Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Band of Birders

The Green-tailed Towhee
The journey never ends and the birds are always out there just waiting to be found.  Part of the fun about birding is getting the chance to hang out with new and old friends of all ages!  

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly

And the part I love most is how spontaneous it all can be!  It's like being a kid again.
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Recently I have really gotten back into camping.  My family used to go often on the weekends while we were growing up in Wisconsin. It has been a lot of fun setting up "home" in the middle of the woods with friends.  The secret to a good nights sleep?  An air mattress:) 

Nesting Cordilleran Flycatchers
So on a trip to Greer, we, the band of birders, went looking for some elusive birds.  There we would discover many amazing birds like the American Dipper(finally!), Gray Jays, Pine Grosbeaks and a Long-eared Owl!

Of course, we'd spot many other beautiful things, but there's nothing quite like the company of fun people to enhance the birding experience. 

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Risk taking was something I used to do often when I was younger. Birding can be a lot like gambling.  You win some and you lose some. On Friday, we hit all of our target birds except the Dusky Grouse.  But with the unexpected Long-eared Owl making an appearance, it was a win-win for everyone...making up for the dip on the Grouse.

Then Saturday came.  Oh Saturday!  We drove to the 4 corners area to search for a Black-billed Magpie(below).  Why a gorgeous bird like this would hang around the 4 corners area is beyond me!  There had been reports of several birds in the area. And they were found in a tree-lined wash.  Okay, no problem.  So we drove a looooooong way to get there.....and gambled.

Black-billed Magpie in Colorado Springs, CO
Along the way, we joked and laughed really hoping we'd see this bird and count it on our state list.  The areas we had been passing were quite beautiful but not looking very Magpie friendly.  Eventually we arrived at the Klingon sounding(Star Trek reference/I'm a nerd) settlement known as Teec Nos Pos. Actually it's Navajo for "Cottonwoods in a Circle".  

Our intrepid crew!  Pic courtesy of Tommy D!  From left to right...Me, Magill, Gordon and Tommy
That made sense because the town was built around a wash full of Cottonwoods. This part of the Navajo Reservation reminded me of a ghost town. And not the good kind.  I swear there were zombies hiding behind trees. I don't know where all the people were, but it was dead silent. Thankfully we were a band of birders exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations.  Or at least that's what I told myself:)

So we reached the area where the Magpies had been reported.  The habitat looked right. The coordinates were correct. So we hesitantly left our space shuttle vehicle. I was wearing a red shirt that day. Broken glass bottles sparkled in between the rocks. And there was trash everywhere.  Several trees were spray painted with colorful letters.  Dirty shirts and other clothing items draped tree branches. Perhaps a homeless encampment? Or maybe some sort of wild outdoor party happened here? There was evidence of beer drinking.  But the intrepid crew of the USS Gordon entered the forested area listening for a singular Magpie call. 

Solitary Sandpiper
One of the crew members explored a densely packed wooded area alone and discovered a human male shooting his arm full of drugs. "Yellow Alert!" (one condition level below Red Alert or meaning high caution) At this point, birds became secondary. Soon after, other humans arrived in a beat up car and our band of birders began to discuss the safety factors.  The heart to explore beats strongly in each of us, but sometimes the risk isn't worth it. And it was decided inside this rather sketchy and narrow wash that we would leave and explore around the warp speed:)

Long-eared Owl
I could see the disappointment on people's faces.  I felt it as well!  It's hard to dip on a bird you know is in the area.  But safety first!  On this day, something triggered a couple of our alarms and I have found to trust in it for a good reason.  I have been incident free over the years while traveling here and there and I hope to keep it that way. 

American Dipper
However with that said, I enjoyed the experience very much.  I would never have gone to that part of the state alone and I was so glad we were able to explore new territory together.  Sometimes it's not always about getting the target bird....sometimes it's about something more. It won't be an experience I forget anytime soon. We thought we'd head to the 4 corners for a photo op on a human made landmark, but when we discovered that it was going to cost 5 bucks a person, we all said, "NO WAY!"  The bitter taste of dipping on the Magpie was still present.

Prairie Dog
But what's that saying? "Take milk from a cow and make a milkshake".  No no I think it's "Squeeze lemons and make a vodka lemonade:)" In any case, we birded our way back into Greer during a beautiful monsoon storm.  And that long trip back?  It wasn't long at all because we had fun trekking along the lakes on the return trip!  I discovered my mammal lifer!  The Prairie Dog. 

Male Calliope Hummingbird
And like the old childhood/college adventures, we returned to camp and planned our fun for the next day under the night sky while we ate our meal. Common Nighthawks called from the darkness.  The rain began to pitter patter down from the canopy of the trees.  A sign that it was time to retire into our tents.  That night I slept well as the cool breeze blew in under the tent flaps. 

