Friday, June 29, 2018

Birding Trinidad

Live from my location in Trinidad, I sit at my makeshift desk escaping the extreme temps of the Arizona desert and an especially intense rain storm in Trinidad right now while in the comfort of my nice cooled a/c room. (This post was written on a rainy day a few days ago:)

The produce market is a great way to meet people and try out wonderful local produce!
I have had a very successful trip here and am now well on my way to 1000 birds.  The work has been difficult.  I am covered in chigger and mosquito bites.  Some of the locals call them "mossys".  It's a bit strange really.  I speak English but I can't speak English here.  For the first time in a long while, I am out of my element.  

A bus stop on the way to the remote village of Brasso Seco known for their chocolate
I have enjoyed the challenges of Trinidadian birding.  I stayed at the posh Asa Wright Nature Preserve for a week.  Then I moved down the mountain into a local apartment to contract several important treks with outside guides. I could have made it easy on myself and just gone through Caligo Ventures out of Portal, AZ BUT I wanted to understand a bit of the Trinidadian culture without the birds.  And I wanted the nitty gritty details. At Asa Wright, all you have to do is worry about birding, but outside of that nice spacious utopia, it's quite the opposite.  It's a culture of increasing crime, poaching and a clash of cultures.  And in between, a lot of wonderful and innocent people are trying to stay out of it all.  I just used common sense and did what everyone else did, go indoors at night and no walking around alone after dark. Oh but they serve great food after hours!

Tropical Mockingbirds were everywhere! While I was doing my laundry, this bird decided to hang out with me.
However if we look past the negative parts, Trinidad is a fascinating island full of interesting culture and amazing rain forest. In fact, over half the island is covered in the green stuff!  The people, cuisine, language and day-to-day operations kept me busy.  Every day, I hear the Spectacled Thrush make its' call.  And one day it popped up into a neighbor's tree and gave me nice views. 

Sounds like the cross between a Gray Catbird and Green-tailed Towhee, the Spectacled Thrush was one of my favorite birds to observe all over the island. 
The food has been a real treat. I have experienced doubles, which are rather messy, and discovered the amazing flavors of roti.  Oh, and Trinidadian rum punch! It's a very tasty drink, but one needs to be careful after several "sips".  It's 75% proof alcohol! Unfortunately I can't bring it back to the states because it's flammable.

Oh I love Asha!  She is an amazing person.  I lived on her property.  One night she made me Callaloo Soup, a Caribbean specialty!
As with any new area, I like to do a safe introduction first and then get into the details after speaking with the locals.  Over the next several weeks, I'll be writing about Asa Wright, the Caroni Wetlands, Nariva Swamp and searching for the critically endangered Trinidad piping-guan. And by the way, all the places I'm mentioning here are also THE places for EVERYONE to visit in Trinidad for birders and non-birders alike. If you're into nature, there's at least two weeks of fun to be had here(this includes the cheap flight over to Tobago!).  I didn't do Tobago on this trip only because I wanted to focus on Trinidad.   

If you thought Mexican or Thai chiles were hot, you haven't tried the super hot Scorpion Peppers of Trinidad!
All I can tell you is that while everything is beautiful and exciting here; I have to be aware of my surroundings. The hardest part? I can't just go out anytime to look for birds, especially the night ones due to safety concerns. People here are super friendly. A woman on the street stopped me and told me to smile! I guess I looked very serious? But I always look serious:) I was the only white guy on the streets.  Normally that doesn't bother me, but here, I saw a few hungry eyes watching and waiting for me to slip up. I haven't seen that look since my days in Managua, Nicaragua. Managua is still the most dangerous place I've ever been. Trinidad was better.  There weren't starving children on the streets looking at you through restaurant windows with their emaciated faces. I got yelled at for feeding them. Where is the humanity?!! Anyhow, I'm side stepping my story here. I always went during the day when there were crowds of people shopping at the produce market.  At the store, one woman got into a conversation with me about broccoli and soup. And I LOVE soup! According the lady, the bastards were now cutting the stems off the vegetable and in our opinion, it was the best part to serve in soup!  At first, I was thinking to myself, are we really having this conversation about broccoli? and then I was like, oh hell yeah we are. She was disgusted and put the stemless head of florets back on the shelf.  Another woman asked me, "What flava do ya seek?" when I ordered a soft drink in the restaurant.  The wording of the question threw me off, but I figured it out quick enough.  I sought the flavor of carbonated pear soda known as Pearadrax.

