Monday, February 23, 2015

To the Heart of the Matter

Lovebirds galore at Encanto Park!

Twiddling my thumbs until the next great journey arrives, I joined AZFO and Magill Weber this past Saturday to find the exotic Rosy-faced Lovebirds up in Phoenix.  Their expansion continues across this great metropolitan area.  Our task?  To find as many of these lovebirds as we could.  

Guardian Rosy-faced Lovebirds
I've been finding that I need to "spice" up my birding life a bit by doing different types of birding.  This lovebird quest was right up my alley!

a new ebird hotspot!  Margaret T. Hance Park!
Over the past 30 years, these lovebirds seem to have taken over the Phoenix metro by storm.  Their numbers have been increasing and today, these African migrants are now considered an established resident within the greater Phoenix area.  We do not have them in Tucson....or at least not yet. Back in 1987, the Rosy-faced Lovebird was first reported breeding in the East Valley near the Apache Junction and Mesa city border. Today, these colorful little birds can be counted on the ABA list.....but ONLY in Maricopa county.

Fledgling Rosy-faced Lovebird.  One of possibly 4 in this nest!
So I had an absolute blast hanging out with Magill as we explored all the urban parks within our count area.  It wasn't too hot as we visited places like Encanto and Steele Indian School Parks.  We even created a new Ebird Hotspot!!!  We're proud to welcome Margaret T. Hance Park to the Ebird map. If you live in Arizona, it's right next door to the Phoenix Japanese Tea Garden above the freeway tunnel. 


Blood=heart=love=lovebirds
We went to each of the parks covering many of the palm trees looking for nesting birds.  Often times, lovebirds will fly as a flock into the various desert trees near water sites.  All of the parks we visited had plenty of urban water and grass.  And homeless people.  Skater people. Blood drive people.  People selling their religion. Balloon releasing birthday people. Needle using people. And I could go on and on.  Arizona city parks.  Definitely not the same type of park I remember from my childhood in Wisconsin:)

Magill narrowly escapes an urban water disaster! We had to get a closer view of possible nesting lovebirds around this tricky gate.
But we were a team and stood together in some of the sketchiest areas as we counted oh SO MANY lovebirds!  Our final tally was around 113 lovebirds within our count area.  There were lots more we didn't see. 


I think one of the biggest things, for me anyway, is having a sense of humor.  It's important to laugh and have a good time between the bird observations.  I've been with some birders in the past who don't have a sense of humor. OR!  Have completely lost their sense of wonder.  Part of this lovebird count was to get into the "nitty gritty" places often overlooked by so many people.

We discover a forest in the middle of our area
Magill is great and I really wish she lived closer so we could bird more often together.  Both of our spouses would probably kill us because we are addicts to the birds. Fix up the house or go find the bird?  Hmmmmm, easy! Let's go find the birds! Every time we explore a new location, we learn something different. Each offers the birder a new experience.  Every experience is like a new episode from our favorite TV show each week.

Eurasian-collared Dove
So yeah.  There are those common birds that LOVE to hang out at the parks as well, but they're still cool to me.

Great-tailed Grackle
Each one beautiful in their own unique way.  

Ring-necked Duck
So what's a birder to do?  I had to count them all! 

Snowy Egret
And while the lovebirds are not native to Arizona, they are welcomed by many of the locals for their color and personality. The "cute" factor wins people over right away. 


Note the yellow mutation of the Rosy-faced Lovebird to the right.  We found only one of these birds in our count. It's called a "Lutino".  Fascinating!
So take a look at the common birds found around the same areas as the Rosy-faced Lovebirds.  Several are exotics as well which include the Rock Pigeons, Eurasian-collared Doves and European Starlings.  One can see why the lovebirds stand out among the brown and black birds. 

Luna is wondering why there are holiday decorations to go with Valentine's dinner
And since we're speaking of love, blood, lovebirds, etc, I thought I'd include this pic of my version of Valentine's dinner.  I hate all Hallmark holidays but I'm still expected to celebrate them or get in big trouble.  So I made a holiday dinner in protest of these blasted human made events.  I had holiday music in the background with all the decorations to boot!  Dinner was delish and I made it through another one of these silly days.  Of course our cat Luna was a bit confused:)


Finally, I'd like to do a brief public service announcement.  While we were out on this day, I photographed 3 of the 4 things that kill birds out in the wild.  1.  Feral cats.  I love them.  But I love my birds as well.  They are the number one killer of all birds.  2. Sending balloons into the heavens.  The Almighty doesn't want them and will send them back down to us causing large amounts of trash around our cities. In some places, it's illegal to release balloons. 3. Power lines.  Lots of birds are electrified by touching two wires(think big birds with big wingspans!). There isn't much we can do about this one other than notify city officials if hawks, etc continue getting fried.  They can usually do some preventative work regarding this issue and just need to be notified. And 4.  Fishing line. Usually, if I can reach it and pull it off a tree branch, etc, I will.  Water birds can really get tangled up in that mess!  