As a side note, the 4 Corners area is safe as is most of Teec Nos Pos.  But many times, as in our case, we were searching in areas not populated or known by many people.  The birds always guide us.  Part of the fun in birding is playing the role of detective.  Unfortunately, there are places like the one we visited that can be sketchy.  Arizona has several of these birding hotspots and its always best to go in a group.  More next time....

From Sheep's Crossing in Greer!  A great place to go fishing and find an American Dipper:)  For more great birds and places to find them, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. HI Chris Well that was quite an adventure and although you did not get your Magpie I think you were very wise to leave the area. Good sense and safety MUST come first. great seeing your life mammal. Have ing company birding is great fun.

  2. Alls well that ends well and you found your Dipper.

  3. What a wonderful adventure, Chris! Birders are such nice people, at least I have found them so. And look at all those great photos you took!

  4. What a great trip! But scary hubby Russell says your group "went where no birders have gone before." :-) I recognize that rock! :-) So neat that we were there just a week or two before you were, but of course we weren't birding. Your band of birders sound like a great, close-knit group and it's good to go in groups. I had to laugh over the $5. fee...we happily paid our fee and got our picture on four different states. Come on! :-) What is $5. today? Keep following my trip photos...I think you will enjoy them all. I ALWAYS enjoy your wonderful posts, of course, and love your narrative. Tell me you plan to write a birding book!

  5. I know I know Marie:) But missing that bird had set us into a funk. Had we found the bird, I think no one would have thought twice to pay the entrance fee:)

  6. Sounds like a fabulous adventure. Awesome photos and great narrative as usual.

  7. Awesome post Chris, I enjoyed reading it. Great pictures too. USS Gordon, HA HA HA!!

  8. Thanks Tommy! I really had a lot of fun birding with you guys. We'll have to do it again!

  9. A cracking amount of bird life you found Chris, nice.

  10. Great post, Chris. I enjoy reading about your birding adventures.. I do love the Magpie and the owl.. It is fun camping..with an air mattress.. Happy Birding!

  11. I remember the magpies in Colorado when we lived, in south Texas we don't have 'em.

    Loved your interesting and beautiful nature photos...especially the birds of course. That pygmy owl...I also remember the big fuss about them in Tuscon long ago....

  12. What a great variety of sightings. That Dipper was great, away from the stream to boot. You were smart to avoid a close encounter of the birding kind, even if it meant no magpie!

  13. Quite the adventure. Glad you were with others.

  14. Great pictures, especially the Black-billed Magpie and Calliope Hummingbird! Smart choice to go with safety first, but I know it must have put a damper on the trip.

  15. love the blooms and butterfly and varmint, too!

  16. I must say i've never found druggies shooting up when I've been out birding. That would be a lifer for me, but like you I would quickly turn around and bird elesewhere.

    Don't worry about the Magpies Chris. there's millions of the pests here and you're welcome to them.

    As ever, your commentary is as wonderful as your pictures.

  17. a great day. Love the nature and the birds.

  18. Wow- that was a great adventure except for the sketchy folks and drugs...I'm glad you were not alone. Great photos though and maybe next time will be a human varmint free.

  19. Wow, a stunning area and fascinating birds, like the owls.

  20. okay... come on up and you can photograph Magpies to your heart's content right in my back yard... I wonder if they are a more common type I have ...the darn things are everywhere... and, ..noisy... I must go look what type I have....

  21. Yep... Black Billed Magpies... and, hordes of them... just drive north...

  22. What a great birding adventure. Wish I could find a congenial group to go birding with!
    Loved the owls and the camping.

  23. That was a little scary, but all is well. You certainly had quite the outing even without finding your main target. Admission to 4 corners may seem a bit much, but I believe it is all on reservation land and the tribes sit up and sell their jewelry and other art work as well. Believe it or not, it wasn't easy getting those four corners to actually meet. All the surveying and everything wasn't going to make a point for them to join. I figured they'd start in the point and go out, but I guess surveying is more complicated than that. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  24. Nice post - looks like a little bit of (mis)adventure is good for the birds.

    If you ever get the chance to visit the Farne Islands, you need to get on a boat and go and have a look - its a remarkable place.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  25. Hello Chris!:) Sorry I'm so late, lost my glasses outdoors on Tuesday, can hardly see without them! Anyway, I enjoyed reading about your adventure.Loved all the photos too.
    Keep safe.

  26. Chris, that is quite the story! I am glad you are safe and that you found the dipper!

  27. You do have some fascinating adventures, and it is good to share some with a group of like-minded people. Feeling edgy in a place can't be a great feeling - safe travels.

  28. Great post and a wonderful adventure Chris. A shame about missing the bird but at times you just have to put safety first. Love the tortoiseshell butterfly by the way :)


Thanks for stopping by!