Dolphin Hunt

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Pacific White Sided Dolphin like the pod we saw

Dan and I have been Stand Up Paddleboarding for about 2 years now. It started inauspiciously in a lagoon in Carlsbad.We  rented boards that seemed to have the temperament of unbroken horses.  I will soon tell all about that process, but last weekend we had an experience that was pretty much the reason we learned to paddle in the first place.

On Friday I had gone out at La Jolla Shores, a beautiful, 90 degree day in May which is very unusual. The wind was very high but the sea was as calm as a bath tub. Tiny ankle slapper waves made it easy to maneuver the 12 foot board out past the surf and I was able to hop right up and start paddling the gentle swells over unusually clear water. If the paddle stayed this good, I was going to be one happy mermaid. I saw a long distance swimmer about a mile away and noticed s/he had some extra activity around him. As I looked closer I saw that it was birds, but I also saw a tiny object jump from the water and gracefully land back in it. S/He had a dolphin following him/her! Several! They looked tiny from such a distance but I knew better and was so envious of his/her incredible swim experience. S/He was out where I was thinking of going anyway, so I headed that direction in a leisurely way, figuring the pod would be long gone by the time I got there.

As I went, I could see the dolphins frisking around him/her for quite a while and then I got distracted by a couple of curious seals. I kept paddling in the same direction but I had lost sight of the swimmer and the pod. I was headed to a buoy off the end of the Scripps Pier and getting close when I saw one of the dolphins break the water again, heading my way. This was a smaller, different dolphin than we were used to seeing out there. It was darker with a light patch on its side and seemed more inclined to jump out of the water and zoom quickly, acrobatically underwater. There were about fifteen of them heading in my direction and they all came close, jumping when they reached me, sometimes in pairs, zooming under my board, chattering that dolphin squeak and churning up the water. They circled a couple times. It felt like they were checking me out. I felt like I could not play to their satisfaction and then they wandered off, leaving a couple seals behind to look at me expectantly. If I had better balance skills I would have been jumping up and down on my board in excitement. We had seen two or three dolphins at a time before, bottlenose or common, breaking the surface calmly, circling a bit as they pass by, but nothing like this. I was dying to tell Dan, and see if we could find them again so he could experience it.

When I got home Dan was as jealous as I had feared. Saturday was a repeat in weather and I thought we might get lucky and run into them again so we headed down to the Shores to try. The conditions were just as fantastic, which was good because I was a little fatigued from Friday’s paddle. We headed out to where I had seen them and there was no sign of them. We went all the way out to the rough water line where a deep sea cliff starts and then headed back over to the La Jolla Cove. I was feeling badly for Dan because we really weren’t getting any mammalian sightings and I had really hoped he could experience that as well. About a half mile off the cove I looked out to sea and saw one dolphin jump out of the water. Ha!

We headed in that direction, they were coming our way too so we took it slow and sure enough they came straight at us. Of course, I can’t tell if it was the same pod, but it was the same kind of dolphin and about the same number in the same vicinity so I would guess it was. Dan’s face expressed exactly what I was feeling, and I’m sure mine did too. They were really jumping as they came at us but then started just swimming around us and under us. The water was really getting churned up and then three seagulls dove right at one of the dolphins. Dan said that they were attacking it, but we quickly realized that they were going after the fish. The dolphins were rounding up a large school of fish right underneath our boards and then swimming through it to catch a meal. The birds were coming to feed off of it too. Next thing we knew there were a couple of seals in on the action as well. They were so bold that we thought we might have company on our boards! It did not seem to bother or slow down the dolphins. We could look down and see the cloud of fish and the dolphins as they swam around and through them. It was amazing. Suddenly something shifted and the dolphins were headed out to sea again. They were jumping and swimming in a straight line. Were they full? Did they get tired of the seals and birds? Did they lose control of the fish? We followed for a bit to see if they were going to pause and round up more fish but they kept going and there was no way we were going to keep pace, or stalk the wildlife.

We looked around and the nearest people were a herd of kayakers about three quarters of a mile away over by the sea caves by La Jolla Cove. The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club at the Shores was probably a mile and a half paddle away and we were all alone out there having had the most amazing sea encounter we had ever had. We couldn’t help but wonder what someone would have thought if they witnessed that interaction through binoculars or a telescope from the shore. When we took up paddling it was my intention to get good enough to be able to paddle out to try and find the whales during the migration off the coast here in San Diego. This experience was more than worth the price of admission!     But, I’m still going to try for the whales…..

The Scariest Bug or the Prettiest Bird

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She’s in there somewhere.

We have been super fortunate to have had a hummingbird mama build a nest in our pygmy palm right outside our kitchen window a few times now. It is within view when we are inside and we can look right in it when we are outside. We like to respect her fierce motherly instincts and keep the peeping to a minimum, as she is pretty clear with her menacing buzzing around our faces when we go near the nest that she is displeased if we linger by her young’uns too long. At least until they show their cute little beaks and she has to go off and gather nectar for them.

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Out of focus, but I was trying to get out fast!

I found the nest when I was getting ready to trim back the palms. She began her impressive kamikaze aerial display aimed primarily at my face and I knew immediately that I needed to inspect very carefully before I did any cutting. She was clearly defending a nest so I did not want to destroy that. I searched and found, buried under a couple of fronds, clinging to the stem of one frond a fragile looking, tiny nest with two perfect little mini jelly bean sized eggs nestled in it. Aha! She has cleverly hidden the nest from view from above, made it difficult for other birds (even for herself) to navigate in to the nest, and has placed it on a flimsy frond that sways in the breeze and would not support a predator’s weight. It looks precarious and fragile but on closer inspection I can see that it is securely fastened to the frond at the bottom with what looks like silky dog fur. Could she have harvested Enzo’s fur from when I brushed him last week on the lawn? Later I am told by my friend and hummingbird expert Nancy that this is actually spider web! They use it to build their nest, secure it to the branch and it expands nicely as the chicks grow. Could that be any more like a fairy tale?

 

Double blessing for me! I didn’t have to trim the palms and we get to watch the nest. We consider this a real honor and gift and decided this time we are going to document the process and share with our friends because not many people get a look inside the nest of a hummingbird. It seemed like the egg stage lasted a long time. It was probably at most, three weeks, but we were anxious for that fragile stage to be over and for proof of life. Mama was an excellent sitter. She patiently remained there while we did the dishes just feet away, while Enzo frolicked underneath her, when the wind picked up and blew her and the eggs back and forth and when we couldn’t resist any longer and peeked in to see how she was doing.


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There they are!

 

Then one day she wasn’t sitting. I rushed out to peek in and was horrified to see a couple little black blobs in the bottom of the nest and thought that a predator had gotten the eggs. It looked like Mama had pooped and left. Until one of the poops moved a little. Those little blobs were the chicks! Tiny little babies had hatched and there was no eggshell to be seen anywhere. Not in the nest, the fronds or on the ground. Did Mama take them somewhere else to camouflage where her chicks were? Speaking of Mama, she came buzzing back in a hurry and I was out of there! She had tiny little mouths to feed. Not even long beaks yet, unrecognizable as hummingbirds these little blobs were hungry and had a lot of growing to do, which meant Mama had a lot of nectar gathering to do! She fed them and settled in, still covering them in the nest. There she stayed until her next nectar excursion. It was, for the next few days, difficult to catch a glimpse of the chicks, as Mama was mostly sitting the nest.

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Hungry little blobs with very un-hummingbird-like beaks! Thing One and Thing Two

One of my favorite things as a child was to interact with the birds in our backyard.  We had some bluejays that were particularly motivated by peanuts and became tame enough, or greedy enough to land on my hand and take them.  I was later able to look into their nest when they had chicks and witness this process with them and it is something I will never forget.  My friend Nancy has a daughter, Avery who is almost 3.  We had a chance to show her the babies and she was so perfectly gentle and careful with them and the nest, resulting in this precious moment.

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Avery meets Thing One and Thing Two

After about a week, Mama was gone more and we could peek in at Thing One and Thing Two more often. They had grown substantially, they were getting a more hummingbird-like beak and each time we peeked at them it triggered their “feed me” response and those beaks opened up to big orange mouths that were so vivid against their little brown bodies. By now, Mama could only feed them and sit beside them on the nest. They had crowded her out and were keeping each other warm and she was spending much more time gathering their food.

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No room for Mama

Over the next week or so the story remained the same. Mama was busy, the Things were growing fast. We could now see their heads outside the nest like Mama’s used to be when she was sitting eggs. They were almost as big as her now. Then one morning I noticed the gleam of a little color on their wings, and when one of them moved a little I saw that they had almost got their flight feathers. It will be any time now and we will be empty nesters. Sigh. One last picture, a few words of encouragement for them and praise for Mama. Gratitude offered to nature for giving us this opportunity and keeping them safe. The next morning, they were gone!

 

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Here today…

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…..gone tomorrow.

I can never see a hummingbird without thinking about one of my favorite stories my mom would tell. When she and my dad moved to San Diego from Michigan in the 1950’s she had never seen a hummingbird before. She was out in the backyard hanging some laundry and heard a buzzing sound. I get my unease around insects honestly, from my mom. She looked around frantically to determine what was making that loud buzzing, figuring it had to be some kind of hideous insect. She saw a huge, winged insect with a long stinger headed straight for her and just lost it! Biggest, scariest bug she had ever seen and it was moving fast. She ran in the house screaming for Dad and refused to go back out again until he would go first and she could hide behind him. They looked all over the yard, couldn’t find the beast so he settled down to stay with her while she finished hanging the laundry because, believe me, she was NOT going to be left alone out there until that thing was ENDED. Eventually the sound of the invading force returned and Mom was ready to retreat, all the way to Michigan!! Dad stood his ground until he saw the source of the terror and then ending up taking a seat on it laughing so hard. Mom was terrified of a hummingbird. It’s understandable, really, if you think of the bird as an insect it absolutely is terrifying. Once Mom got over the horror of the idea that it was an insect and wrapped her head around the idea that it was a bird they became one of the most beautiful things to her in her newly adopted city and she planted things in the yard that would attract them. Two things I love best about that story: Mom’s willingness to laugh at herself, and the concept of perception so clearly illustrated.

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