Friday, May 30, 2014


What is the color red?  Is it a warning sign?  Or a simple statement that warrants our attention?

Is it a cry for help? Or a temptation that seduces the eye?

Is it desire?

 That can turn into a whirlwind dance making us go dizzy?

Or was the color created to make everything else near it stand out?

Is red meant to linger in our memories like the fading sunset over a canyon?

Or from the sleepy reflections of an ornament on a dark holiday night?

The color red is glorious for so many reasons.

In feather, it is known as vermilion, scarlet, sulphur, crimson, cardinal, or rufous......

.....with design it's maroon or cherry.......

.......and in flower, it can form a rose or a tulip.  Red is an agent to Mother Nature.  Come to me oh bee! Oh butterfly! Oh hummingbird! Sip my nectar. Wrap yourself in my pollen.  Let me be your red jacket! 

It surrounds us with love, wonder, fear and delight.

For no matter how many times we see the color red, our eyes will linger for a moment longer.

Vermilion Flycatcher

*Written after an outing around others at a city park.  The Vermilion Flycatcher inspired this one.  No matter how many times people see a red rose, a red car, or a red bird, they will always stop or look a little longer than normal at this color.

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life." from "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Miller Canyon
Now that summer is upon me.  I can begin to devote my time towards the study of birds.  It is not enough to just see, photograph or hear a bird.....

Curve-billed Thrasher on Saguaro Cactus
It's understanding the ecosystem better, recognizing the calls, and working with others.  Many early mornings have been gladly sacrificed for these incredible birds.  My mother, in her 40's, turned into a crazy bird lady specifically working with parrots from our home.  I honestly laughed and enjoyed watching her feed baby Monk Parakeets on our cupboard.  She'd place the syringes full of the fruity goo into their hungry little beaks while we helped keep an eye on the others.  When friends came over, they would laugh at our loud birds.  They would also mention that our home sounded like the Amazon rain forest.  Not that they'd ever been...... 

Purple Martins
I had a hard time keeping parrots, parakeets, and lovebirds in their cages.  I always left the cage door unlocked or cracked open so that they could fly or walk to wherever they needed to go.  But I wasn't INTO birds.  I wonder if there was a secret gene waiting to be activated....just like it did for my mother.  

Summer Tanager
I've always had the desire and passion to travel and garden.  I've always loved wildlife.  But this need to really really understand birds?  I just don't understand it.  I just know that they are on my mind constantly.  Sometimes I wish I could just shut it off.  And I'm not alone.  There are several within this social circle that are just as addicted as I am.  Addicts encouraging each other to do better.  To see better.  To hear better.  And just be better birders.

In St. David searching for the Mississippi Kite
Recently, we met up with a mother and daughter team from Washington state for a special focus on the Montezuma Quail.  Bruce Berman invited me to tag along and help out in the search.  I've heard these birds often and I've even waited for them quietly to make an appearance. One blew by my head once, but they never had given me any great visuals. It's one of the most difficult birds to observe in the wild, but we were determined to hike and find these birds once and for all. But nothing would shock us more than to discover the mother in our group was 90 years old! Both mother and daughter conditioned their bodies during the winter months to prepare for this steep and rocky hike. Now that's dedication!

A Montezuma Quail call could be heard from the canyon's hillside. Everyone put their scope, binoculars and cameras up. It was very very close. For this bird, one has to stand perfectly still and scrutinize every detail in the landscape.  This quail often surprises birders by shooting straight up from the grasses.  One sat still only inches away from me before exploding from the rocks.  Heart attack?  Thankfully not this time. 

But the reveal would happen.  I heard the male's distinct call.  And I searched the spot from where I heard the call.  Like many other moments before, I held my breathe and waited........and waited.  A "rock" bounced up and a moment happened.  Don't move. Don't breathe.  Stay forever in my mind. 

Montezuma Quail
 Eventually, everyone got their binos on the bird.  Then I heard several more calling nearby.  We moved further on down the trail where the quail would silently watch us from the rocks......and we'd silently watch them back.

White-eared Hummingbird
 After our epic Montezuma Quail finds as what is called my many birders as the "Quail Valhalla Trail", the group disbanded and went to grab breakfast before hitting another trail in Miller Canyon. 

Buff-breasted Flycatcher
 Our target bird would the nesting Northern Goshawk.  This would be a lifer for me, but to be honest, I was fascinated by all specialty birds nesting along the trails!  We found Western Tanagers, Buff-bellied Flycatchers, Northern Pygmy Owls, Greater Pewees, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, a White-eared hummingbird, and of course the Northern Goshawks.  For many birders, these birds are high on their list of "must sees" when they come to visit.  On this day, we would find all of them casually flitting around branches or rock. 

Painted Redstart
 I'd like to dedicate this post to three very special people.  First to Bruce Berman for inviting me along on this wonderful hike.  And finally to the mother/daughter team from Washington state.  Jackie and Annie, you both inspired me with your birder dedication.  I've met 70-somethings on the trails, but to hike with a 90 year old is a real honor.  I am not worthy.  Jackie, you make me believe that anything is possible. Annie, you are a wonderful daughter. I can only imagine the adventures you have while on the road together.  Very few things surprise me these days.  This was one that still lingers freshly in my mind.  And it will be part of my Montezuma Quail story.  Until next time.....

Northern Goshawk
For more stories of birds from around the world check out Wild Bird Wednesday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Course Change

A Verdin nesting

There is no gain without risk.  While my post has birds, it isn't necessarily about birds. Some of the craziest things are happening in my life right now. I have opened myself up to possibilities again.  And change. While I won't go into the various projects for now, I'll just write that things have gotten interesting.

The Great Egret stalking a lizard in a local Tucson park.......after several minutes, the lizard became lunch
I had become so stuck in my routine that I forgot to look up and remember who I was.  After a particularly hard day at work, I went to go birding and clear my mind but instead I sat down on a park bench watching people pass me by.

A Jackrabbit at Saguaro National Park

I sat watching the sun sink behind the trees with an even greater sinking feeling inside. What am I doing with my life?  Is this what a midlife crisis is? Perhaps instead of a nice big car, I'm looking for something else.  Something more. This is where the wildlife has changed me.  I don't know what it is about this year, but I have found myself on every outing surrounded by wonderful animals and birds.  They don't mind that I am with them.  But the minute other people enter this sacred world of trust, the animals disappear.  They whip down the roads in their cars, speak loudly so that the whole world can hear their conversations and leave their garbage behind.  I found a plastic bottle wedged in the hole of tree.....home to so many nesting owls.

I drive my car onto strange roads.  Sometimes I am in the middle of nowhere without cell connection.  When I stand in these locations I think about how liberating it is.  About how this part of my life has opened my mind to the strange that is birding.  The closer I am to nature; the harder it is for me to understand these pack creatures known as humans.  I'm one of them.  I'm trying to help educate the young minds.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't.

The Red-tailed Hawk
I am at a crossroads in my life right now.  All of it good, but of course, it is a bit scary.  This idea of change.  Comfort is nice.  Having a home is nice.  Being with someone you love is awesome.  However, it creates a routine.  And I have found myself stuck in that routine for several years now. Oh I despise you and love you at the same time!

The Pygmy Nuthatch on Mt. Lemmon
The older I get; the harder it becomes to take a risk.  So much to consider.  So much to keep in mind.

Olive Warbler on the Incinerator Ridge Trail of Mt. Lemmon
And yet while standing above it all, does any of it matter?

So as I sat on that bench contemplating my life, I sorted out some heavy thoughts.  I know what I have to do, and I've put myself out there to let it happen. And it feels good.

Night birding at Madera Canyon for the Whiskered Screech-Owl
Another epic trek is about to begin to take my mind off of things.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Moment of Forever

Sometimes when I explore nature, I get sidetracked and lose myself in a moment.  A butterfly lands on top of a leaf or a bird flies from a perch.

I reflect on that moment and try to interpret that image artistically. Within that moment, there is an entire universe waiting to be unraveled. 

An emerald carpet of grass, dotted by tiny wildflowers, surrounds the charred remains of gnarled trees. I imagine a young boy saying good-bye to his dying grandfather.  One passing on; the other only beginning his journey.

I look from an airplane window and see the endless flat stretches of land marked by human settlements. And sometimes it looks quite barren. As my plane touches down, I begin to see roads with cars, homes with people, and birds in flight over treetops. I see the details.  Sometimes nature can look barren. With closer inspection, I discover quite the opposite. They are the little worlds that exist within this larger natural universe. Hummingbirds rule their territories over wildflower patches. A camouflaged snake rests on a rock while bees selectively bounce from flower to flower. Each world home to something special and unique. 

A building, from a bird's point of view, is an agave stalk or a hole inside a tree. 

Sometimes when I bird, I forget to bird. 

It's enjoying a moment with a friend, exploring new habitat, finding new birds along with the old ones, and discovering new truths about the world around us. Each part linked to the other like a 10,000 piece puzzle.  I've only begun working on the corners:)

From within a perfect moment, I could spend a lifetime.

Gray Vireo
Check out more birds at Bird D'Pot and Wild Bird Wednesday.  It's all about birds:)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

De Mi Nidito

Luna is a satisfied roommate.  She helps me monitor new birds around our area everyday from the office.  However, she does not like Ebird. Just bird.
 Today I'm writing about backyard birding.  It's the easiest thing a person can do.

In the beginning, we moved into our home.  There wasn't any bird feeder nor garden.  To make matters worse for this nature lover, we moved into midtown Tucson.

I planted the plants.  I created a living "TV" for my cats and watched it all come together.  And so did our cats.

After everything settled, I began with one feeder.  That feeder grew into two.  Then a hummingbird feeder.  A thistle feeder.  Then another hummingbird feeder.  A nut feeder.  A suet feeder. And finally an Oriole feeder.  
Rufous Hummingbird
But to be honest, I didn't hold out much hope.  My friends who lived in the foothills, near city washes and parks would get all the interesting birds beyond House Finches and House Sparrows.  So when a random Rufous Hummingbird flew to my feeder during monsoon, I was happy.   A year would come.  And a year would go.  More House Finches.  More House Sparrows.

Anna's Hummingbird nesting in our Live Oaks
But then something began to happen.  I noticed Anna's Hummingbirds nesting in our Oak trees.  One of my neighbors reported a strange looking hummingbird in spring hover in front of her.  It had a red throat and sounded like a bell.  Nooooo.  Could it be?  Another year passed. The Anna's stayed this time and never left our property.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Early in the morning and towards the evening, I would occassionally see a Curve-billed Thrasher.

Then they became common at sunrise and sunset feeding around my newly placed suet. 

My side garden continued to grow.  But I had to deal with another situation. 

Feral cats. I had seen Northern Cardinals in my neighborhood, but how could I get them to come to my feeders?  Eliminate feral cats. One still remains.  The other 3 were moved to the humane society.

Female Northern Cardinal
Then a miracle happened.  A red throated hummingbird with a tinkling bell sound floated my way this spring to one of my feeders.  A Broad-tailed hummer!

Broad-billed Hummingbird
On the outskirts of my yard, I could hear the Ladderback Woodpecker in the adjacent mesquite trees. 

Ladderback Woodpecker
My first of the year Black-throated Hummingbird came to my feeder. Things were getting interesting! 

Northern Mockingbird
In the winter a Costa's would come to my feeder but only go to one of the feeders on the north side of the building.  The Anna's controlled the others.

Costa's Hummingbird
Meanwhile my garden grew.  And a young canopy began to form. 

The Verdin uses our tree tops and slides down for a quick drink from the hummingbird feeder. 

An Anna's joins in on the fun making me smile.  Have I created a safe haven or oasis for birds?

While common at my feeders, I can't imagine a day without my sparrows or finches. 

House Finch
We add a fountain to the property.  Wildflowers and native flowering plants are placed around this water feature.  The water begins to attract more creatures....lizards, butterflies and other species.

I see a Praying Mantis.  It sits close to the hummingbird feeder......a hummer's nightmare.

And then.....a miracle.  My first Northern Cardinal shows up.  The world stops at my urban home.  It happened!  It really happened!

In the beginning after all the plants were placed into the ground, it looked like this.

And as time went on. Others began to notice.  My cats ran for cover inside the house.  The birds were silent outside replaced with strange calls. My yard gets real.  

Cooper's Hawk
Even the dead tree near our property acts as a lookout for others. It has purpose.

Red-tailed Hawk
Some of it also included me putting out the right food.  This was my first cardinal feeder.  I used sunflowers but didn't like the mess.  I replaced this messy food source with safflower seed. It worked.  I placed dead branches and twigs in piles behind our fence.  The Northern Cardinals started having babies. 

The Gila Woodpecker comes and drinks from the hummingbird feeder. 

But I still wasn't happy.  I wanted the very common Lesser Goldfinches.  The secret?  Thistle.  Today I have many of them in my yard. 

And the Cooper's still randomly visits......

And I wanted warblers.  So I added pineapple chunks and fruit.

On the top of our oak, I heard something rare during fall migration. Turns out this flycatcher was passing through the area.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
And in spring, I hear the unmistakable call of the Yellow warbler outside my door.  I look up and see it. I don't know what to do.  Watch or grab the camera!  So luckily I was able to do both. 

And the Mourning and White-winged Doves continued by the feeders.  I discover the White-winged Doves are the ones who are making a mess of everything.  They are also the bullies of the bird world.

The House Sparrows navigate around the larger birds.

And then it really really happens.  A Green-tailed Towhee stops by at my place for several days.  I know that I have passed Mother Nature's test.  I have officially been granted a desert oasis in the city.  All the hard work has paid off.

Other birds stop by and confirm this.  I find grackles chasing beetles swarming around the dates of our palm tree. 

The Verdins are nesting in our trees. 

Red and Yellow come together in peace. 

And the Rock Pigeons?  Well they stay safely away from our yard.  There is still one feral cat and he has an appetite for these birds.  The Pigeons learned quickly that our garden wasn't a safe place for them.

Now about those White-winged doves.....:)

If you dream it, it will happen.

I thought the world ended when a Nashville Warbler plopped along the ground near our living room window.  It was passing through our yard during migration. 

And it hasn't stopped. This spring has been loaded with so many incredible birds.  

I LOVE spring migration.  It's the first Black-headed Grosbeak sighting on our property.  This all just happened about a week ago!

Patience and planning are all that it takes.  So when I can't bird on the road, I don't mind sipping on my coffee at home from my windows and seeing who will pop in for a visit.  Anything is possible. 
Western Tanagers love Mulberry Trees.  It's one of the reasons I placed one on our property back in 2008.  

Cactus Wren