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California’s Parrots: Fall Color on the Wing

Nanday Conure in Sycamore (11/28/15) Kathy Jonokuchi

Nanday Conure in Sycamore (11/28/15) Kathy Jonokuchi

As leaves fall from deciduous trees, flocks of exotic parrots become visible at points along the California coast.

While their loud screeching may be heard at other times of year, many of the parrots are seen infrequently, as their yellow-green feathers camouflage them in the foliage. That is, until late autumn.

The flocks likely started from a few pet birds that escaped or were released by owners, and who now number several hundred. Thirteen species of South American, African and Asian parrots have become naturalized in California and are becoming a seasonal attraction.

The most famous of them (visible year round) are San Francisco’s “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” a mix of cherry-headed conures, that were chronicled in an award-winning documentary of the same name (seen below).

In Los Angeles County, black-hooded parakeets (Nanday Conures) flock together during the late days of autumn where they feed from western San Bernardino County west to Malibu on liquidambar and sycamore seed pods and king palm seeds.

The annual reappearance of a flock of Nandays, known as the Pasadena Parrots, are a colorful herald to preparations for the town’s Tournament of Roses celebrations.

Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi captured one such group of black-hooded parakeets squawking while roosting in a sycamore tree (seen above).

CLICK HERE to read more about California’s parrots.

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Fall Wildlife Festivals Add Color

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Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015

Autumn is festival season with many events occurring just as leaves are turning color. Wildlife migrations and mating seasons are often celebrated.

A major migration of humpback, blue and killer whales and dolphins continues to December in Monterey Bay, where large gatherings of humpback whales put on spectacular shows corralling schools of anchovies, then rising together to feed on them. Whale watching trips take spectators out near the feeding families of whales. CLICK HERE for a general listing of available trips.

In September and early October, it’s rutting season for California’s Tule and Roosevelt Elk, seen at Pt. Reyes National Seashore in Sonoma County and Redwood National and State Parks in Humboldt County. The Elk Meadow Cabins at Orick are a prime location to base and watch the elk rut. Find more at redwoodparklodge.com.

On Sept. 26, the 21st annual Salmon Festival occurs at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville. This event includes salmon cooking demos and tastings, “non-stop entertainment,” tours of the hatchery where spawning salmons can be seen, kayak trips on the Feather River, a river cleanup event, a 3k color run, a dance, health fair and river cleanup. More is found online at salmonfestivaloroville.org.

California Swan Festival, Quincy (file photo)

California Swan Festival, Marysville (file photo)

November 13 – 15, the California Swan Festival occurs in Marysville with field trips and tours, presentations and workshops.  More is found at caswanfestival.com.

Monarch Butterfly (file photo)

Monarch Butterfly (file photo)

In mid November, Monarch butterflies return to California’s Coast (Santa Cruz, Pacific Grove and Pismo Beach) from their year-long migration to Utah and Canada.  Eucalyptus trees hang heavy with the brightly colored butterflies.  CLICK HERE to see a report on the butterflies.

More about viewing California wildlife and attending wildlife festivals is found at cawatchablewildlife.org.


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Peak of the Week: Yosemite – GO NOW!

Sentinel Bridge (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Sentinel Bridge (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Bigleaf maple (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Bigleaf maple (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Fern Spring (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Fern Spring (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

North Side Drive (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

North Side Drive (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Merced River (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Merced River (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Mule Deer (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Mule Deer (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Coyote, Merced River (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Coyote, Merced River (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Big Oak Flat Road, Yosemite NP (11/9/14) Anson Davalos

Big Oak Flat Road, Yosemite NP (11/9/14) Anson Davalos

Yosemite Chapel (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Yosemite Chapel (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Black Oak (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Black Oak (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

El Capitan (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

El Capitan (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

San Bernardino Mountain color spotters Nick and Alena Barnhart headed north to Yosemite this past weekend and found the Valley at full peak.

From the Yosemite Chapel shot, it’s easy to see that Yosemite’s trees have been dropping their leaves for a couple of weeks. Nick delayed his trip a week with hopes rain would occur and the waterfalls would be flowing again.

However, very little rain or snow has yet reached the high country, keeping the waterfalls nearly dry.

Nick said the leaves were showering the valley floor as they departed (note to self: recruit more spotters to check out Yosemite Valley in late October each year), though he imagines the color will continue for another week and will probably be near past peak by Thanksgiving Day. It is surprising to me that we don’t receive more photo submissions from Yosemite, considering it’s probably the most photographed location in California.

Presently, fall color is mostly limited to Yosemite Valley, though Wawona also has good color and areas opened up by wildfires in the past 25 years have become repopulated with colorful bigleaf maple, black oak, dogwood and shrubbery.

Temperatures have chilled significantly across the Sierra Nevada this past week. Considering we’ve had clear skies, that would normally lead to more intense color, but in Yosemite’s case the color is unlikely to improve, as the trees have already peaked.

One special aspect of autumn in the national park is wildlife photography. As leaves drop, the forest opens up leaving the wildlife little to hide behind.  Also, they’re often backgrounded by warm color, as seen in Nick’s shot of the mule deer.

The animals most easily photographed are bear, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, ground squirrels and birds. The deer and coyotes are particularly visible and mostly ignore people.

Santa Clara Valley (most of you know it as Silicon Valley) color spotter Anson Davalos provides a view of the Big Oak Flat Road (North Entrance – Hwy 120) as it descends toward Yosemite Valley above Foresta. This area was grey with cinder and ash following the park’s 1989 fire.

Today, young aspen, dogwood and oaks now paint the hillside with yellow, rose and orange fall color.  Given the present beauty of this area, it should improve to being one of the most spectacular displays of fall color in the national park in coming years.

Yosemite National Park (Peak 75-100%) – All areas in the national park are at peak or past peak.  Yosemite Valley and Wawona have a week, perhaps two (depending on wind) of peak color left to go.  GO NOW!

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Santa Cruz Fluttering to Peak

Monarch Butterflies, Natural Bridges State Park (11/10/14) Cory Poole

Monarch Butterflies, Natural Bridges State Park (11/10/14) Cory Poole

Color spotter Cory Poole made an incredible road trip this past weekend, stopping at points all around the San Fancisco and Monterey Bay areas, reporting that he didn’t get into the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park but that a peek over the fence had it peaking.  C’mon Cory, you mean to tell us you toured the rainforest exhibit at the Academy of Sciences instead!?  Can’t blame you.

Still, he did send this shot of monarch butterflies wintering on eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz.  We often make a trip to that great park and also to Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz where the monarchs are seen now through early December.

Wildlife viewing is a legitimate aspect of California Fall Color (look for our next post on Yosemite) and the return of the monarchs is special.  The butterflies cluster on the branches, close to one another to avoid the cold, but when the sun is clear and shining on them, they spread their wings and flutter about, often landing on you.  Definitely a must do for fall color spotters.

To read previous posts about the monarchs and where they can be seen, search “Monarch” or CLICK HERE.

In other news from Santa Cruz County, color spotter Nicole Coburn reports from Soquel that the Summit Road which runs from the summit of Hwy 17 down to Soquel is peaking with canopies of bright yellow bigleaf maple overhanging the road.

Monarch Butterflies (Peak 75-100%) – The monarch butterflies have returned to Natural Bridges State Park and other nesting areas along the California Coast.  To attract monarchs to your backyard, plant milkweed this coming year. Read Cory’s comment, below, for an absolutely vivid description of the experience of standing amidst thousands of swirling butterflies being attacked by a corvid. GO NOW!

Summit Road (Peak 75-100%) – Summit Road is canopied with yellow bigleaf maple. GO NOW!


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Berkeley Birders Searching for “Painted Redstart” Find Fall Color

Color spotter Sandy Steinman started yesterday looking for a rare bird, the Painted Redstart which normally lives in Arizona, eastern New Mexico and northern Mexico. It had somehow winged its way north to matriculate near Berkeley and ended up itself being studied by Redstart-fevered birders. Steinman never was sure he saw the bird (perhaps a glimpse), though ended up taking these shots of spots of remaining fall color along Berkeley’s streets.

Berkeley (12/1/13) Sandy Steinman

Berkeley (12/1/13) Sandy Steinman

Past Peak – Berkeley – Spots of color can still be seen with some trees not fully turned.  The most exciting spot of fall color is the red, black and white Painted Redstart seen flitting through Berkeley’s urban forest. A cold front will push through Northern California, beginning today, perhaps urging the Redstart to head back to Mexico and with days expected to be cold, chilling further prospects for color development in Berkeley and forcing global warming protestors from the steps of Sproul Hall to warm themselves, indoors.

Monarch Butterflies Return to Santa Cruz

Monarch Butterfly, Lighthouse Field (file photo) John Poimiroo

Another California Fall Color is embodied in the annual return of the Monarch Butterfly to the coast.  On Sunday, Oct. 14, the monarchs will be officially welcomed back to Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Park visitors can participate in numerous activities including arts & crafts, active games for children, music by the 5M’s (the mostly mediocre musical monarch mariposas), feasting on hand-cranked ‘monarch’ ice cream (it’s really pumpkin), along with informational booths including “how-to’s” for creating a successful butterfly garden.  Kids and adults are encouraged to dress up in orange and black.  Join monarch man and monarch woman in the Monarch Parade, and meet the guests of honor:  the monarchs themselves.

Monarch Butterflies are famous for their striking beauty, and their multi-generational migration from western states to the California coast.  The monarchs head to Santa Cruz from states west of the Rocky Mountains.  The new arrivals are 4 to 5 generations removed from the butterflies that left Santa Cruz, last spring.  The overwintering population you see along the coast is the longest lived generation—surviving up to 9 months before they travel to spots north and east in search of milkweed.  There, the females lay their eggs only on the milkweed plants, the only thing caterpillars eat.  By injesting the toxins contained in milkweed plants, the monarchs become toxic to most predators.

The monarchs are seen clustering on eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and other trees for protection from wind and rain.  When the weather warms to above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, a burst of monarchs may flutter about in search of flower nectar and water. Natural Bridges State Beach is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz.  Butterflies can also be seen at Lighthouse Field near the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Return of the Monarchs

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) © 2006 John Poimiroo

A tradition of California Fall Color has been to report all things autumn and colorful, including the annual return of the Monarch Butterflies to the Central Coast.

In keeping with that tradition, Natural Bridges State Beach will welcome back the Monarchs officially, on Sunday, October 9, from 10am to 4pm.  This annual event marks the homecoming of the brilliantly-colored orange and black monarchs with guided tours of the monarch grove, live music by the 5-M’s band (Mostly Mediocre Musical Monarch Mariposas), educational displays and guest lecturers that will reveal the mystery of monarch migration and more. Children can participate in monarch butterfly themed active-learning games and crafts, and everyone is invited to dress up for the butterfly-themed parade.

The park’s Monarch Grove provides a seasonal home for monarch butterflies each winter. From mid-October until early February, they form a “city in the trees.” The areas mild ocean air and protected eucalyptus grove provide a safe roost until spring. In spring and summer, the butterflies migrate to valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where milkweed, the only plant a monarch caterpillar eats, is plentiful.

October marks the beginning of their arrival, with numbers and activity usually peaking near Thanksgiving, when many park visitors gather to enjoy and photograph the butterflies.  Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park’s wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to the observation deck in the eucalyptus grove. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting the Monarchs and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.

Weekend Guided tours of the Monarch Grove take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am and 2:00pm, from October 9 until the monarchs migrate, usually in late January.  Monarch migration is variable; please call the park if you would like more information.  Public tours are offered on weekends and no reservations are necessary, or call (831) 423-4609 to arrange a tour for a group of 10 or more. Meet at the Visitor Center for the hour-long program. The walk is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

Natural Bridges State Park is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz. Take Swift Avenue west from Highway 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges.

Welcome Back Monarchs

Monarch Butterfly (file photo)

Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, CA celebrates the return of the Monarch butterflies on Sunday, October 10 (10/10/10) from 10 a.m. (of course) to 4 p.m.

Children will be dressing up in butterfly costumes for the annual parade, with live music by the 5M’s Band (does M stand for Monarch?), hand-cranked “Monarch” ice cream (we’re sure no butterflies are in it, cause they say it’s made from pumpkins, active learning games for kids, butterfly crafts, Monarch stories and science and guided tours of the Monarch grove.

Other locations along the California Coast to see wintering Monarch butterflies (they usually hang around to early March) are Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, Ardenwood Farm Park in Fremont, Pacific Grove and Pismo Beach.

What amazes visitors and biologists alike is that the Monarchs (danaus plexippus) have so short a life span (six weeks to six months) that it is their progeny (great, great grandchildren) who return to the same winter roosting sites.  Why they do this is no mystery, but how they return to the same locations is puzzling.

For more about Natural Bridges State Park’s Welcome Back Monarchs Day, call 831-423-4609.

Photo Credit: © 2006, John Poimiroo