Sunday, April 29, 2007

Big Day in Orange County

Yesterday I participated in a real Big Day for the first time. Big Days are birding competitions where you try to count as many species as you can in a 24 hour period, from midnight to midnight. Often they are used as funraisers for groups like the Audubon Society, where teams get sponsors to either donate a set amount, or give a certain amount of money per bird species seen.
This Warbling Vireo was one of many seen over the course of our day.

My team consisted of Vic Leipzig, Tom Benson, and Mark Singer, who is on the team listed as holding the current Orange County Big Day record. We had a 20 hour run, where we spent time at different locations all over the county, from Laguna to Seal Beach to find a total of around 170 species. We missed some birds (though not for lack of trying) that I would have expected us to get easily in the county - like Blue-gray Gnatcatchers - but we also picked up a few species - like Bald Eagle and Saw-whet Owl - that I have never seen in the county.
we picked up a large portion of our freshwater marsh birds at SJWS

This Black-throated Gray was foraging in the parkinglot at SJWS

Greater White-fronted Goose from a little neighborhood park.

This Townsend's Warbler was at Peter's Canyon in Orange.

Overall it was a really exciting and exhausting experience, which I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Geology Trip to Death Valley

Hey guys, as promised, here is my summary of my trip to Death Valley, CA from the weekend of April 20-22, 2007. For those in my class that didn't attend the trip (or those of you interested) here is a great article from Wikipedia that had a brief summary of almost every place we stopped during the trip.
Our first stop, looking back towards the southern portion of the valley.

At 5:40am on friday we arrived at Irvine Valley College and loaded up our cargo van full of tents, food, and other essentials. We loaded into 4 passenger vans and started the trek toward the valley around 7am. We charted the mileage at every turn or freeway change so that we could theoretically re-trace our steps at a later date. We had our first stop in Shoshone, a small small town with a population of 29. Yes, that's 29 people. This was a very nice place to have lunch, it was sunny and cool and the few cottonwoods and other trees around the buildings were dripping with Bullocks Orioles, Western Tanagers, Orange-crowned Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, and two gorgeous male hummingbirds, an Allen's and a Black-chinned (made me wish I'd brought my good camera and lens instead of just the point and shoot). Also there were Say's Phoebes and some House Sparrows, yuck.
Shoshone, CA

We stopped in Badwater, the lowest point in the continental U.S. as well as the Devil's Golfcourse which was a salt-crusted pockmarked landscape. Then onto Artist's Palette, which was an area where the volcanic rocks have reacted chemically to form gorgeous colors, which were then disjoined my faults running through the area which jumbled the colors together creating a color palette affect that gave the area its name.
Badwater Basin, CA
Me "licking" the salt off the landscape at Devil's Golfcourse

We ended the first day at Furnace Creek Campgrounds where we made our home for the next two days. The next morning we stopped at the Visitor's Center to look around their museum and make some touist-y purchases. I bought a Mojave wildflower field guide which was very helpful for the few species of flowers growing this super-dry year.

From there we headed to Zabriskie Point which was an area where the Furnace Creek fault is no longer active. This spot was a good one to discuss the Furnace Creek and its flow patterns as well.
The natural layering of the sediments had been uplifted by a now inactive portion of the Furnace Creek Fault.

Off to Dante's View, the highest elevation we got to on the trip, it overlooks Badwater Basin, the lowest point. Here I saw Black-throated Sparrows foraging quietly on the hillside. Not much else was around as this spot was chilly and windy. From here we had a good view of the valley, as well as the highest peak in the Black Mountains, which was somewhere over 11,000ft, and considering Badwater is over 200ft below sea level, that creates quite a spread from valley floor to peak.
We had a great view of the Badwater region of the valley from Dante's View.

Next was the ghost town of Rhyolite. A cool place to see old buildings, as well as some nifty wildlife. It was here I spotted the Black-tailed Jackrabbits, as well as more Black-throated Sparrows, and Gambel's Quail. The town was named for the stone, rhyolite which was all around the area.
An old mineshaft from Rhyolite is closed off due to the danger of the sudden drop and poisonous carbon monoxide it emits

We headed to Titus Canyon, which was a very gravely, unpaved drive down into a valley, up a winding hillside, and down into the Titus Canyon area. I covered my eyes for portions of the steep drive, but other spots the scenery was distracting. This was the location of nearly all the wildflowers I saw over the course of the trip, as well as some of the most useful geologic actions. The synclines and anticlines seen here really helped cement the concepts into my brain for my geology final coming up in a few weeks. It was nice to put the real life images to the descriptions we had learned in class.
This is a portion of an anticline from within Titus Canyon

We ended the day standing over the active portion of the Furnace Creek fault, which was a neat strike-slip fault covered in young desert pavement. The winds really picked up Saturday night, making sleep quite difficult, so everyone was a bit groggy and cranky the next day.

Sunday morning we started at Salt Creek, which is the area where the Desert Pupfish are found. The water in the creek is as salty as seawater and has basically no other life within it, cool.

Next was the sand dunes, which ended up being my favorite part of the trip, these warm, soft, sandy rolling hills were fun to walk around, and completely full of wildlife. I saw lizards, a scorpion(!), and a sparrow that I wasn't able to identify since I had left my bins in the van and it was not being incredibly cooperative =(
Me sitting on a sand dune, the field of dunes had star, transverse, and barchan dunes.
This guy made me think twice about walking around barefoot!

