Wednesday September 30, 2009
Posted by: Philip Eager at 10:35AM PST on September 30, 2009
Photo of Marin Headlands' Rodeo Lagoon courtesy Phil Eager.
On Sunday, the day of the premiere of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, we spent the day birding in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco, neatly combining a couple of recent blog topics in one outing: some birding in the National Parks (the Marin Headlands are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) and some hawk watching on Hawk Hill in the headlands.
Even though the day was a bit slow in terms of raptor migration, it wasn’t foggy, which is one of the main hazards of fall birding along the Northern California coast. In fact, the afternoon turned out to be downright hot on top of Hawk Hill, with the temperatures reaching into the low 90s.
Along with the expected hawks (including close views of Broad-winged, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s), our most interesting fly-by was actually a songbird, a Lapland Longspur, which was truly unexpected at that spot and in apparent migration. Wandering through other spots in the headlands, we searched patches of cypress trees for migrant songbirds, but the weather was actually too clear to trap any interesting strays (oftentimes, it’s the foggy weather that throws off the migration path of songbirds and which causes interesting things to show up). And there was a nice collection of shorebirds on the shores of Rodeo Lagoon, including Pectoral and Spotted Sandpipers. Wilson’s Snipe, and Long-billed Dowitchers. ... (more)
Tuesday September 29, 2009
Posted by: Food Dude at 10:21AM PST on September 29, 2009
Thirty-one years ago, 18-year-old Daryn Dodge and three friends, all fresh out of high school, climbed Clouds Rest and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park—losing much of their food and a night's sleep to hungry bears in the process.
Little did he know what those two youthful ascents would lead to: On July 25 this year, Dodge, now 49 and a family man, became the 67th Sierra Club member to summit all 248 peaks on the Sierra Peaks Section list when he reached the summit of Cirque Peak, near Mt. Whitney. Below, Dodge nears the summit of Disappointment Peak in the eastern Sierra.
"I guess I'm sort of a goal-oriented person," says Dodge, an EPA toxicologist in Sacramento and a former competitive long-distance cyclist. Before that sport took a toll on his knees, he was regularly a top finisher in doublecentury (200-mile) races in Northern California, and he completed four Paris-Brest-Paris "brevets," covering 745 miles in 90 hours or less.
Dodge says he enjoyed short hikes with his dad when he was growing up in the Bay Area, but what really opened his eyes was a high school trip with the Yosemite Institute. "That was the beginning of everything," he says, "when I took a weeklong trip to Yosemite with other high school kids in 1977. After that I was hooked."
Dodge became a committed peak-bagger the following year with his ascents of Clouds Rest and Half Dome. "During the summers I'd try to get out every other weekend for 3-4 days, which was usually enough time to climb several peaks," he says. "I discovered the Sierra Peaks Section online in 1994, and it really fit in with what I wanted to do."
The Peaks Section was created in 1955 by the Sierra Club's Angeles Chapter, with the goal of focusing—some might say re-focusing—on mountaineering in the range that gave the organization its name. At first, even members of the group didn't think anyone would climb all 248 summits-until Sierra Club member Andy Smatko completed the list in 1964.
Any additions to the list must be approved by the Peak Section's membership. Dodge notes that many mountaineers who complete the list aren't members, but he says the group was very helpful in pursuit of his goal. "I acquired climbing skills as I progressed, and members taught me to use a rope so I could climb the more difficult peaks. It's also a great way to meet other climbers with similar interests. Traditionally you pick an easy peak for your last hike so friends can go with you—there were 22 of us on the hike up Cirque Peak."
Among the highlights for Dodge was the ascent of Devil's Crag #1 in Kings Canyon National Park. "It's considered the most difficult and dangerous peak on the list," he says. "Two Sierra Club members have died trying to climb it. It's a thousand-foot-long knife-edged ridge, and you have to make sure every rock and hand-hold is solid. If something pulls out, you fall 2,000 feet."
