A Kite, Whales and a Glass Beach

Early this morning, my wife and I visited the Humboldt Bay NWR, just south of Eureka, California.  Once a vast saltwater marsh, the basin was later drained for agriculture and has since been restored for the benefit of resident and migrant water birds; riparian woodlands, cattail marshes, sloughs, lakes and tidal flats characterize the preserve.  During our visit, we were fortunate to observe a white-tailed kite (formerly known as a black-shouldered kite), a beautiful and common resident of the refuge and a new "lifer" for me; we also encountered black phoebes, California quail and a large flock of marbled godwits.

After our visit to the refuge, we headed south on Route 101, climbing along the scenic valley of the Eel River and its South Fork.  We then switched to Route 1, enduring countless hairpin turns as we crossed the Coastal Range.  Emerging along the Pacific Coast, our patience was rewarded with spectacular seascapes all the way to Fort Bragg.  Nearing that city, we turned into MacKerricher State Park, where we walked out to Seal Point and watched harbor seals as they lounged on the sea stacks or cruised the clear waters beneath the overlook.  While observing the seals, my wife noticed "whale spouts" far out to sea; close inspection with my binoculars revealed four humpback whales, identified by the contour of their backs and by their habit of raising their massive flukes as they dove to feed.  Needless to say, the sighting of these magnificent cetaceans was one of the highlights of our road trip to date.

But we could not end our day without visiting the "Glass Beach," in Fort Bragg.  Once used as a city dump site, the beach was reclaimed by the sea which sorted and recycled the debris, leaving smooth pebbles of glass amidst the shells and sand.  Once this beach of glass gained nationwide fame, visitors flocked to the site, walking off with samples of nature's handiwork.  As too often characterizes man's relationship with nature, we first abuse her ecosystems and then take advantage of her restorative powers; alas, the glass of Glass Beach is rapidly disappearing.