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.

27 October 2013

Bodie Ghost Town

Have you visited a "ghost town" yet?  A remnant from the 1800s gold rush era? In the eastern part of California there is Bodie State Park, which has most of an entire town sitting there, aging in the sun, preserved "as is".

The remnants are impressive, about a hundred buildings remain  including the stamp mill (where the ore was crushed).

One walks around with camera in hand, looking into windows, some of the buildings can be entered, some have wire fences across the doors. In the church there is a pie tin sitting just inside the wire fence and people have tossed lots of coins and bills into that tin.  One house with a bedroom seems to collect money too. Maybe folks figure the whores ghosts need a little help?  I imagine the money goes to the non-profit Bodie Foundation that operates the little museum/information center, or maybe just goes into the parks operating fund (I'm guessing here, no clue really what they do with the donations).

The state owns and runs the ghost town park, but much of the surrounding land in the Bodie Hills is owned by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency), with some land in private hands.  In recent years there has been talk about reopening gold mining in the area, and a petition was circulating in 2012 to get signatures to show support of NOT allowing such mining to happen in the Bodie Hills. You can find lots more info at the Bodie Foundation website and the Mono County Tourism website.

18 October 2013

The Owens River, water diversions, fall colors.

Autumn scenery along the Owens River on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas is spectacular. Beginning just north of the town of Bishop and heading south, dirt roads allow access to many parts of the river and the many canals and creeks that feed it.
The Owens River is about 4,000' above sea level, and the nearby Sierras rise to 14,000+ feet above sea level. The area is pastoral high desert/sage brush/rabbit brush.  Most of the water in the Owens River watershed winds up watering the city of Los Angeles and  very little stays in the immediate area.  Some of the creeks that come out of the Sierras are diverted into small canals that flow downhill through the towns of Bishop and Big Pine, then the water makes its way into the river, where it ultimately gets piped to Los Angeles. Just about every creek gets added to the pipeline, from the Mono Basin to a little south of Mt. Whitney.
The water table is very high in the Owens Valley, at least it is again now that groundwater pumping by LADWP has been banned by court order (it was drastically lowering the water table killing many trees and adversely affecting the wells of the local people who sued and won). As we drove along one stretch of river, there were a number of artesian springs bubbling to the surface and feeding water in small ditches into the river. One such spring had slightly warm water.
The climate in the Owens Valley is hot in the summer and pretty chilly during winter. Along the river there are lots of shrubby willows and cattails, with some larger trees including cottonwoods and willows. We saw a lot of fish in some of the holes and undercuts.