Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Overcast Days


The sun attempts to break the heavy cloud cover caused by Hurricane Rosa
Rain happens for most people all the time.  But for those of us who live in the desert, it's a wondrous event full of heavy water droplets and epic scenery. 

a curious Greater White-fronted Goose
I stood out in my desert last night and let the wind blow through my hair.  It has been awhile since I had goosebumps from a cool night wind against my skin.  


This young kiddo was so happy feeding the ducks and geese.  Little does he realize how special two of those geese are
I watched the people around me breath of sigh of relief.  There was a lot of laughing and fun happening around the park.  These dark gray skies had every Tucsonan taking walks or jogs around our city neighborhoods.  During the hot times of the day, we stay locked up behind our windows away from the deadly rays of the sun.  Then at night, like vampires, we go out when it is less hot.  But autumn has arrived. Gone are the 90's, 100's and 110+ degree temps. 

The resident Snow Goose of Lakeside Park
The plants soak up the much needed rain and almost fluoresce a brilliant green.  It is during this time that rare birds fly through various spots around the state.  Birders search high and low to find some random gems. As Hurricane Rosa broke apart, we all kept our eyes towards the sky. Would we find a Magnificent Frigatebird or random sea bird flying around our desert skies?  These are the days birders love the most.  Finding something rare. 


I went to my go-to-spot during times like these and found a large gull.  At first I thought it had been a California Gull until I got closer and discovered how big this bird was!  I got a little more excited.  I posted the gull on the FB page and people were calling it a Lesser Black-backed Gull. That bird was not on my radar. Chris Benesh joined the fun and we went through all the "maybes" on this gull.  Could we rule out Western Gull?  And all the others in that size range?  The answer in short was yes.  It just took a little patience. 

a rare juvenile Herring Gull makes a stop in Tucson
I am not scared of gull ID at all anymore.  They are really fun birds. Chris had me raise my hands up in the air to get the bird to fly so that we could pinpoint the under wings and see that rump and tail! I learn new things from this man every time we run into each other.  By the end of our observation, he was leaning towards Herring Gull.  I went home and dug through my ID pics and the ones I took of the bird and found the gull was indeed a first winter Herring. 

one of the ponds of Agua Caliente Park
For the past several weeks, I've been on a role just goofing around nearby bird areas finding cool things for my birder peeps.  Now I'm not bragging but ok, I am a little:)  I found these rarities on my own and helped other birders add a tick to their Pima or Santa Cruz County lists.  It's the least I can do for all their amazing sightings. While the Herring Gull wasn't a state bird for me, it was a county tick.  It's been some time since there's been a Herring Gull here in Tucson. 


Two -striped Mermiria
 There are still a few butterflies around the area but now the grasshoppers, katydids, and mermirias have taken over as the most numerous insect:)



It'll be hard to go birding around here now that I've begun cooking like a monster.  I go get my 70 pounds a veggies religiously every Saturday morning.  Afterwards, I get super excited and begin to process the vegetables.  I can. I freeze.  And I bring vegetables to life!  I process all the squash, tomatoes and everything else right away. 

From top to bottom and left to right. Homemade spaghetti sauce, butternut squash soup, a yellow squash medley, and freezing the extra yellow squash left over for a later time.
A lot of time is spent on boiling tomatoes(to easily remove the skins), chopping up vegetables and sauteing onions and mushrooms
 For example, with butternut squash, I steamed it all up during the summer and then pureed it all for the freezer.  This weekend, I pulled out that frozen ziploc bag of goodies and began prepping a soup with it.  I don't follow any recipes, but I've eaten so much food in my life, I can tell which ingredients go where.  So I cooked up a storm.  I canned homemade spaghetti sauce, prepped a potato/veggie casserole and made my butternut squash soup.  It was a hit with my friends. I'm in love with my kitchen again and it feels so good. Creating healthy dishes feels absolutely wonderful! And there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh.  


Next week, I'm back on the road to try and find some lifers in Wisconsin.  But honestly, it's about being with family and friends......and the cool autumn air. Until next time.....

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Silent Land of the Artifact Glass Shards


At first the lake looks quiet.  Then we pull out the scope and discover it's rather active.  No one is in sight for miles.  If we are murdered, no one would ever know. 
Every time.  Every single frickin' time.  We try not to mention it.  Or whisper it.  Or even think it!  But then something happens.  Magill and random adventure mishaps go hand-in-hand.  We always find great birds together. So it's worth the risk:) Right?

We targeted the main body of the San Carlos Lake.  In my mind, this is where I'd expect to see the jaeger.  Deeper water, more fish, with gulls or terns near by and opportunities for the jaeger to grab someone's meal
Magill's tire light went on and we were in the middle of nowhere.  Literally, there was no one there at all.  No birders.  No Apache Indians.  NO ONE.  While trying to chase a state bird, we encountered millions of pieces of shattered glass everywhere we went on the reservation.  That. And plenty of garbage which included lots of metal fragments. 


This was a national campaign during my childhood and it's still true today
While the western world loves polluting our environment with plastics, it seems the native americans on the reservations prefer smashing glass bottles everywhere.  While trying to set up the scope, we navigated unsuccessfully through the glass shards. That's when the light went on. We gave up on the chase and prayed to the bird gods that we would get back safely to a place where we had an internet signal off the dirt roads for road service if we needed it.  

My first sighting of a Parasitic Jaeger off of San Diego.  Fortunately, this one was easy to ID. 
We were chasing a Parasitic Jaeger, a super rare bird to the desert.  I am in love with all things "gull" or "gullish" or "gull-like".  I was looking forward to seeing this bird in Arizona.  Normally, it is seen flying around the ocean.  This year, a storm blew 2 of these birds into Arizona.  And they stayed. I've seen all the Jaeger species of North America, but to be honest with you, I still can't tell the difference between a Pomarine or Parasitic Jaeger in their non-breeding plumage. I have to look at the flight patterns to figure out the species. Once I found a jaeger on the way to Catalina island and called it a Parasitic.  The ebird reviewer responded back to me in a sassy tone, "That's OBVIOUSLY a Pomarine Jaeger."  Um, not so obvious to me.  I consider myself a good birder but when those two species are not in their breeding plumage, they are a dickens to ID.  Several friends who are pelagic guides told me not to be too hard on myself because they are difficult to ID even for the ocean birder pros. But to see a jaeger in Arizona?  That would be a dream. 

We drove over this old dam and I prayed to the bird gods that it didn't fall apart. 
My bird knowledge was put on hold as we focused on our survival skills. Thankfully, we were stocked with water.  While it wasn't super hot, it was still hot, with a slight breeze. But hot. Both of us got into our serious modes.  Me, the teacher, trying to come up with a Plan B or Plan C just in case Plan A didn't get us back to Globe. I struggled to figure it out while Magill read mileage info to me.  It was like an hour glass with the sands trickling down ever so slowly.  We had both made mental notes of tire places and internet zones while on the reservation. There were a few spotty sections around the San Carlos Lake that we could hike to if needed.  


A Monarch
Praise be to the bird gods!  We made it back to Globe in one piece and weren't stranded for long.  After our issue was resolved, we headed back to the tricky-to-navigate roads.  I had theories about where the bird might be seen.  Every dirt road looked the same, full of broken glass and twisted metal.  We drove both sides of the lake and then....committed ourselves to one spot.  The bird was there, I could feel it.  

HOW DO WE GET THERE???  All the roads looked the same and some were full of ruts.  Oh and GPS markers were off.
We stood on that last final road exhausted from the trek.  Both of us said to each other, "Why in the hell do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we chase birds?" Then the Parasitic Jaeger flew our way and it was a high five moment.  That's why.


Our first Arizona Parasitic Jaeger, looking VERY healthy
We watched it soar high as it flew around the lake. Gulls, jaegers and skuas are amazing birds.  As Magill picked the glass out of her shoe, I observed lots of dragonflies having sex. 


It did some high aerial moves and it was a fascinating show
Every good birder knows that going onto the Indian Reservation requires a lot of patience and time.  Especially when there is a good bird to be seen for the state.  We stopped at the Circle K in Globe for the permit.  Magill got both of our permits for the day at 10 bucks a pop.  Then we went to Subway for a quick bite.  I hate Subway, but they are serving wraps now.  So I guess I like Subway now:)


TWO rare Tricolored Herons show up in Pima county
After a challenging, yet fun day, on Saturday, we did some enjoyable birding in the town of Patagonia on Sunday.  We found lots of rare birds on our own and met up with friends I haven't seen in awhile.  Really really good people who I admire a lot. We had a nice lunch at the Gathering Grounds and then, I was going to do butterfly photography.  It became overcast and the butterflies disappeared.  However, the birds were everywhere and we found ourselves observing lots of crazy birds migrating through Paton's Hummingbird Center.   

This juvenile male Western Tanager is fascinated by my camera clicks
I'll be honest.  I like birding safe and fun areas.  But as we climb up this ladder on this crazy state bird list, the challenges are difficult.  Magill and I have LOTS of stories.  We've had a tire blowout on Mt. Ord, a bathroom incident that involved a guy shooting up in a dirty wash, and almost running out of gas in the San Rafael Grasslands. And there's been a few others that included tumbles, nearly throwing up, an emergency call back to shore because a guy hit himself on the rail and went unconscious, getting questioned by a suspicious woman(while researching the disappearance of the Monk Parakeets of Casa Grande, a little golf cart ride with women who already had a few drinks, and misdirection(mostly by me-I'm a bad navigator:) Both of us come from Wisconsin where the birding is gentle and kind.  Arizona can be an adventure and most often, some of the rarest birds are found in rough terrain.  With both Magill and Gordon along for the adventures, we find some of the craziest things in this state. 


Stunning views, lots of broken glass, and epic bird=great memories
We both achieved our personal goals. And to answer our own questions, I think the reason as to why we do these few state chases is for the adventure and storytelling.  Before the Parasitic Jaeger arrived, I had never birded San Carlos Lake.  Now I have.  And that's what it's all about!  Discovery.  Until next time.....

Monday, September 17, 2018

I Remember Well

White-lined Sphinx Moth

Looking back.  Looking forward.  And here I am.  They say autumn has begun.  I lock myself indoors pretending it's cold outside when in reality it's still like opening an oven.  So what to do? Escape to the great White Mountains and feel the sensations of being cold!


Painted Lady
I have discovered many of the birds here in the US.  Oh, there's about 50 or so I need for the US but they are in pockets here and there that require a one trip visit.  It's more than just birding now.  I want to make my home and garden come alive again.  I started cooking after almost 2 decades of not cooking and it brings me joy.  I sit and watch old episodes of Julia Child making French things like French Onion Soup:)  And it makes me want to go back to France again.  Old personalities like Julia Child and Bob Ross bring with them a sense of comfort.


We sat and watched the Elk graze in Greer at sunset
My travels abroad this summer forced me to cook in the kitchen and save money.  And it brought me joy.  I began taking notes in Trinidad, Hawaii, and Mexico.  In Maine, I collected more ideas.  Then I discovered the Farmer's Market of produce and I began to make my own fresh food again.  For 10 years, at the job that pays my health insurance, Helen always made me a fresh salad during lunch. It was the highlight of my day. But to cut costs, the district got rid of her.  In one deadly strike, I lost a friend and an amazing salad. 



So I began making my own lunches.  I got a membership to Costco, then to the National Parks and then we got a membership for the Desert Museum.  I've somewhat stepped out of the Arizona birding. Birders have told me this happens.  It's not that I am not birding.  I am.  I'm just not into chasing birds around this state as much anymore.  It seems goofy driving hours on the road observing a bird that I've seen many times in other places. So I stick to my patches.  And bird.  And cook. And save money for the big treks that are coming up. It's gotta be a really rare bird for me to chase.


Greer Lake
I get nostalgic this time of year.  I am reminded of the passing of time.  The passing of friends and family.  Of my aging.  It makes me happy.  It makes me sad.  I try to recreate recipes that my Grandma's made for me while they were still alive. After their passings, I took their iconic cookware and brought them home.  I mix salads and pastas and soups and desserts together in them. I pull out their fine glassware that they always put out for me on their tables during holidays or visits.  Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and be that dish that sat on their dinner tables just so I could hear their voices again. They stood preparing delicious foods with this glassware and now I do the same. And it connects me to those memories. 


Warbling Vireos migrate through the area
I'd, of course, have to place those dishes out-of-reach from a certain sister who likes to eat all the black olives. Sometimes Grandma would place the olives next to my Grandpa's magnifying glass where he read the newspaper, away from little hands but within reach for the adults. She didn't know that we could climb up chairs:) That fancy crystal bowl now sits in my cupboards with the rest of their dishes.  I began to pull them out again and fill them up with fresh lemons, tomatoes, onions and avocados.  My siblings would instantly recognize them because they were fun pieces that were always full of fresh veggies and crackers. They, too, bring comfort. 


The infamous West Baldy Trail #94
Over the next several weekends, I will be reflecting often.  This past weekend we escaped to Pinetop and Greer to get away from these horrible 100+ temps here in Tucson. 

Wilson's Snipe
 Then I'm off to Wisconsin where I'll spend some relaxing time with the family.  It's also a bittersweet visit in that I will say good-bye to Bernie.  He passed away a couple months ago and I was stuck here working.  I couldn't fly home for the funeral so I will go where I first met him as a child, Woodland Dunes.  I was just a beginning birder and he showed me my first Northern Saw-Whet Owls and how I could band them.  I'll meet him at that old red barn when I thought everything would last forever. Woodland Dunes was his life's work.  And today, it's his legacy.


A Sora dances around with another Sora hiding out in the reeds
I've written about this before but going home is harder the older I get.  I see people getting older; not myself you see because I'm immortal:) But this is the time of my life when I have only a few good decades, maybe years with lifelong friends who are now older.  What I wouldn't give to have unlimited money to visit them all.  I have to stay true to my goals.  And whenever possible, incorporate friends into the birding madness. 



But for now, I meander.  I go where I feel like going.  


We sat watching the elk eat the grass.  We played detective and found our friendly American Dipper.  There we sat with the dipper as the sun was setting and watched it get ready to go to bed. 

An American Dipper takes a break from the dipping
I bird my local patch every week at Reid Park and connect with my birds.  Some would say that that's boring.  I thought that once too, but now I find it a fun challenge.  When you've seen every possible bird around the region, you make it a game trying to find a new bird for your local patch.  And just like that, it's exciting again. Plus the data is super interesting from month to month and year to year.

A beautiful Cooper's Hawk perches
I drool at the blooms and butterflies this time of year.  I get excited.  Now that the outside painting is done at our place, all I want to do is work on my garden!  I stopped feeding my birds because I didn't want them to get poisoned with paint fumes.  So I removed all the water sources away from the building and let everything go quiet for awhile.


September is a great month for flower gardens and butterflies.  In fact, I believe it's also one of the best places for a birder to observe birds as migrating warblers like to feed from the bugs in the garden while finches, etc like to eat the seeds.  You could be at a stinky steamy hot slop pond searching for a Red Knot or sitting within a beautiful garden watching art naturally happen. I prefer the latter.  It's not going to get me anything rare, but I don't care.  


We live. We hike. And we explore.  Bring on the cold!  Let fall arrive!


And then in between, I want to play outside and grow plants.  During the summer, I stare out the window and think of the winter projects I want to do.  We have a wooden fence and I'd love to hang quirky bird houses on them!


Hunt's Bumble Bee, note the rusty brown band around the abdomen
Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the cooler temps and the final chapter to this year's birding. We'll visit several gardens around Tucson this month.  Then in October, we'll be back in Wisconsin visiting with friends and later in the month, we'll be in Rocky Point, Mexico having some fun with gull ID and shorebirds. Life is one grand adventure and it's always best when shared with friends.  Thank you for following Las Aventuras.  Until next week friends.....

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Highs and Lows

The carpeted green valley below Kitt Peak
Lately, I've been focused on the job that pays for my health insurance.  The start of the new year for every teacher is a tricky one.  If you set the tone right during the first several weeks, the rest of the year is perfection when it comes to classroom management.  On top of the main job, I've also been working on our house project that includes lots and lots of planning.  And on the weekends, I eagerly escape to go birding with friends. 

a Canyon Wren plays hide and go seek with us
Gordon came down for the weekend and we decided to do fun birding in cooler settings.  Kitt Peak was new for Gordon and it was just a nice get away from the heat.  For the first time in a LONG time, we should have brought our sweatshirts!  It was cold!  What a wonderful thing!

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard
 In fact, this is the end of summer for us.  It's the height of insects and migrating birds and bats.  September is so GREEN and buggy!  This is the best time of year for butterflies.  The trails are full of them!

a stock photo from several years ago on Kitt Peak.  This is the area we covered birding
We headed south of Tucson towards Sells on the Indian Reservation.  There's a peak that has telescopes on it.  And that's where we birded the morning finding lots of fun birds.  

Mexican Jay
We found Mexican Jays collecting acorns from an oak tree. 

juvenile Mexican Jay
 Spotted Towees appeared to be marking territories for yet another nest.  


Spotted Towhee
Meanwhile butterflies stole the show. 

Bordered Patch Butterfly
Down below in the valley, the wildflower show was incredible.  The rains have been good to Southern Arizona and the oranges, blues, purples, reds, yellows and pinks are confirmation of a happy desert. 

Arizona Poppy
One area was thick with wildflowers.  A beautiful carpet made by nature. 

Trailing Windmills
 There was no shortage of bugs. I try to escape the chiggers and mosquitoes, but they somehow find me. 


Plains Lubber Grasshopper
 The heat finally ends our Saturday of birding fun.  Sunday comes and we were looking forward to exploring Reddington Pass.  This was another new area for Gordon, but as we exited our place, we hit a wall of heat and changed the plans. 


American Snout
We wanted an easy place to bird, get water, have a nice lunch and see fun things.  The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum was the perfect fit.  While it's technically a "museum", it's much more than a building full of crap.  Here you can explore the wild spaces and see lots of real and wild critters that hang inside and outside of cages.  It's a great place to look for desert birds like the Cactus Wren or Gilded Flicker. 

Gordon and Micheal scour the Desert Museum property for butterflies, lizards, birds and other odd insects
Another unique species that lives on the grounds is an iguana that has survived decades on the property.  

San Esteban Island x Sonoran Spiny-tailed Iguana
Meanwhile we checked out the other critters hanging out around the riparian/desert corridor of the museum grounds.

male Bighorn Sheep struts his stuff

Eventually we made it to the aviary.  This year, I have spoken with many people about this subspecies of Northern Bobwhite below. The Masked Bobwhite is VERY rare and can only be found at the very close border of Mexico and Arizona on a few ranch lands.


the extinct-in-the-wild subspecies of Northern Bobwhite(Masked Quail)
They are breeding these birds to release in the wild, but even when we go to study them in the cages, they can be difficult to see!  So it was a real treat to find that this pair had mated....and had a chick!



I know it's a caged bird, but it's so rare in the wild that practically no one has seen these birds at all beyond a stuffed model on display for what used to live in the grasslands. To see them like this close up was spectacular. Over the years, I've seen only one in the aviary and she was always hiding.  Not on this day!


And that chick was adorable. 


After work, I'm exhausted.  The heat drains the life out of me. The mornings are lovely and it's really the only time to do any birding.  You get a 4 hour window and that's it.

Olive-sided Flycatcher
A lovely win for the week was an Olive-sided Flycatcher hanging out at my local patch that I monitor weekly.  And a very human downer happened when I misidentified a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron for a super rare Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.  To be fair to myself, many others thought it was a juvi Yellow-crowned Night-Heron as well.

American Avocet
I got two minutes to look at the bird from a distance, snapped my shots and then had to wait until I got home to look at them.  Magill got home before I did and looked at the pics up close and said, "Nope.  This is a juvenile Black-crowned."  Our hearts sunk.  The ID is a tricky one, but next time I'll be looking at that bill better. 


Birding in Dateland and surrounding areas for shorebirds
The juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has an all dark conical bill where the juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron can have some yellow in the bill. Oh well.  You win most and lose a few every once and awhile.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
We randomly explore the state and search for something fun to show up. I wouldn't do it alone as it's more fun birding with friends during this nasty and beautiful time of year. We motivate each other to bird during these trying times. Migration is upon us and every day, there is something just waiting to be found.  Will you find it?  Until next time.