Sunday, December 30, 2018

Las Aventuras: Bookends

One of my favorite moments from this year in the grasslands as Pronghorn come to get a sip
As a person who has blogged for about 8 years, I have seen myself transform into many things.  Over the years so much has happened.  There has been so much change. I began as an amateur gardener and photographer.  I am none of those things anymore. I miss that carefree me, but I love that I am more certain of the work I do now. With certainty comes calculation and focused study. 

a very cold Red Fox in Maine
As I have begun branching out into the world birding arena, I have experienced frustration, joy, excitement, fear and anxiety.  This was the year I'd learn to leave my comfort zone, challenge my fears and face the changes that are happening around this world. 

watching youth get excited about birds in the Caroni Wetlands of Trinidad was a hopeful moment
For me, Trinidad was a wonderful exploration into a world of beauty and the unknown. This was a culture I was unfamiliar with and it was out of my comfort zone. Just when I thought I was free of all the child learned fears I had been taught; I discovered they were still there inside.  And when unleashed, I found myself out-of-control in the middle of a rain forest panicking.  It turns out that I was my own worst enemy.  Everything had been fine really, but I had unwittingly caused my own torture.  Afterwards I was embarrassed by my outburst. Thankfully, a kind man told me to take a deep breath and that it would be ok. While people spoke English on the island, I didn't speak their English and it took time to understand. I've traveled and lived all over the world and this was a first for me. 

the guide means well but this capuchin was not having it.  He was throwing branches at us to let us know to stay away. This wasn't the first encounter I've had with this species.  Once I had a mango thrown at my head on Coiba Island!
But not all things were a fiction of my mind. Over the years, my experience anywhere has told me to be cautious. I experienced a drive-by-shooting and heard daily stories of people having their throats slit at random which included my host's cousin while I was there. To make things worse, I was near a church where the daily funerals happened.  Was this really what it was like for a Trinidadian every day? Like everyone else, I learned to lock myself indoors at night and tread lightly during the day alone with my hidden camera gear. A dog barking at night scared me but a dog on the property made me feel safer. With 3 dead bolts on my door, I knew not to answer my door after sunset. Most of all, I learned what frustrated locals were suffering at home on a daily basis. Crime, like drug trafficking, happened anytime and everywhere. It was exhausting to be vigilant at all moments.  Thankfully, Asa Wright brought me comfort while I was there.  I could bird freely without worries. But outside of the property lines, it was a whole different world.  

My amazing room at the Asa Wright Center.  I loved it!
The Asa Wright Center was magical and safe. Locals and tourists joined together here and had dinners. It is a very special place. I met some incredible people who made my experience on the island amazing. And I am thankful for their friendships. 

The Scarlet Ibis were one of the many Trinidadian Highlights
Even after everything I have written, Trinidad was one of my favorite trips this year.  It was here that I learned how to cook again in the kitchen.  It had always been there, but I had gotten lazy in the US. Being on a budget forced me to cook and it brought me joy. 

Fresh produce markets inspire and I become inspired back home and find my own way of getting fresh produce.
When I rented my apartment outside of the Asa Wright Center, I went shopping daily for fresh vegetables. Now because of Trinidad, I eat fresh food every week and am naturally losing weight because of a healthier diet. 

The amazing Oilbirds of Asa Wright!
After a near month in Trinidad, Micheal and I headed over to Maui for a relaxing vacation. And while Hawaii was also magical, I came face-to-face with humanity's need to destroy and replace. It was incredibly beautiful and sad at the same time.  I felt hopelessness on a couple of these islands as the endemic birds face the uphill battle of global warming and mosquito infection/malaria.  So when I found my endemic lifers, I didn't feel joy. I felt this huge empty sadness and anger.  

the 'Apapane is one good looking Hawaiian endemic!
Leaving my Tucson world of birds was a good thing. Developing global views of the birding world outside my comfort zone gives me a deeper understanding of this planet. Every step I make outside of my comfort zone brings me one step closer to enlightenment. For all the good that this world does, it's also outweighed by more habitat destruction and population growth.  And that weighs heavily on me. That carefree birder I knew only a few years back is gone.  I'm not quite jaded yet but I am not as naive as I once was. 

a security detail goes ahead of me as we count birds like Red Warblers in this private sector of Malinche
On a special trek, I had a security detail come with me to bird an off limits area of the Malinche volcano in Puebla. It was such an honor to be able to bird this area and also add invaluable ebird information to this private forested sector of the volcano.  A special thank you to my host sister for arranging this incredible day of "work". 

