Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Mark of Gideon

Orange-crowned Warbler
Captain's log.  Stardate 47634.44.  We have entered an area overpopulated by a humanoid species known as the Californi.  Their population continues to increase at an alarming rate while their planet suffers from an extreme drought.  Almost every square inch of their land has at least one humanoid on it. Our mission?  To aide and assist the feathered species of the planet who "share" this space with these fascinating humanoid characters.


While on this mission, Captain Weber joined me from the USS Hattie.  Under the principles of the Prime Directive, we dressed like the native peoples of this area so that these humanoids would not notice us.  We put on shorts and colorful "beach" shoes.  The Californi wear little to no clothing in a settlement known as San Diego.  We have found the temps to be extremely hot.  Their planet seems to be under some sort of "global warming".

Our mission included several popular "bird" areas known as the Rosecrans National Cemetery, a tidal mudflat near a place called Ocean Beach and the Cabrillo National Monument. 

Rosecrans National Cemetery
At Rosecrans National Cemetery, we surveyed the area.  There were very few people at this burial site because most of them were deceased.  It was a curious sensation to not have people around us. In fact, I personally enjoyed this space the most while we were on this "trek".  It was so quiet and peaceful.  

American Crow
We found a lot of avian life flying around the tombstones.

Black Phoebe
It was cooler at this location and located above the city of San Diego.  Rosecrans National Cemetery is known as a great location to find rare and migrating birds who need to stop for a break during their long journey over the ocean waters.

After we had a nice report from this location, we battled the Cabrillo National Monument.  There were many humanoids of every kind here in this small space.  It was difficult to find anything, but the views were amazing.  I can understand why the Californi would live here.  Unfortunately, the wildlife was not present.

Cabrillo National Monument
It was difficult to navigate around the crowded paths, but we somehow managed avoiding the larger groups of humanoids.

We eventually moved to the mudflats where avian life was reportedly high.  And it was! We were in constant danger as these Californi raced up and down the paths while we tried to count the avian species.  There were several moments that had us at RED ALERT! A transport vehicle almost ran me over while observing a Red Knot.  Others ran in large groups with strange leaders shouting at them. Some of the Californi were angry and complained about how crowded every space was.  We agreed!

A Californian trying out the latest trend
During our mission survey, we discovered a rare anomaly.  Above us, Greater White-fronted Geese flew over our heads.  It was an amazing moment.  This was deemed rare by Admiral Nunn who thought we had made a mistake, but I assured him with my tricorder readings that these were indeed the GWFG.  These kinds of moments are the reasons I became a Captain in Starfleet. The exploration, the unknown......

A rare sighting of 26 Greater White-fronted Geese
And while there were many humanoids in the area, we had our highest count of birds at this tidal mudflat.

San Diego River-tidal mudlflats near Robb Field
Our mission was a success.  We now prepare for a mission that will take us deep into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

Until next time.  Live long and prosper friends.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Keeping Hope Alive

A covey of Gambel's Quail
A week went by and I sat behind my desk.  I did my lectures, graded papers and kept thinking about the White-eyed Vireo. It's what any normal middle aged person does, right?:) And then there was THAT report. Trapped behind a desk, I kept muttering the words "purple" over and over. So what could be worse than dipping on a vireo? How about reading a report stating that there was also a Purple Gallinule hiding in the reeds around the same area of the vireo??!!!  This was indeed a RARE bird alert!  But would it stick around the entire week?

After school was out, I went to several places in Tucson and just let my mind unwind.  I'm not sure if it's the stress or the heat, but these days, this birder struggles to maintain his sanity.  Our neighbor was placed into a jail where he should be left for a long time. But we know he'll be back. I've never seen so many people show up at one of these HOA functions! After it was all done, our community developed an action plan against this dangerous man. It has been both mentally and physically exhausting for all the residents here.  But I will not let this all interfere with my passion for the outdoors.  And during a moment of quiet solitude at Sweetwater, a covey of 20 Gambel's Quail surrounded me. 

They scurried around me feeding underneath the mesquite trees. We all spent a moment together in harmony. At one point, I just put the camera down and took it all in.

Granite Basin Lake
Come to find out, I wasn't the only one with the vireo flying around inside my head. Apparently Magill was in the same mind frame.  We are cheeseheads and very stubborn.  So we went back to the Granite Basin Lake in Prescott for both the White-eyed Vireo and Purple Gallinule.  This time, we would not dip. And for the records, there is only one version of "dip" that is good and it involves food. 

A VERY Green Heron
 I moseyed my way up to Phoenix stopping in Chandler to find an American Bittern.  But I ended up watching all the other birds instead!  There were so many flying around the riparian areas of this park.  The Yellow-headed Blackbirds are back and I ended up observing them instead of chasing a rare bird. 

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
There were Black-tailed Jackrabbits everywhere along the path and it was so much fun to observe them hopping...or leaping...around the various cacti. 

Chipping Sparrow
 Afterwards, I met up with Magill and we headed back to Prescott.  This time we discovered that it wasn't a hike that was needed but a bit of strategy and patience.  Actually, a LOT of patience.  People were active around the entire lake with their splashing dogs and crying children. We simply sat on a picnic table overlooking the entire lake with a scope and waited.  Another birder joined in the search and together we had every angle covered.

The secret to finding a rare Purple Gallinule is part luck and part understanding of its habitat requirements(lily pads near reeds).  It sounds simple enough but the bird is also known to be secretive. And rare for Arizona. Oh and purple. During the previous weekend, Magill and Gordon had joked about finding a Purple Gallinule in the area because the lake had all the right requirements. They both had a nerdy birder's laugh that sounded a little like a Sora calling:)  Little did we know.  Anyhow, back to that moment, Jeanine McCabe gave us the bat signal that the bird was visible.  We grabbed our equipment and headed to the area observing this secretive bird using the reeds like a staircase. We were able to watch this bird for a few minutes before a screaming child entered the picture.  Of course.  Another kid showed up and wanted to demonstrate to us how he could throw rocks in the water.  He instead got an education about how it's best to be quiet so you can find purple birds. His Dad didn't seem to mind:)

Purple Gallinule
 While we waited for the Purple Gallinule to show up, we heard the White-eyed Vireo call from across the lake a couple times. I had seen the bird before and am familiar with the call. Instead of chasing the bird for a pic, we just made note of it on our report. I have a pic below of the bird from a trek last year to Corkscrew Swamp in Florida. 

White-eyed Vireo
While they weren't lifers, they were important birds for us to add to our Arizona list.  Sometimes it pays to be stubborn:)  I can now begin my work week with a clear mind. One last story....

I met my first Purple Gallinule back in 2011 in the beautiful town of Gamboa.  I was having a nice drink with my friend on the Changuinola River during a beautiful monsoon storm.  I wasn't a birder at this time in my life but I couldn't help but notice a "purple duck" walking towards us.  It tripped me out.  Was this bird real?  Did I have too much to drink?  My friend, however, said the words, "Purple Gallinule".  While the Lance-tailed Manakin "sparked" my interest into this epic birding adventure,  it was this "purple duck" that helped tip the scale from amateur photographer to amateur birder.  Every life bird has a story.  And every time I see one of those birds from my life list, I remember that first moment observing them.  Here is a video from that special moment. At 1:50, the Purple Gallinule makes an appearance. 

Until next time friends....

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Goose Chase

The antics of the Rosy-faced Lovebirds at Granada Park
So Magill texts me and the Gordon asking, "Hey are you both up for a White-eyed Vireo search?"  We say, "Yes." Will we find a White-eyed Vireo?  Who knows?  Prescott is an area full of secrets.  Rumor has it that there is a cult bird leader who keeps everything secret from the outside world. There's a special hotline for a special few in his group.  That's fine.  We're birders and we'll find them on our own. I love a good challenge. And it's fun to bird with Magill and Gordon.  Together we all find something rare no matter what. 

So Gordon says to me, "Hey do you want to check out Granada Park before we head up?"  I say, "Yeah.  Sounds like fun."  So I drive up to Phoenix from Tucson.  And I remember quickly that there is a person shooting at cars along the interstate. 

"Oh geez." I say to myself. "What is wrong with this world? Why are there so many stupid morons out there?"  I think about my odds as I drive the sparsely populated interstate during the early morning hours alone.  I safely reach Gordon's place and we take off quickly to survey Granada Park.  Holy cow!  There are lots and lots of Rock Pigeons and Rosy-faced Lovebirds flying around!

I swear these little cuties are taking over the Phoenix Metro area.  We get to Magill's place and see more Lovebirds flying over our heads!  

Then, I get excited spotting a Canada Goose.  There are not many of these birds down in Tucson, but in Phoenix, there are quite a few.  Why?  Phoenix people love their water.  And they have lots and lots of watering holes around the metro area creating perfect Canada goose habitat. 

Canada Geese are cool.  We don't see them often in Tucson
We get on the interstate and once again escape the shooter.  Now we're heading to Prescott.  But I have Catholic guilt.  I'm not Catholic anymore, but the brainwashing still works on me:)  Why?  Well, my bud Cynthia lives up in Prescott.  I was planning on going up there two weekends ago to hang out with her and Mr. Roger.  We were going to do some light birding and have some fun around town BUT a certain someone, ME, flaked!  I am not going to lie.  I have been exhausted lately.  It's the weather and the darned humidity.  And it probably has something to do with a wedding, a crazy neighbor, and work:) Plus I still need Sundays to get the laundry done!  

