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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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Quest for the Red Tree Vole

My old college friend Chris Wemmer recently visited the Pacific Northwest here in Humboldt County and was our guest for a couple nights. Chris was here to check some camera traps that he set 3 weeks earlier in Green Diamond property with the help of Lowell Diller.

I jumped at the opportunity to go out in the field with Chris who is an expert on camera trapping and mammal behavior. We set out in Lowell Diller's official company vehicle to locate the traps. Unfortuately one of the traps which had been set 30 feet up in a tree was destroyed by a vegetation cutter used to clear the sides of the road.
Vegetation cut by the "Masticator"

The parts were found with a metal detector by Green Diamond staff earlier shown here.

The traps were checked and none of the sought after targets were captured other than a Bobcat, mice, chipmunk, rabbit and a Thrush.

Lowell Diller and Chris Wemmer checking camera trap results
Chris was disappointed but undeterred in his quest as we drove to another site where Chris and Lowell had located a Red Tree Vole nest on their last outing.  The nest was in a Douglas Fir on a 60 degree slope between the road and the Mad River below. Lowell was the first to climb down to the trees base and test the ladder.

Chris went through the boxes of equipment to gather the tools needed for the job at hand. Watching him prepare for the task ahead of him was like watching a young enthusiastic biologist about to discover something new to science. Although he has done this many times before with other species this tiny specialized mouse was one mammal he wanted badly. Chris first tied a rope climbing harness from his crotch and around his waist to secure him safely to the tree.

I watched him with admiration as he climbed upwards from limb to limb with the ease and grace of an Orangutan making his way 30 feet above to the nest. 
I must addmit that I felt some trepidation hoping that It would not be necessary to pull him out of the cold waters of the Mad River 80+ feet below. 

"Yoga exercise is beneficial" C.Wemmer
It was my job to climb the ladder and attach the bag with equipment to the rope which was pulled up by Chris.

Camera trap pointing at a active Red Tree Mouse nest

He attached the camera to the limb 2 feet from the nest with hopes of getting a Red Tree Vole peering into the lens or peeking out of it's nest when he returns in a month to check his cameras.   Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to camera trapping and maybe a little luck.  The most import ingredient for success is knowledge of the biology and behavior of the animal that you seek to photograph.
Chris setting trap in hollowed out redwood stump
Chris holding the predator bait
While driving along the road Chris spotted a large stump hidden in the underbrush and he asked me to stop the car so we could check it.  The stump turned out to be a very large hollowed out old growth redwood with a 8 foot deep opening and 15 feet wide at its base.  Chris thought this would be a good site to catch a predator such as a Fisher.  He used a partially frozen roadkill squirrel that he had picked up for this purpose and attached it securely to the tree. 

By now it was raining and there were still other traps to check. We spent the whole day out in this beautiful country and I look forward to seeing the results the next time the Camera Trap Codger returns.

Friday, August 26, 2011

River Rat Reunion

River Rat Reunion
On August 20, 2011 I was privileged to attend a reunion of people who grew up along the Russian River in the 50’s.
It was back in the 40’s and 50’s when I lived in Guerneville, California on the Russian River.
Things were simpler in those days with no TV’s, Computers, or Cell phones. The town was quiet and it seemed like you knew almost everyone. There were no homeless folks living under the bridge or hanging out in town. My Grandfather Newton Lark opened the only Drugstore in town in 1910 and his oldest son Warne Lark bought it in the late 40’s. I along with my cousins worked in Larks Drugstore in the summers at various stages of our lives. I began working there the summer of 1949 after graduating from Guerneville Elementary School. At first I stocked shelves,dusted,blew up inflatable swim tubes for display and eventually became a clerk. I spent many hours swimming and fishing in the river when not working. I worked in my Uncles store while going to college through the summer of 1956. In those 8 years of summers I have wonderful memories of dancing to the music of Les Brown and his band renown at the Grove, hiking into Austin Creek above Armstrong Woods with my buddy Tom King, Parties at Goat Rock,Swimming at Reins Beach and dating a Bohemian Grove member’s daughter named Noreen Doyle.
There have been many changes in Guerneville since then. I remember that there was a small Bowling alley in Gori’s Tavern where today’s West America bank stands. We had a couple of skating rinks that are gone now and the “River Queen” used to cruise people from Johnson’s beach to the old Russian River Inn and back. If you were so inclined you could rent a horse in Guernewood park. The Shad and Steelhead fishing on the Russian River was legendary in those days but has declined since.

