Monday, July 27, 2020

The Second Spring

This Northern Bobwhite(subspecies Masked Bobwhite) is an endemic to Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.  They disappeared from the wild when ranchers destroyed their habitat decades ago.  But with conservation efforts and a lot of volunteer work, this bird may once again make a comeback.  
This time of year in Southeastern Arizona is truly magical. It's dangerous, exciting and full of surprises.  Oh it's still hot and muggy, but the summer rains combined with shorebird migration "change" the Arizona birding into a unique third period of birding or what we call here, the Second Spring.  


Ash-throated Flycatcher
Before I get started with this week's post, I wanted to give you some information about a species that no longer lives here in Southeastern Arizona, the Masked Bobwhite(a most likely extinct-in-the wild subspecies of Northern Bobwhite).  If you live in Southeastern Arizona and would like to help bring back a species that has been extirpated from the wild, click on this link here. They are also looking for volunteers to help out with the reintroduction of these very important quail.  Here's a message from the coordinator. "We need a volunteer who can come out to the refuge and conduct general quail care (you'll be trained) on Sundays. We need a real commitment to do it every Sunday. It's about an hour worth of work but could be more if you also want to help with vegetation management. If you're interested please contact Stan Culling stan_culling@fws.gov 520-823-4251 x103 Thank you!"

the parent female Hooded Oriole feeds her young one
Now onto this week's exciting times. These next 3 months of birding in Southeastern Arizona are some of the hardest and yet most rewarding times in the state.  Cassin's Sparrows begin nesting here as the monsoon rains hit the grasslands. Several other species are actively nesting like the Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Buff-collared Nightjars.  Meanwhile bird species like the Lucy's Warblers, Bell's Vireos and Hooded Orioles are feeding their young!  It's really a complicated range of birding here! One group is just beginning to nest while another is feeding young!

Costa's Hummingbird
On top of that, hummingbirds are beginning to move through the area.  The first hummingbirds to move south are the male Rufous Hummers.  Other species like the Plain-capped Starthroat also pop in for a visit.  They aren't breeding here, but they are searching for food sources.  Local hummingbirds like the Costa's Hummingbird above are finishing up with their nesting season.  It's really fascinating stuff and makes Arizona birding interesting and different from other parts of the country. 

Black-tailed Prairie Dog
 This past week, I wanted to do some photography work.  I headed out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to check out the wild birds breeding on their grounds.  It did not disappoint! 


Also of note?  If you're into reptiles and amphibians, this is the time of the year to visit. The rains, along with that heat, gets these critters moving.  So while you're watching birds, enjoy the herp show going on. 

Desert Spiny Lizard
 During this time of year, birders need to be careful with torrential rains, flooding and running washes.  They also need to bring water with them at all times.  If there's an issue with your vehicle, you want to make sure you have an extra larger container of water with you. 

Rufous Hummingbird
 I surveyed ONLY 2 places this past week, The Desert Museum and Agua Caliente Park.  This means that I spent an hour to four at these locations.  I made other smaller stops from my vehicle.  Those counts were 20 minutes or less. These stops are primarily to check for migrating shorebirds. (And to build up my strength again to hike longer distances)


Couch's Spadefoot
 Due to the Covid pandemic, I have been working almost every day in my yard/garden.  It has been incredibly rewarding.  Soon our butterfly show will also begin.  We've put in these amazing pollinator plants around the property and it has increased our hummingbird and butterfly numbers in Midtown Tucson.  I am really excited about August and September as we see butterfly numbers really increase.  I've created little butterfly islands to make the watering easier.  


I'm a huge turtle, toad and frog fan.  During an important birding quest this week, I observed lots of amazing frogs and toads come alive and begin to breed in the rain puddles.  It's incredible that we have such diverse amphibian life in our desert.  Every time I see a frog or toad here, I just think about how crazy it is that they can survive in this climate. 

A Sonoran Toad actively feeds from a colony of ants nearby
 Now onto this week's chase.  Staying closer to home this year in Pima County, I've been trying to find new bird species within the county and add new ticks.  Well, another interesting species, the Painted Bunting makes their way into Arizona during the monsoon season.  They aren't common but it isn't unusual to find one here during these next 3 months. They're often far away and difficult to see in the shade.  But I can now say that I have a decent photo of this bird.  It's just taken me a few years. 


naked eye view
We had stunning close up views of this bird casually feeding off the roof of the visitor's center and around the nearby garden below.  The bird was very actively feeding which leads me to believe that he will be a one day wonder.  


the western subspecies of a male Painted Bunting
What does an Arizona sunset look like during monsoon?  This is looking out our window towards the Catalina mountains. This is not an exaggerated picture.  Monsoon is truly a unique Arizona treat.  We hope for more rain this year.  August usually provides us the much needed precipitation. 


I refuse to sit and watch the world pass me by.  While we "recovered" from Covid and are no longer contagious, we still experience some moments of coughing and fatigue.  During my trek with a friend to the desert museum, I wore my mask, walked around for 4 hours in the humid temps and almost passed out.  I felt terrible.  Thankfully, my friend understood that I needed to go home.  Once I got home, I crashed and slept several hours.  I let my body recharge a few days and tried it again.  The second time was better, but when I overdo it, I do a little coughing....and sleep:)  Apparently this is normal.  This is yet another reason why people need to wear masks, wash hands and social distance.  It takes forever to feel better. 

Burrowing Owl
As we approach the month of August, I plan for several new birds for that life list.  Plan A and B were taken away from me.  But Plan C has been one I've been waiting to take off the shelf and dust.  Hopefully it will happen.  Stay safe and until next time....

Thursday, July 23, 2020

After Covid

My first outing was to Madera Canyon where I watched two Coatis roaming around their patch for food
When you're almost dead and don't have the energy to clean, there's the aftermath of house cleaning!  Good gods!  There was laundry, bed sheets to wash, cleaning the floors, dishes and so on and so forth. And then, there's the whole covid sleep factor. 


Nova "helps" me organize a trip.  Knock on wood.  I'm hoping it happens. 
When you have covid, sleep is amazing.  I have spoken to so many dead people in my dreams in crazy fantastical places that it's not even funny.  The dreams are intense and real.  And the sleep is deep and sound.  Maybe it's because we have one foot in the grave now?  Who knows?  But it has created a terrible sleep pattern over these past 2 months!  I stay up until 4 in the morning and sleep until 11 everyday but expect myself to keep the same daily routine with less time to do so!


Cassin's Sparrow
After a month of quarantining, I am slowly getting my groove back.  I had a haircut!  And I've been hesitantly interacting with humanity. Once you get covid, you don't ever want it again. I went to the post office today to mail off some masks to a friend but noticed two "Karens" without a mask in our mask mandated city of Tucson. It made me angry.  There were so many people being careful and two jackasses didn't social distance or wear a mask.  My attitude? Get the hell out of the post office.  I don't want covid again. And it's not fair to the all the people who were standing there socially distancing with their masks on.  There's a special place in hell for people like that.  Needless to say, I reported the post office for servicing those covid spreaders. If we don't take this seriously, I will never see my students again.  My tolerance for stupidity is very low now.  And I am angry. There were a lot of wide eyes at the lady. I won't be going to the post office again. 


Blue Grosbeak
The public is exhausting. I am grateful for the friends and family who brought us groceries while we were down.  Even today after the covid, shopping can be very draining. So much careful planning has to happen for every visit to a store. I try to go when numbers are low.  And I avoid shopping on the weekends now. I think that was the hardest thing to do......grocery shop again.  The body has to build strength again and those first baby steps were hard.  I'd break out in a sweat for a minimal amount of exertion. So I had to approach my birding that same way for a week until my body could build strength.  It was a treat to see people outside exercising as if there wasn't any major pandemic going on.  It has also been very strange that there hasn't been any real quarantining happening in Arizona even after we became the hotspot.  If you're lucky to leave your covid hell, it's a real eye opener!


a juvenile Bridled Titmouse begs the parent to feed them
Escaping the endless horrible news after quarantine is a must. I get so bored, but thankfully, I enjoy writing. For several weeks, I pulled out those "emergency blog posts" while we were dealing with our sickness.  I lost the stamina to write.  Now that I'm back to "normal", I have enjoyed the writing process again. I had a few students who shared with me their stories of the covid infection.  Here is some useful information if you get the mild case of covid. There are 3 choices with this virus. You either are asymptomatic, have a mild case(what we had) OR you are in the ER/Covid Unit/ventilator due to breathing issues. If you experience "allergies or a slight cough", get tested as soon as you can. After the hellish experience with our mild case of covid, we were told by doctors that a slight cough can be expected for a few weeks after you had the virus. (which was good to hear).  It's probably similar to what smokers experience.  Hopefully it's not for life. 

Lesser Nighthawks are quite visible now at sunset.  We had one fly over the garden recently.
One night, my stubborn German side came out and said, "You're going for a walk!" Part of the resistance building came from simple walks at night or from the car.  My first attempt was a walk around Agua Caliente Park when everyone went home.  I watched Lesser Nighthawks and Purple Martins zip around me at sunset. 

Greater Roadrunner
During those first few outings, I just drove in my car and went to places away from people.  Monsoon is here now and it has been rather beautiful so I did my yearly trek during a rain event to count Cassin's Sparrows in the grasslands.  There was lightning so I stayed in my vehicle, the USS Betty White. 


A lot of the action has been also happening at home.  I've been purchasing more oranges and seed for ONE station under our oak trees in the courtyard. You can see the plants getting "excited" for the rain events.  The humidity in the air is wonderfully nasty for humans but the plants love it!  It looks like they are almost glowing green as if they were giving a sigh of relief. And after getting beat up by the sun for nearly 2 months, they immediately perk up with that glorious first nitrogen rich rain!

a view of the beautiful monsoon sunset from our side garden
Tucsonans get excited about the monsoon season.  Most people groan elsewhere but in the desert West, it's a celebration. It also makes for very comfortable birding after the rain event. I just have to be careful with the lightning. It's not a joke here. Birding is also good for the memory.  I had a moment on the trail today when I forgot the name of the blackbird with red on the wings.  Seriously! I stopped what I was doing and concentrated.....RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD! It took about 30 seconds to remember. I was a bit scared that I couldn't multi-task and remember all the birds zipping around me.  Baby steps. 


A first for our patch!!!!!!  A Bullock's Oriole visits our feeder!!!!  It was so exciting!
I am so glad we secured our place with our catio screen.  Crime rates in midtown have gone up.  For TWO nights, there has been a police helicopter shining lights over my garden!  An armed felon hid on my neighbor's patio!  It was very scary.  And then the next night, two men, one without pants, lit a dumpster on fire and ran into our little forested oasis. But no worries readers:)  I have strategically placed deadly cacti, like cholla in unexpected areas where people could run or hide. It's super painful if you step on it. They are placed near lush vegetation making the person think that it's "safe" to hide.  LOL!  Besides keeping the criminals out of our oasis, I also placed cacti like cholla in our garden to encourage Cactus Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers to nest.  They have lost habitat in midtown due to construction and so I'm trying to help them out. They do visit our gardens often for insects, etc. 


This has been a good year for our Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  We've had lots of nesting happening.  I keep putting in their orange jubilee plants and keep the feeders full.  They stick around all year on our property. 
And after being in bed for nearly a month, I got fed up looking at ugly ceilings.  So, I pulled out the supplies I had stored and mustered the little energy I had to begin Covid Project 3, the Coastal Room.  



This room surprised me with different challenges.  The vinyl material I used did not want to stay up on the ceiling unlike the other room. There were cuts in the ceiling for electric additions.  And notice that there is an area of the vertical wall that needs to be re-painted.  As I began the art of redesign, I cleared the area for a blank slate. 


