Monday, October 26, 2009


Golden leaves of the California Black Oak glow like stained glass in the afternoon sun.

Canyon view along Highway 38

Oak trees amongst the pines, showing off their ability to change color in the fall.

Fall color between the pines.

Hairy Woodpecker probing bark crevices on fallen Douglas Fir.

Tracks of California Ground Squirrel in the soft dirt around the picnic table.

Tracks of...

...Steller's Jay. This fellow hung around all day, hoping we would drop some goodies for him. Although it is fun to do and even more fun to watch, I do not feed wildlife in the forest.

Cloudless Sulpher

Dark-eyed Junco--their colors blend in so well with the ground and pine needle litter that they are often hard to spot.

Shadows between the tree trunks.

Willows framed by pines in a creek bottom along Highway 38 just above Barton Flats.

Fiery willows as far as I could see.

Black Oaks showing off.

Lichen or moss striping a granite boulder.

A closer view...

A detail shot.

Black Oak stump with fall leaves.

Detail of bark.

Since most of my favorite spots in the Angeles National Forest are either burned or closed, I have been searching out new forest areas to visit that are within easy reach of Los Angeles. This past week I have been craving the air and trees of the high country, so I decided to drive up to the San Bernardino National Forest. There were reports of fall foliage, and that coupled with my desire to be among the big trees spurred me upwards.

The first thing that surprised me was how incredibly fast I got there; a drive that I thought would take two hours took a little over one to get to Redlands. Then from there it is about 45 minutes to get up to the 7400’ elevation.

This is the first time I’ve taken this route of Highway 38 and it was a very pleasant and scenic drive. It begins at the bottom point of the Santa Ana River bed, which is incredibly wide at certain points. We made a one pit stop at Thurman Flats Picnic Area. This is a nicely developed area that would be a great place for families with small children. There are picnic tables, restrooms (vault toilets but no sinks or running water, so bring hand sanitizer), and a nature trail that goes along the seasonal stream.

Here is a quote from one of the interpretive signs:

“Imagine a concert given by over a million traveling singers! They give this performance almost any Spring or Summer morning in the San Bernardino Forest. From April to October, as many as 250 migratory bird species stop here on their world tour; every Spring and Fall they take their show on the road. Traveling from as far away as the rainforests of South America, they migrate north in the Spring. With the arrival of the cold weather they return to their warmer southern homes. When looking for a place to nest, forage, and rear their young, or simply looking for a rest stop on their flight north, songbirds prefer to stop where food is abundant and life is easy. They may seek out lakes, stream banks, desert, chaparral, or meadows. All these places can be found in the San Bernardino National Forest. Imagine silence instead of songbirds. Forests in both North and South America are fast disappearing. As the forests disappear, so will the songbirds.”

Though poorly written and a bit grim-sounding at the end, it does give folks a realistic picture of what songbirds go through and are up against.

I saw two American Robins and one Acorn Woodpecker while we were there—all in the same tree, and a few Band-tailed Pigeons flying.

We continued up the road, noticing brilliant yellow foliage even at the lower elevations, with poplar and cottonwoods shimmering golden in the sun. The scenery along the road is spectacular the high you climb, with interesting geologic formations and the beginning of the pine trees. We also noticed many golden yellow trees sprinkled in amongst the pines—California Black Oak sporting their fall foliage.

Our destination for the day was Heart Bar Campground, which is a few miles about Barton Flats. The road is paved for about a quarter mile, then turns into a graded dirt road that is pretty wash-boardy. It is okay for all but the most low-slung passenger vehicles, and SUVs can clip right along on it.

There is a fork and a parking lot about a mile in; beyond here you will need a pickup, SUV or jeep to go up any further, as the road is deeply rutted and filled with large rocks that could really tear up the under chassis of a passenger vehicle.

It was a pleasant 62-degrees and we found a nice little camp spot to day camp in. I don’t know if a permit to camp was required, but we did have a forest pass. There was only one other person at a camp spot, and maybe less than a dozen vehicles passed by as they went farther up road, so it was pretty quiet there.

There weren’t as many birds as I hoped to see, but it is late in the season and already getting down into the mid 30s at night here now:

Dark-eyed Junco (6)
Steller’s Jay (1)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1-male)
Red-tailed Hawk
Hairy Woodpecker
Common Raven

The light fades fast up in the mountains, and by 2 pm we had lost most of the sun at our spot. A cool breeze had risen, blowing through the treetops and sounding like the far-off whisper of surf. Rather than bundle up, we decided to strike camp.

