Native Plant Workshop a Success!

Posted in Uncategorized

IMG_4464The workshop, held in Shelter Cove was well attended and participants came away with new found knowledge about how gardening with natives helps keep native insect and bird populations vibrant. We learned about the many Native Plants that are good for gardens and were able to shop for them  right there! We also learned about invasive plants and their impacts and we identified the plants along the nature trail.



Autumn, She Shall At The Very Least, Be Adorned In Gold

Posted in Flora, Nature Articles


Fall Color1Autumn is such a beautiful and even bittersweet time of year; beautiful, in that the leaves of hardwood trees and deciduous vines turn flaming colors of crimson, russet, and gold; and bittersweet, in that while losing their glorious leaves, they are simultaneously embracing the needed protection provided by their now barren trunks and branches from the impending dark, and the bitter cold.

How is it that the turning of the leaves is so predictable? While we ‘Humboldtians’ are out enjoying the last music festival or camping trip of the summer; how is that the trees are already quietly and with increasing Technicolor brilliance, heralding the seasons change?

The answer is decreasing day length. After the summer solstice in June, our day lengths are getting shorter, and delicate, broad leaves take notice. Slowly, the production of the light capturing, green pigment, chlorophyll, wanes…and the resulting sugar production comes to a stop. As the green chlorophyll pigments becomes less and less, other pigments present in the leaves are unmasked and begin to show. Carotenoids are responsible for orange, yellow and brown, and anthocyanins are responsible for reds and purples.

The palette of colors that ultimately show every autumn varies with the climate preceding the decline in chlorophyll production. Temperature and moisture are the most important variables at play.

The ideal temperatures that lead to the most fiery autumnal shows of ‘reds’ first require warm, sunny days with plenty of sugar production. Since chlorophyll levels are still high in August and September, there is plenty of photosynthesis still occurring. (Photosynthesis is the process by which sunlight is turned into sugar). Second, nights must be very cool, but not freezing, so that veins in the leaves constrict somewhat, preventing the sugars from leaving. Lots of sugars combined with pulses of bright light are the perfect ingredients for anthocyanin production and our favored cardinal fall show of arboreal, scarlet fire.


Fall Color2Moisture levels have the ability to delay the onset of fall color by several weeks; and also play with levels of pigment production. The combination of temperature and moisture together, cause the greatest swings in variability. Not varying too much are the yellows and golds produced by carotenoids. Carotenoids are always present in the leaves, regardless of climate variability, and so serve as a baseline palette of autumnal beauty. Our Humboldt autumn shall always, at least, wear gold.

Meanwhile, while most of us are finally declaring fall is here based on the evidence of colorful leaves we noticed on the drive home or the fact that we fired up the woodstove for the first time in a long while, the hardwood trees and deciduous vines have made preparations to bring down the curtain for the year. In response to the chronic, declining day length and intensity of light, the veins carrying fluids into and out of leaves gradually close off as a layer of cells form at the stem base of each leaf. Once this separation layer is complete, their leaves fall.

Autumn, Fall, whatever her name. She is beautiful and bittersweet, and a gentle, annual reminder of the necessary, circle of life.

Draft by Jennifer Wheeler 10/12/12


Jennifer Wheeler is a botanist for the BLM Arcata Field Office with a passion for managing grassland and coastal dune landscapes as well as for eradicating invasive weeds, particularly French and Scotch broom. She resides in McKinleyville with her family and her 2,000 square foot garden and hopes to someday clear 1,000 pounds of produce if she can successfully convince the gophers to let her. (so far this year 808 pounds and counting!)


Pacific Gopher Snake

Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Fauna, Nature Articles

Gopher Snake 1Pituophis catenifer

As youngsters, my brother and I had a terrarium built by an enterprising neighbor who had invented a fly trap which collected live flies. On a family camping trip to the High Sierras, we collected lots of fence lizards (and live flies to feed them), and then, the big prize, a juvenile gopher snake. The morning after we put the snake in the terrarium with the lizards, disaster struck. The snake, which probably thought it had been put in heaven, was caught swallowing a lizard. How could it do such a terrible thing?! I guess we forgot that snakes eat live prey. Snake was immediately banished from heaven.

At first glance, a gopher snake could be mistaken for a rattlesnake. Both snakes share a light brown background color with a series of darker brown to black blotches along the center. In the diamond-back rattlesnake, these blotches are surrounded by white stripes, creating the diamond pattern. There is no white on the gopher snake. Instead, below the center blotches on the sides are smaller dark spots in a variety of shapes. The rattlesnake’s tail pattern is a series of black and white stripes whereas the gopher snake’s is light brown with small dark spots.

The visual mimicry is also accompanied by behavioral mimicry. The rattlesnake has a large triangular head whereas the gopher snake’s head is more rectangular and thinner, although when threatened, it will flatten its head into a more triangular shape. It will also puff up its body, coil into the familiar rattlesnake strike pose, shake its tail (no rattles here, though) and hiss menacingly. If the gopher snake does strike, it will do so with a closed mouth. For all this threatening behavior, the gopher snake is not poisonous.

Gopher Snake 2Gopher snakes are fairly large: 2 ½ to 7 feet in length. Even hatchlings can be 20” long. In spring, males engage in ritual combat, wrapped around each other. The winner mates with the female. Sometime between June and late August the female will lay a clutch of 12 to 14 eggs. These incubate 8 to 10 weeks before hatching.

The Pacific Gopher Snake lives 12-15 years in the wild, feeding every ten days on small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards and frogs. (We should have known this before we put the snake in with the lizards!) They often hunt during the day, although they may be active at night during very hot weather.

Pacific gopher snakes range from Canada to Mexico, west of the Cascades and Sierras . They prefer drier open country (deserts, shrublands, grasslands and coniferous forests) to damp, dense forests, and range up to 9000’ in altitude.

Written by Eve Broughton. Eve lives in Whitethorn and was educated at UC Berkeley.


Native Plant Workshop coming in April

Posted in Events



Information on native plants and the best species for local gardens will be the focus of a free, family-focused workshop, set for Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Shelter Cove Community Clubhouse, 1555 Upper Pacific Dr., in Shelter Cove.

The event will feature speakers, information tables, kids’ activities, slide presentations and a plant identification walk on Shelter Cove’s new nature trail. A new brochure, “Native Plants for North Coast Gardens,” will be available. Vendors will be selling native plants, and experts will be on hand to provide advice on gardening with natives.

Featured speakers include Pete Haggard, of the California Native Plant Society’s North Coast Chapter, and Jennifer Wheeler, a botanist with the Bureau of Land Management’s Arcata Field Office.

At 10:30, Haggard will speak about gardening with native plants and the benefits it provides for butterflies and wildlife.

At 11:30, Wheeler will discuss invasive plants and their impact on native plants and habitat in the King Range National Conservation Area, including tips about plants to watch for, and what should be done if they are discovered. Wheeler will also share information about some of her favorite native plants for the garden.

The plant walk will begin at 1 p.m. starting at the trailhead on Lower Pacific Drive.

Kids’ activities, including planting native seeds and seedlings, run from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The event is sponsored by partners in the BLM’s California Coastal National Monument (CCNM) Lost Coast Gateway. They include the BLM King Range National Conservation Area, the Lost Coast Interpretive Association, Shelter Cove Pioneers, California State Parks, Intertribal Sinkyone and the Bear River Band of the Rhonerville Rancheria.

The Lost Coast Gateway group focuses on sharing information and involving the community in the CCNM, which encompasses more than 20,000 rocks and small islands off the California Coast. The monument was created to protect the rocks and islands and the habitat they provide for seabirds, seals and sea lions.


Water Penny Beetles

Posted in Fauna, Insects, Nature Articles

Psephenus_herricki,I_DSC48“Grandma, what’s this?” Danged if I knew. Bella and I were looking for aquatic insects in the Mattole, and she had captured something very weird in the clear magnifying box. We couldn’t find its photo in Audubon’s Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders.

What she had captured was really strange: small, and copper-brown, it was shaped like a flat limpet and segmented like a chiton. By using a magnifying lens on top of the box’s magnification, we could see a mandible, legs and moving gills on its underside. I got the identification several days later from Pete Haggard, entomologist: Water Penny Beetle larva.

It was a fortuitous find. These larvae are only found in clean, well-oxygenated, unpolluted water. They prefer fast-moving water, clinging to the underside of rocks, and avoid habitats heavily covered with algae or inorganic sediments. They breath oxygen through their paired feathery gills, rely on claws on their legs for rock-clinging, and move away from light, preferring the undersides of the rocks . The larval water pennies scrape the thin layer of algae, microorganisms and feces from the surface of the rocks with their mandibles and eat this. The penny-like shape is created by flattened dorsal (back) plates which expand out to widen the sides. The one Bella found was slightly over ¼” long.

Water penny adult, photo by Joyce GrossThe larvae grow and molt several times during the summer, and then they create a small chamber in moist soil on land, where they, still in their larval skins, pupate and transform into the adult. The adults are small (less than ¼”), dark, with short fine antennae and a slightly flattened body. They breathe air and live on land close to the water. The adult water penny beetle survives for just a short time, 2 to 3 weeks, and may not even eat during this phase. Like many other insects with an aquatic phase, they exist to procreate.

Play behavior on wave-splashed rocks has been observed before mating. Fertilization is internal (inside the female’s body). The female lays small, bright yellow eggs, hundreds of them, on the edge of the stream, or submerged objects in stream riffles. The newly hatched larvae crawl into the water to repeat the cycle. Next summer, we might find another one.


Written by Eve Braughton. Eve lives in Whitethorn and was educated at UC Berkeley


Winter Bloomers

Posted in Flora, Nature Articles

IMG_5283Even though it is still winter, some plants are starting to bloom.

Alders are one of the first plants to bloom in winter. These trees usually start blooming in December, but some early bloomers start in November. You can see the orange-brown catkins hanging down from bare branches, a beautiful sight all winter long. The catkins are the male flowering structure, and release pollen to fertilize the female cones. The cones persist on the trees and in the fall, the winged seeds are dispersed. The alder that grows in our area is the red alder, Alnus rubra, and has red inner bark and roots. Growing along streams, seeps, and springs, this fast growing tree needsIMG_5346 plenty of water. You can see the red roots growing right out into the water in streams. Alder groves are a stunning sight, with their pale, almost white trunks mottled with black, growing tall up to their interlocking crowns. Red alders are in the family Betulaceae, along with birch and hazelnut. Since alder roots produce nitrogen, they are a pioneer species, that is, one of the first plants to come into an area after fire, flood, clearcut or other major disturbance. On disturbed sites, they can grow away from water and are short-lived, as they enrich the soil, making way for other species to move in and crowd them out.

IMG_5319Bay trees are another winter bloomer. Starting around the new year, the small creamy yellow flowers start to open. Flowers are in umbels, or umberella shaped clusters. Standing under a blooming bay tree on a sunny winter day is a sensory experience: they give off a heavenly floral scent and are noisily abuzz with pollinating insects. Once the flowers are pollinated, fruits resembling small, round avocados form. By summer, the fruit’s skin has fallen away, leaving a nut, or bayberry. On years with abundant bayberry crops, walking under a bay tree can give you a slippery ride, with your feet rolling out from under you. The California bay tree, also called pepperwood, myrtle, or laurel, is Umbellularia californica. It is in the family Lauraceae, and is related to the European bay laurel, avocado, camphor and cinnamon. Bay leaves contain many active compounds and have many uses. They can be used for seasoning foods, chewed on to relieve toothache, steeped in a hot bath to relieve arthritis pain, and can be crushed to release the aromatic oils which help relieve headaches and cleanse wounds.

Written by Cheryl Lisin


Gophers: Good Guys?

Posted in Fauna, Mammals, Nature Articles

GopherNot if you are a farmer who has seen his potato plants being mysteriously pulled underground. Not if you see mounds of fresh dirt appearing on your golf greens. So how could gophers be good guys?

Gophers dig extensive networks of tunnels underground and bring that soil up to the surface as mounds. This moves new minerals, organic compounds and moister soil to the surface and aerates the soil. This enhanced soil quality and moisture enables a larger diversity of plants to grow. So gophers are appreciated in the wild.

But in the vegetable garden, they are a menace. They feed mostly underground, dining on roots, stems, bulbs, and leaves, often pulling the whole plant down into the tunnel. At night they may come out to forage on foliage near their burrow entrances. They have fur-lined check pouches which they can fill with food to carry to their storage chambers, or fill with soil to bring to the surface. The food put in the storage chambers is eaten in times of low food supply.

Like all rodents, gophers have very large, ever-growing incisors. They use these for gnawing and for digging, which they can do without ingesting large amounts of dirt by closing their cheeks behind the incisors. They also use their front claws to dig tunnels, which can be more than 450’ long. The burrow system is complicated, with a main burrow often 90’ long, with 3 to 4 forks. Off the main gallery, they have side chambers used for storage or for nesting. All that digging uses huge amounts of energy, which the gopher gets from eating huge amounts of food. Both sexes build nests of dry, shredded vegetation formed into a hollow ball. Usually, each animal lives in its own burrow system.

Physically, gophers are well adapted to the fossorial life, with a stubby body and short sturdy legs, short hair, and small eyes and ears. Their eyes are receptive to ultraviolet light as well as to two visible (to us) colors (blue-green and green). Males are larger than females (7” to 11” vs 6” to 9.5”) because females stop growing after their first pregnancy and males grow throughout their lives.

On average, a mature female can produce 2 litters a year, with 5 young in each. The young are born pale, blind, hairless, and with poorly developed ears, although the cheek pouches are fully-formed.

The pocket gopher found in California is Thomomys bottae. It is also found in Nevada, southern Utah, Arizona, western Texas and northwestern Mexico. They occupy a wide range of habitats, from montane meadows to dry deserts, in soils ranging from thick clays to loose sands and silts.

Good guy or bad guy? It depends on where they are.


By Eve Broughton. Eve lives in Whitethorn and was educated at UC Berkeley.


Dog Vomit Slime Mold, (Physarum polycephalum)

Posted in Misc, Nature Articles


0098The first slime mold I saw frightened me. It was growing on a tree stump in our front yard, and I was at that time taking a course in fungal diseases.

It really is harmless. It decomposes vegetable matter.

The name is a good description of this weird organism. Although it looks like a mold, and it releases spores like a fungus, it moves. Slime molds are currently classified with the Protista, single-celled organisms like the amoeba or paramecium. But unlike them, it has a complicated life history which includes a colonial stage.

One stage of its life begins as a spore: single-celled with only 1 set of chromosomes. When ripe, the spore can either become amoeba-like, and move by bulging itself in a direction with the rest of the cell contents flowing behind (streaming). Or, it can grow a flagella, a moveable “tail” which can propel it forward. These swarm cells move about, ingesting the bacteria they encounter.

When food is scarce, if it meets another swarm cell of like kind (amoeboid or flagellated), the two will fuse together. They now have a paired set of chromosomes. This new creation then duplicates all chromosomes, again and again, and becomes a multi-nucleated organism within a single cell membrane. This is the stage we encounter, usually on a rotting log or tree.

It is now called a plasmodium, and it too can stream about like a very large amoeba, flowing over the surface as it seeks dead vegetation, bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. It can sense air-born chemicals, and direct its flow toward the source. It surrounds its food, and secretes enzymes to digest it, and then ingests the components.

750776349_8af1fdc09eSlime molds prefer damp shady areas with lots of organic matter. It tries to avoid light. However, if it is exposed to light, or if food gets scarce, the plasmodium can quickly change into a fruiting body. Stalks arise from its surface, bearing spores. When released, these spores can be spread by the wind. Spores can also remain dormant for years, until favorable conditions allow it to become a swarm cell. The spores absorb moisture in cool humid conditions, split and escape from the spore coat. The life-cycle now repeats itself.

DNA research has shed a light on the relationships of slime molds and their evolutionary history. They seem to be very ancient organisms, perhaps a billion years old, and may have been the first life to live on land, rather than in the oceans.

