Sara Godwin

Archive for the ‘hummingbirds’ Category

The Insider’s San Francisco …

In Antiques, Baby Boomers, Grandparent, hummingbirds, Kids, Luxury, Parent, San Francisco, Travel, Women's Travel on April 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Take an extra day or two before and after your business trip and explore San Francisco, referred to by locals as ‘The City’ as though there were no other. And there isn’t, at least, not another city like San Francisco.  Here’s a collection of (mostly) free stuff to do that you really shouldn’t miss.

 

Wave Organ • The Wave Organ, a natural acoustic experience listening to the sound of San Francisco Bay, is located at the east end of the Marina jetty at San Francisco Marina behind the St.Francis Yacht Club. Built like a hobbit house with benches, the Wave Organ has quirky little nooks and crannies for listening to the sound of the water swirling in and out of   variously shaped pipes, pianissimo or allegro, echoed or amplified. Rhythmic, soothing, it’s a lovely place to just sit in the sun and let the seagulls provide the counter-point. It’s best at high tide, but barring that, try for sunset and watch the sun disappear into the Pacific Ocean behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

South Park • South Park is a little piece of Paris tucked between Second and Third Streets, not far from AT&T Park. The entire park is currently undergoing a major renovation that includes new trees, new turf, shiny new architecturally innovative play equipment , as well as new benches and picnic tables.  Word on the street is that the beautifully redesigned space will open to the public at the end of February, 2017.

Once the chain link fencing comes down, you can channel Cate Blanchett in ’Blue Jasmine’ by sitting on the bench where Jasmine quietly divorced reality at the end of the film. You’ll find that bench  at the end of the park closest to Second Street, across from the Mexican restaurant.

A small urban island of spreading trees, bright flowers, green grass, and sunny benches, filled with children playing and people walking dogs of every shape and size, it is reminiscent of the jewel-like parks that contribute so much of the charm of  Parisian neighborhoods.

The seriously Parisian part is at the hyper-trendy The Butler and The Chef bistro at the opposite end of the park, open only for breakfast and lunch. The French toast is made with brioche and the ham quiche has huge chunks of Parisian ham. Try not to swoon.

• Budget time for great budget shopping at San Francisco’s best insider shopping destinations: The best consignment shop ever is Goodbyes (actually two shops across the street from each other) at 3464 Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights. Goodbyes carries popular brands (Gap, J.Jill, Chico), American designers (Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Michael Kors), and the serious stuff: Chanel, Dior, and Armani as well as a wild variety of boots and shoes.  The vintage selections include designer purses, capes, coats,  and furs.  Meander down Sacramento Street wherever you will.   The shops are uniformly wonderful, offering everything from custom bathing suits  to hand-embroidered baby clothes to raincoats and warm sweaters for dogs.

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• Want more shopping?   Designer shops featuring everything from clothes to home furnishings, from antiques to boutiques, from sidewalk cafes to busy restaurants are found on Fillmore Street. Walk either direction from Sacramento and Fillmore. Union Street between Gough and Divisidero Streets is chock-full of art galleries, interior design shops, luxury day spas, and great local hangouts like Perry’s (1944 Union Street; 415/922-9022) or the Balboa Café (3199 Fillmore at Greenwich; 415/921-3944). Do a bit of time travel at  the 1861 Octagon House at  2645 Gough Street at Union Street  (415/441-7512). It’s only open on second Sundays, and second and third Thursdays of the month, from 12:noon to 3:pm, and the house is furnished in period antiques.  Don’t miss the charming park-like garden just behind the Octagon House;  It’s a great place to spot hummingbirds when the fuchsias are in bloom.

 

 

 

 

Xanadu• So far, you  haven’t hit a single chain or department store. For those, try Union Square, on Post and Geary Streets between Powell and Mason. Make it an authentically San Francisco experience by wandering down Maiden Lane on the east side of Union Square. Check out  the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in San Francisco at 140 Maiden Lane for a uniquely dramatic take on how commercial space should be designed.

• Just a couple of blocks off Union Square is a treasure house of rare books: Antiquarian book dealer Richard Haines’ bookshop, Argonaut (876 Sutter Street between Bush and Jones). Argonaut houses a superb collection rare books, maps, and ephemera of San Francisco and early California. Neat note: Argonaut was the inspiration for the bookstore in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’; as Hitchcock himself put it, “This is what a bookshop should be.” Give yourself ample time to browse; once you’re there, it’s hard to tear yourself away.

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• The hottest spot in town  is Valencia Street in the Mission District. It’s a wild and wonderful mix of hot new eateries, pop-up stores, funky second-hand shops (one of which shares space with a bike rental shop called Public), traditional Hispanic markets with outdoor produce displays featuring tropical fruits and vegetables , and the best hot chocolate place on the planet. Go to Dandelion (740 Valencia;415/349-0942), on Valencia between 18th and 19th Streets, and order the European hot chocolate.   

It’s a mouthful of ecstasy. Serious chocolate occurs in other forms as well, but the European hot chocolate qualifies as an epicurean epiphany. (Photo credit:  M. DeCoudreaux)

Scallop Chairs

 

• At the opposite end of Valencia is STUFF (up toward Market Street, at 150 Valencia Street; 415/864-2988), a huge antiques collective with three stories of, well, stuff, from mid-century furniture to name designer costume jewelry to Japanese fishing net floats to stainless steel plated custom office furniture to architectural artifacts, and this description barely scratches the surface. They always have coffee, and often have cookies or cake free for the nibbling. STUFF Jewelry

• Speaking of eating, San Francisco has some of this country’s best food, bar none. The James Beard Foundation recently named Chef Charles Phan’s Slanted Door Restaurant at the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street the best restaurant in America.

Use OpenTable.com (http://www.OpenTable.com) to book your table well in advance of arrival; reservations are notoriously hard to score.

For a local neighborhood feel, hit the 102-year-old landmark Swan Oyster Depot at 1517 Polk Street (Open 8:am – 5:30pm; 415/673 – 2757) on Russian Hill. Swan’s offers every type of oyster known to man as well as San Francisco’s native Dungeness crab, shrimp, and a superb clam chowder. Go early: There are only 20 stools at the bar. Lunchtime almost always has a line out the door, but it moves quickly.

• After decades at the corner of Valencia and Market Street, the immense art supplies shop called Flax (415/552-2355) has moved into space at Fort Mason. If you love paper, notebooks, journals, diaries, Filofax, Moleskine, sketch books, water colors, fountain pens, great pencils, and all the other tools and accoutrements of putting your heart on paper, you will fall hopelessly, helplessly in love at Flax. Click on the link for  their website at www.flaxart.com to see the scale of their offerings. If you’re smart,  you’ll take along two friends:  One  to hold your wallet, and the other to carry a crow bar to pry you out of there at closing time.

The visitors bonus they never even mention? The Fort Mason location offers glorious views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and a very good chance to spot sea lions and harbor seals, not to mention seagulls and pelicans.  Just steps away from Flax, dine at Greens, the nationally recognized vegetarian restaurant. With a seat by the window, you can watch  yachts maneuver in and out of the San Francisco Marina, and container ships putting out to sea.

You are going to love discovering San Francisco!

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The Best-Kept Birding Secret in the United States

In Baby Boomers, Birding, hummingbirds, Texas, Travel, Weather, Wildlife, Women's Travel on October 1, 2013 at 9:27 pm

This migratory green jay shows off  brilliant plumage

This migratory green jay shows off brilliant plumage

Green jay from another  angle in McAllen, Texas

Green jay from another angle in McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Southwest Texas is an edgy sort of place, located on the edges of Mexico and the U.S., along the edge of the Rio Grande, at the edge of land and water,  just 70 miles west of the Gulf Coast, at the southern edge of the continent.  Here,  Mexican, Tejano, and Anglo cultures, English and Spanish, swirl and blend into a melange best known as Tex-Mex. This cultural potpourri makes for great food — think chimichangas, carne asada, and horchata. Here, fertile river delta irrigated farmland bumps up against native thorn forest. And then there is the wild life, whether you’re talking ‘wild life’ as in trendy bistros and bars, or ‘wildlife’ as in javelinas, bobcats and birds.

Boarding a flight to an airport I’d never heard of — Harlingen, Texas — en route to a city I’d never heard of — McAllan, Texas — I’m on my way to see chachalacas, green jays,  and the buff-bellied hummingbird, all of which

I ‘ve heard of,  but none of which I’ve seen. This is the great lure of birding: There are always birds as yet unseen.

According to the American Birding Association (http://www.aba.org),   it is possible to see 976  different species of birds within the boundaries of the United States.  Of that number,  more than half — 521 species, or 53%  —  can be spotted in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  That  fact  may very well make McAllan, Texas the best-kept birding secret in the whole United States.  You could make an excellent case that a trip to McAllan qualifies as the best-spent  travel dollar in the country for birders, from beginners to life-listers. (Life-listers are the sporting category of birders, those who are sufficiently serious and organized to keep a list of every species of bird they’ve ever seen, where and when they saw it, and whether it was male or female, or in juvenile plumage or mature, resident or in migration.)

McAllan is also unusual in that it attracts a remarkable number of ‘marquee’ birds, those that are spectacularly colored, such as the green jay (emerald green back, purple and violet head), or of exceptional size and drama, such the crested caracara (with a four foot wing span), or of great rarity, such as the Northern jacana (best known for walking on lily pads). I have not yet even touched on heart-stopping  birds, like the roseate spoonbill, or the wood stork, or any of the 24 species of hawks and eagles, nor even the ones with weird names like the jabiru or the whimbrel, or the barred antshrike. Many of the birds are Neo-tropic, migratory birds that fly thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in South America, Central America, and Mexico. For a lot of these birds, McAllan is the northernmost point of their range, the place where they breed and nest,  and the only place in the United States where they can be seen.   Is this a good way to spend your travel dollar? Well, it’s a whole lot less expensive than a trip to South America.

Here are the sorts of notes that get posted about McAllan on the American Birding Association website:

“Added: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
Code: 5.
Placement: after Least Bittern.
Comments: One thought to be in second-basic plumage at Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park, Hidalgo County, Texas, from 21 December 2009 to 20 January 2010. Discovered and photographed by Rick Nirschl and Rick Snider, and observed by the hundreds during its month-long stay (Nirschl and Snider 2010).”

The World Birding Center (www.theworldbirdingcenter.com ) is headquartered at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park.  Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park is one of nine birding sites operated by the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley, and it’s a birder’s delight.   More than 300 species of birds have been documented there, and at the peak of the spring hawk migration, it is possible to stand on the Hawk Observation Tower (ADA accessible) and see as many as 10,000 hawks a day. The migration starts in late March, and you can time your visit for the peak by checking the website and calling the park   (956/584-9156).  The rangers can give you a 7 to 10 day window that will make sure you’re in attendance for one of the greatest raptor shows on earth. Besides the raptors, spring migrants include the vividly colored green jay and chattering flocks of chachalacas. Feeding stations with viewing benches and well-maintained trails practically guarantee birding success.

Fall has only just begun, the Autumnal Equinox has barely passed, but now is the time to start planning your ‘I’m tired of winter’ escape.  By March you’ll be longing for a warm place to go, and McAllen, Texas is the place to do it.  The weather is comfortable, clear, and sunny, perfect for both snowbirds and migratory birds.  It’s the place to see species not found farther North, including a species none of us on my birding expedition ever expected to see:  One magnificent bobcat!

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

For lots more birding sites in and near McAllen, click on this link: