Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Menu

I didn't start this blog just to encourage myself to explore and learn about the Central Coast. I was also hoping it would inspire our distant loved ones to come explore it for themselves. And, gee...has it ever worked!

We've had almost a dozen house-guests since we moved here in December...and another one scheduled this weekend!

Here's my plan for while he's here:

Friday night:

Supper at home followed by a tour of the neighborhood. We might visit the Elfin Forest, the 4th St. Audobon Society Overlook, Sweet Springs Nature Preserve and maybe even Los Osos Oaks park.

Saturday morning:

I'm planning on running in the "Miracle Miles for Kids" 10K race. This event benefits a local organization that works with foster families and kids. It starts at Morro Rock and goes all the way to the Cayucos Pier. I'm suggesting that K and our visitor drop me off a little before the 8:00 am start. While they are there, they could walk over to the bay side of the road and look for otters floating in the kelp, eating their breakfast on their chests. They'll have a good chance of seeing some, I think.

Then, if they follow my suggestions, they'll drive North on Hwy 1 to the halfway point between the race's start and finish lines, North Point. From the hill-top benches, they'll have a great view of the whole race, and all the runners working toward their goal. When they tire of that, they can head up to the big after-party that will be happening in Cayucos. There will be food and music and a big crowd of happy, outdoorsy people. Hopefully, they won't mind hanging out there for a while...because I'll be depending on them to give me a ride home!

Saturday afternoon:

I'll probably need a nap after the race. But by early afternoon, I'll be ready for another adventure. And, according to my cherished tide-log, the water level in the bay will be cooperating. Beginning a little after noon, and lasting until well into evening, the tide will be over the 2.5 foot minimum required for easy exploration of the back bay. We might even be able to explore the estuary channels as far up as the S. Bay Blvd. bridge that passes over Turri Creek. I've always wanted to do that! If it's not too windy, we might bring a picnic supper and either eat it in the boat, or beach it on the sandspit for a less tippy dining experience.

I think it will be nice to put the canoe in at the tiny little strip of sand just north of the Nature Museum over in Morro Bay. It's so pretty over there, with the green of the golf course sloping up into the trees. And, our guest might want to make a quick stop at the Museum. We might even see some Black Crested Night Herons in the rookery there. Or, we might take the time to drive up through the golf course, to the overlook at Black Hill. You can really get a sense of the lay of the land from up there...or rather, the lay of the water. It's probably a good idea that everyone in the canoe understands the shape of the bay before we head out into it. I think it makes it more enjoyable once you're out there.

The best part about a tide like that is you can paddle around as long as you want. There's no deadline for when you have to head back, or risk getting stuck in the mud half a mile from dry land. We could stay out there and watch the stars show up, if we wanted to.

Sunday morning:

But, we'll probably want to come back and get to be early. Because the next morning, I'm going to take them both to a groovy tide-pooling spot over in the Montana de Oro. K's never been there because so often when we tide-pool there are kids along and this site is too rocky and treacherous for children. But, I think our grown-up company can handle it.

Sunday afternoon:

Our guest might leave mid-day on Sunday, but if he doesn't, he can come with us to the Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach. There is going to be live performance by supposedly the best local band in SLO county. I forget their name, but a musically-inclined friend told me we should go, and K wants to.

She might change her mind, however, when I remind her that Sunday afternoon is also when the "BEST IN BAY" dog show will be happening over in Morro Bay.

That's always the problem many fun things to many hard choices to make.

There is a guided bird-watching hike happening out at the Piedras Blancas light house on Sunday morning that I really wanted to go to...but I didn't rsvp in time.

And, there is a book sale at the Los Osos Library on Saturday that I'd love to check out, but I just don't think we'll have the time or energy.

Oh well. There's always next weekend!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Monster Trouble

I'm having blog trouble. The one and only photo I posted on the last entry, "two rights make really wrong," doesn't seem to be displaying at all. Nothing I do seems to help. Oh well. It wasn't a very good picture anyway.

The more serious problem is this; I'm a total cheater. I have manipulated this blog entry so the date says I posted it on 4/23. That way, when I look at my list of entries, it will appear that I kept my New Year's goal and wrote something every Saturday. But the truth is, I didn't write anything last week.

I knew I probably wouldn't have time to write on my designated writing day. But I decided months ago that it's okay to write on Sunday instead if I am too busy having bloggable adventures the day before.

And, what could be a more bloggable than a story about the Lucky 13th Annual Easter Beer Hunt?

A few weeks ago, K and I met some new friends over in Morro Bay. They have a weekend house in town that they visit semi-regularly, and plan to retire to at some point. But right now they live in a big old Victorian on some acreage in Bakersfield.

They are very handy, do-it-yourself people. They have remodeled and decorated their little beach cottage to the point of magazine-readiness. And apparently, they also know how to home-brew beer.

For their yearly party, they hide bottles of their own custom blends all over their property and invite their (adult) friends to come find it. Afterwards there's a live band and a big barbeque.

It's a two or three hour drive from here to Bakersfield but K and I planned to make the trip. It just sounded like too much fun to miss. I don't even like beer...but I sure would have enjoyed running all over their land with a basket in my arm, hunting for it.

Sadly, we instead ended up dealing with semi-urgent paperwork and phones calls about property we still own in Colorado instead. sigh. Maybe it's time to hire a management company.

So you're probably thinking I could have just written about something else. And you'd be right, because I have a long list of topics just waiting to be explored, and a big file of photos just waiting to be uploaded.

But you'd be wrong...because you don't know about the MONSTER.

That's right. I couldn't find the time, or peace or quiet for writing because we were invaded last weekend by an furry, slobbery, sharp-toothed, long-tailed wild-thing. This intractable force of nature swept into our lives with very little warning, creating havoc and disaster in it's path.

But it was hard to get very upset about it; it was just too cute. Look at it!

The picture's a little blurry because the only time she held still was when she was sleeping.

Or staring at the cat.

The monster's name is Ruby. She's 8 months old, a real sweetheart and a bursting bundle of energy. When I offered to puppy-sit her for a few days, I knew she would require a little extra time and attention. But my goodness! What a handful. I had no idea.

I will be happy to have her over anytime our friends need a "baby"-sitter again...but I'll make sure I have my blog obligations taken care of BEFORE she arrives.

Puppies and writing just don't mix.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two Rights Make Really Wrong

Piper had a long day on Tuesday. She waited patiently all morning while I did job hunting and related tasks on-line. Then, she waited in the van while I did an hour long yoga class. Then, we drove to SLO where she waited some more while I got a tour of the new free clinic that is opening up soon. Just when I told her all the waiting was over, I passed K on the road. She was on her way to the dentist, which was just around the corner. So, I surprised her by popping into the waiting room to say hi and keep her company while she waited to see the amazing Dr. K. (I love our dentist.) Of course, Piper had to wait in the car for that too. And then I just had to stop at T.J. Maxx to pick up some pillowcases because we only have exactly enough cases for all our pillows which means that everytime I wash the bedding, some sad pillows have to sit around naked until I finish the laundry. There were some really cute dresses on sale in there too, so I know I spent longer looking around than the "just a few minutes!" that I had promised the dog.

Don't worry! It was a cool day, and I parked in the shade each time with the windows part way down. And, I gave her frequent water and pee breaks. But still, that's a long time to just be waiting in the car! After all that, it was finally time for the main event of the least as far as Piper is concerned...hitting the trail!

I was so delighted to finally get a chance to run on the Johnson Ranch trail. It is just a couple miles south of town on the 101, so you'd think I'd have explored it already. The fact is, I didn't even know about it for years. The trailhead itself isn't really visible from the highway. You have to know which exit to take, and then you have to be ready to swing off onto the dirt parking lot immediately, before you miss it.

It was a perfect day for a run. The air was warm, but breezy. All the recent rain has made the grass as green as the emerald city. From our spot in the parking lot, we could see the trail curve away and disapear behind the first set of rolling hills.

What was back there?! We didn't know yet, but we were about to find out. If there is one thing in this world I LOVE doing, it is exploring new trails on foot, with my dog. Piper loves it too. Once she got a whiff of that fresh air, mingled (I'm sure) with the scent of trail dirt and wild bunnies, she was just barely able to contain herself. We both wanted to rush right out there.

But, I was still in my "meet the foundation director" clothes. So Piper, who is always perfectly attired for trailrunning, had to wait some more while I got out of my jeans and boots and sweater, and into my shorts and t-shirt and fleece vest and ...most importantly...running shoes.

As always in these situations, I said a silent mental "thank you" to K for getting this old van with the roomy interior and darkly tinted windows. It's like driving around with private dressing room! I'm really able to take my time getting comfortably undressed and redressed without worrying about people peering at me. It's especially wonderful for beach living, and outdoor adventures.

There is even plenty of room to keep extra towels and dry clothes and extra shoes. K has suggested that many times, and I totally agree with here that it is a good idea. But I haven't actually done it. And oh, did I wish I had that day...especially the part about extra shoes!

Because, when I was all dressed and ready to go except for my sneakers, I looked down into my bag and saw that instead of one pair of shoes...I had brought one each from two separate pairs...and they were both for my RIGHT foot!

It's not like I've never brought the wrong supplies for running before. I have run up mountains in jeans, push-up bras, and even without socks on various scatter-brained occassions. But I just couldn't bring myself to run a rocky trail with two right shoes!

So we went home and ate cookies instead.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Double Egg Surprise at the School Cafeteria

Friday morning, I went to a free talk on preventing child abuse. Don't worry, this blog's focus is FUN stuff, so I'm not going to write about that. I'm going to tell you what happened before and after the lecture.

The internet wouldn't work when I got out of bed. Of course, I'd save all the relevant event info on my google calendar. Since I couldn't access it, I just had my memory to go on. Here's what I remembered: 8:00 am in room 154 at Cuesta College.

I was real impressed when I got there with all the signs directing me from the entrance to the correct parking lot and then to the correct sidewalk. But, once I was standing on the sidewalk with all the various buildings that make up the campus spread out in front of me...I couldn't find anymore signs! I was running a little late. I think it was 5 after by the time I got out of the van. I started to think maybe they had removed the rest of the signs so random, curious people wouldn't wander in and interrupt the event.

Well, I was curious, but I wasn't random. I had pre-registered on-line! So I wandered around, determined to find room 154 on my own. It was a cold, dreary, damp morning. There were hardly any students anywhere. I couldn't find anyone who looked like enough of an authority to bother asking for information. Most of the doors I tried were locked. I started to feel like I was going to cry.

Does anyone else ever feel like that when they are late and lost and cold and alone? I felt so silly, getting so upset. I mean, what was the worst thing that was going to happen? I would go home to my dog and a hot pot of tea and do whatever I wanted for the rest of the morning. Certainly not a fate worth crying about!

But I didn't want to do all that, I wanted to go to the talk. So, I called my good friend A., who was sitting at her desk at work already, and asked her to look up the event info on-line.

Once again I noticed how my memory for numbers just isn't all that good. The talk started at 9:00 am in room 1504.

I was almost an hour early. No wonder all the signs weren't up yet! Luckily, I'd brought a book with me, and by now, I'd found the cafeteria and knew that it was open...and warm inside.

I found a table by a big window. There was a bunch of shrubbery growing up against the glass, so there wasn't much light coming in. But it was cozy and I was so happy to be inside! Instead of reading, I decided I'd rather call my mom and find out what her plans were for the weekend. She's always got interesting things planned.

She didn't answer and I left her a message. It went something like this:

"Hi Mom. It's me. I just called to see what you were up to. It's Friday morning and I'm in the cafeteria...oh! Oh my goodness! I've got to go! I'll talk to you later! Bye!"

Staring out the window, with the phone to my ear, I'd suddenly noticed a tiny, drab-colored little bird perched on a branch of the bush. It probably only saw the reflection of the bush and sky against the window pane, and thought it was safely hidden from everyone and everything. But I could see right through the glass! It was less than two feet away from me! And it was TINY. It couldn't have been more than 3 inches long from beak to tail. I started wracking my brain, trying to remember what little greyish brown bird was as small as a hummingbird!

I wish there was some way to communicate just how small and fragile this bird looked, and how close I was to it! In the photo above, it just looks like a photo of a larger bird taken from farther away. But it isn't! I had my nose pressed right up against the glass, and I was looking right into it's teensy little eyes! (When they were open, they are kind of closed in this photo.)

Thank goodness my neck eventually got tired enough that I had to back away and stand up. Otherwise, I might never have noticed the OTHER bird. This one in her charming and miraculous little cup nest built from lichen!

The first one was looking up at it every so often, like he was just checking to make sure she was okay. At this point I decided that the first one must be the male, and that he was guarding the female while she sat on their eggs.

I stood up on a chair to try and get a better view down into the nest. I was hoping the eggs themselves would help me identify these mysterious miniature birds, but I couldn't see any.

I knew they couldn't actually be hummingbirds, no matter how tiny they were. For one, they didn't have any bright colors at all. No green wings, no orange backs, no red pink or purple throats. They were just drab drab drab. Plus, they weren't humming. They were just sitting there. I had never ever ever seen any hummingbird be that still! "Gosh Darn It!" I thought, "Why do I EVER leave home without my bird books?"

And then, the first one hopped off his little branch, and flew! He hovered in the air just a few inches from his perch with his wings thrust out sideways and moving so fast that they became an almost invisible blur.

I don't know if it's obvious in these photos, but it was suddenly obvious to me. These WERE hummingbirds after all!

He didn't fly for very long. After just a few moments of hovering, he returned to his post and resumed staring up at his "wife" in the nest. Luckily, this time he positioned himself so he was facing me, and I could see that he did indeed have a dark patch on his throat. I knew enough about hummingbirds to recognize this as his "gorget," and to suspect that in direct light it would flash amazingly bright and beautiful. Whether it flashed red, purple or pink might help me recognize this species when I got my hands on a field guide. But, there was no hope of direct sunlight here inside this bush.

Then, suddenly...the real excitement began! A third hummingbird arrived! This one must have been a different species, because it was brightly colored. It swept into the bush and flitted around aggressively, flipping the bright white tips of his tail and showing off his deep red throat patch!

