About WoodswomanWrites.com

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m in love with life and eager to learn from it. I’m a naturalist and professional do-gooder, committed to making the world a better place and savoring the joy along the way. I welcome your comments and you can reach me at woodswomancalifornia@gmail.com. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is my place to share stories and photos of my travels, indulge in creative expression and musings, ponder how I can help create a just world for others, and share my sense of wonder at being alive. I welcome your feedback about my blog. I’m a professional writer and available for editing projects as well as individual writing coaching. Contact me at woodswomancalifornia@gmail.com.

Finding Beauty Series – Egrets and Herons

Snowy egret at Corte Madera Marsh Ecological Reserve

This is the third post in the Finding Beauty series, a reminder when I’m caught up in this year’s unsettled times that nature continues in its rhythms. While visiting a local wetland recently, I realized that no matter how many times I see different egrets and herons, with each sighting, I am struck by how beautiful and graceful they are.

They are no less extraordinary because I see them often. They bring me out of my thoughts and back to being in the moment, awakening awe and wonder once again. I can find refuge just looking at their images that I’ve captured over the years. Here are photos of great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and one elusive green heron.

Great blue herons are adaptable. Used to seeing them foraging in wetlands for fish and amphibians, I was amazed the first time I saw one in a field chomping on a gopher. At up to four feet tall, with the hollow bones that all birds have, they weigh less than 6 pounds.

Great blue heron in a Merced County field
Great blue heron at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to photograph a heron and a great egret right next to each other.

Great blue heron and great egret at Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
Great egret at Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

When I first saw a snowy and great egret side by side, I thought the smaller snowy was a juvenile of the same species. They have wonderful yellow feet.

Snowy egret at Corte Madera Marsh Ecological Reserve
Snowy egret at Corte Madera Marsh Ecological Reserve

Snowy egrets nest in trees on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay in the summer, where they can be easily seen from the walkways. I can lose track of time staring at the gawky youngsters as they figure out how to balance on branches and use their wings.

Juvenile snowy egrets at Alcatraz Island

As other birds fly to their evening shelter, black-crowned night herons appear one by one at dusk. Resting during the day in large groups hiding in trees, they scatter to feed solo on fish and amphibians in the dark.

A few of dozens of black-crowned night herons sleeping at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge
Black-crowned night heron at sunset at Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Reclamation Pond

Throughout the year when I explore wetlands, I walk quietly and peer into the thick reeds in case I’m lucky enough to spot a green heron—from a distance, because they are easily disturbed. When I spy one, tucked motionless in its hiding place, I am mesmerized.

Green heron in West Sacramento

Practicing Patriotism

On a warm weekend afternoon at an outdoor café, my friend Randi divided up her stack of stamped postcards and passed half to me across the table. We chatted and caught up on each other’s lives as we wrote the identical message over and over to strangers in South Carolina: “We do our best for our families no matter our color, age, or gender, but some politicians divide us to block access to affordable health care, good schools, and clean water. Let’s join together and vote in the November 3 election.” I signed my first name on my stack, and Randi signed hers, under the narrative provided to us by the two sponsoring organizations, Indivisible and Postcards2SwingStates. The only variations were the salutations—Ashton, Tiffany, Cindy, Marco, others—and the individual addresses copied from a list of Democratic voters.

I had brought along my own ballot in the car to deliver afterward. After I parked outside the café, I hesitated about leaving my ballot unattended on the car seat with a momentary concern about it being taken. I realized that having participated in elections for decades, I have never been more attached to my ballot. When Randi and I finished up, she graciously offered to mail my postcards along with hers. I had become attached to these potential votes as well, and kept the cards to mail myself.

I headed to turn in my ballot at the county Civic Center that houses the local courts and other government offices. I followed the signs in the large complex pointing to the location of the ballot drop-off. Alone in the empty parking lot, I walked up to the official box and stopped before pulling the handle. I reflected on what I was holding, more than a piece of paper and a sealed envelope. It held the weight of all the people across the world who have risked their lives, and sometimes lost them, for the right to cast their vote.

In my own country, it was only 100 years ago that women who were white first obtained the right to vote. I thought about how the Voting Rights Act protected the ballots of Black Americans only in 1965. Indigenous Americans’ voting rights were secured by the last holdout state only in 1962, and they still face legal obstacles. In my own lifetime. Now those in power are trying to take the ability to vote away.

It wasn’t until after I dropped my ballot into the chute that I noticed the cardboard sign across the paved walkway, adjacent to the building’s big glass doors. Curious, I walked over to look. It was a makeshift memorial for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two battery operated candles had been placed on either side. A jar had previously served as an improvised vase with water, its bottom containing brightly colored marbles. With this public entrance long closed due to the pandemic, the jar was completely dry and held the desiccated remains of what had been flowers.

Teary-eyed, the action I needed to take became clear. I drove the 16 miles home to fill up a water bottle, bought a colorful bouquet, and returned to the Civic Center just before dusk. My license plate was no doubt appearing on a security camera, with someone watching me pouring the water into the jar and placing the fresh flowers. I removed the disintegrating remnants of the previous offering and placed them at the base of some ornamental shrubs nearby, to decompose and replenish the soil.

Amidst the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to undermine democracy, patriotism isn’t hateful bluster while waving a flag. Patriotism is thousands of people across the country writing more than 15 million postcards to voters they’ll never meet. It’s the anonymous individual who showed up with cardboard, candles, and a jar, and made a lifelong promise to a heroic American to stand up for justice for all.

Photo at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles by A. Joseph Glaser

Fire and Fog on the California Coast

It’s summer on the Northern California coast—fog season. The fog moves in dramatically as an aerial waterfall flowing over the tops of the hills. It’s the only source of moisture during the extended dry season, and it’s what nurtures the growth of the coast redwoods found nowhere else on earth. The fog provides the temperature contrast with the intense summer heat inland and while the frequency varies year to year, it sees us through until the winter rains.

It seemed to be a relatively foggy summer until it wasn’t. Just still warm air, and then high winds bringing freak storm clouds shooting down dry lightning that ignited thousands of fires. And still no fog to slow down the flames.

Where I live is not in the fire zone but the smoke is intense. Seeking cleaner air and the comfort of nature, I headed toward the coast in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the late afternoon. Traveling through the Marin Headlands, I spotted a coyote.

And the coyote spotted me.

I arrived at Rodeo Beach. Walking on the sand toward the waves, I looked across the ocean as I have countless times. But never had the sky looked like this. There was the fog, hovering over the water miles away. A thin strip of blue sky was visible above it, and on top was a giant layer of smoke drifting above and heading out to sea.

I watched the seabirds coming and going from appropriately named Bird Island, silhouetted against that strange sky. The cormorants traveled alone in straight lines, the solitary gulls meandered, and brown pelicans gracefully circled in groups and glided just above the water. I was watching a moving painting that was simultaneously ominous and beautiful.

I lingered to take in the fresh salt air. Before I left to sequester indoors with my air filters again, I watched the sunset with the eerie orange glow that only smoke can create. And willed the fog to come ashore.

Within the Buddhist teaching of Metta, translated as loving-kindness, is a phrase one says on behalf of all beings—may you be safe. For all affected by the fires, known and unknown, this is my wish for you.

Finding Beauty Series – The Bridge and the Bay

I live near an icon that visitors from across the world come to see, the Golden Gate Bridge. A place that’s packed with cars, bikes, and tourists on foot, it wouldn’t typically be a destination. But these are not typical times. I took advantage of the emptiness for a walk combining nature and history, strolling along the approach beside the spring flowers and eventually on to the structure 220 feet above San Francisco Bay.

Like many others, I am sentimental about the big orange bridge created in the 1930s, as much a work of art as a utilitarian structure.

Ingot symmetry

The base of the north tower

The north tower

The expansive views at eye level include the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz Island, and the Pacific Ocean meeting the horizon. On this day, I was interested in what I could notice looking up and looking down.

The afternoon light created a giant shadow, a still silhouette on the waves moving below. Standing in one place, I watched the water to see what would pass beneath me. A flock of cormorants. A small group of brown pelicans. A single gull that I managed to photograph.

A gull in the shadow

Four sea lions swam below. They surfaced and dove and surfaced again, their gracefulness amplified by watching them from above.

My best shot from 220+ feet above this fast-moving sea lion, its head underwater

Below the north end of the bridge is the ancestral land of the Huimen group of the Coast Miwok people. Today, Lime Point is the site of a lighthouse and foghorn dating back to the 1880s.

As I walked back to land again, I moved slowly and touched the plants, thriving in full bloom. I’m grateful that nature finds the cracks in the pavement and the soil beside the steel.

Pride of madeira

Fleabane

Red valerian

Thoroughwort, with thanks to Lawrence whose comment led to the species ID

As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments section.

Finding Beauty Series – Birds in San Francisco


Lesser scaup, Stow Lake

In these strange times across the globe, it’s been easy to feel unsettled around the clock whether checking the news or waking up suddenly from a disturbing dream. As I found myself feeling off-kilter for days on end confined in my house, I realized I had shut out so many of the gifts in the world that come with being an earthling.

Now I’m spending time outdoors where no distancing is required from flowers, from fresh air, from views of the landscape. Beauty in the natural world hasn’t disappeared and in fact, I need to connect with it more than ever. Perhaps you are feeling the same, so I have started this series—to celebrate beauty as a necessary elixir.

In the Bay Area, waterfowl find places to feed, roost, and nest adjacent to and sometimes in the middle of urban areas. Here are some of the local birds whose beauty consistently inspires awe and gratitude for their company. This post features those that frequent the lakes of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in the winter and spring.

As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments section.


Ring-necked duck, Stow Lake

If it were up to me, this bird would be called ring-billed instead of ring-necked

Female ring-necked duck, less colorful than the drake

Northern shoveler, Stow Lake


Northern shoveler with a ring-necked duck in the foreground, Stow Lake


Hooded merganser, Lloyd Lake


Pied-billed grebe, Stow Lake


Bufflehead couple, Stow Lake


Female bufflehead, Stow Lake

Taking Refuge

Ross’s geese

It was my traditional first journey of the season, my annual solo trip in winter to witness one of the world’s great migrations of birds. The rain was heavy as I slowly moved my car along the muddy auto route at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, in search of this year’s initial sightings of some of the two million geese, ducks, and other birds who travel from Alaska and Canada to spend the winter in California’s Central Valley. Mine was the only vehicle.

The frigid wind was so strong that the shallow ponds, just a few inches deep, had waves on them. The ducks of many species huddled in the reeds as a windbreak, barely visible. I saw just a handful of the geese this time that are often here by the thousands. Where were they?

Eager not to miss their fly-off at dusk with the sound of thousands of wings beating together at once, I headed north on the rural back roads, passing miles of flooded rice fields post-harvest, scanning in all directions. And there they were—snow geese.

I parked on the shoulder. The wind and the rain pelting the roof and windshield this time were blasting from the other side of the car, so I could roll down the windows adjacent to the field. This sound is everything, and I bundle in warm layers so I can turn off the engine with the windows down. I listened to the chorus of countless white geese. Tears filled my eyes in the company of such beauty, again. And in a great whir of wings as the light faded, family groups took off to feed for the night.

It is this moment, this silent witnessing of yet another miracle of nature, that comes to mind now when I think of my year away from this blog. It has been a time of change and reflection, a time of looking inward, of maintaining equanimity during this difficult time in the world.

I’m returning to share my photos and musings on this blog. I’m touched that some of you noticed my absence and reached out in concern. I’m in good spirits.

As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Spring Wildflowers in the Marin Headlands

When the rainy season this year showed up late and coincided with warm spring days, this created perfect conditions for a burst of wildflowers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spent an afternoon taking it all in, strolling through the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the national park in my backyard. Although their blooms appear to be delicate, these plants of the coastal scrub community are tough and thrive in steep rocky soils, wind, and the extended dry season.


California poppy, the official state flower

Bush lupine Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallSilver bush lupine

Lupine stalk Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallSilver bush lupine
 California buttercup Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallCommon buttercup

Cow parsnip Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallCow parsnip

Seaside daisy Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallSeaside daisy

Mule-ears 2 Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallMule-ears
 Morning glory Marin Headlands 4-2018 smallMorning glory

Sticky monkeyflowers Marin Headlands 4-2018 small
Sticky monkeyflower

 Common yarrow Marin Headlands 4-2018 small
Common yarrow

Checker bloom Marin Headlands 4-2018 small
Checker bloom

Paintbrush Marin Headlands 4-2018 small
Paintbrush

Western blue eyed grass Marin Headlands 4-2018 small
Western blue eyed grass

California poppies and poison oak 4-2018 small
These California poppies are safe from being picked amid the poison oak

Marin Headlands view 4-2018 small

Redwood Parks in Spring


Rhododendron, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

I set off into the darkness, toward the sound of the creek. Though I hadn’t been here in a long time, there was a familiar feel to a trail in a redwood forest. My feet knew the surface below me, and I smiled to myself hearing the sound of my footsteps on the wooden footbridge as Godwood Creek, shallow but swift, moved below me.

I might have hesitated on a dark night, but tonight with the moon above nearly full it was bright enough to read an interpretive sign on the reflective metal: New Growth.

I had come to Prairie Creek Redwoods multiple times, but never in the spring. Even in the darkness, I could see small white flowers adjacent to the trail. At an opening, I watched for bats and saw a few.

New growth. I couldn’t recall so much water here before, audible from a good distance away at Elk Prairie adjacent to the visitor center.

I knew this was a well-groomed, flat trail without obstacles or anything to trip on, but I placed each foot carefully. Not because I was afraid I would stumble, but because each footstep connected me with this forest of ancient redwoods.

There is something ironic about writing about an inherently wordless experience. It was about natural silence. Eventually, I tore myself away from the darkness and the creek to head back to my campsite. But I laid myself down on the same soft earth, to the soothing sound of the smaller Prairie Creek before it flowed into the bigger one.

More delights awaited me when I visited the trail in daylight. I had walked right past a large cluster of rhododendron blooms adjacent to the bridge, now just beyond where I could reach with my fingertips, and snapped the picture above. The new growth referenced in the sign was the vibrant green and delicate leaves of vine maple. The small white flower I’d seen was one of many, the blooms of redwood sorrel. This was the beginning of days meandering among the giants above me and tiny beauties below me.

____________

What a treat to visit in the spring after a near-record wet winter. I had never been there when so much was blooming.

Western azalea

 
Bleeding heart

Giant trillium

Hairy buttercup

Salal

Coast twinberry

I meandered through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and neighboring parks, Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith State Park, collectively managed together to best protect them. Trail damage was extensive from the winter storms with some trails still closed. For the ones that were open, they still had a lot of downed trees and limbs to climb over, under, or through.

Since May was still a bit rainy before the tourist season, I had little human company. The Ten Taypo Trail in Prairie Creek in some places was a carpet of moss from little use.

I was fortunate to observe lots of wildlife. Previously I had seen Roosevelt elk in the fall breeding season, when the bulls have their enormous antlers and aggressively vie for the cows. This time of year, instead the males herded together and the cows stayed as a separate group with juveniles. The young bulls had their new antlers for the season covered in velvet, and many of the elk had a patchwork of hair as they were shedding their winter coats. I watched them from a safe distance.

However, just because I gave them space didn’t mean they did the same. One day, I pulled my car over on the shoulder of the road to watch a herd, and they calmly strolled by just a couple feet away. I took the following photo through the open window.

It was nesting season for birds. This barn swallow glared at me when I got too close to his nest under the eaves of the bathroom at the Trillium Falls trailhead.

Everything was so lush, a tangle of green upon green, with every available spot occupied by something growing, including the dead logs that provided a home for everything from moss to whole trees that sprouted out of them.

Trillium Falls

Even the picnic table at my campsite had a couple tiny plants sprouting where rainwater had soaked them. I transplanted them where they wouldn’t get trampled, and gave them a drink from my water bottle before I reluctantly headed home.

Happy blogger in Redwood National Park

Soundscapes—Winter Birds

It’s the season when the birds that overwinter return to join the local residents, and I once again journey to join them. My intention with these videos is to share the soundscape of calls and wingbeats that is so much of the experience, not the wobbly handheld video in the poor light of dusk and dawn. These were filmed at three national wildlife refuges in California—Pixley, San Luis, and Merced.

Pixley National Wildlife Refuge is a small pocket of wetland habitat surrounded by the enormous fields typical of industrial agriculture. At sunset, thousands of sandhill cranes begin to arrive. They roost each night in flocks that stand together in a shallow wetland to avoid predators on dry land.

Wrapped in warm layers, I returned at dawn to watch them depart. They took to the air and dispersed in family groups to forage in the surrounding fields.

