Zooming in: A great little telephoto lens for outdoor pix

Morro Bay sandspit, shot with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.
Morro Bay sandspit, shot with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.

Always seeking to lighten my load when hiking, backpacking or just traveling in general, I switched cameras from Panasonic Lumix (several over the years) to an Olympus OM-D E-M5 several years ago. The little Olympus is a mirrorless micro four thirds compact SLR that rivals full-size SLRs when it comes to image quality, and certainly beats them when it comes to weight. Although I loved my Lumix, I had a bad habit of breaking them, and was looking for something lightweight with interchangeable lenses.

Nearly two years later, I’m enjoying the Olympus, even though it’s not the most user-friendly camera in the world. I kind of don’t have the patience for all the dweeby programmable functions, so I end up mostly using the automatic settings. So far, I’m very pleased with the image quality and love the weather sealing (anticipating the next kayak dumping). It takes great landscape shots. The problem was the 12-50mm kit lens that came with the camera was just not enough magnification for wildlife and other outdoor subjects. Olympus with telephoto

Luckily, Santa/domestic partner gifted me with a kickin’ Olympus 40-150-mm telephoto for Christmas, and now that I’ve had several months to play with it, I’m very happy. The equivalent of 80-300mm in a 35mm, this little Olympus 40-150mm is small but mighty.

 

 

Pelican taken from a kayak on Morro Bay. Exposure 1/800 sec., f/8; ISO 200.
Pelican taken from a kayak on Morro Bay. Exposure: 1/800 sec., f/8, ISO 200.

The lens is fast and brings wildlife in close, capturing sharp images, and, at a compact 6.7 ounces, is super lightweight. I still can’t fit it in my pocket, like I could the Lumix, but I often keep it around my neck or slung across my shoulder, with very little added weight.

Not long after I got the camera, I bought a wide-angle 17mm Olympus pancake lens, which is great for landscapes, but doesn’t do much for zooming in on distant objects. I do love the landscape images I get with this wide-angle lens:

Cayucos pier, captured with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.
Cayucos pier, captured with Olympus 17mm micro four-thirds pancake lens. Exposure 1/640 sec., f/11, ISO 200.

Once I got the  little 40-150mm telephoto, it was time to start zooming in. I started with finches in my backyard:

Finches at feeder, taken from across the yard with the Olympic 40-150mm telephoto. Exposure: 1/450 sec., f 5.6, ISO 640.
Taken from across the yard with the Olympus 40-150mm telephoto. Exposure: 1/450 sec., f 5.6, ISO 640.

Then it was on to the Rose Parade:

Good detail of Rose Parade float.
Up close and personal Rose Parade float. Exposure: 1/640 sec., f/8, ISO 200.
Pretty sharp image of float.
Pretty sharp image of Disney Frozen float. Exposure: 1/500, f/8, ISO 200.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and I don't know who else, on L.A.'s float.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and I don’t know who else, on L.A.’s float. Exposure: 1/640 sec., f/9, ISO 200.
I think this was the always colorful and creative Trader Joe's float.
I think this was the always colorful and creative Trader Joe’s float. Exposure: 1/500 sec., f/8, ISO 200.

All in all, the Olympus OM-D M-5 is a great camera for shooting in the outdoors, and adding a compact telephoto lens provides sharp images without breaking (the compact) budget.

Advertisements

Western road trip: The Coast Part 2

Trinidad lighthouse on the NorCal coast.
Trinidad lighthouse on the NorCal coast.

In the hopes of finishing my Summer Road Trip series before summer actually ends (didn’t quite make it), here’s Part 2, which covers the West Coast between Point Reyes and roughly Coos Bay, Ore. This trip segment through Bigfoot country was all about wild beaches, wild elk, purple beach critters, craft breweries and good and bad showers. You can read Part 1 here.

After leaving Point Reyes, I took three days to camp along the coast on the way to Portland. Wanting to drive through beautiful Anderson Valley, I opted to skip Highway 1 for a spell and took the 101 north from Marin County, which also shaved hours off the drive.

North coast

Unfortunately it was during the height of the Endless Summer of Heat, and the inland coastal valleys were baking. I scooted through Petaluma (cute), Sebastapol (meh, think I missed the nice sections), Healdsburg (love, even at 100 degrees), picking up ice for the cooler in Santa Rosa. Turning off Highway 101 onto State Route 128, I passed through the rolling golden hills of Anderson Valley.

The tiny town of Boonville is home to funky and fun Anderson Valley Brewing (Boont Amber and Hop Ottin’ IPA, yum) and “boontling,” a home-grown language all its own. Right outside the apple-centric town of Philo, Navarro Vineyards is an excellent stop. We discovered Navarro’s fine pinot noirs on a previous trip. This time, with a reserved campsite on the Mendocino coast, I had time for only a quick tasting and snagged a few bottles of recent vintage. And in the late afternoon heat, Blue appreciated the lovely, shaded, dog-friendly patio:

Blue:Navarro

From Navarro, it was a short drive to the coast. I resisted a stop in Mendocino, forging ahead to MacKerricher State Park, three miles north of Ft. Bragg. The park occupies nine miles of the mostly uninhabited North Coast, and is home to sand dunes, wetlands and innumerable bird species and pinnipeds. It’s one of the premier places to view gray whales during their December to April migration between the Bering Sea and Baja California. A whale skeleton at the park entrance marks the meeting place for whale-watching tours:

Whale skeleton:MacK

The campground has more than 140 campsites in three separate areas, including 10 walk-in sites at Surfwood. I stayed in one of the East Pine sites near the sand dunes, and it was a quick walk to the beach. At the height of summer, this is a very busy family campground, even mid-week (read: if you’re looking for peace and quiet, consider off-season).

I generally liked this campground (tho my site was teensy weensy) and was just grateful it had clean, hot showers ($1 for 5 minutes!) but would have preferred something a little less jammed. It’s so close to Ft. Bragg, I skipped the campfire and ate dinner there. Ft. Bragg itself is a cool North Coast town, with the fine North Coast Brewing Company and many nicely-preserved historic buildings, but it was pretty deserted mid-week. Even the Spunky Skunk was closed:

Ft Bragg street

Instead of driving, you can walk from MacKerricher to Ft. Bragg via the Haul Road, an old logging route that is now a paved trail. This is handy for dog walking because canines are not allowed on the beach:

Haul Rd:MacK

Horseback riders on the beach at MacKerricher are treated to amazing views. All of this is about a 5-10-minute walk from the campground:

Horses MacKerricher

Waterfowl (and kayakers) love ocean-adjacent Cleone Lake, a freshwater lake that was formed when the haul road was built, blocking incoming seawater.

Cleone Lake

I practically stepped on these ducks right at the lake’s shoreline. I can’t believe they let me get this close:

Ducks:Cleone L

From the Mendocino coast, it was a long, varied drive to the next night’s camp, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The coast was stunning and went on. And on. And on. I’m not complaining. The weather was clear, sunny and warm, and the views beyond impressive.

North Coast beach

However, despite the majestic avenues of redwoods, the inland drive through Humboldt County (100 degrees or so) was a bit too warm for my taste. This guy didn’t seem to mind tho:

Bigfoot

Frankly, with the road twisting and turning so much, a good part of my memory of it is a bit of a blur. I did make stops in Eureka (Target for a new towel, which I left behind at MacKerricher, and Lost Coast Brewery, for the obligatory T-shirt for boyfriend) and Trinidad, one of my favorite towns in California:

Trinidad harbor

I was eager to get to my campsite at Gold Bluffs Beach, but also a little worried about what my pit mix Blue’s reaction would be to the hordes of Roosevelt elk that roam the park and campgrounds. I found out as soon as I got to the elk jam at the park entrance:

Elk jam

After closing the windows during Blue’s barking fit — some of the elk turned their heads toward us so I knew they heard her  — I waited till the creatures passed, then proceeded the six-mile drive to the campground. The drive is along a wondrous route shaded by old-growth redwoods, which thrive in the ever-present coastal fog. Prairie Creek is one of three parks that make up Redwood State and National Parks, which protect 45% of the state’s coast redwoods.

Reservations are a must at Gold Bluffs Beach, which has only 26 campsites (mostly tents, yay!), and I was lucky to snag a site. At road’s end, it was thrilling to see the ocean and a smattering of tents under the bluffs and in the meadow along the beach. This is one of the finest places I’ve ever camped — isolated, quiet and stunningly scenic.

Gold Bluffs tent

Blue grazed on mounds of purple “wind sailors,” a type of jellyfish called vellela vellela that clog shorelines in the summer when the waters are warm. Surely an early sign of El Niño. Other wildlife included a fox, whose calling cards all over the campground and a visit to our campsite made Blue break out in into howls.

Blue:Gold Bluffs copy

I really lucked out with the weather, which was superb. And the sunset was spectacular:

Gold Bluffs sunset 1

The only downside of the Gold Bluffs campground was frigid water in the bathrooms. Cold tap water in the sink and showers, which barely spit out water. Luckily I was heading to an Oregon state park, home to the gold standard of campground facilities.

The warm and sunny weather continued as I motored into southern Oregon, stopping in Bandon for an ice coffee and to pick up that night’s campfire dinner from Bandon Fish Market. Into the cooler went a nice little slab of fresh coho salmon for $6, which made my day.

Salmon:Sunset Bay
Later that night…

Just north of Bandon, I turned west on Seven Devils Road and gradually lost sun and gained fog. My destination was the campground at Sunset Bay State Park, just southwest of Coos Bay. I knew I was in a different world as soon as I checked in at the entrance station. The campground operation was like a well-oiled machine, with multiple campground and yurt hosts rolling around in golf carts. And it was crowded with families. My campsite was on lush grass that made it feel like I was camping in someone’s backyard (some brown grass too, just like home!)

Sunset Bay site

I enjoyed the Sunset Bay campground, despite its camping industrial complex feeling. This is another one that I’d prefer to visit perhaps in the off-season, when the wee ones are back in school. Next I might try one of the eight yurts — one pet-friendly — which are the primo accommodations. One woman told me she made a reservation almost a year in advance and was lucky to get it. Oh, and I have nothing but praise for the shower experience, located in one of the finest, cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. And — California, are you listening? — showers have hot water and are FREE.

From my campsite, it was a short walk to the beach and along the way I came across a ranger talk set amidst a grove of trees. The bay was fogged in and the water flat and gentle.

Sunset Bay beach

The next day, before heading north, I drove south a few minutes to Shore Acres State Park, a coastal gem that was once the estate of a lumber and shipping baron. Today, visitors stroll the seven acres of gardens at the former estate, planted with flowers from around the world. All the green lushness reminded me I wasn’t in drought-stricken California anymore.

Shoreacres

Shoreacres 2

After a brief garden stroll (sans Blue — one of the only Oregon state parks where dogs aren’t allowed), I drove down to Cape Arago, yet another scenic Oregon State Park where colonies of seals and sea lions on Simpson Reef can be seen from a rugged headland overlook. A sign jolts you back to reality:

Cape Arago sign

Next up: the Umpqua Valley to Portland, then the Columbia Gorge and Hood River.

 

 

Western road trip Part 1: The Coast

Bixby Bridge:Big Sur
Bixby Bridge along the Big Sur coast.

Is there a better way to spend summer’s longest days than the quintessential American pastime: the Western road trip? I think not.

So it came to be that I spent a month (parts of June and July) traveling from coastal California into Oregon and on to Idaho and Wyoming. The roughly 3,000-mile loop was completed through Utah, then back to SoCal.

Big Sur drive

I’m splitting the trip into four posts. This one will cover the coast from SoCal to Point Reyes. Part two will detail coastal camping in Northern California and southern Oregon. Part three will encompass Portland, the Columbia Gorge and the drive to Boise. And part four will visit Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, then the Wind Rivers and Grand Teton in Wyoming. Whew. Covered a lot of ground in a month.

Rather than just wing it with accommodations, I had reservations pretty much the whole time, including camping. Unless you like sleeping in your car in a Walmart parking lot, I highly recommend advance planning during the height of tourist season in the West. I started searches (and ultimately made reservations) through the reservation agencies ReserveAmerica and Recreation.gov and cross-referenced by using Hipcamp — an amazing site with a searchable database of California campgrounds — and CampsitePhotos, another extremely useful site that lets you look at photos of individual campsites at public and private campgrounds throughout the U.S. For now, you can only book sites through the above-mentioned reservation sites, but Hipcamp is working on becoming a one-stop shop for research and booking.

I had to keep it dog-friendly, which can be a challenge. Other than the campgrounds, I’m not going to get into hotel details, but if you want to know where I stayed (and the copious research I did) hit the red Follow button to the right and email me.

Despite all the planning, glitches are usually inevitable. My trip was blissfully glitch-free, with the exception of the very start. Since I was hauling kayaks, I decided to take the household Subaru Outback rather than my small hybrid. But the usually trusty Suby decided to be finicky literally the night before I left, requiring a visit from AAA to secure the driver’s side door, which all of a sudden wouldn’t stay closed. Then it would close but couldn’t be opened, from outside or inside. A day-long service visit the next day scuttled my Big Sur camping reservation for that night, resulting in a night in Cayucos instead — not a shabby alternative but it meant more driving miles the next day. By Morro Bay, the newly-fixed door failed again but I figured out that the door would open when the driver’s side window was open.

Condors:Big Sur
California condors over Big Sur.

With a reservation in Half Moon Bay, I had to scoot through Big Sur fairly quickly on my first full day of driving. But the weather was gorgeous, the air was clear and there was plenty to see and stop for, including several California condors that halted traffic near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. At one point there were eight soaring over the cliff. It was the first time I’d seen the big endangered birds, which were reintroduced to Big Sur in the late 90s.

Kitesurfers at Big Basin Redwoods State Park beach.
Kitesurfers (not condors!) at Big Basin Redwoods State Park beach.

One of the only sections of California coast I’d never been to is the stretch between Monterey and San Francisco, and wow, was that amazing, particularly the beaches between Capitola — new favorite town — and Half Moon Bay. Pescadero, San Gregorio, Big Basin — each beach prettier than the next. This is a spot I’ll definitely return to, maybe to kayak at Elkhorn Slough. Or perhaps take up kitesurfing.

Pigeon Pt. lighthouse , north of Santa Cruz.
Pigeon Pt. lighthouse, on the San Mateo County coast.

After a night in Half Moon Bay and dinner with a friend in Palo Alto (so happy to get my Delfina pizza fix!), my friend and I kayaked the next day at Pillar Point Harbor. It’s similar to paddling at Morro Bay, with abundant bird life but fewer of the ticky tacky trinket shops. And kudos to Half Moon Bay Kayak, which let us park near their rental stand to unload our boats and even let us use their wheeled carriers. Way to go, guys!

Cormorants on a rock jetty at Pillar Point.
Cormorants and friends on a rock jetty at Pillar Point.

After loading up the kayaks, I headed north along another beautiful stretch of sunny coast. That situation ended right around Pacifica and it was an interesting fog-shrouded drive to my hotel in Ocean Beach. It was the first time I’d stayed on that side of the city. The foggy dog walk that night felt like a creepy scene out of the movie Zodiac.

Blue:Sutro
Dogs-eye view of Sutro Baths.

The next day, the fog lifted and it was yet another gloriously warm and sunny (so rare for summer) day in San Francisco. The clear weather called for a visit to Sutro Heights and Lands End in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at the northwest point of the city. This area offers the best bay views — I saw a diving whale’s tale from the Coastal Trail near Lands End — and is one of the most dog-friendly spots in one of the country’s most dog-friendly cities. That said, not all sites allow pets, so be sure to check NPS regulations before you take poochy for a jaunt.

Dog-friendly Crissy Field.
Dog-friendly Crissy Field.
Crissy Field kiteboarder.
Crissy Field windsurfer.
View of Ocean Beach from Sutro Heights Park on a sunny S.F. day. Like Waikiki!
View of Ocean Beach from Sutro Heights Park on a sunny S.F. day. Like Waikiki without the crowds!

I had to tear myself from Tartine the morning I left S.F., but time was a’wastin’ — I had friends to meet in Point Reyes. This was my fourth trip or so to Point Reyes National Seashore, and as usual it did not disappoint. I missed out on kayaking on Tomales Bay thanks to funky tides and too much else to do, but a hike on the Estero Trail and visits to Drakes Beach and North Beach made up for it.

View of Tomales Bay.
View of Tomales Bay.

Dog owners: pay close attention to the pet rules here. Dogs are allowed only on certain beaches (Bluey stayed in the car at Drakes) and only on certain trails. This is for the benefit of wildlife, particularly northern elephant seals and the western snowy plover, which nests on this sandy peninsula.

Old boat on Tomales Bay.
Old boat on Tomales Bay.
Drakes Estero, from the Drakes Estero Trail.
Drakes Estero, from the Estero Trail.

A few more road trip tips: If your car is equipped with Bluetooth, be sure to load up some podcasts on your smartphone to help pass the time. Judge John Hodgman is a favorite. And I was so engrossed with Serial that I missed the turnoff to Inverness and almost ended up in Stinson Beach. Also, as summer progresses and the West continues to dry up like a beer keg at a frat party, be sure and check websites like NIFC for fire activity (click on Sit Report in right rail). I was lucky and didn’t encounter any, but there are presently more than a dozen burning in California and even the normally-damp Northwest is afire.

Next up: Anderson Valley, Bigfoot country, and camping the Northern California and southern Oregon coasts.

Why did another mountain lion cross the road….?

P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.              Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Why, to join his sister, of course. In March, I wrote about P-33’s risky crossing of Highway 101 from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area in Ventura County. And now brother P-32 has made it, crossing on April 3 about one mile east of where P-33 traveled.

Both of the 17-month-old big cats are tagged and monitored by the National Park Service, which oversees the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and has been tracking mountain lions there since 2002 in order to study how they manage to survive in such a fragmented habitat.

There’s no evidence that P-32 has actually reunited with his sister. In fact, he’s ventured further into the Simi Hills, crossing State Route 23 and coming close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Who knows, maybe he’s a Republican. Sister P-33 meanwhile turned around at Route 23 and is believed to be ranging close to where she crossed the freeway, said the NPS.

The recent journeys of these two big cats into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains is a critical step in the lion’s long-term genetic survival in SoCal, says the NPS. Providing a safe crossing of the major barrier that is the 101 may come in the form of a proposed wildlife crossing over the freeway at Liberty Canyon north of Malibu Creek State Park.

There’s been quite a bit of mountain lion news in the L.A. area recently, between the two cats crossing the 101 freeway, and another lion dubbed P-22 (even has his own Facebook page) who lives in Griffith Park and in mid-April was found holed up under a house in Los Feliz. He was eventually hazed out by wildlife officials and is being GPS-monitored once again in the nether reaches of Griffith Park.

P-22’s the famous cat whose photos were featured in National Geographic. He’s also on the second or third of nine lives, having survived a bout of mange contracted from ingesting rat poison. I had the dubious pleasure of researching an infographic on that topic:

rodent infographic041714

Why did the mountain lion cross the road?

Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.   Courtesy of National Park Service
Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Well, to get to the other side, of course. The “road” being the 101 Freeway, and the big cat being P-33, a 16-month-old who recently left her mother and was the star of some stunning photos from the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (Beware viewing if you’re squeamish: there are images of a dismembered deer.) The NPS has been tracking her and her two siblings since they were four weeks old.

And now big sis has miraculously made it across the Ventura Freeway. She crossed on the Conejo Grade from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area on March 9 sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

This is hugely significant for mountain lions and the people who research them because a successful crossing of such a huge barrier like the 101 is a sign that there’s hope for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population.

P33_Crossing_March2015

It’s all about connectivity of habitat for these SoCal mountain lions — being stuck south of the 101 leads to inbreeding and lower genetic diversity. A number of big cats have been killed trying to cross the freeway, including one recently at Liberty Canyon, north of Malibu Creek State Park. This is also where the only other known successful crossing by a lion occurred since the NPS started started studying them in 2002, and it’s where NPS is proposing to build a wildlife crossing over the freeway.

