Monday, December 11, 2017

Las Aventuras: 2017 in Review

On a trek to Aribabi in Mexico, a Canyon Wren stops by to check out my binos
With this year coming to a close, I can safely say that it has been a life changing period for me. I would tell you that my work hasn't been all "innocent and fun" like in years past. The naive birder is gone and a more focused/data driven person has taken over. In other words, I've redefined my approach to all things avian.  There are times when I miss my beginning days as a birder, but I wouldn't give them up for everything that I have gained through experience.  

In Cartagena, Costa Rica, we spy some excellent birds
Our Costa Rica trek this summer was amazing. After being on the trails everywhere this year, I realized that it was the Arizona birds that mattered most.  While observing a life bird for the first time is great, it's quickly replaced with another adrenaline push to find the next.  However, with the birds I know best, I feel a deeper connection.  When I guide people to find our birds, I realize that I truly am in love with Southern Arizona birds. Here are highlights from the year.  

While not my favorite place to bird during the hot and humid summer, the Glendale Recharge Pond was home to a rare Red Knot
You might note that many of these birds were found with Gordon and Magill.  If it wasn't for Magill's prodding, I wouldn't have gone due to distance. And if it wasn't for Gordon's drive to find birds, I may have missed a few. In short, teamwork and friendship mean everything. And in my mind, it justifies the reason why we trek so far away to find a rare bird.  It's the experience that stays with us for life. Plus it's better to share that moment with a friend.  So get ready for some stories......:)

Dead cattle on the other side of that pond.  Nasty.  Nasty. Nasty. 
Grossest place to bird?  State challenges are fun. Can you find a rare bird in impossible conditions?  That's the challenge.  This year, I'd give this award to the Ruddy Turnstone. While I've seen this ocean/water species many times, I have not seen one in Arizona.  And with reason! Who wants to bird ugly areas in the hot humid desert? During migration, a few show up at cattle slop ponds.  What are cattle slop ponds?  Well, they are made up of water, poop, mud and more poop with some run off chemicals. To make matters worse, one showed up near a pile of dead rotting cattle.  Usually my gag reflex is good, but it took days for the smell of decay and death to get out of my nose.  I actually considered becoming a full time vegetarian after that trip.  Micheal drove to the spot in his bright pink scrubs after work.  He is not a birder but finds the places we visit interesting and weird.  After Magill and I spotted the bird, we prodded Micheal to get out of the car to look at the target bird just so he could tick it on his Arizona list. 

A Wood Thrush drives the tractor over to us
Earliest AM? Another epic rare bird showed up for the state, the Wood Thrush.  It happened to be in Dateland, AZ which is in the middle of nowhere and 2+ hours away from my house.  Last year I said, I'd be ok driving 2 hours anywhere, but this year, it's more like 45 minutes.  While the Wood Thrush wasn't a life bird, it was a bird that I didn't have ANY photo documentation of!  So it was important to find this bird and we did. I slept for a whole 3 hours that night and drove under the starlight to Gila Bend where I'd meet up with Magill. It was a 3AM wake up call for a 7:10 arrival. 

I love winter birding in AZ.  It's pretty magical. 
Most beautiful place to bird? Without a doubt, one of the most magical days to bird was on a cold misty morning in the northern part of our state in an area lined with wineries and forests. Again with Magill, we searched for a Tennesee Warbler.  With my magic powers, I pointed to a stump and said "That's where the Tennessee Warbler will show up."  And by my command, the warbler appeared exactly where I pointed.  I didn't tell her about my secret powers because we both were enjoying the views of this rare visiting Arizona warbler. After we found the warbler, we spent the rest of the morning enjoying the beautiful Page Springs Fish Hatchery.  

Between the Great Potoo and the Spotted Antbird, I'd have to say that Spotted Antbird won me over just a little bit more. 
Best Bird? My favorite bird this year? The Spotted Antbird. We were near a secret waterfall in the rain forests of Costa Rica.  It was dark and there were small pools of water attracting the attention of the forest birds. We watched in the darkness as a beautiful Spotted Antbird bathed in one of these pools.

Parque Metropolotano La Sabana in San Jose, Costa Rica is home to lots of great birds, but bring a friend
Closest call to danger?  During a trek to a park within San Jose, we searched and found the Yellow-naped Parrot. There were joggers and cool people around us. Then we spotted our target bird. So I thought it was safe to take out the camera. That's when two hoodlums eyed up my camera.  Thankfully the police were just around the corner to apprehend them.  We took off just in time. Never again.  Knock on wood.  

Puddles like these in Liberia were full of biting mosquitos....and birds. 
Worst bug attacks?  In Liberia, we stayed near farm fields to find some important birds.  And we found them but not without a major bug attack.  I got excited about a Wood Stork or Southern Lapwing, I forget, and stepped/slipped in some mud.  Something bit me and made my foot three times larger.  It was a strange and gross experience.  

One of my favorite days during our Pacific Northwest trip
Coolest bird in snow? I will never forget my experience with the Spruce Grouse.  We were with friend and bird guide Khanh Tranh in Oregon hiking a snowy trail.  At one point the snow got very deep.  It didn't stop us though.  I heard a slight noise and then glimpsed a shadow from the forest.  Then a beautiful male stayed awhile for us to observe him. What a great experience! 

Hearing Mountain Quail, we followed the misty road.  I felt like there was a savage killer hiding somewhere in that broken forest. 
Creepiest place? While on the hunt for Mountain Quail and Sooty Grouse, we explored an area outside of Timber, OR. It was a logging area that was quite remote and beautiful.  Everything was great until we found gun casings and a dead pig that had been recently shot.  We tend to think of Oregon as a liberal minded state, but I learned that there are areas where savage morons lurk.  I would not want to be alone in this area. As birders, we must always be aware of our surroundings. 

Slaughter Ranch easily had 80 some birders on the property.  Most were nice:)
Birder drama.  Yes.  There was even drama this year. A mega rare bird for Arizona, the Little Bunting, had shown up at a place called Slaughter Ranch.  I know.  It sounds like a haunted house.  Slaughter just happened to be the last name of the rancher.  Anyhow, there were MANY birders there.  In fact, there were lots of top bird guides among the birding crowd.  We walked around the property and I realized the Little Bunting wasn't going to show.  SO, me and the Gordon strolled around the property and had fun. It was getting warm and we both wanted to go home.  On the way out, we stopped to look at a field full of birds. I noticed a weird looking yellow bird in that field and thought it was a meadowlark, but it was strange enough for me to take pics.  So I half heartedly took the pics, got some much needed water and headed home with Gordon.  Later as I was developing my photos, I discovered that the "meadowlark" in question was actually a female Bobolink!!!!  THAT was a state bird.  I submitted the records to our organization here which got several individuals that were at the ranch, including one very vocal birder, angry. Apparently, they missed that bird too! Why hadn't I told them all?!  He thought maybe I did it on purpose. I would never do that to anyone. I responded politely that if I had known right away what the bird was, I would have let everyone know. Yikes!

Remembering Grandma.   As many of you know, my Grandma passed away this summer and it was difficult for me to let go, especially when it came time to fill her hummingbird feeders for the last time. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew directly in front of my face as I was filling up HIS feeder.  I laughed and cried at the same time.  At the time, I had thought our family would lose the land.  Today, my brother Adam has purchased this very special place and it will continue to be with our family for generations.  And he has assured me that Grandma's birds will be fed.  And I'll be there to help him out.  Every year, my Grandma and I both prepared for her birds to arrive around her birthday in May.  I gave her migration updates and tricks to improve her feeder activity.  I know her energy will shine with her grandsons looking after her birds. 

The beautiful grasslands of the Cienagas
The birds that made me piss myself.  This year during my tour with bird guide guru Chris Benesh, we took our participants to an area full of Prairie Dogs in the grasslands.  While we were having fun with everyone and helping them ID their life birds, a couple from our group spied a weird looking bird.  We went to help them ID the bird and then.....we both pissed ourselves, an Upland Sandpiper! These are VERY rare migrating birds to our state and most often you need a scope for them.  This bird was fairly close for all to see with their binos.  I'd say it was my best bird for the state until a LeConte's Sparrow showed up!!!  I ran right after work to look at that rare sparrow. Not only was it a life bird, it was a state and county bird as well. Both birds were epic. 

Arenal!  Oh you wonderful birdy location
Life Bird Bonanza. After my first years of birding, life birds slowed down to a trickle and I forgot how overwhelming it was at first.  Then I went to Arenal in Costa Rica with Gordon and for a full two hours, we were bombarded with life bird after life bird.  You forget about food.  You forget about reality.  You just snap shots of birds and ask questions later.  One bird would pop up and disappear to be replaced with another new bird. Every day we stayed at the lodge, we had new birds.  It was overwhelming. And fun:)

This trail on Mt. Lemmon is both beautiful and gnarly at the same time. 
The Birds That Made Me Question My Sanity. I have been really enjoying Pima County birding this year.  With friend Brian Nicholas, we went on a journey to Mt. Lemmon to find Cassin's Finches and Golden-crowned Kinglets.  And maybe a Clark's Nutcracker.  All are birds that I didn't have on my Pima County list.  I did not prepare well at all for this trek.  I don't know what I was thinking but I came unprepared. Things got scary for me when we took a wrong turn on the trail.  I had only enough water for the length of the hike.  Luckily, Brian had extra water. Next week, I head over again.  This time I will be prepared.  We found Cassin's Finches and Golden-crowned Kinglets though:)

Favorite Pic? While there are too many to choose from, there is one that stands out.  I was with Magill at Madera Canyon when I heard mobbing going on. We found the source of the bird call and looked up. 

Mountain Pygmy-Owl
Birding takes dedication.  People always ask me how I do it with a full time job.  Easy.  I make time for it. It has changed my life forever. This is what dreams are made of.  And I am living my dream, slop ponds and all:)  Until next time......

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

History(And Birds)

Mexican culture is alive at the La Fiesta de Tumacácori

Years ago I moved to Arizona.  Then I traveled the world just to confirm how cool Tucson really was. Maybe there was some place even more amazing?  But after all my adventures, it was Tucson that I would, without a doubt, call home. As I have invested myself into the community over the years, I have become part of the Tucson fabric.

My first true passion, before birds, was the Hispanic culture, specifically the Mexican one. 

The closest I could get to Mexico (and still be in the US) was Arizona.  I didn't want Texas, New Mexico or California.  I wanted Arizona.  My 8th grade trip to Flagstaff forever changed my life.  When I went back to Wisconsin after that magical summer in the canyons and mountains, I knew that one day I would leave my hometown for good.  Then during another magical trip to Mexico City my Senior year of high school, I altered my course once again.  Spanish. As I did my research, I discovered a little city(at the time) known as Tucson. This city had the best of both worlds.

Cactus Wren
This weekend, we took the history club around Southern Arizona to visit all of our amazing landmarks. It was such a fun time.  Not only did we combine the old missions and the mining towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, we were also able to watch live performances of traditional Mexican dance.  (And on the side), I had the students point out the birds that they were observing. It was the ultimate wildlife, historical and Mexican heritage tour ever.  Seeing Southern Arizona through their eyes reminded me of my love for this state. 

The Earps meet in Tombstone at the OK Corral
The trip was organized by my friends Lori and April who then invited me along for the fun. They hadn't been to many of these places before and I had mentioned that I often go to bird around these historical sites.  Once we packed the students up in the vans, our adventures began!

Common Raven
How often do I pass these places and not really look at the majestic churches or old towns?  Well in my defense, I'm forever looking for or at birds:)

the mission of San Xavier Del Bac
During our trip, I ran into a former student who graduated with a Natural Resource and Spanish degree (and was working at Saguaro National Park!)  My dream job!  She was at a booth in the festival promoting National Parks. I was so proud.  She told me she earned her Spanish degree because of my class. And that's always good to hear. Better than a paycheck. Then a current student met with my now much older former student and it was so strange! I saw the beginning of the end.  The teacher becomes the student again. And his former student becomes a mentor with wonderful advice about getting into the national parks system. 

Lark Sparrow at the Tubac Presidio Museum
 The current students had fun role playing at the Tubac Presidio.  Imagine being in this old classroom.  It has style!  I'd love to have a classroom like this!

I introduced the students to Mexican Jays. Or was it the other way around?:) Jays are always cooperative birds....with a little food.  Again, a student brought Ritz crackers and was munching on them when the jays heard the crinkle of the package and then........we had pretty blue jays all around us.  

Mexican Jay
We strolled along the roads of Bisbee doing a little holiday shopping in the wonderful fall like temps. 

the old mining town of Bisbee
Wherever we had wildlife, we stopped to look at it just like we would if we were on a tour in a mine or museum. 

White-tailed Deer at the Chiricahua National Monument
It was a beautiful weekend out. 

Lori and April at Tombstone
On a side note, if these posts feel like they are up and down emotionally, they are.  During this trip, my Grandma's husband finally passed away. Life doesn't care.  It forces me to keep going but it's amazing how I can go from laughter to tears each day. Between my Grandma, her husband Bob, my cat, the political scene here, conservation attacks, tours, it's amazing I haven't gone bonkers.  But writing has helped me process all of these emotions. This past weekend I took a bad spill on a road while hiking.  I was telling a student to be careful and as I said it, I tripped and did an acrobatic feat that I didn't even know I could do.  My training has taught me to roll.  So instead of breaking a bone, I have some nice scrapes and bruises on the left side of my body. I always wondered how people fell.  Now I know. It sucks.

I am reminded that life is full of surprises and I have to roll with the punches(and scars:). I do know that we had an amazing experience this weekend and I'm grateful for those moments. There is yet so much more work to be done and by educating our youth about these historical and wild spaces, we are helping the young understand the importance of these much needed landmarks. They are, after all, why I moved to Arizona in the first place. Until next time.....

Monday, November 27, 2017

Con Ti Partiro

Open the door Chris.  Step outside.  Breathe. Think. What do we do now?  I get into my car and drive.  

White-nosed Coati
The world seems to stretch on forever.  My eyes strain to see what is on the far horizon. 

Golden-crowned Kinglet

When will it end? How could I be so callous? How could I ever think such things? She has trusted us to be there and protect her. Throw yourself into your work.  Find birds. Don't think about it. 

Somewhere in between, my eyes get all blurry. A pause in life. Between the trails and work space, she brightened our day with purrs and cuddles. She helped us cook dinner.  She waited by the door when we got home. And she always reminded us when it was time for a little snack. 

Brown Creeper
It's the present that keeps me at bay.  It's the heart that takes over and the end that I must face. But I don't want to. It isn't fair. 

No amount of love, kisses or hugs can stop the inevitable outcome. What can we do to stop her painful cries?  Either way, we lose what is most precious to us.  Prolong her suffering? Or humanely end it? 

Cassin's Finch
I can't sleep.  And at the same time, I don't want to get up. Sometimes I pray that she has passed in her sleep so that she won't suffer anymore. She can't breath.  Every moment causes her physical pain.  She doesn't eat.  And her golden eyes lock with mine. Please don't leave us.  Please stay forever.  

Vermilion Flycatcher
Our memories begin to flash back over her life as we wait in the doctor's office with her.  How did we get here?  We did everything right.  And still, here we are. 

She is,for us, the purest form of love and trust that we have experienced as a family.

No amount of birding can fill up this void in my heart.  We said our goodbyes.  The worst word in this world.  But we were there with her as we said our final words. 

It is said that if a goodbye hurts, it is because we loved a lot, and that it is a price worth paying. 

We will always love you Cassie.  You made our lives so much richer for being here. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Each And Every Day

A Northern Flicker feeds from a Hackberry Tree
With my professional lens back in hand, it was back on the trails trying to recapture pics of birds I had seen last weekend. 

It's hunting season and Micheal is letting this Mule Deer to hide better
 However, we mixed it up a bit and stopped over at the Empire Gulch to see just how badly this past summer's fire damage had been. 

Loggerhead Shrike
 As with any fast spreading fire, it twirls and whirls around vegetation.  Some spaces are left unscathed while others are torched to the ground. It looks like the wintering birds don't mind.

A patch of towering Arizona Cottonwoods still stands, defiant of the fire
  Let me show you an example.  Here is a photo of the Empire Gulch before the fire a couple years ago during our yearly fundraising event(below).

It was a shaded forest.  After the fire, the sunlight has infiltrated the canopy of the riparian area
 The Empire Gulch is/was a migrant trap for many birds.  This is the "after photo" of the same magical space that is now changed. 

This ancient and magical Arizona Cottonwood is gone.  Even certain trees hold our hearts from over the years.  It was sad to see this beautiful tree gone.
This fire, caused by a border patrol agent target practicing during the driest part of the season, caused a massive grassland fire that destroyed homes and the very important Empire Gulch.  While wildfire is important to reinvigorate an area like the grasslands, it can also be devastating to riparian areas.  Unfortunately, this area will take years to return to its former glory.  And not all of the riparian area was affected (which is a good thing).  However, several of the HUGE and unique Arizona Cottonwoods are gone.  So while the grasslands truly benefited from the fire, the riparian area will take years to recover. Each of these habitats attract different birds. This gulch is important to our breeding summer birds like the Gray and Zone-tailed Hawks.

The mega rare Couch's Kingbird still hangs out at one of Tucson's local parks

 Back in town, I had to go back and get better photo documentation of the visiting Couch's Kingbird. 

Wilson's Snipe
 And also photos of one of my favorite species of bird, the Wilson's Snipe. They are beautiful shorebirds that often stay hidden in the grasses and mud clumps, but for some reason, these two birds didn't seem to mind being out in the open. 

Love is in the air between the two behind Micheal. They were the sweetest couple. 

We also explored a new place to catch a bite which is truly a wonderful piece of Americana. Micheal didn't want to go because it's a truck stop.  For years, people have been telling me about this place so finally, we made a stop at the Triple T Truck Stop at Omar's Hi-Way Chef Restaurant.  It. Was. Awesome.  If you're into people watching, this is the place. The food was great and cheap. And the service was fantastic.  

juvenile male Northern Pintail
I'm staying close to home so that I can spend more time with our Cassie.  And well, each day presents a new challenge.

I wish everyone celebrating Thanksgiving in and out of the US a wonderful start to the holiday season.
Until next time.....