starting to work on it.

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We didn’t watch that scene long and instead headed down the now empty beach, just recently vacated by the coat-wrapped tourists seeking refuge back in their warm rental homes for the evening. While the short-less Summer rolls on without egg-frying temperatures and little sun, we cruise the beach nonetheless, watching the ebb and flow of nature acting out the dramas of Summer.

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