Thursday, April 30, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Dusty Skys

4-14-09 @ 4:54 PM MST

4-14-09 @ 5:46 PM MST

This mountain sits across the valley from Picacho Peak. I visited the park on a sunny, but windy day 2 weeks ago. Though the sky was clear and blue when I arrived, the wind kicked up the dust and drove in the clouds, transforming the light on this mountain. From these two photos you can see the difference in just an hour's time. While the sun has sunk lower in the east (to my back) the dust filled sky makes the second photo grayer instead of rich with color like you usually see in the evening.

Springtime often brings high winds like this to Arizona. They can blow up dust storms even greater than this, called a Haboob. When that happens visibility drops to near zero and the best thing to do is to pull your car off the road and shut of all your lights. If you leave even your parking lights on the other traffic will think you are moving and slam into the back of your vehicle trying to follow you. This area around Picacho Peak and Casa Grande is well known for its dust storms. Check out the ADOT webpage for further information about driving in a Haboob.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm Off!

Come to New River, come
Where birds of all kinds have begun
To migrate and nest
Where birding’s the best
And everyone’s sure to have fun!

Come to New River, Come
With birding trips for everyone
We’ll follow each urge
In the gorge where we bird
In the light of the West Virginia sun!
~Kathie Brown 3-29-09

Well, as the saying goes, "All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..."

Actually, by the time you read this, I should be on the road with Nina! It's the night before I leave for the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia and I can't sleep. I had a scare at the beginning of the week when I twisted my knee trying to get a photo of those cute baby owls. Gus got the shot I used in my post, but I got the injured knee. By Monday morning I could barely walk or sit down. I feared I would have to cancel the trip. But after a few home remedies, a few prayers and positive thoughts from friends and family and ice packs and rest I am happy to say I am back to normal. However, do you know how hard it is to try to find a raincoat in the desert? I spent two days and searched 6 or 7 stores before I finally found a rain poncho at the army surplus store! Not only is it light weight and capable of keeping me dry, but supposedly it can be used as a shelter in an emergency! Let's hope I don't have to prove this!

So, I will be meeting Nina, Lynne, KatDoc, Susan, Wren, Laura, Mary, and TR all for the first time. I hope to see lots of birds and make so many new friends. I hope to come home with hundreds of photos and stories to tell for the next month or so. I'll see you all soon!

Happy Birding wherever you are!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lawrence's Goldfinch

Lawrence's Goldfinch 4-20-09 @ 5:55 PM MST

Lawrence's Goldfinch (bottom view) 4-20-09 @5:56 PM MST

Last week I was sitting in the chair in my livingroom when I heard an different bird's voice outside. I jumped up and grabbed my binoculars and was surprised to see this Lawrence's Goldfinch at the thistle seed feeder along with the Lesser Goldfinches and the House finch. Lawrence's Goldfinches are not suppose to be here but there one is. I had one stop by last year on March 30. I always say, "People make the rules and birds go where they will." Well, I am so glad this one stopped by to see me. It is only the third time I have seen one in my life with tow of those right here in my own back yard. All were here in AZ. Notice how much larger the Lawrence's is compared to the Lesser Goldfinch. The plain brown streaky bird is a female House Finch. I'm sorry the picture quality is poor. It's because the light was low, the birds were in shadow and I was shooting through double pane Low E glass! Still, you can see the bird's lovely colors and black face. I especially like the white spots you can see in its tail from the underside. Also note the white undertail coverts. A Lesser Goldfinch is yellow underneath.

I entered this count into eBird and it has since been addded to the Jack Siler's eBird Rarity Map. Anyone can view the map. Just click on the link. When the webpage loads, click on any state and you can see balloons for where rare birds have been most recently sighted. If you click on AZ, and then click on the pink balloon south of Tucson one of them should come up with my sighiting. Have fun and make sure to check out the Rare Bird sighting in your own state!

Photo taken by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 70-300mm lens.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Picacho Peak Sky

Picacho Peak 4-14-08 by Kathies Brown
(click to enlarge for the best view)

This is one of several views of Picahco Peak I took when I was here birding last week. This shot really makes me feel the weight of the mountain against the blazing white clouds that are backlit by the setting sun. The wind was gusting to over 45 MPH this day, so I didn't see many birds and I had the park almost completely to myself. It was a fun day and I was tired by the time I got in my car and headed back to Tucson to meet Gus at the restaurant mentioned in last week's Skywatch post. Read more about Picacho Peak in My World Tuesday: Picacho Peak

See more amazing skys by going to:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Owlets

Great-Horned Owlets by Gusto! 4-19-08 6:05 PM

w/Nikon D80, 70-300mm lens 1/500 sec - F/5.6

(Click to enlarge for the best view)

Gus and I checked on the baby owls mentioned in a previous post on Sunday, April 19th. As you can see, all four of them are growing big. I wonder how much longer they will be here before they fly off on their own to make their way in the world. I wish you well little owls!

Monday, April 20, 2009

My World: Picacho Peak

Volcanic Rock and clear skys 4-14-09 by Kathiesbirds

It is a windy day the afternoon I pull into Picacho Peak State Park. Blue skys greet me as I present my State Parks Pass and drive in. It has been 3 years since I have been here and I am eager to be back. Last time I was here we still lived in Utah and Gus and I were down here visiting my son and his wife in their new home in Coolidge for Thanksgiving. It was that very trip that sparked our move to Arizona, and now I am driving back after a two day visit to see them and my new grandson.

Clouds roll in 4-14-09 by Kathiesbirds

Picacho Peak sits right along I-10 and is visible from both directions. It's unique shape has been a landmark long before motor vehicles were invented and long before their was even a road here. It was first recorded by the Anza expedition in the 1700's. Later the Morman Battalion constructed a road through Picacho Pass in 1848. This road was used by the Butterfield Overland Stage in the late 1950's. However, Picahco Peak is best known to non-native Americans as the site of the only Civil War Battle in Arizona. The Battle of Picacho Pass took place on April 15, 1862. Lasting only 1 1/2 hours, three union soldiers were killed before it was all over. A monument to the battle is located in the park and until recent budget cuts, a Civil war re-enactment was held here on a yearly basis.

High Peaks tower over me 4-14-09

Today I am here to watch birds, however. Last time I was here I was not eBirding. For my own personal pleasure, I kept a list of the species, but not a count of how many birds I had seen. I know Picacho Peak as the first place I saw a Black-throated Sparrow and a Verdin. Now I am wondering what birds I will see today.

Saguaro Slopes 4-14-09

The high gusty winds are blowing the clouds in like a thick blanket above me. The winds also seem to be keeping the birds down and the ones I see are few and far between.

Dust storm across the highway 4-14-09

Across the highway the high winds blow up a dust storm in gossamer gray clouds.

Prickly Pear Blossom 4-14-09

But I am soon distracted by the bright yellow blossom of a prickly pear cactus.

Looking back down the trail 4-14-09

I find a little .2 mile hike up the slope of the peak called the Children's Cave. Though I am not technically a child, my curiosity is piqued and I start up the winding path. The path crosses a little bridge, then follows a couple of switchbacks as it gains elevation. I turn back to see the view and my lone car parked in the parking lot.

View to the southeast 4-14-09

I look southeast towards Tucson and the Catalina Mountains. The new Visitor Center lies before me, as well as the edge of the peak.

View to the northeast 4-14-09

Though I have been allover the park in my car checking on spots to bird, I have seen the most birds along the main road at the Palo Verde Ramada. I see it across the street now with the Ramada looking like a giant picnic table. Beyond it a rock formation on the other side of the highway looks like a sleeping dragon. I wonder why the birds like this area so much. I am determined to find out.

So, after peaking in the little cave I head back down the trail. I drive the short distance to the Ramada because I want to sit in it out of the wind and record my bird counts. As soon as I park my car, however, I am off taking photos of a cactus wren.

The secret pool 4-14-09

Then the sounds of birds entices me across the street where earlier I had seen 12 chipping sparrows alongside the road. As I cross the road and look down the embankment I see the source of their interest. A little cement pool sits at the bottom of the wash with what I can only assume is the overflow of gray water from the restrooms above. In the desert water is a precious thing and the sustainer of life. I look on as a few mourning doves and House Finches gather at the edges. The mourning doves stay on the ground while the house finches cling to the desert broom that sways over the pool. I am always surprised when I find house finches in a wild place as I think of them as suburban birds. But here they are on the slopes of Picacho Peak, wild as any other bird that inhabits this dry land.

I turn from the pool to head to the Ramada once again when I spot a thrasher on a Saguaro. I creep closer to see if it is a Bendire's Thrasher, but that long curved bill reveals it to be the usual Curve-billed Thrasher. We have Bendire's Thrashers here in Arizona and I am on the hunt to see one. They are very similar to the Curve-billed with the only differences being subtle changes in the length and curve of the bill, a pale base to the bill, and arrowhead shaped spots instead of indistinct round spots on the breast. So far I have not been confident enough to know I have seen one, so I keep studying on it. While I am watching the curve-billed I hear a chattering in the creosote bushes beside me. I turn to look...

Who's in the bush? 4-14-09

Could it be? I start stalking the little gray bird as it flits about from twig to twig staying deep in the foliage. Everytime it reveals itself it flies aways before I can focus on it.

Patience pays off 4-14-09

Finally my patience pays off as the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher pops up on a branch just long enough for me to snap a photo. I see his black cap and his white eye-ring before it disappears again. I wait a little longer and then...

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher by Kathie Brown 4-14-09

Mouth-gaping surprise! The little bird poses for me. I hear the shutter clicking even faster than the beating of my own heart. And then...


Birds Seen at Picacho Peak on April 14, 2009:
  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Gila Woodpecker
  4. Cactus Wren
  5. Curve-billed Thrasher
  6. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  7. Verdin
  8. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  9. Common Raven
  10. White-crowned sparrow
  11. Chipping Sparrow
  12. House Finch

Blogger's Notes: all of today's Photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300 mm lens. The historical information in today's post was gleaned from the Picacho Peak website and Wikipedia, as well as from my own experience of being there. To read more about Picacho Peak visit the Picacho Peak website as well as the Picacho Peak History Page. Wikipedia's Picacho Peak entry has an excellent photo of the Cival War re-enactment. I hope this post encourages you to stop and visit Picacho Peak if you are ever in the area!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Counting Birds

House Finch and White-crowned sparrow 4-12-09

Many birders and bird watchers are also listers. Though I had heard of keeping a Life List for all the different species I have seen many years ago, I did not know about the habit of keeping birds lists for every state, town, area, yard or walk until a few years ago. The Great Backyard Bird Count is what got me started with counting birds and actually going out to search for birds in different areas instead of just waiting for them to drop by my feeders or seeing them when I moved to a new state or went on vacation. Participating in Project Feeder Watch honed my skills even more. Then, I read a book called The Big Year. It was the first time I had ever heard of obsessive listers or a competition for bird lists. While I don’t think I am that obsessive, I do like counting birds and keeping lists. Being able to enter my bird counts into eBird or the Great Backyard Bird Count makes me feel like I am contributing to the growing knowledge of birds and bird migration. Knowing what bird species inhabit an area can lead to protection of that habitat and adds to the enjoyment of bird watching.

Santa Rita Mountains 8-25-08

So, when I first moved to Sycamore Canyon at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains two years ago I started listing the birds I had seen here. At that time I was not eBirding or blogging, so the list was only for my own information. When I started my blog, it seemed a natural thing to add the list to my sidebar. When I started eBirding it made it much easier to keep track of my bird lists. When I heard about the possibility of the Rosemount Mine going in right on the other side of the mountain peaks that I can see from my own yard, it became important.

Orange-crowned warbler hiding in Palo Verde tree 3-24-09

Last week I took a walk once again in the Sycamore Canyon Wash. While I have yet to make it to the top of the canyon I have explored the section closer to my house. I often walk there and many of my bird photos have come from this area. However, I had become lax in updating my Sycamore Canyon bird list until I spotted some new birds here this past week. When I went to update the list, I realized I needed to add six new species! The total count of birds that I have personally seen here in Sycamore Canyon is now 76 species! Unfortunately, the birds do not always cooperate with my attempts to photograph them. Very often the birds are in the thickest part of the brush out in the wash, as seen by my attempt to photograph an orange crowned warbler last week in a Palo Verde tree. Our native Palo Verde has tiny leaves on numerous green twigs and branches. The flowering tree attracts a variety of insects that Verdin, vireos, and warblers glean off the leaves and buds. It also makes a perfect cover for birds and horrible conditions for photographing them! Very often trying to get bird photos is just like this. It takes a lot of patience and being in the right place and the right time in the right lighting conditions! Of course, it also helps if you have a good camera and a powerful lens!

On Easter morning, just as the sun rose, I decided to take a look out the back door. To my utter amazement a Hooded Oriole was drinking form the nectar feeder. I was going to go back to bed, but instead I grabbed my camera and watched birds for the next hour. I tried all day to get a shot of this oriole, but this was the best one I got. I show this not to show the bird, but to show what a challenge photographing birds is. However, my early morning bird watching did pay off when I looked out the den window and discovered the bird below.

Hooded oriole hiding 4-12-09

House Wren in my yard 4-12-09

The elusive House Wren I had been watching out in the canyon decided to come to my yard! It was much more cooperative than the oriole and I was able to capture a photo of it in the brittlebush on the north side of the house.

To make counting birds even more interesting, eBird has added a new feature where you can see the Top 100 eBirders in any given area. So, if you log into eBird and click View and Explore Data, you will come to the link for Top 100 eBirders. You have to be a member and sign in, but once you have logged in you can click on that link you can enter an entire state, or search by counties. You can also break your search down into years. (By the way, eBird also covers Canada and Mexico.) I was amazed to find out that I am the top eBirder for Androscoggin County Maine, even though I have not lived there for almost 5 years! While I only lived in Androscoggin County for 18 months, there really wasn’t much else to do besides count birds. I have 3 or 4 notebooks full of bird counts and bird notes from those 18 months. I have barely started to enter these counts into eBird.

Beth, of Beth Stories is on the list of top 100 eBirders in Androscoggin County also, though I bet she doesn’t even know this. Beth is a beginning Birder and she has already made a difference. I am writing about this to encourage any of you to become an eBirder. It is really very simple and the information you provide can really help the birds. There are some areas of the country, like central Maine or the mountain west that are really under reported. Idaho, Wyoming, parts of Montana and both North and South Dakota could use some new eBirders. I haven’t lived in Idaho for over 20 years and I am still in the Top 100 eBirders in Butte County. I like to bird where others don’t. I feel like I am filling in the gaps. You don’t have to live where you eBird. You can eBird your lists from vacations and trips. eBird, Project Feeder Watch and The Great Backyard Bird Count are all administered by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology which is located in Upstate New York.

Cassin's Vireo in Sycamore Canyon 3-24-09

eBird has excellent information on how to do your counts. They have recently published some new articles to help you even more.
So, even if you are only a beginning birder, you can help the birds by eBirding and you can even get into a little friendly competition if that interests you. For me, I like to think that even when I am dead and gone that my bird list will help the birds and the scientists who study them.

These are the most recent additions to the Sycamore Canyon Bird list with the dates the birds were first seen by me. To view the complete list, please see the sidebar.

71. Violet-green Swallow 10-12-08
72. Ruby-crowned kinglet 1-29-09
73. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2-16-09
74. Cassin’s Vireo 3-24-09
75. House wren 3-24-09
76. Gray flycatcher 4-9-09

The Path Home-one of my favorite views of Sycamore Canyon 8-8-08

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Cat Story

Breezy Boy and Bonnie 11-14-08

I know this is a birding blog and I usually don't write about my pets, but I had an unusual event happened recently and I can't explain this. I have had pets all my life but I have never had this happen before.

I currently own two cats which I keep inside at all times. I adopted Breezy Boy from a shelter about 5 years ago now and I adopted Bonnie to be his friend a year later. When you bring a new cat into the house there is usually some adjustment time, but eventually the two became best friends and Bonnie will frequently cuddle with Breezy and even give him a bath. So far, all of this is normal. However, last Thursday night all of this changed.

I arrived home late and exhausted from a trip up to Coolidge to return my grandson to his parents. Before going to bed Gus and I stepped outside to enjoy the lovely star filled night. We were only outside for about a minute or two, but apparently I did not close the patio door completely. When we turned to come inside, Gus asked me if I thought the cats could have gotten out. I didn't see either of them and I said I didn't think so. So we came inside, closed and locked the door, and went to bed.

The next morning we slept late and I didn't get up until around 9 a.m. I proceeded with all my morning chores, including filling bird feeders. When I went around to the side yard to fill the feeders that I can see from my den window I dumped the old seed on the ground, then filled the feeder. For some reason I decided to look down at the seed on the ground, which the quail usually like to clean up. Suddenly I saw this cat's head and one paw reach out from deep inside the brittle bush. I thought, "There's a cat hunting my bird feeders!" Then I thought, "I wonder whose cat this is. It should be out here. It could get eaten by coyotes or owls. I wonder if it will let me catch it." Then I thought, "That looks like Breezy Boy." And then the light dawned in my groggy brain. It IS Breezy Boy!

I gathered my cat up in my arms and rushed inside. He had been outside all night long! He has never spent the night outside before, ever! I was shocked and relieved all at once. Now here's the strange part. When Bonnie saw him, she started growling and hissing. she refused to eat next to him or sleep near him. anytime he comes into the room, she growls and hisses and runs away! She's been doing this for a week now and today I am just beginning to see her thaw. She actually got on the couch and cuddled up with him for a minute and started to wash Breezy's head. Then she growled and jumped down.

Bonnie, the juvenille deliquent 9-7-08.

Anybody have any theories on this? These cats have lived together for over 4 years. What gives? Breezy did not act any different towards Bonnie. Of course, she is my juvenile delinquent and gets into all the trouble in the house, but why would she act this way?

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Would you Like a Big Cosmic Slap in the Face?

It all started with a visit to the doctor’s office for Gus, but a routine check-up led to numerous tests and now he needs an angiogram done. I know, I know, they’re pretty common place and done routinely but still. It’s a wake-up call that we are both getting older. Funny thing is, I never thought it would happen to me or to us, but here we are facing this procedure and I am feeling sad and concerned and honestly, slightly shocked. So, I do what I always do, I write about it.

I go to my desk in my bedroom and sit by the open door. I open the desk drawer and take out my journal and place it on the pull down desk top. A little zephyr is playing in the treetops accompanied by the twittering of goldfinches. I am trying not to be too dramatic, but a few tears slip down my cheek. I look out the window at the sunny yellow birds and think of the joy and comfort they bring me. At least I have my birds, I think to myself when, THUNK!

I jump up startled to find one of these darling little creatures belly up on the patio floor. I quickly jump up hoping that perhaps I can save it. I tenderly pick the tiny feathered creature up and hold it in my hand. I feel its little heart racing but there is no light in the eyes, no cognition and then, the body goes limp and a little saliva trickles out the silent beak.

