Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Michael Angelo's Scale to Lasagna

Last week I had lasagna at Pasquale's Restaurant in Newberg, Oregon. This is the best lasagna I've eaten in years. It was better than Michael Angelo's.

Now you might not think so, but that is a high complement. Michael Angelo's Italian Frozen Food has great meat lasagna--made without preservatives with fresh ingredients in small batches and frozen--just like home made. I especially like the Sausage Lasagna. I love the left-overs heated in the microwave. When I eat out at restaurants, I always compare it to Michael Angelo's. You know what? The frozen lasagna is better, more often than not. The way the cheese is toasted and the tomato sauce thickened on those corner pieces is just, well, mmm.... (I sound just like a commercial, don't I?) When I have lasagna, I always rate it on a scale compared to Michael Angelo's.

One local place in San Marcos, California we have found that has decent food is Pizza Nova. Most of the specialty pizzas have Alfredo sauce rather than tomato sauce, so aren't my style. They have several pastas that Marlene likes--especially the Thai Chicken Liguini. I order the lasagna. My score? It's as good as Michael Angelo's lasagna--impressive.

One other place I've eaten lasagna in the recent past was at Nonna Amilia's, in Beaverton, Oregon. Many people really like the food there. The result? Sorry, it's not as tasty as Michael Angelo's.

So that's it, my Michael Angelo's scale to lasagna.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cactus Wren at Anza-Borrego

Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren in Honey Mesquite. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.

I photographed Cactus Wrens in January, but here's another. This is the final photograph of birds seen in late April at Anza-Borrego.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

48 hours in Oregon

I spent last weekend in Oregon for a special deep water pelagic birding trip. It was a quick trip, to say the least. 9 am Saturday to 6:30 am Monday. Then right back to San Marcos for a full day of work.

Surprisingly, the time through the airport security check was speedy in both directions. In San Diego I had to take off coat and shoes and stand in position with arm raised, as per usual. Total time including a short line was only about 12 minutes. The check in Portland wasn't more than 2 minutes! Somehow I got in a special line because my ticket said: "TSA Pre-Check" on it--I don't know how, I've never applied or paid the fee. Put all items from pockets into carry-on bag and sent it through the X-ray machine. I walked through a low-tech metal detector with boots and coat on! That's it? I felt cheated. I had this urge to take off all my clothes and run back through the detectors! Fortunately for fellow passengers that impulse wasn't acted upon. This time.

Descending into Portland
The flight to Portland descended from the early morning sun at 40,000 feet into the bright white cloud tops at about 5000 feet, then gray, then really dark gray, then broke out and then I involuntarily thought to myself the words every Northwesterner hears from visiting Californians: "Man, it's really green here!" Not even 8 months and I've already forgotten? Well the 50 degrees and scattered showers for both days reminded me quickly why I moved to San Diego. After all, I had just come from 3 unseasonably warm days of 100 degree temperatures. It's back down to a normal high of 72 degrees for the rest of this week--I think I'll keep it.

I birded with Tim Shelmerdine Saturday, as we birded our way from Portland to Tillamook and then down the coast to Newport. Sunday we rose early to get on the boat by 6:00 a.m. and headed out to sea. Even though I moved to San Diego, I am still actively working the pelagic trips--web site, signup, and banking. But I passed deposits, chum preparation (yay!), and trip leadership on to Tim.

This trip motored on quickly to deep water, more than 60 miles offshore. Our trip goal was to spend as much time as possible searching for rare birds in deep water. Thus, we ignored the common seabirds near shore or, at least, did not stop for them. We kept splashing on. And on.

Pelagic trip.
We finally reached more than 60 miles offshore. This was at, or even beyond, the path the luxury cruise liners travel on their repositioning cruises and where rare Pterodroma petrels are seen in spring (primarily Murphy's Petrels). Even on these cruises it can be hours between rare bird sightings. But we spent almost 5 hours in the deep waters where these rare birds are sometimes found. No luck. Additionally, since this was out farther than most seabirds live, total numbers of birds were boringly low--expected on this particular trip, but a bit disappointing, even so. We headed slowly back up on the Continental Shelf after spending as much time as we could over the Abyss.

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel. 45 miles W of Newport, Oregon. May 18, 2014. Greg Gillson.
From waters a mile and a half deep we came up on the slope to about the 600 fathom line (3600 feet deep--still more than a half mile deep about 45 miles offshore). We passed a flock of 20 or so Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels sitting on the water, so stopped to chum to bring them closer to the boat. A few Black-footed Albatrosses joined them. After about a half hour it was time to motor back to shore. We made one more pass through the flock of seabirds in our chum line (beef fat and fish oil). Wait! Confused shouting from the bow. Leach's Storm-Petrel, did I hear being called out? No, the calls all started agreeing--Ashy Storm-Petrel! I ran inside to tell the captain to please wait as we had a rare bird, then I ran out on the deck and spotted this dark storm-petrel flitting about among the paler gray Fork-taileds.

Ashy Storm-Petrel (3rd Oregon record). 45 miles W of Newport, Oregon. May 18, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Now Ashy Storm-Petrel was on our list of possible rarities. And this will be only the 3rd accepted record for Oregon--and the best documented. Nevertheless, Ashys breed and are fairly common in California, while Murphy's Petrels are exceedingly rare in North American waters, and likely only on the cruise liner repositioning trips. But how can one complain?

A few more photos from this trip are here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I'm continuing with birds photographed at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park the last weekend in April. This one is Nashville Warbler, which was found in a couple of places in the desert. They migrate at night and at dawn look for some place to feed quickly and then rest in the shade during the day, before taking off the next evening, if winds are favorable.

I visited an area near the Borrego land fill. It was a barren patch of Mojave Desert with sand interspersed by well-spaced creosote bushes. I was looking for LeConte's Thrasher. It was birdless. In a mile of walking I ended up with one Tree Swallow(!), one Say's Phoebe, and one Black-throated Gray Wabler!

Migrant warblers tallied during the day:
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Nashville Warbler 6
MacGillivray's Warbler 1
Wilson's Warbler 4
Black-throated Gray Warbler 3
Townsend's Warbler 3

And add likely summer resident Yellow Warbler 4+ and Common Yellowthroat 3.
Nashville Warbler

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

White-winged Dove at Anza-Borrego

White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove. Anza-Borrego desert, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Back in January I photographed a White-winged Dove nearby in Borrego Springs. This one above was at the Visitor Center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 3 weeks ago.

The cooing of this species reminds me very much of the hooting of Barred Owl! "Who cooks for you?" Listen here, and see if you don't agree. (Barred Owl for comparison.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Two places at once!

Since I am supposed to be out in the ocean today in Oregon, I scheduled this photo of a recent Warbling Vireo to keep you company. This post should publish just as our boat is pulling away from the dock in Newport, Oregon. It is a quick trip, arriving Portland early Saturday morning; out in the ocean all day Sunday (to 65 miles off shore); and then back to San Diego to go to work Monday morning. No time to stop and visit friends, unfortunately!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at Anza-Borrego

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. April 27, 2014. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. Greg Gillson.
These tiny little active desert birds have long expressive tails.

In a previous post: ID: Gnatcatchers of San Diego, I discussed identification of the 3 species of gnatcatchers found in San Diego County.

Here I present several views of a single Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at the Anza-Borrego Desert Visitor Center near Borrego Springs.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher under tail
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher under tail.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Verdin at Anza-Borrego

Verdin. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near Borrego Springs, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This member of the titmouse family is found in the mesquite deserts of the SW United States (California to Texas) and the northern half of Mexico. It is fairly common and has rather loud sharp "chip" calls, so is rather easy to locate. It behaves as other members of the family: chickadees, titmouses, and bushtits, traveling in family groups from tree to tree, hanging from the tips of branches, actively gleaning insects.

