Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Colorful Characters

Cedar Waxwing
My days are coming to an end in Guatemala.  But before I left on this trip, I tried to get in as much birding as I could around Southern Arizona.  Today I have a collection of special birds from around Pima County near the Proctor Road and higher elevations.
When it becomes too hot to bird in the desert, we rise to higher elevations.
Blue Grosbeak
The characters have all changed again.  The month of June is a slow one concerning birds.  But once the monsoon picks up, the rarities will begin to show up left and right.
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Up on Mt. Lemmon, the Cordilleran Flycatchers were everywhere with their green/yellow colors.
Pygmy Nuthatch
The lifebird, a Red-faced Warbler, made me think of the holiday season as he fed from the various trees up on Summerhaven on Mt. Lemmon. Talk about a gorgeous warbler!  Tricky bugger as well!!!
Red-faced Warbler
A lot of people always ask me why our North American birds are much more drab.   Well, birds have to blend in with their surroundings.  But I'd like to point out with this post that there are birds with color here. I couldn't stop taking pics of this tricky warbler!

Sorry....I went a little Red-faced Warbler nuts!  Lifebirds will do that:)
Cordilleran Flycatcher
The thing is....even colorful birds can blend in with their surroundings:)  My ears reveal their location and I am then able to locate the bird.  My partner in crime, Micheal, can locate the birds by eyesight alone.  That's how we found the Cedar Waxwing!  It was silent in the trees as I walked right by it.
Hooded Oriole
Even the browns of our many Northern American birds are attractive.  Take the Botteri's Sparrow below.  It has a rusty color.
Botteri's Sparrow
The Western Wood Pewee may be drab on the outside, but it's another beautiful bird as it flies from its' perch.
Western Wood Pewee
This little guy will normally have yellow on the underside of the breast covered by it's gray vest.  There is some slight yellow here, but the sun washed the color out.
I really enjoy watching the Pewees at work.  They have such a loud snap snap!  as they chase after the bugs.
Not enough color???  Okay let's get back to business.  I put two shots up of a Western Tanager using two different cameras.  We both trained our cameras on the bird.  I use a slightly different lens for my Canon than what Micheal uses for his Nikkon.  The Nikkon wins here.
Western Tanager(with Canon)
I like both shots, but the detail is better on his shot below.  Before going to Guatemala, I wanted to play around with the cameras to get a better idea on which one to bring.
Western Tanager(with Nikkon)
Once I have good ID shots, I'll start playing around with artsy photography part more.  I used to do that more but the having a solid bird ID photo is important.
As you can see in the pics above and below, the birds use the Saguaro Cactus for many different reasons. This cactus is very important to our habitat.
Northern Cardinal
In fact, with lifebird number 2 today(the Purple Martin), it is very important!  The bird nests in the cavity of this plant.
Purple Martin
The Purple Martin appears black here but I assure you, it's a shiny purple color.  The sun plays tricks on the eyes and camera. Plus the feathers are iridescent giving the bird the appearance of looking like a blackbird.
So why are there so many brown birds in North America?  Maybe I'm not understanding the question:)  We have lots of color out there, but the trick is to keep a look out for these characters.
On my next post, it's not about my photography at all.  It's a little about night birding and thanking the people responsible for my education in the birding world.  It's not an overnight thing and it does take time to learn this incredible hobby. All you need is a love for nature, some epic hiking, and a little patience.  I will be gone the first week of July to Mexico and I again apologize for my absence.  We are heading to Northern Mexico in the state of Sonora to study the birds at a large and private ranch.  This blog is an account of my adventures from around the world and at home.  Many times it's about birds but it's also about everything else. Life is an adventure.  All we have to do is step outside our doors to find it:) I'm out of town but will be back in July. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Dream of the Dolphin

The "John Barrowman Sandwich" Oh my!!!
Why do I travel? Why do I explore? Why do I bird?  Every year at this time, we make an epic "trek" to Phoenix and celebrate science fiction.
Nichelle Nichols(Star Trek's Uhura)
Without science fiction or Star Trek growing up, I would not have explored the many many wonderful places around our world.   These actors remind me of my childhood for they are like my extended family. They were the people I ran away with to escape my own reality during my teenage years. Like most teenagers, I was not comfortable in my own body with my own thoughts and feelings.  I grew up in a small town with small ideas. I knew there was a greater world just beyond that next star. As a young adult, I knew that I wouldn't be there forever. Because nothing is forever.  Time, however, did crawl during those years.  But during that time, I locked myself in a room and read books. My Grandfather, my childhood hero, died when I entered my Freshman year of high school.  He loved Star Trek and passed his torch to me.  He was so young.  At that age, I learned quickly that life was not a given. It was to be treasured.  Embraced.  I made it through high school and escaped the small town.  Thanks to Star Trek every week, I didn't feel alone. They taught me that there was a place for me in this world and that there was hope. I had Star Trek to guide me and remind me that things would be awesome down the road.
Walter Koenig(Star Trek's Chekov)
After all these years, they still inspire the mind.  Nichelle Nichols(the original Uhura) may be losing her hearing, but she is still sharp as a tac. Martin Luther King once told her to stay on Star Trek back in the 60's for she was the only African-American woman on TV at the time. I watched as two gay black men nearly broke down and cried. Many may not know this, but it's not easy growing up in a black community as a gay person.  I had several friends who quietly died from AIDS in the 90's never once telling their families about who they really loved or about their sickness for fear that they would be ostracized from their families.  When their families found out, there was an embarrassment and cover story to go with their deaths. I could not understand this.  I'd bring food to people living with HIV and listen to their stories. I watched, along with 2 thousand other people, as these men stood before Nichelle thanking her for giving them hope. It was a very powerful moment. In the future, both men and women could have a voice as equals, and African-Americans could be someone important who had authority.  We have forgotten today that not so many decades ago, things were not equal. I still remember as a child that there were two drinking fountains in my hometown at the park.  One for the white people and the other for the colored. In Star Trek, the future didn't care what color, gender or orientation you were.
Role models who changed my life
It's not easy watching my TV heroes get older. They were like my family reiterating the words my Mother and Father have taught me over the years.  Embrace all cultures and ideas.  Seek out life and new civilizations and boldly go where no one has gone before. It may not be space for me, but the planet Earth certainly has many wonderful surprises.
Garrett Wang(Harry Kim-Star Trek Voyager)
While Star Trek helped nurture my inner explorer to the greater world; Star Wars captured my active imagination as a boy. I still have all of the toys:)
My brother Matt drinks in seedy places.  Here he is at the Creature Cantina from Star Wars
And today I hold the belief that we are not alone in this universe.  We are but a speck of tiny dust in this big big stellar cosmos. On a lighter note, our fire alarm went off on the 17th floor.  That's a bit scary when you have a lot of stairs to descend:)  And yet it was great seeing Wil Wheaton(Big Bang Theory/Next Gen) in the stairwell on the way down.  I had a good laugh.  We both are in our 40's and pretty much voiced the same things.  I won't repeat them here:)
If Darth Vader had a baby girl.......
I read magazines, the internet and watched TV about all the birds and mammals out there.   What if I got out of my chair and explored these places on my own and created my own adventures and discoveries?  What new truths could I find?
Me and my brother getting our nerd on
Before birding, I traveled and explored the Spanish language and culture.  I taught abroad.  I hiked the trails. And I'm certainly not done.....by far.
Cosplay(dressing up)  Batman's villains!
When I began to see birds, I started to understand the quest ahead of me better.  And much like this creature hitting me on my head, I finally opened my eyes to the details.  Life is but a dream?  Well if it is, I don't ever want to wake up.
Goofing around.  Taking a break from birding and travel and just getting caught up  in the moment
Sometimes I get caught up in the daily routines, but I've found that within the daily routines, I can search for that bird or animal hiding in the bush.  The rocks.  Or the tree. For each new bird I see is a new discovery of my own. I am at peace with myself and the world.
Beware of giant wookies!!!
