Friday, January 8, 2016

The Birds of Lake Hodges and Kit Carson Park - December

The area of California I most often find myself in lately is in San Diego County.  If you know anything about California; you know that it is in the southernmost part of the state, close to Mexico and snuggled up next to the Pacific Ocean.  While I have far better reasons for being there than bird watching; I do enjoy the times I get to go out and take a look see. The two main places I visit with Barbara, are Kit Carson Park and Lake Hodges.  I actually scored three more life birds on this trip; the Gilded flicker, California quail, and the Orange-crowned warbler!


Indians of the acorn culture were the first inhabitants of Kit Carson Park.  Long before the arrival of the first Europeans, California was the home to an extremely diverse variety of Indian cultures.  The California culture area has the widest variety of native languages, ecological settings, and house types of any North American culture area.  One of the mainstays of the diet for the region was the acorn which was used in soup, porridge, and bread.  Sixteen different species of oak provided the acorns. Because of the nutrition provided by acorns, the Native American people in California did not develop agriculture.

Acorns contributed to the fact that California peoples did not experience annual famine months or develop traditions or legends dealing with famine.  It is estimated that among one tribe, the Yokut, a typical family consumed 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of acorns each year.  This would clearly explain the presence of one of both of our favorite birds; the Acorn woodpecker.  It is a clown-faced western woodpecker with a complicated social structure, living in small colonies. It is best known for its habit of hoarding acorns: the birds drill small holes in a dead snag (5’ to 60’ above the ground), then harvest the long acorns nearby in the fall and store them in these holes to be eaten during winter.  Such a "granary tree" may be used for generations and may be riddled with up to 50,000 holes. Nesting is a group activity, with several adults (up to 12 or more) taking part in incubating the eggs and feeding the young in a single nest.

The park was named after Christopher (Kit) Carson, the famous scout who guided Captain John C. Fremont over the Sierra Nevada Mountains during a government exploration expedition. The park sits in a valley that is approximately five miles west of where Kit Carson fought in the Battle of San Pasqual.  A historical monument commemorating the battle is located on Mule Hill, one mile southeast of the park.

Now HERE'S an "odd duck!"
The City of Escondido acquired the land for its largest regional park from the City of San Diego in 1967. One hundred acres of the park have been developed and 185 acres have been preserved as natural habitat. The newest addition to Kit Carson Park is Queen Califia's Magical Circle, the only American sculpture garden by the internationally acclaimed artist, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002).


Lake Hodges is a long, winding lake in Escondido about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego. Hodges is known for great bass and crappie fishing.  Lake Hodges was formed by the completion of the Hodges Dam in 1918. Colonel Ed Fletcher, a major mover and shaker in the development of San Diego, led the projects.  Hodges Dam was named after a vice president of the Santa Fe Railroad who made the necessary financing for the construction of the dam. The dam consisted of 23 reinforced concrete arches, each spanning 24 feet.  The cost of the dam was about $630,000.  (That’s nearly 10 million dollars in today’s dollars!)

The reservoir is fed by San Dieguito Creek and features one of the largest watersheds of all the local reservoirs. The San Dieguito River Valley, occupied for centuries by the Kumeyaay people, was also home to earlier Native Americans – the Harris Site located downstream from the Lake Hodges Dam dates back to as early as 7000 B.C. – and when surveying was completed back in 1916 and construction began on the Lake Hodges Dam, there were documented protests of Indian tribe warnings about a river creature.   The “San Diego Union” newspaper ascribed it to attempts to stop the project.

Drifting along with the
tumbling tumbleweeds
The city of San Diego purchased Lake Hodges in 1925 and continues to operate it today.  When full, the reservoir has 1,234 acres (4.99 km2), a maximum water depth of 115 feet (35 m), and 27 miles (43 km) of shoreline.  Interstate 15 crosses Lake Hodges via the Lake Hodges Bridge. 

Approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) west of the I-15 freeway bridge is a bicycle/pedestrian bridge which opened on May 15, 2009 under the (then) governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger and is the longest stressed ribbon bridge in the world.  The San Dieguito Water District has grown by leaps and bounds since the installation of its first four meters in 1923. Today, the District provides approximately 2 billion gallons of potable water and 162 million gallons of recycled water annually to over 38,000 citizens. The land around the water provides some of the west's most diverse bird populations.


Cassin's Kingbird singing at dusk in the waning sunlight
A Great egret sits in a tree at Lake Hodges, CA
American crows fly to a dirt pile in search of insects
A Ring-necked duck floats quietly on the pond at Kit Carson
Here's an American coot with a white snoot
A Snowy egret shows off its yellow feet
This American coot shows off its HUGE feet
A female Belted Kingfisher contemplates her options
This American widgeon likes to swim
A House finch stays in the shrubs for safety
Here's a nice looking Song sparrow
The Common yellow-throat looks like a bandit
The jaunty Bewick's wren searches through the bark
Acorn woodpeckers abound in Kit Carson Park
The Ruby-crowned kinglet lands on a twig
Western states have the colorful Audubon's Yellow-rumped
Cactus protects this California Quail against coyotes
♫ Listen to the (Northern) mockingbird ♪
Western scrub-jays can be quite noisy
The tiny Anna's hummingbird is dwarfed by a mere powerline
California Towhee
Bushtit away!

These bushtits prefer the community of company
The elusive Orange-crowned warbler
A cute Western bluebird sits on the roof edge, thinking
Cedar waxwings look towards the setting sun
A friendly black phoebe naps on a white fence
This White-crowned sparrow likes the
morning sun at Lake Hodges
A juvenile White-crowned sparrow awaits its color change
A first year Northern harrier searched below for a meal
Who doesn't love the colors of an American kestrel?
This Gilded flicker caught my attention as a new life bird!
An Osprey with a fish on a stick...nice!
Cassin's kingbird
American crow

Ring-billed gull in the sun
American White pelican on the shore at Kit Carson Park
The lovely sound of the Song sparrow fills the air
Here (below) is the list of the 50 species of birds I (we) saw on this last trip out to California, at both Kit carson Park and Lake Hodges; as well as birds I photographed in the Escondido neighborhood in which we were staying, and on land located near Boulevard, CA:

American Wigeon - Anas americana
Mallard Anas - platyrhynchos
Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris
Common Merganser-  Mergus merganser
California QuailCallipepla californica
Western Grebe - Aechmophorus occidentalis
Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus
American White Pelican - Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Great Egret - Ardea alba
Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Northern Harrier - Circus cyaneus
Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
American Coot - Fulica americana
Ring-billed Gull - Larus delawarensis
California Gull - Larus californicus
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia 
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Black-chinned Hummingbird - Archilochus alexandri
Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna
Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon
Acorn Woodpecker - Melanerpes formicivorus
Downy Woodpecker - Picoides pubescens
Gilded FlickerColaptes chrysoides
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Black Phoebe - Sayornis nigricans
Cassin's Kingbird - Tyrannus vociferans
Western Scrub-Jay - Aphelocoma californica
American Crow - Corvus brachyrhynchos
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Black-capped Chickadee - Poecile atricapillus
Bushtit - Psaltriparus minimus
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta canadensis
White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis
Bewick's Wren - Thryomanes bewickii
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Regulus calendula
Western Bluebird - Sialia mexicana
Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Cedar Waxwing - Bombycilla cedrorum
Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat - Geothlypis trichas
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga coronata
California Towhee - Melozone crissalis
American Tree Sparrow - Spizelloides arborea
Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia
Brewer's Blackbird - Euphagus cyanocephalus
House Finch - Haemorhous mexicanus
Lesser Goldfinch - Spinus psaltria
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus

Ride Along 2 (The Sequel)

Note to the readers of this blog:  I interrupt myself once again to not talk about birding – but to instead relate the details of my latest December 2015 ride-along, with my favorite member of the police force of San Diego; Officer Rager.

Thanks to a particularly insistent El Nino, this winter in southern California was turning out to be a wet one.  To get down to the San Diego (city) Central Division station relatively on time; I hurtled south on the rain-slicked concrete pavement as safely as I could (down “The 15”) slicing through the foggy air, in a borrowed Toyota Prius.  I say, ‘relatively on time’ as I pulled in to the Central lot a few minutes to 2:00 PM and the official start of Second Watch.  I was running a little later than the 1:50 PM mark I had been asked to strive for.  Crossing the lot with my camera bag and jacket in hand, Officer Rager met me at an intimidating looking iron gate with her customary and cheery, “Hi Dad!” and handed me a small white self-stick tag with the words, “Ride-Along”  emblazoned on it, along with that day’s date and someone’s authorized signature.  I proudly removed the back paper (placing it responsibly in my pants pocket so as not to litter in the presence of the law), and slapped the adhesive part to my left chest.  She then quickly ushered me into the building, down the hall to the right and into a large meeting space through a closed door.

As I stealthily entered the room just behind her, I felt all eyes follow us while their discussion continued.  We found two open chairs against the wall and sat down.  The fact that I had been a bit tardy in arriving didn’t seem to matter to the assembled so I relaxed and listened carefully to the speakers.  This portion of a typical police shift was called “line-up” and I felt very fortunate to have been allowed to attend.  I looked around the room and counted 34 people either sitting at a large conference type table, or in chairs along the outside walls on three sides.  The “front” of the room featured a media screen that was in use as I quietly watched the various presentations from different sections of the police force.  People were dressed in all manner of clothing from the traditional “police blues” to tee shirts and jeans. 

The Sergeant in charge of the meeting went around the room after his briefing of the day’s possible people of interest, things to watch out for, and other important information; asking if anyone had anything to contribute.  A pair of suit-wearing members of something called the Sex Crimes Division, provided a comprehensive report regarding a few recent successful operations, and also presented a special award to a particular officer that had worked with their unit.  The rest of the room was mostly silent, aside from a bit of good-natured ribbing that went along with a few names being called upon.  Officer Rager introduced me and told the assembled that I would be glad to take photos of anyone while I was there with her that evening.  I grinned and waved my hand sheepishly in recognition; and the pre-shift meeting adjourned moments later.  Leather creaked in unison as the uniformed grabbed their duffle bags and other gear, to begin their work day.

After some last minute paperwork associated with having me along as a “partner” on this day; Officer Rager sat down at a common (shared) computer in the small Resource Room next to the conference room.  She checked her work emails and began filling out a form related to an invitation for training to a unit known as PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team - Provides emergency assessment and referral for individuals with mental illness who come to the attention of law enforcement through phone calls from community members or in-field law enforcement request for emergency assistance. PERT pairs licensed mental health clinicians with uniformed law enforcement officers/deputies. Clinicians work out of individual law enforcement divisions and respond in the field with their law enforcement partners. The PERT team evaluates the situation, assesses the individual's mental health condition and needs, and, if appropriate, transports individual to a hospital or other treatment center, or referees him/her to a community-based resource or treatment facility.)

I sat in a chair next to her debating if taking any photos was both allowed and/or a smart thing to do.  I opted not to at this time and watched instead.  Officers conversed with each other, sat at other computers, picked up their body cameras from a large (wired) wall unit containing 112 slots for cameras and hardware.  Officer Rager grabbed one and affixed it to herself, explaining that it was a type that was directional (it went around her shoulders at the neck) to “aim” it better at whatever needed to be recorded.  She motioned for me to follow her as we exited the building to the police vehicle parking lot.  There she walked amongst the various cars, SUVs, etc. until she found a patrol car she liked - an older, scratched to hell Crown Victoria; standard and sturdy workhorse of most police departments everywhere.  The number was 6828 and Officer Rager was 523 Yellow for this shift.  She then loaded her duffel bag full of secret police stuff into the trunk and belted herself into the driver’s seat.  She turned on all sorts of sophisticated gadgets and typed into a swing-out computer keyboard before we backed out of the spot and traversed the parking garage.  It was still alternatively misting and raining as we pulled out onto the gritty streets of central San Diego.

See...there IS joy on the job!
One of the most amazing things about riding along is witnessing the silent wonder of the way in which the department communicates with its employees.  I’m from back in the day of, “One Adam Twelve, One Adam Twelve; See the man…” Everything was on the two-way radio or nothing happened.  Today’s cops do still use the radio; but their on-board computer screens tell them so much more.  Officer Rager uses all this fully integrated technology with more ease that I can make a simple phone call.  It is astounding to me the pace at which the information is transmitted, translated and understood within her world.

Our first “action” of the day was to back-up a unit that had been responding to the Bayside Apts. where we met an FTO (Field Training Officer) who was with a “first phase officer” waiting in the lobby.  The call was on the 23rd floor, and we were there to check on an alarm.  The manager of the apartments took us up the elevator (thank God) to the door of the apartment.  The FTO officer yelled “Hello SDPD” to the closed door, and knocked and rang the bell, while standing safely to the side of the door.  He checked the handle and it was locked.  I stood back a ways and waited for the cop to kick the door down and shout something authoritarian before busting in, gun drawn.  It didn’t happen.  I guess when there’s a silent alarm and no one answers the door, and you can’t hear a struggle from inside; you merely leave and chalk that up to a hiccup in the alarm system or a cat knocking over a Ming vase or something.  Either way; no entrada!

The next call was at the Sandford Hotel (A downtown San Diego Housing Authority-run, nearly 100-year-old, recently renovated hotel – consisting of 129 subsidized one-room apartments) – A “Mr. L” -61 year-old black male; was yelling and swearing and generally obnoxiously threatening to kill anyone who came into his room 319.   Another officer from a different squad met us there and we took the elevator to the third floor.  Officer Rager rapped on the door HARD and several moments went by before a groggy-sounding, muffled voice replied; “aww kaa-min…izz oben.”  The other officer pushed open the door slowly and the two officers looked in.  

On the floor, not two feet from the opening was a man lying prone on the rug.  He was shirtless and wearing just a pair of dirty gray gym shorts.  Officer Rager first addressed the man with, “Mr. L…it looks like you threw up…are you OK?”  I stood outside in the hallway away from the possibility of more.  Mr. L indicated that while he was basically OK, he had spent his rainy Tuesday polishing off an entire liter of cheap vodka.  The empty plastic bottle stood on the TV stand.  Both officers went through a series of questions relative to his well-being, as Mr. L swore expletives in every direction with no apparent coherent message.  He generally seemed like an angry person with an axe to grind with every manner of race, creed, religion, gender, and profession.  Basically the guy was blasted and butt-ornery.  The kicker was that he was complaining about his back and that he now wanted to go to a hospital.  A call was placed on the radio to the paramedics and the four of us waited for their arrival.  Mr. L was happy to wait on the floor in his vomit; swearing a blue streak to no one in particular.

Eventually the two-person paramedic team arrived with their snazzy self-rising Stryker gurney, strapped Mr. L on board, waited for him to hurl again on the hallway carpeting, and brought him through the lobby to the street level.  The front desk staff stood there shaking their heads as the officers explained the disposition of the call.  Mr. L was eventually loaded onboard the red ambulance as we pulled away from the curb.

Next up was a visit to an area of downtown where someone had reported that there was supposedly an unconscious female with a black male standing over her.  We and another squad circled the blocks around and around where the 3rd hand information had indicated. Nothing, [no one] was found.

As we rounded the corner at Island and 16th, Officer Rager witnessed what she called a 415 “disturbance” on the sidewalk involving a group of transients, who were lined up along the wall. She flipped on lights and pulled over as two homeless men were visibly arguing and upset.  They were standing outside a food dispersal called God's Extended Hand.  Their website says, “God's Extended Hand is a place of evangelical ministry aimed at showing the homeless population of San Diego the Love of God. We endeavor to do this by providing a gathering place where they can come and experience a sit down restaurant style meal in a peace filled Christ focused environment. All meals and services are offered free and without any charge on a first come first served basis. This is a place where hatred and anger is left outside and the word of God is given with each meal to encourage and offer hope…”  

Well, the hatred and anger were definitely outside, but it seemed to be escalating.  Another unit pulled up.  I sat in the squad and watched as IDs were run through the different databases to see which of the actors might have had any outstanding warrants, etc.  They were eventually left to wander and told not to be in each other’s personal space (I’m paraphrasing now), and that was that.  I’m not sure if either combatant even got to experience a sit down restaurant style meal that evening.

While pulling up to the next call near the New Vistas Crises Center, a white male in his 50s walked up to me and started to ask if I had a minute.  He took one long look at my official, rectangular, white; ride-along sticker positioned high on my left chest and lamented, “Oh you can’t help me.”  I was crestfallen.  Officer Rager exited the car and he went to her to ask if she could find out whether his car was towed or was stolen.  She asked him what his plate number was.  He didn't know his plate number.  He was carrying a stack of paper and folders clutched to his chest with both arms.  The man started to rattle off a litany of issues he was having with his wife, how his life had been in a shambles lately, and now how he can’t even locate his car.  Officer Rager raised an eyebrow when he admitted that his wife has several restraining orders against him, and suggested that the man call a special phone number to ask if they could assist him in finding his car, once he retrieved the plate number to tell them what it was.

Walking down the street from where we had parked the squad, we arrived at a smallish non-descript dwelling.  The call had been for a possible 5150  (Danger to property, danger to others, and danger to themselves) at the address of the New Vistas.  A 30-something woman with long, poofy-kinky blondish hair worriedly met us at the door to the place to explain the situation to Officer Rager.  I stood back so as not to catch any details, because the woman looked positively spooked by the possibility that anyone’s privacy was being invaded.  I did gather that the 5150 was a young black male with a plethora of concerns which have been worrying the staff.  Apparently the guy had been peeing in a bottle in his room instead of using the bathroom, boiling eggnog for hours at a time, etc.  We entered the house and the anxious woman and Officer Rager split off into another room to have a conversation with the oddly acting young man who was the reason for our visit.  I stood in the hallway and chatted with a guy who was passing by who had noticed my ride-along sticker.  He thought it was incredibly cool and wanted to talk about the experience.  He asked how he too could accompany a San Diego officer at some point.  Finally; some overdue street-cred for me and my sticker.

At approximately 13th and Commercial an officer was trying to stop a white male who had a warrant.  We were minding our own business when a call came over the radio that the man had "rabbited" (ran).  Before I knew what was happening Officer Rager flipped on the lights and siren and floored it across two empty parking lots.  I kept quiet and enjoyed the up-tempo police car ride as we rounded a corner with our car lights illuminating the sidewalk where another officer had a man on the ground.  Several more squads with their lights twirling were also on the scene as we approached them.  There was basically “nothing to see here ma’am,” because of all the other uniformed people assembled had this under control.  I did however meet another guy exiting his police car sporting a similar official ride-along sticker on his left chest.  I said hello.  He said nothing.  We left.  Again, how in the hell Officer Rager deciphered what was going down so quickly with such little information and actually arrived at the scene in minutes; was completely beyond me.

We took another call to backup another officer who was responding to a US Bank silent alarm call.  Hoping for a full-fledged bank robbery, I eagerly exited the vehicle with my camera in hand.  The bank manager asked me to kindly not take pictures in his bank, after I had already ripped off a few good shots.  As it turned out there was nothing.  Darn.

A call came in after that for 450 J Street – we took the elevator up to a fancy apt.  A woman who really should have decided to put on a brassiere before opening the door to police came out of the apartment and into the hallway.  Apparently a man (her husband) was threatening to harm himself [5150] and his wife [5150] had called the police the past two nights.  Officer Rager and the other officer went with the woman back into the apartment to speak with the distraught man. A smell of some sort of wacky tobacky drifted out the door.  No, (thanks) I didn’t want to come in too.  After a long talk, the man would be going to the hospital voluntarily, with his (bra-less) wife.

We then responded to the St. Vincent De Paul homeless shelter regarding another [5150] addled (…ahh...the blessed and peaceful holidays…) young man named Aaron was having severe suicidal thoughts.  Officer G met us at the shelter. Again I stayed in the hallway and waited as Officer Rager slowly dissected and transposed the soft spoken, angry 28 year-old’s angst into something that the SDPD could actually do about it.  It was becoming obvious to me that uniformed officers must get a crap-load of these types of social work-like calls every day.  What this has to do with law and order is a mystery to me.  I really feel for the men and women of the force, and how far afield their charge has drifted.  Officer Rager is really quite amazing at responding with compassion and caring to each of these; but there must be another agency that can handle these non-violent 5150s from the start; rather than tying up the police.  We eventually coaxed the depressed, angry, young man (handcuffed) into the back of the squad (it’s the law), to take the ride to a crowded and busy Scripps Mercy Hospital.  He was complaining of chronic scoliosis and a ruptured couple of discs on top of desiring to kill himself, just because he hated himself.  That’s sad…I have a young son his age who (without a decent upbringing and his own will to succeed) could have drifted down a similar sorry path.  We waited about an hour while Aaron laid on a hallway gurney on his back; his knees in a crouch and his knit hat pulled down over his eyes against the bright light of the hospital.  Officer Rager did the necessary paperwork against the wall, in order to keep him there for a minimum of 24 hours.  I wonder what eventually became of him.

It was time for dinner, so Officer Rager stopped at a Panda Express drive-thru and bought the both of us orange chicken and Asian noodles.  We stood at the warm hood of the idling car in a quiet area and ate.  Officer Rager was also multi-tasking and doing some additional paperwork on her computer.

After the short break we responded to a call in Logan Heights about a loud party. We found (heard) nothing.  One of the other responding officers asked if I would mind taking his photo.  I got out of the car and took a photo of him looking out his car window.  I emailed it to the cop and one to Officer Rager.

We were then moving through her typical coverage area when she took another call to respond to a non-emergency cover while an officer ran the ID of two black males in the east village.  These two black males were having a good old time as they smoked their cigarettes and bantered about how they had done nothing wrong and that we’d soon see after we checked.  The first officer used the computer to run a check on the older looking one and seemed to have found something.  He approached the guy and said that he had a parole violation.  The guy became wild and emphatically stated that his name was the same as his cousin and did the officer use the right middle initial.  The officer ran the ID again and the black male in question had been correct; no warrants.  The gleeful man was cheerily vindicated and told us all so.  They were excused to do whatever they had been planning.

Our last call of the night was to cover an officer who had done a traffic stop on someone.  He had the car on an on-ramp and was just finishing whatever he had started when we arrived.  We headed for the City gas pumps to courteously fill-up for the next person who chose that particular vehicle for their shift. All in a day’s work ma’am; thank you very much!

Back at Central; the sergeant needed to be gone, so he’d appointed a young woman to be the interim.  This fact seemed to delight the officers in a teasingly (brown-nosingly) way.  The chosen officer was required to perform a (10-17) sign-off of the reports that each unit had for their shift.  The woman feigned being annoyed by the selection of her; but I could tell that she still felt the honor of the temporary designation.  After the necessary double-checking of the work, Officer Rager reversed the loading of the car and bid me safe travels back to Escondido.  It was late and it felt like two hours later.  Once again; I was left with an incredible appreciation of the life of a police officer and in particular for Officer Rager and her abilities.  

I look forward to the next ride-along....and hey; I still have my awesome, official sticker.

Definitely America's Finest!