Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Long Way Home

A very cooperative Crissal Thrasher in Prescott, AZ
Once the Lesser Sand Plover was seen, it was time to have fun and bird our way back down to Tucson.  This trek would take us to Prescott and then into Phoenix.  And along the way, we'd visit with wonderful friends Cynthia and Roger and Gordon and Chuck.  

Willow Lake in Prescott with Cynthia and Kathie
We spent a night in beautiful Prescott with Cynthia and Roger.  And it was here that Kathie was able to explore for the first time the beautiful Watson and Willow Lakes.  

Juvenile Gray Hawk at Sweetwater Wetlands
And along the way, we spotted so many wonderful birds.  Outside of Phoenix, Gordon took us to find Kathie's lifer Juniper Titmouse.  

Juniper Titmouse at Seven Springs
The heat was still killing my spirit, but we were all together and so we forgot about the melting ice in the cooler:)  Until we braked and my back felt a wonderful splash of ice cold water!  I don't know where the time went but it all flew by much too quickly!

Kathie at Bartlett Lake in Maricopa Country
We watched a Yellow-headed Blackbird casually stroll along the shore to Kathie's delight. 

Yellow-headed Blackbird at Bartlett Lake
Kathie was quickly reminded how hot it got in Arizona.  I think part of her missed Maine.  I understand that feeling. But the Arizona landscapes are way more picturesque.  Perhaps I am a bit bias:)

Gordon and Kathie search geographical locations to visit from Humbodlt Peak
To be honest.  Coming straight from Monterey, I had birded for a full week and it was showing.  My birding powers were waning. So I was grateful for Gordon and Cynthia taking over their lands and showing us their worlds.  Cynthia is from Yavapai country while Gordon represents Maricopa.  I am Pima. 

Townsend's Solitaire
Eventually, we made it back down to Tucson where we took it "slow" and birded locally.  Even then, we had lots of rare birds pop up on every one of our counts!

Black Vultures at Coachline "Lake" in Tucson
Quite honestly, I don't know where the time went, but we had a lot of fun.  Kathie noticed that I wasn't myself.  And she was correct.  I had wanted to bird for a full week during my fall break and we sure did bird. But I was tired!  From Monterey to Flagstaff to Prescott to Phoenix to Tucson!  During my first weekend alone, I slept!  What a wonderful and deep sleep it was!

One of 2 Wood Ducks reported at Reid Park in Tucson
 But our time was winding down and I was reminded that soon I'd be back to work. 

Celeste threw a party and we had a wonderful time saying good-bye to one another over several bottles of wine:)  It's hard saying good-bye.  I just hide it better than most.  Life revolves around birds for me BUT life is more than just the birds.  It's about the people and friendships that form because of the birds. 

By the end of the week, I felt like we had done an amazing job exploring the world of Arizona.  A special thank you to Celeste, Dom, Gordon, Chuck, Cynthia and Roger for one hell of a week. The Lesser Sand Plover trek lasted 4 days total and what an amazing trek it was!  Kathie, I miss you and love you.  Our next trek will be to Monhegan Island.  You will not get sea sick.  And maybe Gordon will join us?  For now, I am going to rest.  My body and mind are both exhausted.  Life is a wonderful adventure but I sure do need my sleep:)  Until next time.....

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nick of Time

At the 11th hour, things became stressful.  I had to find one last life bird.  I left the downtown area of Monterey and headed to the airport.  It was here that I would make my last stand.  It was time to find the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. 

A birder looks at the "green space" for proper habitat of expected birds
The Monterey airport is VERY small with a great restaurant. So I dropped off all my stuff and began to scan the area outside near the parking area. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was supposed to be easy! Enough was enough.  Time to get that bird! With my birder eyes, I scanned a small patch of woods by the control tower.

The right circle was off limits but the left one was not:)
The control tower was off limits and protected behind a fence, but the left area was totally ok for birding.  After an hour of patient study, I finally had several chickadees fly into the area.  It would be my last lifer on this trip!  And just in the nick of time. My flight left 25 minutes later. 

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
I arrived back in Tucson that night and would be meeting Kathie Brown in the morning.  I had put a lot of thought into the next several days.  For almost 2 weeks, every birder and their mother had been reporting the very rare Lesser Sand Plover on reservation land near Flagstaff.  It was an AZ first and a bird that I had expected on not seeing because of my work schedule and trip to Monterey. Plus, it'll probably be the only time this bird is EVER reported in Arizona again. It was all bad timing. And quite honestly it caused me a lot of anxiety! What were the chances that this bird would still be in Arizona when I got back? It would be a lifer for both myself and Kathie.  So to kick Kathie's vacation off proper, we headed ASAP to find this rare(for the US) plover.

Kathie Brown explores Outer Mongolia....I mean Round Cedar Lake in Leupp, AZ. 
The Lesser Sand Plover hails from the continent of Asia and more specifically Mongolia. Sometimes during migration, a few of these birds cross lines and take the "wrong" route.  Several posts ago, I complained about the chasing of birds all over the state and about how tired I was from running after far away birds. You don't go to Flagstaff without staying there for a short visit! For this bird, it would be an 11 hour drive back and forth from Tucson and I couldn't justify that kind of drive for one bird.  But this wasn't ANY bird; this was an amazing lifebird. The thought of dipping on it festered in the back of my mind. Every day, I received the reports that it was still hanging around the "lake".  I am not exaggerating when I say that several hundred people saw this bird. What if we made that long trek and the bird wasn't there?!!  I remembered the painful experience behind the dip of the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail at Bosque Del Apache several years ago.  I was afraid that this gamble might end the same way. 

But Kathie was there this time.  And we laughed and had fun driving up to the spot together as a shared experience.  It felt better because our friends offered us places to stay as we birded our way down afterwards.  I didn't want to waste gas for one bird.  Instead, we made a fun several day birding trek out of the adventure.  

a happy Kathie
When we arrived at the location, we had thought we were actually in Mongolia. For a half hour, we searched and searched for the bird.  I was beginning to feel like the bird had finally flown.  Wouldn't that just be our luck?!  It sticks around for just two weeks and then on the day we can go chase it, it disappears. But then Kathie spots a plover and shouts out, "Oh oh oh, I think I have it!"

I put my binos on it and discover it's a Killdeer playing hide and seek with us.  It was actually quite cute. My heart sank as I scanned right and.....

It all looks like dirt until it doesn't(left is the sneaky Killdeer and the right is our Lesser Sand Plover)

Kathie spots another plover!!!!  And not just any plover but THE PLOVER!  A small group of birders quickly assembles with scopes and watches the bird from a safe distance. Everyone is so happy. 

a resting Lesser Sand Plover
I am so thankful for this new lens this year.  It allows me to get photos from a far distance. We are always conscious of our treatment of birds when these photos are taken.  We never want to endanger a life while out in the field.  That goes for all biological creatures...including humans:)

As a nod from the bird gods, we'd be the last to see this bird. We were lucky.  VERY LUCKY.  Had we waited a day to go find this bird, it would have been too late.  What are the chances of that happening??!!!  I don't believe in a higher power, but after this experience, I might change my tune:)  Well maybe not.  But still! What an amazing moment that we had all shared together! 

My favorite Mexican place in Flagstaff is MartAnnes!  We celebrate our lifer at this delicious Mexican restaurant.  Try their chilaquiles!  Green or Red Salsa.  It's all good!
A big year birder(and many other birders) would try to find the bird over the next several days without luck.  Some think the bird flew to California.  Others think that maybe a Peregrine Falcon was hungry.  As for me, I'd like to think that the bird made it to California.  We'd feast in Flagstaff to celebrate our lifer and then head to our friends Cynthia and Roger White's home where we'd bird in Prescott the next day.  But that is another adventure.......

Ebird Reports
Round Cedar Lake(Lesser Sand Plover) and 
Monterey Regional Airport(Chestnut-backed Chickadee). 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

I watched the people mesmerized by the dark blues and greens of the ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I was there to study shorebirds in their aviary display. It was a rare opportunity to see these birds up close.  And it was here that I was able to study their field marks to help me ID better out in the field. 

Sea Otters in the Kelp Forest near the aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium can be pricey at around 50 dollars.  But it's my birthday month, so I splurged:)

Snowy Plover
I got there early to avoid the crowds and I was mostly successful.  I planned several "must see" spots first which weren't the main attractions that most tourists visit. I actually had a bowl of clam chowder ALONE out on the deck below!  I watched wild shorebirds and sea otters from this very cool spot below.

But my study?  As you all know, I like to visit the living museum collections of our zoos and aquariums around the world.  I do an ebird hotspot list for the wild birds found in the area while also studying their aviary collections.  Many of these birds were once wild but thanks in part to places like the aquarium, these injured birds are given a second chance at life where they'll educate thousands of people (like myself).

Semipalmated Sandpiper
I oo'd and aw'd at the displays like everyone else.  But it was the sandpipers, phalaropes and other peeps that held my interest.

There is something very relaxing about being in a dark area with gentle music playing in the background.

The jellyfish displays were mesmerizing!

Red Phalarope
However, it was time to study my phalaropes.  They are often difficult to ID in the wild because of distance.  And because they are usually in their winter molt when they pass through Arizona.  I was able to see a size difference between the two birds.  But it was the bill that really grabbed my attention.  Note how strong the Red Phalarope's bill(above) is when compared to the Red-necked Phalarope's bill(below).  There is also orange at the base of the REPH's bill which I have never clearly seen from a scope.  What a great way to compare these two sometimes tricky birds!

Red-necked Phalarope
There were octopus..... 

......and more cool aquariums.......

.....and pretty Buffleheads......

drake Bufflehead
.....more awesome jellyfish......

....and lots of wild birds feeding around the waters outside of the aquarium:)

juvenile Pelagic Cormorant
I had a great morning out, but it was time to head back to Arizona where Kathie Brown was waiting for me. Here's a video from my adventure in Monterey.  I'm still smiling from all the fun.  But it was time to return back to the desert. There was work to be done.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Coastal Stroll

Snowy Egrets tango
I needed time alone.  And time to think.  I wanted to be among strangers.  Or so I thought. 

I rented a bed at the Monterey Hostel where I would casually stroll to the Fisherman's Wharf and watch the Sea Otters while enjoying some clam chowder. Along the way, I watched everyone, humans and wildlife, interact with the ocean.  I've been wanting the ocean life lately.  I used to live near Monterey about 18 years ago.  Being back in this coastal town brought back a flood of good memories. 

Juvenile Western Gull
How could have so much time passed?! Why haven't I come here more often to visit?

Pelagic Cormorant
Instead of accidentally seeing a sea otter like most tourists do, I intentionally found several in the appropriate habitat munching on some tasty shellfish. Monterey's coastal kelp forest helps maintain a healthy population of these endangered mammals. I lost myself within my own thoughts while watching these magnificent creatures. 

Sea Otter

I grabbed a bowl of clam chowder and sat alone enjoying the anonymity.  I hadn't birded alone like this for a long time. California still feels foreign to me but I am comfortable with that feeling now. It's the reason why I don't live there anymore.  But I wasn't there to live.  I was there to "just be". In my humble opinion, California is a great place to visit, but it's not a great place to live. $$$$$  Everything is $$$$$$$$. The coastal towns are crowded BUT there are gems hiding everywhere in these areas. You just have to know where to look. Luckily for me, I'm a birder and most of the places were off the beaten path away from the tourists. 

Black Oystercatcher
 When dear friends suggested they'd like to visit after my pelagic, I was excited.  I hadn't seen my friends Laura and Chris for years!  In fact, Laura was pregnant with her first child when I last saw her.  Now, she has two full grown girls!  Where does the time pass???!!!!  So many thoughts went through my head.  We were babies when we began teaching all those years ago.  Laura picked me up in her then boyfriend's car and we went to school together as new first year teachers. Our parents were around the age we are now.  I sat drinking my coffee enjoying their company.  It was hard to say good-bye to them by the end of the day.  And I realized that I really didn't want them to leave. I had missed my friends. 

I missed laughing with them and doing the random stuff like we always used to do in Northern California. Here we were once again, former roommates, all standing together and not doing much of anything except enjoying each other's company.  

Oak Titmouse

After they left, I took one last walk with my friend Lynda.  Together, we had dinner and watched raccoons feed along the rocky shore.  When we said good-bye, I was alone again.  But this time, I didn't like it.  What an interesting thing to be surrounded by old memories and comforted by the presence of wonderful friends. 

I went to bird several places within walking distance and had fun. The key to traveling in California is to stay close to where you need to be so that you don't have to drive.  Driving is the worst in CA! So I did everything on foot.

Townsend's Warbler
California can be pricey, especially the Monterey/Half Moon Bay area. And then there's San Francisco!  I have found some cheaper alternatives for a trek back there again, but I want to bring Micheal with me. He needs to see this area.  

Mixing birding and friends together is the best kind of bird adventure possible. While I enjoy those quiet moments of concentration and just being, I also look forward to having fun doing....whatever. 

We went to a place called "Lover's Point" and sure enough, we found two of them making out on this bench! It was actually quite beautiful. 

But no matter where we go, I always keep my eyes open for a possible new bird.......

Rhinoceros Auklet
And so it would happen.  My next life bird, the Pigeon Guillemot, hung out around the shoreline of Lover's Point. 

Pigeon Guillemot
Another was bathing nearby!  Either way, it was a cool encounter and a fun photo shoot!

On our last day, we had a group photo taken in the famous Cannery Row district. 

My trek to Monterey is not over. I had one last day to bird and do some studies. Stay tuned for more........