Mallards are hard to beat for grace and beauty. The drake’s dark-blue head shines iridescent green in the light, hence the nickname “greenhead.” Photo by Steven T. Callan

Greenheads and Muddy Sneakers

Mallards are hard to beat for grace and beauty. The drake’s dark-blue head shines iridescent green in the light, hence the nickname “greenhead.” Photo by Steven T. Callan

Mallards are hard to beat for grace and beauty. The drake’s dark-blue head shines iridescent green in the light, hence the nickname “greenhead.” All photos by author

“Dad, can I go with you?” I pleaded. “There’s no school tomorrow.” I enjoyed riding on patrol, weekends and sometimes after school—whenever I didn’t have baseball or basketball practice. Soon after moving to Northern California, I’d been given a copy of Francis Kortright’s classic, The Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, and had become fascinated with waterfowl—so much so that at age fourteen I could identify just about every duck and goose in the Pacific Flyway.

—From The Game Warden’s Son

Author Steven T. Callan at the helm of the Fish and Game patrol boat Marlin, 1959.

A Trip to the Islands

Author Steven T. Callan at the helm of the Fish and Game patrol boat Marlin, 1959.

Taking my turn at the helm of the Fish and Game patrol boat Marlin, 1959. Photo by Wallace Callan

I first experienced California’s Channel Islands in 1959, as an excited eleven-year-old passenger aboard the Fish and Game patrol boat Marlin. My father, California Fish and Game Warden Wally Callan, was the Marlin’s rookie boarding officer, responsible for patrolling California’s offshore waters from the Mexican border to Point Conception.

An adult chuckwalla sunning itself at Joshua Tree National Park. Once exploited for the pet trade, native reptiles, like the chuckwalla, may no longer be sold in California.

Our Friends the Reptiles

An adult chuckwalla sunning itself at Joshua Tree National Park. Once exploited for the pet trade, native reptiles, like the chuckwalla, may no longer be sold in California.

An adult chuckwalla sunning itself at Joshua Tree National Park. Once exploited for the pet trade, native reptiles, like the chuckwalla, may no longer be sold in California. Photo by author

“I’m waiting,” taunted Darrell, his threatening mug now two inches from my face. My stomach churned and my heart pounded furiously as adrenaline coursed through my body. I had painted myself into a corner. The question crossed my mind: Was I willing to get beaten up trying to protect a lizard? While Darrell and Randy laughed at me, I remembered something my father had said. Never start a fight, but the best way to end one is to hit the other kid in the nose as hard as you can. . . .

—From The Game Warden’s Son

Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of Redwood National and State Parks

Poaching in the Parks

Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

A stately bull elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo by Kathy Callan

The recent killing of Hwange National Park’s beloved icon, Cecil the Lion, has brought to mind a number of outrageous poaching incidents that occurred right here in California—all of them inside national parks, state parks, or wildlife refuges.

Author Steven T. Callan with one of three orphaned black bear cubs, circa 1981

Those Wonderful Wildlife Caregivers

Author Steven T. Callan with one of three orphaned black bear cubs, circa 1981

Author with one of three orphaned black bear cubs, circa 1981. Photo courtesy of author

One of the more disheartening, sometimes discouraging, aspects of a wildlife officer’s job is dealing with injured, orphaned, or imprinted wildlife that cannot be released back into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitation facilities, most of them operated by dedicated volunteers, are generally equipped to care for birds and small mammals, but not for large potentially dangerous carnivores such as bears, mountain lions, and exotic big cats.

Rock formation at Joshua Tree National Park

A Jewel in the Desert

Rock formation at Joshua Tree National Park

One of the many incredible rock formations within Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by author

In late April, before summer set in, Kathy and I decided to spend a few days in the land of blistering sands and sharp thorns. I had worked in the California desert during my early years with the California Department of Fish and Game and remain captivated by the incredible diversity of plants and animals that flourish in this seemingly barren landscape.