Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Coastal Stroll

Snowy Egrets tango
I needed time alone.  And time to think.  I wanted to be among strangers.  Or so I thought. 

I rented a bed at the Monterey Hostel where I would casually stroll to the Fisherman's Wharf and watch the Sea Otters while enjoying some clam chowder. Along the way, I watched everyone, humans and wildlife, interact with the ocean.  I've been wanting the ocean life lately.  I used to live near Monterey about 18 years ago.  Being back in this coastal town brought back a flood of good memories. 

Juvenile Western Gull
How could have so much time passed?! Why haven't I come here more often to visit?

Pelagic Cormorant
Instead of accidentally seeing a sea otter like most tourists do, I intentionally found several in the appropriate habitat munching on some tasty shellfish. Monterey's coastal kelp forest helps maintain a healthy population of these endangered mammals. I lost myself within my own thoughts while watching these magnificent creatures. 

Sea Otter

I grabbed a bowl of clam chowder and sat alone enjoying the anonymity.  I hadn't birded alone like this for a long time. California still feels foreign to me but I am comfortable with that feeling now. It's the reason why I don't live there anymore.  But I wasn't there to live.  I was there to "just be". In my humble opinion, California is a great place to visit, but it's not a great place to live. $$$$$  Everything is $$$$$$$$. The coastal towns are crowded BUT there are gems hiding everywhere in these areas. You just have to know where to look. Luckily for me, I'm a birder and most of the places were off the beaten path away from the tourists. 

Black Oystercatcher
 When dear friends suggested they'd like to visit after my pelagic, I was excited.  I hadn't seen my friends Laura and Chris for years!  In fact, Laura was pregnant with her first child when I last saw her.  Now, she has two full grown girls!  Where does the time pass???!!!!  So many thoughts went through my head.  We were babies when we began teaching all those years ago.  Laura picked me up in her then boyfriend's car and we went to school together as new first year teachers. Our parent's were around the age we are now.  I sat drinking my coffee enjoying their company.  It was hard to say good-bye to them by the end of the day.  And I realized that I really didn't want them to leave. I had missed my friends. 

I missed laughing with them and doing the random stuff like we always used to do in Northern California. Here we were once again, former roommates, all standing together and not doing much of anything except enjoying each other's company.  

Oak Titmouse

After they left, I took one last walk with my friend Lynda.  Together, we had dinner and watched raccoons feed along the rocky shore.  When we said good-bye, I was alone again.  But this time, I didn't like it.  What an interesting thing to be surrounded by old memories and comforted by the presence of wonderful friends. 

I went to bird several places within walking distance and had fun. The key to traveling in California is to stay close to where you need to be so that you don't have to drive.  Driving is the worst in CA! So I did everything on foot.

Townsend's Warbler
California can be pricey, especially the Monterey/Half Moon Bay area. And then there's San Francisco!  I have found some cheaper alternatives for a trek back there again, but I want to bring Micheal with me. He needs to see this area.  

Mixing birding and friends together is the best kind of bird adventure possible. While I enjoy those quiet moments of concentration and just being, I also look forward to having fun doing....whatever. 

We went to a place called "Lover's Point" and sure enough, we found two of them making out on this bench! It was actually quite beautiful. 

But no matter where we go, I always keep my eyes open for a possible new bird.......

Rhinoceros Auklet
And so it would happen.  My next life bird, the Pigeon Guillemot, hung out around the shoreline of Lover's Point. 

Pigeon Guillemot
Another was bathing nearby!  Either way, it was a cool encounter and a fun photo shoot!

On our last day, we had a group photo taken in the famous Cannery Row district. 

My trek to Monterey is not over. I had one last day to bird and do some studies. Stay tuned for more........

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Monterey Pelagic

Sea Otter
On the road and with a mission in mind, I flew to Monterey to meet up with Debi Love Shearwater to find 4 target birds, the Flesh-footed and Buller's Shearwater, Black-footed Albatross and Pigeon Guillemot.

