Monday, October 27, 2008


There is nothing like an early fall hike here in California. It's not quite like fall in a hardwood forest, but it has its own charm. The sycamore leaves are generally the first to turn a golden yellow, with the maples, elms, and others following along as we move into November.

The waterfall trail at Walker Ranch (in the eastern section of Placerita Canyon) is dry this time of year, and thus my friend Paula and I were able to hike all the way back to the very end of the canyon. But we saw enough evidence along the way to convince us that this place would be quite dangerous when heavy water is flowing.

The canyon walls are steep and covered with trees and brush. It keeps the whole place in shade all day. It was very cool up there and a real pleasureable break from all the recent heat.

The sycamore leaves shone like stained glass as the sun streamed through them.

And leaf litter is left in growing piles around the feet of the trees and in every crevice.

Summer's leaves spent and decaying, creating mulch is Nature's way of recycling.

A Western Bluebird still lingering in the canyon...

...turned out to be one of a pair that has claimed a nesting box.

Acorn Woodpecker - the clowns of the canyon. Their laughing call makes me smile every time I hear it.

This one seems to ask, "Why do you keep bothering me?"

And this is what I call "Fort Knox" - an Acorn Woodpecker granary. This entire tree, from top to bottom, was covered with holes, many of them stuffed with acorns. There were two woodpeckers still busy stuffing more into the holes, as seen in the photo in the lower right.

One of the very special things about this spot was when we got up into the upper reaches of the canyon it was almost absolutely QUIET. All one could hear was the chirping of crickets, some faint birdsong, and the laughing of the woodpeckers. I thought it was all but impossible in L.A. without the aid of earplugs! Since we were the only ones up there for about an hour, we were able to revel in it.
Some words of caution to anyone who decides to walk up there however: IT IS LOADED WITH POISON OAK! So careful where you walk and where you put your hands!
Bird list:
White-tailed Kite
Oak Titmouse
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Canyon Wren
Spotted Towhee
Acorn Woodpecker
Scrub Jay
Steller's Jay
Cooper's Hawk
Common Raven
White-breasted Nuthatch
Dark-eyed Junco
Western Bluebird
This is a protected area, so please tread lightly. "Take only photos. Leave only footprints." Because of the high fire danger, please leave your smoking stuff at home (we actually found a cigarette butt up in the upper reaches of the canyon--shocking!). There are so many creatures that call this home it would be a shame to ruin it by a careless act. They've had a hard road of recovery since the last fire back in the early 90s. So please be kind if you choose to visit here.

Friday, October 24, 2008


The Rose by Theodore Roethke

There are those to whom place is unimportant,
But this place, where sea and fresh water meet,
Is important-
Where the hawks sway out into the wind,
Without a single wingbeat,
And the eagles sail low over the fir trees,
And the gulls cry against the crows
In the curved harbors,
And the tide rises up against the grass
Nibbled by ship and rabbits.
A time for watching the tide,
For the heron's hieratic fishing,
For the sleepy cries of the towhee,
The morning birds gone, the twittering finches,
But still the flash of the kingfisher, the wingbeat of the scoter.
The sun a ball of fire coming down over the water,
The last geese crossing against the reflected afterlight,
The moon retreating into a vague cloudshape
To the cries of the owl, the eerie whooper.
The old log subsides with the lessening waves,
And there is silence.
I sway outside myself
Into the darkening currents,
Into the small spillage of driftwood,
The waters swirling past the tiny headlands.
Was it here I wore a crown of birds for a moment
While on a far point of the rocks
The light heightened, and below, in a mist out of nowhere,
The first rain gathered?

I live with the rocks, their weeds,
Their filmy fringes of green, their harsh
Edges, their holes
Cut by the sea-slime, far from the crash of the long swell,
The oily, tar-laden walls
Of the toppling waves,
Where the salmon ease their way into the kelp beds,
And the sea rearranges itself among the small islands.
Near this rose, in this grove of sun-parched, wind-warped madronas,
Among the half-dead trees,
I came upon the true ease of myself,
As if another man appeared out of the depths of my being,
And I stood outside myself,
Beyond becoming and perishing,
A something wholly other,
As if I swayed out on the wildest wave alive,
And yet was still.
And I rejoiced in being what I was:
In the lilac change, the white reptilian calm,
In the bird beyond the bough, the single one
With all the air to greet him as he flies,
The dolphin rising from the darkening waves;
And in this rose, this rose in the sea-wind,
Rooted in stone, keeping the whole of light,
Gathering to itself sound and silence-
Mine and the sea-wind's.

[Roethke has always been my favorite poet. This particular poem sums up how I felt during my Morro Bay trip. It was indeed mystical and magical. I used these two sections of the poem as they were the most relevant.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MORRO BAY TRIP - OCT. 10-13, 2008

Morro Rock - View from Natural History Museum near Morro Bay State Park campgound.

Sometimes it's fun to travel a little farther afield to find 'the wild.' My birding pal Paula and I made a 4-day sojourn to Morro Bay over the weekend and camped at Morro Bay State Park. It is a well-kept and rather decadent camp compared to a lot of others I've been to; they have flush toilets and showers! We had a lovely site surrounded by trees and were able to do a fair amount of birding just sitting at the camp site. I had a few life birds this trip, too:
  • Virginia's Warbler
  • Brown Creeper
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Fox Sparrow

The bushes were full of White-crowned Sparrows, whose lovely song filled the air. They seemed to be everywhere we went and they are not too shy, which made for some great photos. Also present around the camp was a large mixed flock of Brewer's and Red-winged Blackbirds. Their raucous dawn chorus was a real wake up call.

There was also a number of Turkey Vultures that roosted in the eucalyptus trees by night and took to the air as soon as the air warmed enough in the morning. The mornings were cold, so they often perched in the trees and sunned themselves until quite late. But as soon as the breeze kicked up and it was warmer, up they'd go, and circled the camp all day long.

View of the estuary from Black Hill, which rises to a whopping 635' behind the campground.

A nice old hillside pine sentinel.

Path through cypress trees below the museum.

Nuttall's Woodpecker goes upside down in search of bugs!

The ubiquitous Mr. Scrub Jay.

Turkey Vulture soaking up the morning sun. They roost in the trees until the sun heats up the air enough for them to soar.

Red-shouldered Hawk give me a look over the shoulder.

Long-billed Curlew in tidepool at Montana de Oro State Park.

Black Oystercatcher in tidepool - Montana de Oro.

Young buck sporting antler bumps. This youngster was hiding in a little gully back in the scrub along the cliffside trail.

White-crowned Sparrow - Montana de Oro.

Cove view - Montana de Oro.

Rocks carved by waves.

Rocks and crashing surf - Montana de Oro

Water-sculpted rocks and surf - Montana de Oro

More rocks and surf.

Field of scrub and eucalyptus grove - Montana de Oro

Sunset, looking towards the hills from the small boat harbor near the campground.

Red-shouldered Hawk perched above the field, hunting for dinner.
This was an outstanding trip to a place that previously I'd only driven through. The scenery was fabulous, the birding great, and the camping a really fun time.
[Composed while listening to the Polish progressive rock band Riverside.]