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 […]

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. […]