Monday, March 24, 2008

Driving Back to Coolidge

On the dry and dusty Saturday between Good Friday and Easter I head back to Coolidge to finish painting the baby’s mural. I know the next few weeks will be busy and the baby could come at any time. Since Gus has to work, I am suddenly struck with a painting mood. I pack my bags and drive north. Traffic is thick enough heading north but the south- east bound lanes of I-10 are virtually stopped as I drive by. Later I find out the hold-up was due to the police chasing a murder suspect from Phoenix to Tucson. Meanwhile, I concentrate on my side of the highway and watch for Picacho Peak to appear in the front windshield, which means I am getting close to getting off this gray ribbon of asphalt. At exit 111 I head north past fallow fields where cotton grew over the winter. In some fields green oceans of grass hay are blowing in the breeze today. Parallel to the road a wide irrigation ditch flows with muddy water. At various points smaller ditches break off to deliver this precious resource to farmland. In the distance I see a charcoal gray column of smoke rise at the edge of one of these smaller irrigation ditches. Along the bank I can see the tangerine colored flames licking the dirt and devouring weeds. In this way farmers control the spread of weeds into their fields of crops. In the dry dust of the flat and vacant farmland two dust devils swirl fifty feet into the air before dissipating in the empty blue sky.

As soon as I arrive at the house I unpack my paints, set up the boom box and get to work. I paint sand, birds, and grass to the songs of Norah Jones, John Denver and James Taylor. Then, to mix is up I listen to Trisha Yearwood and Colin Ray. It’s a funny thing about painting that often I think it’s all coming out wrong, then I walk away and come back to say, well, that’s not so bad after all! Every painting gets to a point where it’s just time to stop or you’ll make it worse. I stop and take a break. I thought I was done. I was going to head home but there is this one area I really don’t like, and…

Well, before I know it I am painting again. I fixed the area I wanted to, which was the grassy bank alongside the lighthouse, but then I messed with the sand a little too much for my liking. I may have to come back one more time to fix the sand and paint wildflowers on the grass, but for now the mural is done and the baby can come if it wants to! At least the parents can rearrange baby furniture now!

On Easter morning I take a short walk in the early morning sunlight. I discover wildflowers in the desert where the kids walk their dogs. Beyond the chain link fence around the schoolyard a lavender blanket of flowers covers the ground. From the rooftops the great-tailed grackles whistle sharply, piercing the calm Sunday morning with their shrill calls. Mourning doves coo from walkways and walls, or fly past my head at warp speed. Last time I was here I did a bird count. Great-tailed crackles and mourning doves rule this old cowboy town. However, I did find a nesting Anna’s hummingbird in an aspen tree near a playground, as well as an orange –crowned warbler and a red-shafted flicker in a newly landscaped water retention basin. The flicker looked so lost as it searched for food and refuge in its greatly diminished habitat.

Off Northern Ave an old farm still stands with livestock and barnyard birds still in residence. The crowing roosters awakened me the first night I slept here, but the use of a fan soon drown out their morning calls. Beyond the farm a brand new neighborhood has sprouted like wheat from the fields. It is lined up on the eastern edge of what's left of the farmland and on the western side the older section of town stares back. I've no doubt the new homes will creep across the remaining grass until the two sides of town are nose to nose. I stand at the corner and look at fallow fields and dilapidated barns but as I turn to head back perfect landscaping greets me at the corner of the neighborhood. This agave plant is spouting an asparagus shaped bud that will soon tower over my head in bloom.

Today I point my vehicle southward and home. Once more the gray asphalt ribbon spreads before me. As I drive past the Arizona Children’s home on Rt. 87 I see large black birds in old dead trees near the road. As I pass by I suddenly realize they are vultures and I am tempted to go back and take pictures, for I do have the camera with me, but I was up until 2:30 this morning and I am anxious to beat the traffic and get home to Gus. Farther down the road I notice perfectly square bales of hay strewn across one of those green fields I saw yesterday on my drive up. With the sun slanting softly across the flat land illuminating the mountains beyond I actually did start to pull the car over, it was almost too much to resist, but at the last moment I speed up again and continue home. This photo of a green Easter sunrise lives only in my mind.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Backyard Overhaul

My son called form Presque Isle, Maine just as I was starting to write this post to tell me he had to climb out a window to shovel all the new snow away from his front door so he could open it! This is further reinforcement of why we now live in Tucson, AZ. While they are breaking records for the winter’s snow fall up there, we are basking in 80 degree sunshine down here! This insect showed up on my stucco this morning. Apparently it is enjoying the warming temperatures also. I'm sure all his buddies aren't far behind! (What is he Doug?)

