Am I There Yet? The Oregon Coast!

Many miles to drive before I sleep to arrive at the Oregon coast. I am here days later from Arizona! While on the road, I stayed a night in Garberville, CA where many straight and tall redwood trees stand … wow … they are magnificent.

I did drive hundreds of miles, some on boring interstates and others on twisty, winding rural roads to finally arrive on the coast! Traffic jams are annoying  and I can never figure out what caused the bottleneck ahead of me. When I get to the supposed jam, there seems to be no reason for any back-up!

I try to stop every couple of hours, basically to stretch my body. Sometimes there is a photo-op, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lone Sailor statue, a half hour nap thanks to that bed in my van, or a chai latte and cream donut to bring on a sugar spark. I listen to audiobooks for a couple of hours, then music, then news if an interesting piece is reported.

Golden Gate Bridge

The photo below is the memorial, The Lone Sailor, at the northern end of the Golden Gate. It is here where every person in the Marine Corp, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Navy would see this spot as they leave and return from service. 

There has to be wildlife sightings:

Near the Benbow Historic Inn, I found an active pair of acorn woodpeckers. The pair were caring for young within the tree trunk.

Acorn woodpecker by entrance to nest within tree trunk.
Two woodpeckers at the nest and screaming young within.

Elk signs are everywhere and seeing them was a treat even if roadside:

Elk!

Finally….

I am looking out on the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon coast. The mist seems to hang all morning before the sun comes through. It is cool, very windy and beautiful. I am driving along Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Bike Route. A number of bicyclists are braving the hills, long distances between towns, and unbelievable wind. I say that because as I took some of the photos below, I could barely stand up! A bicycle with full panniers would be like a wall for the wind to push against and while the cyclist holds tight to stay upright. I notice the bike lane is available and sometimes wider on the coast side which makes sense since most cyclists ride north to south. Where the road is too narrow the north-bound bike lane is small or not there at all.

Identify Unknowns With An App

In my twenties I worked as a naturalist at three county parks in New York State. I would lead nature hikes for visitors on the park trails. All ages of visitors would join me. While NYS ferns were my forte, we could never overlook the colorful wildflowers, slowly creeping slugs and snails, various mushrooms and fungi after a rain, or any flying bird or insect. As a result I was always studying my field guides or asking another naturalist to identify something for me.

We have come a long way….

Fifty years later, we have technology to thank with helping us to identify critters and plants we may have no idea of what they are. An app, iNaturalist, provides me with a way to include my photo of a living plant or animal, location and date. Then it suggests what I am trying to identify. After reading through the choices, I choose what the plant or animal may be. Once I share my observation, other individuals provide input to help identify my finding. They may not always agree with me and that is okay. I see their choice and can agree if I do agree.

Could you identify this wildlife?

With the help of the iNaturalist app and others who agree to my identification of each, here are some for you to see if you already know what they are or would need an app to help:

You know it is a dragonfly…specifically it is a blue dasher.
You know it is a cicada….specifically it is a scrub cicada.
You know it is a toad…specifically a red-spotted toad.

There are other apps available to help identify animals and plants. Give them a try!

Bullfrog is Everywhere?

How many times have you walked near a stream bed or pond’s edge to only hear a bullfrog jump away? Darn, actually missed seeing it! I know an area where this often happens when I bird watch. But on this day I decide to find a a bullfrog and photograph one. The heat and time of day meant few hikers or bird watchers would be on this trail. Will this be a perfect time for me to challenge myself in locating a bullfrog?

Slowly and quietly I crept along a grassy edge of a stream. I had heard bullfrogs jump in the water so I moved very slowly to get closer to the area. Do you see the bullfrog’s eyes through the grass in the photo below? I enlarged the photo so you could see the bullfrog more easily than I did.

Blades of grass made it difficult for me to get a good photo. I moved closer, quietly, and assumed the bullfrog saw me as I certainly saw it. This is an American bullfrog found in Canada and North America. It is actually native to eastern North America and considered an invasive species here in Arizona. It is especially a threat to California’s red-legged frog. I moved closer and wanted to get a different angle. Soon I was stepping on grass blades folded over in the water. I stepped closer till my sneakers began to take on water. The bullfrog remains in position with what I think is a smile on its face.

I am thinking this bullfrog is a female. Its tympana are about the same size as the eyes, as you’ll see in the final photo in this post. Male bullfrogs have tympana larger than their eyes. I would love to see any frog shoot their tongue out and attack a prey. I have only seen that on nature program. They capture the prey in less than one-tenth of a second! Wow, and I certainly have no photography equipment to capture that action. But this was a good challenge for me and here is an American bullfrog!

American bullfrog before it jumps away!

Squirrels Should NOT Be Fed by Humans!

Squirrels, as with other wild animals, should not be fed any food from humans. You may find it enjoyable to feed them. The squirrels run toward you for the bread crumbs, peanuts, crackers and whatever else you are feeding them; then they scoot away to only run back for more food. However, please know the reasons why signs are posted with info stating not to feed the squirrels.

Why should you not feed squirrels? The posted sign states one good reason:

Sure, the squirrel population will explode and pest control will need to take action to decrease the squirrel population. Also know, when squirrels are not fed they become aggressive and when not fed for a period of time they can starve to death.

We want animals to maintain a natural fear of humans. A truly wild animal will move away when a human arrives. So that is a clue about the health of an animal if it seems to be hanging around you … possibly looking for food from you … because that animal equates humans as a food source.

Flashback to a squirrel bite moment…

I was walking along the sidewalk and saw young ladies feeding 6 squirrels. Wow, this did remind me of my youngest sister having been bit by a squirrel at the bottom of a Colorado gorge decades ago. My sister was 7 years old at the time. She casually picked up a popcorn kernel from the ground and stuck her fingers through a fence. There a squirrel eagerly took it and bit her finger. We took my sister to an emergency room. Her finger was thoroughly cleaned and doctors decided not to start the painful series of rabies shots. Was this squirrel possibly rabid? My entire family worried for days about my sister’s health. It was this time I became aware of the importance of wild animals needing to know how to hunt or find their own food and not look for a human’s handout.

As I walked further down the sidewalk, a squirrel and I seemed to have a stare down. Honestly, I kept my eye on the squirrel and it on me. The squirrel remained so transfixed on me I had plenty of time to take the photo above! There was no way I was even going to open my own snack bar for lunch while this squirrel was near me. Finally I did see the sign about not feeding the squirrels. Obviously more than one sign is needed in the area! I ate my snack in my van and the squirrel finally went its own way.

Aliso Creek Bicycle Path & My Observations

I started my bicycle ride from the Aliso Wood Canyon Nature Preserve in Mission Viejo, California. I love stopping by one area of the creek because I know I will see birds.

Sure enough, there was a white-faced ibis, snowy egret and mallard with 6 chicks! They were so cute following their mother down the creek!

White-face ibis
Snowy egret
Mallard with 6 chicks

Then I decided to bicycle ride more miles in the other direction from the visitor center. I was surprised to see this warning sign as it was not here last year:

Always read warning signs!

What was bringing the mountain lions to the area’s trails. Usually healthy wild animals will stay away from humans. Something obviously changed in the past year.

As I rode the landscape changed. Apparently a wildfire had come close to the water treatment plant in the area and the hillsides were burned. No doubt this was the reason mountain lions were being displaced and now within eyesight of humans hiking and bicycling on the wilderness trails. 

Fire burned area
No place for an animal to shelter or find food

My last visit I did cycle one mountain bike trail here. This time though I decided I did not want to be solo rider on the trail. I would not be making enough noise to let a mountain lion know I was in the area. As wildfires burn more acres of land, wildlife will be displaced. Are you doing your part to reduce wildfire risks? No one, humans or wildlife, want to lose their homes. Do what you can to protect your community.

How Herons Cool Off, Really?!

Birds have no sweat glands, but need to regulate their body temperature like you and I on a hot day. The other day I saw a great blue heron in a wooded area by a pond’s edge, yet could not get a photo so I walked the trail and looped back 50 minutes later to see if the bird emerged. It did!

The great blue heron had its wings open to catch a breeze. I could understand the need to cool off in the almost 100 degree air temperature, but I actually had never seen a bird doing this behavior. The bird held his wings open for 8 minutes.

A cooling technique.