Dodge appreciates the fact that so many of the peaks on the list are protected in national parks. "National park protection really keeps the backcountry in pristine condition," he says. "It looks pretty much the way it did before Europeans showed up. I often find flakes of obsidian left by the Indians."
One of the best things about climbing the Sierra Peaks list, Dodge says, was simply getting to ramble through the Sierra. "It drove home to me how special these mountains are," he says, "and you don't have to be a peak-bagger to appreciate them. My advice to anyone is don't just drive through the mountains—get out of the car and camp. There are so many places where it's easy to spend the night out."
And what does Dodge see as his next goal? After a pause, his answer neither disappoints nor surprises: "I'm thinking maybe I'll climb all these peaks again."
Learn more about the Sierra Peaks Section.
Top three photos by Steve Eckert; last photo by Scott Sullivan.
Monday September 28, 2009
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 4:53PM PST on September 28, 2009
Thought you'd like to see this message from Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
-- Tioga Jenny
San Francisco -- Last night was the opening segment on PBS of Ken Burns's six-night celebration of our national parks -- America's Best Idea. Beginning with the spectacular opening quote from John Muir superimposed over some of the most gorgeous outdoor images ever shown on television, it was a heart-stopping and inspirational two hours. Given the phenomenal job that PBS, Burns, and organizations like the Sierra Club have done in getting the word out about this series, my guess is that it might capture the largest PBS audience ever -- and the benefits of having as many as 10 million Americans spend an entire week deeply immersed in our natural treasures is tremendously exciting.
The Sierra Club is devoting this entire week to helping use America's Best Idea to build a new generation of activists for the national parks -- we're seeking to build an army of 100,000 champions to help us ensure that the legacy of our National Park System is not only preserved but also prepared to meet new challenges from climate change and global warming.
So watch, enjoy, and sign up. A cousin in Chicago sent me an email last night saying, "We own this magnificence in common ... I love it. A burst of pride here in Chicago." I think you'll share his sentiment.
Friday September 25, 2009
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 5:29PM PST on September 25, 2009
John Muir's study desk (L: actual desk, R: sketched plans) would automatically light his lamp and fire, open the right book to study, and then change books after half an hour. Sierra Club Library Collection, all rights restricted.
When the new Ken Burns documentary series (The National Parks: America's Best Idea) starts airing on PBS Sunday night, millions of people are going to learn a bunch about the guy on the California quarter who helped create Yosemite: John Muir.
The Sierra Club's founder gets an old-school rap -- partly due to the photos of him late in life with his long, gray beard. But what people won't hear about in the PBS series is that John Muir was also an inspired inventor of some pretty crazy devices.
Here are just a few:
Muir loved clocksworks (his study-desk clock was actually built) and his design for an alarm clock
involved a truly unpleasant way to get you out of bed in the morning. The clock was hitched to a device that would knock a leg off the bed and dump you on the floor. (What, no snooze button!?)
Posted by: Adam Kapp at 2:31PM PST on September 25, 2009
This is it, folks. I have a feeling that after The National Parks: America's Best Idea
premieres on PBS this Sunday, our parks are going to be seeing a lot more traffic.
Appearing on The Colbert Report last night, Ken Burns said "I hope every superintendent of every national park is angry at us after this, because they have so many people and don't know what to do."
Posted by: SC Trails at 9:52AM PST on September 25, 2009
Photo of blue skies over Glacier National Park courtesy Kelly Whitt.
National parks do more than just preserve the animal and plant life of a region. They also help to protect the dark night skies above. A glimpse at a map of the Earth at night reveals that the few areas in the United States that still have truly dark skies often correspond with locations of national parks. The parks out west, such as Glacier, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and Death Valley, among others, have some of the least light-polluted skies.
