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.

17 August 2014

Hummingbirds in the Sierra Nevada

Red flowers in the Sierra Nevada seem to attract hummingbirds in abundance this season.  Trumpet shaped  penstemons and other similarly shaped flowers  have nectar that the hummingbirds eat, and each patch of blooming flowers seems to have at least 2 of the feisty birds hovering and chasing away all intruders.

Earlier this summer, during May, a visit to the eastern side of the Sierras and a hike up a pretty trail at the 8,000 foot elevation brought a surprise. As I walked beneath a pine tree I heard the whir of wings and looked around, expecting to see red or purple flowers. The whirring was overhead so I glanced up, and saw a little greenish hummingbird disappear in the foliage. There was nothing red up there, and I certainly wasn't wearing anything bright, so I moved back and studied that branch.

There was a tiny hummingbird head visible above a little rounded nest, blending into the tree.  If I hadn't heard her arrive, I would not have known she had a nest directly above the trail.

If you click the images, you can just see the nest in the first image, towards the upper part of the large branch that goes up and to the left.  In the second image, you can see the mother hummingbird's neck and head.

The area where she chose to nest is in a mixed conifer forest next to sagebrush and rabbit brush, so there is a nice mix of flowering plants to gather nectar from, and lots of tiny insects to eat.