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Big Fish, Small Beak

A silvery light shimmered in the distance, and as I turned my head towards it, I encountered the arched neck of a slender Snowy Egret. The Snowy Egret is a medium-sized bird with an impressive wingspan, and though the morning sky at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands was shrouded in fog, one could easily make out the white-feathered frame of its magnificent body and the brilliance of its yellow feet. Sandor Havasi and I approached the bird quietly, hoping to capture the moment on film and further investigate the origin of the shimmer. Standing just twenty feet from the Snowy Egret, we watched as the light bounced off of the silver scales of a flat-bodied fish (see image below).

Snowy Egret. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Though the Snowy Egret is very similar in form to its larger cousin, the Great Egret, their hunting styles could not be more different. Great Egrets patiently perch on one foot while stalking their prey, preparing to strike with a single fluid movement. The more animated Snowy Egret, who uses its bright yellow feet to stir up surrounding waters and herd tiny aquatic animals, can be seen continuously plunging its head in the water. On this particular occasion, a few shakes of the foot secured a fish larger than our Egret friend could swallow. I observed a frustrated Egret who repeatedly tossed the fish up in the air, like a spinning coin, and strained to force the meal down the length of its narrow beak. In the end, the fish was too great a match for the Egret and the elegant bird stalked bitterly away from the rocky shoreline where his abandoned meal lay.

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, California are teeming with wildlife, including some of the most spectacular avian species I have ever seen.  In addition to the Snowy Egret mentioned above, we saw Great Blue Herons; who look a lot like small airplanes when their wings are fully extended, Great Egrets, and Reddish Egrets; who, along with the Snowy Egret, are relatives of the Heron,

and several Caspian Terns who allowed us to photograph them while they were hunting for food.

Great Blue Heron. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Great Blue Heron. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Snowy Egret "fishing" with his foot. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Snowy Egret “fishing” with his foot. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Great Egret catching a quick snack. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Great Egret catching a quick snack. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Caspian Tern. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Caspian Tern. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Walking through the neatly-carved paths cut from the bluff’s dense shrubbery, I was amazed by the number of birds, lizards, and small animals that call Bolsa Chica their home. Sandor and I spent close to four hours exploring the wetlands, and as we turned to leave he asked, “How many species do you think you saw today.” My honest response was somewhere near ten, but as he recounted each bird, lizard, squirrel, and rabbit, the number quickly surmounted twenty.  The sheer knowledge that such biodiversity exists in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands has inspired me to look to the skies and the grounds and pay closer attention to what I see.  While some of you may have the chance to see Bolsa Chica in your lifetimes, many of our readers are spread across the world, and will not have the opportunity to get there. The truth is that you do not need to travel to a wetland to connect with nature, because the wild is happening all around us. The connectedness that I experienced when exploring my local watershed, can be shared by everyone, no matter their global location.  We, at the Havasi Wilderness Foundation, urge you to get outside and explore the world. Peel your eyes away from the phones, laptops, and tablets that have your attention throughout the day, and instead, open your eyes to the wildlife around you. Pull out those headphones or earbuds and listen to the sounds of the wild- it is, after all, a soundtrack that is 4.54 billion years in the making.

In the wake of accelerated environmental changes, nations around the globe are participating in movements that encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Equipped with the knowledge that the safety and conservation of the human environment is a major issue, which affects the welfare of global inhabitants and economic growth throughout the world, the United Nations designated the 5th of June as World Environment Day. To celebrate this day, individuals were invited to get outside, connect with nature, and explore the world around them. This year’s theme for World Environment Day 2017 was “Connecting People to Nature,” and the Havasi Wilderness Foundation is proud to share this message with the world.

This year, the Havasi Wilderness Foundation spent World Environment Day exploring the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, California.

 

 

 

Birds of a Feather

On May 25, 2017­, the Havasi Wilderness Foundation had the great pleasure of speaking at the Ventura County Bird Club’s monthly meeting. As we walked through the doors of the Ventura Moose Lodge, we met a friendly Cockatoo who greeted us with quick “Hello.”  A regal looking Blue-and-yellow Macaw, an African Grey Parrot, and another lively black-and-white Cockatoo rounded out the list of birds in attendance. While happy squawks and avian chatter filled the air, attendees signed raffle tickets for a chance to win packaged walnuts, a bird swing, or one of two large wooden ladders that were sprawled out on a table at the front of the room. Some birds clung to their humans and nibbled at their necks, as others paced around the folding tables searching for vegetable scraps and putting on a show for anyone who would watch.

Mr. Havasi took the stage to present on three of Southern California’s prime bird watching spots: Lotusland, Lake Casitas, and Bolsa Chica.  Audience members and our new bird friends listened attentively as he described his encounters with avian wildlife populations locally and globally.

LOTUSLAND

Located in the hills of Montecito, Lotusland was founded by the renowned Polish opera singer and socialite, Madame Ganna Walska, in 1941.  It took the Walska family over 43 years to turn Lotusland into one of the ten best gardens in the world. Today, the Lotusland estate grounds contain several distinct gardens that incorporate bromeliads, succulents, butterflies, ferns, Japanese flowers and orchards into their landscape design. Lotusland’s diverse landscape makes it an ideal habitat for several astonishing birds, including the Anna’s Hummingbird and the House Finch pictured below.

Anna's Hummingbird. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

 House Finch. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi


House Finch. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

 

LAKE CASITAS

Just north of Ventura, Lake Casitas was once a sizeable reservoir that formed following the damming of several branches of the Ventura River. The long-standing California drought has significantly affected water levels and though last years rains were significant, the lake is close to the lowest it has been in decades. In spite of the drought, the riparian habitat where the freshwater marsh and reservoir meet, still supports birds like the Great Egret, the American Wigeon, and the Great Blue Heron (pictured below) as well as a number of other faunae. The land surrounding the reservoir is privately owned and if developed, many of these majestic creatures would find themselves without a home.

American Wigeons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

American Wigeons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Great Blue Heron. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Great Blue Heron. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

BOLSA CHICA

In Huntington Beach, California, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands are known as a central migratory stop and nesting grounds for many avian species. In fact, nearly half of the birds discovered in the U.S. have been seen in the Huntington Beach area over the past decade. This impressive offering of birds could possibly be attributed to the distinctive moisture level of the surrounding wetlands, which are fed by an ocean and a river so that water is abundant all year long. On past trips to Bolsa Chica, we have encountered such majestic birds as the Black-Necked Stilt, the Black Skimmer, the Long-Billed Curlew, and the Surf Scoter (pictured below). As more people buy homes in the area, shrinking habitats force wild animals into smaller areas which allow predators like coyotes, foxes, and hawks, to find the birds easily.

Black-Necked Stilt. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Black-Necked Stilt. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Black Skimmer. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Black Skimmer. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Long-Billed Curlew. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Long-Billed Curlew. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Surf Scoter. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Surf Scoter. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

SUMMARY

As an indicator species, birds offer humans insight into the overall health of our planet. Though the number of birds seen at Lotusland, Lake Casitas, and Bolsa Chica is impressive, the global loss of wild bird populations remains an imperative environmental concern. Human activity and development have driven many bird populations to the brink of extinction. While wildlife protection agencies have been diligently working to rehabilitate these populations, it is still essential to understand how our actions impact ecosystems. By exploring your local marshlands, lakes, and beaches, you not only have the opportunity to discover the amazing birds that call these environments home but also have the power to make sure that their habitats are protected!

Join us at the Ventura Moose Lodge, 10269 Telephone Road, Ventura, CA on June 29th at 7:00 PM as Marilyn Fordney and Alex Havasi of the Havasi Wilderness Foundation share stories about the wildlife that they encountered on their journey around the world, a National Geographic trip!

 

Nature Journal: Ice and Elegant Eagles

This past weekend I was able to see an American icon! It wasn’t at the Superbowl or on the streets of Los Angeles, but at a frozen and snow-covered Big Bear Lake I saw the famous bald eagle.

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The San Bernadino Mountains were perfect that weekend. I was there for a retreat and the snow had built up perfectly. In the early mornings, you could hear the sounds of the ice cracking on the lake and as the day went on little miniature streams broke open in the ice on the lake and flocks of geese and ducks could be seen far off in the distance paddling around in the frigid water. These birds have amazing insulation and feathers which help to keep them warm and allow the water to roll right off their backs. When I stepped outside to get a closer look, I went downward up to my knees suddenly finding myself in three feet of snow! Continue Reading →

Nature Walk: Predator and Prey at Work and at Play

western-gray

Western Gray Squirrels are able to thrive in human impacted environments. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

From the park bench, I could easily watch the two Eastern gray squirrels fake fighting and playing. These squirrels tend to be more solitary and less playful than ground squirrels but these two squirrels were bouncing around as if they could defy gravity. Eastern gray squirrels are actually quite impressive jumpers, and can easily leap up to fifteen feet horizontally and free-fall twenty feet or more. These squirrels have especially thrived in human environments where they have easy access to food (including many decorative plants) and where people feed them.

It was a pleasant little scene and I looked down to check my phone. When I looked up, the scene had changed. The bouncing squirrels had disappeared. Where did they go? I saw one motionless in the dirt and one had scurried even further away from the tree. What had changed? Had it been a territory battle? Continue Reading →

Sticking to the Mountains: Nature’s Tiny Actors

Hiking back, a bit breathless and winded from the crisp mountain air and altitude, my eyes were drawn to a light tan stick on our window. We had just hiked through mountain trials and there was plenty of sticks and leaf litter everywhere but there was something about this particular twig . . .

This little guy was on our window

This little guy was on our window

For one thing it was vertical on the window screen and the oddness of it made me stop to take a closer look. Quickly looking around for a source plant, I noticed that there weren’t any trees nearby that would match that type of thin light tan stick. The closest trees where more evergreen and oak-like than this reedy looking tan twig. As I drew closer, I grinned. I had fallen for the illusion–it was not a dead twig as I had originally thought. It was not even from a plant. It was a living moving and incredibly fragile stick insect!

This wild “stick bug” was almost as long as my hand and was just hanging out on our screen. We had walked through forests and trees for hours earlier and had only heard some bird calls from a distance. I had been a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen much of anything interesting or unusual on our hike. But now here I was right back at our cabin and here was an animal I had never seen in the wild. And it had never even crossed my mind to think that stick insects were native to Running Springs, California. Did you know that stick insects can live in most of the world? They are found (in different shapes, sizes, and colors) from North America to Southeast Asia, the tropics to the subtropical regions of our world.

Continue Reading →

Along Came a Spider

spiderweb

A large spider clung tightly to her web

The morning was bright and cheerful and very few people were out when I went for a nature walk this morning. The green grass and the blue sky were inviting and the shimmering shaking of the golden aspen leaves were delightful. Everything was peaceful. It couldn’t be better. Nothing could go wrong in this kind of beauty.

And that was when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye a slight flash of light. A warning. It instantly triggered hundreds of similar warning messages and memories. . . SPIDER. It was the white of the early October sunlight reflecting on a thin strand of web. But it was too late!

I already had broken the thread and shuddering I stepped back. Hesitating, I looked up wondering where the rest of the web was. Above my head and to the left wobbled a loosely hanging web, it wobbled and swayed as a bulbous red brown body clung for dear life in the center. Only a few moments had passed but the damage was done. The beautiful web had been destroyed by my carelessness and a large orb weaver’s world was rocked. Continue Reading →

Braving Nature

coexist

Often times we engage in nature just by looking through a window

With the Pokemon-Go Craze going on right now, many people are getting outside and walking around who would rarely spend extended time out of doors! While this is exciting for many, there can also be some misconceptions about what kinds of animals are outdoors and even how to engage in nature.  And this phenomenon isn’t just limited to the Pokemon-Goers but do we really look up and engage in nature in a positive way?

From my own personal experience I would have to say somedays yes and somedays no! Why is that? Just the other day I went to the park after work to try to relax and be in nature (because I love nature). But for some reason I was uneasy and I had my own personal apprehension about wearing my work clothes. I found myself worrying about getting them dirty and instead of wanting to enjoy and engage in nature I was not wanting to go off the path or even sit in the grass! I eventually convinced myself that it would be good for me and after walking through the meadow for a bit I noticed birds. Lots of swallows swooping and flying everywhere! Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Turtle Invasion

red ear

We were visiting The Commons, in Calabasas the other day when we stumbled upon a wonderful koi pond! The little pond was teeming with life! It was fun to see that this pond, in a shopping center was home to koi and TONS of red eared slider turtles. The red eared sliders get their name partially because of the red spot behind their ears and because they “slide” very easily off of rocks. . . Pretty creative! Turtles are from the Chenloian Family, which also includes tortoises. What is the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? Turtles are aquatic animals. They live in the water and have webbed feet and a streamlined body which helps them to swim easily. Certain types of turtles rarely leave the water, like sea turtles, while other turtles (like red eared sliders) live in ponds and lakes, and will climb out onto logs or rocks to warm themselves. Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Visiting Bald Eagles at Lake Casitas

Our Eagle Sighting Group, ready to go!

It is June and some members of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, their families, and friends accompanied us to Lake Casitas to visit and see the bald eagle parents and their offspring. Luckily we had a caravan of three cars on a gorgeous bright sunny day with minimal clouds and light traffic. We started out from Agoura Hills, California at 7:30 AM to be sure to arrive early to see the wildlife and hopefully see the baby eagles (eaglets) getting fed.

casitas6142

A bald eagle’s messy nest, high up in the trees.

Upon arrival, we could see the giant eagle’s nest high in the Eucalyptus tree and one of the parents on a branch adjacent to the nest. When entering Lake Casitas, the road to the left follows around so one can park quite near to view the nest and with binoculars can view the two little baby eagles. The mother eagle could be seen high in the sky carrying towards the nest a “duck roast.” We were just in time to see the baby’s breakfast banquet. Continue Reading →

Guest Blog: Tom Follis’s Nature Adventures

ojaiI am going to tell you about a lovely, unique, remote area, the location of which shall remain unknown except to say that it is approximately 70 miles Northwest of Central Los Angeles and about 10 miles inland from the sunny surfer’s beaches in Ventura County. For about 34 years I lived with my wife and a dozen other residents, who were the only people fortunate enough to live in this valley. A valley surrounded by hills, oak trees and in the winter, meadows with knee high wild oats— where no one was ever seen except the occasional hiker. There are no trails, only dense brush, chaparral and rough steep hills.  My granddaughter when she would visit would ask, “Where are all the people?” Because there were no cars or people who she’d seen that morning!

Every species of animals and many kinds of birds that normally inhabit California have at one time or other passed through our 3 acre homestead. Two of these 3 acres were thickly covered by oak trees. I remember some coyotes yipping and howling around at night — sounding like there were hundreds out there in the total darkness (but probably only 3 or 4 were really out there). During the day sometimes a coyote would sneak into the yard and we could see them from the kitchen climbing up the apple trees. They would climb up, seize an apple and trot off to devour it in peace. Continue Reading →