Many national parks have ranger-led observing programs. For example, in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, visitors can do solar observing, join in a night sky program, or go on a ranger-led full moon hike. Bryce Canyon’s skies are so dark that 7,500 stars can be seen on a typical night, as compared with 2,500 in most rural areas of the United States. Some parks, such as Yosemite, have local astronomy groups that host star parties within the parks. Death Valley has an excellent observing program that was the highlight of the trip my parents took to that park this year. ... (more)
Posted by: SC Trails at 12:23AM PST on September 25, 2009
Note: Please welcome J Gould, who will be writing a thought-provoking -- and, for some of us, a poetry-provoking -- blog post each Thursday on Trails.
-- Tioga Jenny
Who Will You Carry Into the Outdoors?
Photo courtesy J Gould.
The love of books
is for children
who glimpse in them
a life to come, but
I have come
to that life and
with the love of books.
This is my life,
in poems of dwindled time….
-- Robert Hass, from “Songs to Survive the Summer,” Praise.
Robert Hass has big, meaty hands that flower around his face like a protea when he’s sitting, contemplating.
I saw him a few years back at the Sierra Summit -- waiting to address a bunch of environmentalists and read some poems. He was calm, magisterial, like you would expect from a former poet laureate.
But when Bay Area poets met at the Berkeley Art Museum this past spring -- part of an exhibit exploring the relationship between art and nature, Hass was animated, even a bit agitated. He began his introductions with an uneasy lament over the declining value we ascribe to the natural world.... (more)
Wednesday September 23, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 11:48AM PST on September 23, 2009
Half Dome as seen from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy Tom Valtin.
In case you hadn't noticed, Sunday is the premiere of the much-anticipated new documentary series from Ken Burns, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. I hope you're planning to spend your evenings in front of the TV next week.
I thought that was a good excuse to talk a bit about birding in our national parks -- not that an excuse is ever really needed to talk about and plan your next trip to a national park. The national park system truly is a national resource, and it’s one that holds within it a vast range of habitat and scenery, stretching from Maine’s Acadia National Park to Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, and from Denali National Park in Alaska to Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park.
That means lots of different birding opportunities in lots of different places. Your birding experience in a national park can include breeding warblers and seabirds in Acadia, Chihuahuan desert specialties in Big Bend National Park in Texas, resident Gyrfalcons and ptarmigan in Denali, or Greater Flamingos after a bit of a hike in the Everglades. Depending on your interests, you can pick a destination for its scenery, hiking, or camping and simply enjoy the birds you come across. Or plan it the other way around, with a focus on birding (or specific target birds) in a place that just happens to be gorgeous and wild.
Tuesday September 22, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 5:15PM PST on September 22, 2009
Enjoying the outdoors in the buff seems to be a popular hobby in Germany. Recently, a conservative region in Switzerland approved a ban
on naked hiking after a German website declared the area a “paradise for naked ramblers."
Although it's unclear if the regional law is legal (Switzerland's parliament removed public nudity from the penal code in 1991), nude-hiking enthusiasts in Germany will soon have a trail to call their own. The 11-mile trail begins in the village of Dankerode and runs along the Harz Mountains, and will feature signs warning hikers that they may encounter unclothed hikers. The project to create the trail was headed by a local campsite owner, who hopes the trail will promote tourism in the region.
The practice of hiking sans clothing isn't completely foreign to America, either. Each year, some hikers on the Appalachian Trail celebrate the summer solstice as "Naked Hiking Day," although the tradition is officially discouraged.
What do you think, readers? Do we need clothing-optional trails in our favorite wilderness areas? Or should getting back to nature have a dress code?
Friday September 18, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 7:10PM PST on September 18, 2009
It's been nearly four months since we launched Sierra Club Trails, and those of us who have been enjoying the virtual campfire here -- meeting friends, finding new trails, swapping advice and stories -- know what keeps bringing us back for more. (For instance, remember Kelly's "Strawberry Shortcake on a Stick
But for the benefit of newcomers, I now present "Five Ways to Hit the Trail in Trails."
