Crossing the Golden Gate

Yesterday I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, something I have done at least one hundred times in my 30+ years living in the Bay Area. Tomorrow is the Bridge’s birthday, so let’s cross it here together.

Heading southbound into San Francisco, there are a total of six lanes that span the bridge for both directions. The number of lanes per direction varies by the time of day and traffic flow.

Commuters driving to San Francisco from the north during the morning rush hours usually have four lanes, as shown in the photo below, on a workday at dawn.

Lanes are managed by a movable barrier system, so the number of lanes in each direction changes numerous times throughout each day, depending on traffic flow.

The movable barrier system is made up of 3,517 interlocking steel and concrete pieces. Called the Road Zipper for its interlocking system that resembles a zipper, it is a yellow machine operated by two people, that adjusts the lanes.

This system creates barriers between the lanes. It was installed in 2015 to prevent head-on collisions and has succeeded.

You can see the bright yellow Road Zipper in the next two photos.

The Golden Gate Bridge first opened to traffic on May 27, 1937.

The toll to cross then was 50 cents per car in each direction. Now, 86 years later, it is $9.75.

More toll info: GGB Highway and Transportation District

More info: Wikipedia Golden Gate Bridge

Many people like to cross on foot or bicycle, there are sidewalks. It’s fun…and costs nothing. It is usually cool or cold, and windy. It is also loud, with the constant and rhythmic thu-dud thu-dud of vehicles.

But it’s completely exhilarating and picturesque.

Standing on the bridge, you are 246 feet (75m) above the water. You are up high.

If it is not foggy, looking east you see the San Francisco Bay with Alcatraz and Angel Islands, and miles and miles of water.

But foggy days are frequent.

Long barges and large ships lumber to and from the shipyards.

Sailboats and yachts abound on a sunny day.

Ferries transport commuters and tourists year-round.

Looking to the west is the vast Pacific Ocean and the ridges and peaks of the Marin Headlands, a part of the Pacific Coast Range mountains.

The span is 1.7 miles (2.7 km). When your southbound drive comes to the bridge’s end, there are eight toll gates. All toll-taking is electronic, and the toll is only collected once, in the south direction.

The bridge clock is perched here too, photo below.

For San Francisco residents of today or yesterday, the Golden Gate Bridge is more than a bridge or a landmark. It is part of living in this city by the bay.

Everyone has a Golden Gate story. I love to hear the stories.

One of my dear friends who was the young child of a San Francisco police officer, for example, tells of when she was treated to the thrilling officials-only elevator ride up in the bridge tower. Another friend who went on the 50th anniversary Bridge Walk talks about the sudden and terrifying jolt when the bridge had too many pedestrians.

Some folks have antique tools or old cable pieces from the bridge, other Bay Area residents paint their homes “international orange” as a salute to the beloved bridge.

Like most people who live here, I love to cruise under the bridge. It’s quiet and serene and the bridge is far more immense than you realize.

My favorite memories are of being on boats cruising under the bridge–bird and wildlife cruises, Fourth of July firework cruises, ferry rides on lunch hours, and more.

Look at how huge this tower base is. The size of surfers, below, gives perspective.

“Born” in 1937, and 86 years later, the Golden Gate Bridge is still a much-loved landmark.

Happy Birthday to one of the world’s most beautiful bridges.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Birds at Big Morongo

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a Southern California wildlife preserve about a half-hour north of Palm Springs. It is a pleasure to share this magnificent place.

When you first arrive, there is a large parking lot surrounded by big, old cottonwood trees. I hadn’t been there five minutes when I spotted a vermilion flycatcher (photo above) in one of the cottonwoods. He stuck around for a few minutes; but then as birding can be, we never saw him again.

The park is one of the ten largest cottonwood and willow riparian habitats in California, and the large, leafy cottonwood trees, members of the poplar family, were popping with birds.

A pair of western bluebirds also joined us, here is the male.

Near the parking lot is an information kiosk with photos and siting lists, always a great way to start a hike or bird walk.

The Preserve started in 1968 when the Nature Conservancy bought 80 acres from a rancher. Over the years, more acreage was purchased and more organizations stepped in. Today it is part of the Sand to Snow National Monument and encompasses 31,000 acres, with wildlife corridors connecting the Preserve with Joshua Tree National Park. 

It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, and also run by a successful non-profit organization, Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

More info: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

I have been here three times, and each time was in the month of February. Temperatures this past February were chilly and the mountains were snow-covered. Many of the trees were still bare, but some of the birds, like the vermilion flycatcher, were just arriving for the summer.

There were also plenty of year-round residents like the California Scrubjay and the Nuttall’s Woodpecker. Both of these bird species nest here.

Most of the Preserve lies within the Mojave Desert but a small portion also includes the Sonoran Desert.

Deserts, mountains, natural springs, a creek and marsh offer a diverse landscape featuring a rich array of habitats. As you can imagine, a corridor with fresh water in a desert location is a big draw for the wildlife.

This mountain chickadee reminded us of the mountain habitat.

A well-maintained and extensive boardwalk takes the visitor through the wet areas and winds around the creek and woods. There are also trails into the desert and leading up to the ridges.

Link to Trail Map

When we walked by these palms photographed below, they were screeching with finches. I saw many house finches and lesser goldfinches flying into the brown palm cover and not coming out–they were snug and secure in their community.

These are California fan palms. They are native and commonly seen in southern California. Washingtonia filifera.

We saw many songbirds in the woods around us: yellow-rumped warblers, oak titmice, bushtits, black phoebes, ruby-crowned kinglets, American robins, California towhees, white-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. Woodpeckers, raptors, songbirds, hummingbirds and more.

Here is a cedar waxwing we found in a flock.

In addition to the birds, there are mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and more. We stopped to listen to a few chorus frogs, but could not see them in their murky, tall-grass hideaways.

California ground squirrels greeted us…

…and as the sun warmed the day up, an occasional western fence lizard joined us too.

The surrounding desert mesquite plants were loaded with mistletoe. Phainopeplas are attracted to the mistletoe berries. This is a desert bird I have only seen a few times in my life, and always a joy to spot.

The Preserve boasts 263 recorded bird species and is an internationally recognized birding site.

There is no entrance or parking fee at Big Morongo and you can show up with or without an agenda.

For birders like us, we follow the flash of color, whirring of wingbeats, or the intriguing “chip” of a call above.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Every Day is Earth Day

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the first Earth Day, established in 1970. Although April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day, environmentalism began long before that day, and it continues today.

Below are three outstanding examples of early American pioneers in environmentalism. For each I have provided a brief overview, and a few links and photos.

More info about Earth Day 2023:

Rachel Carson…

…published Silent Spring in 1962, a book that forewarns readers how the world will be silenced of bird song if the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides continues. She was a marine biologist and writer, presented scientific evidence of the damage from pesticides.

She began her research in the mid-1940s on the new pesticides, one being DDT. At the same time, a contemporary of hers, Paul Hermann Müller, was awarded the 1948 Nobel prize for his 1939 discovery of insecticidal qualities in DDT in the control of vector diseases such as malaria.

Hers was an uphill battle with sharp opposition. But she was not alone in her efforts. Early environmentalists gathered data for decades, recording and demonstrating the gradual disappearance of new generations of birds whose eggshells were no longer strong enough to develop.

Eventually, in 1972 DDT was banned from the United States.

Today we have Rachel Carson and her fellow environmentalists to thank for the presence of the bald eagle, brown pelican, osprey, peregrine falcon and other birds that had been so severely affected by DDT that they almost went extinct…but they didn’t.


Silent Spring Wikipedia

Rachel Carson Wikipedia

DDT Report by US Environmental Protection Agency, History and Status, 2023

Save the Bay…

… is a nonprofit organization started in 1961 by three women living in the San Francisco Bay Area. At that time the San Francisco Bay was showing alarming signs of shrinking and the so-called solution was to cut off the top of nearby San Bruno Mountain and put it into the bay. They rallied the community and began a fundraising campaign to stop landfill in the bay.

Esther Gulick, Kay Kerr and Sylvia McLaughlin’s organization was successful in saving the bay from landfill. As it grew bigger and stronger, tangential environmental organizations were formed with the purpose of protecting the bay and all of its surroundings.

Today, humans, plants and animals thrive in and alongside the San Francisco Bay; and Save the Bay remains a strong presence in this urban environment by restoring wetlands, addressing rising seas, pollution and climate impacts.


Save the Bay Non-Profit

Save the Bay Wikipedia

Marjory Stoneman Douglas…

…was a Florida journalist and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. At the age of 79, she became a tireless crusader for the preservation and restoration of South Florida.

In the mid-20th century with the advent of air conditioning, sunny, warm Florida experienced rapid demographic and economic growth. Government and private entities were clearing away the natural estuarine habitats and making room for human development.

Her book, The Everglades: River of Grass (1947) and grassroots efforts to stop human development, polluting, and water diversion of the Everglades began awareness that continues to this day.

Today the Everglades Foundation is dedicated to restoring and protecting the Everglades ecosystem as the climate changes and the resource of water remains as precious as when she began her efforts.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wikipedia

The Everglades Foundation

Fortunately there are thousands more stories of individuals, organizations, and lawmakers around the world working tirelessly to protect our planet for future generations of people and wildlife.

We have come a long way but there is always more to do. For today, take a moment to breathe in fresh air and ponder at how wonderful that is.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

The humble tulip, for many of us, is a flower of intense color that brightens up the earth after a cold winter of dark, inclement days and months.

The two tulip photos below are springtime scenes from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

A walk down my street this week reveals the daffodils fading and other spring flowers peaking, but we do not see many tulips here in Northern California. There are one or two, here and there.

Most home and professional gardeners here treat tulips as annuals because our winters aren’t cold enough. Tulips require prolonged exposure to cold weather in order to stimulate flowering in spring. Dedicated home gardeners dig up the bulbs and put them in cold storage to replant.

These are tulips, below, we found on a spring day outside the San Francisco Hyatt.

For a deeper appreciation of the tulip, let’s ahead “across the pond” to Europe and Asia.

Native tulips still grow wild in the mountainous regions of Central Asia (see map at end). Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have endemic tulips, but they are dwindling into endangered status.

The majority of tulips we see today are cultivated.

It is thought that tulips, members of the lily family, were probably cultivated in Persia (now Iran) in the 10th century.

By the 15th century, they were a prized flower and considered to be a symbol of abundance and indulgence.

Northern European diplomats to the Ottoman court observed them and reported on them. In 1573, Carolus Clusius, a pioneering botanist, planted and cultivated tulips at the Vienna Imperial Botanical Gardens; and by 1594 the tulips were on the market and the tulip craze had begun.

The Netherlands, then called the Dutch Republic, was one of the world’s leading economic and financial powers in the 17th century and became the leading trader in tulips.

Between 1634 and 1637, the tulip frenzy escalated. Collectors began paying more and more for a single bulb.

This painting below depicts the rare Semper Augustus variety. At the height of the craze, one bulb sold for 13000 florins, the price of a decent house at the time. (Painting courtesy Wikipedia, anonymous artist)

“Tulip mania” as it was called, could not be sustained, and by 1637 it had collapsed.

Unless you have studied economics and learned about this early form of speculative trading, tulips are not something most of us equate to a devastating 17th century market frenzy that destroyed many people.

More info: Tulip Wikipedia and Wild Tulips Fauna & Flora International

Today the Netherlands remains the Tulip Capital of the World.

Visitors to Amsterdam can find the city flower market on the Singel canal where glasshouses on fixed barges are bursting with flowers.

But a far bigger spring tourist attraction are the formal gardens and nearby tulip fields at Keukenhof flower gardens in Lisse.

This link is a good post about visiting Keukenhof: Best Tulip Fields in the Netherlands

Tulip festivals remain a star attraction all over the world, not just in the Netherlands but in England, Australia, the U.S. and Canada, India and many other countries.

The tulip, sweet tulip, has a bewitching history, attracts folks to the fields from all over the world, and delights us on a blustery spring day.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athen Alexander.

Tulip Distribution: red=natural, yellow=introduced. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Palm Springs, California

There is much to share about this thriving city in the Sonoran Desert, here are a few of the highlights.

Far less populated than Arizona’s Tucson or Phoenix, Palm Springs is a relatively small western desert city. It covers approximately 94 square miles (240 km2) with a 2010 census population of only 44,552. In the winter months, the climate is warm and sunny, attractive to additional visitors and snowbird residents.

Summers here in the desert are brutally hot. In the past it was virtually closed down in summer, but now it is a year-round community. In the hottest months, residents get their outdoor exercise at dawn and rely on air conditioning and swimming pools.

More info: Palm Springs Wikipedia.

The geography of the area is dominated by underground tectonic plates that have formed mountains and hot springs. It is called the Coachella Valley and is a rift valley in southern California’s Colorado Desert, a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert. The desert valley stretches for about 45 miles (72 km) from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea.

The city’s most attractive feature, towering mountains, defines Palm Springs. The San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east.

The arid desert biome of Palm Springs yields a splendid variety of cacti, succulents and palms. Whether you’re in a wild area or a residential neighborhood, desert plants and flowers decorate the landscape.

Native California Fan Palms (Washingtonia Filifera) are everywhere in Palm Springs.

There are many large and small parks in the Palm Springs area, below are two: Indian Canyons and Oswit Canyon.

Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, is six miles from the center of town; has three canyons with approximately 60 miles of trails traversing palm groves, rock formations, and mountain-fed streams.

Oswit Canyon, on the edge of town, is within the city limits on South Palm Canyon Drive. It offers a short desert trail flanked by the San Jacinto mountains.

Pre-colonial settlers to the area were Native American people of various Cahuilla Nation tribes. They developed extensive communities in many of the canyons. Today more than 10% of the city is part of the Cahuilla reservation, the most populated reservation in California.

The city’s history as a fashionable resort town with natural hot springs dates back to the 1900s when tourists arrived with medical conditions that required dry heat. Since then, spas, resorts and other vacation activities like golf courses and tennis clubs have also expanded in this pleasant winter climate.

It is only 100 miles east of Los Angeles, attracting Angeleno weekenders. In its early history, Palm Springs was a mecca for Hollywood film stars.

Over the past century, film stars, American presidents, British royalty, military leaders, famous architects and many other notables have enjoyed this community.

Link: Notable Palm Springs Residents, Wikipedia

Star-struck visitors today could spend days scouting out homes and mansions of early Hollywood celebrities and famous people. Here are two, below.

The first one is Marilyn Monroe’s home where she lived with husband Joe DiMaggio; and the second is Liberace’s home. Both homes are now private residences, but feature the original celebrity’s mailboxes.

Architecture became noteworthy in Palm Springs when wealthy film stars started buying up desert properties and building houses.

Architectural Digest calls it the “Mecca of midcentury modernism.”

Spanish Colonial architecture is prominent here too.

The downtown (below) is lively with al fresco dining and chic shops.

Museums, restaurants, bars, and hotels accommodate and entertain visitors and residents.

Below is an interior look at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Not far from the art museum is a colossal 26-foot (8 m) sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, created by sculptor Seward Johnson. It is a popular and permanent tourist attraction. And just like Marilyn Monroe herself, the sculpture “Forever Marilyn” is heated with controversy.

Palm Springs highlights the natural features of a canyon desert, hosting generations of sun-loving inhabitants.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Birds of the California Desert

We are lucky in this great state of California to have many different environmental habitats, providing a rich variety of bird and wildlife species. Let’s cruise down to southern California for desert birds.

There are dozens and dozens of bird species in the California desert. Some species reside in a variety of habitats across the state, some migrate through the desert, and yet others who reside in the desert. We’ll focus on a few of the desert dwellers here.

To me, there’s no bird that says “desert” more than the roadrunner. The California species is the Greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, in the cuckoo family.

Much like another desert dweller, the lizard, Greater roadrunners use thermoregulation to manage their bodies in extreme heat. They soak up the sun to get their energy by sunbathing. With wings apart and backs to the sun, they ruffle their feathers to expose their skin underneath to absorb the sun’s heat.

More info here: Greater Roadrunner Wikipedia

Roadrunners are very fast birds running at 20 mph (32 km/h) and more–they’re faster running than any other bird that flies (ostriches are faster, but don’t fly). Most of the time they are on the ground running, not flying, using their long tail as a rudder.

We saw these roadrunners in the Salton Sea years ago.

The phainopepla is another desert bird.

We often saw them flying into the desert mistletoe for berries, but capturing a photo proved tricky…they’re skittish.

Years ago we saw this female phainopepla, below, in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve outside of Palm Springs.

At the time we were hoping to get a photo of the glossy male, too, and finally did…but not until 12 years later when we returned to the California desert this month.

Interestingly, phainopeplas have a specialized mechanism in their gizzard to digest mistletoe berry skins.

A few other birds in the California desert include: Verdin, Gambel’s Quail, Abert’s Towhee and the Cactus Wren.

We also saw many Costa’s hummingbirds, below. I recently posted an essay with more photos of this glorious bird.

Link: Costa’s Hummingbird by Jet Eliot.

The black-throated sparrow is a hardy and dapper desert dweller, also referred to as the desert sparrow.

And lastly, the vermilion flycatcher, Pyrocephalus obscurus, made a bright appearance one day a few weeks ago when we were in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. We had just gotten out of the car and were gearing up. With binoculars, I scanned the cottonwoods in the parking lot and was thrilled to see this bright red bird.

