Sunday, May 31, 2020

To Live Each Day

Pima County has really seen numbers of Crested Caracaras jump.  I can't believe how many times I've seen these birds this year.  I finally have a shot I can make into a larger photo for the wall. 
If you knew what your "end date" would be, how would you live your life?  Would you wait for it to come?  Would you seize the moment and live it the best that you could? Would you say your good-byes to friends and family? How would you do it?  Back in the summer of 1987, I saw my past, present and future flash before my eyes.  I learned a huge lesson from my Grandpa who was looking forward to retirement and passed away before his time, seize the day.  

All of it ended with a massive heart attack while working outside in his backyard. For the years I knew him, he was a happy man, most of the time:)  We found adventure around every corner of their backyard along the river and woods, or while boating on Lake Michigan, or while eating at a restaurant in town....and even while gardening with grandma! Sometimes I hated it because she had a HUGE garden! Even breakfast in the morning was fun because we looked forward to visitors joining us telling us what they were going to do for the day. 

I remember sitting that first Christmas without him.  Nothing was quite the same again.  It was as if life had lost its flavor.  The holiday had also died for me on that day. A similar situation happened while standing outside in the snow while I looked into my parent's home at my grandma surrounded by family and relatives. I saw my grandma, dad, his brother, and her niece all standing together.  My little sister joined me and I told her to memorize that moment.  The following year, my grandma passed away.  As a child, I memorized every little space of their home and gardens. The dinner smells, the Sunday drives, the conversations, the games we played.....and the toys in that hallway closet. They were all very special moments

Like most of us, we learn from our families and if we look close enough, there are lessons to be learned from each of our friends, siblings, parents and grandparents.  I write about these two individuals because they were some of the people who helped me define how I looked at life. One was looking forward to retiring while the other waited for death to happen. During our weekly conversations, Grandma Rohrer had once told me that living longer than her friends and husband was awful, especially when she couldn't see or use her hands due to arthritis. Four of her favorite past times were reading, cooking, gardening and the thing that isn't quite sewing. Crochet? Anyhow, they both taught me to live life NOW.  Sometimes, it may seem in the eyes of others, selfish but I don't want to be on that bed dying regretting not having lived. I became a teacher so that I didn't have to have kids of my own and explore the planet for study.  My siblings have more than made up for the nephews and nieces count:)

My third year of teaching on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa
I was struck recently by this quote "Because it's not enough to just live.  You have to have something to live for."  For some, it's having children.  For others, it's something else. For me, my purpose is through teaching, conservation work and the exploration of the unknown.  I know that when I'm gone, I will have left my mark. 

My little sis and I enjoy a fun trek to Rio Dulce in Guatemala
Fortunately most people get to enjoy their retirement.  But I think retirement can also be a little like this covid era living. With a lack of focus and the unknown, every day seems like one endless day after another. Often many people get depressed. I deal with this stress by going out birding, but with the 100+ temps now, it isn't easy.  Many people have felt locked up and lost. At the beginning of my writes since this lock down, I wrote about how nice it was to get this break in life. I may have changed my tune a bit:)

In 2008, we hiked the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu
As this has all gone on now for some time, I have also noticed entire life changes happening for friends who have found their way of living forever altered. For 10 years, I have assumed that I would have a long time to bird around the world.  I have also assumed that others would be able to do the same thing, or for at least a longer time.  It doesn't work that way and it's that realization that's beginning to sink in now. 

I'm super disappointed that I won't be able to see this guy again, Ivan from Gamboa, Panama this year.  Maybe next year. 
Last year, it struck close to home when both my father and friend's husband had to go through major surgeries. Our plans changed and we made it work. It was a lot of fun. Last October, my health took a turn for the worse. And this year Covid put an end to our planned Panama trek.  We got the phone call on Wednesday that all flights into Panama were cancelled.  In some ways, it was a relief helping me organize Plan B. But even with that, there have been personal complications.  And at the moment, if I am to be completely honest, I feel lost. However, something deep inside of me tells me to get into my vehicle and go.  It's a bit scary and it shouldn't be.  I used to do it all the time.  Ah age! It makes us a bit more wary. 

Photo by Alan Van Norman; to see how good I am at taking nightjar's my attempt below!  LOL.  I've seen these birds a lot, but I never can get this kind of photo:)  Nor do I really try.  I just like listening to their staccato song. 

Over the past week, I helped a friend with a client who had survived covid. We went to a remote area along the border that requires a bit of security. It was a beautiful evening as we went into the remote canyons far far away from civilization.  There we sat under the starry sky and listened to the Buff-collared Nightjar.  Absolutely wonderful.

The day before, I was in Ajo with my friend Celeste and Cheroot.  We went into the Alamos Canyon area of Organ Pipe and as we exited the canyon, Celeste's vehicle began to experience a really bad grinding sound. A stupid rock got caught between her brakes! We didn't want to do further damage to the vehicle, which I believe it would have done had we kept driving.  Thankfully, we were able to flag down some border patrol agents in this very remote area. We did have plenty of food and water with us, thanks to Celeste. Poor Cheroot had a very long day as we were towed back into Tucson.  

Luna helps me unpack my canvas prints from my tropical series from Trinidad and Costa Rica
Life is always full of good and bad surprises.  The older I get, the more I think it gets to be a bit more unpredictable.  I completed my room project during this time off.  My photography only makes me want to get back into the field even more.  For now, I have postponed the dream.  If October happens, I will treat myself to a monk's sanctuary in Guatemala to celebrate my birthday. It will be a spiritual retreat. And if December happens, I plan on going with my other half to Hawaii.  There are still so many unknowns in every sense of that word, but I will seize the day and live a full life.  We will reschedule our Panama trek for next year.  I mean after all, finding a Harpy Eagle is on my bucket list. 

They say Ferruginous Pygmy Owls are all over Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument  😉
Why pay a million dollars in Texas to go to King's Ranch when you can see much more for free here? Just saying.
So we have rescheduled for next year.  It will be a big event as I mark a very important milestone in my life, the anniversary of embracing the life of a birder. I have changed as a person.  And my life has changed because of it. Until next time....

I stand on a hillside overlooking the town of Antigua, Guatemala with an active volcano in the background.  It continues to remain one of the places on this planet that I feel most connected to spiritually.  Mexico, Guatemala and certain spots around Central America hold some amazing places

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Mental Pause

Mountain Bluebird
After the constant chases for really rare birds, it was time to take a break from all this Covid madness.  We headed up to the White Mountains to celebrate the end of our school year party.  Usually we go to Mexico, but this year, we altered the plan and chose cooler temps. Plus the border is closed:(

I went with my peeps where we drank beer, hiked and of course, watched birds, Elk, Pronghorn and so many other critters! They have eased restrictions in many places around the state and we were able to have our first beer together in public.  I didn't realize how wonderful that would feel. And there was live music! It was a well earned break.

Vesper Sparrow
It was also a working vacation so we brought our laptops and had zoom meetings.  This was the final week of school! We were at our whit's end with some of our students. And unfortunately with some parents who didn't monitor their kids better.  I hope, but I doubt it, that they can appreciate our classroom management skills now.  Things are still not normal.  Summer school was cancelled after much discussion.  Many parents refused to do online summer school (I get it) but it couldn't  be done.  Now there will be no summer school making the consequences for students who failed courses much more meaningful. 

Band-tailed Pigeon
It certainly has been a challenging time for all of us. Parents are NOT teachers.  And we are NOT parents.  A lot of students did a great job online, but for the ones who didn't do any work, it made things very stressful.  Sometimes I'd have to break quarantine and go to school and call parents.  I'm certainly not calling them on my personal phone!  From my work phone, they got an a kind and wonderful way.  But it was direct and to the point.  

We gave our seniors a proper send off.  It wasn't the same though and for many, it hit them that night as they wouldn't be able to throw tortillas into the air and say good-bye to one another. I felt their sadness on this day. I volunteered because believe it or not, I missed them. (Don't share that information with any of them though:) I felt a little bit of moisture around my eyes and rubbed it away. It must have been allergies. However, our school did a great job giving those kids....those young adults....a proper closure. The admin did a huge amount of work organizing this major operation in a safe manner for all.  My hats off to them!

Bullock's Oriole
As we were signing off, I also had the hard realization that my Panama trip would be cancelled.  The Corona virus has taken off in Central and South American countries.  The borders into Mexico are closed. Panama has banned all commercial flights into the country.  I haven't seen my friend Gordon, who was supposed to go on this trip, in over 2 MONTHS!  In fact, I miss many of my birder friends. Watching the Seniors at graduation process their final days also forced me to realistically evaluate what would happen for the summer. It put me in a funk. 

Desert Grassland Whiptail
The silver lining? Our Tucson Audubon fundraising event was more than a success!  We raised over 53 thousand dollars for this year's birdathon fundraising drive! We were super thrilled!  There were more participants this year AND we raised more money for a great cause!

There are days when I feel like I'm moving from one endless morning into another.  Summer has officially started for teachers here with those lovely hot 100 + temps. All of us are in this uncertainty cloud. Summer is about renewal for us.  Now, there is nothing to look forward to.  There is just a lot of unknowns. It was good to hear that I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff. I still hold onto my Panama ticket with the dreams that I will be able to go even though our group will not. It's not going to happen.  The Harpy Eagle will have to wait. 

Yellow-breasted Chat

Oh I still look at our AZ birds with a great fondness.  But I'm a gypsy at heart.  My hunger to learn more is ever present.  I have put together the last of my western birds that I need for my Plan B Tufted Puffin project. Plus, it's an escape from the heat. It would be a beautiful trek into California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho states.  There are 17 life birds left in this region.  Assuming I find all these birds, there will be little need to visit the Northwest again. Over the years, I have enjoyed dipping on the Gunnison Sage-Grouse in Colorado because it just means I get to keep going back there and trying. There is the Black Swift under a waterfall in Ouray, Colorado that I need to visit.  So on and on it goes, but I see the end coming for these states.  And it's hard to imagine never going back to them again.  

Turkey Vulture
10,000 life birds is a dream.  They keep me focused like a laser pointer. In Arizona, what was once a challenge for me, is now known and memorized.  I still pick up a few things here and there about our local birds.  They are still interesting, but it's not new.  I have this drive to push the envelope. And my focus has wandered. Reptiles have captured my interest. This year alone, I have actively sought, or not, snakes!  What is happening? The things that scare me are now the things I really want to learn about! Of course, having a friend like Celeste who loves herps has made me more curious about them. 

Yellow-headed Blackbird
One night, while I walked out into my garden and filled my bird feeders, I saw the moon flowers of my night blooming cacti. The air carried the heavy fragrance of the honeysuckle vine.  It was my little moment of perfection here in Tucson. In my garden, I have created a home for wildlife. I find that I've been turning more into a local naturalist. My cats certainly approve!  They do a great job chasing the White-winged Doves off of the window feeders!

I'm glad to be able to bird with my friends who are here.  My mind is also with my friends afar.  And my thoughts wander towards those who have life circumstances that have redefined their explorations for now. Birding used to be so easy.  Our lives are like an hour glass; we only have so much time before that sand runs out. It's been a meaningful time for many of us learning that we are all social creatures. For some, this is a dream!  I used to take some of my travel for granted, in that I could always do it if I wanted. Now that everything has been turned upside down, I crave that time with other people wanting to do those treks to new worlds and cultures. 

My brother back in Wisconsin has been enjoying the massive migration of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  And of my family, I think he is the one who understands my love for birds the most.  Granted, a lot of my family loves the birds, but he has a bird book!  And he was able to pick out an Orchard Oriole.  Maybe one day when we are older and retired, my brother and I will go on a birding trek somewhere and do some hiking. This is certainly a time of great pause in our lives.   

The canopy of a Central American rain forest will have to wait. 
Next week, we explore the border along Southeastern Arizona. It's a rare trek for two days into some really wild country!  Until next time.....

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Opening the Floodgates

Before I begin this report, I need to let you all know that I have been waiting to get one particular shot for this post today.  It only took me 3 attempts to do so! I apologize for the late posting. Now on with the show.....

An Arctic Tern shows up.  Historical records say that this would be the 7th sighting for the state and a first photo documented bird!
This year has been quite slow in the "crazy rarities" chase.  That was until April happened.  Strange reports have been coming from homeowners across Southeastern Arizona about odd bird sounds around their patches and also about rare birds being seen around their feeders! In fact, a birder reported that she thought she heard a different trogon around her patch. Elegant Trogons are "common" and expected down here.  Many of us who bird here are very familiar with their calls. Her thought was that the call being made was that of a Mountain Trogon. The bird was never confirmed.  But it is one of the next expected birds to show up in Southeastern Arizona. 

Will a Mountain Trogon be a first record for the state?
Over the years, there have been secret sightings of breeding Blue Mockingbirds. These rarities have shown up in Arizona before and are definitely considered by birders to be gems.  But it's the first state report of a species that gets birders into a frenzy! And then all birders from the 1st Age to the present come together as they look at each other in great mystery.  "Are you the great Gandalf we see on ancient ebird reports?", asks the young birder who spends all their time researching historical data from the 1900's.  Some wear an invisible cloak like that of the Black Rail, rarely seen but always heard.

Blue Mockingbirds have been seen and banded in Arizona
Other rare gems include the Yellow Grosbeak, Eared Quetzal, or Aztec Thrush. A birder in Arizona has the potential for a real exciting time here.  Others claim, there's a secret population of Thick-billed Parrots hiding in the mystical Chiricahua Mountains! But these are stories for another time. 

Fan-tailed Warbler
Often I believe that I'll never see such crazy things happen.  Never in my life would I have expected to see a Fan-tailed Warbler, Pine Flycatcher or 3 species of storm petrels in the desert, but it happens.  And usually, it's not all at once. 

Berylline Hummingbird

As I shoot forward into the present, I am confounded by a great mystery in my mind.  For the past 3 weeks, several amazing discoveries have happened here in Arizona.  Normally a Berylline Hummingbird has been a rare yet regular late spring/summer visitor. About 2 years ago, they became easier to see again. Before my time, White-eared and Berylline Hummingbirds seemed a bit more regular until we had the massive fires on the Huachuca Mountains during that first decade of 2000. From that time, they've been one day wonders. Last year there was a late staying Berylline Hummingbird in Portal at the Southwestern Research Station. The current Berylline Hummingbird has been at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders for a few weeks now. White-eared Hummingbirds are also beginning to nest again in small yet stable populations. 

One night recently, I escaped the heat with a friend into the world renowned Madera Canyon and was floored to see a Berylline at the feeders!  I don't keep up with the rarities outside of Pima County unless I haven't seen the bird in Pima or the state of Arizona so this was a fun surprise!

Plain-capped Starthroat
Another fun hummingbird that can show up this time of year is the Plain-capped Starthroat.  What a thrill!

Crescent-chested Warbler
Then something even crazier happened.  In the magical, mystical mountains of the Chiricahuas, a birder discovered a pair of breeding Crescent-chested Warblers!  And even more than that, there were more than 2 warblers in this remote canyon! Never in my life had I expected to see these birds in the US.  

But then again, Tufted Flycatchers, Flame-colored Tanagers and Slate-throated Redstarts have also bred here. In fact, the Flame-colored Tanagers are back again near Ramsey Canyon!

Birders, during this pandemic, went crazy and broke quarantine as only birders can and will do.  Hundreds from all across the US drove(or flew!) and camped in this beautiful canyon to see these very visible warblers.  They are still present today. This will be a first record for the US if these birds successfully nest. 

But it gets better.  I thought, "Ok, this will be the bird of the year or summer."  But I was wrong again.  On Friday of last week, a Clay-colored Thrush was reported!!! And in Pima County!  This is yet ANOTHER Mexican bird.  One was seen last year in Portal but the record wasn't accepted.  However that may now change with this very public bird!  It will be the first record for Pima County.

Clay-colored Thrush
And how quickly we forget about last year's surprise first record, the White-throated Thrush! These birds are adding up to something bigger.  Evidence that Mexican birds are moving up into Southeastern Arizona and beginning to breed. 

