Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

A very popular tourist attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the activity of wild California sea lions at Pier 39.

 

For many years the sea lions had been coming to the San Francisco Bay to eat herring, and other fish.  At breeding time, they would swim south, primarily to the Channel Islands.

 

The males especially migrate more, the females congregate near the breeding grounds, in southern California.

 

When not foraging, these pinnipeds usually haul their 700+ pound bodies onto shore (called “haul out”) to escape predators, rest, socialize, and/or regulate their temperature.

 

Then one year, January of 1990, everything changed.  The sea lions decided that instead of hauling out onto the shore, the Pier 39 boat dock would do just fine.  (Some folks speculated it had something to do with the Loma Prieta earthquake a few months earlier, but no one really knows.)

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

As the days turned into weeks, heated discussion ensued about what to do with the sea lions.  Boaters, who no doubt paid a hefty fee to dock here, didn’t like the large animals interloping on their docking space.

 

The nearby Marine Mammal Center was consulted, and it was eventually decided that the sea lions could have the dock, humans would relocate their boats.

 

A few times the sea lions disappeared for a few months–experts had varying opinions–but they always returned.  And they have been here ever since.

 

The population numbers vary.  The maximum number counted, in November of 2009:  1,701.  It is mostly males, but females are here too.

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

For more info on Zalophus californianus, click here.

 

Click here for Pier 39 sea lion info and the Sea Lion Webcam.

 

The sea lions are wild, they come and go as they please, they are not fed.    In fact, feeding sea lions (and any other marine mammal) is illegal in the U.S., info here.

 

When I’m down at the docks, I watch the humans as much as I watch the sea lions.  Spectators are so excited and animated, filming movies, taking photos, doing selfies.

 

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

And what’s not to love?  The sea lions bellow and bark, “walk” on all fours, wobble and roll.  When they get a little hungry, they plop into the water and swim off.  Later dude.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendola, Belize

Montezuma Oropendola, Belize

Although common in certain parts of Mexico, Central, and South America, this bird is not seen in most of the world.  A New World bird, there are ten different species.

 

Large and vocal, oropendolas can be found in forests or open woodland, where they forage primarily on large insects and fruit.

 

Montezuma Oropendola, Costa Rica

Montezuma Oropendola, Costa Rica

The photos here feature two species, Montezuma and Chestnut-headed, taken in three different countries: Belize, Costa Rica, and Peru.

 

Oropendolas have similarities to their cousins in the Icteridae Family.  They are boisterous like blackbirds, colorful like orioles, and sizeable like grackles.

 

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Costa Rica

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Costa Rica

The male Montezuma Oropendola is 20 inches (50 cm) long, the male Chestnut-headed is 14 inches (35 cm) long; females are smaller.  Add to that their flashy colors and loud calls, this is a bird that is blissfully easy to spot.

 

They are colonial nesters, so they travel and breed in flocks.  Their social structure involves a dominant male in a polygamous situation, and flocks can have 30, 50,  or more birds.  More oropendola info here.

 

Montezuma oropendola on nest, Belize

Montezuma oropendola on nest, Belize

Nests of the oropendola are hanging, and woven with fibers, vines, and Spanish moss.  We came upon an  active colony in Belize at Mayan ruins, where the birds were conspicuously swooping in the treetops.

 

But of all the magnificent characteristics of this bird, it is the magical, other-worldly gurgling song that makes you stop in your tracks.  Listen here.

 

Oropendola nests, Peru

Oropendola nests, Peru

For a birder, it is a supreme thrill to travel to a country and be reunited with a species that you only see in certain parts of the world.  Then back home, at my desk, I smile; knowing that the oropendola’s flutey music is no doubt fluttering at this moment through the leaves of the Costa Rican forest.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

On Being Busy

Beehive on Tree, Zambia

Beehive on Tree, Zambia

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.”

~~Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

 

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Beehive, Zambia

Beehive, Zambia

Mount McKinley Up Close

Mount McKinley, blue ice in center

Mount McKinley, blue ice in center

We had reservations to take a flight up to Ruth Glacier, one of the five glaciers on Mount McKinley, in Alaska.

 

It was to be the highlight of our two week adventure.  But when we arrived at Talkeetna Air Taxi (info here), we learned our flight had been cancelled due to bad weather.   No flights on that August day.

 

Mount-McKinley-flightAfter re-arranging our trip and making a number of adjustments, we came back a week later, and were able to take our “flightseeing” trip.

 

Mt. McKinley, Alaska. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Mount McKinley is the highest mountain peak in North America, at an elevation of 20,310 feet.  Like all huge mountains, McKinley has its own weather system.  Many people have visited the area and never had the chance to see it, so often it is shrouded in fog.  More about McKinley (aka Denali) here.

 

Our ascent could only be described as dreamy.  Even though the plane was tiny, and rattling, we had been given headphones with relaxing music.  Snow looked like fluffy carpeting, everything below was miniature, unrecognizable — it was all so surreal.

 

Mount McKinley, note size of plane in center toward right

Mount McKinley, note size of plane in center toward right

This photo, with a plane in the center for comparison, shows how massive this mountain range is.

 

The 40 mile long glacier has 5,000 foot granite cliffs.  Due to the steepness, there was a lot of spiraling to descend.

 

Ruth Glacier's granite walls and plane

Ruth Glacier’s granite walls and plane

When it was nearly time to land, our pilot hand-cranked the landing gear into position.  Not wheels, like on runways, but skis.  There was thumping and squeaking, and lots of arm action, as he lowered the landing gear, prepared to land.

 

With no landing strip or flashing beacons, four snowboards jammed lengthwise into the ice were the landing guideposts.

 

Jet on Ruth Glacier

Jet on Ruth Glacier

We slid and bounced and finally came to a stop, and eventually stepped out onto this cold and icy, completely silent, shoulder of beautiful McKinley.

 

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, San Francisco

MLK Memorial, San Francisco

MLK Memorial, San Francisco

In the heart of San Francisco, centered in the Yerba Buena Gardens park, is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  Highlighted by a roaring waterfall, it is solid, yet always moving.

 

Built of Sierra granite, there is a terrace garden and walkway above the waterfall, and the rushing waterfall that empties into a 120,000 gallon reflecting pool.  It is the largest fountain on the west coast.  A unique path behind the waterfall features 12 etched glass panels of quotations by Dr. King.

 

MLK fountain, San Francisco

MLK Memorial, San Francisco

Entitled “Revelation,” the memorial was built in 1993.  It was a collaborative project by sculptor Houston Conwill, architect Joseph De Pace, and poet Estella Conwill Majozo.  More Memorial info here.

 

Etched glass panels with quotes

Jet reading quotes, waterfall above and behind

Born on this day in 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. became the greatest African American human rights leader of all time.  More about Dr. King here.

 

1963 March on Washington. Courtesy Wikipedia.

He organized and led the 1963 March on Washington, and moved hundreds of thousands of people in one of the largest human rights political rallies of the time, calling for an end to racism.

 

Looking through the waterfall

Looking through the waterfall

The visitor proceeds under the waterfall, drawn in, and rewarded with privacy and reflection on the words of this fearless world leader.   There, underneath, all you hear is crashing water.  The city is drowned out, urban stimulation has vanished.  As we read each quote, his rhythmic words, deep voice, and brilliant oratory style come quickly to mind.

 

Dr. King, 1963 March on Washington

Dr. King, 1963 March on Washington

Dr. King shook the world.  He demanded equality.

 

This memorial reminds us there is still a long way to go, and we cannot forget, we cannot be mute.  But we can take time to pause and reflect, as we continue moving forward.

 

“No.  No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless noted otherwise

 

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles Nat'l Park, Calif.

Pinnacles Nat’l Park, Calif.

This week marks the 108th anniversary of Pinnacles National Park located in central California, approximately 50 miles inland of Monterey.

 

 

Craggy peaks of Pinnacles, Calif.

Craggy peaks of Pinnacles, Calif.

Initially designated as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, the park has expanded in size, upgraded to national park status, and been graced with fortifying legislation by at least five U.S. presidents.  More history here.

 

Pinnacles entry to Balconies Cave. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Today it is known for being one of four U.S. sites where captive-bred California Condors were released into the wild.  It is also home to 14 of California’s 24 wild bat species. Hikers, rock climbers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy it year round.

 

Pinnacles NP, Calif.

Pinnacles NP, Calif.

Pinnacles was created 23 million years ago when the Neenach Volcano erupted in powerful explosions of lava flow.  Lying on the San Andreas Fault, it was then split and moved 195 miles.  It continues to move at a rate of one inch per year.

 

Pinnacles hiker

Pinnacles hiker

Rock formations, talus caves, and abundant wildlife are just a few of the attractions in this huge (26,606 acres  or 10,767 ha) expanse.  Park info here.

 

Interestingly, Pinnacles, Muir Woods, and the Grand Canyon were all designated as national monuments on this week in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Pinnacles NP, Calif.

Pinnacles NP, Calif.

What a great week, and great foresight.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander