Sounds of Spring

It’s 5:34 a.m., an hour before dawn, and in the Mayacamas mountains above the Valley of the Moon it’s still too dark to see the rocks on the trail. Jacketed against the chill, my three companions are talking quietly as we wait without lights for the sun to rise.

The reason we’re standing in the dark 1,300 feet up in the mountains next to burbling Sonoma Creek is because we’re with Bernie Krause, a globe-trotting Glen Ellen audio specialist who has a passion for capturing the secret sounds of animal life. We’re hoping to hear something special: the dawn chorus, the waking cacophony of wild birds on a spring morning in Sugarloaf State Park after a wet season of much-needed rain.

The Anatomy of Wildfire

Fire: it dances romantically on the tips of candles, casts a flickering warmth from the fireplace. And for an entire week last year, fire also upended the daily lives of millions of people living in California.

It won't be the last time. Fire has been a fixture in California for so long, an amazing 54% of the state’s ecosystems now depend on fire to survive and regenerate. And most of the rest have adapted ways of surviving its regular passage.

What is it, exactly? What sends it rampaging wild? When it’s set loose, what makes it run, and drives its roaring heart? What determines where it will go, and what makes it stop?

Such questions keep fire experts busy, plotting, planning, moving resources. And as the scale of these wildfires grows in intensity, finding the answers is increasingly critical. Because what the fire watchers learn, might just help keep us safe.

Life in the Deeps: Explorers Dive into Cordell Bank National Sancturary

Thirteen years ago, he made history by filming the sunken RMS Titanic where it lay broken on the Atlantic seabed.

Since then, he’s dived in nearly every ocean on the planet. On a good day, he can swim for 24 hours — but at 2 tons, he needs help getting out of the water. His associates call him Hercules.

And this month, the bright yellow, remotely operated diving vehicle was in the Pacific off Sonoma County to explore, for the first time, the deep-water life in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 6 miles west of Bodega

Atmospheric Rivers and the Future of California

It’s been a tough few years for Northern California, disaster-wise. The north state has been hammered in quick succession by catastrophic drought, intense flooding and rampaging wildfires. While it’s reassuring to know such extreme events are historically uncommon, they’re also not simply a result of bad luck.

Scientists have only recently begun to understand that they share a common natural link. They’re all tied to a strange and powerful event that occurs unpredictably in the atmosphere thousands of miles away.

Fire, Fungus and the Wood Wide Web

In the heart of fire-swept Trione-Annadel State Park, blackened columns of Douglas Fir, bare exposed earth, and the ghostly gray limbs of oak, madrone and bay still stand on the steep ridges and rolling hillsides between Oakmont and Bennett Valley.

Amid the devastation, meadows have sprouted with new green grass. But the regeneration of the forest itself hangs, literally, by a delicate thread.

Down in the smoke-scented soil, beneath the dark char and white ash, tiny tendrils known as mycelia, thin as spider silk, are spreading. And their survival is key to the restoration of the woodland giants towering overhead.

Mystery of the North Coast pygmy forests

In the summer of 1956, a small team drove up from Anaheim California and into the Pygmy Forest east of the village of Mendocino. They were on a mission: to bring back specimens of the rare miniature trees that grew there.

With the help of a State Park ranger, Walt Disney’s crew carefully extracted an ancient, gnarled pygmy Bolander Pine, drove home and transplanted it in the new dwarf forest Walt was creating for Snow White in Storybook Land. Where, to everyone’s surprise, it reportedly resuscitated and began to grow towards its full natural height, ten stories tall.

Salmon Homecoming

2 million years ago on the ancient California coastline coho salmon would have found a cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning sleek fish and its young.

And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since.

So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling a hundred thousand, had dwindled to only five.

Dancing With Pesticides

On a sunny warm May afternoon, Andrew Smith drives around the tree lined, well-tended neighborhoods of Sonoma, on the lookout for a lethal ritual. In a green vest, white Sonoma County Department of Agriculture truck and sunglasses, he’s looking for workers spraying pesticides to kill plants, insects and animals. And when he meets maintenance gardeners using pesticides without a license, he tells them they have to stop until they have one.

“It’s a license to kill,” Smith says, without a trace of irony.

Beach Monster - What causes sneaker waves?

Amanda Viola was taking family pictures at a popular Sonoma County beach in February when an unusually large wave surged ashore, swept past four family members and knocked them down, then dragged her 7-year-old daughter out to sea.

They never saw it coming. As her brother and boyfriend struggled in chest-deep water, Viola launched herself into the incoming 12-foot waves in an effort to reach her daughter. In one terrifying moment, they had gone from enjoying a day at the ocean to fighting for their lives in cold violent surf.