Saturday, February 27, 2016

Stretched Thin

Sweetwater at sunset
Browns and golds.  It seems to be this year's theme. Some of the most difficult birds have been very accommodating lately.  Sometimes I'm alone.  But lately it seems, I'm meeting lots of new faces.

Regal Horned Lizard
A couple friends came from out of town last week to search for some rather rare and secretive birds.  One was an ABA lister and she needed two birds for her list. So I started out by scouting for the wintering Rufous-backed Robin.  This is a bird that is not impossible to see, but it is a bird that is normally quite secretive. After a couple hours, I was able to locate the bird near a mountain stream at Catalina State Park.  I snapped photos for my friend Gordon who was hosting these two ladies for the weekend.  He manages the Phoenix sector and I am the Tucson sector.  Together, we created a route that would make sense and flow accordingly around their travel time while making sure they found their two target birds. 

As the snow melts from Mt. Lemmon, mountain streams form and run through Catalina State Park
And so they came down from Phoenix and went searching for the Rufous-backed Robin first. I sent Gordon landmark pics so that they all knew where to look. As for me?  Well I was stuck at work:( The issue with finding this bird came from lots of talkative hikers and their furry friends. After an hour of searching, the crew was able to get wonderful views of the bird.  Mission accomplished.

Rufous-backed Robin
During this same week out(and side note), I also decided to stop by the Butterfly Magic display at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  When I asked a volunteer if my tropical butterfly mentor was around, he began to squirm.

"Sir, I'm sorry to inform you, but Dr. Elizabeth Willott passed away last year." WHAT??!!!  I have been so involved with birds, I forgot to stop and remember where it all began. How can a year fly by?  And how did I not hear about this?!!!

As many of you know, I began this blog about gardening 6 years ago today. I would work with Elizabeth often at her newly created Butterfly Magic display.  She had a messy office which is where I believed she slept at night:) I enjoyed working with her and we had a lot of fun inside the greenhouse, the office or the chrysalis chamber.  Today her legacy continues at the Botanical Gardens.  Elizabeth, you will be missed.  Thank you for teaching me the ways of tropical butterflies and about the plants they require to survive. I'd also like to dedicate this post to Tina Forrester(aka East EG Gwillimbury Camera Girl), who along with her husband, were tragically killed in a car accident this last week. She was both artist and birder. My heart goes out to their family and friends. Lately, I have been overwhelmed with good-byes. 

On Mt. Lemmon switching from stressed out teacher to stressed out birder:)
When I first began blogging, I was all alone. Six years later, I have met so many wonderful people who have become real or virtual friends. The only difference now?  I use plants as a way to find "my" birds:)  So back to our story. But we had to find a VERY tricky bird....the Sinaloa Wren. This is a bird I've seen often in Mexico and in the US but never have I been able to get great looks at this fast moving little bugger. They act like little mice in the leaf cover and are tricky to observe in the wild. One time I sang to one and it came to me but only in the shadows where it thrives. 

Look carefully.  She's nesting in a dangerous location. 
We checked into the military base(Ft. Huachuca) and were issued our ID cards.  This allowed us access into the wilderness areas of the fort. When we arrived, we headed to the location where we had previously observed this bird last year. 

The secretive Sinaloa Wren
Softly, we pished. And silently, the wren popped out from the shadows.  Gordon saw the little head pop up from an area and whispered, "Is that the wren?"  Inside both of our heads, we screamed, YES!  Silently, Gordon went back to get the ladies and quietly, I sat down on the bank waiting for the bird to make a return.  

Sinaloa Wren-the money shot.  I will no longer need any photos of this bird:)
With a soft pish, I had the bird back out feeding among the leaves. As the cameras rattled away, the bird became fascinated by us and the sounds our equipment made.

Our wonderful crew, Gordon, Peggy and Jennifer
In short, our guests, Jennifer and Peggy, got wonderful views of these naturally secretive birds. And I'd like to thank them for chasing these birds.  Normally, I wouldn't have gone after this wren had they not come to visit. So it was fun playing detective again for others. The best way I can describe the Sinaloa Wren experience is by using the word "intimate".  I was sitting only a few feet from the bird watching it hop around the leaves and feed.  Meanwhile, a VERY quiet crowd formed behind us and also enjoyed the wonderful views of the bird. It was one of the best birder moments I've ever experienced. 

A rare Baltimore Oriole swings in for a visit
Then the next day came. I was exhausted and didn't want to drive great distances. So I went alone to Sweetwater and attempted to relocate the rare Baltimore Oriole.  This year has been something very special so far.  Not only are hard to find birds appearing before my very eyes; but they are allowing me to have great looks! Whether this is the gained experience that everyone talks about from years of birding or just plain dumb luck, I don't know, but it has been a phenomenal start to the year.  Streak-backed Oriole, Sinaloa Wren, Rusty Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, Brown Thrasher, American Bittern, Five-striped Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, Yellow-billed Loon, etc etc. I just shake my head and think, "Wow! What a start to the year!"

I have been exhausted.  I DID become sick thanks to a disease spread by the Snowbird people. And I DID discover that I am mortal. One night I wasted away in my bed wanting nothing more than to sleep. This constant "GO" mode is draining.  And it is very exciting.  I continue to do fieldwork with Audubon and several other organizations while still helping out visiting birders. I don't know when this transition happened, but it just did.  The camera has taken a back seat for the most part as I have seen most of these birds many times.  And the lifers that I do see now are some of the trickiest to capture on camera!

Marsh Wren hopping around

I clean my garden and fill my feeders.  Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches and Sparrows visit,  reminding me of the simpler times before it all became so much more.  While this "hobby" is demanding, I am so fascinated by discovery and exploration that it's hard to stop and waste a moment watching TV or just doing "nothing". Courses are always being plotted.  Travel is always in the works.  And birding has become a way of life. 

Mediterranean Gecko-I have many living under the rocks in my garden!
Check out the birds seen this month.  I am no longer posting individual pics of them on this blog anymore as I have shared enough photos of them from the past.  If they are doing something crazy and I capture it on camera, I'll post them. 

While much of my work these past two months has been about helping others, it's time to work a little harder on that life list.  During the month of March, I hope to present several new birds from our treks.  Until our next encounter.....

In the video, you can hear the human f(W)REN-zy happening in the background.  


  1. How lovely to help others find their birds. Your photos are just exquisite and don't show your stress at all :)

  2. Great post, Chris! I love the robing, wrens and the oriole. The lizard is cool too. So sorry about the loss of your friend. Happy birding, enjoy your weekend!

  3. Hello Chris!:) A delightful post as always, but I'm sorry to learn about your friends demise. Loved your mosaic, and lizard captures, and am happy for you that you got to see the Sinaloa Wren.:) Keep well, and take care.:)

  4. Another beautiful photo to start this post. I am sorry you have lost a friend.

  5. So sorry to hear about your friend and mentor. I remember way back when you were concerned about an owl at your school. Now you are a bird authority! You are so lucky to have found your passion. And adding mentoring to your resume is a natural. So happy I "met" you. But do try to take care of yourself...sometimes you sound stressed and stress is not good for the body....try birdwatching :-)

  6. Great photos and a lovely post Chris. It looks as though you have got your birding year off to a great start and its wonderful how your growing knowledge is helping others to see birds. So sorry to hear about your friend passing away - so sad.

  7. Great photos and story.
    I am sorry you have lost your friend.

  8. Nice post - it always pay to remember then pole who helped us on our way.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  9. Take care of you!!! You're really having amazing adventures. Sorry for the losses along the way. What great people you come across.

  10. I love that oriole, we have orioles too and they roost in my tall tree near the house. It also looks like that, but when i got a nice shot 3 yrs ago, i don't stay there anymore to capture a good better photo. I guess i appreciate birds, yes, but i am not a birder, hehe.

  11. You have to look after yourself Chris, sometimes I think you're going to exhaust yourself. So sorry to hear about your mentor passing away and of course it was very tragic what happened to Tina and her husband. Life certainly can be very harsh at times.

  12. Sorry to hear of the passing of your butterfly mentor, Chris and also of Tina and her husband's tragic accident.

    Please take good care of yourself and don't let your ambition overrule your safety and health.

    Best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  13. LOVE the oriole, the rufous-backed robin and the little wren! The video was awesome! Such wonderful finds. And, what a sad thing to lose your friend at the butterfly house. I was sorry to hear that. We are all missing Tina. So sad for she and her husband to be killed in such a tragic way. It was awful news for all her blogger friends, but I know her family and friends are feeling a horrible loss right now, and my heart goes out to them.

    1. I mean, we read each other's blogs every week and then she's gone. We really feel that empty hole when someone disappears. My thoughts are with her family and friends. I will miss her.

  14. Thank you Chris for l post...words and pictures. The tributes to those who cross our paths and mean so much to us real life and virtually .. are beautifully said. I enjoyed reading the backstory of your blog.. the gardening beginnings of it, since I am a newer reader.
    And I envy those people who have you as a birding guide!

    1. Thank you Sallie. If you ever come to Tucson, let me know! We'll go find some birds.

  15. awww... sorry to her about your friends Chris... and, I used to see EG Girl posting comments here and there so know the name... how sad.

    Glad you got some wonderful birds already this year ... I always love seeing your birds and reading your postings... and, thanks for stopping by my blog too....

    hugs, V>


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