Sunday, September 29, 2013

So They Say

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

It is said by many birders that the first two years are truly exciting.

Juvenile Northern Cardinal in my backyard
After two years on this new life journey, I can honestly say that I'm still in love with the adventures as I was when I first began this quest.

Giant Spotted Whiptail
For while I may see the same birds; I never see the same things.....ever.

They watch us and we may never see them.  They hide from us.....scared, timid, afraid of what we may try. They slip by unnoticed.  Mother Nature's secret order.

Green Heron
Each creature, great and small, exhibits something unique.  They hold me captive.  Time becomes meaningless.

Desert Spiny Lizard
And no matter how common the creature, it's always a joy to see them again.

Even though our adventures take us to new and unexplored areas, I'm always glad to come home and reconnect with both friends tame or wild. And sometimes both:)

Nature excites the imagination. For example, did you know that elves created an altar in the tree below? It's our little secret.

It isn't always easy.  This bat looked at us with its dying eyes.  There was nothing we could do to save it.  Why was it on the ground? What I do know is that if you find a bat on the ground, it isn't good.  Never pick one up. Rabies is just one of the many things out there. But there is emotion behind each and every picture I take.  Everything lives and everything dies. And when I recall this moment, it was difficult.

There is nothing like walking into a field of wildflowers under the great blue Arizona sky while fresh air  inundates the lungs. No smog.  No pollution.

And she keeps her secrets.  If I listen carefully, I may hear her whispers carried by the wind.

Arizona Tree Frog
If I tread slowly, may I find the little surprises disguised among the pine needles or grasses.

Horned Lizard
After two years, it hasn't gotten old at all.  It has given me purpose again.  There are still so many questions I have about this world.  And there is so much to see and experience.  Each day is a new adventure.  Where shall we wander next?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rush Hour

Maybe I'm not the only one.  Before any major trip, I have a hard time sleeping.  Will I find my target birds?  What if it rains? How do I balance my time between family, friends and birds??!!!  It's never any easy thing to negotiate.

Cochise Lake in Willcox

I'll put hours into planning and research. It's truly detective work.  Birding during the trips is quite relaxing and enjoyable, but my problem is keeping track of time when I'm outdoors.  I love being outside so much.  Before birds, I thought time moved quickly.  Now by adding birds into my life, everything moves faster!!!

Scaled Quail

As I write this, it's the end of monsoon.  I cannot go outdoors without heatstroke or being attacked by mosquitoes.  I NEED to be outdoors.  My life from 9 to 5 is difficult.  If I don't get outside, everything becomes chaotic and I become anxious.  After work, I go home, eat, read and go to bed early because there is nothing else I can do. My job is stressful and I have found nature counters the stress and makes it bearable.  I look forward to the freezing cold temps in my vest and beanie. Soon.  Very soon.

Northern Cardinal

To occupy my mind until temps cool down, I plan areas to bird both inside and outside of the state.  They of course are within budget but have an agenda.  Birding with others is fun, but you can't always count on them.  Each birder has their own agenda. Ultimately, it's a personal journey that many times has to be done alone.

Roses at a friend's house

There are many things that can influence a birding party. Some compete.  Some chase and twitch.   For some, money dictates the outing.  For others, it's about their comfort zone and safety.  And for others, it's about the social aspect surrounding the birds.  All of these things factor into my own life. I love the restaurants and experiences that go along with it all.

Variegated Fritillary 
Going out into the field is like an addiction.  We were in New Mexico at Caballo Lake State Park and looked up to find White American Pelicans gracefully in flight.  Above the grassy desert along a stream, we found these incredible birds in flight......and time stopped.  WOW!  It was hot and sunny and these birds gently spun around like a school of fish in water. And we did arrive late to Colorado Springs because of this stop, but it was worth it.  I remembered, "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey."  If you think New Mexico is for the birds, you are correct.  Take an exit off of their interstate system and you'll discover the incredible beauty of this state.

American White Pelicans!

When I step back from it all....from the competitive nature of people....or that personal need to get that perfect and sometimes unattainable ID photo of a lifebird......when I step back from it all......I can relax like I did when I first began birding not so long ago.

New Mexico landscape-reminds me of the Lone Ranger

Monday, September 23, 2013

El Tenedor Del Cerro

Further into dreams, we walked.  A hill created of thoughts and ideas overlooking the city of Antigua, Guatemala

White-eared Hummingbird

Sometimes I have to stop and pull away from the birds and absorb the spaces I'm birding. 

Many of the images were haunting as we strolled this park known as El Tenedor Del Cerro(or the Hill's Fork).  This lush outdoor gallery showcases the many works of Guatemalan artists.

However, the heart of this park is based from the works of Efrain Recinos.  He passed away in 2011 but left quite a bit of his imagery behind for future generations to ponder.

In his work, he utilized lots of birds and soul devouring statues.  The image above was haunting.  What was he trying to say here?  The Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national symbol and pride is shown in this ghostly form.

Then we come across many of these demonic images. It's like he actually captured evil spirits and put them inside of his work.  Talk about creepy. 

While we were at this park, we were able to play with birds.  Or they were able to play with our things.  Lynda and I had a great lunch on top of this hill overlooking the city. Now the parrots in the pic above seem to like me but really they were only interested in my buttons, zippers, and little metal pieces found around my gear.

There was a little boy fascinated by the birds.  He began to ask questions and instead of the people handling the parrots answering them, I had unintentionally taken over the job. They didn't have the answers and I took over because my Mother raised parrots and finches growing up.....and I could answer them.  I became so excited that I didn't realize what I had done until after the incident.

Notice the "hands" for feet

Spanish, birds, wildlife......

How does this picture make you feel?

I thank my Mom for exposing me to parrots and finches while I was in high school.  I didn't realize how this would all turn out in my life, but it seems one natural progression is turning into another. If it's one thing that El Tenedor Del Cerro does, it makes one think about random things. More to come.....

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Dark Night Rises

Tucson Night

I would like to say that this week has been a week of crazy.  The month of September is one hot blazing mess.  Many people not of the desert wonder what we do during the day.  Well I'll tell you that we work in air conditioned buildings.  Or stay inside our air conditioned homes. It's at night that we all become vampires.  So during this past week, Kathie and I have done some late night birding together with some really fantastic finds BUT I won't bore you all with the details.  I'll just share with you all what has happened on our last two outings together on this Friday night roundup. 

Barn Owl

One night we headed out to explore several recharge basins to find some new birds for our Arizona list.  We accomplished our mission by finding the Pectoral Sandpiper.  And I accidentally found the Black-bellied Plover thanks to some Northern Pintails and noisy Killdeer.  Overall, the night was wonderful.  We sat under a gazebo in the dark and went over our lists together.  No one was around except us. Or so we thought.  Normally I wouldn't hang around the area but because Kathie was with me, we stayed a few minutes longer.  Rattlesnakes are still out and about and they love the evening hours. It's also during this time of night that the temps are actually enjoyable! The next day I found out someone had committed suicide not too far away from where we did our counts that night!  Creepy! We were the last people there.  A poor morning walker found the person hanging. The strange bit is that I didn't hear a single thing about it on the news.  But the birder world knew thanks to a rare bird spotted in the area.  Thankfully we both only saw birds. As you'll see in this post, people aren't the only ones out there past dark.

Lesser Goldfinch

In the darknesss, birds begin to hunker down.  Nocturnal animals, birds and reptiles wake up and begin their nightly hunts.  Kathie and I both reunite up again on Thursday for dinner and a quick evening survey of night birds around Saguaro National Park.   We hear a Great Horned Owl, Common Poorwills and see a Lesser Nighthawk. A fat rattlesnake also moves out in front of us along with several Kangaroo Rats. Then we head back to her place to observe the many Nectar Bats feeding from her hummingbird feeders.  And it does not disappoint!  We ate the quiche she made(yum!) and watch bats at her feeders. At one point, one of the bats went to the bathroom on my arm.  It was like a drop of rain but not. 

The giant Jackrabbit

My night vision isn't so great.   My targeting on the lens had to go to manual and I had to be ready for these fast moving bats!  So while I am happy with this shot, I was even happier with my next one.....a surprise guest...well....surprised us.  My hearing and sense of smell are both top notch.  They make up for that blind eye I have.  I sensed a disturbance in the force........

Nectar Bat

......and I looked up to see this Ring-tailed Cat watching us from Kathie's roof!  I am tall so I was able to watch this silent mammal run across her roof with lightning speed.  The long tail and smooth body reminded me of the old cartoon Rikki Tikki Tavi. He would come back several times watching us and then quickly vanish again. A life mammal for me.  And as Kathie discovered on this night, a resident.  I manual toggled my camera and was able to get off three pics before he disappeared. We heard him climb around the building.  Apparently Nectar Bats are delicious.  We both could smell a strong and not so fresh smell.  As we traced the source of the smell, we were led out to her front yard where we discovered that this mammal(not a cat but related to the raccoon family) sprayed around her mesquite tree.  We also discovered that he did indeed use that tree to get onto her roof.

Ring-tailed Cat

Birds, mammals and quiche with a friend.  It doesn't get much better than that. So Kathie's boys watched football(since when is it on Thursday nights??!!!) while we watched the live action stuff going on just right outside her sliding doors. Now that is what I call fun.  Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Ebb and Flow

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  J.R.R. Tolkien , Lord Of The Rings

Our trek would continue.  After much hiking, I explained to my friend that she would enjoy this next birding venture.  A trek down the Río Dulce.

Masked Tityra-lifebird
We hiked for many days in the heat and humidity.  Our bodies needed a break, but I also needed to continue finding birds.  Everyday, the area hostels offered treks from the town of Río Dulce to the town of Livingston by boat for about 25 US dollars. It's a beautiful ride down this river.

Put a bird on it!  In this case a Great Egret:)
With the breeze on our backs, we navigated around the river picking up people from their  huts.  Many of the places were tucked away on the side of the river hidden by beautiful vegetation. We were so tired that at one point on this boat ride, I almost fell asleep but an Osprey or Tern would fly by quickly awakening me.
It was still fun to find birds that I had already seen like the Osprey, Cattle Egrets, Neotropic Cormorants or Royal Terns in the area.  It was a game.  How many species could I find from sitting in my boat?  
Brown Pelican-I have never seen one in its breeding plumage!
 This river led to the Caribbean Sea and it was this particular habitat I needed in order to find all of these species.  For my friend Lynda, it was an introduction to the Garifuna people of Livingston.  It is a secluded town surrounded by rain forest.  For me, it was retracing my steps on this river once again as I had in the past.....searching for birds.
The iconic men in their wooden canoes were still there fishing in the great waters, but there were also Magnificent Frigatebirds flying over our heads this time. I had finally hoped to add this species on the Guatemala list for the year.  This time around I was able to watch them in flight and notice their various molts.  Some were all black while others were black with white.

Magnificent Frigatebird
 Meanwhile we passed many homes built on this river. The only access was by boat.

Along the shores, I added the Northern Jacana(below) to my Guatemala list.  It wasn't a lifebird, but it certainly was my first time really looking at the bird.  Before, I had taken its presence for granted.  The Jacanas are an interesting group of birds.....especially the Wattled!

Northern Jacana
 I told the Captain that I was counting birds on the river.  The older gentleman smiled and understood the purpose of my visit.  He told his navigator to make sure we stopped by "Bird Island".  And he had my instant respect. Most of the time, the tourists were thrown in a bus and taken to and from their destinations without any considerations.  It is rather common in Guatemala to have rough rides anywhere you go, especially if you're a traveler looking to save some money.  So be aware.....

We stopped near "Bird Island" and my heart melted at the sight of this Groove-billed Ani. They are such unusual looking birds and this particular one reminded me of my cat at home.  I love how it perches on the branch!  Cassie, our cat, puts her paw down the same way the Ani puts the wing down. Plus this has to be one of my favorite birds:)

Groove-billed Ani
 The trip also added another lifebird to my list....the Pale-vented Pigeon!

Pale-vented Pigeon-lifebird
So remember to put those lazy birding days in between the difficult ones to let your body rest.  It can be very draining.  This was a perfect way to bird and relax at the same time.  My friend said to me that it was a vacation and indeed it was, but time was ticking and I only got one shot to find birds here.  It wasn't like back home where I'd be able to go back the next day if I dipped on a bird. On this day, I'd pick up two new lifebirds and 20 new birds for my Guatemala list.

Royal Terns
On the way back, I closed my eyes and slept to the rhythm of the boat bouncing gently on the river.