Fauna of the PCT: NorCal

When we started the stretch from Echo Lake to Truckee I had no idea what to expect for wildlife.  This is the stretch where you can drop the bear canister, but that does not mean you’re out of bear territory.  At 7,000-9,000 ft there was a chance of seeing pika and marmot who are right at home in alpine environments. And wouldn’t you know, in our first couple hours on trail we spotted a marmot in a patch of snow.

 


Yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) are members of the squirrel family and one of the largest.  They live in colonies at high elevation and dig elaborate burrows. Marmots spend over half of their lives in hibernation and have developed some pretty cool adaptions to survive. Their body temperature can go down to 41 degrees F, their heart rate decreases to 30 beats/minute and they only need to take a breath or two/minute.

We did not see any pika, but I imagine there will be plenty when we make our way back to the High Sierras.

Unfortunately we didn’t encounter much else in this 60 mile stretch other than this curious evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus).

Evening Grosbeak

This female bounced around camp for a while searching for food before tiring of me following her.  Evening grosbeak have been observed eating 96 sunflower seeds in five minutes.

The following night at camp we endured a rainstorm and some hail.  Once the sky cleared we heard the territorial call of a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).  The most widely distributed common owl in North America, they have adapted to live in in various climates from desert to tundra.

Hat Creek Rim and into Burney was full of birds. We took a break at Baum Lake where we spent our time cooling down and watching osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) fishing about the lakes.  As we neared the junction for Burney Mountain Guest Ranch we scared off a barred owl (Strix varia) perched for its nightly hunt on the edge of the woods.

At Burney Mountain Guest Ranch we relaxed in the shade by this pond while we waited out the heat to hike.


It might not look like much, but this pond was full of life.  Dozens of species of dragonflies and damselflies darted back and fourth above the water after prey.  Pairs of acorn woodpeckers patiently waited in branches above the pond for their opportunity to strike an insect.  Beyond the pond a pair of California quail and their chicks scurried about the shade foraging for insects. Not an uncommon sight on the property as it used to be a quail farm.

While I had better luck capturing photos of birds this stretch, they can’t all be close ups.  So think of these next couple as an I spy type game…answers provided at the end!

This American goldfinch repeatedly perched in the willows and then flew off. It may have been foraging for insects, however these songbirds primarily feed on seeds.

American goldfinch

A few days later in the Shasta Trinity National Forest we stumbled upon one of the cutest and my personal favorite owls, a Northern saw-whet.

Northern saw-whet owl

These small owls are only 5-9 inches in height, but when threatened will elongate their body to appear like a branch.  When prey is plentiful it is not uncommon for them to eat only the head.  It may seem wasteful, but they also exercise food caching, meaning they will hunt prey and hide it in a safe place for winter.

Though we didn’t see nearly as many reptiles as we did through Southern California, there were more of them than I anticipated.  One very familiar species being the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) and this one was actually on a fence!

Western Fence Lizard

A relative of the western fence lizard, but slightly smaller, is the sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosis).  There are three different sub species of sagebrush lizard, western, northern and southern. My best guess is that this is the northern subspecies (Sceloporus graciosis graciosis).

Sagebrush lizard

During mating season males of both species perform push-ups to display their bright blue patches and ward off other competing males.  I wish I got a video that shows just how fascinating it is to watch two competing males run around in circles doing push ups.

Locals kept telling us to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes in this northern section of California.  It wasn’t until coming across this juvenile northern pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) that we realized we really should heed these warnings.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

Surprisingly, this is the only rattlesnake we came across in this section, but it was not without alarm.  While a juvenile rattler might not seem too frightening, at this age they have not shed enough layers for their rattler to be fully developed.  Not to mention it takes juveniles some time to learn how to control their venom sacks.  This means a bite could be dry or it could unload its entire venom sack.  Based on my trekking pole experiment, a bite from this guy or gal might have been dry.

