Bitter Creek Chronicles: California Condors Put on a Show
By Chuck Graham   |   September 21, 2021

There wasn’t much going on at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge (NWF). I was laying in the grassy, rolling hills of this California Condor sanctuary, and I was waiting for something to stir. It was mid-afternoon and thermal updrafts were just beginning to waft skyward when a solitary condor rose above the refuge like […]

Staying Close to Home
By Chuck Graham   |   September 14, 2021

As my leg dangled off my kayak and into the ocean, I waited to see how curious this adult harbor seal really was. It had been circling the flotilla of kayaks, displaying curiosity mostly seen from their pups. Suddenly, the adult approached. It decided to use my heel for a scratch post. Back and forth […]

‘Mystery Bird’: Getting to Know the Ashy Storm Petrel
By Chuck Graham   |   September 7, 2021

It was 9:30 pm, and I was kayaking out to Scorpion Rock, a half-mile east of Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. I was meeting up with several nocturnal seabird biologists finishing their last round of mist netting for 2021 of the secretive ashy storm petrels on the Channel Islands National Park. If I didn’t […]

A-03 Has Arrived: Bald Eagles on the Channel Islands National Park
By Chuck Graham   |   August 12, 2021

The manic cacophony of western gulls was too frantic to pass up, diverting my attention span toward drama-filled blue skies as a keystone species buzzed a prominent, weather-beaten seabird rookery. As I kayaked toward the commotion, I soon realized I was in the presence of an apex predator wreaking havoc over Scorpion Rock near the […]

Ants In My Pants
By Chuck Graham   |   July 15, 2021

It was nearly dark when I arrived on a lonely dirt road within the Carrizo Plain National Monument. I pulled off behind a cluster of salt bush, grabbed my binoculars and scanned the immediate region in fading light. About 100 yards to the east, I saw two rambunctious San Joaquin kit fox pups garnering attention […]

Little Hooligans of the Veld
By Chuck Graham   |   June 24, 2021

She convulsed mightily standing watch on the fringe of her burrows. Her black milk ducts protruded through buff, tan fur as her belly full of rich milk warbled while she belted out a series of quavering trills warning her kits of potential danger. The watchful San Joaquin antelope ground squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni) guarded her territory […]

Spotted but Nary a Spotting
By Chuck Graham   |   June 3, 2021

The reflection from my headlamp glistened off the wet of its black button snout as we gazed into each other’s eyes under a star-filled night.  I felt the thumps on my picnic table that doubled as my bed at around 2 am on a windswept Santa Rosa Island. I had slept soundly until then, lulled […]

Worth Saving: Wetlands at Ormond Beach Need Our Love
By Chuck Graham   |   April 15, 2021

The perpetual northwest winds were up, grooming the exposed foredunes of a windswept Ormond Beach in southern Oxnard. The well-manicured dunes constantly shifted with the winds, buffering a sliver of coastal wetland still hanging on in Southern California. The wetlands at Ormond Beach are one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in the entire state. […]

Flash of Blue
By Chuck Graham   |   April 8, 2021

From my kayak I could hear the distinctly harsh shek-shek-shek of the island scrub jay, a songbird that has the smallest range of any bird in North America. As I paddled west along the tranquil northerly shore of Santa Cruz Island, my periphery caught a flash of blue through my 300mm lens streaking through a […]

The Beat Goes On
By Chuck Graham   |   February 25, 2021

Resting easy in my tent, headlamp burning bright, I was putting pen to paper when I heard giant kangaroo rats (GKRs) communicating with one another throughout a star-filled night. From one grassland burrow to the next, the drum of their oversized feet tapped the ground at a feverish pace, sending a message to other GKRs […]

Close Escape to Old California
By Chuck Graham   |   January 7, 2021

It was a trail run like no other. Three trail runners had returned from an early morning run beneath dewy, overcast skies, reporting a mountain lion sighting on the narrow single-track trail, the Coon Creek Trail of Montaña de Oro State Park, located just south of Morro Bay. The runners reported that the mountain lion […]

High Plains Paddling
By Chuck Graham   |   December 10, 2020

The stoic gentleman at the Mono Lake visitor center studied me like a deputy sheriff during a roadside sobriety test. “You can die out there,” he said deadpan. “Folks paddle out there and they don’t come back. The winds come from out of nowhere and catch people off guard.” I did my damnedest to convince […]

Bears of the Sea
By Chuck Graham   |   December 3, 2020

I’d never been so popular before, as dozens of northern fur seal pups surrounded me while mugging my kayak with demonstrative splashes and harmless bumps into my boat in the dense kelp forests of Adams Cove on the western fringe of San Miguel Island. It was quite possible that these raucous eared fur seals – […]

My Wandering Pilgrim
By Chuck Graham   |   November 19, 2020

My early morning trail run up to Montanon Ridge on the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island was at a pace I wasn’t proud of. Cold, wet fog swirled over the volcanic isle. My joints ached but loosened with each stride above Potato Harbor, then Coche Point, and finally ascending above Chinese Harbor. Stunning seascapes […]

Trekking into Biodiversity
By Chuck Graham   |   November 12, 2020

It wasn’t rain falling in the rainforest of the Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, but it was raining leaves, bushels of them floating beneath the canopy that was so dense it blocked out the sun. The wind wasn’t blowing, yet the leaves continued to fall. Instead, there was a […]

Speed Thrills: Chronicles from the fastest land mammal in North America
By Chuck Graham   |   November 5, 2020

I almost lost them in the densely vibrant fields of hillside daisies within the Carrizo Plain National Monument. They were about a half-mile west of where I stood, my Canon 300mm IS lens aimed in their direction. I was hoping for them to meander my way, but with wildlife you never know. They have their […]

Keeping the Wild in the Wilderness
By Chuck Graham   |   September 24, 2020

I had to admit it. I was lost and feeling a little meager, the grandeur of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the largest refuge in North America, was swallowing me whole. Located in northeastern Alaska, the braiding Canning River was a maze of channels that separated me from the rest of my group. I […]

Nameless No More
By Chuck Graham   |   September 10, 2020

The barks and bellows from raucous California sea lions wafted skyward from their seaside rookery just beyond wave-battered Potato Harbor. Ascending the newly named Montanon Ridge Loop Trail, I loped across a craggy, rolling marine terrace, that cacophonous marine mammal serenade gradually drifting away, aided by wispy northwest winds above Coche Point on Santa Cruz […]

Bugle Call
By Chuck Graham   |   August 27, 2020

The pea soup fog hung over Tomales Point at Point Reyes National Seashore like a wet, cold blanket in Northern California. We could hear the surf thundering below, but Holly Lohuis and I couldn’t determine how big the waves were, the fog concealing just about everything except the narrow, rolling route out to the wave-battered […]

Digging In
By Chuck Graham   |   August 20, 2020

The nameless dirt road turned out to be a nighttime buffet for a squadron of opportunistic burrowing owls. It was all about the crickets and grasshoppers, a menagerie of entomology living in the tall grasses and the cunning eight-inch-tall owls gobbling down as many as they could before taking a break. As I inched forward […]

The Nesting Ground
By Chuck Graham   |   August 6, 2020

The Santa Clara River Estuary was a graveyard of tattered driftwood, tangled kelp balls, a rotting sea lion carcass that was so putrid it could only attract a pair of turkey vultures. A high ceiling of overcast kept the early morning comfortably cool. The sand was coarse and gritty, perfect for breeding and nesting western […]

Fox and Friends
By Chuck Graham   |   July 30, 2020

The ears were a dead giveaway. As the morning sun warmed the grasslands of California’s Central Valley, it was the large, backlit ears of a San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) that caught my eye. Red blood vessels braiding like a red river lit up each of the fox’s ears, allowing the smallest canid […]