I do research in the local gardens around Tlaxcala and find a migrating Nashville Warbler
The drug wars are on the rise again.  The issues in Venezuela, Mexico, Trinidad and other areas are real. The US is the major reason for this bloody war south of our border.  Travel in these areas can be tricky.  I really wanted to see an amazing sparrow found outside of Mexico City.  The bird is endangered and found in a very sketchy area. For the first time since becoming a birder, I hired a guide to help me access this area safely.  We were right on the border of a drug route and it required the "safety in numbers" rule. It was an amazing day out but it made me upset.  This isn't the Mexico I grew up to love. Tlaxcala, one of the safest states in the country, has now experienced some crime.  My friend and sister told me that Tlaxcala used to be safe.  I remembered those times fondly.  At a dinner, she warned me to be careful with my equipment.  "Guero, things are not the same.  People are now getting robbed in daylight. Be careful." But while I was there, I was the giant with all smiles because I genuinely feel my happiest there. If there were no borders, I'd own a home in this beautiful little village.  I love the people.  I love the culture.  And I feel at home. I could take people on bird walks here and they'd have fun.  For the most part, it's really a safe state to explore!

Happy and fresh produce with Delfina!  She makes my favorite cream of pea soup!
However, when someone says to me that bird watching is fun, I get a little irritated. Yes it can be fun, but it's called birding and it requires a lot of strategic savvy.  And quite a bit of it is NOT easy. I've spent hours upon hours researching all these places organizing the work.  

We discover the southern most range of Evening Grosbeaks in central Mexico and it blows my mind away!
And if there is one connection to everything else about this blog post, it's that Tucson has witnessed a rise in crime. It's not just happening everywhere else. It's also happening in our backyards! My neighborhood has seen an uptick in homeless people and theft. Why?  Drugs, like meth, are out-of-control. It has forced my hand to upgrade security measures on our place in midtown Tucson.  So I budgeted in $$ for a better car and a new secured patio which then cut into this year's birding budget.  All of it is good. But one has to go with the ebb and flow of things.  There are no short cuts in this life. Safety and security are important things.  From plenty of past experience with our crazy criminal neighbor and theft in the neighborhood, I can tell you that the police are not reliable in this city.  So we have to fend for ourselves most of the time.

Black-legged Kittiwake in Glendale, AZ!!!  Worthy of a state chase!
Stepping aside from the human condition, I'll now show you some of the rewards and highlights from these incredible treks and why I would go lengths to see these birds. I began my year with my lifer Black-legged Kittiwake in Maine with friend Kathie Brown. It was cold outside and simple.  I knew that it would be the most relaxing and stress free bird outing of the year.  I felt a calm before the storm, even though we were birding from within the historical cyclone bomb of Maine! The blizzard was the most peaceful thing I had felt this year because for one glorious moment, I forgot about the orange clown who is ruining my country, the attacks on public school teachers and the undoing of environmental protections. While I traveled throughout this year, I went on a major teacher strike to save our public schools,did some guiding to make up for the loss of my work paychecks, sold some of my photography and had several articles published in magazines. The birding kept me sane!  We did some amazing fund raising for Tucson Audubon.  And at the end, I added a rare Black-legged Kittiwake to my Arizona state list.  It was a fitting way to end my 2018 birding year. 

Here's the thing.  Birding in Arizona is pretty epic.  If you're a birder looking for a great place to live, I highly recommend this state.  I mean LOOK^^^at these crazy birds!  A little Mexico, east coast and California coastal stuff going on here!  Plus a first record of a Ringed Kingfisher!!  I took some of these pics, like the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Short-eared Owl and Slate-throated Redstart, in other areas because they were difficult to get pics of......the Ferrug, I didn't want to disturb because they are skittish. 
In Arizona, I added 18 new bird species to my state list.  In Pima county, I added 11 new birds. And for my life list, I added 120 new life birds. 

This is just some of them!
This post is dedicated to Barb Padgett and Bernie Brouchoud who passed away this year.  Barb was a supporter of Tucson Audubon and the Magee Marsh.  This year, Kathie and I plan to honor her by visiting her bench in Ohio. Barb was always there for me and donated money to my fundraising events.  Plus she was a fellow Trekkie.  I mean a really really good Star Trek fan!  We shared in lots of discussions. My only wish is to find her a Yellow-headed Blackbird for her memorial.  She never saw one and joked that I made them up. I'm sorry Barb that we never met in person but I am thankful for our fun discussions.

And Bernie was a guy I knew growing up.  He was vital in the creation of Woodland Dunes.  I knew I was on nature's side when I heard a council member, who I knew well, speak of building lots of factories in Bernie's established Woodland Dunes.  I didn't agree with the guy then and kept my mouth shut because I supposedly didn't know anything. I was a stupid kid. Secretly, I hoped Bernie would win and protect this land that I used as my playground.  I knew the forests well around that area. We had forts. We knew where the deer hid. Monarchs and snails and birds loved this little woods. Then one day, my playground forest and her little winding creek were wiped out and buried for "progress". I was stunned by the emptiness.  It was GONE! Bernie's land was next to "mine" and in jeopardy but thankfully Bernie won. And those factories?  Yeah, most of them are empty buildings now because the jobs went elsewhere. We wiped out a creek and a woods for nothing.  But for all the fights, Bernie won against the establishment and today Woodland Dunes is one of our finest landmarks. Thank you Bernie and Barb for your contributions to the important preservation of this planet. 

I'll always cherish this moment.  I helped Bernie get his last North American warbler, the Hermit Warbler  I was able to properly say good-bye to him.  It was a very special day for both dad and his son.  And it meant the world to me. It seems like just yesterday that he was here. Time flies by so quickly. Bernie taught me so many things as a kid AND adult about birds.  I won't forget his lessons. 
What can I say about 2018? The more I experience with the birds; the more I know.  Birds bring people together.  Birds make us see things that are happening around us.  Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming a bird.  I want to be outdoors all the time and not caged up inside a room. In November, I had a hard time piecing together a general outline for birding next year. Today, I am happy to say that I have several projects lined up for 2019 that will take me into the summer.  I had to juggle a tighter budget for this next year which made things a challenge. However, it's going to be an exciting ride!

I'm wishing you all a wonderful new year! I think January will mark a new milestone for this blog as we hit a million views.  Thank you for following and being a part of the weekly adventures! 


  1. Thanks for bringing this armchair bird watcher the fruits of your hard labor to the screen of my laptop. Hang tough this next year. Who knows what lies ahead with the orange baboon still in the white house. namaste.

    1. I know! Every year presents a new challenge. And hopefully the Orange Baboon gets the boot. Not sure Pency Poo is much better. A snake in the grass that one. Thanks Janice for following along. Happy New Year!

  2. What a wonderful interesting ear you have had. I loved reading about your trails and adventures and of course seeing your wonderful bird photography. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog over the past year and I will you and your family an happy and healthy 2019 Chris.

    1. You do the same. I love all your fun adventures out. Happy New Year Margaret! Hugs from Tucson!

  3. Hello Chris, you had a a great year. Even though parts seem very scary. I was tempted to visit Trinidad, but now I am not so sure. Congrats on your lifers. I wish you many new birds in 2019. Happy New Year!

    1. Trinidad is AMAZING. There is an abundance of rain forest there and life. Wonderful beautiful wildlife. However, a few of the humans aren't so nice to each other. I will say that the people in my circles were incredible. The kindest people I've ever met this year. 2 strangers even went out of their way and told me to smile. And I laughed. Sometimes I forget to smile. But to a friend wanting to bird there, I will say this. Have Asa Wright pick you up from the airport. The place is protected like the White House and it's huge. I highly recommend it. You'll never want to leave. There's so much to do there and you'll never get bored. Plus there's tours that go out. The room includes your meals, teas and coffees. You'll be pampered well. The staff are incredible. I made some good friends while I stayed there.

  4. That was a wonderful read Chris. My birding is never so adventurous or dangerous.

    You should be fine in Wales near to where Charles Tunnicliffe did many of his finest drawings. March may not be the best time for birding but I'm sure with your determination, you will find lots to enjoy.

    LOL. You must stop off at

    1. Thank you Phil! I'm pretty stoked. Even your common birds will be new for me so it should be fine. I am bringing an umbrella! And thanks for the link! Happy New Year and look forward to reading about your birding fun!

  5. I am in awe of your determination, Chris, which takes you to all these scarey places. Just take good care and keep safe. I should particularly warn you about Wales, if you intend to visit there. It has hoardes of vampire sheep - don't be deceived by their docile appearance! And make sure you don't take a leek without permission!

    Wishing you and Micheal a wonderful 2019 - - - Richard

    1. Oh man! Vampire sheep. Maybe I'll have Micheal go ahead of me:) And no leeks without permission! It's like in Mexico. If they catch you, you go to jail:) Happy New Year Richard!

  6. A wonderful review of your exciting year - so many adventures and superb wildlife even if safety and security was a worry at times. Your photos are all so beautiful.

    Wishing you, Micheal and your family a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year with many wonderful wildlife encounters. I look forward to reading about your new adventures this year.

    1. I hope we get to meet one day Caroline. You and your hubby do the same. Have a wonderful new year. Your blog brings me peaceful thoughts. It really is lovely with a cup of coffee in the morning. Usually it's Saturday morning, coffee, in my pajamas with my cats reading your blog:)


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