The drive down the mountain was no less beautiful, as the sun was once again shining behind the foliage, making it glow like stained glass. We got glimpses of the lowlands, shrouded in smog, making us wish we did not have to descend. It was a most satisfying day and it left us with good memories that we can float on for a week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Continent-size Garbage Patch Threatens Food Chain

If you have been living under a rock and haven't heard about this--listen up! Some people are careless, some people don't care, but the sad fact is that if human being don't stop being pigs, we are truly doomed. Never mind world wars and economic meltdown; the amount of garbage polluting our planet, on land and sea, is going to bring a day of reckoning. Maybe not for you or me, those of a certain age whose best years are mostly behind us now, but for sure the children who will inherit the earth that we leave them.

Read this article, then please think twice before you casually toss out plastic garbage--or even buy food and products overly packaged in this vile substance. The ocean is already full of it; please to add your garbage to the problem!

Continents of garbage in the oceans are killing marine life and releasing poisons that enter the human food chain, Amanda Woods reports.

In one of the few places on Earth where people can rarely be found, the human race has well and truly made its mark. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies a floating garbage patch twice the size of Britain. A place where the water is filled with six times as much plastic as plankton. This plastic-plankton soup is entering the food chain and heading for your dinner table.

For hundreds of years, sailors and fisherman have known to avoid the area between the Equator and 50 degrees north latitude about halfway between California and Hawaii. As one of the ocean's deserts, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre lacks the wind that sailors need to survive, as well as the nutrients to support large fish or the men who hunt them.

But 10 years ago, Captain Charles Moore took a short cut through the airless doldrums in his catamaran, Algulita, and caught sight of something that changed his life. As he looked out at what should have been a clear blue ocean, Moore saw a sea of plastic. As far as he could see, day after day, were bottles, wrappers and fragments of plastic in every colour.

Historically, the ocean's circular currents have led to accumulation of flotsam and jetsam in the subtropical high, where the waste has biodegraded with the help of marine micro-organisms. But since humans developed a material designed for durability, which can survive exposure to any bacteria, the gyre has been filling with a substance it can't get rid of. Rather than biodegrading, plastic photodegrades, breaking down in the sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces. But no matter how small it gets, it's still plastic, and causes havoc when it enters the stomachs of marine life.

Ian Kiernan, the Australian who founded Clean Up the World, started his environmental campaign 20 years ago after he became appalled by the amount of rubbish he saw on an around-the-world solo yacht race. He'll never forget the first time he saw the gyre.

"It was just filled with things like furniture, fridges, plastic containers, cigarette lighters, plastic bottles, light globes, televisions and fishing nets," Kiernan says.

"It's all so durable it floats. It's just a major problem."

He picks up an ashtray filled with worn-down coloured pieces of plastic. "This is the contents of a fleshy-footed shearwater's stomach," he says. "They go to the ocean to fish but there ain't no fish - there's plastic. They then regurgitate it down the necks of their fledglings and it kills them. After the birds decompose, the plastic gets washed back into the ocean where it can kill again. It's a form of ghost fishing, where it goes on and on."

With gyres in each of the oceans, connected by debris highways, the problem isn't restricted to the North Pacific Gyre. It is estimated there are more than 13,000 pieces of plastic litter on every square kilometer of the ocean surface.

The United Nations Environment Program says plastic is accountable for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals every year. A Dutch study in the North Sea of fulmar seabirds concluded 95 per cent of the birds had plastic in their stomachs. More than 1600 pieces were found in the stomach of one bird in Belgium.

Since his first encounter with the gyre in 1997, Moore has returned several times and created the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to study the problem. The Canadian filmmaker Ian Connacher joined Moore in 2005 and again last year to film the garbage patch for his documentary, I Am Plastic. After a week of sailing from Long Beach, California, Connacher was not prepared for what he saw.

"Charlie once found a mile-long trail of Taco Bell wrappers which had plastic in them. I didn't see anything like that, but that's not the point, because it's the little bits that are really making it a plastic soup," Connacher says.

"The most menacing part is those little bits of plastic start looking like food for certain animals, or the filter feeders don't have any choice, they just pick them up." Then there's the plastic that doesn't float. Greenpeace reports that about 70 per cent of the plastic that makes it to the ocean sinks to the bottom, where it can smother marine life. Greenpeace says Dutch scientists have found 600,000 tonnes of discarded plastic on the bottom of the North Sea alone.

A study by the Japanese geochemist Hideshige Takada and his colleagues at Tokyo University in 2001 found that plastic polymers act like a sponge for resilient poisons such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls. Takada's team found non-water-soluble toxic chemicals can be found in plastic in levels as high as a million times their concentration in water.

As small pieces of plastic are mistaken for fish eggs and other food by marine life, these toxins enter the food chain. Even without this extra toxic load, eating plastic can be hazardous to the health.

In 2002 a study of hermaphrodite fish led Canadian scientists to link estrogen in water to abnormal sex organs in fish. Several plastic additives have been found to mimic estrogen. Some experts, such as Frederick vom Saal, a professor of biological sciences at Missouri University, say declining fertility rates in humans could be linked to exposure to synthetic estrogen in plastics.

Some of the ocean's plastic arrives over the side of a ship as litter, and some is the result of containers falling into the ocean. But Greenpeace says about 80 per cent of plastic found at sea is washed out from the land.

The journal Science last year predicted seafood stocks would collapse by 2048 if overfishing and pollution continued.

Greenpeace says embracing the three Rs - reduce, re-use and recycle - would help tackle the problem. Plastic recycling is lagging well behind paper and cardboard, as people are confused about what recycling is available in their areas. There are other challenges for plastic recycling, such as the fact that it can release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, and that it is more expensive to recycle some plastic than to create a new product from petrochemicals.

The use of bioplastics could help reduce the amount with which we are coating the planet. Traditional petrochemical-based plastics are non-degradable and non-renewable; degradable plastic breaks into smaller pieces in UV light but remains plastic; and there are two kinds of biodegradable plastic that break down in compost - one from a petrochemical resource, the other from a renewable resource such as corn or wheat, which is known as bioplastic.
Dr Katherine Dean, of the CSIRO, says corporate firms have become interested in bioplastic over the past three years.

"When oil prices soared in 2005, that changed a lot of people's perspective, because bioplastic became quite cost-competitive," she says. "All of a sudden it wasn't just about doing the right thing."

In 2001 CSIRO researchers were involved in the development of a corn-based bioplastic that would provide the foundation for the company Plantic Technologies, which developed biodegradable plastic for everything from food and beverage packaging to medical, agricultural and sporting applications.

The chief executive of Plantic, Grant Dow, says once composted, the plastic would become nothing more than carbon dioxide and water.
"For all intents and purposes, it looks like plastic and feels like plastic and does the same thing as plastic in the application," he says.

"It will only biodegrade in the presence of heat, moisture and bacteria, so it will sit in your cupboard pretty much indefinitely, but when the bacteria get to it in compost, that's it. It's gone."

While researchers continue to develop bioplastics, there's no doubt the new generation of polymers can make a difference in day-to-day living. Already supermarkets in Britain, such as Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Tesco, have introduced bioplastic packaging, and food companies are embracing the concept.

Connacher believes as consumers learn more about the situation, many will respond positively. "We think products are going to be recycled, but they're not. We have become irresponsible with the way we use a lot of things, particularly disposable products."


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I haven't written any pleas for support of environmental causes lately, and I generally try not to get too carried away with them. But this one is too important to ignore. This is a portion of an article posted on the "Boreal Songbird Initiative" website:

500 scientists call on Quebec to keep its promise to conserve half of its boreal forest

Jeremy HanceSeptember 13, 2009

This March, the Canadian province of Quebec pledged to conserve 50 percent of its boreal forest lying north of the 49th parallel, protecting the region from industrial, mining, and energy development. On Thursday 500 scientists and conservation professionals—65 percent of whom have PhDs—sent a letter to Quebec's Premier Jean Charest calling on him to make good on his promise.

"In protecting northern Quebec’s natural environment and ensuring responsible development in the rest of the area, your government will set in motion one of the most ambitious sustainable development and nature conservation projects in North America, and one that could serve as a model for the rest of the world," the letter reads.

According to the letter, northern Quebec houses 340 million birds, more than a million caribou, and among the greatest populations of freshwater fish in North America. However, not all species are thriving: woodland caribou, the wolverine, and the golden eagle are all threatened with extinction.