1. Upload a profile photo and tell us about yourself! When you're logged in, you'll see the "My Dashboard" link in the upper right corner of the page. (If you're not a member, click on the "join" link in the same place.) When you get to your Dashboard, click on "edit profile" on the left and go for it! You can check mine out here
2. Find or add a trail. You'll find instructions and a tutorial, as well as some trails to check out, on this page
3. Share a photo or two in our Gallery
4. Hit the Forums
and start a new topic or weigh in on someone else's. (Personally, I'm enjoying the 20 responses to my query about taking fresh food on backpack trips
5. Find trips and events -- either with the Sierra Club or organized by members of the community -- in our Outings section
. For instance, the Okefenokee Sunset/Full Moon Paddle
There's more, of course. But I'll let you do your own exploring now.
Photo at top: Summit of Mt. Eddy, Northern California.
Posted by: SC Trails at 6:21PM PST on September 18, 2009
Saturday marks the culmination of Muir's March, a week-long hike and educational effort by two dozen folks who want to see the Hetch Hetchy Valley restored. This is the valley in Yosemite National Park that was dammed and flooded in 1915 to become a water source for the San Francisco Bay Area -- a project that broke the heart of Sierra Club founder John Muir.
The Muir's March group started in Tuolumne Meadows, followed the Tuolumne River down its isolated gorge (sometimes called "The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne"), and over to the rim of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. They'll finish at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the top of the O’Shaughnessy Dam and will be greeted by a crowd of supporters and speakers, including actor Lee Stetson as John Muir.
Politics aside, if you've never seen photos of what Hetch Hetchy Valley looked like before it was flooded, check out this slide show -- and you'll feel Muir's pain.
Posted by: SC Trails at 4:49PM PST on September 18, 2009
Photo credit: Kristin Kizer
Meteorologically, fall began on September 1, but in the astronomical world, the first day of fall
is not until September 22. The autumnal equinox occurs at 5:18 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.
To me, one of the sure signs of fall is when I notice the location of sunset has changed. The sun has been moving south each evening, from its happy, warm place in the northwest toward its chilly winter home in the southwest. On the equinox, the sun will rise directly in the east and set directly in the west.
Wednesday September 16, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 10:45AM PST on September 16, 2009
Photo of Tree Swallows courtesy Phil Eager.
For a good part of our vacation last week, the weather in Ocean City, New Jersey was impacted by a slow-moving storm that lurked off the Atlantic coast, bringing high tides, strong easterly winds, and off-and-on rain. Conditions like these aren't good for songbird or hawk migration, but they did give us a good excuse for birding off our back deck overlooking a large coastal salt marsh.
This gave us a front row seat on a migration phenomenon that doesn't get as much birding press as the warblers or the hawks, but is still fascinating in its own way: the fall migration of Tree Swallows to their wintering grounds of southern North America and Central America.
Friday September 11, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 9:27AM PST on September 11, 2009
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Every six years, Jupiter and Earth align such that the plane of the Jovian moons points straight at us, allowing viewers to watch Jupiter’s satellites eclipse and occult one another. Three of these events happen on three consecutive Tuesdays in September. A modest telescope or steadily held pair of binoculars will allow you to see the moons as they pass in front of and block the light from each other.
During each of these events, the volcanic moon Io will first pass in front of the icy moon Europa over the course of ten minutes, followed more than an hour later by Io casting its shadow on Europa and dimming its light. The timing of the first event favors those in the eastern United States and the second and third events are better suited to observers in the west.... (more)
Wednesday September 9, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 10:31AM PST on September 9, 2009
"Brig" wildlife refuge with Atlantic City in the background. Photo courtesy Phil Eager.
With the cool cloudy weather on Tuesday morning not portending a good beach day, my wife and I headed north from our vacation spot in Ocean City, New Jersey to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (commonly referred to by its location, Brigantine or Brig). In pretty much any season, Brigantine and its eight mile loop road (and several walking trails) hosts a vast number of birds in its diverse habitat mix, whether it’s thousands of Snow Geese and Brant in the winter or masses of shorebirds during fall migration.
Brigantine is the next town up from Atlantic City, so one of the odd sights from the refuge is the lights and towers of the casinos looming just across the bay from acres of marshes. As impressive as the coastal habitat already is, a juxtaposition like this always helps remind you of just how important open spaces like this truly are, especially in a heavily populated region like the middle Atlantic coast.
Posted by: SC Trails at 4:12PM PST on September 4, 2009
Photo: Scott Moore
Recently I was writing an article that explains how
September’s full moon is not always called the Harvest
Moon, depending on what month’s full moon is closest to the equinox. This
year, for example, the full moon on October 4 is closest to the first day of
fall on September 22, therefore it gets the title of the Harvest Moon.
This September’s full moon is instead called the Corn Moon.
All the full moons have been given names, often more than one name, and these
titles were largely bestowed by Native Americans. The full moon names coincided
with what was happening in nature and was a way to mark the seasons. The
following are some of the most common names for the full moon of each month.
- January – Wolf Moon
- February – Snow Moon
- March – Worm Moon
- April – Pink Moon
- May – Flower Moon
- June – Strawberry Moon
- July – Buck Moon
- August – Sturgeon Moon
- September – Harvest Moon/Corn Moon
- October – Hunter’s Moon/Harvest Moon
- November – Beaver Moon/Hunter’s Moon
- December – Cold Moon
You’ll notice that these names most accurately
describe conditions for U.S.
residents of the northeast or Midwest. I think people
should be able to name the full moon with whatever is relevant to them. New
Mexico might have a Monsoon Moon in the summer, while
Southern California could have a Santa Ana Moon in the
fall and Florida gets a
“Snowbirds” Moon for one of the winter months. The full moon occurring on
Friday, September 4, should definitely be given the name of High School
Football Moon, because thousands of people across America will be sitting in
stadiums, cheering on their team, when they see the giant orb rising.
What name would you give to a full moon?
+ + + + + + + + + + +
Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.
Thursday September 3, 2009
Posted by: SC Trails at 2:20PM PST on September 3, 2009
One of the Sierra Club's early battles was to protect the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemitee National Park. Despite the efforts of John Muir and others, a damn was built in the valley to store water for the city of San Francisco. But Muir's spirit lives on, and this month a group of dedicated citizens will be walking from Tuolumne Meadows to the O'Shaughnessy Dam to raise awareness and money in hopes of bringing the valley back.
You can get involved by pledging to one or more of the participants. You can also meet the participants at the O'Shaughnessy Dam on September 19th. Contact Jonathan Silverman at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange rides and for more information.
Posted by: SC Trails at 1:26PM PST on September 3, 2009
Photo courtesy NASA/Gary Rothstein
For me, one of the highlights of fall migration is the
southbound migration of hawks, falcons, and other raptors, which is starting up
now and really starts to peak in mid-September through November in most places.
It may be because the first organized birding event that I
attended was a fall hawk migration workshop given by the Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey,
an experience which really got me "hooked" on birding. But it's
probably just as much because the raptors moving past are so iconic, powerful,
and majestic. You might find yourself staring at a Bald Eagle soaring overhead
one moment, and then being buzzed by a Peregrine Falcon the next. Sometimes
it's simply the sheer numbers of a particular species, like Sharp-shinned Hawk,
even if the bird itself is fairly common and might not garner a second look if
you saw a single bird over a nearby field.
As a bonus, hawk watching can be a social event, especially
on slower days. Unlike warbler migration when birders and the birds are
constantly on the move, or shorebird migration where most of the time is spent
puzzling over the fall plumage of "peeps", hawk watching has a fairly
steady ebb and flow to it, not unlike a good baseball game. Unless, of course,
you happen to be at the hawk watch during a "good flight", in which
case your head will be spinning at the sheer number and variety of birds.
