Friday, February 29, 2008

Breakfast in Shades of Blue

Come join me for breakfast
In shades of blue,
While the sun is shining,
birds are singing,
Flowers are blooming,
And I’m alone but,
I’m thinking of you
While I eat breakfast
In shades of blue.

~Kathiesbirds 2-29-08

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What's Your Favorite?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time and I finally decided to ask it. At the beginning of the year Larry from the Brownstone Birding Blog asked us all what our favorite birding memory from the previous year was. Now, I would like to pose a new question and I hope that at least some of you will reply in the comments section. Here’s the question: What is your favorite Blog post that you have posted from last year? My favorite post from last year is Perigean Moon. If I could ask you to read just one thing I wrote last year, that would be it. Now I am curious to see what the rest of you have to say. If I’m talented enough, I will link your replies to this post. I’m still a baby Blogger here and still learning and I learn from all of you every day.
The responses are rolling in. Here are the favorite posts and the links:
Doug from Gossemer Tapestry, Why is This Important
Mary from Faith, Fabric and Photos, Joy, Joy, Joy
Mary from Mary's View, Home Sweet Home
Lynne from Hasty Brook, Dippy Goldfinch
Aunt "b's" Backyard, He's Back
Roy of Fenlandwalker, Canada Geese
Vern of Big Spring Birds, A Loon Story
Mary of Mary's Corner of the World, Lynx Spider Update

Monday, February 25, 2008

Crepes For Cranes

I could have had crepes and art work,
Both of which I love,
But I traded crepes for cranes
Instead. In a place
Rimmed by mountains, wind whipped and wild,
A noisy place of gray feathers and scarlet caps,
Garrooing voices raised in camaraderie,
Calling out, “Come join me! Come join me!
In my wild dance upon a dry field of grain,
In this watery place, in this wild isolation
Where we congregate.”

~kathiesbirds (2-25-08)

I Traded Crepes For Cranes

It was my birthday this past weekend. I thought I would be spending the day alone. Gus was scheduled for a flight out of Tucson Thursday night. He was going to see his parents and our grandkids, whom he had not seen in a year and half. I had resigned myself to a quiet day at home doing art work or working on my Blog. I dropped him at the airport to catch the redeye and headed home in the darkness. I was almost to the interstate when my cell phone started ringing. When I answered it I was shocked to hear Gus say, “Come pick me up. My flight’s been cancelled.” I drove back to the airport pounding the steering wheel shouting “No! No! NO!” to the elements that caused this change. Though the weather was fine here, a big storm on the east coast caused his flight to be cancelled. Not only was it cancelled, they wouldn’t even be able to fly him out until the 25th and his return flight was scheduled for the 26th. He was supposed to change planes in New Jersey. We saw on the news the next morning all the flight cancellations and delays, and the ice and snow that fell in another world but was affecting ours.

Once home I realized that we could do something special for my birthday instead, though I would have traded it all in a heartbeat if we could just get Gus on a plane. I talked to Gus about having lunch at a French restaurant a friend had told me about, and then maybe going to the University of Arizona Art Museum, which we have not been to yet. I fell asleep thinking of crepes and culture and woke up with cranes on the brain. During the night I remembered that Jean, the leader from my IBA survey group, had said she had been to Whitewater Draw just a week ago and saw thousands of Sandhill Cranes. Just last week a count was entered into the Great Backyard Bird Count of 12,000 Sandhill Cranes at McNeal, which is where Whitewater Draw is located. I wanted to see what 12,000 Sandhill Cranes looked like. I know they will be migrating north in a few more weeks, so I proposed we give up crepes and travel to Whitewater Draw instead. Thankfully Gus agreed.

Whitewater Draw is about 1½ to 2 hours drive away from here. There is nothing else out there, so we stopped in Benson to buy drinks and snacks to eat in the car. Our route takes us through the historic town of Tombstone which is busy with tourists as we drive through the center of town. Just south of Tombstone we take a left on Davis Road and head east for 22 miles. Finally we see the sign for Whitewater Draw and head 2 miles down a dirt road. As we get closer to the entrance to the Conservation Area we see the cranes wheeling in the sky. Waves after wave of cranes descends into a flooded field past the entrance. We drive past the entrance and pull off the road and park.

Though the wind is howling it still can’t cover the cacophony of crane voices. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. While Gus gets out his camera, I jump out of the car with my binoculars and start scanning the skies and the ground. The wind whips my hair into my eyes and sears through my jacket, but I stand firm and watch. There are cranes everywhere. The field is thick with gray bodies. Up above the sky looks like it is covered in fleas. It is amazing to me that these huge birds can attain such heights. As they descend they switch from their fighter plane silhouette to their landing position. They bend their outstretched necks into a chair shape, then they drop their extended legs beneath their bodies, and their wings fill out like a parasol. When I sent photos to my birding friend Kathryn from Utah she emailed me back that they look both gangly and graceful at the same time. I would have to agree.

We watched and watched cranes for 30 to 45 minutes. Waves after wave of cranes descended. The field filled up more and more. I tried to do the counting method described on the eBird for counting large flocks. I counted out a group of 100 birds and multiplied that block over the flock. I gave up counting after I reached 8,000 birds. I decided to trust that there are still 12,000 cranes here today. 12,000 cranes for my birthday. Not a bad gift, don’t you think?

By the way, Gus shot over 800 pictures this day, and I met some really nice people as we walked around the rest of Whitewater Draw. We met a couple of beginning birders from Tucson named John and Mina. We had fun watching a flock of snow geese and a couple of wading avocets. Then I met a woman from Pennsylvania named Nancy B. She has an orchard out there but every winter she and her husband try to take a trip out here to see the birds. While we were talking with John and Mina, something must have startled the cranes for the huge flock rose noisily into the sky and started whirling about. Some cranes broke off and flew over us until they felt safe enough to settle down again. I had to remember to keep my mouth shut as I tilted my head back to watch. Fortunately none of us got bird bombed!

It’s still hard to grasp that I saw that many cranes that day. Until then, the most I had seen at one time was maybe 50 birds. This has to count as one of the best birding experiences of my life. On Saturday I received a gift from my friend, Kathryn. It is a book by Jonathan Rosen called The Life of the Skies, Birding at the End of Nature. Though I have only just begun it I am already hooked. Rosen writes about why we bird and why we are so drawn to birds. He writes about his love for birds in one passage describing it this way, “Just as I love watching birds, knowing full well they couldn’t care less about me. Their existence is still bound up with mine, we share a secret, though I am hard pressed to tell you what it is.” For me, part of the attraction is the mystery of flight. Oh! to soar on silent wings above the world without boundaries! Part of the attraction is what Rosen also writes about; it is the chance to glimpse a bit of the wild even in our urban and suburban landscapes. It reminds us there is a natural world out there, that all is not artificial and manmade. Finally, it is the beauty of the creature, the endless color combinations, the exotic plumage, the shining feathers, the wild discovery, the chase. It is pursuing without harming and the serendipity of the thing. You go out expecting one thing, and come back with a basket of surprises. Birds bring us closer to nature and closer to God, and, as Rosen says, they help us to more fully understand ourselves.

My birthday ended with dinner at the Longhorn Restaurant in Tombstone. By the time we arrived most of the tourists had left. Then we wandered across the street to the Silver Hills Trading company where we met a woman named Claudia who visited Tombstone, fell in love and moved there permanently. Gus also bought me 2 pairs of earrings for my birthday, though I was already overwhelmed with all the goodness the day had brought me. But it was not over yet. When we finally pulled into our garage and I started unpacking the car, Gus came walking in with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers from my oldest son and his wife. I went from an expectation of a lonely birthday to a day of abundance and joy. It will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

GBBC: Monday's Finale

I slept late Monday still trying to recuperate from this darn cold. I wore myself out yesterday but I don’t want today to slip away. I have high ambitions but time, distance and health will probably limit the extent of my birding today. I count the birds in my yard and at my feeders while I wake up and fix my breakfast. Then, I check the bird counts and results on the GBBC web site. I notice that no one has counted birds in Saguaro National Park yet, so I make up my mind to make that my destination for the day. But first, I decide to check out two of the other sites I birded at yesterday.

I head to the park first, which is really close by. I decide I can walk the dog and count birds at the same time, killing two birds with one stone so to speak, but when I get to the park there are few birds in sight. The workers are driving their bulldozers through the desert ripping open a brown wound on the surface of the earth. Construction of the Community Center has begun. I hear a few birds off on the opposite side of the park, but all I count are 2 mourning doves, a Gila woodpecker and a couple of house finches. All the little sparrows I saw yesterday are gone for now. I will have to wait to see if they ever come back.

I bring the dog home and head to the Vacant Lot again. This time it is so quiet when I get here. It’s only 15 minutes later in the day than when I was here yesterday, but still, there should be some birds. Then, I see the red-tail soaring across the gold course with nesting material in its beak. I watch as it flies into a tall pine on the golf course. Perhaps I will get to see Red-tail chicks this spring. (Are they called chicks? I will have to look this up!) Then the smaller birds start to emerge. First I see an Anna’s Hummingbird, and then the sparrows start to move about. After awhile I see the Lark bunting again, and in the tall trees at the edge of the field I find Yellow-rumped warblers, a Ruby-crowned kinglet, an Orange- crowned warbler and a Hutton’s vireo! The warmth of the sun is making me very thirsty with this cold, so I finally pack it in and head down the mountain to town. I stop at a local park where I count a vermillion flycatcher along with 50 Brewer’s Blackbirds and 50 American Widgeons in the manmade lake, but I don’t stay here long. I soon head out for Saguaro National Park, east.

Saguaro National park is divided into two sections, one on the west side of Tucson and this other on the east near the Rincon Mountains. The western side has a larger visitor center and more easily accessible trails, but the east side is much closer to me and has a nice 8 mile loop drive. However, today I head to the Javalina Picnic area to eat the fast food I bought in desperation. Plus, I have found that by sitting quietly that often the wildlife will come to me. Not long after I sit down a little ground squirrel comes out looking at me with inquiring eyes. I know it wants me to drop it a tidbit, but I resist the urge. Human food is not good for these creatures and I do not want to contribute to the delinquency of a ground squirrel. Instead, I raise my camera to take a picture, but the squirrel scampers off. Soon however, the birds start to show up.

I’ve been listening to thrashers sing since I got here. Now I hear a covey of Gambel's quail calling to each other across the desert. Then, a little black-throated sparrow lands on a twig right near the picnic table. This time I am able to snap off quite a few pictures before it leaves. Then, I see a flash of feathers cross the road. I leave my belongings on the table and follow. Looking through my binoculars I see a bird that looks like a cross between a junco and a sparrow. While it has a gray head and a junco-like beak, it’s back has the coloring of a chipping sparrow. I know I’ve seen its picture before, but I can’t think of the name. I try to take a picture of it myself but this little guy is secretive and elusive. Every time I think I have clear shot it drops back into the brush again. It always manages to keep a flower, or stick between us. Finally it flies off into even deeper cover, but I’m sure of what I saw and when I get to consult my bird guides afterwards I discover it is a black-chinned sparrow, a life bird for me!

I put away the remnants from lunch and climb around on the hillside. The Javalina Picnic Area is in a bit of a hollow with rocky outcroppings and cactus covered hillside all around. Beyond this natural bowl the Rincon mountains rise in the east and with the recent rains and snow I can hear water trickling down the cliffs in a gentle cascade. Walking up the hillside I come upon the covey of Quail. They are rather tame here and don’t dart for cover as quickly as the ones in my neighborhood, so I am able to take a decent picture of some of them before they dash for cover again. I estimate their number at about 14, which is the most I have seen at one time.

While I am standing there photographing quail, a little rock wren hops up on a picnic table as if to inquire about what I am finding so interesting. Well, you of course, I think as I snap off some pictures of it. The sun is beating down on my feverish body but I don’t want o give up yet. I climb even farther up and start to circle the picnic area, but it seems all the birds like the bottom of the bowl better, for there are few up here, save for a red-tail lazily circling the sky.

I continue on my way and climb one final outcropping. The effort and the heat make me dizzy and I sit down. It’s then I realize I’d better cash it in and go home. If I passed out up here no one would see me and I’d lie here in the sun and fry to a red crisp! I’m so thirsty but my water is down in the car. I have to at least make it that far, so, I slowly make my way down trying to avoid other people’s picnic tables. I don’t want to intrude on their privacy. Back at the car I gulp what is left of my water and decide I should head home, even though it is only about 3 pm. If I was feeling better I would go do a couple of other counts before the day ended, but I must go home. As I drive south on Houghton Rd I briefly pull off to head to another park, but then reprimand myself and get back on track. I make one final count of the evening birds in my yard and call it a day. The GBBC has ended until next year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunday's Story of the GBBC

Every day is warmer and drier and the birds have dispersed from my yard. Though they still show up in hordes, there is not the number or variety as there was on Friday when the storm rolled through. Today I expand my horizons and try to find some new birding areas close to home. Gus and I are both still fighting this cold, and he stays home to rest. My obsession drives me from the house to add to the greater knowledge of bird populations across the U.S.A. Besides, I am determined to have Corona de Tucson well represented in the bird count, so off I go.

I start at the local park in our neighborhood where I am horrified to see they have started to tear the desert up to make way for the community center. The area is all marked off and heavy equipment is parked at the edge. I knew this was coming but it still makes me sad to see it happening. I know how many birds and bunnies inhabit the scrub they will now tear up. Cactus will be plowed over, though some will be saved, and in the end a pool and club house will be built, all with new landscaping. New birds will move in to inhabit the landscaped areas, but the wild delicate species will be gone, driven off to find new habitats in undisturbed areas.

Today I count a mixed flock of Brewer’s, Rufous-winged, and Black-throated sparrows among the thin grasses. The usual suspects of Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, and curved-billed thrashers are present also. The thrashers and cactus wrens make their nests in spiny cholla (pronounced choy-a) cactus. The fruit from these cacti hang down in chains and drop to the ground to be eaten by other desert animals. When a cholla cactus dies it leaves behind a beautiful gray skeleton. This latticework trunk makes a nice addition to the yard or even as part of your interior decorating if you find a good piece. Here in nature, the birds simply use it as a perch. I’m sure for them the appeal is purely practical and they are unaware of its esthetic appeal.

From the park I simply drive around trying to find a good area to bird. A Sunday morning quiet has descended on the area but over on Houghton Rd I see and hear a bunch of birds in some tall trees in an older part of town. I pull over in front of what I later discover in the Tin Cup Lounge and Country Club for the Santa Rita Golf Course. There are lots of cars at this place, so I pull a little farther down the road and park in front of a vacant lot. This vacant lot proves to be a gold mine as I soon discover.

It’s only a small area of land about 1 ½ acres in size. To the north if a hair salon, the east border is formed by the golf course with tall pines and other trees. On the south the Country Club frames the lot with tall eucalyptus trees and some juniper. The western border is formed by the road which has a constant stream of traffic. But, here in this little abandoned and scrubby field the birds have found refuge. I’m drawn in by the chirping, tweeting, cackling sounds. Feathered motion is everywhere. Tiny birds flit from brush to bush, cactus to cactus and tree to tree. The sparrows fly up briefly, then dart into the grasses again. I find thrashers and cactus wrens building nests. Before I am done I count Brewer’s, Rufous-winged, White-crowned, and Black-throated sparrows. I suspect there are others I can’t identify.

Then I see something different and focus on it. It has a larger beak, a striped breast, central breast spot, dark malar stripe…what am I looking at? Dickcissel and Lark Bunting go through my mind, but I put down my binoculars and swing up my camera. I need to capture a picture if I want to be sure. The little scallywag runs for cover. It stays low in the grasses but I snap away. When I get home I discover it IS a lark bunting! A new bird for my bird count at least! On Sunday I count 21 species in this forgotten bit of earth. When I return here on Monday I add two more species to the count. I also observe the red-tailed hawk bringing nesting material to a tall pine on the golf course. I suppose someday this forgotten piece of land will be plowed up to make way for a parking lot or something, but for now I can only hope it stays this way for a long time to come.

Birds Counted in and around the vacant lot: 1. Red-tailed hawk, 2. Mourning dove, 3. Anna’s hummingbird, 4. Costa’s hummingbird, 5. Gila Woodpecker, 6. Say’s Phoebe, 7. Chihuahuan Raven, 8. Cactus Wren, 9. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 10. Curved-billed thrasher, 11.European Starling, 12.Yellow-rumped warbler, 13.Canyon towhee, 14.Rufous-winged sparrow, 15.Brewer’s sparrow, 16.Black-throated sparrow, 17. Lark bunting, 18.White-crowned sparrow, 19.Phrrhuloxia, 20.Great-tailed grackle, 21.Housefinch 22. Hutton’s vireo, 23. Orange-crowned warbler.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Birds At My Feeders, a GBBC Update

The cold and snow brought throngs of hungry birds to the feeders. I thought I wouldn't get to count many birds since I stayed home almost all day Friday, but to my surprise a Pine Siskin showed up with the Lesser Goldfinches. Then, today he brought back a buddy, so I added 2 Pine Siskins to my Great Backyard Bird Count today. But the surprises didn't end there. Can you tell what bird this is?

