Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino County Coast is a sketcher’s paradise with many interesting buildings, coastal views, and flora and fauna (who doesn’t love sketching coast redwoods?).

I have sketched many buildings in and around Mendocino and there are infinite subjects to sketch in this area.

In Ft. Bragg I walked out to Glass Beach. The rock formations appealed to me and I did a loose brush pen sketch from my folding sketcher’s chair (featured sketch). Sketching these rocks was recording a moment in time because the sea coast is always in a state of flux. Rocks crumble and reform, arcs collapse and the unrelenting tide shape and sculpt the coastline.

There seemed to be more common ravens in Ft. Bragg the I remember before. These very intelligent and adaptable birds have been expanding their range along the coast. As I was sketching I was watching these large corvids (the world’s largest songbirds) foraging among the rocks and seaweed like a black oystercatcher. I even slipped one in on my sketch.

I headed south to the scenic and historic town of Mendocino. Here a had a building in mind that I wanted to sketch. This building was built in 1901 by Portuguese settlers and as it turns out, it is the largest hall in the town of Mendocino. This is Crown Hall.

Crown Hall is on a side street (Ukiah Street) that parallels Main Street. The hall can be rented out for weddings and other events. The building features a kitchen, a bar, and a stage.

The stage is what really attracted me to doing a sketch of Crown Hall. This was a venue used by a legendary Northern California folksinger, Kate Wolf. She preformed at various locations in Mendocino and the last Kate Wolf recording released, Live in Mendocino, features live recordings from concerts in Mendocino County, including a concert at Crown Hall in 1982.

Kate Wolf was born in San Francisco in January 27, 1942. When Kate was 27, she visited Big Sur and heard locals playing music in their living rooms. So inspired, she moved to Sonoma County and stared writing and performing music in local bars.

Kate’s following grew in the 1980’s and she performed all around the Golden State and was even featured on the music show, “Austin City Limits” and on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”. In 1981, Kate released “Closer to You”, which is probably her best album featuring her own compositions. In 1983 she release the live album “Give Yourself to Love”, the title track becoming one of Kate’s most well known songs.

Sadly, Kate Wolf died at the age of 44 on December 10, 1986 after a long battle with leukemia. In her honor, the Kate Wolf Music Festival was held in June of 1996 in Sebastopol. Since 2001 it has been held at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, ca. The three or four day music festival traditionally ends with a cover of “Give Yourself to Love”

I included the first verse and chorus of this song to my sketch.


Van Damme Gray Ghost

Dickcissel and I stayed at Van Damme State Park at campsite #9. Van Damme is just south of the town of Mendocino, right off a lovely sandy cove.

This campground is legendary amongst birders because of one of its feathered residence. This is a bird that is sometimes known as the camp robber or the Gray Ghost. This is a bird that suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere, that is usually quiet, which is unusual for a member of the jay family. This is the southern edge of it’s range in California and as it’s name implies, the Canada jay is a creature of the far north.

Seeing a Canada jay, formerly called the gray jay, is not always guaranteed at Van Damme. While you may never see this sometimes-elusive bird, it certainty sees you. This jay is extremely curious and often bold.

The bird that is usually first encountered at the campground is the bold and raucous Steller’s jay. This is the west’s only crested jay and it is a bird that I have loved since my childhood. The Steller’s jay is often the first visitor when you pull into camp. Like the Canada, this jay is also very curious.


Since childhood, I have always loved this much maligned jay, with a raucous call and it’s bold jayness. The lesson (and some times struggle) is to see the beauty in everything.

As we set up camp we saw and heard Steller’s but there was no sign of the grey ghost. As dusk approached, a young great horned owl called from the forested hillside and an adult responded from across the way. The owls called for most of the night, which along with the ringing of a buey bell just outside of the cove, were the soundtrack of our Van Damme slumbers.

In the morning, as the owl calls slowed to a stop, the first diurnal call that I heard was the acorn woodpecker. This was soon joined by Pacific wren, Dark-eyed junco, American robin, northern flicker, ruby-crowned kinglet, common raven, red-breasted nuthatch, and the ever-present Steller’s jay. I ticked all these bird calls off as I stayed in the warmth of my sleeping bag.

But then I heard a soft call. I call that I had trouble recognizing. As I sorted through the calls in my memory bank, I knew it could only be one bird! The ghost had arrived!

I zipped open my tent and peered out into the morning half-light. There in the tree over the picnic table was a Canada jay! I loudly whispered over to Dickcissel’s tent, “They’re here!”

I threw on my clothes, putting on one sock upside down in the process and stumbled out of my tent. In the tree were a family of four Canada jays, coming in to investigate our camp. Dickcissel and I watched these beautiful corvids as we ate our breakfast.


This gray ghost is getting a little too close to my morning oatmeal! This very inquisitive,  and fearless jay is not called the “camp robber” for nothing!

Doing a little field sketching of the Canada jays of Van Damme State Park. The sketcher is looking a little “gray” himself.

IMG_7314The Canada jay is very much attracted to the presence of humans and are a very intelligent and curious critter! This jay is perched on our food larder at campsite #9.


The Rime of the Ancient Murrelet

On Veteran’s Day Weekend, consisting of a birding and camping adventure with Dickcissel, I had one bird on my wishlist: the ancient murrelet (Synthiloramphus antiquus).

I have been to the Mendocino Coast many times but had not put the effort into a dedicated seawatch to see this small alcid. (I also did not bring the scope required for finding this bird.)

Before heading up to the Mendocino Coast, I did a study sketch of this small alcid (the featured sketch). When I did this sketch, using the Sibley Guide, photos, and Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, it was a way of creating a mental image of this bird; It’s field marks, behavior, and flight. This helped me single out the other birds and find the two toned “flying penguin “. A bird named “ancient” because of the gray feather of it’s head, giving the impression of being really old.

We started our Seawatch on the observation decks at Laguna Point in MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Bragg. It was a beautiful day, clear and calm which makes for great seawatching with the sun at our backs providing great light to see the passing birds on the water. There was a lots of birds moving south, mainly loons and surf scoters that flew close to shore, low across the water.

Now it was just a matter of finding a small gray-backed alcid with white underwings, a light, short bill and a twisting and turning flight pattern. Really there where not too many birds that we could confuse it for.

About 30 minutes into our watch, I got on a two small alcids, heading south. I panned the scope with them and they checked all the boxes! Ancient Murrelet, ABA lifebird #570!

Scoping the Pacific. There was lots of southerly movement at Laguna Point. Mostly loons and surf scoters and the alcid I wanted to see: the ancient murrelet. Does this hat make me look ancient?

We also scoped from the Mendocino Headlands State Park.

A little nature loafing in between seawatches at Mendocino Headlands State Park. We had a glorious day on the Mendocino Coast. From here we spotted a peregrine, loons, black oystercatchers, mergansers, and five snow geese. The latter had never been recorded for this location!