I’m crying full force now. Why did this have to happen? Is the universe giving me a big slap in the face? Just when I turn to nature for comfort and peace the reality of mortality is slapped in my face and with it the realization that there is nothing I can do about it! I am getting older. Gus is getting older. Death is the ultimate end to life. Face it, I tell myself. Then go ahead and enjoy the remaining days, for none of us knows how many we have, and hopefully the birds will still be singing when I am gone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Tucson Night

Tucson Sunset 4-14-09 6:57 PM MST

I pull into the parking lot at the restaurant where Gus asked me to meet him after a long day of birding in Coolidge and at Picacho Peak. With winds gusting into the 40 MPH catagory the birding and driving were both exhausting. As I step out of my car I turn to see this gorgeous sky behind me. In spite of my fatigue, I grab my camera and capture one more shot before heading inside.

This is the restaurant where I met Gus to have dinner. I tweaked this photo to show how it all looked to me after hours of birding and driving. We had a nice dinner together, then it was still a half hour ride home.

Click on the button to skywatch somemore!

Photographers Note Update 11:45 AM: Bobbie asked me in the comments section below about how much I tweaked the restaurant photo. Well, here's the deal. I took several shots of the restaurant at different settings. This image came out blurry and I was going to discard it when I thought of all the blurry images the TR Ryan uses on his blog, The Faraway, Nearby to express how he feels after a long trip. So, intsead of throwing this photo out I boosted the color as far as it would go in picture project. I liked the effect and decided to keep the photo and use it instead.

Here is the shooting data: Focal Length: 70mm; Digital Vari-Program: Landscape; Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern; 1/10 sec - F/4.5

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Birthday Boy

Xavier 4-14-09

I've spent three of the last six days in Coolidge with my grandson and four of the last six watching him. He will be one year old in a couple of days and we are celebrating his birthday this Saturday. Inbetween watching my grandson I have been birding like crazy with walks in the canyon, in my neighborhood, out to Las Cienegas, up in Coolidge, to the Casa Grande Ruins and at Picacho Peak, so yeah, that's why no one has heard from me! I have so many photos to process and so many stories to tell, yet I want to get around to visit all of you, so please be patient with me I am on my way! Here in Arizona there are so many migrants passing through an so many returning migrants it's hard to resit being outside watching them. I've added new species to the Sycamore Canyon Life List and my yard life list as well.

In ten days I will be leaving for the New River Birding Festival. After so much waiting it is finally almost here! I can hardly wait for the plane to land and start meeting so many new friends. I went a little crazy one day and wrote a bunch of limericks about it. Here's another one just for fun!

Come to New River Come
Where bloggers and Birders have fun
We’ll bird and we’ll blog
In a Cranberry Bog
Or Muddlety, High Country—Done!

And these are the bloggers I know of that are flocking to the New River Birding Festival in West Virginia:
Lynne of Hasty Brook

Now where did I put my suitcase...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Stormy Skys

Storm Clouds in Sycamore Canyon 4-11-09

I wake this morning to stormy skys in Sycamore Canyon. Tattered clouds drift over rooftops and mountain peaks driving hungry birds to my backyard feeders. The rain scented air is fresh and cool and I breathe deeply of its scent. I treasure each cool day now, knowing full well that summer heat is on its way. Once it arrives it will be a long time until I feel this coolness again.

Hungry birds mob my feeders (view out my den window) 4-11-09

Whenever a storm blows through like this the birds mob my feeders. My seed supply is a bit low right now. Time for a trip to the store for more. The Gambel's Quail, House Finches, House Sparrows and Mourning doves are regulars, but I have been seeing a White-crowned Sparrow or two here in the past week.

