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Monday, December 22, 2014

Days of Comets and Bobcats

The very-nearly-a-miracle of the double Rainbow
Have practically been living in Watsonville for since mid-November. I am in the hills, below which berry farms and apple orchards dwell. I am here because my buddy Barbara had back surgery and I am her nurse, bandage changer, and dog care professional. Miraculously, we find ourselves co-existed for longer than any time since we were housemates back in the '70s, when hippies ruled the earth.

Now, add to the above, Barbara's son Eric, his girlfriend Alicia & Alicia's twee daughter have also been in temporary residence since Thanksgiving week. Miraculously we are all thriving in a 800 square foot, one room house like it is the 1800s and Pa is out plowing the back forty. Barbara sleeps on her modern & newfangled Murphy bed, I sleep on a comfy, cushioned massage table that imagines itself a twin bed, and the rest of the gang sleep on pillows and comforters on the floor.

Oh, and I must point out during Thanksgiving week, we had no toilet. On the bright side, Eric's girlfriend Alicia became my night time 'Pee-Buddy' as we trekked together on star lit nights, into the wilderness, learning anew to acquaint ourselves with the beauty of Orion.

Oh! On our way back from a a shopping expedition for plumbing tools one night, Eric and I saw a HUMONGOUS green meteorite, crash through the atmosphere. The meteor was amazing!It gave one the feeling that some delightful deity was watching over us all, giving us a sly wink as if to say, "My stars, but you guys and your under-functioning toilet are keeping all of us up here in stitches."

*HARUMPH*. I reckon it was all fun & games for some.

The toilet, or rather, surviving the lack thereof, wasn't our only miracle. In November we had also survived 'the miracle of the torrential rains'. Post-deluge we viewed the miraculous double rainbow - the one shown at the top of the post - just outside Barb's front door.

But there was another miracle that kept me enthralled. Again, Barb's current home is on a tiny plateau, quite in the boondocks, and just opposite her house is a hillside with donkeys, cows, and the odd flock of wild turkeys or deer and a prowling bobcat. Now, if your breath didn't catch in your throat at the thought of seeing a Bobcat from a window, of the place you slept in the previous night, you are taking life too much for granted. Me? I've been as overly excited about this wild cat, as is Alicia's little daughter at cookie-time. A Bobcat - *awe & wonder*

The first time the cat showed up was a month or so ago. Barbara was tending her garden, and looking up, to see the cat peering back at her, from just a hundred feet away. They stared at each other until one grew bored and left; not sure if the bored one was Barb or the cat. Anyway, since then, the Bobcat no longer comes that close to the house, but it still roams the nearby hillside. The cat was out yesterday, but I was too slow to get a photo. Today it lurked closer, just on the opposite slope where I sat, camera at the ready.

It seems to me to be an older kitty, no spring chicken so to speak. It was pensive, standing and watching things that seemed edible in the grass. It often just sat in the shade, enjoying the scenery like the rest of us.

I wish the kitty would bring over a friend or two with it - perhaps a Mountain Lion, or am I being too ambitious or greedy?

Here's a photo taken at 100mm (other photos are at 400mm) to show how far away the sitting Bob-kitty was. It's in the photo, as ratted out by the yellow arrow.

I hope at some point to have my spotting scope and iPhone ready for some really good photos and hopefully some video of the big kitty.

Eventually the cat left and while hopefully awaiting its return, I got this lovely shot below. It is one of a pair of Lincoln's Sparrows that Barb has one of her 30 something yard-bird species. Lincoln Sparrows. For me, it's an exciting species, however often I luck out and see one. When I think of them nesting nearby in the spring I go positively giddy with happiness. 

The duller in color of Barb's two Lincoln Sparrow neighbors

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Full Karenina

Haven't posted much on theater lately, but there has been some theater going on my part. A new friend of mine, Melanie, got a part in a new production of Anna Karenina. To encourage her, last month, some friends and I got together last night to watch her toy with Tolstoy.
Now everyone knows, Anna Karenina is a total tome, which I haven't read, but I've seen the movie... you shut up! You haven't read every great novel either. Where was I? Oh, yes, I've been told Karenina's devilishly difficult to put into production because it has more characters than your comrade Russian mutt has fleas. So the production challenge is to cull characters without killing the story. This production managed that Volga boatman heavy task, getting all the right stuff on stage, and in a v. clever fashion. Example; I remember, from a recent movie production, Anna's forbidden lover rode in a fateful horse race, essential to the story line. Now really; no one expects a horse race in a stage play and neigh-ther did I. Yet, surprisingly, there was a horse race in this production. No horses, and surely no pantomime horses, yet, I swear to you, unless some audience members wore blinders, I swear, we all saw the full field of horses foaming as they raced around the track in our brains. I kid you not - talk about your clever production values. In all, it was a great little play; surprising, touching bits of emotion and yes, for me it also had that oh-so-necessary ingredient: humor.
Melanie on the Marquee

After the play we hit the Spanish restaurant, Tapa the World for some midnight dining with Melanie. She filled us in on the horrors and joys of producing such a sterling stage production. Bravo y'all. Bravo. Oh, and did I mention, Melanie was not surprisingly funny, and clever in the play. A double Bravo to Melanie!

That brings me to this yesterday. Mommy Nancy and I trekked down to her sister's house in Monterey. I haven't seen Nancy's sister Julie in ages, and it's been quite a while longer since I saw her now grown up daughter Claire, but that's another story for another day. We were delightfully HQ'd at Julies' Christmas packed home, and Saturday night we attended The Full Monty at the Golden Bough Playhouse.

Early on, both Nancy and I were only medium-enthralled with the musical. That was, until the bit where the bashful men auditioned - within the play - for roles in a male stripper act. When the character Noah tried out for a spot on the strip-team he really totally pumped up the energy levels on stage. The entire play was viagra'd (is that too rude a metaphor, she asked, as if it being so would stop her using the reference?) the production up to a b'jillion degrees of fun and happily the remainder of musical remained at that level for the rest of the night. My word, where is my desk fan? 

The Full Monty; show stopper Noah (played by uh... a nice man) is second from the left).
Oh, and least I forget, my other favorite in the show was Jeannette (played by uh... a lady), who played piano for the guy's rehearsals. She had a bag-full-of-gravel voice, and lungs full of smoke & sass, but fun ruled whenever she was on stage. I found this bit of her kickn' up her ancient stage aged heels on youTube. Yeah, she has a point; things could be better round here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Rustic Birding for Rustic Bunting

Birders before beholding Bunting birdie
Not long after I got back from my Peruvian vacation, I headed down to Watsonville. There I spent two weeks with my bud Barbara, who is recovering from recent back surgery. Meanwhile, a 'code 3' - e.g. 'holy crap!' - rarity, vagrant bird, a Rustic Bunting, settled into San Francisco. Rustic Buntings are yet another Eurasian bird that flew right when it ought to have flown left, ending up in California. Now I happened to have gone home to tend to a few things and I decided to bring Barb & her boxer dog Chori, home with me. Hey, that was easier than leaving in a helpless pile in Watsonville. So abandonging the pair in the comfort of my house, I raced off on a day trip to the Bay Area, where I met up with birder buddy Don. We headed for Golden Gate Park, where the little sparrow-like bird was holed up in the company of juncos (juncos are tiny birds, not derelicts). 

Seconds after arriving I found a parking spot across the street from Bunting land - praise the saints of parking spots. We no sooner crossed the street when the bird in question flew up out of the shrubbery, giving us a quick but memorable view. HURRAH! We high fived and congratulated ourselves for at the very least, having had our binoculars at the ready. We spent the next hour or so chatting with other birders who like us, had traveled from the four directions to see the treat of a bird. There was also a lot of explaining WTF to passersby, who wanted to know why there were so many people with binoculars, scopes and cameras loitering about the meadow.

Later we got a second longer look at the bird, as it scampered about a brush pile, giving everyone present long satisfying looks. Ugh! If only I hadn't accidentally left my camera down in Watsonville. Again, Hurrah for a lifer bird for both Don and myself .

The juvenile Rustic Bunting: Photo by Aaron Maizlich

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Clay for the Birdies & Adios Peru

Dawn on the Rio Madre Dios
Yesterday morning, Ingrid and I got up at the comatose hour of 3:15 AM. At such a dark hour, even the jungle birds weren't yet awake, and for that matter, neither were we. We met up with our guide and the other participants at 4AM (which means we were there at 4AM and the others got there in Peru time, which I guess was around 4:30).  Soon we were sailing along the Rio Madre Dios, to find and watch wild parrots. The parrots eat clay on the river shores to get their vitamins and minerals.
The two species of parrot, crawling on the bank, wolfing down bits of clay
While the birds busied themselves eating clay, those of us on the boat - OK, that would be me - were busy using charts to identify the parrots.

The parrots get all their sodium from the clay lick
I took lots of photos, but when I tried to view the pictures on my camera, I went into shock - the LCD lens was internally cracked! It looked fine, but turned on you could see inner layer of it was shattered. I hadn't dropped it or exposed it to extreme temperatures so how or why it was broken is a mystery I'll never solve. Oh well, at least it was still taking photos.

Now. Why do parrots lick clay for heaven's sakes? Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Where else are they to find their necessary sodium? There aren't any salt shakers in the jungle.
  • The clay is believed to act as a filter, removing toxins from the jungle plants the parrots eat.
  • The clay banks may also act as a singles bar for lonely parrots to meet up with likely mates (Hum... so do ugly parrots stay in their Madre's nest playing video games?)
Here are a couple of close up shots.

Blue-headed Parrots
Dusky-headed Parrots
The parrots were only a bit of the birds we saw. When we first approached the river shore, I was happy to see a hawk. I heard a guide refer to it as an eagle, but post-vacation I ID'd the bird as a Roadside Hawk, which is a strange name for a species. The species is found in South Texas but only by super lucky birders. I wonder if I'll ever be add this species to my ABA birding list?

Serious looking Roadside Hawk
I also saw a Spotted Sandpiper, which though thrilling to see in such an exotic spot, is a bird I can see on the American River not far from my house. There were also some tanagers and Kisskadees to be seen.

Exchanging heartfelt goodbyes with Lucy, the best piggy since Wilbur

After our early morning river cruise, we returned to the camp for breakfast. Later in the day we took a boat ride back to Puerto Maldonadas, which allowed me to repeat the 'how to cross tiny boat bows and not fall into the possibly pirahna infested river' adventures. Happily I made it back up to the shore, without any of my wild fears coming true.

We made our way back to the airport and boarded a small jet - together this time - flying to Cusco, and then on to Lima. We spent our last night in Lima at the now familiar, Friend's Hotel. My last night in Peru was spent shopping for a few things downtown and enjoying a lovely dinner at a  modern restaurant, i.e., no Cuy was on the menu. Then in this morning I flew the 8 hour flight north to Los Angeles where I missed my flight to Sacramento and had to fly home the following morning after a night in a dreadful hotel near the airport. Hum... did I tell you at the onset of this entire trip, I had completely missed my flight from Sacramento to Peru on October 6th, and had to do some last second arrangements to get to Peru on October 7th? No? Ha! Not surprised, as that would be all too embarrassing to reveal to anyone, much less you. I mean, one must keep some things private.

Adios Peru!

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Stinky Bird and a Cabin Guest

When  Have enjoyed the past couple of days at Yakari Eco Lodge. The personnel are friendly and informative and the other travelers are interesting and funny. There are a few Americans and loads of Australians here. Three of them are here to have a session with a local Shaman. WISH I could be there to see that little get together!

Today again I stayed in camp and went birding while Ingrid went on a boat ride/hike to Lago Sandoval. There Ingrid and the others rode around in Kayaks. Why did I skip that interesting adventure: because I am a child not of the tropical forest of my forebearers. Nope, I have been so overheated and low energy in the forest that walking 100 feet seems like running a marathon. I don't know if I'm experiencing post-altitude sickness let down, or I'm just wilting in the heat. Oh well. At least I saw some more cool birds.
Lesser Kiskadee
Silver-beaked Tanager
These tanagers look like they're made of velvet
 I am not the least bit certain I got the identification correct on one drab gray bird, I hope I got the ID correct. 
Drab Water Tyrant, or so I hope...
South end of Blue-gray Tanager
There were some lovely lepidoptera for all to gawk at.Today at breakfast I spotted a lovely black butterfly with irridescent stripes. I leapt up from the breakfast table to chased the creature to a spot where I took the photo below.
A deceptive Uranus Moth
This very lepidoptera species got Ingrid into a good nature'd argument with one of the camp guides. Astoundingly Ingrid lost the argument, which surprised the hell out of both of us. Why? See that pretty insect I mentioned earlier on the left? If you agree it is a  'really pretty butterfly' you would be wrong too! That gorgeous, winged beauty is a freakn' moth! Yes! Rain forest moths are deceptively pretty enough to even fool the experienced eye of Ingrid. Wow. That's enough to make me wonder if any of the birds I saw this week are actually bats in disguise?
Here is a nice little critter that was kind enough to not be a confusing moth. It was waiting for me outside when I left the cabin today. Wish it had brought along some of its buddies.

Erotia Sister

When Ingrid got back from her Lago Sandival adventure I was so envious! While there she saw and  and photographed three... count 'em, three Hoatzins! Hoatzins are pheasant sized birds that as chicks have claws on their wings, but of far more interest, as adults... not to put too fine a point on it, they stink like poo and check out the blue face tattoo. Quite strange, aren't they?

Adult Hoatzin

When nightfall hit, Ingrid went for an Entomologist's hike with the same Biologist I had a chat with yesterday. The biologist was named Boris, and he pulled several trantulas out of the ground for the entertainment of Ingrid. She said they saw lots of great insects and even more bats.

Now, when she got back from her night hike, I was already in my bed, mosquito net down and I was nearly out for the night. "CLAIRE! Come see who's eating the apple!" Ingrid shouted. I leapt up so excited I could barely get out from under the mosquito netting. There, was Ingrid, her flashlight pointed at the apple-eating culprit on our little table.

A Possum! The little rascal had beady eyes like a hamster and he was gnawing away at the apple, totally ignoring the two happy humans that stood only a couple of feet from him. NOM, NOM, NOM, NOM, NOM! He was tearing up that apple, peels flying everywhere! If you examine Ingrid's photo carefully, you'll understand why I refer to our little friend as 'he'.

Little wild Possum, chowing down on Ingrid's apple

He chomped down on that apple for a couple of minutes while I cursed myself for having no clue where, in the pitch dark room, I'd left my camera. Then suddenly the little guy noticed us, scampering off the table, up the wall board and disappearing into woodwork above the window netting.

Wow! I mean, we were floored by our v. cool room mate. Ingrid was careful to leave the apple on a window ledge. I hope he enjoyed a great midnight snack. 

Post trip Possum Update:  After I got home I checked and our visitor was some species of Mouse Possum. Ingrid tried to get a better ID for him, as to which species of Mouse Possum he was but wiser heads than ours said they'd need a specimen in hand to ID him correctly. Oh well, knowing he is a Mouse Possum is exciting enough as it is.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Into the Woods... er, the Jungle!

My 'ride' down to Puerto Maldanado
On Sunday, Ingrid and I headed off to Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport for our separate flights to Puerto Maldonado, Peru. It was a short, hour long flight and I arrived first. After gathering up my luggage I sat just outside the terminal, marveling at the sweltering heat and wondering why I hadn't just burst into flames as yet.
Cardinal a the airport terminal
Ingrid's flight was due an hour later. The time arrived and left, no Ingrid. Hum... no doubt the airline ran on Peruvian time. Another hour came and went, no Ingrid. So, obviously her jet had careened into a jungle haven ruled by dinosaurs and she was being eaten by a T-rex.When her jet finally arrived I was composing a letter to her daughters, expressing my deepest sympathies. Happily reunited, we had next to decide where the heck we were going. As we thought about what we would do this week, were were rapidly surrounded, not by the piranhas of my nightmares, but something nearly the same; hoards of taxi drivers who offered us cheaper rides into town than the taxi drivers next to them. There were also hawkers of jungle adventure tours. Ingrid & I scrutinized the pamphlet of a likely adventure venue, and soon were sight seeing as our a taxi whisked off to the adventure HQ in downtown Puerto Maldonado.

For $200 American dollars we signed up for three days and four nights of room and board in the Peruvian Rain forest jungle. There we can pick and choose from a number of outdoor adventures offered daily. We were pretty pleased with our decision for the week, and our first task was getting to the our adventure spot. So, along with another couple of travelers, an Aussie and his Peruvian sweetheart, the adventure hosts stuffed us into taxis and drove us the three miles to the river's edge. There we were in view of the Puerto Maldonado bridge, over which cars and trucks traveled high overhead. A few hundred feet below we could see river boats, and I could see I was never going to be able to get down the hill with my luggage and without broken ankles. As I secretly pondered the sturdiness or lack thereof of my ankles, one of the adventure guides picked up my two travel bags and marched downhill at a rapid pace. Relieved, I followed him, and Ingrid to the first of our week's adventures - 'crossing a chunk of log crossing over a steep ravine adventure'. 

Ingrid crossing the log bark footbridge
While Ingrid marched ahead, I pondered the bridge's ability to sustain my weight. Finally I decided what the hell, if the bark broke and I plunged down the ravine, I wouldn't have to be bothered getting down the 'dusty 'Slippery Steep Slope Adventure'. 

Ingrid and fellow travelers trotting down the 'Slippery Steep Slope Adventure'
followed by the 'Plank Over the Mud Adventure'
I took my sweet time descending the Slope, stepping sideways like a giant crab until I reached bottom. Then I crossed the plank and finally stepped on board the boat, only to discover the boat was not our transportation. The boat was someone's home. We crossed through their on-board, open air living room (judging by a man, asleep on the deck's hammock). The fellow who had my luggage, was now on a narrow little boat which I could get to easily - in his view - by crossing over two other narrow little boat bows. That was the 'Don't Fall into the Piranha Infested River as You Step from Boat to Boat to Boat Adventure'.

Soon we were seated in the narrow boat, sailing east along the Madre de Dios River.
Boating the Madre de Dios River
The ride was exciting and the river was wild, wide and exotic looking. Soon we arrived at our destination, Yakari Eco Lodge. There we abandoned ship and tackled the 'Rickety, Slanted, Unstable Steep Stairs Up From the Riverbank Adventure'.

Yakari Eco Lodge river landing
The site was wonderful! The first thing that caught my eye was a little Javalina pig, that greeted everyone like a happy puppy. I found out her name is Lucy, and she is the camp pet, and she is 8 months old. 
Little Lucy, the White-collared Peccary by the dining hall porch
There was a large thatched dining room with a cute patio where we had lunch & dinner with our fellow travelers. The meals were semi-formal, with 'local' & regular foods served to us in courses. And Ingrid and I had our own cabin, which was elevated above the jungle floor and had screens instead of windows. Our beds were equipped with mosquito nets.
We had electricity for several hours a day for charging up our devises
Ingrid, in our room, resting up from her last Jungle Adventure
During lunch we were told the adventure of the afternoon was to take a boat ride, then take a 2 kilometer hike to 'Monkey Island' where everyone would be provided with tidbits to feed wild monkeys that take food from one's hands, and have a go at relieving tourists of their cameras, etc.
Believe it or not, I took a pass on the tour. Instead I stayed behind to do some birding around the grounds.

I gathered up my little traveling chair, my camera and binocs and headed out. First thing I noticed was high up there were lots of hanging nests. 

Hanging nests
It wasn't long before I spotted several of the large birds that built the hanging nests - Orpendolas. There are many kinds of Orpendolas and I think I figured out which one I was seeing.
One of the nest builders - a Russet-backed Orpendola birds
Some of the birds found me instead of the other way around.
Squawking Orange-backed Troupial
And believe me, I had to look up every one of them in my new Birds of Peru guidebook.
Green and White Hummingbird
Here's the kicker; I did not go birding alone. Nope! Little Lucy, the pet camp White-collared Peccary/Javalina, followed me around like a loyal dog. Whenever I sat, she would lean against my legs, begging for scratches. She would then plop onto her side, legs up, imploring me to rub her fat tummy. OK. I fell in love with the pig. I swear, I am going to stuff her in my suitcase and smuggle her back to Fair Oaks. 

At one point I was sitting, waiting for some cardinals to return to a post, when I saw something walk out of the jungle foliage. I was thrilled to see a Brown Agouti, an oversized rodent, the size of a pekinese dog. 
The Brown Agouti that trotted out of the Jungle
The Agouti saw me, no doubt, but I was far enough off it sat on its haunches, quite relaxed. It stayed until a camp dog - a buddy of Lucy's - spotted it and chased it away. I wanted to murder the stupid dog! 
The wren-like, Pale-legged Hornero (oven bird)
When the heat got to me, I decided to head back to my cabin and was excited to hear of Ingrid's Monkey Island Adventure when she returned. 

Not long after sunset, both Ingrid and I went along on the last adventure of the day, an after dark cruise on the river, to look for wild Caiman, a relative of the alligator.
A Caiman in the spotlight
We spotted several Caiman, some in the river near the shore, and others, like the one above, on land. We were all impressed with our guide's ability to shine lights and miraculously spot the eyeshine of the foot to two foot long Caimans. Really enjoyed the night time cruise and I even got in some bird viewing, a roost of egrets piled in a tree. By the time we got back to our cabin I was totally ready to sink into bed, pull down the mosquito netting and get some shut eye. 

And for no good reason other than it thrills me, here is a little clip of my view over the Peruvian Rainforest.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Muy Cuy!

The Cusco Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas
Not bad for a drive by photo, eh?
On Friday, mid-afternoon, Ingrid joined me in Cusco. We chatted, catching up on our individual adventures and then Ingrid asked if I was ready to enjoy my first meal of  'Cuy', pronounced 'Coo-ee'. I was game, so we headed out and caught a taxi.

Driver's view of narrow streets of old Cusco
Our taxi ride, which cost cinco Soles, took us past the Cathedral Basilika of the Assumption of the Virgin, located in the Plaza de Armas. Ingrid pointed out the Cathedral was built on the ancient foundation of old Incan palace. Interestingly, the foundation is far more stable than the Spanish built Cathedral, as the Incans were superlative builders. I am fascinated by the many narrow cobbled Cusco streets, that are lined with shops and art galleries.

Before long our driver was pointing out the cute little restaurant where we were to have genuine Cuy for dinner.
Ingrid headed for the 'Pachapapa'
Inside the doorway was a small room with displays of jewelry and beyond that was a door to the restaurant, an open air seating area, with two very large open air ovens.

The Patio with a view of the two stone ovens in the distance
Once we were seated we perused the menu before both ordering a Cuy. Then our very friendly waiter told us we would have to wait a full hour for our oven roasted Cuy. Our orders in, he brought us some tiny little ping-pong ball sized bread rolls with interesting sauces of red and green whose ingredients I couldn't identify. I had to take a photo of the tasty little buns.

Next we ordered our drinks, and I thought I would try one of the local specialties Ingrid told me about.  I ordered Chicha Morada, made of boiled blue corn, apple and other fruits, and spices. The stuff was delicious and I was hard pressed to dismiss it as less than nectar of the gods.

While we waited for our dinners to roast in the slow ovens, we chatted, watched our fellow dinners and as it was an outdoor venue I even got in some passive bird watching.

Finally our waiter proudly marched up to our table and presented us with a genuine, stone oven roasted Cuy. It was presented by the v. kind waiter specifically so I could take a photo prior to the Cuy being carved up for a proper dinner-time presentation.  I present to you, 'Cuy del Peru'!
Freshy baked Cuy, presentation arranged specifically for my camera
I was gob-smacked! There, on a bed of fresh peppers and parsley, was spread one of our two dinner entrees, intact with head and teensie footsies. I was somewhere half way between facinated and horrified. WOW! My father used to regularly eat such fare when he was a boy in Panama! I did my best not to think of my dear friend Joann and her many little furry buddies we used to play with.

I must say, I was tickled that our waiter had picked up on my need to photograph all the food that entered my vicinity. When we - and other diners come to that - had finished admiring the crispy delicacy, our waiter spirited it away, returning a few minutes later with properly prepared Cuy, cut up and de-footed for our dinning pleasure. The 'Cuy horneado con huacatay y aji panca' was served with local spices and panca chili for S/.70 which was 70 soles ($23).

Properly served Cuy with interesting Peruvian potatoes
Now! The flavor of Cuy? Ingrid described it best, "very lean duck meat", and I could only add to that to say it was indeed sweet, rich and down right delicate in flavor - Yummy!