Birds

Memorial Day on Mount Shasta, May 2019

Mount Shasta jumped to the top of our list of places to explore when we stumbled across Bubba Suess’s blog, “Hike Mt Shasta”. “Hike Mt Shasta” seems to cover anything you could possibly want to know about exploring the Mount Shasta region. We decided to make the trip on the next long weekend, which happened to be Memorial Day.

To break the trip up a little, we stopped in Redding, site of the historic Carr Fire. Redding burned for over a month between July and August 2018, with 100-foot-wide fire tornadoes that generated gases reaching temperatures of 2,700 degrees and winds up to 165 mph. One of the areas to sustain the most damage was Whiskeytown National Recreational Area.

By May 2019, Whiskeytown’s Oak Bottom Campground had reopened with a warning on its website that “The Carr Fire has increased risks to visitors; falling trees, broken and hanging limbs, burned out stump holes, abandoned mine features, and loose rocks remain in much of the burned area. Remember to watch the ground you walk on, as well as above you.”

Despite the warning and 81 F (27 C) heat, the campground was booked full. The sites were small, but folk were courteous and quiet.

Being new to California, bear lockers were new to us

Oliver at the camp site

Shortly after setting up, the sky turned pink. Checking the weather, we learned that a giant storm was gathering, with the possibility of hail and tornadoes, 8 miles (13 km) to the west of us in Redding.

Mallards with a purpose

The hail pinged off the tent in a rather exciting way, but the storm was short-lived, and by morning the rain had dried up.

Whiskeytown Lake is actually a reservoir, created in 1963 to divert water from the Trinity River basin to the Sacramento River, named for the village of Whiskeytown, which, ironically, was inundated as a result of the reservoir.

A tour of the lake was a tour of Carr Fire burn scars — of charred land returning to life.

CA-299 highway is visible on the left in this photo

I was impressed by how well these Canada Geese blended in with the shadow of the overhanging bank. From a distance the camouflaging effect caused them to almost disappear.

Judge Francis Carr Power House

I regret that we didn’t stop to take photos along the I-5. The highway to Mt Shasta is a great, green corridor following an old railway line through sweeping canyons thick with pine trees. And the 170 million year old, 6000-feet tall granite spires known as Castle Crags are a sight to behold, even when viewed from the highway. Castle Crags State Park is definitely on our list of places to explore.

Railway towns dot the route. Dunsmuir is one such. It was originally called Pusher after the pusher locomotives that pushed freight trains over the steep mountains to the north of Dunsmuir. The town was later renamed Dunsmuir after a Canadian coal baron, in exchange for money to build a municipal fountain (San Francisco Chronicle).

We soaked in the scenery over a beer at Dunsmuir Brewery Works, a popular spot with lots of outdoor seating and a good selection of craft brews.

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In Mount Shasta we stayed at Reynolds Resort on Lake Siskiyou. There were so few campers that it felt like we had the park to ourselves.

We spent all our time cycling on and around the Lake Siskiyou Trail. Wagon Creek Arm Bridge was out, making it impossible to make the full circuit, despite valiant attempts to portage our bikes through the freezing cold water.

In the distance Mount Shastina towers over Lake Siskiyou Bridge. Mount Shastina is the the highest of Mount Shasta’s four cones.

Some requisite facts about Mount Shasta: The United States Geological Survey rates it as a very high-threat volcano; its last eruption was in 1786; it erupts every 600 years; it is about 593,000 years old; it is made up of four overlapping volcanic cones named Shastina, Misery, Hotlum and Sargents Ridge.

Despite being Memorial Day weekend, there was hardly any traffic on the trail.

It was the perfect ride for taking in the scenery — paved paths and double-track dirt trails with almost no ascent.

The only part of the trail that presented any challenge was the Chalet Trail alternate route (seen above), which was way too narrow for my liking at about a foot (30 cm) wide in some places.

Lake Siskiyou Bridge

Our terminus on the other side of the absent Wagon Creek Arm Bridge.

On our way home we stopped at Shasta Dam, the eighth-tallest dam in the United States, built between 1935 and 1945. The gift shop had an excellent selection of reference books!

Shasta Dam

RESOURCES CONSULTED
The 4 Eruption Cones of Mount Shasta, Hike Mt Shasta by Bubba Souss (12 January 2018) – includes diagrams
Border to Border: Essential road trip stops along I-5, Roadtrippers (13 May 2016)
Castle Crags State Park, California Department of Parks and Recreation
Dunsmuir Brewery Works
Feature Detail Report for: Whiskeytown Lake, USGS
Hike Mt Shasta, Bubba Suess
Judge Francis Carr Powerplant, Bureau of Reclamation Projects and Facilities
Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort
Lake Siskiyou Trail Loop – includes directions and map
Little Town of Dunsmuir is Big on Trains, San Francisco Chronicle (13 July 2016)
Oak Bottom Campground, Recreation.gov
Reynolds Resorts
Soaking up Shasta setting/Railroad towns, vintage hotels and hot springs in northern woods, SFGate (3 September 2016)
Things to do in Redding (Tripadvisor)
Visit Redding
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, National Park Service
Work on the Chalet Trail, Mount Shasta Trail Association

From the Downs to the Sea – Day 2, Apr 2017

Emsworth to Portsmouth via Hayling Island offered a change of scenery. We swapped rolling, grassy hills and ancient ewe tree forests for port towns and low-tide trails. It was chilly, and rainy, and the wind was so strong at times that it almost blew us off our bikes, but there were plenty of pubs happy to serve dripping-wet customers a warm tea and a Young’s real ale.

Cape Sable – Night One/Day Two, Feb 2016

25°07’06.31″N 81°04’48.28″W elev 1 ft
East Cape, Everglades National Park
Launch site: Flamingo Visitor Center,
40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
(239) 695-2945

Wilderness Trip Planner: A guide to camping in the coastal portions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness

And on the 900th stroke, we arrived at East Cape. We were greeted by a family of campers in a motor boat that gave us first pick of a camp site out of deference to our muscle-powered wake, and a flock of Sanderlings.

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By 4:45, we had set up our tent. As the day faded into night, we passed the time cooking, arranging seashells in the sand, chatting, sipping bourbon, and star-gazing. As the night wore on, the stars grew brighter and brighter, the rising and receding tide lapped against the shore twenty feet away, and giant wading birds stopped to sample insects outside our tent.

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Gauthier woke up early to watch the sun rise.

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Our friends the Sanderlings were up early as well, as were a flock of Terns. During low tide, the shallow bay reveals muddy tongues protruding from the shoreline that are completely hidden during high tide, like the one these Terns are on.

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One characteristic that all of the beaches we stopped at had was washed up sea sponges. There are over two hundred sponge species in South Florida. The sponges in the photo below are vase sponges.

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Sea sponges are a foundation species and a sign of a healthy ecosystem. In the photo below, a Sanderling inspects a Haliclona rubens.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a hard time making a case for the designation of the Everglades as a National Park. Folk saw holes in trees like the one below, assumed they were created by insects with really big teeth, and wanted nothing to do with it. Honestly, we wondered whether that hole, with its serrated edges, wasn’t created by giant, razor-sharp mandibles.

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Holes in shells like those in the shells in the photo below provide clues as to how the shells died. Those tiny perforations were caused by sponges called Boring sponges. Boring sponges attach to shells for shelter, often smothering the host. The little holes are caused by the chemicals they use to attach themselves. Polychaete worms are the villains that cut grooves in oyster shells. And the little holes that are useful for turning shells into necklaces, those are caused by predatory sea snails and slugs.

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Gauthier paddled to the southernmost beach on East Cape. The wind had picked up and was blowing from the east at a worrisome clip, so I chose not to accompany him and preserve my energy.

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There he saw Gumbo limbos…

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this sprawling Prickly pear cactus…

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and this giant Horseshoe crab. This lovely lady was around two feet long from head to tail! She should scare me because horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders than they are to crabs, but seen from above she’s not very scary-looking. You have to respect a species that’s been around for more than 300 million years!

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As we headed eastward towards East Clubhouse Beach where we were to spend night two, we paddled against the tide and a wind of around 18-20 mph (8-10 m/s). We used the tree below, which marks the southernmost tip of Florida, to gauge how far we’d traveled. It grew smaller very slowly.

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Resources Consulted
Horseshoe Crab History
Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Writer & Conservationist
Restoring Florida Bay: Sponges the foundation for thriving ecosystem
Shell Wars (Shell Bioerosion)
South Florida Sponges: A Guide to Identification

Bird Highway, Nov 2015

27°44’49.91″N 81°46’47.98″W elev 74 ft
Launch site: Fort Meade
Landing site: Pioneer Park, Pioneer Blvd, Zolfo Springs, FL 33890, (863) 735-0330

We returned to Peace River for Thanksgiving. This year we kayaked upper Peace River, from Fort Meade to Zolfo Springs. We left the car at Pioneer Park, where you can park overnight for free, and took a cab to Fort Meade for $40 including tip. Our cab driver, Mario, said it would be ok to give out his phone number: (863) 245-1527.

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At fort Meade the river is narrow and intimate. It had overflowed from several days of rain, which sometimes made it difficult to tell which way the river bent. The current was fast and there were many downed trees, making paddling a little more rigorous than the year before.The thorny water locust trees that lined the banks were a concern in our inflatable kayak.

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We heard lots of alligators; we saw few because they tended to jump in the water with a loud splash before we could get close enough to see them.

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It was like a bird highway. Great blue herons coasted down the river 20 feet above the water, following its bends like a race car driver follows the bends of a race track. Brown and white ibises poked about for crayfish in pairs, little blue herons, their beaks a striking midnight blue in the sunlight, hunted frogs, egrets waded up to their bums in search of fish, white herons scanned the surface of the river for insects from atop fallen trees, and black headed vultures hung out in flocks high above the water hoping to spot a cow or armadillo carcass.

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River cooters are shy like alligators and jump, sometimes from impressive heights, into the water when they hear us coming. Their compact little bodies make melodic plopping sounds when they hit the water.

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We arrived late the first day, leaving us only three hours of paddling before it was time to set up camp. A campground provided a convenient place to spend the night. Rustic, it had no water or electricity, although there was a pavilion, bonfire pit, porta-johns, an elaborate, four-grill barbecue and a dumpster. The porta-john was green with lichen and neither Gauthier nor I dared to go in it. I was afraid of what it might smell like, but Gauthier was afraid of what we might find in it.

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The ceiling of the pavilion was covered in spider webs and mud dauber nests. Spider carcasses made it look like a macabre scene from a movie. I was terrified and transfixed. Gauthier wanted to set our tent up under the pavilion, but didn’t argue when I suggested that we set it up under the stars instead.

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Gauthier made moong dal and couscous with harissa for dinner, and southern hospitality supplied us with sweet potato pudding. Shortly after we arrived, a truck pulling a trailer drove up and a man in his 50s stepped out. Walking over to us, he introduced himself as Martin and asked us how we were doing. He was talkative and told us the park was built and maintained by the company he worked for, Mosaic. I told him I recognized the name because a sign in the entrance to the park said that the park was dedicated to all the people from Mosaic who had donated their time and labor to the construction and upkeep of the park. That made him smile. He said the park was built 40 years ago and had suffered greatly during the 2005 hurricane, but that everyone had chipped in to restore it.

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I asked him about the spiders and he said they were harmless, that they called them “house spiders” (I later learned that they are called neoscona domiciliorum or spotted orb weaver). He said the mud daubers wouldn’t hurt you unless you crushed one, which was unlikely to happen unintentionally.

