One wrong move cascades into a big problem

Who wouldn’t want to observe seals and their little pups in La Jolla, California? We walked toward the ocean cliffs and, when we saw many tourists ahead, knew we were headed in the right direction.

A staircase led down to La Casa Beach.   A line drawn in the sand extended out from the stairs – separating seals on the right from people on the left. We joined other observers behind the line and happily watched the resting mother seals and their pups. An occasional seal would stir to make its way to the water, and its pup followed behind.

At a moment when few people were present, the woman in the green jacket came over to the line in the sand and scuffed it out with her bare foot. Then she smiled and motioned to her friends to cross over into the seal area to take photos. No “line” to stop them now.

Others moved into the protected area to take their photos. As a result, the seals were limited to a small path by the rocks to get to the ocean.

Time out. What were they thinking? Somehow, we assumed everyone would know that the mother seals should not be stressed and should be allowed plenty of space for themselves and their pups, including a wide accessible path to the ocean.

One woman wanted to have her friend take her photo with the seals so she moved right in and blocked the seals’ path for her portrait.

It all came down to this. How was the seal going to get to the ocean to feed herself and her pup?

When we climbed back up the stairs, we saw this sign, posted too far from the steps down to the beach. Why wasn’t the seal area of the beach roped off or closed to people?

Only later did we discover the walkway wrapping around Children’s Pool Beach. There the seals were undisturbed.

We spent a long time observing them laying on the rocks…

…and swimming in the ocean.

Apparently the contentious issue of room for the seals versus unlimited access for people has been hotly debated for years. However, it was clear to us that seals deserve more protection and people need more education.

 

March 2017

 

 

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The best in 20 years

The newscaster announced the desert wildflower bloom this year was the best in 20 years. The finest destinations: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park. We looked at each other and smiled. “Let’s do it.”

The next morning we left early. The car pulled onto the highway in San Diego, climbed the mountains, and two hours later we were in the Anza-Borrego desert with cameras in hand, snapping photos.

Of all the images this one may tell the tale the best: the mountains in the background, sand under our feet, and the hot pink of the desert sand verbena (abronia villosa) against the little white popcorn flower (cryptantha angustifolia).

One of the first and best flowers we saw was wild heliotrope (phacelia distans).

The desert sunflower (geraea canescens), despite what you might think from its name, is a fairly short plant.

Desert chicory (rafinesquia neomexicana) has subtle pinkish-green stripes which can be seen on the bud at the right of the photo. We photographed this flower many times in an early-blooming profile, and it was striking. Only later did we realize it was the same flower.

We had started out in an open desert area with no else in sight. After we’d photographed many of the flower species close by, we walked to the park visitor’s center.   Having a few brochures for wildflower ID and hints of where to find the flowers would be helpful in our search. Time to head for the north end of Di Giorgio Road.

We only saw a few Spanish needle (palafoxia arida) plants.

Several Arizona lupine (lupinus arizonicus) plants were scattered around a bush, and then we didn’t see them any place else that day.

One of the most common plants we saw was the brown-eyed evening-primrose (camissonia claviformis).

The largest flower we photographed was on the California barrel cactus (ferocactus cylindraceus).

Wildflower bloom is dependent on winter rains.   Anza-Borrego received 7” this winter, the most it’s had since 1999. The result is a “superbloom.” Even though there’s always something blooming between February and September, the peak of the viewing season is mid-March.

We noticed a long, slender-leafed plant on our February visit to Anza-Borrego and wondered what it was. Now we knew: the desert lily (hesperocallus undulate). The distinctive leaf is in the lower left of the photo.

Another white flower was the dune evening primrose (oenothera deltoids), which closes in the heat of the day.

We studied the wildflower brochures over lunch and thought the spectacle pod (dithyrea californica) would be a very interesting flower to see – and it was.

Most of the desert wildflowers are not imposing plants. We forgot how very small some of the plants were and that their flowers were even smaller. Some of these blooms were less than ½” (1 cm) wide.

Purple mat (nama demissum) dotted the desert floor.

We used the macro setting to photograph yellow sun cups (camissonia brevipes). It wasn’t until we looked at the flowers on the computer screen that we saw their details.

