Monday, March 27, 2017

Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom

I knew there would be wildflowers during this year's "superbloom" in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I'd been there before this time of year. I'd seen flowers there before.

But each wildflower season is different at Anza-Borrego, so I knew whatever I saw this year wouldn't be the same as what I'd seen previous years.

As I came into town via the Montezuma Grade, I couldn't remember whether I'd ever seen it with such an explosion of color.

Then again, it had been a few years since I'd been to Borrego Springs. I couldn't even remember if the Montezuma Grade was the way I'd come down into the park before.

But one of the differences with the landscape in this area—which is California's largest state park—is how green everything is this year.

There's plenty of water in the pond at the Club Circle Golf Course—which means there are also plenty of birds (including a nice and plump Sora rail / Porzana carolina, which is normally quite secretive and elusive).

I stood under a palm tree for a long time, arms outstretched up over my head, trying to capture a male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) with my lens.

Although it's one of the most abundant and least endangered birds in pretty much all of North America, it's also one that you might not expect to see in the desert, since it prefers soggier areas.

But if there was any question whether or not we were in the desert on our bird walk (part of the annual Borrego Springs Desert Birding Festival, from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association), it took just one glance down pretty much anywhere to be reminded by the abundance of desert lilies (Hesperocallis undulate).

We were also treated to the perching behavior of Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna), which are common in these parts but unique to the Pacific Coast in terms of U.S. distribution.

If you catch them just right in the sunlight, you can see the fancy, jewel-toned males with their iridescent green chests and bright, reddish-pink throats...

...though they were actually named by French ornithologist René Primevère Lesson after Anne d'Essling, courtier to the last empress of the French monarchy, Eugénie de Montijo.

Less spectacular were the greenish Lesser goldfinches (Spinus psaltria)...

...and some of the more common songbirds of the desert, like a male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and a (non-breeding, I believe) male house sparrow (Passer domesticus).

But, for me, the real triumph of our birding excursion was to see a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in its nest, high up in the crown of leaf scars, presumably with some owlets underneath and out of sight.

I hadn't planned on birding while I was in Borrego Springs for the wildflowers, but I was fortunate enough to have been invited to join a group of birders on their search—and nimble enough to squeeze it into my already too-short itinerary out in the desert.

I can't believe I hadn't birded Anza-Borrego before!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hellhole Canyon, Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: Wilson Peak Via Pinyon Ridge
Photo Essay: The Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: The Creatures That Conquered the Desert
Photo Essay: Bristlecone Pine Cabins at the Deserted Mexican Mine

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Photo Essay: The New Wilshire Grand, In Progress

I'm usually rushing to see a building before it closes or gets demolished...

...but this this weekend, I had the rare treat of getting a sneak preview of a landmark-in-the-making before it's completed in May and opens in June.

This is the site of the "new" Wilshire Grand Center in Downtown LA's financial district.

Topped by stainless steel spire, the 1100-foot glass skyscraper is not only the tallest building in LA (beating out the U.S. Bank Tower, though just barely)...

...but also the tallest west of the Mississippi.

Rising up just 73 floors, it hasn't got the most floors of any of its peer towers—but each of its floors are pretty tall.

The $1.2 billion project is slated to become the home of the Intercontinental luxury hotel chain...

...and replaces the former Hotel Statler from 1950 (which later became the Statler Hilton, then the Omni Hotel, then the Wilshire Grand), which was deconstructed in 2012.

In addition to the nearly 900 hotel rooms, the skyscraper will also feature a number of public spaces from which you can take in the view...

...which includes the roofs of flat-topped buildings that were never meant to be seen from above (and are downright dwarfed by this new, pointy behemoth).

In addition to the hotel's "sky lobby" on the 70th floor, there will also be an indoor bar and steakhouse restaurant... well as a heated outdoor bar.

But even inside the skyscraper, you won't be able to avoid the outdoors or natural light—whether you're standing under the swooping skylight...

...or working out in the fitness center, with its 11-foot windows.

An LED curtain will be installed into these window frames to illuminate the tower at night.

The high-speed elevators up to the 70th floor aren't functional yet, but reportedly their ascent will take just 45 seconds.

Even the service elevators were pretty speedy, as they brought us to the hotel's soon-to-be meeting rooms, grand ballroom...

...and other areas that aren't quite ready for their close-up yet.

Appropriately, the architectural design firm behind the project is AC Martin—also responsible for LA's first "skyscraper," our current City Hall.

As I told the woman on our tour who'd asked me if I was an architect, "I'm a historian—and this is history in the making."

The new Wilshire Grand certainly stands out among its neighbors at Figueroa and 7th Streets, and not just because of its height.

Using a mixture of classic design elements like glazed terra-cotta tiles and marble...

...alongside modern and technologically-advanced uses of concrete and steel (including elevators that supposedly can be used during a fire evacuation), it's almost retro-futuristic.