54 years have passed since I left Guerneville to pursue my life’s goals, sometimes struggle with relationships and the death of loved ones.

I never really left the river at heart and visited my mother many times while she lived there until 2008 when I had to place her in a Convalescent home in Santa Rosa.

On August 19 I returned again to play golf at my favorite and most beautiful golf course ”Northwood” with the River Rat Reunion contingency the day before our reunion.

The River Rats have had other reunions over the years but the last one I attended was 20 years earlier.

On this occasion most of us in our “Golden” aka “Rusted” years gathered at Cliff Eckert’s resort to once again celebrate old friendships and acquaintances, talk about old times or catch up on people who most of us have lost contact with.
Upon arrival I decided to document the event with my camera and spent most of the time doing so,but paused often to enjoy interactions with old friends and acquaintances and sitting down to eat with old friends Herb and Kathy Genelly.

The setting was perfect with towering Douglas Fir and Redwoods bordering and shading our celebration.

The smell of barbecued Chicken wafted in the air as we sipped “two buck Chuck” wine and listened to oldies music played by our MC Herb Genelly III.

Seeing people for the first time in over 50 years can be a reality check for some of us who refuse to admit we are old Codger’s.
From left to right: Ms.Markaroff,Barbara McGee,Terry Schulz,Lauretta Higgins (Ratcliff)Miss Sonoma County 1955,Dolores Markarian(Gori),Barbara Hoffmann(King),Dianna Phillips(Culazzo)

Herb Genelly a friend for over 65 years still runs the Guerneville "Antiques aka "flea" Market.
Barbara Mcgee was our Life Saving Instructor when we were Boy Scouts and she most likey precipitated my "wet" dreams era. (Pardon the pun)

Yes there have been changes in our faces and bodies but we are the same people who in most cases have evolved intellectually and spiritually as a result of life’s experiences.
I noticed some people with vision deterioration bending close to read name tags because physical changes and memory loss can be prevalent with those of us who have lived this long.

My cousin Ray Lark was there in his 1933 Ford Roadster which he built.
Ray has driven his roadster across country as far as Pennsylvania and florida for over 130 thousand miles often in pouring down rain with no top. No he's not crazy and say's "the rain just blows over my head unless I stop".

It’s been a good life and the memories and friendships will always be cherished.
To veiw all of the River Rat photos gohref="">

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chasing Birds

In November of 2010 Gary Lester and his wife Lauren discovered a very rare
bird while out walking Clam Beach in Humboldt County, California
Gary is a local highly regarded birder and professional biologist was scanning the large ponds that are east of Clam Beach and south of the highway 101 Vista Point overlook. 
He noticed a bird that was definitely not an endemic species and later reported it to the Humboldt County Birder alert as a Brown Shrike.

In the ensuing days word got out to the bird community as fast as lightning and the Shrike rush was on.

Birders from all over the country began to show up to get a glimpse of this very rare bird.

Even local birders became addicted to it as they returned sometimes daily or weekly just to see it again or photograph it.

People who chase birds must be reasonably successful in life because it requires time and money to travel great distances to add a new bird to one's life list.

According to an article in USA Today American birders spend over 32 billion annually on their hobby and 18 million to travel inorder to see birds.

A 2001 study by USFW found that the average age of birders is 49 with above average income and education level.

I met several birders while looking for the Shrike who had traveled from as far away as Boston, MA, Washington State, Arizona and Oregon.

Most were equipped with the best and most expensive binoculars and /or spotting scopes
on the market and clothed in Gortex raingear and waterproof footwear.

Most were friendly but serious and dedicated to their passion of chasing birds.
Birders are collectors in a sense because each new bird is another notch on their lifetime list. 

Many bird chasers are also competitive as well and each new bird gives them bragging rights to their peers.

I have observed birders when they see a new bird for the first time display a keen sense of accomplishment
often with "High Fives", handshakes, and even Tiger Woods like fist pumps.
Others may calmly display a sigh of relief for all their efforts and move on to the next challenge.

The second time that I was out looking for it I ran into a legend in Humboldt County by the name of Dr. Harris a retired professor at Humboldt State University.
He was there with his adult son sitting atop one of highest foredunes scanning the leafless alders hoping to add this bird to his list of Humboldt County birds which tops all other birders.
Neither of us spotted the shrike on that day even though we scanned the habitat patiently for well over an hour.

On the third time that I went out to look for it there were several people who had it in their scope making it easy for me.

While talking to a lady from Sonoma County I mentioned an old friend (Mike Parmeter) who greatly influenced me when I was a boy scout in Guerneville, California. He became a Medical doctor and one of the best birders in California and co authored "Birds of Sonoma County, California" with the late Gordon Bolander.  She knew Mike and we talked about him and birds briefly while walking toward the birders who arrived before us to see the Shrike.

I mention this to point out that birders often meet new people while chasing birds and it  becomes a social gathering of sorts.
                                      Brown Shrike photo courtesy of Wikipedia
As I write this the Brown Shrike has stayed put for over 6 months and apparently finds the area a good place for food and cover. 

This bird has undoubtedly affected our local economy in a positive way since birders who come here most likely use a local motel and restaurants if they stay more than a day.
This years annual "Godwit Days" celebration was a huge success with most all birding trips sold out.

One of the big drawing cards was the possibility of seeing the Brown Shrike and to add it to their Life list.
A good friend of mine and highly regarded naturalist and birder Wayne Laubscher who works with this years keynote speaker Scott Wiedensaul banding Saw Whet Owls in Pennsylvania came out for Godwit days.
 Wayne was excited about the possibilties of seeing  many new birds and ended up with 20 including the  Brown Shrike and Spotted owl.

In constant rain we followed by car our leader Keith Hamm a Associate biologist with Green Diamond up a mountain road for several miles.
About 12 enthusiastic people in rain gear trudged up a slippery slope in riparian mature forest to get a glimpse of the owl that has created controversy amongst environmentalist and the logging industry for over 30 years.
Mr. Hamm explained eloquently the background research that he and others have been conducting for over
20 years.  He told us that most all the owls in this large area owned by Green Diamond have been banded and he knew exactly where to find the owl that we were about to see.

He first  mimiced the call of the owl with a dog like barking described by Sibley as "whup, hoo-hoo, hooo".
Within seconds his sharp eyes picked up the owl that most of the group didn't notice because of it's cryptic coloration making it almost invisible.

He then placed a white lab mouse on the end of a small twig and held it up high above his head.
Within seconds the owl swooped in so close that we could feel the breeze of the silent wing beat as it snatched up the mouse and took it to a nearby branch. One gentleman from Southern California was almost in tears from the overwhelming emotion of seeing the owl for the first time.
Photo of Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) by Wayne Laubscher
Wayne who is an accomplished photographer brought his camera inspite of the wet conditions and I held
an umbrella over him as he photographed the owl.

Mr. Hamm being a father himself next allowed a young boy his sons age
 hold the stick with another mouse on it. 

Someone should have gotten a photo of the boys expression when the owl again swooped down and deftly plucked the mouse from its perch and flew to a nearby branch.
It was priceless!
An experience that this boy will likely remember the rest of  his life.

We signed up for the Brown Shrike trip on Waynes last full day in Humboldt County which was guided
by Gary Lester who originally found it.
                    Gary Lester with a trip participant looking for the Brown Shrike.
 The ponds where the Brown Shrike has remained for nearly 6 months in Mckinleyville, California.
                               Wayne Laubscher scanning for the Brown Shrike
The Shrike was found and all the participants excluding Gary and myself had added another bird to their life list.  
I had a great time and it was good to see a friend from our days living in Pennsylvania once again.
I must add that I am not a "Bird Chaser" and most likely would not fly across country to see a new bird. However, I love seeing new birds and appreciate them from a different aspect and marvel at their diversity, beauty and the many adaptations that have evolved through natural selection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hawk slams dove against my window

Recently while working at my computer I was startled by a loud slam against my window and looked up and saw some feathers stuck to it.
I jumped up out of my chair and saw an adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk mantling over a Mourning Dove on the deck below my window.
I ran for my camera as the hawk flew down below about 20 yards away and with it he carried the dove clutched firmly in it's talons.

The dove was eating chicken feed that I put out periodically for them and Quail.
Feathers near the chicken scratch indicate that the dove was hit first on the ground
then it must have escaped toward my window when it was caught again.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a bird a little larger than a Robin that often hunts near homes with bird feeders.

While concealing itself in the forest canopy it waits for the opportunity to surprise it's prey.
It is "lightning quick" using the ambush technique to it's great advantage.

On this occasion it was successful and I watched it hold on to the
struggling dove until there was no longer any movement.

It flew to a branch of a Redwood tree and plucked the feathers to the skin
and devoured it's meal piece by piece.

For me it was a unique and rare opportunity to witness nature in action at its most defining moment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Watching Snowy Plovers

Western Snowy Plover and Sanderling

On some days while walking along Clam Beach and Little River State Beach I am fortunate to see the tiny Snowy Plover crouched low and motionless among the beach debris or in a shallow depression such as a human footprint in the sand.

When I walk past them they will often move away slowly walking as though they are stiff from sitting like an old man who has been glued to his chair for hours. During the winter months they can often be seen in loose flocks.

I watched 25 Snowy Plovers recently fly before me in synchrony flashing their wing markings along the surfs edge first south then turning abruptly in unison and flying back the other way.

They all landed abruptly like leaves dropping from a tree and instantly became invisible to the untrained eye.
The above is a photo just after landing showing how well they blend in with their background appearing as beach debris.
The majority of the individuals that I see have been banded by local biologists Mark Colwell, Matt Johnson and their students at Humboldt State University who are studying them to learn more about their biology, behavior, and movements.

The Pacific Coast population of the Western Snowy Plover has been listed as threatened since 1993 by the Federal Government due to declining numbers and decreased habitat as a result of introduced invasive vegetation such as European Beach grass. The Plover lays its eggs in depressions in the sand or river rock in open areas along the coast from Washington to Northern Baja, Mexico.

The threats to this “cute” sparrow sized plover are many and include natural predators like falcons, raccoons, coyotes, owls, fox, crows and ravens. The later has been determined to be the cause of most nest failures due to predation of the eggs when the parent has been disturbed.

However one of the major threats to the plover is human disturbance including Horses, bikes, vehicles, kite flying, and dogs running loose in the plovers nesting habitat.

Each time the tiny plover takes flight when disturbed they use valuable energy and often abandon their nest site making the eggs more vulnerable by increasing the opportunity for nest failure due to predation.

Much effort in cooperation with USFW and other Government agencies has been given to protect and improve the plover’s habitat.

The California Conservation Corps has been working on invasive
 European Beach grass removal west of the highway 101 Vista Point overlook by digging the grass up and burning it.

The above photo looking north toward the mouth of the Little River shows the roped off area that has been restored by mechanical removal of the European Beach Grass and then restoration with native plants.

This work allows native plants to compete and provides a more open
foredune habitat for the Snowy Plover.
The signs at the perimeter of the roped off area at Little River State Beach
do not keep unleashed dogs from running into their habitat.

Recently my wife and I were out photographing and observing Snowy Plovers.
We observed a middle aged woman and her unleashed dog walking along the roped off area.  The dog took off into the Snowy Plover protected habitat and I waved to the lady to indicate that her dog should not be there.

Her pace quickened as she approached me and she shouted "you better have a badge!"   Then before I could explain why we were concerned  she blurted out "I'm tired of this shit, and I'm calling 911." As she walked past us we heard her say pointing to the restoration area, "look what they've done already!"

She phoned someone while we watched her looking back at us as if we had ruined her day.

This is the challenge those of us concerned about protecting this tiny plover have when trying to educate people who simply don't care or refuse to listen to the facts.  I personally feel that most people are willing to listen and learn and hopefully change.

There are volunteers who often hand out educational material but I doubt that it changes those who just don't care.
Anyone reading who would like to volunteer go here.
I would like to hear your ideas on how best we can protect this beautiful tiny plover whose numbers are declining.  Should people who ignore signs and allow their unleashed dogs to run through Snowy Plover habitat be ticketed?