Sunday, September 3, 2017

Three Betrayals You Will Know

Canyon Wren

As the Canyon Wren inspected my binoculars, I pondered the meaning of it all.  Somehow we made it.  And thank the bird gods we did.  I'm not sure what we would have done had we been alone. 

This trip showed signs of trouble from the start.  Kathy's truck met a river for a road.  We tried to get around the river but got stuck in the mud.  And later it happened again! But this time in the Cocospera river!  Had it not been for Jim's tow cable, I'm not sure we would have gotten out.  

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
I looked over and saw the Canyon Wren again.  This time on the backpack.  We took our walk and again I counted birds once more for this ranch.

As we hiked down the trail, we noticed a new road cutting through pristine desert habitat.  This ranch?  Was it even protected anymore?

I still noticed the birds.  They were all still there. But something was different this time.  

female Varied Bunting
They checked their jaguar cams.  I recorded.  This time we noticed mesquites cut down. The cameras picked up service workers from the state doing the cutting. On this ridge, where Jaguars survey their large territory, we witnessed the incredible Sky Islands.  We could see the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona from Mexico!  This spot was magical as we could see every major sky island. I now could piece together the bird migration puzzle.  It all made sense. 

And this time around, there were more cattle. Once upon a time, the ranch owner was sensitive to the number of cattle on his land.  But it seems he has lost this battle as well.

The old couches sat outside on the patio now as if to be taken away at some point.  There the Canyon Wren sat. 

I watched an adult Cliff Swallow feed the baby. 

Cliff Swallow
Nothing lasts forever.  There comes a breaking point when one says enough is enough.  Not only was the ranch going through some changes; so was I. At my work, a friend betrayed my trust.  After 16 years of working together, it was a hard slap in the face and it broke my heart. It's now strictly business.  My life has become a complicated and wonderful thing.  And the same is happening for my other half.  I share my adventures with people and they wonder how I am able to balance it all together.  It's hard.  But I have kept this motto ever since I first heard the words from Principal Art Johnson. "Work hard; Play hard." And it can be done with the proper management of time.  AND it's also the same reason that I have written in the past that we are only given a certain amount of time.  Do we spend our time living in the negative moments?  Or do we live our lives to the fullest? 

Vermilion Flycatcher
I've now cut the last threads of negativity out of my life. Life changes. We change. When you can't trust a friend with personal information, they no longer are friends. 

At night, we walked muddy roads discovering more bugs than reptiles.  I thought more about betrayal. Maybe this is how the rancher also felt.  He thought he could trust the Mexican government to do the right thing.  He thought he could trust the conservation groups to keep his efforts going.  And in all his efforts, he kept running into obstacles. 

Wolf Spider
Several of us swallowed bugs.  Something big ran across my foot. The air was saturated with insects! Clouds of winged things formed around us under the starry sky.  They were in our hair, on our skin and in our mouths. It was quite the experience. Sometimes I shined my light on one of my friends and they couldn't figure out why they were getting attacked by all the bugs. I needed a good laugh to get through this hellish bug nightmare. We were walking through the poopy stream where the cattle were now hanging out. It was gross. 

In the darkness, it's difficult to see with human eyes.  Thankfully our head lights illuminated these incredible alien looking bugs.  Our ears could detect Great Horned, Barn, Elf and Western screech-owls.  Eventually we hit the muddy river of a road where we first got stuck.  I was not walking through that mess again. 

Jim checked traps for snakes and other reptiles. This guy is fearless!  

A sleeping Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Meanwhile, I counted the sleeping birds in the trees while Tim and Robyn tried finding snakes climbing up those trees. 

Hummingbird migration was at full force.  

The Canyon Wrens jumped onto my chair.  I had a good laugh.  How many people struggle to see these wrens when they come to visit?  Sure, I often hear them but to have them come right up to me was a nice change. Talk about an armchair tick!

And I continued counting birds while running into more cattle.  No decision is ever simple.  More cattle equals more money.  It's obviously where the cash is made. But surely there is a way for conservation to be equally profitable beyond the hunting sector?

Wilson's Warbler
I came back and found these two wrens getting into more mischief.  At one point, someone left the truck door open and one of the birds went into the vehicle!!!  So I obsessed about the bird until it flew out.  

For years, I tried to believe that the ranch owner was trying to make a difference.  And I think at some point he did maybe try a little. During our last visit, we witnessed things on the ranch that seemed to be reversing the conservation trend. 

Blue Grosbeak
I've listened to the ranch owner tell stories about how the government and town were not pleased that he wasn't putting more cattle on the ranch.  And that whenever he tried to move forward in the various conservation areas, he was blocked by someone or something.  It must have been frustrating. 

