|Scouting areas for my tour. Sandhill Cranes launch at sunset in the thousands over a field at the Kansas Settlement|
When is too much birding wrong? For those addicted, never. For the spouses involved with these addicts? Often. Yes I am an addict, but in today's post, my addiction prevented a disaster. And I gotta tell you all, life experience, knowledge of my birds and working with groups of people saved this outing from becoming truly disastrous! It's certainly one I won't forget anytime soon. Today's post is about the human side of birding. So here we go.....
|A Red-tailed Hawk for my photographers in the group|
We had all levels of birders in the group ranging from no experience to A LOT of experience. I was ready for their challenge. It was a, "I've never seen a Pyrrhuloxia before."(easy) to "I've never seen a Montezuma Quail."(Now you're talking!) trek. As a teacher, this is something I can handle easily. I have the knowledge. My stops and bird searches were fine, but there was something more important than the birds.....bathrooms! Thanks to my friend Kathie, I remembered to make sure we had frequent stops. Although I still lost one man to the woods:) I felt his pain!
|Mexican Jays came in for a visit on the way up to the Chircahua National Monument|
By guiding an already preset route designed by the coordinators and drivers at the festival, I studied my habitat and made notes on the birds my crew would probably want to observe. My tour was called "Birds on the Mountain"....specifically the Chiricahua Mountains. An epic place to bird. I am quite familiar with these mountains and truly enjoy birding this area. So I studied the route they told me we were taking and was shocked early morning to find out that we were going elsewhere. NO communication! When I do a trip somewhere, I expect to be taken to the places promised in the brochure. So it was going to be one of THOSE trips....the "think on your feet" kind. All the scouting I did was for naught.
|The creek before the fatal mistake of driving the slippery slope|
As with every group I teach, I ask beforehand what birds they wanted to observe. Then I asked how many were photographers, etc etc. The overall expectation was that we would be heading to Portal or at least Rustler Park for the Mexican Chickadee. The problem? The route was scheduled to go to the Chiricahua National Monument which is a beautiful place to visit but not very birdy due to the windy conditions of the peaks. It's a place you take photographers, not birders. And it wastes precious birder time on the road. It also wasn't in the brochure.
|Pretty but not much in the way of birds; photo taken 5 years ago|
Instead of changing the route to a safer one, they kept going with their original one. Midway up to the Monument, we had to turn around because the road was closed due to heavy snow. Even though they already knew that. I could have prevented what the drivers were going to experience. But as I have learned from my own experiences, sometimes, you just have to let things play out as they will. Clearly I was also forced to be a participant in this routing disaster of a plan. In the back of my mind, I heard the ancient voices of my bird masters whispering, "We told you." And they really did. Last year.
|We could learn so much from Sandhill Cranes. They fly in an organized pattern. Humans? Not so much.|
Had we been on the "birdier" side of the mountain heading up from Portal, it would have been different. Paved roads, more stops and less snow. We still wouldn't have been able to make it up to Rustler Park, BUT we could have gotten to the research station or the George Walker house or the lower level birding trails! I began to question if this route was planned by an actual birder or a Sunday afternoon driver looking at pretty scenery. The driver's mission was to take us to the end of Pinery Road where we'd eat lunch at this locally run campground. The problem? Our vans got stuck on a steep ledge. One of our participants had a meltdown and ran ahead of the van. I made more mental notes inside my head. And I took pics. I couldn't make this stuff up even if I wanted to!
|Excellent drivers backing up on a very dangerous ledge with a lot of physical pushing and yelling back and forth. Something about turning the wheels...:)|
Meanwhile the driver's were stressed to the max, but with a little group effort all was not lost and we were able to get the vans off the ice and down into an area where they could safely drive again. Another promised location not happening! We ate lunch along a cold creek where someone asked me about American Dippers. I shared my personal stories while eating my turkey on rye. Another asked me if eating turkey was a birder faux pas. My response, "Not when it tastes so good."
Our trek lead us back into the grasslands where the group would also net a covey of 14 Scaled Quail. The day ended up being a 3 Quail Day which was awesome. Participants were able to observe Coues Deer and Coati. We also were able to get them several lifers, but not the birds they were expecting like Blue-throated Hummingbirds and Mexican Chickadees. I have seen a few Blue-throated Hummingbirds winter in the Portal area.
I have also learned from my career that if you are given a lemon, you have to try and make lemonade. Sometimes the sugar is missing:) But you have to try. What was even more challenging for me on this tour was the mentally unstable woman in our group. The group did not particularly care for her too much. So I had to figure out a way to deal with that situation. And she was touchy! With friends, it's one thing but with strangers, it's not appropriate. At the end of the tour, I was mentally and physically exhausted. When I finished my paperwork, I spoke with the coordinators.
|I stop the vans for a bird count on our way back to Willcox. Not everyone saw the first Pyrrhuloxia and in this field there were two along with a great many other birds. While the mountain birds were quiet, the grassland species were very active!|
|This is another bird the group got to see. The Bridled Titmouse.|
|The Yellow-eyed Juncos played hard to find. Normally, they sit right in front of you for attention:)|
Our overall total for birds that day was at 51 species. I found myself discussing the subspecies ID of Dark-eyed Juncos. We had Pink-sided, Gray and Oregon varieties. I found my group their lifer Yellow-eyed Juncos which played harder to find than normal. Usually, they're the first bird you see! Everyone had a 3 quail day.
|These are stock photos from my photography collection.|
I found the crew an excellent Red-tailed Hawk moment (above) and ONE Ferruginous Hawk. There were 12 remarkable White-winged Doves. And I was able to get them on 3 Brown Creepers of the Mexican subspecies which could be separated down the road as a new species of bird. Oh and yes, we found 3 Pyrrhuloxia:)
After the tour was over, I was in control again. Next time I make the calls. I'm not trusting others to do it especially when my name in on the line:) Guiding groups can be wonderful or terrible. I am grateful for the experience because it taught me a lot about guiding a large birding group of 20+ people. Until next time.....