Amphibians and insects were far more common in this stretch, something I’d attribute to seasonal changes more than location.  The most common amphibian we came across was the western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), more specifically the boreal toad subspecies (Anaxyrus boreas boreas). This northern section of California is where the geographic range of the boreal toad and California toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus) overlap.  These toads are easy to recognize from the light, sometimes yellow, dorsal strip running down their back.

Boreal Toad

Males of these species don’t have well developed vocal sacs, giving them a call similar to that of a peeping chick.  However unlike most frog and toad species, this call is less of a mating call for females than it is a territorial call for other males during mating season.

One of the first frogs we came across was the Sierra chorus frog (Psuedacris sierra), also commonly referred to as Sierran treefrog.

Sierra Chorus Frog

The latter name is not entirely accurate due to them primarily being ground dwellers.  Although they mostly reside at ground level, their large, sticky toe pads do allow them to easily climb trees and cling to branches.

Common throughout the United States and the largest frog in North America is the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus).  While many might think of this as a native species, it’s historical range was actually east of the Rocky Mountains.  Bullfrogs became common throughout much of California (with the exception of deserts and high elevation) during the 1920’s when they were being farmed for legs.

American Bullfrog

​American bullfrogs have voracious appetites, eating anything they can swallow such as crustaceans, fish, small birds/mammals and other frogs (including other bullfrogs).  Sacs on the bullfrogs skin create toxins that make it unpalatable to many predators, making it one of the most successful invasive species in the west.

There were a few nights we were lucky to camp by water and fall asleep to the sweet serenade of calling frogs.  Although we didn’t get to camp at this small alpine lake it was bursting with frog life!

 

Frogs are semi-aquatic in that they spend half of their time in water and half of their time on land. ​ Toads are also semi-aquatic, however after morphing into adults they are primarily land dwellers.

Similarly to frogs and toads, caddisflies larva are aquatic.  Adult female caddisflies lay clusters of eggs on the underside of vegetation, just above the waters surface.  Once the eggs hatch, they fall into the water where they live out their larval and pupal stages.

This is a case building caddisfly in the order Trichoptera, they build cases out of rocks and/or twigs to protect their fleshy abdomen.  Caddisflies are shredders/scrapers/collectors, meaning they feed on algae and plant debris found in the water.  As a relative to moths, their final phase of complete metamorphosis involves attaching themselves to a submerged object and spinning themselves in silk.  Once fully developed, they float to the top of the water where they molt and emerge as terrestrial adults.

While we saw very few adult cicadas, we heard plenty and saw numerous casings.  This casing likely belonged to a dog day cicada (Tibicin canicularis), a species of cicada that emerges every year mid-summer.

Adult cicada lay their eggs on the branches of trees.  When the the nymphs hatch, they fall to the ground where they burrow under and feed on the juices of tree roots.  Nymphs will spend 3 years underground before emerging to molt their exoskeleton.  As adults cicadas do not feed, instead focus their energy purely on reproduction.

While we ate lunch one afternoon this California sister butterfly (Adelpha bredowii californica) joined us to feast on some salt from our backpacks.  Caterpillars of this species utilize oak trees as their host plant, particularly live oaks (Quercus agrifolia, wislizenii and chrysolepis).  As adults they are attracted to dung, puddles, rotten fruit, sap, and some flowers including California buckeye, dogbane, and goldenrod.

California Sister

Many species of butterflies “puddle” or seek out moist substrate to extract nutrients and minerals.  In most species it is just males that puddle, seeking out salts and minerals that get incorporated into their sperm.  In the case of the California sister butterfly, both sexes puddle.

Stay tuned for the much delayed flora and fauna of Oregon!

Eastbound and Down

The fall begins with a a weird feeling of great success filled with failure. We decided to forgo the southern portion of the Oregon Coast Trail in favor of more time with friends and a road trip cross country home. It’s been a great summer of backpacking and vagabonding, making it over 1500 miles on foot.

We tried to rent a small SUV, but ended up getting a brand new Ram 1500 with a HEMI V8 for the same price. Not the most efficient, but it was preferred by all of us. After not having a home for months, the shelter and transportation range the truck provided was a huge luxury.

Headed North, first views of Mount Rainier.

Sunset pictures from Birch Bay State Park in the Northwestern corner of Washington.

This is the view from our friends driveway – they recently moved to Ferndale, WA and it is paradise out there. We stayed with them for several days, enjoying cooking and lounging around the farm and property. Sara and I are hoping to come back to this area in the near future… it’s a beautiful place to live.

More bread making, more cheese.

Sara getting distracted by a friendly gym puppy at Bloc Yard Boulders in Spokane, WA.

Smoky afternoon in Whitefish, MT. We headed to Glacier National Park the next morning, despite the wildfires there. It’s crazy how many miles we’ve traveled around, through, and to wildfires this summer.

Driving the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier…

Smoke over the east side of the park, as seen from Logan Pass.

Like the PCT, only with hand rails for the feint of heart.

The East side of Glacier NP was super smoky, enough to burn the lungs after awhile. Sadly, the day after we were there, Sperry Chalet burned down. It was one of two historic chalets in the park built in the early 1900s.

Back home in Michigan, more big bodies of water but no salt, sharks, or jellyfish.

Delicious pasties and Michigan beer.

Brief stop at Ian’s hunting cabin.

And so it goes. Back home (once we find a place to actually sleep, hah!), at least for now… already starting planning for our return trip to finish the remaining Pacific Crest Trail miles!

The Eclipse

I’d been looking forward to this since the start of the trip – seeing a bunch of my friends from back home, our luxurious Airbnb’s reserved nearly a year ago. The eclipse derailed our Oregon Coastal hiking, but was one of the coolest parts of this summers’ travel so far.

Views from hiker/biker camp during sunrise and short hike at Cape Lookout State Park.

Airbnb luxuries.

Made some bread, for the first time ever. It turned out pretty well, was not a complete failure, and I’m going to make it to excess now. Really missed the kitchen during while long distance hiking – every meal is either in the Jetboil or eating out.

Actually pretty surprised at my phones ability to capture this moment. We enjoyed it from a hot tub, sipping on mimosas. Pretty cool to feel the temp drop a good 20 degrees and a brief bit of darkness.

Ice cream; ice cream and bacon.

Porch cat.

This ATM we walked by was super secure and legit.

View from Mt. Tabor.

Oregon Coast Adventure

Just a forewarning – this is more of a collection of notes than a trail journal. Since there’s not too much information about the Oregon Coast as a thru hike, we took notes we thought may be of help to other hikers. We are also hiking at an EXTREMELY slow pace, enjoying our wind down from PCT life. We are also hiking this pace to time meeting up with friends for the solar eclipse, within the totality zone. The thru hike could be done in 20 days easily if pushing it, but the frequent towns and beach walks are a constant temptation to slow you down and enjoy all the Coast has to offer.

Day 1 (8/11/17) Lot C to Fort Stevens State Park Hiker/Biker Camp. Taxi, Astoria to Warrenton. Hitch Warrenton to Hammond. Road walk Hammond/Bouy 9 to Lot C. Gates to Fort Stevens close at 6pm. Started trail at official point around 6pm. Easy beach walk at lowering tide ~3.75 mi to Peter Iredale. Follow trail at Peter Iredale 1 mi to campground. Hiker/biker campsites available for $6/person. Picnic tables, fire rings, close to restroom and free showers. Busy park on weekends.

Day 2 (8/12/17) Fort Stevens State Park Hiker/Biker Camp to Del Ray Beach State Rec Area.Started hike around noon. Checked out Coffenbury lake before continuing to beach. Sunny morning/afternoon, lots of people and vehicles on beach. Walked beach from Peter Iredale access point to Del Ray Beach State Rec Area/Highlands Ln and camped nearby.

Day 3 (8/13/17) Del Ray Beach State Rec Area to Ebb Tide Oceanfront Inn/Seaside. Hiked another few miles to Pacific Way beach access and into Gearhart. Used Google Maps to guide through town avoiding 101 when possible and continued into Seaside. Met up with Ian, spent the night a the Ebb Tide Oceanfront Inn.

Day 4 (8/14/17) Ebb Tide Oceanfront Inn/Seaside to Hug Point State Park. Hiked out of Seaside along the beach before following neighborhood road up to tillamook head. 1000ft gain through muddy forest up to head. Nice backpacker site with three structures, large picnic table, fire pit and vault toilet. Hiked down to Indian point, trail washout forced roadwalk out of park. Hitch from from friendly couple to Cannon Beach, guy hiked PCT. Beach walk rest of the evening to Hug Point. Tide too high to get around, set up camp and waited to cross in am.

Day 5 (8/15/17) Hug Point State Park to Nehalem Bay State Park. Hiked around Hug Point at lower tide and beach walked Arch Cape beach, heading inland on south end of beach on East Shingle Mill Lane. Hiked down this road until the suspension bridge down a driveway on the right. There’s an OCT blaze and typically a truck with a boat in the driveway, according to a local. The trail resumed here and took us through Oswald West State Park. Near the south end of the park where the trail crosses 101, we road walked (there is a sidewalk most of the way, only about 0.25mi without) to Sunset Drive on the north end of Manzanita. Keeping right down Meadow Loop, there was a beach access trail. We continued along the beach a couple miles, stopped for dinner, then headed inland at Horizon Lane which took us to the registration booth at Nehalem Bay State Park. Camped in the hiker/biker camp.

Day 6 (8/16/17) Nehalem Bay State Park to Barview Jetty Park. Beach walked a few miles to the end of Nehalem Bay, tried to hitch across bay, but after 2 hours with no success, started walking the bay. At the north end of the bay, we hit a road and hitched south to Rockaway Beach. Grabbed dinner in town and walked the beach to Barview Jetty. Camped at the county park.

Day 7 (8/17/17) Barview Jetty Park to Cape Lookout State Park. Walked railroad tracks from park to docks at Garibaldi. No luck with boat hitch, grabbed lunched and started road walk around bay. A local picked us up and drove us across the bay. Walked the old road on the spit to the beach trail, then the beach to Cape Meares. Trail up through park was easy to find, wouldn’t be bad even at high tide to access. Walked through Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge and State Park, by Octopus Tree and road walked Cape Meares Loop road to Oceanside. Beach walked Oceanside to Netarts, follow 131 to Netarts Bay Drive. Road walk until hitch to Cape Lookout State Park. Beautiful hiker/biker camp! Just to the left from entrance; away from other camping loops.

To The Coast…

After a lengthy discussion of logistics and many beers, we determined it was easiest to get from Bend to the Oregon coast, via our friends in Portland. The fire closures leave us missing trail and the smoky haze, scenery. It feels easier to hike a straight path, less segmented, another season. And for some reason, all we could rent car wise was a twelve person transit van. We had fun with it.


Big thanks to the Streu's for picking us up in Portland and hosting us for several days! We took a nice trip to Wachella Falls, did a little bit of bouldering, and looked for views through the smoky haze covering the city and gorge. At this point we decided the most fun we could having finishing out the backpacking season was on the coast.


So we headed to Astoria, close to Fort Stevens State Park, and spent a day doing touristy things and stocking up on some hiker foods.

Fort George had some good beer – we've been to several breweries in the past week and this stood out. Best food we had in town as well!

And now we start southwards on the Oregon Coast Trail. Maybe we'll complete the it this summer, maybe not, but the contrast between the PCT thru hike and this is welcomed – clouds, cool weather, no fires or snow! For now we walk the beach, the cliffs, and explore the towns in between.