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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Birding Cherry Creek

May 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

Cherry Creek seemed too urban. If I thought of it at all, it was about the upscale shopping center of that name. As a bird flies, Cherry Creek State Park is six miles from downtown Denver, the center of a metropolitan area where more than three million people live. More people visit this park — 1,500,000 annually — than any of the other forty-four Colorado state parks.

So even though the park is less than 40 miles from my home in Boulder, I had never visited it before this week. Sharon, my usual hiking buddy, hadn’t either.

Cherry Creek Reservoir, dammed in 1950 to protect Denver from flooding, is the centerpiece of the park. But it also includes wetlands, marsh areas, rolling grasslands, and wooded glades, all of which attracts a great variety of birds and birders, Sharon and me included.

Because the dam is so high we didn’t see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver. Except for some traffic noise, which I was able to block by turning down my hearing aids, the park seemed like an oasis in the city. We didn’t even see the dam or the reservoir for most of the five hours we visited the park.

We made sure to arrive before sunrise at 6 a.m., and by doing so we avoided heavy traffic and had the park mostly to ourselves of much of our visit. This is the time when people are least active and birds most active.

We saw too many species of birds to count. We saw many of them on the ground or water and also in the air. One of my most loved birds took off when I approached it, but I didn’t mind:

​A Snowy Egret Takes Off from Its Perch

A Snowy Egret Takes Off from Its Perch

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We spotted the Snowy as it fished along a creek. But just a few feet away we saw another of our favorite birds high in a tree.

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Birding Chatfield

April 25th, 2015 · No Comments

Chatfield State Park is more than 40 miles south of where I live in Boulder, Colorado. To get there at sunrise on a spring morning meant getting up before 4 a.m., but the birding there this week made it worth the effort.

As my friend Sharon and I approached the park we searched for Burrowing Owls. We eventually saw four of them, but they were too far away for photographs. Much closer, however, were hundreds of Western Meadowlarks, a species of birds that is a delight both to human eyes and ears.

​A Western Meadowlark at Dawn

A Western Meadowlark at Dawn

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Two miles further we arrived at the park where a road circles a large reservoir has dammed the South Platte River since 1976 to stop the river from flooding Denver as it had in 1933, 1935, 1942, and 1965. We hadn’t been to the park since last December when we looked for and found a Yellow-billed Loon — a rare visitor to Colorado — on the reservoir.

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A Brood of Three Owlets

April 24th, 2015 · 5 Comments

For weeks I have been watching a nearby nest where a pair of Great Horned Owls made a nest to raise three owlets. For probably a dozen years that pair has been using the same dead cottonwood tree as their nest, and I have been watching them since 2010.

Last year the first of the owlets fledged on April 14.​ This year the first one waited a week, and I found it in a tree just a few feet from the nest.

​A Great Horned Owlet on its First Day of Fledged Freedom​​

A Great Horned Owlet on its First Day of Fledged Freedom

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​Adult ​Great Horned ​O​wls start nesting in January. The female will incubate the eggs ​for about four to five weeks ​while her mate brings her food. ​When the eggs hatch, moma owl doesn’t have to stay on the nest, but she is never far away. She was always ready to protect her young from crows or other birds that hate owls or ​from ​any ​predator that want​s​ a ​tender​ meal.

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Seacliff State Beach

March 26th, 2015 · No Comments

When I arrived at the beach, the sky was dark with a heavy cloud cover. But it was late in the day, and I could see a patch of clear sky on the western horizon and knew that in a few minutes the sun would drop down below the level of the clouds. For a half hour before the sun sank into the ocean it offered me a glorious vista.

I was at Seacliff State Beach off the coast of Aptos, California, where I had lived for almost five years before moving to Colorado. Visiting my friends John and Vicky, I had borrowed one of their cars for a last look at the ocean I missed so much.

​The S.S. Palo Alto Docked at the Aptos Pier

The S.S. Palo Alto Docked at the Aptos Pier

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Built at the end of World War I to be an oil tanker, this is this is the most famous concrete ship on the west coast and is the subject of David Heron’s book, Forever Facing South: The Story of the S. S. Palo Alto “the Old Cement Ship” of Seacliff Beach.

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From the Skyline to the Sea

March 25th, 2015 · No Comments

​It was more than seven years ago that John and I had hiked to Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. ​But that was a hike that neither of us will ever forget.

​On a sunny day in early February 2008​ the two of us blithely set off from the trailhead at the park’s visitor center with the intention of walking about four miles along the famous Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail until we reached the falls. It was an arduous hike, requiring us to crawl over several fallen redwoods and to climb up and down more than 1,000 feet to get over and out of the Big Basin, but we made it to the falls a little before 4 p.m. that day.

​The trip rewarded us with a photo of the falls that John liked so much that he had note cards printed up. Each of still use them.

We lingered at the falls, the most spectacular scene on the hike. When we decided to return to the car, we decided to take the long way back. To see a different scene.

We made a loop hike when we returned via the longer Sunset Trail, even though that meant a hike totaling 10.2 miles that day. ​We did see the sun set on the Sunset Trail, but we were only about two-thirds of the way back to the trailhead. We also saw a fire smoldering in an old redwood tree that John still talks about and reported at the ranger station when we returned.

​But for the last two hours or so of the hike we didn’t see much of anything. It was a pitch-dark night and we had either left our flashlights behind or the batteries were dead. What I remember most from that time was my fear that we would have to spend the night in the woods, because the trail just stopped. In the blackness of the forest we stumbled around looking for a way through the forest, and finally John found a way around what was a fallen tree blocking the trail.​

This time we decided to do it right. I think that John had a flashlight this time, and I made sure to have one as well as spare batteries. And this time we decided to hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail all the way from the visitor center down to the ocean. Normally that would have required two cars, but Vicky made it easy for us by dropping us off at the visitor station about 10 a.m. and picking us up at the end of the trail just after 7 p.m.

We were slow, but we had hiked at least 13 miles, and John’s pedometer said it was considerably more. I don’t know how accurate that measurement was, but I don’t doubt that John walked the 39,000 steps the pedometer said he did as I went beside him. Not bad for a couple of senior citizens, one of 82 years and the other of 79.

​Normally I hike with my Canon 7D mounted with a Canon 100-400mm lens as well as with a Canon 7D mounted with a wide-angle lens, each of which I carry on a photographer’s vest called a Cotton Carrier (and with a couple of other lenses in my fanny pack). But I knew that the more than 10 pounds this rig weighs would be a strain on my shoulders. So I borrowed John’s iPhone 6 Plus and used it to take all of the shots in this photo essay, while he carried my basic cell phone. This way each of us could call for help if we got separated, assuming that we were in cell phone range. But for essentially all of the day, we weren’t.

​The hike started easy at first as we walked along a placid stream.

​Opal Creek Near the Start of Our Hike

Opal Creek Near the Start of Our Hike

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Then we had to climb. And climb. Fortunately, I had forgot about the climb.

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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

March 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

When I went back to Santa Cruz last month, I especially wanted to see the majestic redwoods there. My friends John and Vicky live about a mile from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and he goes there almost every day. He took me there three times during my visit.

On one of our visits we stopped first at the Mountain Parks Foundation Store near the trailhead to the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. On the door of the store a large moth was resting next to a sign saying that it was a Cecropia Silkmoth.

Is This a Cecropia Silkmoth?

Is This a Cecropia Silkmoth?

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I don’t know much about moths, but when I got home I looked it up and see that a Cecropia Moth is North America’s largest native moth. But “it is found as far west as the Rocky Mountains,” and we were about 1,000 miles further west. In any case, this is a beautiful moth with a fake eye on its tail (you can see a real eye near the top).

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Back to Elkhorn Slough

March 22nd, 2015 · No Comments

When I returned to Santa Cruz in February, my main purposes were to do a five-day retreat there and to visit with my friend John and his wife Vicky. But when I had visited them last year, John took me on such a fantastic trip on a small motorboat that I hoped he would do it again.

He did! We returned to Elkhorn Slough, one of Northern California’s prime birding and wildlife sites. About halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is noted for the diversity of its species and is located on the Pacific Flyway.

John again asked Brian Ackerman to take us on one of his two-hour ecotours of the slough with his electric-powered launch. Silent and smooth, Captain Brian’s boat would comfortably accommodate up to six passengers, but Brian, John, and I had to all to ourselves for our early morning trip. Brian is a tremendous pilot and guide, freely sharing his knowledge of the sea mammals and birds, and John is a great travel companion.

Captain Brian at the Moss Landing Dock

Captain Brian at the Moss Landing Dock

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A Retreat to Santa Cruz

March 19th, 2015 · No Comments

When I went back to Santa Cruz in February, it was to make a five-day retreat to the nearby Insight Retreat Center. My best friend John lives near Santa Cruz in Felton, and we had hatched that idea in a phone conversation several months earlier.

Between 1995 and 2004 I had lived in Santa Cruz and in nearby Aptos, but I hadn’t known John nor had we practiced Vipassana meditation then. At that time my spiritual practice was centered on Temple Beth El in Aptos and the Congregation Beth David synagogue in Saratoga, while John was senior pastor at the Los Altos United Methodist Church.

I stayed with John and his wife Vicky before and after the retreat for a total of five more days. He picked me up at the San Jose airport, returned me there when I went back to Colorado, and drove me to the retreat center, picking me up there at the end of the retreat. John and Vicky live only five miles from the retreat center, and by coincidence John had been a member of the board of directors of the organization that sold the facilities to the center.

Looking Up at the Insight Retreat Center​

Looking Up at the Insight Retreat Center

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The only sign that this is a Buddhist center is a Dharma Wheel on the awning over the entrance. A Dharma Wheel is one of the most ancient symbols of Buddhism. No one word can translate Dharma (Sanskrit) or Dhamma (Pali) into English. Its meanings include the laws of nature as well as the teaching of the Buddha about the laws of nature as applied to the problem of human suffering.

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UCR Botanic Gardens

March 17th, 2015 · No Comments

One of my best outings on my family vacation in Southern California during January was a visit to the campus of the University of California, Riverside. My niece Julie and her husband Curt arranged the trip for me.

I had graduated from UCR in January 1960 and hadn’t ever been back there for exactly 55 years. While I do try to stay in the present, I don’t always succeed, but usually am looking ahead rather than back. But this time it was great fun to look back.

When I first enrolled in September 1955, I was one of only a few hundred students on the campus. UCR was conceived as a small college devoted to the liberal arts and had begun only one semester earlier with 127 students. After a year there, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and then studied at the University of Würzburg in Germany for a year but returned in to UCR in September 1958, and got my B.A. degree there in January 1960. By then UCR had more than 1,000 students.

It had changed a bit more in the intervening 55 years. UCR now has more than 21,000 students, including almost 3,000 graduate students. Only a small minority — 17 percent — are white. Asian American and Hispanic students make up two-thirds of the student body.

The Carillon Bell Tower didn’t exist during my years there but is now the dominant landmark in the center of the campus.

​UCR's Carillon Bell Tower from the Botanic Gardens

UCR's Carillon Bell Tower from the Botanic Gardens

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The Botanic Gardens has more than 3,500 species of plants from all over the world. Most of them are native to deserts, which is certainly appropriate considering that Southern California is a desert and is now suffering from the worst drought in its recorded history. Like most of the campus, the gardens didn’t exist until well after I had graduated.
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Newport Harbor

March 16th, 2015 · No Comments

During my family vacation in Southern California during January, my niece Julie arranged several great outings. We went with my sister Liz and my niece Kathy to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where none of us had ever gone before. On that outing I didn’t take any pictures and instead concentrated on looking at some that were quite a bit better than mine. Kathy took this shot of the four of us at the Getty.

Kathy, Me, Liz, and Julie at the Getty

Kathy, Me, Liz, and Julie at the Getty

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Our next outing took us all the way down to the shore of the Pacific Ocean at Newport Beach. Julie arranged for us to rent a small motorboat for a couple of hours as well as arranging for her husband Curt to drive it through Newport Harbor She knows that I especially like to take trips in small boats and this one was a whole lot of fun. Julie’s daughter Samantha, who works in Los Angeles and another young lady who shares the apartment with her, came along for the ride.

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