A recent report in Trends in Ecology and Environment showed that the world's boreal forests (occurring mostly in wealthy countries) are greatly threatened by mining, logging, and manmade fire. They found that overall less than 10 percent of the boreal is protected and 60 percent is degraded and fragmented, while 27 percent of the species in this massive ecosystem are threatened with extinction.

The importance of the Boreal Forest is to great to ignore. There comes a time when we must just say no to greedy special interest groups that care nothing for wildlife and consider nature's creatures as expendible in their greedy pursuit of wealth.

Please consider making a donation to the Boreal Songbirds Initiative:

Monday, October 12, 2009


Returned to Morro Bay again this year, same month and days as last year, and camped at Morro Bay State Park. This is a view of Morro Rock taken from near the natural history museum.

Once the morning foggy overcast cleared off, the days were lovely; sunny and cool. For me this is perfect weather! This is a partial view of the MBSP boat harbor, with part of the estuary in the distance.

One of the big pines near my campsite. I don't know my tree species too well, but the convoluted bark texture on these pines was really wonderful.

The treeline as seen from my campsite.

Some rocky peaks that are the same type as Morro Rock--except inland. Taken from the small boat harbor near the campground.

The harbor in Morro Bay, with Morro Rock in the background.

Another shot of the boat harbor. I love boats, I love being out on the water--but am cursed with sever motion sickness. I've tried everything under the sun and though some medications and remedies work, the side affects aren't pleasant. Alas! I am landlocked!

Some sloops and yachts in the harbor.

A young California Sea Lion.

Rear flippers--note the toenails!

Sun bathing sea lions--some of those guys were HUGE!

One guy had the right idea...

...using a headrest!

There is a healthy population of Turkey Vultures that roost in the park. This one was spreading its wings to warm itself one morning before taking flight.
I took Friday off so I would have a long weekend. Arrived mid-afternoon, set up camp, and did a little bird walk. I was surprised to note that there weren't as many birds around here as last year at this time. There were the resident Turkey Vultures and Brewer's Blackbirds, which roost at various trees in the campground, and of course the White-crowned Sparrows; but I saw no migrating warblers this time.
A partial bird list:
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Dark-eyed Junco
Peregrine Falcon
Red-shouldered Hawk
Black Phoebe
American Crow
Various species of sea gulls
Brown Pelican
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owls
The owls hooted during the night; on Friday night I lay awake and listened to them for almost two hours. There were three distinct birds, each with a different voice, calling back and forth. One had the typical deep whoo-WHOO-hoo-hoo-hoo; one was similar, except he had a slight catch at the second note; the third was a higher pitched song. Saturday night there was just the deep-voiced and high-pitched birds calling back and forth, using a 4-note call instead of the 5-note one of the night before.
Saturday night while eating dinner at dusk there was a hatch of flying termites, which brought out six bats hunting them. Was really neat to watch them darting around in the fading light.
One group of campers found out the hard way that you need to keep your food put away--some raccoons got into their food one night. I always put everything in the car at night and wedged the cooler under the seat on the picnic bench so they can't lift the lid. I actauly heard one rattling the handles in the middle of the night--they will try anyway!
It was a delightful trip; very relaxing and a nice getaway. There is still talk of closing a lot of california's state parks and it would be such a shame and a great loss to those of us who enjoy the outdoors to take this away from us. So many things in our state are getting cut, curtailed, and scaled back these days (not to mention the losses due to wildfires), that I am determined to get out and experience and enjoy all I can--while I can.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Want to help the folks that fight wildfires? Here's a link to The Wildland Firefighter Foundation website:

All of us that use the mountains and other wildlands for recreation owe these people our support.

Also, there was a tragic loss to one Forest Service employee during the recent Sheep Fire in the San Bernardino/Angeles National Forests:

This poor guy has lost two homes to fire, now the dogs he rescued that were abandoned in the forest. He was also recently beaten while serving a ticket on a violator in the forest. If you want to send a donation to help this poor guy:

Bobby Wright donations: Lytle Creek Volunteer Assn. The group is located at the Lytle Creek Ranger Station, 1209 Lytle Creek Road, Lytle Creek, CA 92358. For more information, call (909) 382-2851.

Give thanks, and give generously to these hard-working, courageous folks that are out on the line trying to save our precious recreation areas!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.
--William Wordsworth

I'm still grieving for the loss of the forest and its creatures. It will never be the same--and I daresay, neither will I. Over the past two years I have lost place after favorite place to wildfires, most of them human-caused. It is not an easy loss to take; to me it is like losing a loved one.