Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Outer Edges

Pronghorn Sparring

The golden grasses covered the vast Chihuahuan desert lands of the west. Their tops flattened as the angry winds swept over the hillsides forcing their will upon the stillness that would otherwise be. It had the appearance of dominoes cascading one over the other. 

Sandía Crest

In the midst of this great landscape, a mountain arose higher than most. Known as Sandía Crest, the place appeared to be nothing more than a brown bump against the turquoise sky. Birds, known as Rosy-Finches, brought us to the city of Albuquerque.  It was here on the outer edges that humanity thrived and nestled at her base. It was the most populous of towns anywhere in the state. So many unknowns. What would we find? What secrets would be revealed?

Black Rosy-Finch

In my mind, I always thought the city stark.  Boring. Uninteresting. My ignorance exposed.  I know nothing.  The birds teach me to keep an open mind and explore.  The harsh frigid mornings freeze my face.  The scorching temps by afternoon teach me that layering is important.  But somehow I can't shake the inevitable runny nose or head cold inside of me. But the birds!  Oh the glorious birds!  They make me forget these minor irritations.

El Camino Family Restaurant in Socorro, NM

I sit in a diner and am reminded of my childhood.  Small town "Americana".  The real America that I thought extinct. It was the heart and soul that once thrived in many places of the US until corporations took over and created a bland uniformity.  I enter an old building with a friend and enjoy the delicious green chiles of New Mexico. There is chile in everything!  The locals come in and talk. Americana still exists! It makes me smile. A quiet older couple sits next to us. He wears a cowboy hat.  She wears a design I haven't seen in years.  She orders the baked pork chops.  He orders a chile relleno.  The waitress seems to know them and starts a conversation.  She asks how the older man is doing.  He mutters, "Barely alive."  His wife responds, "He always says that."  I drink my coffee and remember enjoying these special dinners with my grandparents from back home.  I miss them.

American Goldfinch-NOT COMMON in Southern Arizona
We walk canals, parks, and explore the mountain tops.....
I see birds that are found on the Eastern half of US, but I also see birds found on the Western half.  They somehow all coexist together in one place.   East meets West.  All of my preconceived notions shattered.  It happens often these days.  And it also excites me.  I begin to form my own opinion based on my own observations. 

Bosque Del Apache, NM

On this trip, we observe many things that disturb us. Trash litters Indian Reservation lands.  There are water holes barely full of water.  Some are completely dry. Yet people still find the need to water lawns in desert landscape. These are topics we discuss in great length while on our road trip.  Of course, we have the best solutions that make sense, but in reality, the answers are all very complicated.  

Juniper Titmouse
I walk with new friends.  They share their personal lives.  And I share mine. We face our own personal struggles, but when we come together, it's comforting.....like we are a family who understands one another.  Each different.  Each unique.  And I see the other side of humanity.....the side I love.  All the bad things that I experience everyday with the general public seems to vanish as we sit and converse happily about birds and other things. I sip my wine after a long day of birding and begin to doze off as the sun sets over the Sandía Crest mountains. It is all so comforting. I forget for these brief days that I have a job.  And I remember that I am alive. Happy. Content.

Western Meadowlark
This adventure is centered around finding the birds. But it's also more.  It's discovering and learning from our own experiences about what is out there.

Bosque Del Apache
Someone may write or tell us about what they've experienced, but our own experiences may reflect something different. I realize that it is my unique interaction with these places and people that makes each outing special.  While the facts are important, the art of birding is what speaks to me most.  My hunger and passion for it all intensifies. I want to know more.

Río Grande Nature Center "The Observation Room" I'd like one of these in my house:)

And this adventure continues....

My favorite photo from this series.  It shows the dedication and beauty that surrounds birding.  We searched for the American Dipper

A special thank you to Linda Rockwell for hosting both Gordon  and myself for a fantastic weekend of discovery. Your meals are wonderful!  And your breakfast burritos really hit the spot during our AM birding adventures:)  Thank you again!

I'm linking today with Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, February 17, 2014

Imagine the Impossible

Gila Woodpecker

As a person who likes photos, there is nothing more rewarding than getting excellent shots of the birds or creatures in the area. But not all birds are so photogenic like the birds above or below.....:)
Mexican Jay

I mean sure.  Jays, Flickers and Woodpeckers don't mind posing.  But there are others who WON'T stay still!  
Northern Flicker

Over the next several months, big trips have been planned, but sometimes I don't have to go far to work on my birds.  Probably the most daunting of tasks is getting decent shots of birds that hide in the grasses or reeds.  However, it's not impossible......
Chestnut-collared Longspur

Case in point, the Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  Birders would tell me, "Good luck. You're lucky if you even catch a glimpse of them." In fact, this bird is notorious for sounding off first and then shooting straight out of the grass into the air and down before one can can say..."That's a...!" They're that fast.  The trick is listening for their flight call.  And I wanted pics of these birds.  This particular trip wasn't for a life bird or even finding new birds for the year.......it was the photographer/OCD type in me that made me head over to Willcox.  And I'm glad I did.  The dizzying cloud flew around us 6 times.  I stood absolutely still as they zipped by my head.  Normally, it's one pass and VANISH!  However, this time I could prep my camera and predict patterns.
This is what most birders are lucky enough to see.  By the time we get our binoculars on these birds, they are gone!

I am a determined person. Sometimes, it's almost like there is a mental block telling me that I'll fail finding the birds. Thankfully there have been many teachers who have shared their experiences with me.  Their wise words have allowed me to take on the most difficult birds. The secret? It's all about understanding their individual habits and habitats.  And standing in those grasses this past weekend, I felt really proud of the moment.  There is this feeling of satisfaction and happiness.  Sometimes it takes many tries to get to that moment, but it makes that moment even sweeter when it happens.  No one, but a birder, knows the amount of effort that goes into discovering those impossible and challenging birds.  

And it's all quite beautiful. Once that mission was accomplished, I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the day. 

Harris's Hawk taken with my cell phone.
 Lately, I've had a lot of wildlife encounters. At work, I've had a Harris's Hawk chill out with me at a bridge while I was looking out over a dry wash.  It made a difficult day better. 

As I was tracking a Great Horned Owl, I noticed several deer heads pop up around the grasses.  We all continued on as if I were one of the herd. Magic.  Later I sat on a bench in the middle of a canyon with Pat and almost fell asleep under the canopy of the trees.  There was a lovely breeze that just whispered "siesta":)
Chiricahua National Monument

Today's post was centered around Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument.  Until next time....
Check out amazing birds from around the world at Wild Bird Wednesdays!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Caretaker

The Rock Wren remembered.  Passed on from one generation to the next before the Change, the stories were shared from one living thing to the next. The wind carried her forgotten secrets. It whispered......"Ruuuuuubbbby."

The Rock Wren remembered as he peered from his rotted rooftop home at the scarred land below. Rusty old metal scraps supported their weight on the mounds of rock and shattered glass. As he surveyed it all, the bird spotted movement. The whispers were true!

His loud whistle pierced the silence much like the first lightning bolt does during the start of a monsoon storm.

"BEWARE!  BEWARE!  They come again among us!" The mournful cry of the Montezuma Quail echoed their own warnings along the canyon walls. Everything else faded as best they could into the grasses.....vanishing into thin air like ghosts!  But not the Rock Wren.  He just watched with great curiosity.

The passing Javelina and nesting Great Horned Owls made great haste into the trees. It was the Rock Wren who first heard the faint whispers not so long ago.  Not much got by him as he was always moving about on old rooftops and rocks. In fact, that is how he heard about the stories of old. Being extremely curious, the Wren listened intently.

For it was the trees that remembered best.  They whispered their words by breeze and leaf and told the stories of the others who once lived among the Land.

For nearly 40 years, a group of beings came to settle on the Land.  It was a rough life.  At first it was a camp and then it became more. Eventually these beings created structures that the Rock Wren now used for his own home! They dug deep within the earth for the shiny rocks that defaced much of the Land now. There they slept, ate, and raised their young like other creatures do.

At times they fought against another group of similar looking beings .  Now the Rock Wren did not understand this need for loud noise and destruction. And many of the younger trees could not answer his questions. Would these new beings cause more harm to the Land after being absent for so many years?  He knew that if he wanted more information, he would have to go to the source of ancient memory.

So he went to the Great Water Tree along the deep pool and asked why these beings fought.  The Great Water Tree whispered of territories marked along the Land not unlike those created by the Mountain Lion or Bear.  So these beings had established territories.  That the Rock Wren could understand.

But the Rock Wren was still puzzled.  "Then why, Great Water Tree, did they still continue to fight and kill each other? Clearly their territory was marked. Surely they would not cross?"

The Rock Wren had noticed lately that the branches of the Great Water Tree seemed to sag as if the branches were too heavy to hold up.  He also noticed that the water in the dark pool wasn't as deep as it used to be. The Great Water Tree sighed,  "It is not for us to understand."

"But look how they have altered everything around us!  They've even poisoned our Land so that nothing green can grow. Instead of your kind living together, there are great sand dunes that keep you separated!  Even the water is poisoned so that not even my bird friends can drink!  Look at the Coyote.  He stands and hides far away.  I only know he is there when he calls to the bright light in the dark sky."

"They kill each other taking their own kind's things.  Why so much destruction?  I do not understand Great Water Tree."

"It is their way.  And while they no longer dwell here taking from the Land like they once did, you will notice that not far from their old ruins live the other beings who continue to carry things through the pastures and forests.  The Javelinas tell me that these same beings cross through the night with slings on their backs.  Sometimes they fight like the others from before. Wherever they may be, you, Rock Wren, must keep your distance and always alert the others of the Land."

The Rock Wren was puzzled by the Great Water Tree's response. "What shall I do now that these beings have returned to the Land? You are the Caretaker!  I am just a Rock Wren.  My memory is not as long nor as deep as yours! Surely you have the answers!"

The Great Water Tree carefully chose the last words. These days it took great energy to do much of anything. "As the Water disappears from the Land so will I.  You are the Caretaker now. Always keep watch and protect. Pass your knowledge on to your young. Always keep watch." And with those final words, the Great Water Tree slept.

The Rock Wren watched for several days as the new beings stayed together and walked around the Land.  He noticed that even the Coyote or Javelina could not hide from them.  But he also observed that they didn't do any harm to the Land. During the day, they walked vast distances while at night, they ate around a great light. There was much laughter after they drank what appeared to be a lot of dark water.  The following day, the Rock Wren watched them leave.  The Land was once again safe.  The new Caretaker sat on his rooftop lost in deep thought.  He wondered if he would always have to worry about these others destroying the Land around him.  Would more of these beings show up and force his friends away one day?  Could he protect them all?  And so the Caretaker pondered the future of what would be......

I wanted to try something different in my writing form from our last journey to Ruby Ghost Town.  Mining has been on my mind lately and it truly has a great impact on the land around us.  It was very evident here at this site decades later! Water was also scarce as were the birds! If you live around  Southern Arizona, please help keep Rosemont Copper Mine out of the Santa Rita mountains. Mining is bad for the environment and it doesn't belong on that mountain which is visited by thousands of birders and scientists each year.  It will have a long and negative impact on the wildlife if it is allowed to pass.

I'd like to thank Kathy Cooper and Gordon Karre for a wonderful weekend out.  It's always a blast when we explore together.  Until next week.....

Friday, February 7, 2014

Never Alone

Northern Shoveler with a Red-eared Slider at Sweetwater, Tucson
The birding world doesn't have to be a lonely one.  Over the past two weekends, I've met some fantastic people while also saying good-bye to another.  And rediscovered a face from the trails from my bird past whom then hooked up with my birding bud up in Phoenix.  Talk about a small world!
The Hepatic Tanager at Kubo Lodge in Madera Canyon with the gang
The birds guide us.  They make us explore new areas alone or with others.  As my friend and birding buddy Kathie said good-bye, I was introduced to another group of birders.  On this weekend, I was more fascinated with the various birders than I was with the birds.

At Catalina State Park from left to right....Kathie, Donna, Dawn and me

 We had a great time birding, sharing in delicious meals and learning about/from each other.  The weekend happened so quickly.  And I wish we had more time to hang out!  But the birds guide us yonder!

Hooded Merganser at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale, AZ
I remember a time when I began wandering the desert alone looking for pics of....anything. I liked birds and photography.  And it was fun being unknown for awhile. However, the more I began to bird and submit data; the more I became involved with the birder community.  Then I kept running into others who also went chasing rare birds.  They had names.  Some were friendly while others were very standoffish. I was informally introduced to the world of birders. It is full of wondrous complexity.  Stuff I am writing about in my notes for a future book. 