It also seems, perhaps, to have a form of intelligence. Research has claimed that P. polycephalum can find the shortest route through a maze when food was placed at the exit. The amoeba also makes a pattern of networks between several food sources, and cycles between them to achieve a balanced diet of protein and carbohydrate. Further research will show whether these claims are true.

Regardless, Dog Vomit is an interesting organism.

Article by Eve Broughton. Eve lives in Whitethorn and was educated at UC Berkeley.


Hands-on Hunter-Gatherer Skills Workshop

Posted in Events, Lectures

A hands-on workshop focused on ancient living skills, including using friction to make fire, will be offered free, Tuesday, March 26, at 7 p.m., at the Healy Senior Center, 456 Briceland Rd., in Redway.

The workshop, led by North Coast resident Tamara Wilder, will look at skills used around the world by hunter-gatherer peoples.

Wilder, who has been researching and teaching these skills since 1989, will lead participants in twisting natural materials into string, using primitive tools to drill and shape stone beads and to use friction tools to make fire.

The workshop is the last in the annual winter lecture series hosted by the Bureau of Land Management King Range National Conservation Area and the Lost Coast Interpretive Association.

IMG_3657Dr. John DeMartini sharing his shell collection with participants at February’s ‘Fascinating Lives of Marine Invertibrates’ lecture

The King Range National Conservation Area is part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System.

Neotropical Migrant Songbirds: A Miraculous Journey

Posted in Birds, Fauna, Nature Articles

Written by Kyle Keegan


                                                                                                                                                                                  As the days become longer and the storms of winter pass, each year brings the promise of an ancient ritual that has taken place on the North Coast for millennia—Spring migration. Oak woodlands, forests, and meadows that were virtually silent during winter months become saturated with the songs and antics of some of our most colorful and vibrant bird species: Western Tanagers, Black Headed Grosbeaks, Lazuli Buntings,Vireos, Warblers, Hummingbirds and Swallows. Some of these birds who just weeks before may have been foraging in jungle canopies along side Howler Monkeys and Toucans, now find themselves in a temperate world—among Gray Squirrels and Steller’s Jays.

Why Leave the Tropics?

Why do these small birds leave the tropics in the first place, risking their lives on this long journey? Scientists theorize that the greatest draw to neotropical migrants is the brief, yet spectacular abundance of insect activity during our spring and summer months. During this short period, the explosion of insect life provided by temperate ecosystems is virtually unparalleled, allowing migrant birds to coexist with our local resident species, while capitalizing on the highly nutritious food. Research also suggests that breeding success may be higher here than in the tropics where parasites and predators are more prevalent.

A Dangerous Journey

Migration is inherently dangerous. Neotropical migrants must travel over mountains, deserts, forests, vast expanses of monoculture, and urban sprawl during their northbound journey; with many species flying by night. Some birds such as the Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) come from as far south as the Amazon Basin in Brazil, while most other migratory species winter in Mexico and Central America. During this journey they use a complex array of strategies to orient and navigate themselves. Over their lifetime neotropical migrants learn the “sky map,” using the stars and sun as a travel guide. They also utilize the topography (landmarks) and wind directions, as well as subtle cues from the magnetic field of the Earth. The course they take is a learned one, shaped over evolutionary time and passed on by their elders.

During the extended journey they may be threatened by: storms, pesticides, house cats, collisions with windows, wind turbines and high-rise buildings, and increasingly—the erratic weather caused by climate change. A freak frost or prolonged cold, wet weather can cause large numbers of migrants to perish.

Despite the risks, great numbers of them arrive each spring to serenade us amidst blooming wildflowers and lush green landscapes; quickly getting to work establishing territories, finding mates, and building nests.

Linking Landscapes and Culture

Neotropical migrant songbirds comprise over half of the species that we hear singing during the spring and summer months on the North Coast. The presence of neotropical migrants serves as both an indicator of the health of our North Coast ecosystems, as well as the health and integrity of their tropical winter lands—linking the landscapes of Humboldt to the far off territories of Latin America. A unique example of cultural and ecological interconnectedness.


Photo of a female Western Tanager by Marie Raphael


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