You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.
I also posted this on my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years. I felt that it should live on both blogs. (Apologies if you subscribe to both.)
It’s the last day of 2012. There have been a lot of wrap up posts floating around and I kept thinking how I would wrap up this year. A year of pictures, showing one per month? A list of things I learned? A list of all the fantastic things I did? Others have written eloquent posts going down memory lane. Me? I kept drafting one and then I felt like I was creating something akin to the ol’ Christmas Letter.
Today Steve and I visited Antelope Island. It’s the last day of the year and the last full day we have together before he heads back to Calgary tomorrow. For me, it’s the perfect wrap up of my year.
It was perfectly white. Perfectly peaceful and perfectly sums up how I feel about this year: A balance of harshness and beauty. Challenges and triumphs. But mostly, it’s where Steve and I go to escape the world and spend quality time together.
View the gallery by clicking on any one of the photos below. They look yummier that way.
The first time I went to Hawaii with my husband, Steve (the true birder in the family), I thought we’d see loads of fantastic birds. Why wouldn’t we? It’s warm and tropical and usually when we go to warm and tropical places (ala Mexico, Belize, Panama) we see many varied and colorful bird species. “Not so with Hawaii,” Steve said in preparing me for the trip. ”About 75% of the native Hawaiian bird species are extinct.”
Extinction. They’re gone. Never to be seen again.
So we went, scuba dived and saw a couple of birds. It wasn’t a birding trip. I didn’t even try to look for birds.
Before our recent trip back to Hawaii, someone on Twitter wrote me, “Hope you see lots of birds!” to which I thought “That’s not going to happen,” feeling a little bummed that Hawaii’s not a very birdy place. (Yes, the great irony is that there are worse things to feel bad about, and going to Hawaii should never be one of them, I realize.)
But this time around it was different. Why not try to find some interesting birds still? Without doing any hard-core birding (the get-up-around-dawn kind of birding with a local guide) we were able to spot 24 bird species with nine of them being lifers (see in bold below in the list) during our four days on the island of O’ahu. The Pacific Golden Plover seemed to be everywhere, as he was wintering in Hawaii. (See my previous post, Aloha to the Pacific Golden Plover.)
A good place for spotting birds is the Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Gardens found on the North Shore of O’ahu. We had arrived an hour before closing and had we been able to spend more time there, I’m certain we would have spotted even more birds.
- Great Frigate Bird or ‘Iwa
- Black-crowned Night-Heron or ‘Auku’u
- Koloa / Mallard
- Common Moorhen or ‘Alae’ula
- Black-necked Stilt or Ae’o (endemic race)
- Pacific Golden Plover or Kolea
- Sanderling or Hunakai
- Wandering Tattler or ‘Ulili
- Common Peafowl at Botanical Gardens
- White-rumped Shama at Botanical Gardens
- Red Junglefowl or Moa (rooster)
- Cattle Egret
- Spotted Dove
- Rock Dove
- Zebra Dove
- Common Myna
- Red-vented Bulbul
- Red-whiskered Bulbul
- Red-crested Cardinal
- Brazilian Cardinal
- House Sparrow
- House Finch
- Common Waxbill
- Chestnut Munia
Yes, my list isn’t very long. And you’ll noticed the list is predominantly introduced species not native to Hawaii. Aside from the Rock Dove, House Finch, House Sparrow, mallard, Stilt and Rooster, the birds in my list are not birds I would find where I live. A little bummed that my list isn’t longer? Of course. Annoyed that 75% of the Hawaiian native species are extinct? Yes, definitely. But going to Hawaii and seeing birds I normally don’t see everyday is exciting. If gives you a sense of place—that you’re somewhere different. And isn’t that what travel is all about?
I’m trying to think about how we get people to care about the birds of Hawaii. Even the American Birding Association (ABA) had a survey earlier this year asking its members if Hawaii should be added to the ABA area. (See George Armistead’s blog on the ABA site for his Top 10 Reasons to make Hawaii part of the ABA.) My feeling is that Hawaii should be added. If not for the reason to help locals as well as visitors to the island appreciate the importance of birds.
Check out the gallery to see more of the birds we saw on O’ahu, plus a turtle and a waterfall (just to mix it up a little.) Click on any photo below and it will take to you a lovely gallery for better viewing.
Oddly, most people I know in Salt Lake City don’t visit the Great Salt Lake for which the city is named. It wasn’t until Steve, my boyfriend from Toronto, dragged me to the salty shallow, yet expansive, lake to do the last thing I thought we would be doing: birdwatching.
You’d think traveling there would be complicated since no one goes there, but the Great Salt Lake is actually easy to get to. All we did was take the Interstate 15 to Exit 332, and then drove west. until we reached the entrance of Antelope Island State Park where we paid a $9 entrance fee and began our drive on a long narrow two-lane causeway to Antelope Island, one of the largest islands in the Great Salt Lake at 15 miles long and 7 miles wide.
With water on both sides of the causeway I start to feel more removed from the long stretch of suburbs that we passed on the way here. Steve slows the car down and points to some birds wading around in the water close to shore. “Those are avocets,” he explains. “I’m sure you’ve seen them before.”
“There are thousands of them here right now. See over there?” He points in the distance and then I see it. Little dots—yes, thousands of them—on the water. “They’re only here for a few weeks to fatten up on the brine flies.” Steve goes on to explain that the algae and brine flies are dying, and combined with the lake’s sulfites, creates a pungent smell, which at first attacks the nostrils, but surprisingly, I get used to it.
We drive further and see cars parked on the narrow shoulder of the causeway and people with binoculars pressed against their faces. Steve rolls down his window and asks a man, “See anything good?”
“The usual suspects,” a man replies without looking at us.
Steve pulls up his binoculars to see. All I could see were California Seagulls, the Utah state bird, but then Steve says, “Oh, there’s a Franklin’s Gull. And a Bonapart’s Gull. And I think a Ring-billed Gull in there, but I’m not sure.”
How can he tell? They all look the same to me. And then I see it. One of the gulls has a black head.
We leave the shores of the causeway and drive around the island, passing grasslands with tumbleweed and the sweet scent of the short prickly mountain sage was a welcome relief to the sulfery smell of the shores. Steve continues his birding school with me and more than once he slams on the brakes to point out Chuckers, Western Meadowlarks and Marsh Hawks.
On our way back to the causeway I am startled to see a group of buffalo and of course, antelope, for which the island is named. If I turn my head a little more to the right, I can see the skyline of the urban sprawl. I turn back to look at the buffalo and antelope, and as we head back to the mainland of the Salt Lake Valley we spot a coyote. How is it that people who live in Salt Lake City don’t visit here?