Monday, December 24, 2018

Her Maiden Voyage

Black Rosy-Finch
With one semester completely and successfully finished, it was time to get back on the road again.  During our holiday luncheon, all I could think about was the break.  And the birds. 

Good people working together to help enrich the lives of young people. It's never easy keeping a smile but break gives us that much needed downtime to recharge our batteries. 
Now that the holidays are here, CBC(Christmas Bird Count) counts are happening all over the country. I mentioned to you all last weekend that I was supposed to do a count up on Mt. Lemmon for our local CBC.  Unfortunately, my car of 10 years had other ideas and her power steering went out early in the morning.  I promptly cancelled my participation and spent the day buying a new vehicle.  Ah the joys of new car payments!  She's a white SUV that goes by the name of Betty White.  Her code name is Manakin.  

a wintering Greater Pewee in Reid Park continues
Feeling bad about my failed CBC count on Mt. Lemmon, I helped with the Tucson count at my local patch.  Then it was off for some amazing Arizona birds!

The USS Betty White made her maiden voyage up to the northern boundaries of the state just outside of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to search for 2 new Arizona birds, the Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.  It was a 2-for-one journey with friends Gordon Karre and Barb Meding.  

Just part of one of the flocks that zipped up and down.  They reminded us of our wintering lonspurs in the grasslands
For several years, I've always gone with Gordon in his vehicle because my car wasn't big enough to carry all of our equipment.  I should note that I purchased that car before I was a birder.  And I'm not one to sell it off because it didn't fit my needs right away.  She was a good car.  The Bea Arthur was a reliable vehicle that gave me many years of joy. 

A birder has to be careful observing birds.  With this location, I had a little vertigo.  The hillside was quite steep!
I was sad to let her go. Why name the vehicle?  I don't know.  It's what I've always done.  Plus I love/d what Bea Arthur and Betty White stand/stood for in their lives.  Not only are/were they great actresses, but Bea served in the military as a young person. And Betty White continues to be a champion for animals.  Barb thought she had passed and I thought I was going to have a heart attack.  Betty is a national treasure! She is immortal!

The very tricky Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch was a skulker for us and did not like to pose on the ground for the camera so I had to catch it in flight.   Fish or bird?  You tell me. 
Anyhow, it was so much fun.  And I was a proud driver taking my friends up to the top of the Echo Cliffs searching for these beautiful birds.  I felt like an adult!  I laughed when Gordon spilled black coffee over my place mat.  Having been an owner before of a new vehicle, I laugh at those first "oh no's!"  The first ding, the first spill, the first scratch etc.  At what point, do we let that OCD nature go?  With Bea, it was after a pork green chile incident that leaked out into my seat(and stained it forever!) because my friend didn't cap her tupperware container properly.  And then it happened again when a friend was backing out and rubbed against my car giving it a "cute" little dent.  So now, I'm a little more relaxed with everything.  Just no dents, dings or scratches on Betty for awhile please:)

A nice side-by-side comparison of the two species. They are similar and were tricky to pick apart. 
It was an incredible morning out.  Not only was the landscape gorgeous, but so were the birds!  Rosy-Finches in Arizona are a treat!  The challenging part was picking out the one Gray-crowned in the bunch.  They can look similar together. 

There were 2 large flocks that would rotate in and out of the area we were standing.  I think we got to observe both flocks twice with a 5 minute interval between their visits. I'd move once they flew to a new spot to get different angles of the birds.  

They feed from the Russian Thistle on the hillsides.  But to keep these beautiful birds there for birders to observe, people are continually throwing oilseed sunflower seeds to keep them around a little longer.  These birds love cliffs and as you can imagine, they can make it difficult for birders to get a good view.  So we employ our own tactics that keep them around a little longer.  

What a thrill to see these birds up close!  My first time was also with Gordon during our Sandia Crest journey to New Mexico.  In fact, that's where most people go to see all three species.  While we are in the southern most range for Black Rosy-Finches, they are not commonly seen like this for birders.  There's usually a once-a-year sighting by a couple birders.  However, a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is RARE!  Their range is the largest of all the Rosy-Finches but it doesn't dip quite down into AZ. However, they are suspected to enter the state in areas that are difficult to reach for birders. With that said, there are a few historical records including one from 2013 in a remote area of the state. The area we visited was much more accessible!

After we had that amazing observation, we went for the California Condors of Marble Canyon on the Navajo Bridge. I wanted to see the rare wild born California Condor in the area!  There was a Condor volunteer there monitoring the four birds in the canyon.  With his scope, he pointed it in the direction of the wild born bird and I was super excited!  It made me so happy.  I love condors.  Their location is also quite beautiful. And seeing a wild born one on the cliffs and not from a zoo gives me hope. As long as hunters use lead bullets, these birds will have to be monitored for lead poisoning.  Hunting for food is fine, but it's gross to think of lead in your own food.  Why not use copper bullets if you like to kill things for pleasure?  The Condors eat the lead filled carcasses left behind by the hunters.  There are 3 major threats to Condors.  1. Lead poisoning  2. Golden Eagles/Coyotes 3. Telephone Wires

Then, in a random twist for our trek back home, we took a ride to Winslow, Arizona where we had to take it easy.  

The USS Betty White promises many more treks.  Our next trek will take us into California but until then, I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season.  Until next time!


  1. Great trip! The rosies are my favorite birds, as you may surmise from my pen name. MaryLou and I started the feeding program up on Sandia Crest in New Mexico, oh so many years ago and it has grown into a major research site.

    1. Fantastic Ken! WOW! It was an amazing spectacle to see. I had no idea that you both began the feeding program up there. It's more than a major research site's a destination on the birder's map of must visits! We had such a fun time when we went. We were thrilled to hear that they had made it into Arizona this year. A lot of people are making the 6 hour journey:) Crazy adventure!

  2. OH SO cool! I went over the Rocky Mtn Range last Spring looking for these finches. Struck out when they had been sighted under a feeder at one of the park hqt's buildings, but a toddler under the care of a doting grandfather keep all the birds at bay until I had to move on or I was going to make a fool of myself...So Sandia Crest is in my future travel plans!

    1. Sondra, you will love Sandia Crest plus the myriad of great birding spots around ALB. We had such a blast there. Lots of great birding sites nearby Sandia!

  3. Joys of the season to you. Oh, well, Betty may get a wrinkle or two over the years. That is how we age.

  4. Hello, great outing in the new USS Betty White! Gorgeous photos and birds. Merry Christmas to you and your family! I wish you all the best in 2019, a Happy New year!

  5. Lovely selection of photos. Hope you had a good Christmas, Diane

  6. Bummer that you needed a new car but Betty sounds perfect. Maybe even big enough to tow a little trailer for comfort camping. Thanks for taking me to my old stomping grounds.

    BTW, planning a lunar eclipse campout at Kofa Jan 20th.

    Happy New Year!


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