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: