Archive for the 'Great Migration' Category

San Diego

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Maureen Austin and Jennifer Collins lived in Alpine, about thirty miles east of San Diego, and had very kindly come to the airport to wat for us, when we arrived about midnight. They are both key Committee members of CHIRP.

CHIRP was established to instil respect and preservation of garden wildlife. The group organises a garden tour each year – and this year had organised one especially for us. At their meetings they would discuss organic gardening, low water use, local native and desert plants, planting for birds, hummingibrds, and backyard wildlife and such.

Jen’s home was beautiful, overlooking a desert canyon, but with many attractive plantings to encourage wildlife. We were amazed at the activities of the hummingbirds, finches and other visitors to her feeders.

Maureen and Jen had planned quite a programme for us. We had our own private garden tour and not only the homes, but the gardens were wonderful. Each gardener focussed on saving water and utilising the local specially adapted plants to best advantage. They had planted shade trees as an infrastructure to ensure that there was protection from the elements. They all utilised garden sculptures and art to some extent, and outdoor living rooms were common place. Wonderful! Thank you so much CHIRP for sharing your homes and gardens with us.

That night they had arranged a New Zealand reception for us. We got to meet other members of the CHIRP team and congratulate them on their work.

Our last day in California, and Maureen and Jen had planned a wonderful climax to our trip. We were off to the raptor rehabilitation centre, Sky Hunters.

A not for profit group, Sky Hunters is set up to teach the public about raptor conservation, raptor being birds of prey such as eagles, falcons, hawks and owls.

They give presentations and demonstrations, and teach people what to do if a sick or injured raptor is found, and about the birds’ behaviour. Although Nancy Conney, the director, was away, her husband showed us around and let us photograph the birds that were there. It was a wonderful facility and we will always treasure our visit.

Jen, her husband George and Maureen delivered us to the train station, where we just got to the train in time – only a few seconds to spare. Amtrak provides a great service, getting us to Union Station in LA within a few hours. It was a pleasant trip, interesting scenery outside the window.

At Union Station we caught up with Roger Sutton, lepidopterist visiting from England, and all three of us caught the shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport. It was great to meet him at last and to sit and relax awaiting our Air New Zealand flight.

The trip was over. We had a twelve-hour flight back to Auckland, but thank heavens we were travelling with Air New Zealand. Their service, catering and appointments were above anything else we had encountered.

I confessed to the check in desk that I had a bad earache. They adjusted some of the seating so that Mary and I could spread out and get a good night’s sleep.

At 5am we were back in NZ. Pleased to be back home – but delighted with our three week adventure.

Final daze in Florida

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

The Hampton is a great place to stay. It’s economical, it has all the facilities you could ever want – to me complimentary broadband internet was a big plus – and this includes a complimentary breakfast.

There were several Hamptons in Orlando, but the one we chose was in a huge estate of hotels – roads and roads of multi-storey buildings, all offering accommodation.
We had been up until the early hours packing and repacking. I was exhausted. It was a struggle getting everything in to our bags but I was determined not to leave anything behind. I had such wonderful goodies, souvenirs and gifts for friends and family.

After breakfast we struggled with our bags to the car and drove to the airline terminal. I realised that we were going to have to park the car and then take the bags to check in. We got there without too much difficulty, although we walked right past the check in counter, and found that we could not check in until two hours before. Our flight didn’t leave until later that afternoon. Aargh!

We had too much luggage to have with us throughout the day – espeially as we had to quit the car at 9am – so it was off to Hertz.We had made it to the airport okay, but without the GPS (now packed away) we got lost getting back to Hertz. A GPS unit is an amazing accessory, saving a lot of time and mileage in locating shops and points of interest – and finding the quickest way to and fro. Highly recommended.

The huge Hertz depot was abuzz with people leaving vehicles and taking the shuttle bus every five minutes to the airport. People came and went, as we pulled up we were greated by awoman with an electronic machine who inspected the car for its condition and printed out a receipt.

I asked at the counter if we could leave our bags, but there was nowhere. This was a huge facility – and on one particular day they had processed over 2,000 vehicles! Isn’t that amazing?

I phoned my friends who were driving up from Delray Beach; fortunately they had a huge boot in their car and could take all our luggage. They soon picked us up and we were off to have brunch with them and then explore Orlando. It was wonderful to catch up with Baron and Marcia Degner, who I had guided on a visit to New Zealand about ten years ago.

The TGIF that we lunched at was noisy, but we were able to share a few laughs and catch up. Then we were off to Disney World, a shopping mall offering Disney treats and some delicious sidelines, ice-cream and sodas

All too soon it was time to check in and we were off to San Deigo via Denver, with Frontier Airlines. Orlando International Airport was massive – after going through departure procedure, from the departure lounge, we were taken by shuttle to the aircraft and more shops.

On the shuttle my cellphone rang. It was a call from NZ – I answered it and then never saw my cellphone again. Where it went to was a mystery.

We were off to California.

Florida, Day 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Together with their daughter, Ana, Maggie and Zane had planned a dinner out at the Blue Water Bay Restaurant – wonderful food, lavish helpings. Beautiful fresh fish.

The next day we went once more to the farm to shop and then we were off to visit Edith Smith and her family’s Shady Oak Butterfly Farm, north of Gainesville. Edith and I have emailed each other for many years, so it was great to be able to meet her in person.

If I ever need any information on butterflies, nectar or host plants, or diseases, Edith is one person you can ask, and she’s always ready to help.

She gave us a full guided tour and gave us more ideas on how we could advance the conservation of butterflies, and environmental education in NZ. We shared lunch, delicious food from the local Sunny’s, with the family, before departing to head south to Orlando.

There wasn’t much left of our great adventure – I knew the next few days were going to pass with a blur. That afternoon, on arrival in Orlando and checking in to the local Hampton near the airport, we did a dry run to the departure terminal and Hertz depot. It didn’t help though, with departure the next morning.

And on to Florida…

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

After a wonderful lunch on catfish and other seafood, we said our goodbyes to MaryO and Lonnie and headed for the Okefenokee Swamp.

This is a huge National Wildlife Refuge with the swamp covering 438,000 acres, or about 700 square miles – 38 miles in length at its longest point by 25 miles in width at its widest point.

The swamp is about 7000 years old, a vast peat-filled bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression once part of the ocean floor.

The Suwannee River is the principle outlet – I wondered if this was the ‘Swannee River’ that we had sung about at school. I learned that the word Okefenokee is from the Choctaw Indian words meaning “quivering earth” or “Land of the Trembling Earth” because the unstable peat ground trembles!

The water was the colour of dark tea colour, due to tannic acid from dissolved vegetative material and peat.

We learned that in the Okefenokee Swamp it takes about 50 years for one inch of peat to form at the base of the swamp! The peat ranges in depth from thin layers at the edges of the swamp and islands to more than 15 feet in places.

We didn’t see any dangerous wildlife in the short time we were there – just oodles of butterflies. The further south we travelled, the more common the butterflies were, a wide range of unidentified beauties.

I phoned Zane, to let him know where we were. We estimated our arrival time and got on our way again. Mrs Tom Tom tried to direct us along some tracks in the swamp – we thought better of it and stuck to the highways. They were long stretches of straight road between small towns, and eventually taking us to the Greathouse Butterfly Farm.

Zane and Maggie were there to greet us and gave us a short tour of their wonderful facility. Then they gave us directions to their wonderful lakeside home and we got into the airconditioned comfort to unpack and relax.

It wasn’t long before we were whipped out to dinner. This was Labor Day in the USA, so sadly the chosen restaurants were closed, but they found a diner in the next town. We relaxed and giggled over huge helpings.

Zane is President of the International Butterfly Breeders Association, and very professional about not only the family business but also the aims and objectives of the Association. We are lucky to have someone like him in the chair – his knowledge was extraordinary and he gave us many tips about how we could boost our Monarch population in NZ, and provide better educational opoprtunities for wildlife protection.

We slept soundly that night, and looked forward to a visit to the amazing Butterfly House at the McGuire Centre, Gainesville, the next day.

After a full tour of the Greathouse Butterfly Farm and enjoying the treasures for sale in the gift shop, the educational facilities and the butterfly gardens, we were whisked off in Zane and Maggie’s car for lunch.

“For lunch, is there anything you haven’t tried, that you’d like to?” Zane asked. I was quick to speak up, as Mary still hadn’t had her waffles. They smiled and took us to the Waffle House. The waffles were delicious!

Then it was on to the butterflies. Built in July 2004, the main building of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity is 50,000 square feet in size.
The McGuire Center is said to be the strongest, largest, most secure and most permanent structure ever constructed to house major Lepidoptera collections and their associated research programs, and preserve them indefinitely for posterity.

The Butterfly Rainforest, the living public exhibit facility next door, is a steel-mesh-screened facility built to withstand 170 mph winds (F-3 tornadoes). At the centre they have a collection of over 8,000,000 Lepidoptera specimens, as well as the living cultures of endangered species in our laboratory facilities and the living tropical butterflies in the public display!

We had a great time exploring their living butterfly exhibit featuring tropical butterflies from all over the world. I was annoyed, though, as my battery on my camera suddenly chose to go flat. Disappointing, but Mary’s photographs proved to save the day.

But there was more in store for us that afternoon – we hadn’t been to many botanic gardens, and Zane and Maggie told us about the wonders of the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. My energy levels were flagging – I had had an ear infection, and it was getting worse, so what with the heat and regular hot flushes, I was exhausted. So Maggie and I would hit the shops at the mall and do my last minute shopping, while Mary and Zane walked the gardens.

Maggie was a wonder – she had my list down to a T. It was in to Maceys to get the suitcase I wanted to take home for James, and then nearby to the candle counter, then next door to find a kettle. I also found my salt and pepper, and numerous other treats. We were done in 45 minutes! Amazing. Thanks Maggie.

Back to Kanapaha, and we found Mary and Zane had stormed right around the gardens.

The gardens are set on 62 acres operated by the North Florida Botanical Society. Lake Kanapaha (Timucua Indian words for “palmetto leaf” and “house.”) is adjacent.

There are 14 major collections seen from a 1½ mile concrete walkway, including the state’s largest public display of bamboos and the largest herb garden in the Southeast.

Mary was impressed by the Chinese royal bamboo (Wong Chuk), the giant Victoria water lilies and Asian snake arums.

I could picture Mary identifying everything. They had even found a Black Something Snake, and Mary hadn’t flinched. A true Kiwi! Brave and fearless.

Christiansburg, VA to Odum, GA

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

We got away bright and early and hit the highway again. We were having fun, glorious scenery driving through the mountains, what a thrill after all the flat land we’d covered. There were wildflowers galore, and we enjoyed spotting milkweed and the occasional Monarch.

Wherever we had driven in the US we had seen gorgeous Crepe Myrtles, they were splendid.

Mary wanted to taste waffles. We looked for a Waffle House – spotted one – off the motorway – .3 of a mile – no Waffle House to be seen. After driving around, I popped into a Subway to ask. When he finally understood me, he gave me vague directions which I followed and didn’t find the Waffle House. Back to the Subway and we bought sandwiches. Drove out of the carpark and there was the Waffle House. Mary’s waffles would have to wait!

As the day drew on we realised that we were going to struggle to fit in Savannah, which was not our end destination, but would involve anothe few hours’ drive before we got to where we were to stay – with a 5W friend in Odum, GA. Even if we went via Savannah, we would not have time or daylight to see anything.

So at Augusta, we told Mrs Tom Tom we knew best, and headed off to Augusta. We pulled off the road and chose a little town that was in a southerly direction… Soon however we were thoroughly perplexed – the signs said “North”.Then we realised – we were passing through a small town by the name of “North”. How confusing!

Mrs Tom Tom took us right to the home of Mary and Lonnie Ogden, our hosts for the night. Mary was waiting in her garden, and shepherded us over to the family home next door – where her mother and sister lived – to see hummingbirds as we saw in the cool of a fan on the porch. What a thrill to see these magical little birds.

Mary and family had prepared a feast for us that night. There were new foods to try – boiled peanutes, and the promise of a treat of catfish for lunch the following day.

Lonnie bred and raced pigeons so gave us a tour of his pigeon loft the next day. He also explained the growing of cotton, soya beans and pecans in the area. We watched squirrels and mocking birds in his area – it was a treat.

Mary was very interested in learning about NZ, so we have invited her to visit and hope she will come next summer.


Sunday, September 7th, 2008

We were welcomed into the home of Linda and Rex Marchman, who lived just outside Charlottesville on what we (in NZ) would call a ‘lifestyle block’. They had the most magnificent view over a small lake, owned by a neighbour. Linda’s garden was filled with butterflies – and naturally enough, host and nectar plants for butterflies.

They had a large and very comfortable home – the weather was hot, but air conditioning made indoors very comfortable.

Linda and Rex are cat-lovers. This was apparent from the thirteen felines who shared their home with them. there were fluffy ones, and fat ones, sleek ones, and smiling ones, shy ones and glossy ones – all very well cared for.

We had a magnificent dinner, plenty to eat and finished with a Peach Cobbler made by Rex. Breakfast was some awesome muffins with fresh fruit and pecan nuts on top.

Next morning we planned to visit vineyards, have lunch, visit some fresh fruit markets and get on our way – but it wasn’t to be. Linda noticed that we had a very flat tyre. Over a wonderful lunch with Rex and Linda, We called the AAA (Hint: Don’t call it the AA in America, as that indicates you have an alcohol problem!)

This was complicated – Hertz didn’t know where Charlottesville was, it was a Saturday. They had to send out a contractor to change the tyre for a lightweight spare, which we then limped into Charlottesville on. The friendly tyre serviceman fixed the puncture very promptly, and we were on our way. But setting out on a six hour journey at about 4 or 5pm wasn’t a great idea.

We decided to set off on our way south and stop when we felt we were too tired to continue. Mrs Tom Tom (our GPS) took us into the mountains of western Virginia (not to be confused with West Virginia, the state) and southwards, where we stopped at Christiansburg.

Earlier that day Rex had been watching a game of their local baseball team and they had been playing at this very town – the University of Virginia’s Hokies (I think). Mrs Tom Tom helped us find a very nice hotel (highly recommended – the Hampton) where we got a well-appointed twin room for $109. This came with a complimentary breakfast in the morning when we got on our way again. However… not before we had a bit of bad luck (will Mary every forgive me?)

Mary had taken a lot of photographs of butterflies, flowers and plants in Linda’s garden. I offered to put them onto a CD for her, and so we bought a high-speed CD (I knew everything… high speed had to be better than anything else, didn’t it?). In my computer the CD asked “do you want to format?”. Yes, I clicked, then clicked again, then clicked again, then realised I was formatting her photo card. Aargh! All her photos, lost. Sorry, Mary. 🙁

Lost in America?

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Okay, okay, I haven’t posted for over a week.


Well, as you will read I have been having problems with an infected ear; we got a puncture over a weekend, which took several hours to get repaired and on our way again. What’s more the hospitality of the American people has been so wonderful that we have always been running late everywhere – and we had so many fantastic things to do – the whole schedule has been very full and exciting.

Something had to give, and in order to get more sleep and fix my ear (which hasn’t happened) I decided to not try and keep the blog up to date. But here we are at Los Angeles International Airport – our trip is nearly over – and it’s an opportunity to try and get up to date.

So here goes…

West to Monticello

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the US, built his home at Charlottesville in 1772, and called it Monticello. He thought it was paradise… and it is still today, in its forested, mountaintop (260 metres) setting from where we could get wonderful views west and south.
The trip west was once again along a highway which was edged with verdant green trees. How awesome this highway must be in the autumn.
The road continued on and on and on, nothing seemed to change, except that sometimes there was a lot of traffic passing us – and at other times, there were gaps. A few days ago we installed a GPS system in the car; when we type in the destination, the GPS unit tells us everything we want to know about getting there. When we deviate from the route we’ve planned, the machine recalculates the route and tells us how to get back on course.
So unchanging was the scenery, Mary and I were beginning to wonder what lay beyond those trees. So we exited the motorway, crossed it, and looked for a road in the same direction. We soon found a concrete (paved) road stretching off forever, but here we could see cattle
grazing, horses occasionally, crops, houses and best of all gardens.
In fact, we passed a sign saying Mary’s Garden Plants, so had to go in and meet Mary. A great discussion about plants and insects – particularly butterflies ensued. We bought several of her plants to give to Linda, our host for the night.
Our GPS got us to Monticello but there was not much time to spare. We gave up on plans to see inside the house, but explored the garden in the late afternoon heat – and what a beautiful garden it is too.
Earlier in the day we had come across the delightful settlement of Williamsburg, best known for its university or college (William and Mary) and also the historical village recreation which not only entertains but explains another part of US history.
We arrived at Linda Marchman‘s, just outside Charlottesville, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our hosts – we’re all geared up to spend some time with them tomorrow morning exploring Charlottesville and local wineries. If only there was more time!

Chincoteague and south

Friday, August 29th, 2008

There is a wide range of accommodation available in Chincoteague. I stayed at Cedar Gables Seaside Inn, which overlooked the water on the eastern side of the island. It was very up market, modern but designed in a classical manner. The bed was comfortable, and wonderful services.

Through a miscommunication, Mary stayed elsewhere – the Channel Bass Inn. Her hosts, David and Barbara, were delightful people, showing a great interest in Mary, where she had come from, what she was doing. Barbara was English and had added her touch to the garden and the afternoon teas that the inn served.

Both of us were fortunate in the range of foods offered at breakfast time. We couldn’t have been better catered for.

Then we were off to see the wonders of the Chincoteague Wildlife Reserve. The Eastern Shore of Virginia, and the islands such as Chincoteague and Assateague are on the Atlantic flyway for Monarch butterflies, shorebirds, waterfowl and others that nest in the north and migrate south for the winter.

There are different areas – salt marshes, pine forests, and the specially-developed freshwater impoundments on the refuge are nesting places for a huge variety of birds including various plovers, gulls, terns, geese, herons, and ducks. There is even an eagle’s nest which can be watched from the comfort of the well-designed visitors centre.

Chincoteague is a really charming little centre, lots of shops, everything you could want, but quaint little antique and second-hand book shops, curios etc – we could have spent hours there. Many of the houses are historic and all of the buildings have a charm of their own.

With Tracy Lovell, from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission, we had a beautiful meal at Bill’s Seafood Restaurant that night – highly recommended. I wish I could have spent weeks here at Chincoteague. But we had to move on!

Leaving Chincoteague we continued our journey south, finally reaching the amazing tunnel/bridge complex which crosses the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has been considered a modern engineering wonder for over 43 years. Crossing over and under open waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is a direct link between south-eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (DELaware plus the Eastern Shore counties in MARyland and VirginiA).

If we had ‘gone round’ it would have added another 95 miles to our journey – well worth the $12 toll.

Following its opening in 1964, the Bridge-Tunnel was selected “one of the seven engineering Wonders of the modern world. Construction of a parallel crossing opened to four-lane traffic in 1999.

It was amazing to drive over this and see the bridge snaking ahead of us over the sea.

On the other side we pulled into an ‘economy motel’ for the night, and we will get to Charlottesville via Monticello tomorrow. We’re still having fun!

Monarch Teacher Network, Canada

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I forgot to say… they also have MTN in Canada (and soon, NZ and Peru). You can read about Monarch Teacher Network Canada here.