I took numerous photos, checked numerous bird guides and websites....

Notice the buffy streaked breast, the eye ring, and the gray eyebrow?

The conclusion? A Lincoln's sparrow!

I was enjoying watching this little guy and shooting his photo when a male House Sparrow flew into the yard and landed right near him. He flew at the Lincoln's with beak and claws and drove the poor bird away. The house sparrow was much bigger than the Lincoln's, to my surprise. Though I don't have the same problem with them as Mary does, I do have a few house sparrows around. The most I've seen at one time is probably about 5 or 6, but I just read Amy's post on Twelve Acres about live trapping them and humanly disposing of them. I didn't know what to think of her post but Susan Gets Native commented that if you ever saw a house sparrow attack a bluebird you would change your mind about feeling sorry for them. Well, I may just be changing mine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Great backyard Bird Count Begins (or, Look Who's Coming to Dinner!)

It’s the first morning of the Great Backyard Bird Count and I am recovering from the flu. I still feel awful but I was up with the dawn to start counting birds. I would say I was up with the sun, but today it is raining here and sometimes it is mixed with snow! All the birds look bedraggled and they are seeking shelter wherever they can get it. A house finch is riding the ceiling fan like a merry-go-round, but at least it is dry!

A female hummingbird has chosen my ballerina sculpture as her refuge.

One poor mourning dove just braces itself against the downpour.

But when I first opened the shutters this morning look what I found feeding from the quailblock! This jackrabbit forgot it’s suppose to wear feathers to dinner!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sharp-shinned Surprise

You never know when life is going to drop a gift in your lap, but that's what happened to me today. It is right after breakfast and I am busy doing laundry. The Gambel's quail are scratching merrily outside the window at the quail block. Birds are chirping and tweeting all over the place. The mourning doves are cooing their mournful songs. It's really a peaceful day, when I hear an explosion of wings, then silence. I look out the window and all my birds are gone, but I can't see why. I continue to load the wet clothes into the dryer before heading back down the hall to the rest of the house. As I pass the den window I stop in my tracks. There perched on the fence not more than 20 feet from me is a hawk! Having the camera has made me lazy in some respects. Instead of stopping to figure out what I am seeing, I grab the camera and start shooting. I know I will be able to decipher field marks later when I upload images to the computer.

The hawk stares around itself sharply. It's almost comical the way it keeps looking at the ground as if it expects some poor bird to offer itself up in sacrifice. It turns its head this-way and that looking for prey. I've put my tea kettle on to boil and now it is whistling madly at me. I snap off a few more photos before I can't stand it anymore and I walk over to the stove and turn it off. When I come back I think the hawk is gone, but walking over to the window I discover it has just moved farther down the fenceline. I'm able to get a few more photos before this immature sharp-shinned flies away. The immature is recognized by it's course vertical brown striping on the breast. An immature Cooper's has thin dark streaks. Note also the hawk's sharp shins, the bit of an eyebrow and though it is young, it still has that hooded rather than a capped apearance. Another thing to look for is a more square rather than a rounded tail. Distinguishing sharpies from Cooper's is challenging at best and I am far from an expert, but I am learning all the time. Having these photos certainly helps!

Ground Feeders

Yesterday morning I was surprised to see a dark-eyed junco in my backyard. These little ground feeders hop about beneath the bird feeders cleaning up fallen seed; gray birds on gray soil. It was the pink- sided variety and such a rare occurance at my house that I tried to get some photos. It was early morning and the light was low, so the photos aren't the best. Then, last night at dusk the bird showed up again with a buddy. This one was the Oregon variety but it had a completly white tail! I'm sure it had just molted its dark tail feathers and will eventually go back to looking like every other junco, but for now the colors are striking. I snapped off some more photos but in the even lower light the shutter speeed was really slow and I was really excited and shaking, so the quality isn't the best. Of all the photos I took, this one came out best and I've cropped it and sharpened it to the best of my ablility. Perhaps it will come back tonight and I can calm down and get a better shot this time!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Satruday Birding Mystery

Then sun has changed its angle over the past month and it is finally slanting under our northeast facing covered patio. It’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside for the first time in two months. The last time I can remember eating out here was the morning after Thanksgiving. Now we sit once again in the light caress of sunshine with hummingbirds buzzing the nectar and finches, mourning doves, and Gila woodpeckers visiting feeders and suet. As long as we don’t move fast the birds don’t mind our presence.

