Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Birding is magic. No matter where we go, there is always something incredible to see.

Dream. Organize. Research. And go! When I am completely alone, I can hear all the barely audible sounds. A leaf crunching.  A "peek" note not quite that of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. The soft patter of feet on bark. An odd acorn falling from the oak.  And it's my ears, not my eyes, that lead me to the birds. 

The island subspecies of the California Quail
Take for example this island subspecies of California Quail(above) and Orange-crowned Warbler(below).  It was important that we find these birds.  According to the people on Catalina Island, the California Quail is different from the one on the mainland.  One person even boldly declared it a separate species.  Not yet.  There are 8 subspecies of this quail!  I couldn't tell this one apart from the other subspecies of  California Quails I've seen in the past. Apparently, it's the smaller version that was brought to the island during a time when there were still indigenous people living there.

the island subspecies of the Orange-crowned Warbler
With our next bird, the Orange-crowned Warbler, we didn't have to look far!  Unlike other Orange-crowned Warblers, this subspecies lives all year round on the Channel Islands. It even looks very different from the other OCWA's I've seen. It looked bigger and that bill!!! 

Orange-crowned Warbler found on the mainland-note bill difference
 We did see quite a difference in behavior and appearance. 

Western Gulls fighting over a dead Garibaldi
No matter where we go, we always observe something very special.  It's addicting. It's fun.  And sometimes, it's super exhausting!

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Either way, we're having fun visiting our feathered friends.

A curious Olive Warbler
You see, it's not about finding them anymore.  It's about understanding them in their natural habitat. I used to think it was so hard to find some of these birds, but today, thanks to experience and a lot of work out in the field, it's so much easier!  Some might say magic!

Female Gila Woodpecker on Ocotillo

What a beautiful world!  What an amazing place to explore!  Forget the politics, the family and friend drama, and all the other things that weigh us down.  

"Yes, operator.  Is there any cell service here?"
OH! And don't forget work which seems to take over our personal lives!!!  My job doesn't define who I am.  It isn't my only reason to live.  Work is just work. It pays the bills. And I like my students and subject matter. I mean, it's a job and it makes my day go by fast. When I'm out in nature with my birds or working with others, I'm happy.  Each day holds a magical moment if we allow it into our lives.  Until next time....  

Lazuli Buntings

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stationary Front

Nesting Broad-billed Hummingbird in our garden at El Presidio
Even if they aren't life birds, they are still so very worthy of close study.  For they are "my birds". Of course I don't own them, but I do live in their area. They are the ones I know best.  In my moments of work overload, I pause to inspect and observe spaces that I inhabit each and every day.  

 A break from madness. Balance. Serenity. No worries for tomorrow.  No worries about the stresses of today.  It's about just existing and being a part of our natural world. It provides a clarity of mind during my daily meditation.

Molting Snow Goose at a local park on my way home from work
Birding doesn't have to go beyond your world.  It can happen wherever you are.  Thankfully, we have birds to remind us to pause and reflect. 

Great Horned Owlets at my work site learning how to fly and use the shadows to stay cool
I wait until my students have all left.  Then I take my camera out and check up on our recently fledged owlets.  All are happy and eager to grow up.  An owlet tries to fly but instead runs into a cactus.  A soccer mom standing with me screams, "OH NO!  We need to help that owlet!"  No we don't.  I ask her, "Did you learn how to roller skate or ride a bike on the first try?"

Everything takes time and practice to get right.  Sometimes it's better when we do nothing.  An injured bird is one thing.  But baby birds learning to fly?  Well it can be quite humorous:)  There is always one clutz in the group. 

A female Vermilion Flycatcher on nest
Even the most common birds can delight while I wait for the next big adventure.  A Vermilion Flycatcher nests.  A Zone-tailed Hawk hunts. 

A Zone-tailed Hawk on the hunt
While I watch this rather intimidating hawk, it shakes several of its molting feathers away:) I don't know why but this bird always makes me nervous. The Common Black Hawk is gentle and graceful.  But the Zone-tailed Hawk is a lethal assassin. Those talons are sharp.  If you ever get accidentally close to a nest, you will know.  Just slowly move away.  They will scream at you and fly right above your head until you leave.  Yikes!

And once and awhile a lovely rare migrant makes its way through the state to make for an exciting chase.

American Golden-Plover
For now, I wait.  There's a lot of waiting.  Time and money never seem to coincide.  The more time you have; the less money you make.  And vice versa. 

A very special sparrow-the Rufous-winged Sparrow
So I will study my birds while I wait. And wait for the next big trip. 

Gilded Flicker
While they nest or migrate, I will take notes.  And more notes......memorizing every buzz, chirp and tweet they make.

A migrating Brewer's Sparrow

For now, it's best I leave this male Vermilion Flycatcher to feed his young family.

