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Welcome to Riverswind notes

I hope you will join in my adventures here in Humboldt County and elsewhere as I explore nature & people.

I welcome your comments.

All Photos are protected by copyright and cannot be used without permission.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Exploring the South Spit Humboldt Bay

Yesterday we drove to a new area for us and it turned out to be a great day for wildlife veiwing on the South Spit including Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Humboldt County Park. The South spit is approximately 4 1/2 miles long with sand dunes on the ocean side and marsh and mudflats on the bayside.
Brant (Branta bernicla) are common in the winter months at Humboldt Bay.

The long wave and wind swept beach is scattered with driftwood and an ocassional birder.
Coastal Black-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)Observed here on the lee side of the dunes. The succulent red colored plant in the foreground is non native ice plant (Mesembryanthemum sp.)

The South Jetty with it's manmade cement monoliths can be reached by foot on slippery footing and sometimes dangerous waves crashing over it. It allows boats like the "Molly Ann" to enter the sea safely.

Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)

Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala)

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Brandt's Cormorants, Black Turnstones and a Common Loon were some of the birds seen on this trip.
We also saw Northern Harriers floating low over the grassy areas between the dunes and the bay and a White-tailed Kite perched high on a conifer in the distance.

White-tailed Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
For those who enjoy the outdoors and all it has to offer this area should not be missed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Life in Humboldt County

We absolutely love this area because of the climate,redwoods,proximity to the ocean,mountains and 6 great rivers. In addition the area is blessed with multitudes of music venues,culture, Farmers markets, art shows and great people.

My best friend,companion,wife and I took part in the coast cleanup day this summer
and in 2 hours we carried out approximately 25 lbs. of litter of all description at Clam Beach County park.

Kimberley with bags full of litter found on Clam Beach.

On the same day we attended the "North Coast Fair" at the Plaza in downtown Arcata.
We were glad we did because there were rows of tents with local artists selling their

Local artists playing for the people of Arcata.

We were entertained by the local "African dance team" on the Plaza.

This dude was strange but willing to pose for a photo.

A beautiful example if some of the local artwork. I would love to have this
wood inlay of Yosemite and wildlife hanging on my wall but it was very expensive.

The Cactus man with his hat of many feathers at the Farmers market.

A young man playing the Didgeridoo for entertainment and extra change
It was another great day in Humboldt county. I invite you to come up and visit next summer when the Plaza is full of sun and action.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wanderings at the Mouth of Mad River

Giant Driftwood left by the last high seas waiting for next one as they glow in the setting sun near the mouth of Widow White Creek.

A 10 minute drive from my house gets me to the Hammond trail near the mouth of the Mad River.

It is a place to unwind and enjoy the sea and the ever changing saga of how it affects the landscape.

I continue to look for anything unusual such as the Burrowing owl that I reported in November.

On this trip the tide was very low.

A Herring Gull with a crab walks away from other gulls that would snatch its prey
if given the opportunity.

The river cuts through the layers of sand west of Widow White Creek on it's final
stretch toward the sea.

A couple walks at the far edge of low tide where the river meets the sea.
A lone Marbled Godwit trots along the edge of the surf.

The silhouette of the temporarily closed Pulp Mill 15 miles south can be seen through
the seas mist.

The head of a Harbor seal appears at the waters surface as it glides quietly toward the sea then disappears abruptly.

A immature Red-Necked Grebe foraging in the river is an uncommon bird in the area.
I will return to this place many times or as long as my legs allow me and there is air in my lungs.
It is a local treasure that is mostly unappreciated by the majority judging by the few people I see on most days.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mad River Estuary After the storm

Heavy deposits of Driftwood looking west toward Mad river Mouth

Driftwood along the north shore of Mad River looking east.

Looking east toward the mouth of Widow White Creek

Today my wife and I hiked out to the mouth of Widow White creek to see if the Burrowing owl continues to remain in the area. Lauren Lester saw one after the storm recently. I had been here a couple of times since and could not locate an owl.
The storm has left it's mark on the area by discarding tons of driftwood and changing the landscape.
It was a crisp clear day with temperatures around 45 degrees farenheit and we scanned the general area with our binoculars but failed to locate owls.
Then as we walked toward the ocean crossing the newly relocated mouth of Widow White Creek a Burrowing owl flew out of the debris toward the base of the vegetated cliff east of where we were. A few seconds later a second owl flew from a few feet away.

The Burrowing owl is known for it's site tenacity. These owls tolerated a storm that moved their logs and dozens of people with dogs who walk roughshod over their site on a daily basis.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

High tide and Big Surf

Photo showing flooding at the mouth of Widow White Creek and Mad River.
Trinidad Head in the background.

I drove down to the Ocean to check on the Burrowing owl (see last post) yesterday and was amazed to see the highest tide that I have personally seen since moving to the area.