White-throated Thrush
We are often chided as idiots here in the US by savage mongrels.  "Climate change is a hoax." Is it?  While Arizona has always had Mexican vagrants show up here in the state, we are noticing trends.  

Green Kingfisher
Ten years ago, it was tough finding Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Rufous-capped Warblers, Rose-throated Becards, Green Kingfishers and even Elegant Trogons. I remember a birder once saying that Elegant Trogons could never be found in Pima County.  And if the world wasn't changing, he would be correct.  But we are finding Elegant Trogons expanding their ranges as are all these other species. Today, Trogons are almost a given. I say almost because I still hear stories from birders about how they chased these birds for 40 days and 40 nights:)  With the right patience and timing, you can find all these gems here in Southeastern Arizona.

Birders have had a fun time watching incredible birds out in the field
Of course, the mysteries still continue.  We await the report of a Rusty Sparrow or White-tipped Dove which are only miles south of our Arizona/Mexico border.  There are many more species on that list, but over the past 5 years, we have been observing an increasing trend of Mexican vagrants.  It certainly makes Arizona birding fun but it is also an alarm that change is happening.  

I expect the first tern I'd see this year in AZ would be a Forster's.  Turns out I was wrong.  It would be a state and Pima County first Arctic Tern
Why are these birds here? Has habitat been lost in Mexico that's affecting these birds? An air flow change? Or are the birds increasing in population and expanding their range like our Elegant Trogons and Black-capped Gnatcatchers?  Did the quarantine of human kind affect migration habits of the birds this year?  Are waterways affecting bird habitat in the state of Sonora and Arizona?

Cheroot shares a bit of cheese during a lunch break while observing the nesting Crescent-chested Warblers
One thing is certain.  Change is happening. I know in Pima County, there have been some great changes happening here.  We've created better birding hotspots.  Or we're improving the quality of known birding hotspots.  It has been exciting for many of us who live in this area as we are seeing a real change happening around us. Much of this thanks in part to Tucson Audubon and Pima County with thousands of hours put in by workers and volunteers! Water is the key to everything here in the desert.  And the birds are gravitating towards  these places.  As I've said before, Arizona birding attracts a lot of people from all over the world and the quality of birder has also gotten better, thanks in part to the dedication of ebird reviewers and bird leaders.  

As for the lady who reported a possible Mountain Trogon.  I believe you heard something different and I won't be shocked if someone reports one at some point. Will Military Macaws show up next? There had been a report and pics of them in Patagonia many many years ago before the time of ebird and digital documentation.  What about a Black-throated Magpie-Jay? Elegant Quail? We are watching the world unwind.  It is both exciting and sad at the same time.  People can deny all they want.  But we, the birders, see it happening in front of our very eyes.  I've posted some very terrible videos of two great thrushes below.  Both times I had these birds alone in the wild.  Very special observations indeed!

Birders wait and wait and wait.....for the superstar, the Clay-colored Thrush

Until next time.......

We spend the evening listening to the beautiful song of the Clay-colored Thrush at the Arivaca Cienega creek

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wrenegades 2020 Birdathon

Eared Grebe

Dear friends of Las Aventuras, 

I'm sorry for the delay in blog posts. I have been working on documentation for two separate writes for this week and next. It has been a lot of fun and it has definitely taken my mind off of our current situation. This past weekend we did some important fundraising for Tucson Audubon. I'd like to thank all the people who donated to our team, the Wrenegades.  We've raised some good money to protect Southeastern Arizona's birds, habitat and wildlife!

American Avocets

Obviously, this year we had to do things differently.  The team had to break up and work within our circles of family and friends being socially distant and responsible. In this post, you'll see how we accomplished our goals separately and yet together using technology to communicate.  

I was responsible for the shorebirds migrating through the state right now. I went with my friend Celeste and her furry pooch, Cheroot. Together we saw some amazing birds.  You'll see some of our finds in today's posts. Much of our energy was spent around water areas like Lake Cochise in Willcox and the riparian area near the San Pedro House.  It was a gorgeous day!

In Arizona, especially southeastern Arizona, there is a lot of habitat to cover.  While I took the Cochise county sector, Captain Jennie(MacFarland) Wren covered the Santa Cruz county area with Richard Fray and together they found such amazing birds like the Thick-billed Kingbird along the DeAnza trail.  

Her area is great for vultures, like the Black Vulture, and other hawks. There are also great sparrows like the Rufous-winged Sparrow just waiting to be found. And they did!

American Avocet

Throughout the day, we kept in contact with Jennie and reported our finds.  She kept together the checklist as we all accomplished our goals.  Jennie and Richard birded from home.  It also helps to live in Rio Rico where the wildlife is outstanding.  It's near a lot of great birding hotspots along the I 19 corridor.  

Meanwhile, Wrenegade's team member Sara Derouen Pike, took to the local state parks and city parks with her family to find such treasures like the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Sometimes we get so busy that we forget the "basics".  You know......Rock Pigeons, European Starlings and House Sparrows.  And in our case for that day, we didn't have a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher on our list!  Sara saved the day and found us one!  

So many birds and just not enough time in ONE day to find them all!  Arizona birding is amazing. 

White-faced Ibis

Sometimes I will find random birds that I wasn't expecting to get on my list like the nomadic American White Pelican.  What a treat!  These are inland pelicans but not always guaranteed on our counts. 

American White Pelican
American White Pelican

Often times, a lot of our amazing shorebird species are overlooked.  Some of them are too confusing I hear people say, but if you get a close up look, they are quite beautiful.  

Like sparrows, the sandpiper group can be difficult for beginning birders.  They can even be difficult for expert birders if they are in the wrong light!  Thankfully, this Western Sandpiper posed nicely for the camera where I could observe that nice rufousy cap with black legs. There are some rufous patches on the back that also help with this ID.  

Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper

I failed to find any Baird's Sandpipers, but we did find quite a few Least, Spotted and Western Sandpipers.  

It may shock some people to hear that we even have Willets pass through Tucson.  Where's the water?  Again we don't have many watering holes, but where there is water, there can be waterbirds!  It's important to check them daily as birds come and go.  And during our birdathon, we checked Willcox Lake several times to pick up new birds during each visit.  

Western Willet

Meanwhile, our very own Matt Griffiths took social distancing and birding to the next level.  This guy BIKED from Tucson up into canyons of Mt. Lemmon!  He was the last to report from our group because he was out of wifi range.  My hat goes off to Matt.  I'd be dead trying to do that route. The ride up Catalina highway is a steep, hot and dangerous one. There can be so much traffic as well. Years ago I used to bike marathons.  Today, not so much.  He'd blow it off as nothing, but what he did was an amazing feat of birding.  Meanwhile, Celeste, Cheroot and myself sat in the shade and ate lunch with a nice cold coke.  That's my kind of birding:)  

I like the walks, but it's over one hundred degrees now here in Tucson.  You bird in the morning or in the evening.  And if you have a strong desire to bird the whole day, you go up into the higher elevations or bird from the a/c of your car. 


I had to take off my birder's cap for you all so that you can see this crazy covid do!  We wore our masks when people got too close.  We still have lots of cases here and so social distancing and masks are necessary.  Thankfully Arizona has a lot of wonderful wide open spaces to meander!

After all was said and done, our team managed to find 165 different bird species for the day.  Each one of us will tell you that we had several stand out birds from our journeys. I always love those conversations.  It's exciting to hear who found what and where. 

Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper

What we do is important.  Our team has raised, so far, 4300 dollars.  We're not done yet.  Tucson Audubon is one of the most active organizations here in Tucson and in the country. The organization is very involved with the Tucson and Southeastern Arizona communities. There is so much going on at all times.  Even if you can't financially help, we still offer so many other ways you can participate with our local birds.  All you have to do is check out the Tucson Audubon website.  

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson's Phalarope

If you'd like to donate, click here

Long-billed Dowitcher
As always, thank you for following Las Aventuras.  Next week, we go on a chase and take an adventure up into the White Mountains as I learn to maneuver around birds and people.  We do some more social distancing in cooler weather!  Until next time.......