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Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Big & Birdie Weekend

The coastline at Mary Dodd Park, San Luis Obispo, CA

So,  only just got back from Washington, and what was next up? Well, of course, another birdie event, featuring two, count them, two lifers! Whooo hooo! Ok, now that I'm done shrieking, let me back up a bit.

Last week, my birder Buddy Don made the tactical error of letting me know he was heading down to Southern California to visit with friends and for some birding. When I found out he was going to be near Carpenteria, I had to throw caution to the winds, begging him to let me tag along. Ah, he never could resist giving in to the nagging whining and boo-hooing of a pathetic birder. Um... for the record, I'm the pathetically begging birder - really, I have no shame.

Our first stop on Friday was the shore line a little county park at Pismo Beach. The beach was hopping, with flocks of Brant, Red-breasted Mergansers, cormorants and Sea Otters splashed and hammered their abalone lunch as we watched. Don even spotted a solitary dolphin swimming by. I'd guess by the dorsal fin it was either a Common or a Bottlenose Dolphin.

On the left, a pair of Sea Otters and a Western Gull
Floatilla of Pelagic geese - Brants

We were off to a good start. Our next stop was only a few miles away,

a cute little park in Arroyo Grande. There was a little one room school house, and other historic bits of yore. There was also, surprise, surprise, a hanging bridge! I only had my first ever hanging bridge experience on Kauai, and I never expected to run across one in my home state.

Don, strolling past the schoolhouse, towards the hanging bridge
Inside the little schoolhouse where well behaved students studied
"I will not spit on the stove" - hum...maybe not so well behaved after all
Enough historical stuff! We were here to see Cassin's Kingbirds. We spotted several at our arrival, but the birds dispursed soon afterward so I didn't get any photos. Rats! However, after crossing the Hanging bridge which swung over a little creek where roosters crowed and lots of native birds hung out, I spotted a weird looking Kingbird that didn't seem quite right. JACKPOT! The Kingbird's thick bill and deeply notched tail ID'd it as a vagrant Tropical Kingbird. Not a lifer for me, but a joy to photograph to my heart's content.

Note the thick bill on this Tropical Kingbird

There were loads of other interesting birds to find at the park. We ended up visiting the park again on our way home. Then we spotted Lincoln's Sparrows, more Allen's Hummingbirds and Don viewed more Cassin's Kingbirds.

              A v. serious Allen's Hummingbird

Our next stop took place in Carpenteria, where a month ago, a highly unusual - and lost - raptor showed up to surprise and delight birders from all over the west coast.  We arrived on the unusually named "Santa Claus Lane" where a month ago, Don saw our target bird. Back then the bird was perched on a fifty-five MPH sign. This time the bird was abscent and my heart sank! No weirdo bird for moi? So we drove to the other side of HWY 101 and yippy skippy!

Big-eyed and beautiful Gray Hawk
Frankly, I could scarcely believe we had found the hawk. It sat on a power line. We parked across from it, viewed the sleepy bird to our heart's content. This grey hawk, being a juvenile, was not grey but was streaked and somewhat reminiscent of a mini-Osprey. I have thrice searched for this species in Arizona and South Texas to no avail. Imagine how bizarre to then find this Mexican species in one's own home state. LIFER 607!

On Saturday we visited Bell Gardens in Los Angeles. I was v. sleepy, having had a ball the previous night. Don arranged for us to be the guests of a high school friend and her spouse, who live in Santa Barbara. More that delightful couple in a bit. Anyway, I was sleepy and a bit cranky when I found myself tromping around a city park where Don kept telling me we could leave if any undesirable types gave us any trouble. The locals all turned out to be frollicking children, old men having a chat and people walking their dogs. I was standing under an enourmous tree when Don shouted, 'there it is!'. I looked up, and there, calling quite loudly for such a dinky bird, was my  Lifer 608 - a Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Showing off that auburn crest
 Now! Back to our hosts in Santa Barbara. Our hosts, Harriet and Allen, are friends of Don. They were gracious enough to not only let him stay with them, but to let him show up on their doorstep with a friend (moi!). Harriet had planned a dinner party for Friday night and had not hesitated to invite us to it. I was awed by her generosity.  Her dinner guests, which included 2 physicists and three birders, were funny, lively and endlessly fascinating. The conversations were scintillating quality and honestly, though I was sleepy by 9PM, I couldn't bare to leave the table to go the heck to bed so when I hit the sack at 1AM, where I slept like a happy baby.       

Don, Harriet and Allen at breakfast at a Cajun Restaurant on Sunday morning. Perfect end to a perfect Santa Barbara weekend.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

I'm posting this YouTube video of what is being called a 'Super Mega-pod' of  Dolphins. The explanations I've read run the gamete from 'they're escaping Navy Sonic booms that can make them go deaf', 'they're running from the Russian Chelyabinsk meteor sonic boom', right up to the expected laments of 'Repent, the end of life is nigh!'

Whatever the reason, the pod contained thousands, if not tens of thousands of racing dolphins in pod that measured seven miles by five miles. I wish the heck I'd been on that boat to view the sight.

Who knows? Maybe prior to fleeing the planet, they're just thanking us for all the fish .

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Time Out for a New Lifer Species

A view towards Olympic National Park
Wednesday I decided to have another at viewing the Thick-billed Murre in Port Angeles. So, for a third... forth? - time this week I took a ferry out of the Seattle area, driving the northwest route to the Ediz Hook Bird Reservation on the tippy top of Washington State.

The harbor view facing Port Angeles where I searched for the Murre

I was rewarded with - far off, but distinguishable - view of the Thick-billed Murre.

Thick-billed Murre

Woe, is me, the photo to the right is not mine and more's the pity. The bird was so far across the harbor I could ID with my spotting scope, but my iPhone's camera seemed to be dead set against digiscoping the bird properly. How I hate missing a chance to photograph my first viewing of one of my lifer species.

Other birds in the area was a HUMONGOUS flock of Long-tailed ducks. I only have ever seen them in California where occasionally one of the ducks winds up. Having never seen more than one Long-tail at a time, seeing a long floatilla of 30-something ducks, even at long distance range was marvelous.

Again, not my photo, as when I visited, ducks were too far off for photos
Other highlights to reward my long drive was a single Red-necked Grebe, lots of Pigeon Guillemots including many juvenile birds which are gray while their parents are studies in black and white. Never having seen juvenile Guillemots before, at first I thought I may have discovered some wildly exotic vagrant. Oh well! Thank heavens I always have an ID book at the ready. There were also Harlequin Ducks for which I always admire. And these photos are mine, mine, all mine!

There were Harlequin Ducks a plenty - like this drake and hen
They don't make any sea ducks more striking than Harlequins
I proudly, OK, somewhat vainly, recorded my Thick-billed Murre sighting with Cornell University's E-bird on the spot. The bird brings my ABA area life list up to 606. Whoo hooo!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Seattle

A view from behind Pikes Market, downtown Seattle
On Monday, as planned I met up with my high school buddy, Diane. We had a lot to catch up and as soon as we saw each other it was chit-chat City. Diane is in Seattle to attend a conference for school psychologists.

Diane in our B&B kitchen

We stayed at an AirBnB townhouse in Seattle and loved it. AirBnB is a new fangled concept in the states, but an old one in Europe. You stay at the home of a private citizen, which in this case was a sweet, generous and kind young couple at a townhouse near downtown Seattle. I'll never forget that wild and crazy floor plan of that townhouse! We were provided a stocked shelf in their fridge, cereals, breakfast bars and such, as well as full use of the kitchen. We fixed ourselves some eggs and toast for breakfast.  

While Diane was off to her conference on Tuesday, I visited the famous & huge, Pikes Market in downtown Seattle. Pikes Market is sort of a 24/7 combination grocery store, farmer's market and mall, that has been a staple of Seattle since 1907. The market has several floors and is built on the side of a hill. I walked and rode elevators all over the place, visiting a dizzying array of shops of every kind.

I first visited the market with Fran Zalkin, back in 1981. The most memorable bit was being stunned by my first viewing of geoducks (pronounced 'gooey-ducks') which resemble a line up at a bathhouse in San Francisco. I am shocked to find there are no longer any geoducks at Pikes. I think they are now too rare expensive for this venue. Happily there are loads of other items to peak one's interest at Pikes.

This view set me hankering for some hot chowder
Turkey eggs! I want turkey eggs at my Farmer's Market!

The view through Pikes Market

I am told, this little piggy, that obviously went to market is called "Rachel". She's the Pikes Market mascot and is made of bronze.  There is an annual event called 'Pigs on Parade' that raises money for a Pikes Market social services charity. She's raised $100K in donations to date.

I observed lots of people sitting astride Rachel, posing for photos. Those are her trotter tracks passing the ground in front of her. Each track is etched with the names of charitable donors & their sentiments.

The labels here are a hoot

Genetically speaking, even the tiles outside the rest rooms were entertaining at Pikes,

I bought lunch at a little shop across from the market. The shop makes its own cheese on the premises. If you don't believe it you have only to look through their store front window, to watch the artisan craftspeople whipping up a batch of cheese, right before your eyes.

A little store front cheese making
Monday night Diane enjoyed her Panna Cotta dessert

Monday night, Diane and I walked to Marjorie, one of numerous restaurants nearby the B&B. Talk about living high on the Rachel... I mean, high on the hog.

We enjoyed a scrumptious din-din including sinfully yummy desserts. Um... we intend to dine in a similar manner for the remainder of the week. How could not give into the local culture ala Fraiser? Today we dined at Anchovies and Olives, enjoying another dining adventure.

What a fun day. As Frasier says, Good Night Seattle!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Twilight Hunting

Werewolf Country
Having watched the first Twilight movie last night, I headed out of the Fork's Motel today, on a photo scavenger hunt. I went forth with a list of spots to hit, that I got from a free, locally available tourist guide.

I stopped by the Fork's Chamber of Commerce, where I found Bella's red pick-up truck parked outside. I noted I was not alone in my scavenger hunt for Twilight fun.

Is that Edward and Bella in the doorway?

Next I stopped to get pics of a downtown shop that probably derives a lot of its income from Twilight.

Love the Northwest Indian artwork over the shop. I took a left turn after passing the shop and headed to Bella Swan & Edward Cullen's high school.  Being Saturday, school wasn't in session so there were no students about.

Forks High School

There wasn't any obvious Twilight stuff - signs, or posters - to be seen. I headed next for the medical clinic where Bella was taken in the first movie, after Edward kept the car from squishing her. It is a real hospital with a real emergency room and I kept clear of it, but searched for something touted in the tourist guide. Bingo! Edward dad, Dr. Cullen's parking space! 

No sooner had I taken the shot, then a Twilight tour van drove up. A single young lady got out and proceeded to take a b'jillion shots of Dr. Cullen's space. I didn't get a pic of it, but at one point she turned to face me, giving me the biggest, happiest, ear to ear grin I think I've ever seen! She was yet another, thrilled to her toes, Twilight fan.

I wasn't the only one checking out the Twilight Sights

I hunted, but I could not for the life of me find the Cullen's home. I was a bit bummed, but I had a bit more luck in finding the Swan residence in a cute little Fork's neighborhood.
The Swan Home
Next on my list was the First Beach. In the movie, Bella and her high school chums hit the beach. She was told the Cullens (vampires all) didn't come to the beach due to a treaty with the local Indian tribe.  The border the Cullen's are not to cross is pretty obvious to all. Hum... wouldn't that have been Bella's first clue there was something weird about Edward?

Back up Vampires!
 First Beach is plenty awesome, even if there weren't any vampires littering up the beach. Took loads of photos but you can see most of the area in this video - not too long.

Yeah, kind of dreamy, eh?  Here's a few more pics from the first beach area.

I need to be in Seattle on Monday so after leaving First Beach, I headed south, with a stop at Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest along the way.

The green patch on the left is an old, lichen covered telephone booth

I took the time to drive up to the Hoh Visitor Center, but I didn't do any hiking there are anything. I did do a bit of birding there though.

Ring-necked Ducks

Nap time for a bunch of Mallards

Lots of brown female Hooded Mergansers, but no drake mergansers
The river along the Hoh Forest
Ended the day in a fairly large Washington town of Aberdeen. So, that was my Vampire adventure. I survived - unmolested by either Vampire or Werewolf.  Whew!

Visit to the Upper Corner of the USA

Strange beings inhabit Washington

Left Anna and her family on Thursday (thank you Ms. Anna!) taking the ferry over to Kingston and on up the coast. Stopped briefly in the little town of Port Gamble. Cute little dutchy by the sea.

The main street in Port Gamble

Birds Unlimited Garden

Further along the coast I stopped  at a tiny little coffee shop where I savored a nice cup of lavender laced coffee with expresso. Yum!

The lavender coffee shop is next to a Birds Unlimited shop. I did a bit of shopping there for a trinket or two... must support my birding buddies.

Little Down Woodpecker

I took a quick tour of the Birding Unlimited garden where fluttered little Chestnut-backed Chickadees and numerous Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

One of my stops along the way was at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. You have to hike more than a mile to get to see anything so I only hung around the little Visitor Kiosk for a bit. 

Nature display at the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge
Eventually I made it to the tiny town of Port Angeles, where I heard there was a Thick-billed Murre that was seen in the Ediz Hook spit. Though I set up my spotting scope, looking long & hard into the harbor, there were loads of birds, but no Thick-billed Murre was to be found.

A Harlequin Ducks male chatters with his buddies.
These Harlequins did a little sunbathing near the shore
Lost of Sanderlings in their pale winter feathers were all over the shoreline
There were a few Dunlin scattered among the Sanderlings

I spent the night in Port Arthur, and the next morning, bright and early I headed even further northwest. I stopped to bird a bit along the way, seeing at least ten or so Bald Eagles that littered the coastline.

The skies were overcast, but there was a lot of sky! I stopped at a bit of coast called the Whale trail, but saw no whales.  I did see some lovely White-winged Scoters, which are a cool pelagic duck.

Oooo... I wish this male & female had been a bit closer to shore

Finally I made my way up to Neah Bay, to visit the Makah Museum. The Makah have occupied Neah Bay for thousands of years, where they always existed as a fishing and whaling tribe. They lived in cedar long houses along the coast right into the last century. In the 1970s erosion exposed most of a Makah village that was once covered over during a mudslide. Volunteers and the Makah peoples themselves, dug out the village and now their findings are all on display in the Makah Museum.

Fifteen Foot Guardians on the Museum grounds
The Museum was impressive; items, such as canoes, wooden cedar boxes and woven materials such as blankets and baskets were in excellent shape. Unfortunately the msuem doesn't allow photography so I had to settle for a few exterior shots. 

The Makah Museum
I spent a good deal of my time at the museum having a chat with a really nice guy who it turns out was precisely the same age as myself. He was born in Leah Bay and told me all about its history and how the museum came to be. Sadly, the economic times hit Leah Bay hard, and the unemployment rate there is at a whopping, and nearly unbelieveable 70%. The kids who graduate high school have no choice but to leave their home town. Really sad, because the town itself is rather pretty and certainly chock full of history and culture. Hope things improve there so the future of the Makah tribe remains in its homeland.

After I toured the museum I headed south to the little town of Forks. Forks is nowadays best known, not for its being close to Olympic National Park. It's current fame is because it is the setting for the Twilight trilogy. Now, I'm not a big Twilight fan. I saw all the movies, but frankly, I like my fantasy to take place at Hogwarts. However, I do have buds who love the whole Twilight fantasy world , by whom I mean you Joann, and you Mommy Nancy!).

Well, I settled into the adorable little Forks Motel at the day's end, and flipped on the TV. GAK! Well, talk about your magical coincidence, ABC Family happened to show the first Twilight movie! You could have knocked me over with a werewolf's whiskers, I tell you, I was shocked! I didn't even miss the opening of the movie, so I settled down and watched the whole thing; Ms. moody teen Bella and her sparkly boy toy Cedrick Digory... I mean, Edward Cullen.  Wasn't thrilled with the movie this time either, but I sure enjoyed looking for bits of the Forks area where it was filmed. Cool.
See? I kid you not, I got to watch Twilight while in Forks Washington I tell yah!
I was so excited I wrote Joann, who requested I bring back the broomstick of the wicked witch of the West - uh... no, wait, I'm confusing my fantasies. She asked me to take pictures of the Twilight spots as seen in the movie, such as the First Beach and such. Ordinarily it wouldn't have interested me to do so, but honestly, now I'm quite excited by the prospect. Tomorrow is going to be a Twilight Scavenger Hunt. Wicked!