Perspective Shift on a February Paddle

We set off in our buoyant, little crafts, intrepid paddlers bent on a morning of enjoying our time together on the clear, calm waters. I brought a knapsack full of my usual kayaking items: binoculars, waterproof camera, water bottle, windbreaker, and snack bar. Other than a water bottle and windbreaker, my friend Ginny traveled light. It was our first time paddling together, and I've mostly paddled as the leader of public programs where you have to be prepared for anything. When you have your own gear and go any time, on any whim, apparently you can pack light.

It was a shining, delightful day to be out on the water. Our paddles dipped as we chatted and made our way across San Leandro Bay. I could see rafts of ducks bobbing in the distance and even from this far range made a mental catalog: black with a white spot on the back of neck - surf scoters, dark on each end and light in the middle - scaup, black all over with a white beak - coots. Ginny and I exclaimed over how lucky we …

Uncommon: Surprises After All of These Years of Birdwatching

We paused at the beginning of our birdwatching outing, just past the gravely start of the trail, at Hayward Regional Shoreline park. The whole class trained our binoculars on the unsuspecting small sparrow hopping around the base of the oak tree with others that looked similar. Its head was stripped with creamy white and black bars and yellow patches near its eyes. Our instructor puzzled over it, recounting how white-crowned  and golden-crowned sparrows - the other species of sparrows in the group -- sometimes hybridized. He encouraged us all to take a close look at the sparrow. It wasn't until later in the evening in an email that he announced that had been our "bird of the day," a bird that comes to the East Bay to winter, but not in great numbers: a White-throated Sparrow! For me that was a life-list bird, meaning it was the first time I've ever seen and identified one.

We later saw another unusual bird (for me at least!): American pipits. I've probably seen …

Singular Event: Super Blue Blood Moon this Morning

Photo by Ian Fieggen, Wikimedia
Once in a lifetime is a good reason to pry myself out of bed before dawn and attend a sky show. It was very cold and clear outside at 5am this morning, January 31st. The total eclipse of a Super, Blue moon last occurred in 1866. This coincidence of a Super, Blue, Blood moon eclipse won't happen again until 2037. I first looked out the greenhouse window in the kitchen. The moon is full, but a smudgy shadow of itself. "It's better outside," my husband, Bob, says. Even our 22 year old son staggers out for a brief look, then heads back to bed.

I step into the cold, wrapped in my flannel robe and warm slippers. Past the power pole and my neighbors houses, the moon hangs in the western sky, a dusky rose-orange color, lighter in the lower left edges. The eclipse is just entering totality with the earth's shadow fully covering the moon. Raising binoculars, the magnification reveals the details of lunar valleys, craters, and plains, called …

West Coast New Year's Hike

We wanted to celebrate the first day of the new year by walking along the Devil's Slide trail. It's been closed to vehicle traffic since the Tom Lantos Tunnels were completed in March 2015. The wide, paved trail, where Highway 1 used to wind high above the Pacific, is the perfect spot for watching sea birds, gazing out to the western horizon for sunsets and migrating gray whales, and hearing the shush of surf breaking endlessly on the beaches below.

A lot of other folks had the same idea to enjoy the coastal trail on New Year's Day, so we had to exercise patience to wait for a parking spot. It's a fairly short trail segment, only 1.3 miles each way, though, so we didn't have to wait too long for people to return to their car. It'd be nice if there were double the spots in each parking lot at each end of the tunnels.
Once out on the path, though, it was a glorious, unseasonably warm, clear day with the high hills sheltering us from the wind most of the way. The…

Redwood Springing-into-Summer Song

The cool morning air was a relief after the last few days of temperatures that soared to 90 degrees. After the long, rainy winter, the heat spike engulfed the Bay Area like an environmental hot flash. So Adventure Dog and I set out to check on Spring's progress at Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills.

Following Bridle Trail from the Fish Ladder along Redwood Creek, a few muddy patches showed we were on the shady side of the canyon with redwoods just ahead of us. The stream bounded along, burbling and gushing over the rocks and bouncing down the concrete fish ladder. A historical marker commemorates the naming of rainbow trout by Dr. William P. Gibbons, founder of the California Academy of Science, from this creek in 1855. They've since been introduced worldwide. Rainbow trout are anadromous fish, migrating after they hatch and grow in freshwater creeks to spend their lives at sea. They return only to lay eggs in their natal creek. The Redwood Creek trout, though, are no…

Na Pali Coast: West End of the United States

The road ends past Hanalei Bay, where the ocean endlessly whooshes and sucks at the volcanic rock defiantly rising from thousands of feet beneath the surface. Oldest of the larger Hawaiian Islands, Kauai has had time under the sun and rain to develop fertile soils. Soils that support lush tropical forests, cultivated lands, native birds and interlopers from every part of the globe, East and West.

At the top of Waimea Canyon a sign boasts that it's one of the wettest place on earth*, with an average of 450 inches of rain per year. The Tradewinds bring clouds across the sea that meet the mountain, rise up Mount Wai'ale'ale and send rain down the slopes. Between this rainy point overlooking the western Pacific and the end of the road past Hanalei Bay, there is no through-road. You can only access the area by hiking trail, boat, kayak, or a few access roads for locals. They filmed Jurassic Park here. I'm glad this beautiful section of coast hasn't been graded and open…

Kauai: Garden Isle of Bird Life Splendor

Rounding the corner, we could hear the clamor of hundreds of birds. Then the view opened to a hillside covered in white birds, reminding me of an egret colony back home. There was so much activity with birds flying in and out of the area. Some carried sticks in their blue bills, spreading their red feet as they landed in the colony. My first sighting of Red-Footed Boobies! This hillside in Princeville, Kauai is a prime nesting area for the birds to come together in the spring. Next to the Princeville Lighthouse, a popular tourist destination, the area draws many other species of sea birds to nest and rest.

This Laysan Albatross was another wonderful sighting at the Princeville Lighthouse. Docents said it had been hanging out most of the day on a small hill next to the trail. These seabirds spend most of their lives on the wing, rarely visiting land and can live for up to 60 years. I felt very fortunate to have seen one this close, again getting this photo with the camera on my phone.…