Salton milkvetch (astragalus crotalariae), the small reddish-purple flowers, and Mojave desert star (monomptilon bellioides), daisy-like flowers, filled a barren area covered in very fine gravel.

We only saw one of these plants and the flowers were so small we almost missed it. What is it?

We were only able to see a fraction of the many wildflower species blooming in the desert. If we had to do it again, we would have planned our visit at peak season and stayed a few days. We heard that next winter is supposed to have a lot of rain, so the blooms should be spectacular. Maybe it’s worth planning a visit?

 

March 2017

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153 different birds

We took pills for seasickness at 5 AM, and we arrived at the San Diego Birding Festival to grab a bite to eat before we headed out to sea. Joe doesn’t do well on the water, but this was a huge opportunity for us to see pelagic birds, which stay out on the open ocean. Many aren’t visible from the shore, standing on firm ground, so it took getting on the boat if we were going to see them.

At 6 AM we made our way over to the boat with 40 other participants and 8 guides.

Even though we were there to see birds, one of the most thrilling sights was a group of bottlenose dolphins just below the water, which swam alongside the boat long enough for us to snap some photos.

So much for pristine nature. A brown booby floated by on top of a stray styrofoam cooler.

Our cameras weren’t good enough to get clear images of most of the sea birds. Taking photos of moving birds while we were swaying on the boat is not an art we have mastered. One of our guides on the trip, Matthew Binns, asked if we’d like to have a few of his images. Yes, please!

Here is Matthew’s photo of the rhinoceros auklet, a bird related to puffins and found most commonly in the northern Pacific Ocean.

The next day, back on firm land, we hopped on a small bus and headed out for an 11-hour epic birdwatching trip. The goal was to see 100 different bird species in one day.

We made over 12 stops at the ocean and marshes, parks, neighborhoods, ponds, and ballfields.

At El Monte County Park, a park ranger brought over an American kestrel for us to see from their education program. We snapped a quick photo and then got back to the search…. (Anyway, we’d already seen one of these birds earlier in the day, and we needed to find more species.)

Our guides, Raymond VanBuskirk and Steve Ritt, listened for birds calling and knew just where to look. All the while they were filling us in on information about what we were seeing.

We went strong from 6 AM until 5 PM when the search ended. How else could we have seen 131 different bird species in just that one day? A record for us! Add to that the birds we saw on our own, and other birds seen at the festival, and we ended with 153 bird species seen during our visit to San Diego. For us – that’s extraordinary.

 

March 2017

 

 

 

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Pursuing a hobby as we travel

We keep looking and listening for birds. In the sky, perched in a bush, hopping on the ground. Our enjoyment doesn’t mean we are particularly good at any of it. Still we love to search for birds. Our philosophy goes something like this: pursue what you enjoy; every activity doesn’t require mastery.

San Diego is a wonderful place if you like to see birds, and we do. Fortunately, many birds seem to enjoy being out in the open where we can easily find them.

Our AirBnB hosts, Stevie and David, couldn’t wait to tell us about the burrowing owl who lives just a few minutes’ walk away on the rock jetty. These owls are only about 9.5” (24 cm) tall so, despite being out in the open, it took us awhile to find the little owl amidst the big rocks.

We sat on a park bench when Joe noticed a black-and-white warbler walking upside down on a tree. We put our binoculars up and noticed the fine detail: a bug in his mouth. Beth snapped its portrait.

A small bird flew over the water and landed on a sailboat. That’s how we spotted this belted kingfisher.

We each had hobbies before we started our nonstop, traveling life. Life on the road and living out of a suitcase shifted all of that. Joe sadly had to give up his daily bike rides. Beth discontinued her art projects for now. Someday, when our travels end, we’ll return to those pastimes. Meanwhile, an excellent hobby to pursue is watching birds.

Before we started to travel full time, we had seen 205 species of birds. Now, 4+ years later, we have spotted 1,507 different species all around the world. Birds are (almost) everywhere, and we enjoy the challenge of discovering them wherever we go.

We saw black swans a few years ago in their native Australia and New Zealand. They don’t live in the US, but somehow, there they were in a bay in San Diego! Again, Stevie and David sprang into action when a pair of black swans had been seen nearby. They picked us up, and we raced to the bay to discover them drifting in the water and not particularly bothered by those who gathered to watch. We’re not sure where this pair came from – possibly escapees from a zoo?

Shore birds are plentiful in San Diego, and we find them (and gulls) difficult to identify. We think there are sanderlings, dowitchers, and one snowy plover in this group.

Black phoebes are easy to identify probably because they are often seen perched somewhere low near water, and we’ve seen them often, all over California and even in Ecuador.

We heard last year that one of the best birding festivals in the US was in San Diego.

How many more birds could we see with experienced guides? Stay tuned for our next post….

 

February 2017

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(not one but) two opportunities

We live on the road and are each other’s companions. The norm for us is to just have that one other person to talk with and share adventures. It’s not the ideal, but that’s just how traveling and living on the road is.

Every once in awhile, we cross paths with people we really connect with. Our circle widens for a short time. As we prepare to leave for our next destination, we sadly say our goodbyes but know we’ll still be friends even after we part ways.

We made so many new friends in our month in Palm Springs. When we left, we reconciled ourselves to shifting back into being each other’s only companion. But then, a chance meeting at the swimming pool of our inn at Borrego Springs led to meeting new friends, Liz and Steve, from Sandpoint, Idaho. We had so much in common that we continued our conversation over a lunch that included their friends, Marty and Bob.

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Bob suggested we all do a hike together on an unmapped trail he knew in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As soon as we started walking the desert apricot appeared. Without the abundant blooms, would we have even noticed it?

None of us knew the names of many plants we saw – including these flowers on the desert floor.

None of us knew the names of many plants we saw – including these flowers on the desert floor.

Bob pointed to an abandoned bee hive about 20’ off the ground, clinging to the rock face. We don’t think of bees in the desert, so were quite surprised to read there are almost 1,000 different species of bees in the Sonoran desert.

Bob pointed to an abandoned bee hive about 20’ off the ground, clinging to the rock face. We don’t think of bees in the desert, so were quite surprised to read there are almost 1,000 different species of bees in the Sonoran desert.

Liz and Steve stayed on the trail, a scoop-shaped rock surface.

Liz and Steve stayed on the trail, a scoop-shaped rock surface.

We knew the trail we hiked on was a dry river bed most of the year.   We weren’t surprised to see a few small puddles of water and mud after all the recent rain. What did surprise us – in the desert environment - was a large rock wall covered with a variety of mosses.

We knew the trail we hiked on was a dry river bed most of the year.   We weren’t surprised to see a few small puddles of water and mud after all the recent rain. What did surprise us – in the desert environment – was a large rock wall covered with a variety of mosses.

Nearby was a tiny bit of moss (or is it lichen?) on the path.

Nearby was a tiny bit of moss (or is it lichen?) on the path.

We steadily climbed up the riverbed path, over and around boulders. As we gained elevation, the landscape changed. We entered a more open area with large rocks scattered through the grasses. Bob announced we had arrived.

He showed us these two morteros (bedrock mortar sites) where food was ground by Kumeyaay or Cahuilla Indians. A quick look and our friends discovered at least ten more morteros nearby.

He showed us these two morteros (bedrock mortar sites) where food was ground by Kumeyaay or Cahuilla Indians. A quick look and our friends discovered at least ten more morteros nearby.

Time for a drink and a snack. One of the morteros provided a good drinking bowl for Bear.

Time for a drink and a snack. One of the morteros provided a good drinking bowl for Bear.

When we arrived back to our vehicles at the end of the hike, Liz dashed into their RV and served all of us bowls of ice cream to celebrate the lovely day.

What a remarkable opportunity to make new friends in Borrego Springs. And it only got better when we hiked together at Anza-Borrego.

 

February 2017

 

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Painting the desert

We had waited too late. Just at the point where we started to climb up the switchback trail at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the sun seemed to get hotter.

We stopped to take a photo part-way up the trail and decided on a whim to switch the camera setting to “watercolor.” The soft brush strokes would be a better way to display the subtle colors of the mountains and desert floor with its muted green plantings.

We stopped to take a photo part-way up the trail and decided on a whim to switch the camera setting to “watercolor.” The soft brush strokes would be a better way to display the subtle colors of the mountains and desert floor with its muted green plantings.

The sharpest color contrast was looking east at the bands of greenery and beige sands right before the mountains.

The sharpest color contrast was looking east at the bands of greenery and beige sands right before the mountains.

When we looked down at the crisscrossing paths across the desert floor, we could only guess where following them might take us.

When we looked down at the crisscrossing paths across the desert floor, we could only guess where following them might take us.

The narrow path continued to wind upwards until (finally!) the path ended at a scenic lookout. Time to rest and take in the view – but not for too long. Beth popped up to snap more photos; Joe recorded our efforts with a panoramic image.

The narrow path continued to wind upwards until (finally!) the path ended at a scenic lookout. Time to rest and take in the view – but not for too long. Beth popped up to snap more photos; Joe recorded our efforts with a panoramic image.

We hiked back down to the desert floor. Why does it seem to take so much less time to return? We strolled by nature plaques and then to an expansive desert garden.

The chuparosa bloomed with a flaming, brilliant color.

The chuparosa bloomed with a flaming, brilliant color.

We had discovered a favorite bench near the visitor center. There’s shade and a lovely view. We took the time for one more visit to the bench and a photo, before we walked home through the desert.

We had discovered a favorite bench near the visitor center. There’s shade and a lovely view. We took the time for one more visit to the bench and a photo, before we walked home through the desert.

We love the watercolor setting on the camera. It turned pretty plain photos, snapped on an easy hike, into something much more.

 

February 2017

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A favorite travel destination for us

If we were to rank our favorite destinations, the list would most certainly include great scenery with birds and blooms. Add to that warm weather and plenty of sun. That’s why we made a return trip to Borrego Springs, in the desert of southern California.

It’s too early for the spectacular desert spring blooming season, but we found enough blooms to make us happy.

It’s too early for the spectacular desert spring blooming season, but we found enough blooms to make us happy.

We hiked at Anza-Borrego State Park where the vista usually includes mountains and cactus. We appreciated being able to see miles into the distance -- after having grown up in places where hiking involved seeing no more than the few trees surrounding us.

We hiked at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park where the vista usually includes mountains and cactus. We appreciated being able to see miles into the distance — after having grown up in places where hiking involved seeing no more than the few trees surrounding us.

We heard bees buzzing before we even saw blooming fishhook cactus. The small cactuses lined the path for a ways, and we now saw bees hopping from one flower to the next. Just as we got our cameras ready, a bee flew into the photo.

We heard bees buzzing before we even saw blooming fishhook cactus. The small cactuses lined the path for a ways, and we now saw bees hopping from one flower to the next. Just as we got our cameras ready, a bee flew into the photo.

A 40-minute drive to the east from Borrego Springs is the Salton Sea.   For those interested in seeing (lots of) birds, it’s a good destination.

After parking at the visitor center of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, we headed down a nature path. In the field next to us, a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds swirled through the air.

After parking at the visitor center of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, we headed down a nature path. In the field next to us, a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds swirled through the air.

We watched the blackbirds for quite awhile as they settled in the field and then suddenly lifted off - almost as one - into the sky. A minute of soaring through the air and then they landed almost as one before repeating the cycle over and over.

We watched the blackbirds for quite awhile as they settled in the field and then suddenly lifted off – almost as one – into the sky. A minute of soaring through the air and then they landed almost as one before repeating the cycle over and over.

It wasn’t just blackbirds we saw in large flocks. Snow geese appeared, as if large snowflakes which drifted through the sky.

It wasn’t just blackbirds we saw in large flocks. Snow geese appeared, as if large snowflakes which drifted through the sky.

We chose this area for the birds, blooms, the warm weather, and sun, but now we realize that being outdoors for most of the day in a quiet place was a large part of the appeal. At night, we went back outside to view the stars in a vast and dark sky. The town is small but had just enough stores and restaurants to keep us happy. We’d say Borrego Springs is one of the calmest, most peaceful places we’ve stayed.

 

February 2017

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