This would be my one and only trek out to Monterey for the rest of my life.  In some ways, it's sad to imagine and yet I still have many many more birds to find in so many different places. I have one more pelagic out of Northern California/the Pacific Northwest that I must make next year. For now, it was about finding a handful of shearwaters and perhaps an albatross or two.

Black-footed Albatross
Pelagics are not easy when it comes to photography.  The boat is constantly spinning around the hilly waters while this birder, me, is trying to keep his hand steady on the lens.  Of course, it begins with the naked eye on the horizon searching for flight patterns.  Then the binoculars to focus.  Once we have the ID, it's a quick grab for the camera to capture that moment!

My first lifer, the Black-footed Albatross, flew across the bow of our ship and delighted the crew as it searched for a little squid snack.

I am in my element.  I love the cool winds and rough waters as we continue searching together for these amazing ocean birds.

Alex Rinkert focuses on the horizon
A Humpback Whale slaps its' tail up and down on the ocean waters with a lot of energy. We also notice birds flying around this amazing creature.


Buller's Shearwater on the move
This shearwater stands out among the rest as it has beautiful gray, black and brown shading on its' wings. 

 At this point, I am loving the shearwater show. It's incredible!

I feel at peace.  I am happy.  I watch birders speak about ticks and checks on their lists.  I remain hidden on board happy to be alone.  Only Debi knows me.  I watch her do her job in an amazing fashion.  She's direct and to the point.  I like her.  I like how she operates. And the birders on board are very nice people.

Sea Lions
For the first time on one of my pelagics, there is no chumming(feeding birds from the boat) allowed. It was now illegal to do so because it has become a protected marine sanctuary.  It made our work a little more difficult, but we accomplished our goals.

Everyone is alert in the morning, but by the afternoon, people start feeling tired or getting seasick.  I was getting tired and forgot that I had packed a bunch of goodies in my backpack.  It seemed to do the trick.

Pink-footed Shearwater
My trek out to California was a smart idea.  I had become tired of the Arizona birding scene and this little adventure recharged my spirits.

Some birds are difficult to find in the US.  Such is the case with the Flesh-footed Shearwater. This bird made an appearance several times during our trek to the delight of many birders. Debi, as her last name suggests, sure knows her shearwaters:)

Flesh-footed Shearwater
This was probably the most difficult bird to get photos of during our trek thanks in part to the rough waters. At one point, I fell on my keister:)

Harbor Seals taking a nap
It was so much fun birding with Debi.  I had made plans for the weekend so I couldn't bird with Debi the next day but hopefully we'll get a chance to do some birding down the road.  Thank you Debi for an awesome day out on the Pacific Ocean.

More to come.....

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Look At Things To Come

Muriel scans for that secretive Dusky Grouse!
Time to get back into birding. 

Zone-tailed Hawk along the DeAnza Trail. It was a ten minute walk before I just said, "No more!" We turned around and headed back to the A/C but not before we saw this guy soaring above us. 
It doesn't mean that I wasn't doing anything; it just meant that I needed to reorganize my priorities. I have been organizing events and projects for the next several months.  Here's a look at some the things we're working on here at Las Aventuras. 

Babs hears what sounds like the American Three-toed Woodpecker in Greer
During the month of September, I kept it low key, making phone calls and organizing trips with people visiting or planning on visiting. I am working on a 5 part series of podcasts that will be released by the end of this year.  I have nearly completed the first episode and am working with an indie artist for my intro.  Surprisingly, it's not as easy as it sounds:) There's a lot of editing that goes into the recordings and thankfully Micheal enjoys doing that part of the audio.  While on the road with my friends, I think to myself, "Why am I not recording some of this conversation?"   

We meet up at the Iguana Bar with Jim and lots of herpers and buggers.  Micheal carries the beer near Texas Canyon
The plan is to get recordings of the real life experience happening behind the birds. I'm hoping it brings a little Bob Ross, CBS Sunday Morning and NPR into our lives. Ideas for the first podcasts include Episode 1-The Sweetwater Wetlands Episode 2-The Ocean(with Debi Shearwater), etc etc.  

Somewhere out there, there are Dusky Grouse.  At Green's Peak
October has arrived and I'm scheduled for several weekends.  This week, I head to the beautiful coastal town of Monterey where I'll meet up with Debi Shearwater and bird the cold Pacific waters for some fun on the Pacific.  And we'll visit with our friend Kathie Brown from Maine. 

Peregrine Falcon
November brings us into the holiday season.  It will be a rather light month birding wise.  I'll be back down in Mexico for a weekend with the Aribabi crew.  While the crew is tracking jaguars, I'll be doing my twice annual bird check at the ranch.  Another project will have me once again counting Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows at the Robbins Butte Wildlife area. 

Did a photo shoot several years ago with these Rainbow Lorikeets.  And Michael Summers made magic happen with this beautiful bird. 
And I'll be finishing off the month with a special visit with Michael Summers who has painted some of my photography.  We'll be meeting in Scottsdale during one of his art shows.  As December arrives, I'll be finishing up with work and planning on ending my year in Wisconsin. Or at least...that's the plan.  

Eurasian Collared-Dove
Planning never ends and it requires goals.  Next year, we're scheduled to stop in Oregon and Washington, Colorado, Costa Rica and many many other locations.  And I'm going to work with birding educator Deborah Vath on some projects that involve getting our youth energized about our incredible world of birds. 

Michael McNulty films the nectar feeding bats near Texas Canyon
It's amazing how all of this just blurs from one moment into the next.  It's exciting and it's fun. Until next time.....

Friday, September 30, 2016

Stepping Back To Move Forward

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Gypsy again.  The way I began. And the way I'll continue from this point forward. 

Always in the shadows learning, but now wearing my invisible cloak for good. 

What once was unknown is now known. What once was new is worn. End of the line. 

5 years doesn't seem like a long time ago. But it has changed me in ways I never imagined.  Now I join "the others" who also have vanished from the public spotlight.  Africa, Australia, Fiji, Cape Verde, the Arctic, Argentina.........

Lincoln's Sparrow
I slowly move closer to a 1000 new species.  It is difficult.  When I see others with a total of 8000 or 9000 bird species, I am overwhelmed.  That is an incredible accomplishment.  

Belted Kingfisher
In October, I will say my good-byes to the AZ crowd one last time.  I am grateful for all the friendships and will maintain the ones I have.  For now, it's time to take a step back from their community.

Gray Hawk
Time to save money and plan for bigger treks. Time to train our future generations about saving our planet's species.  About protecting habitat. About making better decisions when it comes to our environment. And move forward. 

A woman once told me as a beginning birder, "The first two years are the most exciting because everything is new.  But then the game gets harder."  During my 4 years as a birder, it was all thrilling.  Then, during this 5th year, I felt a shift happen.  The game has gotten harder and my patience shorter.

Sage Thrasher in Box Canyon

While I am here in Tucson, I will enjoy the birds.  I will save the $$ and then on my time off, I will fly.  

Common Poorwill at Saguaro National Park
 But the crazy Arizona chases are done.  I crave solitude. No more calculated chasing.  Because that isn't birding.  It's playing a game.  And I'm not playing this game anymore. I just exploded after being surrounded by all the bird politics (and the who's bird was rarer crap.) I felt I had lost control creatively over something that I love.  Something that was once very much my own. I have taken it back again and it feels good. 

As you'll see, Las Aventuras is heading out for some fun along the ocean in a few short weeks. I'm looking forward to birding alone for awhile. As the weather cools down, the epic birding will start to take off!  So many stories to tell over the next several stay tuned for more:)