29 March 2016

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

An oasis in the Mohave Desert, the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to visit if desert beauty appeals to you.  Small streams meander throughout the site, filled with tiny fish, and a few boardwalk trails with interpretive signs allow you to get right next to the streams and watch the pupfish zip about. The refuge contains 24,000 acres of spring fed wetlands, alkali uplands, and 30 endemic species of plants and animals (endemic = they only live in this area, nowhere else).

The sands in the creek are light green, and deeper waters are intensely hued, reflecting blue skies above.  The boardwalk trail next to the visitor center traverses a large alkali flat then follows the meanders of Cottonwood Creek.  At the head of the creek lies a deep, intensely blue pond, with swirling sands, filled by an artesian spring.

A very appealing Visitor Center provides interpretive exhibits, films and details about the refuge.  The refuge is about an hour's drive East of Death Valley National Park, with the last few miles accessed by a rough dirt road.  More information about the Ash Meadows Refuge can be found HERE.

A few miles from the VC lies Devils Hole, a special area that is  managed by Death Valley National Park and contains a unique population of pupfish that are endemic just to that hole.  The area is fenced in, with a viewing platform and interpretive sign.  The platform overlooks what appears to be a crack with a bit of water, but is actually an extensive underground water filled cave system.  The pupfish live just in the shallow water exposed to the surface.  More information about Devils Hole can be found HERE.

27 September 2015

Great Basin Bristlecone Pines

The oldest trees on planet earth grow in the desert mountains of California, Nevada, and Utah, way up high at close to 10,000' in elevation.  Take one of these old trees and look at the tightly packed growth rings under magnification, then count.  The oldest trees reach close to 5,000 years of life.

Working the summer of 2015 amidst these ancient trees, leading guided nature walks for thousands of visitors and reading lots of research papers and literature was pure enchantment.

Are you one of the people who has made the journey into the White Mountains of eastern California and walked amidst the oldest living trees?  If so, what were your impressions?

15 January 2015

Wetlands along the South Fork Kern River

If  drought was gone and lots of rain had fallen, what do you think this area would look like?  The trees are willows, the dried stalks are tules and cattails, and this is part of the floodplain of the South Fork Kern River.

This land becomes a pond during wet years, but the abundance of cattails means the pond is filling in with sediment and is not a free body of water any longer. Historical records talk about the area once being a favorite fishing spot for the local American Indians, the Tubatulabal. The men built rafts from tule plants and floated out upon the waters in pursuit of turtles and fish.

Water diversions upstream along with loss of riparian forest have changed how water moves into and through the area. Instead of the full force of the river moving soils along and clearing out the channels, the slower movement means soils remain behind, building up in depth, resulting in a change in plant types.

This wetland is part of the Audubon California Kern River Preserve, but it has had a number of property owners since the late 1800's when the California gold rush brought prospectors and settlers to the area.

28 August 2014

California Spotted Owls

During the summer of 2014 I was part of a California Spotted Owl surveying team and spent many late nights out in the forest hooting and looking for these medium sized birds.

Surveys are done for a number of reasons including to determine if the birds are present on lands that have logging or fuels projects planned.  If spotted owls are present, their nesting site needs to be found, and many acres of prime owl habitat must be given special protection.

Surveying involves humans hooting like  owls to attract the territorial birds,  and then finding  their roosting/nesting sites.  Since they are night creatures, hooting takes place in the dark, and many nights we were out until midnight or later.

The owls are very pretty, and if one is nearby, very responsive vocally. They fly close trying to see who has invaded their territory.

 If you would like to watch a short video on the science behind the surveying, this video is worth the time.