Sunday, January 12, 2020

Road Trip

This Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay isn't stupid.  The bird is waiting for a handout in the tourist heavy Garden of the Gods

I love the idea of road trips, but as I'm getting older, I don't have the patience to sit for 11 hours in a vehicle like I used to. That is the amount of time it takes to get from Tucson to Colorado Springs IF you don't make long stops. And how can a birder pass up such fantastic birding hotspots like Bosque Del Apache?!  I like to meander to my final destination spot. 

Orion is a human beaver hybrid
I agreed to do the trek because I wanted to see our family and because I didn't want Micheal driving alone during the holidays.  It's a dangerous drive between the border of New Mexico and Colorado.  We've had so many issues going through the Raton Pass.  Between a serious tire blow out to the pass becoming slippery due to an icy storm passing through the area, we've had our share of mishaps.  This trip would be no different.  A rock fell off a cliff and hit a car knocking the car off the highway.  The other car driving behind that car ran over the huge rock and blew their tires out.  The rock pieces?  Well those flew onto my windshield cracking my front window! We dodged a bullet and I called my insurance to have the crack fixed.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but unfortunately both cars were in bad shape. 

During a stroll in a nearby cemetery, I enjoy watching Fox Squirrels chase each other around the grounds. 

I like to take things slow and I needed to take a break.  My body has been healing and I didn't want to overdo it.  So there were two requirements.  If I took my car Betty to Colorado, we needed to stay an evening in Socorro, close to Bosque El Apache.  I needed that moment when the sun began to set and the birds began to fly over our heads to put myself together. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. The video below is just one moment from a long one I had while watching the miracle of Sandhill Cranes and other waterfowl fly over my head. 

The following morning we left Socorro for Colorado Springs, but we stopped in Pecos, New Mexico for breakfast.  And at this cozy restaurant, we saw the most beautiful holiday tree.  I sat sipping my coffee next to the fire trying to memorize all the details of that gorgeous tree. Those are the moments from a road trip that I enjoy.  

Sometimes I'd love to shrink myself and get lost in the majesty of a holiday tree like Chip and Dale did in that Christmas special so many decades ago.
As we headed north towards the Colorado border, we began to see Black-billed Magpies, a sign that we were getting closer. 

Black-billed Magpie
We arrived at a nice time in the Colorado Springs area.  It was still light out.  Never drive into or out of this city at night.  There are many elk and deer along the way.  And had we been driving through the Raton area at night, I would have never seen that rock fall onto the pass. I have never experienced near death experiences like the one we had during our wedding when our tire blew out at night while trying to get home.  A man with a hook for a hand came and towed Micheal's car to his place to pick "some things up".  He proceeded to get into a fight with his girlfriend and then left his trailer.  Once inside his tow truck during that LOOOOONG drive to Trinidad, he began telling us about how Trinidad was the transgender capital of the world. Where was he going with that story? In fact, where am I going with this story? Once we got to Trinidad, a tire shop tried to sell us huge tires because Micheal's car was foreign and they didn't have his tires. Our only spare was not going to get us home as it was 8 hours away. I walked all over that small town the following morning finding the only two foreign tires that would fit his car for that long drive home. 26 bucks!  That's all it cost. Had we gone with the bigger tires, we would have paid around 400 dollars and had vehicle damage!  As you can imagine, it probably explains why I am not a big fan of the Raton Pass and I'm traumatized for life. 

Poor Bee Bee.  She's not a lap dog at all. 
Once we arrived into the Colorado Springs area, we had a nice visit with the family. And while there wasn't anything new in the birding category for me to find, I finally got to observe not one or two Cackling Geese but thousands! In Arizona, they are rare. But in the Springs area, they were everywhere!  Many years ago, I created several Ebird Hotspots in that city so I felt like it was my duty to do a count around those three local parks. And that is where I discovered my Cackling Geese.  

A Cackling Goose comes in for a landing
Just when I thought there was nothing new to discover, I was reminded again about how wrong I can be.  I assumed all the geese were Canada Geese, but while out in the field, I was getting a Cackling Goose vibe. Surely, Cackling Geese were rare for Colorado.  When I went back to the in laws, I got on my computer and looked up the data and discovered that Cackling Geese(Richardson's subspecies) wintered in the Colorado Springs area!  So cool!

An easy ID for this Cackling Goose, a white line at the base of the short neck, dark back, short bill, square head makes it perfect for the Richardson's subspecies. 
I went back the next day at the same time and studied the various subspecies really well.  It was the first time that I was able to really get close and observe field marks. It's not always obvious.  How does one tell the difference between the Taverner's subspecies from a "Lesser" Canada Goose!?!  It's not easy.  But the bill is usually the first field mark we have to look at.  And that's not always a great one to use.  A Taverner's bill isn't as small and triangular like the other subspecies of Cackling Geese.  But it's not quite as long as the Lesser Canada Goose either. 

Cackling Geese are easy to pick out when next to their larger relatives, the Canada Goose.  This Richardson's subspecies is about a third of the size of the related Canada Goose
I spent so much time studying them that I forgot about the time. I went in the morning and the next thing I knew, it was lunch time!  I had told Gordon before our road trip that Colorado birding this time of year is pretty uneventful.  And I was wrong in a good way. It's not Arizona birding but it's fun.  Plus I got to add American Tree Sparrow to my 2020 year list!

The Richardson's Cackling Goose is the main subspecies to winter in Colorado.  It is possible to find Taverner's mixed in with this group.  Source: Utah Birds
We took nature walks during the early afternoon.  It would be cool to cold depending on wind gusts. And daylight was a premium.  It was a constant battle to get any birding done because the sunrise was late and due to the shadow of the mountain, the sun set early. 

There's a great place to bird near Colorado Springs in the town of Fountain.  It's a lovely preserve that goes along a river.  During our walk we discovered that beavers had been busy.  We also had a Great Horned Owl fly out from the trees over our heads.  

My nephew Orion finds an old wasp's nest. I spy my first-of-the-year(FOY) American Robin. 

American Robin
There are places that we always seem to go visit when we're in Colorado Springs like the Fountain Creek Regional Park, Pike's Peak, and of course, the amazing Garden of the Gods

Now I've taken you all there once or twice before, but it's impossible not to enjoy these spaces over and over again. 

I personally like the gift shop there.  They have affordable art to hang on your walls and a fun restaurant where you can enjoy the beautiful outside.  And it was there, I added my first 2020 Townsend's Solitaire!

We had a lovely time.  It seems to speed up when we are there.  I also noticed my pain was gone for most of our visit.  Strange but it was a nice break from my side aches. 

Honestly, I don't know what this year will bring.  I've left much of it open.  I have visitors coming to go birding with me and I am really looking forward to spending some great time outdoors showing them my beautiful part of the world. If and I mean IF, this body gets back on track, I am organizing treks to Florida, the Darien Gap in Panama, and on the big island of Hawaii (or O'ahu). For now, I look forward to peaceful weekends with my cats in the catio, a nice stroll close to home, and doing some work in my garden. Until next time....

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Christmas Bird Counts

The team spies Mexican Jays across the lake
The CBC, or Christmas Bird Count, has been around for 119 years.  It has been a long lasting tradition for many birders around the United States during the months of December and January. And it continues to grow in popularity. And before I get started, I hope everyone had a wonderful start to their New Year! 

Orange-crowned Warbler along a remote lake
Each year I try to do at least 2 CBC's.  Anything more than two is too much:)  The CBC is a great way to meet birders from all over.  It's also a chance to explore areas that are generally off limits to the public or too difficult to enter.  There are several Arizona "circles" where the birding is rather difficult due to the remote unmarked and rough dirt road conditions. Often the leaders are given permission to get onto private land. This "circle" requires a lot of powerful vehicle driving and 4 wheel driving is a must. There's a bit of danger involved which is why it's exciting.  One of my favorite places to bird is in the Atascosa Highland area as it has some of the wildest spaces in Southeastern Arizona. But getting there is no easy task. Getting lost is a given and a road map is needed!

a secret lake in the middle of nowhere in the Atascosa Highlands
This area is also excellent for a secretive species of quail known as the Montezuma Quail. If you are going to see them well, you have to be quiet.  We were not. 

And that's why a covey flushed off into the dry wash.  Not only did we find these birds, but we also had sightings of Townsend's Solitaires and many other bird species.

This CBC count is special because it's right along the border.  You'll find water depots and buckets with food for people looking to call the US home. Every year, I have fun doing this count because I get to explore new areas that I normally don't visit.  This year we explored Apache and Jalisco Canyons.  At one point, a road became a small running creek.  There was no cell service so we packed our things well.  

Sharon spies a Hermit Thrush on a hill across the lake
The CBC is a great way to meet new people in the birding community and true to form, I met 2 new birders on this count.  

A Bewick's Wren greets us
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the dinner party at Wisdom Cafe because I had several doctor's appointments to attend the following day.  However, it was a lot of fun.  

The gray ghost, a male Northern Harrier
Then for the second CBC, because I only do two, I helped my friend Gordon with his area.  We went into the Buckeye area full of agricultural lands and canals.  On that day it was wonderfully cold and rainy.  I learned several new things about Maricopa birding.  I don't often bird around the Phoenix area and while Buckeye is outside of the Phoenix area, it's still in Maricopa County.  

One of the 14 Common Ground Doves we discovered along a Palm nursery
I never knew this but two rather difficult-to-find doves in Arizona are somehow breeding in this area.  We went into a palm tree nursery and found a lot of Common Ground Doves.  I can see why they'd breed in this area as it has the scrubby palm orchard necessary for cover. 

The gray skies made photography almost impossible, but on rainy days, at least for Arizona, the birds can be quite active.  However heavy wind and rain can make birding a challenge.  Our big challenge for the day was not to get stuck in the mud which there was plenty!

Long-billed Curlew
 Phoenix birders get to see certain birds more frequently than we do around the Tucson area.  Tucson gets colder than Phoenix in winter and we don't have the amount of water that Phoenix does. So finding birds like White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Curlews and Black-necked Stilts made me happy. 

Black-necked Stilt
While we were on the road, Gordon ran into some friends looking for the second rare ground dove of the day, the Ruddy Ground Doves.  Apparently these birds are at this property year round!  What the heck?  I never knew that.  All I knew was that Ruddy Ground Doves once bred in the Phoenix area, but housing projects destroyed their habitat and watering holes. I know this first hand because I researched old ebird reports where ancient birders reported hundreds of them. The old hotspots are now replaced with cookie cutter homes.

We were thrilled to spy 5 Ruddy Ground Doves on this day. So many people come to see these birds and they often dip.  Thankfully Gordon's friends were spared that feeling of a dipping disappointment. 

Ruddy Ground Dove
CBC's are wrapping up across the United States.  It will be interesting to see what their results will find.  If you are interested in the data collected, click here

Botta's Pocket Gopher
There's more to birding than just counting birds or finding new species.  During our time out in the field, we saw a small tornado forming.  To our knowledge, it never touched down but it was fun to watch. 

The rain kept the dust down around our count areas and made for some optimal birding.  Ferruginous Hawks are one of my favorite buteos. During our counts, we found several around the area. 

Ferruginous Hawk
Have you thought about doing a CBC?  If you've done one or more, where did you do it?  And what was the craziest bird you found? Below, I took a video of thousands of blackbirds getting ready to eat out in the ag fields. Until next time.....

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Ramblings from a Solitary Retreat

The rains and snows of Southeastern Arizona have given us some of the most beautiful vistas.  This was taken from Summerhaven on top of Mt. Lemmon on a wintery day
As I heal, I have found comfort in a quiet cup of coffee writing from my office next to my fuzzy warm cats. 

I explore a new canyon with Cheroot and Celeste.  In the background, there is a waterfall that flows downwards into the Sabino Creek
I now have answers as to why I have had pain these past two months.  I'll need another month to know if the medication is working or if I'll need corrective surgery.  My inner gypsy is locked away inside. The birding I do now is reflective and close to home. 

A Red-naped Sapsucker eats at our local park during the winter season
And even within my own little space, there are amazing birds around me. Some of my friends understand what I'm going through, but others still think I can go go go on the trails and treks like I did awhile back.  I can't.  I'm tired of the driving.  All I want to do is listen to bird song or count birds in my backyard. 

A Greater White-fronted Goose stops by a local park for a visit
I think the stress of "holiday" and what's happening in our country started this whole mess. I've shut down the news.  I've shut down the chaos of holiday.  And even resisting these human "norms" is stressful.  No one should have to suffer expectations.  

I watch the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher forage for food
We renewed our membership at the Desert Museum.  I've taken wonderful walks with my friend Celeste and Cheroot in quiet canyons.  There's more.  So much more. As you've heard me say in the last post, 2019 has been a tough year.  Right after March, things got crazy.  People's lives began to fall apart around us.  I tried to be there for people but I failed miserably.  There were too many friends with things happening.  And then in my own family.  Internally, it stressed me out because I'm a fix it person.  But I couldn't this time. It's something they all had to do on their own. And I wasn't able to be there for them.

Then my health issues in October forced me to pull back. Remote canyons and mountain tops were out of the question.  Any place out of cell service was a no no.  Two trips to the ER, many doctor visits, tests and finally an upper GI test revealed a hiatal hernia. I've had this random pain since I was 32, but I never had an answer until now. Knowing what it is will allow me to fix my intake.  No tomatoes.  No citrus!(no fresh oj from the oranges that are coming soon in AZ!).  No soda. 

A Black-throated Sparrow perches on a Barrel Cactus at the Desert Museum
And that's ok.  I eat healthy but in some cases maybe I overdid it with the fresh tomato juice I drank every day.  I couldn't let my current tomatoes go bad so I threw them in the freezer with all my other veggies and fruits.  One day, I'll be able to sip on my perfectly created fresh tomato juice of carrots, apples, celery with a squeeze of lemon or lime.  The other crap I don't mind at fried foods or meat.  That's easy.  But not using spice??!  That's going to be hard:)

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker climbs a tree at my local patch, Reid Park
I'm on vacation now until next year.  It's wonderfully cold.  There is rain.  And as I look around our home, I see things I'd like to work on.  But I have to do my walk first!

This rare wintering Greater Pewee has returned to Reid Park for the next several months
I live in Tucson, perhaps one of the greatest places to live for birding.  As you can see, just a half hour to 40 minutes away (or less!), a birder can visit different habitats and see a crazy amount of birds.  I average about 150-200 bird species a month by just birding around town.  All the birds you see today in this blog are from local visits to parks and our nearby Mt. Lemmon or Cienegas Grasslands. 

A Common Yellowthroat hops around Archer Lake at Columbus Park
And because I'm not driving huge distances or traveling crazy amounts of hours in car or plane, I have this crazy energy to pull out many more bird species than I normally would from my local parks. I blame it on the pent up gypsy who wants to find something rare.  Even if I've seen the bird a million times. I can't shut that part down. 

But these gentle walks are refreshing and revealing. 

Pronghorn graze in the Cienegas Grasslands
I look forward to this new year with visiting friends.  I think they'll love the birds here.  For many of them, they'll all be new and I can't wait to see their faces as they explore the place I call home.  It's so different from their own homes. 

I mean.....look at these views!!!  30 minutes away from my home. 

On a hill overlooking Tucson
Or how about this one?  I'm walking along a trail and this Greater Roadrunner joins me.  I had to step back with my camera.  But then the bird would walk closer to me and screw up my shot.  For a quarter of a mile, the bird walked alongside me like a dog would do with their human friend.  It was so cool.  

A Greater Roadrunner in Tucson
It got me thinking about the birds I always take pictures Roadrunners, Vermilion Flycatchers, Greater Pewees, Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, any quail, all sparrows.......

The simple fact is that I love all of my local birding. Now don't think I won't chase new bird species, but I've hit my thousand mark (and then some) ahead of my goals which will allow me to take my time to get to 2000 birds. In fact, I'm just 10 away from another "100" post.  It has taken the pressure off of me to chase and I really like it.  

Finally, I love my Tucson community.  Sometimes I don't take the time to stop and be a Tucsonan. And I've been doing it more.  I live near our artsy and magical Loft Cinema.  A dear former student works there and I was able to visit with her and watch this terrible Star Wars Holiday special.  And it was terrible!

Baby Yoda eyes the competition
But with 400 people in attendance, it was an experience best shared.  We ordered nachos and put them under our seat for later on.  As you can see, I've circled "Baby Yoda" in the pic above.  My other half Micheal looked over and saw Baby Yoda hanging out in the aisle with us.  That was odd.  When I went to get a chip, they were gone!  Apparently Baby Yoda got hungry and found the chips under Micheal's seat.  Where was Mom you ask?  Well she was blitzed while her kids "Turkey Vultured" their way around the theater!  LOL!  

The Catio
Tucson is growing.  In the winter there are SO MANY PEOPLE.  But knowing Tucson is also knowing WHERE to go when there are crowds of people.  Take for example these last two pics.  It was a most perfect day.  In the morning, I had coffee with my "girls" as they sat and sunned out in the catio.  Then we went to renew our membership at the Desert Museum on a day that didn't have many visitors.  Why you ask?  Well thousands went to our annual street fair. We countered the crowds with another popular attraction, the Desert Museum and won!  Micheal and I both had the most special lunch away from the crowds in this nice restaurant.  And a beautiful walk in our incredible Sonoran desert. 

The winter glow of the Desert Museum
I love being home.  I have several more commitments.  Over the next several blogs, we'll be revisiting Bosque Del Apache, Colorado and explore our CBC results in the Atascosa Highlands and Phoenix area. After that, I'm going to be a hermit! And garden in my backyard.  I cannot wait for 2019 to be over.  Happy New Year everyone! Until next time....