They do not winter in the desert. We learned from a local birder that this individual had just arrived that day.

I am always amazed at creatures who can live in the extreme desert temperatures. Thanks for joining me to celebrate these desert dwellers today.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

A Snowy Day in Joshua Tree

This was our second visit to Joshua Tree National Park, the previous one was for a half-day 12 years ago.

This park has a sacredness to it, and I felt it the first time, which is why we were back again.

But this second visit was really special, not only because I have matured over the years and was willing to move slower and listen more carefully to the rocks, trees, and plants around me, but because on our third and final day we were blanketed for six hours in fresh-fallen snow.

Snow doesn’t come often to southern California. We’ve had crazy weather the past two months in California.

The park is in a sprawling desert with six mountain ranges. It was first declared a space worth preserving in 1936 and then more recently, in 1994, when an act of U.S. Congress brought more space and more protection.

It is so big that it encompasses two deserts: the Colorado and the Mojave.

Like much of California, Joshua Tree NP lies near tectonic plates that have been uplifting and moving mountains for millions of years.

More info: Joshua Tree National Park Wikipedia

The eastern side of the park, with elevations below 3,000′, is in the Colorado Desert. Low elevation plants grow here; and less snow was falling here.

And the other part, the Mohave Desert part, is higher in elevation (above 3,000′) and has a vast community of Joshua trees. Here the snow came down in big, wet flakes and never stopped for the entire day.

It kept falling, so silently, and covering the Joshua trees. Yucca brevifolia are not technically trees, they are succulents in the agave (Agavaceae) family.

The winds were strong, sometimes the snow was horizontal, but the “trees” never swayed, as if they were made for all this weather adversity. And they are. They have thrived through centuries of drought, and yet they also prefer occasional cold temperatures.

The snow was sticking and could be shaped. There were not many people out in this frigid weather, but I saw a little girl, about two or three years old–she was the only person I saw with a snowball. She had it gripped in her little hand and was gnawing on it with abandon.

We saw indistinct tracks in the snow from wildlife and a few hardy birds.

Athena, with her numerous cameras and lenses, was oblivious to the freezing temperatures and cutting wind, out there snapping away, recording the beauty.

Gradually, over the course of the day as the snow continued to fall, the desert transformed. The hard, brown, dry ground vanished; replaced by a carpet of fluffy whiteness.

The cacti all across the desert floor, normally foreboding with their millions of spikey spines, were rounding out with each hour of snow, turning into soft white blobs.

Most magical of all were the Joshua trees. Right before my eyes these other-worldly trees with one trunk and a dozen or so branches were turning into people-like figures, bodies with arms.

As the snow kept falling, shrouding their pointy leaves and rugged trunks, they became flexible dancers, reaching their arms out, meeting the fresh snow with grace and rhythm.

The rocky outcroppings, usually towering and unapproachable, softened too. The gaps and cracks in the rocks filled in with snow, reshaping and accenting their loveliest features.

Eventually the mountains and boulders disappeared in a white-out. The sky blackened and the storm intensified.

And just as we were exiting the park, the never-closed gates had to be closed, due to shifting snow and dangerous road conditions.

I suspect those Joshua trees kept on dancing–celebrating the endless open space, the cleansing wind and refreshing snow.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Costa’s Hummingbird

I have just returned from a week of vacation in southern California and wanted to share this hummingbird with you, another dazzler.

The Costa’s hummingbird is a common bird in southern California, as well as the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico. It winters in western Mexico.

The back is emerald and there are a few white markings. But of course it is the male’s throat that glitters with brilliance.

We saw it often in the desert landscapes and urban gardens. This is a desert canyon, below, on the outskirts of Palm Springs where we saw over a dozen Costa’s hummingbirds.

What is unique about this hummingbird is its purple–deep rich purple–gorget or throat.

Many hummingbirds have red and pink and orange gorgets. And there are other purple hummingbirds, but the purple gorget (pronounced gor-jet) of this Costa’s is not something we see too often.

Sometimes the male’s gorget looks black, depending on the light.

The bird is small, as most hummingbirds are, at 3-3.5 inches long (7-9 cm).

They live year-round in southern California, and last week when we were there, the males were doing their impressive, acrobatic swoops and dives–their courtship displays. See range map at end.

A flash of royal purple as one hummingbird, and then another, zoomed from flowering plant to plant.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Costa’s Hummingbird Range, courtesy Wiki. Yellow=breeding, Green=year-round, Blue=winter.

