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.


  1. Hello Chris!:) As always, beautiful scenery and bird photos. Have a good week!:)

  2. Terrific photos Chris. I understand what you say. I don't have the know-how to be a true birder and it sounds a bit of a cop-out, and it probably is, but I have never really had the kind of success taking beautiful birds as I would like, but have grown to be happy with the ones I have and have learned the whole picture of enjoying the outdoors, and of course going to blogs such as yours where the photography is outstanding. You have given us a lot of joy out here. Some of the scenery you share is also fantastic. And as me old dad would say, a change is as good as a rest, and then we get back to it :) Enjoy the rest of your week, hope you get lots of sleep.

    1. Thank you! I have been sleeping very well and kind of taking the month of August slow. It can be overwhelming sometimes but it's a lot of fun and something that I enjoy very much.

  3. Thought provoking post Chris - sometimes we all need to take time away from our passions or just slow down to recharge the batteries and take stock before returning renewed.

    A wonderful post with beautiful photos - sounds a wonderful relaxing break. Yes,you are right so often the best moments are so totally unplanned.

    1. It has been a good thing. I've kinda taken a backseat at the computer. With work now beginning again, I find myself exhausted and just wanting to sleep. Hopefully that will pass soon. I'd like to be a productive outdoors again:) But I've accepted the recharging batteries part right now. It's actually very nice! It just took me two weeks to learn how to relax again:)


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