Fish and Wildlife

The view of Hearst Castle from Highway 1. Photo by author Steven T. Callan.

In the Shadow of the Castle

The view of Hearst Castle from Highway 1. Photo by author Steven T. Callan.

I tried to find the most interesting view of Hearst Castle from Highway 1. The huge rock on the left made the difference. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Kathy and I have always been fond of California’s Central Coast. We try to make the trip down Highway 1, from Monterey to Morro Bay, at least once every year. Weather permitting, we do it during late winter, when most of the tourists are away and the gargantuan beachmaster elephant seals are rumbling up and down the shore, chasing would-be suitors from their harems.

A Gulf fritillary rests on a Zinnia in the garden of author Steven T. Callan.

An Island of Our Own

A Gulf fritillary rests on a Zinnia in the garden of author Steven T. Callan.

Annuals, like Zinnia, attract several species of butterflies to the island, including tiger swallowtails, monarchs, pipevine swallowtails, buckeyes, painted ladies, and this gorgeous Gulf fritillary. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Over the years, Kathy and I have often dreamed of escaping today’s fast-paced, hectic world and moving to an island of our own—an island of trees, flowers, and abundant wildlife, where we could experience the joys of nature without leaving the confines of our own property. Realizing that buying an island wasn’t a realistic option, we decided to do the next best thing and create one on our three-acre patch of oak woodland in the foothills of Northern California.

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Our Splendid Night Visitors

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by author.

On most winter evenings, Kathy and I hike to the hilltop near our home in the oak woodlands of Northern California. We usually leave about 4:00, and if we don’t stop to talk to anyone or get sidetracked, return to the house before the sun goes down. One quiet evening late last December, we heard the whistling of wingbeats overhead as we walked up the driveway at the end of our one-mile trek.

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Saving a Place for Wildlife

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by author.

Late in November 1959, I was an eleven-year-old boy riding in the back seat of our family car as my father drove us north of Sacramento for the first time. I remember looking out the window and marveling at flocks of flying waterfowl and a vast landscape of wetlands, rice fields, grain fields, and open space—all the way to what was to be our new home in the tiny farming community of Orland. Today, as I drive north from Sacramento, I see miles and miles of orchards where not so much as a blade of grass is allowed to grow.

In six months, our tiny spotted fawn grew into a magnificent pre-adult buck, almost as large as his mother.

Our Deer Friends

Fawn looking up at doe. During the spotted-fawn stage, doe and fawn were almost inseparable, except when the fawn was hidden in the high grass. All photos by Steven T. Callan and Kathy Callan.

Fawn looking up at doe. During the spotted-fawn stage, doe and fawn were almost inseparable, except when the fawn was hidden in the high grass. All photos by Steve and Kathy Callan.

During the thirty-plus years Kathy and I have lived in the foothills east of Redding, we’ve been treated to occasional visits from black-tailed deer. They generally don’t stay long—a day or two—then they move on. Sometimes they’ll pay us a visit at night while we’re sleeping. The next morning, a trail of partially eaten plants tells the tale.

Pintails mingle with white-fronted geese at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

The Most Beautiful Duck in North America

Pintails mingle with white-fronted geese at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Pintails mingle with white-fronted geese at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. All photos by author.

Ask any waterfowl enthusiast to name the most beautiful duck in North America, and he or she will most likely point to the brilliant, multicolored, drake wood duck (Aix sponsa). Others might claim that the iridescent green head of a drake mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is hard to beat. For me, the graceful pose of a drake pintail (Anas acuta), with its long, slender neck and chocolate-brown head, places this species at the top of the list.

Entrance to Cave Creek Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains. All photos by Steven T. Callan.

In Search of the Elegant Trogon

Entrance to Cave Creek Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains. All photos by Steven T. Callan.

Entrance to Cave Creek Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains. All photos by author.

I’ve always been fascinated with birds, but I really became hooked on bird-watching, or birding, as it’s often called, during the mid-seventies when I was a rookie Fish and Game warden down on the Colorado River. Warden Bill Peters and I were patrolling the river south of Earp, California, when we spotted a large bird off in the distance.  “That’s a peregrine,” said Peters, focusing his binoculars on the fast-flying raptor.  “Looks like a female.”

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

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.

Waterfowl at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

For the Love of Ducks

Waterfowl at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Waterfowl taking flight at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Photo by author.

With the north wind blowing off snow-covered Mount Shasta, it was brutally cold that December afternoon in 1960. Sitting in the back seat of our family car, I spotted an enormous flock of snow-white birds feeding in the grain field on the west side of the highway.