Saturday, April 4, 2020

Secret Worlds of Sanity

Gray Hawk monitors area
Birds can and do speak to one another often.  From the hundreds of bird species that call Arizona home, it's a constant challenge to learn all their various forms of speech. Every time I go out, I attempt to learn their language.  Migration is in FULL swing now and birds are in full song mode. 

Camouflage and possible nesting site.
As the pandemic takes a stronger hold, I explore further into the overlooked/underbirded areas of Arizona. The town of Catalina has a lot of beautiful areas to bird. Arizona is wild and open country.  

This is NOT social distancing!  To be fair, I think we survived this covid scare because it was all around us in January and February. I'm still not taking any chances.  My friend on the right , we believe, had it in January.  But we'll never know since our governor doesn't have enough testing for everyone.  Just go home and die there. Oh wait!  Only go to the hospital if you're dying and it's too late.  Ducey is a terrible governor.  Thankfully Lori survived the event.  She is a survivor.  My neighbor is recovering from covid right now.  She was lucky in that it was just a mild case for her. How did she get it?  Friends from Washington came to visit:(
I continue to counter the crowds by understanding their routine lives. I visit places that most people overlook. There's a lot of back road trails around the Catalina area that have several lovely riparian areas. 

Not distance in the trail between me and my subjects!  Social distancing is a serious matter.  
Sometimes permits are required, but it's well worth the planning. Today, I'll share some tips and observations from my past week's time out with our amazing Arizona birds.

The best birding right now in Arizona is along our riparian areas as birds migrate through these wet and shaded corridors.  If you're a rarity hunter, this is the place to be.  Our first stop is the incredibly beautiful riparian area known as Cienega Creek Natural Preserve outside of Tucson.  You need a permit for this location, but it's easy and free!  Just go online and follow the instructions. I was interested in this corridor for migrating warblers and nesting hawks.

The Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler
This area is incredibly bizarre.  One walks from desert birds immediately into a creek covered by cottonwood trees!  It's night and day.  And so are the birds.  We walked from above the highway surrounded by desert into this very loud birdy area.  It was so bizarre to me because I couldn't hear the birds down inside the canyon.  But once we got there, WOW!  The bird song took over. 

I am always intrigued by this time of year because wintering and summer warblers overlap.  There are the chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers in their gorgeous breeding plumage mixed with our other regular wintering warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler.  A regular warbler that breeds in the higher elevations of Arizona but pass through these areas on the way up to places like Mt. Lemmon, the Black-throated Gray Warbler, can also be found here in smaller numbers. So often, those are the "chips" you will hear in the riparian corridors.  The challenging part is figuring out which chip is made by these warblers. 

Black-throated Gray Warbler
And while that is going on, the summer breeding warblers, the Yellow and Lucy's Warblers are vocalizing, (and chipping) and looking to settle down for a nest.  Now the trickier part is separating all this "noise" from rarities like a Prothonotary Warbler or American Redstart.  While Celeste was getting an ID on a sparrow along the creek, I was trying to locate what I thought was an American Redstart calling.  No luck.  Cienega Creek can be a challenge for birders as many of the warblers, flycatchers, etc hang out inside the trees. 

And while all these warblers are chipping or singing, there are a million other birds making their various calls. My ears are good.  Often I stand in one spot and just enter in the data.  I don't have to see many of these birds as I have seen them often.  But some, I like to see over and over again..... Yes, I have my favorites:)

I'm not a huge fan of vireos and it has been a vireo week!  We had Cassin's and Plumbeous Vireos which have somewhat similar calls.  We had a Warbling Vireo at the creek.  AND the MOST common vireo is my FAVORITE one, the Bell's Vireo.  Their "watchee wichahhh" call also makes me laugh. It's a small vireo with a loud voice and a huge personality.  Here's your yearly photo of a Bell's Vireo.  I cannot tell you how much I love these little vireos.  

Bell's Vireo
And again, flycatchers are cool but not my favorites EXCEPT maybe the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Again, it's a common bird for southeastern Arizona and one I know very well.  The call is a piercing, repetitive and slightly descending PIU PIU PIU PIU! It's often in the background and ignored by birders. Or birders don't know what bird is making that noise. It's unique. But I've wired my brain to repeat the call subconsciously outloud when I hear the bird.  Then I look.  They also have this three note "di di di" that means they are just chillin' and letting their other half know where they are.  The piercing repeated note is a territorial call. At the creek, we had them foraging for bugs around the lower canopy of the cottonwoods.

