Western U.S. Travel Diary -
10 May 2004
The cool green forests of the Pacific coast present a real challenge to the bird photographer. I'm sure there must be some nice Hermit Warblers in these redwood trees, working the outer limbs 300 feet above me. But photography is the art of the possible, so instead I focus my attention, and camera, on the superb flora. Not just the sequoias themselves, but the supporting cast as well: rhododendrons in the understory, colorful masses of California poppies along sunny roadsides.
North of Crescent City, a sign along the highway directs one to a colony of California Pitcher Plants, whose leaves form a pitcher: insects that enter it cannot escape. Their subsequent decay provides the plant with nutrients like nitrogen, which is scarce in the wet bog where they grow. It's a great place for botanizing: pink-&-white Western Azaleas grow in the understory beneath pines and cedars, with Hairy Star Tulips along the trails. Out in the bog amid the Pitcher Plants are dense stands of California Lady's Slippers. Like the Pitcher Plant, this orchid traps insects, in this case in the slipper formed by its flower petals. Insects can leave the slipper by only one exit, where they receive a good dusting of pollen.
11 May 2004
Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers Winter Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Wilson's Warbler, but not, alas, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Varied Thrush, two target birds. Steller's Jays are tame, however, and here I finally get a chance to photograph this common but usually shy bird of western forests. They readily eat the bird seed that I put out for them. However, after one jay launches a vigorous attack on a bag of potato chips on my picnic table, I find that they like chips and cookies even better. I wonder if they've been fed before??