Later that day, I traveled to San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. I walked the trail to a platform overlooking Sousa Marsh. Visually obscured by tall reeds, there’s little to see and it’s not obvious at first how much life is in this wetland until sunset. Standing alone in the fading light, I could make out the notes of a few songbirds winding down their day as the owls were just beginning theirs. All of them were nearly drowned out by the increasingly loud chatter of countless ducks, invisible until they took off in a whir of wings for their evening roosts elsewhere. There were so many they were lifting off for half an hour.

I walked back slowly back in the dark, much quieter now. I listened to the hoots and screeches of owls and the yipping of distant coyotes.

The following morning, I arrived at Merced National Wildlife Refuge for sunrise. The calls of snow geese were unmistakable but they were visually hidden in the thick tule fog at dawn.

Eventually, I could see the flocks of geese. They had spent the night feeding in the farm fields adjacent to the refuge and were returning to rest for the day, but something had startled them and they all took to the air. I couldn’t see well enough to tell if the cause was a common one, the appearance of a bald eagle.

Moving along deeper into the refuge, the sun warmed the air and burned off the fog. I watched and listened to another population of sandhill cranes. They flew above me, then disappeared as they headed out to the neighboring pastures to feed.

Despite the fact that this migration is predictable and occurs year after year, it is no less magical every time. What a privilege to be an earthling.

Ashes – A Poem

Photo by Andy LeSavage

I grab the damp sponge to wipe up the black soot that has blown in on my window sills
I stop in mid-reach
Whose lives have arrived with the thick smoke from 50 miles away

This fine dust
Made of the ordinary and the treasured heirloom
Tomorrow’s to-do list
An aged letter from an ancestor
The walls of a home
A favorite book
A favorite person suddenly cremated at 1 a.m.

I close the windows to minimize the smoke creeping into the house
I stare again at the ash and put down the sponge
Instead I wipe away tears for the thousands of neighbors who have arrived in the wind

Donations to help the Sonoma County community recover from the fires can be made through North Bay Fire Relief, a partnership of Redwood Credit Union and the Press Democrat, or through the Resilience Fund of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

Total Solar Eclipse in Oregon

Wonder. Awe. That was the experience of watching the solar eclipse. Words rarely fail me but this one is a challenge to describe.

My sister, our friend and I took in this extraordinary event from the deck of my sister’s house overlooking the forest. We stared through our eclipse glasses at an image of a diminishing orange orb surrounded by absolute blackness, and alternated with taking the glasses off to watch the changing light around us. We wondered what behavior we’d see from the birds that ignored us during their repeated trips to the feeders—hairy woodpeckers, hummingbirds, juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, Steller’s jays, chestnut-backed chickadees.


Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch


Hairy woodpecker


Steller’s jay


Chestnut-backed chickadee

In the beginning, there was no obvious change in the landscape. But what a show unfolded above us, as the curve of the moon’s shadow began to make its way across the face of the sun, a barely visible spot that we watched gradually reach totality in a little more than an hour. The image reminded me of a harvest moon with its amber color through my glasses. Except the expanding crescent shape looked nothing like the moon.

The temperature dropped and a breeze picked up. The shadows around us grew longer. We were astonished as all around us, countless crescent shapes of light shone on the wood grain of the deck, juxtaposed against the shadows of the leaves.


A chair made of simple beige and gold lined fabric became the sun’s canvas for a work of art.

The light continued to fade. It was unlike any light we had ever seen, not at all like dusk. The birds fell silent.

Then… the lines! Shadow bands raced across the ground. And the light suddenly vanished.

We took off our eclipse glasses and stared at the dark image and the corona shining around it, listening to essentially the whole town of Corvallis cheering along with us. How could we not?

As the moon’s shadow moved, a bright flash like a strobe pierced the sky as the first sunlight returned. Over a bit more than an hour, we watched the sun come back. The birds sang again and eventually the crescent shapes disappeared.

It left us breathless. We agreed there really are no words to genuinely describe the experience. Everyone who shared it that I’ve spoken with has said the same. Millions of people on our small planet twirling in the universe, unified in amazement.

Watch a 30-second timelapse video of the eclipse in Corvallis, from the Washington Post/Reuters.

Pinnacles National Park – At a Distance and Up Close

After many years of drought, Northern California this spring was a vibrant palette of colorful plants. Back in April before the blistering heat of what is now summer, I spent a few days at Pinnacles National Park exploring the contrast of the rough rock and the graceful flowers and bright lichens.

The pinnacles are a geologic formation that grew out of two plates of the earth’s crust coming together, with an ancient volcano and erosion thrown into the mix. The humps and spires of the High Peaks Trail arise from the rolling hills below, and they are a frequent haunt of endangered California condors that have been reintroduced here.


View of the High Peaks from below

As I hiked up, the unique formations began to come into view.
The High Peaks Trail is not for the faint of heart with its overhangs and steep steps carved into the rockface. Some places have handrails.
In some places, the rock surface itself is the option to steady yourself.
Climbing up to the top rewards you with sweeping views.

As always when in nature, many of the wonders require a look up close. Spring life was everywhere, from lichens on the rocks to wildflowers.

Lizard in the sunshine

Bush poppy

Blue witch

Fiddleneck

Silver bush lupine

Pipestems

Wooly paintbrush

California poppy, the official state flower

Fremont’s monkeyflower

Gray mules ears

Bitter root growing on the trail, with the protection someone constructed around it

Unknown flowers

Lichen

Multiple species of lichen

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. – Rumi, 13th century

I stopped when the coyote and I met eyes, I descending the Marin Headlands trail and she standing a couple hundred yards away down the hill. For the next few minutes we meandered in the same direction across the landscape, with me stopping to let her move on unhurried before we would cross paths again. When I started my car to head home, she emerged once more. I cut the engine and watched as she spotted a gopher, got into position, pounced, stuck her nose in the hole when she missed, and eventually moved off.

It’s easy to forget how much beauty surrounds me when my mind spirals downward. I recommit myself to draw inspiration from nature and continue working on bettering both myself and the world that I’m a part of.

This photo of a coyote was taken by Len Blumin and is shared here with permission. You can see more of his stunning wildlife photography at his Flickr photostream.

Walking in the Footsteps of Galileo – The March for Science

On Earth Day this year, 50,000 other sane people and I walked down Market Street in the March for Science in San Francisco. Until recently, I would not have thought I’d have to defend that most basic of nonpartisan concepts—science. You know, the field that brought us handwashing.

Alone, it’s easy to despair and feel powerless in these challenging times. But that wasn’t possible when I was surrounded by so many committed people of all ages with their creative signs and costumes.

While the purpose was serious, our collective mood was upbeat. This is why I attend peaceful protests—to recharge for the slog that is social change. I will continue to show up.

Me and the other heretics.

The North Coast in Winter

redwood-stump-at-humboldt-beach-1-2017-smallOn New Year’s weekend, I journeyed to California’s North Coast. Although I’ve blogged about hiking through the giant redwoods in this region when it’s warm and dry, this was my first trip in the winter. My friend and I stayed on the coast, the seasonal home of wading waterfowl. I often get these look-alike birds mixed up, so it was helpful to travel with expert birder Brian who could identify species.

Layered up in the cold rain with few people around, we spotted wildlife at Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. A peregrine falcon plucked the feathers from her breakfast. A trio of otters watched us before swimming away. I managed to sneak in a few photos between the raindrops.

otter-arcata-marsh-1-2017-smallotter-duo-arcata-march-1-2017-smallmarbled-godwit-and-dunlins-arcata-marsh-1-2017-small
Dunlins with a marbled godwit

snowy-and-great-egrets-arcata-marsh-12-2016-smallSnowy egret (left) and great egret

Visiting a place in a different season is a wonder of discovery. At Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we encountered dramatic dark clouds and enormous storm waves, miles of beach with no other footprints, bright berries and spongy lichens as the earth thrived on plentiful water after so many years of drought. Waves swirled around giant redwood stumps as the sanderlings skittered between the waves to feed on molluscs in the wet sand.

ground-berries-and-lichen-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallLow-growing berries and lichen

beach-strawberries-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallBeach strawberry

beach-sky-stumps-grass-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-feeding-sanderlings-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-flying-sanderlings-humboldt-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-solo-sanderling-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-small

This may have been my first trip to the North Coast during the winter, but it was so beautiful that I don’t think it will be my last.