The yellow head and chestnut shoulder is distinctive.
When I was a beginning birder, I was temporarily confused by Bushtits with yellow heads. Read about it here.

Juvenile Verdins lack the yellow head, as the following photos show. Even so, they really shouldn't confuse. The only similar species would be Gray Vireo or maybe Plumbeous Vireo, but sluggish vireos have heavier hooked bills, not little pointed ones like these birds.

Juvenile Verdin

Juvenile Verdin
Juvenile Verdin. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near Borrego Springs, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Carlsbad fire
10:48 am, fire in Carlsbad, 12 miles west on the coast.
We're just finishing the second of 3 days of Santa Ana winds--hot dry east winds that blow toward the coast. Yesterday wind gusts exceeded 65 miles per hour. One resident of our mobile home park lost the roof on their California Room--basically a covered and walled deck. We had tree limbs down all over. And the temperature hovered near 100 degrees. A fire at Rancho Bernardo burned 1600 acres and is now 50% contained. No structures were burned.

12:24 pm. Two fires appear, both about 15 miles away to the north at Fallbrook (right) and Bonsal (left).
Today, was even drier (7% humidity) though the winds were less severe (15-20 miles per hour). It was over 80 degrees at dawn, and quickly rose to 98. It was a bit hot to work outside; I rehydrated regularly between tasks!

These temperatures are extreme. In 3 days we are supposed to be back down to highs of 70--much more typical for spring. "May gray; June gloom" refers to the often cloudy spring weather in southern California.

I noted the Carlsbad fire in late morning. It had claimed several buildings. More fires were reported around the area, most small. Then, a fire started only 3 miles away on the hill on the south side of San Marcos. Unfortunately, several homes on that hill burned also. Tonight at 9:00 pm there are still flames visible and the smokey orange column of smoke has enveloped the entire hill in the photo below.

San Marcos fire
5:30 pm. Fire in San Marcos.
All told, there were 9 fires today in San Diego County and over 9,000 acres have been burned in the past 2 days.

We went around "after" work, making sure all our residents were prepared in case we had to join the tens of thousands evacuated from our homes today. But the winds are calm and everything seems okay in our neighborhood tonight, though the San Marcos fire is still burning up into the hills.

We'll have to see what tomorrow brings. It is supposed to be 100 degrees again, but perhaps without strong winds. We can hope.

Photo Quiz

Photo Quiz mystery bird

Do you know this San Diego County bird?


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Black-throated Sparrow at Anza-Borrego

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow. Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I told you in January that Black-throated Sparrows are my favorite sparrows. Look how sharply patterned that bird is! Very handsome, catching the warm early morning light from the side, to give the photo a nice three-dimensional feel.

Black-throated Sparrow

The photo above in a creosote bush has some out-of-focus vegetative "blobs" in the foreground but, I think, they do not distract too much, do they?

Below is a Black-throated Sparrow in its typical habitat.

Black-throated Sparrow

These were all photographed in Hellhole Canyon--a word choice you'd undoubtedly forgive if you visited in summer.

Black-throated Sparrow

Monday, May 12, 2014

Birding Site Guide: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center

Indian Head: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Indian Head Mountain to the west of the Visitor Center. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The largest Desert State Park in the nation has many bird watching opportunities within its borders and in nearby areas around Borrego Springs, California. Why not start at the Visitor Center?

Getting there: From Escondido it is 72 miles, go through Valley Center, then CA-76 E for 20 miles, then CA-79 N for 4 miles, San Filipe Rd E for 5 miles, then Montezuma Valley Rd N for 17 miles, then Palm Canyon Dr W into the Visitor Center. From San Diego it is 93 miles, take I-8 E for 26 miles, then CA-79 N for 20 miles, then CA-78 E for 18 miles, then Yaqui Pass Rd for 7 miles, west 5 miles into Borrego Springs, around the traffic circle, then Palm Canyon Dr W 2 miles into the Visitor Center. Parking: Free parking. [Update: In 2018 rangers were charging $7 to park.] Hours: Visitor Center hours are 9 am to 5 pm, daily October 1 - May 31, Weekends and holidays only June 1 - September 30. Map Navigation: 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Where to bird: The Visitor Center area is about 5 acres, including the parking lot and trails out into the desert. Most of the birds are found in the trees planted near the Visitor Center. The desert here has only small bushes and cacti. Thus the water drips, small pond, and planted trees attract many birds, especially migrants in spring and fall.

Map: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Off the beaten path! It's over 90 miles from San Diego to Borrego Springs, over two mountain ranges.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The visitor center is underground to keep cool and more natural.

Map: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The Visitor Center is 2 miles west of the traffic circle ("Christmas Circle") in  the center of Borrego Springs.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Desert bushes and cacti near the entrance of the Visitor Center.
Resident birds include Black-throated Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, Verdins, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, White-winged Doves. There are quail here; quite a few seem to be hybrid California x Gambel's. I photographed one here that appeared to be California. I found a pure-looking Gambel's Quail about 5 miles east in the mesquite bosque south of Borrego Springs. I heard other quail in Borrego Springs that were hidden, so species was not determined. Here's the list of birds I saw on April 27, 2014.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Palo Verde trees along the trail.

Visitor Center: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The Visitor Center features some panoramas. There's an impressive Smilodon, too!
My next few posts will be of birds that I saw here on April 27, 2014.

Another site guide to nearby Borrego Springs waste treatment ponds and the mesquite bosque.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

San Diego Year Bird #218: Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak. April 20, 2014. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. Greg Gillson.
In August 2005, at Croatan National Forest HQs in North Carolina, I saw a single medium-sized all-brown passerine with a huge bill--a female or young-of-the-year Blue Grosbeak. That remained the only representative of the Blue Grosbeak species that I had seen up until this spring.

Blue Grosbeak is the third of five San Diego target species I set for myself for this spring. I already found Black-chinned Sparrows and Bell's Vireos.

In a 3 mile walk around Mission Trails Park I observed at least 16 individual Blue Grosbeaks, mostly males. They were primarily in damp stream bottom edges with grasses and scattered shorter deciduous trees. Common birds in that same habitat were Yellow-breasted Chats and Lazuli Buntings. At a distance they kind of reminded me of long-tailed Starlings--dark and pudgy, flying up in pairs or small groups onto fence lines or shorter trees.

I found the song of these birds to be buzzy and loosely structured. It seems a combination of House Finch and Warbling Vireo (like a House Finch but buzzy all the way through).

Blue Grosbeak

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Song Sparrow

Heermann's Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia heermanni)
Heermann's Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia heermanni)
April 20, 2014. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. Greg Gillson.
Having lived and birded in the Pacific Northwest for for several decades, I am used to observing the variation in different populations of Song Sparrows. You see, beginning and visiting birders often mistake the dark rusty Song Sparrows of the temperate rain forests of the NW for Fox Sparrows. Song Sparrows, though, have gray and rusty head stripes that the wintering Sooty Fox Sparrows lack.

There have been as many as 52 named subspecies, now generally whittled down to 32 (Birds of Oregon: a general reference (2003)) or 24 (Wikipedia), in 5 major groups. However, these show a cline, a gradual and continuous change from one form to another. Songs, though, are pretty much the same across the range.

Heermann's Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia heermanni)
Another view of the bird above.
The variation in physical appearance follows part of Gloger's Rule: birds in humid areas are often darker than birds in drier regions. Thus, these southern California birds pictured above are paler and brighter than the birds in the Pacific Northwest (below).

Rusty Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia morphna)

Rusty Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia morphna)
November 27, 2008. Forest Grove, Oregon. Greg Gillson.