Friday, December 27, 2013

Winning the Oscar

The male Resplendent Quetzal
There is nothing more exciting than reviewing the highlights....and epic dips of the year.  Here are some memorable moments that I won't forget anytime soon. 

Elegant Trogon
Two of the epic discoveries came this year in the order of Trogons.  During my trip to Guatemala, I was finally able to observe the majestic Resplendent Quetzal in the wild and it was incredible!  Back home, Kathie and I  discovered a nesting pair of Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon.

Lynda reviews video of not only 1 Resplendent Quetzal but 6!!! hiding in an avocado trees!!!
These experiences can be compared to what I imagine it would be like to win an Oscar in the birding world.  The experience of finding a rare bird on your own is incredibly special.  But it's even better when you can share the triumph and excitement with friends.

 So after the Resplendent Quetzal finds, I thought the highlights would end for the year, but it turns out that there were several more in store!  So as the Resplendent Quetzal flies off, we head over to Tikal National Park where another secret award would be handed out......

While we were at Tikal National Park, I noticed a Falcon flying around the pyramids going after Oropendula nests hanging from the tree.  At first I thought it was a Bat Falcon until a Park Ranger noticed me watching the bird.  He came over and told me that I was witnessing a very special event.

Juvenile Orange-breasted Falcon
He then told me the story of the Orange-breasted Falcons and how rare they were in the wild. A pair decided to nest on the pyramids in the park and over time have created several offspring. They were loud and active as they flew from the pyramids into the trees.  We had really nice observations of these birds in action.  But it wasn't until after several months of personal research work on the confirmation of this bird(above) that I could truly appreciate the experience. They are similar in appearance to the Bat Falcons.  This falcon is labeled as Near Threatened due to the loss of habitat which is thick tropical rain forest.  As more forest is cut down, these birds face an uncertain future. There are only 30 breeding pairs around Belize and Tikal National Park.  In all parts of the tropics, the birds are in serious trouble. It is now labeled as possibly extinct in Costa Rica. When I hear stories like these, I am saddened, but it doesn't mean the end to these birds if we get our act together.  Here's the opposite side to the near extinction story and the last Christmas miracle of the year......the California Condor.

As a young American child growing up in the 80's, the outlook for many of our falcons, eagles and condors wasn't good. Most of these birds almost went extinct from a compound known as DDT back in the early to mid-20th century. A US wide ban today has seen the successful return of the majestic Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons. However, insecticides are still controversial as different insect eating birds around farm habitat, along with our bee populations, etc face serious declining populations. Poisoned bugs=poisoned birds.  But it was the California Condor that almost disappeared forever.

In the 80's, only 22 birds were left in the wild!  As a boy growing up, I was heart broken that we were losing wildlife every year around the world to this thing called extinction. How could we allow our wildlife to vanish???!!! Wasn't it important? Then I grew up and learned about the power and greed of the human race and it all made sense.  It didn't matter what religion, political party or nationality we were because we were all the same. The California Condor has been labeled a success story today as their numbers have increased (over 400 birds).  Over half of that number(237) are out in the wild around Arizona, California, and Utah.  Several nests this year have had success in the wild and that is cause for hope.  However, if these birds were not closely monitored, they would go extinct because of power lines and those hunters who continue to use lead bullets. This issue is still a major cause of death.  In our state, we "encourage" hunters to use copper bullets instead of using the lead ones. Lead bullets spread apart inside an elk or deer carcass.  When the carcass is left behind, the Condors descend and feast on the lead saturated remains. Most hunters are good about using the copper bullets but several continue using the lead bullets because they are cheaper.  One would think that it should be mandatory to use copper bullets.

Micheal sees the great shadow of the Condor fly over our heads and reenacts that very special moment

All I can tell you is that when we saw several Condors near the Vermilion Cliffs, people clapped and were extremely excited to see these birds in the wild!  It's funny how such an ugly bird(by human standards) can bring tears of joy to onlookers.  It was a very special day because we also got to hang out with our friend Ranger Gaelyn.  Epic landscape.  Epic bird.  And Epic fun!  And finally....

a very handsome drake- the Hooded Merganser
For every success, there will also be failure:)  But this was a failure I enjoyed very much.  A super rare bird, the first ever!, came to the United States....specifically to the incredible Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico.  I "twitched" for the first time in my life and dropped everything I was doing to go find the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.  Well it just so happened that I wasn't meant to see that bird, but I learned a lot about the people standing on the bridge waiting for this bird to appear. Plus I added two new life birds to my list.....the Least Bittern and my first documented Ring-necked Pheasant!  It was the most impulsive thing I've done this year and it was fun.  What will 2014 bring?  Who knows? As most of my Arizona birding has completed, I will begin the larger scale treks. My specific focus next year in Arizona is targeting extremely secretive birds like the Montezuma Quail, Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. I took several off my ebird lists this year because I wasn't satisfied with the observations.  I've realized that this is not a game but a personal challenge for myself. The difficult-to-see birds were meant to have special days or weekends dedicated for study. I hope you'll join me as we explore new territory finding our planet's birds(specifically the US this year)......and mammals.....and whatever else comes our way:)  Happy New Year!

A MINK!!!  along the Lakeshore in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013


The North Rim at sunset
As the light fades away from the year 2013, I've been looking back on so many incredible trips taken over the year.

It's a strange feeling.  I don't want this year to end because there is still so much to discover!  BUT there is so much to look forward to next year! And that makes me smile. The journey never really ends:)

Townsend's Solitaire
It transforms and is constantly redefined while we are on the road seeking higher knowledge. 

Pygmy Nuthatch
Recently, we took a co-worker friend out who wanted to film wildlife with her new camera.  That's how it all started for me.  "What's that?!" 
We had a great time and it was fun to see it all from her beginner's eyes.

Because it's more than just taking a picture.  It's listening.  Recognizing.  Seeing beyond sight.  Knowing.  While I watched her trying to fix her camera on the target, I remembered.  

My take on the Tree of Souls from the movie Avatar
I would never want to go back to those first stages, but I miss the innocence of it all.  The missteps. The thrills of seeing a common bird for the first time. They were the times when I was unknown.....just a hopeful photographer who loved hiking and finding whatever came my way. As all of this has gone on, I have become much more in tune with the birds and animals found in our area.  It isn't so much about finding our regular residents now.  It's about understanding them, their habitat and needs.  I am turning from photographer into a field scientist.  While I'm not an expert in these areas, I do want to learn more and work more with the professionals. For the first time on this trek, I will own a pair of binoculars.  I am blind(lazy eye) on my left side and the binoculars interfered with my finding the birds.  But something unexpected has happened from my birding adventures.  My brain is telling my other eye that it needs to work again.  It has caused me great headaches of late, but it's because I'm forcing my left eye to do its' job.  My eye doctor was shocked (as was I) that the eye actually is improving!

a coyote reminds me that we are all connected together in this life
A sparrow for many is a sparrow.  Just a brown bird.  I told Kathie once that I just wanted to see the bird and check it off my list.  And that was ignorant of me.  Today, sparrows are one of the most fascinating groups of birds out there!  The reason I made such an ignorant statement?  I couldn't ID them at first......they were too difficult. Today, when I see one, I get excited.

A curious Canada Goose investigates this guy's massive telephoto lens
And I watch people watch the wildlife watching them.  It is a gift to be in tune with our surroundings.  To really hear and connect with a world that would not have anything to do with our human madness.

A Great-tailed Grackle shows us his moves
Speaking of humans.  I began alone, but now find myself surrounded by beautiful people who have also become the voices of Mother Nature.  There are a few goofy ones.  Maybe I'm one of them, but it's okay. And of course, there are the know-it-alls.  But I find that everyone has something to offer in this great quest.  Alone, I could not do this at all.  I have come to accept the fact that I will need help on this planet-wide journey from time to time.

The Lewis's Woodpecker stores food away for the winter months ahead
While I despise HUGE crowds of people anywhere, I have found that the wildlife crowd is tolerable and many times enjoyable. And in this, I have found comfort.  It's a strange thing to admit, but I have found my place after all of these years being lost. I still avoid crowds though:)

Alone with Kathie, we stare beyond the field at the mysterious wonders of Picacho Peak
"Don't shoot into the light with your camera...not good for your eyes or camera!  Don't try to take a pic of an animal or bird with the sun on its' back because it won't turn out. Put your setting to "sports" for those awesome flight shots. Manual focus on the little birds."  I am still a teacher at heart. Walking on the trails of the snow-capped Santa Ritas with our new wildlife photographer friend, I remembered so much. 

Lesser Goldfinches play Connect 4. A Pine Siskin joins in their fun.
As we improve, we grow.  As we struggle with various challenges, we hope to overcome. And probably the biggest lesson I have learned this year is to help out others who ask for it. For if it wasn't for a kind hearted soul, I may have never discovered the beauty of this epic birding journey. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Setting Goals

Mom and Dad with my nephew Orion
I am currently working on the 2014 birding season for next year. Meanwhile I'm finishing up the year beyond my expectations.  At the beginning of the 2013 year, I wanted to set out and find 150 life birds. Instead, I found over 200 new birds! Sometimes, I needed a  birder friend to call on for help:) Currently, I have seen 416 different species around the US, Mexico and Guatemala. My goals were met.

Pike's Peak
The limitations are always the, time, and of course, a full time job.  I think I am getting better with balancing it all out, but I still find myself biting my nails when something new flies into the area that I can't chase while at work. However, the new year looks to be an exciting one. 

So I am scheduling various places to study around the US. The prairies, Hawaii and Alaska will have to wait....for now.

In many ways, it's rather strange.  The US for me has always been rather...meh!, but by putting the birds into the picture, it has changed my views on my country.  And it has opened my eyes to all the cool and wonderful National and State Parks!  Plus, being a birder, means you see things that most people never get to see.

Mountain Chickadee
In January, I will be working in the grasslands on several projects learning about sparrows.  In February, we head to Sandia Crest in New Mexico to find the 3 incredible Rosy Finches.  In March, I'm off to Florida to visit a friend and bird along the ocean and water areas.  In April, it's off to Rocky Point, Mexico for some fun around the coast. Then in June, I'll be heading off to Maine with Pat for a couple weeks to visit Kathie.  So for the first half of the year, it's going to be busy!  And of course, there will be budgeting:)

Pygmy Nuthatch
And in between there will be road trips from around the state of Arizona and perhaps beyond.

Me properly ID'ing a Yellow-rump Warbler

I'll be releasing two more posts from the 2013 season highlighting some of the fun and spectacular bird events that happened from around Guatemala, Arizona, Colorado and Wisconsin. 

As we close out this new year, I'd like to take the time and thank you all for following Las Aventuras.  Whether you just read, comment or both on the posts, you encourage me with your kind words of support.

Clark's Nutcracker
I am currently working on the prototype for my first "coffee table" book.  It was exciting to put together and review all the incredible things we've done over this year.  Have you done something similar? 

Luna supervises

So for now, I hope everyone isn't stressing out with the holiday craziness.  It will get done.  It always does:)  Just be careful driving out there.

I'll be closing off the year with 2 more posts and then I'll see you back next year several times a month.  We all tend to take a break from blogger in December anyway.

Western Bluebird
Most of the pics today were taken by the other member of the "Las Aventuras" team.....Micheal Ada.  I wasn't feeling up to photography on this day.  I just wanted to bird and relax:)  But I was still demanding:)  "Get that angle!"  "No!!!!  Aim and zoom on this one!"  Oh I can be a mess sometimes:)

Williamson's Sapsucker(male)
Setting goals for the new year relaxes my mind a bit.  It's all about pushing it to the next step whether it be at home or abroad. And remember......whether it be rain or snow this time of year.........

.....always wear strange non-matching-weather-smart clothing, carry a colorful umbrella on those cloudy gray days......

My nephews Liam and Sawyer
.....and make sure you share it with someone you love.  Until next next time....

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perchance to Dream

Roseate Spoonbill
So many wonderful birds out there......where does one begin?

Military Macaw
They come in every color shape and form.

I imagine standing in the grand vistas of the world.  The sunny bright arctic circle.  The snowy dark forests of Canada.  The Egyptian deserts. The Himalayan mountains. The Congolese rain forest.  How am I going to find some of these birds safely without getting hurt?  Several are in dangerous zones around Africa and Asia. To name just a few.....

Scarlet Ibis
I imagine that there are people who think the same things.  They would love to be in Arizona searching for "my" birds. For to them, it too, is foreign.   As a boy, I dreamed of these things.  In my twenties, everyday was different and crazy.  In my thirties, I paid for those twenties.  In my forties, I am alive again. There comes a time when you realize that there aren't as many days ahead of you as there are behind.  And so I wake up every day with the hope of discovering something new.

Rosy-billed Pochard
National Geographic magazines exposed me to the world at large.  I read my Ranger Ricks, Arizona Highways, and National Geographics the minute they arrived in the mail.

Red-capped Cardinal
With limited money, the birder has to be super choosy.......which place will give me the most bang for my buck? 

I love birding new locales because they have the potential for so many exciting finds.  I especially love birding spots that have never been birded before!   
Black-necked Swan
As a new year approaches, I am sketching out a North American route......Florida, Maine, California, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Utah.....and who knows where else?  Alaska may have to wait.

Greater Rhea

Nicobar Pigeon
I worry that some of these birds will not be around when I finally can afford the time and money to see them.  Afterall, 10,000 is a big number.  Could I see them all?

Then there is the photography part.  Having a nice stock photo in my files makes me breathe easier.  I like having detailed shots of all my birds, but as many of us know, lighting conditions, movement, or even the color of the bird's feathers can have an impact on the photo. Perhaps it's like collecting baseball cards?  I would just like to observe the birds without having to worry about getting the pics because carrying the camera around can also be an unnecessary weight.  Knowing I have a solid pic makes the birdwatching experience much better.

Spotted-thick Knee
So I went to our local zoo.  This time was different.  It was to study birds as a student again.  Learning new names.  Preparing new dreams.  New adventures.

Emerald Starling
The details.  Ugh the details.  It's easy to dream big.  But travel to the Congo or Senegal to find this Blue-bellied Roller?  It's possible.  But to dream is to plan and put thought into action. The details again.

Blue-bellied Roller
Islands of birds.  The greatest obstacle?  People.  Some are friendly.  Some are at war.  Some continue to kill the very birds sought.

Victoria-crowned Pigeon
I left the zoo with heavy thoughts.  Just because something is difficult doesn't mean it can't be done.  I've done it in countless other places.  While viewing a Hoatzin in the Oxbow lakes from the Amazon in Peru, we were careful of piranhas, large swimming anacondas or giant otters swimming around us.  But humans?  That's a different story.  What is Asia like?  Parts of Africa?  The Middle East?  For now, I will continue my studies on foreign and exotic birds.  For now I'll dream.  The details will come later.

Taveta Golden Weaver
I'm linking to Wild Bird Wednesday...the perfect place to check out birds from around our planet!