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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Rains Return

A male acorn woodpecker was killed by a car on New Long Valley Road. The bird will be memorialized not just on this blog, but in a watercolor rendition by Brian Long. The bird species most intimately connected with California's diverse oak savanna, the communal acorn woodpecker's cries are as iconic as its appearance. The male's forehead is banded by white feathers; its crown is crimson. The female's forehead has both a black band and a white band of feathers preceding its crimson crown.

This iconic bird surprises and gratifies newcomers to the West. It is one of the species, whose presence, like that of sea lion, brown pelican, Western scrub jay, California quail, mountain lion, redwood, Joshua tree, and live oak, gives California it's sense of place.

Along Cache Creek, near gravel mining operations, a bull tule elk guarded his harem of thirteen females. They are part of the second largest herd of these animals in the state reestablished decades ago by the Fish and Game Department. It is easy to see why the species was very nearly hunted to extinction a hundred years ago. In addition to their liking for low elevation, fairly open habitat, they seem reluctant to get out of the way of oncoming trouble. Maybe their formidable size gives them a sense of over confidence. The moose shares this trait and is as easy a mark as a heifer in a pasture. Yet, the habits of the Rocky Mountain elk differ from those of the tule elk. That high country denizen can be an elusive quarry, slipping in groups in and out of dense cover and stealthily rounding mountain shoulders in avoidance of its predators. A big herd of them eluded my fellow back packers and me in just this way in the aspen forests of Table Mountain in the Monitor Ranger of Nevada.

Only fifteen percent of Clear Lake's tule marshes remain after decades of lakeside dredging and channelizing to build God-awful housing tracks. Those surviving acres are now a concern of the Lake County Land Trust, which would like to see them preserved. As tule elk habitat, those marshes and adjoining lands would be ideal.

Quercus Lobata (Valley Oaks) in Big Valley seem a bit late this year in dropping their leaves.

A star in lights on a barn reminds me to look up at night. In Lake County we can still see the Milky Way.