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A Moment With a Townsend's Warbler

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And when I say a "moment," I really do mean a moment!  Warblers can be tricky to capture on camera, at least for a rank amateur like myself, because of their tendency to stick to areas of dense leafy cover, and their aversion to staying still for longer than, well, a moment.   But I happened to catch this beautiful Townsend's Warbler preening one morning last week in Monterey, and managed to snap a few of the better warbler photos I've ever managed to capture. Warblers are considered "birders' gold" by many, and rightly so!  Most of North America's 54 species of warblers sport yellow plumage to some extent, from the entirely yellow Wilson's, Prothonotary and Yellow Warblers, to those with more subtle patches of yellow, like the Black-throated Gray and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  While North America boasts a wealth of warblers, most of them are birds of Northern and Eastern forests.  During spring and fall migration, birders turn out en masse to catc

Tidepool Treasures: Bat Stars

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More commonly known as "starfish," sea stars truly are shining stars of the tidepool.  Last week while exploring one of my favorite places, the coast and tidepools around Point Pinos, I was delighted to come across a couple dozen bat stars of all colors and sizes.   Though I still slip up and refer to these beautiful creatures as "starfish" on occasion, sea stars are not fish at all.  Having neither fins, scales, gills, or even blood, sea stars are echinoderms (members of the phylum Echinodermata), related to sand dollars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Residents of kelp forests and the rocky intertidal zone, bat stars are found from Sitka Alaska to Baja California, from tidepools to depths of 950 feet. Though sea stars appear quite sessile, or fixed to one spot, they are actually quite mobile, moving along the sea floor and tidepool substrates on hundreds of tiny little suction cup-tipped tube feet.  (Check out the photo below for a look at the underside of a bat s

Tidepool Treasures: Jeweled Top Snail

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Easily the coolest mollusk I have ever seen, the jeweled top snail ( Calliostoma annulatum ) is aptly-named, with its spiraled shell of iridescent orange and purple.  Contrasting with dark sea weeds and black turban snails, it almost doesn't even look real!  I found this guy while exploring the tide pools around Point Pinos the other day, and was blown away by its amazing colors.  Photos don't really do justice to this amazing animal. Jeweled top snails live in kelp forests from southeastern Alaska to Baja California.  Their preferred niche is in the middle of the forest, mid-stipe ("stipe" is marine biology-speak for what basically amounts to a seaweed stem), while related species prefer either higher or lower parts of the forest.  According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, each species knows its niche, and will climb back to its precise level in the forest after being knocked off. Like other marine snails, jeweled top snails graze on algae, hydroids and bryozoans.   A word

Summary of Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Final Environmental Impact Report, Part III

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If you've been with me through Parts I  and II of this series, where we talked about the arguments against damming and flooding Del Puerto Canyon and then looked at a long list of sensitive species that may be displaced by the project, you may have a few questions. You may be thinking,  with thousands of acres of habitat available in the Coast Ranges, why would the loss of a mere thousand acres matter?  Isn't there plenty of available habitat left for wildlife?  What is the point of this, anyway? Progress is progress,  you say,  water is life, agriculture feeds the Valley (and many, many far-flung regions beyond), so what is the loss of a thousand or so acres of habitat in the grand scheme of things? Yet this has been the story over and over and over again in California, for the last 200 years: the relentless march of "progress," taking all we can possibly take with little regard for the destruction left behind.   Habitat fragmentation has plagued every corner of the

Summary of Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Final Environmental Impact Report, Part II

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In Part I , we looked at a few of the reasons the proposed dam at the mouth of Del Puerto Canyon has caused such a great deal of opposition within the local community.  Some of the arguments against the dam include the risk of flooding that a dam failure would present to the city of Patterson, the loss of educational and recreational access to the lower canyon, destruction of Native American cultural sites, and loss of access to sites of geological and paleontological significance. While there are many valid reasons why this canyon should not be flooded, perhaps the most significant to me, as a naturalist, is the loss of wildlife habitat and disruption of wildlife corridors that would follow.   Below are excerpts from the environmental impact report (read the full text  here  and  here ) regarding the specific species of wildlife that have the potential to be displaced by the damming and flooding of Del Puerto Canyon. Regarding terrestrial biological resources (i.e. wildlife): (Quotes

Summary of Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Final Environmental Impact Report, Part I

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At the western edge of the Great Central Valley, within Stanislaus County, lies a canyon of cultural, biological and geological significance.  A rift in the earth slicing through the Coast Ranges, the canyon exposes millions of years of geologic history, and shows evidence of being occupied by humans long before European settlers arrived on the scene.  A spring at the heart of the canyon feeds into an intermittent stream, bordered by oasis-like pockets of riparian wetlands, cottonwoods, sycamores and ephemeral pools.  In the spring, grasslands within the canyon are verdant with a luxurious covering of new growth and dotted with annual wildflowers, while steep canyon walls are adorned with hardy chaparral and oak scrub habitat.  In the autumn, western sycamores and Fremont cottonwoods lining the creek put on a color show no less spectacular for its subtleness.   This is, of course, Del Puerto Canyon. And this canyon is in imminent danger of being dammed and flooded, its rich habitat and

60 Yard Birds

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Picture this:  In a garden of native plants, along the edge of a streamside grove of oaks and cottonwoods, tanagers and grosbeaks fly from branch to branch, flashes of brilliant color against a tapestry of muted greens and browns.  Woodpeckers and nuthatches hitch up the trunks of oaks, gleaning insects from crevices, while doves, quail and juncos pick up seeds from the ground.  A jay calls raucously, and another answers.  Finches and titmice visit swaying seed feeders, and flycatchers perch on conspicuous branches, sallying out to nab passing insects.  A hawk rides the thermals above, while a screech-owl peers sleepily from a cavity in an old cottonwood.  A dazzling array of bejeweled hummingbirds buzz from flowers to nectar feeders to flowers and back again.    From the trees along the creek echoes the peculiarly unique bark-like call of an Elegant Trogon. This, of course, is not my backyard! This, however, is my backyard!  (American Goldfinch, last April) Last year, Eric and I had