Featured Post

Abundant Life

Nature is all about life - and death. As lovers of the natural world, we delight in the abundant, thriving, humming life all around us, which is at no time of the year more apparent than during the spring season of growth and rebirth.  As the world breaks free from the grip of winter, we revel in a season of renewal and resurrection. But remember that in the natural world, it is through death that the way is made for life to flourish.   The death and decomposition of organic matter provides nutrients for the ecosystem.   Plants must die to feed herbivores.  Herbivores must die to feed carnivores.   Seeds that fall to the ground must die to themselves in order to germinate and grow, their rough seed coats falling away to transform into roots stretching down for water and shoots reaching up for sunlight. So too in our spiritual lives, it is through death that the way has been made to experience abundant life.   Specifically, it is the death of the One that has made a way for many, the on

Rare Birds: Yellow-billed Loon in Bodega Bay

A few weeks ago, one of our best friends texted Eric and me the link to an amusing news story about a rare Yellow-billed Loon that had temporarily taken up residence in the pool of Las Vegas' famous Bellagio fountain.  The fountain show had to be stopped so that the loon could be relocated, but not before a number of birders were able to see this incredible rarity.  ( Read the whole story here. )  When Eric texted back, joking that we should all take a road trip to Vegas to see the loon, I casually mentioned that there had also been a Yellow-billed Loon hanging out in Bodega Bay for the last month... much closer to us than Vegas!  I hadn't made an attempt to see it yet because, while much closer than Vegas, Bodega Bay is still a good three-hour drive away from our home, and, you know, responsible adult things have to get done.   Then our friend's wife (who also happens to be one of my dearest friends) chimed in that she would much rather go to Bodega Bay than Las Vegas.  Sh

For the Beauty of the Grasslands

I am continually overawed by the beauty of California's grasslands.   Golden through the heat of summer and autumn, winter rains bring transformation to the hills, cloaking them in verdant splendor to rival any other landscape for beauty.  Though fleeting, the glories of spring on wildflower-spangled grasslands are a delight to behold. Just have a look for yourself! Grasslands in eastern Stanislaus county at sunrise. Sunrise is without question my favorite time on the grasslands.  Check out this article to experience an autumn sunrise at this same location! More than just aesthetically pleasing, California's grasslands provide critical habitat for a number of species that are in decline as their habitat shrinks, like Horned Larks and Grasshopper Sparrows . Learn more about the value of California's grasslands , along with how and why to protect them, in this article. Tiny treasures in the grass, wildflowers are undoubtedly the stars of the spring grasslands.   Check out t

Winter Warblers

While the North American continent waits in eager expectation for spring, the Central Valley of California is already enjoying its first glimpses of that most glorious season: Some birds are defending breeding territory through enthusiastic song, while others are already going about the business of nest site selection, nest building, even egg-laying.   For many North American birders, the return of warblers in the spring is a special time of year, and one that we Californians eagerly await as well.  But we've also been enjoying a few species of warblers all winter.  Notably, Common Yellowthroats, Orange-crowned Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers all spend the winter right here in the Valley, often in our own backyards!  (Black-throated Gray and Townsend's Warblers are around all winter as well, but they're not nearly as frequently encountered, in my experience.) Male Common Yellowthroat I was blown away when I first learned that a bird as gorgeous as the Common Yellowthro

All The Ducks!

On a recent birding trip to Merced National Wildlife Refuge, I tallied up a list of sixteen different species of ducks.  Only a few more species, around twenty in total, are expected in the Central Valley of California's freshwater marshes during the winter, so I consider that to be an excellent day for ducks! North American ducks are broadly separated into two categories, largely based on their methods of foraging for food.   Dabbling ducks , also known as "puddle ducks," tend to frequent shallow water, where they are commonly seen tipping bottoms-up to feed on plant matter and invertebrates in the water and on the muddy bottom.  They are most at home in water, but walk easily on land as well, as their legs are positioned near the center of their bodies.  The wings of dabbling ducks are relatively large, which allows them to take off from the surface of the water, straight up into their air.  Dabbling ducks almost all nest on the ground, near water.   Diving ducks are

The Case of the Missing Rough-legged Hawks

Most of the time, I am prompted to write about birds and other wildlife that I have encountered recently while out and about exploring.  Today, I am writing about a bird precisely because I haven't seen it recently, or at all this entire 2023-24 fall-winter season. Rough-legged Hawks are special birds in California's Great Central Valley, and certainly one of my favorite raptors.  For one, they are simply gorgeous hawks.  But they're more than a pretty face: They are incredible migrants and amazingly hardy, nesting on cliffs and rocky outcroppings in remote tundra, boreal forest and alpine regions of the Arctic, where they spend the short summer breeding season feeding on lemmings and voles.     But every winter, the world's entire breeding population of Rough-legged Hawks leaves the Arctic behind to migrate south, where they spend the colder months feeding on the rodents of open habitats across much of the U.S., including prairies, fields, shrublands and semi-desert r