conservation ftw

Wildlife Wednesday: California mule deer


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.

conservation ftw

Tuesday Zoosday: who’s on exhibit, exactly?

SD Zoo condor, people watching

This photo thoroughly entertains me. The condor is totally people watching. He (or she, I’m not really sure) kept pacing back and forth, following certain people as they walked past the glass. Sometimes he would pick up a stick and parade back and forth with it. Finally, after a very long time, he grabbed one of the sticks and ran (yes, RAN) to the back of the exhibit.

Enrichment is important for captive animals; it keeps their minds healthy and active, staves off boredom and helps prevent obesity. (Yes, animals have all the same health concerns we do, too.) But sometimes the people are a type of enrichment, too.


conservation ftw

California Friday: native habitat at the SDZ Safari Park

SD Zoo Safari Park, natural scenery

One of the interesting things to me about California is the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, Texas is huge and all, but California is SO LONG that you’d have to drive from north Florida to just about the New York state line to get a similar trip. It’s about a thirteen or fourteen hour drive  from north to south, and there are so many different types of landscape that it’s hard to picture in some ways.

According to the Nature Conservancy, San Diego County is the most biodiverse county in the continental US. That’s easy for me to believe. Not only is San Diego County extremely large, it covers a wide span of landscapes. You have the coastal salt marshes and the bay marine life, the cliffs, the river valleys more inland, you have chaparral and desert and mountains and pine forests, all in one county. And because of development, many of them are becoming endangered.

The habitat in the photo is of native coastal sage scrub habitat, protected within the property of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are species that only live in this type of environment, and the Safari Park has dedicated about half of their property to remain untouched in order to preserve it. The amazing thing is really how little of this habitat exists: only about 10-15% of it is left from what was originally here. It’s hard to imagine a place that looks (at first glance) so brown and empty having so many things living in it, but it actually sits at a sweet spot in relation to the other more extreme local environs. The coastal sage scrub almost never freezes, and yet almost never goes about 90*F (or 32*C) and so is a perfect place for animals and plants to thrive. That’s why the hillside in the photo is so important to this area. (You can read more about what the Safari Park is doing here… it’s a .pdf, so you know.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a little local knowledge I’ve gained. If you’re ever hiking in the area, take a minute to appreciate being in such an amazing, wildlife filled place, especially because it only exists in such small pockets of the country.

conservation ftw

Wildlife Wednesday: burrowing owls!

Living Coast, burrowing owl

Ever since I read Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, I’ve been kind of fascinated by these little birds of prey. This burrowing owl is from the Living Coast Discovery Center and is part of a colony they have on exhibit there. They eat insects and small mammals, or small reptiles and amphibians they find. One interesting thing I learned about them is that they actually nest in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels, which are very common here. They hunt by running along the ground (which I would SO love to see, with those little legs scooting along) or by swooping and grabbing things (like insects) from the air.

Burrowing owls are locally (in Orange and San Diego Counties) almost extinct, other than a tiny population on a Navy base. The Orange County base recently started bolstering protection for the owls, which are the only nesting owls in this part of the state that anyone has found, and they are very close to another endangered species (least terns) right on the base. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the terns are naturally snack food for burrowing owls.

There are over twenty subspecies of burrowing owls, including the Floridian one made famous by Hoot. They used to be common all over the US but since their territory is also prime land for development (wide open areas with sparse vegetation), they are running out of places to breed in localized areas. You can read more about them at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network site.

Personally I think they are ridiculously cute, with their fluffy bodies and long, skinny legs and I’d love to see one in the wild. I’ll add it to by California bucket list. ^_^

conservation ftw

Tuesday Zoosday! This baby okapi is pretty much adorable.

SD Zoo, baby okapi

So there’s a baby okapi at the San Diego Zoo. She’s a couple of months old at this point, but I got to see her last week for the first time and she is pretty cute.

Okapis are a giraffe relative (don’t let those stripey legs fool you into think they might be zebra cousins!) and live in a very small, dense rain forest area of central Africa. There are less than 100 in zoos around the US, and several of those are here in San Diego. They’re fascinating to watch and I always make a point of going by their exhibit.

SD Zoo, baby okapi with mom

I think the most giraffe-like quality an okapi has is the head. If you look at the shape of the face, and at they way the tongue is manipulated to get shoots of grass or leaves, you can definitely see the family resemblance,  I love the huge ears these animals have. I know the photo is super over-exposed, but they were moving quickly in and out of that bright patch of light; usually they hang out in the shadows near the front of the exhibit, but baby girl there wanted to run and explore. She was awfully cute. Have I said that yet? It’s cool though because you can see how their legs blend in with the trees in the foreground, and you can kind of imagine what it’s like when they blend into their native forests.

