Wednesday, May 30, 2018

San Carlos, Mexico

Over the past weekend, to celebrate the end of the school year, we headed out to San Carlos, Mexico.  It's a 5 and 1/2 hour drive south of Tucson. 

We arrived exhausted and were greeted by this California Praying Mantis.  Carefully I took this critter out to the patio.  

During our time in San Carlos, we relaxed a bit and had some drinks along the beach.  I did some light birding along the coast focusing on gulls. 

The Yellow-footed Gull of the Baja Pennisula is an endemic.  Here in San Carlos, this bird was the most common gull present. 

The Sonoran Desert ranges all the way into the state of Sinaloa.  It's a fascinating region of desert. Here you can find the iconic Saguaro Cactus growing next to areas of Cardon and Organ Pipe Cacti.  

As the vegetation changes the further south you go, so does the birding.  Here we not only see traditional Sonoran birds with typical ocean birds, but we begin to see Neotropic birds show up like the mangrove subspecies of Yellow Warbler, Mangrove Swallows and Great Kiskadee.  It is here that you can find other strange birds(not often seen in the northern Sonoran desert region) like White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks and Little Blue Herons.  There are Reddish Egrets and Tricolored Herons. The Sonoran Desert is an amazingly diverse area. 

One of my favorite species of birds, the Bronzed Cowbird, was seen in good numbers almost every place we went.  In fact, I searched high and low for a Brown-headed Cowbird.  No luck. 

Let's talk safety.  Getting to San Carlos is relatively easy.  We headed south down to the Nogales Mariposa port of entry and stopped near the Circle K to purchase some insurance.  Then we headed down to get the visa for the vehicle.  Don't take your chances.  If you get into a wreck and don't have the visa along with that insurance, they could impound your vehicle.....forever!  And you only need that visa if you pass Hermosillo.  Places, nearest the border, like Rocky Point(or Puerto Peñasco), don't require this visa. 

San Carlos is a clean and sleepy little ocean village.  It's worth the extra hours of driving.  It's cheap to rent a beautiful place.  In fact, I came back with money from this trek!  That rarely ever happens.  As for safety.  Always use common sense.  Lock up things, etc.  Now let's talk Mexico. 

Another favorite gull of mine is the Heerman's Gull.  Easy to ID and a beautiful bird to observe along the coast!  Having traveled Mexico this year(and the last), I must mention a couple things that I've heard from my Mexican friends and US workers down in this country.  I've been going to the safe tourist "corridors" of the country that are easy to travel and away from the drug cartel lanes. It's why I hired a guide in Mexico City this past spring due to being close to another state(Morelos, not on the list but a known drug corridor nonetheless).  Here is the latest Mexican Travel Advisory . 
"Exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread.
The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to these areas.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. government employees are also not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico with the exception of daytime travel on Highway 15 between Nogales and Hermosillo.

Do not travel to:
  • Colima state due to crime.
  • Guerrero state due to crime.
  • Michoacán state due to crime.
  • Sinaloa state due to crime.
  • Tamaulipas state due to crime."

However, we did notice some cartel activity in San Carlos in various spots because they own beach homes.  And it makes sense.  San Carlos is fairly close to the state of Sinaloa, known by Mexicans and the US, as a not-so-safe state to visit.  The cartels run their major operations out of this state and several others listed above. 

BUT with that said, San Carlos was safe. MANY Americans and other foreign nationals vacation in San Carlos. In Mexico, always travel by day and with others. It's the same in several areas of the US. So just use common sense. We had a blast.  Plus the birds were amazing!

I had several places I wanted to check out while we were there.  One included the San Pedro island for the nesting ocean birds and the other was the El Soldado Estuary between San Carlos and Guaymas.  Unfortunately, hurricane winds put a kibosh on our pelagic trek out to the island. 

However, I was able to do a count around the tidal areas and see lots of great ocean birds like a fast moving Black Storm-Petrel.  There weren't any life birds on the table here except maybe a Gull-billed Tern.  For me, this was more about connecting the dots in another sector of the Sonoran Desert.  Plus, my birding focus has shifted to the state of Sonora now. 

And when I wasn't counting birds around the town, we were celebrating the start of summer. I will say that I added Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and White Ibis to my Mexico list bringing my total national Mexican list up to 428 birds seen in the country.  In the next post, we'll explore the beautiful El Soldado Estuary. 

We had to keep an eye on Tami with that tequila.  We all got a little crazy:)
Now it's time for a margarita:)  Until next time.....

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Legacy Challenge

Little Blue Heron
It's no lie.  I am pretty much done birding in Arizona for now.  It's too hot.  The mornings are great but I'm taking them back and sleeping in again like I used to do several years ago:)

Now hold on.  It doesn't mean I've given up birds.  Far from the truth.  I just chased an easy state bird, the Little Blue Heron up in Phoenix last weekend. It was a beautiful morning out. At one point, it was just me and Little Blue at one of the ponds before the birders realized where s/he had gone.  Then s/he flew at the sight of the little kid birder making aggressive moves along the shore to get that perfect photo. And that was my cue to go home.  By that time, it was hot. 

Lark Sparrow
And it has been hot forever since.  So I began working on my bird feeders and water features at home.  My neighbor and I both put our huge fountain together in the center of the courtyard to prepare for the hot and dry month of June. This is the best month to observe wildlife because they come from all over to get a drink from scarce watering holes around the desert. The feature is up and running and birds are nesting all over the place in the oak trees.  Our Rock Squirrel has found our courtyard as an appropriate place to live. 

 I like having the little one around.  Most people hate squirrels at their feeders, but I don't.  I've waited 10 years to have one visit our yard.  S/he burrowed under our water fountain and lives the life.  In Midtown, there's very little in the way of wildlife(besides birds and feral cats)

Dark-lored White-crowned Sparrow
With finals happening now, and after all the public school mayhem, it's time to settle down and research.  And watch my bird feeders.  I actually enjoy it.  I get to see all the mischief happening around the property between the Curve-billed Thrashers, rare midtown Cactus Wrens, Abert's Towhees and nesting Brown-crested Flycatchers and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. They rely on me to provide them with fresh water and food:) Every year they come back to me. On an excellent day, I will have 24 species of bird come to my yard. 

male Hepatic Tanager on Mt. Lemmon.  If this guy came to my feeder, I'd crap myself. 
Solitary confinement is what I have been craving the most.  It's always an honor to be asked to events for organizations.  But after all the public outings are said and done, there is nothing I love better than the quiet solitude of home. 

I have been out in the garden more.  I am working on paint colors and a bird house project for my Lucy's Warblers next year.  I know House Finches will nest in some of those boxes, but honestly, I don't care.  When you walk around El Presidio, it's full of bird song and butterflies.  We even have lizards and geckos. 

On Mother's Day, we had a get together.  As a Spanish teacher, I needed to understand better the properties of a good chocolate mole from Mexico.  It's a sauce that goes over chicken normally.  So we assembled the team and the Aribabi crew got together and made this time consuming mole.  

I was in charge of the chili peppers which act as a base for the sauce. Jim was in charge of the special ingredients that went with the chili base.  And Mary Ann made sure we followed the directions. 

For once, it was nice making dinner for Kathy who usually makes all of our meals for us while we're down in Mexico during our counts and mammal tracking.  

However, we had to watch Jim because he slipped in several more chocolate disks to the mole:)

I'm proud of the work we did.  It's definitely a full morning of work with maybe some prep the night before. It tasted amazing and went down well with Jim's awesome margarita concoctions . 

During the week with my students, I was exhausted.  I'd work and go home to sleep.  This is the way of the final exam schedule at my school.  Meanwhile, all of my friends are in the Midwest for the Biggest Year.  This is an event I'll never be able to attend thanks to finals:)  By the time I retire, I'll have found all the North American Warblers I need and not have to participate in this event.  

Pine Siskin
Instead, I've been preparing for several major trips. One begins next weekend.  This year, I have been very interested in Mexico and connecting the dots.  I love the Sonoran desert very much and have wanted to do a study in San Carlos for years.  The last time I was there was back in 96. 

So many good memories.  I remember a perfect moment from that trip.  After a beautiful day at the beach at our friend's condo, we sat watching TV enjoying a beautiful Mexican sunset.  No worries.  No stress.  Just existing in the moment. 

It will be nice to revisit this area again.  It's 6 hours south of Tucson near the ocean village of Guaymas where Mexico truly begins and the border culture begins to fade away. 

My "work" will include an area count around the ocean front. Margaritas will be the main meal:)

This weekend we headed down to Nogales, an hour south of Tucson for a medication run.  Or as I like to call it, a drug run!  Medication is half to a third of the cost of what it runs in the US.  Many seniors can't afford the rising costs of medical bills here in the US because of their limited budgets.  Yes, the US is a disaster right now.  Thankfully, Mexico is nearby and we can get prescriptions at a normal price.  Then we stopped at La Roca for lunch.  Yum!

I've already droned on too long, but recent events have again made me pause and reflect.  Last week, I lost another former birding mentor, Bernie. I wrote about him 2 years ago in this post while we searched for his last warbler in North America.  He lived an amazing life and protected important lands from industrial development. At first I was sad that he wouldn't be there when I went home to visit, but then I thought about how lucky I was to have gotten the chance to work with Bernie over the years.  He was brilliant with his conservation work. His bird banding projects were genius. I remember Bernie sharing with me a story about banding Chimney Swifts! 

Our final time together would happen during our Hermit Warbler search. It was an honor to have had the chance to take him out one last time to find life birds in Southern Arizona. I worked with Winnie, the cranky Park Ranger.  I banded owls with Bernie. And I was a student of Doc Sontag. Doc is the last of this holy trio.  Without these people, Two Rivers and Manitowoc would have developed precious land along the Lake Michigan Shoreline.  They made a difference. Today, birders and nature lovers alike visit my hometown in mass numbers to visit these important natural spaces.  Places like Woodland Dunes, Point Beach State Forest and the Manitowoc Impoundment are protected thanks to the dedication and leadership of these amazing people.  Bernie leaves a great legacy behind. 

Lance-tailed Manakin
 What will our legacies be? Spanish was always my passion, but it lead me to the birds. This next month will be my birding anniversary.  It's when I accepted the label "birder" into my life.  Several Manakins on Coiba island "sparked" my passion for birds.  And for the better, it has changed my life forever.  Like many of us, we have gone through periods in our lives when we look back at our past reflections and wonder how we ever thought or acted the ways we did. I changed. And I am focused now. At a recent photo shoot I did for Altrusa, a group that fights illiteracy around the world, the spokeswoman reminded her members that the work they did was incredibly important. "Your legacy will come from the work you do everyday.  Do not take that for granted. You are valuable."

I remember sitting on that island in the Pacific Ocean all alone, away from the modern world thinking about the great adventures ahead.  At first, they were clueless treks into the unknown.  But I had to start somewhere.  That guy in the pic above was so naive and innocent.  However, it was a pivotal moment in my life that I will never forget. 

On the eve of this celebration, I will be heading to Trinidad and Tobago this June to research and observe new birds.  My goal this year is to reach 1000 life birds.  This island trek will be the first big mission to complete that task.  I'm hoping to observe such birds as the endangered Trinidad piping guan, oilbird, honeycreepers and the national bird of Trinidad, the Scarlet Ibis. But it's the Manakins, that I hope to observe in great detail.  Bernie, my Grandma, Melissa, and all those who have passed remind me to seize the moment and discover. Until next time..... 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Red Army Part 2

At the midnight hour, the day before we were supposed to return back to our classrooms, the deal fell through.  Anger.  Rage.  And once again, a trip up to the capital in the thousands is what many Arizona teachers did.  

"20 By 20" was Governor Ducey's response to the public education crisis in Arizona.  In other words, a 20 percent raise by the year 2020.  Originally it was 2 percent, but Arizona teachers had had it. Classrooms falling apart, support staff gone, and the loss of amazing teachers to other states were just a few issues that set off the Red For Ed movement.

Now at the midnight hour, literally, we were in the legislature once again in Phoenix.  The legislature wasn't going to pass Governor Ducey's proposed budget.  With thousands in the mall, legislation building and inside the legislation room with our lawmakers, we made it known that we weren't leaving until that budget passed.  And it did in the very early morning hours. It isn't a perfect plan, but it will do for now.  It was very clear that Arizona lawmakers didn't care about public education. They ignored the shouting from the mall and outside rooms. Their indifference spoke volumes. One representative, Kelly Townsend, wanted to fine teachers for walking out of the classroom.  Thankfully her bill didn't pass. This class act happened to be watching a movie while voting down a child care measure. Needless to say, their days are numbered. They have unwittingly created a red army come re-election night. Both Republican and Democrat teachers have joined together to stop these bad lawmakers, the Koch Brother agenda to privatize public schools and Dark Money. 

Exhausted physically and mentally by the strange hours of the strike and (not getting paid), I prepared for our fundraising event with the Wrenegades.  The crazy hours were taking their toll on my body.  I wanted to back out, but I made a promise to the team and I didn't want to break our year tradition.  

Wilson's Phalarope
 We raised lots of money for Tucson Audubon and had a very challenging time with high winds.  Each time we come together as a team, we learn lots from each other while catching up with things happening in the Arizona birding world. 

I birded, but my mind was on the strike.  How many more days would we go like this? Would our demands be met?  Would they extend our school days?  There were so many balls up in the air that it was difficult to concentrate. And my sleep schedule was all off. 

White-faced Ibis
 The birding was good and the first part of our evening passed with a beautiful reminder......

.....which was to just go with the flow.  I can't be 100 percent all the time, but I will try my best. 

Our evening was made even better when we started getting into the creepy urban wildlife spaces like the Sweetwater Wetlands.  I shared with the team why I had the heeby jeebies and they kind of all laughed it off until the person from Tucson Water, who unlocked the gate, joined us and shared a similar tale. 

There are no ghosts or goblins.  But there are strange characters that hang out at the park during all times of the day. Two such characters are known as Raccoon Bob and The Butcher.  When the lady started telling the story about the Butcher, they all burst out laughing.  I could tell that they hadn't birded Sweetwater enough to know that the Butcher was real. 

And while we were there, Raccoon Bob PASSED us in his rusty old bug TWICE!  Raccoon Bob hides in the darkness to watch mammals at night.  His favorite mammals are the raccoon.  I wasn't afraid of him.  I was more afraid of the Butcher.  He rides in an old red meat wagon and lives out of the vehicle.  Birders swear that he has been breaking into their vehicles.  And I'm also of the mind that it's the Butcher responsible for the parking lot crime wave.  We didn't see him that evening, but I knew he was around the area.  So did TEP(Tucson Electric and Power)

After the Sweetwater experience, I became a zombie up on Mt. Lemmon. I couldn't focus for the life of me.  It was 2 or 3 AM and I was cold.

In the morning, I found a letter on a rock overlooking the grand canyons of Mt. Lemmon.  The team thought I was joking around at first when I read the letter aloud, but it was a sad note.  A hiker had recently passed away on the trails after getting lost. By the time he was found, he was too far gone.  Our team member, Sara, saw his body in the bag before they took him away.  The letter was from his niece telling him that she would never forget him and that every time they looked out from that vista, she would think of him. On the rock by the letter were a pair of sunglasses and a tea packet. We folded the letter neatly up and placed it back on the rock.  It was a moment of reflection. 

Red-faced Warbler with the nest site behind
At this point, I had achieved my "2nd wind" and was excited to watch a pair of Red-faced Warblers make a nest under the roots of a tree. 

It was early morning and the woods were dark.  But how beautiful.  Then I found out the strike was off and it was back to work again getting the students ready for the finals. 

Canyon Towhee
After the Wrenegades, the strike and being back in the classroom, it was then time to guide.  Believe it or not, I looked forward to the guiding the most.  It gave me something to focus on.  

Western Screech-Owl
For 2 weekends, we chased really great birds and had success with most of them, except that blasted Arizona Woodpecker.  They were heard everywhere and yet, they were little buggers to spot.  

Western Tanager
I had a blast spending the weekends with Steve and Kathy from Wisconsin.  There is something about Wisconsin birders that I love.  Maybe it's because we're from the same state.  Maybe it's because I can slip back into my Wisconsin "don't cha no" accent and not be teased.  Or maybe because it's just nice to be around good people. 

Yellow Warbler
I take huge pride in Southern Arizona.  Showing people our secret gems from around this part of the state is always wonderful.  We are more than just a desert.  Although, I think Kathy will agree with me on's hot here!  So we went to higher elevations OR got up super early.  

Acorn Woodpeckers
We found the Rufous-backed Robins, Sinaloa Wren, Rose-throated Becard, nesting Elegant Trogons and lots of other birds.  

American Robin guarding a nest
We even spotted some weird rarities like Cassin's Finches, a Townsend's Solitaire and Williamson's Sapsucker. All lifers.  And not expected at all during their visit.  

The days fly by so quickly.  Kathy asked me what I'd do this weekend and I laughed. Nothing.  I am going to clean my house and sleep in.  No birds.  No heat.  No strikes.  No fund raising.  Just me and a cup of coffee watching my bird feeders.  

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Las Aventuras is planning 3 major treks before this "season" is over. August is the start of the new birding season. Anyhow, one trek is just exploring an area for birds in general.  The second trek will be the important one and it will hopefully propel me beyond the 1000 life bird mark.  And our 3rd will be a fun road trip to find just one bird in the US.  Stay tuned for more.......