Posts Tagged ‘California

08
Sep
15

A Holy place

I was watching Stephen Fry’s new six part BBC TV travel series to Central America the other night. He was visiting the Mexican valleys where the winter roosts of Monarch Butterflies occur.

We visited such a roost in early 2014 just a little further north in California. Successive generations of Monarchs make their way north, laying eggs and handing over the baton to their progeny who reach the upper reaches of the USA and Canada before breeding again and donating the return leg back to Mexico to the next generations. The last generation ‘hibernate’ in the forest until they wake the following spring.

Given the long migration these insects perform they occasionally find themselves swept up into transatlantic winds and deposited on this side of the ocean. I’ve seen them several times in the UK now too but only on the Isles of Scilly in Autumn.

It was interesting to listen to Stephen Fry’s commentary. He whispered it. As though he were in some reverent spot or worshipful place. He spoke quietly as though not to wake the clouds of insects festooned about the branches above him. I felt the same … as though I were in nature’s cathedral.

Monarch Butterflies

10
May
14

A Grove of Butterflies

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Every year Monarch Butterflies play out a relay race, passing on genes to their progeny. Each generation moves further north through the states of the USA. Then in the ‘fall’ they move back south to well-known gatherings amid trees in secluded Mexican valleys where they overwinter.

It is less well known that similar gatherings occur in southern and central California. One such place we visited in March was the appropriately named Monarch Grove Sanctuary.

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As we walked among the Eucalyptus it took us a little while to realise what we were looking at; so still they were. That is until the mist parted and the warm sunshine produced a stirring in the clouds of Monarchs. Like a child’s drawing that had been blessed with the power to come alive, ripples of colour moved through the branches in waves of excitement.

Soon they would be gone… flying north.

We were in time to see one of nature’s most wonderful spectacles.

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Monarch Butterflies

08
May
14

Not enough to make a sailors shirt

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When we see a Jay on tour in Norfolk my guests often remark how beautiful the patch of blue is in the wing. They are right of course; however, it does seem to slip into insignificance when viewed against the Stellar’s Jays and Scrub Jays we commonly saw in California.

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Steller's Jay

Scrub Jay

24
Apr
14

Cetacean Fingerprints

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The skin of cetaceans is surprisingly sensitive and easily marked. A scrape or a rake here, a brush with a predator there and a mark will be left forever. Many of the toothed dolphins and whales feed on squid. Squid can  also leave marks with their fearsome beak (mouthparts) or with its suckers which can attach ‘limpet-like’ to the head of a dolphin.

The sensitivity of cetacean skin is perhaps best exemplified by Risso’s Dolphins. Here’s a photo of an adult we saw off California last month showing the hieroglyphic like markings amassed over time which ultimately can be used as an aid to  the identification of individuals – like cetacean fingerprints. Click the photo to enlarge the detail.

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2014 03 04 Risso's Dolphin Monterey Bay California_Z5A2817

22
Apr
14

The Green Flash

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I have watched many sunsets in my time; seen more than I have yet to see that’s for sure. I’ve watched the day slip away over the horizon so many times, always beautiful, always different, always worth the pause to watch.

Each time I’ve looked for something I read about as a child. The Green Flash. It only occurs with an uninterrupted view of the horizon, usually when the sun sets over water. It’s a rare optical feature that can be caused by a number of circumstances. It lasts for just a second. A fleeting moment. All those sunsets and I’d never seen it.

Last month Sharon and I were unsuccessfully looking for Snowy Plovers at Bodega Bay. We failed miserably. I guess we just ran out of day. As we made our way back to the car from the beach we sensed the temperature drop and turned west to see the sun extinguish in the sea. I raised my camera and fired off a few frames to catch the last of the light. There it was. The Green Flash.

Click once and then click again to enlarge.

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2014 03 11 Bodega Bay California_Z5A8679

18
Apr
14

Seeking Mountain Chickadee

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It was mid March. We got to around 6000 feet before we saw snow in Yosemite National Park. Taking the winding road up to the ski station at Badger pass my shorts seemed somewhat inappropriate. A hasty change of wardrobe enabled a comfortable walk along one of the cross country ski trails. There were very few people around.

Walking among the pines it was eerily quiet. The sort of silence that’s disconcerting. Your own breathing and the snow folding under your boots are the only sounds. We walked for around an hour without hearing or seeing a thing; not even a whisper of bird song, not a call. Nothing.

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I played a tape of Mountain Chickadee. No response. Silence.

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I thought for a while … and played a tape of Northern Pygmy Owl … their nemesis,

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It was as if I had unzipped the cold air and birds came tumbling out. They wanted rid of their perpetrator big time. Manifesting themselves from nowhere Red Breasted Nuthatches, Ruby Crowned Kinglets and of course Mountain Chickadees all came to offer protestation.

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Mountain Chickadee

16
Apr
14

Mammoth Rocks

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Give the title of this blog entry you could be forgiven for replying ‘They probably did!’ However, Mammoth Rocks is in fact a place in Sonoma County, California.

It has always had this name but it has only recently taken on a true meaning. The outcrop, one of several in the area, stands on a raised beach. I believe one of the rocks is also called ‘Sunshine Rock’ due to it’s property of reflecting sunlight. Several of the rocks in this area have polished surfaces.

They have been polished over millennia by animals rubbing up against them so often and so regularly they have been worn away to a shiny surface; and these are not soft rocks. Adjacent to mammoth Rock is a shallow depression that was probably a mud wallow. Animals would wallow in the mud and then scratch those difficult to reach areas on the rocks. Only recently has it has been noted by the scientific community that some polished areas are too high for modern day animals. It is believed they were polished by Mammoths.

It was disappointing to note that the rocks were not being protected in any way and were being used by climbers. No information signs were erected and locals, including park officials, seemed unaware of the significance of what they have.

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2014 03 11 Mammoth Rock Sonoma Coast State Park California_Z5A8531

 

2014 03 11 Mammoth Rock Sonoma Coast State Park California_Z5A8479

14
Apr
14

Buzzed by a Raptor in California

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As we drove the 20 odd miles out to Point Reyes Lighthouse we were looking carefully for Bobcats. We didn’t see any; however, the car was buzzed by a raptor.

I braked and parked. It was a Northern Harrier, a male too! I reached for my camera and the bird promptly disappeared around the headland. We waited a while. He was hunting and all animals are creatures of habit; I thought it might just come back.

It did! After only five minutes we watched it return around the headland carrying something. It had obviously caught prey. At that instant I thought that’s it we will now have a flypast as it takes the prey away, and that’s the last we’ll see of it.

However he was flying directly towards us. It came closer and to my amazement pitched down in front of us and proceeded to devour its catch in full view… and … get this … I was ready with the camera.

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Northern Harrier

12
Apr
14

Bow Riders.

 

You read about it but very rarely see it. Dolphins bow riding a whale.

Pacific White Sided Dolphins take advantage of the pressure waves set up by migrating Grey Whales off the coast of California last month.

2014 03 08 Grey Whale Monterey Bay California_Z5A6518

2014 03 08 Grey Whale Monterey Bay California_Z5A6529

08
Apr
14

On the Beer

Each morning we took a trip to the harbour. It was early and it was peaceful. The Californian sunshine drove deep shafts of pale turquoise through the water to the harbour bottom and the sky was a cloudless azure blue.

Between the boats were Pacific Divers, Grebes, Scoters, Sea Lions and Sea Otters. Other than a few fishermen and the occasional raucous California Sea Lion the wharf was deserted.

 

The Otters are really cute. In a well documented process they fish for clams, abalone and crabs. Bringing each to the surface along with a stone which they balance on their chest and bash with the shellfish until the shell cracks. They are then able to reap the reward of their efforts.

 

It was therefore with a little annoyance on one morning that the tranquillity was broken with the sound of someone hammering. Well it was a workday, and even if we were on holiday others weren’t. However, it came as a surprise when we located the source of the hammering out in the harbour.

One of the few pieces of litter we saw in California was being utilised by a Sea Otter. It had found a beer bottle and was using it to break open a meal. What a din!

2014 03 05 Sea Otter Monterey California_Z5A3857a

2014 03 05 Sea Otter Monterey California_Z5A3861




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