Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Grazing and gazing at Agua Caliente

Friday, November 14th, 2014

It was love at first sight when we began camping at Agua Caliente County Park four years ago at a campsite that had beautiful vista views and was far from the maddening crowd.  We lost that site two years ago to “cabinization of our parks,” when seven cabins replaced eleven full hookup RV sites!  We found an alternative site that had some of the amenities of our first site here, but it was not as private and was vulnerable to noisy neighbors, often lacking in good camping etiquette, who were either inconsiderate or were oblivious to how easily sound travels through a campground.  We began this fall camping season at a promising new site that may better meet our needs.

DSC_0057 Agua Caliente Fall 2014

DSC_0084 Our new campsite

One of the challenges for this park is dealing with flash floods that periodically rush down the Tierra Blanca Mountains and wash out roads and campsites.*  I learned from our neighbor that medical permittee, Barbara Macdonald, and her domestic partner of 26 years, Cynthia Rich (Desert Years: Undreaming the American Dream, and Dharma Gleanings), built a rock retaining wall on their 1983-1989 trailer site (seen below) to control erosion.

DSC_0194 Retaining wall of 1980s

One of the assets of this park is the scenic Moonlight Canyon Trail that I enjoy hiking every time we are here and where I had my close encounter with Peninsular Bighorn Sheep three years ago.

DSC_0103 Hiking Moonlight Canyon

The slopes abound with various cacti, such as ocotillo, barrel, and cholla, which provide food for the sheep.  The following day, I spotted bighorn sheep on a ridge above the campground caravan area.

DSC_0141 Seven Bighorn Sheep

Seeing bighorn sheep always brings a smile to my face… and sunshine makes me happy!*

DSC_0104 Hiker:Author resting

And hiking gives me an appetite for Larry’s savory carne asada.

DSC_0156 Carne asada

We sipped Ménage à Trois red wine* as the full moon rose…

DSC_0173 Star gazing

And leaned back to stargaze and contemplate the heavens* and this site.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Ocean knight currents, part three

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Coming back up the bluff’s 50-foot high stairway, this knight paused to get his wind and got a bird’s eye view as the crow flies* of pelicans gliding by, sustained by onshore air currents.  Occasionally, Red-shouldered hawks also soared by as they looked for prey, such as the abundant California ground squirrels, and were harassed by spirited crows defending their territory.*

DSC_0330 Pelicans over Carlsbad bluff

Crows are now considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals, as demonstrated by Dr. Alex Taylor in the BBC documentary, “Inside the Animal Mind.”*

DSC_0050 As the crow flies

On page 87 in the Spanish novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Edith Grossman, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, Don Quixote said this about the crow:

According to an ancient and widespread tradition throughout the kingdom of Great Britain, this king [King Arthur] did not die but, through the art of enchantment, was turned into a crow and in time will return to rule and recover his kingdom and scepter…

(I continue to enjoy the benefits of reading out loud a chapter at a time at bedtime of this very readable and enjoyable translation of this great work!)

California brown pelicans also seem right at home in this kingdom by the sea.

DSC_0231 Pelican gliding

The brown pelican, once shot at for millinery plumes, first received legal protection when Theodore Roosevelt* created sixteen federal bird refuges, starting with Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903.  The species is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and was placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1970 due to the effects of DDT on its eggs.  Agricultural use of DDT in the U.S. was banned in 1972 and by 2009, brown pelicans made a comeback and were removed from the Endangered Species List.  They are now commonly seen flying along California’s coast* and diving into the ocean to capture food.*

DSC_0254 Two pelicans gliding

But a recent brown pelican population survey led by UC Davis professor emeritus and wildlife biologist Dan Anderson found a drastic decline in nesting pairs, which may be due to changes in ocean temperature and shifts in the pelicans’ food supply.

San Diego Audubon Society says, “Celebrate birds because they fly…” (Click on their beautiful video stream at the bottom of their website.)

DSC_0197 Pelican ballet

Watching this pelican ballet in the sky was mesmerizing, but by noon, it was time to take my usual midday shower in the campground’s facilities.  (We are very frugal with the use of water and electricity in the trailer.  By the fifth day of non-hookup camping, our 30-gallon freshwater tank is typically half full, which means we typically use 3 gallons/day!)  After showers, I always look forward to eating a sandwich made by Larry and then catching up on notes and reading.

DSC_0334 A knight's lunch

While eating my lunch, a squirrel tried to claw its way into a bag of potato chips!