Then the heron closed its wings and opened its mouth as shown in this photo:

Heron trying to cool itself this way.

Birds open their wings to circulate air to their hot skin and lower body temperature. Passerines or perching birds will pant to lose heat through their respiratory system, but a great blue heron is not a passerine. It will lose heat through a rapid vibration of their upper throat and thin floor of their mouth. I was across the pond from the bird; however, I could see the bird’s throat vibrating. Eleven minutes later the bird had its wings and mouth open.

Bird really wants to cool down, wings and mouth open, throat vibrating.

This bird was working hard to cool off. It had been a half hour observing this bird, so this was the last photo I took … I needed to cool down my own body too. Fun fact I learned while researching birds cooling themselves: turkey vultures urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling … what? really?, wow! Isn’t it fun to learn something new everyday?

Still cooling down… it’s been a hot day!

Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!

Surprise! Elk Ahead in Arizona!

We just ended a late-afternoon Picture Canyon hike in Flagstaff when across the road from the parking lot we heard a sort of bugling sound and noticed some animals in a field. Upon a closer look we discover a herd of elk! There were at least 50 elk grazing in the field and unaware of us.

Elk are the largest species in the deer family and the largest terrestrial animal in North America. They are also called “wapiti” which is a Native American word meaning “light-colored deer”.  We anticipated the elk moving along so we drove our car about a quarter mile down the road to watch them more closely, as they too wandered down to this area. A couple of them looked back at us as we used our car as a photography blind. We certainly wanted to provide these 500 pound animals with plenty of space and to not feel bothered by us.

We were observing this herd after rutting season and it seemed obvious the bull elk had his cows together to move south for the winter. This herd is probably part of the elk herd, referred to as the Interstate -17 herd, which migrates about 24 miles south of Flagstaff for warmer temperatures. The bull elk was calling the others to move.

The herd moved through a fenced-area and away from us so capturing photos was a challenge, but here are some:

Quite a sight to see these animals! I did worry about them traveling south because there are many highways to cross and I am not familiar with any wildlife corridors in the Flagstaff area. I am aware of many elk-vehicle collisions per year. I can only hope this herd finds safety and will return next year to this area. What a great opportunity for us to view wildlife in their natural habitat!

Ten Minutes With a Bobcat …

Many times I drive into Tucson’s Sweetwater Wetlands parking lot and think, which direction will I walk, is this a birding or a photography day, where will there be fewer people on the path. But on this day I see the back-end of a bobcat as I turn into a parking spot! 

I tell myself, I know it is a bobcat and I want to observe him. Slowly I get out of my car, walk around and pull out my camera from the passenger seat. Amazingly the bobcat does not seem to notice my movement and I am about 40 – 50 feet away. I use my car as a blind, snap a couple of photos before I see it pounce into the tall grass. I am hoping to have caught that shot of him pouncing!

Bobcat watching
Bobcat still watching
Bobcat pounces on prey

The bobcat licked his lips as he walked away, totally unaware of my presence. He was so comfortable with the surroundings he even stopped to poop!

Licking lips … nice snack!
Bobcat walking away and not noticing me.
Bobcat poops on the trail.

The bobcat crossed the road, walked along a fence, sat and watched whatever was happening on the other side of the fence for about 5 minutes before he finally walked off. In keeping my distance from the bobcat, both of us had an enjoyable day.

I did take a photo of the bobcat’s scat, but with future scat photos I need to place something down, like a penny, so size is more obvious. Instead, I was more interested in watching what the bobcat was going to do next! What a great opportunity to watch this bobcat!

Bobcat poop
This bobcat is very healthy looking!

Is It a Bird?

While weeding in our backyard I am often distracted by whatever living thing is moving around in the area. Often it’s a bird and I have wished my camera was available. On this day I decided to bring my camera out back where I needed to work.

I saw caterpillars and other crawling bugs among the weeds. In the air, plenty of yellow moths and colorful butterflies, but I was most interested in a larger flyer … a hummingbird moth! The couple of them flying around our desert willow tree, while I worked, enticed me to pick up my camera. An easy choice … time for a break and my camera was nearby! Perfect!

Here are a few photos of this hummingbird moth.

It looks like a bird, but it is a moth; technically named a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata)! And now you know!