I watched so many DIY projects on Youtube and did a lot of reading.  The glue did not work.  I used tacks to keep the thin planks up on the ceiling and quickly realized I was going to need a staple gun to make this project work. Plus the tack method, which worked in the other room, did NOT work in this room.  And it killed my thumbs. 


Each day I did little by little.  My body would get tired and then I knew it was time to stop.  I wasn't going anywhere so I didn't force myself.  


As the ceiling was being completed my photography began to come in.  So I started placing the work in different areas to get a feel for the coast.  


Like a jigsaw puzzle, I began to sort out all the pieces and details.  



I sat back one evening and smiled.  It all fit together.  Now there is more I have to do!  Do you see where the horizontal seams are on the ceiling between the wood planks?  Well.  A wooden beam will cover that seam adding to the coastal charm.  I need more reds and whites over the next couple months to complete this project.  So I look forward to adding those fun and simple ideas.  When I finish this, I'll post the complete pictures.  Right now, I'm happy how this turned out, but I want to finish this before work starts up again.  Until next time and thankfully there will be a next time......stay safe and free from the nasty covid.  Avoid the Karens at all cost.  You don't want this. Now that we've recovered, I'm even more careful.   




Sunday, July 12, 2020

A Life With Covid


With trips cancelled and covid the norm now here in Arizona, we've been in isolation.  I hate TV so much.  It's SO boring.  I'd be outside gardening but it's HOT.  Today, our temps will reach 114 degrees!  Last night we had our first rain storm which was rather exciting.  So, what's a birder to do? After years of not tackling our ceilings and walls, I am now forced to do so!  There is a silver lining to it all even though I'd rather be birding in Panama. 



My exploration days have come to a halt for now.  A lot of the money that I would have used for travel is now being invested into projects that I needed to get done. I have had a lot of projects sitting inside my brain waiting to get done from over the years!  When we first moved into our place I had electrical work done in 3 rooms.  And we removed popcorn from the ceilings!  Well, ONLY now, some 13 years later, I am forced to deal with those ugly cuts in the drywall!  


It began with this room.  I couldn't travel to Panama so I worked on the place that inspires me, my office. This is the place that transports me to all of my favorite Spanish speaking countries.  And a tin ceiling went up and covered the ugly patchwork.  Then it was onto Covid Project 2, the Eared Quetzal and laundry room. 



Our laundry area, in the hallway, had a nice spot for some of my photography BUT there was an ugly ancient intercom that blocked part of the wall and didn't allow for a nice framed picture.  I took the non-functioning intercom off the wall which revealed a huge hole, patched and stuccoed it all.  Once that was done, I pulled out my paints and found the right green tint and touched up the white areas.  Meanwhile, as I finished ceilings and walls, I worked at night organizing pics from my work that I wanted to hang on the walls for Covid Project 3. 


Gotta include butterflies!  This is the Western Tiger Swallowtail from the Tijuana Slough
 It is absolutely time consuming, but the end results are amazing.  It's trying to pick a balanced group of themed pics for each room that is the challenge.  It can't be all birds.  I will say that the Eared Quetzal was an exception.  It will probably mark the ONLY highlight of the 2020 birding season.  I have added 3 lifers this year so far and I'm okay with this reality.  


Now I'm working on Covid Project 3, the other bedroom.  As you can see in the above pic, there are cuts in the ceiling that I want covered.  



So I have been working on this project now.  This material is trickier as it is vinyl planking.  This room will be the coastal room.  It will have lighter elements mixed in with the darker insides of a lighthouse.  I love lighthouses and this theme works well in super bright Arizona.  In some cases, the darker rooms are very important and necessary to let your eyes recover from the blinding light outside.  Some of the photography that will be used here are not Arizona birds!  Instead, I'll be using work from Maine, California, Wisconsin and Wales. 

Northern Gannet-the white against the blue
It's really difficult to choose wall art.  Or at least, it's difficult to pick a favorite because of the lack of wall space. While I was in Wales, I fell in love with my friend Bonnie's place.  Her home is so cozy and happy.  Every inch of her walls are covered with wonderful birds.  If you can't travel, you can bring those experiences into your home. 

A pair of Atlantic Puffins
 These works will be arriving soon and I can't wait to put them up on the walls.  This room attaches to the catio that opens up into our beautiful garden.  I still have much work to do in the other rooms.  The dining room will have grouse.  


Crested Caracara-still trying to figure out where to put this one
 The living room will have a Madera Canyon theme utilizing hummingbirds and a very special owl, the Mountain Pygmy-Owl(still titled Northern Pygmy-Owl, but it's not the same species-calls and looks are different).  It is my absolute favorite owl of Arizona.  


Ruffed Grouse is one of the grouse that will be featured in the dining room
 It's hard to pick and choose a favorite, but there are some birds that make me smile more than others.  Grouse and sparrows are my favorites.  I'm still trying to figure out a way to put together a sparrow collage!  

Mountain Pygmy-Owl
This is what happens at night, these endless nights.  I put together canvas works and remember these amazing experiences. I measure spaces on the wall and am excited about how the wall will come alive with MY work, not someone else's stuff. In a way, it's a good pause in life to reflect.  In many other ways, I find myself going stir crazy!  At least I'm being constructive and not giving up.  



The coastal room will include these amazing birds PLUS lighthouses, sea lions and other coastal delights.  

Razorbills
 Then I think about why I'm putting these themes together.  Why the hispanic room(rain forest)?  Why the coastal and montane themes?  Because I think these areas, including the grasslands, are some of my favorite places to bird. 

Marsh Wren
 These projects haven't been too expensive.  Each room is around 500 dollars, including the photography, paint and ceiling materials.  I get into my OCD mode and am a perfectionist.  I can't stand looking at unfinished work so I push myself to get it done.  Then I take a break from the projects until I'm ready for the next one.   

American White Pelican
 If you've never been inside of a lighthouse, you'd be surprised by how dark the inside can be.  The top is beautiful with bright and open airy windows. I'd love to have my office up in that room.  But the bottom floor is also very cozy and dark.  It reminds me of a cave, except you can hear the waves crashing against the shore outside the building. 


Now onto the official news. During the last week of June, we contracted covid.  It was hell.  The coughing and breathing were real issues.  Non-believers called it the flu, but I lost my taste and smell so I knew it wasn't the flu.  For one week, we both slept away our lives and lost lots of weight.  Here in Arizona, we are the hotspot of the world.  I don't know how we got it, but it was nasty.  We are mostly recovered now as the infection rates continue to rise in the state.  Our governor is an idiot, but not as stupid as the one in Florida. Even the Texan governor looks a tad more intelligent than Ducey and that's not saying much.  We badly need a change in our government here in the US.  We are finally beginning to see people switch sides against this current administration.  They are all about the money and could care less about human life.  Welcome to the Republican Party.  November can't arrive fast enough.  In short, we don't trust anything our state or government officials are saying and have to go to real sources, like the CDC.  Meanwhile, the death rate continues to climb as do the infections. And people are still ignoring the recommendations.  It's such a strange time. We just lost someone to covid in our family this morning from Micheal's side.  I continue to isolate.  I am so grateful for the love and support from our family and friends.  I work inside the house and dream of birding. But I am back to feeding my birds and watching them from our windows.  Today we had a Brown-crested Flycatcher visit our fountain. Stay safe everyone wherever you are.  And let's hope for a cure by the end of the year!  Until next time, I'll continue working on birdy home projects:)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Revisiting Old Friends

Montezuma Quail
This past week, after the onslaught of birders searching for the Eared Quetzal without any luck, they abandoned their hopeful searches and turned their eyes to our other specialties. It was mayhem.  They still continue to search.  And a few birders have reported a female now.  So it's possible the Eared Quetzals are nesting somewhere on the mountain. Whatever the case, birders need to be aware that covid has spread among the community AND birders need to follow ethical protocols. There are times when some things should be kept secret, especially during their breeding season. Playback is terrible during this time of year and people should refrain from using it. 



I was back in those old birding routes that every new hopeful birder visits.  It was rather strange.  With covid abound everywhere, I was forced to stay home during this very nasty time in Arizona.  Many of us locals leave Arizona to go birding in cooler temps.  Guides, generally, don't offer their services during this month due to nesting conditions and of course, that sweltering heat.  Everything picks up again in July when our monsoon gets into full swing and bird life is ALIVE!  


Painted Redstart
There are still windows of opportunity to bird.  Early mornings are best.  Evenings are second best. Afternoons are a no no unless you are at higher elevations but one of my favorite places to take people is currently on fire.  And it's a tragedy. So many nesting birds gone, many of them warblers.  Between crazy birders chasing that quetzal, covid closures and covid in general, the heat and the fires, it is a bit too much to take.  I regulated my outings with my friend because I can't do those extreme chases anymore for an entire day.  One of the days, I felt heat exhaustion coming on in the 104 degree temps.  Yes, I wore sun screen, a hat and drank plenty of water, but there comes a point when your body just shuts down.  Words get blurry, that little headache begins and birds become a second thought.  


Lucifer Hummingbird
There were also flashbacks during our treks.  A sadness that only one would know had they grown up as a birder with the people they once knew.  Take for example the Lucifer's Hummingbird.  Nearly every birder has gone to Mary Jo's Bed and Breakfast for their lifer Lucifer's Hummingbird.  Mary Jo passed away a little over a year now.  I haven't gone back because there are a lot of fond memories with that lady.  But we went because it's the one reliable place for birders who like photography, such as myself, to observe the secretive Montezuma Quail and of course that very special hummingbird.  Her place is now a sanctuary and it's still very special.  But I sat and looked at her home where the volunteers stay now. And it was a different experience.  The volunteers were wonderful, but Mary Jo wasn't there.  Or her African Gray Parrot. 

Least Tern
I took a day off to just work on house stuff and hang out with my neighbors.  On that day, a Least Tern showed up at Canoa Ranch.  It was a fun and fast trek to see the bird fly over the waters there. The following day, we went to search for some difficult birds.  You have to prioritize your birds.  So you choose your targets carefully.  Sometimes you spend an entire morning on ONE bird.  And that's what we did.  Anything after that window is a gift.  We achieved our targeted goals.  We stopped at another great birdy area, the Holy Trinity Monastery.  Another formerly owned Catholic property and magnet for incredible birds like the Gray Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Tropical Kingbirds and other special birds. But on the day we went there, the place looked unkept.  The shop was closed.  The pond was overgrown with algae. Broke my heart.  I sat in the meditation garden and noticed several of the wonderful shady trees were gone.  


Lesser Nighthawk

During our travels, we noticed Lesser Nighthawks hunting in broad daylight.  'Tis the season for feeding babies.  Normally these birds are only seen at dawn or dusk and at night around lights catching bugs. 

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
There are several birds in Arizona that are well protected and kept secret.  However, those secrets get leaked and then coordinates appear.  Such is the case with the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a very sensitive species in AZ.  The species is another Holy Grail for birders, ABA'ers, state listers, county listers, etc.  There are few spots in the US that you can see them.  Texas is the best place for them.  Arizona has many but they are located in VERY difficult access places far away from civilization. The best place for these owls is still Organ Pipe National Monument in a VERY accessible place.  And that's all I will say:)


Scaled Quail
I think the most exciting part of our journeys came from observing all three quail species.  It was a lot of fun revisiting these old sites for some great birds.  Currently my plans are on hold.  As we see a spike in covid around the country, it has once again messed with travel plans.  Testing in this country is a joke. I'll leave it at that.  

juvenile Gambel's Quail

Stay cool everyone. And stay safe! Until next time....