Monday, April 28, 2008

Wildlife Sightings - April 2008

My husband glanced out the kitchen window one day while I was away and saw an usual bird. He snagged his camera and tried to get a picture. The bird was a little nervous and shy and would fly off, only to return a few minutes later. Finally, my husband was able to get a shot. It's still not as close as he wanted, but it was good enough for me to make a pretty good identification. Here's the picture. The bird is on the right edge of the bird bath.

Using A Guide To Field Identification, Birds of North America, we determined this was a heron. Most probably an immature black-crowned night heron. While some people would think this is really an amazing discovery considering we live in the Southern California desert, our area is on a migratory bird path and we get a large number of birds fly through.

Shortly after the heron visited, a friend showed my husband a large raven's nest built in the garage of an abandoned house. The nest was huge and if you look carefully in the picture below, you'll see one chick. Look in the triangle formed by the three wood studs and you'll see the beak. The size of the nest is something I would equate with an eagle or hawk. The debris on the floor is fallout from the nest, or where the raven missed when building the nest.

If you are interested in identifying birds, the field guide I mentioned at the beginning of my post is a good start. It divides birds by category (i.e., waterfowl, raptors, song birds) and has colorful illustrations to assist with identification. I've used it for years and can generally identify a bird in under one minute. :) Yes, I am truly a nerd.


Friday, April 25, 2008

A Visit To Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This month I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This annual conference has an attendance of between 1,000 and 2,000 booklovers (mostly women, mostly romance readers). It's a great conference for authors to connect with readers, booksellers, and reviewers. That's just a little background information for you before I talk about the city itself. :)

From the airplane looking down, the landscape was very pretty with rolling hills. Spring was just coming to the area (they'd had a hard winter). Daffodils lined the freeway. Tulips were blooming along some of the walkways as well. By the time I left a week later, more things were also starting to leaf and bud. Unfortunately, I was very poor at getting pictures.

There were many things I wanted to see in Pittsburgh, but I only had a part of one day. So, the Duquesne Incline I lusted after, the Carnegie Science Museum, and the Andy Warhol Museum all went unvisited by me. One day. I have to laugh because I can take one day and then some to go through a museum. :)

I've been to many cities in my life and I have to say that with perhaps one or two minor exceptions, everyone I interacted with in Pittsburgh was very, very nice, polite, and accommodating. This was especially pleasant considering the fact that ninety percent of the downtown area where I was is under renovation, including our hotel, Hilton-Pittsburgh. Though most of the staff was pleasant, I can't say they were very proficient or efficient. The rooms were small but nice, however, they were extremely laden with dust from the construction. Construction was occurring on all the floors and there was no getting away from it. The maids came by everyday, but the room was only semi-cleaned twice during my week-long stay. I looked under the bed once because I misplaced something, then wished I hadn't...looked under the bed, that is.

The hotel restaurant was overwhelmed by the number of guests. After the first night, the waitstaff begged guests to please go through the breakfast buffet because the kitchen couldn't handle the orders. Management was kind enough to give guests a coupon for $10 off food purchased there and also lowered the price on the breakfast from $17.50 to $13.50. They changed the regular lunch and dinner menu to a limited menu and again asked people to order from the buffet. The breakfast buffet was great, the dinner buffet not so much.

The minor exceptions to the very-nice-people comment were a custodian cursing in the bathroom that she'd be glad when we all left. And, honestly, I can't blame her for feeling the stress of 1,000+ guests at once. And the other exception was a staff member who also felt she should be given the conference giveaways the attendees were receiving. Very minor.

I have to say as well that wherever I went to eat in Pittsburgh, the food servings were HUGE! I also felt the prices weren't that bad either considering the portions. Here's a quick breakdown:

Cafe Promenade (Hilton Pittsburgh): Generally speaking, the food was great with large portions. In this case, however, it was a little high priced. They do have a cook who makes the best omelets I've ever had!

