NEW-YORK CITY, THE WEST, LOUISIANA AND FLORIDA
In this trip which I made with my wife and son, birdwatching only came second to a first experience of the USA. I used the "Field Guide to the Birds of North America", published by The National Geographic Society, to identify the birds I saw. Most of the pictures of this page were made by my son, Yannick.
10 July 1989. We left Luxembourg on board an Icelandair D.C.-10 stopping over at Keflavik. We were thus able to have a nice view of the coasts of Greenland. Service on board was perfect. We landed at J.F. Kennedy, New-York City.
11 July 1989. We were accommodated at the Wellington Hotel and had a nice breakfast at the Stage Delicatessen which, as shown by the many photos hanging on the walls, had been frequented by celebrities. We started our visit of the city with enthusiasm. While walking about, we saw a few Laughing Gulls (Larus atricilla) and a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). In the afternoon, we had dinner with a friend at Fraunces Tavern, the reconstruction of the house where George Washington bade his troops farewell. We went on and took a walk in Central Park where Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are very numerous, went inside Trump Tower and Tiffany's and then took the ferry to Staten Island. For next to nothing, we had a superb view of Manhattan and the harbour of New-York where we found a few Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus).
12 July 1989. That day, we climbed up into the head of the Statue of Liberty and then walked up north going through Greenwich Village where I saw a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). We also walked to Madison Square Garden and Macy's, the superstore, which I found somewhat disappointing. At the end of the day, we roamed near St Patrick's Cathedral.
13 July 1989. We went shopping at Bloomingdale's and Saks 5th Avenue, visited the splendid Waldorf Astoria hotel, Times Square and Rockefeller Center. We also went to the United Nations Organization.
14 July 1989. We had bought a "Pass" with which we could take the plane in the USA three times, whatever the distance and so we left the Big Apple from La Guardia airport to fly to San Francisco, California, where I had rented a car and booked a hotel room. Getting used to my Toyota Camry was a bit of a problem in the beginning because there were so many automatic gadgets. We had a lot of fun in the steep streets and especially in Lombard Street. We liked the Palace of Fine Arts, the beautiful Ghirardelli shopping mall and Fisherman's wharf.
Our car in a San Francisco street
15 July 1989. We decided to have a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge and crossed it to go to Sausalito and its floating village, then went to Bodega where Hitchcock shot his film "The Birds" in 1963 and Muir Woods where he filmed a scene of "Suspicion" in 1941. Of course, we also marvelled at the huge Redwood trees in the same forest. I saw many more birds than in New-York: Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Steller's Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri), Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) and Brewer's Blackbirds (Euphagus cyanocephalus). In the evening, we had a nice view of the city from the Recreational Area.
The Golden Gate Bridge
16 July 1989. We left the city after a short walk in the astonishing Chinatown and drove southwards. During this time, I twitched the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). In Santa Cruz, we had a look at the "Mystery Spot" where everything grows aslant because of some gravitational anomaly. We liked Monterey and Carmel a lot. It was now much warmer than in San Francisco where we had had to wear a jumper because of the wind. We had dinner at the "Fisherman's Grotto" in Monterey and spent the night in the same city at the pleasant Driftwood Motel.
17 July 1989. In Carmel, we had a drink at the "Hog's Breath Inn", a nice little restaurant belonging to Clint Eastwood, the movie star. Cruising along the "Big Sur", we saw California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beechey), Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Pelagic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), a Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), Harbour Seals (Phoca vitulina), California Sea-Lions (Zalophus californianus) and Heermann's Gulls (Larus heermanni). A little farther away, along the 17-mile Drive, we viewed a Sea Otter(Enhydra lutris), Brandt's Cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus), a Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata) and an Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). At the Carmel Mission I twitched the Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus). As we were short for time, we didn't visit Hearst Castle, the palace built by the press tycoon and just watched it from some distance.
Danielle feeding a California Ground Squirrel
California Ground Squirrel
18 July 1989. Driving through San Luis Obispo, we had breakfast at Madonna Inn. This splendid hotel was built by Walt Disney and the way he decorated the rooms is really worth a visit. When we reached Los Angeles, we had a look at Beverley Hills, of course. In Santa Barbara, I spotted a few Elegant Terns (Sterna elegans) among the people walking on the beach. We were accommodated in a Motel 6 in Thousand Oaks.
19 July 1989. We spent the day visiting the Universal Studios where you realize that Americans have an innate sense of show-business.
20 July 1989. We followed the Pacific coastline going through Malibu, Santa Monica, San Diego and down to the Mexican border. I thought I would be able to drive as far as Tijuana but my insurance policy didn't cover any trip in Mexico, so I just had a look at the barbed wire fence marking the border between the two countries.
21 July 1989. We left the coast to enter the Californian Desert and crossed the state border with Arizona, driving past sand dunes and many cactuses. I twitched the Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) and the Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus). It was sweltering hot and the swimming-pool of the motel where we spent the night in Gila Bend hardly cooled us off.
22 July 1989. We left Gila Bend and headed toward the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to have a look at the giant cactus plants. While driving, I almost ran over a Greater Roadrunner (Geocoocyx californianus). On the way back, I drove a little too quickly and was made to stop by the side of the road. Fortunately, the policeman was a nice guy and I got away with a formal warning. We went on northwards and slept in a Best Western in Cottonwood.
Teddy Bear cactuses
Organ Pipe cactuses
Organ Pipe cactuses
23 July 1989. The weather was still very nice and I saw an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) and several Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) in broad daylight. We visited the mining town of Jerome and the Indian ruins of Montezuma Castle. The landscape was now getting rusty in color and we went through Sedona and Oak Creek. Cameron looked like a town on the map but actually it is only a small village. We bought a very fine Kachina figurine representing an Indian performing the Eagle dance, crossed the aptly named Painted Desert and visited Meteor Crater. The road climbs to an altitude of more than 2000 m in this area.
24 July 1989. That was the day when we cruised along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was just as beautiful as I had anticipated. I saw a few more birds I hadn't seen before, among them a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli), a White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis) and a Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus). In the evening, we booked a room in an Indian school in Tuba City.
25 July 1989. The scenery was imposing especially under the violent thunderstorms that broke out every now and then. We went through Monument Valley where they shot so many westerns, past the dam of Lake Powell and on towards Utah. In the meantime, I saw a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) and a Cassin's Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans).
The road leading to Monument Valley
26 July 1989. Because the air-conditioning made a hell of a noise, we spent a very bad night in Page in a motel recommended by the French "Guide du Routard". Fortunately, it was all the easier for us to forget that as we had the opportunity to watch the beautiful sites in Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon where I saw my first Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana). We then booked a room in a Best Western in St-George.
27 July 1989. After crossing the Canyon of Virgin Valley where we saw a remarkably beautiful Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis), we arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada, and decided to spend a night in the Caesar's Palace where they shot part of the film "Rainman". The whole city reminded us of a huge movie set.
28 July 1989. We spent the day visiting the city and the casinos. I have never seen a city that looks so different in the daytime from what it looks at night. I think that even if you're not a gambler, you can still enjoy yourself just browsing around in the hotels.
The entrance to Caesar's Palace
29 July 1989. We drove out of Nevada to come back to California, passing through the aptly named Death Valley. I measured the temperature in the shade and it reached 51°Celsius. In spite of this, we saw a few birds such as Shiny Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Common Ravens (Corvus corax). We spent the night in Furnace Creek where we thoroughly enjoyed a dip in the swimming-pool.
30 July 1989. We cruised around the desert in the scorching heat and enjoyed Dante's view and Artist's Palette. The sand dunes reminded us of the Sahara. We spent some time looking at the white crust of salt covering the ground, left the area and reached Bishop in the evening.
Artist's Palette in Death Valley
31 July 1989. As we approached the Sierra Nevada, the hills turned into mountains. We first visited the ghost town of Bodie and admired the Mammoth Lakes then drove up Tioga Pass, at an elevation of something like 3000 m. In the evening, we reached Mariposa and booked a room there.