In the Backyard the thistle feeder swings violently in the wind as it is suspended from the mesquite tree. The Goldfinches and House Finches do their best to cling and feed but sometimes the wind is too much even for them.
Gila woodpecker drinking from the nectar feeder 4-11-09

Though I still see a few female Costa's hummingbirds once or twice a day, it is the Gila Woodpeckers who drink up most of the nectar I put out. I have three nectar feeders in the yard, but this is my "sacrificial feeder," which means I let the Gila Woodpeckers drink from this one so the other two will be free for the hummingbirds. The woodpeckers are so acrobatic in their antics. You can see this little guy has propped himself up with his stiff tail feathers called rectrices. From this angle you can also see the blush of yellow on his tender belly. I often wonder why God or Nature decided to paint them yellow in this spot. What purpose does it serve? Who sees it? Obviously I do, and I think it is sweet, but I can't help but wonder why.

View more amazing Skywatch photos by clicking the button above.

(For the best views click to enlarge photos.)

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300mm lens.

Birds seen in my yard today:
  1. Turkey Vulture-1
  2. Gambel's Quail-3
  3. Mourning doves-15
  4. White-winged doves-1
  5. Costa's hummingbird (females only)-2
  6. Gilded Flicker-1
  7. Gila woodpecker-5
  8. Cactus Wren-1
  9. Curve-billed thrasher (Western)-3
  10. White-crowned sparrow-1
  11. House finch-26
  12. Lesser Goldfinch-10
  13. House sparrow-9

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My World: Owlets!

1. Who is in the Cave? 2:29 p.m. MST 2-15-09

I first spot her in February, high up an embankment in what looks like a little cave. The Great-horned Owl sits in the dark recesses of the red caliche and waits. Below her the cars travel past her unaware of her fragile secret.

2. Nesting Great-Horned Owl 11:49 a.m. MST 3-25-09

I come back again late in the morning on March 25 to see if anything has changed. She is closer to the edge now, her wings spread protectively over her precious future. Can it really be?

I visit in the evening this time on March 31st. Perhaps the mother is out feeding. Perhaps I will see the gray fuzz balls I long to see…

4. Owlets 4:29 p.m. MST 3-31-09

…As I pull off the road my eyes are searching the depths of the little cave. A fuzzy face stars back at me, and then I see another. The little owlets are seeking relief from the western sun and push farther back into the shaded depths. Could there be more than two?

5. Great-horned owlets 5:33 p.m. MST 4-5-09

Gus and I return once again on Sunday evening with the sun lying low and the shadows growing long. We pull of the road into the gravel. We use the car as a blind. The cliff is on the opposite side of the road from us, at least 30 feet away and the cave is 10 feet up the embankment. Tonight the owlets are out at the edge and I can see all four of them. Four!

Four baby Great-horned owls. Four hunters of the night.

Four bright promises of the future.

I watch the shadows lengthen on the road before me. The black ribbon of asphalt heads south towards the peaks of the Santa Rita Mountains, which are the backdrop of my life since moving here two years ago. I see the ocotillo raising blossoms like orange pompoms to the soft blue sky and I can’t help but wonder how these fragile fuzzy owlets will be affected by the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine. It would be just on the other side of the peaks that I can see from here.

8. Evening Road where the owls nest 5:39 p.m. MST 4-5-09

I raise my eyes to the shifting light on the foothills and hope against hope that reason will triumph over greed, and that the long term value of this quiet place, this wild place, this fragile and scenic environment will win over the short term dollars of copper with the long term damage to the environment. I look at fuzzy owl babies and hope that MY World will continue to be a safe and natural place to live.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300mm lens.

Shooting Data:
  1. 1/320 sec - F/4.5 Focal Length 70mm
  2. 1/160 sec - F/5.6 Focal Length 300mm cropped and enlarged
  3. 1/400 sec - F/5.6 FL 300mm Cropped and enlarged
  4. 1/500 sec - F/5.6 FL 300mm Cropped and enlarged
  5. 1/500 sec - F/5.6 FL 300mm Cropped and enlarged
  6. 1/400 sec - F/5.6 FL 300mm Cropped and enlarged
  7. 1/400 sec - F/5.6 FL 300mm Cropped and enlarged
  8. 1/500 sec - F/5.6 FL 70mm
This is MY WORLD Tuesday!