Thursday, December 26, 2019

Ramblings from a Solitary Retreat

The rains and snows of Southeastern Arizona have given us some of the most beautiful vistas.  This was taken from Summerhaven on top of Mt. Lemmon on a wintery day
As I heal, I have found comfort in a quiet cup of coffee writing from my office next to my fuzzy warm cats. 

I explore a new canyon with Cheroot and Celeste.  In the background, there is a waterfall that flows downwards into the Sabino Creek
I now have answers as to why I have had pain these past two months.  I'll need another month to know if the medication is working or if I'll need corrective surgery.  My inner gypsy is locked away inside. The birding I do now is reflective and close to home. 

A Red-naped Sapsucker eats at our local park during the winter season
And even within my own little space, there are amazing birds around me. Some of my friends understand what I'm going through, but others still think I can go go go on the trails and treks like I did awhile back.  I can't.  I'm tired of the driving.  All I want to do is listen to bird song or count birds in my backyard. 

A Greater White-fronted Goose stops by a local park for a visit
I think the stress of "holiday" and what's happening in our country started this whole mess. I've shut down the news.  I've shut down the chaos of holiday.  And even resisting these human "norms" is stressful.  No one should have to suffer expectations.  

I watch the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher forage for food
We renewed our membership at the Desert Museum.  I've taken wonderful walks with my friend Celeste and Cheroot in quiet canyons.  There's more.  So much more. As you've heard me say in the last post, 2019 has been a tough year.  Right after March, things got crazy.  People's lives began to fall apart around us.  I tried to be there for people but I failed miserably.  There were too many friends with things happening.  And then in my own family.  Internally, it stressed me out because I'm a fix it person.  But I couldn't this time. It's something they all had to do on their own. And I wasn't able to be there for them.

Then my health issues in October forced me to pull back. Remote canyons and mountain tops were out of the question.  Any place out of cell service was a no no.  Two trips to the ER, many doctor visits, tests and finally an upper GI test revealed a hiatal hernia. I've had this random pain since I was 32, but I never had an answer until now. Knowing what it is will allow me to fix my intake.  No tomatoes.  No citrus!(no fresh oj from the oranges that are coming soon in AZ!).  No soda. 

A Black-throated Sparrow perches on a Barrel Cactus at the Desert Museum
And that's ok.  I eat healthy but in some cases maybe I overdid it with the fresh tomato juice I drank every day.  I couldn't let my current tomatoes go bad so I threw them in the freezer with all my other veggies and fruits.  One day, I'll be able to sip on my perfectly created fresh tomato juice of carrots, apples, celery with a squeeze of lemon or lime.  The other crap I don't mind at fried foods or meat.  That's easy.  But not using spice??!  That's going to be hard:)

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker climbs a tree at my local patch, Reid Park
I'm on vacation now until next year.  It's wonderfully cold.  There is rain.  And as I look around our home, I see things I'd like to work on.  But I have to do my walk first!

This rare wintering Greater Pewee has returned to Reid Park for the next several months
I live in Tucson, perhaps one of the greatest places to live for birding.  As you can see, just a half hour to 40 minutes away (or less!), a birder can visit different habitats and see a crazy amount of birds.  I average about 150-200 bird species a month by just birding around town.  All the birds you see today in this blog are from local visits to parks and our nearby Mt. Lemmon or Cienegas Grasslands. 

A Common Yellowthroat hops around Archer Lake at Columbus Park
And because I'm not driving huge distances or traveling crazy amounts of hours in car or plane, I have this crazy energy to pull out many more bird species than I normally would from my local parks. I blame it on the pent up gypsy who wants to find something rare.  Even if I've seen the bird a million times. I can't shut that part down. 

But these gentle walks are refreshing and revealing. 

Pronghorn graze in the Cienegas Grasslands
I look forward to this new year with visiting friends.  I think they'll love the birds here.  For many of them, they'll all be new and I can't wait to see their faces as they explore the place I call home.  It's so different from their own homes. 

I mean.....look at these views!!!  30 minutes away from my home. 

On a hill overlooking Tucson
Or how about this one?  I'm walking along a trail and this Greater Roadrunner joins me.  I had to step back with my camera.  But then the bird would walk closer to me and screw up my shot.  For a quarter of a mile, the bird walked alongside me like a dog would do with their human friend.  It was so cool.  

A Greater Roadrunner in Tucson
It got me thinking about the birds I always take pictures Roadrunners, Vermilion Flycatchers, Greater Pewees, Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, any quail, all sparrows.......

The simple fact is that I love all of my local birding. Now don't think I won't chase new bird species, but I've hit my thousand mark (and then some) ahead of my goals which will allow me to take my time to get to 2000 birds. In fact, I'm just 10 away from another "100" post.  It has taken the pressure off of me to chase and I really like it.  

Finally, I love my Tucson community.  Sometimes I don't take the time to stop and be a Tucsonan. And I've been doing it more.  I live near our artsy and magical Loft Cinema.  A dear former student works there and I was able to visit with her and watch this terrible Star Wars Holiday special.  And it was terrible!

Baby Yoda eyes the competition
But with 400 people in attendance, it was an experience best shared.  We ordered nachos and put them under our seat for later on.  As you can see, I've circled "Baby Yoda" in the pic above.  My other half Micheal looked over and saw Baby Yoda hanging out in the aisle with us.  That was odd.  When I went to get a chip, they were gone!  Apparently Baby Yoda got hungry and found the chips under Micheal's seat.  Where was Mom you ask?  Well she was blitzed while her kids "Turkey Vultured" their way around the theater!  LOL!  

The Catio
Tucson is growing.  In the winter there are SO MANY PEOPLE.  But knowing Tucson is also knowing WHERE to go when there are crowds of people.  Take for example these last two pics.  It was a most perfect day.  In the morning, I had coffee with my "girls" as they sat and sunned out in the catio.  Then we went to renew our membership at the Desert Museum on a day that didn't have many visitors.  Why you ask?  Well thousands went to our annual street fair. We countered the crowds with another popular attraction, the Desert Museum and won!  Micheal and I both had the most special lunch away from the crowds in this nice restaurant.  And a beautiful walk in our incredible Sonoran desert. 

The winter glow of the Desert Museum
I love being home.  I have several more commitments.  Over the next several blogs, we'll be revisiting Bosque Del Apache, Colorado and explore our CBC results in the Atascosa Highlands and Phoenix area. After that, I'm going to be a hermit! And garden in my backyard.  I cannot wait for 2019 to be over.  Happy New Year everyone! Until next time....

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Look Back At 2019

The 2019 year of birding was one of the most difficult years of birding I've had in a long time. It was full of highlights and unfortunately several good-byes.  I covered a lot of ground in 9 US states to do some detailed US birding.  And we took an international trek over to Wales for some fun birding.  I guided.  I lectured. And I may have burned myself out a little BUT I accomplished my goal of finding over a 111 new bird species for that life list. 

On the macro level in the birding world, we lost an important birding figure, Bill Thompson III.  At the local level, Arizonan birders lost Mary Jo Ballator who had a beautiful yard to watch such great birds as the Lucifer Hummingbird and Montezuma Quail. Today her home is a sanctuary.  And at a personal level, I lost my friend Kathy Cooper who organized treks down to the Aribabi Ranch in Mexico. Micheal also lost a dear friend to colon cancer at the young age of 45. My father almost suffered a fatal heart attack and Kathie's husband Gus had a stroke!  Thankfully, today both gentlemen are feeling better. Overall, it has been a tough year, but I managed to get some birding done.  Wherever you are, be all there!  And that is what I did. 

Lesser Prairie-Chickens
I think it was some time in April while watching the Lesser Prairie-Chickens on their lek that I thought, This is amazing and I don't need to find any more new birds.  I'm good for the rest of the year. And honestly, I just birded local spots with friends for the rest of the year. My personal goal was to ebird at least once a day. It is challenging!

This year's superstar, the White-throated Thrush.  A first for Arizona
I added 5 new birds to my state list and 14 new birds to my Pima County list. I'm now taking a break and relaxing at home watching my birds and critters from my windows. I've been working in the garden.  And on a tough day, Ms. Janine McCabe surprised me with two wonderful native plants for my birds in the garden, a saltbush and wolfberry bush.  Apparently a landscaper thought my saltbush looked like a weed and pulled it! It's specifically for my wintering sparrows that visit my garden.  Landscapers were fired this year and me and my neighbor now manage the property gardens. Thank you Janine so much:)

Willow Ptarmigan or Red Grouse
One of my goals this year was finding grouse, or the "chicken birds".  I did well and observed several species on leks.  I saw Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Willow Ptarmigans, Black Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, and Mountain Quail. These birds are not easy and I found Mountain Quail to be the trickiest for photography!

Atlantic Puffin
Speaking of the photography department, I was finally able to get better shots of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cerulian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres and Razorbills. Another goal was to get my friend Kathie across the ocean to Machias Seal Island for an intimate observation with several birds that we had seen from afar.  I felt bad my first time observing Atlantic Puffins with Kathie because she was sea sick.  But this time around, we had a wonderful experience. It was the most perfect pelagic I've experienced in awhile. And I think Kathie had a great time. 

Northern Gannet
A few of my favorite treks included Machias Seal Island between the Maine and Canadian border, Holyhead in Wales, World's End in Wales, the snowy magical world up in Washington Pass in Washington state, Proctor Road outside of Madera Canyon and in the grasslands near Roswell. 

We kick started the year searching for a Red-flanked Bluetail in the busy urban area of Los Angeles. We had a crazy burst of energy to chase that bird and it was the by far, the most illogical and fun trip we took to search for a new bird this year. Early on in the year, I knew I would be finding most of my new birds during the first half of the year.  

European Robin makes MANY vocalizations!
So my favorite birds of the year? (so far)

White-throated Dipper
All of the grouse. But especially the Lesser Prairie-Chickens.  The Water Rail in England was a favorite as were the Dunnock, Northern Lapwing, Rooks, Reed Bunting, Eurasian Blackbird, Jack Snipe, Red-billed Chough, AND my British favorite, the White-throated Dipper! Of course there are so many birds to mention, but I remember getting really excited about observing these birds in the wild.  Other birds that really made me smile, but weren't lifers were the Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Northern Fulmar and Common Murres. 

Philadelphia Vireo
There are some birds that don't thrill as much but they are what birders call ticks.  A Carolina Chickadee looks very similar to a Black-capped Chickadee so it didn't really dazzle. A Philadelphia Vireo was difficult to find but I did it.  And I was glad that I won't have to search for that bird again. Some people love woodpeckers. I like them alright, but when Kathie spotted our lifer Black-backed Woodpecker, I was excited for her.  I snapped a shot and was glad to be done with that chase.  Don't get me wrong.  All birds are amazing, but there are some groups I like better than others. 

Northern Fulmar
It was fantastic to meet a new friend and birder.  Over the years, our mutual friend Bonnie said we'd get along famously and told me to fly to Wales.  I've always been a Central and South American fan.  Britain wasn't ever really on my radar.  In short, I fell in love with Wales.  And I loved the atmosphere and people.  And the birds were fun too!

Broad-winged Hawk
Birds and birders go hand in hand.  I'd like to acknowledge several people who really made this birding year a lot of fun. 

First, I'd like to thank Gordon for his work getting several treks together.  We make a good team and I value his detailed notes and planning. I'm also really grateful to get to know Laurie Foss and Bucky better.  She made the Austin area birding a lot of fun.  Still not a fan of BBQ but it was an amazing trek full of great birds.  Thank you Laurie for your hospitality and sharing your knowledge!

And then to Bonnie and Steve.  I'm still thinking about our beautiful trek to England and all of Wales:)  They were wonderful hosts and really gave us a wonderful introduction to Wales.  We had a lot of laughs and I'll never forget the lesson of ordering a "starter".  It's not an appetizer for everyone.  Best line of the year?  "Aren't you being a little bit greedy Chris?" LOL!  I tried ordering several starters, thinking they were appetizers, for everyone and the waitress thought that I wanted to eat them all myself!  We still laugh at that moment.  Thanks Bonnie for clarifying! And that passport incident will never be forgotten. 

Steve spies a Red-billed Chough
Stephen, or Steve, was amazing.  I had so much fun just birding across the country.  That was so beautiful!  AND the two of us bird alike.  I can't wait for him to visit this spring in Arizona.  It's going to be a fun trek!

In fact, now that I look back at it all, I brought rainy and cold weather with me wherever I went this year.  Everyone said it was unusual, but I loved it!

Red Kite
And in between the travel to various US states and Wales, I hung out here in AZ guiding and helping others find our amazing birds. 

Elegant Trogon
I'd like to thanks Travis Moore and Nancy Gill for the fun times we had in Wisconsin this summer.  Nancy opened her farm up to a banding team from Milwaukee to help band Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  And to Travis for making a dream come true with the Henslow's Sparrow.  What an amazing bird!  He shared with me tips about finding certain birds in Wisconsin.  We also were treated to a beautiful Cerulean Warbler observation!

I try to imagine myself a father and sometimes I think, I'd be a great dad and then there are times I think NO.  I made the right decision. I love all my nephews and nieces and am glad to have had the opportunity to spend time with them. 

I led birders with friend and fellow birder Hollie for Tucson Audubon's Southeastern Arizona Birding festival.  There we studied one of my favorite groups of birds, the sparrows!

I also introduced others to the beauty of the San Pedro riparian area. 

One of the most beautiful moments this year?  Jeff came down to Portal to find several birds like the Mexican Chickadee.  It was in the middle of migration and a huge cold storm front passed through the Chiricahua mountains.  I know Jeff wasn't crazy about the weather, but he got to witness a very rare event, lots of Western Tanagers on the move!

Scariest birding trek?  Along the narrow cliffs of Wales!  My legs felt like rubber.  Heights are not my thing, but I wanted to see Northern Fulmars on their breeding grounds!  At one point, Steve told me to focus on his steps and not look out across the ocean and down the sharp side of the cliff to my death.  At another point, I turned around and he came back for me.  Thank you Steve for giving me the encouragement to face my fear. It was an absolutely beautiful view.  Even better was watching several people far below sipping their hot beverages wondering if we'd fall off the cliff.  Free entertainment:)

I spent the month of June with my dear friend Kathie and Gus in Maine.  Together we saw so many birds and explored new birding hotspots together.  There were several days that were so wonderful.  And all of the them were blackfly free.  Oh my gods!  I hate blackflies with a passion. I got bitten up so much while we were there.  My favorite day?  Shopping with Kathie at the outlet mall at LL Bean.  Not even birding.  It's weird, but with this lady, I will chat on the phone and do things I normally hate doing.  On our last day together, we discovered Kathie's 500th lifer, the Little Egret. 

I also met up with Magill in Maine to do some birding on Monhegan Island.  We also did some chases during the winter months in Arizona. My favorite moment with Magill was finding a Common Loon on a nest. She showed me some great birding hotspots that were underbirded.  It's always fun checking out spots that the general birding public don't usually visit. 

I am grateful for my family in Wisconsin.  We had a wonderful June and July together.  It's nice catching up with all of the family dynamics. All I can say is that family is everything.  And it's overwhelming at times. I am out of the loop often times and in some ways, it's good, until my Dad had heart surgery. How truthful was everyone being about Dad? Was he really okay?:)  I had to see for myself.  A Wisconsin transition requires locking myself in my room alone for the first few days. There are so many family members and often everyone is talking at once.  It takes me time to adjust to the "noise" of family. It's hard to concentrate, but I will say that it's getting better as the kids get older. And I will concede that I am a lot like my father in this way.  But I can't imagine my life without them.  When I leave back to Arizona, I miss those crazy voices. 

In other news, I'm glad that Celeste has FINALLY made her move to Tucson. She knew Tucson was amazing.  She loved her vacation home here.  She has the best backyard up in the foothills of the Catalina mountains.  I was her destiny!  Celeste has been a good luck charm on our treks out.  We've spied a Red-eyed Vireo and Eastern Kingbird together on our trips.  

My final adventures took me out to Oregon and Washington with Khanh.  I hadn't seen Khanh for several years and it needed to happen.  We had fun birding and checking out spots around the states.  

Ruffed Grouse
Autumn weather, birds and hanging out with a friend.  It doesn't get better than that!  I absolutely loved snow birding with him in these stunning landscapes.  Sometimes there weren't any birds because the winds and snow were heavy.  That didn't matter. It was just exploring new habitat. 

And I could go on and on.  I absolutely loved meeting and birding with Homer this year.  That lucky guy had amazing views of the normally elusive Virginia's warbler. The thing is that every year is different.  This year was life changing. I'm thankful for the birding community, friends and family.  I'm hoping 2020 brings positive change and good vibes.  And of course, good birds.  Until next time:)