Grey Whales, Stellers, and Mergansers, Oh My!

Can you guess what made these holes?

During our last Beach Watch survey of Fort Ross State Historic Park, Charon Vilnai and I (Song Hunter) were lucky to see a few less common/seasonal species (to FRSHP) and a few very common species up close and personal!

All photos were taken February 9, 2018 by Song Hunter

Spring Has Sprung!

Fields of Sour Grass {Oxalis pes-caprae}

Well, it seems to be Spring all of a sudden here at Fort Ross, never mind it's just the beginning of February!  Regardless, it's been simply stunning here all week. Balmy, near 70 degrees without our typical Spring winds.  The ocean is still and calm, without a whitecap in sight. The Harbor Seals are hauled out in Fort Ross Cove, warming up in the sun and all the bugs and birds are out in full force.  In a word, it's perfect.

Photos by Song Hunter

Burrowing Owl


Burrowing Owl {Athene cunicularia} Photo by Jamie Hall

This owl was observed for the third time on December 14, 2017 by Jamie Hall, Charon Vilnai, and Song Hunter on their monthly Beach Watch survey at Fort Ross State Historic Park

Information from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Owls are unmistakable birds, and that goes double for a long-legged owl that hunts on the ground during the day. Burrowing Owls are small, sandy colored owls with bright-yellow eyes. They live underground in burrows they’ve dug themselves or taken over from a prairie dog, ground squirrel, or tortoise. They live in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats, where they hunt mainly insects and rodents. Their numbers have declined sharply with human alteration of their habitat and the decline of prairie dogs and ground squirrels. 

Cool Facts

  • Unlike most owls in which the female is larger than the male, the sexes of the Burrowing Owl are the same size.
  • Burrowing Owls often stow extra food to ensure an adequate supply during incubation and brooding. When food is plentiful, the birds' underground larders can reach prodigious sizes. One cache observed in Saskatchewan in 1997 contained more than 200 rodents.
  • In the absence of suitable homes created by ground squirrels, prairie dogs, desert tortoises, or other burrowing animals, Burrowing Owls have been known to nest in piles of PVC pipe and other lairs unintentionally provided by humans. Conservationists make use of the owls' adaptability by supplying artificial burrows made of buckets, pipes, tubing, and other human-made materials.
  • Burrowing Owls have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than other birds—an adaptation found in other burrowing animals, which spend long periods underground, where the gas can accumulate to higher levels than found above ground.
  • Efforts to protect Burrowing Owl populations can turn into complex ecological juggling acts. On a naval base near San Diego, California, land managers had to balance the needs of declining Burrowing Owls with a colony of endangered Least Terns, whose chicks the owls sometimes preyed upon.
  • Before laying eggs, Burrowing Owls carpet the entrances to their homes with animal dung, which attracts dung beetles and other insects that the owls then catch and eat. They may also collect bottle caps, metal foil, cigarette butts, paper scraps, and other bits of trash at the entrance, possibly signifying that the burrow is occupied.
  • The oldest known Burrowing Owl was at least 9 years, 11 months old when it was sighted in California in 2014.

For more excellent information on burrowing owls and all other birds, check out The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Anemone {Corynactis californica}

Corallimorphs are not true anemones. The most obvious difference is that their tentacles end in knobs (club-tipped tentacles). Corallimorphs are also very similar to corals in some other characters, but lack the hard coral skeleton. This species is often found in groups, with individuals up to 2 cm long or even more (photo) (average height and diameter is 1 cm). May be colored red, crimson, pink, purple, pale blue, lavender, brown, orange, buff, or nearly white. There are no other anemone-like species in our area with club-tipped tentacles. - Walla Walla University

Corynactus californicus can be found forming clonal aggregates, which cover large areas of hard substrate. They can be found on rock reefs, where they attain densities of up to 3000 polyps per square meter. They have an aggressive nature and may extrude their mesenterial filaments onto other anthozoans, such as corals and sea anemones. This contact with C. californica causes damage to the organisms. - ADW

All Photos by Song Hunter


Photo by Song Hunter

Welcome to the Fort Ross Conservancy Blog!  We hope you enjoy this collection of observations made the dedicated and enthusiastic staff.  Each one of us is a passionate naturalist, finding joy, beauty and importance in every moment we get to spend outdoors here at the park and the surrounding Sonoma County.