Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Wandering Gypsy

Yarnell.  A strange town full of liberal artsy fartsy people.  A few have even called it the place of the "Gays and Grays".  Better keep it secret because if Jan Brewer found out, she'd have an atom bomb dropped on this tiny little gem. While on our trips around Arizona for our Big January, we spied many magnificent places over mountains and canyons and forests and.....well you get the idea.  We all blog because we want to connect to the bigger community.  I never imagined I'd actually meet real live people but a certain gypsy was in the area and we had to make a stop.
Hidden in a labyrinth full of rocks, shrubs, and art, we found the Gypsy.  At last!  And it was awesome!  She lives my dream life of travel, magic and work!  Many of you know Gaelyn from Geogypsy.  I wish I had more time to spend with everyone on these adventures but I have found that my life is one scheduled moment after another.  Don't get me wrong; I love it, but I wish I could just spend a little more time enjoying my blogger friends more.
On this day, we would visit the hidden town of Yarnell.  At first, I thought, "Is this it?"  But the backroads led to wonderful landscape, wildlife and culture.  There were artists hidden between trees and rock art. We did a nice little hike on an unmapped trail along a wash where one could find lots of wildlife tracks.
And we'd find the wildlife.  In fact, it seems wherever I go now, I see animals at every turn.  But the Gypsy found these lovely deer.  And like any good blogger, we took out our cameras and took lots and lots of pics:)  I was sad to say good-bye but happy to have met her.  We had a wonderful time and hope to do it again.  Over the next two days I'll share my Big January data with you all and we'll end this special week long series with a bang!  And thank you Gaelyn for showing us around your wonderful part of Arizona!  The Big January results tomorrow.....

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


"Birding at a historical site??!!!  You're really off your rocker Ms.Kathie Brown!"  Birds and an old mission?  How can that be possible?  Plus fresh tortillas and beans?  This is too good to be true.  A little history with our birding was exactly what was in store for us this day as we struck gold at the Tumacacori historical site.
Hammond's Flycatcher
There is an incredible hiking trail known as the De Anza trail that passes along the mission and a river.  My slow brain put two and two together and smiled.  Oh yes.  This was indeed bird rich.  I love history.  I love birds.  And I love nice weather with good food.  This would indeed be a great day.  Along the way, we'd get some really great birds.
Rufous-winged Sparrow
The problem with me is that I get distracted easily with wonderful photo opportunities.  I found myself snapping shots left and right of the mission.  I had surprisingly never been to this place before but it was indeed full of great historical importance, design and nature.
So we both got lost a bit in our thoughts as we explored all the nooks and crannies of the mission.
I became a teacher because of this stuff.  This wonderful crappy old stuff.  Well warm weather, yummy food, Mexican parties, gardening, Spanish, bla bla bla also helped:)  But needless to say, this was right up my alley. And they were serving hot food out in the beautiful Mexican courtyard. Have you ever had fresh fresh tortillas? The place even had orchards!!!!
While we were out in the courtyard, Lark Sparrows were getting sips from the fountain!!!  No way.  Cardinals, Wrens, Phoebes, Warblers.........all in the courtyard!  It blew my mind!
Lark Sparrow
The Bewick's Wren FINALLY gave me excellent views.  This wren is a tricky one to capture for the camera!
Bewick's Wren
Lifebirds are tricky.  But I train my ear to their sounds.  I heard the call clearly and it snapped my attention directly towards the bird.  Lifebird means focusing all my energy on a good shot!  The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher!!!!  YES!!!  Another new bird!
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Tumacacori is located south of Tucson off of Interstate 19 towards Mexico.  It's easy to visit plus it's near the artsy city of Tubac.  It's a great way to spend the day with friends, birders OR both:) Stay tuned for more....
Lark Sparrows

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In The Thick Of It

Sometimes people are surrounded, enshrouded, wrapped or blanketed by nature. Sometimes we go to see them specifically in the thousands.  And sometimes the thousands cover us unexpectedly.....

.......and while humans are distracted, a Coati eyes up a photographer's car, smells the crackers in the front seat of the open car door and...........

........the photographer becomes overwhelmed with emotion as thousands of Yellow-headed blackbirds flock around him.  Everyone stops in their tracks, pulls out their cell phones.......and watch the spectacular show Mother Nature is providing.  All of it.....unexpected.  A birder watches non-birders enjoy the beauty of it all and it makes him smile.  Would this moment spark somebody into birding?

These moments don't always last long. Sometimes only a few minutes.

He knows that he must act quickly, but his fingers aren't quick enough.  He fumbles the toggles and gets the lens ready for manual focus.

And sometimes, it's an epic fail as the photographer gets caught up in simply.....observing.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Coati gets closer to the photographer's car.  He crosses onto human sidewalks, jumps up effortlessly from the rocks onto the cement and approaches the open car door.

Cranes land.  Blackbirds deafen humanity's ears.

And the Coati has gotten too close.  The photographer slowly moves to his vehicle and shuts the door.  His buddy also sees the Coati moving closer to her and she doesn't know whether to flee or keep snapping pictures:)  Eventually, he gets too close and she backs away:)  And then the Coati disappears into the forest again with his friends.

Meanwhile the photographer scares up ducks by accident and almost has a heart attack.

When these moments come to pass, he is always grateful to have experienced them.

January is coming to a close.  As we get closer to the end, I'll reveal more big adventures from our Big January. Stay tuned for more!


Monday, January 28, 2013

The Whispering Willows

Bridled Titmouse
Tic toc, tic toc.  Time is running short.  Just how many different bird species could I find in the state of Arizona before the end of January?  I'd read reports and have to carefully decide. Did I want the bird for my Pima list or Arizona list?  Ultimately it doesn't matter, but during the month of January, one has to pick and choose.  
Great Egret
Reports would come in and there were some nights I could not sleep at all.  This Pacific Loon reported in Tucson kept me up all night.  Sadly, this Mega-rare bird lived for one week before passing.  A birder found the loon floating near the reeds.  It was sent in and studied for the cause of death.  When I observed the bird, I didn't notice anything wrong with it.  Many birders around Southern Arizona were saddened by the news.  In November, Kathie and I spotted the Common Loon together.  It had difficulties getting out of a pond but eventually the loon made its way out.  This Pacific Loon did not.  I now have our local Wildlife Rescue number programmed into my cell phone in case I ever witness something like this in the field.  The bird will be preserved and studied by the University.  The autopsy had shown that the bird had died from starvation.  Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes.  But your memory dear Loon will be preserved on this blog.
Pacific Loon
Moving onto a happier report, I went onto the fabled Willow Lake of Prescott in Northern Arizona.  Home of the rare and special Tundra Swans.  It was a first for me as we scoured the lake for the Swans.  I had never seen wild swans before!
Northern Harrier
And along the way, I met my fabulous blogger friend Cynthia to find the swans!  We hiked through the cold and muddy fields full of goose $^&%$ and found our target bird.  It's more than just the birds.  Sometimes it's about the people and the experiences we have along the way.
So many wonderful birds can be seen around Willow Lake like Canadian Geese, Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, Mergansers, a couple Bald Eagles......and Swans!
Snow Geese mixed in with Ross's Geese.  There were 8 in the flock but mixed.  Possible hybrids. 
The Common Merganser took flight and I am now satisfied with a nice shot of this bird:)
Common Merganser
And then.....PAYDAY!  It took us one day to find the birds and a morning with Cynthia to get up close for those better observations and pictures. Thank you so much Cindy!
Tundra Swans
The hike was fun and the rock formations were extremely cool. If you're up in Northern Arizona, check out Watson and Willow Lakes.  The Big January report is coming up soon.
Willow Lake

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Santa Cruz Flats

A Big January requires strange trips to dusty areas like the Santa Cruz Flats near Picacho Peak.  Here in this desolate part of the world, sandy dirt roads wrap around farming fields.  When Laurence suggested we go, I had to really plan and map this one out.  For such an isolated and dry area of the world, it was surprising the amount of NEW birds we saw.  On this epic outing, bird guru Rich Hoyer, Kathie Brown and myself would go where no one in their right mind had gone before.  And the day would shock and surprise us all.  In short it rocked!  And it was well worth all the dirt and grime:)  It also helped that Rich had birded this area before and maximized our time out in the field.  Thank you Rich!
Throughout the day, we found abandoned buildings and ancient artifacts from former human communities.  Some farms were still active, but there were stretches of "the nothing".  So it was shocking (as we were searching for Mountain Plovers at the Evergreen Sod Farm) to find a Crested Caracara flying over our heads.  During our day, we would encounter many birders searching for new life around the flats.  Many were from out of town while others were surveying raptors.  On this day they would count around 35 of these tropical Crested Caracaras!  Wowsa!
Crested Caracara
But we went on our merry ways.  Rich was searching for a Longspur.  Kathie was counting birds.  And I was trying to get better shots of Pipits and Horned Larks.  Spectacular birds!
And then it would happen.  The Burrowing Owls.  I smiled and smiled and smiled some more.  I LOVE owls!!!  And I finally was able to get nice shots of these beautiful birds.  Like statues along the dirt roads, they appeared as rock figures or dead branches.  
Burrowing Owl
My big lesson for the day came from Rich on thrashers.  For both Kathie and myself, this Bendire's Thrasher would be a life bird.  But like so many birders ask, "How do you tell the difference between a Curve-billed and Bendire's?"  Habitat and bill structure.  Notice how the Bendire's upper bill curves and the bottom part of the bill isn't as curvy(straighter) than that of the Curve-billed?  I put up a Curve-billed pic below to compare the differences. 
Bendire's Thrasher

Look closely between the two pics. The Bendire's is said to have "arrowhead" or triangular like markings around the breast area.  But it's difficult and not always distinguishable. So look for the bill.  The Santa Cruz Flats are perfect habitat for this bird. 
Curve-billed Thrasher
Another bit that Rich shared with us was the habitat of the Sage Sparrow.  Sparrows can be tricky for most birders but this is one sparrow that's pretty easy to ID because of the gray coloring.  It lives in extremely sparse Sagebrush plains.  It was a strange experience finding this little bird.  It was like were on the set of Star Trek filming for a harsh desert scene on an alien planet.
Sage Sparrow
I was able to photograph the Pipits and Horned Larks.  Kathie found her Bendire's Thrasher several times that day.  And Rich used his magic powers to call out the Chestnut-collared Longspur.  I heard it but didn't have enough observation time with this bird.  By the time I finally got my eyes on it, it had landed in the fields.  Did I see it? Yes.  Rich and Kathie had really nice observations of the bird in flight.  So I hope that one day, I will be able to get really nice pics of this bird. 
The trip is well worth the effort.  It's really not for non-birders as the views flat.  But for birders, this is an exciting place because it has birds that cannot be found elsewhere in our state or country! 
Horned Lark
Bring an atlas as the roads can be tricky.  Have a good vehicle as most of the roads are dirt.  Wear pants and if you have a scope, bring it.  
American Pipit
The Santa Cruz Flats can be found between Phoenix and Tucson near Picacho Peak and Casa Grande.  There are a lot of good birds in this area. 
Bendire's Thrasher
The day was exciting.  The birding team was most excellent. It was a real treat working with Rich and Kathie as it made for a very productive day. 3 sets of eyes are better than one.  
The Santa Cruz Flats can be intimidating for many as there isn't really a set point like in the National Parks, etc.  But start with the Evergreen Sod Farm and move back.  Bring snacks and drinks.  Wear adult diapers. No bathrooms.  If you don't like diapers, you might consider going behind a bush;)  I chose option two instead:)  Hopefully these tips help you out.  Mountain Plovers, Caracaras, Thrashers, oh my! Just think about what you could discover:)