Antelope Jackrabbit
And then there's my point of view.  I've been to the ranch when we didn't have electricity because he forgot.  Or he didn't tell us that he changed the gate lock even though he knew we were coming.  This last time?  He forgot to turn on the water AND we had to find a way around the gate because the locks were changed yet again. Then there were the bad conditions of the road. It wouldn't be so bad if people didn't have to pay money.  But they did. So how serious is he really about conservation work and attracting people to the ranch?  

I fear that soon there will be no one coming to do research at this ranch.  I understand that people need to survive and make money.  I also know that the people on our end work their tails off to do excellent research.  They have offered to help expand the organization but it has been met with lukewarm reception.  People like Kathy believe in this place.  She always has. 

Our glue, Ms. Kathy, can't keep this going forever. She has been the organizer for all these trips for so many years.  Both she and her daughter have spent MANY hours prepping for these trips so that people could experience the ranch.  It has been a magical journey and I've met some of the most incredible people.  But sadly, it looks like those days are coming to an end as the ranch owner ends his conservation attempts to protect the Cocospera Riparian area.

As I look out at the ranch one last time, I wonder what will happen. Only one weekend before this trip, I had heard a speaker talk about this rancher and what an amazing job they both had done creating this conservation friendly ranch. There were half truths spoken.  Old conversations with the ranch owner about this speaker suddenly surfaced. I watched the audience believe his every word.  In the back of my mind, I heard the rancher's voice.  And I listened intently to what this man had to say.  What the speaker didn't tell his audience was that he is not allowed back on that rancher's property anymore because he betrayed the rancher's trust. Again, the word "betray". To me, this speaks volumes about the relationship issues between conservation groups and ranchers.  I can't speak for the ranch owner as I have never been a ranch owner.  I've not been in his shoes boots, but I can tell you that I wouldn't want irresponsible people on my lands. 

Sleepy Orange
The people below continue to be optimistic and I will try my best to keep an open mind.  Some will keep trying for as long as they can. 

But here's the kicker.  Who speaks for the wildlife on this ranch?  Who will protect them if no one cares?  The bird gods must have heard my troubled thoughts because several days after our trek, I received a letter requesting the use of one of my photos I took on the ranch a couple years ago of the Crawford's gray shrew.  Jim was looking under wooden panels on a cold cold day and discovered this tiny mammal.  Perhaps these organizations will put Aribabi on the conservation map and help this ranch owner out?  Only time will tell.  How does that saying go?  One step forward; three steps back. 

I have watched "change" happen all around me in the desert. I've silently watched the major characters in conservation interact with their audiences and also between their egos.  Three Betrayals I have learned during this past month of August. A betrayal of land, friendship and intent. I remember a time before birding when everything was so black and white.  When birding entered my life, it fused itself into my being and changed everything.  And I changed.  I can't save the world but I can be the best citizen scientist possible.  I have to believe that we, as the shepherds of this planet, can do better. Until next time.....


  1. Great post - all we can do is all we can do - but more people need to do it.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  2. Hello Chris, with this post it sounds like you will be the protector of the ranch and birds. Back stabbing co-workers are not worth your time, it is best to push the negativity out of your mind. Me, I was happy to be able to retire as soon as I could. Your wrens are so cute, they got into everything. The spider looks huge, very creepy. Great post and report. Happy Birding, enjoy your day and new week!

    1. I'll do what I can and agreed on the co-worker. I'm done with it all. I'll do my job but I have no loyalty to anyone anymore which makes the job easier in many ways. Just disappointing. You do the same! Hope you had a fun labor day weekend!

  3. This was such a sad and disturbing post. People will always disappoint us. When it affects others, and animals, it is hard to take. The trip sounded like such a trial! You got some great photos, but I wonder what the future of that place will be. Sorry things are such a struggle right now.

    1. It's ok. Each of these posts are like a mini chapter. One weekend it's sad but the next weekend is a complete blast and has a whole different feel. But my trip down to Mexico this time was bittersweet.

  4. Such a thought provoking and moving post. So sad to read of the betrayals ans such a dreadful shame about the ranch. Good to hear of you ridding yourself of the negativity. Feel for you right now Chris.

  5. I love capturing the images but this was the post I was dreading to write the most. Life is all about growing. The more positive life becomes; the more I realize that I can't be around negativity anymore. We've worked hard to get to where we are. And negativity isn't going to get anyone anywhere anymore. Live and learn I guess. Thankfully most of the treks are fun and exciting. This one was a tad bittersweet.


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