Total Pageviews

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.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking for Dead Birds

Photo by Kimberley Pittman-Schulz

My wife and I greatly enjoy our proximity to the Pacific Coast and walking along the many beaches here in Humboldt County.
We are volunteers with COASST as citizen scientist looking for dead beached birds that have washed ashore.
We've been involved with the program for a little over one year now and both of us look forward each month to our purposeful walk on "our" beach.

The way I found out about the program is interesting indeed.
I was checking out the mouth of the Mad River in early Febuary of 2009 and found a bottle with a lid and picked it up to see if there was a note in it.

There wasn't so I decided to put one in it and threw it into the river nearly 400 meters from the mouth. Perhaps I thought someone far away in some exotic place would eventually find it.

Gary Lester a local highly regarded birder and COASST volunteer found the bottle with the note and notified me by email the very next day.

Shortly after that I met Gary and his wife in person and he told me of the COASST volunteer program.
I took the COASST training class held in Trinidad, Ca and was assigned Clam Beach south.

It includes the area from the southern parking lot of Clam Beach County Park south to the Vista Point overlook approximately 1.7 Kilometers one way. It is a very flat and wide beach with the mouth of Strawberry Creek intersecting it about a third of the way.

Turkey Vultures and Ravens scavenging a dead Marine Mammal on Clam beach.

We sometimes find dead Marine mammals that have washed ashore including this scavenged Dolphin.

The purpose of the project is to monitor the marine ecosystems health in the Pacific Northwest. It is a cooperative effort by hundreds of volunteers from the Aleutians south to Humboldt County, California.

Assigned beaches are surveyed each month and data is collected on special data sheets. The data is analysed by scientist at the University of Washington and assembled into an annual report.

Data from all of the beaches surveyed reveal patterns which may help biologist make future decisions on the conservation of species of concern.

We enjoy the project for several reasons which include doing something outdoors together as a team and contributing in a small way to our knowledge about the Marine ecosystem.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

During our surveys we also enjoy getting close veiws of live birds that frequent our coastal beaches.

Western Sandpiper(Calidris mauri)

I must admit that it isn't always fun when you're hunched over a badly decayed specimen that falls apart at the slightest tug while trying to measure and Identify it in a cold wind.

The majority of birds found have been scavenged to some extent by other birds.

When we find one it is measured (tarsus,wing chord, bill) and identified when possible with the use of a key. We then mark it with color coded plastic cable ties and photograph it. Marking a bird prevents recounting it if it is found again by us or someone else. Thus far we have not stumbled upon anything rare or unusual like an Albatross or a Flesh footed Shearwater.

We have not experienced a "Wreck"* yet either and when and if we do we will be sure to call out the troops for help.

Most days we try to pick up as much litter that we find washed ashore.
Below is an example of a days find that we carried back to the dumpsters.

If I were younger and looking for a job it would be interesting to put this experience on my Resume and wait for a curious response by the potential employer during a interveiw.

*A wreck is a large number of single species, or group of species washed ashore sometimes resulting in 10 to 100 times normal.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trash along roads

Every time I see trash deposited along our beautiful roads it makes me sad even sick to my stomach. Why I ask would a human with a brain do something so stupid?
Perhaps they are brainless but I'd rather think that they are people who have no respect for the environment or concern for their community.
Yesterday while driving home along Murray road I saw this and stopped to photograph it.

I am thinking about putting up some camera traps along this road to catch the idiots who disgrace the human race by their behavior.

I hope to catch someone eventually and turn them in. When caught they should be required to clean up the trash along the same roadway for at least one year or go to jail for a year.

This must cost taxpayer money that could be used for better purposes.

The trash was gone today apparently picked up by a local agency? Thank you to whoever cleaned up the outrageous mess.

Anyone out there with any suggestions that might help?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sussi & Chuma Lodge on the Zambezi River

The last part of our Africa trip to Zambia was booked specifically to see Victoria Falls and wildlife along the Zambezi river.

Upon arrival at the airport near the northern border of Botswana we were met by a polite African gentelman and driven by cab to the rivers edge. Along the way we passed hundreds of large transport trucks waiting in line to cross the border.

Our driver explained that sometimes the wait was several days or over a week. This is because there are only two ferries and they can take only one semi trailer at a time.