Coyote gets a Gopher

We struck gold one day at Point Reyes recently, when we watched a coyote dramatically dig a gopher out of its hole.

At first the coyote was sniffing around in that canine way, randomly checking out his favorite spots in the grassy field. We were on a broad ridge, a windy ridge, with the Pacific Ocean to our left and Drakes Bay to the right.

He was quite far away, ambling closer.

It was mid-afternoon when the road is fairly busy, we couldn’t just stop and watch. Fortunately there was a pause in traffic, and I was able to stop the car and quickly pull over; the berm was flat and wide and not too soft. There was a large electronic traffic sign on the roadside we could park in front of without impeding traffic or attracting attention.

Other cars whizzed by while we watched the cool and silent drama unfold.

Athena captured these photos from the car’s open window.

We marveled at his lustrous coat, so thick. It was January and he had on his winter coat. Beautiful bushy tail.

It is a sad thing to see wild mammals who have suffered from drought, starvation or injury; visible ribs, wavering gait, ghostly countenance.

This wild mammal was robust and confident.

We had only been watching about five minutes when he found something–he stood tense and alert, engaged. His nose was, literally, to the ground.

Started digging.

He dug so feverishly that soon his front legs were deep inside the hole. Digging, relentless and urgent digging.

The coyote was very aware of us, but had more important things on his mind. We stayed in the car and let him be.

He continued to dig…and then it all stopped. We couldn’t see at first what he was crouched over.

He was bent over something. Then he came out of the hole and lifted his head, gnawed and chomped. We saw a limp, muddy lump between his jaws.

Got a gopher.

It was covered with mud, very black mud, must’ve been deep in the burrow.

Canis latrans are primarily carnivorous and have a wide diet; small, burrowing mammals are one of their common prey. He had probably injured the gopher, trapped it.

The whole event lasted about two minutes.

Native American folklore calls coyote “the trickster.”

And there was something to this, because out of nowhere, just after he finished his last bite, a second coyote appeared.

It was obvious the two of them knew each other, there was no strain, tension or posturing.

As they left us and walked off, our gopher warrior was easily recognizable: he kept licking his chops, reliving his tasty snack.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Early Spring Wonders

Our Northern California spring days have been a joy. Come join me for a morning walk. It’s a little chilly so button up.

It is in the low Fahrenheit 30s every morning (-1C) and by mid-day reaches about 55F (13C). The sunshine’s warmth opens up the buds a little bit more each day.

The early spring flowers, like narcissus paper whites and daffodils, are out now, adding an occasional heady scent to the path.

The flowering quince is in bloom, another early spring flowering delight.

Deciduous oaks and ornamental gingkos are still leafless, but they have promising buds. We walk along a creek where there are many willow trees. It is a glorious sight to see so many willow branches covered with cottony catkins…pussy willows.

Our early morning walks reveal frost on the grass and rooftops, but as we reach the third and final mile, the grass has already become dewy and a popular spot for robins.

American robins are often thought of as spring harbingers in American culture; but that does not ring true for those of us who live in mild climates. Robins live here in northern California throughout the winter. I have seen them in large flocks of 100 a few times, but usually it’s flocks of 25-30.

Almost every day I am now hearing western bluebirds, even very early when it is still frosty cold.

Reptiles and amphibians are waking up too. Sometimes on a very warm day a tiny western fence lizard will be sunning on a rock. Only the tiny ones are out right now, they have less body to charge up than the adult lizards. Adults are still hibernating underground.

The spring calls of occasional frogs and toads ribbiting around the creeks can also be heard.

Some of the birds are changing their repertoire, singing their spring songs.

The oak titmouse is changing voices from its scratchy winter call into melodious tunes of spring.

Listen below:

Winter Oak Titmouse call

Spring Oak Titmouse call

Lately not a day goes by without the red-shouldered hawks proclaiming propriety with their piercing calls.

Last week we spotted one of my favorite spring arrivals in the backyard: the Allen’s hummingbird. They spend their winters in central Mexico and are now returning here to Northern California to breed. So far I have only seen the males; the females will come soon. The Allen’s are creating quite a stir for the year-round resident Anna’s hummingbirds, and the fierce battles have begun.

We came upon this Anna’s hummingbird feasting on the flowers of a bolted vegetable plant.

It’s a little too early for the riot of spring flowers and dancing butterflies, but it is a marvelous time to take in the bounties of the new spring season.

Written by Jet Aliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.