Monday, January 30, 2017

What Would Bob Ross Do?

Nesting Great Horned Owl
 A week passed and I kept myself busy with work while doing a little volunteering for Tucson Audubon.  I monitored my nesting owls but couldn't shake the news.  No matter where I went, I was bombarded with it everywhere. 

Quiet at the San Pedro Riparian area
The United States is having a moment.  The citizens are at odds.  The conservatives complain that all the liberals are whining too much and that they should get over it. But the protests should tell them that it's not going to end anytime soon. 

A Merlin
Americans are witnessing something very historic and very ugly for the first time in decades.  Speaking about politics out in the open is poisonous and deadly.  This uncontrollable poison leaches into everything I do.  And I am not the only one.  Something big is building and I don't think people have a clue about how bad things are going to get.  A movement is beginning.  One that I have never seen in my lifetime.  But perhaps those who are in their 60's(and older) remember a similar moment in history known as the Civil Rights Movement.  So for people to casually blow this off as simply whining are really not understanding how serious this is.  We are a pressure cooker and the top is about to blow.

Pronghorn rest in the Cienagas Grasslands near Empire Ranch
SO.  I tried birding in several spots to rid myself of this negative energy, but everywhere we went, whispers from the crowds and hikers kept the political conversations going.  We had to go away from the tourist and crowded outdoor attractions to find quiet.

 It wasn't until we reached the grasslands that I was able to freely let that nasty energy go.  There is something about the grasslands that is so healing. We watched as the wind bent the grass blades forward, rippling across the miles of golden terrain.  

In the silence, my mind began to wander as we hiked along the trails.  At one point, I began to think about Bob Ross while passing a random and solitary tree.  As you may or may not know, trees make everything better in the world of Ross.  And they really do:)

a sleepy Western Screech-Owl
What would Bob Ross have thought about all of this craziness? Would he have put more of himself into his work?  Or would he have said anything at all?  My mind eventually drifts back to the trees.  Some stood together while others stood alone. And yet there was enough space for all of them to grow freely. 

Bob Ross once said, "You need the dark in order to show the light." While he may have been speaking about his painting process, Bob often spoke with a deeper meaning.  I mean, that's why his show was so awesome.  It wasn't just about painting:)

Unfortunately, it'll take more than Bob Ross to get us through this national crisis.  And it's times like these when birding and art and discovery and life should be free from all this madness. It's not.  Somehow, somewhere there will come a breaking point when the so called "whining" turns violent and history will repeat itself....again. For now, the US is in it deep. Until next time......

Monday, January 23, 2017

Winter Birding in Maricopa County

Sometimes, while waiting for the next challenge, we occupy our time with important surveys.

Over the weekend, I grabbed a golf cart and joined friends Gordon and Joe for the Greater Phoenix waterbird count.  Gordon lead our team for this annual Arizona Game and Fish event.  

Gordon and Joe count waterbirds on the golf course
We drove golf carts and counted all the wintering waterbirds at all the watering holes......and that was A LOT! I could not believe how many golf courses are found in the Phoenix area!  

Hooded Merganser
Phoenix is an amazing place to bird in the winter.  There are thousands of ducks that find safety within the urban limits of this huge city. 

I'm not a big fan of birding here in the summer though.  It's really hot with a lot of roads and sidewalks absorbing the 110+ temps.  At night those same roads and sidewalks keep the night temps very warm by releasing the heat.  So casually walking around Phoenix in the winter is a real treat.   

Our count took the full day and along the way, we saw some great birds.  It was overcast, windy and COLD!  

I like to help out when I can.  Gordon's trek was fun and had us outdoors exploring new locations.  

It also gives us something to do while we wait for our next great trek to the North.  

Green-tailed Towhee
 So if you are coming to Arizona for the winter, you will find lots of wintering ducks hanging out in our urban parks.  During the summer in Wisconsin, I was shocked by how frightened the birds were of us.  They tend to hide better and keep their distance far far away from people. I think it has a lot to do with hunting in the Northern States.  Ducks aren't dummies.  Luckily for them, they've found safety within our urban water areas.  And they definitely aren't shy of the people here. 

The day after our count, we went to another watering hole and found a rare Cackling Goose(Richardson's subspecies) hanging out with some Canada Geese.  Look carefully at the photo.  While they all look the same, one of the geese is smaller and has a short bill. 

Cackling Goose to the lower left of this picture
I love those kinds of ID challenges in the field. 

drake Green-winged Teal
Most ducks aren't shy in our area, but the Green-winged Teal can be tricky at times.  This drake, however, decided to swim up to me.  It doesn't happen often:)

Northern Shoveler
It's also interesting to note the differences between the drake(male) and hen(female) of the duck and merganser species.  Here is a male Common Merganser below. 

male Common Merganser
And here is the female(below). Very different looking!

A thank you to Gordon for setting up our count, leading our team and driving and to Joe for helping out. Our adventures will continue next week.......

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Stately Fortress

Oh it would be easy to sit back and do nothing BUT then I'd miss out on all the fun!  In an effort to collect photo documentation, I returned to several areas to get those photos and add new species to my state list. 

Elegant Trogon
If I sat around like this Elegant Trogon, I wouldn't improve my birding skills one bit.  However, the Elegant Trogon wasn't just sitting around.....

He was eyeing up a katydid for lunch.

Green Kingfisher
The true purpose of our trip out to Patagonia State Park was to help friend Gordon get the rare Green Kingfisher on his state list.  I also needed to update my photos of this bird.  This male is a stunner!

And along the way, such beauties like the Swamp Sparrow (below) bedazzle us sparrow lovers:)

Swamp Sparrow
Oh.....and who can resist the bright flashy pinks of an Anna's Hummingbird?!

male Anna's Hummingbird
Or stare up into the sky and wonder why a Zone-tailed Hawk is eating an American Coot? And why is it wintering in Tucson??!!!!  So many questions about so many things......

Zone-tailed Hawk
But the true challenge came when I added a Palm Warbler to the Arizona list.  Adding state birds these days is hard work!  And warblers are the find:)

Western Palm Warbler
And while not the greatest photo I've taken of a Rose-throated Becard(below), it's proof that I've finally seen one here in the US!

Rose-throated Becard
As I begin my year, I find peace and joy in Arizona birding.  I am grateful for the constant challenges that arise here.  Arizona truly is a birder's paradise. 

Say's Phoebe
When there aren't any rarities to chase, there's always an amazing group of local birds to find. I am proud to be an Arizona birder.  I have grown over the years as a better birder thanks in part to all the wonderful guides and professionals who live here. They continue to educate me and I continue to learn.  There is still SO much to learn.  Until next time....

Gilded Flicker in the rain at Saguaro National Park
For this post's reports, click on the links. 
Patagonia State Park(Green Kingfisher, etc)

Quail Creek Municipal Veterans Park (Palm Warbler)

The DeAnza Trail(Rose-throated Becard)

Friday, January 13, 2017


On an overcast day, Baby J sat in his stroller listening to the strange "Ahhhh-ooooohs" being made in the distance.  He made his own "ahhh-oooh!" and our hearts melted.

I took a break from the chases.  No more for now.  It was time to hang out with the family. So we headed to one of my favorite and yearly stops at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.  It's great for kids.  It's also a rehabilitation center for the critters.  And it's also a fantastic wildlife sanctuary. So Baby J got to go on his first birding adventure. 

At the Wildlife Sanctuary, they sell corn for the ducks and Baby J got to feed the hundreds of ducks. 

The baby J's hang out together
But he didn't get to see just ducks.  There were geese and turkeys and all kinds of critters.  

Wild Turkey
I watched his face as the ducks piled up around him. It was absolutely fun!

This is a great place for kids to experience wildlife up close.  Well maybe not too close to those Canada Geese:)

Northern Cardinal
It just so happened that we hit the day at the right time because it wasn't too cold and there weren't a lot of people walking around the park.

While at the sanctuary, he made duck sounds and wolf sounds, tried petting a Canada no. 

American Black Duck
He got to go down his first tree house slide, play in a turtle shell and throw milk on his uncle.  Stinker. 

The day went by too quickly and soon our adventures in Wisconsin would be over.  We had a fun last day together. 

And the real reason why I don't have kids? My family has contributed quite a few people to this planet.  Currently with a world population of 7 billion, quite a few of us will need to NOT have kids:)  So it's nice being the Uncle with all the nephews and nieces.  I'm just hoping that some of them will get the travel bug and maybe become a future birder?  

It's was nice to hang out with the family during the holidays, but it's back to the Arizona trails next week.  And the weather here is VERY nice:)  Until next time.....

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Every Day Is Sunday

When I visit with family during holiday over an extended period of time, I find that every day blurs into the next.  During breakfast with my Grandma one morning, I asked her, "What day is today?"  

Bald Eagles at the Two Rivers Harbo
"Sunday. But when you're retired, every day is Sunday.", she replied.  I didn't need to be retired to understand that feeling . 

Days and dates lose their meaning.  And with our agenda, it was quite a dangerous thing to forget scheduled events.  Thankfully, my Dad wouldn't let us forget:)

Everyone needed meeting times and where we'd meet.  If I could, I'd let it all happen as it happens, but that's not the way of the world. 

Bald Eagle
We'd get lost in observation with beautiful birds like the Bald Eagle.  Once, this bird flew in great numbers around Wisconsin.  During the 70's, 80's and 90's, this bird had all but vanished from the Lakeshore.  But today, after the DDT bans, these birds are once again appearing in great numbers across Wisconsin.  In fact during our stay, the Bald Eagle was quite a common bird and observed on nearly every count we did. 

a visit with Grandma
A bird I one day hope to observe in Arizona is the Rough-legged Hawk. During the winter months, this hawk is a common sight in the countryside. 

Rough-legged Hawk
I like this bird a lot because it often behaves like a kite while hunting across the fields.  

Each day felt like one long gray overcast extension of the next. Once and awhile, a ray of sunshine pierced the clouds and touched my skin.  In that rare moment, I felt like a cat sunning itself in the window. 

I could have spent hours in the field just observing the wildlife, but then again, I would have missed seeing my friends. AND I didn't even get to see all of them!  While I was home, I found out a classmate passed away and it was sad news.  Once again, I am reminded from a person's early passing to live life. Explore now.  Discover now.  Because there may not come a tomorrow. When my tomorrow comes, I want to be able to say that I truly lived life to the fullest. 

I heard more stories of death and gloom. A neighbor's father.  Carrie Fisher.  Debbie Reynolds.  George Michaels.  The holidays were rough!  I'm so glad that 2016 did not claim Betty White!  She is a national treasure!

female Downy Woodpecker
I easily forget about things when I watch wildlife.  I am thankful I live in Tucson.  I had been looking forward to going home to Wisconsin and getting a break from Arizona.  But what inevitably happens after a vacation?  I realized that I missed Tucson, my home.  When I returned, the rays of sunshine felt good against my skin. I love Wisconsin but Arizona has my heart....even during the nasty summer months:) It's funny how winter will make me forget the evil 110 degree temps!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Anyhow, we had a blast and spent a wonderful time together. 

Birding, which is the greatest adventure of all, takes me to all places both far and near.  When I bird in Wisconsin, it's a different kind of birding.  One that blurs the past, present and future into a singular moment. It's not your typical birding, but it does make for a thought provoking experience.  Until next time.....

The cat attacks the tree on her daily morning routine.  Several ornaments a day are found rolling around the floor each day.