Monday, February 24, 2020

Solitude In A World Of Chaos

This female Bobcat joined me in m my hike with her offspring behind. 
So much noise everywhere.  Have you ever tried to find a place where there wasn't any noise?  No construction.  No planes flying overhead.  No children screaming in the background. No TV or radio. NO TRAFFIC!  Just silence? 

A surprise Cassin's Vireo
Over the past couple weeks, I tried finding those spaces.  It was difficult.  But on one particular walk, I had a whole wetlands to myself. Free of human noise. Finally. I touched the bark of the willow and listened to the Marsh Wren rattle off his morse code to another bird in the reeds. A Song Sparrow shouted out his melodious sing song to a curious female. The signs of spring are upon us again. I stop to absorb everything around me.  Not just the birds. 

A Red-tailed Hawk takes flight at sunset

It's the birds I know best, but I had an amazing experience that made me geek out on the trails. 

Cats! As I crossed a path, I discovered a Bobcat doing what cats do herself. What I didn't know was that there were two of them!  Her offspring came out from behind a bush near me!

Like the deer with Celeste several weeks ago, or the Greater Roadrunner, or the Javelina, here I was again joined on the trails by one of Mother Nature's coolest feline species, the Bobcat.  I wasn't frightened.  They were close and moved towards me.  There wasn't any malintent.  One of the bobcats was talking to me like my cats do when I'm home.  It made me laugh. I understand "cat" well.  One time many many years ago, back in the 90's, I stumbled upon a Mountain Lion in the alley while I was taking the trash out in the early morning. Again, I laughed and said in a nervous voice, "Hello kitty." I then proceeded to slowly walk back inside the house never leaving my eyes off that huge cat.  Her body language wasn't threatening, but she was wild and it's better to be safe than sorry:)

I was like a giddy kid in a toy store.  It was the best way to start my Saturday!  Body language is everything in the animal world.  And there is a thing about getting too close to a wild animal.  The cats strolled along the path with me for about 20 minutes before they went off to take a nap.  Amazing!

Black-chinned Sparrow almost completes my sparrow set for the year in Pima County
It's those moments that center me.  They are intoxicating addictions and one of the reasons why I love my mornings!  It's the discovery.  The connections to nature.  And my happy place. 

Dark-eyed Junco
Next, I went to Mt. Lemmon.  The mountain was FULL of tourists. So when that happens, I usually go to the trails along the mountain. Most tourists never see the real beauty of this mountain because they're so focused on buying a cookie at the top of a mountain!  Anyway, a hiker walked past me and said there weren't any birds in the forest and that it was quiet.  Had she not been conversing with her friend, she might have heard their little chips.  They were all there.  I pished further up the trail and woke up the little birds.  Suddenly we were surrounded by kinglets, chickadees, and all three species of our Arizona nuthatches!  And in a first for that location(for me), 2 turkeys popped out of the forest to see what was going on.  My owls were still there.  And all was good.  Just doing my yearly check up.  

Mexican Jay
Mexican Jays surrounded us and casually foraged around the trail.  

This life is not easy.  It certainly seemed easier when I was younger, but as I age, the weight of the world seems to get heavier.  On Friday night, the day before my birding, I set a trap to catch drug dealers on our property. Living in midtown is wonderful, but it also comes with a few negatives. No one messes with my sanctuary.  I alerted my neighbors and called the police ahead of time knowing that it takes them forever to arrive at the scene.  And on that same Friday night, those drug dealers were shoe'd off the property for good:)  Nature walk was back on again for Saturday morning.

Sunset with our local Snow Goose

And then the worst news of all. I found out a former student had taken his life.  I couldn't attend the service, but I found out he was buried in a cemetery where I bird. After work, I went to the freshly dug site and sat on the bench.  There were birds. So many Vermilion Flycatchers around. I try to make sense of it all. That cemetery never had a personal connection for me. Now, I'll never look at it the same way. He better be ready for birds visiting his grave.  There were several empty bird feeders hanging there in a tree.  So now every time I go, I'll be bringing bird seed to place at his site. I've worked with thousands of students over the years.  When something like this happens to one of them, it's like I somehow failed them.  And I know deep down I can't save all of them.  It's just hard remembering their happy faces in class knowing that their adventures ended way too early.   

Working with the public takes its toll on a person. I wouldn't have it any other way except maybe be outside more:)  In my late thirties, I discovered the world of birding.  Almost 10 years later, my understanding of the natural world gets stronger.  In times of stress or loss, I am thankful it's there away from all the chaos.  And in that solitude I am reborn.

Our cat, Aurora, is in decline health wise.  There's nothing we can do except make her comfortable and happy.  She is 15 years old and I believe has a cancer that's slowly taking its time.  She can still jump and she can still eat.  So we give her all the extra love while we still can. 
Until next time.....

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Turning Over A New Leaf

Western Screech-Owl near my work site
I am healing.  I am getting stronger, but it's slow. You'd think I was out every day looking for birds, but I am not.  I have three really important goals right now.  Walk more.  Lose this stubborn belly fat.  And drop the weight. 

A pack of Javelina or Collared Peccary cross a pumpkin patch to get to a river
On the financial level.  Save money.  Stay at home.  Make this year about birding Pima County well. It's a huge county, but I know where to go.  There are just a few people who know Pima a little better.  But I've made notes over the years for a year like this one.  And it has paid off so far locating certain difficult bird species. 

This brillaint Lillian's Eastern Meadowlark is a favorite of mine
I had habitat picked out.  Just never had the time to do the slow investigation that was needed.  But I'm glad I made the notes as it has made my job so far a breeze.  Some birders get angry that I hide my reports about certain rare birds.  That's ok. I learned my lesson a long time ago.  I told someone and they told others.  And then the bird was never seen again. I'm a quick learner. If you are a true birder, you know and understand a bird's habitat requirements. And with that knowledge, you can find the bird you are looking for. I need birders to know that the bird's safety comes first. So far, I've been excited by the owl discoveries.  From Long-eared Owls to Barn Owls to Burrowing Owls, the trickiest in my county, to the easier Western Screech-Owl and nesting Great Horned Owls.

The Round-tailed Ground Squirrel peaks up from a hole to make sure it's safe to search for food
This slow methodical approach has really allowed me to absorb all the habitats more.  Take my time.  Explore new mapped out spaces for certain species. Granted the beginning of the year is always the easiest. 

Work has taken up much of my time allowing me to bird once or twice a week. 

It has been a wonderful time connecting with birders.  Just sitting on a bench and helping a visitor ID a new bird or a difficult sparrow.  There is nothing new anymore here in Arizona except for the personal connections I make with birders and their love for birds.  It makes me smile.  The more I do this; the more I realize I'm beginning to fill in vacant roles that were once filled by birders who are no longer with us. In a way, it's a very sobering thought.

The subtle beauty of a Lincoln's Sparrow
I have changed as a teacher this year as well.  I am more relaxed than I have ever been with my students.  We talk and I teach.  When I'm done with my lesson, a student shares with me a bird they've seen.  They show me a picture and I ask them about the bird and if they know what kind of bird it is, etc etc.  

A Common Raven comes in for a sip of water
 I speak to a new friend on the phone.  An opportunity arises for my students.  I am excited.  So we begin to brainstorm.  I begin to write down a strategy to see if we can maybe make this student trek to our national park happen. What if it was an overnight 2 day event?  And what if we could give them the hands on experience necessary to excite their minds for a future of protecting our beautiful and sacred Sonoran desert?  I am very grateful for the conversation and also for the opportunity to get to know another kindred spirit.

A Pied-billed Grebe hunts for larvae in the murky water
 At home, I find a Canyon Tree Frog in my garden!  I watch my new friend sit every day on one of my Mexican pots as it bathes in the sun.  The nights get cold and I wonder if the frog will make it.  In the morning as I put oranges out for my Verdins, I check to make sure the frog is okay.  And there the frog is.  And I smile. 

A wonderful and shocking surprise in my garden, the Canyon Tree Frog, sits on top of my Mexican pots.  Where did it come from?  I never touch that part of my garden.  Has it lived in the soil of that pot for a long time?
 In the quiet of my office, I research and plan for my July trip to the Darien Gap in Panama.  I purchase a ticket for the entire month.  The first half will be grueling as we hunt for the Harpy Eagle.  The second half will be my vacation. I'll sit in my rocker on the veranda overlooking the gardens and coffee plantations in Boquete wearing my sweatpants sipping on something warm. I will meet up again with Ivan in Gamboa.  And I sense I'll finally get to meet some "friends" from Facebook for the first time in person. 

A Botta's Pocket Gopher comes up to grab a bite of grass
Each year is a new chapter in our life.  We can let it pass us by or we can make each day an event. After being stuck at home to heal for several months, it's good to feel stronger.  And it's good to get out again and be a part of the community.  The pause in my life was a good thing. 

There are goals to be achieved for sure during this important year of 2020. We'll meet up with Nancy and her sister for a wonderful hummingbird hunt in March. We'll explore new birding hotspot, the Canoa Ranch and do a Hawk Watch in March with Tucson Audubon. We'll also visit the garden at El Presidio as I add several new native plants to our property. Then our friend Dr. Steve from Wales comes in April to chase Arizona lifers.  Our Tucson Audubon Big Day will be some time in April/May as we, the Wrenegades, try to find as many bird species as we can in one day. And there are so many more things that will happen.  But for now, I'm birding at my own pace.  I'm sleeping in during the mornings as much as I can.  I'm still a birder but a much more relaxed one now. Until next time.....