I loved when the kids were around the neighborhood.  I felt comfortable and happy.  There was a girl's school across the street from me.  The boy's school was down the street. And a church separated the two near a park which was a meeting place for everyone.  
Safety is a high priority for me wherever I go. As an outsider, you always have to be aware of your surroundings. So I have secured myself in a sturdy building with a nice land lady between a church and two schools and even with that protection, there were sketchy things that had happened. There was a drive-by-shooting yesterday near my apartment.  I woke up at 4 AM to the sounds of pop pop pop!  Murder rates continue to rise on the island.  In fact, it dominated many Trinidadian conversations.  One person I spoke with attended her cousin's funeral this past week after he was shot over a disagreement. Another couple had their throats slit the night before in an area that I had just birded and near a fellow guide's village. It's no wonder why everyone locks up after dark! My apartment is secure. Most of my birding expenditures have gone to security type measures. The road to 10,000 birds, heck even for a 1,000!, is not an easy one. So why bother risking my life? These treks bring depth to my knowledge and experience of the birds.  Reading about them is not enough. Seeing them.  Hearing them.  And standing in their habitat gives me a sharper focus. In my upcoming posts, you'll read about and see photos relating to my research. I have to start with this post to give you the cultural background of the island first.  

With the hot and steamy monsoon weather, the icy cold rum punch made everything better, it was the drink of choice on Trinidad next to Carib Beer
While at Asa Wright, I didn't have to worry about my safety at all except for the venomous snakes and bugs. However here in town, I don't bring my expensive equipment with me when I walk around town.  Instead I use my secondary older camera. Or pull out my cell phone.  The only time the big camera comes with me is when I'm with a tour, local, or in a secured location. To understand what made Trinidad, "Trinidad", I spoke with lots of friendly people who loved sharing their stories.  I wanted to understand the culture better because there were some who would mention things like the rich vs poor while others spoke of skin color. Others broke it down further between culture and religion. And then there is the extra dynamic. Venezuelans and Syrians are fleeing their countries for safety.  For the first time in Trinidad history, it's a reverse border issue.  Venezuelans are looking for work. Many are hungry because of the food crisis in their own country. They cross the relatively calm bay of Paria to enter the country.  They bring their guns for trade.  The Trinidadians then take their guns and exchange with food. Meanwhile, who's taking on the refugee Syrians?  Trinidad is. One of the founding groups of Trinidad, as we know it today, were Syrians. 

I was near a cemetery.  So I explore it.  There were many good birds hanging out here BUT on my side of the cemetery, it was nice.  On the other side, it got a little sketchy.  I found a homeless encampment. One of the locals warned me to stay out of that area.
The Trinidad culture is a complex one.  The people are a blend of Syrian, Indian, English and African cultures.  Much like in the US, suburbs are formed to protect communities from the outside world with like-minded people. It was explained to me that the Syrian-Lebanese population is one of the wealthiest in this nation due to their strong business practice. They also have a strong family network and do very well in Trinidad. Around the Port of Spain, many have set up shop and live in secured and safe neighborhoods with private schools.  Meanwhile, the refugee Syrians who are entering the country are being ignored by this elite group of Syrians. It was an interesting dynamic to observe.  It's also interesting to note that this group of refugees is also very friendly with the average Trinidadian person and not closed off like their Trinidadian brethren. Yeah, I don't think we studied island culture in school.  So I had a bazillion questions!

Tropical Kingbirds were SUPER common in the urban neighborhoods
The Venezuelans.  If you have read my blog over the years, you know how Spanish gets my heart pitter patterin'.  One night, we drove past an area full of Venezuelans selling food on the streets.  It was a real popular location.  The wonderful part is that they are all working together to establish themselves. My friend asked, which brought up another conversation later!, "If Venezuelans can come to this country and create work and do well for themselves, why can't a Trinidadian man do the same thing?"  It made me sad as a man to hear this but I understood the issue well.  Meanwhile, my mind wandered towards Venezuela.  Will it ever be safe to travel there one day?  I've heard it's a magical place. In the 90's, I had a roomie from Venezuela by the name of Cesar.  I don't know where he is today, but I hope he is well. We jumped out of a plane together. And we also drank a little too much:) Ah the fun ol' college days. 

Orange-winged Parrots were common at every habitat and at every elevation.  They were often seen while I was doing work outside my apartment. 
The Indian and Syrian sides of the Trinidadian people. There is A LOT of great Indian food on the island. People wear shawls and go to their temples. It's so cool. I was in a car for two hours listening to one of the guides tell the story of how many Indian and rich Syrians will work side-by-side.  She herself was Syrian, Indian and African. Everyone really is a blend, but certain features are prominent.  She told me her son was adopted by the rich Syrians because he looked Syrian. They took him into their culture because he had light skin. There they educated him in their private schools and he did well. So even when there's a cultural blend, light skin is looked at favorably once again. I discovered this attitude in Cape Verde, West Africa as well on the island of Sao Vicente. They were the more "Portuguese" of the islands. In Mexico, it's all about the Spanish blood. Status.  It's a universal thing around this planet. 

I had to know more.  Then I saw a lot of the Rastafarian and people wearing traditional West African garb. Living in Cape Verde, I was very familiar with the style and it made me smile. After speaking with the ladies, I began to notice a certain trend.  Many of the women I had spoken with were not married. One person I spoke with, who works in the university sector, told me that 75 percent of women make up the college population begging the question, "What is happening with the guys?" Then she responded to me with this question, "Why would a woman want to be with a man who will sit all day around the house and expect her to do his job as well?!"  Many women here have said enough is enough.  Meanwhile, what of the men?  Apparently, they have started to hustle. If you travel here, I highly recommend you NOT google the daily news as it's full of horrendous murder reports. Before arriving to the island, I was a bit apprehensive and saw a lot of young men in those reports who had met an unfortunate fate. The cocaine trafficking on the island is a huge problem and many men who are looking to make a quick profit, are getting involved with the drug trade.  Average age for a young man involved in this lifestyle to live on this island is around their 30's and 40's.  It's VERY sad. Who fuels that cocaine traffic?  Why the US of course! And how is it getting across?  The large oil ships from the island.  I spoke with several prominent figures of the oil company who have been dealing with this issue and it has been frustrating for them. 

Green Honeycreepers are like little gems seen flying from tree to tree in neighborhoods. 
For female travelers, this is not an island to travel alone.  One of the women during our treks had the unfortunate business of having catcalls made at her.  A male birder attempted to diffuse the moment and stated, "Those calls were clearly for me." Women are encouraged to travel with a group, friends or family.  Several of the women travelers told me their stories and each sounded the same.  Bring your dad!  Bring your husband! Bring your friends! And they did.  Again, in the tourist sectors, like Asa Wright, we were perfectly safe. 

This banded Great Kiskadee hung out with a Tropical Kingbird
Am I crazy for coming here?  No.  The tourist areas are secured and it's safe to travel during the day in populated areas or with local guides.  On this birding trek, I really got some insight.  I even did some "liming", or going out with some friends, even though people told me not to do it.  You can't live in fear all the time. And I've traveled enough to know the do's and don'ts of going out at night. Trinidad is worth the visit.  Like any place, you just need to use common sense. The birding is epic!

And last but not least. I had been getting a lot of questions about food and water.  While I've been here, I've boiled my water from the faucet and drink from the metal thermoflask I brought to cut down on the plastic. I boil it just in case, but it wasn't necessary. The water is fine which surprised me a bit. A lot of people have asked me how the food has been.  Quite honestly, this has been the best trip for anyone who is a vegetarian.  Most of the food makes use of sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, fresh fresh vegetables, plantain, and lentils!  In fact, I eat mostly veggie dishes.  They were really tasty.  I started making some of the dishes in my apartment.  They sell really interesting curry sauces.  They also serve excellent fish plates and um.....I'm not a fan, but the seafood is very good. I like shrimp and my mouth watered from a spicy rice dish that had huge prawns!  One day,  I accidentally ate some English inspired smoked herring and nearly lost it.  I kept my composure and quickly made the salty and bony matter inside my mouth disappear into a napkin. 

Trinidad is a beautiful country full of kind and wonderful people.  I was invited to dinner at their homes.  And I got to meet some great people and make new friends.  Anyhow, if you like your birding easy, go with Caligo Ventures as it's a safe way to enjoy your trip to Trinidad and Tobago. If you're a little more gypsy, like myself, do your research and have a great time.  We'll explore in my next writes, the awesome that is Trinidadian birding.....

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Road to 900 Life Birds

I love the cold.  I love winter.  Unfortunately, I don't get to bird often in it.  Birding with my bud, Kathie Brown was a lot of fun.  We found lifers Great Cormorants, a Black-legged Kittiwake and Purple Sandpipers(they are not purple!)

This year my goal is to reach 1000 life birds to celebrate my anniversary as a birder.  I, as of this date, have reached the 900 life bird mark.  It took two months of research to hit this important landmark.  

My favorite habitat, the grasslands of Southern Arizona finally introduced me to my beautiful lifer, the Lapland Longspur
I read manuals.  I researched online diaries.  I listened to bird calls and studied habitat.  And I also set up an outline on how I would attempt to find certain birds.  I really enjoy the energy that goes into the work.  To help memorize the names, I write them down over and over on paper and say their names out loud to make the writing-to-memory transfer.  

This year I've taken you to Maine and Mexico City.  We'll also be exploring this summer the planned adventures from both Trinidad and Maui islands. It is serious business, but with that said, I have enjoyed the journeys getting to 900.  Without further ado, I'll start at 800.  Let's get started. 

At 800, we were in Costa Rica searching for birds in a preserve known as CaƱo Negro along the Nicaraguan border.  It is here our boat tour stopped to look at a beautiful Great Potoo.  The boat nearly tipped over as we all got excited about observing this sleeping bird on a branch.  It took awhile for our eyes to find this very well camouflaged bird. 

Costa Rica helped keep the life bird tick going strong, day after day. 

I love this pic of Micheal and Gordon.  Birding takes us to the most incredible and magical spaces on our planet.  
At 810, we discovered the beautiful Purple-throated Mountain-gem. It's a hummingbird.  At this point, we were in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  This bird is a stunner. 

During our final days in Costa Rica, we stopped at Rancho Naturalista for a special hummer called the Snowcap.  

He would make 820 on my life list. Rancho Naturalista was a lot of fun and we had a great day out with Lisa and Sergio.  

Thanks to Sergio, friend and guide, we stopped on university grounds near Cartagena to spy a really cool looking heron known at the Boat-billed Heron. This would make life bird 830 in the same day! I have since seen this bird several times.  Often they are quite hidden, so to have this one out in the open was very special. 

Within that very same time period, in the Talamanca Highlands of Costa Rica, I added this beautiful Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, making it life bird 840.  Almost every location in Costa Rica is rich for new birds!  It would be hard to pick a favorite place out of our trek there, but I really did enjoy the misty beauty of the Talamanca Highlands.  My life birds in Costa Rica ended at 846.  Here's where it begins to get interesting. 

female Belding's Yellowthroat
I began to miss Mexico.  In October of last year, I flew to Baja California to find the Belding's Yellowthroat(#850).  It was my first major mission chasing endangered birds. This was a truly exciting trip in a very beautiful location. I eventually found these yellowthroats and was very happy to add them to my observation sightings.  Afterwards, my non-birding friends and I drank all day at the beach.  In between those months, I added several wintering birds in Maine to the list. 

Like Manakins, Sparrows get me excited!  This endangered sparrow is definitely one of the highlights from this year!
Then I reached 860 outside of Mexico City where I hired the services of bird guru Rafa Calderon for a difficult and endangered sparrow.  The area was too dangerous for me to explore on my own, hence the help of Rafa and driver Gerardo. Plus driving in Mexico City is a terrible idea! Also of note in this category, I added two other yellowthroats, the endangered Black-polled and the not endangered Hooded Yellowthroat species.  While I could have found the Hooded Yellowthroat on my own, getting to the only known spot where the Black-polled Yellowthroats are would have been a nightmare. 

Carib Grackle
For those of you who follow this blog, this is where the new material begins.  My first several days in Trinidad would quickly mark my journey towards the 900 mark.  The first bird I saw out of the airport was the Carib Grackle. I can honestly tell you that THIS grackle does look somewhat different.  It has a different type of call and appears to be a smaller version of the Great-tailed Grackle.  It marks 870.  

As I made my way up to Asa Wright(a future post), I saw the very common Silver-beaked Tanager. This bird is found everywhere on this island and not difficult to find at all. 

Golden-headed Manakin
 Then 890 would happen.  The final two birds I'll speak about in greater detail in the upcoming posts over the next several weeks.  One of the reasons why I am in Trinidad right now is to study the manakins.  They are deep in the forest and I was so in love with the 2 species of manakin found on the Asa Wright grounds, that I didn't realize I was getting bit up by bugs.  Some people love their owls.  Some love hummingbirds.  I am mesmerized by all things manakin.  I watched them for several hours.  As it was getting dark, I had only realized too late that I would pay the price for those observations.  My body was covered in bug bites.  Still, I wouldn't change a thing.  I'll speak more of this species (and another!) in the upcoming Trinidad writes. 

This bird really made a monstrous noise in the cave.  Had I not known what I was hearing, I think I would have been scared for my life!
 I'd like to thank Yosanna, a guide at Asa Wright for number 900, the Oilbird.  What a special and magnificent way to end the 800's.  The game is difficult now.  There's no way around it.  There's a lot of planning that goes into such events.  I rehearsed my photo shoot with this particular species 2 weeks before I saw them.  I'd go out at sunset and work with my night settings on my camera for practice.  These birds are found in dark caves and it was an amazing experience.  Again more on that experience in a few weeks.  

At the entrance to the cave of the Oilbirds with Yosanna.  I look like a natural disaster yet Yosanna maintains her composure and dignity like a pro.  I don't know how she does it, but this desert rat looks like a mess.  I'm not used to all the moisture!  Anyhow, we celebrate 900!
I am now quite a ways into the 900 category.  I have one more big excursion to do.  I am looking for the Blue-and-Yellow Macaws at Nariva Swamp.  I'm still in Trinidad hiding out from the Arizona heat.  It has been an amazing trip and worth all the physical pains. More on that later.  Until next time.....

Monday, June 11, 2018

Parts Unknown

These two Cactus Wrens gave me a good laugh at sunset. 
During these past few hot Arizona days, I've been walking around nearby parks and practicing with my light settings in the dark conditions to prepare for Trinidad.  This will be my final post from Tucson for awhile. 

Our monsoon may start early this year. 
As I walk the known, I prepare mentally for the unknown.  It is part of the life journey we all take.  Sometimes we do it alone.  Sometimes we share it. This is the way of all things. 

There are nights when I lose sleep because I am both excited and anxious.  Everything has been set up and yet still, I wonder, What am I forgetting? What's out there?!

Round-tailed Ground Squirrels live the life in this terrible heat
Would I ever have gone to Trinidad in my lifetime if it weren't for the birds?  Probably not. I am forever addicted to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures. But if I am to find birds on this planet, I can't limit myself to what is comfortable. I am forced into parts unknown. Trinidad is close to Venezuela and is known as the gateway to the South American birding world while still maintaining a fantastic blend of Caribbean birds. The place I will be visiting, from my research, suggests that I'll be living the island culture similar to what I experienced when I lived on the islands of  Cape Verde, West Africa.  It is different. The words for the dances are different.  Instead of Praia's(Cape Verde) Funana, it will be the Trinidadian Calypso.  Instead of the secretive martial art dances of Capoeira, they practice a similar form known as Kalinda.  

Making my favorite meal.....Cachupa on the Cape Verdean island of Santiago
My experience on Cape Verde sheds a little insight on the cultural similarities where in history, island slave trade had happened. But Trinidad was also a huge trading center for many other things like spice. Today, Trinidad is truly a blend of so many different cultures weaved into one. While the days of old are gone, we can still find history hidden in the language spoken.  In Cape Verde, it's the Portuguese based kriolu. Not quite Portuguese at all.  And not a written language!

I was more teacher than birder during this time of my life.  I did look at birds and try to take pics of them with my terrible camera at the time:)  We still used FILM!!!
My very first chapters as a teacher began training students and teachers alike in language and language design for the classroom on the islands of Santiago and then later Sal. Now I will go to Trinidad, another island with similar histories. I'm always fascinated by what makes the culture different from other places I've been. I purposely rented an apartment for one week out of the nature area to study language, food and the people. It's more than just birds.  For me, it's also about the community that surrounds the birds. While English is spoken there, the familiar words are peppered with strange and new exotic ones.  An English based creole!

Black-crowned Night Heron
And here's the thing.  I can play it safe.  Or push myself to do better.  Be better.  This is the nature of birding.  It's a bittersweet emotion knowing that it may be the only time in this life of mine that I'll be visiting this island.  So I need to make it count. Rushing into an area to see the birds and then leave isn't fun at all.  I want the "cultural flavor" from the birding experience. 

