The Benguela Beacon of Southern Africa
By Chuck Graham   |   February 6, 2024

The lighthouse towered prominently atop a desolate, wave-battered, weather-beaten crag in a remote region of southern Namibia. Surrounded by whitecaps, it seemed like a great place to construct a lighthouse. But what doesn’t feel far-flung in this desert country of Southwest Africa? There’s just over two million people living in Namibia, making it the second […]

Nuthatch Nirvana
By Chuck Graham   |   January 9, 2024

During the fall, when it’s hot and dry on the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island, cold, crisp, purple grapes are a must-have fruit on the largest isle off the California coast. It’s also a time for annoying, seemingly perpetual deer flies that seek moisture out of the ears, nose, and eyes. To momentarily escape […]

Meerkat Memories
By Chuck Graham   |   December 26, 2023

A mob of meerkats was on my Southern African menu. Deep in the Kalahari Desert, I scanned that brilliant red earth with my binoculars from dawn until dusk. Finally, on the morning of our third day in Namibia, it was meerkat mania as 20 of them arrived just after breakfast. This was my 16th trip […]

The Burly Shorebird of Distant Shores
By Chuck Graham   |   December 19, 2023

It was getting dark, and I was tired and hungry. It had been a long, great day, but I needed to land my kayak for the night. The day had begun at Yellowbanks on the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island. From there, I paddled the entire south side of the largest, most diversified isle […]

Hugging the Island
By Chuck Graham   |   December 5, 2023

It was a microcosm of the island biome, where multiple species benefited from the hard work of one marine mammal species and the help of a narrow, craggy sea cave battered by a surging, Southern Hemisphere swell. I was kayaking back from an early evening surf session, and as I hugged the sheer cliffs of […]

Rafting Up
By Chuck Graham   |   October 31, 2023

It was a rare summer day along the Southern California coast, as the fringe of Hurricane Eugene crept northward from Baja, California, into the sleepy coastal town of Carpinteria. It was early August. Since pre-dawn dark clouds had delivered steady rain, as water droplets trickled down the tinted glass of my beach lifeguard tower. The […]

Grassland Solitude
By Chuck Graham   |   October 3, 2023

From afar, the Temblor Range in the Carrizo Plain National Monument was swept in different shades of yellow. Rancher’s fireweed, goldfields, and hillside daisies brightened the arid mountain biome. From where I stood at the base of the Caliente Mountains looking east, it was the only color on what are typically barren hillsides.  Another super […]

Island Canyon Chronicles
By Chuck Graham   |   August 29, 2023

The mud was something to behold. However, the narrow, serpentine-like side canyons of Scorpion Canyon were green, lush, and oozing with moisture. The many rushing waterfalls were perpetually soothing as water flowed uninhibited to the main canyon carrying that aquatic melody to the cobbled shoreline at Scorpion Anchorage. It felt like I was experiencing my […]

Peaceful Paddling on the Russian River
By Chuck Graham   |   August 15, 2023

The little North Coast town of Jenner was still asleep as I slid my kayak off the boat ramp and into the glassy waters of the Russian River, a couple hours north of the San Francisco Bay. I had a solid head start, maybe 90 minutes of paddling before sunrise would light up the tallest […]

Life at the Waterhole
By Chuck Graham   |   July 11, 2023

The spotted hyenas soaked themselves in one of the many waterholes surrounding the vast, searing white pan of Etosha National Park in northern Namibia of southwestern Africa. The two scavengers were multitasking. While cooling off in the shallow pool of water, they were also strategizing on how to drive off a healthy-looking lioness and her […]

Virunga’s Natural Wonders
By Chuck Graham   |   June 27, 2023

The 500-pound male mountain gorilla (also known as a silverback) was hungry, not hangry, just hungry in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda in Central Africa. As shafts of morning light penetrated the rainforest, he casually lumbered over to a dense stock of bamboo, the biggest shafts as round as a baseball bat. He looked upward […]

Patience is Required
By Chuck Graham   |   May 16, 2023

Not too much of it though, myself and the western gulls were growing anxious. However, all I had to do was observe and study the throngs of those hungry seabirds, and then eventually the drama unfolded. The northern elephant seal colony above San Simeon and surrounding the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on the Central California Coast, […]

Greatness
By Chuck Graham   |   April 4, 2023

As I do most days after leading a kayak tour at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, I took a stroll with my camera after everyone had left the island and returned to the harbor in Ventura. As small waves crashed on the deserted, cobbled shoreline, I noticed something odd approaching the beach just before […]