We were told there is huge problem of prostitution with the truckers while they wait to cross the border.

Our connections were impeccable as we were met within 5 minutes by the person who would take us to the other side and crossed the river into Zambia by small motor craft.
The walk from the boat was over uneven terrain requiring at least a moderate amount of agility to get to the mobile office where our passports were checked taking only a few minutes and then proceeded to ride in a Van to our lodge.

We would stay two more nights at Sussi & chuma lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River.

We were greeted once again by very friendly and smiling hosts who led us along a platform walkway built on stilts to our room overlooking the river.
The entire lodge except the dining area was built on stilts to prevent flooding and to minimize the impact on the environment below.

Our room was at the end of the walkway and once inside it looked like this.
The view from our room was amazing and for the next two days we would soak up every moment. Looking out from our deck was a powerful humid ambiance showcasing the beauty of the Zambezi and it's richly diverse riparian sounds. We listened with reverence while the birds, insects and Hippos serenaded us to the tune of a swollen river as we soaked in this once in a lifetime experience .

It didn't take long for us to grab our binoculars and walk out on our deck to view the area and look for birds. There were many and one fine example was this beautiful little Bee-eater.
White-Fronted Bee-Eater (Merops bullockoides)
My faithful companion and fellow adventurer always with binoculars ready for anything that moves, crawls or flies.

She found a frog in our bathroom and we eventually released it to the outside and photographed it on the deck railing. Perhaps someone who knows African amphibians can identify it for us?
The first afternoon we chose to take a boat ride on the Zambezi where we encountered a family of Hippos that greeted us with disdain for our intrusion upon their space.
The Hippopotamus is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and very territorial when in the water. They put up a very impressive argument that convinced everyone that we were close enough.

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris)

The bird life along the river was phenomenal and one example is this beautiful little Kingfisher(above).
That evening we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere at the Main lodge with a glass of wine and excellent food and a superb view of the Zambezi river. The Staff entertained us with music and dancing and invited us to join them. We did and below is Kimberley feeling the African groove.
The next morning we were visited by a family of Vervet Monkeys near our room and immediately went out to observe, enjoy and photograph them.

These monkeys are undoubtedly curious by nature and very unafraid as they approached us closely.

As we gazed into each other's eyes I wondered what is going on in her mind? I think she wanted to be friends and at that moment we became friends.

The male Vervet monkey showing off his colorful genitalia while a female grooms his fur.
I thought to myself now why didn't Homo sapiens evolve such a colorful scheme?
Although the adaptive significance of the colored genitalia may not be well understood, it is thought to aid in visual communication among male Vervets to reinforce the dominance hierarchy.

The Bateleur (terathopius ecaudatus) is one of the most striking and easily identified eagles in Africa. We saw these beautiful eagles at every place we visited while in Africa.

This large Rock Monitor moved quickly away from us as we approached it.

The Red-Billed Oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) were busy keeping ectoparasites at bay on the backs of these Impala (Aepyceros melampus).
White-Crowned Lapwing (Plover) (Vanellus albiceps)

Driving along bumpy roads in a Land Rover not far from our lodge we were consumed with the many birds and mammals and keeping our eyes wide open hoping to see the Pel's Fishing Owl. It was perfect habitat but this is one bird that I would only get a fleeting glimpse of in the Okavanga.

On our last day in Africa we visited Victoria Falls and felt its awesome power and the deafening sound as we walked in its drenching rain along the trails .
A beautiful rainbow created by the falls mist .

High water at one of the "Seven Wonders" of the world. We waited a long time for this adventure and it will remain one of the highlights of our lives.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chobe Nat. Park, Savute

Our flight to our next lodge in the Chobe National Park was a little over an hour. We were met at the airport and driven about 30 minutes to the Savute Safari Lodge where we would spend the next two days. Our room looked out over a water hole that had Elephants drinking from it and the odor of elephant dung wafted in the air.

The Chobe is known for having one of the worlds largest elephant populations and is
the second largest national park in Botswana encompassing nearly 11,000 sq. km. renowned for its uniqueness and abundance of wildlife.

The African Wild Dog has large rounded ears a "Hyena-like" head and beautiful
mottled black, white with shades of light yellow brown patches of short hair giving it a
very distinctive appearance.
This beautiful dog-like animal is only a distant relative to our domestic canids.
A small pack of four adults were found napping under a tree in the late afternoon.
We waited patiently until they arose to begin their evening sojourn and watched them eagerly as they trotted slowly away.

They are exclusively carnivorous and like the North American Wolf, hunt for their prey cooperatively. They can run up to 35 mph and as long as 3 miles making it difficult for their prey to escape.
We were thrilled to experience the sight of these rare animals since they are considered endangered with only 5,000 of them remaining.

The Blackbacked Jackal reminded us of the North American Coyote by the way it moves.
It has a distinctive black and silver "saddle."
An interesting habit of laying on Elephant dung to mask its odor also hides it from predators.

Our guide was a big African gentleman named Ngande with a deep voice and keen sense of humor. I found out early that he was not into birds as much as we were but he quickly caught on when I was stopping him frequently to take photos.

A common resident throughout Botswana is the beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller.

The Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) is the largest bustard in Botswana and have become extinct in some areas due to habitat destruction from agriculture, development, hunting and a slow reproductive rate.
They are mostly terrestrial and one of the heaviest birds capable of flying.

The Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is also threatened in many parts of its range and confined to reserves and national parks.

The Plains Zebra (Equus burchellii) was present in great numbers grazing in the Savute marsh where the grass was lush and not far from water. To see them in such high density in this vast savanna, each with their slightly varied markings was truely one of the heights of our experience.

Hundreds of Cattle Egrets(Bubulcus ibis) followed the herd

Our guide was constantly in touch by radio with other guides and learned of a pride of lions found a few miles away. We arrived within minutes to see two male lions loafing in the shade in the late afternoon while other members of the pride were a few yards away near the water hole.
It was like watching a National Geographic episode on TV in HD but this time we were actually seeing the drama before us as it took place.

There less than 20 yards away were three 5 month old cubs drinking and playing near a water hole.

The cubs attacked their parents playfully and generally ignored us and the
sound of our cameras clicking away.

The cubs went to their mothers side periodically for comfort and affection which they received with licking and rubbing.

We were immersed in the action before us for nearly 45 minutes but these precious moments would remain in our memories the rest of our lives.
On the way back to our lodge we saw dozens birds unfamiliar to us.

The African Sacrid Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) are common here but all of the wildlife in this wonderland were new for us.While passing through a grove of trees the stricking African Hoopoe (Upupa africana) posed briefly for a photo but didn't flair it's crest for us. Back in the open grassland a Northern Black Korhan (Eupodotis afraoides) appeared walking cautiously away from our approach.

Another amazing sunset on our last evening at Chobe as we headed back to our lodge with thoughts of the next adventure on the Zambesi River.

Friday, June 4, 2010


It was the first day of June and for a change it wasn't raining. My wife was on state mandated furlough due to the budget crisis in California.

We decided to take a walk along the Mad River near it's mouth which is a short drive from our home.

The mouth of the Mad River in Mckinleyville California is a great place to enjoy the spectacular views of the river where it meets the sea.

While sitting in the warm sun on large log eating our lunch we realized that we were the only people in the area.

We scanned the area with our binoculars and observed over 90 Harbor Seals hauled out on the west shore of the Mad River where it makes a 90 degree turn from North to West before it reaches the Ocean.

Then we noticed in the distance that we were not alone anymore as a couple with two dogs were approaching along the rivers edge.

The dogs were running exuberantly, unleashed and one of them stopped and defecated near the waters edge.

I didn't observe their owners pick up the poop even though there are plastic bag dispensers at the trail head for that purpose.

On most beaches with a few exceptions dogs are required to be on a leash, but most people ignore the law. After all dogs need to run, play and get their exercise, don't they?

As we sat in the warm sun munching away, one of the dogs (Siberian Husky) came running up and nearly swiped the granola bar from my hand while shaking his wet body on us.

Although slightly irritated, we dismissed the incident as just an overly friendly and excited dog greeting strangers.

The dogs owners ignored its hyperactive behavior and the fact that it had just accosted two people minding their own business.

I personally don't mind if people allow their dogs to run, play and get their necessary exercise.
However, I don't appreciate dogs that are out of the control of their owners command either by voice or whistle.

On another occasion I witnessed a bloody dog fight in the same vicinity when two dog owners allowed their dogs to roam freely. It was a good reminder why dogs should be leashed in public areas.

We finished our lunch and walked past the couple and their dogs, which ran at us brushing against our legs while their owners yelled in vain for them to stop and come back.
The woman had a whistle which she blew as if there where a fire.

A few minutes later my wife and I were both checking out birds and the Harbor Seals when we were blindsided by both dogs as they jumped up and slammed against our backsides nearly knocking my wife off her feet.

This time I hollered to the owners asking them to "get their dogs under control". They whistled and called for their "puppies" but didn't say anything to us and avoided eye contact.

A few minutes passed while we were looking for a way to cross Widow White Creek when we heard the incessant loud screaming by the woman and her whistle blowing.

One of the dogs was swimming across the river and heading directly toward the beached Harbor Seals.

Now the drama had begun as I quickly took my camera from its backpack and headed toward the scene.
The dog owners were frantic, and the dog was ignoring their pleas to come back.
Here the current is deceptive, it looks calm, but is very strong and cold.
However, the Husky was on a "mission" and refused to be deterred.
I later found out that this Husky was a year old "puppy", and it was merely responding to its strong genetic impulses.

Apparently the owners either didn't realize or ignored the fact that their Husky breed tends to be hyperactive, impulsive, stubborn, and have an overactive prey drive.

On this day they discovered their Puppy's "inner dog" and perhaps will never forget.
As the Blue-eyed Husky neared the shore where the Harbor Seals were resting, they rapidly plunged into the water like dozens of Depth charges.

The obviously distressed woman, with her other dog now leashed, loudly pleaded, screaming and whistling for her dog to come back, while the man paced back and forth along the shore, helplessly calling "come here puppy."

Harbor Seal heads bobbed up several feet from the dog surrounding it. The Husky, I later learned, was swimming for the first time and seemed to intent on pursuing its intended target.

The dog showed no signs of letting up as it changed directions each time a different seal's head bobbed to the surface.

I asked the fellow if he wanted me to call for help but his attention was on his dog and he ignored me. I was concerned that the dog was in danger of drowning and also the stress on the Harbor Seals which are protected by law.
The Siberian Husky turned toward us several times but was quickly diverted by Harbor seals popping up from another direction.
A half hour had passed, and the dog was relentless in its pursuit though now beginning to show signs of tiring. He was working his way against the current, moving upstream nearly a half mile from its entry into the cold waters of the Mad River.
At this point , I could no longer watch this without taking some action, so I told the man that I was calling for help. He asked who I was calling, and I responded "911"!

I'm uncertain whether my action prompted him to remove his outer clothing with the intent to rescue his dog.

This, I thought to myself, could end up in tragedy, so the call was made.
I was concerned that he would swim out, not realizing how strong the current and how cold the water. I told his companion that I'd made the call, and she responded abruptly, "I wish you hadn't!"

In the meantime the now desperate owner stripped to his underwear, got as far as his waist and stopped in his tracks, realizing that the water was too frigid for a rescue.

I had been throwing sticks at water's edge trying to divert the dog's attention, without results.

Then finally, after nearly 40 minutes, the Husky, beginning to struggle, seemed to respond to the flapping of my hat as I knelled down at eye level to the dog.

Two officers from the McKinleyville Sheriff's office appeared on the trail overlooking the river at the same time the dog was nearing its relieved owner, who had dressed and was wading toward the bedraggled pup. As the man grasped his dog , I heard him say, "no more beach for you puppy."

The dogs now leashed, their owners took off in the opposite direction of the officers, while my wife and I ascended the trail toward the 911 respondents.

I answered their questions concerning what had happened and they seemed content that the situation no longer required their presence.

I wondered to myself why they didn't at least ask the dog owners to use a leash in the future.

Perhaps they decided that the near loss of the beloved puppy was better than any lecture they could give?

"Leash laws" generally require dogs to be on leash and under control whenever they are in public property. In some citys leash laws are strictly enforced. Apparently they are not enforced in Humboldt County.
Leash laws are made for good reasons including: Protection of humans, wildlife and other pets, prevention of predation or disturbance of wildlife, prevent transmission of diseases from dogs to wildlife especially fox, coyotes and deer, and prevent contamination of local water supply.

We were relieved that this story had a happy ending and hope that the dog owner's learned a very important lesson.