Some Angelenos may recall the famous mountain lion in Griffith Park known as P-22, who was made famous in National Geographic photos in 2013, and was thought to have crossed the 101 and 405 Freeways heading east. He wasn’t wearing a tracking collar and he’s likely not to reproduce because he’s believed to be the only lion there and is hemmed in by so many freeways on the eastern end of the Santa Monicas.

As a hiker in these mountains, it’s always in the back of mind that cougars are in the vicinity, so I’m vigilant the trail. The area where P-33 ended is pretty agricultural but I’m guessing she’s in the mountains north of the freeway just west of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. That park, by the way, has some great hiking, including a nice loop hike to Paradise Falls. It seemed like lion territory when I was there, so I’m not surprised P-33 was attracted to it. Here’s hoping she’s not too hemmed in by suburbia (aren’t we all?), avoids cars and people, and lives a long, fruitful life.

Paddling Alamitos Bay

Alamitos Bay pelican

Living in Southern California, you’d think finding a decent place to kayak would be a no-brainer. Ah, but not necessarily so, grasshopper!

Water, water everywhere, but oh so little safe and easy access. We usually paddle at Newport Beach’s Back Bay, which has an ecological reserve and is no slouch. But the subdivision views and near-constant traffic from John Wayne Airport get a bit tiresome.

So, we recently decided to take a chance on paddling Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. What a pleasant surprise. Even with the nearby ports — the busiest and most polluted on the West Coast — Alamitos Bay is something of a gem.

Pulling up to park near the intersection of Ocean Blvd. and Bayshore Ave., we were stunned that there was a nearly-empty parking lot and free street parking… and best of all, the put-in was mere feet from the car. Even on MLK Day (albeit in the middle of winter, such is life in sunny SoCal).

Steve kayak:canal

After finding a map online, we decided to make a loop through the canal around Naples Island, which was directly across from our put-in. It’s a pleasant paddle next to picturesque homes along the canal, but our loop ended abruptly when we were blocked by yellow construction floats.

Canal deadend

Unbeknownst to us, the seawalls that line the canal were getting a facelift. The city of Long Beach declared six years ago that the walls “were found to be in a significant state of disrepair” and after studying, and more studying, construction finally began in November and will continue until June.

So we headed back out to the bay’s main channel and paddled north, passing several restaurants and even a Ralphs supermarket along the way. There were other kayakers, some SUPers, and even people on some kind of bicycle-paddling contraptions.:

Bikes on bay

Thanks to that online map, we knew there’d be a waterski-only canal to avoid, and it was pretty obvious when we saw someone skiing donuts at full speed. We stayed far away and continued on to the “wetlands,” a generous term given to an area adjacent to field upon field of oil rigs. The array of seabirds was impressive — gulls, pelicans, cormorants, surf scoters, terns and egrets. But all that wildlife amidst the oil-industrial complex was jarring, to say the least.

Alamitos-egret

After snapping a bunch of photos, we headed back to our starting point. Next time we’ll check out the moon jellies in Spinnaker Bay Canal, which is where the Long Beach Aquarium apparently gets its supply for its touch tanks. We’ll definitely pack the fly rods and hope for some halibut. And complete our Naples Canal loop, with its nifty new seawalls.

 

The West Coast’s wandering wolf

Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County, Ore. Photo courtesy of USFWS.
Remote camera photo of OR7 on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County, Ore. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Gray wolves were quite the media beasts last week. Wildlife officials approved protection of the wolf as an endangered species in California — where wolves aren’t known to exist. Except for the lone gray from Oregon, who spent a bit of time in the Golden State a few years ago. And had some news of his own.

Anyone who follows wolf news in the West knows by now about OR-7, the GPS-collared young fellow from a pack in northeast Oregon who traveled across the state and was spotted in California in 2011. I can’t say I blame him — Oregon’s great, but who wouldn’t want to hang in the Golden State for awhile? It was the first time since the 1920s that a wolf was spotted in Cali.

It was only a matter of time before OR-7 tried to find a mate. Pickin’s were slim in California, but 7 appears to have found love back in Oregon. The Dept. of Fish & Wildlife there reported on May 12 that he hooked up with a female wolf in southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where he’s spent most of his time since March 2013.

And lo and behold, babies make four (and possibly more…the average litter size is 4-7): on June 2, two pups were spotted in the same area — the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Oregon DFW reported that they and U.S. Fish & Wildlife spotted the pups close to where a remote camera spotted the female.

Wolf pups spotted by remote camera in southwestern Oregon. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wolf pups spotted by remote camera in southwestern Oregon. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oregon is no stranger to wolves. There are 64 known canis lupus there, most in the remote northeastern part of the state; OR-7 was originally from the Imnaha Pack:

Wolf_Use_Map_Statewide_140225

It’s interesting that gray wolves will be protected in California, while their status in other Western states hangs in the balance. A decision to remove wolves nationwide from the endangered species list has been delayed until the end of 2014. I wrote about this contentious issue a few months ago. See more about gray wolves here. It’s been reported that with wolves in neighboring states, it’s just a matter of time before they become established in California. That’s an exciting prospect, and one I’m sure that will get some hackles up.

Rat poison kills wildlife too…including lions

rodent infographic041714

One of the joys of living in Southern California — other than gloating to friends back East about our fine winter weather — is living so close to nature. But today’s news about the illness of a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains from exposure to rodenticide shows how harmful that closeness can be to wildlife.

I’m proud to say I helped produce the graphic above, which shows how rat poison can work its way up the food chain. Unintended victims like hawks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions prey on the poisoned rats and mice, and the resulting death is not pretty.

The National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in the Santa Monicas since 2002, monitoring their activity in the wildlands that border suburbia. And now one of those lions, a young tagged male dubbed P-22, is the latest victim of rat poison.

P22_Mange_HeadShot_Medium

The Park Service says that P-22, shown above, has a bad case of mange stemming from exposure to rodenticide, which contains a blood-thinning anticoagulant. Mange is a secondary disease caused by the poison, which becomes more lethal as it accumulates in larger animals. The deaths of more than 70 bobcats in the Santa Monicas have been attributed to secondary disease related to rodenticide.

P-22 became a feline celebrity back in December when National Geographic ran photographs of him in Griffith Park with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop. The NPS outfitted him with a GPS collar in 2012 in order to keep track of him. He was recaptured in late March to replace a battery in the collar, and treated with an anti-parasitic medicine. Two lions have died from exposure to rodenticide, but hopefully P-22 will survive.

Hiking in mountain lion territory definitely keeps one on his or her toes, but it’s amazing to know that these creatures exist in our local mountains. P-22 was likely born in the Santa Monicas, says the Park Service, and would have had to cross the 405 and 101 Freeways to make it to Griffith Park. Truly an urban survivor.

Artist and art director extraordinaire Ross Toro and I are working on a brochure that will include the rodenticide info shown here, along with tips for homeowners on wildlife-friendly rodent control. Stay tuned. I’ll post that when it’s ready.

 

Morro Bay: Sea, sand and the Rock

Rock and dunes

The splendors of California’s Central Coast are many but they don’t include the over-touristed T-shirt shops that tend to populate some waterfronts. I’m talking to you, Morro Bay Embarcadero. Seriously — how much clam chowder in a bread bowl can a person eat? The cure for chowder and saltwater taffy overdose is simple: get out on the water and head to the Morro Bay sand spit.

Technically part of Montaña de Oro State Park, the sand spit is four miles long and separates Morro Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It’s an easy paddle from the Embarcadero along the Morro Bay waterfront to the spit. Once there, you can hike clear across dunes from the bay to open ocean. Since we’re a one-kayak family, one of us rents from Kayak Horizons, which has quality sit-insides at reasonable rates.

Morro kayak

In early March, we headed over to the spit on glass-smooth water. It’s a good idea to pay attention to tides when embarking on a kayak adventure to the spit. We paid attention and still went over right after low tide, occasionally getting stuck in the muck near the mud flats. Kayak Horizons lists tide times for Morro Bay on their web site.

But getting close to the mud flats is sort of the point of kayaking here. The marshes are part of the Morro Bay Estuary, a bird sanctuary home to more than 250 species of land, sea and shore birds. In other words, you do not want to forget binoculars and a camera. We’ve seen pelicans, egrets (see below), herons, and too many other sea bird species to list, along with sea lions and otters en route.

Speaking of birds, the spit is home to snowy plovers, which like to nest on the dunes, so certain areas are off-limits. Those spots are signed and roped off, and pretty darn scenic:

Dunes pano

Traipsing across the dunes at the Morro sand spit and hearing the open ocean on the other side always seems otherwordly to me. I almost expect to find the Statue of Liberty wedged on the beach on the side, a la Planet of the Apes:

Ocean view-spit

You can pack a lunch and make a day of it, staying mindful of the tides and making sure your kayak is pulled up high enough on the bay side. I brought a snack of apple, cheese roll and several Brown Butter Cookie Company cookies from Cayucos (original sea salt, my favorite). Wow, this is looking a bit like a scene from a Wes Anderson movie:

Lunch

There’s a great view of Morro Rock from the ocean side of the sand spit:

And of course it’s birds galore on the little-peopled beach, where the ocean is fairly rough and tumble:

Birds on beach

On the dune walk back to our kayaks, the light was getting really nice and brought out the great colors of the coastal sage scrub with the rock in the distance:

I wove my kayak between docked sailboats, keeping my binoculars peeled (wow, this does sound like a Wes Anderson film) for my landing spot at the public boat launch at the end of the Embarcadero:

Morro Bay boats

We worked up a powerful hunger padding and hiking. So it was off to Dorn’s for some, ahem, clam chowder. In a real bowl.

Some photos here were courtesy of http://stevehymon.smugmug.com/.

Wild horses and wolves, oh my

Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom
Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom

I recently came across a few most excellent multimedia presentations on two of my favorite topics: canines and equines.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 7.46.04 PM
Screen grab from opening of NPR’s Wolves At the Door.

Earlier this week, NPR did a good radio report on the wolf situation in the West, paired with a great online presentation. After being stripped of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act several years ago, wolves in the Northern Rockies are now in the hands of individual states in that region. Meaning Idaho, Montana and Wyoming now have wolf hunting seasons. The Humane Society says methods of killing wolves include steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill them.

The chart I did below shows wolf population and hunting, aka “harvesting,” since the hunts began in the Northern Rockies states. At the end of 2012, about 1,700 wolves resided in that region. Long-term, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service aims to maintain a population of about 1,000.

The numbers below are estimates that I cobbled together from the Humane Society and the states’ various fish and game departments, so don’t take them as gospel. I know from my last job that gathering data like this is always a challenge. Hunting seasons straddle two calendar years, and population figures are always estimates anyway. For example, the 2013 population figure I show for Montana accounts for the wolves killed in 2013 and so far in 2014, but doesn’t account for other deaths. But you get the idea.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 12.10.47 PM

Needless to say, it’s a contentious issue pitting animal lovers and environmentalists against ranchers and hunters in states where wolves reside. Ranchers say wolves kill their livestock, and hunters claim they decimate the elk population (something that was recently found not to be true). NPR does a great job of outlining the debate and updating us on the issue.

The other great media presentation I came across this week was from Oregon Public Broadcasting on the issue of wild horses in the West. Horse preservationists say mustangs are a vital part of the West’s open spaces, while ranchers and others think there are too many horses vying with their Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 7.41.50 PMlivestock over grazing land.

Wild horses have been protected under the federal Wild Horse and Burro Act since 1971. Since then, their numbers have increased, and the Bureau of Land Management manages the population by periodically culling the herds through public adoptions. Removed horses are adopted or end up in holding facilities. In 2013, the 49,500 horses and burros in long-term holding facilities surpassed the estimated range population.

Now, I’m totally against the “harvesting” of wolves, and clearly something needs to be done to protect wild horses competing for grazing space. The BLM hasn’t exactly done a bang-up job of managing the situation. I highly recommend the two multimedia presentations here. To find out more about the gray wolf — which USFSW is proposing to remove entirely from the threatened and endangered species act — read up on the issue and have your say. Public comment is being reopened starting Mon., Feb. 10 and you have til March 27 to make your voice heard.

Funny how public broadcasting is doing such a great job covering these Western issues in mulitimedia form compared to other major print media outlets. With the exception, of course, of the New York Times’ fabulous Avalanche At Tunnel Creek multimedia project in 2012, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.