On the tram in Sabino Canyon with my bud Kathie
In the world of birding, there is enough drama and excitement to make a TV soap opera look rather boring.  There is deep friendship, passion, love, betrayal, love triangles, deceit and wildlife mayhem. They should make a TV show based on the birder world.  Wouldn't that be fun?  And there is drinking.....lots and lots of wonderful drinking.   And not just beer.  Although that's okay too.  Birders are a unique crowd.  They travel and are aware of other delicious beverages beyond wine. I've become a social drinker birder again:) I think college was the last time I really enjoyed that activity:)

Sharing Pisco Sours(from Peru and Chile) and wine with the gang.  From left to right, me, Jeff, Kathie, Dawn, Cynthia, Donna, Roger, and Linda(she made the most delicious Piscos! Gracias!)
What am I trying to write here?  Well it's always a new experience when birders come together. And like any family, there is a bond which has been created by our love for all things birds and wild......and of course, there is always fun gossip from around the world:) 

Le Conte's Thrasher at the Thrasher Spot near Buckeye, AZ
I have a lot in the works right now.  There are several trips planned out to California and Mexico for photography and some more birding.  It can be a bit overwhelming while maintaining the full time job and home life. I have a passport to renew and some surprises ahead for the blog.  Sometimes I shut down and just close the curtains, burn a candle, listen to some great music and write:)

The rare Eurasian Wigeon at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale
I began alone but have found myself pulled into the Ebird crowd, photography crowd, guide/host for other birders, writer and teacher.  The social media has expanded not only my own world but it works as a collaborative machine for us all!  We share information and when this happens, we come together and it makes us stronger.....whole.  And I realize that I am not alone on this great quest.

Canadian Geese
Writing is about being honest. Telling my story while on this path.  When I was younger and living on my own, I asked my Dad ways in which I could meet new people.  He told me that he became a member of his church so that he could meet other people of the same faith in the community.  And my parents really have met a lot of wonderful people over the years who are still very close friends to our family.   But church is not my thing. I think I'd have to believe in god. So I tried to take my father's sincere advice and apply it to my own life.

A feral colony of Nanday Parakeets that were rather tricky to find. A good ear is needed here.
It took me over two decades of travel around the world to make sense of my gypsy life.  I always wanted to be a part of something and found myself alone for most of it. I'd date, party and marvel at all the amazing things happening around me.  I quickly realized that nothing lasts forever and that change is definitely a constant in this universe.  Along the way, I've made great friendships but my friends are very much like I am....gypsies....nomads....sand people(Star Wars reference:) There is an intense curiosity that burns inside of me. 

Sagebrush Sparrow at the Thrasher Spot near Buckeye
Today, I have found the answer to my question that I asked my father years ago.  "How do I make friends?"  "Who is my community?"  "Where do I belong?"  The answers were already there.  I just had to let time sort it all out. Instead of god, I found birds.  Around the birds, I found people.  People who also love birds as much as I do!  They also love travel, exploration, trying new things and most of all meeting other kindred spirits....or not:)  There are still some of those antisocial birders who are more bird than human:) And that's not necessarily a bad thing:)

A Sora out in the open!!!
Birders come from all beliefs and backgrounds.  There are single birders, married birders, young birders, retired birders, logical birders,  funny birders, serious competing birders, arrogant birders, demanding birders, sassy birders......well you get the idea.  It's a VERY complex world based on the love of birds and outdoors. The birder club is open to anyone interested and is not exclusive:) But like any human group, there is that social ranking:)

Dark-eyed Junco
 I am losing myself into this bird world. It's an escape many times from the stress I can't control outside of my little world. It scares me sometimes how easily I can turn the key in the ignition of my car and disappear into a wooded park rather quickly.

Hairy Woodpecker on Mt. Lemmon in the village of Summerhaven

Or find comfort in a cemetery searching for what would be a lifer for many of the gang. I watched them become excited and take long lingering looks at the flycatcher as he danced in circles catching bugs around his perch. 

Greater Pewee at Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson, AZ
 Eventually I had to go it alone again and find more year birds(new birds for the 2014 year) but I know I'll be back birding with the group again.  So what's it all about? 

Cackling Goose at Dos Lagos Park, Glendale, AZ
This is what it's all about.......completing my Arizona Thrashers!  From Top to Bottom starting Left to Right.  Le Conte's Thrasher, Sage Thrasher(top); Curve-billed Thrasher(middle); Bendire's Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher(bottom)

No....wait.....this is what it's all about!!!!  The landscapes!!!!

I stand corrected....it's really about the people....and birds....and landscapes....and adventures! And there are more adventures in store.....stay tuned:)

Amazing people, amazing birds.....and so much fun!