Summer Successes

Black-headed Grosbeak (male), California

Black-headed Grosbeak (male), California

Although we are still experiencing high temperatures where I live, the northern hemisphere has assumed an autumn angle, and the new season is underway.

 

Here are a few glimpses of our northern California summer wildlife.

 

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

The black-headed grosbeaks arrived from Mexico for the summer, as usual.  We had several dozen pair and they produced many young.

 

Numerous other bird species nested here as well.

 

We were especially aware of the pacific-slope flycatchers because one pair nested right outside our back door.

 

Day 15, flycatcher nestlings

Day 15, flycatcher nestlings

They had two broods in a row.

 

The California quail were a special treat.  They are stealthy when their chicks are born, because as ground birds they are extremely vulnerable.

 

California Quail, California

California Quail, California

They do, however, take undercover paths to our feeder and water sources, and on two great days we saw a dozen chicks in their puffball stage.  No photos of that, but a memory so great I smile as I type.

 

Reptiles and amphibians were suitably abundant, and mammals too.

 

Coyote, California

Coyote, California

We were thrilled when coyote showed up repeatedly, because for the last five years they haven’t been here.

 

On my morning walks there are a few wild plum bushes that belong to no one, miles away from any structure.

 

plums-caI try a plum every year, and this year they were especially tasty.  So every day I would enjoy one as I walked.  (Too small for baking.)

 

Once they had ripened, I noticed deer tracks and found that the deer were eating the low fruit, but the high fruit remain untouched.  Thereafter I would eat my one, and then pick five high ones, and set them on the ground.

 

The next day they would all be eaten and I would find the pits.

 

Canyon Bat, Calif.

Canyon Bat, Calif.

From the tracks and scat, I discovered that mostly native fox were enjoying the plums. This was a thrill.

 

All the summer residents have gone, but I still see numerous bats every dawn.

 

Gray Squirrel

Gray Squirrel

The winter bird migrants have not arrived yet, but we have lots of madrone and toyon trees loaded with berries awaiting their arrival.

 

The earth keeps spinning, the seasons keep shifting, and every day is a new gift.

 

Western Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Beautiful Bustards

Kori Bustard, Botswana, Africa

Kori Bustard, Botswana, Africa

One of the world’s heaviest birds, bustards are large, terrestrial Old World birds.

 

They are grassland birds and do not usually fly, though they are capable.

 

Classified in the family Otididae, there are 27 different bustard species in the world.  Many species populations have declined, some have been reintroduced with success.  Bustard info here.

 

As omnivores they have an expansive diet of seeds, locusts, reptiles, carrion, and more.  With long, strong legs and big toes, they slowly walk across grass fields, feeding.  They nest on the ground, and are known for elaborate mating dances.

 

Australian Bustard, Queensland

Australian Bustard, Queensland. Male displaying

I have seen the Kori Bustard in Africa numerous times, and also the Australian Bustard.  In the same genus, Ardeotis, they look similar; though the Australian is considerably smaller.

 

There is no mistaking a bustard, there is no other grass bird this big.

 

The Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) is one of the largest species and occurs in many African countries, primarily southern and eastern Africa.

 

Botswana: Kori Bustard and Crowned Lapwings

Botswana: Kori Bustard and Crowned Lapwings

The male Kori stands 2-4 feet tall (61-91cm) and weighs 15-40 lbs (7-18kg).

 

There is a suspected decline of the species in Africa due to unregulated hunting, power line collisions, and loss of habitat.  Kori info here.

 

On a different continent, we were lucky while driving back roads in Queensland to come upon the Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis).  The grass was knee-high and they were several hundred feet away, hidden in it.

 

Also called brush turkey, the male was strutting around in a mating display, so we were thrilled.  Australian bustard info here.

 

Queensland Australia, back road beside bustards

Queensland Australia, back road beside bustards

There was not much activity on this back road, and we probably would have missed them if we hadn’t been always and forever on the lookout for new birds.

 

Having experienced Kori Bustards in Africa, we knew right away what they were.

 

What a supreme delight to come upon these magnificent birds quietly cavorting, and nearly invisible to the rest of the world.

 

Male Kori Bustard, Kenya. Photo: Sumeet Moghe. Courtesy Wikipedia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

 

A Piece of Florida Heaven

Little Blue Heron, White Ibis

Little Blue Heron, White Ibis

There is a small island off the Gulf coast of Florida that has a  refuge known for its rich expanse of wildlife.

 

It is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Florida called Ding Darling.

 

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling

With 5,200 acres of protected wilderness, there are many species of mammals and reptiles including endangered and threatened species.

 

On a bird migration route and in a subtropical climate, it also boasts 245 bird species.

 

Waders, Ding Darling Wildlife Drive

Waders and Mangrove, Ding Darling

The more habitats a place has, the more variety of wildlife exist.  Here there are numerous habitats.

 

This refuge has the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the U.S.

 

Mangroves are trees that live in salt water and exist only in tropical and sub-tropical locations.  Relatively rare in the U.S., there are numerous groves here, and three different species.

 

Other habitats at Ding Darling include freshwater marsh and ponds, tidal mud flats, hardwood forest, and seagrass beds.  Each habitat hosts different species.

 

White Ibis, Ding Darling

White Ibis, Ding Darling

Florida is a popular place for Americans to enjoy warm weather year round, and in 1945 this acreage was almost sold to developers.

 

Fortunately, an environmental hero,  Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, convinced President Truman to sign an Executive Order creating the refuge, thereby preventing the sale.

 

Great Blue Heron, Ding Darling

Great Blue Heron, Ding Darling

More info:  J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR

 

The refuge has trails and boardwalks, a four-mile  wildlife drive, and many wildlife viewing areas.

 

In addition to the extensive refuge, there is literally another side to Sanibel Island.

 

As a barrier island, it extends several miles into the Gulf of Mexico, and has a shelf of white sand beaches.

 

Snowy Egret, Sanibel Island, Florida

Snowy Egret, Sanibel Island, Florida

An easy uncrowded walk along the beach always produced a new and beautiful sight.  Leaping dolphins, shells and mollusks, egrets everywhere.

 

Birds and mammals wherever you look…it is a quiet piece of heaven.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Essential book if you go:  Living Sanibel by Charles Sobczak

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Pen Shell, Sanibel Island, Florida

Pen Shell, Sanibel Island, Florida

Location in Lee County, Florida

Sanibel Island, FL on far left. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Marin Co. Civic Center

Marin Civic Ctr. inside atrium

Marin Civic Ctr. inside atrium

There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright building you can see from the freeway, about 18 miles (29 km) from the Golden Gate Bridge.  For 20 years I zoomed by it.

 

A national and state historic landmark, the Marin Co. Civic Center is a complex of buildings Wright designed–administrative county buildings.

 

An American architect, Wright (1867-1959) designed mostly residential or commercial buildings.  One of his last major designs, these are his only governmental buildings.  See the complete list of his 425 works below.

 

Marin Civic Center.jpg

The Marin Co. Civic Ctr. as seen from Hwy 101. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The main building includes the Hall of Justice, Administration Building, county library, and other departments. There are nearby additional buildings including a post office and auditorium he designed.

 

In the mid-1950s, Marin County moved forward on their project to consolidate their county services in one place. They were built in the 1960s, just after Mr. Wright had passed away.

 

Marin Co. Civic Center

Marin Co. Civic Center

More Civic Center information here.

 

On weekdays the complex is a busy county government seat where lawyers, judges, and jurors conduct civic duties.

 

Marin Co. Library front desk

Marin Co. Library front desk

The day I was there was a Saturday and much of the building was closed, but the library was open.

 

We were meeting friends nearby, so we looked around.  They also give docent-led tours.

 

Library stacks

Library stacks

I loved the library.  The rotunda is a white dome, and all the light fixtures, in perfect Wrightesque fashion, were also little white domes.

 

He envisioned his buildings in the rolling California hills providing a place of beauty dedicated to “a working public.”

 

Looking out from the library

Looking out from the library

An expression of his belief in government openness, the building is flooded with light from skylights and open atria.

 

Busy creating art until his final day, Frank Lloyd Wright drew stunning and innovative designs all over the country.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1926. Courtesy Wikipedia

May we all live such long and successful lives, providing beauty and originality around us.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

 

For more Marin Co. Civic Center building photos and plan drawings, click here.

 

Marinciviccenter01.JPG

Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Marin Civic Ctr, by FLW. Courtesy Wikipedia

List of over 425 works by Frank Lloyd Wright, click here.

Info about Frank Lloyd Wright, click here.

 

 

Tomales Bay, California

Pt. Reyes from Tomales Point Trail

Pt. Reyes from Tomales Point Trail

A long, narrow inlet along the coast of northern California, Tomales Bay is 15 miles long and one mile wide.  On the west side of the bay is Point Reyes Peninsula, on the east side is the mainland.

 

Lesser Goldfinch, Pt. Reyes

Lesser Goldfinch, Pt. Reyes

The two land areas flanking the bay lie on different tectonic plates.  Over millenium they have been separated by the frictional movement of the Pacific Plate and North American Plate.

 

After the big earthquake that destroyed San Francisco in 1906, Point Reyes moved 21 feet north (Wikipedia).

 

Point Reyes. Courtesy Nat’l Park Service, Wikipedia

See map below.   More Point Reyes info here.

 

Original Coast Miwok inhabitants  hunted and lived here; eating seaweed and acorns, hunting rabbit, deer, and seasonal salmon.

 

Thousands of years later, after European seafarers, Russian fur traders, and settlers of all kinds have come through, the area is now a compatible combination of residents, visitors, and ranchers.

Pt. Reyes Tule elk, cow and calf

Pt. Reyes Tule elk, cow and calf

 

Bobcat, Point Reyes

Bobcat, Point Reyes

As a national park there is no hunting, but visitors still enjoy observing deer, rabbit and small game like the Miwok did, as well as 490 species of birds.

 

As featured in my previous post, tule elk live in large herds on a protected landscape.

 

Pt. Reyes, doe and fawn

Pt. Reyes, doe and fawn

Seasonal migration of whale can be spotted at certain times of the year, and northern elephant seals and other marine mammals live here too.

 

In addition, the Tomales Bay waters are home to small bioluminescent organisms called dinoflagellates.  Info on bioluminescence here.

 

Wild Amaryllis, aka Naked Ladies

Wild Amaryllis, aka Naked Ladies

The Tomales Bay area has public beaches, numerous trails, kayaking, and many other opportunities for outdoor adventures.

 

Click here for National Park Service trail guide.

 

Barn swallow nestlings, Pierce Point Ranch, Pt. Reyes

Barn swallow nestlings, Pierce Point Ranch, Pt. Reyes

Bugling elk, sparkling waters, and the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean…can’t beat that.

 

Towns of rural western Marin County. Inverness Park is in violet.

Point Reyes Peninsula, California. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

 

Tule Elk

Tule elk male, Pt. Reyes, California

Tule elk male, Pt. Reyes, California

California’s only endemic elk, Cervus candensis nannodes can be found at Point Reyes National Seashore and 21 other areas of California.  This is remarkable for a species that was once thought to be extirpated.

 

Family structure for the tule elk, the smallest of all American elk, is based on the bull commanding a herd, known as a harem, of cows and calves.  From July through September is the rutting season, when males are competing by rounding up large harems of females and calves.

 

Tule elk bull bugling

Tule elk bull bugling

In the early morning hours it is easy to hear their bugling calls through the fog on the Point Reyes grasslands.

 

Point Reyes is located  30 miles north of San Francisco, a coastal wilderness park of 100 square miles.  It is my favorite place to hike in the Bay Area, and is the only U.S. National Park that has tule elk.

 

The best place to view the elk is at Pierce Point Ranch, and after many, many years of hiking this picturesque area, I have found early mornings are best for finding the elk.  As it is a stunning place, I will post more on Monday, featuring other wildlife we have enjoyed there.

 

Bull, cow, calf tule elk

Bull, cow, calf tule elk

Photos here are from two weeks ago.  We were rewarded with incredible views of bull, cow, and calf groups.

 

We had been watching and photographing for about a half hour, when the additional excitement of four angry bulls converged in front of us.  An elk showdown.

 

Three bulls in conflict

Three bulls in conflict

There was a lot of bugling, pacing, trotting, and flared nostrils; but no sparring.

 

Bugling starts out as a bellow and escalates into a squealing whistle.  It is the bull attracting cows as well as advertising dominance to other bulls.

 

Once numbering 500,000 in California, the species declined drastically due to cattle ranching and hunting.  The species population had reduced to 29 individuals by 1860.

 

Bull tule elk

Bull tule elk

They were thought to be extirpated when a rancher, Henry Miller, found a herd on his ranch in 1874.  Mr. Miller protected them and is credited for the survival of the species.

 

Named for a sedge grass called tule, the elk have had a series of successful reintroduction programs, and number at about 4,200 today.

 

More about tule elk at Point Reyes here.

 

Usually quietly grazing, the elk are a joy to observe any time of year, but right now it is especially animated with bellowing and squealing, pacing and competing.  And with a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, it is a true splendor.

 

Jet on Tomales Point trail

Jet on Tomales Point trail

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

Manic Manakins

Manacus candei -La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica -male-8.jpg

White-collared Manakin. Photo Jose Calvo. Courtesy Wikipedia.

One of the craziest birds I have ever watched, the manakin is found in tropical forests.  There are 60 different species, all found only in Central and South America.

 

Small birds, ranging in size from 3-6 inches (7-15 cm), they have short tails and an overall stubby appearance.  Being tropical, the male species are often very brightly-colored.

 

The remarkable features of the manakins are their sound and movement when the male is courting.  Many manakin species engage in lekking.  This is a male courtship behavior when males display and compete for the female.  More about lekking here.

 

Juvenile White-collared Manakin. Photo by Rachel C. Taylor. Courtesy Wikipedia.

I have seen several manakin species but the one I have seen most is the white-collared, so I will share this bird with you here.  Their conservation status is rated “of least concern.”

 

More info here.

 

The white, yellow, and black male has modified wing feathers to make a snapping and buzzing sound.  When we are hiking through a rainforest where it is dark and dank, there are often hundreds of wild whoops and monkey howls and unknown sounds.  But when I hear that snap, I am immediately at attention.  It is unmistakable.

 

Click here for the white-collared manakin’s snapping sound, recorded in the Costa Rican forest where I heard it.

 

And that isn’t all.  There’s more.  The bird shoots around like a ping pong ball.  It is astonishing to witness.

 

Manacus candei use a patch of forest floor (the lek) to pop around while they are snapping their wings.  If you keep watching it long enough, you see there is a pattern to their dance.

 

Click here for Matt Gasner’s You Tube video of the white-collared manakin’s courtship display.  I have never linked to a You Tube video before, but this bird dance is that remarkable.

 

A bird that darts faster than your eye can follow, claps, snaps, and buzzes — an utter and complete joy.