Patchwork
By Chuck Graham   |   March 21, 2023

As I walked across an icy Pixley National Wildlife Refuge (NWF), five miles west of Highway 99, it sounded as if I was inside a packed house of a football stadium. It was an hour before sunset, and it sounded as if it was that loud. Just past sunset, squadrons of migratory sandhill cranes were […]

Down for the Count
By Chuck Graham   |   February 21, 2023

I was on an early morning beach run in Carpinteria, pink and orange hues melding across the eastern horizon. While weaving my way in soft sand past wintering killdeer and western snowy plovers, those hardy shorebirds thoroughly enjoyed the wrack lines of tattered giant bladder kelp left behind by the previous high tide. Later that […]

Lots of Hugging
By Chuck Graham   |   January 17, 2023

We hugged the crumbly west cliff face of Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island with no expectations from the seat of our kayaks. From afar, we couldn’t see any wildlife, but we could clearly hear first-year northern elephant seals snorting and bellowing on distant pocket beaches concealed along the rocky shoreline. I was paddling with […]

Family Bonds
By Chuck Graham   |   December 27, 2022

There was no denying the six-foot-tall dorsal fin cutting through the open ocean above the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area within the teeming waters of Monterey Bay, along the Central California Coast. Black and steeple-shaped, the dorsal fin belonging to a mature, male orca glistened in the morning sun. This apex predator is known […]

The Sleeping One
By Chuck Graham   |   December 20, 2022

Descending San Miguel Hill at a feverish pace, I’d just left a freshly soddened Green Mountain to the west in my rearview mirror. San Miguel Island always delivering a diverse mix of unpredictable weather patterns. Green Mountain was cloaked in dewy fog and swept in 20 mph northwest winds. It felt like sideways rain as […]

The Pelagic Food Chain
By Chuck Graham   |   November 29, 2022

The weather window was tight. It was one day, and we took advantage of it, circumnavigating the 27 coastal miles of San Miguel Island, the most northwesterly isle in the Channel Islands National Park. After several solo circumnavigations of this wave-battered, teeming islet, I was gratefully joined by four kayak guides who I work with […]

Island Day Spa
By Chuck Graham   |   November 22, 2022

It’s just one of so many countless hidden nooks and crannies carved out over time by volcanic upheaval, the surf, and weather along the craggy coastlines of the Channel Islands National Park. Most of these concealed, volcanic alcoves, corridors, and toothy grottos are only accessible by kayak. Going on foot or even by boat won’t […]

Feigning Injury
By Chuck Graham   |   November 8, 2022

Down on the Carpinteria State Beach, between the mouth of the Carpinteria Creek and southeast of the Tarpits, a nesting colony of western snowy plovers continues to grow on the popular summertime beach. Nesting season is March 15 to September 15, and in 2021, the first successful western snowy plover nest since 1960 saw three […]

Island Refuge
By Chuck Graham   |   October 11, 2022

The translucent, salty ocean droplets rolled off its velvety sheen feathers, glistening like crystal clear marbles as it streamed off the back of a wayward Pacific Loon. It was early summer 2022. Typically, not a time to catch a glimpse of a seabird that should’ve been well north, maybe even as far north as Alaska […]

I Finally Saw It
By Chuck Graham   |   October 4, 2022

A saw-whet owl, that is. Sometimes they keep me up at night, and gratefully so. That repetitive too-too-too sounding off two notes per second at the same pitch for up to 25 whistles in a row before taking a slight break.  Then those tiny, nocturnal saw-whets are back at it again teasing me with their […]

Above Tree Line
By Chuck Graham   |   September 6, 2022

I’d seen them on Old Army Pass in the Eastern Sierra a few years ago, small in stature but hardy American pikas, keystone species and great indicators of a warming planet. Before I saw them, it was their grating chirps concealed in talus, gritty granite habitat required for their survival.   The hike to the […]

Humboldt Canyon
By Chuck Graham   |   August 30, 2022

It’s a secretive side canyon cloaked in unique island and California flora on the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island. However, this narrow, craggy draw needs to wait for the month of May to arrive before one can truly soak in all its island splendor. Over the years it’s proven to be one of the […]

Limestone Scramble
By Chuck Graham   |   August 23, 2022

They could’ve been tiny patches of snow on a distant mountain face, winter clinging to an Arctic summer on the North Slope of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). However, scanning with my binoculars while on a braided, swift-moving raft, on the Kongakut River, 18 snowy white Dall sheep gradually grazed […]

Cypress Junction
By Chuck Graham   |   August 9, 2022

First, it was their undeniable kyeer, kyeer. Then a blur of red and orange instantly diverted me toward their lofty refuge, 30 feet up the sturdy trunk of a Monterey cypress. Swooping to and from, the pair of northern flickers worked at a feverish pace readying their nest for their impending brood. This cypress stands […]

Gone Owls
By Chuck Graham   |   July 26, 2022

The prominent sandstone rock outcropping was riddled with gritty alcoves, clefts, lofty ledges, and shadowy caves. As I scanned with binoculars for any feathered occupants, I found five barn owls nesting in the upper reaches of this remote, sandstone cathedral. However, there was something else that caught my attention while attempting to conceal themselves 20 […]

Coastal Canvas
By Chuck Graham   |   July 19, 2022

Standing at the overlook of idyllic China Cove, located within the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve between the Big Sur Coast and Carmel, I could see why the 70-something-year-old gentleman had erected his easel where he did. It was midday and as the sun beamed down from overhead, it illuminated the tranquility of China Cove. […]

An Island Fox Took My Spoon
By Chuck Graham   |   June 21, 2022

That bowl of oats is almost a daily ritual at this stage of life. Organic oats, organic granola, organic honey, and berries; blue, black and raspberries, plus a ripe banana along with some creamy hemp milk will suffice, rain, shine, fog or northwest winds. When the island foxes are around, they tilt their heads upwards […]

Harboring Docility
By Chuck Graham   |   May 31, 2022

In 1979, I was a young teen and very green in the ways of animal behavior. I was surfing out front of my home in Carpinteria. It was wintertime and the beach was deserted under cloudy skies. I was the only one surfing that cold, crisp overcast morning. It wasn’t long before I heard a […]

The Commute
By Chuck Graham   |   May 10, 2022

I can look at all the local weather reports, scour all the weather apps, but when I’m standing on the shoreline and gazing across the channel with my binoculars, I trust my judgement more than anything to complete a successful channel crossing across the unpredictable Santa Barbara Channel. On March 8, 2022, sea conditions looked […]

Thumbs Up
By Chuck Graham   |   April 5, 2022

After backpacking out of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Los Padres National Forest, myself and two others hiked out to Hwy 166 to walk and hitchhike to our next water cache 15 miles to the west. It would require brushing up alongside speeding semitrucks, sleepy cows, the arid Cuyama Valley, all the while knowing […]

Go North Young Pup
By Chuck Graham   |   March 29, 2022

They were a long way from home – a long way from the “Great North” – those distant, pelagic habitats northern fur seals thrive in. Strong ocean currents had firmly gripped these three beleaguered pups that were now seven months old. Malnourished and fatigued, they were discovered by beachgoers on Los Angeles County beaches. Now […]

High Desert Realm, the Arid Splendor of Joshua Tree National Park
By Chuck Graham   |   March 15, 2022

It sounded like loud cannon blasts hidden away, echoing ahead in massive clusters of boulders somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park.  I scrambled up into the direction of those deafening booms, a natural cathedral of granite spires, cliffs, and rock concealing two desert bighorn sheep rams in predawn light. They were in the rut battling […]

The Other Islands
By Chuck Graham   |   March 1, 2022

The northwest swell was heaving into the northern fringe of Prince Island, a half mile off San Miguel Island in the Northern Channel Islands chain. Eleven species of seabirds use Prince Island for breeding and nesting habitat. One of those species, the common murre, had returned to Prince Island after a 100-year absence, egg collecting […]

Taking the Plunge
By Chuck Graham   |   March 1, 2022

While kayaking and circumnavigating the Salton Sea’s 110 miles of coastline in California’s southeastern corner, the winter climes were a mild 75 degrees, and the salty waters were beyond silky smooth.  It was so clear I could see a massive flock of American white pelicans two miles off in the distance resting peacefully on the […]

Migrant Trap
By Chuck Graham   |   January 18, 2022

I was sitting patiently on a hillside within Scorpion Canyon on Santa Cruz Island, the most biodiverse isle in the Channel Islands National Park. It was mid-morning, and all was quiet in early November 2021. It was dry and warm, and the deer flies were having their way with me, as I overlooked a fruitful […]

Passing Through
By Chuck Graham   |   January 11, 2022

There was no mistaking whose dorsal fin it belonged to. No physical characteristic in the marine mammal world can match the six-foot tall dorsal of a male orca. Its steeple-shaped fin sliced through the ocean like a submarine with its periscope up. Known as CA45B, a Bigg’s transient orca, he was enjoying himself on the […]

First Encounter
By Chuck Graham   |   January 4, 2022

I chose a broad sandstone stage, dropped my camera pack, and kicked back on the gritty slab in the Sierra Madre Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. It was the spring of 1997, and the sun was shining overhead with intermittent puffy clouds drifting north to south. My hands were behind my head and […]