Okapis are part of the Species Survival Plans Program and are a perfect illustration of how zoos benefit and promote species conservation. These animals are SO elusive in the wild that there is almost no way to study them. By observing them in captivity and learning about their reproduction and husbandry, we can learn to manage their populations and hopefully supplement the wild population. There is also a movement to educate people about so-called “bushmeat” which is often okapi or other endangered hoofstock and the like.

I think these animals a pretty cool, though I’ve only seen them a handful of times. If you’re interested in reading more about them, the San Diego Zoo’s website has some good stuff, as does the Okapi Conservation Project. ^_^

conservation ftw

California Friday: at the Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery Center, insid

Last week I discovered a nature center type place that’s south of me, right on San Diego Bay, called the Living Coast Discovery Center. It’s connected to the National Wildlife Refuge and sounded really interesting, so my friend and I drove down to see what it had.

Living Coast, docent presentation

We found out that this place has been there since the 80s but that most people don’t even know it exists, even though it’s got a great little animal collection (including a lot of native species, especially birds of prey!) and their emphasis is on education. They have a couple of full size classrooms, which makes them perfect for summer camps and school field trips, which I really liked, and a very knowledgeable team of docents.

Living Coast Discovery Center, sea stars

Some of the larger exhibits included sea turtles and a shark tank, where we got to see the sharks getting fed. They also had some smaller tanks with native species (including snakes, lizards, and these California sea stars), as well as some exhibits that seemed to be on a rotational basis. It was very interesting.

Living Coast, owl exhibit

My favorite part of the whole place was the walk along the back of the building, where you’re looking out over the salt marsh and walking through the bird of prey exhibits. They even have a big exhibit full of burrowing owls! I liked it so much I bought a membership and plan on heading back soon.

conservation ftw

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.


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. ~_^

conservation ftw

Tuesday Zoosday: more from Saturday at the Safari Park

Safari Park, scenic view

As I mentioned in my post from Saturday, I went to the Safari Park with friends that day, and I’ve got a few random photos to share. Mostly I noticed that they moved the zebra herd into a new (much easier to see) exhibit, and that the baby animals I saw last time I visited have all grown a lot.

SD Zoo Safari Park, gorilla plays

I visited the gorilla exhibit for maybe the third time ever, and saw one of the young ones having a wonderful time with some grass pieces. There was much rolling and grass pulling and happiness.

SD Zoo Safari Park, mother bat

Though this isn’t the most wonderful photo (as I didn’t have my good camera with me), this is a mom-bat and her kit. Right after this, she flipped up to hold the food dish above her with her front claw to create a little cradle for the kit, and proceeded to groom it all over. Pretty much adorable. Bats are so interesting, and make up about 25% of all known mammal species. It’s really amazing to think about the sheer number of them out there.

SD Zoo Safari Park. lions

I really liked this view of the lion exhibit. Usually the lions are much too close to the glass for good photos. Weird complaint, I know, but it’s much easier to photograph them at a distance. I like how the mountains are in the background.

SD Zoo Safari Park, northern white rhino

This is a pretty good photo of one of the zoo’s two northern white rhinos. There are only a handful left in the world, and the species is on the brink of extinction. It’s strange to think these animals won’t exist except as preserved specimens in another generation.

SD Zoo Safari Park, baby elephant

And last but not least, I leave you with a photo of one of the Park’s baby elephants. Just too cute, and growing all the time. ^_^

joanna irl

Philippines, Day 8: the Underground River and Farewell Dinner


So, it’s been a couple of weeks since I got back from the Philippines and a lot has happened since then, but I still want to do the last couple of entries about the trip. This one is from Friday, June 6, and is from our trip to the Underground River, one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Our tour was early in the morning and the light coming over the islands was beautiful.


We took another outrigger boat from the dock around to a side of the island not easily accessible by foot. It was a short ride, but we passed some really cool rock formations before arriving at the landing beach.


Once there, we got checked in and saw some of the native wildlife…


We boarded canoes to take us into the river, which is inside a long cave full of bats and swallows. The only light came from the spotlights we carried on the boats. Because of that, I don’t have very many photos. Plus it was just about the same as last time.

I did get to see more monitor lizards, though! They were even bigger than I remembered, and I made a point of getting better photos. ^_^


It was fun for the group, especially after a long week.


We got back on the outriggers, and returned us to the dock where we started, which also had a lot of shops and a restaurant, where we ate lunch in a treehouse. It was huge, and had enough tables for all of us, and the food was really good.

We hung out at the beach for a little while after lunch, with some people playing in the water and some of us walking the length of the sand. I also got to take a nap in the shade, which was SO nice. I was pretty worn out by that point.

That night we had our farewell dinner, hosted at the pastor’s house. It was pouring rain (hello, beginning of monsoon season!) and the power was out, so we squeezed into the main room in the dark, with plenty of candles to light the meal. We were even treated to some traditional Filipino dancing! Then, as we were starting our “formal” goodbyes (where we give each other little gifts and such, before the huge group hugs and crying later) the lights came back on. Yay!


Here’s the whole group, except for me (since I’m taking the photo). ^_^ Our hosts had made the party “Hawaii” themed and even gave us leis! ^_^ Mine is now hanging by my front door.

We still had one more planned morning in the Philippines before heading back to Hawaii on Saturday night… but I’ll save that for the next entry because it entails an ADVENTURE.

joanna irl

San Francisco and the Muir Woods

San Francisco Golden Gate bridge crossing

The day after our visit to Monterey, J and I continued up the coast to San Francisco. Since we were so close and we’d both always wanted to visit, we couldn’t resist. We picked a destination (the Muir Woods, but I’ll get to that next) and headed north. In less than two hours, we found ourselves driving right across the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco Muir Woods, tall redwood trees

Muir Woods is a national monument and park with some of the southern-most redwoods in California. They aren’t the massively wide variety you find way up north, but they are massively tall. It’s hard to describe the size of them, and only slightly less hard to photograph the size of them, but I did try. You’ll see J standing in the middle of the wooden trail for a reference point. Muir Woods is also where the UN met to memorialize FDR’s death; he’d used the forest as an example of the value of national parks, and to show the potential for them. Many of the trees look much the same in photos from that era as they do today.

San Francisco Muir Woods, inside a trunk

I suppose part of the reason the trees didn’t seem all that wide was the sheer height of them by comparison, though obviously a very tall tree needs a very wide trunk to support it. This trunk is hollow in the middle, and rubbed smooth by the generations of park visitors running their hands across the bark. Because of this, it’s one of the only trees you’re actually allowed to touch.

San Francisco Muir Woods redwoods

The trees tower overhead, some of them in circles around a dead stump, the new generation of already ancient forests. I was fascinated by the bark that seemed to be folded into long strips along the trees, sometimes looking like stripes, and by the vividness of the red wood. We only did the short (two mile) round trip hike, and I’d like to go back and explore the area more.

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

From the Muir Woods, we drove back down to the Golden Gate Bridge National Parks area. Turns out there are a lot of national parks (and therefore a lot of places to get my passport book stamped!) It includes the bridge itself, Fort Point (a Civil War-era fort beneath the bridge), a warming hut, a wildlife area, all sorts of things. We only got a visit a few and at a very quick pace*, but it was worth it.

San Francisco under the bridge

Fort Point was one of the best areas, and also one of the least crowded. The signage wasn’t fantastic and we weren’t even sure it was open, so were happy to discover not only could we walk around the inside of it, but it had a lot of great exhibits. The Fort is directly under one end of the Bridge (as you can see) and also has a lighthouse (which you can also see) and a nice collection of canon.

San Francisco Fort Point

The inside of the Fort is in remarkable shape, and there are exhibits and classrooms on all of the levels, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. There are also nice views of Alcatraz and the coast from the top of the wall, accessible via a spiral staircase.

San Francisco floating docks sea lions

By this time, we were getting hungry so we headed back down to the pier area. There are several active piers (for cruise ships and fishing boats and the like) but several have become restaurant a shopping areas, including Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked a bit of the area but quickly settled on a place to eat dinner and were rewarded with awesome views of the water. After dinner we were able to walk down through the shops and see better views of Alcatraz as well as more sea lions, the Bridge in the distance, and other iconic sights.

San Francisco Alcatraz

Alcatraz sits in the middle of the bay and is a lot more colorful than I imagined. See the purple wildflowers on the hill? The day was sunny and clear and we were able to see a lot, which is unusual for this time of year.

San Francisco Lombard Street

On the way out of town, we crossed an intersection with Lombard Street, so we took a short detour to drive down the winding block that is so famous. The view from this street is gorgeous, and it’s nestled in rose gardens with the houses on either side. J and I both got a kick out of the little drive, and then hit the road toward home.

San Francisco will definitely need another visit, there was just too much to see in one day, but I feel like we gave it our best shot. We even bought a round loaf of sourdough bread for the ride home.


*It takes SEVEN HOURS to get home from San Francisco, which is fine for a weekend, but if the day gets away from you… LONG NIGHT OF DRIVING.