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Before he left, he said he and his two children would be camping on the other side of the campground and that we wouldn’t hear from them again, and insisted that we have some of his home made sweet potato pudding, still warm. It’s easy to regard the Mosaic phosphate mining company as the enemy – breaking EPA laws and decimating the landscape – but it was hard not to like Martin.

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Mosquitoes made it necessary to stay inside the tent, but there was a full moon and a clear sky and it was warm, but not humid, and we left the rainfly off the tent so that it was flooded with moonlight. I woke up several times throughout the night; every time I woke up the moon had traveled a little further across the sky, reminding me that we are all just floating in space.

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Breakfast was scrambled eggs with fresh green onion, followed by pita bread filled with Nutella, peanut butter and honey. After sticking my foot in a fire ant’s nest, we returned to the river around 9:30 AM.

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The river widened near Wauchula. As we approached the city we expected to see other kayakers, and were very surprised when we didn’t. The only other boat we saw was a fishing boat with a trawler. There was one man inside the boat and another chest deep in the water outside the boat. The man in the boat yelled to us in a delightful, southern accent, “Did you see that alligator over there?! It’s 12 feet long!”  The man in the water smiled and nodded his head and pointed in the direction of the alligator. And there you have it. If a local fisher is not afraid to be up to his chest in the water with a 12 foot alligator nearby, I am not afraid of alligators either. Well, not very afraid.

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It was the most peaceful paddling imaginable; effortless in a gently moving current that guided us around bends and islands. We took tiny sips of aromatic heirloom whiskey by Widow Jane.

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We stopped for lunch at Paynes Creek Historic State Park where we were welcomed by a “No Camping” sign. I wondered why they needed swinging trash cans. Did they prevent raccoons from making a mess?

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Come 4:00 it was time to start looking for another place to camp. A lovely field on a high bank seemed safe from unsuspecting alligators. We had mashed potatoes and pouched tuna followed by split pea soup for dinner.

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That night, something large and solid rustled in the bushes nearby. An auroch, Gauthier said it was. But Ollie and I weren’t fooled. We knew it was an armadillo.

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In the morning, dew-drenched grass sparkled in the sunlight and revealed many tiny spider webs – orb and three dimensional – suspended from blades of grass. Ollie and I explored the webs for a while until we discovered a tick. Thankfully it was the only tick we saw. It was an all-black specimen, not like the red dog ticks we have around Miami.

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Between Wauchula and Zolfo Springs we passed many ranches and private homes. We saw confederate flags, enormous live oaks, and sable palmettos clinging to the river bank with roots that looked like hair. Once, we heard the sound of human voices interspersed with gun fire a little too close for comfort.

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Just before Zolfo Springs boat launch at Pioneer Park, you learn why it’s called Zolfo Springs. Gurgling up into the river, springs cause the tiniest bit of white water. I was very sorry to reach Pioneer Park, although the prospect of a shower tempered my disappointment.

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On the way home we stopped for lunch at Wheeler’s in Arcadia and browsed the antiques on sale in the stands that line the street every Saturday. An amazing traveling companion, Gauthier drove us through some very unique landscapes on the way home. Although we couldn’t go in the Archbold Biological Station to explore the unique Florida scrub because we had Ollie with us, we drove through it on Old State Route 8.

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We also drove by a pine tree plantation. On one side of the road was a vast forest of pines trees growing in eerie rows, and on the other side was the muddy and desolate remains of a harvested forest.

We traveled through Florida flatlands that reminded Gauthier of the south of France, and alongside massive orange groves, and around gigantic ranches with “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!” signs hung outside. The Brahman cattle with their humped backs were a sight to see.

Closer to home, near Lake Okeechobee, they were harvesting sugar cane in the cane plantations. Bright lights lit up the fields like fire flies.

