Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ramsey Canyon Chronicles

Coues White-tailed Deer
Hello everyone!!  Today kicks off a mini 3 part series from Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona.  During my hummingbird investigations, I discovered MANY canyons that need some following up in the Huachuca which is on a military base!  While it was a hot time in Tucson, I found this canyon to be a cool relief from the hot sun.  It was unaffected by last summers fires and has A LOT of butterflies fluttering around.  That was the first thing I noticed about the trails.....butterflies EVERYWHERE!!! 
Of course there was so much going on and that is why I've had to break these posts up over 3 days.  Many birders come here to search for the many hummers, Elegant Trogon and Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher.  But along the way, there were a lot of extra surprises like the Couse's Deer which is different from the others I have seen around our area.   While checking out this defunct cabin, we discovered a group of them hanging out around some vegetation eating.
Arizona Sister Butterfly
And of course it was this particular butterfly that grabbed  my attention the entire morning.  It's the Arizona Sister butterfly.  I had thought it was the California Sister but I was assured that it was all Arizona:)  I'm not sure what the difference between the two are but I do know that they were everywhere on our walk. 
The park officials were also great helping me identify 2 owl species nesting.  I have not been able to successfully capture them....yet....on camera.  But I know where they are:)  Sycamore trees are the key to many of the birds species nesting in the area.  Not only is it a beautiful tree but it's very important to many other species in canyon areas. 
What is up with this squirrel just sprawled out over a rock?  Found in Mexico and the US, the Rock Squirrel has the habit of hanging out on rocks.  This big guy allowed me to get pretty close.  He never moved during our time observing.  It all reminded me of my cats and how they love sitting by the bird window. 
Rock Squirrel
Again along the trails, a nice breeze passed by, taking my mind off of the nasty heat going on in Tucson.  In fact, if I had to choose between canyons, I would have to say that Ramsey was my favorite.  Madera Canyon is great but it's TOO hot!  I have to bring a lot of water for that trip and with Ramsey, I felt like I was back in the Midwest during a nice summer day.
Arizona Sister Butterfly, wings open
There's a lot of shade all around the area.  But I haven't mentioned the other BIG things about this place......
At first, I thought the aliens were coming.  After our Phoenix Comicon time, I was a little paranoid that they were invading Earth.  Well come to find out.....I wasn't too far off.  This military balloon is looking for aliens(of the illegal variety) on the ground.  Please be aware that these canyons are close to the Mexican border.  Several of my friends who LOVE to hike far beyond the trails have spotted drug trafficking.  Don't approach them and keep moving.  Normally they'll walk past you and leave you alone.   The issue for me is when Border Patrol and the Drug Traffickers encounter one another.  I don't want to be in the middle of the crossfire.  I had a close call once and don't want that EVER to happen again.  It's safe within the Ramsey Canyon area, but if you go, just be aware that the border is a hop, skip, and brinca away:)
But the other real BIG shocker came from the MASSIVE trees located along the Canyon walk.  I wanted to show you how massive this tree is compared to an Asian human male.  All I can say is...WOW!!!  Gorgeous hike.  5 bucks to get the hummingbirds, look for exotic numbers all around you.....I'll be back again.  August is a big month for everyone as the hummers start to migrate again through the areas.  I hope you enjoy this series as it was a very successful shoot capturing several birds I had hoped to get on camera.  A Chuparosa challenge tomorrow.....

Friday, June 29, 2012

First Steps

Today is a favorite of mine and I hope you enjoy this as well.  It's a happy story that I've been tracking now for several months.  The owlets! Mother of Pearls!!!!  I found them and I remember the excitement of it all.  I had been wondering about how they were doing so I searched a block near their nests.
It was before sundown and I was the only one on the trail.  It was so quiet.  As I walked closer around the bend, I noticed activity near the water.  It was a very special moment and I remember feeling the "presence" of others and remembered that the parents would be near......
There were 3 owlets.  One was in the tree while the other two were near the water.  Both mother and father were close by.  I kept my distance using my lens to get close shots.  Of course I didn't want to leave the scene, but I also didn't want to interrupt their feeding.  So I kept moving along quietly cool was all this?  I went home very happy with my finds on this evening.
They are such beautiful creatures and I don't think that I'll ever stop taking pictures of them.  Plus this story is a happy one.  I'm very thankful that they have a place to grow up without human involvement and that they are able to develop on their own. 
So as I left, the parental units kept their eyes on me and I them....
Once I was out safely from the area, I looked back and took a couple more shots with the long lens. This was quite the special event and I wanted to make sure I took it all in......
And this is my parting shot of the owlets as they appeared from across the body of water.  What a wonderful night!!
Note how the owlet has more feathers than body.  The feathers make them appear bigger than they really are.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Used To Be My Playground

In a few days, I begin the Wisconsin series of writes and I like to prep people for what my focus will be during that course of posts.  On this trip, we had a lot of great fun but we also discovered that Wetland talk would be of major importance throughout our journey.  I'll be showing you cranes and talking about 2 different wetland areas in the Two Rivers/Manitowoc area which make for great birding/wildlife observations.  But I am going to go smaller and talk about something that I remember clearly from my childhood.....running and playing around Riverside park in my old neighborhood.   Today the park still remains, but you may be surprised by the transformations it has gone through over the years.  Inspired by Ragged Robin's Nature Notes work from her historical walks following in the footsteps of author Edith Holden from the last century , I take you on a tour of the wetlands and park area.  But my story is less epic:)  And today I try my hand at vintage photography....
As a child, I remember running through the wetlands behind the park.  I caught Monarch butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, and even a Killdeer!  I was fascinated by nature and had to see everything up close.  The wetlands behind Riverside park were prairie like away from the river.  It was full of critters, milkweed, and fun!  For many years, I played in our treehouse away from everyone else at a friend's house.  And all of this was just a half block away from our old home!!! And then one year, it began to happen.....
Factories and shops wanted to start developing the area for their own use.  The prairie grasses and milkweed would be replaced by a baseball field.  The 70's and 80's were full of the Monarch butterfly because of the milkweed that grew in our area. And then it was wiped away and with it....the Monarch population.  They took our park and destroyed it!  The frogs were harder to find, the birds didn't frequent the area like they used to.....and there weren't anymore caterpillars to find hanging around milkweed!! 
Gravel and hard ground destroyed the natural plants within the area.   And within a year or two, the area had been altered.  And no more Monarchs.
The pic above is especially important.  These buildings lie dormant now....perhaps used for storage.  But back in the earlier days, these buildings were busy busy busy.  The front spaces, that are now empty, were full of milkweed and butterflies.  But "development" created the destruction of habitat around the area.  Where is that development today?  Gone and like these pictures's haunting.  Someone somewhere must have also remembered what our playground used to be like....because today the city is trying to restore the area to what it used to be like.......while the empty buildings are still there, the open land is still open.  You see all that factory planning fell through!!  It only took the destruction of the prairie land and a forest to create a failing "Industrial Park" which now sits as an eyesore.    Sorry if I have a little bitter aftertaste in my mouth.....but if you could have seen the creek we played in......and all the animals that lived in that was a tragedy.  My parents didn't think so.  They thought it was progress.  Thankfully one wetland area stood their ground and won and today they stand as an island of what used to be.  This, of course, is the Woodland Dunes off of Hwy 310.  I'll take you back there again in several weeks.
I did see people in the park(now known as a Skate Park for skateboarders, etc), but there was something else going on.......restoration!!!  The city is restoring the wetlands area around the park again and this time there were birds to be seen.  Now it's not like it used to be, but it's an attempt to restore habitat lost. 
Former prairie area then baseball field....and now a water holding area.
Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to many wildlife species on this planet.  And while I believe that bird populations will return as will frogs(if we continue to monitor habitat, water pollution, etc).....I do worry about the Monarch butterfly.  The populations are still in my hometown....just not in the numbers they once were.   And this is just an observation, but milkweed is the key here.  It grows wild all over but if it's removed, it rarely grows back again as seen in this park and surrounding area. 
 While at the park I searched high and low for the milkweed plant that used to number in the thousands around this riparian sector.  I remember blowing the seeds from the pods as a kid.  Areas that once had this plant everywhere now have some to no milkweed growing in them.  Certain extinction is possible if we cannot preserve habitat from development.   The good news is that there are people who recognize this and are doing something about it.  I can report that I have found high areas of milkweed around the state.  I just wish my hometown would do a little more to protect this very important plant.  Maybe they are.....I just don't see it.  If "A" is the original form of pristine land and "B" is the altered human area converted back to "A" again, then they've only done  half the work because it looked nothing like this as a kid.  Maybe this is phase 1 and if so, it a good start.  But they need to restore the grasses and "weeds" that used to grow in this area for the wildlife.
It would be great to see the Monarchs come back and visit this place again as they once did several decades ago.  More tomorrow....
Pic taken last year at Point Beach State Forest Park along Lake Michigan

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nooks and Crannies

Baltimore Oriole
Over the course of several months, I have been collecting a group of pics demonstrating how watchful one must be out in the wild.  Somedays, my eyes are sore from investigating every nook and cranny.  For example, during our education on cranes(post coming up), this beautiful Baltimore Oriole flew out of nowhere!!!  I had to take my eyes off the instructor briefly for this shot!!  This is the male with his bright colors out for the world to see.
And then there were the Barn Swallows.  For me, these birds are very tricky to capture on camera in Arizona but while in Wisconsin I had better luck as many of them were nesting up in the rafters.
Barn Swallow
Love this particular shot.  Again, they hid among the cranes.  Sometimes they stole the show:)
And while here in Tucson, our reptiles certainly put on a great show.   This little guy slinks around a post as I try to capture a hawk in flight!
Western Whiptail Lizard
Along a trail, the edge of my eyesight sees a slight movement.  I feel the power of the heebie jeebie take over me.  My body shakes.  I turn around and keep calm to film this guy along the edges of the reeds.
Common Kingsnake
Beautiful.  Dark.  Mysterious.  I watch from a distance as this Common Kingsnake sticks out his tongue to check out what's going on in the area.  Was I food?  No.  But I better move on.....:)
Sometimes appearing as a pebble, I discover what appears to be a juvenile Abert's towhee along the path.
Juvenile Abert's Towhee
Of course other things jut out from the sides and briefly make appearances.  But the sun holds their attention long enough for me to snap a pic.
Desert Spiny
The clouds start to roll in.  Darkness begins to fall.  But there is still action going on......
A Cooper's hawk feeds in between branches.  A night snack after a long hot day.
Cooper's Hawk
And as I leave the trails, my eye catches a Night Heron hiding in the reeds. Playing detective is really enjoyable since everything likes to quietly disappear in the nooks and crannies of our cities, parks and gardens.
Night Heron
Sometimes you may walk by and not realize that a branch is really an owl.
And that's what's exciting about each and every hike.  You never know what will turn up:)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Usual Suspects

Broad Billed Hummingbird
One of the things I try to be while I blog is honest.  It's important to be truthful about the experience and I gotta tell you was just meh!  Oh I'm sure the photos will do, but I try to push myself on every outing....and on every outing, I've always come home happy.  But today....on this very hot hot day.....I didn't get anything new.  (Written on June 2nd)
Magnificent Hummingbird
To make matters worse, my allergies were terrible.  There was a huge fire coming coming in from New Mexico that created this terrible haze.  I don't know how I will bird in this heat.  I made time for it and could only sqeeze in a couple hours looking for the Lucifer Hummingbird!  He eludes me still.
It's not to say that I didn't see a lot of wildlife because I did achieve this objective.  But I missed the Blue Grosbeak which would have been a first for me and this blog.  Ugh!!!  I saw it but wasn't quick enough with my camera!
Acorn Woodpecker
I think what I need most is a break from the desert heat until monsoon comes.  It really isn't nice at all to do.  Hats off to the people who get up super early to snap shots of all those amazing birds. I'll do more of it when July hits again.  The humidity is of course terrible during that time but there is always hope for much needed rain everyday.
Black Chinned Hummingbird
Maybe it's frustration I want to convey on this post.  People always wonder what we desert rats do during the summer and the answer is.....stay indoors during the afternoon like people do during the winter in the colder regions.  Evenings are great, but I'm out watering plants.  Mornings are great but I'm usually sleeping:)
But you also gotta feel for the birds around the area.  Our hummingbird feeders are attacked regularly by the large and heavy woodpeckers.  They are very awkward looking as they hang and swing from the feeders.  Let me just say that they spill lots!!!  Their "tongue" is similiar to that of a hummingbird and therefore love to visit our feeders as well.  Today in the canyon it was 98 degrees!!!  I had plenty of water but still.....
I wore my hat and hid in the shade as much as I could.  There is a lot to see if you can withstand the temps.  It reminded me of Panama last summer but with all the humidity involved!!!  So much wildlife out and about at all times of the days around the canyon areas.  In the desert, you'll find it very very quiet during the afternoon unless you are looking for lizards.
So it's great to go to cooler locals if it's possible.   The problem is that some of them are 45 minutes to an hour away.  For example, heading up to Mt. Lemmon is ideal, but the trip will take you an 1 and some minutes to rise the 20 some odd miles to the top.  Or if you are heading to Carr Canyon, the dirt roads can be difficult to navigate if you have a regular car like I do.  Good tires are the key:) More tomorrow...

Gerbera Daisy