Monday, October 20, 2014

Two New Birds

American Wigeon
It's been a while since Roger and I saw some birds that we couldn't identify right away. The marsh attracts lots of dabbling ducks. The ponds are full of common sights like the (above) American Wigeon, American Coot, and Mallards. We think we've seen a few Wood Ducks, but the cattails are always very tall around the ponds, which makes sight and photography nearly impossible.
Green-winged Teal
So, we were pretty happy to come across these two beauties the other day at the marsh. We noticed a few ducks in lapping low tide on the bay side of the marsh. The sun was bright, they were backlit and hard to really identify. I took a few pics because I thought I noticed a lovely brown head on the male, a color we hadn't seen before. We watched three females scoot along right on the muddy flats with their bills in the mud, looking for food. They made a great sound in their pursuits. I couldn't wait to get home to see who these two were. Our first Green-winged Teal!
Northern Pintail
We've added a a new trail to our walk that leads to other ponds and extends our walk by a mile. The new ponds have interesting ducks as well. The above photo isn't great (the bird was quite far away), but it's the first Northern Pintail we've ever seen. The Teal and Pintail are not rare birds, but seeing a new bird for the first time is always such a treat. Makes us want to head out everyday to see what new critter we might come across.

Here's a map of the marsh. It'll give you some idea of where we've been out walking.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Moonstone Beach and Rock Answers


So, we decided to leave Luffenholtz County Beach and head one mile south to Moonstone Beach. It's also known for its tide pools and rocky cliff face, but in addition it has sea caves and great surfing. When we arrived, we saw what else it has that Luffenholtz doesn't, and that is the mouth of the Little River. I'm pretty sure it doesn't get more beautiful than this.

There weren't green rocks strewn about at the base of this cliff, but there was an obvious trail up that we promised ourselves we would return to hike one day soon.
When we first saw this cliff face, we thought it would have lines and lines of fossils like the ones we always see at Capitola Beach. We looked and didn't notice anything, and just dismissed this as a possibility for fossil hunting. It was just another rocky cliff face like the hundreds of miles of cliff faces along the California coast.

When we got home from this walk, I tried to identify the green rocks from Luffenholtz Beach. I wasn't completely successful. A lot of shiny polished green stones show up on google searches. Then I emailed geologist Andrew Alden whose website and name came up when I googled this search term "Serpentine Beach Rock." He wrote me back, sent me links and thoroughly enlightened us about what we had been looking at. We had not heard of the Franciscan Assemblage (or Franciscan Complex) as this particular section of northern California's coastline is called. The geological history of it is so incredibly rich and interesting it has its own Wikipedia page. Here's an excerpt:
These rocks - which are also known as the Franciscan Complex, Formation, Series, or Group - include mafic volcanic rocks (basalt), many of which are altered to greenstone, radiolarian cherts, greywacke sandstones, limestones, serpentinites, shales, and high-pressure metamorphic rocks, such as blueschist. Although most of the Franciscan is Late Jurassic through Cretaceous in age (150-66 Ma), some Franciscan rocks as young as Miocene (15 Ma), and as old as early Jurassic (180-190 Ma) age are known. Following deposition, these rocks were then faulted, folded and mixed in a seemingly chaotic manner. Due to the lack of continuous exposures and the complex folding and faulting, it is impossible to use conventional methods to estimate the thickness of the assemblage. However, various arguments can be made that at least 50,000 feet (15,240 m) of sediment are present.
Franciscan rocks are thought to have formed prior to creation of the San Andreas Fault when an ancient deep-sea trench existed along the California continental margin. This trench, most of which is no longer evident, resulted from subduction of oceanic crust of the Farallon tectonic plate beneath continental crust of the North American Plate. As oceanic crust descended beneath the continent, volcanic rocks, mainly basalt, making up the lower plate, and marine sediments deposited on top of it were scraped off and accreted (i.e., added) to the leading edge of the overriding plate. This resulted in widespread deformation with development of thrust faults and folding. Ophiolite (which weathers to serpentine), and rocks altered by high-pressure metamorphism (such as blueschist) were emplaced during this episode. Deformation and emplacement continued during subsequent creation of the San Andreas fault to result in a complex chaotic assemblage of diverse rock types that some refer to as a mélange.
Does it blow your mind to know that this is a formation that has been around for 150 million years? There we were walking around, staring up at it, wondering about its significance, its colors, its lack of obvious fossils, and not thinking at all about unimaginable amounts of time and the fiery crazy mechanisms that thrust this piece of earth up like this. And, just because it really is a spectacular complex, it does have a sparse but diverse assemblage of fossils. We didn't see them because they are microfossils.

Just knowing how old these mountains here are, I thought I should take a look at the age of the Appalachian Mountains. Okay, our mountains here are mere babies compared to the 500 million years of the Appalachians. Roger asks, "How old is the Canadian Shield?" The Canadian what, says I? So, I take a look. Wikipedia says it's 2.45-1.24 g.a. So, what is g.a. I wonder? I suggest it probably means a gazillion years. We laugh. It's geologic time. We're talking billions of years. BILLIONS! California is so young. But that's probably because we're still forming. Stay tuned!

The best part of the internet is finding answers to our questions, and the best part of the planet is its endless awesome mysteries.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Exploring The Local Beaches


We had a beautiful sunny couple of days last week, so we decided to explore the local beaches. I had googled "Humboldt County tide pools" and found this little blurb about a beach we had not heard of:

Luffenholtz park offers a sweeping overlook of the Pacific Ocean, picnic area and trail down to the beach. This is a spectacular rocky cove with tidepools and wildlife. Be aware of the tide and avoid becoming stranded. 


Luffenholtz County Park is only about ten miles north of us. So, we went intending to explore the tide pools, but when we got down to the beach we were suddenly mesmerized by the rocks. The colors were so interesting and beautiful.

We had completely forgotten about the green rocks on the north coast.  They were everywhere. We couldn't remember what kind of rocks these are, but planned to do a little online sleuthing when we got home.

Just as we were getting comfortable with all the crazy green colors around the beach, we came upon this beauty. Wow. Now we were going to have to add red rock to the search as well.
Turns out, it's not so easy to identify rocks online. We're pretty sure the green are serpentine, but we could be wrong about that. And who knows what the red is. Someone suggested Jasper. Your guess is as good as ours.

We did get to see something that was beautifully identifiable. A lovely black oystercatcher on a rock.

We paid attention to the tide. It was close to low tide for the day. Roger went out to explore a bit of the rocks and tide pools.
And then we decided to drive a little bit south to Moonstone Beach. Really pretty there too in a completely different way. I'll do a post about that later in the week.

We love the north coast, can you tell?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

mud flats, wharfs, trains, and trees

  a lot of mud

the tide level in arcata bay, which is open to the ocean, varies from about zero to about +7 feet. this picture was taken 10/1/14 at about 3 pm when the tide was about +4 feet. it is a far view to any actual water. i haven’t set foot in the mud here but i have tried the mud in the southern end of humboldt bay looking for clams. it is very slimy sticky, very black, and one sinks almost to the knees in it. we quickly gave up the clam quest.
 those little black dots out there are the remains of the arcata wharf pilings
click and enlarge to see them

 same view at high tide


early settlers built a wharf 2 miles long in 1855 to get to deep water from arcata so as to unload supplies arriving by ship and ship out gold and lumber. the wharf was later extended another 600 yards to get to deeper water. a line of the stumps of pilings is all that remains of the wharf. the arrival of the railroad to humboldt county and the development of a deep water harbor in eureka made the wharf obsolete.

arcata wharf long ago

the railroad doesn't run here anymore because a mountain collapsed on the tracks somewhere between willits and humboldt county and the line was closed in 1998. our merchandise arrives by truck now and there is a narrow place on hiway 101 through richardson grove of redwoods and the biggest trucks can't negotiate the tight turns. so there is commercial pressure to remove some old growth redwood trees to widen the road. if the trees are lucky the state will run low on funds to widen the hiway.

this picture hardly captures the feeling of being among those old growth redwood trees. we did see single trailer semis going through here. they looked big enough.

bonus pic!! tree huggers! this is how we save big trees in humboldt county.
(naked photo borrowed from the internet)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Marsh Fire

There was a small fire at the marsh at the end of August. We didn't get to see the damage until last week. It wasn't a large fire, not anything like the fires that were raging a hundred miles east of us. But it was a surprise to see the charred earth and trees so close to the lush green ponds. Here's a link to a news article about it in our local newspaper.