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Bay Area Bird Blog » travel

Archive for the 'travel' Category

August
31st 2009
Ecotourism in…Martinez? Martinez!

Posted under day trips & local wildlife & travel

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Martinez and environs are a great place to spend a day or two, if you’re a nature-lover.  Take your bikes (we used Amtrak from Berkeley, only $10 per person each way and you get great views of North Richmond and Point Pinole that you can’t get from the car).  and enjoy a lovely ride from Martinez out to Port Costa and back, along a beautiful road with no cars. (Or hike in the adjacent hills).  Return to Martinez and head out to the small but worth-a-visit Muir National Historic Site. Then do a hike in the hills from the nearby trailhead.  Head back into downtown Martinez for a snack, then do some birding at the wetlands where Alhambra Creek meets the bay.  Have an early dinner, finishing just before dark so you can head over to the beaver dam — they have beavers right in the middle of town! — and look for the beavers, and the muskrat, and the green heron that is always around, and the mink and otter that occasionally come through.  Afterwards, head just down the street to Armando’s for some music until you start to get tired. Then head over to Benicia (if you’re car-free, I recommend the local Martinez Taxi service, which has a van that you can put two bikes into, as we proved this weekend) and stay at one of Benicia’s charming hotels or B&B’s.  Get up early in the morning, bike two miles over to Benicia State Park and bird the wetlands there, then head back for breakfast.  Afterwards, head on home, or bike back to Martinez on the brand-spankin’-new Benica-Martinez bike path and catch the train back to your destination.  Put it all together, and you have a terrific 24-hour or 48-hour getaway.

The description above isn’t _quite_ how we did it this past weekend — for example, it was the hottest weekend of the year, so we swapped out some of the outdoor activities in favor of a massage by Joyce Cid (excellent).  But trust me, you can do a great weekend of outdoor activities in and around Martinez.

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July
7th 2008
Osprey, eagles, kingfishers, sharp-shinned hawks…

Posted under birds (general) & travel

Those few of you who are regular readers will have noticed that I haven’t posted in the past ten days or so. I’ve been on vacation on North Haven, Maine, an island off the coast. My wife and I are renting a cottage on a tidal inlet, and every afternoon we sit outside and watch the osprey come by, kiting every now and then as they peer down into the water looking for fish. The family of four kingfishers across the way chatters away every now and then…I love kingfishers.

And we’ve twice seen different pairs of downy woodpeckers (at least we assume it’s different pairs, we saw them a couple of miles apart), with one of them feeding the other. I don’t quite understand it, but it’s the smaller one feeding the bigger one…and the bigger one doesn’t have the red fleck on its head that indicates that it’s a juvenile.

The most dramatic thing we’ve seen is a battle, or at least a kerfuffle, between a bald eagle and two osprey. We were out for a row up the estuary, and we saw the osprey first, moving very fast, not the usual casual cruising for prey…and then we saw that they were heading for a bald eagle. One of the osprey would dive at the eagle, and just at the last second before contact the eagle would roll over, upside-down, and stick its claws up at the oncoming osprey. This happened several times, very cool, before the eagle moved on and the osprey headed back for their nest.

Other nice sightings have included a juvenlie sharp-shinned hawk, several common yellowthroats and some other unidentified warblers — I swear, I don’t know how people tell warblers apart.

Anyway, I’ll resume Bay-Area postings soon. For now, I’m having a great time in Maine.

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April
9th 2008
Sponsor a ranger in Kenya, they really need it.

Posted under travel & wildlife (general)

Political violence in Kenya over the past few month has, understandably, pretty much killed the Kenya tourism industry, even though (as far as I know) no tourists have been threatened.  A recent story discusses some of the problems the drop in tourism is causing for the wildlife in Kenya’s national parks: there’s no money to pay rangers who stop poaching, or to compensate ranchers for losses from predators. So there’s a lot more poaching, and some ranchers are starting to kill predators who kill their livestock. Some rangers have worked for months (literally) with no pay (literally), in the hope that they will eventually be paid. What can you do? Well, one thing is to visit Kenya! Seriously, check with a reputable travel company that does business there, confirm that it’s safe, and go! You’ll get great, personalized service, and you have a chance to visit the biggest concentrations of wildlife in the world without having to deal with the usual crowds of other visitors. But if that’s too much for you, you might want to consider sponsoring a ranger! The Mara Conservancy is collecting money to pay the rangers to continue their anti-poaching campaign through these hard times, through a “sponsor a ranger” program. The head of tourism and anti-animal-harassment for the Conservancy has a blog where you can make a donation.

