Monday, February 20, 2017

We keep waking up to the noise of rain in the gutters

It's raining today. It's been raining for over a month, now. Funny that the weather held out with perfect sunny days for winter break, and then break broke into the heavy, nonstop rains that usually mark late winter and early spring in Northern California. My friends who aren't from California are shocked and dismayed every time they wake up to rain. My friends and I who know California are soaking it in like we are the parched soil itself. I am trying to hold this water in the reservoir of my heart. Lord knows this state needs as much rain as it can get.

Today afternoon.

Yesterday morning.
Granted, if California's politics and infrastructure were more environmentally-minded than they are now, we wouldn't have such a huge drought problem when it doesn't rain, and such a huge flooding problem when it finally does. My heart goes out to the people of Oroville and other cities who can't be sure that their levees and stormwater systems will hold. We are a state of people caught between too little and too much. I am privileged to be among the people who are safe from the ravages of floods. But surely there must be a better way.

That is the goal that preoccupies my mind these days. Surely there must be a better way - not only for me to live, but for everyone to live. What can I do to be a levee for those who need a break, and a reservoir for those who are far too close to breaking? And how can I extend a helping hand to not only people, but the land and the creatures that I love? Now that graduation has finally ceased sneaking up on me and is simply loudly announcing its imminent arrival, it's time for me to take my next step. I appreciate that the end of college is booting me along into the next phase of my life. I'm just not quite sure what it will look like, yet. At least the first summer of the rest of my life will be a green one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The start of an end

Yesterday marked the beginning of my very last semester of college. Isn't that a trip?

Speaking of trips, my partner, Alex, and I took Monday to drive around the Bay Area a bit. We took off in the morning with no plan other than "let's go to IHOP and then somewhere pretty," and ended up going to Treasure Island, accidentally going to San Francisco, accidentally going back to Treasure Island, then on purpose going to Land's End.

(IHOP was amazing.)

(The rest was also amazing.)

My favorite pictures from our adventures:

American Crow. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards San Francisco, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Alex doing her thing on Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Shipping container on Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

I have a migraine so I'm not going to identify this gull, but please have at it in the comments! Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Western Grebe. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Western Grebe. Treasure Island, California. January 16, 2017.

Bay Bridge towards West Oakland, California. January 16, 2017.

Common Raven. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Common Raven. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Anna's Hummingbird. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Anna's Hummingbird. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.
Alex at Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Alex at Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Sutro Baths. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Snowy Egret. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Towards the Pacific Ocean! Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

White-crowned Sparrow. Lands End, California. January 16, 2017.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hello, 2017

My family went to Sedona, Arizona for Christmas. Sedona was so beautiful that I don't think that 3-syllable word, "beautiful," can properly describe all of those red rock formations, snow-covered trees, and endless skies. The Verde Valley that harbors Sedona and its neighboring cities is full of spiritual energy and centuries of history. I spent the vacation remembering how to breathe, remembering what it feels like to be a whole person. I also spent it trying to remember what it feels like to bird.

Red Rock Crossing, Arizona. December 25, 2016.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Arizona. December 26, 2016.

One of the concierges at our hotel was nice enough to give us tips on where to go and what to see around Sedona. At some point, my mom mentioned that I like birds, and the concierge lit up.

"There's lots of birds around here! Did you bring your binoculars?"

"No," I said, "I left them at home."

Her brow furrowed. "You left them at home?"

I shrugged. "Yeah. I'm on vacation."

Now, her eyebrows rose. "On vacation? From birding? You can't take a vacation from birding."

I shrugged again.

There are a lot of reasons why I haven't been birding much in the last 3 years. A lot of reasons. They're interwoven with every single heartbreaking, but also awe-inspiring and uplifting, thing that has happened in my life since I moved to Berkeley. There's no way I can explain everything, but I can try.

Freshman year, I tried my hardest to keep up the habit of going birding every weekend. As school picked up, it became every other weekend. Then, every month. Then, a couple of times a semester.  But, I still tried my best to go whenever I could. I spent the summer after my freshman year riding buses around my new apartment, trying to learn this city that had suddenly become home. I took a 2-hour bus ride to Point Pinole. I made a few trips to the Berkeley Marina. I sat in my backyard (and what a luxury that is as a college student, to have a backyard) and learned which sparrows and jays and wrens visited my new bushes. Birding was my favorite way to escape the daily struggles and stress and impossible difficulty of school. Birding rooted me into the Berkeley soil and told me "you are here. This is where you live now. Isn't it beautiful?" But suddenly, when sophomore year started, there was too much going on for me to even try to escape. My freshly grown roots were ripped from the soil.

Everything happened at once. I began working long hours, longer than I actually physically could. I stayed late on campus to study, stayed late in the lab to research, stayed up late in my bed because it was hard to fall asleep, so I might as well watch another episode of that TV show. 

I lost one of my best friends in a fight that dragged on for a year and a half, and left me with painful memories of watching her wash dishes at midnight in water hot enough to burn, of gently telling her I would finish for her when she picked up a knife by its blade and held the blade against her palm, considering it, like someone considers which cereal to buy at Safeway.

I stopped eating.

Shit had hit the fan, and something had to give. If I didn't want that "something" to be me, it had to be birding. That's the truth of it. 

I can count on one hand the number of people who I actually told what I was going through. Nazo, thank you for being awake at every odd hour of the night when I really needed a hug. Ann, thank you for opening your heart and helping me feel like less of a monster. Mom and Dad, thank you for your constant support, guidance, and love. Sierra, thank you for helping me face moments that I thought would end me.  

They didn't end me. I am still here, and I promise you that I dug into the core of my being and called up every single tiny speck of my power to make sure I made it. It wasn't always clear if I would.

Eventually, the days became less and less painful. Now, I have gained the perspective to say that I've made it through one event horizon before, and I'll be okay if I have to make it through again. The days aren't easy, per se, but they're easier. I'm relearning what it's like to sleep, to eat, to grow roots and find shelter and nourish myself. I'm relearning how to be alive in this incredible, tumultuous, humbling, spectacular world.

I'm relearning how to look for birds.

Heermann's Gulls at Stinson Beach, California. August 8, 2016.

Brown Pelicans at Stinson Beach, California. August 8, 2016.

I'm starting small. I'm okay with seeing a hummingbird in between classes, or happening upon a junco in the mulch outside of a library, or glancing up from a homework assignment and catching a raptor soaring far above this entire city. That's what birding was for me 6 years ago - simple joy, and a way to understand what "home" means.

Maybe it can be home again.

(In case you're curious, the bird highlights of Sedona were a Bald Eagle who stared at our train as we trundled by, two Greater Roadrunners who ran in front of our car after we left Tuzigoot National Monument, and a Northern Cardinal as we checked out of our hotel on the last morning of 2016.)


Beautiful places I've been to in the last year of healing:

Asilomar Beach, California. March 20, 2016.

Sunol Regional Wilderness, California. April 2, 2016.

Yosemite National Park, California. July 9, 2016.

Bucharest, Romania. July 31, 2016.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Hello, 2015! It's so exciting to ring in this new year. And always so surprising to look back on the previous year - how does SO MUCH happen in 12 months?? I hope all of you had good 2014s, and that 2015 is even better! One thing I highly encourage you to keep an eye on is Noah Strycker's Big Year. Noah normally holds the position of Associate Editor at Birding magazine, but as I'm sure you can imagine, his plan to travel the globe gets in the way of commodities like reliable internet connection. He's starting his year in Antarctica. You can keep up with his incredible journey at - I know I will be!

My year may not begin in Antarctica, but it's still off to a great start. And last year ended wonderfully, too. I've had some great bird experiences since my fall semester came to a close.

The day after Christmas, I sure found a lot to be thankful for. My dad and I tried to go birding at our normal haunts, but they were both closed for certain reasons. We resorted to Lake Solano Park, which is about a 40 minute drive away. This ended up being such a great choice.

I usually love watching the ducks & other waterfowl at Lake Solano, and there certainly were a lot to watch. There were a large number of Bufflehead and Goldeneyes on the water.

Those Goldeneyes gave me a pretty fun identification challenge. I already see waterfowl so rarely, and it had been an achingly long time since I had gone birding at all. I was flipping through my field guide to refresh myself on what female Bufflehead looked like when these female Goldeneyes showed up. I'm not complaining at all - it was a great chance to try out a new toy! My dad gave me a Phone Skope  for Christmas. It's a cover that slides onto your phone, tablet, iPod, or GoPro and allows you to easily line up your camera with the lens of your optics to take a picture. I got the picture below through this cute gadget:

Armed only with this picture, I pounced on two people who showed up with scopes. We hummed and hawed over the bird's beak and forehead for a while, and ended up settling on Barrow's Goldeneye mostly due to the largely yellow beak. This was a great refresher in bird identification, and an opportunity to try out a new gizmo.

I was planning on focusing on the waterfowl all morning. That plan abruptly changed when a dark shape flew overhead. It was the right size and shape for a woodpecker, but the dark coloring on the bird's underside was new to me. Most of the woodpeckers I see have white and black patterns on their bellies and underwings. I tried not to get my hopes up, but the moment I got a closer look, I couldn't deny it - this was a Lewis's Woodpecker.

I've wanted to see a Lewis's Woodpecker ever since I found out they existed. I had no idea they were right here, 40 minutes away from my house! Within moments, more came into view. There were at least 4 of these beautiful birds flying from tree to tree and pestering each other. They actually pestered each other the entire time I watched. I never expected such gorgeously colorful birds to be such jerks. (This is said out of love and adoration.)

I sent pictures of these lovely birds to probably 5 people. Everyone needs to know the gospel of the Lewis's Woodpecker.

There were plenty of other great birds in this park, too! I got to watch a Hermit Thrush scuttle along a building, a White-breasted Nuthatch creep along the bark of a few trees, and my actual target bird - a male Phainopepla that lives in this park - flutter from tree to tree.

A few days later, I got another Christmas gift. A month ago, a friend sent me a link to West Coast Falconry, a falconry center outside Yuba City. West Coast Falconry is one of only 12 places in the country with the proper permits to allow untrained civilians to hold falconry birds. They're currently offering sales on tickets to experience the birds, and I can't recommend it enough. I got a ticket to the Falconry Experience at 11:30am, where I and a number of other raptor-lovers learned about the sport, got to call a trained Harris's Hawk to our gloves, and watched her go through a number of exercises with her trainer. It was soooooo cool. When else are you going to get the chance to see a Harris's Hawk up close? Much less watch her eat, see her mantle over her prey, and watch the amazing interactions between raptor and trainer.

The second event was an Owl Encounter at 1:30pm, which both my dad and I had tickets to. This was a more sedentary experience. We sat with the other people in two rows, and the trainers carried the owls out to us. The trainers were so incredibly knowledgeable. That was already clear from the Falconry Experience, but this is where they really pulled out all the stops. They taught us about owl anatomy, evolution, and the difference between all of the species. It was SO COOL!

Barn Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

6 month old Spectacled Owl!

I would absolutely love to go again. This isn't the kind of experience you have every day - unless you're a falconer yourself. ;) I highly encourage you to get a ticket while the sale is still on!! It's completely worth it. But if you go in the winter.... Dress warm. It got quite chilly.

This morning, my dad and I took a good friend of mine out birding. The goal? To see Sandhill Cranes. There's a reserve in the Central Valley called the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve which is a marvelous place to see cranes. I don't think I saw any at all last year! I really missed hearing the swans and cranes flying in at the beginning of the winter.

Anyways, we headed out, and we started passing cranes along the highway more than 15 minutes away from the reserve. When we made it to the actual reserve, it turned out that there weren't a huge number of cranes there, but there were a smattering in a few fields here and there. The largest group of cranes was in a growing orchard. There were probably 30 scattered amongst the posts. I didn't get any good pictures, but you can use your imagination. It was super fun showing these gorgeous cranes to my friend. She asked the best questions about their mating habits, what they ate, where they breed - all kinds of stuff that I absolutely did not know. It was a learning experience for both of us!

It was a gorgeous, crisp day. There were plenty of other birds out, as well. We found a surprisingly accommodating Northern Shrike by the wetlands.

Further down the road, we came across a field of at least 400 Greater White-Fronted Geese, across from a huge flooded pond full of Tundra Swans. That was a great place to turn off the car's engine and sit with the windows open. I love the nasal honks of the geese, and the coos of the swans. Those calls, along with the throaty purring of the cranes, are among my favorite waterfowl sounds.

My favorite part was that I got to spend the first beautiful morning of 2015 with a great friend and my dad. This winter has been good to me so far.

I hope that your winter is also going wonderfully! Best of luck in 2015. And happy birding!