Next week, the Wrenegades unite for the biggest day ever in Tucson Audubon's fundraising event!  What will we find?  Stay tuned.  You're not going to want to miss this one!  Especially if you're planning on visiting us this summer:)  Until next time......

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Las Aventuras: Dancers Among Us

Spotted Owls
With the first part of migration over, it was time to do some mountain and riparian trekking for other incoming migrants.

Lark Bunting
Some of the hikes were steep and quite a killer on the feet:)  But I wasn't going to find many birds sitting down.  The first of my two yearly treks into Miller Canyon happened.  On my second trek in June, most of the special hummingbirds like the White-eared and Blue-throated Hummingbirds should be back.

Scott's Oriole
I visited several hotspots around the Huachuca mountains and I walked along the San Pedro River. It was a beautiful day out finding familiar faces and birds along the trails:)

Gray Hawk
Along the waterways, we spied 3 Gray Hawks flying over the verdant canopy of the San Pedro River.

On our return back, the color red caught my eye and I was seduced by the beautiful Pyrrhuloxias at the Casa De San Pedro feeders. 

Lots of Pyrrhuloxias
Before we hiked the trail along the river, there hadn't been any activity.  But when we returned, there were hundreds of birds all feeding!  What a show!

More Pyrrhuloxias with female Red-winged Blackbirds and a Gila Woodpecker
After several months of thought and the direction my birding is going this year, I have chosen the 2016 theme, "Dancers Among Us."  My focus is all about the detail surrounding birds and their lives.

A beautiful male Magnificent Hummingbird along the trail we were hiking.
As we search for new life, we'll explore both the known and the unknown.  While my photo essays will take me into California, Wisconsin and now Texas, I'll continue my work in Arizona.  Hummingbirds are migrating back in great numbers now and I look forward to the work ahead of me this year.

Here are the reports for Miller Canyon, the San Pedro River and Ash Canyon.  Until next time....

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Back to Avalon

This guy was little like the "Lady in the Fountain" from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun".  He was a bit "off"
We left LA in the darkness and quickly headed towards the cute beach town of Dana Point. There we would take a ship across the Pacific and look for the last reliable colony of Spotted Doves in the US. 

The islands off of the Southern California coast are some of the best places to visit. Surprisingly they, unlike their neighbors on the nearby coast, are not overcrowded with people. Once we arrived, I knew we were going to have fun birding this island. 

Again, the people fascinated me.  They were a different group.  The lady below was busy chatting with a friend from her porch.  That's not something you see much of these days anymore!

We wandered some along the rocky coastline and found our very own Wandering Tattler!  

Wandering Tattler
We watched this shorebird hunt for crabs.  I think I like the shorebird diet a lot. 

We had some cloudy weather the first day, but it cleared up on the second.  In the pic below, you see the old casino.  It's an entertainment building for movies and weddings, etc. It actually doesn't have any gambling at all. 

It was easy to get distracted here, but our mission was to find the last stable colony of Spotted Doves.  In 1917, these birds were introduced and had established themselves over the years in the LA area.  But as time has gone on, these birds have almost completely vanished from the urban sprawl of Southern California. They are rare now in much of LA County with only a few left at the Colonel Leon H. Washington Park and several other nearby locations. And of course there are random sightings "here and there". We were on vacation and I didn't want to be spending it in LA. Several California birders came to Arizona in January and tipped me off that there was still a reliable place to find these birds.  Catalina Island. 

Spotted Dove
It didn't take long to put a plan together.  A pelagic opportunity, an island trip searching for endemic subspecies and oh....the lifer Spotted Dove!  It was a win win scenario.  And sure enough.  We found our doves!  Lots of them!  Everywhere!

Once we found our doves, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of our vacation. 

We hiked along the shores. And eventually we went into the rugged interior of the island. 

Striped Shore Crab
People watching was the best. Sipping on my Bloody Mary, we watched people live their lives.  

Crack kills
The road sharply curved around several areas, but we kept our eyes out for the bison known to live on this island.  With all the rain California has received, the island was rather green. 

Eventually we found a small group of bison.  Keeping our distance, we snapped pics. 

With our mission accomplished, it was time to return back to the mainland.  On our way back on the Catalina Express, I found a super rare Red-billed Tropicbird!  I struggled with my gear, but I was able to snap off some ID'able shots of the bird before it disappeared.  It was a rare bird alert for the U.S.!  Getting a pic for these situations is important.  For one, it lets people know that you aren't making it up.  And second, it erases any doubt that the bird may have been ID'd incorrectly. 

Red-billed Tropicbird
All of it can be exhausting.  My eyes had bags under them because it was all new birding territory.  It's hard not to look around you.  After all, it's not every day I get a chance to visit new places.  I love exploring!

The express took us home and it was back to Arizona again.  For the Catalina Island report click here. What an amazing adventure!  Until next time.......

And never let this happen to you:)  Thanks Magill for the laugh!