Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Beautifully Ugly

                                                     The sun sets eerily masked by the western fires

If we had to use a few words to describe the year 2020, how would we describe it? Over the past few weeks, a phrase came to mind.....beautifully ugly.  Sometimes it repeats itself during moments of tears and anger. Because behind all of this terrible sadness comes a different kind of joy.  Take for example the sun above.  Normally in Arizona, you would never be able to look straight at it.  But because of the devastating wildfires in the West, this sunset is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  Beautifully ugly. 

                                                                                         Willow Flycatcher
To date, Arizona has seen some of the wildest birds this year because of all the tragedy surrounding our state.  It might be because everyone is stuck birding locally and finding very special rarities in their local patches. It might be that we have so many professional bird guides living in Arizona and out of jobs that they are forced to stay home....and bird.  Or it could be from the environmental damage happening everywhere.  The fire events in California and other states are huge but pale in comparison to the one that happened in Australia earlier this year. In any case, I think it's a little bit of everything mentioned above.  Rarities from the north, east, west and southern provinces have been showing up all over the state.  Many of us believe that this could be an even more amazing year than it already has been due to birds being forced into new or alternative migration routes. Arizona is one of those states.

                                                               Cooper's Hawk
And so while it may be exciting for birders here, it's also a national tragedy as hundreds of thousands of  birds have been found dead in many of the western states due to extreme weather conditions.  

It's chaos here in the US.  Last Friday while looking for a rare Red-eyed Vireo in Pima County, the news broke that Supreme Court Judge Ginsberg passed away.  The country was already deeply divided and this just adds to the flames.  Birders texted each other the news from a patch of willows at an urban park while we tried to find the vireo, but somehow it took the wind out of our sails.  That was a sad drive back home because she was a pretty dynamic woman. Her passing could be the end of women having rights to their own bodies or firing people who are LGBTQ from their jobs because they go against "god's wishes".  It's very sad.  What's worse is that the Republican Senate stole a seat from Democrats back in 2016 when Obama left office.  And now the hypocrites are reversing their own rule they made up and will appoint a very conservative judge on the court.  It's like we're going back in time instead of progressing forward.  Compound all of that with the tragedies happening around the world and.......well.........there's the ugly. If anything, it has made the American people wake up like I've never seen before.  So there's the beautiful.  

                                                                     Pectoral Sandpiper

Yet in all this chaos, birds keep us somewhat sane.  And excited.  A rare Ruff was reported in the nasty slop ponds of a dairy farm.  And so we, the birders of AZ, went to find the diamond in the Ruff.  

Thousands of shorebirds were spread out over 4 different ponds.  It took us about 20 minutes to locate this really cool shorebird.  It was also a chance to meet new birders.  

                                                    The rare Ruff surrounded by Baird's Sandpipers

This year has been challenging for so many people.  And in the midst of all the terrible, we discovered the kittens trapped in a storm drain back in July.  They made the news.  I saw their faces and two of them stole my heart.  It didn't make sense then.  And it doesn't make sense now.  But we are so happy they are with us.  

Last week we finally adopted these two little love bugs.  They are so wonderful.  We now have 6 cats.  Are we crazy cat hoarders?  Depends on who you ask.  Many said no, but they also have 8 to 12 cats!   They might be a little bias. 

With covid on the rise again in many states, this is the perfect time to rescue or raise a young kitten or puppy.  Home projects are great, but laughing and cuddling with new furry friends is even better in your newly renovated home.  We have to find our happiness during these dark times. For us, it came by rescuing two kittens who very much needed a home.  We needed each other.  It sounds cheesy, but we bonded quickly. Sometimes, without question, someone or something very special comes into your life.  You don't question it. You accept it unconditionally.  If you don't listen to your heart, you'll come to regret it.  And life is way too short for regrets. 

Speaking of dark, Kosmos gets into everything and easily disappears into the shadows.  I have to constantly watch where I'm walking:)  His sister, Nebula, or Little Nebbie, is often part of the action.  The two are inseparable and keep each other entertained. When they aren't playing, they're sleeping.  The older girls have their routines and these two use them as ping pongs.  It's quite the scene. 

Beautifully ugly.  That's 2020 in a nutshell.  

Until next time.....


Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Pima County Birding Challenge

From the birdy office of Las Aventuras, I bring you all the latest in Pima County birding.  Pima county is located in beautiful southeastern Arizona and this year has been an exceptional year for crazy birds.  Pima County has improved a lot of habitat over the past two years at parks and water reclamation plants. With covid ever present in all of our lives, many are forced, or have chosen, to stay home. 

