San Francisco Holidays

San Francisco cable car

San Francisco cable car

Boarders at Market and Powell Streets, SF

Boarders at Market and Powell Streets, SF

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Cedar Waxwings

Adult Cedar Waxwing

Adult Cedar Waxwing, Calif.

There are only three species of waxwings in the world, two of them are in North America (the third is in Japan).  In the United States we have the Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings.  Waxwings are named for the waxy red tips on certain wing feathers of the adult, as pictured here.

 

One day last month they came to a madrone tree in our front yard and partook of the orange berries.  We were going on a walk and they stayed long enough for a few photos.  They usually move in and out in a matter of minutes, but this mild, November day we got lucky.

 

Cedar-WaxwingThe cedar waxwing can be found all across the United States at different times of the year.  A gregarious bird, they are usually seen in flocks.  They live in open woodlands, orchards, fields, swamps and even suburban yards.  They forage mostly on berries and insects.  For more about the cedar waxwing, click here.

Cedar Waxwing juvenile

Cedar Waxwing juvenile

 

With a soft, almost imperceptible high-pitched trilling sound, they are often not noticed by many people.  In the farmer’s market where I go every week I occasionally see flocks of this elegant bird descend in the parking lot, and no one but me looks up.  Butternut squash in hand and a bagful of greens on my shoulder, I stop in my tracks and enjoy this private viewing with a big, broad smile.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Posted in America, Birds, California, Nature, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Olduvai Gorge

Olduvai Gorge and monolith

Olduvai Gorge and monolith

I had the profound pleasure of visiting the world’s hub of paleoanthropological sites in the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania Africa. It is here where scientists have been studying and collecting evidence of the origins of homo sapiens for over a century.

 

Located in the Rift Valley, Olduvai Gorge is a 30 mile long ravine in northeastern Tanzania.  Millions of years ago it was a large lake.  Then approximately 500,000 years ago seismic activity created a stream diversion that cut into the sediments revealing seven layers in the gorge’s wall.  There is a huge monolith there in which these layers can be seen.

 

Olduvai-Gorge-siteAs we stood in the ravine we could look up onto the ridge and see the Leakey residence. In 1959 Mary Leakey discovered the well-preserved cranium of an early hominid here, proving that this was the earliest scene of human activity.  Use of stone tools, scavenging, hunting, and other early human activity have been documented in this area.

 

Archaeologists and paleoanthropologists have sifted through the dirt and sand here, making discoveries of immense impact on human evolution.  For more info about the Olduvai Gorge, click here.  There’s also some good panoramic photos of the Olduvai Gorge at this site.

 

It was quiet here, way out in the Rift Valley.  And deeply thrilling to be standing in a place where 1.9 million years ago early humans roamed.  The relatively youthful humans of the 20th and 21st centuries still roam here, always adding more to our shifting knowledge of humans on earth.  Pretty impressive.

"The skull of Australopithecus boisei Zinjanthropus was found here by M.D. Leakey July 17, 1959"

“The skull of Australopithecus boisei Zinjanthropus was found here by M.D. Leakey July 17, 1959″

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Posted in Africa, Nature, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Surfin’ Santa

surfing-SantaMele Kalikimaka — Hawaiian for Merry Christmas.  Also translates to Ho-Ho-Ho.

Posted in America, Humor, Travel | Tagged , | 25 Comments

Paradise Riflebird

Paradise Riflebird, Australia

Paradise Riflebird, Australia

An elegant jewel of the Australian rainforest, the Paradise Riflebird is showy, vocal, and large.   Ptiloris paradiseus is 11 inches long, and not a commonly found bird.

 

They reside in the rainforest on the eastern coast of Australia, we found this one in Queensland.  We spotted it when we heard a loud rasping call, and then within seconds watched it do a mating display.  With fanned wings that looked like a velvet pleated cape, he threw his head back and pranced, flashing his iridescent plumage.  You can read more about it here. 

 

Paradise Riflebird display

Paradise Riflebird display

Sometimes I find myself melting and perspiring, slapping at relentless mosquitoes, wandering around in a smelly, dark rainforest wondering why I am here.  Other times, like this five minutes we had with the Paradise Riflebird, I know exactly why I went to the trouble.  And then trudge on for more.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Posted in Australia, Birds, Nature, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

The Rain Gang

Forest mushroom

Forest mushroom

Rain has finally fallen on California, and residents, including myself, are giddy.  State officials prefer to stick to being naysayers, telling us it’s not anything to be triumphant about, there’s not nearly enough to make up for three years of drought.

 

Still, I’m giddy.  There’s freshness in the air, the winter berries have resumed growth, the trees and shrubs are shiny and clean.  And the mushrooms are fantastic!  Big ones, pink ones, tiny ones, half-eaten ones…every day there’s more of them popping out of the earth.  The newts are out, I hear hermit thrushes chupping in the forest, toads are ribbiting, rivers and creeks are flowing again.

 

California Newts

California Newts

Of course I know there is still a danger, having been in a drought for all these years, and of course I continue to conserve as always.  But ahhhh, there’s so much to be happy about.  So much life!

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Posted in America, Birds, California, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree NP, California

Joshua Tree NP, California

Southern California is a lot of desert and a lot of people, but fortunately the two co-exist.  This is due in part to an early environmental activist, Minerva Hoyt, who recognized in the early 1900s that increased auto traffic was destroying the California desert.  To read more about her efforts, click here.

 

This is why, when I visit in the 21st century, I can look out over an expanse of odd-looking trees and cacti, miles of desert and six mountain ranges, and see nothing but wilderness.

 

Joshua-Tree-NP,-rock-mtnJoshua Tree National Park is a combination of the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert, and can be found in southeastern California.  This park, at an elevation of 4,000 feet, covers nearly 800,000 acres.  It is dominated by its namesake plant:  Joshua Trees.  In the agave family, Yucca brevifolia are endemic to southwestern United States.  For more Park info, click on Joshua Tree NP.

 

Because the tree trunk is comprised of thousands of small fibers or prickly spines, it does not have annual growth rings, making the tree’s age sometimes difficult to determine.  It is known, however, that they grow relatively quickly at a rate of approximately three inches per year, especially in its first ten years.

 

Joshua-Tree-NP,-trees-&-sanThere are many things I really liked about this park.  As a U2 fan, I smile as I have to add:  one of their greatest albums was called The Joshua Tree.

 

But the primary reason I enjoyed it here was the endless landscape, the quirky trees, the peace.  Between the 100 million year old rock formations, and the craggy peaks of distant mountains, are all these weird hairy-looking trees–reaching out into the spaciousness that is the desert.  It feels like you’re on another planet, and I like that.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Posted in America, California, Nature, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments