Aliso Creek Bicycle Path & My Observations

I started my bicycle ride from the Aliso Wood Canyon Nature Preserve in Mission Viejo, California. I love stopping by one area of the creek because I know I will see birds.

Sure enough, there was a white-faced ibis, snowy egret and mallard with 6 chicks! They were so cute following their mother down the creek!

White-face ibis
Snowy egret
Mallard with 6 chicks

Then I decided to bicycle ride more miles in the other direction from the visitor center. I was surprised to see this warning sign as it was not here last year:

Always read warning signs!

What was bringing the mountain lions to the area’s trails. Usually healthy wild animals will stay away from humans. Something obviously changed in the past year.

As I rode the landscape changed. Apparently a wildfire had come close to the water treatment plant in the area and the hillsides were burned. No doubt this was the reason mountain lions were being displaced and now within eyesight of humans hiking and bicycling on the wilderness trails. 

Fire burned area
No place for an animal to shelter or find food

My last visit I did cycle one mountain bike trail here. This time though I decided I did not want to be solo rider on the trail. I would not be making enough noise to let a mountain lion know I was in the area. As wildfires burn more acres of land, wildlife will be displaced. Are you doing your part to reduce wildfire risks? No one, humans or wildlife, want to lose their homes. Do what you can to protect your community.

Black Oystercatcher Search; Yes, It’s a Bird!

It’s been more than a month since seeing a new bird for my life list. With my desire for cooler daytime air temperature, I headed to California’s San Diego area. Dreams of cool ocean breezes, riding my bicycle or walking the beaches to find a black oystercatcher were on my mind for this quick trip to the west coast.

Along the west coast are numerous beaches. Bird watchers reported seeing one or two black oystercatchers along the coast. The chances of me seeing the bird? Honestly slim when only one or two birds are seen!

Learn About the Bird …

Before the trip, I wanted to learn all I could about the bird. Where do they hang out? What do they eat? I sketched the bird so its body shape and colors were in my head. I cannot miss their long red bill and how they carry themself. Black oystercatchers eat mussels so I look for them too. These birds do not eat oysters, but in 1731 an English naturalist observed the bird eating oysters so named it so.

My sketch of a black oystercatcher

Where is the bird?

For a few days, I walked the beaches from north of Dana Point Harbor to La Jolla Cove area of San Diego. At some sites, I went a second time at a different time of day. Just by chance I was looking at a Google map where another person reported, via the eBird website, seeing 2 black oystercatchers a few days prior. It was a beach site, just a stone’s throw, south of my more southern area of observations. So I went there!

Everyone is at the beaches this summer. I’m the only one walking along with camera and binoculars so I am often asked questions: what am I photographing, what is that bird over there, what do I hope to see, and I hear their stories. One man and I were talking about the gulls acting like they own the beach. He told me of a young gull walking right into his hotel  room here by the beach. We laughed as he wished me luck finding a black oystercatcher.

The Search Continued for the black oystercatcher …

As I was heading back to my van, especially since a local person reminded me I can only park for 2 hours at the spot I was in, I thought it would be crazy for any bird except seagulls to be hanging around on a beach with all these people. So I walked even further from people when I noticed a body shape and color not like a gull. I thought I was dreaming, strongly hoping, wanting to envision the bird and in actuality it really did look like a black oystercatcher! 

Expecting most of my photos to be the beach, surfers and overall scenery, I did not have my longer telephoto lens on my camera. I walked slowly and with no flurry of activity as I took photos. Creeping ever so close to not disturb the bird, yet also making it possible for me to capture a photo worthy of some editing for a good final photo. I could not believe it, the bird looked one way and then another so I could take a few photos. When I looked down at my phone to drop a pin for location, the bird flew off. That was it! I had my observation, my photos and the bird was gone! Amazing luck!

Black oystercatcher!
Shellfish these birds eat

I saw the black oystercatcher at Cuvier Park, also called Coastal Boulevard Park, just south of the more popular La Jolla Cove in California where brown pelicans and seals are seen by thousands of visitors. No one else on this beach saw this black oystercatcher … I could not believe it … yet I saw it! My search is over. Someday I hope to see 2 black oystercatchers feeding on a mussel because I would like to see how they do it. Until then, I’m good!

Surfer was fun to watch
Black oystercatcher before flying off!

Desert Towns: Yuma & El Centro on I-8

First, a television report caught my attention: “1500 18-wheeler trucks leave here per day with produce”. Which desert town? Was it Yuma, Arizona or El Centro, California? Second, I had plans to travel to the San Diego, California area in search of a seashore bird: the black oystercatcher. I had never stopped in Yuma or El Centro when driving Interstate 8 to the west coast, so I decided now was as good a time as any to do so.

Learning about desert town: Yuma, Arizona

Attention speeding drivers: lesson learned without getting a ticket, but I saw others be pulled over. Watch your driving speed; 75 mph on the interstate in Arizona, but when close to Yuma it is 65 mph with plenty of police to catch you if you are speeding. Amazing the number of them I saw.

Guinness World Records listed Yuma, Arizona as the “sunniest city on earth”. Sunshine and warm temperatures 91% of the year is where thousands of RVers visit in the winter months! More importantly, ninety percent of all leafy vegetables are grown November to March in this county. When we eat a salad in the winter, the greens were grown here, the “Winter Lettuce Capital of the World”, Yuma Arizona.

While driving the interstate, even in summer, I saw local feedlots with as many as 120,000 heads of beef cattle. Date trees, especially Medjool dates, grow here along with over 100 other crops. Researching info for this post I discover kosher wheat is cultivated here since kosher rules dictate the wheat is not to receive additional moisture immediately prior to harvesting. Interesting; I never knew!

My arrival to this city is late in the day since I knew it would be desert dry heat hot. West Wetlands Park is on the Colorado River. My hope is to know something about it for future bird watching and/or need to take a driving break. People/swimmers at the river’s edge, on Centennial Beach, told me the water was cold. Compared to the hot air temperature it was refreshing. River tubing looked like great fun too! There is a hiking/biking trail for my future use. On this day, I only walked a short distance because of the heat and time of day. I still needed to get to El Centro.

West Wetlands Park in Yuma, Arizona

Learning about desert town: El Centro, California

Back on the interstate, a Border patrol checkpoint is at the Arizona/California border. At various places look south to see the border wall in the distance. A half hour from the checkpoint about 15 people apprehended by Border Patrol. The people were sitting on the ground probably to wait for transport since no way all could fit in 2 patrol cars. One Border Patrol person using binoculars was checking the hills. I have mentioned this before, it is not difficult to climb over the border wall. The difficulty is surviving in 100 degree dry desert heat! Getting found probably saves their lives.

While driving to Bucklin Park, I notice food processing places for the thousands of acres of winter vegetables produced in this area. This is an arid region, less than 3 inches of rain per year, with summer temperatures around 107 degrees Fahrenheit. I am escaping to San Diego’s mid-70 temperatures! 

Most visitors to this desert area ride off-road vehicles at Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in the winter months (some dunes are over 300 feet) or visit the Salton Sea area further north from here. I took a quick walk in the heat of summer at Bucklin Park. Few others, people or birds, were here. I’ll note the park’s location in case any interesting birds are reported to fly through here this winter.

Bucklin Park in El Centro, California

Driving Beyond El Centro to the San Diego area

It would be interesting to understand the geology of this varied desert landscape – some below sea level, or once bubbling now solidified rock formations, or the sand dunes. Solar panels cover acres of land, as do gigantic windmills near mountain passes. Road signs let drivers know gusts of wind and sand are possible even in areas where there are no windmills. At another place signs tell us to turn off our vehicle’s air conditioning so the radiator does not overheat. For those who do not, water stations are along that 10 mile stretch of road. 

Sand dunes

Finally near the San Diego area, plants are green and the ocean water is welcoming. I arrive … and so did everyone else … hotels and campgrounds are busy and roads are full off traffic, but we are all here for the morning fog, cool daytime temperature and ocean water … at least I am! (This blog post is not meant to tell you everything about Yuma or El Centro; visit each when you can. Happy and safe travels to you.)

West coast of the USA!

Lizard in Our Home?

The outdoor air temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, I am indoors. I played pickleball in the morning hours when the air temperature was just 86 degrees. Now I am watching a twin-spotted spiny lizard through a glass window at my home because there have been times a lizard has found its way into our home. 

Lizard hot in the sun, so come to the shade.

I‘m watching this lizard. Is there a place where lizards sneak into our home? The few occasions a lizard has been in our home, was it walking in when we do? Or sliding in through the sliding door tracks? Or some other way? Can I discover anything while watching this one? Is it looking at me? I understand lizards can see as well or even better than humans. Wow!

This lizard looking at me?

Does the lizard know we have captured then released a few of their fellow lizards in our home this past year? My partner seems to have caught the most lizards … in a washcloth, a t-shirt, a napkin and a glue-board (oh that one sounds horrible!) I caught one with a bath towel. None of those captures were easy. Do you know they can run 5 feet a second for about 15 feet? When it is hot outdoors they can run fast, although in our home they seem to move faster; surely just my imagination!

Just looking around.

Who else has stopped by … another lizard and….

For 10 minutes of time, a black-throated sparrow is here in the shade too and another lizard for a couple of minutes, then runs to the rocks. Animals are smart enough to know where to go for cooler temperatures. Lizards can burrow into the sand or hide under rocks in our backyard to escape the intense heat, but they seem to also enjoy running across our shaded area.

Black-throated sparrow
This one was in and out quickly.

The other lizard ran off, but after 49 minutes of observing the first one, it now seems to pump itself up and down – no doubt showing off its strength – and then scoots off to the rocky area too. Today no lizard entered our home! The mystery remains though on how they are entering it. That’s the way it is when you live in a desert! Fun fact: lizards feed on ants, beetles, caterpillars and small lizards! No wonder the other one went running!

Final visiting moments.

Travel & Everest at Age 50? Why Not?

Recently I immediately saw a photo of Mount Everest on the wall behind the bar at the Dutton-Goldfield Winery in Sebastopol, California. It was a photo of Mount Everest from Kala Pattar! So many of us climb this 18,519 foot peak to see a spectacular view of Mount Everest and the nearby peaks. I love travel and the chance to share experiences with others who have been to a same place! I wanted to know more.

Who traveled to Nepal and took the Everest photo hanging behind the bar? Thankfully the man setting up our wine tasting knew. After finishing a business meeting at a nearby table, Dan Goldfield was introduced to me! (He’s the Goldfield in Dutton-Goldfield Winery!) Both of us, many years ago and at different times, turned 50 years old and trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp. On his trek he continued to a neighboring valley. When I turned 50 years old, I trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp, thanks to the support of my employer allowing me time in Nepal during the school calendar.

Was it easy to train and complete the trek?

Train for the trek: carry a fully – loaded backpack, climb up and down garage parking lot stairwells – often smell horrible – and icy northeast USA roads, plus time on hiking trails in Arizona and the Grand Canyon (my favorite place now that I moved to southwest USA) to determine best hiking boots! Many times I wished I was 20 years old because the months of training were hard work! In retrospect, I am thrilled to have accomplished what I did! Out on the trail, “climb the mountain” was my mantra. Burning through hundreds of calories, sleeping on the ground, hiking for hours at continued increasing elevation – hike high, sleep low – and enjoying the company of fellow trekkers and locals where we enjoyed delicious food all added to the experience! Of course, arriving at Kala Pattar and Everest Base Camp were the ultimate goals and then downhill to safely arrive home!

Yes, life is good with travel!

After the trek, I made presentations for my students and staff at my school, my community and at a local Eastern Mountain Sports – provider of my reasonably priced outdoor gear – some I eventually donated to our trekking porters. I cannot speak for Dan; however, if I was able to travel to Nepal to climb mountains when I was younger, I would have. From my point of view, when reaching 50 years of age it is time to travel and climb mountains or it will never happen. I love mountains! Thankfully my school’s faculty, board of education, student body and community allowed me the opportunity to trek in Nepal. Writing this post brought back wonderful memories!

Kathmandu – city time
The monkeys were everywhere!
On our way as we enter the park.
Loved the food.
Bridges – not for the weak of heart! I loved their sway!
On top to see Everest still in the distance.
What a sight …Mount Everest!
Avalanche while we were there at base camp.
I could not step on the Khumbu Icefall as Chinese liaison stop you. Look closely, in center of photo, of people crossing a crevasse. The icefall is huge.
I visited a local school as I do on all my travels. Eventually we send additional supplies to the school.
I love seeing children be educated!
Our group leap-frogged up the trail with Erik’s group. He is with his brother and father who I meet. Years later his father is involved with a Tibetan project I had; small world!
Wally – wonderful person and guide. I follow him to my next big mountain the next year!
I admired Rob Hall and was saddened by his death so left prayer flags at his memorial.

A few decades later, I am so glad I kept these photos! While having great memories is wonderful, especially since I am still of an age with a good memory, it is fun to see the good times and other people in the photos. Don’t wait till you are 50 years of age if you can make some of your dreams happen now! There’s a big world out there with many fantastic adventures to be had, so enjoy!

Great Blue Heron in Flight!

Quite unexpectedly I was in the right location … meaning light … to capture photographs of a great blue heron before it flew off, as it flew by and then landed.

Heron was hot and trying to cool own.

It was a very hot day and the bird was by a water’s edge and then flew! Quickly I snapped a series of photos as the great blue heron flew past me.

Wow, beautiful wings!
Bird takes off…
Bird passing me…
Where is the bird headed?
Heron lands in a nearby pond to cool off!

Spectacular to see the bird so close to me and with an opportunity to take many photos. It was a hot day so I know it enjoyed the water and I enjoyed watching the bird. Fun fact: Although the great blue heron stands 4 feet tall and is the largest North American heron species, it only weighs 5 to 6 pounds. Why? Just like most birds, they have light, hollow bones! Some days I wish I did too!

Turtles and 104 degrees!

I needed to stretch my legs even if it meant walking a mile in a very hot temperature … 104 degrees! I am not sure where the day went, so I headed to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson Arizona for the walk and wondered if any wildlife were moving around? Ten different bird species were flitting around, deep in the tree leaves … they were smart to be in any shade! The turtles however were hanging around on land, in the water, and on a rock … a real balancing act!

Turtles can tolerate warm conditions, but there are concerns as to whether they can handle climate change especially if temperatures rise too quickly. We need to be sure not to destroy their habitat as they need water, land, light and air with rainfall helping to moderate temperatures, provide water and maintain a wetland. People who have red-eared sliders as a common pet turtle know to keep a constant 85 – 92 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, along with a rock in watering area for it to sit on sand. They can live up to 75 years if cared for correctly.

The semi-aquatic pond sliders I saw on this walk, called red-eared sliders, were in different locations at the park. Enjoy the photos of them:

Turtle comfortable on a log
This turtle enjoying a swim
These two heading somewhere on land. I did not hang around to watch them … too hot!
Ready for a swim or not?

Common Gallinule … A “Common” Bird?

When you say that’s a common bird, I think common raven, common grackle, common loon, or common yellowthroat. Or simply a common bird in my neighborhood: Greater roadrunner, lesser goldfinch or house finch. So it is interesting to me when the name of a bird includes the word “common”. I am sure not to think of a common gallinule! 

In some areas the more common rail species is the American coot with its white frontal shield … they are common here. However, recently I could not miss seeing a Common gallinule with its bright red frontal shield. Look at this bird pictured in the photo below!

Common gallinule

A common gallinule loves the well-vegetated wetland, such as in our Sweetwater Wetland area in Tucson, Arizona. I love seeing this bird which is truly not common for me to see. I have to catch sight of this bird on land and look for its yellow legs! Some day … and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what birds I do see! I hope you are outdoors, enjoying the air and water with birds too!

The food this bird loves from a wetland.

How Herons Cool Off, Really?!

Birds have no sweat glands, but need to regulate their body temperature like you and I on a hot day. The other day I saw a great blue heron in a wooded area by a pond’s edge, yet could not get a photo so I walked the trail and looped back 50 minutes later to see if the bird emerged. It did!

The great blue heron had its wings open to catch a breeze. I could understand the need to cool off in the almost 100 degree air temperature, but I actually had never seen a bird doing this behavior. The bird held his wings open for 8 minutes.

A cooling technique.

Then the heron closed its wings and opened its mouth as shown in this photo:

Heron trying to cool itself this way.

Birds open their wings to circulate air to their hot skin and lower body temperature. Passerines or perching birds will pant to lose heat through their respiratory system, but a great blue heron is not a passerine. It will lose heat through a rapid vibration of their upper throat and thin floor of their mouth. I was across the pond from the bird; however, I could see the bird’s throat vibrating. Eleven minutes later the bird had its wings and mouth open.

Bird really wants to cool down, wings and mouth open, throat vibrating.

This bird was working hard to cool off. It had been a half hour observing this bird, so this was the last photo I took … I needed to cool down my own body too. Fun fact I learned while researching birds cooling themselves: turkey vultures urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling … what? really?, wow! Isn’t it fun to learn something new everyday?

Still cooling down… it’s been a hot day!

Three Quick Moments with a Hummingbird!

Birds crack me up! This broad-billed hummingbird was not flitting around as fast as hummingbirds are known to do, so I found myself with a smile on my face as I watched it. Here it looked like it was falling asleep, eyes closed but beak open:

Eyes closed, beak open!

Then the bird is awake yet still remaining on the branch! I am thinking I may be looking at the bird’s their eyelid called a nictitating membrane. Often when a bird is waking up or sleepy this membrane can be visible. And then the hummingbird’s eyes were open as seen below:

Bird is awake and still on the branch!

The final pose, obviously a great stretch of its body, making me smile was what I called the “yoga move”:

Is that “Warrior” pose?

Never know what you’ll see with birds; that is what makes bird-watching fun! Have you spent time watching any interesting birds lately? Let me know, thanks.

In researching some info for this post I learned birds of prey, example hawk, close their nictitaing membrane, third eyelid, when capturing prey. Birds of prey cannot afford to have prey scratch their eyes! Hmmm…. I wonder if I’ll see that some day …. keeping my eyes open!