With every major wildlife trek cancelled, I had to find myself a new challenge for the year.  In fact, I think a lot of people have done the same in their own way.  I chose to add new "life" birds to my Pima County list this year.  Every time, I reach a mile marker, I post about it.  For the world life list, it's every new hundred birds.  With my Pima County list, it's every 10 birds. The start of those new ten birds began on October 2019.  On Wednesday, I completed that "10" marker milestone. 
Painted Bunting at Agua Caliente Park

There is something very rewarding about staying within your own county and birding.  It makes you a better birder. And a better detective. It's also fun.  It can also be tedious. One of the birds, I hadn't had on my Pima Life List was the Painted Bunting.  It was a lot of fun to chase and easy! It was also a bird that required a better observation.  This year in Pima, Painted Bunting, the western subspecies, have been everywhere and in good numbers.  They will disappear with the warmer weather come October. 

Arctic Tern at Canoa Ranch

The Arctic Tern was one that wasn't on anyone's list.  It was a mega rarity that showed up at Canoa Ranch.  There were very few documented cases of this tern in Arizona.  That was until now. 

Birders from all over the state came to see this bird as it was a very good state bird for many people. 

This has been the year of rare Mexican migrants. A first Pima record, Clay-colored Thrush, showed up in Arivaca along a muddy watering hole full of worms. There it sang its beautiful song.

Clay-colored Thrush at Arivaca Cienegas Creek Preserve

Again, this was a bird that has only one other record in the state.  But it stuck around and people from all over the state came to Pima County to chase this rare bird.  I remember the several sightings to be quite beautiful and memorable. 

This next Pima "lifer" was not my favorite chase.  I like vireos and the hike was gorgeous on Mt. Lemmon, but the terrain made it difficult to get good views of this somewhat rare breeder on Mt. Lemmon. 

Gray Vireo on Mt. Lemmon
While looking for the bird, I almost stepped on the Sonoran Gophersnake below.  The hike itself was new for me.  I will admit in years past, I was quite lazy to chase this bird.  It's a cool bird but it didn't inspire me to look for it in Pima when they are quite numerous in Maricopa County.  So this bird was work. 

On that day, I got to meet the Bowens.  They are doing a big year in Arizona and doing quite well.  If these rarities keep showing up like they are, they could break the year record!  

Another chase that didn't really excite me but needed to happen was for the rare Sanderling.  It was at a sewage pond far away.  Pima County is quite large.  In fact, it's larger than some states!

Sanderling at Ajo WTP

The consolation prize for not only finding this bird was from all the incredible blooming wildflowers along the road.  It was also a more innocent time before covid took hold of everything. It would be the beginning of the end to all new promises of 2020.  Trips and festivals were starting to be cancelled. I remember feeling melancholy on this day. It was a long drive with much time to think. 

Then came the Sagebrush Sparrow.  It was a cold winter day and I was in the mood to play detective.  So I did.  That's when I found my Pima lifer Sagebrush Sparrow.  Again, I had been lazy with this one.  These sparrows are much easier in other counties of Arizona. I remember sitting in my vehicle speaking with Park Ranger Chip Littlefield about putting together a special field trip to Saguaro National Park with my students. Again, this was a time full of hope and excitement.  

Sagebrush Sparrow in Marana

An enjoyable chase for a Ruddy Ground Dove in December 2019 brought me to the rose garden of Reid Park. 

There I watched this somewhat rare dove forage around the garden for bugs. 

Ruddy Ground Dove at Reid Park

The next bird is a curiosity and probably the most unknown random species in Pima County.  Unlike most places in this country, the American Crow is super rare here.  I've lived in midtown now for years.  With covid happening and work at home, I leave my doors and windows open to hear all the wonderful birds on our property.  I don't have pics or a sound recording but I believe we are on some sort of migration route for these birds. I've checked records on ebird and there seems to be specific time periods with a "line" showing a route over the Rincon mountains into areas like Willcox, etc.  Their unmistakable "CAW CAW CAW!" was heard in March as I was gardening outside. I looked up and they zipped over our El Presidio grounds....again.  In October, I got a visual of them as they were making a lot of noise flying over our house. I don't have digital evidence for ebird and their evaluation crew, but I am hoping to get some documentation on this bird next month.  It's always in the afternoon when I'm in the middle of something.  Had I not been working from home, I would have missed them!  

American Crow over El Presidio Courtyard

Another treat was a beautiful hike back in December last year to the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge.  It was a cool winter day full of birds.  I was excited to chase this rare warbler for Pima County.  He was sneaky too!  The Prairie Warbler was like the cherry on top of an amazing day of birding. Plus I like hanging out with the volunteers there listening to them speak about the Northern Bobwhite reintroduction efforts happening. 

Prairie Warbler at Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge

The detective work in Pima County is far from done.  I still have a LeConte's Thrasher to chase which is not really a fun idea for me because it's far and lives in some of my most unlikable bird habitat....the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome habitat.  Desolate, remote and hot. 

There is truly only one man in Pima right now "in charge" of all the birds.  Brian Nicholas, since he has retired, has really done an amazing job connecting other birders to some rarities.  He specifically monitors Canoa Ranch where a very rare national, state and Pima County bird showed up.....the Northern Jacana.  Like the Eared Quetzal, everyone is flying or driving from all over the country to see this bird and get it on their lists. 
It's a pretty common bird in Mexico and I've seen them close to the AZ border in Sonora, Mexico.  But this one crossed over into the ABA area.

Northern Jacana at Canoa Ranch

And finally I got another Pima lifer, the Black Tern. Normally they migrate this time of year through parts of Pima County but they never stay.  I've been too lazy to chase them over the years.  I had tried initially and then just took the approach...."If I'm in the area one day..."  And that was the case with the Northern Jacana.  Birders were saying, "Have you heard?  They have 4 species of tern down there at the Amado pond."  This past week with that Black Tern, I added number 381 to my life list in Pima County.  Now that is something!

Black Tern at Amado WTP

We can give up or we can create our own challenges during these challenging times.  I'd rather try my best even if I'm not exploring strange new worlds and civilizations.  There is still adventure nearby.  But instead of us traveling to all those exotic places to find them; we wait for them to visit us. Until next time.....

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Unwind The Mind

Montezuma Castle National Monument
I began three weeks ago with my work again....but online.  My eyes are exhausted from staring at screens all day.  It's funny that even when I'm sitting in a chair all day, I'm still mentally exhausted. 

Grasshopper Sparrow
When I get home, I find myself shutting off all electronic devices. When the weekend comes, all I want to do is sleep.  But thankfully Celeste and Cheroot remind me to enjoy the outdoors. 

At Parker Canyon Lake
August and September are intense months.  And they are miserable with the heat and humidity but always full of great migrating birds.  Often I don't bird in those extreme conditions.  I continue working on my home projects which have been a lot of fun to put together.  They are looking great.  When the room is finished, I'll share those.  In the meantime, I've done a couple outings with Celeste and Cheroot. 

A Sonoran Bumblee on thistle
Often, we pick under-birded spaces that are far away from people.  Our first trek was to the San Rafael Grasslands and Parker Canyon Lake. Both locations were relaxing.  Warm.  But enjoyable.  On our way home from those grasslands, we stopped at the Cienegas Grasslands where we picked up a Common Nighthawk for Pima County. It was new for both of us.  

In Jerome
 The following weekend, we just wanted to take a road trip out of Tucson.  We headed up to Jerome, Sedona, Paige Springs and Cottonwood.  This is a lovely area to bird full of wonderful trails and great eats.  However, I had to show Celeste the cute town of Jerome where we had the whole patio to ourselves overlooking the town of Cottonwood. 

a really nice spicy Buttersquash soup

Paige Springs has a lovely trail by their settling ponds known as the Black Hawk trail.  It's appropriately named because Common Black Hawks nest there. 

Lesser Goldfinch on thistle
On our way home, we stopped at places like Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monument where Cheroot became a B.A.R.K Ranger. He was awarded a medal for his dedication to keeping the trails clean and the wildlife safe.  On the trails, he barked a lot at other dogs who got too close to us. Cheroot is practicing safe social distancing.  He's very good at what he does. 

A reflective moment at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial
On our way home, two car crashes caused a back up for hours on the interstate.  We took the scenic route home through Prescott and stopped by the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial where 19 hotshot firefighters lost their lives.  

a rarish Dickcissel at Reid Park
While there weren't any hot bird chases, it was still hot.  But the views were stunning. 

At the Paige Springs settling ponds near the Black Hawk Trail
  We did hit some heavy rain on the way home.  It has been a dry summer here so our drive in the rain was lovely and it made for really stunning views. 

During this time of covid, we must find ways to keep the curiosity alive.  It's also important to escape and remember that life is still happening out there. These are challenging times for all of us. 

Until next time.....