And it all started with a little bit of fantasy and science fiction.  If I can dream; I can also discover new possibilities. Imagination.  Discovery.  Inspiration.  Endless possibilities. The Dream of the Dolphin. I'm still out of the country but will be back soon with some exciting finds.  Stay tuned for more.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The DeAnza Trail and Beyond!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Santa Cruz county(southern Arizona) this month has been hot and full of new birds!  
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Such locales like Tubac, the DeAnza trail, Tumacacori, the Rio Rico ponds and St. Gertrudis Lane offers people some of the best places to bird watch.
Black Vulture
I had been feeling a bit exhausted from extreme birding several days before and wanted to do a quick run to the Rio Rico Ponds to find the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks(below).  I had seen the bird before, but it would be a lifebird for me on Ebird.  Part of me was thrilled to see these birds in their natural habitat, but another part was more interested in the drive, good music, and an easy lifebird.
Of course, the minute I got out of car along side the road, the skies exploded with Black Vultures.  What should have been an easy morning getting a lifebird turned into......."What else is out here?"  My curiosity took over and I began to hike along the DeAnza trail.
I left the Rio Rico ponds and headed to the nearby St. Gertrudis Lane.  Birders are allowed to walk this gravel road but not drive.  So don't drive.  Plus if one could drive, they'd miss out on all the fun birds along the road.
Female Vermilion Flycatcher
As I walked down the road, I found myself entering a gate to walk the DeAnza trail.  There were too many birds calling and I forgot about where I was.  There was a particular bird of great interest....a Juvenile Gray Hawk!
Juvenile Gray Hawk
I didn't walk too far, but I did have a lovely stroll within the area.  By 11 AM, I was back home in my pj's for the rest of the day!
There's so much out there to see.  Life is thrilling.  The heat of our desert summer, however, sucks:) A fun nerdy post coming up next week.
"Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks" J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Gilded Flicker
School has ended for now.  This has unleashed my inner Kraken!  Oh yes......birding full-time!  But on my last day, I did one last walk around campus and counted birds from my patch(an area that I am studying).  I have to admit that I was a little sad.    The babies will be all grown up when I return.  My Gilded Woodpecker friends love hanging out in certain areas near our football practice field.  On this day, I stood watching the couple and said my good-byes.
The Cacti are all in bloom and soon will shed their flowers. 
Common Ravens
The staff dislike the Common Raven couple that lives on our campus.  These intelligent birds rule the main football field and harass our Great Horned Owls.  People love owls more than ravens, but I am an advocate for this dynamic duo.  I've been with this school since the beginning.  So have these Ravens.  In many ways, they've become my friends.  They watched me as I watched them and I had a laugh.  Hopefully none of the teenagers making out in the wash saw me because I would have appeared crazy.  There is a bond with these creatures that I share.  I watch over them to make sure they are safe.
Great Horned Owlet
The owlets disappeared and staff had thought the ravens killed them.  But I knew they were tired of the 2000 plus kids gawking at them.  And I went where I thought they may have been hiding.  All 3 were alive and well on our last day.  I told the staff that they were all alive and not to worry....but I kept their location secret.   It's exciting to share our discoveries with other birders, and yet there are times when it's best to keep that inner celebration inside.  The owls are sacred.
White-winged Dove
The Saguaros continue to bloom and every bird celebrates with each new blossom opening up.  Plants struggle during this hot and dry month.  They patiently await our monsoon season.
I say the good-byes to my feathered friends.  It was on this day that I decided to take on a challenge for next year.  I am looking forward to creating a group of teenagers interested in birding around our campus and keeping records.  Our wash has litter from the general school population and I am wanting to create this birding/clean up team to help keep this part of our campus healthy and friendly to the wildlife in the area.  It's the little things we do that help make change.  For all the challenges that teaching presents today, I still believe in this idea.  "Be the change you wish to see in this world."  School is out.  Guatemala is near.  Mexico in July.  The Grand Canyon in fall.  A trip back to Wisconsin.  The adventures begin to take me out of my state and into other worlds.  Until next time......