Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Passage of Time

Beginning at a very young age, I was exposed to nature magazines and television.  They introduced me to a larger world beyond my small town.

Never in my dreams did I expect to see the world. So I explored my own little world in my own little town.  But I wasn't satisfied.....

After 8th grade, I was sent to Flagstaff, AZ for the summer.  Two major events happened.  I discovered my love for this western state. And my Grandfather died.  It was the first time I understood the meaning of loss.  His final years were his happiest.  Every day was something new for him whether it be snow plowing a driveway, finding the perfect strawberry shortcake for Grandma, or doing some fishing on the lake in his boat. When he left us, I learned that I needed to make today count. I lost my best friend and role model. 

And I have.  There are sacrifices.  Pay this bill off ahead of time or explore a new space?  In life there are always so many choices to make.  And no matter what decision we make, there will always be pros and cons. 

Life passes by much too quickly.  We are all a collection of our memories and experiences. At heart, I was always an explorer.  I always wanted to be a naturalist but there wasn't any security or money in that profession.  So I chose teaching:)

Now let me explain. I found much more security in the education field because there were the benefits and retirement options.  All the things that grown ups are supposed to have. I still had to play by the rules. In the naturalist areas, my friends had to wait and wait to get into secure positions. I didn't want to waste time. Plus the summer vacations and holidays allowed me to nurture that inner explorer and naturalist. So teaching was my choice.

I had so many questions(still do). So into the world I went exploring places like Mexico, Central and South America, Europe and West Africa.  I tried to explain the world to my friends and family.  Sometimes they were interested but I learned to make my trek summaries short as their eyes glazed over with boredom.  Travel is something to be experienced and it often cannot be shared.  There is a spirituality fused within an experience that cannot be put into words.  So I found that the best way to make a memory is to share one with a friend:) And in all my journeys, I discovered adventure can happen anywhere, including your own backyard. But that comes with experience. 

Reading about the artist Greco is boring.  However, standing next to one of his HUGE paintings in Toledo, Spain ⇩ is unforgettable. Walking along the cobblestone streets of his home are tangible reminders of the past. Travel offers a physical reality that you cannot get from a textbook. 

After the terrorist bombing of the Atocha station in Madrid, Spain, I was reminded once again that life is fragile.  As we stood in this station, I watched as people placed red candles in the thousands to remember those killed after that attack. Hearing it on the news was shocking. But to witness it in person, watching 10's of thousands of people come together in Madrid's streets made me FEEL something.  

I have met so many people, some I wish to see often but can't.  We are given a moment.  What will we do with it?

 I owned such primitive camera equipment back then.  I didn't pay attention to the details, but I blame age on this:)

It's hard to notice birds and critters when the world is your international party.  And every day was like a big party.  

My Mexican niece in this photo is now a grown woman.  HOW?  HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??!!

We were so young ourselves.  My senior year of high school, I worked my tail off so that I could pay for a trip to Mexico. It was the only reason why I stayed in Spanish class for 4 years.  I wanted so badly to see this place known as Mexico. It was there that I became seduced by the Spanish gods.  The language fascinated me and I found myself intrigued by the cultural and linguistic challenges of this country. And I also discovered tequila.  

Over the years, I left tequila and replaced it with red wine.  One evening after several bottles in Paris, France, I spoke fluent French.  I don't know how but it happened.  I even had witnesses.  French is related to Spanish and Portuguese; both are languages I speak so it isn't a far stretch to say that my brain was relaxed enough to rewire a few things to get a conversation going. 

I learned Portuguese in West Africa.  There I taught English, swam in the US embassy pool staring at a gorgeous colored bird known as the Grey-headed Kingfisher.  Look at that photo documentation!  Film cameras were the best! Also note the trash on the ground!

It was here that I began to examine things closely. It was also here that I let my naive young self go. I became an adult and developed a sharp tongue. I do miss that part of growing up but I think if I saw my old self, I'd slap him across the face:)  My adventures were going to change.  After leaving my assignment with the Peace Corps, I went home and found peace and quiet.  They were the years of solitude. I moved back to Tucson and set up shop.

Oh, there'd still be trips but they wouldn't be two year assignments like before.  Gone were the days of renting an apartment over the summer in Mexico City. 

Language took over my life and so did my job.  I took it seriously for many years.  And then I realized the job didn't define who I was. The job became "the job". Oh I still like what I do but it has nothing to do with my marriage, bird trekking, and friends. 

Super geek here.  I love my glasses.  I only wear contacts when I'm out in the field.  At night, I gladly put my glasses on.  
 I have always been an explorer at heart.  National Geographic, Ranger Rick, Star Trek and Arizona Highways guided me. My parents believed in the art of camping and we explored our beautiful Wisconsin state park system. I studied at a university full of naturalists because I felt at home there. I couldn't explain it then.  Now, it all makes sense. 

I loved parrots and lovebirds. I grew up with them.  In fact, I always noticed the birds when I was a kid.  Both my grandparents had feeders and loved their birds.  My mother raised parrots.  However it was at the university with my lovebird that I discovered how much I hated caging up my friend. Often I would leave the cage door slightly ajar so that the bird could fly anywhere in the house.  In 1995, I came to the conclusion that no bird should be caged.  Now this is just my conclusion.  I know that there are many of you who love your birds and I've met several of you to know that they are loved.  I just didn't have the time to spend with them like others did. 

 And as I approached my 40's, I decided to take a trip to Panama.  I thought it would be boring.  Many of the people there speak English and they use the American dollar!  What is interesting about that?  Then I met Ivan at his Birder's Bed and Breakfast in Gamboa.  For the first time in my life, I discovered the secret community of birders. They were everywhere.  Smart. Quiet. Attentive. There they stood in the dark and beautiful spaces of the rain forest. Creepy. But cool. 

All of our guides in Panama also happened to be birders.  This Spanish teacher just wanted to "tick" off Panama on his list of Spanish speaking countries like birders do with their feathered friends. But I didn't expect that it would change the direction of my life. I fell in love with Gamboa so much that we returned to stay there on our way back to the US.  Ivan told me that I was a birder at heart.  No one had ever said that to me before.  I didn't have the camera equipment or binoculars.  How in the world could I be a birder?

Then, it happened.  On Coiba Island, I witnessed a magical moment.  Our guide called the Long-tailed Manakins out of the dense forest with his words and it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. Birds were amazing. My bird linguistic skills, like what had happened in France, kicked into gear. Speaking bird was a language. I now understood what Ivan meant. He had seen something in me that I had ignored my whole life. During our last nights with Ivan, I saw my future unravel before my eyes.  I didn't have to go far into the past to find out what had been building up to this moment of realization.  From ancient photos using a film camera, I retraced my steps and discovered that I had been a "birder" my entire life.  I just didn't know it was called that!  When I returned back to Arizona, I met Kathie Brown who trained me in the ways of birding. 

In Costa Rica, I chased flocks of Scarlet Macaws during a weekend outing. On this remote beach, I observed them for two days feeding from nuts and berries.  There were at least 2 large flocks of 20 to 26 birds flying mostly in pairs.  And there I stood in my own National Geographic moment alone surrendering to the experience. I didn't read about it; I experienced it! When I have this spiritual connection to the natural world, I feel goosebumps.  Sometimes, I tear up like I do after watching a sappy movie.  Or sometimes, I shout with excitement like people do during a football game. To be clear, birder "shouts" are usually done after an epic bird is found because we don't want to disturb them in their habitat. 

Taken 21 years ago outside of San Jose, Costa Rica
Today, we plan on returning to the magnificent beauty of Costa Rica. This time with the camera equipment.  This time with the language of bird.  This time with the razor sharp knowledge.  Over 40 years of experience has lead me on this spiritual path. I am National Geographic.  I am Ranger Rick.  And I will live this moment.  Dreams do come true when you work to make them happen.  Until next time.....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Babs enjoys a nice scope view of the Rose-throated Becards with a kind birder.
 I have been wanting to write a little bit about birding Arizona during our intensely hot summer months. Specifically, the month of June. When guests come to visit, I have very little energy to go with them during a whole day and find birds.  Our temps average around 104-115 degrees during the month of June.  And while those temps are dangerous, there are things you can do to avoid dying on the trails. 

Varied Buntings breed in Arizona during the summer months
 It is NO secret that Arizona birding is one of the best places in the world to go and find unique and beautiful species of bird.  But the same can be said of our herpes, bugs and mammals.  Our summer months offer excellent opportunities to find rare and unique southwestern flora and fauna.   

With that being said, I often lack the energy to wake up and explore.  Why?  Well, sunrise here begins around 4:30 AM.  And the birds begin their song at that time.  So what can a birder do to make their visit to Southern Arizona more comfortable?

Bring a friend/s.  They help motivate.  For myself, I groan at the 4:30 AM wake up call but I am always excited about the incredible discoveries we made afterwards in the field.  Also, if there is an injury on one of our rugged trails, you'll have someone who can get help.  I cannot tell you how many times people will get heatstroke or nearly pass out after their first day out.  They overextend their birding excitement and wear out quickly.  This brings me to......

Canyon Tree Frog
 Water.  You MUST bring water with you at all times.  If your car breaks down, have water with you.  Put a water pack on your back and drink drink drink!  You'll prevent the severe headaches at night by staying hydrated.  And speaking of evening.....

Coue's Whitetail Deer
 It's one of the best times to go birding for rare and exciting nightjars, mammals, owls and more!  Again bring a buddy because there are many wild elements here in the desert.....like snakes.  Snakes love to hunt at night.  So do most of our critters.  

Lophocampa mixta, Tiger Moth.  Thanks Margarethe for the ID
As mentioned before, go early in the morning.  Best time to bird is anywhere from 4:30 AM until 10 or 11 AM.  Stay in the shade as often as you can.  Go to higher elevations or shady canyons to make your birding experience much more enjoyable. 

American Snout
Try to stay in a local area and bird so that you don't waste that valuable birding time in the car. For example, you could stay in Sierra Vista and then bird the many canyons and riparian hotspots around the city. As the day gets hotter, the bird activity dies down. Most birders at this point take a nap or get lunch. 

BUT if you are in your car, you can also bird.  How?  Well check this out.  Birding from your vehicle is a real thing.  My Wisconsin peeps often bird during the cold winter months from their warm vehicles.  It's no different here.  Places like Saguaro National Park(East Rincon Unit) offer a 9 mile loop where you can drive and park at your leisure for birds and critters.  For lunch, you can stop at the Javelina Picnic area under the shaded ramadas.  Birds, like the Canyon Towhee, Gilded Flicker or Black-throated Sparrows, will casually hang out and watch you relax and chow down.  

Western Screech Owl
So what is my technique?  Well I love the cold temps of our winter months here so I really utilize my time wisely outdoors.  When summer comes, I call up friends to go out for some early morning  birding.  If I don't, I sleep in and waste away inside my house. 

Blue Grosbeak
I tend to go later in the afternoon, around 5 or 6 PM when the intensity of the sun is less.  Temps are still hot but a breeze usually starts up and makes it a bit tolerable. 

Scaled Quail
 I also tend to hit the higher elevations and canyons for shade. And in the desert, I park and scan from my car.  

Gambel's Quail
 This past week was a fun one.  I went one evening to Madera Canyon and watched birds at the feeders.  There were a lot of great birds but the one everyone was thrilled to see at the feeders was the Varied Bunting.  They can be tricky to capture on camera because of the lighting conditions. Their colors are so wild that the camera often has issues sorting them out. 

Gila Woodpecker
And this past and current week should be titled the week of the "BLUE GROSBEAK".  They were most numerous around the San Pedro Riparian area.  We could not get over the dozens of blue dots flying around the feeders. 

Blue Grosbeak
We also stopped at Ramsey Canyon on an overcast day and did a survey in the humid, yet wonderful, shade of that canyon.  

Giant Mesquite Bug
An early morning trek with Babs lead us to a happy observation.  Rose-throated Becards are breeding in AZ again.  We suspect they were there last year but no one saw them. An old nest hangs nearby their current one suggesting that they were most likely present last year. While that trail has been there for some time, it wasn't as fixed up as it is now. While we were on the trail, there were some workers cleaning up the area for better access. It has been a good year for this species in AZ after not having many reports of them over the past several years.  

Nesting Rose-throated Becards-finally!

June is also the best month to escape the heat and take a holiday/vacation.  Many Arizonans head to San Diego or Rocky Point, Mexico during this time to enjoy the ocean and cool temps. If I take a vacation in June, I always make sure I'm home for July because the monsoon show is spectacular. Below I have several reports from our treks around Southern Arizona this past week.  Until next time...... 

For the Rose-throated Becards, click here.

For the Flame-colored Tanager and Ramsey Canyon, click here.  

For the Rufous-capped Warblers in Florida Canyon, click here.  This is the trail you need to explore early and with a friend.  It can be moderate to difficult due to the trail above the dam area.  The trail is steep with loose rock in some areas.  A walking stick is advised as is a water pack.  So why go?  It's one of the birdiest. Just be careful around the dam area.  

For the easy Varied Bunting add at the Santa Rita Lodge, click here

For the Blue Grosbeak excitement, click here