We decide to try the Tucson Botanical Garden for a visit today, so we set out around noontime. It proved to be a bad choice as the good weather has brought out all manner of tourist and residents. The garden is very busy and we see few birds, except for this beautiful broad-billed hummingbird that Gus was able to get a shot of before more people came walking by and scared it off.

We decided to try Reid Park instead. Gus has never been there and I am hoping he will get to see and photograph the Lewis’s woodpecker. We decide to make a picnic of it and stop on the way to pick up subs and drinks. The park is more crowded than the last time I was here. Under one of the pavilions someone has a birthday party set up complete with one of those inflatable jumping contraptions in the shape of a princess’s castle. The abundance of people and pets has affected the birding. I don’t see many birds at all at first, other than the long-tailed grackles that whistle and call from the trees. I’m especially surprised the house sparrows aren’t around, as they came and started begging as soon as I sat down at a picnic table last time I was here. After awhile the female Vermilion flycatcher shows up, and soon after her we see the male.

As we are finishing our lunch I hear a strange call and see a dark shape like a flying cape dart into the trees to the west of us.
We walk over cautiously looking up. I swear they will have to bury me with my neck folded backwards for if I keep this up it will have a permanent kink! I scan the pines for bird life but the trees are strangely empty. Last time these trees were full of warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. Now, silence. Is this caused by the presence of so many people and dogs? I do finally spot a few juncos and house finches farther away on a little knoll, and then we see the phantom clinging to the north side of one of the palm trees. He stays in the shadows but Gus is able to get closer than I did and capture these amazing pictures.

I spot some movement in the upper branches of one of the pines. This would not be so unusual, but this bird is moving like a nuthatch.
It is! And a red-breasted one at that! While I would see them all the time in the woods of Maine, it is much rarer to see them here. I so enjoy these busy little birds with their habit of walking upside down on the tree trunk.

We start the walk back to our car. We’ve been here almost 2 hours. I am still gazing upward into the tree branches when I see this particular fluffy projection on a branch. A quick view with my binocs reveals a Cooper’s hawk perched in the upper reaches of the tree. Now that it's been discovered, it takes wing. Now I know why I haven’t seen any warblers or sparrows. They’ve all fled for their lives! Mystery solved.

Two Days in the Desert


I went birding today with my friend, Jean, at Sweetwater Wetlands. I have not been back here since doing my IBA Survey Training last October. We didn’t see many birds that day, so I am quite surprised at the number and variety we see today. The trees are alive with Orange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers. We barely start down the trail when we spot a sparrow in a nearby bush. I’ve been studying my sparrows recently, trying to learn how to tell them all apart, so when I see this streaky little guy with the buffy breast I immediately recognized a Lincoln’s sparrow. Jean agreed and so I’ve added another bird to my life list.

The ponds are full of ducks with the most numerous being northern shovelers. We must have seen over 300 shovelers. To my amazement we only saw one pair of mallards! Along with the usual coots we counted 3 moorhens, a new bird for my Arizona list. Sweetwater is another habitat developed from treated effluent from the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Treatment Plant is just down the road to the west with a couple of additional ponds but we ran out of time to visit it. Here at Sweetwater there are numerous ponds, some with islands in the middle. The trail winds around these areas with viewing platforms and even a gazebo. Cattails and bulrushes grow in profusion and periodically the ponds are drained and the overgrown vegetation removed to maintain the open water the ducks like best. They never drain all the ponds at the same time, but maintain some water-filled while others are being cleaned and dried. When a pond is in the draining stag, it creates the mudflats that are so popular with sandpipers and plovers. As a result we did see killdeer and a spotted sandpiper on one pond that was draining. Before the day was over we counted 36 species of birds, but to our surprise we never saw one marsh wren, though we looked and looked.


