trip to US: California.

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: trip to US: California.
From: Denise Goodfellow <>
Date: Tue, 23 Jun 2009 00:58:06 +0930

On 29th March Michael and I flew to Oaklands, California, where we were met
by Ron Felzer whom I¹d known for some years.   Ron lectures at Merritt
College and had arranged for me to speak both there and at Berkely City

After lunch we went for a  walk about the Botanic Gardens.  I was fascinated
by the number of plant families in California that are also in the Top End
of Australia, eg Rhamnaceae and Polygonaceae..   A highlight was my first
look at a Bristlecone Pine, among the most long-lived of the world¹s plants.

At the beginning of the walk I saw my first American reptile ­ Western Fence
Lizard Sceloporus occidentalis. It  is a member of Phrynosomatidae, a family
not found in Australia.

We then visited a nature reserve where we had good views of Allen¹s
Hummingbird, Hunter¹s Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, California Towhee, and
Wilson¹s Warbler, a very pretty little yellow bird. In the lake there stood
a Great blue Heron, a bird I¹d seen from the train but Michael hadn¹t, and a
Double-crested Cormorant.  A Red-shouldered Hawk flew overhead.

The next day I had lectures to prepare, and so remained in the apartment.
It overlooked the Newman¹s garden, so when tired of the work, I familiarised
myself with birds such as  Anna's Hummingbird, Lesser Goldfinch, House
Finch, Bushtit and Black Phoebe.

The next afternoon I lectured at Berkely City College on intercultural
relations, to students studying linguistic anthropology and  Native American
Culture. Many students were African-American or Indigenous American.  Their
lecturer, Nola Hadley, is of Cherokee descent.  She introduced me to
Vincent, President of the Indigenous Students¹ Association, and also to some
the problems they had in keeping their culture together and people from

The day after Ron took us to Merritt College. This was the site of the
evolution of the Black Panthers in the 1960s. However, things had changed -
most of the students I spoke to wished to be nurses.  I was so impressed
with the lot of them that I wanted to bring them all home with me!

Leslie Fleming, the  lecturer of the class I was to address, is highly
respected for her work among the mothers of the ³disappeared² in Nicaragua.
She was later banned from the country, but went back anyway, to continue her
work. I also met the College President, Dr. Robert Adams who invited me back
to lecture next year.

I had hoped to see both San Francisco and more of the coast, but this will
have to wait till next visit.

The next day we were on the train to Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES ­ first visit

4th April.  The train was supposed to take us along the coast to Los
Angeles, a journey of about 12 hours.  But as we had been warned, it was
running six hours late.  Instead we were offered a train inland to
Bakersfield, and then a bus to LA. I didn¹t wish to keep  Muriel, my friend
and host, waiting around for hours so we took the Bakersfield trip.

The train was very comfortable with large picture windows, and while Michael
dozed, I was able to identify a few  birds including Northern Mocking-bird
and Cardinal.  When the train slowed down  at a station,  I saw a
Black-billed Magpie. Then in the middle of a wetlands crossing the train
suddenly halted ­  a mechanical hitch had cause it to lose power. Scanning
the area I spotted Snowy Egret, Willet and American Avocet among other
species I'd already seen.

The bus was as cramped as any plane.  Still, the beauty of the mountains
around Los Angeles made me glad that we had travelled by land. Californian
poppies, a blaze of  pure orange  against the dry grey green and olive
vegetation and cerulean sky, almost took my breath away.

Muriel met us at the bus stop.  Aged 84, she  is an amazing woman.  As the
wife of an executive of Exxon, she lived all over the world, including in
Libya.  I asked if she'd met Colonel Gaddafi, and she said no, but she knew
the previous head of state.

Muriel has travelled on 35 Earthwatch Expeditions from researching
hummingbirds in Peru and monitoring nesting leatherback turtles in Trinidad,
to working on dolphins in New Zealand and monkeys in China. My Indigenous
relatives were amazed at the photos I had of this tiny white-haired woman
embracing a rhinoceros or cheetah!  Muriel is the Earthwatch organiser for
Los Angeles, and travels all over California speaking to Audubon and Sierra
Club chapters, Rotary, Kiwanis and many other organisations,  about her
expeditions.   Any Americans  interested in having her speak, just contact

Muriel lives in  La Candida, a community up in the mountains above LA.
Here, I got my first close-up views of hummingbirds ­ Ruby-throated, Anna's
and Black-chinned..  These little jewels of the bird world look rather dull
in dim light, but then the sun catches a purple or ruby gorget and the
gold-olive above, and it isn¹t hard to see why they are so beloved.
Virtually everyone we stayed with on our US trip  had hummingbird feeders.

At Muriel¹s hilltop garden we added Californian Quail, White-crowned
Sparrow, Nuttall¹s Woodpecker (a pair mating), Pacific Slope Flycatcher, and
several other species.  Mule deer were common in the vicinity and even a
mountain lion had been seen near the community swimming pool.  Muriel, as
the committee member responsible for the pool, had to visit the area every
few days (scaling 94 steps to do so).  I took a photo of her there and
labelled it ³Mountain Lion bait²!

The first lecture was to a group of Muriel¹s friends and neighbours. Kent
Beaman, a past client, turned up as well, bringing me the first edition of a
book he had edited on the biology of rattlesnakes. It was a fascinating
read. Had I time I could have gone radio-tracking these most interesting
reptiles with one of Kent¹s postgrad students.

 Muriel had thought her guests would like my presentation on birds of the
Top End, but I soon discovered that my Indigenous family was of much more
interest, and a topic to which some felt they could relate their own

On the 7th (Tuesday) I gave two lectures, one to the women members of the
Philanthropies Education Organization, in Pasadena, and the other to the
Santa Monica Audubon Society.  Although the women didn¹t know anything much
about Aboriginal people, they were very interested in the way my relatives
and I had tried to build upon the ³things that unite us² as President Obama
has often said.  Both he and I had been influenced by the same person, the
renowned community organiser Saul Alinsky whose works and methods I¹d
studied in the late 70s.

Maja, organiser with the Santa Monica Audubon, also thought members would be
mainly interested in birds (after all this was an Audubon group).  But there
were so many questions about my Indigenous relations  that I gave half of my
presentation on intercultural relations. There was a similar level of
interest from most groups I addressed.

Many were interested in Australia, and particularly the NT -  several
members, including one wheelchair bound lady,  told me they¹d only attended
as I was speaking.

The next morning we left for Tucson.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Mobile: 04 386 50 835

Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
PhD Candidate


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