Monday, February 1, 2010

Something a Little Different

This post has nothing to do with Panama, but a Costa Rican Rainforest is featured in it. We thought that connection was close enough.

Last week we went with our friend Jorge to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. The Academy underwent a rebuilding project beginning in 2005. It was made possible with public bond funds approved by voters in the city of San Francisco, as well as State of California and Federal funds, and private donations - all totaling something like $500 million. The project took about three years, with the re-opening date in late September 2008. We had heard from other friends that the new Academy was worth seeing. And several years ago, well before the 2005 ground-breaking ceremony of the new Academy, Les worked on a video documentary about the design teams and Renzo Piano, the architect of the structure. We were both curious to see the results and how they compared to the vision discussed in the documentary.

So we spent the bucks ($25 each for adults, which seems extremely steep to us) and found it to be an educational and enjoyable experience. And in spite of the high price, we admit it is an experience not to be found elsewhere in the area at any price.

The Steinhart Aquarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum and the Morrison Planetarium are still there, along with the trusty Foucault Pendulum. Some of the new exhibits include the Living Roof, a Philippine Coral Reef, and Rainforests of the World.

For us, Rainforests of the World was the most engaging exhibit. Visitors entering the 4-story living rainforest are given instructions not to open hand- or shoulder-bags, use flash photography, or eat or drink while inside. (And upon exiting, there are numerous exhortations to make sure you have no butterflies hitchhiking on your clothes, head, or bags - please brush them off gently before you leave!) The temperature and humidity inside felt great (and familiar) to us, and the croaking and chirping and chattering of the birds, amphibians and insects were a welcome escape from the California winter outdoors. In addition to the many animals and plants in small terrarium-type enclosures, there are birds and butterflies flying free amongst the trees and lush tropical plants in the tall glass dome. Four rainforests are represented - from Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica and the Amazon. The birds in the tall trees at the top of the dome (the Costa Rica section) were bright and beautiful - just what we have become used to in Panama. Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) was the only species present that was familiar to us. But the little Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilensis) was the star of the show. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, with brilliant and contrastingly-colored plumage, they have the personality I associate with the Tangara tanagers - sprightly, energetic, sociable, rowdy, and just plain cute. One of them was collecting moss from a planter box for a nest-building project on a girder high above. Les got some nice video of this beautiful bird.

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