It is such a beautiful day today. After Monday’s cold and snow the temperatures are warming every day. I decide to have Gus drop me at the bottom of the hill with the dog and we will walk back home. It’s early morning but with a bright sun shining I decide it’s warm enough for just a t-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt over it. As we are driving down the road, however, I see a man out walking his 2 big dogs. He is wearing a red fleece jacket and he has thick black mittens on his hands! Have I misjudged the temperature, I wonder? Will I regret not having a jacket 2 minutes after Gus drops me off? Blossom and I disembark near the bottom of the hill and start our 2 mile walk home. Golden sun streams across the desert. We walk under a cloudless blue sky that looks as if it were a painted cardboard ceiling. The sun is backlighting everything giving the plants the appearance of being outlined in gold. Even the mountains look fake, like cardboard cutouts against the artificial blue of the sky. I have the impression that I am walking around in some giant diorama created by some master craftsman in a heavenly museum. Perhaps we really all are part of someone else’s dream. However, the sun is beating down on me, and dream or not, I am getting hot! What was that guy thinking! By the time I get home, I am peeling my long-sleeved shirt off. Later in the afternoon I open the window on the west side of the house and let the heat flow in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Superbird Sunday

It’s Superbowl Sunday and we are headed to Coolidge to watch the Superbowl with my son and his wife. Gus has on his shorts, which he insists on wearing every weekend regardless of the weather, which is getting colder as a storm front moves in. He also has his Giants sweatshirt and Giants baseball cap on. He is ready for the game. However, my plan is to stop in Casa Grande on the way to see a bird reported on the Tucson Audubon’s Rare Bird Alert. It’s been at this location since last October and I am finally getting around to seeing it.

Casa Grande is an hour and fifteen minutes north of us and about 20 minutes west of where my son lives. It is about 2:15 p.m. when we pass the exit we would normally take to go to our son’s house, and Gus is getting anxious. He wants to be there by 3:30. We should have left earlier, but I am really bad at time management and so we left a bit later than I hoped for. Still, I reassure him and we press on. We follow the directions and park our car in the rain soaked dirt parking area at the north side of the Dave White Golf Course. As we pull in we notice other birders just walking off the course with cameras and spotting scopes. “Is it here,” we ask? “Yes. It’s in the pond on the left,” they reply. At first they think Gus is wearing a disguise, for they didn’t think real birders would be concerned with the Superbowl, but then we explain that Gus is the football fan and the photographer, while I am the avid birder. These people are visiting from Utah, but we never asked if they came all this way just to see this bird, or if they happened to be here for the winter, like so many others are as snowbirds.

And so we walk quietly up to the pond on a paved golf cart path between two ponds. Ahead of us a large flock of coots rests on the bank between the two ponds. As we draw closer they take to the water. We still haven’t seen the bird. While Gus continues around the pond edge I scan the shoreline desperately. And then I see it! It’s much smaller than I thought it would be, but there it is walking along the edge searching the shoreline, body tilted forward, long gray legs lifting spidery toes.

The eyes are hard to see in the dark face and the body appears to be wingless, but the bright yellow beak and helmet are clearly visible, and then the bird takes wing….

...revealing citron flight feathers!

What is it? A Northern jacana of course and a life bird for me!

Gus snaps off several pictures. He is relentless and I have to call him off. I don’t want to stress the bird. I read on another blog where a barred owl that crossed into Maine had to be taken into rehab due to malnutrition caused by over eager birders stressing the bird out.

In the flock of coots is an immature snow goose, another addition to my life list. I should have come here 4 days ago. I would have beaten Larry from the Brownstone Birding Blog, or at least tied him for our Big January Bird Count!

On the way back to the car a killdeer landed in a nearby puddle. Gus got some nice pictures of it also.

We drove over the mountain to Coolidge and arrive for the Superbowl in plenty of time. During the first half of the game I go for a walk around the neighborhood once again looking for birds. It is a cold and windy evening but I see a magnificent male harrier flying right over my son’s street. Other than that, blackbirds, mourning doves and great-tailed grackles rule the town. Their raucous chatter and the sharp whistles of the grackles could be heard all over the place. As dusk comes on the doves cooed to the night from their roosts. In a pile of brush someone set out near the road a flock of white-crown sparrows hops among the branches. I hope they don’t get too settled. The pile will be gone in a couple of days I’m sure.

When I return I watched the second half of the game with my family. My son and husband are loyal Giants fans. I watch them holler and jump with excitement. My daughter-in-law is a Patriots fan. She is rather quiet. It is an exciting end to the game. In case you didn’t hear, the Giants won, though I don’t remember what the score was. I am still thinking of the Superbird I saw on Superbowl Sunday.