Turkey in the Desert

It seems almost unfathomable to me that turkeys can survive in the desert, but as harsh as it is, last spring I counted 5 turkey hens, and now there are only 2, trying to survive in the harsh desert. Still, that is pretty amazing and probably about right for any hatchlings survival. I believe they are the same turkeys that I spotted earlier and the two of them that are still alive, are sticking close together and appear to be in pretty good health. They were panting like most birds would do in the desert heat, but when they spotted me watching them, they sprang into action and trotted out into the wilderness. The five hens must have somehow traveled down from the higher elevations of our local mountains and learned to survive a very different environment than the grasslands and oak trees from where they came from. Turkeys have specified territories and maybe overcrowding was a factor and these birds sought out the wide open space of the Mohave Desert, but only as a last resort. I don’t think the desert would be their first choice of territory though.

There are a lot of insects out here, but very little grasses and green plants. They have learned to hang out at the De Anza Golf Course when they have to search out water, and that is probably the most important thing for them to learn. The grains and seeds that they would normally eat are far and few between, but maybe the sage offers sustenance. Turkeys are capable of short bursts of flight and this area has just enough trees for them to roost in and escape from predators. The first time I spotted the five sisters was over by Seley Ranch and that is where I also see a lot of coyotes and bobcats when I am out biking. These two girls seem to be pretty smart though and are fully mature. All they need now is for a tom turkey to discover them so that a family can be started and raised and a new species can call this vast desert their home.

Photographs of Rancho Cuyamaca Wildlife

I promised as soon as I returned home and had internet service again, that I would upload photographs I took with my Nikon D70s camera. Well, we returned home today and the first thing I accomplished was to download and edit my telephoto photos. I have a long way to go as far as quality of shots, but it is a start. The birds and deer are at least recognizable but the lighting is poor and the subject matter somewhat blurry. It wasn’t easy having Michael haul the camera equipment in a backpack on his back when we biked, and wildlife doesn’t stay still and pose for you, but it is a start and I shall improve.

We saw Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Tailed Deer, Canadian Geese Kildare, and wild turkeys. It was fun and exciting to off-road bike on all the trails, and my great big gigantic bruise from falling off of my bike and landing on a rock is a little less sore today, but growing in size. It was worth it though and I would do it all over again if I had the chance.

It is 110 in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and we will be packing up and heading toward Mammoth in about a week. Looking forward to a higher elevation, cooler temperatures, and green pine trees all around.

Blood Sweat and Tears

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary. I met Michael when I was only 21 years old and he was 31. It has been 40.5 years since our very first date. We have been through so much together, and have somehow managed to stay in love. People ask me what the secret is and I can honestly answer that respect, forgiveness, appreciation, gratitude and a good sex life is the key. We both feel a special connection and bond toward one another that somehow gets us through the difficult times. I am still astounded that my first pick for a husband was a winner. I have 6 sisters, and they too have managed to make their first and only marriages a success story. We had incredible parents that passed on the wisdom and strength it takes to keep a marriage alive and well. What it does take I now know, is blood, sweat, and tears, and in my case, the journey has been well worth it.

We got up at the crack of dawn, and after taking Callie for a lovely walk, we loaded up the Nikon D70s camera and three lenses into a backpack. Michael’s new contribution to my well being is to haul all the stuff around on his back when we bike and hike. It is heavy and burdensome and I have been lazy and relying on my iPhone camera in order to take photographs. Now that I have upped my game and joined 500px, I need to improve the quality, clarity, and focus of my subject-matter.

Biking rapidly, we didn’t even get past the partial island here at Rancho Cuyamaca Park before a flock of wild turkeys came into sight. Two toms and 7 hens were crossing the grasslands as they headed toward the lake, with the boys stopping and displaying their tail feathers periodically while they gobble gobbled noisily as they followed the hens. I chose to take a series of turkey photographs with my iPhone before I used the Nikon camera just in case they took off. Next, a Great Blue Heron was spotted fishing intently on the other side of the bridge and I was able to take a few photos of this handsome bird with his reflection in the water. We then headed into the wetlands and I captured Red-Winged Blackbirds singing melodically while clinging to tall reeds that swayed in the gentle breeze. I watched a coyote hunting for just a few seconds before it spotted me and took off at a quick lope, glancing back nervously as it ran toward the shelter of the forest. I was not able to get to my camera fast enough for the coyote.

But the grand finale’ of all, were the Bald Eagle pair, perched majestically and way high up in a pine tree at the edge of the lake directly above me. One of the eagles flew off when it was disturbed, but the other one hung around just long enough for us to get off of our bikes, grab the telephoto lens out of the backpack, quickly switch out the macro lens, and with hands trembling in excitement, take aim and shoot. I did not have a tripod with me and the lighting was poor, but I was able to take about 7 images. I can’t download these photos until I have internet service, but I am hoping that they turned out.

Once the second eagle flew away, we hopped back up on our off-road bikes and did the entire Soapstone Trail loop all the way back into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Sunrise Highway. We think it may have been a total of 20, rough and steep miles and it took us about 4 hours. Exhausted and happy, I feel really appreciative that Michael carried my camera equipment for me and that we saw so much wildlife on our very first attempt. With the iPhone, I would have only been able to take itty bitty images of faraway animals. The telephoto images may be grainy because of poor lighting, but you will at least be able to recognize and see the pair of famous Bald Eagles that have made Lake Cuyamaca their home. I will continue to improve with practice again and have already learned that you carry the camera with the telephoto lens already snapped on and ready to go. The macro lens isn’t as time sensitive because flowers won’t walk or fly away. As soon as it is possible, I shall upload the heron and eagle photos, so please stay tuned.

Biking in Borrego

I am not sure if I would have become much of a cyclist if I hadn’t moved to Borrego Springs which is nestled alongside Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. When I get on my bicycle and head out into the desert, I rarely come across any cars and viewing wildlife is an everyday occurrence. This morning a coyote dashed across the street but stopped along the tamarisk grove on Henderson Canyon to watch Michael and me intently. They don’t seem to recognize us as a threat as much as if you were walking or driving in an automobile.

I tried to whip out my iPhone in order to take a photo of this handsome guy who I have seen on numerous occasions, but the simple act of reaching for the camera made him skittish and he took off at a fast lope. It is a good thing that he is afraid, otherwise he may get shot. I happen to really value the predators in the desert and appreciate their role in keeping a healthy balance with the up and down population of rabbits and small rodents.

Yesterday morning I chanced upon another gorgeous cactus bloom and stopped to take photographs. These flowers only last 24 hours; when you pass them the next day, they are all shriveled up and having served their purpose, wilt and drop off from the main stalk. The brilliant white petals didn’t have a flaw on them and the wild desert honey bees hadn’t even discovered them yet. This morning when I biked past them again, you would never have known how beautiful they were just the day before. I also came across some brilliant red blooms and these flowers had attracted the bees.

We have decided not to go to Rancho Cuyamaca this week for various reasons and are enjoying some rather unexpected, lovely weather and the temperature won’t rise about 95 degrees. That is so wonderful that we have decided to hang out for a couple more weeks. Once the temperature soars, we will have to pack up and head out for most of the summer months.

Callie has been taking it easy and I am being much more protective of her when she is in the backyard ever since the bobcat made his appearance. This cat was so bold and lightening fast, it brought the wild right inside my backyard in a flash. She wouldn’t stand a chance if a cat like that decided to make a meal of her. I always leave the backyard door open too so that if she is startled, she can run back inside.

A Visitor at Dusk

Living out in the wild of the desert is probably what provides me with the most appreciation for my life’s circumstances. I was living on the coast in Encinitas, California, and the change from coastal to arid desert was extreme. I love wildlife and nature and the quiet solitude of the desert, and for this alone I am most grateful. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t witness some event or see an animal living out its existence independent of humanity, doing what it takes to stay alive. It is a harsh environment and not befitting for the faint of heart. It is still wild out here and the top predators have stood their ground and refused to be pushed out any farther.

Last evening at dusk, I just happened to, at the spur of the moment, pick Callie up from outside as she was sitting alongside the verbena and insist she come inside. She let out a squawk of protest but I was tired of keeping an eye on her and wanted to make dinner. We have been giving her just a little more freedom, but every five minutes or so I would check on her to make sure she stayed close to the house. It may sound neurotic and overbearing to many people, but I love this cat and she is my muse, and to discover her missing, or worse, watch her being hauled away by a coyote, would break my heart.

After I brought her inside, not more than a few minutes had passed, when a 40 pound, sleek and well-oiled bobcat, sailed over the fence and strutted across the yard like he owned the place. We were sitting inside watching basketball and I was in awe of his lubricated joints and large size and pointed him out to Michael. Michael, on the other hand, rather than be impressed, jumped into action and said to me that he didn’t want this cat feeling welcome. He threw open the door and ran outside barefoot to save the day and chase the bobcat away.

The bobcat startled slightly, jumped up on the wall with the greatest of ease, looked back at Michael, rather annoyed and with an expression of, who gives a damn. Michael had to charge him and throw fistfuls of sand and a rock at him before he sauntered off without so much as a backward glance. He was not at all intimidated about Michael being a threat to him, and if anything, he was irritated. They made eye contact and stared each other down before he walked off slowly and with as much attitude that only a feline can have. Can you imagine a 140 pound mountain lion staring back at you? Maybe I would run if a cougar attacked me! Michael even took it one step further and went out into the desert to continue confronting the bobcat. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t time to take a photograph and I was just so grateful that I had brought her in.

I don’t know if the cat was watching us before I brought Callie inside, but I can tell you, the image of him streaking across the yard at blinding speed and snatching Callie up in his jaws was very unnerving. I have always been concerned about coyotes, but this was a whole other beast to worry about. She wouldn’t stand a chance in hell with a predator like that. He would climb right up the olive tree in pursuit of her and she wouldn’t have much to say in her defense; I shudder at the thought.

I thought it was very impressive to see this cat in my yard, but Michael on the other hand did the right thing by making his presence unwelcome. Callie will have to tolerate us being a little more attentive again. She may not know what is best for her in order to stay alive out here in the wilderness, but we sure do.

A Crown Jewel

Michael and I biked close to 20 miles today! That means we probably biked 19, but 20 sounds more impressive and who’s counting! It is starting to heat up in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, but if you get out the door around 7 am and return by 10:30, you will miss most of the intense heat.

We biked up to Di Giorgio and over to Coyote Canyon, took Henderson Canyon to the starting point of the state park, over to Seley Ranch- the ruby red grapefruit farm, back to Di Giorgio and south to the Locust and Scorpion sculptures, returning to the Dragon Sculpture and around the De Anza Country Club Golf Course.

During our bike ride we saw at least 3 different coyotes hunting, numerous cottontails, kestrels, roadrunners, a jackrabbit, common grackles, quail, and doves. It is the tail end of spring and everything is trying to eat or not be eaten before summer settles in with a vengeance. When I watch the cottontails enjoying a moments respite in the bright sunshine, all I can think of is being here and now; they are a good meal source for many of the predators. Watching a bobcat chase one down, only to abort the hunt because we came along on our bikes, this particular bunny was saved to appreciate one more day. As we rounded the bend on the last leg of our journey, I spotted these bright yellow cactus blooms, a crown jewel to me, and the desert willow, which smells just like fresh, clean soap and were covered with wild desert honey bees.

It was beautiful out and now I can start preparing for Lake Cuyamaca as we will try and leave first thing in the morning. There is a thunderstorm predicted for tomorrow and I love storms. It will be windy here, so I am really appreciative that we are heading up to the mountains. Reading about the mountain bikers that were attacked by a male cougar in Eastern Seattle was a little unsettling. I have seen evidence of mountain lions when we bike in Cuyamaca and know that if I were to come into contact with one of these majestic predators, I would not run. The friend that was killed, took off running when his friend was attacked. The man that was attacked watched as his friend was chased down by the 110-pound cat and was able to bike away himself to call 911.

They tracked the cat down and found him standing over the dead man’s body. The cougar was chased up a tree and then shot. You must make eye contact and do what it takes to fight back. Use your bike as a weapon and start swinging it around. Throw your helmet at it. Scream, shout, anything but run. They have more of a right to be there than we do and if they succeed in attacking someone, they are hunted down themselves and destroyed.

Looking forward to my next adventure, and Callie is more than ready to go. She gets bored hanging around the house and loves to travel. As soon as the motor starts up in the RV, she jumps up on the dash and is ready for action.

Moonlight Canyon Trail- Agua Caliente

Michael, Callie, and I left Lake Cuyamaca because of a snowstorm that was moving into the area and packed up for the warmer climate and hot springs of Agua Caliente. The same late storm front was heading toward the desert too, but precious rainfall never materialized. The desert received storm clouds and powerful wind, but no precipitation.

It took less than a couple of hours for us to pull into the county park and we were able to nab campsite #68 which has a view of the east and no one in front of us. Apparently, the hot, mineral pools were filled to capacity over the weekend, but everyone had cleared out by the time we arrived on Monday, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I love it that way, and Callie does too! She can take long walks without worrying about children running up to pet her, or dogs barking at her.

Michael and I took the 1.4-mile hike behind the campground called Moonlight Canyon Trail and we watched as the clouds zipped by and the air cooled considerably. Anza- Borrego Desert State Park and Agua Caliente both received very little rainfall this winter, and sadly, there were only the century plants, ocotillo, sage, and creosote bushes blooming this spring. There is some vertical climb before you reach the ridge, but very doable and the pathway is well marked.

Moonlight Canyon Trail is an easy hike that takes you past the natural spring on both ends of the loop that helps provide fresh water to plant life, sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, numerous birds such as quail, roadrunners, finches, desert wrens, and is a wonder to see the life-giving water bubbling up to the surface even during a drought. As you walk past the palm trees that are native to the area, listen to the buzz of the abundant wild, honeybees as they search for pollen and take a quick drink at the water’s edge.

It is springtime lambing season for the local herd of Bighorn Sheep and I was able to watch the mothers and their newborn lambs scramble down the mountainside to drink from the spring and nibble at the thorny acacia bushes. It looked like slim pickings to me, so I can only hope that the young survive throughout the intense summer heat. One mature collared ewe was followed by a very young lamb who was bleating and racing back and forth on the cliff side and too afraid to follow her into the campgrounds. She was a very experienced and calm mother and the lamb was forced to eventually dash down the rock cliff all by itself in order to be reunited with her as she chomped down on acacia leaves.

I chose not to take photographs of the young lamb once it was separated from the ewe and kept my distance because I didn’t want to add to the poor things stress. The older lamb, a female, I ended up taking close up shots of because she was super bold and curious, and a nightmare for the less experienced mother. This lamb would have marched right up to me if I had let her. I continued to back away from her ever so slowly as she advanced toward me, matching step for step with the mom watching intently from a distance.

We had a fabulous time soaking in the mineral pools, hiking, biking, BBQing and playing cards in the evening. Callie had a blast too! She took several long walks a day with me out into the desert and loved every minute of it. We are back home now in Borrego Springs and she immediately jumped up into her bed on the hutch in the master bedroom to take a nice, long, quiet, nap.

Bone Dry

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park received scant rainfall this year, but two years before that we experienced the super-bloom. It just amazes me to no end how the flora and fauna of desert life survive in such extremes. I hear the pack of coyotes most evenings and once again at dawn as they howl and yip their joy at being reunited once again after a long night, the big horn sheep that come down to the golf course to drink and graze on the grass have moved back up to higher ground, my cheeky roadrunner will stop and look Callie right in the eye if she happens to be outside while he is making his rounds, the Anna’s hummingbird dips and dives and attacks any other bird that comes into the yard, the mockingbird that Callie almost killed when we first moved here is still singing up quite a storm, and I could go on and on.

I biked today around the De Anza Golf Course and took photographs of every bloom I came across. The ocotillo have thrust out their bright orange/red blossoms even if there are only a few pathetic leaves on the stalks, the scrubby creosote have white, puffy blooms that look like cotton balls before they turn a pretty yellow, there is scarce purple desert verbena in small patches, cactus of all kind including a saguaro which is not native to this desert has gorgeous white blossoms on its tall, slender sides that bats, moths, and hummingbirds find irresistible, beaver tail, cholla and yucca throw everything they have left into desperate, ornate flowers, but the plant that gets first prize for putting on the most dramatic and dazzling display this season, is the hardy and thorny, acacia tree.

As I stepped up to each tree cautiously in order to take a photograph, the deafening buzz of thousands of wild, desert, honeybees filled the air as they covered the tree and left me in awe at just how much nature depends on these industrious pollinators. The hardy, wild bees that live in the desert year round are much smaller and darker than their European cousins, and I marvel at how they can survive in the long, hot, summer months? They are also much more aggressive and protective, so you do have to be careful when getting too close to them. So everywhere I looked today, I could see the bright, golden yellow blooms that completely covered the acacia trees dominating the arid landscape. It is a welcoming sight for an otherwise bone-dry desert, with little else that was native, even remotely green as far as the eye could see.

Oh, and did I mention the intoxicating scent of the acacia along with the well watered and pampered, grapefruit and orange blossoms of the farmers groves that are grown here locally? These farmers can tap into the ground water in Borrego Springs for free and use up all the water that they need! That is another story to be told, but the Ruby Red’s, Navels and Valencia’s, plus the seedless Cuties that everyone loves to eat are offered here at local stands and shipped out everywhere.

Callie has been very happy and healthy ever since she was diagnosed with asthma and is also on a special diet for her itchy ears. She loves dashing up the olive tree in the morning and then sleeping the day away, high up on her loft bed. The heat hasn’t arrived in all its vengeance yet, so it is still a hospitable place in which to live. In another month or so we will have to make our great escape with Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C RV, in search of cooler ground.

Toys R Us

I have been feeling rather guilty about packing so few toys for Callie on our RV trips, so I decided to invest in a few more after taking Callie to our vet. Dr. Stephens is here in Morro Bay, and is a wonderful vet and was able to finally give Callie a diagnosis of asthma about 9 months ago. She had a bad cough for over a year and was treated for viral pneumonia for months but a cough would always return after the antibiotic was finished. We are now convinced it is asthma and not the other and every once in awhile we apply a steroid cream to the ear flap if she starts to cough.

We took her to the vet this morning because she also has a chronic itchy ear condition that won’t go away. She shakes her head and scratches at her ears and I believe it contributes to her cough when she gets a tickle in her throat. Dr. Stephens thinks it may be food allergies and put her on Science Diet- Venison and Peas. She can’t have any other food because the chicken I have been preparing for her along with Science Diet Oral Care contains chicken and chicken is a known allergen. Go figure!

On the way back from the vet, we dropped by Albertson’s to buy groceries and I picked out a couple of new toys for Callie to play with. When we returned from the vet and shopping, I wore her out with snapping a wand toy on a ribbon at her, and she played with two fur balls with feathers attached to them for about 15 minutes.

She is now sound asleep after a serving of venison and peas and a round of rough and tumble playtime.

Morro Bay is very Bike Friendly

Morro Bay is a fabulous place to cycle and hike in. The community is very bike friendly and a coastal trail for walking and biking extends for many miles. We have taken the trail to Cayucos on Highway 1 which had some traffic on it but the shoulder is spacious and I didn’t feel too uncomfortable. I do not like to share the road with cars and that is why biking in the desert is so appealing to me.

The nature sanctuary trail is also wonderful and there are viewing benches to observe birds such as the endangered Snowy Plover. The sand dunes have nesting areas cordoned off and these adorable little shorebirds are treated with respect and courtesy and given prime site sanctuary locations in which to raise their young without being stepped on and trampled. I love this about Morro Bay; they are very pro-wildlife and try to give local and migratory animals a place to thrive in alongside us humans.

If you are staying in Morro Bay and wish to bike north, head down to Morro Rock and follow the boardwalk north of town until you pass the water treatment plant. Right before you bike underneath the Highway 1 bridge, turn left into the high school and follow the paved path on the west side of the highway. This trail will take you to Morro Strand State Beach and from there you can hook up to the 1 and follow that North to Cayucos. If you wish to bike south, Morro Bay State Park is another great place to bike around in. I don’t recommend going to Montana de Oro by bike because of the narrow roadway, but it is an incredible place in which to hike along the sand dunes. Biking through town is also fun because the cars go slowly and there is a bike path.

I have a front loading handlebar basket that I use for Callie and she loves biking but it has been too rainy and she has had to be left behind in the RV. I don’t think she minds all that much though. When we return, I find her in the same position as when we left. She seems to really enjoy all the activity of RVing and there is never a dull moment. She can rest on the dash and watch people walking their dogs or she can jump up into the loft for privacy and take an uninterrupted nap.

Morro Bay has a fabulous bike repair and rental shop called – The Bike Shop that is on Main Street in town and my husband bought an off-road Raleigh bike for me last time we stayed here. I love this bike and use it off-roading in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park. We have been coming to Morro Bay for 40 years now and this sleepy fishing community hasn’t changed all that much. It is a great place for walking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing.