Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Endless Days; Sleepless Nights

Before I begin with this week's chapter, I'd like to mention that blogger is having issues with pictures.  I wasn't sure I was going to post this week.  And I'm not the only one with the prohibited sign for several pics.  It appears my cell phone, scenic/people shots were blocked but my camera photos were not. So you'll see my wildlife discoveries from this past week. Blogger is aware of the problem and they are working on the issue.  Now let's get started with this week. 

Heermann's Gull makes a day appearance at a local pond in Pima County
Are you feeling like the title of this blog post? Everyone asks, "How are you doing?"  I don't know.  Everything is an endless haze.  Even the birding is mundane.  Ohhhh, I like the walks with friends or alone, but it feels like I've been there and done that over and over again.  I run the race but it feels robotic and empty.  I am very close to throwing in the towel and grabbing my keys and laptop while taking my work with me along the coast. 

I like this gray and detailed throne of the Greater Pewee.  They are all vocalizing right now which is absolutely beautiful
I still enjoy the birds, but it's not the same as researching a new area full of new challenges.  I have my projects.  And they look good.  I wake up.  Read emails.  Go for a walk and pick up new birds for the year in Pima County. Sometimes I walk.  Sometimes I drive.  I come home.  Check emails.  Work on the house project, putting ceiling tiles up.  Then I go outside and water my garden and feed my birds.  I watch TV for an hour and respond to students.  Then I go to bed and do it all over again. Just like everyone else reading this.  I don't even know what day it is unless I am given a task. 

Bushtits feed along a creek on Mt. Lemmon
Rarities show up.  I chase and snap a pic.  Tucson Audubon had me do a count around Reid Park which was fun.  Finally I felt like I had a real task for the day!

Anna's Hummingbird monitors my count at Reid Park
A zip code next to ours is now a new hotspot in the city for the Covid-19 virus.  I'm wondering if another nursing home was hit.  This virus is taking out these retirement communities!  And as you may or may not know, Arizona is one of the top retirement states in the US.  So while I was doing my count at Reid Park(that's in the area), I was very careful keeping my distance from people.  A police officer monitored the park for social distancing. 

Zebra-tailed Lizard
Some golf courses are vacant which is awesome!  I can now walk to the ponds where there's usually something amazing hiding in the reeds, like the Solitary Sandpiper below. 

A really cool Solitary Sandpiper hides in the reeds on a vacant golf course.
Everyone checks the few and random watering holes around town hoping for something rare to show up.  It's our highlight for the day.

OMG!  Yappy Black-necked Stilts warn me to stay back, even though there's a fence between us and that I'm some distance away from the fence.  Good gods!
Mental health is important, but this caged bird is ready to fly.  While the cases continue to rise in the US, people are beginning to lose their minds and protest.  Not saying I'd do this, but if I had covid, I'd go to the protests wearing a red hat wrapped in an American flag coughing all over everyone. My best advice is to stay away from people everywhere.  Stick to the birds. These are interesting times for sure.  Stay well and hope you are finding things to keep your minds active, like birding:)  Until next time.....

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Holding The Front

Zone-tailed Hawk
If I didn't have birds, I would go crazy. It would seem like one endless day streaming into the other.  I view my bird outings as fun but sad!  Because after I'm birding, I know I will have to go home!

Every day, I find a moment and see something amazing.  And luckily, there are always things to see. Or experience. 

As this disease takes hold, I find myself having to end hanging out with friends on the trails.  Keeping the distance is important, but even better is staying home or AWAY from people altogether. 

It has become even more difficult to stay away from stupid people who think it's all a joke.  Some have even died.  One young man, a couple nights ago, lost his life while drag racing on our Mt. Lemmon road drunk.  No one is monitoring these areas. As a result, this guy is dead after driving off the side of the mountain. We were up on the mountain in the cold listening to owls and nightjars when we heard a lot of drag racing in the forested canyons.  It was just a matter of time before someone was killed.  Glad it wasn't us or the many other innocent bystanders who enjoy night hikes/birding on the trails.  And the wildlife doesn't deserve to be around our stupidity.

Sonoran Gophersnake
 I walk the trails listening for people.  Most people are good.  The few who are foolish are usually loud and easy to avoid.  Like a deer in the grass, I disappear.  I watch other birders and smile.  It is beautiful. 

Some days are difficult.  I want to get out but I can't because I have to go to the store or I have appointments with my work OR I just have work to get done at home!  It takes more energy these days.  The evenings are the hardest as I have come to discover that I hate watching TV.  

Western Kingbird
This week has been fun, but my greatest challenge has been the Gray Vireo.  It was a new bird for my Pima County list.  

Gray Vireos are common in Maricopa County but NOT in Pima.  They used to breed in smaller numbers here and still may do so in areas that are difficult to scout.  Outside of migration, it's a difficult bird to spot around Pima County.
I've seen many of them and recognize their call in AZ.  However, in Pima county, it's a different story. I've chased this bird 3 times this past week!  Finally, I heard the bird, but does it count?  The short answer is yes.  Plus I've seen it many times, but I like having photo records for my reports.  However, as a more seasoned birder now, I also respect the bird and will not bother it if it's not willing to show itself.  If it was a lifer, this would be a different story. 


However, I can tell you with great enthusiasm that Lucy's Warblers are plentiful and very often seen around here before they hunker down to nest. 

In a really beautiful moment this past week, I headed out to Proctor Road for a rarish Golden-crowned Sparrow.  I met Tina and several other birders as we sat and watched her feeders.  It was a crazy experience.  So many good birds seen!

Broad-billed Hummingbirds fight over a spot at her feeders
But even better?  I missed talking to fellow birders.  I missed hearing their stories.  I missed the social part of it. Tina is "stuck" at Madera Canyon until the covid epidemic is over.  She's in an RV and in the most perfect place ever.  If she stays there long enough, she may even hear a Buff-colored Nightjar!

A rare hummingbird to the lower elevation, this Rivoli's Hummer comes in for a sip. 
The sunsets are gorgeous.  

And the spring migration show is out of the world. 

This female Broad-billed Hummingbird sips nectar from the wildflowers in the foothills of Madera Canyon. 

Sometimes she sits on the delicate branch to take a break from the high speed flying. 

For a moment, I forget the world is in chaos. 

Northern Cardinal
And in my excitement, I completely get lost in the moment as the Golden-crowned Sparrow comes out from the shadows. 

There are good days. And there are bad days.  I am fortunate that I have family to remind me to keep my sanity.  We zoom and drink.  My sister puts together games and we hang out.  There's a bit of ADD going on with this group, but I am grateful to have them there.  
I tried taking a pic but accidentally shut off my camera!
Stay well.  We still have a bit to go on this all. Nature is happening all around us. Until next time.....

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Secret Worlds of Sanity

Gray Hawk monitors area
Birds can and do speak to one another often.  From the hundreds of bird species that call Arizona home, it's a constant challenge to learn all their various forms of speech. Every time I go out, I attempt to learn their language.  Migration is in FULL swing now and birds are in full song mode. 

Camouflage and possible nesting site.
As the pandemic takes a stronger hold, I explore further into the overlooked/underbirded areas of Arizona. The town of Catalina has a lot of beautiful areas to bird. Arizona is wild and open country.  

This is NOT social distancing!  To be fair, I think we survived this covid scare because it was all around us in January and February. I'm still not taking any chances.  My friend on the right , we believe, had it in January.  But we'll never know since our governor doesn't have enough testing for everyone.  Just go home and die there. Oh wait!  Only go to the hospital if you're dying and it's too late.  Ducey is a terrible governor.  Thankfully Lori survived the event.  She is a survivor.  My neighbor is recovering from covid right now.  She was lucky in that it was just a mild case for her. How did she get it?  Friends from Washington came to visit:(
I continue to counter the crowds by understanding their routine lives. I visit places that most people overlook. There's a lot of back road trails around the Catalina area that have several lovely riparian areas. 

Not distance in the trail between me and my subjects!  Social distancing is a serious matter.  
Sometimes permits are required, but it's well worth the planning. Today, I'll share some tips and observations from my past week's time out with our amazing Arizona birds.

The best birding right now in Arizona is along our riparian areas as birds migrate through these wet and shaded corridors.  If you're a rarity hunter, this is the place to be.  Our first stop is the incredibly beautiful riparian area known as Cienega Creek Natural Preserve outside of Tucson.  You need a permit for this location, but it's easy and free!  Just go online and follow the instructions. I was interested in this corridor for migrating warblers and nesting hawks.

The Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler
This area is incredibly bizarre.  One walks from desert birds immediately into a creek covered by cottonwood trees!  It's night and day.  And so are the birds.  We walked from above the highway surrounded by desert into this very loud birdy area.  It was so bizarre to me because I couldn't hear the birds down inside the canyon.  But once we got there, WOW!  The bird song took over. 

I am always intrigued by this time of year because wintering and summer warblers overlap.  There are the chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers in their gorgeous breeding plumage mixed with our other regular wintering warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler.  A regular warbler that breeds in the higher elevations of Arizona but pass through these areas on the way up to places like Mt. Lemmon, the Black-throated Gray Warbler, can also be found here in smaller numbers. So often, those are the "chips" you will hear in the riparian corridors.  The challenging part is figuring out which chip is made by these warblers. 

Black-throated Gray Warbler
And while that is going on, the summer breeding warblers, the Yellow and Lucy's Warblers are vocalizing, (and chipping) and looking to settle down for a nest.  Now the trickier part is separating all this "noise" from rarities like a Prothonotary Warbler or American Redstart.  While Celeste was getting an ID on a sparrow along the creek, I was trying to locate what I thought was an American Redstart calling.  No luck.  Cienega Creek can be a challenge for birders as many of the warblers, flycatchers, etc hang out inside the trees. 

And while all these warblers are chipping or singing, there are a million other birds making their various calls. My ears are good.  Often I stand in one spot and just enter in the data.  I don't have to see many of these birds as I have seen them often.  But some, I like to see over and over again..... Yes, I have my favorites:)

I'm not a huge fan of vireos and it has been a vireo week!  We had Cassin's and Plumbeous Vireos which have somewhat similar calls.  We had a Warbling Vireo at the creek.  AND the MOST common vireo is my FAVORITE one, the Bell's Vireo.  Their "watchee wichahhh" call also makes me laugh. It's a small vireo with a loud voice and a huge personality.  Here's your yearly photo of a Bell's Vireo.  I cannot tell you how much I love these little vireos.  

Bell's Vireo
And again, flycatchers are cool but not my favorites EXCEPT maybe the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Again, it's a common bird for southeastern Arizona and one I know very well.  The call is a piercing, repetitive and slightly descending PIU PIU PIU PIU! It's often in the background and ignored by birders. Or birders don't know what bird is making that noise. It's unique. But I've wired my brain to repeat the call subconsciously outloud when I hear the bird.  Then I look.  They also have this three note "di di di" that means they are just chillin' and letting their other half know where they are.  The piercing repeated note is a territorial call. At the creek, we had them foraging for bugs around the lower canopy of the cottonwoods.

The smallest flycatcher with the biggest personality, the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
And while ALL this is going on, you have to keep your eyes and ears ready for hawks!  Hawk migration might be winding down, except maybe for the Swainson's Hawks, but most of the other hawks are beginning to nest. On this day, we had beautiful views from a pair of Gray Hawks getting ready to nest.  They made their "whiny" scream to let others know that this was THEIR spot.  

A Gray Hawk flies over our heads
And while not a great shot of these Zone-tailed Hawks, it didn't lesson the excitement when we spotted them trying to pair up.  To observe these hawks nesting in this area was worth the trip alone.  

Zone-tailed Hawks "flirt" as they ride the thermals over the creek
During another trek this week, I planned for a sunset walk along Proctor Road into Madera Canyon.  I did about 2 miles along the trail.  People were thick along the creek and all were Covid 19 violators.  They weren't smart at all about anything really.  They were in the streams letting kids run around the banks where I've seen rattlers.  Another woman thought she could illegally trespass into the Santa Rita Lodge bird area because it was her right. The owner was polite and told her to turn around but the woman continued with her vulgar speech and that she had every right to walk on their private property.  The lodge had to call the rangers.  Many people from the city who have no clue about nature are literally overcrowding these natural spaces. And it's because of this, so many places are completely shutting down their entrances into parks and preserves.

Madera Canyon at the right time of day is a delight.  At 4 PM, a lot of the annoying people have to go home and "eat" and do whatever they do at night.  I arrived as the canyon was emptying out.  And I had the whole place to myself. My mission?  I don't know.  Just get out of the house and enjoy being outdoors.  This quarantine can be too much! Thankfully there's plenty of areas where I can go to avoid the crowds. 

Common Raven
As I hiked up into the Whitehouse area of the trail, I sat down with this Common Raven and watched him waddle about the empty parking lot looking for food.  Then in a really interesting observation, I watched him call his partner from the parking lot into the sky.  

In less than a minute, I watched her swirl down from out of nowhere to join him. 

She flew right in front of me.  Ravens are absolutely gorgeous.  Look at the detail of that plumage!  I imagine, if I were a designer, how I'd incorporate such intricate patterns into one dress.  This Common Raven has 7 or 8 different feather patterns!  Incredibly beautiful bird. 

I hear the dry "whit" of the Ash-throated Flycatcher hiding on a limb
After watching the Common Ravens, I hear the unmistakable calls of the Montezuma Quail!  I go into the canyon further and find them.  They toy with me like they always do.  And like always, I'm so stupid that I flush a covey!  The male makes his alien descending "zzzzzzzrrrrr" after they flush as if giving me the middle finger.  Well, that's me giving the bird a human personality. What he really was doing was telling the ladies where he went:)

The canyon was so lovely that I stayed until the evening just to listen for Whiskered Screech-Owls and Elf Owls.  And it didn't disappoint.  I also hung out with the owner from the Santa Rita Lodge for awhile chatting with him about his business in this time of cancellations.  He's hoping the loans will help him out.  I'm hoping he got through that mess.  Apparently it wasn't as easy as the US government made it out to be.  Again, a bunch of liars. Every single one of them. 

Coue's Whitetail Deer
Okay.  Breathe in and breathe out.  I can't fix stupid.  But I can escape and connect with nature if I so choose.  And so can many of you.  Until next time....