An atmospheric river flowed over northern California in January. My home town of Los Altos (near San Francisco) received 5.4″ of rain in January, with measurable rain on 17 out of 31 days.
Northern California reservoirs are full, and the snowpack in our mountains is above normal. Therefore, California’s water distribution system has water to distribute to urban users and farmers, but our forests and fish have not recovered from the drought. Southern California still hasn’t received much rain, but our aqueducts will transport water south. Our filled reservoirs will enable the state to generate more hydroelectric power, reducing fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide generation.
Visiting San Francisco between January storms, we saw this juvenile, red-tailed hawk hovering in the wind near the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind blew from the ocean, hit the cliffs, and swept upward — enabling the hawk to hover in the wind. The hawk’s tail is pointing down to provide additional lift, just as airplanes extend their flaps when landing and taking off. The hawk is peering down at the surf, scanning for food. Below, the hawk is near the bridge.
After leaving McWay Falls on our Big Sur road trip, we drove north to Monterey, thinking about dinner at fisherman’s wharf. A couple miles up the road, we saw two vans pulled to the side of the highway, with a bunch of people outside, looking up. At Yellowstone, this signaled wildlife!
This stretch of highway 1 is narrow and curvy. At the first wide shoulder with room to park, I pulled over and looked up. I thought I saw a big bird soaring, with a number on its wing. We had seen this once before — a Calfornia condor at the Grand Canyon.
California condors were nearly extinct in 1987, when all wild condors were captured to increase the survival rate. Scavengers, condors eat lead shot in dead animals and get lead poisoning. They’re large, soaring birds, so keeping them content in captivity isn’t easy. The breeding program was successful, and condors were released into the wild, including at Big Sur.
Yesterday as my wife was going out, she came back in to tell me about a crow and a large bird down the street. A turkey vulture was picking at a dead squirrel, with a crow watching. Crows crowded the turkey vulture. A hawk circled. Excitement in a suburb near San Francisco.
In early January we drove to California’s delta to see sandhill cranes wintering there. Sandhill cranes are tall (.8 – 1.2 m or 2.5 ft – 4 ft) with large wingspans (1.6 – 2.3 m or 5.5 ft – 7.5 ft). Sandhill cranes soar well and migrate long distances. With their long legs, neck and wings, they need time and space to take off, so they land in open fields. Sandhill cranes stay in groups for safety in numbers, with one or more cranes on the lookout while others root for seeds or anything else they can find.