An early and exciting Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a favorite bird of mine
I have my office space and desk.  I have my big meeting with the nature center getting all my birds set up.  It's a rather civilized approach to birding.  Meals are all prepared.  Transportation is there.  All I have to do is go outside my room and they take me away to the birding hotspots. It seriously is a great deal for birders.  Asa Wright can be a bit pricey but after the stress I had this year, I am treating myself to a birder's version of a "massage".  There's even tea time and some of this island adult flavored fruit punch:) So I'll be one week at Asa Wright and one week in Arima doing my cultural studies(and some light birding). 

I'll miss my girls.  Callie rests her head on my chest during the early morning hours.
This summer we'll be exploring island culture on Trinidad and Hawaii during the months of June and July.  I'll be meeting with people and their birds.  I have found that understanding culture is also key to the success of optimal birding.  Now, the birds are pushing me into unknown lands.

A Cassin's Kingbird at a local park
When we speak another language, whether it be bird, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, etc, we have a deeper meaning of their behaviors and culture.  Something always gets lost in translation, but when I speak Spanish or Portuguese, it gives me a deeper insight into the culture.  But as the birds and non-latin countries go, I am forced to start all over again.  

During the day, I am bored and trapped inside my house waiting for the terrible heat to subside. Instead I clean and research for the trip. PS. Catnaps are sacred.
On my last days in Tucson, I walk the familiar parks saying good-bye to my birds and play with light settings for a cave journey I'll be making for the Oilbird colony at the Asa Wright Nature Center. At first birding is easy. Then one has to travel (and) it's still relatively easy if you go to new areas.  But the nature of birding gets trickier the longer we play the game.  The hard part is picking up the endemics(which there are several on Trinidad) 

The tables that changed my life forever.  A balmy fire fly lit night near the Pipevine Road at our stay introduces me to birders who share their excitement and discoveries with us. 
My life's journey is about understanding people, their culture and the birds surrounding it all. The picture above is an important one. I snapped the pic to remember the clarity of thought that happened in this moment during our Panama visit. 

A Snail Kite sits next to me near our bench at the Pipevine Road
7 years ago, this month, I began my serious journey into the birding world. I changed. This blog changed. The photography changed. I let most of my negative attachments go in this world. My job became my job. And the birding and human experiences became my passions.

I discover the dangers of birding and realize that I loved it. On Coiba Island
I watched two birders have a candle lit dinner at a table next to ours in that Panama Canal style home. It was that specific moment that changed the way I saw everything. After our stay in Gamboa, Panama, we went to Coiba Island and discovered manakins. And that's where the addiction began! I know that wherever I go, I will fall in love because there are birds. I am a gypsy at heart.  One who likes good mole, a smoke filled tapas bar, a nice spicy bowl of kakik, and/or a simple breakfast of gallo pinto.  Now the cuisine will change.  The languages will be difficult in both bird and human forms. And I will somehow figure it all out.  The Trinidad adventures begin next week.  This post is dedicated to the memory of Anthony Bourdain.  I recently watched his show on Trinidad to give me a little background on Trinidadian cuisine and culture. He will be missed. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June Birding in Southern Arizona

Watering holes, like this one, are very important for wildlife like this Arizona Gray Squirrel during the month of June
During the first weeks of June, I lose my sense of purpose.  I find projects that force me to stay birding.  Over the past week, I've learned to sleep a little more and bird when I could. 

This pic from a local Arivaca Cafe caught my attention and I got lost in the image
On one project, this was personal, I went to check up on nesting Gray Hawks at the Empire Ranch in the grasslands.  Last year, an off duty border patrol agent was target practicing during the driest month of the year (with an explosive target of all things!) and admitted to starting a major fire that swept miles across the grassland burning several structures. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it did have an affect on riparian corridor bird species. It also destroyed some historic Arizona Cottonwoods that people had come to love.  The nesting Gray and Zone-tailed Hawks were not seen in their usual spots last year. The White-tailed Kites moved location. So I did a follow up.

Wildflowers love the sun and add a lovely splash of color along pounds or founds.  They also are a source of food for hummingbirds and insects like butterflies and bees
The good news?  The Gray Hawks were back in the remaining living patches of the riparian area of the Empire Gulch.  I did not detect the Zone-tailed Hawks, but we didn't explore that sector of the grasslands due to the heat.  The sun and heat were much too strong to be outside for long. At 107 degrees, we have to be careful. It always begs the question, how does the wildlife do it?

Wildlife aficionados around the Tucson area help out Mother Nature by placing fountains and other water sources out for their critters.  In this harshest of months, the wildlife and native vegetation are put to the test.  

I would have missed this night blooming cacti flower had I not gotten up early enough.  In the morning, the flower closes up. 
We are currently suffering drought conditions around the state which stresses out the wildlife even more.  So anything we can do to help can make a difference to their survival. So my 2nd project has been my gardens. 

The Mediterranean House Gecko enjoys the warm summer nights around lights as bugs like moths are drawn to the lights
Every night, I go out to my bird feeders and water stations and refill them for the morning's flurry of activity.  There I sit watching all my wonderful critters in Midtown Tucson go crazy.  So while I can't bird long hours like in the fall, winter or spring, I can enjoy my backyard for birding. 

The sun is bright and strong.  The heat is unbearable.  Humans exist within their a/c run structures.  The curtains are drawn to reflect the sun and heat from outside.  For wildlife, they stay near the few water sources that exist.  Most cling to the shade or their burrows during the day.  At night, humans and other mammals leave their homes for a walk or an outdoor dinner event.  We here in Tucson turn into vampires at night(minus the blood sucking).  

Arizona Song Sparrow or what some call the Desert Song Sparrow

It never hurts to ask. I was bored.  There was a golf course in Tucson that had a body of water.  I walked to the visitor center and heard lots of bird song, but I turned around and got back into my car.  Then I said to myself "screw it".  I drove all the way there and for what? To turn around and drive home? Heck no. So I went to the front desk and asked to see their pond.  The owner looked at me weird and eyed my camera wearily.  In fact, I've noticed over the last several weeks that people have been hypersensitive about the camera.  One lady even told me that my camera looked like a gun.  So I have become sensitive to my public presence. I don't want to scare people (even though some would say that it's my right to carry a concealed weapon).  The thing is that it's just a big and heavy scary looking camera:)  But I think it's good that the public is noticing. 

The hidden pond of Roger Enke Golf Course

 Anyhow, the manager looked at me strangely and I smiled and told him I was doing a bird count in the area and wondered if I could check the pond.  I reassured him that I'd stay out of the way of the golfers and then he told me, "No problem." So it never hurts to ask.

Round-tailed Ground Squirrels are active in the shade
I was able to collect nesting and breeding data from the golf course and I was thankful for the opportunity.  

Neotropic Cormorants are found around our local watering holes in Tucson
Then it was back to Reid Park for my weekly bird check.  I try to monitor the park once a week for a count.  It's close to home.  

While we both are researching, our cats love to "help out". Typing can be a real challenge.  And if I'm not watching carefully, they'll do some typing for me!

Band-tailed Pigeon!  This year has been a good year for them!
The Elegant Trogon survey, with Tucson Audubon, is happening right now.  Jennie MacFarland is leading the efforts to help keep tabs on our trogons in Southern Arizona.  She asked if I would be interested and I said yes:)

The lovely sanctuary known as Ramsey Canyon
The mornings are still nice in some areas like around the foothills of our mountains.  They didn't have anyone to survey Ramsey Canyon so I jumped at the chance.  For the first time, I was able to bird Ramsey Canyon alone without all the walking and talking people.  

Common Ground-Dove

It was pretty magical and it was the largest count I've ever had in that area without all the people around.  So it goes to show that human activity does have an affect on wildlife.  Also it helped birding early.  Here in Southern Arizona, bird numbers and activity are highest between the hours of 4 AM until 8 AM.  Yeah.  It's early. Miss that window and you'll have to wait until 5 PM for everything to sort of pick up again.  

The interior sub-species of White-breasted Nuthatch
Creating these projects, whether they be with organizations or personal, are important contributions for your communities and your own bird data.  It's fun and forces one to get out and keep birding in the worst of conditions:)

Western Wood-Pewee

Go early.  Freeze water bottles the night before to stay cool. Or if you have a water cooler, pack it with ice.  It will melt:) Stay shaded as often as you can.  Wear sun protections like a hat or sunscreen.  A lot of birds are on nests right now and it's pretty exciting to see.  

The Red-shafted Northern Flicker

For Arizona birders, June is often the month to travel to other worlds.  I'll be flying out soon.  But for now, it's house chores and travel prep.  

For my surveys, click on the "here". 
For the Gray Hawks at Las Cienegas, click here.
For the Trogon Survey at Ramsey Canyon, click here.
For my weekly patch count at Reid Park, click here.
Until next time....

Bullock's Oriole