Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmastime in San Diego

I've been sick lately, so I've missed out on a few events before I could post them here in my blog.  We've already gone past December Nights and one week of the Parade of Lights. Don't worry, if you missed the Parade of Lights around Coronado Bay last weekend, there's more this weekend. It get pretty crowded and cold, so arrive early and bundle up. Perhaps an evening barbecue at Glorietta Bay Park in Coronado before the parade might help.

I love my neighborhood this time of year. Despite being a poorer, working class neighborhood, they take pride in it and the majority of people decorate their houses with lights and whatnot. I work at night, so it's so nice driving home and seeing all the lights. Back when a lot of homes were being foreclosed on, a lot of the neighborhood lights went dim. It took a few years before I started seeing a lot of lights again.

If you're wondering what's closed on Christmas, a lot more than on Thanksgiving. All government offices, libraries, etc. are closed on that day. Most stores and restaurants will be closed or only open a short time on Christmas Day for those last minutes gifts. Some parks and all rec centers will be closed, too. Lake Murray's gates are locked, but you can still go in and walk and see the ducks. Just be aware that it will be packed like on Thanksgiving. Please be kind to animals.

Speaking of Lake Murray, we have a poor male Pekin with injured or diseased feet. I see swollen joints on him and tears in his webs as well as bumblefoot. Pekins, being a meat duck, are bred to be disproportionate and often their legs can't handle the added weight. When they get bumblefoot, an infection in the feet, it can spread to other parts of the body and cause arthritis, especially as they get older. I keep an eye on the domestic ducks at the lake and if I can get them help, I do. But, I am unable to take them home or care for them myself. The added restriction of not being able feed them due to park rules and that people get upset if I try to catch them for treatment makes it harder. I can tell he's hurting sometimes, but seems better after a swim and walking on the sand rather than the rocky shoreline. In this photo, he seems to be feeling good, but his foot seems sore.

The Christmas weather is expected to be very warm up until Christmas eve and then seasonal for Christmas day and the next few days after. I hope it's good the following Sunday as I'm doing the Christmas Bird Count that weekend and don't want to be wet after being sick such much this season.

On New Year's, I plan to go out counting shorebirds in the South Bay.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in San Diego 2014

Well, Thanksgiving is tomorrow and that's the start of the Christmas season, literally.  Many stores are doing big sales on Thursday.  I don't plan on doing any of those sales.  I don't know what to buy people anymore, anyway.  I've heard that many sales are really not that big of a bargain if you know when to buy things.  I also don't like the crowds.

There are several "Turkey Trots" around town in the morning.  Exercising is good on a day where you eat a lot.  There's the San Diego Turkey Trot and Food Run.  It's held at Rohr Park in Bonita.  Be sure you bring a non-perishable food when you run.  You can find out more at  Father Joe's, a well known charity and shelter here in town, also holds their own turkey trot and encourage people to "move your feet before you eat".  You can find out more about their run at

Many places you might not expect to be closed tomorrow will be.  Lake Murray will be closed and there is no parking anywhere except the street.  It's also one of busiest days of the year at the lake.  Expect to have problems with parking and crowds.  Also, since the lake is closed, fishing will not be allowed.  Anyone who fishes on that day is poaching.  Please save your fishing for the days the lake is actually open.  You are free to walk and picnic at the lake.  Be aware that you will probably have to walk a long way to get to any picnic areas.

If you want to do some bird watching, or bike riding, the usual bike paths and hotspots will be open along the South Bay and San Diego River.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Eskimo Curlew Obsession

I wrote this about my Eskimo Curlew obsession.  Since I've written this article, the Squidoo site was merged with HubPages.  The link still works, but you will be directed to HubPages instead of Squidoo.

Eskimo Curlew Painting in the last 1880s
by Archibald Thorburn (1860 - 1935).

A lot of people know that my favorite bird is the killdeer, but, I'm also obsessed with Eskimo curlews. It all started when I saw (or saw again), the ABC Afterschool Special and read the book by Fred Bodsworth called "Last of the Curlews". It was a sad story about a lone male curlew in search of a mate, and then finds one, only to lose her at the very end of what was a promising travel back to the nesting area. The whole story of the Eskimo curlew was a very sad one that may have ended in extinction. But, I deeply hope that is not the case.
The Eskimo curlew was the smallest curlew in the Americas and was once the most numerous shorebirds in the region. It looked a lot like the whimbrel which is still pretty plentiful in most areas today. It had a remarkable migration going from the top of the Earth in the high arctic, almost all the way down to the tip of South America, though not quite as far as the red knot or arctic tern does. Like many birds in the mid to late 1800s in the United States, it was hunted mercilessly and went from multiple millions of birds to practically none in about twenty years. The bird had an endearing characteristic of returning to comfort its hurt mates and colleagues when they were shot or injured. Hunters took this as stupidity and this trait of the curlews made it easier to mow down huge flocks of these birds for the market.
Even when this bird became extremely rare, it continued to be shot by collectors wanting to be the ones to have one of the last Eskimo curlews in its existence. With the passage of the Migratory Bird Act in 1918, most of the shooting stopped, but it was too late. The bird was considered extinct in the 1940s, but was re-found in the 1950s. A pair of birds was frequently seen in Texas each year from the late 1950s to early 1960s when the two were photographed. One bird was shot in Barbados in 1963. This ends the last official records of the species. But, other sightings were confirmed up to the 1980s. There have even been fairly credible sightings up until the early to mid-2000s.
I maintain a page on Squidoo about Eskimo curlew sightings. One of the problems that people seem to be having is distinguishing the curlew from the whimbrel. Most people alive now have never seen an Eskimo curlew even in a museum. Skins of the bird are not common and only a handful museums display mounted specimens and mostly in the states where the specimen was obtained. Most skins are kept locked up and one has to get special permission to view and study them up close. Juvenile whimbrels can look very much like Eskimo curlews, especially far out on a mud flat. Many people also confuse Eskimo curlews with long-billed curlews. Even back in the 1960s, with photographs and a specimen, even sighting was highly scrutinized. Without physical proof, no sighting of this bird will ever be accepted now. Since the bird was, more or less, officially declared extinct this year after 50 years of lack of physical proof, I haven't heard of a single sighting where I usually hear of at least two or three a year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Herons eat just about anything!

Earlier this year, I witnessed some recently fledged herons at Lake Murray hunting squirrels.  I wrote this article about it:

When some people look at herons, they see either an unusual bird or a majestic bird. They move with beautiful rhythms and look stately and noble, especially the tall great blue heron. But, behind these interesting looking birds is a vicious killer that will eat just about anything and anyone. Large herons, like the great blue, also have "eyes bigger than their stomachs" and will kill prey much larger than they can eat.
Many people I've come across are surprised when I tell them what herons eat. People seem to assume that they only eat fish and maybe a frog or two. I used to think that until, one day, I came upon a black-crowned night heron hunting ground squirrels. Later, I found out through observation, that ground squirrels were a regular on many heron species' menus. Their job is made easier when people leave food out for the squirrels, setting the table for the predators.
Another common prey for herons is birds. Herons will eat any kind of bird they can catch, usually when the bird is unaware. I've seen them go after killdeer, for example. They will also eat ducklings, coots, baby grebes, and even nearly-grown clapper rails. Ducklings aren't safe from the herons until they are, at least, four weeks old. Even then, there might be an ambitious heron that might go after them at that size.
But, fish and amphibians do make up the bulk of most herons' diets. They also will eat rats and other rodents and sometimes snakes and lizards. Fish seems to be their favorite. It would seem they would seek fish, first, and if anything else is around, they will try to grab it. I've seen ducklings swimming around near herons being ignored because the fishing was good. Some of the prey herons eat also prey on young waterfowl, thus balancing things out.
Herons hunt with slow, methodical, stalking. Their slow movements put prey at ease and sometimes the target forgets they're there. Then, once the heron has inched within striking range, they grab their prey quickly. They seem to have the greatest patience of all hunters. They will stalk their prey for long periods and even when they miss, they begin again with more stalking.
Where I live in San Diego, we have several species of herons living in the same area ranging from small to big. Great blue herons are the most common, but we have yellow and black-crowned night herons, green herons, least bitterns and sometimes American bitterns. Herons are everywhere around here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Small Town of Santa Ysabel

Though I have written this in August, 2013, nothing much has changed.  I've even been there several times since then, including during the Great Backyard Bird Count earlier this year where I saw the cute oak titmouse and a scrub jay right near the store.

There's a small town about fifteen miles east of Ramona, California that I've been visiting for more than two decades called Santa Ysabel. The area was formally part of the Mission Rancho system and still contains a mission chapel in the area that serves the community and the local Santa Ysabel reservation of Kumeyaay people known as the Iipay. For all the time I've been traveling to the area, I've never seen the population on the town's official sign say more than 400, but I think there's really more people that live in the area.
The town has one official center at the intersection of State Highway 78 and 79. Most people pass through there on the way to Julian, about seven miles away uphill. Here, there are several shops and stores as well as a gas station, artisans, a few houses and, I think, one apartment building.
The Julian Pie Company has a store there and popular stores include Dudley's bread,
Don's Market, and the Santa Ysabel General Store which also serves as a small historical center. There is a full-service restaurant that used to be called Apple Country, but is now under new ownership and may be changing the name and menu. Other amenities may be found at the recently built Santa Ysabel Casino just north of the town center on Highway 79 where they tout craft beers and a restaurant.

The area of Santa Ysabel is actually very large and extends for miles from the town center. Much of the area is used for cattle ranching, but there are people in the area who raise sheep and horses. There are also quite a few hiking trails in the area that are mostly unknown to outsiders. The biggest trail system, put in to place fairly recently, is the Santa Ysabel Preserve. There are two areas to easily access it. The main area is just off of Highway 79 north of the town center, but also can be accessed north of Julian on Farmer Road. 
The other access area, which has a parking lot and horse staging area, is west of the town center on Highway 78. Be aware that the trail passes through many cattle ranching pastures that are still frequently used and free-ranging cattle may be encountered on the trails. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day during summer months. Winter hours are more restricted. There is also another, lesser-known smaller, trail system at the end of Mesa Grande Road which may be difficult to find.
The best time to visit Santa Ysabel is near the weekend due to the fact that several businesses are only open on the weekend, usually from Friday-Sunday, though a Dudley's bread is also open on Thursday. Don's Market and the Julian Pie Company are open 7 days a week.
Here are some helpful links for more information:

Monday, November 3, 2014

RIP Tom Magliozzi from Car Talk

Tom Magliozzi, one of the Click and Clack brothers of CarTalk passed away recently.  I don't know exactly when, but it was announced today.  I've been noticing that they've been doing reruns, especially when they had Melissa Peterson as a teenager on their show, for the last few months.  But, apparently, they haven't made a new show in over two years.  Instead, they've been mixing up and rehashing old shows.

I started listening to them in the 1980s.  Both brothers seemed easy-going.  Tom went through several wives while on the show, I think, but came across as someone who always looked on the bright side.  I had no idea how much older Tom was than Ray.

Tom had Alzheimers and I guess his declining health made it impossible for him to do the show.  He was only 77 when he died.  Alzheimers is a hard disease to deal with.  It not only affect memory, it affects other behaviors and moods as well as other physical effects.  I feel for those who care for loved ones with that disease.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Beach Birds of Mission Bay

In May of 2013, I wrote this article about the birds I see around Mission Bay, an easy place for people to visit here in San Diego.  Now that it's fall, it's a great time to go see these birds.

Assorted shorebirds

Godwits and Willets
I don't know how many people go to the beach or bay not to hang out, but to check out the local wildlife. In San Diego, there is a recreational area called Mission Bay where people don't usually sunbathe or swim (though a few can be seen doing so). This bay was dredged out so people can use jet skis, boats, fly kites, row or kayak, run their dogs loose (on Fiesta Island only), or play a game call "Over the Line" among other activities and events. But, Mission Bay is also a place for the birds-literally. 

Thousands of birds call the bay their home as they have done for thousands of years.
Before the bay was dredged for human use, it was more marsh-like and many birds populated and bred in it. There are still pockets of these marshes preserved throughout the bay and one of them, the Kendall-Frost Marsh, is fenced off from people. However, a good variety of birds can be found on the beach just outside the marsh. Other areas that are fenced off include several least tern nesting sites which are managed by the city of San Diego and the San Diego Audubon Society. Each year, the nesting sites have to be weeded because the disturbance of the soil from dredging allowed many invasive plants to take root. The California subspecies of least tern is endangered mostly due to loss of breeding habitat.  
Even in more disturbed areas, birds are abundant. Despite the fact that loose dogs run all over Fiesta Island, many birds don't seem too bothered by them. In the water, brant geese, ducks, and grebes continue to feed among the speeding watercraft. Willets and marbled godwits seem to be the most common type of shorebird along the beaches. Killdeer often nest in the least tern nesting habitats, usually well before the terns arrive.

Horned larks
When visiting the bay, be mindful of the birds around and don't intentionally harass them. Winter is the best time to see the most variety of birds with just about every type of shorebird that usually visits the San Diego area can be seen. In the summer, most of the birds seen are terns, gulls, raptors, sparrows, horned larks, and other small birds.
While I based this article on my own experiences, here's a few links that might be of interest to readers:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Story of a Dumped Duck

This was a story I published about a year and a half ago about "Bitey", a male Pekin duck.  I miss Bitey a lot and think of him often.  I still don't know what happened to him, but I hope he ended up in a safe place with lots of food, nice people, and girls galore.

"Bitey" was a pekin duck that was dumped off at Lake Murray in the fall of 2012. Many ducks are dumped off in the fall months, usually about six months after Easter. Last year, a large number of domestic ducks were dropped off at the lake. People dump ducks for various reasons. They are either sick of having them, can't keep them any longer, or think that ducks belong near a lake or waterway. What's worse is that the general public doesn't seem to notice that these ducks don't belong at the lake. They see the same white ducks year after year possibly thinking they're the same ducks they see all the time not knowing they don't live long.
When Bitey first arrived, he behaved like any other dumped duck. He began socializing with an older, previously dumped pekin and both became very good friends. This older duck showed Bitey where to get food and girlfriends. Bitey didn't stand out in any way. Then, something changed in the spring and Bitey's behavior began to change, too.

Bitey liked eating out of that small bowl
In spring, duck hormones change and many male ducks get frustrated and agitated. Bitey no longer wanted to be near any other ducks. Other male ducks, even ducks smaller than him, began to attack and chase him around. One thing that began to be a real problem with Bitey is that he began to act strange around people. He didn't move if you walked up to him and he would bite if you tried to touch him. He would also bite you if he wanted you to feed him, sometimes biting really hard. It's not abnormal for domestic drakes (male ducks) to get a little bitey during breeding season, especially. But, most of the other drakes at the lake never let humans get close.
He would spill food, but choose to eat out of the bowl
It wasn't that Bitey wasn't afraid of people. He actually was terrified of them. When I picked him up one time, I could feel how scared he was. But, he wouldn't move away like the other ducks did. As a result, he was the potential subject of abuse. So, I worked to find him a home. I couldn't take him, myself, as my apartment complex doesn't allow animals, except cats, not even temporarily. So, I let him stay at the lake while I put the word out.
After a month of not getting anyone to take him in, Bitey disappeared. No one knows what happened to him. Another duck in the same area was left there and was fine. I did find a small clump of white feathers that looked like they were plucked near where he slept, but Bitey sometimes did that to himself. Or, one of the other ducks could have done that to him. Other than that, there was no sign of him at all. I hope someone took him home. He was there about eight or nine months. A few weeks after Bitey disappeared, two more ducks were dumped near the same area. Within a couple of days, one had disappeared with no trace, as well. The average lifespan of a dumped duck is less than three years.
I have a Squidoo lens on dumped ducks, including Bitey.  But, they're being transitioned over to HubPages.  Check back soon for the new link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What's going on this weekend, October 25-26th, 2014

Wow, lots of things going on in San Diego this weekend, mostly related to fall and Halloween.  Here are a few things I've found:

Boo Parade:  This parade is happening October 25th at 10 AM along El Cajon Boulevard from 54th Street to Montezuma Road.  Then, there will be a festival at College Avenue Baptist Church from 11AM to 5PM. Visit the official website,  for more information.

Least Tern Habitat Restoration:  If working outdoors and helping wildlife is your thing, come out to Stony Point on Fiesta Island to work on the least tern nesting area.  Volunteers will be helping with weeding and repairing the habitat to help manage the weeds before the terns return to nest next year. Stony Point is located at the far end of the dog run on the west side of Fiesta Island.  It starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m.  Contact the Conservation Program Intern, Christina Hirt, at 858-273-7800 or at

By the way, if you want more information about San Diego's wildlife or nature events, you can visit my column on

Borrego Days:  I really love this festival out in the desert in the middle of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  It happens every year on the last weekend of October.  This year, it will start on October 24th at 5PM, but the parade takes place on the 25th at 10AM.  From the 24-26th, there will be live music, food, and art booths at the Circle.  For a schedule, directions, and all the rest,  visit the Borrego Chamber of Commerce's official page.

There are a lot of other things going on this weekend, but to list them all would make this a really long article.  These three are my favorites.  Don't forget, also, there will be a special Bicycle Birding tour on the Silver Strand next Thursday morning, October 30th at 8AM, as well.  You can find more details about that on the San Diego Audubon Page.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nest Monitoring for Science: My Experience

Last year, I wrote an article for Yahoo Voices about my work with Nestwatch, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science program.  I've been doing Nestwatch for a few years now.  I just finished monitoring a dove's nest on my neighbor's porch light.  I've also done several killdeer and hummingbird nests.  Here is what I wrote last year:

Killdeer nest I monitored 

I have been monitoring nests and reporting them though the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Nestwatch program for a couple of years now. Each year, I have to be "re-certified" for the program by taking the online training and quiz again. To do this program, you don't need special skills or knowledge, just a love and concern for birds and an interest in science. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several "citizen science" programs that center around birds such as "Feeder Watch" and "Celebrate Urban Birds".
Where I live, hummingbirds nest in the courtyard of my apartment building, so I usually monitor all of those. Plus, I monitor any other nests I find on my regular routes, such as at Lake Murray where I often walk. I've tried monitoring other nests in my area, but I've found that unless I can visit them at least twice a week, it's not worth monitoring them because the data I enter might not be helpful to the scientists. The program usually wants people to visit their reported nests at least twice a week or on a regular basis.
So far, I've monitored about ten Anna's hummingbird nests, three or four killdeer nesting sites, one mallard duck nest, two osprey nesting attempts, two raven nesting attempts, and three red-tailed hawk nesting attempts. What I love about nest monitoring is watching the babies growing up and getting to know them. I especially love watching killdeer nests. Technically, killdeer are considered fledged once they leave the nesting area, but I still monitor them until they can fly (if I can find them as they often move around). The same goes for ducklings. I think it's important for scientists to know exactly when these birds feather and fly even though they're not in a nest. I also monitor the hummingbird babies as long as they're still being fed by their mother.
It's not all fun, though. Watching nests can be sad because predators sometimes eat the eggs and babies. I've lost two hummingbird nests; at least one, for sure, to crows. Crows have also gotten one entire killdeer nest and probably were the cause of a missing egg of another one. Gulls got many of the ducklings of the mallard nest I monitored. So, one has to be prepared for these things. I just hope that all the data I enter is helpful to scientists.
This article is based on my personal experiences, but here are some helpful links about the Nestwatch program and some of the birds I've mentioned:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Remembering my first birding trip to the Tijuana River Mouth in 2013

Back in April 2013, I did my first birding trip to the Tijuana River Mouth where I saw snowy plovers and other birds getting ready for migration.  I have been back since then, most recently when they huge shoals of anchovies arrived and thousands of birds took advantage of them.

In early April, 2013, I made my first trip to the mouth of the Tijuana River to do some birding. Though I have been birding for over three years in San Diego and Imperial Counties, I haven't been to this "hot spot" of local birding, yet, though I've heard a lot about it. Recently, a Wilson's plover was seen in the area. Wilson's plovers are rare in this area and most of the time; they stay south of the U.S. border, except for summer visits along the Gulf of Mexico, east coast, and the very south part of Florida.

The closest place to park was at the end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. From there, you can see the Tijuana River flowing down towards the mouth. In this area, you can often see waterfowl and herons and, perhaps, a rare light-footed clapper rail. There is an observation deck situated over the marshy area. Where I had to be was about a 20-30 minute walk south which can be awkward if you're carrying tripods, scopes, cameras and the like. I walked along the edge of an area roped off for the least tern and snowy plovers to nest until I reached where it ended and set up my equipment.

In front of me was a flock of black-bellied plovers turning into their breeding plumage. 

There were several tiny western sandpipers; some of them were half-buried in the sand. sandpipers were running all about.They seemed to be the most bold of all the birds there, coming very close to me. 

A couple dozen snowy plovers were running around in the more sandy areas nearby.

Not far from me was a large flock of terns and gulls, screeching and flying all around. Pelicans, both brown and white, sat on a mud patch. One thing I enjoyed was the plentiful long-billed curlews flying and calling all around. They seem to like to fight with each other. A whimbrel tried to fly into their area and was chased off.

I tried to take pictures through my scope, but I just haven't gotten the hang of it, yet. I did manage to take several pictures with my normal camera lens. Just after I started to leave, a family came by and started flying a kite, causing all the birds to fly off and scatter all around. They were reacting to it like it was a falcon. Just a few minutes ago, they seemed calm, but were now agitated. Needless to say, the family got a good talking to by Fish and Game officials about that.

I didn't see the Wilson's plover.
Though I used most of my own personal experience in this article, here are some helpful links:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

George the killdeer and the killdeer blog

In late 2010, I wrote about one of my other blogs here on Blogger:  Killdeers, Phoebes and Finches.  I also talked about George the Killdeer as well.  George was a real killdeer, but he may have passed away recently as I haven't seen him for at least a year.  He left Lake Murray in 2011 or 2012, but returned each year with his family.  You will find this blog in my lists of blogs on this site.

You can also find out more about George and his family at:

Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!) is a blog that I am currently keeping on a family of killdeer at Lake Murray in San Diego, California. 

One might wonder what, exactly, a killdeer is? A killdeer is a plover, a shorebird, but they have adapted themselves to living close to people and away from the shore. Most killdeer need some kind of permanent fresh water nearby for their daily requirements. However, a small drainage ditch or creek is more than enough for a killdeer to live a good life provided that there is always drinkable water. Killdeers like to live in open areas like golf courses, airfields, farms, fields, and, of course, on a beach.
Killdeers are mostly brown and white and are distinguished from other plovers by their double banded breast-marks and necks. They are about the size of a mourning dove with long, stilt-like legs. They often nest in the open and divert predators with a broken-wing act. Both parents usually care for the eggs and chicks. Their eggs look a lot like rocks and can be easily missed if they're laid in a rocky area. Their chicks hatch after about 24-28 days and the babies can run within hours of hatching.
Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!) talks about killdeers, chicks, ducks, and other birds that live around the lake. There are stories about chicks, ducklings, and other babies that hatched or were born in the summer. Raptors are also mentioned as are other shore and water birds.
So, if one is interested in birds, especially in the San Diego area, check out Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!). The main killdeer family in the blog, headed by a male killdeer named "George" (also called M2 in the blog) can also be chronicled on Twitter as @killdeergeorge or by clicking on the link in his name above.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Volunteering at the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America

Back in 2009, I wrote an article about what it was like to volunteer for the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America.  I volunteered there through Volunteer San Diego, which is no longer in business.  However, you can schedule volunteer time with each agency individually.  Enjoy this article on what it was like during the time I volunteered at these food banks.  I updated the links on the original article.

For several months in 2009, I volunteered at the Food Bank and Feeding America in San Diego. Both are types of food banks that distribute food to the poor and to other organizations that deal with hunger. The Food Bank was established in 1977 in San Diego and has its own pantry for people to pick up packages of food on their own and have a warehouse where organizations can obtain food for distribution. Over 10 million pounds of food are distributed annually through this organization. They also deal with government donations and large corporate donations of brand name items. Another one of their facets is educating the public about hunger in the region. 

Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) deals with many organizations that deal with homelessness and hunger around the region. They also receive donations from large companies like Kraft, Del Monte, and Kellogg's. A lot of what they do is help alleviate some of the burden on local food banks and have a long list of outreach to the community to fight hunger. They also act as hunger advocates.
I found out about volunteer opportunities with these organizations through an volunteer organizer here called Volunteer San Diego. Their offices are in the United Way building in the Murphy Canyon area. I like using Volunteer San Diego because they are very organized and I can record my hours and comments in a single area. This is very helpful if someone is looking for a job as they can print out the number of volunteer hours and locations to show a potential employer.
I started by volunteering at Feeding America. When I first arrived, I watched a video about what the organization does and then I went to work. I mostly sorted items that were donated. These items ranged from canned food to toys and clothes for young children. I had to be careful as some items leaked or were open and could spill on my clothes. In another area, the items were sorted down even more and special pallets were set up for certain organizations who placed orders through them. The work involved a lot of lifting, bending down, and standing for about two hours.
At the Food Bank, the job was a bit different. I helped put together kits for seniors that were distributed around the county. This involved uncrating brand new food items such as cereal, condensed milk, tomato juice, peanut butter, and other things. Often, items changed from month to month based on the donations. The workers worked very fast as everyone wanted to get as many kits made so that as many people as possible could be helped. Other people made boxes to place the food in and some broke down boxes that the packages of food arrived in.
During these projects, I've found that many different types of people volunteer for these projects. Some just like doing the work and feel good about helping. Others are students getting credit for their school or school organization. Some are also doing this because it's court ordered. And, some are doing it because they are on assistance programs the require them to put in a certain number of volunteer hours every month. People's demeanors are different and often based on why they're there. Some people didn't seem happy to be there and were not very friendly or talkative. Others were very energetic and talkative, but focused on their work. No one I've met there were mean or spouted a bad attitude.
Tips for volunteering:
Here are some things that I recommend if one wants to start volunteering at an organization such as Feeding America and their local Food Bank:
Wear your grubbies. That is wear clothes that you don't mind getting damaged. Packages and cans might break open and ruin your clothes. Also, closed toed shoes are a must as things can easily drop on your feet and break something.
Be mindful that some people have been doing this a long time. There are people that volunteer for these projects at least once a week and have been doing so for months or years. Some of them can be very territorial as to their "spots" where they like to work. So, if that's the case, see if you can find another place where you can be of assistance, or ask if they need help at their station. There's always room for someone to help.
Arrive Early to get the best choice of spots or jobs.
Beware of flying or dropping objects. At some projects, boxes could be thrown and heavy cans may drop that could potentially get someone hurt, unintentionally. So, heads up!
For more on Feeding America, visit:
For more on the San Diego Food Bank, visit:
Volunteer hours are usually at night or on weekends. You can also contact the Food Bank or Feeding America directly to volunteer. Have fun.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How to eat healthy at the fair

I wrote this back in 2009, but looking through it again, I see a lot of relevant points to today.  Sure, the food has changed, but the technique to keeping your choices healthy haven't.

Lots of food choices at the fair

Fair season in San Diego has just passed, but many areas in Southern California have fairs during the fall and winter.  I thought I would write an article about how to choose healthier options while enjoying the fair. Of course, the healthiest option is to bring your own food, but I feel that part of the fun of going to the fair is to eat. Here are some options that I have found to help with eating healthier. Most of these are based on my own research and experiences with fairs in southern California, but can be applied elsewhere. If anyone else has an idea specific to their area, please feel free to comment.

1. Grilled or BBQ protein, best if it's grilled chicken or steak. Fajitas can also be good in terms of watching one's calories and fat, but are usually soaked in a high-sodium marinade. Teriyaki dishes are higher in sodium as well. A word of caution: do NOT go for that turkey leg that is often seen at these fairs. They are at least 1000 calories just for one leg. I don't know how that happens, but that's what the fair food nutritionists say.
2. Fresh or Grilled Veggies. Try to find places that use whole vegetables such as grilled corn, stir fry, rice bowls, salads and the like. Watch the seasonings and dressings as these can add a lot of extra calories. Also, dishes with whole beans can be healthier, but stay away from re-fried beans as they often have lard, salt, and sugar in them.
3. Desserts with Fresh Fruit. There are often booths that sell fresh fruit desserts such as caramel apples and parfaits. I know of one place at the San Diego County Fair that sells a dessert with whole fruit with a little bit of sponge cake and whipped cream. However, to keep it low calorie, skip all the syrups and limit the whipped cream and nuts.
4, Low or Non-Fat Frozen Yogurt is often available nowadays at the fair. Also, you can often find low-fat ice cream and even non-dairy options. The best option is to have it served in a paper bowl or cake-style cone and not the waffle cones or bowls.
5. Ask for a child or snack size. If you do want to indulge, ask for the smallest size. That way, you can still treat yourself without worrying about all the extra calories. Just limit these indulgences to a few items otherwise, you end up eating a lot of calories if you eat a lot of different snack sizes. San Diego County Fair often has a day where you can go around to different food booths and sample the smaller versions of their items for just a couple of dollars each. Other fairs might have the same option.
6. Drink Water instead of sugary sodas. 100% fruit juices can be a healthier option, but also contain quite a bit of sugar from the fruit and should be limited.
I hope these ideas help. I'm sure I'll see more choices when I go to the fair this year and I may report back on it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Remember government cheese?

I remember when I moved to California in 1981 with my brother and mother, we would sometimes go and get "government cheese" and I think powdered milk at the same time.  Not many people I know have ever heard about government cheese.  It didn't taste good, but it was edible and better than some of the cheap stuff at the stores.  It melted very well and was good on hamburgers or as grilled cheese.  It kinda had the consistency of Velveeta.

The cheese came in 5lb bricks and I remember that they were distributed out of a large truck.  It was part of a food program that stemmed from dairy subsidies and stockpiling for disasters.  President Reagan ordered the cheese to be distributed in 1981 as part as a Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program.  I think you either had to be low income or part of a food co-op, like SHARE, to get the cheese, but I don't remember.  I think they may have given it to anyone who wanted one, but only one per family and only once a month.

I know that the cheese was welcome in our household at that time, but we soon got bored of eating it.  By then, they had stopped distributing it and we missed it.

I found a great article on government cheese here:  WTF Happened to Government Cheese?

So, who remembers government cheese?  Did you eat it, too?

Sorry I couldn't get a picture of any blocks of government cheese.  It was so long ago, before digital cameras and everything.

Wayward Whale Seems to Like San Diego

We had a wayward whale enter San Diego Bay in March of 2009.  This was a little story I wrote about it for Associated Content:

A young California gray whale who had wandered into San Diego Bay on March 10th, 2009 doesn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. The 30 foot long male, of an indeterminate age, seems to like where it's at right now. The whale came into the bay around Shelter Island about midday and was thought to have left later that night. However, the next morning, he was seen even deeper to the south. He seems to prefer being around the Star of India and the main Embarcadero right on the coast of San Diego's Harbor Island.
It's not the first time, and probably not the last time, a whale has been in San Diego bay. Whales do like to wander there from time to time over history. At this time of year, most of the whales that had spent their time calving and hanging out in the waters off the coast of the south end of Baja California have begun to migrate north again. However, some whales, especially early in the year, are still making their way south. Right now, it is unknown which way this whale was going when he decided to take a turn into the bay.
The Coast Guard and a whale expert have gone out to check on the whale after a report that it was struck by a boat, which turned out to be false. The whale has said to be healthy and possibly feeding near the bottom. In fact, food may be the main reason why he came into the bay in the first place. Long periods of time pass between sightings and whale experts say that this is a good thing. When a whale is distressed, it surfaces more often and the fact that the whale is not surfacing that much means that he is more relaxed. There have been times when it is thought that he had left the area only to show up again later on.
In the meanwhile, business at the harbors of San Diego have been booming as people flock to get a glimpse of the whale which has surfaced fairly close to the docks. People are booking whale watching tours and spending money in the museums and shops in the area.
Gray whales are usually about 15 feet when they are born and grow to a maximum of around 40 to 50 feet long. At a year old, they can be as big as 25 to 30 feet. They are generally weaned at about 8 months, but stay with their mothers for about year, or after their first full migration. They are fully mature at about 8 to 10 years old They generally travel in small groups of three and pods up to sixteen members. When feeding or resting, they may associate into larger, temporary groups.
Sea World and other cetacean authorities say that they can't do anything regarding this whale at the current time. Federal law also states that people and boats must stay at least 100 yards from any whale and not do anything to impede its movements in any way.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remembering the FA-18 that crashed into a San Diego neighborhood

I wrote this in December 2008 when an FA-18 crashed into a home wiping out a man's entire family, including his mother in law, wife, and babies.  To me, this seems like just yesterday and can't believe it's been almost 6 years since that happened..  I used to work in the area at that time.

At about noon Pacific Standard Time, an FA-18 military aircraft crashed into a neighborhood in the northern part of San Diego called University City. The plane crashed into a home on Huggins Street near Cather Avenue near highway I-805 just east of Genesse avenue. Witnesses say that the plane pretty much broke one house in two and set fire to at least two other homes. Some vehicles were also set on fire. Debris was widely strewn all over the area. Nearby residents were evacuated due to toxic fumes in the area and as of the time of this writing, they are still locked out of the area. 

The pilot ejected and landed near University City High School. He appeared mostly uninjured and asked a civilian for a cell phone to call his batallion commander. According to the civilian, the pilot seemed very concerned about where his plane landed. He was taken to the hospital to be checked out. Apparently, he was on a Marine training mission, flying offshore from the U.S.S. Lincoln when one of his engines failed. Since he was not allowed to land on the carrier, he decided to make a landing at the Miramar air base inland. He was on final approach, about two miles away from the airstrip near Governor Drive, when the other engine went out and the plane began to drop suddenly and that's when he ejected.
Four people, all family members from the home first hit by the aircraft have been confirmed dead. They consisted of a grandmother, mother and two very small children. The family had just moved there to have a bigger house for their growing family. The husband and father of the mother and children was at work when this happened.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Remembering Martha and her Kind

Martha probably never knew how special she was.  She probably never knew she was the last of her kind and no more of her family existed anywhere.  She spent most of her life in the Cincinnati Zoo where she passed away on September 1st, 1914, exactly 100 years ago.

Martha, stuffed, in 1921
Photo by Robert W. Shufledt  

Passenger pigeons once filled the sky in various areas east of the Mississippi River.  They traveled in one huge flock from food source to food source and nesting site to nesting site.  They were often seen flying over in large groups for days.  People often described the loud beating of their wings as they massed in such a large flock.  Europeans often considered them a pest, native people considered them a blessing from the creator.  No one ever thought they could go extinct.  Then, one day, they were gone pretty much all of a sudden.

For at least a few thousand years, perhaps longer, native peoples lived alongside the pigeons with no problem.  The pigeon squabs were collected by the native people before they fledged.  The people used an almost unlimited number of squabs for food.  But,  they never seemed to have affected the population despite the heavy harvest.  One thing native people's tended not to do is hunt the adults during nesting season (though some tribes didn't totally ban hunting the nesting birds, they did hunt them less at this time).

The white man, however, hunted them at any time all the time whenever he saw them.  The market hunters in the 1800s would wipe out large numbers of adult birds at one time.  They also cleared more and larger tracks of the forests that supplied the pigeons with food.  This led to a rapid decline of the pigeons as well as other species, like the Eskimo curlew, the most numerous shorebird in the world at that time.  After about forty years, all that was left was Martha.  People killed them all off.

People tried to save the pigeon, but many people saw the pigeon as a pest and in abundance, so they didn't think it really needed saving.

One thing Martha has taught modern people is that you shouldn't take advantage of any species just because they're abundant to the point of being a pest.  For example, Canada geese, at one time, were so reduced that people rarely saw them.  Now, they're everywhere.  The same with white-tailed deer.

I am reading A Feathered River Across the Sky.  It's a bit wordy, but contains a lot of information on the passenger pigeon and it's relationship with human beings.  You can buy it by clicking the link below.

Band-Tailed Pigeon by Tyler Karaszewski
The band-tailed pigeon is a local relative of the passenger pigeon.  It doesn't live in large flocks, but does like to gather in the mountain forests of the west.  There are efforts to clone and re-create a passenger pigeon and the band-tailed pigeon will be both the host for the clone and a source of DNA to fill the gaps in the DNA already extracted from mounted specimens.

I once came across the band-tailed pigeon who had accidentally strayed west of the mountains.  They are a large pigeon and usually solitary or in pairs.  It, promptly flew off.

I found this interesting article while researching Passenger Pigeons.  It explains more about them than I can say in this blog:

A Feathered Tempest

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Living in a fire prone area

I originally published this in 2008 a few months after we had just gone through another horrible fire season.  The 2007 fire season was the second worst for the San Diego area.

I live in the eastern part of the city of San Diego, California. I don't live in the backcountry, but as you know, it doesn't really matter when it comes to wildfires around here. There have been major fires only a mile or two from me. Over 20 years ago, we lost over 40 homes in a neighborhood right here in the middle of an urban area only a couple miles from my home. 

Where I live, it's very urban, but we have small canyons all over the place. Sometimes, homeless people will camp in them and start fires. In the case of the 40 homes that burned, I believe it was either a backfire of a car or a cigarette thrown from a roadway at the bottom of a brushy hill that moved quickly up to the homes. Human activity is often the instigator of a lot of wildfires. So, fires are a big threat in the city as well as in outlying areas.
There is the same kind of brushy hill that burned in that fire not even a half mile from my home. But, people have been better at clearing their brush then they did back then. They will get fined if they don't and they can only have certain types of plants in certain areas of their landscaping. Where I work, there is a large, natural, urban park that is often prone to fires. I work next door to a fire station and when they head towards that park, I know it's because of a brush fire. The area had a lot of shake shingle roof homes there that have been converted to more fire-resistant material. But, there are still a few buildings here and there that have the old type of roof on them.
I feel sorry for people in the backcountry areas whose homes and businesses are often worth over a million dollars easy. Sometimes it seems that clearing brush doesn't work when the fire gets big enough.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's up for Labor Day weekend in San Diego?

Labor Day 2014 is fast approaching in San Diego.  This year, it falls on the 1st of September, which seems a little strange.  So, the weekend actually starts at the end of August on the 30th.  I've managed to scrounge up a few suggestions on things to do this Labor Day weekend in the San Diego for those who live or visit here at that time.

Gulls on the beach.  Come join them!

Expected Weather:

First, a tip for those who are new to San Diego or are visiting:  The weather can be very hot during September, even at the beach.  Sometimes, we also get humidity and even thunder.  But, thunder and rain is extremely rare in San Diego, especially this time of year and near the beaches, so there’s not much worry about that.  Bring plenty of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. 


Now that I've mentioned it, a beach trip is necessary during Labor Day weekend.  You choose the day and time.  Unlike Memorial Day, Labor Day is usually a better time to go to the beach in San Diego because it’s usually warm/hot and sunny.  Memorial Day is often cold and cloudy.

Sand Sculpture Competition:

This is not a free event; there is a $7-$12 at this U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge.  It takes place at the B Street Marina at the cruise ship terminal.  You don’t just get to look at fantastic sand sculptures.  There will be music, storytellers, sculpting classes and much more.  It takes place the entire weekend from the 29th to the 1st from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Festival of Sail:

This is a pretty cool event at the Maritime Museum downtown.  Like the Sand Sculpture Competition, it runs all weekend from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  It’s actually located not far from where she sand sculptures are happening.  It costs $5 to get in.  Visit for ticket information, directions, and other details.  The Maritime Museum is a good place to visit any time of year if you can’t make it to this event. 

For nature-related events like hiking, eco classes, bird watching, visit my page.  I only list those kinds of events through that site, but only when several of them are happening in a weekend.  Subscribe to me there for updates on my content.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Little Church on the Island

In 2008, I visited Catalina Island for the first time.  I wrote an article about a friend of mine who was fixing up a church that he was a pastor of.

Pastor Dominguez

On August 18, 2008, I got a chance to visit the resort island of Catalina off the coast of southern California. While on that island, in the town of Avalon, I visited with Enrique Dominguez, one of the pastors of the Catalina Bible Church, the other being Pastor Luise Sanchez. He is a long time resident of the island who has just returned to pastoring this church after being a pastor at my regular church in the San Diego area, Bonita Valley Community Church, an Assembly of God Church. His wife, Santa, was also a pastor there.

Pastor Dominguez was in the process of remodeling the church as well as the living quarters upstairs that will be used by his family when I visited. The church is actually located in a house called "Singing Waters" which was previously owned by the author Gene Stratton Porter before one of the former pastors bought it in 1967.
The church is a small, modest one that has waxed and waned in membership since its start in 1963. Right now, it seems to be growing, but has room for more. They are currently turning the kitchen into a professional style kitchen to serve meals. Also, rooms are being expanded to hold more people and activities.
Pastors Sanchez and Dominguez hold services in English and Spanish. English services are on Sundays at 11AM and Spanish services are at 6PM on the same day. There is also Sunday school after worship services and bible studies during the week.
This church services people who live in Avalon, but visitors are always welcomed and there is a family sort of atmosphere.
I would encourage people who are planning to visit the island to visit this Bible based Christian church. They are located at and their mailing address is:
346 Catalina Ave/PO Box 1544
Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, CA
They are actually very close to the harbor, about a mile or less and it's an easy walk.
Their phone number, for any questions, is: (310)510-0073
Their e-mail address is:
For more information, visit:

I have more photos of the island that I took:

Avalon Bay

Trying to get the golf cart going

Most people drove around in golf carts in town

A few residents had cars

Catalina had a Mediterranean feel to it.

Other side of the bay

One of the interior roads

Golf course