Threadwalkers, wildlife watching

Threadwalkers Blog Tour: day 2

It’s Tuesday, so welcome to DAY TWO of the Threadwalkers blog tour, aka virtual book tour. Yay!

Blog Tour Links for March 6:

  • Here is a lovely review from Arkham Reviews to check out. [read more]
  • This is another review from Married to Books. [read more]
  • An excerpt of Threadwalkers is available over on FirstBookLove [read more]
  • Finally, a review from Birdie’s Bibliotheca. [read more]

Come back tomorrow for the next round!

Backyard shenanigans

One of the things I’m enjoying this week is the DRAMA of the hummingbirds in my backyard. They’ve fought over the feeder since day one (and I’m seriously thinking about getting a second one just so everybody will calm down a little) but the new development this week is that A) they aren’t afraid of me anymore so they are fighting above and around my head and B) they figured out they could perch on the decorative pieces I have hanging from the porch ceiling and stand guard over their preferred feeder spots.

hummer on art

So cute and ridiculous! (It’s not a great photo but at least you can see one of the loudest of my soap opera cast.)

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Travel, wildlife watching

Birthday Camping Weekend in the UP

I’m a month late posting about it, but for my birthday last month, we went camping in the Michigan Upper Peninsula and got an early taste of fall that was so much fun.

We camped in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which is home to the second biggest freshwater waterfall to the east of the Mississippi River (the biggest, of course, being Niagara). Our site was near the Lower Falls, and when the breeze was still we could hear the waterfall in our tent at night.

There is a nice hike between the Upper and Lower Falls, but there are also parking lots and short trails with access points and overlooks if you don’t want to hike the 5ish miles (or, as is the case with our visit, if it’s been raining and the trail is too muddy to deal with).

The leaves were just coming into the start of their peak, and the ones around the waterfalls were mostly golden with a few shots of red thrown in. The roads between the UP towns had more autumn color, and I kept stopping the car to take photos.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is also home to the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, which is located inside the park. They’ve got a restaurant and shop, and you can sit outside on their huge porch in rocking chairs surrounding a cozy open-air fireplace while waiting to be seated.

One of the days we were there, we visited Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Shipwreck Museum has artifacts from about a dozen shipwrecks from Lake Superior, and stories about what brought the various vessels down.

You can also visit the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s quarters, learn about the history of lifesaving efforts on the point, and walk along the beach.

The museum’s signature piece is, of course, the bell of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, from the 1975 shipwreck immortalized in song by Gordon LightfootΒ (which plays nearly on a loop in some parts of the museum). The bell was brought to the surface in 1995, and serves as a memorial for the men who were lost.

The other highlight of the trip for me was a visit to Deer Ranch in St. Ignace. Not only is St. Ignace a quaint, adorable fishing village with plenty of shops and restaurants (and Mackinac Island Fudge to boot), but it’s home to the oldest white-tail deer ranch in the US. For just $5 you can visit the deer, and for $1 more you can get a cup of food (we had carrots and apples).

When you walk through the ranch, there are barns and runs for the fawns, a huge yard for the older does, and then several wooded lots in the back for the adult resident deer, including some leucistic (white morph) deer! Since they are hand-reared, they are pretty comfortable with humans, and many of them enjoyed having their ears and backs petted. (I made so many deer friends!)

And of course there were meals in little local breakfast places and bakeries and cooking on the campfire and all the usual things that make camping so fun. We’ve enjoyed escaping to Michigan, and particularly the UP, during our time in Chicago. While I’m looking forward to getting back to the west coast, the north in summer and fall is quite nice.

food things, Two for Tuesday, wildlife watching

Tuesday Twos

I enjoyed telling you two little stories about the previous week last Tuesday so thought I’d do it again this week.

The first is less a story and more a general thing but I have finally decided to not let the cold win and I’m fighting back by wearing clothes I like (under the heavy coat as needed, of course) and cooking the foods I miss from other places I’ve lived. This includes chilequiles (which are an amazing egg and tortilla dish).Joanna cooks chilequiles

So I clearly picked that one up in California (well, Mexico originally), but then there’s a taste I miss from Hawaii. I can occasionally find this in markets and street fairs, but it’s always made with pork, which I don’t eat. This week I reached the point where I finally decided to try making it at home: (turkey) spam musubi.

Joanna cooks spam musubi

I need to marinade a little longer next time I think, but overall it was good. And I cut up a fresh pineapple to have with it and made a cheapy mai tai out of pog (pineapple orange guava) juice and pretended I was back on the island.