All my plans for going to Coolidge and finishing my mural went down the tubes on Wednesday when the landscapers showed up at 7 a.m. We’ve had a plan drawn up by Robert from Magic Gardens Nursery on 22nd street in Tucson. After discussing our ideas with him he tweaked our ideas and came up with what we considered the perfect plan for our backyard. Work wasn’t supposed to start until around April 1st, but another job they were working on was delayed, and thus I found myself in an unexpected frenzy.

The night before I moved most of my bird feeders and the bird bath to the side yard in anticipation of the coming chaos.

I snapped off some quick pictures of what it looks like before the transformation begins.

Sure enough, shortly after 7 a.m. on the 19th my backyard was full of 8 to 10 men using jackhammers and shovels to dig trenches for the footing for the intended sitting walls. The noise, hustle and bustle continued all day until 3 p.m. when they left for the day. However, the gas plumber came right as the masons were leaving to move our gas line for the gas grill. This needed to be done so the drain lines could be laid so the masons could finish their work the next morning.

At 7 a.m. on March 20 the chaos started once again. Further progress is made as the drain lines are laid and the footers for the raised patio are put in place. The block walls built yesterday are covered in stucco that will cure for a about 10 days before the workers return to put a texture on it and lay brick in a herringbone pattern for the patio floor. There will be plants in raised beds along the perimeter and a brick patio covering the entire area from doors to sitting walls.
In this area we will have a raise patio to put a bar height table and stools on. This will allow us to sit and look over the wall into the wash beside us as well as watch the summer sunsets. In the evenings we will be able to see the lights of Tucson in the gaps between the houses. We are doing the work in stages with the masonry going in first, and the plants later as the budget allows. Finally, when it is finished we will have a fountain where the birdfeeder pole is located right now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Sunrise Stroll In Sycamore Canyon

The sun rises in a flame behind the cholla cactus as I begin my morning walk. Gus has dropped me at the bottom of Harrison Road at 6:40 a.m. It will be 2 miles and over 2 hours before I am home again.

If I walked straight home at a fast clip it wouldn't take me nearly this long, but I am counting birds and photographing wildflowers. There is so much to see and marvel at in this bright desert today.

The path wanders enticingly before me, and I eagerly follow.

Nearby on the barbed wire fence a Rufous-winged sparrow perches, anticipating the first warming rays of the sun.
A curved-billed thrasher has found its own spot for catching some rays.

When the sun finally breasts the desert's edge it illuminates everything. The first blossom of a Palo Verde tree opens its heart to the sun.

Mt Wrightston is still sprinkled with snow from Sunday's storm. The white-washed flanks of the mountain contrast with the new green leaves of the ocatillo.

A lesser goldfinch flies from the desert marigolds she was perched on.

This barrel cactus sprouts a golden crown of pineapple-like fruit. soon these fruit will drop and the cactus will blossom once again.

Cactus wrens are everywhere singing, cackling and searching for insects to feed their soon to hatch broods. The cactus wrens build their nests in the spiny thorny chollas to protect them from predators. I know I don't want to get too close to this nest!

Flowers are blossoming everywhere. Penstemmon in many varieties fills the roadsides and trails. Their red tubular blossoms are a magnet for hummingbirds, but I have not seen any this morning. In fact, I have not seen any for a week. Where have they all gone?

Ocatillos rise in skies of blue.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Phoenix Art Museum

On March 11th I headed to Coolidge to join my daughter-in-law, Trish for a visit to the Phoenix Art Museum. On Tuesdays from 3 to 9 the museum has free admission. The traffic wasn’t too bad getting into the city but I was glad my daughter-in-law was driving since she knows her way around. Plus, right now there is a lot of road construction going on, which makes access a little more confusing, if not difficult. After parking the car we crossed the gridded pavement through a forest of blue Palo Verde trees to the entrance. Off to the right a fountain cascaded a sheet of water from an overhanging pipe where several people were gathered to enjoy the sound and the coolness on this warm day. Two girls were even laying right on the edges of the walls surrounding the catch basin. I’m sure they were being misted by the over spray.

(Trish outside the Phoenix Art Museum, and Yes, she is pregnant.)

I brought my camera and camera bag into the museum and one of the first things I learned was NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY and NO PHOTOGRAPHS of artwork that is on loan to the museum indicated by the presence of an “L” before the catalog number. Then, when the guard told me I couldn’t bring my camera bag into the museum but I could lock it in one of their lockers I decided to return it to the car instead. It turns out I would never have needed anything in the bag anyway, so it was good to remove it before we even got started. We all those technicalities taken care of, we were on our way!

Trish has been here once before but it was all new to me. We wandered down the hallway past favorite paintings of her’s. This led us to the Asian Art Exhibit where we saw beautiful cloisonné, screen paintings and clay sculptures of gods and warriors. Having done a Haniwa sculpture in my 3-D art class in college I really enjoyed seeing these.

There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all, so I made the mistake of hurrying because I knew our time was limited. We strolled through European Art, Latin Art, and American Art. We investigated the Thorne Rooms which is a collection of Miniature rooms depicting period furniture and architecture from real rooms in the United States and Europe.

We saw western art, including a painting done by an artist from Casa Grande named Bill Owens. We happened to be passing by as a docent was giving a tour, and overheard that he was a real cowboy who taught himself to paint, and the most amazing thing of all is, he only has sight in one eye!

I particularly love sculpture, so I was fascinated by a piece called “Upside Down, Inside Out” by Anish Kapoor (2003). It took up the center of the foyer where you could walk all the way around and see yourself reflected in the black convex and concave curves inside out and upside down!

To try to describe the whole museum would be tedious and boring. You must experience art for yourself, so I will only tell you of my three favorite pieces that had a personal impact for me. On the second floor I was captivated by an installation piece where artist Cornelia Parker has taken the remnants of wood from a fire caused by a lightning strike. She strung the burnt pieces of wood on wire suspended from the ceiling in a grid. The installation is quite large and oddly beautiful with the blackened wood displayed against the white walls. The pieces are suspended so that they form the illusion of a box. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was writing about the experience in my journal that it occurred to me what the piece might be saying. Here’s what I got out of it: fire is a chaotic and destructive force. By displaying the burnt wood in this way, the artist has brought order to chaos and beauty out of destruction. You get to invent your own interpretation.

My other favorite experience that I will remember for a long time was another installation piece entitled “You Who are Getting Obliterated by Fireflies” by Yayoi Kusama. We had to wait in line at the open door to this blackened room. A guard stood at the door and only let 2 people in at a time. It was so dark that Trish and I couldn’t see and we grasped each other’s hands as we entered. After waiting a moment to adjust to the darkness we opened our eyes in a room painted totally black with mirrors on all four walls that reflected the LED lights suspended by cables at varying heights from the ceiling. The tiny lights constantly changed colors and the description outside said it was to give you the impression of walking through a filed full of fireflies on a summer’s evening, but for me, I felt like I was transported to the heavens and I was walking among the stars. I had no sense of balance or the feeling of the floor beneath my feet because everything is thrown off by the repetition of the mirrors. My emotions were heightened as we crossed through the darkness unsure of the exit point. I’m not sure I wanted out but I felt the pressure of others waiting in line behind us, so we exited back into the bright light of reality and went on our way.

My last moment of delight was discovered just before we left the Museum in the Harnett Modern Art Gallery. It isn’t big or impressive; in fact, it is quite small. I almost walked right by it as it was displayed in a glass case in the center of the room. We came around a corner from behind and all I saw was the back of a box with newspaper or something decoupaged onto the back of it. I really didn’t pay it much attention until I was across the room and I saw other people looking at the front of it. It was as I crossed to see for myself that it occurred to me what was before me. It was a Joseph Cornell box. Cornell was an artist I studied in college. He lived in New York City and never travelled far from his home though it was his great desire to travel. He was bound there by the need to care for his ailing mother, and handicapped brother, so he would create these scenes inside of wooden boxes that he found. They weren’t dioramas of places but more like memories of imaginings or collections of dream and longings. Favorite themes of his were birds, butterflies, the ballet, and France. His style of art is known as assemblage and this particular box, though untitled by the artist, is one of many known as “Soap Bubble Set.” For me, it was the first time to see his work in real life and not in a book or on the Internet. I was thrilled.

Scott's Oriole Stops By

Yesterday while I was busy typing away in the den Gus called me from the kitchen to say there was a really pretty bird he had never seen before out in the backyard. I quickly got up and rounded the corner to see. Grabbing my ever ready binoculars I stared flabbergasted at the bird sitting in the mesquite tree. I told him to grab his camera for I knew it was an oriole, but what kind? He picked up the camera, changed lenses, focused on the bird and just as he was about to snap, it flew over the wall and away. I, with the binoculars snapped at him, with the camera, "What took you so long! What were you waiting for?" Of course, I quickly apologized saying, "You realize I'm just excited and frustrated." My ever patient husband understood.

However, it soon came back and he was able to get quite a few good shots. Over 100 in fact. All were taken from inside the house through the windows. Some are milkier than others due to the reflection of light. We watched the oriole drink nectar from the hummingbird feeder, and eat suet along with the Gila woodpeckers. I remembered hearing about people putting oranges out for the orioles, so I sliced one in half and wedged it onto the wrought iron bird hook. but silly me, it wasn't until today when I was entering yesterday's bird count into eBird that I discovered this was a new life bird for me!
New for me, new for Arizona, and new for Sycamore Canyon! I haven't seen a sign of it today, but what a treat yesterday was! A ray of sunshine in a stormy day when temps dipped into the low 40's and we had rain, hail, sleet and even snow. Today the Santa Ritas are sugar coated once again, but with temps rising by 10 degrees each day for the next 2 to 3 days, we will soon be back into the 80's once again. We are in the midst of See-saw weather. This should last for about a month.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rosemont Mine Alert!

I'm posting an emergency alert on an issue dear to my heart. It not only affects us here in Arizona, but it will affect all of you naturalist and birders also. It has to do with a proposed copper mine on public lands-your public lands, here in Arizona. Today I received the following message in my email box. If you have time and you care, I would encourage you to at least email the Coronado National Forest. This mine will be on the east slope of the Santa Rita Mountains. Ramsey Canyon, a prime birding habitat is just about due west. Having a Copper mine in this area will damage critical wildlife habitat and water resources. You don't have to be a resident of this state to care about or comment on what is happening in your National Forest.

Dear Friends,

The Forest Service just announced three public meetings scheduled next week for the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains. This last minute announcement is likely an attempt to keep public criticism of the proposed mining operations to a minimum. For more information, see our website

Make your voice heard at next week's meetings! Tell the Forest Service, "Stop the Rush, Protect Us," and be sure to cover all of your objections to the mine during these public meetings (Talking points below).

+++ Tell the Forest Service: Stop the Rush, Protect Us!
+++ Forest Service Announces Last Minute Public Hearings re Rosemont
Mine Proposal in the Santa Ritas


* Tuesday, Mar.18, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m., Pima Community College Desert
Vista Campus, 5901 South Calle Santa Cruz, Tucson.
* Wednesday, Mar. 19, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m, Canoa Hills Recreation
Center, 3660 South Camino del Sol, Green Valley.
* Thursday, Mar. 20, 6 p.m.- 8 p.m., Patagonia Union High School,
Highway 82, Patagonia.

These rushed meetings are being held even though Augusta Resource Corporation has not yet completed the studies and documentation called for when the Forest Service rejected their second Mining Plan of Operation. Scoping meetings are designed to give the public time early on in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to express their concerns with a proposal. The Federal lead agency (in this case the Forest Service) is supposed to take these early public comments into account when they prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Recent court rulings make it clear that if an issue with a proposal is NOT brought up during the scoping process, it is difficult to object or litigate on that issue later in the process.

Thus, the Forest Service rationale for rushing the scoping to limit public input is clear - the less the public is involved meaningfully, the easier it is for the Forest Service to ram through approval for a project.

If you are unable to attend the meetings, please send in your written
concerns. Deadline for written comments is April 18. Email: or Fax: 388-8305, ATTN:
Rosemont Team Leader or mail letters to:

Team Leader

Rosemont Copper Project, Coronado National Forest
300 W. Congress St.
Tucson, Arizona 85701

Talking (writing) Points:

NO revision to the Forest Plan to accommodate Augusta

* The Forest Service should NOT revise the Forest Plan to accommodate mining
* The 1872 Mining Law does not require the Forest Service to revise the plan to accommodate mining
* If Augusta's Mining Plan Operation (MPO) cannot meet the current standards and requirements of the Forest Plan, then the Forest Service must deny the plan.

Ask that the process be fair!

* Extend the time period for comments by 30 or 60 additional days.
(this is commonly done).
* Schedule additional meetings to work on the scope of the EIS.
* Schedule additional meetings in Vail and Sonoita, both areas with major impacts from the proposed mine.
* Ask that Pima County, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and the Arizona State Office of Historic Preservation be included as "cooperating agencies," at a minimum in the EIS process.

Why oppose the Rosemont Mine?

* The Rosemont Copper Project would be located 30 miles southeast of Tucson, in Pima County, on approximately 995 acres of private land; 3,670 acres of National Forest land; 15 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and 75 acres of State Trust land.
* With the outdated 1872 Mining Laws still in place, an estimated 230,000 acres of public land in Arizona have already been sold to private interests for $2.50 or $5.00 per acre.
* The EPA reports that in 2005, metal or hardrock mining in Arizona released over 39.4 million pounds of toxins.
* Pima County commissioned and submitted a hydrogeological study to the Coronado that raised the threat of surrounding groundwater and surface water depletion from pumping out an open pit copper mine, as well as potential leaching of pollutants into groundwater.
* The Sky Islands of the Coronado National Forest are a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot.
* The Santa Rita Mountains and surrounding desert and grassland seas are globally recognized for the diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, bees and plants.
* Augusta has no track record in mining and the mining industry has a dismal environmental record.
* Augusta wants to fill in Barrel, Wasp, McCleary, and Scholefield Canyons, yet claims no impact to the Cienega Creek watershed.
* Of the 117 million dollars Augusta claims in community commitments, 67 million dollars of that is actually just costs associated with the business of mining.
* Augusta claims 350 jobs, but mining jobs are transitory as part of the mining bust and boom cycle. In reality, the mine will recreate opportunities and the jobs that depend on them will be lost forever.
* negative impact on the local tourism based economy
* noise pollution, air pollution and water contamination
* increased truck traffic on local roads and highways
* destruction of wildlife habitat, wildlife movement corridors,
native plants and ecosystems
* elimination or restriction of biking, hiking, hunting, camping,
and bird watching
* irreparable devastation of the scenic landscapes and viewsheds



Although efforts are made to contain tailings piles and other sources of runoff, leaching of exposing tailings surfaces or waste dumps, and unintended leaks from other facilities are common occurrences at mine sites. This could result in the release of potentially toxic heavy
metals and other chemicals into ground and surface waters draining into Tucson area water supplies, and impacting nearby riparian areas such as Davidson Canyon.

There is every likelihood that a mine a Rosemont Ranch as is being proposed would dewater wells currently in use (as has already been done by Augusta Resource Corporation test wells) and imperil important wildlife habitat and future drinking water sources for residential use.

The area currently has excellent air quality. Tailings and waste piles will be sources of dust, which prevailing winds will blow toward major new residential developments east of the Tucson basin. Air quality in the National Forest and surrounding residential areas will be degraded
by both dust and truck exhaust associated with mine operations.

Daily blasting is required to remove rock (or overburden) covering the ore body. The impact to nearby residences, wildlife and recreational users in the National Forest will be equivalent to daily sonic booms.

This mine will be visible from State Highway 83, a designated State Scenic Highway, for 3 miles out of the 24-mile trip from I-10 to Sonoita. The 3-mile segment includes the portion of the highway where it gains its greatest elevation above the surrounding land, at which point
drivers are treated to a sweeping panoramic view of the Rosemont Valley at an overlook spot. The mine site dominates this view which currently consists of rolling hills of grasslands, dotted with oak trees and backed by a rugged ridge line.

Mine traffic, including ore trucks and vehicles carrying heavy construction equipment and explosives for blasting, will share the narrow, winding Highway 83 with school buses, commuters, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and tourist traffic.

The areas south of the mine site have developed into high-end rural residential ranches and ranchettes. New developments are found north and east of the area. An open pit mine will severely impact the quality of life and reduce property values in those areas. The Sonoita Valley, a weekend tourist destination, could be thrown into the boom-bust economy typical of western towns adjacent to large mining operations.

The Rosemont Valley is heavily used by mountain bikers, hikers, off-highway vehicles, bicyclists, and hunters. Recreational use would be forced to move to already heavily used areas, creating conflict with growing subdivisions. The additional loss of recreational lands will aggravate our increasingly crowded public lands associated with Pima County's population growth, and decrease the quality of recreational experiences.

Intensive development of the site as an open pit mine will result in loss of a significant portion of the wildlife habitat and movement corridor on the eastern side of the Santa Ritas, potentially impacting endangered, threatened, and candidate species, in addition to priority vulnerable species or species of special concern. The Santa Ritas are recognized for the biological values and are an Important Birding Area (IBA). In addition, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan lists part of the area around Rosemont as part of the Biological Core.

There are several priority vulnerable species that are known to occur at Rosemont Ranch including two Endangered Species: the Lesser Long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae) and Pima Pineapple Cactus (Coryphantha scheeri robustispina). In addition, other special status species are known to occur there: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chiricahuensis), listed as threatened, and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), a candidate for listing.

There are six others priority vulnerable species or Wildlife of Special Concern known to occur in the Rosemont Ranch area, according to the AZ Game and Fish Department: Mexican Long-tongued Bat (Choeronycteris mexicana), Western Red Bat (Lasiurus blossevillii), Lowland Leopard Frog (Rana yavapaiensis), Giant Spotted Whiptail Lizard (Cnemidophorus burti
stictogrammus), Rufous-winged Sparrow (Aimophila carpalis), and Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii). The Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) may also occur there, based on its habitat requirements.

Any economic benefits of the mine will be offset by the negative impacts to tourism-related businesses dependent on the area's scenic beauty. Mine employment may be partially or completely offset by the impact of the mine on recreational and scenic values which might otherwise have lured companies into relocating to Southern Arizona and the long-term deleterious effects of mining's boom-bust economies.

A recent study by the Sonoran Institute shows that a mine at Rosemont would have serious economic impacts to the surrounding communities. The report found:

*"..if the proposed Rosemont mine operations displaced only one percent of travel and tourism-related spending in the region, the economic loss would be greater than the entire annual payroll of the mine," Joe Marlow, senior economist with the Sonoran Institute.

*most of the benefits would go to the Tucson area, while most of the costs, such as decreased tourism revenue, would be borne by communities near the mine

For more information visit:


Home Again

When I left for Coolidge and the Phoenix Art Museum on Tuesday one of the last birds I saw was a beautiful male Gambel’s quail perched on the railing outside the den window. When I arrived home late yesterday afternoon I spotted one yet again in the same position as I drove up to my house past the wash. An appropriate welcome home, don’t you think?

This morning I awake at 5:30 am and step out the back door with my cup of green tea steaming in my cup. The sky is just beginning to lighten but a few stars are still visible in this quiet pre-dawn moment. A gentle breeze tickles the branches of the Palo Verde tree still sitting in its box, waiting to be planted. I’m struck by how still it is; not a manmade sound in the world. Overhead a triangle of stars hangs in the blue-black sky. I lift my heart in thankfulness to be alive, something I haven’t done in a very long time.

I stayed in Coolidge longer than originally planned. As usual, this project took much longer than I anticipated and I went much grander than I thought I would. As a result I will have to travel back to finish my painting, but here’s a brief peek at the progress.

Day one: sketch the drawing, paint the background. The water took longer to paint than I thought it would and more paint than I thought it would. I discovered that painting on a textured surface makes it really hard to paint a straight line.

Day Two: Paint lighthouse and the dolphin. The lighthouse is an artistic representation of the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec, ME. My son and his wife are both from the east coast and they are missing the ocean and access to the beach. I’m trying to give them and their son a sense of that here in the middle of the desert.
Day Three: Finish the arctic tern and a few other details in the morning, then drive home before traffic in Tucson gets bad.

I will have to return to Coolidge next week to finish my painting, but for now I need to get home. I need to rest my arms and give the painting a time to stew in my mind before I fill in the rest of the details. It’s warm and sunny as I head out. I have to turn the air conditioner on in the car. We’ve had temperatures in the 80’s the past three days that I have been here. All along the highway wildflowers are blooming, especially near Picacho Peak, which is one of the best wildflower viewing areas in the state. On my drive home I spot a turkey vulture soaring overhead in this location. I hope to visit soon before they are all gone by and capture some photographs of this amazing display. (Note: More postings on this trip to follow.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Birds of Sycamore Canyon

Another scandal rocks the nation
The New York governor is going down
But here in Sycamore Canyon
The birds don’t hear a sound.
They’re feeding, breeding and singing,
Because spring is in the air,
And every individual bird
Wants to become a pair!
With nests all under construction,
And birds returning by scores,
The birds in Sycamore Canyon
Don’t care about the governor’s mores!

~kathiesbirds (March 11, 2008)

The above poem was inspired by waking up this morning, contemplating turning on the news, then realizing it would just be a media frenzy as they dissected every detail o the life of Governor Spitzer. But when I looked out my window at the birds merrily feeding I realized I don’t have to turn on the tube and listen. I can watch these unconcerned birds instead.

Spring is definitely in the air around here. I was not living here in Sycamore Canyon at this time last year. I’m still getting to know the rhythms of life in this new place. While the turkey vultures are returning, I’m seeing fewer and fewer hummingbirds. I watched birds all day long yesterday and never saw one. The white-winged doves have yet to return, as well as the nighthawks and purple martins. It’ll be interesting to see what other species are purely spring and summer residents here at the base of Mt. Fagan.

I’m heading off to the Phoenix Art Museum with my daughter-in-law Trish today. She is married to my oldest son, G, and they are expecting their first baby in April. Since they live an hour north of me I’ll be spending the night because tomorrow I’m going to start a mural on the wall of the nursery. They both love nature and want to have a nature themed nursery. Since they are both from the east coast, they want an ocean scene. I told them I can do scene they want, but they do realize it will have birds in it! So, you won’t be hearing from me for a few days, but when I come back, I’ll have all kinds of stories to tell!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Six Word Memoir for Kathiesbirds

Bird writer sculpts poem; takes photo.

Texican from Pappy's Balderdash tagged me for this 6 Word Memoir Meme. Apparently Hemingway once bet ten dollars that he could sum up his life in six words. His words were- For Sale: baby shoes, never worn. This is my first time being tagged and I didn't know if I would do it or not, but the idea was intriguing. After letting the idea stew all night long I awoke around five a.m. with the words rolling around in my head. This post is what I came up with, and these are the people I have tagged: Ocean, from Island Rambles; Larry, from The Brownstone Birding Blog, Patrice, from From Patrice, Nina, from Nature Remains and Amy from Twelve Acres.

Here are the rules:

1. Write your own six word memoir.

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you'd like.
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post and to this original post 6 Word Memoir Meme , so we can track it as it moves across the blogosphere.

4. Tag five more blogs with links.

5. And, don't forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hints of Springtime In Sabino Canyon

The alarm rang in the pitch black of a moonless morning at 4:30 a.m. One of the cats jumped up on the bed to investigate if I was really going to get up. It jumped down as I rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Today is the day I volunteer to at Sabino Canyon for Tucson Audubon’s Important Bird Area, or IBA Survey. Sabino Canyon is about an hour north of me and we have to start the survey within a half an hour of sunrise. Since we hike a mile into the canyon and then do the survey on the hike back, I have to get up this early to arrive on time. I hurry about making my tea and some oatmeal. I feed the cats and move laundry around. Bonnie decides she needs to barf on the tile floor in the hallway, so I hurry to clean that up. Since today is trash day I take the bag outside into a black silk night. It’s so dark I have to turn a light on so I can see my way back to the front door, but once around the corner of the garage a light breeze caresses my face and I pause in all this hectic hurry to gaze upwards at the star-studded sky.

The drive to Sabino canyon is long. Though I am early the traffic is already thick on the roads. As I pull into the parking lot the sky is turning to gray. A desert cotton tail nibbles on greenery near the visitor center where I wait for Jean and Peggy. Any day that starts off with a cute little bunny will be a good day.
We start our hike up the tram road. Already we are seeing cactus wrens, curved-billed thrashers, and phainopeplas. The sun starts to rise between the canyon walls. Saguaros are silhouetted along the ridgeline. Then a sunbeam breaks through flooding the canyon with light.

Down in a gully three white-tailed deer grazed without fear.

Along the roadway we see cardinals and a canyon towhee. Usually shy and secretive, this one hopped up on a twig and posed for me.

So did this male and female cardinal!

I can hear the roar of the creek below me in the canyon. Up here on the road the sunlight is hitting and the birds are starting to sing, but when we get down into the canyon it’s still in shadow.
We count no birds at all at our first stop for a point count. Usually we do a Transect Survey which for us is a one mile walk in one direction counting all the birds within 100 meters of our trail. But, every now and then we have to do Point Count Surveys. This involves five stops along the way where we stand at one point and count birds for 10 minutes. Then we move down the trail to the next point and do it again. In between we don’t count birds, though I do my own personal count for eBrid.

We climb over rocks and we trek through sand. We duck through brush as we head downstream. Peggy finds a raccoon track in the soft creek sand. I keep hoping to see a coati but so far, no luck. Then we find an ant lion trap, a conical indent in the sand where, if an insect wanders in it has a hard time getting out and usually the ant lion gobbles up the victim before it can escape. Along the creek the willows drop their shaggy bark. Some branches have fine green leaves and yellow catkins in flower and along with the cottonwoods’ new lime green leaves it gives the impression of a green mist along the treetops. One willow is such bloom the branches were humming with drunken bees. A Morning Cloak butterfly joins them sipping nectar far at the top out of reach of my camera. I gaze at its dark brown wings edged in cream through my binoculars. Its head is buried deep in the tree’s flowers, hidden from sight.

A ruby-crowned kinglet comes to check us out, then, uncharacteristically deices it needs to preen right in front of us. These busy little birds are often so hard to photograph simply because they are in constant motion, but today I was able to snap of 10 to 12 good shots!

We finish out point counts just south of the Sabino creek dam. I see the old road washed out from previous flooding. The creek cascades over the cracked cement and meanders on its way in a gentle fashion today. At our last stop we see the most birds, including a broad-billed hummingbird and a ladder-backed woodpecker, but it is on our walk back to the parking lot that we make our best discovery. I am constantly scanning the trees, brush, cacti and skies for motion. Suddenly I see something gray moving in the thick tangle of a mesquite. Gazing through my binoculars I’m delighted to discover a nesting pair of phainopeplas! The male flies out to a tree near a saguaro, but the female sits on the nest rearranging the twigs to better suit her taste. Her silky gray body blends perfectly with the mesquite bark. If it weren’t for her red eyes, she would disappear completely with her camouflage.

Jean has taught me an interesting thing about phainopeplas. One of their favorite foods is mistletoe berries. The phainopeplas eat the sticky red berries and excrete them onto the trees they use as perches. Since the birds tend to go back to the same perches frequently and since the seeds are still sticky when they are excreted, they stick to the tree branches in clumps until the mistletoe can take root on the branch and start its parasitic cycle all over again!

While I had seen the clumps of mistletoe hanging from trees in the desert I had never yet seen the ripe berries. Today we finally found some, as well as the seed clumps clinging to a branch.

All along the trail we see spring wildflowers blooming. Miniature lupine pokes up its blue spikes no more than 10 inches high. After having lived in Maine where the lupine can top five feet tall, this new variety amazes me. I suppose it doesn’t have time to get that tall here. It’s never wet enough or cold enough! Still, the bluish-purple blossoms have a delicate beauty.

We see yellow primrose along the trail, globe mallow and Mexican poppies, but it is not warm enough yet for them to be open. A few more hours of sun will coax their petal wide, but for now we only see their tightly wrapped buds pointing skyward. We see other flowers in bloom that we don’t know the name of, but we enjoy their beauty nonetheless.

An antelope ground squirrel gazes at us from atop a rock, then hurries away as we pass by. We stop to check out the Cooper’s hawk nest in a tall cottonwood tree a bit off the trail, and then continue on our way to the parking lot. It’s almost noontime and I’m tired and hungry as I drive back home to Sycamore canyon. As I head up the road with my head full of today’s birding expedition I suddenly notice a large black bird with its wings held in a “V” gliding over the desert. I was wondering when they would return! It’s my first sighting of a turkey vulture here in Sycamore Canyon this year. Now I know that spring is almost upon us! And then, as I round the bend onto my road I see a patch of bright orange on the side of the road. I pull over and park the car and clamber out with my camera to capture the beauty of Mexican poppies growing wild right here in Sycamore Canyon. As if that is not enough to finish off my day, a lovely jewel green insect flies right into the orange cup just in time for me to snap this picture!