Tuesday, May 21, 2019

To Ms. Bonnie



This week marks the end of our adventure in Wales. Lately, Facebook seems to be getting a lot of negative press, but without FB, I would have never met Bonnie. And then Steve.


Common redshank
Facebook is a social network and that's exactly how I use it.  It has been a wonderful tool to connect with people all over the world. Ms. Bonnie found me on Facebook years ago during an AZ trip to visit her sister. She contacted me and the rest was history. 

Bonnie and Micheal close their eyes!
While there, we had fun visiting historic sites that were absolutely incredible.  The pic above is a Dr. Who reference.  Never close your eyes when an angel is near!  Never.


Along the way, we saw birders all bundled up searching for something good. 


Steve showed me lots of cool critters besides the birds.


I discovered that the goats I saw in the "Sound of Music" with Julie Andrews do exist.  Apparently, these feral goats were brought to Britain by the Romans. 


Bonnie took us to a beautiful place known as Snowdonia.  It was so so picturesque!



In some of the reserves, we had a good chance for spotting the 3 woodpecker species of Wales.  We only saw 2, but I'm not complaining.  That was absolutely fun!


Steve took me out for some classic ice cream which was delicious. 


He also had a knack for finding dead things like the Dunnock above and the Blackbird below. Now the Blackbird was dead but I'm not sure the Dunnock was in the same state.  We placed the Dunnock in Bonnie's pretty potted plant.  When we returned home, the bird was gone! Steve thinks the Jackdaws had dinner.  I think the bird came back alive and flew away:) Most likely explanation for the missing Dunnock?  Bonnie's neighbor, who looks out for her, saw the bird and took it from her potted plant. That's how wonderful her neighborhood was.


Across Wales, I saw beautiful art mixed into the incredible landscapes.




People in the States always talk about how bad British food can be.  I experienced NONE of that there, except maybe the Black Blood Pudding.


Because we were along the ocean, we explored the beach front for all sorts of crabs and marine life.


Bonnie took us to picturesque pubs.


The pubs were really something special.


We stood under a tree that was thousands of years old.


Although it seems like yesterday, this all happened in March.  British birding has wet my appetite for more.  As for the passport mishap.  That was a completely terrible incident.  NEVER in my life has that ever happened.  Let me set up the scenario.  Steve arrives over to Bonnie's place because he's taking us to the airport.  He realizes he has his wife's keys and she needs to get to work.  Oh oh!  We turn back to give Bonnie the keys to bring back to his wife so she can get to work.  I laugh until Steve asks us if we have our passports.  I look back at Micheal who was in charge of them and I see panic in his eyes.  Side note: I LOVED not having to be responsible for the passports until we didn't have them.  Panic panic panic!  I try to keep my cool and tell Steve, "This isn't me." But it is now. We had to make a decision and it was to get to the airport.  That was the longest ride I have ever experienced. Poor Bonnie!  Once she got back from the key mishap, she ran to check our room to see if the passports had slipped behind the desk or bed. They weren't there. And they weren't in our suitcases or carry-ons. How did we lose them?  Every scenario passes through my head. As we get to the airport, Steve stops the car and suggests we check the floor.  Apparently, we did not have our passports for an ENTIRE week because they were under the seat of his car. When we first arrived, Micheal crashed from the jetlag and took the passports off around his neck in the car.  There was a huge sigh of relief, but Steve witnessed on that day that I'm now in charge of the passports again.  Booo!  I think Micheal planned this on purpose:)

European green woodpecker, photo taken by Dr. Steve
Overall, beyond the passport incident, Wales was incredible. What an amazing trek that was!  I miss Bonnie and am so grateful to her for introducing us to her world. And we got to make a new friend! Thank you thank you thank you!

 This completes the Welsh birding experience, for now. We'll touch base in Arizona next week. Then it's off to Texas, New Mexico, Maine and Wisconsin.  Until next time!  

Monday, May 13, 2019

Those Little Pockets of Insight


One of the things that I enjoy most when birding around the world, besides finding new birds, is seeing how the birders do it.  



Steve spies a chough!


Micheal absorbs the fantastical mossy green world along the path. 

Great Crested Grebe
From one guide to another, we teach each other the tricks to our trade. And from years of experience, we "know" about our own birds that aren't on most birder's radars. I think that is the most exciting part about watching the maestros in action. 


Eurasian Kestrel
Often times while guiding others in AZ, I'm quiet processing the maximum amount of birds with the time we have given to bird.  The first few trips are always fun because the birds are a tad easier.  I watched Steve do the same thing while in the car with me. But quite honestly, I just enjoyed the ride and company.  Yeah, finding new birds was our mission, but it's also the journey.  And the more I get into birding, the more I'm really allowing myself to relax and have fun.  We had a plan and I trusted Steve.  He was amazing.   

Northern Lapwing
It's not often that I find birders with similar manners to my own birding.  Bonnie was right. We would get along well. Although I have to admit several embarrassing moments happened on the trip, but I'll get to the passports and time differences in the next post:) Steve, I swear, that has NEVER happened to me before! Really!

Common Wood-Pigeon-the biggest pigeon I have EVER seen in my life!
Steve would ask me, "Do you have such and such a bird?" And then I'd most likely say "no" and we'd make a quick stop to add on new birds to our lists. 

Whooper Swan
The Ruff is a rare bird to the US but in Wales, we saw several and it was exciting.  

The Ruff
While in Wales, I gave a lecture on AZ birding and it was a lot of fun. I laugh at what I "thought" would be the cool birds from AZ(which were the hummingbirds and the Elegant Trogon).  Turns out I was wrong.  People in the audience got excited about Elf Owls and Gilded Flickers!  They were so quiet!  In the US, it's not uncommon for there to be some sort of chatter in the background but during the lecture it was DEAD quiet. That was until I got to the Elf Owls and there was an outburst of excitement.  Then I relaxed a bit:)

Common Shellduck
Another good laugh I had was when someone asked me what I did for a living.  Normally I don't speak about my job with people I don't know because it's not who I am.  But I told her that I taught Spanish and she asked if I'd be doing the lecture in English.....or rather MY English.  I burst out laughing.  It was snarky and fun!  



Honestly if I could do a proper English accent I would, but it would take me several months to get ONE of the many varieties of English out there. Steve did a pretty fun version of a southerner. I want to say Texan?😃 I love that stuff.  Language, whether it be bird or human, is exciting. 

Greyleg Goose
The bird with the most vocalizations in Wales was the European Robin.  To this day, if one was calling, I'd still question myself.  Is that......? And then Steve would say, "Yes.  That's the robin."

Pied Avocet
Most days were wet and cloudy.  One day got "hot" and I'll admit that I did sweat a tad.  I think that was also the day we accidentally went down a bike path and almost got stuck.  When we backed up, Steve hit the stone wall and I heard a crunch.  It was a cringe worthy moment. We stepped out of the car and saw that one of his plastic tail lights had shattered.  In the background, there were some high society Brits judging us with disapproving looks. I loved it.  I loved it all....except the tail light part. And honestly, the bike path looked like one of the roads we were driving in Wales. So was it really our fault?:)

Black-tailed Godwits
We kept moving and each day was a unique look into the various landscapes of Wales. 

Barnacle Goose
There were so many fun days as we weaved from natural public habitats to protected reserves. Like any of us who bird our areas, we know our birds. And Steve knew his kingdom.

Goldcrest
We'd stop in forested patches.  We'd stop in reserves.  And then we'd also stop in the McDonald's parking lot for a latte and rare Hooded Crow from across the aisle.  Apparently, Hooded and Carrion Crows also hybridize so we also observed several hybrids along the way. 

Hooded Crow
The title for this blog post was inspired by this Grey(Gray?) Wagtail below.  We'd bird open areas for the common birds and then we'd search in the pockets around areas near where we birded, like the McDonald's parking lot, for the "B" birds.  "B" birds are the slightly trickier birds to find.  They are there all year around, but they are not an easy given.  In AZ, the Gilded Flicker, Arizona Woodpecker, Harris's Hawk, or even Greater Roadrunner can be "B" birds for me when I need them on the spot. We found a pair of Grey Wagtails, and it was the only time we saw them, near a crazy stream between stone walls that flowed into the ocean. For me, it was fun seeing these little pockets of micro-habitats inside the city. 

Grey Wagtail
In Arizona, we don't have to really worry about too much water except during our dangerous monsoon season.  Often in summer, I must warn birders to be careful of flash flooding.  They don't understand (until they do) and then it's sometimes an emergency.  One time, I had some friends from Idaho crash at our place because their campground was evacuated due to extreme flash flooding.  The poor souls were drenched when they arrived at our place!


In Wales, there was WATER everywhere.  It was often wet and soggy.  Sometimes water came up from the ground!  I think that's called a spring?:)

Searching for snipe
So what are the differences between birding Wales and Arizona?  Our worlds are completely different and it was interesting to note a few different birding strategies.  Steve always had a pair of rubber boots for water areas. Most water areas in AZ are off limits for walking. I was a bit worried because I didn't have the proper footwear for this trek.  And I also wondered if I'd actually see a Jack or Common Snipe on the trip but this is where I really had a nice education.  Steve told me about flight patterns and what I should see if one flushed.  And my gods if that isn't what exactly happened.  With his rubber boots, he flushed up several Jack Snipes and MANY Common Snipes.  And true to his teachings, the Common Snipes flew high up into the air and burned away into the bright grey skies into nothing.  The Jack Snipe stayed much lower to the ground.  

Jack Snipe
So in Wales, rubber boots are a necessity if you're going to see some special birds.  In Arizona, birders are surprised by our elevation differences and it can be difficult for some birders. For a few rare birds that require a mile or two up a steep climb, it can be too much.  Here drinking water is a big thing, especially during the spring and summer....and fall.  Part of getting to know someone before they bird here in Arizona is also understanding who they are as a birder and hiker.  While some just thrive on bottled water, there are others who require a camel pack(a backpack with a bladder and a waterline).  I teach them the ice trick and they are very happy to have that unlimited access to water during their often hot and sweaty hike. 

Red-legged Partridge
Before visiting, Steve had asked me what were some of the birds I was hoping to see. My initial reaction, like all birders was, ALL OF THEM! But as a guide, I know that's an impossible request and had a good laugh. I'm in love with all things dipper and lapwing.  And I got to see both.  In the process of finding new birds, I also discovered that I fell in love with other birds as well. Book guides are all fine and well but they don't bring to life the behaviors and sounds that these birds make.  Reading about something is quite different than seeing it alive. 

White-throated Dipper!!!
And in yet another little pocket of habitat we found a perfectly fast running stream with enough rocks for a dipper to dip on.  But we didn't dip on the dipper.  We found a pair! We were in a gas station parking lot along a fence. It was a secret world that most people just walked past. It was incredibly beautiful. 


Grey Herons weren't our Great Blue Herons but they sure looked the same. 

Little Egret
Little Egrets weren't Snowy Egrets but again they looked the same. 

European Stonechat
A bird that I didn't know I'd love as much as I did was the cute Stonechat.  

Eurasian Whimbrel
Steve knew of places where their Whimbrels and Curlews hung out.

Common Ringed Plover
There were only two owls to find and I've got to say the Tawny Owl was so vocal.  On our last night, I opened the window in our bedroom to listen to the beautiful sounds of the neighboring Tawnys. 

Tawny Owl
My first Great Cormorant was with Kathie Brown in Maine last year, but in Wales, they were everywhere.  AND CLOSE!

Great Cormorant
I was excited when Steve showed me his pal the Little Owl. 

Little Owl
Chiffchaffs were a pain in the ass to get views of but they were everywhere. 

Common Chiffchaff
Common Snipes were cool. In fact, any snipe anywhere in this world is cool.  

Common Snipes
I finally got to see that make believe Great Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker. The Green was a little stinker.  The bird was always between branches but we had nice scope views and Steve got some great shots of the bird. 

Great Spotted Woodpecker
The bird that seems to be the coolest bird for birders in Wales was the Hawfinch.  Every time we'd mention Hawfinch, birders would throw Steve some birder "respect".  Again, Steve knew where to look for these birds.  They were near an ancient cemetery. While watching the birds, I either thought about how I'd love to live in that little neighborhood or be buried in that wonderful cemetery. 

Hawfinch
Great Blue Herons, I mean, Grey Herons flew from a rookery. 

Grey Heron
I stared a little longer at another Common Snipe. This adventure made me realize that I'm a big fan of snipes. 

Common Snipe
Little Grebes are sexy. 


Little Grebe
But White-throated Dippers are sexier. 


Song Thrushes were everywhere but challenged my photography skills. Like the Robin, they also had a wide range of vocalizations. 

Song Thrush
And Blackbirds.  They are American Robins dressed in melonistic plumage because they sound almost identical to American Robins.  I fell in love with the Blackbird.  I just thought they were beautiful. 

The Blackbird
Sometimes as a guide I stress about finding my new friends as many birds as I can. When someone comes to Arizona for the first time, there's no way I can get them all of their birds. We have amazing birds at all times of the year so it's impossible to get them all.  It just requires a person to come back.  Understanding this myself, I was so appreciative to Steve for putting a lot of thought into our adventures. And so thankful to Bonnie for setting us up.


Steve has a family.  And he was also taking care of his father.  I know that birding helps keep me from going insane while the world is crashing down around me.  And yet he took the time to take me around and show me his Wales while he had so much happening around him. THANK YOU!  My home will always be open to you and when you decide to visit, I will show you the amazing world of Arizona birds. 

Eurasian Wren, once formally called the Winter Wren until recently split
Both of us are the same age and it marks a new time in our lives.  Speaking from my own experiences, it's one where I have begun to think about mortality more.  I have begun to see my parents in a new light now. Sadly, Steve recently said good-bye to his father. In a way, it is a good thing that he will not suffer anymore. Yet it doesn't change the fact that he's gone. My own father is going through a triple bypass surgery and sometimes I try to put it out of my mind and not think about it.  I know that this is the age of good-byes now. Every. Moment. Counts. So when I bird, I think about how special that moment is with the other person. My thoughts go out to Steve and his family. 


When we see new birds together, it's a new friendship. A new moment. A memory.  If I ever see a White-throated Dipper again, I'll remember that first moment with Steve because he showed me that bird. 

The promiscuous Dunnock
On a lighter note, I will also remember the mini discussions Bonnie and Steve had with me about the Dunnocks.  I won't go into great detail, but they have got to be one of the world's most amorous birds.  I remember sipping my coffee in Bonnie's home by her beautiful English garden and watching a Dunnock female do exactly what they said Dunnocks do.  I felt a bit dirty after the observation. 


This is the lengthiest post of them all.  There are two more Wales posts.  I've had three really wonderful birding treks this year and I'm still glowing from the Wales' adventures and that's all because of Steve and Bonnie. If it wasn't for their hospitality, we'd have seen Wales through a more sterile tourist's eyes.  And for that, I am forever in their debt.  Thank you guys!  Until next time......