The websites of the following hawk watches have a wealth of
information about the logistics and ideal timing of visits and the differing
mixes of raptors you'll see at any given point during the fall. Even if you
don’t go to one of the ones listed, a lot of the information will come in handy
with any spot you might pick.
May, New Jersey. Cape May bills itself as the "Raptor Capitol of
America”, and it hosts a very active and very “birdy” hawk watch each fall.
Different from many hawk watches that have a geologic advantage (usually a
mountain or ridge to concentrate the thermals on which raptors rise and soar),
Cape May has a geographic advantage at the end of the state, which helps
concentrate the southbound hawks when they confront the vast expanse of
Delaware Bay. And, yes, they still do offer the hawk migration workshop (see the online calendar for
Pennsylvania. The official count at Hawk Mountain started in the 1930s, and
it’s a particularly well-established hawk watch with miles of trails (check out
Trails entry by David
Meiser), several lookouts, and a visitor center. Hawks here move past you
at eye level or even below you, giving you a much different perspective than at
places like Cape May. It’s also an important spot in the history of bird
conservation: the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was established to help
stop the slaughter of the hawks and other raptors that enthusiasts now
gather there to enjoy.
Duluth, Minnesota. Taking advantage of a ridge along Skyline Parkway
outside of Duluth, which helps to concentrate the "thermals" on which
raptors soar, Hawk Ridge is one of the major hawk watching spots in the Midwest
and has been conducting its official count since 1974. The Hawk Ridge Bird
Observatory staffs the hawk watch with interpretative staff during the peak
months of September and October, and they host a hawk weekend
scheduled for mid-September.
Mexico. Each year, up to 2 million Broad-winged Hawks and 1 million
Swainson’s Hawks funnel through Veracruz on their way to wintering grounds in
Central and South America, giving the phenomenon the apt nickname of "River
of Raptors" (so well described
by Rob Bierregaard on his website).
It's become a very popular destination for birders who want to admire the
spectacle while enjoying some great overall birding in the area. The American
Birding Association is organizing a conference there this fall, timed to
coincide with the River of Raptors.
Hawk Hill, Marin County, California.
Located in the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San
Francisco, Hawk Hill combines the “funnel” aspect of a place like Cape May (with
the birds confronted with San Francisco Bay) and the elevation of some of the
other hawk watches. In addition to organizing one of the more prominent hawk
watches on the West Coast, Golden Gate Raptor Observatory has a very active banding and tracking project to
gather invaluable data about long-term trends and the migration routes that the
These are just a few of the major hawk watches, and the Hawk Migration Association of North
America has a location tool
on its website to help you find a local hawk watch.
OK, now that you’ve figured out where you want to go, there
are many resources to help with raptor identification. For simple ID guides to
get you started or to stuff in your pocket for a trip out into the field, be
sure to check out those on the websites of the Hawk Migration Association
of North America and the Golden Gate
Raptor Observatory. The Hawk Mountain website has a great
resource page with a bunch of information and ID guides, including a
For more in-depth coverage, a couple of my favorite books
are Hawks in Flight by Pete Dunne,
David Sibley, and Clay Sutton, and The
Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Brian Wheeler and William
Even if you don’t have time to study up beforehand, many of
the organized hawk watches have interpretative staff or volunteers to help
visitors spot and identify the birds, so don’t let your lack of experience keep
you away from your local hawk watch. Trust me, the excitement is infectious:
you will learn a lot on your first trip while having an amazingly fun time!
+ + + + ++ + + + + +
Birding Phil started birding in Cape May, N.J. and Central Park in New York City more than 10 years ago. Since then, his birding adventures (with his wife, Mimi Calter) have included trips to Alaska, Belize, and mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, along with a bunch of other hotspots in the continental U.S., including Florida, Texas, and Arizona). Phil was included in Chris Santella's book "Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die: Birding Experts Share the World's Greatest Destinations," in which Phil talked about Pt. Reyes, CA. Birdwatchers -- head on over and join the Birdwatchers group on Trails.