My last recipe isn’t one at all: I found a local Filipino market that sells banana lumpia (among many other tasty things) and Oishi ube pillows, which are my favorite ever Filipino snack. Seriously.

banana lumpia and oishi pillows

So I’ve been fighting the cold with food from warm and sunny and beautiful places and I think it’s helping. I can’t eat the junk all the time, of course, so there will need to be modifications to some (though the chilequiles I made with egg whites and lots of peppers and onion), but it feels good to have tastes I love again.

Now for story time.

Yesterday, J had the day off of work so we went down to the park that runs along the edge of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a mile and a half from where we live, so in warmer weather it’ll make a nice walk, but yesterday was, y’know, still in January, so we drove. We walked along the beach and found some lovely trees and had a really nice time and after about an hour and a half, we decided to head back to the car.

Along the way, we passed the entrance to a section of trail marked as a bird and wildlife preserve, and I stopped to look at some chubby squirrels, all bulked up for the winter, and the fluffy sparrows sitting above them.

chubby squirrel, winter in chicago

As I paused, an older man walked up and started tossing bird seed onto the ground. He smiled at me so I smiled back, and he continued up the trail. I watched the birds and squirrels hop around gathering the seeds a while, then decided to head along the bird trail just for a couple of minutes to see where it went. (J is a very patient guy.)

man feeding birds, winter in chicago

The older man came back down the trail and pointed to the top of the little rise behind him. “There’s a cardinal!” So we went up the rise to look. He came behind us, and when we got there, he walked right down to the bushes, whistling at all the birds, and tossing seed for them. He had a separate packet of different seed. “Special, for the cardinal.”

cardinal in snow, winter in chicago

There on the snow, a single bright red bird landed. He was surrounded by other birds, mostly brown sparrows, but his red feathers shone so brightly it was no wonder we were all watching him. “The sparrows, they’re greedy and eat everything!” the man said. He shook his head and walked away.

sparrow, winter in chicago

We watched the birds for several more minutes before heading back to the car. The man was long gone. I wonder if he comes every day in the winter to feed the birds, and if he’s got a whole list of them he looks for when he’s there. I wonder how long he’s been coming to the park. And I wonder what it will look like in spring when it’s not covered in snow and ice and mud. I’m ready to find out about spring.

cardinal on branches, winter in chicago

conservation, wildlife watching

Wildlife Wednesday: California ground squirrel

ground squirrel, face

The squirrels are different here.

This is a California ground squirrel, and I am fascinated by these little creatures. Growing up on the east coast, I was accustomed to Eastern gray squirrels (which are everywhere) and the occasional chipmunk (which is very small and stripey) but I’d never seen one of these before. The first time I encountered any kind of ground squirrel was in Canada in 2007. It was the oddest looking little fat rodent, and I took a bunch of photos of it as it ran along the sidewalk and into the grass. (Side note: the funny thing about zoo people, even just people who spend lots of time in zoos, is that we get VERY EXCITED over things like this, ignoring the zebra or whatever in the exhibit. After all, the zebra will still be there later, this is WILD NATURE HAPPENING.) Anyway, that introduced me to the idea of ground squirrels. Needless to say, my upper-midwest relatives thought I was hilarious.

ground squirrel, chewing

These squirrels range all over California, all the way to central Oregon and Washington, and can be a foot and half long when full grown.Β This particular ground squirrel is a juvenile, so very small compared to what it will be. It was having a snack and I enjoyed watching it forage in the plants. The ones I’ve observed have been in groups, with burrows in the ground that they hide in when people (or predators) get too close.

ground squirrel, side

You can see the almost spotted pattern of the squirrel’s fur here. There is another type of ground squirrel in the state, the golden mantled ground squirrel, but it is more in the mountains and has distinct black and white markings that make it look much more like a chipmunk. At any rate, I find these little guys very interesting. Keep an eye out for them if you’re ever out walking.

wildlife watching

Wildlife Wednesday: California mule deer

20130821-140839.jpg

One of the interesting things about living on both coasts is that some of the wildlife is similar… And yet not quite the same. On the east coast, white tailed deer are so prevalent that they actually pose a hazard to drivers along the roads. On the west coast, I’ve been introduced to mule deer.

Mule deer live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in most of California. They are prey for mountain lions and feed on local vegetation, though sometimes they get into gardens.

One thing I really like about them is their antlers; mule deer antlers grow in thick and fuzzy, and one they are fully grown are often elegantly curved.

The place I’ve seen them the most is actually at the Safari Park. The come into the large grazing exhibits (like elephant and rhino) where they want be followed by mountain lions and can get the leftover hay, or eat the grass available. They’re all over the park, though.

wildlife watching

Wildlife Wednesday: What are these ducks?

California wild duck?

So this photo is from a couple of weeks ago when I went out for an afternoon at the lake with some friends. I’ve been encountering plenty of California wildlife that isn’t quite like the stuff I’ve seen other places, so I snapped this picture and saved it to blog about once I’d figured out what these ducks were. Given that they look the same, I assumed they were of the same species…

…which is basically correct, in that it turns out that they are both mutant mallards.

Sigh.

I’ve seen mutant mallards before, notably when we went to Chincoteague about four years ago, but never this consistent looking. For whatever reason, these blended with some local domestic ducks (which I saw across the lake, I might add) and turned out that way.

So there you go. Ducks can mostly all interbreed (especially ducks that were the predecessors to today’s domestic varieties, like, y’know, mallards) and sometimes they all mix up again in the wild. How do I know these are part mallard? There’s a distinct curl on the tail feather. Yeah.

This has been your wildlife Wednesday. Stay tuned tomorrow for a Throwback Thursday, assuming I can find a good photo to throw at you. ~_^

wildlife watching

Earth Day 2013: Balboa blooms and birds

Balboa Eucalyptus sunshine

This is one of the first Earth Days in a while that I haven’t been working or volunteering at an event of some sort, which is a little weird. I hope I can get outside and enjoy the sunshine today at least.

Balboa pink roses

In the meantime, here are some photos I took in Balboa park last week. The rose garden we visited at Easter is now exploding with roses, and I added two new birds to my list of sightings.

Balboa white roses

I really liked these white roses, but my favorite new blooms were called Rock and Roll; they were red and white stripes, like the blooms had been painted, and I kept singing the Alice in Wonderland song “Painting the Roses Red.”

Balboa rock and roll rose

I also saw a western bluebird, which is similar to the eastern bluebirds I grew up seeing, but just different enough that I had to look it up in my bird book.

Balboa western bluebird

And then I saw one I couldn’t identify at all, until I thumbed through my guide to north american birds twice and finally realized it was a hooded oriole. Not an uncommon bird around here, I guess, but it looked a lot different from the Baltimore variety I’ve seen on the east coast.

Balboa hooded oriole

So there you have it. Flowers and birds to brighten up your Earth Day.

Travel, wildlife watching

Sunset Cliffs and California Wildflowers

Sunset Cliffs, yellow flower path
Last week J and I spent an afternoon at Sunset Cliffs. Our friends had recently gotten portraits done there, and the photos were beautiful, so we decided to go exploring.

Sunset Cliffs, beach

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is adjacent to Point Loma Nazarene University, and consists of meandering cliff-side trails, wide spans of open space, and a long strip of beach at the foot of the cliffs.

Sunset Cliffs, purple flowers

This time of year, the wildflowers are popping up everywhere, and the ones at Sunset Cliffs are no exception. The ground is blanketed in yellow, or pink, or purple depending on where you look, and the birds and other wildlife are active, taking full advantage of the springtime opportunity.

Sunset Cliffs, cove

We saw surfers and people walking dogs and beautiful vistas, but unfortunately had somewhere else to be at sunset that night so didn’t get to see the colors on the cliff faces. We will definitely be going back for that soon.

Sunset Cliffs, J and J

More photos from Sunset Cliffs are here. ^_^

 

 

conservation, Travel, wildlife watching

Southwestern Wildlife Spotting: Volume 1

The following are some accounts of wildlife I’ve seen since moving to California. This isn’t an exhaustive list, mostly just of those animals I’ve photographed, but there are a few I’ve ID’ed with no photo (which makes me sad… but still happy I saw them). Not all of the photos are fantastic, but they “work” for IDing and I don’t always have time to ask the animal to sit nicely and pose for me. Ha.

Arizona painted rock petroglyphs, lizard

Common Chuckwalla

This is a common chuckwalla. It is probably a female; according to my reptile book, the females retain the juvenile characteristic “banding” pattern on their tails.

Whale watching, gray whale faces

These are gray whales, and I blogged about them after whale watching. We also saw meinke whales but I didn’t get a photo because they were moving too quickly.

Whale watching, dolphin pod

Also from the whale trip: Dolphins and sea lions, though I’d seen them before at La Jolla cove.

La Jolla sea lions, group

Sea lions in a pile.

La Jolla seals pup profile

Harbor seals.

DSC_0897

This is a desert cottontail. I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen one of the types of jackrabbit, but without a photo it’s hard to ID which type.

Sparrows dancing

These are just common house sparrows, but they were dancing (being that it’s spring and all) and it was fun to watch them.

Blue Sky western fence lizard

Western fence lizard— I especially like these because they are blue underneath, which you can see in this photo.

Flycatcher

And this is, I think, a type of flycatcher. I’ve got another photo of one, and I’ll let them stand for all of the songbirds and such that I’ve seen and not been able to ID or photograph.

Lake Ramona, flycatcher

Other birds include a bunch of red tailed hawks, red shouldered hawks, and (I’m not kidding) a real California condor I spotted, circling above the desert in Joshua Tree. I wasn’t expecting it, and thought it was a (really big) vulture I didn’t know, so made a note of the distinct black and white pattern on the bottom of its wings, then checked in my book later. Wow!

Lake Ramona, common checkered whiptail

This is a bad photo, but it ID’ed the common checkered whiptail lizard. It was really large (though not as large as the chuckwalla) and very pretty. Seen on the Lake Ramona hike.

Lake Ramona, common side-blotched lizard

A common side-blotched lizard. We saw a lot of them on the Lake Ramona hike.

Lake Ramona, raven

A raven. ^_^ It didn’t say Nevermore, though.

So that’s what I’ve seen so far. There have been even more local plants and wildflowers, but I really should save those for another entry.

photography, the funny stuff, wildlife watching

Hiking in Blue Sky: aka The Lake is a Lie

Blue Sky welcome sign

Maybe instead I should say the lake was not what we expected.Β At any rate, the other day, J and I broke out my (until then) unused Hikes of Southern California book and picked one that was relatively close to home. It was in the eastern part of the county, at a place called Blue Sky Nature Reserve, and a level 1 to 2 (so “kid friendly”) and described an amble along one of the river beds that used to be all over this part of the state, until they were dammed for water sources. (This should have been our clue; after all, we JUST learned about that stuff a couple of weeks ago at Casa Grande, where the entire landscape changed after the water was diverted.)

But I digress.

Blue Sky wooded trail

The first part of the hike was as promised, and we descended into a little valley with a small creek, tons of birds and other wildlife, and a few early wildflowers.

Blue Sky tree branches from fire

The area fell victim to fire back in 2003 and many of the old trees are still standing, their blackened, bare branches curled against the clear sky and reaching out from the new growth on other trees. It’s a little strange, but beautiful nonetheless.

Blue Sky honeybees
Beeees

Then, as the book had described, the path forked and we could choose to go left to Lake Ramona, or right to Lake Poway. We chose left to Ramona and kept walking down the (now wider) track. After a while we passed (very quickly) under a tree that was vibrating with the hum of thousands of honey bees, flying throughout its canopy. Finally the path came out of the trees and opened into its main portion.

And we saw the climb.

Blue Sky hiking to the dam, Lake Ramona

In an effort to be optimists, we thought that SURELY this hike wasn’t up to that dam WAY UP THERE (see it? almost in the exact center?) and the path seemed to curve around to the left and away, so we started.

Slowly the slope increased, and we gained elevation, and the path doubled back above itself…. and over halfway there we realized we were DEFINITELY hiking to the dam.

Blue Sky, the hike back

Dear California Hike Guidebooks: When you SAY “hike to a lake” but you really mean “climb a mountain to a dam,” that’s a LITTLE misleading.

Blue Sky at Lake Ramona

After a last push up the final incline, we finally made it to the man-made Lake Ramona. It’s lovely and blue, but still… just strange. At least the view was spectacular, and we were actually above (the also man-made) Lake Poway, so we could see it across the valley.

Blue Sky western fence lizard

We also saw some really interesting wildlife, including a type of hawk we didn’t recognize, some songbirds, a woodpecker, several types of lizard (including the western fence lizard in this photo), plus evidence of snakes (they leave trails in the dust– see below) and possible tarantula burrows (which are actually kind of fascinating).

Blue Sky snake trail

Overall the hike was definitely worth it, just not AT ALL what we were anticipating. Both of us kept remarking how glad we were that we wore trail shoes and packed sunscreen, despite the “gentle, shaded” description. The rest of my photos (along with some of wildflowers) are in this album, if you’re interested. ^_^