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

Friday, August 15, 2014

De-extinction Projects to Resurrect Extinct Species

The 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon is coming up very soon.  It's a sad anniversary and shows that just because an species is abundant doesn't mean it won't quickly go extinct.  The passenger pigeon extinction shows us that we shouldn't take advantage of the abundance of a species.

Here is an article I wrote last year about de-extinction projects to possibly bring back extinct species, at least their essence, though advanced cloning techniques.

Passenger Pigeon by Tim Krepp

There once was a time when there were different species of birds whose populations were so numerous that they were said to darken the skies for days as they passed over. At one time, there was an animal that helped thin out forests in Europe and became the ancestor of modern cattle. Once, there was a colorful parakeet that lived farther north than any other parakeet and was easy to tame. At one time, the booming sounds of a chicken-like bird could easily be heard around well populated towns of the eastern United States. But, no more, those animals are extinct.

But, perhaps they aren't gone forever. New technology and scientific knowledge may bring those animals back into existence. Stewart Brand mentioned several projects currently going on to bring several species back to life in his TED talk in February 2013. Among the species currently being worked on are the passenger pigeon, auroch, and the buccardo. During the talk, Brand mentioned several projects involving new techniques with cloning using related host species and back-breeding.
Besides the projects mentioned in Stewart Brand's talks, several other projects are well on their way to restore certain species. In South Africa, efforts are going on to restore the quagga, which was once considered an extinct species. With modern genetic studies, it was found that quaggas are actually a concentrated race of plains zebra that lived in South Africa. Plains zebra often exhibit variations in their stripes and patterns, including the lack of stripes on some parts of the body. While their project has had some successes, they are still a long way to completely replicating an actual quagga similar to the ones captured or killed in the late 19th century.
More projects could be in the works as the cost is decreased and cloning is perfected. Imagine a world where Eskimo curlew, the great auk, and the Labrador duck are still seen in their natural habitat like they were over a hundred years ago. It will be a long time before longer-extinct species such as mammoths and woolly rhinos come back into existence. There are other considerations such as whether there is an environment to come back to. Questions as to whether or not these "re-made" animals can survive in the wild at all or what impact would they have on existing animals that have filled in the gaps they left when they went extinct.
I, for one, would love to see some of these animals come back into existence. I feel that the people of the past deprived me of seeing many of them, especially the ones that went extinct in the early 20th century. I would like to see how they looked and behaved, even if they're only kept in captivity or for scientific research. I would love to hear the sound of the Eskimo curlew or see the beauty of the Carolina parakeet. Of course, none of these animals would be exactly like their extinct counterparts due to the difficulty of extracting their DNA from long dead specimens.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't dump your ducks in the lake!

I originally wrote this in 2010, but I thought I would bring this up because we are in the middle of duck dumping season which usually starts about 5-6 months after Easter.  I have another page on Squidoo called Life of Dumped Duckies

Many people get ducks as ducklings for pets or for Easter presents without realizing what they're getting involved in. Unfortunately, many of these ducks end up being left at a public park or lake, or escaping to one. People dump ducks off for various reasons. Some did not realize the nature of the ducks and their needs when they got the ducklings and had to find a place for them quickly. Others may have been forced to give up their ducks after their city code enforcement officer told them that poultry was not allowed where they live. Still others may have had too many drakes or had personality problems with their ducks and didn't have the heart to sell them for slaughter or couldn't find them good homes. Whatever the reason, people often leave their ducks out in the cold at their local lakes. 

I've heard people say that they've dropped off their ducks at the local lake and their ducks fit right in and did fine. Others say that it's good to drop unwanted ducks off at the lake because they will get fed and be free to be ducks. But, many of those people do not realize the harm that they do.
The biggest is that domestic ducks are very vulnerable to predators. Most common domestic breeds, especially runners and Pekins, can't fly. Most lakes have some kind of predator around, such as hawks, coyotes, foxes, and even domestic cats are dangerous to ducks. Domestic ducks, not only being not able to fly well, are often not aware of how to evade predators. Some of these ducks may have grown up around another family pet like a dog or cat and think they're all the same and try to be friendly to them.
Another issue that these "drop-offs" have is that they can often carry diseases that the wild ducks may be vulnerable of, or vice-versa. Many domestic ducks also have other health issues that their wild cousins might not have to deal with and could spread diseases to the wild flock. Large ducks originally bred for meat will often have leg problems, especially as they get older. Some domestics will not live very long even if they're kept fed and otherwise healthy in a wild setting.
Domestic ducks also cause problems with the population of wild ducks. For example, most wild ducks are great fliers as it's their main means of escaping predators and finding food. However, when they breed with domestic ducks, their offspring often can't fly or fly very well. Soon, there are too many ducks in one area that can't leave on their own and can't be captured and adopted due to them being wild. This can affect the ecosystem as it tries to support a large population of waterfowl all year long and can be detrimental to all wildlife. This may result in more illnesses and even starvation of some species. Not all lakes allow people to feed ducks and dropping off domestic ducks may result in their starvation if there are too many other ducks and wildlife using the ecosystem.
If someone is in the need of finding a home for their pet duck, there might be some alternatives to "dumping" them:
Place an ad on sites like Craigslist and other areas where they sell or deal with waterfowl. There's a site called Backyard Chickens which has a duck forum as well as a selling/swapping forum to find people who may be looking for certain types of ducks. It can be emphasized that they are to go to pet homes only, if necessary.
Ask the local humane society about placing ducks up for adoption, inquire about if they euthanize, and how long they keep them.
Post an ad at the local feed or tractor supply store.
If you have any kind of duck rescue or sanctuary, ask them if they have any advice.
So, don't drop those ducks off at the local lake! Not only is it bad for them and everyone else already there, they would miss their human companion whom they trusted.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Was that poison oak?

This was originally published in June of 2008 on Associated Content.  I still think the points are relevant.  I had just gotten a bad attack from poison oak even though I thoroughly checked for the plant.  Here are some tips on poison oak and what to do about it.

One February, I went out hiking in an unfamiliar area of the mountains near where I live. I had a great time, but about a few days later, I started getting these itchy, red spots on various places on my skin. I have skin allergies and other problems, so I figured it had to do with something like that. After a couple days of itchiness, I decided to go out and get some calamine lotions. While reading the label, I realized that I might have been exposed to poison oak. I've had a poison oak rash once before and should have recognized the symptoms. This exposure was a little worse than the last time, but still not that bad.

But, I wondered, how did I get exposed to poison oak? I only went off the trail once and there definitely weren't any signs of poison oak that I could see. I had some photos of the area and I still couldn't see any poison oak in them. Usually, what I look for are the leaves that usually grow low to the ground and the base of trees. I talked to someone who was a nurseryman and he told me to look up some sites on Rhus Diversiloba, the scientific name for poison oak. After browsing some sites for a while, I found an exact picture of what I was looking for: poison oak without leaves and it looked just like what I saw while hiking. There were no signs of green on them at all, just some reddish brown stalks that stuck straight up.
Generally, identifying poison oak can be down by looking at the leaves. Poison oak leaves are oval and broad in shape. They are usually grouped in three and a grow at the end of a long, sometimes reddish, stem. The plant will often grow in a large group, together, or they can be spread out along the ground. It likes to live off of other plants, so it's usually found under brush near bushes, rocks and on the base of trees. But, it's much harder identifying dormant poison oak plants. Often, they will grow low on the forest floor, hidden by leaves and other debris, or they grow straight and look like grass that has dried out.
The first time someone pointed out poison oak to me was on a hiking trip with an archaeological group that I was volunteering in. The plant looked pretty harmless and was even fairly out in the open. It was partially covering some morteros with a winding vine that attached itself to a rock. If we had wanted to study that site, we would need some heavy gloves and clothing to remove it. At that time, I hadn't been exposed to it at all, but I was amazed at how close to the trail it grew. A kid or a dog running around the area would have definitely been in trouble.
The second time I encountered it was by accident when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail near Ranchita and lost the trail. While I was trying to find it, I had passed through some brush looking for where to pick up the trail. At the time, I was wearing shorts and short sleeves and didn't see the poison oak I was constantly brushing. After about three days, I began to get a rash that was pretty itchy. It wasn't until I went to the doctor that I knew it was poison oak. I used cortisone and calamine lotions and it went away pretty easily. That was actually my first and only exposure up until that February hike.
While out hiking, poison oak should be avoided at all costs. The oil in the plants is similar to oils found in poison ivy and poison sumac, Urushoil and is found in both the leaves and the stalks. So, even if you don't see the leaves on a particular plant, the stalks can still be a problem. So, it's imperative that one knows all parts of this plant in order to avoid it. The Urushoil causes an allergic reaction and each time a person is exposed to the plant, the more sensitive the allergy becomes. Often, a person can touch the plant two or three times before they get a rash. Burning the plant is also very toxic, too, and eating it can be deadly.
The best way to avoid it is to stay on hiking trails. But, even that is not entirely fool proof. Sometimes, the plant will grow very close to trails and walkways. And, Urushiol can be carried on pet hair and clothing. If a pet runs off the trail, rubs against some poison oak, and then touched by someone, the oil can transfer to a person's hands. It can also transfer from the hands to other parts of the body, too. Scratching or touching an affected area within 20 minutes of exposure can spread the oil. After hiking, clothing and pets that have come into contact with poison oak should be washed to prevent repeated contamination.
In southern California, especially in San Diego County, poison oak is extremely common. Mostly, it is found in the less populated areas in the mountains, but still close to a lot of major trails. Most people who are regular hikers in these areas have either seen it or been exposed to it. It's rarely seen closer to the coastal areas and I have never seen it in the low deserts in all my years hiking there. I usually find it in areas where certain types of brush and trees tend to grow. It likes the cooler, more moist, air of the higher elevations.
If one knows that they are hiking around poison oak, they should take precautions. The main precaution being not to go off trail unless one is sure there is no danger. Long paints and sleeves are always useful, but not always practical, especially in summer months. In that case, taking a wet nap or a cloth to wipe off any possible Urushoil as soon as possible can be helpful, but is not a fool proof solution. Taking precautions will make the hike more pleasant. Happy hiking!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hiking in the Desert With Flowers

In April 2009, I did a very long hike down almost the entire length of the California Riding and Hiking Trail.  I've actually done the entire trail from north to south.  It's a nice trail with lots of interesting scenery and wildlife.  Here's what I wrote about back then.

In early April, 2009, I took a really long hike on the California Riding and Hiking trail which is located in the western part of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The area that I hiked is in what might be considered the "high desert" at about 3500 to 4000 feet in elevation. But, the trail actually starts in Borrego Valley at Hellhole Canyon and goes up and down in elevation until it reaches the Vallecito Mountain range.

While I was hiking there, I saw a large variety of tiny yellow flowers that I don't know the name of. I have included photos of it attached to this article as well as in my accompanying slideshow "Hiking the California Riding and Hiking Trail" already posted on Associated Content. Parts of the area were covered in yellow, especially at the higher elevations. There were also tiny white, pink, purple and blue flowers, too, but I didn't take pictures of them as they don't look too good when I photograph them.

The area that I chose to hike was hardly used and much of the trail was overgrown with plants and flowers. I regret that I had to step on many of them to make my way down the trail. But, this is a good sign that there was enough moisture this last season to have this many flowers. And, the flowers are very hardy and tough. Nothing much seems to phase them as long as you don't pull them out of the ground. One thing I did notice was that there seemed to hardly be any bees out pollinating them. That could have been due to the cold and windy weather that day.

From talking to people, I've noticed that many people really don't make any effort to see desert flowers. The best way to view them is by getting out of the car and actually hiking. So many of the flowers are extremely small and can't be seen by driving around. Also some flowers only grow in very specific places where the wind and water is just right. A few weeks before, I hiked an area where there were pretty much no flowers visible at all from the main road, but by hiking, one can spot several of many different colors and sizes.

If one can't handle hiking, many desert flowers can be seen near the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor's Center in Borrego Springs. There is a paved sidewalk and a lot of different species of flowers can be seen there during peak flower season. Flower season runs from about late January, peaking about mid-March to mid-April.
Here is the phone number to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park's Wildflower Hotline for updates:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I Look Forward to the Southwestern Monsoon

This was an article I originally published on Associated Content in June 2008.  I have cleaned up the article a little bit.

This is particularly relevant because we're getting rare August rains today.

Every summer around the end of June into July, August and September comes what is termed "monsoonal moisture" into the southwest. While some people in other parts of the world would hardly compare the heavy rains of their monsoons to the occasional downpours in the desert, the importance of these weather phenomena are almost equal. 

Rain in the summer is very important to the region and a some of these deserts. While many people in the region complain about the high humidity these airflows bring in, I look forward to them even if they're uncomfortable.

Monsoonal rains in the southwest begin with a high pressure system that stations itself over the Four Corners area of the United States. Air will rotate around this high and bring in moisture from the Gulf of California and sometimes the Pacific Ocean. Under the right conditions, it can result in thunderstorms that bring rain, mostly to the mountains the the deserts. But, it can also bring rain to areas closer to the coast. 
The thunderheads don't climb as high as they do in some parts of the world, so they rarely have large, damaging hail or winds. But, they can have some decent downpours. The permanent animal and plant life in these areas depend on the summer rains to provide them with water and relief from the heat during the hot summer months.
The clouds also help turn down the heat in the desert. Often, the temperature spikes in the middle of the day and within a few hours, storms start to form and the temperature falls. If all goes well, there's a brief shower, but usually not enough to worry about. Sometimes, they're heavy, sometimes they're not. 
Not only are the rains that come from the clouds that form important, I love the beauty of these thunderheads as they form over the mountain and desert landscape. I often make the trip out to where these storms are to get some photos. The desert with active thunderheads or rain clouds is at its most beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset. But, even in the mid-afternoon, when they are just beginning to form, they are interesting subjects.


Next week:  Was that poison oak?  Identifying and dealing with poison oak, a common poisonous plant in the San Diego area.

Welcome to San Diego Shorebirdie!

Welcome to my new blog!

I used to write for Yahoo Voices which is part of the Yahoo Contributor Network.  It's a user-content generated site where you got paid.  Before that, it was Associated Content.  I didn't write much for either one.  For some reason, my account was locked for almost two years.  Then, after emailing support over and over all that time, I finally got back in and wrote some more articles.  Not too many, but some.

Now, Yahoo Voices have closed and I wanted a place to post my content.  One of the other sites I use,, doesn't like people reposting content from other sites.  And, Gather, a site that I've been a member of for about seven years, doesn't pay me anything anymore.  I thought about putting my old content on Tumbler, but I thought, hey, why should I post on a site owned by Yahoo and still not get anything.  Then, I thought, maybe I can get something for my efforts on a new blog where I can control the content and the ads.  So, I am giving it a shot.

I am only going to re-publish relevant content.  Some of the content that I had on YCN, such as a review of a yogurt shop that closed earlier this year and about the transition to digital television, for example, will not be republished.

What to look for in this blog:

I plan to start out posting some of my old Yahoo Contributor Network content that is still relevant.  Look out for an article on the Southwestern Monsoon, which is happening right now as we speak here in California.  I plan to post that right after I finish this post.   I am going to try posting to this blog at least once a week or every two weeks, probably on a Sunday.

Also, look for new content such as a list of holiday events here in San Diego and even some restaurant reviews or reviews of other venues in the San Diego area.  I also plan to post recipes, but I usually reserve that for sites like Squidoo.  If I can't post them there, I will post them here or both.

For most of my San Diego nature and craft news and events, you will have to visit my Examiner page.  

So, hopefully, you've made it this far in my post and will read more when I put them up. 

My other blogs:

Feel free to visit my other blogs.  Desert Darlene's Art and Photo Blog where I post my latest artwork and links to where you can buy prints.  And Killdeers, Phoebes and Finches which is almost totally non-commercial and has lots of bird photos.

Next post:  Why I Look Forward to the Southwestern Monsoon