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Vulture Beach Drama

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Saturday in Fort Bragg: Just north of the mouth of Pudding Creek, a couple of dozen turkey vultures were hanging out around a low bluff above the beach–sunning themselves, taking off on short flights to check out the local offal, then back for more sunning, and grooming, and occasional dramatic wing spreading and beaking (if “beaking” is what you call it when two birds go beak-to-beak).

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Road Blog: Fort Bragg Xmas Extravaganza

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We drove up to Fort Bragg with a plan of driving someplace in the interior of the county–Montgomery Redwoods State Reserve, near Comptche in the back of beyond, was one candidate. But in the full light of day and looking out at the coast right outside our window, it seemed to make a lot more sense to just hang here. So we went for a long walk up a coastal trail to MacKerricher State Park north of town, then back. The Dog, for one, was delighted. Then we went and had a bowl of clam chowder down by the Noyo River harbor. We started back to town, then Kate remembered a plaque about the local salmon fishery she wanted to show me. The plaque was on the outside wall of a restaurant at the harbor. When we pulled into the parking lot, there was a pickup truck parked there towing a dory festooned with Christmas lights. A woman wearing a Santa hat was standing next to it. “Making your rounds?” I said. “Yeah, I start early,” she said. Then she told me that the boat was decked out for the town’s annual Christmas parade, starring local working vehicles like logging trucks and yes, a few boats. “Seven o’clock. You should come out. It’s a big deal for our little town,” she said, adding that it has been going on for something like 75 years. So after going back to our room, taking a nap, watching part of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game, we walked across the pedestrian trestle from our motel into town and found the parade. The vessel pictured (at the corner of North Main Street and East Redwood Avenue) is the one we saw down by the harbor.

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Road Blog: The Great Whale

Well, I could recount a day spent mostly outside at some of the parks along the Mendocino Coast — Russian Gulch, Point Cabrillo, and Mackerricher. Or I could cut to the chase: the whale we saw just as we were getting to leave the last in the series of parks.

Mackerricher stretches for nearly 10 miles north of Fort Bragg. About three miles north of town there’s Laguna Point, with campgrounds, parking lots, and a long boardwalk out to an area where you can view seals during pupping season (that’s right now).

We got there late in the afternoon and walked out to the western end of the point, where we saw maybe eight seas–a half-dozen dozing on some rocks, a couple more that seemed to be playing. I had my audio recorder with me and and was getting some really vivid shore sounds from these thick-bodied dull-black birds that I’m only slightly embarrassed to say I can’t identify. Got a long piece from a little wren going nuts in some underbrush.

We were ready to find something to eat and were walking back to the car when we both saw a whale spout no more than a couple hundred yards off the north side of the point. We watched, and there were a couple more spouts, and the whale (a gray? a humpback?) seemed to arch its back and go under. We watched some more, and it came back up and repeated the performance, except for a finale it raised its tail — which I’d guess was at least six feet across — and go down again. It repeated the pattern about half a dozen times over half an hour or so.

At one point, we decided to go back out to the boardwalk to see if we could get a better look. On the way out, we passed a family coming in. You naturally assume that they’ve seen what you’ve seen, but I asked as we passed, “Did you see the whale goofing off out there?” No, they hadn’t; in fact, they’d never seen a whale, period. So the mom, dad, and two daughters followed us. It’s also natural to think that once you’ve alerted someone to some wonder of nature, it won’t recur. But within a couple minutes, the whale appeared again, did the tail trick, and dove. We saw it once or twice more before heading back to the car just as a squall blew in across the point.

Conclusion of whale reminiscence.

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