Mystery Channel, Nov 2015


John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
(305) 451-6300
25°11’38.86″N 80°20’45.26″W elev 4 ft

Gauthier had spent days reading maps, so I knew he was planning another adventure. The spot he picked this time was John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The launch site he selected was near Basin Hills, Key Largo.
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It’s easy to find on a map because of the street names; they’re all French: La Croix Ct, Charlemagne Blvd, Valois Blvd and Marseilles Blvd.
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There’s a somewhat public boat dock and launch site at the end of Valois Blvd.
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A half hour paddle takes you to a secluded channel fringed on one side by a mangrove swamp and on the other by a rockland hammock.
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Wooden poles prevent all but the smallest of water vessels from passing into it.
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The shallow channel was obviously dredged, but whether it was dredged during the early part of the last century by developers to build houses or after the Cuban Missile Crisis by the government to transport nuclear missiles, we couldn’t say.
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What looked like a crumbled concrete slab stretched along much of the rockland hammock. We saw many birds – cormorants, pelicans, egrets and herons – but my favorite find was chitons.
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Chitons are a primordial animal and have the sharpest teeth on the planet, and some species have evolved into carnivores. We were also impressed by the blown up chunks of keystone coral.
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A mound of logs laid horizontally piqued our curiosity.
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On our way home we stopped at Alabama Jack’s.
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Spring and Fall in Southwest Miami-Dade County, 2015


Spring starting point:
Silver Palm, FL 33170
25°33’03.40″N 80°26’43.82″W elev 11 ft

Fall starting point:
SW 168 Street and SW 208 Avenue, Miami FL 33187
25°36’30.57″N 80°31’30.14″W elev 5 ft

Our bike riding adventures took us to southwest Miami Dade County twice this year. In May, they took us to the Redland historic agricultural area. Our path followed public roads barely recognizable as roads and canal C-102. We saw a variety of farms: avocado, palm tree, mango, dragon fruit, bromeliad and many others. We also saw donkeys and purple love grass.

In November, we ventured into the fringe of Miami Dade County just west of the C-357 seepage canal where “farmburbia” peters out and the Everglades National Park begins. Once again we followed the ruins of public roads. This time they were overgrown with grasses as thick as your thumb and so high they blocked out the sun. Once inside the perimeter of Everglades National Park, there were two roads to choose from. One was cut out of the native limestone floor. We took this road as far as we could before it became flooded, which wasn’t very far. The other was made of raised hard pack and offered a great view of the endless horizon of Shark River Slough. We saw mocking birds, blue jays, butterflies, goats, chickens, cows, horses, dogs and, unfortunately, discarded tires, soda pop cans, mini fridges and cell phone accessories circa 2005. We also stumbled upon Julio’s Apiary, a licensed bee farm.

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7 miles on the Fringe

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Resources
Select Florida Native Grasses for North Central Florida – Fact Sheet #67, by Gale Kempner, University of Florida IFAS Extension
Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, 8.5 Square Mile Area, by Michael J. Collis, US Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, May 23, 2012
Agrilicious: Julio’s Apiary & Avocado/Mango Grove

Three Days and 31 River Miles (50 km) on Peace River, Nov 2014

27°13’54.87″N 81°53’29.69″W elev 28 ft
Launch site: Zolfo Springs; Landing site: Canoe Outpost – Peace River, Inc., 2816 NW County Rd. 661, Arcadia, FL 34266, (800) 268-0083

Canoe Outpost maps and instructions

Gauthier and I chose to spend Thank-you Day floating down the quiet waters of Peace River this year, feasting our eyes rather than our stomachs.

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Our shuttle from Arcadia to Zolfo Springs.

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Sloth cows, bison, llamas, mastodons, tapirs, megalodon sharks, mammoths, camels, dolphins, dugongs… What stories the river could tell!

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Gardner Public Boat Ramp

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He was seven feet long.

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View from our camp site, night one. It got pretty chilly: 41 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius).

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