The smallest flycatcher with the biggest personality, the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
And while ALL this is going on, you have to keep your eyes and ears ready for hawks!  Hawk migration might be winding down, except maybe for the Swainson's Hawks, but most of the other hawks are beginning to nest. On this day, we had beautiful views from a pair of Gray Hawks getting ready to nest.  They made their "whiny" scream to let others know that this was THEIR spot.  

A Gray Hawk flies over our heads
And while not a great shot of these Zone-tailed Hawks, it didn't lesson the excitement when we spotted them trying to pair up.  To observe these hawks nesting in this area was worth the trip alone.  

Zone-tailed Hawks "flirt" as they ride the thermals over the creek
During another trek this week, I planned for a sunset walk along Proctor Road into Madera Canyon.  I did about 2 miles along the trail.  People were thick along the creek and all were Covid 19 violators.  They weren't smart at all about anything really.  They were in the streams letting kids run around the banks where I've seen rattlers.  Another woman thought she could illegally trespass into the Santa Rita Lodge bird area because it was her right. The owner was polite and told her to turn around but the woman continued with her vulgar speech and that she had every right to walk on their private property.  The lodge had to call the rangers.  Many people from the city who have no clue about nature are literally overcrowding these natural spaces. And it's because of this, so many places are completely shutting down their entrances into parks and preserves.

Madera Canyon at the right time of day is a delight.  At 4 PM, a lot of the annoying people have to go home and "eat" and do whatever they do at night.  I arrived as the canyon was emptying out.  And I had the whole place to myself. My mission?  I don't know.  Just get out of the house and enjoy being outdoors.  This quarantine can be too much! Thankfully there's plenty of areas where I can go to avoid the crowds. 

Common Raven
As I hiked up into the Whitehouse area of the trail, I sat down with this Common Raven and watched him waddle about the empty parking lot looking for food.  Then in a really interesting observation, I watched him call his partner from the parking lot into the sky.  

In less than a minute, I watched her swirl down from out of nowhere to join him. 

She flew right in front of me.  Ravens are absolutely gorgeous.  Look at the detail of that plumage!  I imagine, if I were a designer, how I'd incorporate such intricate patterns into one dress.  This Common Raven has 7 or 8 different feather patterns!  Incredibly beautiful bird. 

I hear the dry "whit" of the Ash-throated Flycatcher hiding on a limb
After watching the Common Ravens, I hear the unmistakable calls of the Montezuma Quail!  I go into the canyon further and find them.  They toy with me like they always do.  And like always, I'm so stupid that I flush a covey!  The male makes his alien descending "zzzzzzzrrrrr" after they flush as if giving me the middle finger.  Well, that's me giving the bird a human personality. What he really was doing was telling the ladies where he went:)

The canyon was so lovely that I stayed until the evening just to listen for Whiskered Screech-Owls and Elf Owls.  And it didn't disappoint.  I also hung out with the owner from the Santa Rita Lodge for awhile chatting with him about his business in this time of cancellations.  He's hoping the loans will help him out.  I'm hoping he got through that mess.  Apparently it wasn't as easy as the US government made it out to be.  Again, a bunch of liars. Every single one of them. 

Coue's Whitetail Deer
Okay.  Breathe in and breathe out.  I can't fix stupid.  But I can escape and connect with nature if I so choose.  And so can many of you.  Until next time....

Monday, March 30, 2020


Gambel's Quail
As I watch lines around stores form and snowbirds fleeing the city in the thousands to get back to their doctors in their home states, I stand on the sidelines watching humanity unwind.  Meanwhile, bird migration is happening on schedule as if nothing was really happening, giving me a false sense of security.  I am absolutely fascinated by it all. 

Copulating Killdeer
I counter crowds by finding my secret spaces to find birds.  I run to all the places I need to go before quarantine takes hold. I pick up house and garden project stuff.  I get the oil change done.  I visit Holly at the bamboo ranch to get my plants for spring planting.  And for the most part, I am ready to stay indoors full time. People are no different from birds.  They also have habits that can be predicted. 

Great Egret
As of today, Covid-19 has killed more than 2000 Americans in the US. Globally, it has killed so many more people. It's quite a show watching this "President" and his Corona task force deal with this crippling blow to the US. And now I watch this house of cards finally collapse around him at the cost of his supporters and everyone else who lives in this country. I cannot believe that some people think this is just a hoax!  

Curve-billed Thrasher
I'm not angry anymore.  I just don't care.  I feel for those infected.  If I get it, I'll be okay as well.  Humanity needs a shaking up. We have been abusive and complacent in this world.  I try to do my best to make progress.  I switched out all plastic bags this year for cool grocery purses that I can reuse over and over again. I got rid of plastic bottles for a hydroflask.  But the environmental damage Trump has done to the US is unforgivable. And now, here we are with this disease thanks in part to poaching and the illegal trade market in China. Middle and western African countries are going to take yet another hit on top of all the other things they have been dealing with like HIV, Ebola, bad economies, etc etc.  We are all connected.  And we are all to blame. 

A healthy and happy Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
I also think that there is more about this disease we DON'T know like when did it really start?  The first US case was reported January 21st.  NOW, let's go back to October when I traveled to Oregon.  If you've been following this blog, you might remember that I had a severe illness for a couple months.  I went to the ER twice.  The doctor's had said everything was fine.  I experienced GI issues, difficulty breathing doing easy things and in November and December, I had the desire to just die. 

Black-throated Sparrow
I am now feeling better.  There is still a smaller issue, but I went to the doctor again this past week to hopefully obtain the last bit of antibiotics I need to take out the last bit of this GI issue. Thousands of dollars and no answers to every single test they had done on me really made me frustrated. 

Anna's Hummingbird
Now let's fast track after winter break during the month of January.  Students were getting sick for more than several days.  In fact, they were out for weeks at my school.  I know this because all the teachers spoke about it.  We didn't get all the make up work in until that first week of March!  In my 24 years of teaching, I have NEVER had a flu take out that many kids for that amount of time.  Our attendance specialist was overloaded with absentee calls from parents.  The last three weeks of January and first week in February were terrible. This wasn't an ordinary flu.  Several students also lost their parents.  It's natural to lose a parent sometimes, but to have several students lose a mom or dad in a semester was not only sad and devastating but horrifying.    

female Anna's Hummingbird at my feeder
THEN, a teacher who is always healthy had an issue the last week of January.  She was sitting at her desk working when a student came up to ask her a question.  As he was speaking to her, some of his spittle hit her lips.  She remembered being grossed out by this and told me about it.  The next day, she couldn't function and disappeared for 4 days!  We were worried about her, but she came back the following week her normal crazy self. 

a very furry Nova chills on top a stack of freshly cleaned bathroom towels. 
Now if you're saying, "Chris but......" First, let me say this. These are just observations from a teacher of 24 years. Not fact, just observations. Here's the thing.  I work at a school where parents have weird jobs.  One student proudly told me her dad had just come back from Wuhan on a business trip after it was announced that the virus began there. We weren't taking it as serious back then. People travel over winter break and it doesn't take much for a disease to cross over and begin its work. Now these are just things that I began piecing together since my own mortality scare in October.  I NEVER get sick.  I don't trust this government we have now because they lie all the time.  I think things were building up to this moment back in January.  It was the silent enemy hitting pockets of humanity.  Now, there's no avoiding it.  In Arizona, we still can't get tested unless we are showing all the symptoms.  Trump is an idiot. We DO NOT have enough testing kits and WE ARE NOT ready. And now the US will pay the ultimate price.  But sure, Bozo.  Throw money at us.  That will fix everything!

Nova "helps" me
"Why don't you get tested now?"  Well because ONE I can't. There's not enough testing kits out there. And only people exhibiting the symptoms can get a test.  TWO.  I don't want to get reinfected again.  Hospitals, cruise ships, crowds and planes are a germ fest! And there are still people who want to continue their flight or cruise!  Unbelievable!  And how are children's daycares still open?  I live next door to one and there are still kids playing outside?!  I have a deep appreciation for the health workers, grocery store clerks and law enforcement agencies putting their lives at risk helping the public get through this crisis.  

Great Blue Heron at El Rio Preserve in Marana
I asked my students online what has been the greatest silver lining about doing their work at home.  It was reassuring to hear things like, "I get to spend more time with my family." or "I can learn at my own pace and take breaks when I need them." and of course the ever popular teenage response, "I get to sleep in!".  Some things never change. 

There were other responses that made me smile like, "I get to see your cats more Profe. I love your cats."  LOL!  It's true.  While I'm doing zoom or doing a video segment, I have cats who like to "help" me out.  One of the universal responses to that silver lining question was, "I get to spend more time with my dog or cat."  That made me smile. 

