Posted by: atowhee | June 16, 2018


Click here to read the “Guardian” interview. 

Posted by: atowhee | June 16, 2018


Have siskin become a regular summer breeding bird in San Francisco’s introduced conifers?  Here’s one at an irrigation produced puddle at the Legion of Honor this morning.  THere are numerous Monterey pine and cypress at that location.pisi plegionIf they are now here all the time can’t we make them a sub-species, the San FranSiskin?

Posted by: atowhee | June 15, 2018


Click here to watch the lave slowly move downhill, consuming all in its path.

Posted by: atowhee | June 15, 2018


I got to spend some sunny moments watching commonplace birds in Golden Gate Park.  If you have the leisure to stop, and watch, the bird world can amaze you. A pair of Black Phoebes were feeding their young.  I am in the Bay Area to talk about the centuries of man-made change in the natural environment.  I always point out that birds like Barn Swallow and Black Phoebe have thrived in urban San Francisco.  Humans have gone about putting up all sorts of fine nesting structures for these species.  Yesterday I watched the phoebes feeding young in their mud-based cup nest nestled up under a man-made roof, atop a man-made ledge.  Such fine nesting spots would have been very scarce in a wilder world in 1750.  As long as we can resist saturating the environment with poisons the phoebes willtghrive alongside our artificial environment.  Not only did we provide a structure for them to nest in  but there were irrigation sprinklers running to provide plant life to attract and support the insects needed to feed and nourish the phoebe nestlings.  Also, note that the adult phoebe feed both nestlings on a single visit:BP-NESTBP-NEST2BP-NEST3BP-NEST4BP-NEST5BP-NEST6BPRETTYBPRETTY2BPRETTY3BPRETTY4Bug in beak:BPRETTY6BP7BP3BP2BP1In the nearby pond the water, with its hydrogen and oxygen molecules, must have contained nearly as many molecules from algae and duck feces.  The color of the sun shined water was a livid earth tone, unknown to ocean or mountain river.  A lone, brave Barn Swallow was racing back and forth along the slightly wavy surface of the water, grabbing insects for its afternoon meal.  It was regardless of the water or its non-insect content.  In the bright sun the iridescent back of the swallow was a shard of black glass; each strike it made on the surface sent up droplet mirrors to reflect and refract the sun. The bird spashled itself with the water which quickly dispersed back into pond or into the dry air as the wings and swallow tail fluttered and sped on.BS-1BS-2BS-3BS-4In this lastimage you see the small pond turtle beyond the swallow splash–two animals that move in drastically different measures of time and space.  The swallow moves the length of the pond several times while the turtle could swim half its length.  And each has a very defined relationship with the water itself.  The swallow would be unable to dive or hold its breath for long beneath the surface.  The mere image of a flying turtle gets little beyond farcical.

Posted by: atowhee | June 14, 2018


U am in the Bay Area to talk about my San Francisco natural history book, and we are visiting with long-time friends.  Among those friends I must count the Brown Pelicans.  Because of DDT I did see pelicans the first few years after I moved to California in 1967.   NOw they are abundant, and their Bay Area Season is roughly May through December, though some immature individuals hang out all year.  The breeding adults go to southern California and coastal Mexico for their early spring breeding season, after the young are fledged, the birds head back north for better offshore fishing.  They are accompanied in each migration move by Elegant Terns and Heermann’s Gulls.  The latter shadow thue hulking pelicans to pick up any scrapes left on the water.FIVEPELThe dark-headed pelicans are immature, the dark-bodied, white-headed gulls are Heermann’s while the larger, white-bellied gulls are the Westerns, which are local breeders and abundant in Bay Area year round though they rarely venture far from open bay or ocean.PEL-GULLZSIXPELTWOPELHarbor seal, anchored in the harbor:CSL-SLEEPY

Posted by: atowhee | June 12, 2018


We drove I-5 from Marion County south to Mt. Shasta this afternoon.  Saw four active Osprey nests along the way, including the one at the Wheatland Ferry.  Best roadside bird was a single Acorn Woodpecker crossing the freeway just south of Medford.

Posted by: atowhee | June 11, 2018


A French library has held a two hundred year old map, drawn by a Native American to help the Lewis and Clark expedition on their trip up the Missouri River.  Those early explorers were helped and saved time and again (how to eat camas bulbs) by Native Americans.  Those same tribes were later targeted by genocide, shoved into reservations or simply decimated by European diseases for which they had no resistance or treatment.

Lewis and Clark introduced science to many new bird and mammal and plant species when they got their notebooks and speciements back to Philadelphia in 1805.  Clarkia, lewisia, Linum lewisii, Clark’s Nutcracker and Lewis’s Woodpecker commemorate some of their natural history discoveries.

Here’s a second article on the map and its discovery:

Copy and paste the URL into your browser.

l-c map


Posted by: atowhee | June 10, 2018


My friend and co-author, Peter Thiemann, got a fihe set of images as two young GGOs fledged and then climbed back into the safety of the forest on leaning tree branches that Peter had placed near their nest.  The young GGO always fledges long before it can fly, so it must use tooth and nail to get up to safety…sometimes it doesn’t work. This time it did.  Images from the Oregon Cascades:IMG_0584Above: mom & kids in nest.  Below: dad delivers meal.IMG_0691Fledgling on the ground, handy leaners nearby.IMG_0745Climbing as his life depends on it…as it surely does:IMG_0787IMG_0791IMG_0848IMG_0863Whew…IMG_0681IMG_0683Thanks to all the donors, including Oregon Birding Association, that have aided Rogue Valley Audubon as that group has placed over 2 dozen nest platforms around the southern Cascades region for these spectacular birds.

For information on our book about the Oregon GGOs, click here.  The book is full of Peter’s fine photos.

Posted by: atowhee | June 10, 2018


This coming week I am giving three presentations on the evolution of San Francisco’s natural world as it has been changed by people.  My latest book, which I will be selling at each talk, is San Francisco’s Natural History: Sand Dunes to Streetcars.

My presentation deals with the man-made environment as it came to replace the lightly-managed environment during the centuries of Native American presence.  There will be plenty on the changes in the plants, birds and other animals in San Francisco.  Grizzlies are long gone, but the Barn Swallow expanded into the urban habitat.  Also, there will be a look at the threats to plants and wildlife from climate change. 69644847_Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEG_7303473

Here is my schedule:

Wednesday, June 13.   Sunset District Public Library, 1305 18th Avenue (at Irving), 7 PM.
Thursday, June 14.  Sequoia Audubon Society, Garden Center, 605 Parkside Way, San Mateo,
630PM.  Free.
Friday, June 15.  Richmond District Public Library, 351 Ninth Avenue, 3 PM.  Free.

Bring your friends.

Here are a series of blog posts pertinent to this book and San Francisco’s changing natural history:

Home page for this book:

Newslinks, stories pertinent to San Francisco’s natural history—present and future:

Table of Contents:

Animal and plant species mentioned in the book:

San Francisco images, before 1860:
San Francisco images, 1860 to present:

Posted by: atowhee | June 9, 2018


View from Buena Vista bluff:BUENA VIEWCliff Swallow colony on cliffs along Hwy 205 south of The Narrows:CLIFF SWL NSTeking-psFRNCH GLEN SQRLGS-STANDZBGS-CHIPTS-SIGN2PBGBittern being a reed, Summer Lake.ab-nekavo tiltavo-swinThs badger was digging a hole along Lawen Road, note the fresh dirt he’s surfaced.bad-twobad-two2bad-two3bad-two5bad-two6bag-oneBE--PIVOT

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