Ever since childhood, I have loved birds. And I think the feeling is mutual. Once a hummingbird landed on my red shirt and tried to sip nectar from my cheek. Just recently, I had a long and loud conversation with a Stellar's Jay. So when a reader told me that one of the best birding spots in the country was just south of Oakland, I perked right up.

The Elkhorn Slough doesn't sound very sexy, but it's now on my top 10 list of California places to see. And the best way to see it is on the Elkhorn Slough Safari, a two-hour boat trip hosted by Capt. Yohn Gideon, a naturalist, and equipped with binoculars so you can spy on everything from pelicans fishing to otters feasting on juicy innkeeper worms.

It's the Nature Channel come alive and the subjects seem unaware that a pontoon of wide-eyed Homo sapiens is sleuthing through the slough. If birds of a feather flock together, than this place is like a giant avian festival with a round-the-clock worm and fish buffet.

Never again will I pass by Moss Landing on my way to Monterey. I'm going back to this little fishing village to whale watch, bike ride and study the wildlife. Because the next time a bird calls me, I want to be able to answer.

Heart strings: The term "growing old together" applies nicely to Montclarions Paul (89) and Helen Ross (92) Mico. I learned about these lovebirds through Cindy Gustafson at Comfort Keepers -- an Oakland company that provides in-home care for seniors and families. The Micos still live in the home they moved into when they married in 1974 and Paul says they love spending time in the rose garden, watching the wildlife.


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Most extraordinary is the fact that two years ago, Paul wrote and published a book about Helen's life. It's a beautiful 34-page tribute to the woman he fell head-over-heels for in a classroom at UC Berkeley ... all those years ago.

Chip tip: Ten bucks doesn't buy much these days, but it'll pay for some piece of mind when it comes to your pet. That's how much Oakland Animal Services charges for inserting a microchip in your cat or dog. The chip is injected with a needle behind the scruff of the neck and yes -- some animals freak out. But it takes only five minutes and may someday save their life. If your pet ever gets lost and ends up in a shelter, the chip can be scanned to find the animal's owner.

Animal tales: My driveway seems to see more than just cars these days. Two weeks ago, I spotted a one-antlered deer coming up the path. Just yesterday it was a fox -- a small brown critter that looked more like a dingo. Neither animal is as exotic, though, as the menagerie reported by reader Laura Thomas, whose plumber not only keeps snakes in his house but a miniature alligator to boot. I wouldn't want to see any of those animals on my driveway.

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by phone at 510-723-2525, by email at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or on the web at www.ginnyprior.com.