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.…

Fall Kayak on San Leandro Bay

A calm, clear October morning greeted our small group of paddlers. Plopping our colorful kayaks into the water, we made our way from the channel onto San Leandro Bay. The hush of the morning enveloped us, the dipping of our paddles punctuated by the occasional squawk and chatter of shorebirds, heron, and pelicans. As I paddled, the swirling water ahead mesmerized me, filling me with peace. I felt fully present in each passing moment, each paddle stroke slicing my boat along the surface of the salty water.

Wonders revealed themselves as we rounded bends along the shoreline. Pelicans and cormorants along with long-legged stilts clustered on small docks. A group of pier pilings were decorated with resting brown pelicans resting atop each pole. Groups of shorebirds skittered along the muddy waters edge as the receding tide exposed their breakfast. A group of birds in the distance looked like small penguins, but with binoculars focused into graceful pinstripe ducks perching at the edge of…

Turning Seasons: Fall's Here!

With our cool summer, I was reluctant to admit that fall was almost here.  I was hanging on, trying to soak up every ounce of summer I could find over the last few weeks.  But fall has wedged its way into my consciousness and, with a sigh, I'm reminded of everything I love about it: days still warm and sunny, cool nights, crisp air, and the wheeling migration of hawks passing through, shorebirds returning from the north, and white- and yellow-crowned sparrows returning for the winter.  We went apple picking on Sunday and feasted on apple pie last night and applesauce in my oatmeal this morning.  The apples in the picture had to be used right away.  We have a bag squirreled away in the garage for future pies, salads, and fresh eating.

The Usual Suspects: Backyard Birds in Summer

Summer is in full swing in our little corner of Alameda.  Though our grass is a sea of dust and exposed sprinkler pipe, the birds don't seem to mind it in the least.  A small family of house sparrows along with the local towhees are frequent visitors.  They hop about pecking invisible weed seeds, insects, and have even deigned it the best spot for a nice dust bath.  Our yellow lab looks on quizzically as they flounder and flutter, digging themselves a nice trough with their beaks, feet and wings.  They wallow and fling the dust.  I almost expect them to writhe on their backs in the ecstasy of this sea of warm dirt.  When they take off, they leave little trails of dust in the air following them, mini-contrails.

The towhees are special favorites of mine.  I've nicknamed one of the adults Whitewing,  It has two distinctive, small white feathers on its closed wings.  It's nesting somewhere in the neighborhood this year, but not in our yard.  It nested in the Camellia tree a fe…

Blog Expansion

Like mycelium quietly expanding underground, my blog life will be meeting up with a couple of public blogging opportunities soon!  In this wonderful winter season with inspiration from camellias to wintering song birds, to mushrooms and beach walks after a storm, I get to write a blog for KQED QUEST and also an occasional blog for Alameda Patch.  I'll have to take my writing up a notch for KQED after reading some of their posted blogs.  It should be fun, though, to write for a larger readership (though I appreciate those of you following this little blog - yes, I know all four of you - which I can't even find when I try searching for it!).  I've been lately inspired by all of the mushrooms popping up like winter wildflowers after the latest rains.  There are so many different species - one report claimed many hundreds compared to just 35 kinds of oaks.  I've been researching mushroom lifestyles - lifestyles of the dirt-poor, spore-fungi and they are fascinating!  I wis…

Winter Gifts

Though Christmas has come and gone, there are still many winter gifts to enjoy.  Around the East Bay two of my favorites are thriving in this dry, La Nina season.  The camellia trees are painting yards around town with showy flowers that attract some of my favorite birds.  Among the camellia's shiny, large green leaves, Audubon's warblers, also called yellow-rumped warblers or sometimes just "butter butts," are hopping from flower to flower catching insects.  It's almost like watching a circus show on these clear, crisp mornings with flashes of yellow, white, and black as the small birds work through the  red flowers and bright green foliage.  The birds have an unusual adaptation to being able to digest waxy berries such as wax myrtles and bayberries allowing it to winter further north than other warbler species.  On the East Coast, they winter as far north as Newfoundland where the waxy berries persist into winter.  They're in the Bay Area mostl…