Thursday, May 31, 2012

Un Vaso De Agua

I've been really wanting to do something on aquariums.  I've been to several in my lifetime.  Again, I had a poor camera but I'll try to do my best and capture the fun.  While today's focus is on the Monterey Aquarium in California, I'll be presenting some pics from the Chicago Shedd Aquarium and Acquario di Genoa in Italy. There is something very special about being surrounded by huge glass panels with fish big and small swimming around you. 
So I had some fun with my sister and her husband.  They came out to visit and I took them to the California coast for a photo shoot in '98 near Monterey, CA.  I didn't tell them about the rogue wave that pushed itself on shore.  This would become one of my favorite shots ever taken.  My sister's face is priceless.  Today they have this picture framed in their house somewhere:)
I fell in love with the Monterey Bay Aquarium as I had with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  But Monterey was special.  Why?  Well, it was here that Star Trek 4 was filmed.  You know....the one about the whales:)
Monterey, Shedd and the Genoa Aquarium all have one thing in common.....dark cool rooms.  Sometimes I just like to sit on the bench and.......stay there for a stretch of time.  But the key for me is to find a place that doesn't have many people around.
This summer, we'll hopefully visit the Shedd Aquarium again.  It has been over 7 years since my last visit to one of these magical places. I like getting older because I learn more and more.  Each time I return for a visit, I "see" things in a new light.  So it'll be fun exploring this wonderful aquarium again.  Coming up on Las Aventuras, more from the garden, space, our Wisconsin adventures, birding, and lots of other fun things!  More tomorrow.....
Taken outside the Acquario di Genoa

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Do your eyes ever "shut down" after long hours on the computer?  Or after long hours on the trail searching for life?  Sometimes I have to squint my eyes to catch what it is I'm searching for.  And if I didn't squint, I might miss some of the fun shots that happen all around me.
What's that with wings on a dark shadowy branch?  What's that glistening thing sticking out on the twig?
Or that rustle in bushes?  Will it bite me?  Is that a lizard or a dinosaur up ahead?  How big do these guys get anyway?
Desert Spiny
And the birds off in the this American Avocet below.  You can definitely strain your eyes trying to focus on the shot.
During this shoot, I was by a thorny mesquite tree.  I cleared the branches away so I wouldn't poke my eyes out.
Would I get these Black Neck Stilts finally?  Was the lighting finally going to work with the shot?  It was all so far away.....
So my question to you is, "What do you do when your eyes get tired?"  or  "Do your eyes get blurry after many hours of using them with your camera?" 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


It has been extremely hot, but that hasn't stopped me from taking advantage of the gorgeous Sonoran desert landscape.  You are looking at the Saguaro bloom.  Here are a couple rules for this summer if you are new to the desert.....
Sunscreen!!!  Bring plenty o' water! and hike during the early morning or late afternoon.  NEVER....and I mean this from the bottom of my heart.....NEVER hike in the middle of afternoon without water OR during our monsoon season.  During the end of the month of June, all of July, August, and first part of September, washes fill up quickly and from out of nowhere. Sadly, every year, human life is lost because of rapid changing weather conditions.
Lightening strikes are common.  But there are other things to keep your eyes out rattlesnakes etc:)  They blend in very well with their surroundings.
There is so much to see in the summer.  And birding!!!  Well, birds are not dumb.  You have to get up early just as they do to see them out and about because by afternoon, they will all be hiding in the shade for cooler temps:)
And sometimes, while it's super hot, we forget to look closely at our surroundings and miss out on all the truly spectacular things this Momma Thrasher in her nest within a cholla cactus:)
This post is a reminder for all to get up early and enjoy Mother Nature.  I began this photo shoot at 6 AM:)  And I had to get my birding in for the day:)!!!  Stay out of the heat!!!  Arizonans have more skin cancer issues than in the other 49 states.  Water plants early morning or late afternoon.  Conserve:) Our desert sun is magnificent...and brutal. More tomorrow...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mr. Wilson!!!!

Greetings all!  I have enjoyed your comments this weekend.  I'm back again after an exhausting 4 days.  Tomorrow morning I'll catch up with all again and look forward to your posts.  Like the picture of this squirrel suggests, I had to get hopping over to the Sweetwater Wetlands to find the Wilson's Phalarope and while there, I was hoping to capture the Wilson's Warbler as well.  It was a day of finding the Wilson family:)
So I MOVED!!!  My last experience with the Phalarope family wasn't a good one.  I consider only excellent pictures to count as a bird sighting.  And while I spotted the Red/Red Necked Phalarope, they weren't close enough to see in the pic.  So I hoped to get better shots of this particular Phalarope.
While scanning the only basin of water, I captured the Black Neck Stilt, the Glossy Ibis, and a couple American Avocets......and then, in the far distance, I saw 5 spinning circular motions....indicative of the Phalarope family.
But I hadn't counted on 5 of them!!!!  Just to be sure I walked around the basin as best I could to see if I could get better shots.....
At first I thought I had counted wrong, but alas, the other Wilson Phalarope joined in.....
.......creating the group of "5".  I hoped to get closer to these interesting birds but a fence prohibited me from crossing. And to be honest, it wasn't so much the fence as it was the law that kept me out:)  I could really get some great shots if I could just cross the line:)  So playing detective paid off today....
.....and I did get better shots than those of the Red/Red Necked Phalarope. As for the Wilson's Warbler??
There was too much Blackbird "noise" going on, but I was able to locate and hone in on a Warbler "voice".  It was intermittent and high above the trees.  One would think it would be easy to identify this hot number.  I kid you not, I stood for a half hour refusing to go home until I found that bird!
Eventually I found it extremely high up in the Eucs bouncing around.....but it wasn't the Wilson's Warbler, it was the Yellow Warbler.  The difference?  Both are yellow, but the Wilson's Warbler has a black swatch on the top of its head.  I'm lucky that I was able to even get this shot.  My neck hurt after this outing. 
Eventually the little guy flew off and I moved onto my owlets.  Look closely at the picture and you'll see the parent and two owlets.  One is looking directly at you:)
Sometimes I wish it were as easy as Dennis the Menace calling out, "MR. WIIIIIIILLLLLSONNNN!" and getting his attention.  But like Mr. Wilson, he would hide from Dennis just as the birds like to disappear from me:)  But with an ear for bird sounds and movement, I am beginning to use my other sense to help me find the birds.  It has been mostly with my eyes, but now I am using the ears.  I will be even more successful once I can replicate the bird sounds with my voice.  If I can speak Spanish, I can also learn to speak bird. I've seen it done and it's quite magical.  More tomorrow.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sit Down and Bird!

One Saturday, I headed down to Madera Canyon in search of the Elf Owls reported near the Santa Rita lodge.  I didn't find the owls, but I did see lots of wild bird action going on.....and what was everyone looking at?
Scrub Jay
Could it be the birdseed on the ground?
A dragon eating a noisy dog or child in the woods?
Or were the birds staring at the people staring at them?
The moon over the canyon was perhaps the best sign of something special happening.
But this Acorn Woodpecker could care less.  He was on the feeder getting his fill. 
This Black Headed Grosbeak could care less as well.
Western Bluebird  Lazuli Bunting(thank you Laurence !) So I did see one afterall:)
Well it turns out several of the male Wild Turkeys(or Toms) were putting on a show for the females and everyone was getting a fantastic show.  That's what I love about the never know what is going to happen.  So I didn't get the Elf Owls, but I did get some fancy turkey moves:)
By the way, the best part about all of this was that you could sit and bird at the Santa Rita Lodge.  I've never really seen this before but the lodge has an amazing area for birders to enjoy Madera Canyon's gems.....However, it's all about the exercise as well.  So I parked my car on the bottom on the canyon and walked up the hill.  I don't mind sitting and birding but there has to be some work out involved....otherwise it's what I call cheating:)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Searching For Elves

Barred Owl
Another mission that is ongoing is the hunt for the great Elf Owl.  This year has been primarily a year of the Great Horned Owl.  So while I search for this little bird in the wild, I thought I'd review what I've seen so far.  Education is the best!  The above pictures were taken in Wisconsin at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.  Granted I don't count these shots as part of my birding list, but I did do some research on them for future searches.  The Snowy Owl isn't found in Arizona nor is the Barred Owl.

Snowy Owl
But out in the wild jungle of our deserts, I did get shots of the Great Horned Owl.  This year was full of them!!!  And I took the opportunity to film them. 

It started with my first thrilling search at night inside a wash at Tanque Verde.  Then it all went downhill from there.  Owls nesting at my school, in trees, and the Great Horned Owl became an instant favorite:)

And while on my hunt for owls, I discovered the Western Screech Owl near Patagonia.  I have to admit that these are a bit tricky for me to spot.  Note how they blend in with their surroundings!:)

Western screech owl-sadly this owl was eaten by a hungry Cooper's Hawk in the winter of 2015

On a fun day trip to the Renaissance Festival in Florence, I was exposed to the Eagle Owl only found in Europe.  The relative of our own Great Horned Owl was MASSIVE and I wouldn't want to be on its bad side:)

The grace, curiousity, and beauty of this Barn Owl flew into view at the Buenos Aires Wildlife Park.  It was really a treat to see this gorgeous owl near....the barns:)  It flew near me watching me hike.

And then there is this Short Eared owl from the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. Apparently they are here in Arizona.  So I'll be keeping my eyes open for not only the Elf, but for the Short Eared, Burrowing, and Flammulated Owls.  If a troll shows up, I'm outta there.....:)

As of August, 2015, I have not seen this owl in the wild.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Leap of Faith

Today's post comes straight from a lesson in my classroom.  I didn't think it important but as we were discussing parachuting, it came to my brain, "Why don't you write a piece on it?"  And so this post today comes from my photo records from over 18 years ago.  Has it been that long?  I've written about rafting and of course, my hikes around the world and state, but nothing about jumping from a plane.
Jump or not to Jump?  That is the question.  During a hair brained idea at a college dinner, my friend Nikki threw out an idea.  "Why don't we do something crazy?  Let's jump from a plane!!"  Naive.  Dumb.  Immortal.  I said, "Sure."   In the 90's, life was full of adventure and crazy times.  The night before jumping, I couldn't sleep. During the day of the jump, we found out the million and 3 ways we could die and several ways we could pull our emergency chute in case the main one didn't engage.  But most ended in death.  I signed the waiver, "We aren't responsible for your death." And.....I faced my greatest fear.  Heights. It was on the bucket list and NOT an option.
All this build up over the 7 hour course and we discover that we would have to reschedule our jump because the winds were too strong.   Two weeks later, I rescheduled, unlike the other members of the group, and went with my German friend Constanza from the crew.  We were the only two.  It was a challenge to myself.  If I couldn't do this, I was a failure.  So I got my butt on that plane in my jump suit and flew up into the heavens.  The plane engine shut off.  I walked onto the wing of the plane and 1. 2. 3. let go with my arms extended out.  I don't really remember too much here.....just that there was a large green farm below us. 

The chute opened and I could fly.  I mean REALLY REALLY FLY!  I grabbed my toggles and felt the complete and incredible experience of the "adrenaline rush".  I screamed "woo hoooo!!!" which was drowned out by the wind.  And I flew.  As the ground got closer, I began to worry again about my life as I dodged electric wires and "FLARED" before I hit the ground.   The act of flaring is quite fun.  Pull both directional hand toggles down and touch down(or crash:) to the ground.  Get that chute under control or the wind will catch it and pull you elsewhere:)  Would I do it again?  Probably not.  Was it worth the experience?  Absolutely.  What is your fear? And have you ever faced it head on?  After that experience, I wanted to be a bird or the superhero "Storm" and ride the wind.  More tomorrow....