Monday, August 29, 2016

The Desert Rains

CRACK!  A bolt of lightning streaked through the sky splitting a desert mesquite in half. It falls into a major road nearly hitting a car. My cat looks toward the sound.  And I begin to hear the winds and torrential monsoon rains crash down upon us. 

Two hours pass and nearly three inches of rain trap homeowners. And while they are trapped, they discover the unwanted leaks in their roofs. I can't keep the rain out of our house because it's not raining's raining sideways!  Another tree is blown over and comes racing down a wash(now raging river) and takes out a truck.  Emergency vehicles are everywhere.  Streets, I mean rivers, form and block people from leaving their homes. The world comes to a standstill. 

Coachline "Lake" is back.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature reclaims her desert from human kind.  Dams and supports that were placed along areas to feed the ag fields, are destroyed.  The water returns to nature and feeds the land once again.  This birder rejoices.  A lake has been reborn!

Tiger Whiptail
Cacti flower.  And lizards take advantage of the puddles of water.  There they sip from the tiny pools and replenish their reserves. 

A rare Snow Goose gains strength and flies.  Perhaps someday it will return to the North where it will breed.  But not today. Apparently it prefers the desert over tundra:)

Snow Goose
During the month of August, strange birds pass through our state.  Some are expected while others are very rare.  But chasing them in the heat isn't always fun.

 However, if they're easier to find, it makes the trek worth it.  Monsoon will begin to wind down now.  And that's okay with me:)  It means the high temps will also disappear:)

Tricolored Heron

Until next time.....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Future To Believe In Part 2

I remember looking up into the broken sunlight of the leafy ceiling. Birds flew from one branch to another. Just shadows really. In the grasses, he pointed to a hidden deer skull. Everyone in my 2nd grade class was in awe. 

Botteri's Sparrow-lifer for Bernie
He continued to lead us into the woods pointing out a beautiful Cedar Waxwing and American Robin.  Bernie reminded us to walk quietly.  We did our best. For most of the time. I mean...we were still kids after all:)

The darker Grasshopper Sparrow of the West
Later in life, I joined yet another nature walk with Bernie.  I was now in 7th grade.  We were looking for owls.  Their hidden locations were revealed as we watched them silently sleep on their perches. For many of us, it was our first wild owl we had ever seen!

One of the many deer I saw this summer at the Woodland Dunes
By now, I knew these woods well.  We played along a creek that once ran freely into the Dunes. I hid in the forests with my friends and built secret fortresses.  We also snuck out of our homes before the parents noticed that we hadn't done the chores. No one could find us if they tried.  It was our secret hiding place.

Eventually they cut down our secret forest and covered the creek with dirt and ugly factories. Angered adults and kids watched helplessly as the chainsaws shredded the trees to the ground. Today, those same factories that destroyed our natural playland sit empty because the work has since gone elsewhere. They had also tried to cut down the Woodland Dunes many years ago, but a few stood firm and protected this sacred area. Bernie lead the grassroot efforts to keep it free from "progress".  Many locals didn't get it. land=work=$$.  Oh if they could have seen their futures.  Today, nothing is left of the city I once knew.  The city continues to shrink and locals struggle to find work.  It is a shadow of what it used to be.  But the one thing that still attracts people from all over?  Our beautiful coastline and forests. And I gotta say.  The birding in Manitowoc County is pretty awesome.

Horned Lark
Later on in life, I returned back to the Dunes as a birder and an adult. Now I could truly understand the scope of what Bernie had set out to do. He was still there banding owls and educating us, the public. But it wouldn't be for long. Now, he was training others to do what he had done for decades.  It only took me a couple decades to catch up with Bernie and understand why the Woodland Dunes had been so important.  A few people knew early on, like Bernie, that the Woodland Dunes was an important wildlife area that needed to be protected for migrating birds, nesting songbirds, etc.  I have very few regrets in life, but there are times as a kid when I wish I would have spent more time and attention to the people and the important work they were doing. 

He was still the kind person I remembered as a kid. I watched him handle the owls with ease as he taught others the proper way to band them. 

After listening to his stories about banding birds, I realized that there is still so much I don't know. He even banded the trickier ones like Chimney Swifts! 

Bernie's Hermit Warbler
And now it was my turn to help this wonderful man out.  It was an honor and privilege to aide him in the discovery of our birds here in Southern Arizona.  We found Bernie's last warbler for the US and North America. Afterwards, we headed to the grasslands where we were able to watch a herd of pronghorns casually stroll through the verdant hills.

He gave me his "needs" list and I smiled.  While I love birding in the mountains, my favorite habitat to bird is in the grasslands.  And he needed quite a few of the grassland birds!  We had beautiful views of his lifer Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows.  He discovered Cassin's and Thick-billed Kingbirds. And of course, the Hermit Warbler. 5 lifebirds!

Time is precious.  And although I only had a day to bird with Bernie and his son Jeff, I was so happy to do so.  It's the least I could do for a man who has done so much for us.  Thank you Bernie for your life long work.  Thank you for keeping areas like the Woodland Dunes safe from development. I don't recognize much of my city anymore, but I do remember my childhood playgrounds because they were protected and made safe by people like you.  When I enter the Dunes or Point Beach State Forest, I am neither child nor adult. I exist in a timeless space where it all comes together as one. I am surrounded by happy thoughts of my past.  I am reminded of my present. And I see future generations of kids exploring these places like I did when I was a kid.  Your life long work continues to inspire us and will continue for as long as people treasure these beautiful spaces.  Thank you for all that you do!

Not my photo but from the Woodland Dunes website.  I remember these days in the 70's and early 80's.  A sunny day with wet snow and yet still cold enough to wear gloves.  Bernie educates us about the nature.

Until next time.......

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Future To Believe In Part 1

With school now in session and most birds seen in the state, there isn't much to chase anymore.  But the challenges are still there. How?  Well, as birders of our own kingdoms, we are the watchers who protect and understand our area's birds well. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch
I have wonderful friends who loaned me their cabin up on Mt. Lemmon so that I could do my yearly western warbler migration count.  It allows us to relax in the cooler temps and do our point checks. 

I put up their bird feeders and instantly heard the wonderful sounds of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.  It's a special nuthatch in that it isn't as common as the Pygmy Nuthatch or White-breasted Nuthatch.  But just 28 miles away from my home, they are present in small numbers. 

Mountain Chickadee
So while we ate dinner and took a break from our hikes, we watched these birds come to the feeders.  It was a perfect way to relax and bird. 

Pygmy Nuthatch
But the purpose of my trek to Mt. Lemmon was to scout for a spot that could be easily reached by a birding friend (and mentor) visiting from Wisconsin.  He needs to find the Hermit Warbler.  It's one of the last warblers on his "needs" list.  

Hermit Warbler
The best part about ebird is that you have personal data that stays with you forever.  Ultimately, that data makes us stronger birders and helps us when it comes time to predicting when birds will pass through our areas.  So I was thankful to have that data at my fingertips.

I sent him my checklists from the previous years and he arranged for a flight during this time period.  And so I returned to my "hotspots" where I count birds and found plenty of Hermit Warblers for him. In one spot, I had 10 of them!

I was happy and glad that they were easy to reach.  Sometimes, you have to hike miles to find certain birds, but in this case, it's an easy walk.  When someone visits from a "flat" area, the elevation can be a challenge.  This is especially true for older birders.  We'll take it slow and enjoy the views.  I promised his wife I'd return him back alive:)

I'll write more about my friend Bernie when he comes to visit, but he is a very special guy.  He may or may not know how much of an impact he has made on my life.  I was a kid while he fought, protected and educated me(and many many others) about the environment.  Today, his legacy is well known by many at a place called the Woodland Dunes

I am crossing my fingers that the Hermit Warblers play nice for us on the weekend he comes to visit.  He has taught me so many things in this life.  And while he may not know me well, we know him.  He's the guy who took us on the trails during the day and night looking for owls and deer.  

Bernie trains us all in the ways of banding.  Here we learn how to band and release Northern Saw-Whet Owls
There are 3 environmental people who have had a major impact on my hometown .  Dr. Sontag, Park Ranger Winnie and Bernie.  They are the reason why people stop and fall in love with Two Rivers and Manitowoc today.  Dr. Chuck Sontag is the watcher of the Manitowoc Impoundment and one of the founders of Woodland Dunes.  Winnie was the cantankerous and passionate Park Ranger who educated many of us along the miles of Two Rivers lakeshore. Later I would work with her at Point Beach State Forest as a young adult.  She is gone now, but her legacy remains.  And somewhere in the forest, you can find a bench or boardwalk with her name on it.  And then there's Bernie. These people have dedicated their lives to the education and protection of important areas. They gave us something to treasure whether we knew it or not at that time. Today, these places are major attractions for many visiting and local people. 

So, I'm hoping I can summon the bird gods to give us at least ONE Hermit Warbler during his visit:) Cross your fingers! A special thank you to David and Dean for the cabin and bird feeders during this wonderfully cool weekend. Until next time..... 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The White Mountains Speak!

Clark's Nutcracker
Exhausted, but wanting one last go of it before work started up again, we escaped the heat of the desert and headed up to Greer for some lazy birding.  It was a fast three days.  

Nine Pine Motel in Pinetop-Lakeside
I discovered on this trip that it wasn't birds we needed to see; it was about rest and SLEEP!  The word "STAYCATION" comes to mind.  A "Staycation" is when you go somewhere close to your home and vacation/rest. While we were up in the resort town of Pinetop, I slept so well in our log cabin!  We both had a deep and sound sleep for two nights!  Sometimes, you have to do what the body needs.  And apparently, it was rest that we both needed. 

Golden-crowned Kinglet
The drive from Tucson is a long one so the word "Staycation" is loosely used.  Thankfully it's mostly a scenic 4 hour drive through some epic Arizona landscape!

migrating Calliope Hummingbird
Now we didn't sleep the entire weekend away.  We did actually do some hiking before the storm clouds arrived.  We had a beautiful hike on a trail near Sheep's Crossing. 

the West Baldy Trail-can you see the Great Blue Heron on top?
During our hike, I felt the last of my birding energy disappear.  It was difficult to accept, but I hit the wall. No más!  Hopefully it will come back.  Looking back at posts during this time period, I always feel exhausted by the month of August.  

Quite honestly, it scares me to have these feelings.  Everyone needs to take a break, right?  The White Mountains were exactly what I needed to help put things into perspective. I've been on the road for most of the summer and it's time to slow down now.

Lincoln's Sparrow
As we walked the trails, I began to understand what it was that I was feeling. Frustration. Anxiety. And loss of my focus. I've forgotten how to "just be".  For many people that is a scary concept as they need a plan.  For me, it's the thing I like most about myself.  I go to a place with an idea and play with it.  I find that when I do this, it usually wields better results. I don't mind getting lost and discovering something not on the agenda. As I've gotten into birding more, I've really enjoyed the company of some wonderful friends, but we have such a tight agenda that it doesn't always allow for certain freedoms. The birding world can be a serious one! So it's time for me to open up the larger playing field and explore. And it's okay to admit that to myself. What do I miss?  The random stuff that happens when I don't have a fixed plan. 

A stock photo from my trek to Valparaiso, Chile back in the 90's.  BB(Before Birding)
Like walking into an old sailor's inn with a man playing an accordion to a crowd of people in Valparaiso, Chile.  It wasn't planned and it was that spontaneous moment that I will remember for my entire life. And the meal was excellent! Or the time I passed several gypsies on the road near Las Ramblas in Barcelona discovering the best tasting sangrías in a vampire bar. Or drinking cheap Portuguese wine at the ancient canons of the "plato" in Cape Verde with my friends as we looked out towards the moonlit ocean. Little did I know that this would be the end chapter of my youth. And my list goes on and on.....and I'm beginning to stray from my point:) When you follow other tour group agendas, you tend to find more birds but miss out on the flavor of the culture.  I LOVE BIRDS, but I love the cultural aspect as well.  Without the culture, it's kinda like eating a bland piece of chicken. Every birder has this gypsy side that they must exercise from time to time.

 People check off lists and then talk about the next bird they need to check off their list.  They speak ABA crazy nonsense. I wasn't careful and I got sucked into the "game". I have been so caught up with all the Arizona birding politics and games that I've forgotten my true purpose.  To seek out new birds.  An attempt at the 10,000 life bird promise.  All this other stuff has stressed me out.  Birding isn't supposed to stress a person out. And my inner gypsy is starting to emerge again:)  It's almost time to let Arizona go.

American Dipper
We watched the American Dipper weave in and out of the water.  As I watched this amazing bird, I thought about all the other dippers I have yet to see. What was I doing back here again?  Ah, that's right....trying to find an American Three-toed Woodpecker and Dusky Grouse! My new nemesis birds:)

Woodland Lake Park in Pinetop-Lakeside
We spied a family of Lewis's Woodpeckers and it was wonderful.  I've seen this bird so many times and it was once again spectacular seeing them up close. 

We got into our car afterwards and just drove through the forest with our windows down. I couldn't really articulate to Micheal how I was feeling.  I just wanted to be alone and figure it all out on my own.  I read reports about birders in Costa Rica and on the Andes Mountains.....and on far away pelagics.  And my mind wandered.  Why should I spend money and revisit the same birds I've already seen so many times? I think it's because I love them.

When I began birding with my friend Kathie Brown, it was simple.  I was no one. As I began to bird more, I discovered this hunger for more knowledge, more study, and more travel. And with it, I became part of the birding community.  I do love my "peeps" and I am so glad to have been adopted into this larger community of birders. 

juvenile Lewis's Woodpecker
BUT! There is constant conflict within me.  Work within the area I live or save the money for the bigger and larger treks. I am not doing any type of big year, but I do like challenging myself.  Can I find this bird again? etc etc. And yet there are birds I won't chase unless a visitor from out of town needs to see them.  Take for example, the LeConte's Thrasher.  It's a beautiful bird in the ugliest landscape possible.  I've seen the bird and don't need to return ever again. And I haven't:) I think a lot of birders reach this point in their lives. But how do we evolve into this next chapter?

Juvenile American Crow
I had so many deep thoughts during this weekend. And while it was rewarding, it was also good to get away with my other half and do some thinking. The White Mountains are fantastic.  They have a whole set of birds that can only be found in that area. Many were new birds for the year and it was nice seeing them again.  Even better?  The cooler temps!

As I chronicle my life journey into birding, I am finding that there are indeed "ups and downs" when it comes to finding birds.  I am currently at a "low" point, but I'm sure as the weather cools down, I'll be back on track again.  I can't believe I'm writing this but I'm happy that work is starting up again.  It'll keep my mind busy with other matters and allow me to take a break from the birding.  And recharge my batteries:) I'm also working on other "birdy" projects which I'm excited to present within the next several months. It's a first for the state and once again, I can thank my teaching background for the inspiration behind the project. When I hit a wall, I'll invent something interesting to keep challenging myself. For now, I've made my name disappear from these silly Top 100 lists. For now, it's all about sound and thoughtful birding. The way it USED to be! I've added an additional job to help fund my next treks for the winter, spring and summer seasons. It should be fun. Some hard work with some hard play! For now, it's taking it slow. Until next time....

This write is in memory of Dr. George West who monitored the Greer and Pinetop-Lakeside areas.  In fact, he was still alive during the time of trip.