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 […]

Playing with Patches
By Chuck Graham   |   December 21, 2021

It was quite similar to many other channel crossings: overcast skies and silky-smooth sea conditions seemingly stretching from the coast to the Channel Islands National Park. It was also ideal for spotting wildlife on the Santa Barbara Channel. Common dolphins are almost a guarantee, pods numbering in the thousands seen splashing for hundreds of yards […]

Keeping the Wild in the Wilderness
By Chuck Graham   |   December 14, 2021

I had to admit it. I was lost and feeling a little vulnerable, 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 had […]

Knee Deep
By Chuck Graham   |   November 23, 2021

We walked gingerly across a teeming mudflat on a minus tide within Elkhorn Slough, located in Moss Landing and within Monterey Bay. As we glopped along the muddy banks of the slough, legions of line shore crabs scrambled into the shadows dramatically baring their pinchers in self-defense. The eel grass was exposed and laid across […]

Forces of Nature
By Chuck Graham   |   November 16, 2021

Strolling down Scorpion Canyon to the cobble beach, I was keen to see lightning strikes across the Santa Barbara Channel. From the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island, the beach was deserted with lightning strikes touching down around the largest isle off the California Coast. As dusk approached, the storm moved directly over Scorpion Canyon. […]

Full Moon and Wildfires
By Chuck Graham   |   November 2, 2021

Fed by a beaming full moon, the gritty granite walls were lit up like an ancient coliseum as we ascended the Mountaineering Route on Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierra.  Days earlier, I had my doubts on whether we would be allowed to ascend Mount Whitney. All the National Forests throughout California were off limits […]

Embracing the Loam
By Chuck Graham   |   October 19, 2021

Snow flurries, hail, and intermittent rain was just enough to dampen the top layer of loam along the serpentine spine of the Caliente Ridge, the Caliente Mountains being a west-to-east uplifting mountain range in the remote southeast corner of San Luis Obispo County. While mountain biking up the winding Caliente Ridge Road, a dense canopy […]

On Foot and by Paddle
By Chuck Graham   |   October 5, 2021

Timing the surge of an incoming tide took me to the backend of the Morro Bay Estuary. Paddling my standup paddleboard, I glided effortlessly through serpentine-like channels choked in colorful pickleweed. Flanked by massive Morro Rock to the north, the rest of the seven sisters lied ahead, prominent rocky spires that fortify the backend of […]

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 […]