An early arriving Ring-necked Duck
Anyhow, we weren't going to be in Prescott for long, but I still felt guilty.  So Cynthia, I am going to apologize now to you..... I AM SO SORRY!  

This bee demonstrates pollination at work
We get to Granite Lake Basin and start looking for the White-eyed Vireo.  It starts off hotter than blazes.  But we hear lots of birds around a drainage ditch where this bird is supposedly hanging out. So we check out all the migrating warblers.  While doing so, we end up getting excited about the bugs flying around the area.  

Take for example this hummingbird imposter, the White-lined Sphinx Moth.  This is for my friend Ragged Robin who loves moths.  These bugs are often confused with hummingbirds because of the way they fly and look.  Fascinating critters!

White-lined Sphinx Moth
This is the caterpillar form(below) for that moth above.  I was watching a Robber Fly get close to this caterpillar.  When it "touched" the caterpillar, the caterpillar swung down and knocked it off the branch.   Magill says, "Um, hey can you guys help me over here?:)"  Oh that's right, we're birders. 

A Robber Fly gets smacked off the leaf by a Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillar
So we start moving towards the area where birds are chirping and we find this Metalmark below.  Cool!  

Mormon Metalmark
We spot Wilson's and Townsend's Warblers.....and then a rare Chestnut-sided Warbler(below). I told you we'd spot something rare and not on the list:)  Magill commands me to take pics of the bird to post on the listserv:)  I lock on and get an ID-able photo.  It's cool but not as cool as a White-eyed Vireo.  Where is that bird??!!!  We inspect every plant around the area and just keep turning up Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping and Rufous-crowned Sparrows and of course, more of the expected warblers. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Eventually, we give up and go for lunch.  By this time, the area has cooled down with thunder boomers growing above our heads.  We decide to head to Willow and Watson Lakes.  The shorebird activity is wonderful and we count the birds.  We notice another early bird for this area, the Greater White-fronted Goose making our day really....a goose chase:) 

An early arriving Greater White-fronted Goose sans the white front
As for the shooter?  Well it appears they've caught several of them.  But there are still a couple other incidents that need some explaining. Why do people do this kind of stuff?  It's bad having one person do it, but to have "copycats" just makes it worse.  Ahhh humanity. Anyhow, I'll stick to nature. It's a lot safer:)  Until next time.....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When The Heart Calls

The road into Portal.  The "V" of the mountain is where we are going.
Over the next several weeks, there will be many magical moments to share from the road.  For now, I am enjoying Arizona and celebrating its last monsoon hurrah!

The temps begin to fade.  And hummingbirds and warblers make their last push back into their wintering grounds.  While I hate to see them go, I am thankful for the much cooler temps that will follow in their wake. 

Horse Lubber
How does one properly say good-bye to these incredibly beautiful birds?  

Mexican Sulphur on Salvia
After this labor day weekend of exploration, a sleeping dragon awoke.  The birding energy begins to grow again. It's September. The year begins to wane.  And the cooler temps will be arriving soon.

At Willow Tank, AZ
I really love all my birding buds.  They are the best.  We motivate each other to do better and keep going.  Had it just been myself at this place, I would have sat down in the middle of the forest in my tent up at Rustler Park and considered hiking:) The park itself is a great place to watch birds.  No need to hike far. But with the buds, we pushed each other to keep it moving.  

Mexican Fox Squirrel
It's easy to get lost in the moment and so before we all knew it, it was time for us to go back home. But what a show!

Green Stink Bug
It had been over two years since my last visit to Portal which has been waaaaaay too long.  I don't know a person who does not love this place. There are two reactions from people when the word "Portal" is mentioned. "Where?" and "I love that place."  That's how remote this little town is. It should be a top 10 must see in the US.  The Chiricahua Mountain range is a sky island that is home to several unique species of reptiles, insects, birds and mammals in the US. No where else in the US can you find these critters. 

I would also mention that the wildlife here outnumbers the human populations.  The residents of Portal love the isolation from the rest of the world.  There is barely any WIFI in the tiny town.  In fact, in most of the places there isn't any connection at all!

Red-tailed Hawk takes flight from the canyon wall
It is easily one of my favorite places in Arizona.  There are comfy lodges and one restaurant:)  Bring a cooler full of goodies just in case:) Also make sure you have enough gas in your car because the nearest station is 19 miles away:)  If you love nature, you'll love Portal.  Until next time friends.....

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Blue-throated Hummingbird feeding from Salvia
A couple weeks ago, we made a trek into Portal for several days. I needed a break from my home life.  We have a mentally ill man who lives across from us and has been harassing all the residents at El Presidio. We had to file a "no contact" order with the judge.  On Thursday, he attacked my partner and was served his papers.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  Any more incidents from him and he'll be in jail permanently.  So we'll be watching:)

In Paradise, AZ at the George Walker House
So enough on the bad stuff. We headed to Portal, Arizona.  It has got to be one of THE BEST places to visit in Arizona.  It's off the beaten track but it's so worth the time and effort.  In fact, I have to admit that it's on my top ten favorite places to bird in Arizona.  The city of Portal is nestled within the wild and pristine mountains of the Chiricahua Mountains. 

Birders come here to search for Mexican rarities and of course, Mexican Chickadees. But you'll find lots of other things to keep your eyes and legs busy. 

Portal is unpredictable.  Rain, during the monsoon season, can flood campgrounds and roads quickly.  Several times this season, bridges and roads were closed off due to flooding.  The wildlife is outstanding.  There are snakes, bears, and lots of skunks!  This is one place where you'll need to be mindful of your surroundings.  

Remember, in Cave Creek canyon it's off limits to play audio devices.  Guest starring: Donna
And we had a blast.  We went with friends Magill and Muriel and discovered several other friends camping along the trails.  My buddy Donna from New Mexico was hanging out with her son picking up snakes and just getting some of that much needed fresh air. 

Forest fires get mixed reactions.  I think they are great!  At Rustler Park, there was a devastating burn several years ago, but today, new pine trees are growing and the wildflower show is OUTSTANDING.  Fire is natural and okay.  As long as they are not caused by idiot people.
For the birders who are reading this post.  September is a great time to visit Portal because warblers and hummingbirds are migrating in great numbers.  One of the few times we have Calliope Hummingbirds come through Southern Arizona is during the month of September.  During our visit, Calliopes were EVERYWHERE!  It's also the most reliable place for Blue-throated Hummingbirds. 

Calliope Hummingbirds are rare for Southern Arizona except during their fall migration
Now my buds Muriel and Magill were crazy.  This was a true birding trip.  They were mad birders trying to see how many birds they could find over the three day weekend.  We found 151 bird species in Cave Creek Canyon, Rustler and Barfoot Parks, the Southwestern Research Station, the George Walker House and the Canyon Creek Lodge.  I think I added 5 new bird species to my year list!   

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
On our way to and from from Portal, we stopped at Wilcox Lake to find some rarities. We had two Black-bellied Plovers wandering a part of the "lake" which was nice to observe.   

Long-billed Curlews
But I gotta say, I'm loving the road treks.  I think this time of year I become part landscape photographer and part bird detective.  The heat is beginning to let up a little and while birders here are very exhausted from the intensity of temps, they are starting to feel a tad better.  I write this because a lot of people have been talking about their drained energy levels.  I am not exempt from those discussions but thanks to my journal entries over the past several years, I know it's the heat that kills our spirit and energy.  Soon full birder power will be restored my friends. September is definitely not a month to sleep when it comes to the bird world.  Migration is at full strength and rarities are popping up left and right. 

Swainson's Hawk feeding at San Simon
Finally for today, I'd like to share this collage of chickadees.  There are several more in North America but here are the 3 that can be seen in Arizona.  Let me be specific.  The most common Chickadee for Arizona is the Mountain species(center).  The Mexican Chickadee(bottom) is only found in the Chiricahua mountains of Southern Arizona.  Popular places to find the birds are at Rustler and Barfoot Parks.  The Black-capped Chickadee is probably the most difficult one to find.  Why?  Well, let me tell you.  This is a fun challenge for down the road.  These birds come into Northern Arizona during the winter months BUT they are found in some very remote places. And birders love challenges!  Have you heard of Colorado City?  If you haven't, it's a city of the infamous polygamous Mormons who don't like outsiders.  There has been some talk between Arizona listers about going to visit this area in a larger group to find these birds together. Last year during a survey mission on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I "met" several of these people in caravans driving the trails.  They waved and were polite people wearing clothing from the 80's.  Their hairdos were from the 70's.  And I was intrigued.  I always love exploring and understanding a new culture of humanity not touched by the Western Wal-mart and Starbucks world.  In any case, a plan is forming for a very exciting trek into the unknown. The Black-capped Chickadee is a common bird for most people in the US. But here in Arizona, it's a rare gem.  Now that sounds like an adventure!

Until next time friends.....