Monday, September 30, 2019

A Weekend With Cheroot

Greetings everyone!  Before we begin this week's adventures, I wanted to let everyone know about a new feature to the Las Aventuras Blog.  We have a Las Aventuras store! We've had a lot of requests from over the years, and it has taken us awhile to figure this all out. On the left bar, you'll find a link that will take you to our products that range from fun pillows, cards, clocks, key chains, mugs, and acrylic prints. This has been a work of love from over the years and we are finally ready to share our work with you all. I have sold my work to magazines, individuals, books and businesses. Currently I am working with an owner of a birder bed and breakfast here in Southeastern Arizona where we will supply those final touches to the walls, beds and towels. I have been thrilled to see what people have done with my work and I figured we'd do the same with our own home.  We will be releasing new work every day from owls to hummingbirds and more! If you don't find something in the store and have seen it in the blog, let me know by sending me an email.  Now for this week's adventure! 

White-faced Ibis at Willcox

On my days leading up to our annual White Mountain trek, I did some quiet birding alone.  My work and this heat has drained me.  Every year I forget how much it all takes a toll on me.  I often think there is no end in sight.  Then a trek up to the White Mountains reminds me that the cooler weather will arrive soon. 

Mountain Chickadee
This year I had the pleasure of meeting a new friend by the name of Cheroot. My friend Celeste adopted this older furry little guy and brought him with us on our trek to Springerville.   

Clark's Nutcracker
I didn't know how that would go, but it was actually a lot of fun.  Whenever I introduce myself to new dogs, I let them smell my hand first so that they can get to know me.  This was especially important for Cheroot since he is nearly blind. 

On our lengthy trek up to the mountains, Cheroot trembled.  He was anxious about the travel and perhaps anxious about the idea of being abandoned. We believe Cheroot had a difficult life before Celeste and Cheroot found each other.  As an animal person, I tried my best to have him relax in my lap.  Yes, this little stinker made it to the front seat with me where he fell asleep on my lap.  Celeste and I both would take turns in the passenger seat.  It was easy to fall in love with this dog.  He definitely loves his new friend.  

There were moments I saw that little puppy emerge.  There were times I could feel his doubts from his past owner's neglect. There were moments when he played with us just to see what our reactions were going to be. And then there were moments when I observed the older pooch emerge. But it's quite clear that unconditional love makes Cheroot keep going. People who live with animals understand this emotion quite well. Unconditional love and trust. 

The views and the weather were wonderful.  Cheroot did our several mile hikes every day like a trooper. We'd have the morning to play and then the rain would arrive like clockwork at noon. 

There were times when Cheroot would become passionate about protecting his friends from other dogs.  

Celeste would do her best to curb his passionate growls and barks at the other dogs, especially the ones that weren't on a leash!

Once everything was in the clear, we'd continue walking the trails and looking for birds and anything else that would come our way.  

While we were there, we heard wolves in the distance and viewed lots of amazing birds. 

Western Tanager
Migration was upon us and so that meant we needed to keep our eyes open for rare eastern vagrants, which we did.  And we added a nice Eastern Kingbird to the state list. These birds are usually one day wonders and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. 

Summer Tanager
The walks were amazing.  Cheroot took a moment to sip from the fresh mountain water. 

We kept our eyes open on our way down through the Salt River Canyon for Golden Eagles. 

Golden Eagles love to fly high around cliffs
On the Butler Trail, Celeste spies her first American Three-toed Woodpecker. 

female Three-toed Woodpecker
This bird can be tricky for birders in the state of Arizona. It's just a tricky woodpecker in general as they are dark and like to feed from the higher portions of the tree tops behind lots of tree branches. 

Yours truly is trying to shed some pounds after my treks to Maine and Wisconsin this summer.  The heat in Tucson has curbed my walking so I try to find ways to get my steps in.  For example, I walk more at work inside the buildings instead of outside. I'm also watching my exposure to the sun more now.  I don't want skin cancer!

Red-tailed Hawk
We trekked around Springerville, Greer and Pinetop finding all the specialties that occur in those areas EXCEPT my nemesis, the Dusky Grouse. 

Cliff Chipmunk 
A Common Raven snatches something weird from the ground at Sheep's Crossing.  Maybe it's better we don't think too much about what it is that the raven has in its bill. 

Common Raven
We weren't the only ones who had hiking in mind.  People from all over the west were in the White Mountains enjoying these wonderful temps. 

Cheroot loved it.  He was always with us.  It was interesting to note what pet owners have to endure as they travel with their pets.  For example, eating out was tricky.  We had to find a hotel that was pet friendly.  There were extra charges for having a pet, but it was possible.  During this trek Cheroot broke two rules!  He slept on the bed with his buddy!  Plus, he used his puppy powers to jump up on the bed!  

Black-throated Gray Warbler
And of course, he made it clear that he wasn't having the back seat anymore.  It'll be the front seat if he has his way from this point on:)

Cooper's Hawk
It was a fun weekend out and it flew by much too quickly. Until next time....

Happy Cheroot

Monday, September 23, 2019

Southeast Arizona Birding Festival 2019

This year I once again had the pleasure of guiding for Tucson Audubon during their Southeast Arizona Birding Festival.  The grassland trek out to the Empire Ranch was a success.  

Every year, I do my usual run through the grasslands and teach people about sparrows.  Sparrows are the birds I know best and it's a great time of year for birders to see many different species in the grasslands. 

We spot a very accommodating raccoon at Sweetwater Wetlands during my Wednesday morning walks
The weeks leading up to the festival were spent with Ms. Hollie, my partner in crime.  She is amazing and helps out with all the driving and prep work that goes into our outings. We offer our usual grassland outing on Saturday and then on Sunday, we do something different.  Last year, we trekked Huachuca Canyon.  This year, we took people to one of my favorite birding hotspots, the San Pedro House in Sierra Vista.  I also did some guiding on Wednesday mornings with Tucson Audubon to get myself mentally prepared for the larger group walks. 

White-nosed Coati get into hummingbird feeders like Winnie the Pooh gets into honey:)
I've gotten better about not getting stressed out with larger groups of people on these walks.  I've learned to let everyone enjoy nature and if they have questions about what they are observing, I'm there to help point out what it is that they are viewing. 

Black Vulture perched during the brutal humid and hot temps of the early Arizona afternoon

The Cienegas Grasslands were a thrill this year.  We had wicked monsoon weather developing all around us.  Lightning was on the outskirts of our adventure flashing and booming in the distance. I was a tad worried about "whether" or not we'd be rained out on our morning outing.  Thankfully, everything worked out fine.  Just as we left, the rain came down in buckets.

This was a fun crew full of younger birders.  It was really fun to have that energy mixed into our birding.
Sparrows were incredible.  This year, birders had great views of  Grasshopper, Cassin's, Botteri's, Lark, Rufous-winged and Black-throated Sparrows. I'm sure I'm missing a few others but it didn't just stop there!

Grasshopper Sparrow
We were able to find other incredible birds like a nesting Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

While I've seen these birds many many times, I always have to remember that there are many others who have not and it's my job to try and get them onto the birds. This brings me happiness and gives me a challenge. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo carrying food
Our Sunday crew was a unique blend of birders.  We had new birders and photographers.  We also had several people who stayed back to watch feeders.  It was quite the diverse group of people and was actually a lot more challenging keeping everyone together. But I think they had a fun time. 

Our crew at the San Pedro House
As I type this post, I am scratching and itching from all the chigger bites.  This time of year is terrible for these bugs.  It's a catch 22 really.  If I wear long pants, I am miserable from the heat.  If I wear shorts, I get bit up by lots of bugs. It's a no win scenario.  Normally I would never go to these places in the summer.  But there are good birds hiding in these spaces for people who have never these feathered gems. 

Yellow-breasted Chat
I have been in love with Arizona's grasslands for many years.  It's where I find my greatest peace. It's also the group of birds I know best.  Our festival was a success and Tucson Audubon raised a lot of money to help protect Southeastern Arizona's bird habitat for future generations.  

And I'm sorry, but not sorry, for all the Pronghorn shots today.  This mammal has got to be one of my favorites.  There are several herds that are often seen along the road while we are counting birds.  Next week we meet a new friend by the name of Cheroot.  Until next time friends......

Monday, September 16, 2019

My Desert My Home

Broad-billed Hummingbird
After two months of absence, I returned home to Tucson.  It felt good to be in my own space again and to hear my own voice. 

I am connected to the wildlife here.  I feel their living presence around me.  Nothing surprises me here anymore.  It's my home I know best. I hear their voices and understand their movement.

White-nosed Coati
I see my friends and it all makes me happy. 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
There is beauty in every space IF we know how to look for it.  But somehow, this desert space is way more epic than anything I've seen around the world. 

A sunrise.  A sunset.  A monsoon shower.  A Gilded Flicker calling to the other.  "Come here!  I found a hill of ants for dinner!"  The other responds and flies to its mate. 

I sit under a ramada in the 100 plus temps.  A migrating Wilson's Phalarope casually passes me by. 

Wilson's Phalarope
I hear the rustle and anger of birds in a tree.  I suspect a snake is raiding a nest. 

Sonoran Whipsnake
Purple Martins are amazing birds, but somehow my desert Purple Martins are better:)

Purple Martin, the desert subspecies hesperia

Especially at sunset near their Saguaro home. 

I am back in my own car again, the USS Betty White.  As the sun sets at Saguaro National Park, I think to myself that I am one lucky guy.  There is no place like home. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

With A Watchful Eye

A parent Barn Swallows feeding young at Woodland Dunes in Two Rivers
Moments are all we ever will have.  I tried memorizing the Wisconsin landscape one last time. 

As the young were getting ready to leave their parents, so was I.  Once again the summer flew by much too quickly.

My brother's beautiful oasis.
Wisconsin was the end of my 2018-19 birding season. It will be some time before I go back again. 

I realized that everything is different now.  I cannot help but see the past everywhere I go.  Faces that were once a fixture of a place are now gone.  It's like the town grew old without me. 

For the first time in my life, I actually felt like my family had dodged a bullet.  My Dad was going to be okay this time, but I got a glimpse of the future and I didn't like what I saw. 

Green Heron in Manitowoc
I don't feel any different here in Arizona.  When I observe birds in Wisconsin though, I feel some strange past connection.  The birding has a weight to it.  In Arizona, it's a fun daily game.  But when I see a bird in my hometown, it's like hearing an old 80's song from high school. It floods my brain with memories and people.

Common Yellowthroat
Sometimes I'd walk down causeways.  I like lighthouses.  And I like gulls and cold lake air.  I memorize the smells and feelings that belong to that moment. I am in command of that moment. There will never be another moment like it.  I see my future and I am at peace with it. But living in the moment can be difficult for me because I know the "now" can never last forever.  In that moment, everything is as it should be, safe. It won't be that way again. 

A lighthouse in Kewaunee
The mascot of this blog is the Bonaparte's Gull.  It is a gull that I love most. It's also why it's the header to Las Aventuras. I wish I could trap this moment and return to it again and again and again. It brings me joy. 

A Bonaparte's Gull
Whether it was a birding thing or family outing, I tried to absorb every detail. Normally, I "disappear" from my family when I'm not home visiting. I'm in Arizona and if it weren't for texts, I'd be missing in action for months.  I hate talking on the phone and am not one for writing letters anymore.  We all live our busy lives.  When I'm home, I catch up on all the daily happenings between the family members.  

In the Upper Pennisula of Michigan with my Dad and Jax
I see patterns and cycles. Change does not happen easily there. Perhaps we are all stubborn and set in our ways.  I wonder if we all truly appreciate that we are together.  One event flows into the other without really giving everyone a chance to think about the experience.  Or appreciating that moment. It's always planning for the next. Maybe it's because my siblings have children and that's what children do, talk about the "next thing" that they're going to do instead of taking in the moment.  I tried working with 4 of the nephews and nieces on that one.  We were at a movie and my niece asked me what we were going to do the next day.  I told them to just watch the movie:)

Henslow's Sparrow at High Cliff State Park
One morning I won't forget anytime soon will be the one where I went with Travis to find the Henslow's Sparrow in a prairie 40 minutes away from home. It would complete my sparrow chase for the state and the list of new sparrows I had hoped to observe in the field for this summer. What a wonderful morning out as we watched this amazing lifer sing on top of the bushes surrounded by a sea of grass.

My Dad and I usually do a trek out to Washington Island from Door County.  We took J-man with us.  I'll say he was pretty good for most of the time, but not having had children myself, he certainly knew how to get me to snap.  There was one night I blew a gasket with him.  He wanted up and down and up and down and up and down a chair while I was trying to get a project done.  I don't know where that darkness came from but it emerged quickly and took only a moment to put this 3, turning 4 year old, in his place.  I can't believe I actually yelled at him. I love that kid. I actually went to bed upset that I snapped at him. 

In Door County
There are so many voices in a family.  Quiet time is a must.  If I don't have that space, I unravel into a nightmare of a human.  I know myself well enough to make that an important thing.  My father tries to do the same, but he often can't escape the noise.  We both have that in common.  Peace and quiet are sacred things and I wish we all respected those a little more with each other because it is important.

One day, I watched Trumpeter Swans at Horicon alone. I only had a few hours to play.  If this had been in Arizona, I'd have spent the whole day there counting birds. 

My brother created his peaceful retreat.  He put his pontoon into the river by his home.  This land used to be my Grandmother's before she passed. I'm glad he has it now.  It's so beautiful there. While home, we took the pontoon up and down the river. I'm proud of my brother for taking something precious and making it better. That river is incredible.  

My little sister pulls the pontoon to the dock in her fancy shoes
But at the end, I was ready to go home.  It had been a great summer, but I had work waiting for me back in Tucson. It will be another several years before I head back to Wisconsin.  My birding year for next year is already planned.  I'll be in Oregon and Washington this October and Hawaii in December.  Then there are potential treks to New Zealand, Florida, Thailand and Central America.  One of them will have to be cut from the schedule, but for now I'm leaving it all open. 

This little guy will be bigger the next time I see him. I hope he stays curious and continues his love for the outdoors. Over the next several weeks, we head back to Arizona for a scouting mission, a birding festival and trek to Greer in the White Mountains.  

Until next time friends......