California’s Car Camping Possibilities
By Chuck Graham   |   July 2, 2020

It’s the mobile basecamp transporting you to hidden natural wonders, where time slows down and the only set schedule moves along on its own course. You’re just along for the ride because you chose to be there, making the drive with enough provisions to see you through on your car camping excursion. All you need […]

Newtified
By Chuck Graham   |   June 18, 2020

The creeks were flowing, spilling over a configuration of cobble that snaked their way to the Santa Clara River. As water pooled up and calmed California newts (Taricha torosa) gathered, the only endemic salamander species in the Golden State. As I rock-hopped upstream, I found one of the orange-bellied newts out of the water, out […]

Through and Through: One day through-hike from the coast to the Matilija Wilderness
By Chuck Graham   |   June 4, 2020

Straddling the coastal spine of the Transverse Range, I hiked (and sometimes ran) the sandstone sea serpent that rises and falls east to west all the way from the idyllic Gaviota Coast to the stunningly breathtaking Matilija Wilderness, a stone’s throw away from Carpinteria. The chaparral-choked Santa Ynez Mountains are one of the main gateways […]

No Expectations
By Chuck Graham   |   January 16, 2020

It was nearly dark on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. I pulled up in my truck on a plateau of dry, crunchy grass overlooking the Temblor Range on the Elkhorn Plain in the southeast corner of the monument, coyotes yelping in unison in some nameless canyon. I was tired from five full days of guiding […]

Booby Bound on Santa Barbara Island
By Chuck Graham   |   October 3, 2019

I love surprises when Mother Earth serves them up. A few years ago when I kayaked from Santa Cruz Island to tiny Santa Barbara Island, at the end I just wanted the 42-mile slog to be finished. In 2015, at 8 pm on a crisp, cool October evening, all I wanted was to see the […]

Sanded Down
By Chuck Graham   |   July 25, 2019

For an hour straight I’d been up to my knees in wind-groomed sand dunes, but finally my barefoot trek had reached an apex. To the north was the breathtakingly artistic Guadalupe – Nipomo Sand Dunes National Wildlife Refuge and to the south were the wave-battered cliffs at Point Sal, where currents never rest, swirling and […]

Not Just the Valley Floor
By Chuck Graham   |   May 2, 2019

I think after midnight I gave up on those stiff, piercing, westerly winds lying down. It was blowing 50 mph and the temps were in the mid-20s on Wildrose Peak, but the views were easily worth every frigid gust the Mojave Desert had to offer. I decided not to bring a tent to Death Valley […]

Wind-driven
By Chuck Graham   |   June 21, 2018

All it took was a western snowy plover to get my mind right for a hike in the Guadalupe – Nipomo Sand Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, located in Santa Barbara’s North County. The tiny shorebirds don’t migrate, so these hardy little plovers endure a lot of northwest winds throughout the year, especially in the spring […]

The Day the Island Shook
By Chuck Graham   |   May 31, 2018

It started out just like any other day that I lead a kayak tour on Santa Cruz Island; get folks dialed in with their paddling gear and a kayak briefing before launching them off the beach at Scorpion Anchorage. Spring time on the islands is a dual-edged sword; rolling green marine terraces, island wildflowers, and […]

High Plains Paddling
By Chuck Graham   |   April 5, 2018

Surely Clint Eastwood didn’t envision Mono Lake as a sublime paddling destination during the filming of the 1973 Western classic High Plains Drifter, but today that high-desert realm located in California’s Eastern Sierra is just that, with a few surprises along the way. I had heard you needed a permit to paddle the expanse of […]

Full Moon Fever
By Chuck Graham   |   March 22, 2018

I think I was suffering from anxiety. Wracking my brain trying to figure out where to position myself for that rare event of a super moon, blue/blood moon and lunar eclipse, a simultaneous solar systematical natural wonder that hadn’t occurred since 1866, I had to force myself to choose. I finally settled on the Carrizo […]