DSC_0232 Squirrel looking for lunch

This drama played out while an old black crow* majestically swept by, perhaps on a quest for food, or the Holy Grail.*

DSC_0052 Crow over Carlsbad

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Ocean knight currents, part two

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Stairways lead down to South Carlsbad State Beach, one of San Diego’s top beaches, where people enjoy swimming, surfing, sunbathing, walking, running, fishing, bird watching and listening to the sounds of the surf.*

DSC_0329 Stairway to the beach

Bluff and beach erosion continue to be ongoing issues.  The City of Carlsbad and the State of California work together with local agencies to replenish sand washed away by winter storms.*  While walking on the sand, I was surprised to step on one of the tar balls recently reported to be washing up on Carlsbad beaches, which may be naturally seeping from the ocean floor.

DSC_0322 Walking the shoreline

Abundant wildlife is seen along the beach, such as this Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, a migratory bird species that breeds in subarctic North America and travels down the coast on the Pacific Flyway* to winter as far south as the tip of South America.

DSC_0276 Whimbrel

Seen below, the Marbled Godwit, Limosa fedoa, one of the dominant shorebirds along San Diego’s coast, has a long bill enabling them to probe deeply in the sand for aquatic insects and mollusks.

DSC_0300 Marbled Godwit

DSC_0304 Marbled Godwit foraging

We also enjoyed eating mollusks, such as the New Zealand Littleneck Clams that Larry steamed with butter, garlic, and wine and served over Shandong noodles.  The shells were saved for table decoration.

DSC_0209 New Zealand Littleneck Clams

One morning, I was looking down from the bluff and spotted a little boy picking up objects from the beach and throwing them into the sea.

DSC_0042 A boy picked up & threw something

I imagined the objects to be starfish that he was saving by tossing them back in the water, but they turned out to be flat stones and his father was showing him how to throw them to make them skip across the surface.  Still, this iconic image caused me to revisit the thought provoking and motivational “The Boy and the Starfish“* story, inspired by Loren Eiseley, which illustrates that individual actions can make a significant difference.

DSC_0043 Perhaps a star thrower

This knight-errant is currently happy as a clam at high tide regarding the good news this week that San Diego Opera will not close, due to the overwhelming support from the community and donors, and like the boy in the starfish story, every gift is significant and you can make a difference!*

*This is a YouTube video.

Ocean knight currents, part one

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Temperatures soared into the high nineties in San Diego as we prepared for a 5-day sally to the ocean bluffs of South Carlsbad where we looked forward to cooling ocean and air currents.  Waving giant arms greeted us as we approached our destination, which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be the sails of a windmill, so I set aside my lance and reminisced about the poignant last San Diego Opera where the knight-errant, Don Quixote, battled giants that turned out to be windmills, even as the San Diego Opera was fighting for its existence.  The title role was sung by the great Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, who has a special message* for those concerned about the San Diego Opera.

DSC_0129 Windmill by the sea

We arrived on the eve of Cinco de Mayo* and promptly celebrated with fresh homemade salsa, chips and Margaritas (a perfect summer drink)*, while savoring the continuous sounds of the surf and a beautiful sunset.

DSC_0001 Cinco de Mayo by the sea

An onshore low-pressure system moved in for most of the week and brought cooler temperatures and gusty winds.  This was a refreshing change from the heat of the previous week, and little did we know that this would turn out to be just a brief respite as hot, dry Santa Ana winds would return the following week and bring record breaking temperatures, fires and loss of homes in San Diego County* usually not seen this early in California’s fire season.

DSC_0064 Our favorite beach campsite

Larry’s decorations for our favorite beachside campsite included papel picado banners near the dense, windswept shrubs that provide wonderful privacy.

DSC_0079 Windswept by the sea

For five days we relaxed to the sound of ocean waves and wind* as we enjoyed the sight of pelicans sailing by in various formations sustained by the updraft of the bluff air currents.

DSC_0082 Relaxing by the sea

Camping by the sea always whets our appetite for seafood.  We moved our outdoor kitchen to the north side of our campsite where vegetation provided a windbreak, facilitating the frying of calamari.  To prepare these “onion rings of the sea“*, Larry cut 1/2 inch rings from squid hoods and shook them in a plastic bag containing flour, corn meal, corn starch, and seasonings, and deep fried a few at a time for 2-3 minutes, just until golden brown.

DSC_0096 Frying calamari by the sea

Dinners were followed by sipping wine and enjoying beautiful ocean sunsets.

DSC_0108 Pelicans at sunset

This trip marks our 8th camping season with our Airstream Safari as we continue to enjoy living the Airstream life!*

DSC_0262 Living the Airstream Life!

Continue to follow the adventures of this knight-errant by the sea in upcoming posts… Cheers!

*This is a YouTube video.

Mountain knight stars, part one

Friday, April 18th, 2014

As we prepared for a change in our camping venue, from the now hot desert to our relatively cool mountains, we heard the shocking news that the San Diego Opera would begin to shut down after the last performance of Don Quixote* in April.  San Diego Opera, considered one of the top ten opera companies in the nation, is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.  I was especially saddened because I have performed as a supernumerary in 21 San Diego operas over a ten year period, which included roles such as the soldier, guard, henchman seen here in Tosca, and lead waiter in Cosi fan tutte.*  I brought along the novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, to read during our 5-day mountain camping trip so that I could totally immerse myself in this multifaceted story (and local drama) and appreciate the character of Don Quixote, brought to life onstage by bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto* in the operatic version, Don Quichotte, by Jules Massenet.*

DSC_0067 Don Quixote & knights

The more I read, the more I began to identify with this knight-errant character, who goes on quests, searches for adventures, does good deeds, appreciates beauty, pursues dreams, fights for things he loves, and yet remains compassionate.  I began to see parallelisms as waxing moonlight gleamed on our trailer’s armor when the stars began to shine.*

DSC_0075 Armour under mtn

As we battled the hot sun by extending the rear awning with an additional sail held in place by ratcheted webbing, I remembered Don Quixote’s battle with giants (windmill sails).*

DSC_0029 Rear awning extension sail

We trekked on mountain trails on a quest for adventure.*

DSC_0054 Larry, Mac, & Tasha, Cedar Trail

I spotted what looked like a Dementor or something else* and prepared to do battle.

DSC_0095 Dementor?

But just then, a wary wild turkey hen emerged while foraging.

DSC_0017 Wary turkey hen

Her worried look seemed justified because she was being pursued and courted by a strutting tom turkey, whose grandiose display reminded me of the valiant character, Don Quixote.

DSC_0142 Tom turkey struts

More mountain adventures are coming up in part two, along with stunning flowers, feasts, stars, and more about Don Quixote and the San Diego Opera,** why this opera needs to be saved,* and how you can come to its rescue!  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing… and saving!***

*This is a YouTube video.

**UCSD-TV San Diego Opera Spotlight video

***This is a San Diego Opera video produced by UCSD-TV

Desert camping relaunched

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

We stayed home for the holidays in December as we followed the activity progression schedule prescribed for Tasha by the Veterinary Specialty Hospital* following her hemilaminectomy due to a ruptured disc last November.  She has made an excellent recovery and has resumed her normal routine and activities so we relaunched our monthly camping trips and returned to Borrego Palm Canyon where we had made our maiden cruise seven years ago this month.

DSC_0162 Borrego Palm Canyon 2014

Tasha quickly learned to use the gangplank (Mr. Herzher’s Smart Ramp) that we recently purchased for our corgis to embark and disembark our Airstream Safari without injuring their backs.

DSC_0152 Tasha & telescoping ramp

As I unhitched and set up the campsite, I heard a drone hovering high above me, which turned out to be a DJI Phantom Quadcopter with a GoPro camera* controlled by Airstreamer, photographer Rich C, who we first met here seven years ago.  (See his driving and aerial video tour of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park* that includes a brief clip of me setting up camp!).  According to Rich, he “is currently on the road contracting and consulting in his ‘other career’… network and data base design.”

DSC_0139 DJI Phantom Quadcopter

The DJI Phantom Quadcopter elevates scenic photography to a new high!*

Last Friday our governor declared a California statewide drought emergency.  Our severe drought has limited the growth of plants, flowers, and seeds that sustain birds.  We were amazed, mesmerized and entertained by the numbers of birds (especially house finches and White-crowned Sparrows) that fought over the seeds from our Soda Bottle Bird Feeder by Channel Craft.  White-winged Doves and Gambel’s Quail also visited and added to the chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0014 Soda bottle bird feeder

We also feasted. Larry is seen below preparing vegetables for a stir-fry using Zha Jiang Mian Sauce and Shirataki (sweet yam) noodles.

DSC_0024 Vegetable prep for Japchae

Rich and Jodi joined us for dinner on Monday.  On Wednesday, I joined them for a hike up Palm Canyon.

DSC_0113 Hiking with Rich & Jodi

Rich has a good eye for getting that perfect picture.  He is seen here setting up his camera on a tripod placed in a creek for a time exposure image of a waterfall.  (See Rich’s images in his post, “Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego“.)

DSC_0117 Rich, tripod & falls

We were all happy campers during our five days of glorious sunshine.  (See Rich’s video wrap-up*)  Even our dogs had happy faces as they trotted on the 0.6-mile sidewalk to the Visitor Center.

DSC_0156 Happy Tasha & Mac

Indeed, Happy days are here again!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Shifting sands at Agua Caliente

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

We had just finished celebrating Día de los Muertos* and brought along Larry’s homemade anise pan de muerto for our return to Agua Caliente County Park for five nights of camping in the sunny Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0029 Larry's Anise pan de muerto

DSC_0114 Desert bound

It was not so sunny here in late August when a weekend of heavy rains unleashed flash floods, rock slides, shifting sand and mud, causing damage to roads, parks, and homes.  When we made our November reservations for this park at the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation Administrative Office in September, an administrator there told us that about $10,000 worth of damage had occurred and that the park was closed for repairs,* but would be expected to be open at least by November.  When we checked in, Supervising Park Ranger, James Stowers, said that a lot of sand had washed down onto our reserved site, but we should be able to go in and out OK.  But as I backed the trailer up into this site, the trailer tires sank into and pushed against dry, very loose, uncompacted sand (about 5″ deep), while the rear truck tires spun.

DSC_0039 Too much loose sand

Since I got the trailer far enough into the site to be workable, I unhitched, and the next morning I reported my concerns to James about the large amounts of loose sand that might make it difficult for our 2-wheel drive truck to pull our trailer out on departure day.  I was pleased that he personally got on a tractor with a front-end loader* and scooped up buckets full* of sand and placed them in eroded areas in the sites above us.  This made us smile.*

DSC_0093 Ranger removed excess sand

Beautiful sunny weather with day temperatures in the 70s also brought smiles to our faces and even my rescued childhood doll, Howdy Doody*, seemed happy as Larry worked on Howdy’s major cosmetic and clothing makeover.

DSC_0144 Desert smiles and vistas

I again hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail, and although I did not see the bighorn sheep that I had seen in January, 2011, I did see interesting plants… and peculiar rocks.

DSC_0129 Interesting plants & rocks

I also spotted a large black widow spider on the fleece lining of our trailer tire covers!  (I always carefully inspect the covers during their removal since previously finding various spiders, a scorpion, and a field mouse!)

DSC_0149_2 Black widow spider

The spider had found a comfortable, albeit temporary home, while we were at home in the trailer.  We were cozy and content and had no idea that the sands would continue to shift for us when we got home, but at least wherever we are, home is where the heart is.*

DSC_0101 home is where the heart is

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Autumn leaves and leaps

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

We leaped into the beginning of our autumn camping season by returning to our favorite mountain campground, William Heise County Park, noted for its oak, pine, and cedar forests, Mule deer, and Rio Grande turkeys.  Our last autumn visit here was three years ago, so we really looked forward to experiencing the fall colors and the seasonal changes in the weather.  Last spring we rediscovered the joys of this park and were delighted to learn that the park now allows dogs (on a leash) on its more than ten miles of beautiful trails.

DSC_0073 Wm Heise autumn walk

We took advantage of the first two wonderfully sunny and mild days to get on the trails, especially our favorite Cedar Trail.  We were impressed with the sight of bright red leaves of Toxicondendron diversilobum (Pacific poison oak*) climbing up as a vine on oak trees.

DSC_0077 Pacific poison oak

Before the mid-week rain and windstorm moved in, we enjoyed watching hawks, crows, and bats fly by while enjoying sunset dinners at our campsite picnic table.  This summer our Oster long slot toaster burned out after only two years use.  We hated to toss this appliance since it has the classic, iconic shape of Airstream trailers*, so Larry gutted and converted it into a plate-napkin-chopstick holder (the treaded wheels came from Rockler).

DSC_0061 Plate-napkin-chopstick holder

I took an early morning hike hoping to spot some turkeys (last spring we noticed that they were not as plentiful as we had remembered seeing here three years ago).  As I walked up the campground road, I did spot a small rafter of turkeys* foraging on the hilltop meadow, but they ducked into the nearby woods as I approached with my camera.  I trekked further north without seeing more turkeys and began my return.  As I approached the same spot where I had earlier spotted turkeys, I was pleased to see a deer emerge from the woods, foraging…

DSC_0007 Mule deer foraging

followed by another…

DSC_0016 Mule deer foraging

Eventually a herd of five deer emerged and trotted across the meadow and leaped one by one over two rail fences and continued foraging!

DSC_0028 Deer leaping 1

DSC_0029 Leaping deer 2

They seemed to know that the safest place to cross is where there is a speed bump.  The “Speed Limit 10″ sign is a nice reminder to slow down and make the moment last,* and enjoy the falling autumn leaves* and leaps!

DSC_0120 Heise autumn leaves

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Celebrating life on Cedar Trail

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

After updating our trip notes in my See More, Do More, Live More – The Airstream Travel Journal notebook, we hiked the Cedar Trail and noticed that there are new signs, including one that alerted us that we were “Entering Mountain Lion Country”.  Cedar Trail is a one-mile loop trail that mostly stays under a canopy of oak, pine, and cedar trees representative of William Heise County Park, in San Diego, California.

DSC_0065 New signs for Cedar Trail

“Better to have campers take their dogs on the trails with a leash, than leave them alone at the campsite,” said the ranger.   We were thrilled with this new and progressive policy and took our Corgis, Mac and Tasha, on their first hike on a county trail.

DSC_0165 Larry & Corgis on Cedar Trail

Keeping an eye out for mountain lions, we rested on a bench near Cedar Creek and marveled at the magnificent trees and chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0144 Resting along Cedar Creek

Continuing on the trail, we saw dead oak trees killed by the goldspotted oak borer beetle, which has killed 80,000 oak trees in San Diego County over the past ten years.*  The 2003 Cedar Fire has also taken a toll here, but we celebrated the re-growth of trees, such as the California incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, coming up through holes in the oak canopy.

DSC_0055 Dead oak & live Cedar

We also spotted wild turkeys in this park and noticed that they did not seem as plentiful compared to when we first camped here six years ago.  Wild turkeys are considered a good “indicator species” and may reflect the health of an entire ecosystem.

DSC_0122 Heise Park wild turkeys

One of the trails from the Cedar Trail back to the campground passes by the cabin area.  These new William Heise Park cabins* are aesthetically pleasing, blend in well with the environment, and do not block views or replace RV campsites.

DSC_0105 Heise County Park Cabin

We returned to our favorite Airstream Safari campsite in this park and, even though we were tired, we smiled while we rested and cherished the memories of celebrating life* on Cedar Trail.

DSC_0058 A tired and happy Corgi!

*This is a YouTube video.

Summertime illuminations in the Cuyamacas

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

After cooling off at the beach, and rinsing off the salt deposits, our Airstream Safari was ready to get high again in the Cuyamaca Mountain Range that we visited just two months ago.  Last April, after a three year absence, we were curious to see how William Heise County Park fared after trees were damaged by wind and wet snow, and oak trees were killed by the Goldspotted Oak Borer.  We were pleased to see that there were plenty of oak trees still surviving and many improvements have been made, including new picnic tables, beautiful cabins, and the surprise that dogs are now allowed on park trails.  So on the eve of summer before temperatures peak, we returned for five days of camping in this beautiful forest setting surrounded by pine, oak, and cedar trees.

DSC_0041 Cedar fire damage to Cuyamacas

Ten years ago the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire* burned approximately 70% of William Heise Park, which is now a showcase of a forest in various stages of re-growth.  Chaparral is rapidly recovering, even though bleached white skeletons of black oaks and manzanitas are still seen on surrounding hillsides.  With rainfall just 65% of normal, San Diego County firefighters are preparing for yet another potentially dangerous wildfire season.

DSC_0032 Our Wm

We positioned our Safari in our favorite non-hookup campsite for optimal sunbathing, which enabled our two factory installed solar panels to recharge our two Lifeline AGM batteries to 100% by mid-morning each day.  We had full sun all five days and the solar panels delivered a total of 193 amp-hours by the fifth day.

Each day began by walking our Corgis, Mac and Tasha.  The ranger explained that the recent decision to allow dogs on trails in this park is based on the premise that it is better to have people enjoying hiking on trails with their dogs on a leash, than having dogs left alone at campsites.

DSC_0135 Larry walks Mac & Tasha

While our trailer soaked in the rays, we enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the nearby Coulter Pine and Canyon Live Oak trees as cool breezes flowed up the forest hillside.  This was an excellent location for reading, bird watching and listening to relaxing bird sounds.*  Our peace was only interrupted by biting flies that Tasha snapped at before retreating under the truck. (Larry killed 18 flies in one afternoon.)

DSC_0025 Relaxing in shade

DSC_0018 Bird watching at Heise

Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana

My summer reading included Illumination in the Flatwoods – A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey, by Joe Hutto. (Appropriate reading in a park known for its turkeys!)

DSC_0011 My summer reading

Our summer eve feasting included hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Mexican Zucchini steamed in a cast iron Japanese nabe.  It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy!*

DSC_0036 Summertime feasting

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

About the Author

BILL, along with partner, Larry, were first-time RV'ers when they purchased their custom-ordered 23' 2007 Airstream Safari SE. Bill (a retired RN) and Larry (a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist) enjoy bringing history alive in the area of San Diego, CA.