Well that's my report for this week. Stay tuned for more as we journey with several of our favorite birder friends to new and old places alike.  Sometimes I feel like Mr. Rogers:)  I even wear the same dang vest!  Until next time friends!

Friday, February 20, 2015

En La Atalaya

Aquí estoy esperándome. 
La luz ya está disminuyendo.



Puedo ver las arrugas de este paisaje mío.
Maduro, soy yo.



Estoy atrapado sin escape.
Tengo temor. De todo un poco.



Mi familia.  Mis amigos. Esta vida tan preciosa.
Su otoño; mi verano. 



Me siento algo tan fuerte por dentro. Un terror.
Las uvas ya se han convertido en las pasas.



¿Cómo es posible?  Tantas opciones.  Tantas decisiones. 
Me quedo.  Me voy.  Oblicaciones del corazón.
Todo tiene su límite.   



En este año, el aventurero explorará. 
 Sólo él sabe las consequencias. 

  
 En la atalaya, yo veo todo por abajo
Y por encima.  Atrapado, no hay nada que pueda hacer. 

  






Monday, February 16, 2015

Yesteryear


the magical DeAnza Trail near Tubac

I took one step at a time along the path traveled by so many people before me.  During this past weekend, I quietly did my own thing as I explored places in southern Arizona like the DeAnza Trail, San Xavier Del Bac, and Saguaro National Park(the Rincon Unit). On Sunday, we finished it off with the Arizona Renaissance Festival. 


My morning began on the DeAnza trail near the artsy town of Tubac. Part of this two century +  trail follows the Santa Cruz river. Here the water flows under the shaded canopy of Arizona Cottonwoods and Mesquite trees. I saw several birders trying to find the Sinaloa Wren on that morning.  As I passed them, I wished the birders luck. 

Abert's Towhee
It was a beautiful hike on this cloudy morning. My next stop was the old mission of San Xavier Del Bac.  I wanted to stop here and explore several patches of Cholla cactus found around the property.


Cholla Cactus
The vegetation was all there as were my target birds.....the Cactus Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers!  I did my counts around several patches and then tried for some photo documentation. 

the mission of San Xavier Del Bac
At one point, I had a Cactus Wren calling out from the top of a tree.  I stood for 20 minutes just watching this bird along the grassy wash.

Cactus Wren
The weather is beginning to warm up and that means lizards and snakes are awakening.  Look closely at the photo below and you will find the Desert Spiny hanging out between the rocks!

Desert Spiny Lizard next to a Barrel Cactus 
After I did my walk and counts around the Mission, I headed off to Saguaro National Park to do more desert bird counts.  Thanks to my park ranger bud Gaelyn, I was reminded that the entrance fee to the National Parks was waived for the weekend.  It was an amazing way to end the day as I found my first ever Gila Monster!  What a thrill that was!

my herpes lifer, the Gila Monster!
On Sunday, we headed out to Arizona's Renaissance Festival near Gold Canyon where I was able to study raptor behavior during one of their shows.  Even when I'm not birding, I'm birding:)  I love them so much. 

the Eurasian Eagle-owl takes flight at the 2015 Arizona Renaissance Festival
Of course, we also had a great time watching several of the performances throughout the day.

Barely Balanced performs one of their body bending acts!  Ouch!

It was the restful weekend that I very much needed.  After last weekend's "wait for a warbler" journey, I was done chasing rare birds.  And to be honest, the birding I did this weekend is what I like best sometimes.



Some weekends are for strolling, some are for epic adventures and some are for study.  Next weekend, I'll take you into the heart of Phoenix as we look for love in strange places;) And below is a teaser for what Las Aventuras is planning this summer:) "Americano" begins! For now, I hope you all enjoyed this walk back in time.  Until next time friends.





Monday, February 9, 2015

Warbler Woes


This is my original work. These birds are not easy:) A few warblers have since been added to this chart.
This past weekend was truly a test of patience. Target birding. Not the kind of birding some people prefer. As several birders climb to the top of this imaginary pyramid; things become trickier. Trickier birds require trickier maneuvers. On this particular weekend, birders from all over the state(s) came together.  These finds were not only epic but state firsts for many people. 


Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photo courtesy of Gordon Karre!  Thank you for helping me tell this story. 
I began this weekend with the mind set, "Warblers or die."  So I chased 4 rare warblers that were reported in the state.  My first challenge was the Chestnut-sided Warbler near ASU in Tempe. The second and third warblers were the American Redstart and lifer, Black-throated Blue Warbler within the region known as the Santa Cruz Flats. Finally, I went after the Yellow-throated Warbler in Patagonia.  Each one presented different challenges.  


The Santa Cruz Flats and within this vast land, a few Sprague's Pipits hide. 
Lately, I have turned into a binocular-before-photographer type birder. The binos allow me to reach the bird quickly and observe behaviors that I normally wouldn't see with the camera. I arrived at the ASU campus and located the Chestnut-sided Warbler in a lone Cottonwood tree.  For a few moments I saw the bird sit still long enough for me to clearly ID.  When I reached for my camera to snap a shot, the warbler was gone.  To make matters worse, an ASU sports event let out, creating chaos around me.  At that point, I put my head down and walked away. Why do birds pick these loud and obnoxious locations? Did I find the bird?  Yes.  Did I get a photo? No.  This is where my bud Gordon Karre comes in to save the day!  He did get a shot of the bird earlier that day and was very kind to share his photo on Las Aventuras this week.


The watering hole on Sasco Rd.
But I knew I was facing an uphill battle for the next day.  There were two lifers involved here.  The Sprague's Pipit and the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Both on private property! I knew that getting pics would be difficult.  We assembled the most amazing team of birders around the state to find these winged gems.  Our day was a success and the odds played in our favor. All targets accomplished.  My lifer, the Sprague's Pipit, was seen in the collection of scopes.  As the bird lifted off from one field, I snapped a poor shot of it flying into another grassy patch. Then it was off to THE house.


I hope no one lives here. 
Birders flocked to this home and waited and waited to see the reported male American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Summer Tanager flying around the Pomegranate Tree. Technically, we were stalking. For 93 minutes we stared at that blasted house in the shade swapping stories with one another.  We still aren't sure if there were people living there, but a sheriff did come to see what we were all doing.  We blamed it all on Magill. 


I sat staring at that pony or cow creature in the yard.  Definitely cute and out of place. In fact, it looked like Samwise Gamgee's pony Bill from Lord of the Rings.  I thought about how nice the shade was.  I thought about how much I liked the people around me and wished we could hang out more often.  I wondered if the machine under the pomegranate tree was a tractor or grill.  And I wondered if that damned warbler would show up.  And eventually it did.......

Black-throated Blue Warbler gets the tractor ready
But this time, I wouldn't let the warbler get away.  So I got rid of the binos and held my camera instead. That warbler was beautiful.  WOW!  We watched as it drove the tractor around the yard a couple times.  And then it was off for more target birding.  


Ferruginous Hawk
Then it was off to the small town of Patagonia for the Yellow-throated Warbler.  This wintering warbler is currently feeding on bugs found around the mistletoe at the Patagonia City Park. However, we sat in this park for 2 hours before it BRIEFLY showed up!  We were with two other birders.  This bird was not a lifer for me so I used my binos instead. 

Yellow-throated Warbler.  Photo taken in 2013 at Sweetwater Wetlands
My ears were sharp and I spotted the bird quickly.  Unfortunately, our new birder friends had their eyes on the doppelganger Yellow-rumped Warbler.  So they followed that bird with their bins instead of keeping their eyes on our target.  Madness ensued.  Russian tourists entered the picture and chased the Yellow-throated Warbler off as they ran pointing at the bird.  Another woman decided to follow us around and chat.  When we didn't answer her, she responded, "Oh this is serious business, isn't it?"  When you wait for a bird for more than two hours, yes, it is. The other birders never saw the Yellow-throated Warbler and I never got a shot of the bird feeding at the mistletoe.  Instead while we sat under the tree waiting for the warbler, we watched this guy bored out of our minds. People watching can also be fun.  Between the Russians, Japanese and elderly, it was a busy day at the park. 


That guy hanging out on the bench for as long as we waited for the warbler
Who was he? A local? An artist?  Then I started thinking to myself. Why can't my hair grow that long?  How did I get so stuffy in my life? Blah blah blah. After a long afternoon in the park, I thought about calling my mother to wish her a happy birthday, getting home to do the laundry and finalizing some summer plans with my other half.  Ahhhh!  The joys of rare warblers.  



 I'd like to thank all the wonderful people behind this post today.  I think without each other's support, we'd have given up empty handed.  It was a blast and it's fun playing detective with you all.  Thank you Linda, Magill(for organizing), Gordon, Nathan and Muriel.   You guys rock!  It's surprising but the life list is slowly growing.  10 more birds until I reach 600.  Who will the next life bird be?  Over the next several weeks, we'll meet up with friends Randy, Cindy and Pam. Stay tuned for more....   

Monday, February 2, 2015

Miraculous Chaos

Trumpeter Swans
Sometimes life has a strange way of challenging us. These past two weeks had been extremely difficult for me. I always try to do excellent work with the best of intentions. This past week's lifebird and mega-rarity for Arizona reminded me to keep everything in perspective. The arrival of the Trumpeter Swans made me forget all the needless crazy human drama.  



So the birding world also had a little big drama. The arrival of the Trumpeter Swans shook the foundation of the Arizona birding world. Never in our lives did we expect these rare gems to show up. Maybe they heard about our infamous Gem Show here in the Old Pueblo!?!? There are VERY few records of these birds visiting the state. All day long, working birders were trapped inside their work spaces while reports from the retired, visiting, workers with flexible jobs and those "who-don't-have-jobs-but-can-still-bird" reported these mega-rarities.  I paced like a lion in a cage wishing I were ancient, wise and retired. WHY??!!!!!!!!  I called Micheal and told him to grab the camera and GO!  "But I have to work in a half hour!", he whined.  "GO! NOW!"  So he went and discovered a media frenzy at Sweetwater.  Several minutes later, he texted me back and said, "Got 'em!"  


Here are the "Big 3" in the US.  On the left, the invasive Mute Swan hails from Europe. In the Upper Right hand corner, the rarer Trumpeter Swans are  making a comeback from near extinction.  The Tundra Swan is the only common, yet rare, visitor to Arizona during our winter months.  The bill on this swan is slightly different than that of the Trumpeter Swan AND this bird also has a yellow spot on the lores.
The school bell rang and I shot out of my cage like any trapped wild spirit would do. I arrived at Sweetwater to a full parking lot and went straight to the spot.  There they were!  NO WAY!  We didn't know it at the time, but we would be the last group to view these 2 swans before they disappeared the next day! I glowed for several hours after that observation.  But alas, it would not resolve my ridiculous issue the following day. 

I began this adventure as a young Spanish instructor.  Inspiration has always come from my work out in the field and it has been infused into my lectures today. That same energy is still there but it has changed over the years in a more seasoned matter. The world is not the same place it was many years ago. 
After doubting my teaching style that has been successful over the years, I saw this little message from A Little Piece of Me.  

There is only one of you in all time, 
this expression is unique. 
And if you block it, 
it will never exist through any other medium 
and it will be lost.
 ― Martha Graham

I have lost family, friends and students over the years.  I am reminded that we must live for today and not tomorrow.
I have always been a "teach with a smile and laugh" kinda guy.  But this past week the joke was on me and it wasn't very funny. To make a long story short, I blame it all on Pablo Neruda.  I'll have to write an ode to him for all the headaches he has given me over the years!  For now, I'll stick to the birds. 


The ear tufts stick out.  But will she stick it out over the next several months with all the students around?
My day began with the special sighting of our Great Horned Owls!  This is significant because she finally chose the human made basket instead of her yearly "ledge-of-death".  In the past, the owlets would try to leave the nest from a super high ledge only to fall to their demise.  About 4 years ago, we tried something different for this insistent pair of owls.  Finally this year, she chose the basket!  During the 4 year time period, we've successfully helped them raise 10 owlets!


I'm just calling this one...."The Southwest Today"
While my personal storm passed, another arrived in the form of dark gray skies full of wet and heavy clouds. Rain.  We wanted to do some birding in fun places around the state, but unfortunately, every place we turned had the same forecast!  So I stayed close to home. It still was a lot of fun.....although it was a wet birding trek. 

The Lark Sparrow
Winter storms are common during the months of January and February, but this one brought us an unusual amount of rain.  It rained for a day and a half!  This is very rare for us as our rain events usually last less than an hour or two at the most. 


But as you can see, the washes filled up.  Birds were hungry and cold!  My feeders saw a LARGE influx of Lesser Goldfinches. 

A juvi Sharp-shinned Hawk
It was a drive and bird kinda weekend. However, towards mid-afternoon, a downpour happened at one of our locations and it was time to pack up and leave.  We had been far from our car so by the time we reached it, we were soaked!

A Mourning Dove endures the rain
One of our fun challenges this year has been working with our cell phone camera option.  If you haven't noticed, my posts have begun to feature several artsy shots each week utilizing the camera part on the cell phone.   


I've also crossed the photography line regarding detail in pics. I like my camera very much but I'm wanting more now. For the first time, I switched the setting on my camera this past week for stronger results.  So far so good.  However, these pics take up more space on the SD cards and I have to be conscious about how many pictures I'm taking.


For now, I'm still thinking about the Trumpeter Swans.  What life bird follows after their grand departure?  I don't know.  I really don't. 

Black-crowned Night Heron
So I'll continue observing and snapping photos of previously seen birds enjoying their habitats and behaviors. 


Redhead
But like the Trumpeter Swans, I may at one point snap and fly drive....somewhere new.  There are still several locations I have to check out, but I know I'll be on the road again soon. 


A pair of Redheads
Winter is winding down and soon spring migration will be upon us. As for now, I'd like to keep the chaos to a minimum:)  My blood pressure can only rise so much:) More to come......


Common Merganser