Sunday, September 28, 2014

Swiftly Passing By

 I spent a whole week debating what I would birds or just relax and bird a favorite hotspot.  There are more birds I need to find but they are simply too far out of range to observe properly within the short amount of time given.  Everything now points to California but I only had the weekend for birding.  And I didn't want to be on the road driving for most of it. 

Sparrow love.....Vesper Sparrow
When I am conflicted with direction, I know what I must do.  Bird the Whitewater Draw.  I think it has to be one of my absolute places to visit.  The location feels like I'm back in the Great Lakes region again.  It's a pretty special place. 

Now if we took the mountains out of the shot above, this could be a wetlands somewhere in central Wisconsin. During the winter months, this place becomes a hotspot for many birders as thousands of Sandhill Cranes congregate these waters and surrounding farmer's fields. As one might imagine, lots of waterfowl also hang out here. 

It's a little too soon for all of these birds, but we did have one large flock of Cinnamon Teal hiding out in the reeds.  We did a little walk around the area and flushed over 60 of these ducks!

It's still warm and it's still wet in Southern Arizona.  Another storm passed through our area from the Pacific Northwest and it pushed down several more migrating Vaux's Swifts. 

Vaux's Swifts are pudgy swifts with short tails that breed between Southern Alaska and central California during the summer.  As they head back to Central and South America, several will pass through Arizona. Many times, this bird can be seen riding the winds in front of major storms around watering holes.  In my case, Hurricane Odile helped me locate one around the Sweetwater Wetlands. This year has been a very good year for many birders in Southern Arizona with all of our monsoon storm activity. 

There were lots of brown and gray birds from our adventures.  From top to bottom and left to right.  
Merlin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Red-tailed Hawk
Loggerhead Shrike, Killdeer, Mississippi Kite
Common ground-dove, female Lazuli Bunting, Vaux's Swift

Perhaps the most significant part of this trek was observing migrating swallows as they gather in great numbers heading south.  The highlight of our day is captured below on this fence line. Swallows tend to be tricky birds to capture on camera.  And it's rare having 3 different swallows sit still long enough for a picture. As I've stated in previous posts, a lot of birders have a hard time id'ing swallows above them because they fly so fast.  On this trek, they surrounded us in great numbers.  We stood inside their cloud amazed by their acrobatics.  There were lots of bugs....including chiggers.

L to R- Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow
The bug life increases with heat and moisture.  This Great Swallowtail below found our citrus trees at El Presidio, laid the eggs and is now in the final stages of butterfly life. A bit like Charlotte's web. 

Giant Swallowtail
There is a birding loop I make if we go to the Whitewater Draw.  We drive through Benson and Tombstone and count birds along the way.  Once we arrive at the Whitewater Draw near McNeal, we spend a good portion of our time birding.  At around lunch time, we head over to Bisbee for break and then head over to the San Pedro House near the San Pedro river for an afternoon of birding there. Then it's visiting our relatives in Sierra Vista and back home in Tucson. 

And Arizona sunsets are always amazing.  If you haven't birded Arizona, you're missing out.  Over the next several weeks, my journeys will take me to Globe, Colorado and a return back to California.  And the adventure continues.....

For more fascinating finds, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Come Rain; Come Shine

Apples=Fall!  These apples had a shower thanks to Mother Nature.
This past week was one for the records in Arizona.  Hurricane Odile came and poured lots of wonderful rain around Arizona.  Southeastern Arizona was hit the hardest with some areas receiving over 4 inches!  Rivers and washes overflowed near cities like Sierra Vista and Patagonia essentially shutting down most of our access routes into their wildlife areas.  Thankfully Tucson was spared the nasty stuff.  However, we did have rain almost every day in different parts of the Old Pueblo last week.  The moisture has since stayed around our area and it really has been nice.

We've been on the road since the beginning of September and this past weekend was one for relaxing and enjoying the bird feeders up at my friends' cabin on Mt. Lemmon.  It's close to Tucson and completely in its own world.   They have birds like Red-breasted Nuthatches, Steller's Jays, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Mountain Chickadees and other colorful characters coming to their feeders.  So I loaded up their feeders with a book in hand, breathed in the pine scented air, got in my pj's, watched the rain come down and had my camera ready. And all in that order:)

A wet Abert's Squirrel ponders if there are any nuts to be found
The home life at El Presidio has been difficult due to a neighbor with severe mental issues verbally attacking residents. Not only is he a danger to himself but to those around him. As HOA President(someone has to do it), I get to deal with it all. Anyhow, he has been very aggressive with many of my fellow neighbors.  They, of course, have injunctions against him. While dealing with one of his outbursts, the police and our poor neighbors, I saw this migrating Pacific-slope Flycatcher move through our garden!  What are the chances?!  I quickly grabbed my camera when the drama was over and snapped off a couple shots before this new yard bird disappeared!  Unbelievable!  Perhaps a message from Mother Nature reminding me that this too shall pass?

Pacific-slope Flycatcher happens to pass by during a serious conversation!  Yes it was awkward to say "Excuse me.  I need to get this picture."
So when my wonderful friend's offered me their cabin for the weekend, it was a no brainer!

And thus began my studies for the weekend.  Warbler migration is happening all around us and so I went to the top of Mt. Lemmon to get better photo documentation of Hermit Warblers.  They currently are migrating down along the Pacific Coast regions back into Mexico and Central America. Every spring and fall some will pass through Southern Arizona within our Sky Islands. 

Townsend's Warbler
Meanwhile, the Townsend's Warbler crosses over from the state of California and the North during the same time period as they head to their wintering grounds both in Arizona, Mexico and Central America.   They not only cross paths but have also been known to crossbreed! Hybrids are possible between these two warbler species!

Juvenile Hermit Warbler-I'm thinking female because there are no black markings on the throat and the underside is whitish overall
It was a relaxing weekend.  I didn't have to go far to study my target birds.  Plus I had a wildlife party at the cabin. Pygmy Nuthatches were out of control!  They were not afraid of me at all. 

Pygmy Nuthatch
I sat reading my book while 16 of these little birds clung to the large cylinder feeders. Then I noticed that one of the Pygmy Nuthatches got inside the feeder!  I helped the little bugger out with assistance from his friends.  They sat around me watching as I opened the feeder up so that he could get out.  These days I feel like I have a stronger connection to the birds than I do with people! I wish someone had been there to witness the event. It was a Snow White moment as I sang.... "♪♪Aaaaaaahahaaaaa..♫..aaaahahaaaaa♪♪!"  To be honest, my best work usually happens when I'm alone on these treks. 

An Abert's Squirrel and Steller's Jay at odds.
I arrived to the rainy and wet mountain top and all of my energy just drained from my body once the cool temps hit me.  I miss the cool temps. The cabin had been quiet, but I made some calls to attract the local Steller's Jays.  They came quickly as I set up my peanut feeders. Steller's Jays will also inadvertently signal to other birds that there is food nearby. Or at least that has been my observation from visiting the cabin over the past 10 years.  Quickly enough, I had birds at the feeders.  Below is a photo of the views I had from the cabin windows.  It was quite the contrast from the hot desert floor below where it was sunny and in the 90's! All thanks to tropical depression Odile!

Soon the desert will be safe again to explore.  Right now, it's full of baby snakes, reptiles and bugs! Herper heaven!  I am a snake charmer(not by choice) and want to avoid contact with the scaled variety. My issue?  Accidentally stepping on the poor things while I'm scanning the trees and sky! Over the past several years I've had many encounters.  Take for example this Green Rat Snake.  I almost stepped on the poor bugger thanks to a very vocal Hepatic Tanager.  Then I discovered it was a Herper's dream to find one of these.  Apparently they are hard to find! So we kept the location secret from the Sith Herpers who would illegally poach the area for this gem.

 The heat and humidity are still too much to endure after being out in the desert for about 20 minutes, but the weather is cooling down each day.  Here is a photo taken from my work place of the Santa Catalina mountains covered by the tropical remains of Odile.  Summerhaven is up there and covered by the dense clouds!

For my plant friends.  In the forefront are the gorgeous Ironwood trees.  The purple bushes are Texas Ranger and our course, the large cactus is our very own Saguaro Cactus.  Yeah....Arizona has it all!
This past weekend was another successful study.  Sometimes birders will become frustrated with poor observations of a life bird.  Sometimes we only get a brief glance of our life bird before it disappears for good.  So I'm thankful that the Hermit Warblers played nice this weekend.  Here are some other common players found around the town of Summerhaven. And haven it was!

Top to bottom and left to right
Hermit Warbler; Yellow-eyed Junco
Wilson's Warbler; Mountain Chickadee
Pygmy Nuthatch; Pine Siskin
Steller's Jay; Townsend's Warbler

Mountain Chickadee

Thanks for tuning into Las Aventuras each week! For more birds from around the world check out Wild Bird Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Like Sand Through The Hourglass

Today I present some thoughts about birding under time constraints. As the saying goes, "Time is precious."

A wilting Firewheel Blanket flower
What would you do with the time if you knew you only had 1 year to do it all?

Juvenile Mississippi Kite will soon prepare for migration
 My New Year's challenge was to find as many birds in the US as I could while staying within the top 100 on ebird.  So far that goal has been realized, but the game gets harder and more exciting. I'm feeling the time constraints as we approach mid-September.  Migration isn't going to last forever and the year is now winding down. 

A view of Cataract Lake
Over this past weekend, we went up to Flagstaff, AZ.  It's still hot here in the desert and the upper elevations are much more preferable.  The birds, however, don't care and are moving through both the upper and lower elevations.  For me, it's a balancing act trying to juggle the time and routes taken to the various areas.  So with the time given, we did a "clean sweep" along a corridor to pick up as many new birds as we could for the national and state lists.  Granted none of them were life birds but it was fun playing detective. 

Prairie Dogs watch us while we bird near their homes
Meanwhile in other far away parts of the state, there are rare birds flying around canyon lakes and rivers. It's fun exploring new areas but it's also difficult picking and choosing which bird to go after! Places like Cataract and Ashurst Lakes had sounded interesting to me.  Plus I also wanted to check out these Río de Flag spots around Flagstaff.  All of these places proved to be exciting in their own ways.  

American Crows were everywhere around Lake Ashurst
 Sometimes the birding can seem tedious and like anything, it's good to spice it up a little.  No hotels or tents this time.  Instead we chose to stay in a teepee.  I love to plan trips like these.  It takes a little imagination to make something memorable.  And while our main purpose was to find Pinyon Jays, it was also to have a little fun. 

Our teepee "Kachina" at a Flagstaff Campground
 Inside the teepee it was comfortable and we slept well on our cots. The cool mountain air was so nice!

Have you noticed that birds inspire a lot of art around us?  Everywhere we go now, I see them on walls, beverage coasters, etc.  Last week I was called in for possible Grand Jury Duty!  

A Summer Tanager proves to be good luck!
I would have had to report to our court system twice a week until January.  Thankfully, I have a job that requires me to be with people everyday.  The judge was sympathetic to my situation and let me go. However, while I awaited his decision on that jury bench, I looked out at the colorless courtroom and discovered a bird calendar hanging on the wall.  Seeing that Summer Tanager stare back at me was a good omen.  

A Western Bluebird watches over Micheal
With migration under way, we have had to switch locales quite often.  From cool mountain breezes to the hot desert floors.

Hundreds of shorebirds and only 3 of these Stilt Sandpipers to be found!
So while we are searching for our target birds, I try to absorb everything around us because I don't know how long we'll stay in each area.  There are some spots where I wish we could spend more time. 

The grasses of Lake Cataract were full of Sparrows, Finches and other small birds.  The wind created this dreamy and sleepy feel
But the sand is slipping through that imaginary hourglass.  Every weekend is booked for the next two months.  

Near Lake Ashurst, the Pinyon Jays proved to be numerous and vocal
Once we found the Pinyon Jays, our time was up.  So on Saturday during sunset, I absorbed as much of this golden landscape as I could. 

Lesser long nosed bat
Two weekends ago, I started feeling the time constraints while observing the nectar feeding bats at the hummingbird stations. They, along with the migrating shorebirds and hummingbirds, are signs that fall will arrive soon. 

With views like this, it's a wonder we get any "work" done!
Over the next several weekends, I'll be up on Mt. Lemmon working on Hermit Warblers.  Then it's off to Globe, AZ for the AZFO conference with Gordon Karre.....and then Colorado.  Never a dull moment.  I am reminded, thanks to birding, that time is indeed precious.  

And while on the road, I am always thankful for these wonderful opportunities to explore.  Take your own trek and check out all the amazing birds around our world at Wild Bird Wednesday.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Very Human Dedication

Once there was a time when I gazed over the waters like this boy in the photo above. For me, water was the gateway to inspiration and my imagination. I felt safe watching the waves crash over the cement sidewalk leading up to our local lighthouse. The cold spray would stab my face like tiny ice needles.  In my mind, the waters of Lake Michigan went on forever but I knew they touched another shore on the opposite side. Was it so different?  What would I find?

Mississippi Kite-discovering new things is amazing
Every night, the car ferry would leave the port of Manitowoc and cross over to Ludington, Michigan. The lighthouse of the lake would spy upon the large ferry silently sliding out of port.  From there, it would navigate across the black expanse lit only by the stars and moon.  A mammoth thing this ship was.  I would run out to the lighthouse at midnight along the pier.  There I'd watch this mechanical beast pass into the night sky.  Her cabin lights sparkled like the stars above and served as camouflage in the distant horizon. 

"3rd Star to the right, straight on til morning".  And in the morning the vessel would reach the shores of Michigan. I sat on my Wisconsin pier wondering what was out there.  Some day I would reach that Michigan shore.  Some day. How it would happen was still a mystery......that was the future and too far away to waste thought on.  I was about to leave for college. I had to get out of my small town quick or I'd fear I'd get "stuck".  

Our journeys were only beginning.  Today we are what we set out to be....explorers. Kristen is a park ranger in Michigan.  Our mission?  The Kirtland's Warbler.  Heidi(to my right) is a Doctor of plants.  She experiments on humans trying to create the first human/plant creature in New Zealand.  Our mission?  The Kiwi and other birds...all while finding a hobbit or two:) 
Today when I return home, I don't see it that way at all.  It was just me being impatient.  Today that trip to the other side will happen on that same ferry.  There I will meet my park ranger/college friend Kristen and we'll discover the Kirtland's Warbler together. We took so many epic road trips together before life got in the way.  Now tell me birding isn't exciting??!!! Friends, magic trips and BIRDS!  

My parent's place perfectly captures the essence of comfort....home.
One year later, I would begin my journeys into college life and my travels around the world began.  It was a strange and powerful emotion. I was willing to risk everything to find my "voice".  Little did I know but that strange and powerful emotion would return two decades later. And this time, I knew what it was called. Passion. 

Just beyond the rocks, what will Kathie find?
I work.  I sleep. I burn myself out. And when I'm not birding, I write.  But my life has changed.  How could it not?  After all that we've done this year across America, it's not easy shifting between two lives.  During the day, I play the instructor.  In the afternoon, I search for the Holy Grail.  I am in it deep.  When one thing reveals itself, another comes into question.  I am both certain and lost.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

Gaelyn exposes us to magnificence of the Grand Canyon around the North Rim. I love her stories and I am very grateful for her friendship even though we are far apart.
My paths have led me to some of the most amazing people.  I had been around teenagers for so long that I forgot what it is like to be an adult.  It is true that the young keep me young, but it is also true that there is nothing quite like an adult conversation. 

On this day, I got to put down my camera and have fun with my siblings.  Here we are on a beautiful fall day in Wisconsin.  That is real....not some fake background.  All of us are connected to the great outdoors.  And it all began with our parent's taking us out on camping trips when we were younger. 
These people are some of the most exciting and fun adventurers I know.  I genuinely smile and love listening to their stories for they are my inspiration.  Yes.  I found inspiration again.  Stand on the pier.  Wonder.  Or wonder no more. Just do something about it!

Birders who make me smile....Barb and Melanie=love!

We meet for a beer.  We marvel at a blooming cactus.  We suffer bug bites together.  We stand together and ponder the great and wild dynamics of Mother Nature. 

Intense birders?  Yes.  We four often go rogue or will pair up with others.  These three birders are known as Gordon, Magill and Tommy.  Passion or an addiction?  Hard to tell with this crew:)  Pic courtesy of Tommy D
While people shop in malls and plan birthday parties, we escape into the woods for a little silence and beauty. That's our purchase.  That's our birthday gift. Simple. Not complicated.

Barrel Cactus blooming
Stand in a canyon.  

Nectar feeding bats
Watch day turn into night.  Hummingbirds into Lesser long-nosed bats.   

Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, AZ
Sit in a rocker and watch the world. I am discovering a new emerging friendship with all of these other birders/outdoor lovers.  I wish I could spend more time with them all.  I wish sometimes I were that kid again with all the time in the world.  

Sydney and Annie
This year has been one adventure after another.  So many happy people.  So many wonderful discoveries.

The team from Tucson Audubon...Jennie, Sara, Matt, Tim and Corey
Recently I looked over some of my older work and was shocked by how much I have changed since I began this blog and birding quest several years ago. It has been quite a revelation.  

The Celeste.  We walk up a beautiful trail on Mt. Lemmon looking at all kinds of wonderful things
Without their guidance, I would still be wondering what's on the other side.  But they've given me the tools and knowledge to prepare for the crossing.  It wasn't overnight. 

Janet visits Tucson from New Mexico and helps us keep track of our grassland sparrows!
There is no going back. Just forward. Together we make it possible. Young or old, we are united together by one thing.  Birds. 

Jason educates the crowd and how sparrows track predators from the grasses and avoid becoming lunch
It's not easy growing as a person.  I cannot make crazy changes like I once did.  There are expectations.  There are adult commitments. 

Over the course of this year, I've met up with Jarrod several times around the state. He reminds me to live in the moment and look around. 
When I began this blogger journey about gardening, I had NO idea what it would do to me. I still love plants but it all got me involved with something bigger than photography and friendships and discovery.  This thing called blogging slowly connected me to the web of people around it.  Then I met their friends.  So what's it like being around my "own" again after so many years solo? 

This is a fun crew!  Kathie, Donna and Dawn pose for Birders Who Blog, Tweet and Chirp
A whole lot of fun. It's like being in college again.  Road tripping for no reason other than to explore.  Hiking up to our necks in mud.  And it all feels so....young.  The body may now protest once and awhile but there's nothing quite like the feeling of this new found euphoria. 

Our North Rim trek to the canyon introduces us to the extended birding AZ crew.  Amazing people just living life and helping out our feathered friends
The cause of this euphoria?  The great outdoors.  It's the most natural way to learn. This idea of getting a degree from a university doesn't make much sense to me these days. While I appreciate my college days, I don't think I truly learned the "real" stuff from any of it. And I'm still paying back my loans.  When they are paid in full, there will be a shout heard across the world. I speak Spanish.....not because of college but because I lived in Mexico.  I teach.  Not because of any book or ridiculous theory but because I worked with special needs kids living in group homes.  They taught me classroom management.  They taught me that I enjoy working with people. 

Rich Hoyer gets help from another type of birder.  Together we scour our midtown neighborhood searching for rarities while counting birds for the CBC(Christmas Bird Count)
I spend hours every night reading about birds.  Now I dream of birds in Spanish! I am the cat chasing the winged shadows. Over time, I discovered that my former students would combine their love of Spanish with their medical or business degrees.  As for me? How could I have taught them to use their language skills with something else when I didn't even know how to do it myself?  And so I waited for many years to figure it all out. Today I know.  It's crystal clear. My classroom isn't limited to one room. The cost of this education?  Entrance fees to incredible places around the world. 

Linda(far right with that awesome birdy sweater) whips up some delish Pisco Sours.  I hadn't had one of those in years!!!  
Who are these people?  These mentors?  These teachers? These new friends?  Each an expert in their own area.  Each more than just their jobs.  Each an adventurer willing to take a risk. 

My bud Gordon.  What can I say about him?  I love when we get the opportunity to bird.  Together we explored Ruby Road to test camping equipment.  We love the outdoors and we were trying to figure out ways to make these birding treks more affordable while still finding a way to sleep the full night comfortably.  After testing tents, pads, etc, we discovered air mattresses!!!!  Forget the Hilton!  Camping in our own tents is long as there is an outhouse nearby:)
Old advice rings in my older ears.  It wasn't meant to be forever.  You just made it that way. You have become set in your ways.  Playing it safe.  My mother even said it to me once.  "You're just like your father.  Afraid to take risks."  And she was right. 

Quite often I go alone or with Micheal.  I love those kinds of treks a lot. 
  But there is such a thing called responsibility. Another friend taught me that as well:)

My friend Sydney in Florida this year treks along on these major hikes.  I'd never reveal a ladies age, but she puts me to shame:)  A beautiful smile and a healthy dose of positive is what makes her so special.  I hope she's ready for the Everglades next time as we hope to find a Limpkin, Purple Swamphen and American Flamingos!  Florida was too quick!
How can something like this happen?  Something so incredible. Something so amazing. It's such a big feeling. I often feel the details.  An indentured servant to my old self.  My own fault. Thanks to these birders/trackers/herpers/wildlife lovers, they've reminded me to live again and celebrate this journey.

This pic courtesy of Tommy D.   I like this one of us.  We had such a fun time on this trek. 
For years it was my job to inspire the younger generations.  Today I find myself inspired by them.  And by my most excellent friends.  

And it all started with this lady.  We met via Gaelyn.  Then through blogger.  Then at a place called Agua Caliente.  I thought it was so much fun.  And then I got hooked.  Kathie introduced me to so many people.  And we met more people and our worlds grew bigger. 
Years later, I am back at the pier watching the ferry cross again.  I find myself not wondering what I'll discover on the other side but how I'm going to get there because I missed the first departure!

A special thank you goes out to all the birders this year who have shared in the grand adventure.  As birder friend Linda pointed out last weekend, if we hadn't been birding together, we may have missed the Pectoral Sandpiper.  Instead we pushed each other to wade through all the sandpipers on the lake.  And it's like that.  A birder encourages the other to do better.  Together we can accomplish anything.

This is another great crew!  Photographers, birders, wildlife trackers and people who care about protecting our environment in the US and Mexico! L to R Mary Ann, Linda, Michael, and Kathy
And to Kelly R, Larry, Kathleen R. and Pam B., thank you for some great road treks and visits this year at the various places. Pam and I had a little extra adventure when her tire blew out on the interstate this summer in the hellish Phoenix heat.  Luckily we survived it all!  But why don't we have any pics??!!!

Someone once said, "Life is meant to be experienced. Put yourself out there.  Do things you've never done.  Live a life where at the end, you will have no regrets." I have always lived my life this way, and it would be void of meaning without all the wonderful people in the picture.  Some people cross paths once.  Others, over and over again.  And just like the birds we hope to discover, we also realize our own inherent uniqueness in this great big complex world.   Also a special thank you to my readers who follow, read or comment on Las Aventuras.  You, whether you know it or not, also push me to do better with my writing and photography.  Thank you!  Perhaps one day we'll meet?:)

  There's still so much work to be done:)  To meet others who love birds just as much as we do, check out Wild Bird Wednesday.