Other California Adventures – Birding and Hiking

After the sailing trip to bring the boat home, I stayed with my parents for a week to hang out and recover. While I was there we enjoyed the outdoors and I thought I’d share some of our adventures.

One foggy morning my mom and I, and a friend of my mom’s, went walkabout birding around Los Osos and hit two of the best sites in the area. Check out the Morro Coast Audubon Society page for birding news in the area and directions to these locations. Our first stop was the Audubon 4th Street Overlook. The tide was in and we didn’t see much except for an egret getting uppity with a seagull in response to a rude awakening. I did get a chance to play around with my binoculars and figure out how to take some pictures through them with my phone. I really like this one of marsh grass in the fog!

Walking through the neighborhood was lovely. Parts of Los Osos are eclectic and artsy while others just made me smile.

Our second stop was the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. It’s a wonderful piece of land spanning the ecotone between chaparral and estuary, and as such, contains a huge diversity of birds. The trails are wonderfully maintained, and many of them are ADA accessible. There are a few viewing platforms for birding and just generally watching the world go by. Some highlights from our trip to Sweet Springs were blue-winged teals, great blue herons, a Townsend warbler, and a copious amount of wading birds like godwits, plovers, and types of sandpipers.

Blue-Winged Teals hanging out.

The Townsend warbler was a particular favorite of mine and deserved a drawing in my journal to remember the day.

All-morning birding trips should conclude with lunch somewhere and a thorough recounting of the day’s observations. This might be a rule for my mom and her birding friends, one I certainly agree with. We had lunch at Beerwood, which had great food, great beer, and a wonderful outdoor patio area. The day concluded with a bird tally of 31 different species!

My dad and I, on another day, took a nice hike out at El Chorro Regional Park in our endless quest for sunshine. There’s a campground, golf course, the SLO Botanical Gardens, numerous playgrounds and shelters, and some awesome dog parks there. Where the road ends there’s also some hiking. My dad and I just headed straight up the “sort of paved” “trail” instead of veering off onto the dirt trails in the hills (shorts and poison oak don’t mix well). I wouldn’t recommend the “trail” we did for anyone really looking to hike, but it was a perfectly enjoyable walk that I’d definitely do again!

Sailing Adventures – Part 3

We left off last time having anchored in Fry’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island.

Journal Entry Day six: I'm sitting here listening to the lap of waves against the rocks, watching the water slowly rise and fall against the cliffs. It's like the ocean is breathing slowly as each swell comes through. The water is relatively calm and glassy this morning in the gray light, and there's hardly a breeze. I can smell bacon cooking downstairs in preparation for breakfast burritos. I've already had my cup of hot vanilla chai tea and the sleepy fog of my mind has mostly lifted. Behind the bacon smell is the rich smell of kelp and algae and salt permeating through the air. It's a balm that's so familiar I can almost reach out and grab it, put it somewhere close to my soul so that when I'm thousands of miles from this place I can still come back to this calm, this home.

That lovely calm was interrupted by Island Packers anchoring in deep water and ferrying about 80 people onto shore in their zodiacs. Island Packers is a great way to experience some part of the islands if you don’t have access to your own vessel. They have day trips and will drop campers off at the island campgrounds. So, we watched as people picnicked on the rocky shore, played in the cold water, and snorkeled around. Three hours later it was the process in reverse and Island Packers left us to our little notch in the coast. In between, we took turns taking the kayaks out to explore the cliffs up and down the coast a bit. It was lovely being on the water, looking at all the patterns in the rock, and gasping at little blowholes as an errant swell smacked the rocks.

The next day (day seven), we sauntered down the coast a couple of miles to a place called Pelican Bay. We again successfully set a stern and bow anchor in the harbor and then kayaked, drank, and ate to our success. Pelicans is very cool because it feels like a bowl. It’s surrounded by cliffs in an almost perfect half circle. There are bright yellowish patterns in the sandstone cliffs on the eastern side of the bay, an identifying landmark for boaters.

There used to be a hotel on the western edge of the bay on the cliffs in the early 1900’s and the foundations and century plants from the gardens are the only evidence they ever existed. Well, that and the boat landing that no one in their right mind would ever use (at least after a first try). It’s a low flat rock covered with barnacles and all kinds of sharp marine life available for landing dinghies, followed by a small set of stairs crumbling up the cliffs to the hotel foundations. A much more reasonable landing spot is around the western end of the bay in a small sandy/rocky cove directly behind the long gone hotel.

