Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Snowy Arizona

This storm has been in the making for some time.  We've been hit with storm after storm here.  Visitors escaping the frigid cold temps of the North aren't so happy, but we, the locals who live here, have loved it. The night before the storm arrived, our local weather forecasters told us to get ready for the arctic blast. 

Schools were closed and an official "snow day" was declared. The night before we planned a trek to Saguaro National Park to take pictures. In the morning, there was just rain and then I heard Micheal yell from the dining room, "There's snow!"  Snow in midtown is RARE.  In fact, I don't ever recall seeing snow here.  The closest thing to white this neighborhood ever sees is cocaine or maybe a leucistic Rock Pigeon:)

As always with these two crazy friends, one was focused on using her new camera in the snow while the other was throwing snow balls.  We were amazed by the amount of water here. 

I counted birds and did my surveys at my local patch, Reid Park, taking lots of documentation photos.  For those of you who know Tucson, you know how hot it gets here.  So today was for Tucsonans.  There were so many happy faces everywhere. 

It was an unofficial holiday. For one moment, there wasn't any Christmas madness in the air.  The news focused ONLY on the weather.  And for the first time in a long time, I didn't hear that orange baboon's name ONCE.  We were just people in Tucson, in Arizona, having fun in the snow.

The weirdest thing that I witnessed was this cat below playing in the snow with his human companion.  They were doing a photo shoot together and this cat acted like a dog.  Never in my life have I seen a cat do something like this before.  The guy snapped his finger and the cat chased him on the lawn.  If I did that with our cats, we'd have a revolt!

Then there was the day after. WOW!  The views were incredible.

I continued counting birds and enjoyed the cool temps. 

Ferruginous Hawk
The birds were hungry after the storm. During the storm, they huddled under the bushes to stay warm. Every species acts differently in extreme weather. 

the Southwestern Song Sparrow
 Some people were stupid. In the pic below, we saw this submerged truck in Willcox around Lake Cochise.  It's either a stolen truck dumped in the grasslands OR a bunch of idiots who thought it would be fun to go "mudding" in the snow.  Either way, it looked like a perfectly good truck.

It was a strange weekend full of fun and rare snow birding. 

Curve-billed Thrasher
The wildflower show should be amazing this spring. In a way, it was sad saying good-bye to the storm because the summer temps will be arriving soon enough.

Marsh Wren
 For now, I'll try to take in every moment I can outdoors.  There's no rush:)

Until next time.....

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Trogon Kingdom

male Elegant Trogon at Madera
Nothing.  And I mean NOTHING is more exciting than the discovery of the Arizona Elegant Trogon.  I've worked with these birds over the years doing surveys and attending meetings about their breeding grounds. So when I see one, I get excited just like everyone else does but I forget about what these birds do to people. In a canyon full of rare and exciting birds, these resident birds still win the popularity vote.

British birders spy their first Elegant Trogon and the world is complete
Let me share with you what happened.  I went to Proctor Road to get my Townsend's Solitaire and Gray Flycatcher for the year in Pima County.  And while I was there, birders from all over were looking for the Elegant Trogon.  HOWEVER, there was a "better" bird in the canyon, the ABA AZ first, White-throated Thrush.  This bird should steal the show, but no, the Trogon was more popular.

Several birders from Scotland and Ireland were there while I was birding.  They had tried 3 times over their lifetime to see this bird and when it literally landed in their laps, it was thrilling.  I felt so happy for them.  Their joy was contagious.

In Scotland, Trogons do not exist.  Here in AZ, they do!
The Elegant Trogon can be very difficult to observe in the wild.  If you ask any birder who has chased this bird, you'll hear lots of stories about how they dipped on the bird. During my years as a birder, I can tell you from experience that winter seems to be the best time to observe these birds as they often just sit out in the open and hunt.

The ABA mega rarity, the White-throated Thrush
I nearly had a heart attack when the TRUE gem, the White-throated Thrush landed right next to me. And I had no one around to say, "hey.....pssst....the bird is right here!" So I took my documentation shots and passed the word onto others who were all much more interested in the Elegant Trogon.

Townsend's Solitaire
Last month, I shared my reports of all those birds with you.  But on a quiet stroll after things have somewhat quieted down on Proctor Road in Madera Canyon, I had my best views. It was funny.  I saw those birds before I saw my own target birds, the Townsend's Solitaire and Gray Flycatcher!  But I eventually found them:)

None of them are as "exciting" as the trogon I suppose, but I still like them!

After my hike, I went up to the Santa Rita Lodge and just watched amazing birds.

Painted Redstart
Their feeders were active.  Here in Arizona right now we are experiencing storm system after storm system.  This is not a complaint.  This is wonderful rain that the desert needs. But it requires careful planning.

Arizona Woodpecker
After 2 months of attempts, I was finally able to head to Mt. Lemmon for some important reports.  I went up with friend Hollie and together we saw some amazing birds!  And it was just in time too!  Another storm system came our way while we were on the mountain.  Temps dropped to freezing and snow clouds began to encroach upon the skies. They were dark and heavy.

The frigid cold on Mt. Lemmon!
This is the one time of year that I have an easier time finding Golden-crowned Kinglets in a couple spots.

magical Golden-crowned Kinglets
And like always, I heard them first but what I didn't expect to observe was a male territorial dance!  WOW!  It was like something out of a bird book.  Incredible!

We both watched in awe as they did their display.

Now, the biggest challenge is getting out of work to find an Arizona first(for me), the Varied Thrush! As I near 500 birds for the state, the list gets smaller, especially with the Pima county challenge on!  The 2019 birding adventure is only just beginning. Until next time!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The USS Betty White

My shuttle, the USS Betty White in her native habitat.  I'll admit it, I'm a little too in love with my car but it has made for the best birding vehicle ever.
OH how I love my Betty White. She makes everything better. This past weekend we went on a mission with Tucson Audubon to save the Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the scenic grasslands known as San Rafael.

The guardian angel of the grasslands, the White-tailed Kite of the early morning
We do these counts every year to protect the habitat for this species of declining longspurs.  In fact, the grassland species on a whole have had the largest impact with declining numbers due to loss of habitat.  So it's important to protect these spaces for birds.

The USS Betty White is a survey vessel used for research and saving birds
I love the grasslands.  And I especially love any sparrow or sparrow-like bird. 

It's challenging and requires a little know-how but our collective experience helped us find quite a few of them. 

The team listens carefully for longspurs, makes note of the grass that they are in and searches for any movement
It's hard not to notice some of the other beautiful birds that winter in the grasslands like the White-tailed Kite below.

When the world seems like it's falling apart, I only need to stroll in the open air of the grasslands to forget all of it.

As we walk towards the cattle tanks, we hear the high "tribble tribble" of the longspurs as they prepare to fly.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs are amazing.
As they flush from the grasses, the longspurs fly in a popcorn pattern zipping here and there every second they are up in the air.  This is one of the most challenging bird species to capture in photos.  They are secretive and fast when discovered.

Most people just see little brown dots vanishing into the grasses. 

Maureen is a pro and was a lot of fun to work with
To make a great day, you need great birders.  And we had it all.  The worst part of looking forward to something is that it also ends before you know it. To say that I was on a high would be an understatement. Grasslands, friends(new and old), Betty White, the target bird and fantastic weather made the event fly by like...well....the longspurs.

Sure they are sparrow-like and brown but they are fascinating birds. To not have these birds around in the winter would break my heart.  They belong here.  It's why we do these surveys. 

To find wintering AZ longspurs, you'll need your ears, some good grassland habitat and cattle tanks/ponds.  And a little luck😉

It's an incredible experience and one that every birder should celebrate.

After our "work" was done, me and the Betty headed over to Paton's to do some birding there.

White-crowned Sparrow
It was super active and the birds put on a good show. 
Canyon Towhee
Especially the Cedar Waxwings!

Cedar Waxwings
As always, I'd like to thank Ms. Jennie Macfarland for leading up this survey and inviting me and the USS Betty White to explore strange new grasslands and seek out all things longspur.

Richard, Minnow and Jennie

We ended our birding at Patagonia Lake State Park for a quick scan of birds.  We did see a Common Loon.  That was fun.

AZ birding is the best. Until next time......

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Inside the Heart

Vermilian Flycatcher at Reid Park
On a different note this week, I wanted to explore the theme of love.  This post was actually organized last year after watching the movie, "Call Me By Your Name".  I was a mess.  Normally, movies don't affect me in such a way, but this one hit me hard.  I had forgotten that I have a heart:) I have spent hours analyzing the beauty and tragedy of that well executed movie.  It left me days thinking about life.  I let the feelings heal like a bandage over a wound.  Two weeks later, I ripped off the bandage once again and re-watched it all.  It was like finding a box of old love letters while cleaning the closet. 

In one moment of the movie, the young man asks himself, "Is it better to speak or die?" This of course refers to keeping his love hidden from the man he loves for his entire life or risk it all by telling him how he feels even though it could have negative consequences. "The Bridges of Madison County" has a similar feel. I remember in anticipation while reading that book, 'Would she leave her husband and open that car door for her lover?' I had never read a book that brought me to tears so quickly. But when I read that book, I was still much too young to understand the depth of her pain.

 It's painful to think of the past at times with each relationship/experience we've had. Each one teaching us something about ourselves. What happens when the most powerful love, the one that consumes your every thought, explodes and destroys that inner innocence?  How does one move forward and recover from that experience?  This line from the movie caught me off guard and for days, I sat repeating it over and over. "We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new.  But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything-what a waste!"  I think back on those two years where I hid inside my apartment and became a hermit.  I was never the same after that experience.  I chose to hide my pain.

After almost 2 decades have passed, I wonder where he is and what he is doing.  Or if he's even still alive. You never stop loving someone just because they are no longer in your life.  Then I was hit by this line from the movie, "And on that evening when we grow older still we'll speak about these two young men as though they were two strangers we met on the train and whom we admire and want to help along.  And we'll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts." 

Eventually, we both came to recognize that we were poison to one another, but the kind Romeo and Juliet took at the end.  One of the saddest days of my life was saying good-bye.  One of the most difficult things to do was not answer the phone after I had started my life again.  It's interesting how quickly that pain resurfaced when his number showed up on my caller ID. "Most of us can't help but live as though we've got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between.  But there's only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.  Right now there's sorrow.  I don't envy the pain.  But I envy you the pain." These lines!!! I'd pause the movie and think about them.

Perhaps the movie was a trigger to that deepest pain.  The what if?  The understanding of love and loss. The pain of growing older and the loss of my naivete. But knowing that if I loved someone so strongly, I would lose myself and never achieve my dreams. "Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the truth, maybe I didn't want things to turn abstract, but I felt I should say it, because this was the moment to say it, because it suddenly dawned on me that this was why I had come, to tell him 'You are the only person I'd like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense.  And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist."

It was a dark chapter in my life.  I have met others who understand this pain and we have had "therapy" discussions about this destructive kind of love.  I understand passionate rage.  I understand why it makes the news.  Some of it is public and for someone like myself, is was quiet. Like the death of a loved one, it's not quite something you ever get over.  It's a scar that has mended but is still quite visible.

Oh, I am married now to someone who supports me, loves me and makes me a better me.  We make each other better.  I wouldn't be here today writing about birds or travel without his support. We've been together for 14 years.  We have a life together.  So after all these years, it was surprising for me that this quiet little movie would allow for all these emotions to resurface. It was just supposed to be a rental.  Turns out that it was beautiful poetry.  Has anything ever triggered you to recollect your past? A book? A movie?  A poem?  Or even a song?  I'll be back to the bird treks next week.  Until next time.....