1 August 1989. We drove around Yosemite Park and pitied the numerous "Chipmunks" which constituted the bigger part of the roadkill. Among other animals we also saw a Coyote (Canis latrans) and Yellow-bellied Marmots (Marmota flaviventris). This was the part of the USA where the forty-niners desperately tried to look for gold.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
2 August 1989. While driving along the scenic highway, we had a nice view of Lake Tahoe. We made a pause to visit Ponderosa Ranch where they shot the famed Bonanza TV serials and spent the night in the pleasant Foothills Motel in Auburn. That day, I saw my first Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos).
3 August 1989. The return trip to the capital city, Sacramento, was rather boring and we were pleased to be back in San Francisco after having logged more than 7000 km in our Camry.
4 August 1989. A DC 9 of the Continental Airways took us to New-Orleans, Louisiana, with a stopover in Houston, Texas. We had booked a room at the Landmark Hotel where the manager's hearty welcome was barely sufficient to make us forget the airport taxi driver's unfriendly behavior and the sight of a man stabbed in the arm not far from there. Bathing in the splendid hotel swimming-pool in the moist heat of the night was really an experience.
5 August 1989. We moved to the Maison Dupuy which I highly recommend. I found the city somehow disappointing with an exception for the Preservation Hall where you can attend jazz concerts in a lively atmosphere. It's always hot in there, in all senses of the word. We saw a few Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) and Common Nighthawks and then took a trip on the Mississippi on board the Natchez.
6 August 1989. We visited Nottoway Plantation to have a rough idea of what it was like to live in a rich family in that area and being short for time, we took the only motel we found in Donaldsonville. It was called Magnolia and was fairly cheap, which we were soon to regret. On a highway, I saw the remains of two Nine-banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) and a Raccoon (Procyon lotor), which had been run over by cars. The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) I spotted a little later was definitely alive and you could hear it. When we arrived in the motel in the evening, we found a cockroach in the shower. It was green and as big as my thumb and it was the first of at least a hundred of them. I went to the next store and bought a spray that was supposed to kill them off. After a few seconds, they came running out from all the nooks and crannies in the room. They had made themselves comfortable under or in the mattresses, the air-conditioning system, the board skirtings and in lots of other places. Of course, we were unable to sleep especially as we heard the other inmates of the motel slapping their slippers against the common wall, probably smashing them off. In the morning, we couldn't find the motel keeper. I really felt like throwing the key into the Mississippi instead of putting it into the box.
7 August 1989. We set out for Houma where I booked a trip in a boat to have a closer look at a bayou with Annie Miller. She called the Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) along the boat and fed them with chicken. We also saw a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), a Green Heron (Butorides virescens), a Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major), an Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), a Great White Egret (Casmerodius albus), a few Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) and very large black grasshoppers whose name I don't know.
8 August 1989. We made some observations in the New-Orleans area: a Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger), a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) and three Nutria (Myocastor coypus). Before leaving Louisiana on our way to Florida, we decided once again to have a nice meal in an "All-you-can-eat" restaurant.
9 August 1989. We took off and landed in Orlando, Florida. We spent the night in a Best Western in Davenport - Haynes.
10 August 1989. It took us a whole day to go round Disneyworld. We enjoyed everything and had some fun at seeing Americans donning their Mickey Mouse caps and behaving like small children.
11 August 1989. We found Epcot Center even better than Disneyworld. All countries display the best activities or specialties they have and we found this very pleasant, like a quick trip round the world. Again, we were amused by American jingoism.
12 August 1989. Of course you can't go to Florida without paying a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. That's what we did and we were much impressed. Inside the Centre, we saw a few Roseate Spoonbills, (Ajaia ajaja), a Green Heron and a Wood Stork (Mycteria americana). On our way home, a violent thunderstorm blocked all cars on the motorway and reminded us that we were heading for the season of hurricanes.
Kennedy Space Center
13 August 1989. That was our last day in the US. Once home, I calculated we had spent 23 hours on board various planes and logged 8000 km in our rented cars, which gives a rough idea of how big the USA actually is.