Land of the Hummingbird

As we head deeper into winter in the Northern Hemisphere, let’s take a few minutes to frolic in the tropics. Trinidad is called Land of the Hummingbird–here are some of the beautiful birds and butterflies we have seen there.

Trinidad is an island in the Caribbean Sea less than 10 miles (16km) off South America’s Venezuelan coast.

Read more about Trinidad here: Trinidad Wikipedia.

Although Trinidad’s primary industry is oil and gas, parts of the island are rainforest and plantations. You can see from this photo below how extensive the tree canopy is.

And now we will go below the canopy to find thriving birds in every color of the rainbow. We’ll start with a few of the hummingbirds.

We have 15 species of hummingbirds living in our very large country of America. In the small dual-island nation of Trinidad-Tobago, with an area of less than 2,000 sq. miles (5,131 km2), there are more hummingbird species than in all the U.S.: 18.

This hummingbird’s iridescent crown and gorget feathers lit up with a simple turn of his head in the perfect light. Its name is “copper-rumped”…but who’s looking at the rump?

Four additional hummingbird species are below; Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-necked Jacobin, Tufted Coquette, and White-chested Emerald.

This tufted coquette below, with his orange mohawk and polka dots, has bits of pollen on the end of his bill. He was tiny and zipping around at lightning speed…and very busy.

You may not be able to see it, but this white-chested emerald hummingbird has a bit of his tongue sticking out.

There were many native, red-flowered bushes on the trail (below), attractive to hummingbirds.

But it wasn’t just hummingbirds we found in Trinidad, there was an abundance of other colorful species as well.

Scarlet ibis live in Trinidad, roosting at night on small coastal islands. I wrote a post recently that included Trinidad’s scarlet ibis. Link: Celebrating Ibis.

And there were many honeycreeper species, too. In Hawaii, honeycreepers take the place of hummingbirds in the avian world. But in Trinidad they have both.

This male purple honeycreeper is absolutely show-stopping. I found it difficult to take the binoculars down and keep walking–I would stop and stare for the longest time.

And the female of the same species, often close by, is also colorful and beautiful. Green legs!

And then there’s the green honeycreeper which is another stunner. The bird’s name is “green” but it’s really turquoise.

With all the nectar plants around, there were of course butterflies. Interestingly, the two butterfly species below both have bird names: the owl butterfly and the scarlet peacock, below that.

The owl butterfly below is not as colorful as some butterflies, but the “eye” marking is easily discernable. Many scientists posit that the eyespot is an evolutionary tool of mimicry, resembling eyes of predators that hunt by sight; while others say the conspicuous contrast in markings deters predators.

It wouldn’t be right to highlight the wild nectar feeders without including at least one bat. Trinidad has approximately 70 bat species, an incredible amount.

One night at dusk we spotted a stream of bats flying out from under our lodge building. We went back every night thereafter for a bat bonanza.

And lastly, here are two songbirds to sing to you of the color and beauty here on earth.

The violaceous euphonia with his furry yellow forehead.

And the ubiquitous bananaquit, often found at our outdoor breakfast table trying to sneak a little sugar.

I hope this tickle of the tropics helped warm you, my friends.

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

On the Dock of the Bay

Beautiful day at Bodega Bay, a spot in northern California that I gravitate to several times a year. Our visit earlier this month was highlighted by my dear sister and brother-in-law joining Athena, her camera, and me.

Upon our arrival, fishing boats were traversing the marked channels and fog horns pierced through the briny, moist air.

There is a commercial fish-cleaning dock I like to go to early when the fishing activity is bustling. We can usually find opportunistic sea lions vying for scraps thrown in the water.

This day we found two sea lions hauled out on the dock of the bay. They were sleepy, intertwined.

Common on our west coast, California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are classified as eared seals in the Otariidae family. They’re called eared seals because they have visible ear flaps; seals don’t have these. You can see the “ears” in the next two close-ups.

I’ve read they can turn the flaps downward while swimming and diving, so water doesn’t enter their ears. They have hearing function both in air and under water.

California Sea Lions Wikipedia

Eventually one sea lion went for a swim. This sea mammal weighs several hundred pounds, and yet they manage to slip into the water almost soundlessly.

But the quiet ended there when the docked sea lion began barking very loudly…and went on for about five minutes.

This sleepy harbor seal dozed through all the commotion.

The bay is lively with birds, too.

By now the winter birds have migrated here from colder climes. Marbled godwits, a shorebird, and surf scoters, a sea duck, were two species we were celebrating that day, as we do not see them in most other months of the year. By March or so they will be heading back north.

Here are the marbled godwits (below). They are distinctive for their long, bi-colored bill.

Surf scoters are eye-catching with the male’s bright-colored bill, white eyes and white markings. Found all along our west coast in winter, they are large ducks, males measure at 19 inches long (48 cm).

Other bird species around the bay included western grebes, a few common loons and many herons and egrets. This snowy egret, below, found delicacies in tide-soaked sea grass.

There is a small pond by the bay where a gregarious flock of yellow-rumped warblers popped around. We’re lucky they spend their winters here on the west coast.

A five-minute drive up from the bay is a Pacific Ocean overlook called Bodega Head that offers hiking and gorgeous ocean views. Whales can be spotted from up here too, but not until about January.

The ocean rocks showcased brown pelicans, western gulls, Brandt’s and double-crested cormorants. A friendly birder with a scope gave us a distant view of a common murre, as black oystercatchers called from the rocks.

On the west coast we have black oystercatchers with a black belly, red bill and red eye; whereas the east coast has the American oystercatcher, a white-bellied bird.

The tide was low so we had the added pleasure of spotting a few sea stars clinging to the sides of the rocks (below).

We ate our packed lunch and watched the birds, humans and sea mammals as they foraged for sea life.

Then, after hours at the coast, it was time to head home. Fog horns continued their rhythmic warnings as we reluctantly drove off.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Foggy Morning

My morning walks this week have been blessedly cool and shrouded in fog…please join me.

In Northern California this time of year the nights have become longer and cooler, and fog lingers in our valley until about 9 a.m.

I love it like this. Droplets in the air and fog dripping from the leaves means moisture…a pleasant respite from the monthslong drought typical of our summers. It brings us hope for rainy months in the winter ahead.

The local deer, the black-tailed species, quietly graze in the hush of the fog. They are a sub-species of mule deer. (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)

In the summer the wild turkeys were often under cover as they raised their vulnerable chicks. But now they’re out in the mornings in family flocks, feeding on the ground seeds.

We do have changing colored leaves on the west coast in autumn, though not as prominent as our American friends in the east.

Color comes out in the liquidambar trees, pyracantha and other berries, deciduous oaks and still-flowering ornamental gardens.

The California buckeye trees (Aesculus californica), an endemic and the only buckeye native to the state, are completely leafless already. For a month they have had no leaves, baring only their dangling poisonous seeds, also known as horse chestnuts.

On my walk I found a fallen buckeye and brought it home to crack open and show you.

Gradually the morning quietness perked up with the chatter of songbirds as the shrouded sunshine began its rise.

With the autumn weather new songbird migrants have arrived from the north, including the Oregon dark-eyed junco subspecies, coming to join the resident juncos. Junco hyemalis.

The clear, plaintive notes of a white-crowned sparrow cut through all the fog…but the loud and distinctive honking of the Canada Geese quickly drowned it out.

The geese congregate every morning in this field. As we walked closer, we witnessed smaller groups descending through the fog, seeing them long after hearing them.

Eventually the sun started to burn off the fog and a patch of blue sky peeked through here and there, until its light and warmth had pierced the heavy marine layer.

The sun brightened the garden colors and highlighted the friendliest scarecrow I have ever seen.

This time of year, chili peppers can be seen in many gardens.

This golden-crowned sparrow had a moment of glory when the sun brightened his namesake crown.

As our final steps brought us to the front door, an Anna’s hummingbird bid us adieu.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

The Land of Florida

In the aftermath of last week’s devastating Hurrican Ian in Florida, we have all seen much news about the tragic destruction. I have a brief tour for you highlighting the beauty and wild creatures in this fine state.

Geologically, the Florida peninsula is a porous plateau of limestone sitting atop bedrock. The limestone is topped with sandy soils deposited over millions of years of rising and falling sea levels. Today, much of the state is at or below sea level. See topographical map at end.

Florida has the longest coastline of any contiguous state–8,436 miles (13,576 km).

The Florida Reef is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef).

More info: Florida Wikipedia

There are many species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects in this subtropical and tropical wonderland.

You don’t have to be in Florida long to spot their state reptile, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

With all that coastline, sea birds and wading birds are commonly seen throughout the state.

The Florida Keys, the state’s popular coral cay archipelago, are the southernmost part of the continental U.S. They never have freezing temperatures and tropical wildlife thrives here.

Also in southern Florida, the Everglades offer an ecosystem that is not presently found anywhere else on earth.

Several ecosystems comprise the Everglades, as shown in this diagram, below.

Everglades Ecosystems. Courtesy Wikipedia

More info: Everglades Wikipedia

Much of the natural land of southern Florida is swamp and wetland, although decades of extensive human development have altered the natural state.

More recently, in the last few decades, scientists, citizens and environmentalists have done a lot to restore wetlands, important for many reasons. More info: Wetland Wikipedia.

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, also in southern Florida, offers visitors a view of the Everglades ecosystem, while providing a safe preserve for the abundant life.

The sanctuary has one of the largest remaining stands of bald and pond cypress trees, seen below, in North America.

This painted bunting, one of our country’s most colorful songbirds, greeted us while there.

One year we sought and found wild Florida manatees, the state’s designated marine mammal, near Tampa on the west coast. The manatees stayed submerged, so our photos didn’t come out well.

Oddly enough, the Big Bend Power Plant has a discharge canal that is attractive to the manatees for its warm water, and the state and federal governments have designated it a manatee sanctuary.

Manatee. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The west coast of Florida is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico. This coast, especially in the south, is where the recent hurricane did the most damage.

Sanibel Island, shown in photos below and throughout, was severely damaged. It is inaccessible right now because the hurricane washed away the only road access.

These photos are from a few years back.

We were on Sanibel Island for a week and were frequently greeted by pods of bottle-nosed dolphins. Tursiops truncatus.

The sandy beaches of Sanibel, a barrier island, were covered every day with beautiful shells washed up from the recent tide.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is also on Sanibel Island. It is a 5,200 acre (21 km2) preserve and wilderness area.

The east coast of Florida is approximately 500 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

Below are the white sands and warm waters of Cocoa Beach. This was a day in November, on a separate visit.

After a thoroughly exhilarating visit to the Kennedy Space Center…

… we spent several hours birding on nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Channels of tannic water and mangrove trees are the perfect habitat for alligators. This one, below center, is especially long.

We were hoping to see the Florida Scrub-jay here, which would have been a life bird, but that day it proved elusive. We did, however, see many other birds.

Close to the northern border, a day at the Jacksonville Arboretum yielded one of their common woodpeckers in a tree filled with the ubiquitous Spanish moss. We do not have this woodpecker in California.

We also had an open view that day of the gopher tortoise, Florida’s designated state tortoise. Native to southeastern U.S. and a keystone species (i.e., has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment), this Gopherus polyphemus was about the size of a small dinner plate.

That concludes our brief tour of the Sunshine State. This state of sunshine, warmth, and humidity is a troubled state this week and for years to come, after Ian’s destruction.

We hope for the best.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Celebrating Ibis

Humans have been celebrating ibis, a large wading bird, for thousands of years. Here is a brief overview and extensive photo gallery of ibis around the world; beginning with ancient times and ending with my favorite.

There are 29 species of ibis in the world today, on all continents except Antarctica.

Ancient Egyptians associated the ibis with Thoth, the God of wisdom and writing. Many ancient Egyptian art pieces present Thoth with the body of a man and the head of an ibis.

The prevalence of the ibis during ancient Egyptian times and the appeal of animal-inspired deities in general, can also be seen in the thousands of surviving ibis mummies in tombs throughout Egypt.

This wood ibis statue below dates to roughly 2,500 years ago.

All classified in the Threskiornithidae family, ibis have the long, downcurved bill as their most prominent feature.

Ibis Wikipedia

Ibis usually live in wetlands (though there are exceptions) using their long bills to probe into mud for food. They eat crayfish, crabs, small fish, insects and other invertebrates and crustaceans common in mudflats and marshes.

The three most common ibis species in North America are the white, white-faced and glossy.

In Northern California we have the white-faced ibis. Plegadis chihi. Populations declined with DDT and threatened marsh habitat from the 1940s to 1980s but have been resurrected via conservation efforts.

I have been birding the Sacramento Valley since the 1990s and have had the pleasure of watching the ibis populations gradually recover here.

This is a good photo (below, center) to demonstrate the size of the white-faced ibis compared to ducks.

Ibis tend to be gregarious birds and are usually seen in flocks.

This is what a flock looks like without optics.

A sight I always find pleasing is watching ibis in flight–they have a characteristic silhouette with their long bill leading the way.

This flock (below) was animated and at times even comical, as they probed the water for crayfish. The crayfish were putting up a fight and had the birds hopping and flopping.

The eastern half of the country is home to the glossy ibis, almost identical to the white-faced. The white-faced species is believed to have evolved from the glossy.

The white-faced ibis only has a white face during breeding.

You can see from the photo below that the back of this white-faced ibis is a handsome array of purple, green and bronze plumage. The glossy ibis has a similar look during non-breeding plumage.

In Florida and many of the Gulf and southeastern coastal habitats of the U.S., the American white ibis is a common wader. Eudocimus albus. Its long, pink bill and all-white body makes it easy to identify.

This photo, below, was taken on Sanibel Island in Florida, where this week they are experiencing terrifying devastation by the wrath of Hurrican Ian. We hope for the best as the folks in SW Florida and the southeastern coastal states endure this extreme storm.

Ibis juveniles are sometimes tricky to identify. The white ibis, for example, has a juvenile stage in which the bird is not white. It is brown.

This is a juvenile white ibis (below, right) we saw on Jekyll Island in Georgia. It is perched in a tree with a wood stork.

In Australia the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) is widespread across most of the continent.

Ibis no longer exist in Egypt like they did thousands of years ago, but there are 11 extant species in Africa.

I have fond memories of Africa’s Hadada Ibis. Bostrychia hagedash. A primarily brown bird, they roosted overnight in the trees of our campsite in large flocks. Every morning they flew off, all in one marvelous squawking cacophony. It was always too dark to photograph them, but below is a good recording of just two Hadada.

Their onomatopoetic name is derived from the loud and distinctive “haa-haa-haa-de-dah” call they make.

Link to recording of two Hadada Ibis calling, South Africa.

I have left my favorite ibis for last–the scarlet ibis. Eudocimus ruber. This marvelously garish bird is native to South America and parts of the Caribbean. We saw it in Trinidad where it is their national bird. A heavy diet of red crustaceans produces the scarlet coloration.

We made a special trip to the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad to see it. We took a boat ride in waning light through swampy channels rife with boa constrictors coiled in mangrove trees above us.

The adventure was much like going out to see the fireworks on July Fourth, exciting and intriguing at the end of the day. But instead of being in the car with friends and family, we were in a boat with a surly captain.

We anchored and waited as the sun fell lower, watching for the scarlet ibis who would be heading to their nighttime roosts.

A few small flocks at a time, they began arriving.

The photo above shows all adults, bright red with black wingtips, except for the brown individual on the far left, that’s a juvenile.

Although we could not get close to the birds due to species protection rules, we did witness the glorious sight of numerous flocks of scarlet ibis descending on island mangrove trees.

Ibis around the world, big birds wading in the mud, yet to humans for thousands of years, we find them exquisite.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

California Oaks and Acorns

With over 600 species of oak trees on our planet, this venerable tree surrounds many of us. This time of year we watch the seasonal changes, but every season is a joy with oak trees.

Oak trees live only in the Northern Hemisphere. They belong to the genus Quercus, meaning “fine tree” in Latin.

More info: Oak Wikipedia

Here in Northern California, the oaks have endured the summer drought with stoic strength. They stretch their mighty roots deep into the earth for moisture when the rest of the landscape is parched.

We have approximately 20 species in California, the Bay Area has eight or nine. See penultimate photo. Oak woodlands cover approximately 8.8 million acres of California (Bay Nature, Spr. 2022).

Everywhere I go in this great state, I am always studying the oak trees, trying to determine which species I am fortunate to have the pleasure of meeting.

I look closely at the bark and leaves, the shape of the tree, take note of the location.

Acorns are also helpful identifying tools, if there are any on the tree. Phone apps for identifying species help, too.

But identifying an oak species can be tricky, I have found, because they hybridize. So I try not to get too involved with identification studies…I am not presenting a dissertation, it’s simply a walk among friends.

More important than identification is taking note of the grand queen I am in the presence of, and what she has to offer.

An early springtime stroll through oak woodlands reveals lichen-covered and leafless oaks, and winter rains still saturating the hillsides.

Later in spring the lupine wildflowers emerge and the trees are budding.

Winter brings a bouquet of moss and lichen to every tree; many are draped with lace lichen, the State Lichen.

This brown creeper, below, was busy hunting insects nestled in the lichen and moss.

Oaks are magnets for all sorts of wildlife.

This week I had the pleasure of a great horned owl serenade in the oaks out back…a calm duet in the middle of the night.

Autumn is a great time for watching creatures pluck the acorns and whisk them off to their special hiding places in preparation for inclement days.

Acorn woodpeckers, named for their expert reign over oak trees, can often be seen snatching the acorns, squawking loudly, calling waka-waka-waka. They robustly tug and remove the nut and fly off in a flurry of black and white to deposit it.

A granary is a designated place acorn woodpeckers have chosen for storing their precious acorn supply. Usually a granary is a dead tree (not necessarily an oak), but the birds also use utility poles, fence posts, wooden buildings. As colonial birds, they rely on each other to protect their wares.

Over the years they have created these holes for storing acorns.

You can see (below) the holes that are stuffed with tan-colored acorns.

Over time a granary acorn will dry out and get smaller, so the acorn woodpeckers relocate it to a different hole where it fits more snugly and safely.

Every species of woodpecker visits the oak trees, not just acorn woodpeckers.

And both our jay species do, too. Western scrub-jay and Steller’s jay. When the acorns are ready, the jays doggedly gather acorns all day long.

Equally as fun is witnessing the jays months later retrieving the buried acorns from the ground or shrubbery.

Nuthatches get their name from jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed of the nut.

Squirrels of course take to the nuts. We expect this of tree squirrels, but even so-called ground squirrels scramble about in the leaves at acorn time. Apparently the ground squirrels throw caution to the wind, scurrying about in the oak tree instead of on the ground. More than once I have witnessed the ground squirrel falter and fall out of the tree, plop on the ground. They don’t seem to be hurt and in fact go right back up the trunk.

Here you can see a trio of acorns (lower right) that the ground squirrel is precariously heading toward.

Long ago acorns were prized by human indigenous populations too. There is, however, a lot of work to preparing an acorn for human consumption, due to the nut’s tannins.

More info: Acorn Wikipedia

After the acorn celebration is over, in a few months the deciduous oaks will be leafless, giving us a clean view of the gnarly limbs and multiple trunks.

They close down and rest for a season of cold days and nights.

When spring arrives, the tree produces catkins, its flowers. In the black oak (Quercus kelloggii), photo below, you can see hanging filaments dotted with tiny red balls–those are the catkins.

The leaves start out red.

As the season progresses, the leaves get bigger and turn from red to lime green. Then as the California sunshine intensifies, the lime green leaves turn darker green and get tougher, leathery.

Our old black oak tree was very entertaining every spring when birds arrived to pluck juicy caterpillars rolled up in the new leaves. It was great for the tree too, removing pests.

With each new season the oaks change and we are reminded by this lovely being how wise and wonderful life on earth can be.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Great reference guide for oaks: The Sibley Guide to Trees (2009) by David A. Sibley

Daintree River Cruise

We were on the Daintree River in Queensland Australia on a sunrise boat cruise. The guide, also the boat captain, loved sharing what he had seen over his many years cruising the Daintree.

It was called a boat cruise, but really it was a boat ride in a motorboat with five of us and Ian, the guide.

We were in the Daintree Rainforest, a part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, a World Heritage Site where there are a whopping 430 bird species. See map at end.

All of the bird photos in this post are species we saw on our Daintree River cruise.

This spangled drongo was interesting to watch because it could perch upright via its intricate tail. Drongos are known for their unique upright stance.

River cruises are great for seeing water birds and other river denizens.

This pied cormorant perched on a tree snag with its webbed feet.

Sea eagles were abundant, for although we were in a rainforest, the Coral Sea is nearby. The Coral Sea is home to the Great Barrier Reef.

One of those Australian birds that can be seen in many parts of the continent: the cockatoo. Non-Australians like them for their clever antics and beauty. But many Australians don’t care for them due to the damage these smart birds can do to trees and crops.

I could never get enough of this large and loud bird.

Rainbow lorikeets are the birdiest rainbow you will ever see on this planet, and Australians are fortunate to have it in abundance.

Kingfishers are birds we see all over the world, these two species below greeted us on the river that day.

This forest kingfisher had just come out of the water, feathers are ruffled.

We saw this herd of cows from our river boat, too.

The rare southern cassowary is a featured bird of the Daintree Rainforest, and we were lucky to have seen it several times the previous week. It is rare and difficult to see, they prefer to stay deep in the rainforest. We did not see it on our boat cruise, however, so it’s not pictured here.

Regular readers know I have written many times about this magnificent bird, one of my top ten favorite birds. Here is my most recent post on it: Aussie Backroad Thrill

We were in the Daintree village for two nights and it rained a lot, as rainforests will be. It created lush growth in and around the river.

Our guide took us into narrow waterways, possible with a smaller boat. We could hear the serene and monotonous tones of the wompoo fruit-dove as we quietly motored along.

The Torresian Imperial-Pigeon was easy to spot with its big, white body in the dark canopy.

He took us to a specific limb over the water for a very special and rare treat: the Papuan Frogmouth. We were fortunate the guide knew exactly where to look, as they are well-camouflaged, difficult to see. They are a nocturnal bird; it was sleeping and never moved.

Papua New Guinea is only 683 miles (1,100 km) away, hence the Papuan name.

There are no hummingbirds in Australia, but there are nectar-seeking birds. We saw Australia’s only sunbird, the Yellow-bellied Sunbird (Olive-backed) (Nectrinia jugularis), and several honeyeaters that day.

We had started at dawn and it was only 8:30 am by the time our boat cruise ended, so we ventured off to the river-crossing ferry and explored the Daintree Rainforest.

Ice cream and lots of birds kept us giddy.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

A Day at Bodega Bay

I went to Bodega Bay last week, a west coast fishing village in Northern California. The day began with fog and low cloud cover, as always; and by early afternoon the fog had lifted, the sun was shining.

A shallow inlet off the Pacific Ocean, the bay is about five miles (8 km) across.

There’s a small road that curves around to the back of the bay. On the way you pass the town’s lodge and restaurant. Below is the restaurant, and below that is the dock in back.

Driving along, you pass the small local grocer (Diekmann’s) where you can buy firewood and bait. Turn off the main road and follow it around past the marina and chowder shop, and you’ll find plenty of picturesque places to stop and view the bay.

The marine influence is most pronounced in the bay’s water levels. At low tide there’s a lot of mud, naturally. I’ve visited this village close to 50 times, and it always looks different because of the tides.

In December it is crab season, and you will see individual crabbers venture out into the mud at low tide in their wellies digging for crab.

But at this time of year, the crab season hasn’t yet started.

You can, however, spot an occasional crab along the mudflats, darting in and out of the mud holes.

Courtesy Wikipedia

We go to Bodega Bay for the birds…primarily shorebirds. It is located on the Pacific Flyway. Most migrating birds do not arrive until autumn, where they will stay for the winter. But some birds, like the marbled godwits in the two photos below, are early arrivals.

Ruddy turnstones (below) were a pleasant surprise to find on the dock. They, too, are a little early. Early birds.

Several harbor seals joined an animated flock of brown pelicans in a feeding frenzy, and occasionally a silvery fish popped out of the water.

Alfred Hitchcock came here for the birds, too, in 1962. “The Birds” was filmed here.

I wrote a post about it: The Birds and Bodega Bay.

As you continue along the road, you come to Campbell Cove beach and a small adjacent pond.

Fog horns and squawking gulls dominate the soundscape here, and the air is redolent with briny sea. Small boats cruise to and from the sea.

The pond is small…but with a big history.

Today it is a quiet little pond where songbirds perch in the reeds. We watched northern rough-winged swallows dipping in the water, and a pied-billed grebe.

But in the early 1960s this spot was a maelstrom of bustling construction proudly touted by Pacific Gas and Electric to be the first commercially viable nuclear power plant in the U.S.

Then a remarkable group of local residents-turned-activists rallied, had the construction permanently shut down.

Over the victorious years since then, the construction hole (aka Hole in the Head) has filled in with rainwater and natural springs, and native shrubs have grown up.

Read more here: Sonoma Magazine Bodega Head article

Upon leaving this corner of the bay, the road switchbacks up and leads to several hiking trails and a Pacific Ocean overlook.

It’s windy and wild with precipitous cliffs.

At this time of year, many species of shorebirds are gathered on the ocean cliff rocks in various breeding stages.

This juvenile brown pelican will learn how to use its wings from a great height.

This western gull has an egg on her nest.

The road ends here at the edge of the earth.

Just like the birds, coming and going, we head back home, completely fulfilled by an adventurous day at Bodega Bay.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Quail Chicks

It’s that time of year when I have the pleasure of sharing the adorable new quail chicks born recently in our backyard. Summer in northern California in a lucky year when the little puffballs make their debut.

This past spring, pairs of quails were seen frequently throughout the day in our yard. Then around June we didn’t see them anymore. This might have been alarming if we had not known it was nesting time, when they disappear for about a month to raise a family.

Then, as expected, they appeared with their new family.

It is an absolute thrill when one day the little ones scurry into our midst.

They are difficult to capture on camera as they are extremely skittish.

Parents typically produce 12 to 16 eggs in a clutch, and often about half of those are quickly preyed on. Precocial out of necessity, chicks usually leave the nest within a day after hatching.

We have watched five chicks growing up in the past two weeks, and we keep our fingers crossed that they will all survive.

Below is the first time we saw them, taken on July 23. They’re probably about one week old here. They appeared for less than one minute.

The cotoneaster shrub you see them next to is where we think their nest was.

Twelve days later their black head stripes had matured into more recognizable quail markings. In this photo (below) you can see a small black patch on each of their crowns. In a few days this will develop into their plume, also known as a topknot.

There are many species who prey on quail eggs and chicks, so the nest is well hidden under a shrub.

Fox, coyote, raccoons and outdoor cats are a few of the predators. The American Bird Conservancy estimates outdoor cats kill “an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year.”

More info: American Bird Conservancy

Somewhere under this shrub is their nest.

We’re in a drought and have severe water restrictions, so there is no green grass this time of year. But there are plenty of seeds on the ground, which is what the chicks eat.

Mature quail are often seen pecking and scratching at the ground, but the chicks just peck until they learn how to scratch.

More info: California Quail

Their camouflage is an important factor in survival. You can hardly make it out that there are five chicks in the photo below: three chicks on the left, two in the center, and both parents on the right.

Still staying close to the cotoneaster.

When the chicks are this young, one or both parents are invariably accompanying the young. One usually stands sentinel and watches for predators, while the other parent eats and tends to the young.

Here the mother is standing sentinel and all five chicks are underneath the bench.

This photo, below, shows a chick with dad. You can see the chick’s topknot has grown a little.

This photo, below, is two days after the above photo. The topknot is a bit bigger, breast feathers and markings are becoming more prominent. This chick is learning what its wings are about.

At first the chicks only pecked on flat ground, then eventually they started climbing onto the rocks. And then one day they got to the top of the rocks and their mother (below, right) was encouraging them to use their wings to fly into the shrub. They were reluctant but successful.

We have a bird bath that is one of the few sources of water around, and all the bird species rely on it for drinking and bathing. Every day I wondered why the parents weren’t showing the chicks the water source. Precious resource on these hot, dry days.

What I learned was they weren’t ready yet. But this week we’re getting closer to that.

A few days ago the adult male stood sentinel on the bird bath, encouraging his offspring to try this handy resource. The parents murmur in low, almost imperceptible tones to their young.

An acorn woodpecker, however, was thirsty too, and they seem to rule higher in the backyard hierarchy. The male quail quickly acquiesced.

Yesterday morning I heard the quail fly in–that distinctive whir of their wings–and briefly saw their shadows in my periphery. When I went to the window, my heart skipped a beat when I counted only three chicks.

But happy day, the other two joined up.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

San Francisco’s Market Street

Much of the past and present of San Francisco lies on Market Street. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of this lively thoroughfare of the city by the bay.

San Francisco’s biggest and widest street is 120 feet wide (36 m) and three miles (5 km) long. It ends at the bay.

You can see in this overview photo below the wide street vertically cutting a long and distinct swath through the center of the city landscape. That’s Market Street.

This vintage San Francisco map below shows how there are two grids facing different directions. It is Market Street that is the boundary of the two grids, cutting diagonally across the city.

SF map courtesy Wikipedia

Graded through sand dunes in the 1850s, Market Street quickly became a major thoroughfare in the Gold Rush days. Public transportation of all kinds has traversed this street over the decades.

Below is a link to an eight-minute video restored by the U.S. Library of Congress; it was filmed just days before the 1906 earthquake. It takes the viewer on a cable car ride down Market Street at about 10 mph, demonstrating a typical day in 1906.

Video Link: A Trip Down Market Street

Wikipedia Market Street

Except for the Golden Gate Bridge photo, all photos in this essay reflect scenes on Market Street.

It has also hosted a plethora of events from presidential parades to pride parades; earthquake recovery sites to Super Bowl celebrations.

Below is an archival photo from 1903 of a parade on Market Street for the president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt.

At Market and Fifth Street, May 1903. Courtesy

Over a century later: the same spot on Market Street, across the street at the cable car turnaround.

These two old photos of the Ferry Building, at the base of Market Street, are right after the 1906 earthquake and then six months later under renovation.

This is Market Street and the Ferry Building six months after the 1906 earthquake, in recovery mode.

A prominent old hotel on Market Street is the Palace Hotel. It was originally built in 1875, burned down (1906 earthquake), and was rebuilt and reopened in 1909. Today it is still an elegant hotel and restaurant, hosting a variety of notable guests. These two photos are the same room, 1904 and 2013.

courtesy – Garden Court, 1904

Another landmark on Market Street is Lotta’s Fountain. It is a cast iron sculpture that became a meeting place for survivors after the 1906 earthquake.

Since that day, April 18, 1906, the city has hosted an annual celebration at the fountain. It takes place at dawn when the earthquake hit. Organizers dress in vintage clothing. The presiding mayor always gives a speech about earthquake safety and the strength of the community then and now.

There is always an interesting cast of characters and costumes at this festive dawn event.

On a normal day, there are parts of Market Street not advisable for pedestrians. From about Fifth Street west to Van Ness Avenue is a decaying array of homeless people, drug addicts and unsavory scenes.

Every new mayor promises to clean it up, but this section of Market remains stubbornly ugly and unsafe.

Here are some happy moments on Market Street at the Pride Parades over a span of many years.

One of my memorable moments on Market Street took place in 1983 soon after I had moved to San Francisco. My first job was on Market in an office building at the intersection of Kearney and Third. Early on I started noticing two women who looked exactly alike.

Not only did they look exactly alike, they walked alike and moved in synchrony.

They walked down Market Street at the same time every day, like clockwork. I learned they were prominent characters of San Francisco. The Brown Twins. They worked at different offices, but every day at the same time they met up and paraded down the street together wearing the exact same clothes, accessories, hair and make-up.

One day I brought in my camera. I had a plan. My co-worker and I walked down Market at the time they were expected. And we found them. We asked if we could pose for a photo with them. They were pleasant and obliging and friendly.

In the hustle of the downtown lunch hour, we found someone to snap a photo of the four of us. I am on the far right.

It’s an interesting and historic street, our Market Street. It’s so quirky that even the direction it takes is diagonal. But those of us who have spent any time in San Francisco, like this artery of our favorite city.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.