2021 Begins with Birds

January 9, 2021 at 5:04 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildlife) (, )

Winsome blue-gray gnatcatcher

I didn’t realize the above photo of the gnatcatcher at Morro Bay would be so popular on the Birding California Facebook page. Last count it had 1200 reactions and 83 comments. It’s reminiscent of the Angry Bluebird that was popular several years ago. This little fluffball was uncharacteristically cooperative, as they are generally in constant motion catching, well, gnats.

The gnatcatcher on the right is one that was banded at Morro Bay in January 2019 by the California State Parks crew. Yay! I love finding banded birds, and even more when I get enough readable numbers to trace when and where it was banded.

Morro Rock shortly after sunrise, looking south

I wanted to find the zone-tailed hawk that had been seen at Morro Bay (and has been sighted elsewhere, hanging out with turkey vultures) but no luck. However, it was a perfectly productive morning to photograph other avian denizens.

Oddly, the bay was still and calm, while just the other side of the Rock were raging waves (my previous post.)

Moon and marina
Peregrine falcon from about a quarter mile away

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Even the surfers wouldn’t ride the waves

January 8, 2021 at 8:29 am (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County) (, , )

Morro Bay, California

A huge storm far offshore generated HUGE waves that we don’t often see here in Central Coast California. I went out to Morro Rock on Sunday and then to Estero Bluffs just to the north and marveled at the beauty and power of the ocean. Enjoy these images!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Redwoods and Other Treasures

November 20, 2020 at 5:00 am (California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, )

Sunset in Oregon through a smoky haze

On my late summer trip to join my son and his family in a camping trip in Eastern Washington, I made several stops at volcanic parks. I had to miss one near Bend, Oregon because it was late and I just can’t fit in everything.

Wildfire in Oregon

I keep a travel journal so I can remember where I’ve been, where I stayed, whether or not I liked the place, tips for future trips, etc. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of which mountain this was, but it was north of Bend, enroute to Mt. St. Helens.

The best Smokey Bear ever
Mt. Hood

By then most of the smoky haze had dissipated and I enjoyed lovely clear skies, even with some wildfire plumes in the distance. This is the final post of my road trip, so it’s a scattering of other images that didn’t quite fit in the previous posts, as well as photographs of the return trip.

This is where I met my son. We had all been careful since the pandemic to limit exposure to COVID–19. I wore a mask the first two days when near the girls, even though we were outdoors. It was a lovely time and I knew it would likely be many months before I would see them again due to the virus and the predicted surge over the winter.

My lovely little family

I headed back to Central Coast California before the Labor Day rush.

Battery Point Lighthouse, Crescent City, California
Battery Point Light

Cape Mendocino

The town of Ferndale south of Humboldt Bay was a lovely, Victorian-bedazzled town. It seemed like a sweet spot for a romantic getaway. The trip to Cape Mendocino was less pleasant. Mattole Rd. was curvy and claustrophobic and poorly maintained. Once at the ocean, the view was magnificent, but no more so than many easier-to-access spots on the California coast.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

I’m one who loves big skies and prairies, open spaces with hills and distant mountains. I do not like deep forests. The huge redwoods were amazing, of course, but I was never comfortable in their smothering shade.

On the morning of the last day, the smoke had returned with a vengeance. It was an unpleasant trip home.

Sunrise in the Redwoods, through the wildfire smoke

Several days later, we were dealing with the huge Dolan Fire at Big Sur, which began Aug. 18 and jumped over to Fort Hunter Liggett on Sept. 8 – nearly killing 15 Los Padres National Forest firefighters and dozer operators with its ferocity and speed. It was a really bad couple of weeks for those in Monterey County.

Evacuation zones surround Fort Hunter Liggett

The rainy season is just around the corner, and will be most welcomed.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Mt. Rainier

November 18, 2020 at 5:00 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Seattle) (, )

Mt. Rainier and Reflection Lake

I came to Tacoma to get married when I was 20 years old. I left 18 years later when the marriage ended. But while I lived there, Mt. Rainier (Tahoma, to the Native peoples, which meant The Mountain That Was God) was a common hangout. We hiked and backpacked there, and when I was 35 I backpacked the Wonderland Trail solo. (Read about those adventures starting here.)

It’s almost 30 years to the day and I’m back at this iconic Cascade volcano, and it feels so different. I’ve seen so much, done so much, felt the roller coaster highs and lows of six-plus decades, and now I seem to be looking at this place with an emotional distance. It’s almost as if I’m watching it on a screen or looking in a book at the photographs I took decades ago.

It was my 65th birthday. I stayed in Packwood but my birthday present would come two days later when I joined my son and his family at a camping trip in Winthrop, Washington. COVID has made visits problematic, but we have taken the proper precautions from the beginning of the pandemic and limit our contacts in public places. I last saw them at Christmas.

Naches Peak Loop Trail

One fairly moderate trail I wanted to tackle in the park was Naches Peak Loop, which had been a favorite of mine during the late summer wildflower bloom. It was a few weeks past peak bloom, but still lovely.

This was the best view I got of the mountain all day, however. Clouds swirled around it, always blocking the view.

Fog and bright overcast light is highly desirable for photography, and that was the upside.

It was not an easy trail for me. It started at about one mile of elevation, and had only about 600 feet of gain. But my knees weren’t happy with that, and they were swollen for a week afterward. But I pressed on.


I was pleased to see there were plenty of ripe huckleberries along the trail, which most people were unaware of. There is a new breed of folk in the Puget Sound region now, thanks to the tech industry. The trails are much more crowded, the gear more expensive, the silence less so. For many, the hike is the goal, as is the remarkable view of Mt. Rainier, but not so many look closely as they pass by. Thus, I had plenty of huckleberries to myself.

Dewey Lake

It was at this spot, overlooking Dewey Lake, that I thought of a backpack trip I made with a friend once. We got a backcountry permit and camped at Dewey Lake below. In the light of the full moon, we hiked back up and I took pictures of the moonglow on the mountain. It was a magical night, and a special trip with a special friend. I’m sorry we didn’t stay in touch.

Gray Jay

The gray jays, also known as camp robbers, caught on a long time ago that certain areas are natural lunch spots. So when they see people sitting, or hear the crinkle of a trail bar wrapping, they drop down from the trees expecting their share. Of course, I know better than to feed them, but the allure is too great. At least I made sure they got some healthy nut pieces.

The next day I was on the road when the first light touched the glaciers. Not a cloud was in sight.


I don’t know when I’ll return, but my son has instructions to scatter some of my ashes at Mt. Rainier when the time comes. It was a very special place for me at one time. It is special for my son as well, and for his family. His dad and I carried him to Spray Park and camped when he was 7 months old. He and his wife did the Wonderland Trail 10 years ago. It’s a special day in the Puget Sound region when “the mountain is out.”

It always will be The Mountain That Was God.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Mt. St. Helens

November 17, 2020 at 5:00 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Mt. St. Helens, August 2020

As with many shocking events in our lives, those of us who were affected by the atavistic eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980 remember what we were doing when we heard the news.

I lived in Tacoma, Washington at the time, and when the mountain rumbled to life a couple months earlier, I visited the former Mt. Fuji of the Northwest to get a close-up view of the mudflows dribbling down its snow-white slopes like chocolate topping on a vanilla cone.

Those photographs are in slide form, and I’d be hard pressed to find and copy them now.

Spirit Lake

I didn’t realize that the two distant booms I heard around 8:30 in the morning of May 18 while walking the dog weren’t artillery barrages from nearby Fort Lewis. It wasn’t until an hour later as I drove to church that I heard on the radio that St. Helens had erupted big time. It was cloudy in Tacoma (the second boom was likely an echo off the low clouds) but if it had been clear we could have easily seen the plume of ash, which began drifting east. It landed in places far from Tacoma, which was much closer, but north and upwind. The news got worse as the day wore on – deaths, terrible destruction downstream, the old codger Harry Truman buried alive under hundreds of feet of mud at Spirit Lake. I had no desire to drive closer for a photograph.

Spirit Lake from Windy Ridge

Three years later, when my brother came to visit, we took a small plane tour over the still-smoldering volcano. Thousands of large conifers were flat on the ground, stripped of all vegetation and bark, and Spirit Lake was filled with giant toothpicks of dead trees. The entire landscape was ash-gray.

A log-jammed portion of the lake

Most of Spirit Lake is once again open water. I learned a lot of things I had never known despite the constant news on the aftermath for months following. Such as the logs and dirt and ash smothered nearly all life in Spirit Lake, but it has gradually returned. And the debris dams downstream that threatened towns if they burst, and the work the Army Corps of Engineers had to do to prevent that.

A view point

The Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is one of those rare ones administered not by the Dept. of Interior, but by the U.S. Forest Service which is under the Dept. of Agriculture. USFS recreation websites are the suckiest ever, so I used the link to the USGS instead, which is much more informative.

The road to Windy Ridge is on Forest Road 25, a horrendously maintained (e.g. basically not maintained) pothole-filled hazard. It is a long, bumpy stretch of conifers, opening up only when you get to the monument itself.

I marveled at the amount of tree growth 40 years after the wipeout of every living thing. Many dead trees still stand in testament.

An old Grand Prix also rests a half mile from where its occupants died, 8-1/2 miles from the blast. Fifty-seven people in all died.

For months afterward, smaller eruptions occurred, and I saw several of them from Fort Steilacoom Park in Tacoma. One of my photos was even published in the Tacoma News Tribune.

On the north side the next morning, looking east

One of the most memorable close-encounters was when I was camped out directly west on the coast and we woke to mud falling from the sky. It was another eruption, and ash mixed with rain. We quickly bundled up the tent and drove home, most of the way through mud which we had to scrape off the windshield every so often because the washer fluid ran out.

Still steaming

The next morning on this current road trip, I drove to Coldwater Ridge (now Johnston Ridge, named for the geologist David Johnston who uttered the frantic words “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it” before he was killed by the blast.)

Erosion at the volcano’s base caused by the blast

Back then, I had a nice collection of buoyant pumice stones that traveled down the Toutle River and others to the Columbia River and out to sea. Most of them were round and smooth from the trip. I wish I still had them.

Closeup into the steaming crater

For many years afterward, craftspeople used Mt St Helens ash (or what they claimed was ash) in making pottery and souvenirs.

Six miles away

For me, the visit was a pilgrimage, to remember those strange days when something so prehistoric roared to life in the modern era. I’ve never forgotten that Mt. Rainier, one of the most special places on earth to me, could one day do the same, with far far more damage and death.

It was now my 65th birthday, and that’s where I was going next.

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Lava Beds National Monument

November 16, 2020 at 5:00 am (California, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Modoc National Forest

Lava Beds National Monument, California, the second volcanic site on my summer trip north, had just re-opened following a fierce wildfire. The journey through the Modoc National Forest to the park entrance was jaw-dropping in its devastation.

Lava outcroppings amid fire devastation

I had never seen a landscape so soon after an intense wildfire, and there was barely a drop of green for miles and miles. The Caldwell Fire left ash and skeletons in its wake.

It was with a mixture of horror and fascination that I was drawn to find ways to photograph what was left. It was morbidly beautiful. The park itself had 70 percent of its land burned and off-limits, and you could see untouched sage and juniper on one side of the road and a blackened wasteland on the other.

A backfire?

This may have been a controlled backfire meant to keep the wildfire from spreading further.

The visitor center was spared, fortunately, and the many small caves around it were open. I didn’t realize Lava Beds was known for its vast system of caves. Being claustrophobic, that held no interest for me.

Schonchin Butte

Fire scorched the Schonchin Butte, a distinctive landmark with a fire tower at top.

The most fascinating (to me) portion was in a separate and detached section: Petroglyph Point.

The long wall of petroglyphs was behind a fence to prevent vandalism. Immediately before the fenced section is a wall of modern graffiti.

The piles of pigeon feathers may have been the work of peregrine falcons. There were also cliff swallow nests and interesting patterns in the rocks higher up.

The day ended at nearby Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, with thousands of American coots, juvenile and nonbreeding ducks, eared and pie-billed grebes, and ruddy ducks.

I spent the night in Bend, Oregon and continued the next morning on Hwy 97, 26, and the “scenic” 35 to the Columbia River. The latter took me very close to Mt. Hood, but I didn’t stop for photos. I could never get used to not pumping my own gas in Oregon. It just seemed weird.

Once across the Columbia, I headed toward the famous Windy Ridge at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I stopped at a drive-up cafe for a delicious pulled-pork sandwich in the little town of Carson, and took a turkey sandwich with me for dinner.

Next: The Day Mt. St. Helens Erupted

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

November 15, 2020 at 10:15 am (California, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography)

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I left on a road trip to visit my son’s family in Seattle four days before my 65th birthday. California had had a week of smoky skies since the August 18 barrage of dry lightning, and the drive north from Paso Robles was through a dreary, smoke-drenched landscape.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge amid smoky pall

First stop was at Colusa NWR, part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refge system, but no water in the ponds meant no birds, so I moved on to the mother refuge. There I found white pelicans and Clark’s grebes, some with aggressively peeping young telling mom and dad they should hurry with those fresh fish.

White pelicans and double-crested cormorants

However they were too far away for really decent photographs.

I love refuges that have auto drives for viewing wildlife. Sacramento is an amazing mecca for birds and birders in winter, but even in late summer it was a sweet drive.

Next stop: Lassen Volcanic National Park. I found a campsite in the North Summit Lake Campground – $12 a night with my senior pass. Unlike many parks, it had a very nice restroom. I blame a nasty campground shower at Grand Canyon 35 years ago for my toenail fungus. If we would fund our parks as if they were truly “America’s Best Idea” we would deserve them more.

Likely due to COVID-19 and the thick smoke, the park wasn’t crowded at all.

Helen Lake at sunset

As it had for many days (and would continue for two more months in California), the sun was tinted orange as it set and rose. So was the moon.

Moon at sunset

After I looked at the places I wanted to visit enroute, I realized this road trip had a volcanic theme. Other than Mt. St. Helens, Lassen was the most fascinating in this regard.

Smoky dawn, Day 2 of road trip

The place I most wanted to see was Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like bowl of boiling water and steaming mud. It was to be the most challenging hike since my hip replacement surgery five months earlier.

Glacial errata at Bumpass trailhead

The 8,000 foot elevation added to the difficulty, but I took my time on the 3-mile roundtrip trail. I did not see the pikas that were supposed to be near the trailhead, or in the rock slope which generally harbors them. I’ve seen pikas at Mt. Rainier and Colorado’s Maroon Bells, but they eluded me here.

Dusky grouse

One advantage of getting on the trail early is that wildlife is more plentiful. This dusky grouse was unfazed by my presence. Though the elevation loss/gain was only 300 feet, it wasn’t easy. My hip was fine, but arthritis also owns my knees. The cardio, however, was a step in the right direction.

Bumpass Hell

The chilly temps allowed for dramatic steam. Lassen, like most of the Cascade volcanoes, is dormant. Meaning it can come to life again. The last major eruption was in 1915 but there is still geothermal activity.

The trail started to get “crowded” around 10 am. Most people seem to need to sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast, but we photographers and folks who like solitude tend to be crack-of-dawn types. About 60 percent of hikers pulled up masks when passing, which indicates that too many of us are anti-science eejits.