The waves were washing up against the sandy shores on the north side of the Mad river causing major erosion and flooding the driftwood area where the Burrowing had been a couple of days earlier.

Mad river beach on the south of the mouth was completely inundated and large driftwood debris and foam were being tossed around by the heavy surf.
Expect even higher tide this afternoon.

It will be interesting to see the changes and objects that will be washed ashore after the high tides recede.
I will be pleasantly surprised if the Burrowing remains in the area.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Burrowing Owl by the Sea

A gorgeous day in Humboldt County near McKinleyville,California compelled me to go out to the Mouth of the Mad River. Clear sunny skies with no wind and a very high tide flooding the beaches along the river. As usual I checked to see if the burrowing owls had returned and to my joy and surprise while scanning the driftwood area along the west edge of Widow White creek there standing on a large log was the familar bequilling owl that I have become so familar with.
I had my camera with SigmaDG telephoto lens and was anxious to get my first digital photo of a Burrowing owl.
I have hundreds of owl slides taken while I was in Davis long before the digital era.
This is not typical habitat for Burrowing owls but I documented them previously in the same area earlier in the year between Feb. and April. They have also been observed along the coast previously in the winter by local birders. Could this be one of the same birds that was here before I thought? Unless someone bands them we may never know the answer to that question.

I eventually walked out to the mouth of the Mad river and a few hundred yards north along the beach and spotted some shorebird activity.
I was rewarded with large numbers of Sanderling's and Marbled Godwits foraging along the surf's edge for invertebrates.

One can become absorbed watching the Sanderling run toward the receding surf to prob the sand then they all turn, rapidly retreating just ahead of the waves rolling in.
It's their familiar "dance" that they have done for generations feeding along the surf's edge Their white feathers giving the illusion of foam.

When startled they rise in unison in a compact flock only to land a few seconds later nearby to continue their feeding activity.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Homeless in Arcata

The first time I visited the Arcata Plaza I immediately noticed that there were “homeless” people hanging out in front of the bars and in the park across the street.

I later found out that it is not uncommon to see a homeless person here. In fact the area is a “magnet” for people who are homeless either by choice or from unfortunate circumstances.

I couldn’t help notice a wildly bearded guy standing in the sun. He looked like he hadn’t bathed or slept in weeks. I talked to Christopher who said he had been homeless for 8 years, “drank a lot and was in jail on and off for stupid stuff “.
He said that one time he “waved at a cop” in Fortuna and was thrown in jail”. When asked if the city of Arcata has a good program for people in his situation he responded that “it’s a good program and that he has slept in a church” but usually sleeps “under a tree”.

I asked him how he ended up homeless and he answered that his dysfunctional parents “threw him and his belongings out and he started hanging out with “gutter punks”. He had trouble speaking clearly and most likely in need of rehabilitation which is a resource available in nearby Eureka.
One guy said he “Fly’s a sign” to make enough money to keep him alive and buy gas. His signs read “Traveling Broke” or “Traveling Hungry” and he usually makes $20 per day and tries to keep his car with no less than a half tank of gas. He said he knows a guy who made 50 k one year “flying sings.”

The gentleman with the nice smile is a war veteran and I donated $5 to help him.
Like many he had "fallen on hard times".

A gray bearded guy named “Big Al” is a fixture on a corner that "he owns" in Arcata “Flying a sign”. When I took his photo as I drove by he turned and gave me the bird and shouted obscenities. This person must do pretty well because he keeps coming back day after day. The rumor is that he isn't homeless and this is his profession.
The last time I saw "Big Al" he was on the corner of Giuntoli and Valley West Blvd. and had added a grocery cart full of his stuff and a dog.

I drove up to Redwood Park and talked to a few Young homeless people hanging out at the picnic area cooking up a pot of Coffee.

They all greeted me but seemed wary and were not immediately forthcoming as I began my 2 hour conversation with them. The first guy who opened up was obviously ‘brain fried,’ his sentences incomplete with scrambled thoughts from his long history using alcohol and drugs.

However, some of these young people were obviously articulate and wanted to share their stories with me. When I posed the question to the group “what do you think of the future”, they all broke out in uproarious laughter which was so infectious that I laughed also.
They said that this way of life was a choice because they don't want to be obligated or responsible and would rather enjoy life by living for "the moment".
This could very well be the best times of their lives.

After a while they warmed up and perhaps even trusted me as they told stories about the “park maintenance” crew that repeatedly take (“steal”) their stuff and discard them in the trash. Because of this they set up camps hidden far back in the forest where most people wouldn’t go. Some of them carry their possessions on their back to avoid losing everything they own.

The encampments in the park are considered illegal by the city and have no qualms about clearing out these “forest dwellers” and their belongings.

Jeremiah told me that the park maintenance crew took 20 lbs. of dog food, tarps, and his sleeping bag. When he confronted them they called the cops and he was arrested because they uncovered a record that occurred six years earlier in Southern California when he did a “Dine and Dash”. This is when a person eats at a public restaurant but leaves without paying he explained.
He said he was hungry and desperate then and knows how to survive now.
Jeremiah sleeps in his car and makes change selling his rock jewelry.

A young woman named Tavia left an abusive relationship recently and had nowhere to go so she decided to live with the “Forest dwellers” for the last 3 days. When I asked her how it was she answered “it’s scary”! The reason it is scary she say’s is because “you don’t know who to trust and there may be mountain lions out there”. She had a job but quit it because she feels safer here than where she was before.

There were some talented musicians in the group and they entertained me with some of their favorite songs. They had to go far back in the woods to retrieve their instruments which were hidden. It was worth the wait because these guys could earn a living playing gigs around town. They told me that they enjoy playing music in the plaza occasionally and even make some change from donations by appreciative listeners.

Jester and “The Lloyd” play the Harmonica, Ben plays the Banjo, Max plays the Guitar and they all sing. They have a good sense of humor noted by their quick answer to my question what’s the name of your group? They pointed to a sign laying on the table and said “right now we’re called Help wanted” followed by spontaneous laughter.

Their songs included “Coffee, God and cigarettes”, “Drags”, and “I’ll be there in the morning if I live”. Their music was earthy,folk and very good.

These people need basic things including; food and shelter but Jeremiah say’s “we need help with gear, sleeping bags, tarps, tents, boots, socks, plastic bags for dog poop , and a sustainable place to camp where we won’t be harassed and a restroom”.

I thought to myself there must be someone out there who can at least provide a portable john for obvious reasons.

Some say the problem with giving them a sustainable camp area is that it would attract homeless from all over the country and exacerbate the local problem .
Other members of the community complain that they don’t use the trails in the park because they’re afraid of being panhandled or intimidated by the homeless people’s dogs and they litter the forest with garbage and feces.

An article in the Times-Standard by Donna Tam raises the question of safety, citing that “Homeless camps in Arcata forests raise a fire risk”.

The homeless people that I talked to claim that “the junkies that pass through ruin it for others” and that they are willing to police their camps and keep them clean and would even work for a hand out.
That’s what I wanted to hear but I found out later from talking to members of the Native Plant Society that the state park officials won’t allow volunteer help because of “liability” issues.

Further research indicates that “homeless” issues have been at the “crisis” point for years in Arcata.
The Arcata Endeavor has been helping the poor and homeless with food and “Extreme” weather shelter for over 32 years but the City would rather have them relocate because of the problems they cite as public health and safety as well as nuisance issues. The city apparently feels that if the “Endeavor” would go away the homeless would also.

I think that the community needs to be more understanding and compassionate and perhaps the City of Arcata should use the “Hand up hand out” approach to see who is truly homeless and who are just choosing to make it a life style.

On April 9 I attended a conference on Poverty and Homelessness at the Arcata Community Center. When I walked in I noticed a young man sitting in the back of the auditorium near the door with his back pack. He had a cloth head cover and a dark bushy beard with a tubular braided section in the center below his chin about a foot long. He appeared to be dozing in and out as he sat there and responded when I said good morning to him.

At the first break I went back and sat down next to him and started a conversation. Bret was apparently the only "homeless" person there and was very articulate.

He told me many things but mainly that he prefers to live outside because he doesn't like the toxic chemicals that are in most homes. He spoke of how the chemicals come from the carpets and noted that they are a culprit in destroying the ozone.

Until recently when he was banned from HSU campus for loitering after hours he liked to spend time in the library where he sometimes fell asleep. When that happened he would be told to leave while others (students) who also slept were not bothered.

He was ticketed recently for sleeping in public and was told by the judge that he would have to do community service.

During our conversation a lady who works with the homeless came over and said "hello Bret I want you to know that you will get 5 hrs.toward your community service obligation for attending the conference today".

When she left Bret told me that he comes down to the Community center often to use their restrooms and wash. He just came in to get warm on this day.

Bret is an Eagle scout but says his parents pressured him into the program. The best thing he liked about it was the summer camps which got him outdoors and away from home.
I invited him to eat during the lunch hour and he noted that the food was much better than the food provided locally for the homeless and poor. His plate was filled to the brim but he ate it slowly as he talked to me about his diagnosis as a "paranoid schizophrenic".

Some of the homeless that hang out around the Arcata Plaza have mental issues.

I've learned many things about homelessness and realize
that it is a very complex issue of which I have barely scratched the surface. In todays economic environment homelessness will only get worse if society doesn't join together to solve the many issues.