Day eight brought us to land again, this time with a well executed dinghy landing. We were there to do what my mom has dubbed “the hike from hell”. She and my dad have done this hike before in much hotter conditions and with some shoe malfunctions. I can appreciate the moniker now that I’ve done the hike. The trail runs two miles between Pelican Bay and Prisoner’s Harbor down the coast. It follows the canyons, dropping down into cooler shaded gullies and then climbs up to warm and shrubby breathtaking views of the coast. And it does this over and over again, each gully filled with greenery and each climb filled with scrub jays (endemic to the islands) and new views.

Once again we were greeted by Island Packers, who had arrived at Prisoners Harbor that morning to drop their clientele off at the pier. A fair number chose to hike the trail, meeting us headed in the opposite direction, while others chose to stay in Prisoners and enjoy the rocky beach and picnic tables.

We joined the picnickers when we arrived at Prisoners and were greeted by a too friendly Channel Island fox. It was clearly making a good living off of handouts, although I blessedly didn’t see anyone slip it snacks.

Our arrival back to the boat was shadowed by a single-handed sailor trying to anchor in the harbor, clearly having trouble. I asked dad to go help him because that’s the thing to do out on the water. An hour later, dad had him anchored on the opposite side of the anchorage away from everyone else and had earned a well deserved drink.

Stay tuned for a story of “bugging out” and the end of our adventure.

Sailing Adventures – Part 2

Back to our sailing adventures. We ended last time having gotten to Cuylar Harbor on San Miguel Island.

Day four was our guided hike. The previous evening Dad got the ranger on the radio and we arranged to meet him at the ranger station at 8:30 AM. The ranger station and campground are at the top of a steep canyon and down the beach at the opposite end of Cuylar harbor as the anchorage and safe dinghy landing sites. The ranger recommended giving ourselves an hour to get up to him once we’d made it ashore.

This was our first beach landing with the four of us in the dinghy and it was going smoothly, until it wasn’t. It was a comedy of errors, but we managed not to capsize the dinghy in the surf and there was only minor blood drawn. The beach was inviting, even in the haze of the early morning, and had been claimed by a pack of sea lions and elephant seals. We gave them a wide berth as we walked toward the trailhead, but they were sleepy and barely acknowledged our presence.

The trail to the ranger station was in fact steep, dusty, and up the side of a sheer ravine in some places. I hiked faster than “the boys” and managed to make my way to the top of the ravine silently enough to see two Island foxes cross the path in front of me and then study me from the brush. One was clearly an adult, but the other, while almost the same size, didn’t have the brown coloration of a full-grown fox yet. It was likely a youngling following momma in search of a lizard breakfast. The noise of chatting carrying up the trail scared them off and I was sad to see them go.

During our hike with the ranger (Eric Oberg – who is absolutely wonderful), who turned out to be a ranger at the Channel Islands Visitor Center on the mainland and doing stints on all the islands, we were regaled with the history of the Channel Islands fox. In summary, they were critically endangered (only 15 individuals on San Miguel). A within-island captive breeding program brought the populations up to a stable size (about 400 on San Miguel) on all the islands and they are doing very well. The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service monitor the populations using radio collars and we happened to run into one of the seasonal workers who monitor the population while we were on our hike. She had her radio antenna out and was hiking around the island trying to get signals from all the foxes. In an effort to monitor their health, she was also setting up to do some trapping to collect samples.

Our hike took us out to a place called Cardwell Point. Along the way Ranger Eric told us with stories about the history of the island (and it’s unexploded ordinances), the flora and fauna living there, the geology of the island, and about the Chumash tribes who colonized and lived on the islands for hundreds of years.

It was a great hike, but after four plus hours of information and talking, the cranky level was ratcheting up, so we headed straight back to the ranger station instead of seeing where the island fox breeding pens were. The rest of the afternoon was spent hiking back to the dinghy and getting back to the boat. Our launch off the beach was much more graceful than our arrival that morning. We rewarded ourselves with some quick sun showers and one of the crew even took a quick dip off the side of the boat. I wrote in my journal: “No one smells too bad, so I’d say we’re totally winning!” It’s funny what’s considered a win when you’re living in close quarters with other people.

The next day (day five) took us from San Miguel to Santa Cruz Island.

Journal excerpt from our sail:  The islands are really different from each other. The northern shore of Santa Cruz Island exhibits cliffs dropping precipitously hundreds of feet into the ocean, filled with caves and nooks that have eroded. They look black with tinges of red oxidized rock and the flatter spots are white with bird crap. We sailed within a quarter mile of the shore and still had 150 feet beneath the keel.

We checked out several anchorage spots on the north side of Santa Cruz Island and finally settled on a little inlet called Fry’s Harbor. There were only two other boats anchored when we arrived and we successfully threw out a stern anchor and a bow anchor, setting both in a smooth J shaped arc of the boat. We celebrated our victory and comfortable anchorage with a boat classic, a strong drink plus cheese and crackers.

Look for Part 3 for our run-in with Island Packers, kayaking, and more hiking!

Sailing Adventures – Part 1

For those who don’t know, I’ve retired at the young age of 37. Just kidding! I quit my teaching job of 8 years to explore other creative pursuits and to figure out what I would like to do next. In the meantime, it’s freed up my schedule immensely and given me the opportunity to do things that I wouldn’t have had the chance to. The first of these big things is: Sailing.

A quick history in 2 sentences: I grew up on a sailboat that my parents built. Yeah, we actually lived and sailed on it when I was a youngling.

So, when my dad asked if I wanted to come sailing with him and a couple of friends on the way to get the boat hauled, I said yes. My dad planned an awesome 11 day trip to the Channel Islands on our way to the boatyard in Ventura. I thought I’d share some of our adventures, thoughts from my journal, and some photos.

The adventure started with this view of Savant in foggy Morro Bay harbor. By noon we were on our way, my dad handing over the wheel to me so that I could do my best slogging through a broadside swell as we came out of the harbor. Oh the rolling! What a way to start out, especially with two newbies on board, but they did great!

Our first stop was a sunny Port San Luis. This was my first experience at the wheel while anchoring. Luckily there was only one other boat in the anchorage. Turns our that “grown up me” got a lot more responsibilities than “little kid me”, and it was pretty awesome!

The second day was the longest sailing day, about 60 miles from Port San Luis, around Point Conception, to an anchorage at Cojo. It was another light wind and broadside swell day until we got closer to Point Conception and the wind picked up (not surprisingly!). Even during a less than ideal sailing day, there are benefits of being out on the water. And those benefits came in the form of sunfish floating at the surface, 13 whales spotted, a pod of dolphins checking us out, and a couple pods of feeding sea lions followed religiously by flocks of birds.

Day three journal entry: Not even 8 AM and the surfers have arrived here in the middle of nowhere to surf the morning waves. It's cloudy with small patches of blue, multiple layers of clouds and fog. Some are puffy over the water and the fog looks like its rising from the hillsides, almost like smoke. The breeze is from the west, toppling over the cliffs and into us. The wind smells fresh and salty, blowing from the ocean over the headlands here at Cojo and into my face, maybe 5-10 kts. The surfers are likely sheltered right at the base of the cliffs, but they're probably still cold.  I can hear the waves breaking along a small beach at the base of sandstone cliffs. The striations in the layers are a clear sweep from upper left to bottom right. There's a little bench up where the cliffs end in a sandy dune, and there might even be a path there. Who knows where it leads or if this little beach is the end of the line. There's no habitation, no roads around here except the Point Conception lighthouse and a bunch of ranches in the hills too small to see, yet I'm watching four surfers enjoy a Wednesday morning in this deserted and pristine place. Two old bikes are toppled over in the sand at the base of the cliffs, likely from the two early birds. The other two came in on a red dinghy that they anchored right outside the breakers. They came from down the coast. How far did they travel to get here? Who are they? Why go to such lengths to find the perfect wave? That's easy... The perfect wave makes you feel invincible, like you're part of this wide world that's so amazing. What better place to find that perfection than on a deserted beach where you don't have to share the waves?

On day three we sailed (well, motor-sailed) across the Santa Barbara Channel to San Miguel Island and Cuylar Harbor. It’s part of the Channel Islands National Park. The Island is owned by the Navy, but is managed by the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. Special permits are needed to get onto the island and there’s one campground and a ranger station. Of course, my dad made sure we had all our permits and even arranged for the ranger to give us a guided hike (because people aren’t allowed past the campground without a ranger, even with a permit).

Stay tuned for Part 2 for details about our hike and our first stop on Santa Cruz Island.

Georgia Aquarium Visit

Hey all, it’s been a while and I’ve got a bit more free time on my hands, so you can expect some updates coming soon. I thought I’d start with a trip to the Georgia Aquarium this summer.

My husband had the week off and we decided to explore the city a bit and then watch the olympics at home. We haven’t been to the Aquarium together in more than two years. I’ve been separately as part of classes that I’ve been teaching, but most of that was spent watching children and making sure they didn’t bring fishing line or gum in their backpacks or get eaten by the sharks!

Anyway, we masked up and took off under the sea.

Some things have changed like the addition of a new shark exhibit. My husband was fascinated by the sharks and I couldn’t take my eyes off all the little fish in the tank constantly trying to avoid the sharks gliding through their midst. It was like a dance and we watched the masters for a good long time.

There is a baby beluga whale at the Aquarium. We watched it, trying to chase its mom around the tank, wanting constant attention. We giggled when momma plastered her copious fat rolls against the front glass. It’s impressive the insulating ability of blubber, and even more impressive is the amount of blubber a grown beluga whale has.

The leafy sea dragons and the river otters are a traditional long stop on any visit to the aquarium. Leafy sea dragons are other-worldly and propel themselves using small little fins that make it look like they are just floating along. The river otters are always hit or miss. They could be fast asleep curled up in each other, or tangled in the long pieces of felt they use to play. They could also be racing around chasing each other over land and through the water, always with a playful spirit.

One of the whale sharks had just died, but the others in the largest tank were still impressive. We stood by the large window and watched the green sea turtle munch on lettuce while other little fish cleaned up what the turtle missed. Groups of cownose rays sailed past while a guitarfish settled into the sand. Morey Eels and Electric Eels stuck their noses out of hidey-holes.

The Aquarium required masks and had signs telling people to socially distance. Tickets were timed, presumably to limit the number of entrants. Despite those measures, the Aquarium didn’t feel any less crowded than it has in the past. Maybe a little less pressure from people leaning in to get a good look at the tanks, but still just as many people. So we kept our masks on and found a deserted corner to eat our chicken fingers and salad. All in all, we had a pretty good time, but had enough covid anxiety to keep us away from museums for a while.

North Carolina Museum of Natural History

We were up in Raleigh this past weekend. Asa had to work so I went to play. Of course the science nerd I am headed straight for the Natural History Museum.

This is the second time I’ve been there and it didn’t disappoint, again. The museum does a couple of things really well:

1. It’s free!

2. They have an amazing collection of live animals including snakes, fish, turtles, frogs, and insects.

3. They have a butterfly room you can walk through with lots of live butterflies. Warning – it’s closed on Monday’s.

4. They have a whole section of the museum dedicated to research and education. There are science labs with glass windows so you can look inside and see what the scientists are doing. In addition they have “meet the researchers and learn about the research” time.

5. Dinosaurs!
Great for kids and science nerds alike! I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

JanTerm and the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge

As a teacher at a fantastic school, I get the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. This past week was no exception. The Westminster Schools (high school only) decided last year to implement a January term; a three week learning experience for students to explore concepts that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to during the regular classes. Teachers were requested to design courses that were interdisciplinary, with focuses on meeting people, traveling, and interactive hands-on activities. Classes include The Science of Cooking, Biotechnology, DIY Culture, Sports Medicine, Entrepreneurship, Journalism, and my favorite class: Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast.

51QQKSS3BALThe class I teach (Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast) was designed to introduce students to the science of coastal habitats like salt marshes, estuaries, maritime forests, and barrier islands. Within this context students learned about the local people and culture (the Gullah-Geechee) by visiting museums, talking to locals, and reading God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man By Cornelia Walker Bailey (a Gullah-Geechee woman that still lives on Sapelo Island, Georgia).

The highlight of this class is a week-long field trip to Skidaway Island and the UGA marine extension service. While there, students were able to interact with the communities they were introduced to in the classroom. They explored biodiversity, learned about the animals and plants, got their hands dirty, and explored.

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Sampling invertebrates off the dock at the marine extension service.

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Tromping through the salt marsh exploring and getting muddy.

 

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Under the Pier at Tybee Island.

 

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View from above the pier at Tybee Island.

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At the Pinpoint Museum, a Gullah-Geechee facility near Skidaway Island.

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Learning how to make a crab net from a Gullah-Geechee man at Pinpoint.

The week culminated in a trip to Wassaw Island, part of the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wassaw Island is a protected and undeveloped barrier island. People are allowed to visit without any permits, but no boats are allowed to stay docked or ashore and there is no overnight camping. Because of this, the island is pristine. The maritime forest is on its way to developing a climax community of live oak trees, alligators wander around in the holes they have dug for the winter, the wrack on the beach harbors little crabs, the birds stretch out in large flocks, and the beach is littered with shells and driftwood. There is not a footprint in sight.

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So, thanks to my school for making this happen. I can only hope that my students understand the opportunity they have been given to enjoy and interact with nature! I truly believe that experiences like these can shape people and help make them better stewards of the earth.

Christmas Cookie Exchange

I first experienced this phenomenon a couple years ago when a friend invited me to a Christmas cookie exchange, and again this past weekend. The idea is that a bunch of friends get together and each person brings a small number of cookies to share with every other person. Each person goes home with the same number of cookies they brought, but with more variety. Sometimes there is a recipe exchange included so that if you really like your friend’s cookies you can make them yourself. So here’s my top 9 list of Christmas cookie exchange awesomeness:

  1. It is an excuse to consume butter and sugar. Lots of it!
  2. It lets you see people that you might not normally see, or meet new people if you like that kind of thing!
  3. You can get a good laugh out of other people’s tacky Christmas sweaters (and you can wear one if you like tacky).ugly_christmas_toilet_santa_sweater_2
  4. It usually involves getting to eat other holiday treats like spinach dip, nacho cheese, meatballs, pretzels with hershey’s kisses melted on top, and punch (spiked of course).
  5. You get to bake. This one could be good or bad, depending on how good at baking you are. If you are the person that makes a bunch of cookie dough and then realizes that you don’t own baking sheets, this might not be enjoyable to you!
  6. Variety. Enough said.FNK_12_DAYS_OF_COOKIES_OPENER_H_s4x3.jpg
  7. You make the people you live with happy by bringing home treats, although I warn that this could backfire if your friends can’t bake.
  8. If you aren’t so into the holidays, it can count as your one holiday party!
  9. Did I mention butter and sugar?

Our Balcony Garden

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We decided to try our hand at growing green things this year. Ideally we’d love to have a whole garden and grow things in the ground, but our apartment living has relegated our experiment to our balcony and pots. This is our second round of growth. The first round of basil, mint, and cilantro was wiped out my some kind of aphid infestation.

All of our plants have come from seeds. We have used a miniature plastic greenhouse to start growing the seeds which has worked great, although it might have led to the demise of our cilantro by making them grow too quickly and getting top-heavy. When the seedlings reached the miniature greenhouse lid, we planted them in real pots and left them outside.

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This second round of plants consists of basil (in the two small rectangular planters), purple tomatillos (in the large rectangular planters), and tomatoes (in the large pots). Hopefully the basil will grow big and strong and we can make some yummy pesto and the purple tomatillos sounded like they would make an excellent and visually stimulating salsa. The tomatos were given to us as seeds of two different types already planted in small pots. Of course we now have no idea which type is which because the cat knocked the pots, soil and seeds off the table before they could make it to the balcony. We were still hopeful and pushed the soil back into the pots and put them outside. Despite their rough beginnings they have grown big and strong!

Oh yeah… and our little aloe plant is as happy as can be, even if we do forget to water it!

The World of Nations Celebration

Last weekend Asa and I and Asa’s mom, Merrill, went to the World of Nations Celebration here in Jacksonville. The festival has been in existence for a good 20 years and is a great place to go and experience some 30 different international cultures. Each country was set up in their own tent where they displayed crafts and doo-dads for sale, sold authentic (for the most part) food, and stamped passport documents given to each visitor. A main stage central to all the countries exhibited entertainment and ceremonies from each country and local stages had live bands or dancing.

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Each year the World of Nations Celebration is open on thursday and friday for elementary and middle school students to come learn about different cultures. Asa fondly remembers going to the celebration when he was a little tyke.

We had a great time wandering around, sampling local cuisine, and people watching. We even got to sample some empanadas from Colombia which were very different from the ones we had in Uruguay.

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Some fun facts we learned:

– The Ethiopian calendar follows the Julian calendar which has 12 months of thirty days each and a 13th month of 5 days. The calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Western calendar.

– The Taj Mahal only took 17 years to build with workmen working every single day.

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– Nollywood is what Nigeria’s booming film industry is called.

– The South Korean flag has a representation of yin and yang surrounded by depictions of the four elements: heaven, earth, fire and water.

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– Angel Falls in Venezuela is 19 times the height of Niagara Falls.