At the south entrance visitor center I got a latte and lovely turkey sandwich, where COVID protocols were being followed. Then I motored to Manzanita Lake for gas, but they were out. (How rude!) I had to drive an extra 15 miles to Old Station to fill up. I wanted to get a nice image of Lassen Peak reflected in the lake but it was too darned smoky for that. So I stopped at the Devastation Trail. The story there was fascinating.

Giant boulder

There were several giant boulders attesting to the strength of an erupting volcano. They had been hurled during the May 19, 1915 eruption and carried three miles below the summit by the avalanche. (A side note: Mt. St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980, nearly 65 years to the day.)

This one is red dacite formed 27,000 years ago when Lassen Peak first erupted.

Black dacite is one of the various types of rocks on the trail, but is a much younger age at 105 years, having been formed during Lassen’s last eruption. It is thought the joining of hotter basalt and cooler dacite magmas within caused that eruption.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

An even larger and more devastating eruption occurred three days later. This trail, more than any in the park, helps explain what happened when this volcano blew.

Helen Lake from picnic area

Helen Lake
Lassen Peak and Helen Lake at sunset

On the morning of Day 3 it was time to move on. Only early risers like me get to see dawn light on Lassen Peak. Thankfully most of the park was above the worst of the smoke, but a truly devastating wildfire scene awaited as I drove north…

First light, Lassen Peak

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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A Saunter at Pinnacles

November 13, 2020 at 8:51 am (California, California Central Coast, Monterey County, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) ()

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

― John Muir

From the end of the road, west side of Pinnacles

I had an early morning assignment to photograph the setting of flags on Veterans Day at the King City Cemetery, and it was the perfect opportunity to continue on to Pinnacles National Park a short drive from there.

On the Balconies trail

I had struggled with hiking for several years due to arthritis. I didn’t realize how much a bad hip contributed to that struggle until it became literally crippling. Since hip replacement surgery in March, I’ve celebrated every step. Even arthritic knees don’t stop me.

My idea of hiking is really what John Muir called “sauntering.” I stop to rest. I stop to watch birds. I stop for photographs. I look at patterns in the leaf litter or tree bark. I enjoy the experience.

The famed Balconies cave is closed, possibly due to COVID–19. But the trail itself is a five-star joy. First you approach the peaks that shelter the cave, then you enter a shady and quiet oak forest.

Giant boulders decorate the walk, evidence of earthquakes (Pinnacles is on the San Andreas Fault) or glaciers or other momentous upheavals.

It was a popular trail, and not difficult or crowded. Elevation gain was only 100 feet (seemed like more) but the loop couldn’t be completed due to the portion that goes to the cave. Backtracking, however, was still lovely.


One small section had a lot of songbird activity due to a hatch of some type of slow-flying insect. Wrentits, spotted towhees, oak titmice, Bewick’s wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets were all over the mini-swarm, and even my 120mm zoom managed to do justice to the wrentit.

Low clouds gathered and thickened by the end of my 4-hour saunter. That is my favorite type of light. It is wonderful for photography.

Most folks pulled up masks or covered their faces when passing on the trail. Definitely the 2020 Trail Etiquette everywhere. I can’t wait to return in Spring.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Autumn Coastal Birds & Scenery

November 8, 2020 at 7:16 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County) ()

I’ve stayed close to home since my big trip north (which I have still yet to post, my bad!). Here are some autumn birds and scenery in Central Coast California.

Fogbow, Montana de Oro State Park
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Acorn Woodpeckers and Their Granary Tree

October 25, 2020 at 6:36 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Video, Wildlife) ()

Male acorn woodpecker at granary tree

Acorn woodpeckers abound in this part of California, which is known for its oak savannahs. Blue and valley oak are the most common, with valley oak tending to be larger and the blue oaks more likely to grow on hillsides.

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