Primanti Brothers Restaurant: Their claim to fame is a sandwich piled with coleslaw and french fries, and it became a must-do for my friends. The place was packed and it was impossible for the seven of us to sit together (plus if you are not a smoker, there are no no-smoking areas). There were only two people working that night and they were overwhelmed with orders. Since I don't (and won't) eat french fries, I thought I'd be fairly safe with a salad. Wrong. They put french fries on the salad too. Price is good. Food is plentiful.

Costanza's: We were looking for someplace to eat mid-Saturday afternoon. After walking a couple of blocks and finding nothing, we happened upon a place called Costanza's. It looked like a restaurant/sports bar. Very nice staff. Food plentiful. Reasonable prices. I ordered a hot roast beef sandwich, but didn't care for it. In fact, I only managed a small bite before I asked the waiter to please take it away. I was willing to pay for it, but the waiter wouldn't hear of it. He definitely deserved a tip for his kindness and customer service and I gave him one. It's located on Market Square, but I couldn't find a website link for it.

Palomino: This was our last night in Pittsburgh. The hotel restaurant was again bogged down and we'd heard about this place so decided to give it a chance. Very nice staff. Nice restaurant. Good food. Nice portions. Perhaps a little high for a family of four, but great for one person or a couple. I'd definitely recommend this one. I understand this is a chain restaurant.

The airport also wasn't prepared for the mass of incoming and outgoing visitors. In addition to the Romantic Times Convention, Hiliary Clinton and Barrack Obama were there to campaign. Cabs were impossible to find. I ordered one for myself with the bell captain at the Hilton the night before my departure and had no problems.

All in all, my biggest doggone-it is the fact I didn't have time to see the sites I wanted to. If you are planning to visit Pittsburgh, give yourself a couple of days.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Looking For Something Unique To Do?

This article on from list 10 earth-friendly spring things to do:

Go wine tasting
Be a beach bum
So spring skiing
Ground yourself at a day spa
Raft a river
Cross-country ski in pure wilderness
Sleep by the sea
Escape to a very quiet island
Indulge your inner foodie
Get into the wild in style

You can read the details at: 10 Earth-Friendly Spring Flings

In the article you'll also find links to's Top 10 lakeside resorts and Top 10 secret coastal escapes.

:) Caitlyn

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

California Wildflowers

Depending on the winter rainfall, each spring the deserts in Southern California explode with life and color with beautiful wildflower displays. It's surprising how little rain is needed for this to happen. This year the display is wonderful!

The Joshua Tree National Park is presently a canvas of nature's artwork. The blooms started in the lower elevations with yellow flowers and then slowly crawled into the higher elevations. Yellow, purple, white, red-orange. Absolutely breath-taking. Of course the cactus are involved as well, bursting with magenta, yellow, and purple flowers. The ocotillo, which normally look like spiny, towering sticks, develops dark green leaves and red-orange flowers that the hummingbirds love.

The wildflowers are presently so abundant, a visitor to the desert might think the flowers had been purposefully planted along the roadways. Not true. This is nature at her finest moment. Seeds collect beneath the sand and lie dormant until the rains come. If the rains are heavy and the road floods, these seeds collect at the roadside.

But the present season is nothing compared to the 2005 season. Heavy rainfall from summer 2004 through winter 2005 created one of the best wildflower seasons in 100 years, with flowers and plants blooming that had not been seen in a century...according to records. We visited Death Valley National Park in the spring of 2004 and decided to go back in spring 2005. The difference was amazing. Hillsides were covered with flowers. It looked more like pastureland than desert.

I've uploaded a good selection of photos here of Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Black Canyon in the Mojave Wildlife Preserve, and some miscellaneous shots: Wildflowers - Southern California Desert

The California Wildflower Hotline (818-768-3533) is updated every Thursday from March through May on more than 90 sites to visit, including the best locations to view wildflowers.

I'd also like to recommend some field guides to take with you when you go. These will help you identify what you are looking at:

Mojave Desert Wildflowers by Jon Mark Stewart
Mojave Desert Wildflowers by Pam MacKay
Mockel's Desert Flower Notebook by Henry R. Mockel and Beverly Mockel

If you are visiting a National Park, it's always a good idea to stop at the visitor center to see what books they might have for their area. And don't forget to take lots of pictures, too.

:) Caitlyn