See amazing birds of prey at Hawk Watch!

A spectacular event is held every winter in Ramona, California. On Saturdays, during January and February, the public can freely enjoy an educational program called Hawk Watch.

Those who go to Hawk Watch will see birds of prey up close and in the wild. The setting is the wide, beautiful Ramona Grasslands.

Hawk Watch is an event organized by the Wildlife Research Institute. WRI, in a cooperative effort with The Nature Conservancy and San Diego County, now protects 7,000 acres of Ramona grassland. This grassland is an important natural refuge where native wildlife can not only survive, but thrive.

Hawk Watch features live raptors and a fascinating educational talk by biologists. The owls are introduced during the talk by representatives of Project Wildlife, which provides wildlife rescue in San Diego County. The talk is followed by demonstrations by falconry experts.

Afterward, all of the ambassador raptors can be viewed by the public up close!

Today I went to Hawk Watch!

The event is held on Ramona’s private Begent Ranch, which features all sorts of cool artwork, including colorful sculptures arranged about a large dirt parking lot. After walking through a barn and looking at a variety of educational exhibits, I set up my lawn chair with other visitors at the edge of the scenic grasslands.

As we were introduced to different species of hawks, falcons and owls, and learned about their special characteristics and adaptations, we could watch wild raptors and some ravens circling in the distance above the grasslands. Birds of prey that can be spotted in the blue skies of Ramona include hawks, kites, kestrels, golden eagles, and recently bald eagles!

The event has become so beloved that visitors today came from as far away as India, China and Israel. For two hours, everyone, including many families with children, sat enchanted by all that was seen and learned. Many of the visitors had high powered photographic equipment and binoculars. I made due with my little old camera.

Here are some photos. I’m afraid they’re just adequate. I couldn’t really record the falconry demonstrations very well, which included the clever use of a drone, but they were fantastic.

I know I’ll be going to Hawk Watch again. You can learn more about this amazing event and the work of the Wildlife Research Institute at their website here.

One last thing. The photo you’re about to see is a painting of WRI Director and Wildlife Biologist, co-founder of Hawk Watch, Dave Bittner. He tragically passed away about a month ago doing something he loved: tending to a camera near a golden eagle’s high cliff nest.

I was told Hawk Watch will live on.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Finding tracks, signs of wildlife at Mission Trails!

A guided group walks through Mission Trails Regional Park looking for signs of wildlife.
A guided group walks through Mission Trails Regional Park looking for signs of wildlife.

This morning I went on a truly extraordinary guided walk. Two expert trackers took a small group on an easy hike in Mission Trails Regional Park to search for tracks and other signs of often elusive wildlife!

The immense, mountainous Mission Trails Regional Park, located within the City of San Diego, is home to abundant wildlife. But it can be hard to spot animals in the wild during a visit to the park. Many species are nocturnal. Many tend to hide in the scrubby vegetation to avoid predators, to watch for a passing meal, or protect a nest.

This morning I and others met at the Visitor Center to set out on this special walk. While we didn’t see anything very dramatic, we did observe how the living world around us is engaged in a perpetual dance. We learned that humans with open eyes and curious minds might find signs left by rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, deer, and even (but rarely) mountain lions!

We saw several spots where a skunk dug for grubs. We saw several wood rat’s nests. We leaned down to the ground to peer at the secret trap door of a spider. We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud, rabbit tracks in some green grass, and coyote scat. We learned what differently pressed tracks might indicate about an animal passing that way. Were they stealthily hunting? Leaning to one side? In a big hurry to avoid a predator?

We watched birds flitting through shrubs and trees and soaring in the blue sky high above, and we learned a whole lot about crows and ravens and red-tailed hawks. We learned why coyotes howl. We saw a hummingbird. We watched a fence lizard pump itself up and down. We discovered a small, perfectly circular hole dug by a digger bee.

We learned how scent is a critically important sense for both predator and prey, and how animals in the wild are all acutely aware of each other at any given moment. And how they are confused by oddly unpredictable human behavior. We learned far too much to mention everything in this blog!

Our two super knowledgeable guides have been leading these wildlife tracking walks, which are held the first Saturday of every month, for about 11 years.

Bob MacDonald and Mike Gibbs belong to the San Diego Tracking Team, an organization of experts and enthusiasts who track wildlife in our region. They advocate for good stewardship of the natural environment and provide researchers with data from about 20 sites around San Diego County, as far away as the Anza Borrego desert.

According to their website: “San Diego County has the most biodiversity of any County in North America… Many of the plants and animals that call our region home are found nowhere else in the world… The San Diego Tracking Team (SDTT) is dedicated to preserving the wildlife habitat in the San Diego region through citizen-based wildlife monitoring and environmental education programs…”

Both Bob and Mike were super interesting and personable, and even the young kids in our group never lost interest as we learned about the endlessly amazing dance of life all around us.

I learned that Mike Gibbs was an Army Green Beret with extensive wilderness survival knowledge. He has worked in law enforcement and search and rescue as an educator and as a human and animal tracker. I’m anxious to read his book Spirit Wolf, a novel that takes place on the High Plains. (Which, by pure coincidence, is where I once lived and is the setting for a short story I’m now working on!)

But enough of that for now! On to a few photographs!

One of two experienced animal trackers addresses our group near the Mission Trails Visitor Center before we begin our adventure.
Mike Gibbs, one of two highly experienced animal trackers, addresses our group near the Mission Trails Visitor Center before we begin our adventure.
Our short but super fascinating wildlife tracking walk took us up the Oak Grove Inner Trail.
Our short but super fascinating wildlife tracking walk took us up the Oak Grove Inner Trail.
A hiking stick has been laid down to show where a skunk has dug small holes in the soil looking for grubs.
A hiking stick has been laid down to show where a skunk has dug small holes in the soil looking for grubs.
As the skunk moved forward, nose to the ground, it dug a series of additional holes.
As the skunk moved forward, nose to the ground, it dug a series of additional holes.
Walking again along the trail, searching for more signs of local wildlife.
Walking again along the trail, searching for more signs of local San Diego wildlife.
One of our guides points to the lair of a trapdoor spider! They pop out to catch prey, and lay their eggs inside their smooth burrow for safety. Yes, spiders can dig!
One of our guides points to the lair of a trapdoor spider! They pop out to catch prey, and lay their eggs inside their smooth burrow for safety. Yes, spiders can dig!
We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud. The heavy front pads indicate a breed with a forward center of gravity. Coyotes have much neater, straighter tracks.
We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud. The heavy front pads indicate a heavy breed with a forward center of gravity. Coyotes have distinctive, much straighter tracks.
Way up there on that distant tree we spot a hummingbird!
Way up there on top of that distant tree we spot a tiny hummingbird!
Rabbits made these tracks in the bent grass as they moved forward eating. We saw a couple calm rabbits feeding in the distance, seemingly unconcerned about predators.
Rabbits made these tracks in the bent grass as they moved forward leaving a U-shaped trail. We saw a couple of calm rabbits feeding in the distance, seemingly unconcerned about predators.
A gopher hole in the trail, long abandoned. The hole was subsequently widened by curious dogs poking in their noses, excited by an old scent.
A pocket gopher’s hole in the trail, long abandoned. The hole was subsequently widened by curious dogs poking in their noses, excited by an old scent.
Fresh moist coyote scat. These droppings seemed to show a recent vegetable diet.
Fresh moist coyote scat. These droppings seemed to show a recent vegetable diet.
But nearby, other dried, ropy coyote droppings contain rabbit fur.
But nearby, other dried, ropy coyote droppings contain rabbit fur.
This small perfectly circular hole was dug by a digger bee. Yes, bees can dig, too! It seems a lot of critters dig. Snakes don't. They like to digest their food in the safety of Wood Rat's nests.
This small perfectly circular hole was dug by a digger bee. Yes, bees can dig, too! It seems a lot of critters dig. Snakes don’t. They like to digest their food in the safety of a wood rat’s sturdy stick nest.
What will we discover next? Life continues its dance, and the natural world is ever changing.
What will we discover next? Life continues its dance and the natural world is ever changing.

Wildlife Tracking Walks are held at Mission Trails Regional Park the first Saturday of every month, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. To learn more about the park’s different guided walks, click here.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

A collection of creative, artistic benches!

An idea struck me after viewing some new youth art in the breezeway at the Santa Fe Depot!

As you can see in the first two photographs, the artwork depicts different benches and different people sitting on benches. This cool art was painted by 10th Grade students from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, after viewing an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

The particular concern of the students was how interaction with everyday objects affects human behavior. The common object that was considered was the bench.

After viewing this artwork, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve taken many photos of benches around San Diego, including some that are quite unusual or thought-provoking. And many that are super creative and artistic!

So I decided to search for a variety of these past bench photographs and share them again all at once!

How would you interact with these benches?

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Making adobe blocks in Old Town.

Today I spent a couple of hours exploring Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and a small section of nearby Presidio Park. As I walked through Old Town’s historic plaza near the Cosmopolitan Hotel, I noticed some people in period attire were demonstrating how to create adobe blocks.

At the very beginning of San Diego, in the early days of Spanish and Mexican settlers, adobe was the small town’s primary building material. Primitive bricks–or blocks–were made by simply mixing mud and straw together. The mixture was then shaped using wooden forms, then left to dry in the sun for a month or so. The resulting adobe blocks were used to build walls that in our arid climate were remarkably sturdy and insulating.

During past visits to Old Town, I’ve seen people working in this same spot demonstrating the making of adobe. Over time, that wall in a couple of my photos has slowly grown.

I was told by one friendly gentleman that eventually this grassy spot will be used for a Native American Kumeyaay exhibit, and a more permanent demonstration adobe structure will be built inside the fenced area near Old Town’s Blacksmith Shop.

Here’s a pic I took a couple months ago which shows how the adobe wall is slowly being built, layer by layer…

IMG_9847z

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

A short story about a mysterious artifact.

Have you ever visited a museum and viewed an historical object that seems timeless? An artifact that might still belong in the hands of the living?

I’ve written a short story based on my own strange experiences. It has a surprise ending. It’s titled The Recovered Artifact.

To read it, click here!

I would like to express gratitude to those teachers who’ve introduced my story One Thousand Likes to students recently using Google Classroom. I observe my website stats and am stunned. I never imagined such a small story would be read by so many. It’s a writer’s wildest dream come true!

Now it’s time to start brainstorming again!

There are many more places to walk in San Diego and many more photographs to take. Unexpected new adventures await! Thanks for coming along!

Wishing all my readers a Happy New Year!

Richard

Books fly in a children’s reading mural!

Favorite fairy tale and storybook characters come to life in a faded mural by the Linda Vista Library.
Favorite fairy tale and storybook characters live in a mural by the Linda Vista Library.

A mural painted on a building wall next to the Linda Vista Branch of the San Diego Public Library promotes children’s reading. Books take wing and fly!

Small scenes from fairy tales and fables appear in a colorful landscape surrounding a castle. The mural is home to The Tortoise and the Hare, Humpty Dumpty, Puss in Boots, the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, Mother Goose, the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and other classic storybook characters.

Murals fade, but worlds painted by human imagination do not.

Flights of imagination. Books take wing.
Flights of imagination. Timeless stories take wing.
Once upon a time there were magic books that could fly. Their goal was to teach children.
Once upon a time there were magic books that could fly. Their goal was to teach children.

Soar to new heights. Read.
Soar to new heights. Read.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

I also write fiction. Like fairy tales, my short stories concern life. You can read them at my website Short Stories by Richard.

Amazing life-size cardboard superhero sculptures!

Wow!

Did you step inside the Comic-Con Museum during 2019 December Nights? If you did, you saw an exhibit that was absolutely amazing!

Young artists Connor and Bauer Lee have created fantastic life-size cardboard sculptures of popular Marvel and DC superheroes, plus various Pixar and Star Wars movie characters!

I believe I recognized: Groot, Black Manta holding a mace, a tiny X-wing starfighter, Wall-E, a gigantic Hulkbuster armor (under construction), Thor’s Stormbreaker hammer, Iron Man, C-3PO, R2-D2, Baby Groot, Wonder Woman, plus other fantastic creations including several superhero masks.

The two brothers have been building these cardboard models for many years. I spoke to Connor briefly and he explained that they select an image of a popular character, blow it up, then begin to craft the sculpture based on that initial design. I asked how long it might take to finish the enormous, extremely complex Hulkbuster armor sculpture you see in my photos, and he said about a year.

According to the Cardboard Superheroes website: We hold free workshops for kids in an effort to promote the arts for youth as we’ve see funding for the arts being cut in school and are working to provide an alternative that is free and fun for kids.

That’s definitely a super cool and inspirational project! I’m sure young students everywhere would love to be creative and make their favorite characters with simple cardboard!

I hope local schools take advantage of what appears to be an awesome opportunity. For more info, you can contact Cardboard Superheroes at their website here.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!