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April
3rd 2008
Audubon Park, New Orleans

Posted under travel

audubonparknola.jpgWell, this is a bit off-topic, but still worth a mention.  A few weeks ago I was in New Orleans for a few days for work.  One afternoon I hopped on the tram for a ride through the Garden District, figuring I’d just take the tram out and back on a big round trip.  But at some point I found myself riding past a big, interesting-looking park, so I hopped off for a look around.  Turns out I had discovered Audubon Park  (John James Audubon lived in New Orleans in the 1820s, and maybe after that for all I know).  It’s not exactly a nature reserve — it has a golf course (and has had it since the late 1800s, which must make it one of the oldest ones in the country) and a zoo — but it does have some nice natural areas, including some ponds with lots of coots and harlequin ducks and egrets.

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March
16th 2008
I finally saw a roadrunner!

Posted under birds (general) & travel

Other than the speedy, irritating roadrunner in the cartoons — surely I’m not the only one who rooted for the coyote? — I had never seen one. But a couple of days ago, here in Mexico where I’m visiting a friend, I finally saw one large as life and twice as natural (as Lewis Carroll once said)! These are extremely distinctive-looking birds, can run faster than a human, and can fly but prefer not to. I was very pleased to see one. My friend Mark, whom I am visiting here, found my enthusiasm amusing: like most people in the world, he just doesn’t care about birds and really doesn’t even notice them. It’s a pity; these people don’t even know what they’re missing!

Some facts about Roadrunners, from desertusa.com:

The Roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations.

  • Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food
    It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion
  • A nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds
  • It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday
  • Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair.
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    February
    22nd 2008
    A meerkat stood on my head!

    Posted under travel & wildlife (general)

    philmeerkat.jpgOK, admittedly this has nothing to do with birds or with the Bay Area, but hey, slow news day, so this is what you get.  This is me in Botswana last September, in an area near the Makgadikgadi Pan (made famous in The Gods Must Be Crazy).   We stayed at a tent camp called Jack’s Camp, and they took us out one day to watch a group of meerkats.  This group had been studied years ago by a grad student, and became used to people.  They’re not tame — they don’t seek out people and are not rewarded for coming near — but they are “habituated”: they don’t think of people as predators, so you can walk right along next to them.  They were just remarkably indifferent towards us.  As I discovered by sitting on the ground, very still, ahead of the group, if you are very lucky a meerkat might climb up your back and stand on your head to get a better look around!  This photo was taken by a very nice Dutch guy named Dirk Ponsioen. Some of my own Botswana photos are on my web gallery

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    February
    5th 2008
    “More photos,” people cry!

    Posted under birds (general) & travel

    birddisplay.jpgSeveral people have told me that I need more pictures.  Well, that’s a bit of a challenge, since I don’t actually take a lot of pictures…not of birds, anyway.  I’ve already used my favorite one, of a Malachite Kingfisher in Botswana,  and also an egret in Berkeley. But, here’s one more, also from the Okavango Delta in Botswana last September.  If I recall correctly, the bird in the foreground is a Jicana; the two birds that look like pelicans are indeed pelicans; there are some Egyptian Geese in the background; and I forget what the airborne ducks are.  It’s a truly fantastic place for birding. The Golden Gate Audubon Society is doing a birding trip there this month, in fact (sorry, it’s long since been sold out, but GGA members should keep an eye out for future trips!).

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    January
    26th 2008
    Newsflash:British Bird Count this weekend

    Posted under birds (general) & travel

    BBC News has an article about this year’s British backyard bird count.  I suppose this is somewhat similar to the Audubon Society’s Christmas bird counts.  The article says:

    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch aims to find out which species are the most common visitors to UK’s gardens.

     

    In 2007, some 400,000 people took part in the survey and counted six million birds in 236,000 gardens.

     

    The article also mentions some species that have increased a lot (e.g. goldfinch) and some that have decreased (starling, house sparrow), presumably due to climate change and development patterns.

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