Monday, August 31, 2020

Pacific Gopher Snake

The Pacific gopher snake is found from central California to northern Oregon. It has dorsal blotches, or saddles, that are dark to chocolate brown and side blotches that are usually brown or gray. Its overall color is straw to straw gray. 

I saw my first one on a recent trip to northern California in Redwood National Park just outside the Tall Trees Grove. It was slithering across the trail and we caught it, took a couple of photos, and let it go. It was relatively small. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Lesser Goldfinch

I've photographed lesser goldfinches twice this week out on my early morning walks. It is the smallest North American finch and perhaps the smallest finch in the world. Males have bright yellow underparts and white patches in the tail and on the wings. Some are solid black from the head to the back (the black-backed goldfinch), the predominant form, and some have just medium green (green-backed goldfinch), primarily in the far western U.S. and northwestern Mexico. There is broad diversity in the males in Colorado and New Mexico. 
Because California is in the far-west, the male does not have the sold black back, but more a mixture of black and green.

Females are grayish olive/green with yellowish underparts. Both sexes have conical bills. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Mourning Dove (Z. m. marginella)

The mourning dove  (Zenaida macroura) is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America. More than 20 million (and sometimes as many as 70 million) are shot each year in the U.S. for sport and meat. 
This mourning dove was seen near Hayfield Road in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California, just south of Joshua Tree NP. 
There are five subspecies: (1) Z. m. marginella  in western Canada, western USA and to south central Mexico, the one I've been seeing; (2) Z. m. carolinensis in eastern Canada, eastern USA, Bermuda and the Bahamas; (3) Z. m. macroura, the nominate subspecies, in Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica; (4) Z. m. clarionensis on Clarion Island (west Mexico); and (5) Z. m. turturilla in Costa Rica and western Panama. 
The rest of the mourning dove photos are from Live Oak Canyon near Redlands, California. I've been seeing them on my early morning walks. 

It has light gray/brown plumage above and is lighter and pinkish below. The wings have black spotting and the outer tail featehrs are white. It has a crescent shaped area of dark feathers below the eye. They have dark eyes with light skin surrounding them. Adult males have bright purple/pink patches on the side of the neck and light pink coloring reaching the breast. The crown also has a bluish/gray color. Females are similar, but more brown and smaller. The legs are reddish and the feet have three forward toes and one backward toe. The beak is short and dark. 

Z. m. marginella, our western subspecies, has shorter toes, longer wings, a longer beak and is more muted and lighter in color. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

North American Barn Owl

The North American barn owl is found from southern Canada to central Mexico, the Bahamas and Hispaniola. There are another approximately 19 other subspecies of barn owl. The barn owl is the most widely distributed species of owl in the world and one of the most widespread species of bird in the world. 
The barn owl is nocturnal and most of its food is mammals found on the ground by their acute hearing. 
The North America barn owl has long wings, a squarish tail, gray and orange/buff upperparts, and whitish to light buff underparts with much speckling, and a white face. In flight its undulating flight pattern (smoothly rising and falling), dangling feathered legs, and heart-shaped pale face are distinctive. 
It does not hoot, like a great horned owl, but rather gives a schree scream in a long drawn-out shriek. 

I have seen them a few times over the years in Live Oak Canyon near our home. They are typically roosting in a large oak tree and fly when the tree is approached. Until this week I'd never been able to photograph one. This week I found two roosting in a series of oak trees (perhaps one adult and a recent fledgling) and have been going back several days in a row and getting some photos in flight. I've not been able to get a photo of one roosting. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020


A couple of days ago I went on an early morning walk in the canyon near our home. I had a camera as I was hoping to get a photo of a barn owl I'd seen the day before. As I turned off an eastward heading main trail on to a side trail going south, I heard what sounded like a dog barking at me about 30 yards away. The day before I'd seen a woman walking a dog in about the same spot and a vision of that woman and dog came into my mind. The dog kept barking and I got annoyed, wondering why the woman was not shushing her dog. So I veered to the northwest through some brush in the direction of the barking and heard the barking going away. I veered off to the main trail in the hope to see if it was the woman, but couldn't see anything. A couple of high notes from the dog got me to wondering if it could be a coyote? However, I've never had a coyote anywhere near that close to me make a noise, let alone a continual barking. 

I went back south in the same direction I'd been heading, but on the top of a small ridge that gave me a better view. The barking started again to the west, but I couldn't see the dog (or coyote). I was heading south, then turned onto a trail heading west, then turned south on another small trail to a trail heading west along another ridge. Then the barking started again, this time about 30 yards from me, just south, on the side of a hill covered with live oak trees and brush. By this time I was sure it was a coyote, but it kept barking, with occasional high yelps. I kept scanning the hillside, but could not see it. I continued on the trail and it eventually wound south over to the next hill that the coyote was on. I walked east down the ridge of that hill, without a trail, wading through tall brush, hoping to catch a glimpse of the coyote. I circled through some small trees then stepped back out and looked east and saw the coyote sitting on its haunches, staring at me, about 40 yards away. I pulled up my camera for a photo and it bolted to the north back into the trees and heavier brush. 

Now I was pumped. I really wanted to see the coyote again and get a photo. The coyote had scrambled to the north, so I continued down the ridge to the east hoping to get to the bottom into an area that would give me a better view. As I got to the bottom, I heard the coyote barking again, but to the south again, in a different canyon. So I turned south and then west into the next canyon and started scanning the hill to the south. The coyote was barking constantly with occasional high yelps, but nothing ever like the mournful howl we hear at night in the the early morning. 

Then I spotted it, about halfway up the side of the hill in a clearing between trees. I got some photos, then it disappeared again. 

I was thrilled to get photos, but scratching my head as to what the continual barking meant?  I've seen quite a few coyotes, but never this close (except when in a car) and never with the continual barking. This post had a comment from the lead biologist of the study of urban coyotes in Chicago. He said, "Coyotes bark when alarmed, sense danger and want to warn other family members of potential danger." I'm guessing that there were perhaps some young coyotes in the vicinity it was trying to protect, although this late in the year they should be getting pretty big. Whatever it was, it was behavior I've never seen before. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Giant Sequoia

The giant sequoia, also known as the giant redwood, is one of three species of redwood (the others are the coast redwood and dawn redwood). They are the most massive trees on earth. They only occur naturally in 68 scattered groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. They have an average height of from 164 feet to 279 feet and trunk diameters ranging from 20 to 26 feet. Coast redwoods have been found with diameters greater than all known giant sequoias, but the coast redwood trunks taper at lower heights than giant sequoias, which have more columnar trunks. The bark may be as much as three feet thick at the base of the trunk and the sap has tannic acid which gives it fire protection. The leaves are evergreen and awl shaped and are arranged spirally. They are found at elevations from 4,600 to 6,600 feet in the north and 5,580 to 7,050 in the south. 
This photo and the next two are from the General Grant Grove. I did not even save any of my photos of the General Grant Tree. 

Five of the ten largest giant sequoias, determined by volume of the trunk, are found in the Giant Forest Grove in Sequoia National Park, including the largest, the General Sherman Tree, which is 274.9 feet tall, with a girth of 102.6 feet near the ground, and with a volume of 52,508 cubic feet. We saw it, as well as the third largest tree, the President Tree, which is 240.9 feet tall, has a girth of 93 feet and a volume of 45,148 cubic feet. The second largest tree, the General Grant Tree, is in the General Grant Grove in Kings Canyon NP and is 268.1 feet tall, a girth of 107.5 feet and a volume of 46,608 cubic feet. We recently visited Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks with our son, Sam, and I found it nearly impossible to determine relative size with my naked eye. In fact, I found the General Sherman and General Grant Trees to be relatively unimpressive, visually as well as size-wise, whereas the President Tree was extremely impressive in both regards.   
I didn't keep any photos of the General Sherman Tree either. This, however, is a photo of the President Tree with Judy at the base. It was extremely impressive. 
In addition to the President Tree, I loved the Senate, a grouping of giant sequoias on the Congress Trail which is near the President Tree and the House grouping of trees. That was by far my favorite collection of giant sequoias. The next two photos are also of the Senate. 
The photos have to be taken in segments as the trees are just too large to get them all in in one photo. 

This photo, and the next four, are all of the House. 

This last photo may also be of the Senate. 
Three of the giant sequoia groves are in Yosemite NP, 5 are in Kings Canyon NP, 29 are in Sequoia NP and 39 are in Giant Sequoia National Monument (some groves are in multiple national parks or monuments), which I'd never heard of before. Giant Sequoia NM was created by President Clinton in 2000 and has two sections, a northern section which surrounds the General Grant Grove and other parts of Kings Canyon NP and a southern section which is south of Sequoia NP.   

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Coast Redwood

Our son, Sam, has an interest in trees and recently said he would love to see the northern California redwoods and the sequoias in Central California. So we planned a trip where Judy and I drove to Redding and met Sam at the airport there, then drove northwest to the California coast and ultimately up to Crescent City, near the California/Oregon border, then back down Hwy 101 to near San Francisco, before veering off into Central California to visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. 

We saw some beautiful country. In this post I'm going to highlight the redwood areas we visited, but first a little on the coast redwood. It includes the tallest living trees on earth, up to 379 feet high and 29 feet in diameter at (human) breast height. They can live 1,200 to 1,800 years and even longer. It has a conical crown and horizontal to slightly drooping branches. The bark can be up to a foot thick with a bright red-brown color when first exposed (thus the name), then weathering darker. The leaves vary.  On young trees and shaded lower branches of older trees, the leaves are long and flat. In the upper crown of older trees they are scale-like. They are dark green above and have two blue-white stomatal bands below. They occupy a strip of land along the Pacific coast that is 470 miles long and 5 to 47 miles wide. The most northerly grove is in extreme southwest Oregon (in Alfred A. Loeb State Park in the Siskiyou National Forest) and the most southerly grove is in Monterey County, California (the Southern Redwood Botanical Area just north of the Salmon Creek Trailhead near the San Luis Obispo County line). The largest and tallest populations are in Redwoods National and State Parks and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. 

According to Wikipedia, the tallest tree in the world is the Hyperion Tree which is 379.3 feet tall in Redwood National Park. The exact location is a secret to keep it safe. The fifth tallest tree in the world is one I believe we saw, the National Geographic Tree, in Redwood National Park, 369.8 feet tall, 14.4 feet in diameter, trailside in the Tall Trees Grove (see below). It is the most accessible of the tallest trees. 

Our first contact with the coast redwood was near Trillium Falls in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. About 2 miles north of Orick on Hwy 1 we turned left on Davison Road, then in .4 miles just past Elk Meadow we turned left and went a short distance to a parking area for the trailhead. The hike to Trillium Falls is short, but gorgeous. As we saw our first coast redwoods both Sam and Judy exclaimed that this, alone, was worth the trip. They are difficult to photograph because they are so large and you can't get back for a distance for photos because the forest growth is so dense. So my typical photos were taken near the trunk and staring up into the tall leafed branches. The photo below is one (or two or three or four) of many we saw. 
Four miles north of Davison Road, to the left of Hwy 101, still in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we took the 10 mile long Newton B. Drury Redwood Scenic Parkway, which is stunning. One mile north of the visitor center is the Big Tree trail. It is an area of stunning coast redwoods with Big Tree, 286 feet tall and 23.7 feet in diameter, as the star. 
The light and the photo opportunities at the Big Tree were not great, but this is a photo of a different coast redwood. 

My favorite of our redwood sightings was the Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park northeast of Crescent City, near Hiouchi. It has a .5 mile circular trail through extremely impressive coast redwoods.  The following are my favorite photos from that grove. 
This was my favorite spot, at the bottom of these trees, looking up. 

Next we visited Tall Trees Grove in Redwoods National Park. We had to get a permit in advance and the combination to a locked gate. Only 50 people a day are allowed to visit. It is a 6 mile drive up Bald Hills Road to the locked gate, then another 6 mile drive on a dirt road to the trailhead, then a 4 mile roundtrip hike to the grove. The grove is on a thin strip of flat land about a quarter mile long, alongside Redwood Creek. What Wikipedia refers to as the National Geographic Tree gets that name because it was on the cover of the 1964 issue of National Geographic. It is also called the Howard Libbey Tree, at that time considered the tallest tree in the world. According to the website I've linked at the beginning of this paragraph, the Hyperion Tree, the current tallest tree in the world, discovered later, is just a half mile away, up Tom McDonald Creek (which empties into Redwood Creek). The trees in this grove are not marked and I don't believe we actually saw the National Geographic Tree because it is about 30 feet behind a wood fence, among other trees, and is not marked. From the vantage point of the trail, there is no way to determine what tree is taller than another. 

Our last redwoods visit was the Avenue of the Giants 32 mile auto tour which is in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, between Phillipsville and Pepperwood. We just stumbled upon it, we were not aware of it in advance. So we did not have any particular spot we knew of to stop at and drove it casually. It was beautiful with lots of redwoods.