We paused briefly at the Devil's Cornfield where we saw how blowout had taken away the sand at the roots of the plants, leaving the plants sitting high on their exposed roots, which gave them the appearance of corn fields.
This was the Devil's Cornfield

Our last stop was in Trona at the Pinnacles to eat lunch. The Pinnacles themselves were very cool looking (some parts of Star Wars were filmed there) but the wind was blowing incredibly hard, which made eating, and even walking outside, very difficult. We chose to stay in the van except to slip out and take a few pictures and use the restroom.
One of the spires or pinnacles in Trona

From there we drove the last leg of the trip through the Cajon Pass and home! All in all it was a wonderful trip, I really enjoyed getting to see the aspects of geology we'd been studying for the last few months in living color. It helped bring the concepts to life and make it easier to see how they fit together.

My wildflowers from Titus Canyon:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Earth Day in Death Valley, CA

Hey guys, Earth Day is this weekend, and I will be celebrating it on a geology field studies trip to Death Valley, CA. We will be camping in the Furnace Creek campgrounds, and while I am going to be studying geology, you can be sure I'll be doing as much birding and butterflying as I can while there friday, saturday and sunday. I promise I'll post a report and photos when I return.
Me holding the kangaroo rat Dave caught near Butterbredt Springs on our way to bird in Death Valley in 2005.

On a different note, I am in the process of working out a car-swap within my family, its very complicated, but the gist of it is that I might finally be getting an SUV! My cousin has a hybrid Ford Escape, which if the swap does indeed happen, will be all mine! I can drive a car with enough clearance to go to the spots that were previously unpassable in my little toyota, and have a clear consience about it since it's a hybrid, hooray.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spring is for Swallows

Well today on my lunch break between Botany and Geology, I decided that it was too sunny and gorgeous not to take a quick walk around the marsh to see what was going on. Tree swallows were the bird of the day, swirling and weaving, bubbling and chattering as they enjoyed the sunshine and breezy weather. The close second however was the marsh wrens. I have never seen - yes seen - so many in one day! Usually it's, "oh I hear a marsh wren over there..." then you search and search but even thought you feel like you're staring right at it, you never manage to get a glimpse of the little bugger. Today however they were flitting around quite conspicuously. As I was leaving I ran into John Luther who was making a quick stopover in Orange County on his way back home from scooping up some so cal vagrants.

Not an amazing photo, but I was going for a butterfly when my eyes focused in closer and I realized this guy was sitting there, so close I could have nearly touched him!!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Silverado Canyon Field Trip

Today my California Wildlife & Places class taught by Bob Allen at IVC had a field trip up Silverado Canyon. We had a great time driving our way slowly up the winding canyon road stopping to observe the different plant species and the change in habitats as we rose in elevation.
Blue Dicks

Our first stop was to look at the riparian habitat near the road, we examined the difference between north-facing slopes and south-facing slopes, looking at the type of vegetation that grew on each, and why. We looked at coast live oaks, big leaf maples, western sycamores, and a tiny wasp that landed on my hand! We saw a warbling vireo, heard and saw a gorgeous male yellow warbler, and were treated to a black-throated gray warbler that paused for a moment to forage overhead.
Felt Paintbrush

From there we continued up and came to a bend where the first larger trees, Douglass Firs were growing. We examined the cones of the douglass firs in comparison to those of the coulter pine (often nicknamed the "widow-maker due to it's viciously large spined cones). We looked at a tiny dandelion, some hoary-leafed ceanothus, and heard a cooper's hawk calling off in the distance. Band-tailed pigeons flew past us as we stood examining plants.
Mountain Dandelion

Douglas Fir Cone

Sugar Bush

We stopped at a smal stream area, which was far colder than where we were before. Here we looked at coastal wood ferns growing beneath some interior live oaks. We saw an adorable flower called chaparral pea, and talked about the native thistle growing that is a favorite of our state butterfly, the California dogface.
Chaparral Pea

Bush Poppy

When we reached the ridgeline, we got out and walked around, looking at the few wildflowers growing, such as miniature lupins, and yellow violets. We saw red-skinned onion, which was growing in small bunches and smelled strong.
Miniature Lupin

A gorgeous male Anna's hummingbird sat quietly on a branch of mountain mohogany giving us great looks as he sat, feathers ruffled to keep warm against the fog that had rolled up the hillside.
Anna's Hummingbird

Mountain Mohogany

Yellow Violet

On our way back down the canyon, we stopped to examine an oak we had discussed at great length in class, it's called the oracle oak, and is a hybrid between black oak and interior live oak. It has traits of both. Normally this would just be a cool and somewhat expected occurance, but it happens that we don't have black oaks in our local mountains, so then how did the pollen of black oaks come to mix with the live oaks in that spot to create the hybrid? Bob's theory is that we do have black oaks in the canyons, but that they're probably in an area that is just not accessible so we don't know of their presence yet. Interesting huh?
California Gooseberry

Just for fun, my absolute favorite flower ever, our state flower.
California Poppy

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Memory Lane: The Birds

Well, since it's been so darn long since I actually went birding, I figured that I would go through my old photos and pull some of my favorite bird shots and put them together into a post, so without further ado: