Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Who Are You?

My nephew stares at me for the first time wondering who I am.  He's such a cutie!  I'm not a baby person but this kid is awesome!
The cool breezes of the Lake Michigan shoreline called me back home this year.  And this time, I was able to share the birding fun with my friend Gordon.  Five months of planning went into this epic journey through the great state of Wisconsin. As I return, I find myself reflecting on so many different things.  

Bonaparte's Gull
So much has changed.  I've changed. My family has changed. Old friends are gone. Long time families have moved, disappeared or aged. The town has changed. My school is gone.  My work places have vanished as the factories have mostly all closed up.  It's a weird feeling to be a stranger in a world that I once knew well growing up. My mentors are much older.  So am I. As I travel the roads, I flash back to old hangouts.  I try to connect the spaces, but it's challenging.  

Chimney Swift
I walk the old trails and sometimes forget where the creek meets the lake. We work together and try to decipher the bird choir's music that surrounds us high up in the canopy of the trees. It's hard!  Slowly, we piece all the notes together one symbol at a time letting the birds guide us with their repeated songs. That too is different. I see Wisconsin through Gordon's eyes. And it's fun.  

 I find myself interested in checking out habitat and just exploring old hangouts for birds. I sometimes forget about the life birds. Gordon is on a mission to find lifers.  And so am I. This helps keep us focused as a team. 

We searched for new birds.  And we snapped photos of birds we didn't have pictures of.  And on and on it went......

The Woodland Dunes
Even Yellow Warblers held our attention.  They are common in Arizona during our summer months.  But still.  To see one in Wisconsin was awesome. 

Yellow Warbler
We heard well known birds making different calls. A bird sings differently in the summer than it does during the winter months. So it was a wonderful challenge rediscovering known species of bird that winter in Arizona. 

Difficult birds to photograph in Arizona were easily photographed in Wisconsin.  

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bug spray. Long sleeves. Maybe a tick or two. Gordon discovers quickly that I hate bugs with a passion:) 

We stop for photos and I get attacked by Horse Flies, Deer Flies, and Sand Flies.  And of course, the mosquitoes.  If that wasn't enough, a tick climbs my leg!  Paranoia sets in....Zika Virus, Lyme's Disease, and the Bird Flu enter my mind:) It sucks having Type A- blood:) Studies have found that the mosquitoes prefer type O blood, followed by type A and then B.  

American Redstart
Warblers plop around the trees and I try to hold my lens still.   While I attempt to get their picture, I feel my blood being drained from my body. I just remember that it could be worse.  I could be in Florida:)  Chigger bites are NO joke!

The magical greens of a dark forest hinder the photography at times.  I remember exploring most of it as a child.  But somewhere along the way we get lost.  And that's okay. I am so spacey sometimes:) Instead of paying attention to the directions, I'm following the bird song. That's how I get lost.  Gordon and Kathie can attest to that part:)

Eastern Wood-Pewee
We are exhausted.  Sleep.  I needed sleep.  Gordon keeps me on my toes.  Even though I'm home, he reminds me that if we snooze, we lose.  And when I write "lose", I mean losing precious time!  

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Here a spot.  There a spot.  Each day, adding new birds. 

Fledgling White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-eyed Vireo?  Or Yellow-throated Vireo? Or a different Vireo?  The calls were challenging as were the birds since they loved the shady canopy of the forest. Plus, they are not common birds for us and it took some time to remember their calls. Yet somehow, we managed to find them!

Red-eyed Vireo
We spent the time.  We researched the data and the habitat.  The trip to Wisconsin was a success.  More posts will be coming up from our travels.  

