Sunday, January 04, 2004

Exploding Pickup Truck, Aftermath Of California Trip

Last night I got to watch a pickup truck explode into flames while eating a Big Mac at the McDonald's on Tram Road. The detonating truck was located in one of the bays at the adjacent carwash. Don't know how the fire started. There was an explosion and fire, the hurried unloading of an ATV, and then the entire vehicle was engulfed in flames. Cops and firemen arrived while I ate my hamburger, and on my way to work I passed more emergency vehicles enroute to the scene.

The day after Christmas I flew out to San Jose. Had a good visit with friends and family, did some sightseeing, and satisfied my desire for calamari, Togos sandwiches, and Round Table Pizza (yes, there are some things about northern California that I definitely miss!). For the first time I got to participate in the Calero-Morgan Hill Christmas Bird Count without the burden of organizing the whole damn thing. That was nice too. We were more or less rained out in 2001 and 2002, but this winter conditions were almost perfect - no wind or rain to contend with. It wasn't until late in the day that clouds began to roll in, and the next day a major storm arrived, with strong winds and relentless rain. So with regard to weather we were REALLY lucky this time!!!

I started the count while it was still dark, looking & listening for owls. Between 2:45am and dawn I managed to find 1 Barn Owl, 18 Western Screech-Owls, 10 Great Horned Owls, and 1 Northern Pygmy-Owl (only the Barn Owl and 1 Western Screech-Owl were actually seen, and, as usual, the pygmy-owl was only briefly vocal at first light). As I concluded owling along Hicks Road I heard a Winter Wren (a new addition to my Almaden Valley list). From my owling route I drove to Morgan Hill to meet my party for the rest of the count. It turned out to be a good day - highlights included a pair of American Avocets in Morgan Hill (a first for the count!), Bald Eagle & Rock Wren at Anderson Reservoir, and a Merlin at Edenvale Garden Park (amazingly, the only one recorded on the count this year!). The countdown was held at the barn next to my parent's house, and Ann Verdi did a great job of organizing everything. Our species total of 146 apparently tied our previous record.

Jolene and I drove to San Francisco the next day, despite heavy rain and high winds. Considering the bad weather we figured we would have the California Academy of Sciences all to ourselves. Well we couldn't be more wrong! We discovered that on the 31st of December the academy was slated to close its doors in Golden Gate Park for renovation until 2008! The entry fee had been waived and the place was totally packed! We had to park at a great distance, and got pretty well drenched coming and going. But it was nice having a last look at the old academy. We took in one of the last Planetarium shows using the old star projector (which will be replaced with a spiffy new model when the planetarium reopens). It was an emotional parting for the lady presenting the program - when she talked about closing the planetarium and saying goodbye to it's famous star projector she got all choked up.

On New Year's Eve I caught an earlier flight back to Houston so I could spend the evening with my new girlfriend, Lisa. After a very pleasant trip to California (and much appreciated break from work) coming home couldn't have been better. Had a great time on New Year's Eve, and on New Year's Day we drove out to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge to try a little birding. The birding thing was a new experience for Lisa, and seemed to be a bit overwhelming (or possibly just boring) for her. We did see alligators and some neat birds, like Neotropic Cormorants, Black-bellied & Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Snow Geese, White & White-faced Ibises, Roseate Spoobills, and a Gull-billed Tern.

Now I'm back to working graveyard shifts in Port Arthur and sleeping by day...the usual routine...


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