The project is actually owned by Korean Air, which may explain why the shape of the high-rise evokes a very shiny wing of a commercial jet.

Of course, they might've made it too shiny, as they're already getting complaints about its blinding reflections. (Here we go again...)

It can be hard to see what something will become, if you see it just in its early stages of development. But fortunately, the Wilshire Grand is actually almost done—and so far, it's pretty true to its renderings.

I wonder, though, what this building will mean to us in the future. Will it become known as someone's folly—a great expression of hubris that no one could ever see reflected in all those mirrored surfaces?

Or will Downtown LA watch its wide open spaces slowly close in on themselves as the area becomes more and more claustrophobically crowded with monolithic clusters, coming to signify some imminently dystopian metropolis?

I guess only time will tell.

Related Posts:
Downtown LA's Upwards Build into the Open Air
Photo Essay: Transforming the View of LA
Photo Essay: City Hall at Sunset
Photo Essay: The Locked Chapels of Rose Hills
Photo Essay: Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall

A Wild Parrot of The City of Roses

There's an organization based in eastern San Diego County called SoCal Parrot that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases wild parrots that are down on their luck.

And quite often, it happens in Pasadena—where hundreds of exotic birds have gone feral, though their ancestors were likely domesticated (and somehow got out).

The problem with a San Diego-based organization rescuing injured and displaced birds in Pasadena is, quite simply, the drive. There's just too much traffic and too many birds reported too many times to keep shuttling back and forth. the entire way.

So, being just 20 minutes away from Pasadena yesterday, I found myself volunteering to relay a wayward male parrot (probably an Amazona autumnalis) from a shelter to a meeting point in Riverside County, where I'd hand him off in his little cardboard carrier to the next person in the relay, who'd bring him the rest of the way to the town of Jamul.

Now, I know that this little guy is a wild animal and is only habituated to humans from afar. I know that he wouldn't make a good pet and that if that cardboard box weren't between us, he'd likely bite and scratch me.

But I couldn't help getting a little attached to him during our two-hour drive together.

He watched me through one of the air holes in the box as I sang to the radio and intermittently told him he was going to be OK. He didn't fight. He didn't squawk. He played a little with the small towel that the shelter had placed in there with him for comfort; and, at one point, I could see him perching upside down inside the box, his claws and beak making the rounds from the various holes on the top and the sides.

Before I'd picked him up, I'd been regretting signing up for the task. I hadn't slept well. I'd already had a full day and already had encountered a number of closed lanes, car accidents, and other freeway slowdowns; so, the last thing I wanted was to spend another (potentially) four hours behind the wheel.

And it wasn't an emergency, per se. His condition was stable. He'd eaten some fruit earlier in the day, and he'd been perching. He just wasn't flying.

But, more importantly, he was lost. He'd been separated from his flock. And he was going to need some help.

The key for me was keeping him wild. He's not going to be kept as a pet, and—if he gets flying again—he's not going to get stuck inside some "forever home" sanctuary where he'll pick himself bald.

If and when he's well enough, he'll get a new family of other rescued and rehabilitated parrots of the same or similar species and around the same age.

Then, that group will get released into an existing flock in the wild.

Hopefully, the new flock won't reject them.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: An Orphanage for Contraband Pets
A Safe Place, Far from Home
To the Rescue

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Photo Essay: The Creatures That Conquered the Desert

I'd seen some dinosaurs and other rusted metal sculptures out in the middle of nowhere in Anza-Borrego when I first visited back in 2009, but I didn't take particular note of them. They just seemed like they belonged in the desert.

But then I met their artist, Ricardo Breceda, when I visited his studio a couple of years ago—and after that, I started seeing his monumental wildlife all over Southern California.

So, it's been tough to forget that there were a bunch more of them that I'd missed out on, having given them only a passing glance in the fleeting moments of me passing by in my car.

But my recent trip back to Anza-Borrego to report on the wildflower "superbloom" was the perfect opportunity to make up for the missed opportunity...

...and to kill two birds with one stone by spotting blooms and beasts, all together in one place.

Seeing these wild animals all clustered together at the studio is one thing...

...but it's an entirely different thing to see them in situ.

The landscape behind them desaturates... they jump out into the foreground... some creature from some black lagoon...

...or some monster from some lake.

Since they first started appearing in 2008, they've seamlessly made the desert their home...

...rising up from some underworld beneath the sand...

...ready to lash out at this new world that greets them.

The sheet metal sculptures in this wild animal kingdom are supposedly based on what's been discovered in the longest continuous fossil record in North America, right here in Anza-Borrego.

If anything like these creatures actually roamed above ground here once...

Screenshot of "The Monster That Challenged the World" from DVDTalk

...who knows what long-buried monstrosities a little seismic activity could open the door for?!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Metal Menagerie of Wild Animals
Photo Essay: A Treasure Trove of Roadside Dinosaurs
Photo Essay: The Living Ghost of Yermo
Photo Essay: A Roadside Cactus Ranch in Reseda