Female American Redstart
It was nice to be home with my family. It was great having Gordon along to bird.  During my time in Wisconsin, I thought often about the direction of my life. And I remember why I left so many years ago. I have a lot of admiration for the people who live there. It hasn't been easy for many of them with all the factory work moving to other countries or states. The recession is still alive in parts of the US. And unfortunately, my town is still recovering. Change is slow because tradition and memory are cherished in these parts.  That's why I call it my Shire. It is unique from the rest of the US where family names and local businesses still matter. My brother Adam put it best during a campfire while talking about the state of the local job market. "Dad, I don't want to move anywhere.  I like living here." He's right. It's a beautiful place to call home.

As the ancient ones pass on, old great homes become vacant.  Some are purchased by people wanting summer homes. Many homes are now owned by out-of-state residents. Adam's neighbors are from California and Missouri.  My parents have neighbors from Washington DC.  Poverty and drugs have infiltrated the community from large cities like Milwaukee and Chicago. Police now fight a hopeless battle against a developing "drug corridor". Giant corporation farms are trying to take over private farm lands.  And many of these private farmers are barely making it. All of this has challenged the small town existence of today's America.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Like a baby bird leaving the nest for the first time, I was frightened(and excited!) by the great big world out there.  All I had to do was jump from my "nest" and make that leap of faith.  I wouldn't have gotten to where I am today without the love and support of my family. And my community. I wish I could pass on the joy I feel to those who suffer from the "dark cloud" syndrome. But I can't. For many, alcoholism and drugs have become their escape. I had to learn how to leave that negativity campaign years ago.  And I still have my days....especially with my profession. It's never easy, but I do know this.  It's better to wake up looking forward to life than just existing.  

For 5 years now, I have found the faith known as "birding".  It is something that I find most sacred.  The members of this group are some of the best people I have ever met.  Their wanderlust, intelligence and curiosity have fed my own desires to know more.  No negativity.  Just a passion for our planet and the life force that surrounds us.  It took me awhile to find them.  But I am so glad that I have.  There is so much to live for.  There is so much to fight for.  And there is so much to discover.  On my 5th anniversary as a birder, it has become my life journey.  Until next time.......

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Birding Wisconsin

Cedar Waxwing at the Gill Farm
 The Wisconsin adventures are about to begin.  I'm still on the road and will be getting back to you all during the month of July so I apologize for my absence. It has been a fun trek into the Eastern part of the US looking for rarities and other beautiful things. 

My niece is growing up SO FAST!
I'm spending much needed time with the family.....

A mother Eastern Phoebe guards her nest
 ......and their birds.  Sometimes I tune out and revert back to my old self.  Just for a moment. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at a nest in Peninsula State Park
 We explore nature preserves, campgrounds and meet wonderful new people on the road. 

Searching for Barn Swallow nests in an old cattle barn at the Gill Farm
I eat Mom's homemade cooking.  There are dumplings and kraut, brats, sausage sticks and CHEESE!  Yum!!!  We grill out.  We gossip. 

And while doing so, my lifer American Woodcock stops to visit while I am without my camera.  I do have a Malibu and Rum in my hands though.  It figures that a secretive bird would stop by and visit when I am not prepared!  My family all watched the bird land and then take off.  The moral of the story.  Never leave your camera in the car:)

My brother gets the fire going.  I make the same expression when the American Woodcock stops by to PEEK on us. No photo.  Next time.
Other birds stop by and calmly pose for photos.  Heck!  Some of them even nest on the porch!

Babies take selfies.

The family gets together for Father's Day
And Downy Woodpeckers come for a sip at the feeders. 

My brother Jared exposes me to a new toy....the drone.  It's easy to operate, but the filming part is tricky.  I safely navigate the drone away from people and birds, but my brother has other ideas:)  

And while all this commotion is going on, I sneak in the time to chase rare birds in Wisconsin. There are rainy days which I treasure because the cool temps allow me to sleep in and enjoy my vacation. 

The Little Gull
 Every part of the world has its challenging birds. Here in Wisconsin, gulls are the challenge as are the many flycatchers.  I like gulls so I don't mind sitting through the thousands of them looking for one or two rarities. 

Red Admiral
So on this overcast and cool morning, I scoured the Sheboygan shoreline and found 3 Little Gulls mixed in with the hundreds of similar looking Bonaparte's Gulls. 

The header to this blog contains a Bonaparte's Gull so you can imagine how much I loved observing all of these birds.  They are one of my favorite gulls that I don't get to see often because I'm in Arizona:) It was a treat!  After a half hour, I located one Little Gull on a shoddy pier.  

Bonaparte's Gulls and a Little Gull.  Can you find the bird?
 Other gulls joined the fun as the Little Gull wobbled around the "Big Leagues".  I think Ring-billed Gulls are small but when they stand next to the Little Gull, they are GIANTS!

A Ring-billed Gull is a giant to the much smaller Little Gull
At the end of my count, I found 3 of them mixed into the crowd.  They have a shorter bill, are a quarter size smaller than the similar looking Bonaparte's Gulls, and have darker legs.  The cap on the head was also slightly different as were the primary tail feathers.  But to the naked eye, they look the same.  I found these birds because there wasn't anyone around me during the early morning hours.  The birds made their weird sounding short squawks at one another. Once I located the "different" calls, I was able to have a debate inside my head.  Why aren't these Bonaparte's Gulls?  I know. I know. I need to see a counselor:)  But hey, it's better than getting into a political debate with my father!  So let's turn off the news, internalize a little more, and enjoy nature!  Birds make for a much healthier debate:)

Door County with the family.  My niece catches me falling asleep on the ferry to Washington Island
At the end, I was confident about my ID. Native to Northern Europe and Asia, these Little Gulls have a known smaller population around the Great Lakes area and East Coast.

The people started arriving and asking me about the Pelicans.  Instead I spoke with them about the rarer gulls.  I helped other birders get on the birds and it was a satisfying bird challenge. But the people were still jabbering on about the PELICANS!  So I'll jabber about them as well in a future post:) Their presence is significant. Today it's raining in Wisconsin and I love it.  The temps are a cool 58 degrees and I have the house to myself!!  I sip my coffee with my gentle music playing in the background.  The doors are open and a breeze is moving through the house.  Tonight, we try out Bloody Mary's at a local restaurant.  Yeah, birding and family is a lot of fun.  Over the next several weeks, my friend Gordon and I will take you on some epic adventures that truly challenged us in the state of Wisconsin.   

I'd also like to make a shout out and thank Nancy and Earl Gill for their wonderful hospitality. Several of the photos featured in today's post are from their property. Nancy gave me a tour of their beautiful farm and a delicious jar of canned pickles!  I like pickles but these pickles are amazing.  Needless to say, I'm rationing the jar:)  SO GOOD!  There are so many shades to birding.  I love Wisconsin.  I love the relaxed pace.  Arizona birding is wonderful but it's stressful when you're with so many professional birders! They've made me a better birder, but sometimes the birding can be demanding there. Here, it seems less stressful with a lot more laughing.  And when I'm with my Shire, I feel at home.  Until next time........

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Always Chasing Rainbows

The hikes have been grueling lately.  With desert heat and rarities popping up left and right, it has made the birding a true challenge.  Which bird should I chase first?  Many of the birds are in difficult or remote locations!

Violet-green Swallow
For all the "hits" I get on my target birds, there are also the misses.  Aztec Thrush, Berryline Hummingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Slate-throated Redstart. All misses because of time.  Only one would be a lifebird.  And when I dip on a bird like I did with the Aztec Thrush, it burns bad. Timing.  It all comes down to the timing. When you don't have the time, you appreciate every minute you have more.  My life is one long schedule.  It's pretty awesome, but like everyone else reading this blog, we have lives outside our hobby that require us to be present:)  It will just make the story sweeter when I do finally see these birds in Arizona:)

Black-throated Gray Warbler
I'll hike miles to find a new bird.  But with time constraints, it makes waiting around for a bird difficult.  Had I only waited 10 minutes, I would have seen the bird!!!  BUT NO.  We had to head back down the mountain to get home.  It's a terrible feeling.  I got into my car and couldn't talk for awhile.  I got a text from a friend who told me that the bird popped out as we were heading back down the trail. 

Gordon spots an Hepatic Tanager.  In the distance, a wildfire burns near Young, Arizona.
Time was ticking and my window for the Aztec Thrush closed. No more Southern Arizona birding for awhile.  On our last days in Arizona, I birded with Gordon(above) once more on Mt. Ord.  

The heat was an astounding 117 degrees in the desert!!  I use this reliable kitty weather forecast for help. So we had to climb the mountains for some reprieve.  But not by much. It still was pretty hot up there!

It's amazing how birds can even survive these extreme temps!

Hutton's Vireo
Like good Arizona birders, we pack lots of water. Some it is frozen while the rest is chilled.  The body MUST stay cool in the extreme heat!  We also went early and left the house by 5 AM. Although, you can get up at 4 AM to start!!!  But that's way TOO early! Or is it?

Hepatic Tanager
We track water sources.  Cattle tanks.  Mountain streams, etc etc to find birds. During the Arizona summer, birds will feed before the sun rises(the 4:30 AM time period), hang out in the shade during the sunny and hot times of the day and stay near any water sources that may be around the area. Visiting birders need to take care and do the same!

We find plenty of wildlife resting in the shaded areas.  We also take advantage of these areas along the road staying out of the intense sun.  As we do, we spot several deer casually crossing the road ahead of us. 

It is also completely acceptable to sit at public bird feeders and search for rarities:)  Especially after the 10 AM time period.  

Lucifer Hummingbird
Sometimes I will chase ONE bird for 30 minutes in the sun. I am confident about where these birds are hanging out. Otherwise, I wouldn't go and get them. So I get my pic and run back to my air conditioned car:) Take for example the Tropical Kingbird below. It is currently nesting in its' typical spot at the Sweetwater Wetlands. Easy.

Tropical Kingbird
There are even easier ones to snag. Park and bird! There is nothing wrong with birding from your car. This American White Pelican decided to hang out at Lakeside Park for a few days before taking flight.  

American White Pelican from the Utah area(note green tag)
And around the same time, a Least Tern returned to the same spot.  I think it's the same one that I discovered here a year ago. The migration dates were almost exactly the same. Note the times I used "same" in this paragraph:)

Least Tern
But when it gets too hot, it's time to head up to the higher elevations.  Early mornings are still the best as they provide cooler temps. 

House Wren
While the canyons are still dark, you'll hear the owls finish up their last calls. 

Brown Creeper
Of course you have to do some hiking to see some of this stuff, but WOW!

And then an owl calls.  It's like a dream come true.  WHOA!  And the crowd goes wild!

In the shadows, lurks a Northern Pygmy Owl
With so much hiking going on, it was time to just rest and get ready for the cooler temps. June is the BEST month to leave Tucson or Phoenix.  It's hot and the rare bird alert is fairly quiet during this month.  Where do we go?  North:) Or West, to the beaches of San Diego.

It's hard to get up when you have such cute cats around you purring nearby.
My blog series will once again focus on a new birding area outside of Arizona. It can be cool, rainy.......and GREEN!

Until then, I'm going to do as this male Anna's Hummingbird is doing.....hanging out in the shade!  Birds will often "pant" to exhale the hot temps in the body through evaporation of moisture along their mouth, throat and lungs.  In other words, they stay cool.  

A HOT male Anna's Hummingbird hanging out in the shade on a 117 degree day!

Stay tuned for our next adventure.  Gordon will be joining me on an epic journey into one of the most beautiful states of the US.....Wisconsin.  So get your bug spray on and pull out those cheesehead hats!  Until next time!