A Cooper's Hawk eats one of my Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in my backyard!  Not cool Coops!  Eat the doves!
Finally, I am enjoying this quarantini moment in my life.  I am "forced" to enjoy living at home.  I am "forced" to work on my home.  I am "forced" to bird from my yard. I am "forced" to garden at home.  I never had enough time to do it all.  Now I have all the time in the world!  I choose to see the positive in this all.  It's a new challenge.  My birding has turned me into being a robin stroker...totally appropriate for the moment. And it's a treasure hunt. A game.  How many birds can I find in Pima county?  How do I stay away from the evil sickly humans who don't stand 6 feet away from each other? Seriously. And avoid the terrible people who are rude to each other in lines? This is a living video game! Avoid the crazy man who runs over the worker with his cart because there is no toilet paper(true story).  Oh it's a human shit show out there full of beautiful, sad and stupid human stories. On the plus side, gas couldn't be cheaper!

The White-winged Doves are returning to my yard again!
Spring migration is in full swing here in the desert southwest.  We all secretly whisper to each other that we are so lucky to live here because there's a lot of open spaces and a lot of birds!  But deep down, I know summer is going to be here in NO TIME!  Trump said that the virus should be gone by Easter.  Okay buddy.  Then he said it should be gone by summer because it gets warmer outside. He's a smart guy that one.  However, 115 degrees is hot and the virus has a difficult time living outside the body at certain temps.  Heck, a human can't live outside in 115 degrees for very long:) 

I head out with Celeste to do some night birding.  We listen for Elf Owls and Common Poorwills
And the other silver lining?  I control my eating.  I'm not driving an hour and half every day to school.  I can teach from my catio or side garden OR office.  Even better?  I can go for a walk in the morning like I normally would.  And I'm losing weight again!  I control HOW I do my job.  Not vice versa.  This pandemic is going to change so many things about how we do our jobs.  I'm hoping I can teach online for most of the week with 2 days of teacher supervision to make sure that students aren't cheating. And that they also get their time to socialize.  They did mention missing that aspect of school.  But I gotta tell you all.  I don't miss the classroom discipline part or the drug issues that plague most of the schools here in the US.  That's on the parents now.  I think some of them miss us:) Our schools in AZ are closed now for the rest of the year. I think everyone is in the honeymoon mode right now but it will slowly sink in as the pandemic wraps around our city more and graduations are cancelled.  Right now, everyone is acting like it's no big deal in Tucson. And that's how this disease is spreading.

A Great Egret flies over my head at Agua Caliente Park
Please stay healthy.  Spend lots of your time with your furry friends.  If you have a spouse, smile at them from across the house from time to time.  Maybe check in with them for dinner?  Wait!  Is that what dinner is all about?  Touching base with the ones you love?  What a great idea? Yes.  Some old traditional values still stick and are time honored.  How cool is THAT in this ever changing world?!  Until next time......I'm hoping:)

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Planet Covid 19

Painted Lady
During this first true week of the pandemic in Arizona, I have seen great acts of kindness balanced with great acts of rudeness.  I have seen things written and said that are hateful on both sides. A divided nation.  Angry millennials telling the boomers that they deserve what they get and that essentially this disease is the "boomer remover". Here's the thing. Whether I agree or not with this older generation, I still love many of them. My parents are boomers.  Some of my best friends are boomers.  If anything happened to them, I'd be sad.  If anything happened to anyone close to me, I'd be sad. We are a divided nation with divided generations and a virus that doesn't care who you are. It's a scary time.  I look back at my life and just scratch my head.  So much has happened, but never have I had this experience! Home is my headquarters. Kinda....:)

Anna's Hummingbird
I have drawn deeper into myself this past week calling upon nature to heal.  And so have many other people; sometimes dangerously too close to one another.  Everyone says get out in nature, but people think, at least here, that if they are in nature and in close proximity that they won't be affected. Wrong!  As a birder, I know secret spaces where I can have a whole canyon to myself or a patch of grassland free of humanity.  It's really not as easy as you think.  Now that children have no school, they are off the leashes and some parents are letting them scare off the wildlife!

Common Black Hawk
The Tubac Hawk Watch was called off several days ago because many birders were congregating there to watch the amazing hawk show.  I did well and socially distanced myself from the crowds.  But some birders were jokingly doing high fives with their elbows and then hugged.  It's very human and beautiful.  And we forget.  "Certainly, he or she doesn't have the Covid(Corvid to birders) 19 virus.", we think. And let's face it.  Much of the birding crowd is over 60.  One infected person and BOOM! Gone. Wiped out. I'd hate to see that happen.  The hawk watch was shutdown by the town of Tubac.  Now secretly,in fear of fines or arrest, we walk the trails and look up at the skies in solitude pretending we're not looking for hawks in the sky above Tubac:) Hide the binos!

I've been personally connecting with spaces.  And friends in town.  This past weekend, we hiked 2 miles into the quiet Willow Canyon of the super crazy and busy Mt. Lemmon.  The snow on the road kept vehicles from driving into the canyon and that was a clue for us to explore.  We had snow and a beautiful running stream without human people screaming and shouting around us.  Perfection.  

female Cassin's Finch
Along the riparian corridors, clouds pose as jellyfish in the sky. 

A Common Black Hawk flies above our heads and we smile.  Migration is inspiration.  

The moon is a wonder in the daylight. 

Spring flowers bloom in the thousands.  The Anna's Hummingbird comes to feed in his territory. 

I look across the pond of a local preserve and observe Great Egrets hunting for fish.  Desert Bluebells and California Poppies begin their dazzling shows here. 

A Black-tailed Gnatcatcher dances around several wildflowers and gleans insects from the foliage. 

I go during the off times at a popular wetlands in Tucson and quietly observe everything around me.  The warblers are back!

Birds carry on as a serious pandemic takes hold in many countries. 

Common Gallinule
I scan the reeds and notice that one of the reeds is looking back at me. 

American Bittern
I drive out to a far away place for a rare bird.  I drive through miles and miles of wildflowers blanketing the Sonoran desert. It's the quiet that I need now. I need time to think. We are in the eye of a storm.  The crazy is about to begin and virus takes hold of the West.  Tonight, Pima County had its first Coronavirus death. 

I've seen people pay it forward.  We've witnessed someone giving the last loaf of bread to an elderly man who cried.  Someone at our produce market paid for 50 people to get food to their families. I almost had a tear in my eye until I saw an old granny vaping and blowing the vape in our directions.  Everyone around her was like, "What the hell lady?"  Social distancing was not happening.  

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
And hey! I'm okay with ordering food every night to help support local restaurants.  That might be the worst silver lining ever:)  

Lucy's Warbler
Have hope.  Be safe.  Be smart.  And be kind to each other. Below is a video that made me laugh.  But warning....there is language. Until next time.....

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Novel Approach

Costa's Hummingbird
With a global pandemic upon us all, the Covid-19 virus has really turned everything upside down. Spring break has been extended until the end of the month for students. I don't think I've wrapped my head around all of it yet. 

A beautiful walk.  No people.  Just nature. 
Last week I prepped my work to go out of the classroom with my students in case we have to go online. Of course no one told us to do this, but common sense told me to prepare for the inevitable. 

Inca Dove
In Tucson, it's more of a blessing than a curse. Warm weather. Great outdoor scene. Migration happening.  What's not to love? One. I get to be home every day during migration? What??!! Two. It's the nicest time of year here so do I work on house projects or bird?  Three. Cancelled events that bring in way too many people to Tucson?! YES! Thank you corona! And sports have been cancelled?  That's like the cherry on top of the sundae! What will people do with their free time?  Hopefully get out and reflect.  Take a nice hike or bike and go somewhere wonderful in nature. 

A rare Townsend's Solitaire
And my garden!  I can work on my garden!  

Rufous-winged Sparrow
Sadly, yet smartly, my friends from Wisconsin cancelled their trek to Arizona.  It sucks.  I was looking forward to their visit, but I completely understand.  I would have done the same thing. Being on a plane or cruise is just plain dumb right now.  Even after telling my students about the dangers, they still went to Italy, Hawaii and elsewhere.  Now they are having a nightmare of a time getting back.  No one listens to the teacher.  I give them an "F" for not listening to my lectures. The congestion in the airport alone would make me go mad.  And the exposure rate is MUCH greater. Yikes.   

a nesting Cactus Wren
I am bothered that there isn't any toilet paper available in the stores.  And if you have someone who always uses up the last toilet paper roll in the house and doesn't tell you, like my other half, then it makes it even worse!  We had to go to 4 stores to find ONE package of toilet paper!

Pipevine Swallowtail
I guess being a bird has its advantages.  They don't need toilet paper.  This virus has put a hold on everyone's lives.  Birders have had trips cancelled. But in a way, I'm thankful for this time out.  It really forces us to appreciate the beauty around us.  I actually got drunk from the sunshine over the past couple days. If this is what it's like to be retired, I'm all for it. 

Gila Woodpecker in nest
We had rains last week and the ground is nice and soft to put in new plants for the year.  

Black-throated Gray Warbler
Warblers, hawks, vireos and other birds are making their move north. Never in my career have I been given 2 weeks to linger around the natural corridors of Arizona at free will.  It's kind of a gift. I can sleep in late if I want. 

Stay safe. Be smart. And enjoy the solitude if you can.  Spring is here and the birds are moving north.  It'll certainly take your mind off of things.  

It doesn't matter where you are.  Nature is there. Until next time.