Shaking Tail Feathers

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It’s Saturday! [Haha, I guess every day is Saturday for me during the Winter off-season]

It might be a sunny day [fingers crossed the fog stays away!], heading to a baby shower [yay, babies!] and this is my 200th post!

Woowoo!

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Arcata Community Forest and Arcata Marsh

Hiking is a lovely endeavor that can either be a strenuous workout or a leisurely exploration. Or a mix of both!

In celebration of the New Year, we took a hike and a walk with our Pyrenees, Bear.  We started in the Arcata Community Forest, a sustainably-managed and harvested redwood forest whose trees are around 150 years old.

The first day of the New Year was a beautiful, sunny day…the trend of this year’s rainy season. I have from a good source that we are 7 inches short of rainfall this ‘water year’ [since July] and an inch down this January [already!]. While this area could be considered the start of the Pacific Northwest rainforest, the amount of rainfall can vary dramatically from year to year. Somewhere between 29 and 90 inches. Redwoods are good at dealing with variable precipitation, but in a low year, they won’t create a growth ring.

An interesting feature of the Arcata Community Forest are the remnants of giants that once towered over the land.

A popular hobby around here is mushroom hunting. I guess it’s been a rough season due to the lack of rain. Still, there are mushrooms everywhere! Like this log, for example:

We got our fill of redwoods and headed to the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a lovely place for birding and I always wish to spend more time than I do. It is actually the wastewater treatment facility for the city of Arcata and a popular place for runners, dog walkers, and birders alike!

I think this fellow is a Golden-crowned Sparrow in winter plumage.

What looks to be a very sleepy Northern Pintail. I guess you have to catch your z’s where and when you can!

The marsh is definitely a nice place to come for sunsets as well!

An avocet was enjoying the low tide, leading a group of ducks in the feeding procession.

Cloud Dove

The Avocet still working on the same stretch. Below is what Bear thinks of taking photos:

Big and Small: It’s All Here!

Just like the people here, there is a lovely eclectic mix of natural wonders here. Of course, there are Redwoods, frozen giants that watch as we busily scurry below their towering tops. While they are marvels in and of themselves, there is much to see on and near them.

A gray whale with her calf have been swimming in the Klamath River now for 15 days. No one is quite sure if she can get out on her own. I’ve heard she might be there for safety, to remove parasites, or she just got lost. I’m not sure if anyone knows for sure, but hopefully she will leave when she feels like she needs to. She is about the size of a school bus and feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates by stirring them up with her nose and then sucking in the food-filled water and filtering it with her baleen.

Not so large, but the largest subspecies of elk and the largest land mammal around, the Roosevelt elk are gearing up for their rut. Males are starting to lose their velvet from their antlers. The bachelor herd has been seen in Elk Prairie in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park frequently recently!

Even smaller, the Barn and Cliff swallows have been busy raising their chicks and keeping the crows and ravens from their nests.  Amazing how small their eggs are! This swallow was taking a break from insect collecting to catch its breath.

It seems the Yellow-spotted millipede [the ones that smell like almonds!] have stopped hatching out in such large numbers and have sought out their summer hide-outs in nooks and crannies on the forest floor.

The Redwood Sorrel, a clover-looking Oxalis, still has some blooms, but there are lots of new leaves popping up. These young leaves have yet to mature to the dark purple that the older ones have.

Lots of lichen abounds in this area. The redwoods are essentially the start of the Pacific Northwest Rainforests. From lungwort to old man’s beard–variety is the spice of life [or lichen]. Entwined in a symbiotic relationship, fungus and algae grow together in odd shapes and patterns.

Largely looming or sheepishly small, there is a lot of life in these quiet, ancient relict forests.

“See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the
moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to
touch souls.” –Mother Teresa

On the Road

..to recovery! I am finally feeling close to 100% thanks to modern medicine and I am nearly caught up on homework.

Medical and mental statuses aside, we quickly jaunted up to Southport, NC to visit with my grandparents [before I fell ill]. Though it was ‘bitterly’ cold, we ran on to and off of a couple beaches and took a ferry ride over to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This Ring-billed Gull accompanied us on the short ferry ride, but I don’t think he got as much out of it as we did!

New Year’s Sea Fog

It’s a new year! For lots of people, it means time to take on new things, to improve upon some aspect of life. To me this time, it’s the calm before the storm! Relative calm, I suppose since I just caught up on blogging and photos.

Washing Away a Great 2010!

Yesterday being the first day of the New Year, we hit the beach in search of sea fog and found it!

Sea Fog at Breach InletSun and Sea Fog

The Clouds Break, but the Fog Thickens

The last day of the Old Year, we found some birds even against the hardest efforts of all the dogs on the beach! [There were so many! Chasing everything! I guess since it was a people holiday, it was a dog day as well!]

Did the gull swallow a melon?!

Mergansers at Pickett Bridge

 

A Female Bufflehead Diving

Snowy Egret Making a Splash!

A Yellow-rumped Warbler

Sorry that was quite the photo flood! I can’t resist just one more bird photo though:

Happy Second Day of the New Year!

Beverly and I Go to the Santee

Beverly (@BeverlyEverson) and I went to the Santee Coastal Reserve [mentioned in: Shuddersome Santee and A Gator-filled Santee Coastal ] to see what we could see–and we saw a lot!

It seems a little surreal to meet people through social media–like listening to Lady Gaga–but I am so glad that Twitter was there to be the medium through which Beverly and I met! She is such a wonderful, nice person with great stories, knows a lot about photography, wildlife, and Black Friday deals!

We started out on the boardwalk, spotting a wren that kept dashing between the boards and popping back up to see if we had left yet. We heard a ruckus in the cypress swamp and eventually decided that it was a very large flock of robins. Seemed odd for them to be there, but judging by the noise, they either agreed or were having the time of their lives.  No alligators this time. The temperature was at or near 70, so it would have been a little cool in the shade for the reptiles anyway, I suppose.

After checking out the boardwalk, we headed towards ‘Alligator Alley’, spotting some grebes, egrets, ibises, terns, and a pair of ladies catching blue crabs [they were good at it!].

Beverly under a towering live oak after sneaking up on some egrets and ibises.

Grebes are amazing to watch–one minute they are there, the next they are submerged with barely a ripple–rivaling the best submarines we’ve got!

Terns are funny to watch, too. They circle around looking for fish, but do so while making a whimpering call. They sound so timid and lost!

We walked on towards ‘Alligator Alley’ and found some other lovely birds. One was an egret hiding in the shadows. I look forward to seeing Beverly’s photos of this bird [I unfortunately set my exposure comp up and shot like that the whole day, I think starting here!]!

As we walked on, we came upon the first large marsh area with a hunting blind set up and plenty of ducks [and coots] to hunt. Luckily and hopefully, no one was there. I have truly never seen so many birds aside from Sandhill Cranes in one spot!  They dotted the sky, filled the marsh, and were all so jumpy!

Farther down the path we found a lovely large fellow soaking up the late Fall rays. I assume he wasn’t heated up enough since he sat there the whole time, or perhaps he just knew how large he was!

Then we hit ‘Alligator Alley’ and they were there in force! These were a bit smaller and much more jumpy. I think there were six or seven on the far bank and close to us at least one splashed–less than ten feet away! It’s a gauntlet of gators and it’s where we turned around.

On the walk back, we spotted perhaps the same egret and the same grebes, but the ladies catching crabs had left.

It was such a fun day with such wonderful company–I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the day!

[I learned about spot metering from Beverly…but it’s that ornery exposure comp that got me!]

A Gator-filled Santee Coastal WMA

This place is fabulous, but a little confusing.  Here’s why:

If you google Santee Coastal Wildlife Management Area, you will also find the Santee Coastal Reserve. Probably the same thing since both are listed as having 24,000 acres.  With the Santee Coastal is the Washo Reserve.  Good luck with boundaries and who manages what.  The State of South Carolina perhaps runs both, but the Nature Conservancy acquired the Washo.

My advice if you’d like to hunt in this area, contact someone there first and get it all sorted out.  We found a clipboard on an information kiosk that has the number of feral pigs tallied out.  One fellow got 12 in one day! And, as we were dodging gators, we heard a pig squeal! So if pig hunting is your thing, there are probably tons out there for you.

•» Where is the Santee Coastal Reserve «•

Just north of McClellanville, SC and just south of both forks of the Santee River on Highway 17.

Google Map:

Trail Map from Kiosk:

Click to enlarge

It is purported that trail maps are sporadically available at the information kiosks. The trail system isn’t complex, but it’s always good to know where you are going. Perhaps snap a shot of the map and refer to it on your camera when necessary.  The plastic over the map makes it a bit difficult to do so, by the way.

•» What to Do in the Santee «•

Trails:

Already mentioned was gator dodging and pig hunting. There are a good number of hiking trails and depending on the gator activity, they could take you quite a while. Try the links below, they will take you to SC Trails.net:

Woodland Trail

Bike/Hike Trail

Marshland Trail

We walked the Marshland and part of the Bike/Hike Trail.  Off the Marshland is a boardwalk that keeps you above any alligator traffic, but once you pass through the forest section after the boardwalk, be prepared to be dodging gators on both sides while walking through the impoundment areas.

We went on a very active day, one of the first days that were warm enough for copious amounts of gator activity.  While on the boardwalk, we heard an alligator thrashing and making a horrid choking or gargling sound…or maybe that’s what it was eating…we could only see the ripples and occasionally a tail through the cypress and tupelo.

Birding:

“This site has been identified as being significant for world bird conservation and officially designated a globally important bird area”  —Sign posted before boardwalk. American Bird Conservancy ABCbirds.org

This area is reowned for its birdwatching.  Check this list from the Carolina Bird Club’s Wikipedia entry to see what could be there. As you drive through the pines, look for the trees with the white rings around the trunks, then look up in for a small hole with sap running down the bark. These holes are possible nesting cavities for the red-cockaded woodpecker. This area has one the higher concentrations of red-cockaded, check the USGS Map!

As you walk around the Reserve, keep your ears open! The forests and cypress swamps are dense and even though you might not see it, you’ll probably hear it! We heard a “Who-cooks, who-cooks-for-you-all!” while walking near the boardwalk. Is that what they’re really saying? I think it’s “Give me back my ball!” Just put an owl accent to that, and it sounds exactly like the barred owl’s call.

I believe, but am not certain, that the Santee Coastal is open one hour after dawn and the Washo Reserve is open from 1-5, according to their site. Not sure if they are still enforcing those hours or not.  But early morning hours would probably be best to view and photograph birds, especially since the sun will be at your back for the boardwalk and good portions of the trail.

Check the photo gallery page of the Carolina Bird Club to peek at some great shots taken locally!

Wildlife Watching:

There seems to be a large potential for wildlife viewing during prime hours.  Besides alligators and the destructive wild pigs, there are also alligators, anoles, turtles, gopher tortoises, deer, and amphibians. It is recommended not to bring your dog and also to not throw anything in the water. According to one of their info boards, “a splash means food.”

Most of the gators on our visit did the splashing, right before we spotted them. It seems to serve as a defense mechanism, much like mourning doves use where they wait until you are reasonably close and then launch up. In this case, the alligators wait until you are within 20 feet or so, then violently thrash through the water using their powerful tails.

*Did You Know*: The part of the head that is visible above water, the snout and eyes, is about a sixth of the alligator’s total length! Half of the body is made up of tail, a very powerful mass of muscle!

This fellow to the left took a keen interest to us.  He was laying on an adjacent bank and as we approached, he quietly slipped into the water, swam towards us, and then slowly turned to climb on the little knoll there.  I think he was hoping for something else.

Thanks for visiting!