9/30/2016: Touring the garden of the Mission San Antonio de Padua

First impressions are a tricky thing.

When you walk into the courtyard of the Mission San Antonio de Padua, you aren’t bowled over by the beauty.  It’s a little sparse.  Everything is showing a little drought stress from the summer heat and earthquake retrofit construction is ongoing.  The garden is similar to the mission itself.  From a distance, the mission does not look impressive but as you look at the details, beauty can be found everywhere.  It’s subtle but it’s there.

It’s definitely worth the effort to look close.

How Much Life Can a Dead Tree Hold?

In a jungle layered with life, it’s amazing to see so many little heads popping out of a dead palm snag.  As the woodpecker parents shuttled back and forth with food, each black hole sprung to life for a moment before disappearing into darkness again.

Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata)
Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) feeding its young
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)

Southern Fur Seals

It’s always interesting when the rock moves and you realize that it never was a rock.  At the base of the cliff at the end of Victory Beach on the Otago Peninsula we found a couple of southern fur seal pups hidden in the rocks.  Then another, then another, then another….

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Seal pups sunning on the rocks
Southern Fur Seal pups posing for the camera
Southern Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri)

Toucan’t See Me

Taking a picture of a Toucan in the wild was one of my goals on a recent trip to Belize.

Was I in for a surprise.  Somehow I imagined that, if I sit quietly and patiently, all the amazing animals of Belize would reveal themselves.  The jungle taught me a lesson in camouflage and concealment though.  Yes, the birds and butterflies were right there but they were so hard to see no less take a picture.  And, the Toucan?  I could hear them on occasion but I was always seemed to be on the edge of their range and they were invisible in the dense canopy.

It seemed that my consolation prize was seeing Red-lored parrots in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.  First heard on the drive into preserve, then seen in multiple places, flocks of parrots were near by.  But, for 3 days, the flock nesting on the far side of the canyon circled overhead, never getting close enough for a picture.  The groups of 2’s and 3’s in the pines zoomed in and out of sight before I could even pick up the camera.  I didn’t even get the consolation prize.

A week later, I was in the Bocawina/Mayflower National Park dejected at hardly seeing any wildlife, when I heard the parrots again.  Right above me, yet I could not find them in the bright green canopy.  They were teasing me now.  At least I knew where to look now and the next day I finally got my picture.  Flying over trees on the edge of a clearing, I was able to get some pictures. Now I could prove that at least I saw a parrot.

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Red-Lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis) on top of the canopy

The following morning, a group of us took a hike to Antelope Falls in the Bocawina National Park to watch the sunrise.  I have never sweated so much as I did in Belize and there was no difference between 5 am and noon.  As we returned, I saw the parrots in the trees again, raised my camera and found the viewfinder covered in condensation.  Without a dry piece of clothing on me, I couldn’t clean the viewfinder so I clicked away at the parrots unable to see what I was shooting.  As I reviewed my photos for the day, I may have seen parrots fly into the trees but got a picture of a Collared Aracari.  Wow!  One step closer to a Toucan.

Pteroglossus torquatus (Collared Aracari) 001
Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

I went to Belize thinking that the early bird gets the worm.  I was up by 5 each morning to run, and was constantly on the lookout, figuring the earlier I was out the door, the more that I would see.  By the end, I learned that the large birds only seemed active between 7 and 9.  I would go for a run, get my exercise in, then pick up my camera and head out for a leisurely walk.  Accepting the consolation prize was okay after 2 weeks of constantly scanning jungle. Then it happened.  On my second to last day, I followed this routine and found Toucans.  Three of them in the clearing with the parrots.  What a sight!  At first I only saw one from a distance mixed in the dense jungle.  As I approached, it flew off.  After a couple of attempts to get close only to watch it fly off as I crossed some imaginary line, I learned the distance where it felt comfortable.  From the demarcation line, I stood and watched it perform acrobatics on the tree branches, twisting, contorting and hanging upside down.  What a reward for patience as 2 more appeared.   I was able to photograph them for 10 minutes as they moved along the edge of the clearing.  Finally, they disappeared again into the jungle only to be heard and not seen again.  What an experience!

On my last morning, I didn’t see Toucans but I was happy and saw plenty of other fascinating wildlife on my walk.

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6/27/2016: Bicycling Lowes Canyon

Lowes Canyon has become my new favorite ride.  But, trying to beat the predicted 106 degree temperatures, I had to be out the door at 6 am.  It was amazing to compare pictures with a couple of weeks ago.  The light and shadows of the morning sun make the photographs so much more interesting.

6/7/2016: Bicycling Lowes Canyon

I finally bought a new bicycle.  The pavement is so bad in our area that I would rather be on the dirt roads where someone will spend a Saturday afternoon on their tractor knocking down the washboard; the city just watches the asphalt crumble.  I bought a cross bike that allows me to ride pavement and dirt.  It might be a little slower on the road because it opened up new opportunities for exploration.

My first stop was the backroad to the backroads (01/16/2016: Driving the Backroads Home).  In southern Monterey county, there are a series of parallel “canyons” but they are not all accessible by paved roads.  Some roads lead to another area (King City, or Parkfield), but others go up one valley and back on the next.  With the new bike, I rode up one of the dead end valleys, got to the sign that said “Impassable In Wet Weather”, and rode right by to see what lay beyond.

There was not a single car on the road.  I saw two pairs of does and fawns, countless hawks and other birds, and don’t know how many animals were watching me.  Exploring these roads filled in some gaps of my mental picture of the area.  It was a great ride because I was free to explore but what a contrast from last week (6/3/2015: Bicycling along the American River).  No water here.


6/5/2016: Bicycling Winters

I participate in a lot of benefits but none is more meaningful to me than the RideATAXIA.

My old boss’s nephew was stricken with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) at age 9.  Initially it presented as a loss of coordination earning him the nickname “Stumbles” at school.  No one realized that he had a disease.  Unfortunately, it’s a progressive disease and now Riley uses a wheelchair most of the time.

When Pat asked me to participate 5 years ago, I never thought that I would be so touched by people coming together for a cause.  RideATAXIA was initiated by Kyle Bryant in 2007.  Diagnosed with FA, Kyle found that he could still ride a recumbent bicycle so he centered an awareness and fund-raising campaign around multiple cycling events around the country.  There are so few people diagnosed with the disease that there was little support for research or finding a cure.  This adversity has brought the families of those afflicted with FA together.  It makes this event very personal.

With Team Riley printed on the shirts, I often heard, “I know Riley.”  In fact everyone seemed to know everyone and, as I learned, everyone at the event knows someone with FA.  They are volunteering at the event because a brother or sister, son or daughter has the disease.  They know one another because they need the social support as their child struggles to get through each day.  Their conversations center around what research is being done and how do you participate in a clinical trial.  They share their hope that there will be a breakthrough someday.

The ride this year centered around the town of Winters.  It’s a sleepy little farming town on the west side of the Central Valley that I knew nothing about until I started doing this ride.  In years past, the rest stop was in the main square so I have been here year after year but never had the opportunity to explore.  This year, the ride started and finished in Winters and it was only Pat and I riding from the usual work group.  Riding through the orchards and farms that surround Winters, it was fun to have 3 uninterrupted hours to talk.  I promoted, he retired; he lives north, I live south; it was an opportunity to catch up without distractions.

Each year there is new research being done, new medications going to trial, and new hope. But, until there is a cure, I hope to keep doing this ride.

6/3/2015: Bicycling along the American River

To say the least, I was a little skeptical.  A bike path where I could get a good workout?  And feel like I am in nature?

The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail was just that.  I ran, rode and rode it again.  I wasn’t able to see all 32 miles between Folsom and Sacramento but I covered half on my first ride and did a loop on both sides northern section of the American River the next.  I was impressed.  There were pace lines of hard core cyclists, commuters with their bags packed for work, and kids just learning to ride.  There were runners, walkers, and people enjoying the parks.  Fly fisherman standing in the water near the banks, kayakers and stand up paddle boarders beating the heat as well as getting a work out in.  Quail jumped from the trail to the oaks as I rode up, turkey meandered along the side trails, and, my favorite, a kingfisher landed on the bridge rail within reach as I cycled by.  I rode through oak woodland and riparian habitats knowing full well there was a freeway along one section and city downtown in another yet I didn’t care.  The bustle of urban life was ever present but it was buffered by the oaks and pines and only seen in glimpses.  And, the river, it was the center point and always the focus.

On one hand, it was great to be surrounded by this culture of health and fitness.  On the other, it was great to find a park that allows nature to be itself in the heart of an urban area.

Morning reflection
American River
Turkeys in Goethe Park
A little wilderness in the city
I had to do a double take
Folsom Truss Bridge
The best way to beat the heat

6/1/2016: Photographing Yolo Bypass

I was in Davis, California for a benefit ride again and decided to return to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to see what I could find.  This is one area that I would like to see during the peak of the bird migration season but my visits usually coincide with beginning of summer so I get what I get.  The area is not very aesthetic but it’s fun to see the bird life in a combination of auto tour and quick hikes.