Mrs. Littlebrownhummer didn't move from her nest, but her husband lifted nervously off the branch and buzzed around the interloper until he backed off!

He didn't leave completely. He settled down on a different bush at the other end of the window. But he didn't come near the little brown pair again after that.

Then, he flew straight up from the bush and into the air. I was able to get some lovely shots of him siloutted against the morning sky. (I was only going to post one of these photos here, but all 5 turned out and I just can't decide which one is best. Anyway, all together they really show how amazing the hummingbird's wing design is. No other bird flies like this! When early Spanish explorers first encountered them in the "New World" they described them as a cross between an insect and a bird!)

Wow! What a morning! Thank goodness my internet conked out and I showed up early!

After the invader flew away, things calmed down for my little pair. She continued to sit in the nest. He continued to watch and protect her. I stared at them for a while longer, then I went to the talk. (It was easy to find and I was right on time for it.)

And the minute it ended, I marched back to my window to visit my new friends. You'll never guess what I saw!

My two hummingbirds were cuddled up in that tiny nest, together! I could hardly imagine how they both fit int here, but they obviously managed somehow.

They seemed especially happy and contents in there together. They took turns grooming their feathers (their own, not each others.) I think they took turns because if they both started stretching their wings out and craning their necks around at the same time, they might have fallen out.

They also spent a lot of time flicking their incredibly long, skinny tongues in and out of their long, skinny beaks.

Could you see that? Here's a closer shot.

Well, as fascinating as these birds were, I eventually left and went home. But I didn't forget about them.

First, I looked in my guide books. Next, I researched on line. Then, I talked to some local hummingbird experts. Then, I looked on-line some more and through my books again. Here is what I've learned is probably true:

These were not a mated pair. They were a couple of babies who had just recently gotten big enough to start flying on their own. The "agressive male interloper" that had worried me so much was actually their mother, stopping by to check on them. They brown ones didn't have any color because they are so young. Judging from the mother's plumage, they are both Anna's Hummingbirds, our most common species here in SLO county.

How did I figure this out? For one, adult males don't have anything to do with nests or eggs. They certainly don't get inside them! Two, the only explanation for the lack of color on these guys is that they are very young. Three, the fledglings in this video look very similar to the ones I saw.

It's a great video that someone took of a nest on their porch in San Diego. My favorite part is Day 24. I hope you watch it.

Also, I hope remember, as I will try to do from now on, that there are always several different ways to interpret any situation. And, the most obvious one is not always the right one!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Suddenly Stripes

I love going up to San Simeon. I love the tide pools, the Coastal Discovery Center, Hearst Castle and the Elephant Seals. For all those reasons, I've been up there more times than I can count. At each visit, I enjoy the view of rolling hills and open fields that belong to Hearst Castle, Hearst Ranch and the Hearst Corporation. I had heard that there were zebra roaming the property, but I had never seen them.

This past Friday, while K's brother and sister-in-law were visiting us from Virginia, the four of us took the castle tour together. Apparently, I had never even mentioned the existence of the zebra to K, why would I? According to my own experience, the exotic herd was only theoretical. But from the minute pre-recorded tour bus cd announced their possible presence, K decided "I want to see the zebra!"

She must have made that announcement half a dozen times on the way from the castle's winding road to the public highway. I tried not to discourage her or mention how rare zebra sightings were. But privately I thought, "maybe we will see the zebra sometime in the next few years if we keep coming up here regularly, but probably not today."

And then suddenly, their stripey butts appeared on the hillside!

Actually, while we still speeding along in the car, it was difficult to tell that they were stripey. If we hadn't known about the zebras...if K hadn't been EXPECTING to see them, we might not have noticed them at all. We might have assumed they were horses, or even cattle.

Once we were standing on the hillside, the black and white pattern was obvious. But they were still too far away to make out the details, or get a very good picture.

Thankfully, since I became obsessed with identifying the local birds, I almost never leave the house without viewing assistance. So, we were able to see them very well through our binoculars, and even take a picture through them.

I didn't think photographing through the magnifying lenses would work, but it did. It took two people, to hold the glasses still against the top of a fence post and the other to hold the camera at just the right distance from the eyepiece. With this careful arrangement, we were even able to apply the zoom. We ended up getting this pretty decent picture!

In total, we counted 43 animals. There are only about 80 in the whole heard. That sounds like a lot of zebra...but when you see forty-odd standing along the hillside, it doesn't seem like very many at all. It's difficult to believe that just under double the number we saw is enough to create a self-sustaining wild population.

I felt very lucky to see them. And even luckier to finish our day with a nice supper at Linn's restaurant in Cambria and a decadent desert that seemed to be inspired by our exotic friends.