People Watching at O’Hare

My flight home from Nashville was delayed by an hour and a half. Then, when we got to O’Hare, we sat on the taxiway for 15 minutes because, or so we were told, “a 747 made a wrong turn and is blocking everything.” And the limo service didn’t have any cars in the area, so I had to wait 40 minutes for my ride to show up. I filled the time by taking a time lapse film of people at the airport.


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Opryland Resort

The NRB convention, where I worked in the Awana booth, was held in the Opryland Resort. The place was huge — three large hotels with a combined 2,000+ rooms, all covered with a glass ceiling with huge atria in between. The atria were filled with stores, restaurants, fountains, rivers, waterfalls and live plants. It was impressive in an excessive sort of way.


I saw the guy in this photo on several occasions. His full-time job, apparently, is to maintain the ponds and river inside the resort.






I was tempted to pay the $10 to take the quarter-mile boat ride because how many chances will I have to take a boat ride around the inside of my hotel? But I never got around to it.


A bunch of us ate at this restaurant one of the nights. Our table was tucked back into one of the cave-like alcoves along the side. I had salad and steak, both of which were pretty good.


There was even a 15-minute water, light and music show at one of the fountains. I won’t make you sit through the entire thing. Here’s the time lapse version.


There are more photos on my Red Chair blog.

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Fort Negley Park

On Tuesday morning, Nate and I got up early and visited Fort Negley, on a hill south of downtown Nashville. We were much too early to view the visitor center.

The fort was built by the Union Army in 1862 to defend the city from attempts to retake it by the Confederacy. Artillery in the fort was used during the Battle of Nashville in 1864. It was the largest stone fort built away from the coast during the war, but all the stones visible now are from a “reconstruction” by the WPA during the Depression.






These sights point to Peach Orchard Hill where an unsuccessful Union attempt was made to break the Confederate lines on December 16, 1864.


There are a few more photos on my Red Chair blog.

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Sugar Chests

For an extra $2, Nate and I were able to tour a small exhibit on sugar chests, a type of furniture used almost exclusively in Tennessee and Kentucky. They were in the sanctuary of an old church purchased by the Polk home foundation and restored as an exhibit hall.






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James K. Polk’s Home

I was in Nashville to work the booth at a conference. Nate drove down with Karen, and on Monday afternoon we had nothing to do. We drove to Columbia and toured James K. Polk’s home. I was there with Sally and the girls in 1997, but the house was undergoing renovation and we could only get into the visitor center.


We were on a tour with a couple from Minnesota. Our guide could see that all of us were interested and informed and so she took her time, answered our questions and was very informative. Polk lived in the house, which was his parents’ home, from the time he was 17 until he was married at 23. The furniture in the house now was owned by the Polks, but isn’t from this house. Some is from the White House, some from other homes James and Sarah lived in (now gone), and some of it was Sarah’s from after James died.

This is the entrance hallway. I thought it, and the hallway upstairs, were both very large for a house with only five rooms.



The parlor, with furniture from the White House.


The two portraits show Polk at the start of his presidency and four years later.


The dining room. The tableware was designed by Sarah for use in the White House. Each setting had a different Tennessee wildflower on it.




The upstairs hallway.


Polk’s lounging jacket. It’s the only item of his clothing still in existence — the rest was destroyed because he died of cholera.


The bedroom Polk shared with his three brothers. It contains furniture from Polk’s law office and the day bed he used in his study in the White House.


The bedroom used by Polk’s two sisters.


The bedroom used by Polk’s parents. Note that the fireplace isn’t centered.


The two-room kitchen was in a separate building behind the house.




The back of the house as seen from the kitchen.


The tour took so long, we didn’t have time to see the exhibits or video in the visitor center.

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Bird #472 — California Gnatcatcher

polioptila californica

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Crystal Cove State Park — Orange County, California

This was one of my target birds for the trip. It’s an endangered species and can only be found in certain types of scrubby, dry, coastal habitats in Southern California — right where the ridiculous sprawl of Los Angeles consumes the landscape. It was my primary reason for going to the North Etiwanda Preserve on Wednesday morning, and when I struck out there, I figured I’d missed it.

It was approaching eleven o’clock. The beach down below was getting crowded with people. I had a long drive back to Ontario and a plane to catch. The path I was on paralleled the highway and curved downhill toward the parking lot. My birding adventure was almost over.


Then I spotted a couple sparrows in a bush on the edge of the bluff. I identified them as White-crowned Sparrows, but as I was looking at them through my binoculars, I saw a smaller bird fly into the bush. It was a gnatcatcher, and it had a definite black crown. It could only be a California Gnatcatcher, but it wasn’t acting at all like a rare, endangered species.


It’s the only black-capped gnatcatcher found along the coast, but the defining characteristic is the underside of the tail — black with white tips to the feathers. I saw this clearly without question through my binoculars, but never got a better photo of it than what can be seen in this next shot. You can get a hint of the pattern if you enlarge it.


It flew off into the brush out of sight, but I could hear its cat-like calls from time to time. I continued down the path. About three minutes later, I spotted it and a female chasing each other through the bushes. They flew across the path into the narrow strip between the path and the road. For a minute, I thought they were building a nest there, but I think they were just collecting stuff for a nest elsewhere. The male popped up on a branch just a few feet away and stayed just long enough for me to get one photo.


They were off again, chasing through the bushes on the ocean side, and I soon lost sight of them, although I heard the call a couple more times.

Kinda funny how birding works sometimes. Spend a morning out in the wild looking for a bird where it is supposed to be, only to find it the next morning along a busy highway where it isn’t expected.

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Bird #471 — Allen’s Hummingbird

selasphorus sasin

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Crystal Cove State Park — Orange County, California

I had a mid-afternoon flight home. I wasn’t about to sit around my hotel for eight hours, so I decided to head for the coast to get in a few more hours of birding. Crystal Cove State Park, in Orange County, seemed like the best bet. I could avoid going through the worst of the congestion and, while it would take me two hours to get there in morning traffic, it would only take an hour to get back at midday. And there were two lifers that were listed as common on the park bird list — California Quail and Wandering Tattler.

I parked near the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages and walked south along the beach for about a mile. It was high tide, and in a few places there was very little room between the surf and the bluff. I was able to walk right up to several species of shorebirds, but saw no Tattlers. When I got to the end of the park, I could walk back the way I’d just come and, probably, see all the same birds, or I could climb the trail to the top of the bluff and walk back along the edge. I opted for the latter.

The morning had been foggy and gray, but by this time the sun was out and the view was spectacular.


I’d been seeing Anna’s Hummingbirds everywhere I’d been birding, and I was seeing a lot of them here too. When I spotted a tiny bird in a bush right at the edge of the bluff, I assumed it was another one. It wasn’t. It was a male Allen’s Hummingbird. It perched cooperatively facing away from me while I got a good look, then turned around and gave me a good view from the front. It was about 20 yards away from the path and my camera kept focusing on the bush in front of it, so my photos aren’t very sharp.



It sat there for about five minutes. You can see it in the lower left corner of this photo I took of Brown Pelicans flying by.


It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, after I identified it, I wasn’t sure if I’d seen one before. But a check of my list convinced me I had another, unexpected, lifer.

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Crystal Cove State Park

I had a late afternoon flight home on Thursday. (It turned out to be much later than I’d expected — I arrived home at 6:00 a.m. on Friday.) I had to find something to do in the morning, and I was pretty excited about my five lifers so far. I decided to do more birding. I contemplated driving back down to Santa Rosa Plateau, but that didn’t seem very exciting. I even considered driving two hours up into the mountains for a shot at a White-headed Woodpecker, but that seemed extreme. I decided on the coast, an hour and a half away (thanks to morning traffic) but only an hour back. I picked Crystal Cove State Park for two reasons — Wandering Tattler and California Quail. I didn’t see the first (it was peak high tide) and never even got to a part of the park where I could expect to see the second.

I parked across the highway from Crystal Cove and walked through the small community of seaside cabins.



I wandered south along the beach for about a mile. In places, there was barely room to walk between the surf and the bluff.





There were birds about, and some good ones too. Here’s a Black Phoebe that was hawking insects on the side of the bluff.


A Western Gull. It’s hard to find a place on the coast where you can’t see these.


Heermann’s Gull, a Southern California specialty.


Left to right: Black Turnstone, Sanderling, Willet and Black-bellied Plover


A closer look at the Sanderling and Black Turnstone.


Black-bellied Plover in winter plumage.


A Whimbrel.


And a Willet. I’m always amazed at how much tamer birds are on the coast than inland.


Royal Terns.




I walked a trail to the top of the bluff and briefly considered heading off to the inland part of the park. But distance and time convinced me that the wise course would be to head back. I saw there was a trail above the beach and, luckily as it turned out, decided not to go back along the beach. The tide had gone out some, but not enough to expose the tide pools.



Anna’s Hummingbird. Sometimes you just get lucky and click the shutter at the right moment.


A mile and two unexpected lifers later, I was back at Crystal Cove.


There’s a diner there called Rudy’s Shake Shack. It has an outdoor patio overlooking the ocean. I got a cheeseburger and a dark chocolate shake which were awesome. But I probably wouldn’t have noticed even if they were awful. This was my view.




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Bird #470 — Bell’s Sparrow

artemisiospiza belli

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

North Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga, California

When I decided to spend my free time on this trip birding, I looked for places close enough to Ontario to get there and back in the morning before I had to be at the conference. I found out about this place on the Internet and saw that two would-be lifers are regularly seen there. That settled it.

The Preserve consists of a large, rocky sage and brush-covered area at the base of the mountains north of Rancho Cucamonga.


I was the first one there and had the place to myself for the first twenty minutes. Other people, all hiking and not birding, began showing up soon afterwards, but it never got crowded except on the side hike to a small waterfalls.

I wasn’t there long before I spotted a Bell’s Sparrow singing in a small bush off the trail. I soon saw others, probably about 10 in total, some of which were very close and many of which were singing.



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North Etiwanda Preserve

Like Santa Rosa Plateau, North Etiwanda Preserve had the advantage of being close enough to get to easily while offering the possibility of lifers. I saw one, and for much of the time I was there, had a good time. The last mile or so was a bit bleak and hot.


I was the first visitor of the morning and had the place to myself for a while. The preserve is a wedge of rising field sandwiched between the city of Rancho Cucamonga and the mountains.


The trail was rocky and shade was non-existent, but it was only about 60 when I arrived. Looking west across the sprawl of Los Angeles suburbs.



In attempt to make items of historical interest out of junk, there were several signboards about past efforts to get water from the mountains. Remains of pipes and pumps and whatnot were scattered about here and there.



This chimney is all that remains from a house that was here at some point.


Another view of the house from a point further up the slope, with Rancho Cucamonga peaking through the smog.


A side trail that turned out to be quite a bit longer than I’d expected promised a view of a waterfall.



And indeed, there was a waterfall, which I expect is quite nice by California desert standards. Ninety percent of the people I saw on the preserve were on the trail to the falls. I only stayed long enough to take this photo because I was still hoping to see another lifer.


When I got back to the main trail, it was warming up. I soon entered and area where a fire had consumed all the sage and other scrub not long before and the landscape was unattractive and the birds scarce.



On a knoll, there were signboards labeling the various geographical features that would be visible if not for the ever-present smog. When it was clear enough to take the photos on the sign, I have no idea.


The white ridge of rocks cutting across the center of this photo marks an earthquake fault.


One thing I took away from here — I would not want to be out on those shadeless flats when it was any hotter than it was on this day.

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