Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adams Family Road Race 2009

Yes, the Adams Family Road Race happened last night. After a mostly clear day the rain started as we were at the starting line. It rained the whole time we were running and stopped when we were done. Does the sky have a vendetta against us? I don't know.

As for me, I did my usual walk/jog thing and tried to focus on the race. All along the route I could hear birdsong. I had to try to ignore it and I did keep on running, walking, and thinking. As usual I was last and two of my brothers came and found me and accompanied me to the finish line. It's nice to be loved, isn't it!

Thanks Stephen and Chris!

For full race results and photos click here: Adams Road Race

I'm off to Maine next and won't have Internet access so it may be awhile before you hear from me. It's a good 9 hour drive to Presque Isle. I hope to do some birding inbetween visiting family and sometimes with family!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peace in the City

Birdwatching at Inwood Hill 6-21-09 by Chris

A cool breeze is wafting through the open window early Sunday morning. I arise quickly, scarf a banana, and get dressed. The gray skies of yesterday have continued and a cool blast brushes our face as Chris and I exit the apartment building and head for the metro. I have my backpack and other gear. We have a long way to go and I need to be prepared. With binoculars, camera and rain poncho we hop on the subway and ride the rails to Inwood Hill in northern Manhattan. We exit the train on a raised platform on quiet but dirty streets. Overhead the pigeons fly and I start counting right away. In the one mile hike to Inwood Hill I count over 80 of these winged rats. But they are not the only birds on the streets of New York. The robins and starlings are everywhere fighting for their place in the world.

Believe it or not, we are still on Broadway, but oh how the scenery has changed. Garbage seems to be spilling out of everywhere with every trash can overflowing into the streets. As we draw near our destination the towering trees cascade over the sidewalk, a green relief from all that cement and brick. Wet roads and dripping shrubs are testaments to the recent rains. We dodge puddles until we find the entrance we seek. Gray stone steps lead us through a green tunnel of foliage to Isham park. Here the robins dot this grassy knoll like sprinkles on cake. A few barn swallows swoop low over the ground while starlings waddle and squawk. Chris waits patiently while I count the birds as the sky darkens and a fine mist fills the air. The drizzle drives me to put away my camera and pop up the umbrella. I amhoping this will be a brief sprinkle and I will not need my rain poncho. We head on down stone steps to the baseball fields at Inwood Hill Park. Here we stop at the only restrooms in the park. It is a necessary stop before we adventure any further. Before us the wide fields spread. We follow the path to the salt marsh where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers meet. Here we find Canada geese and mallards. A lone red-winged blackbird clings to a waving reed. The rain intensifies and I give in. Out comes the poncho to protect both camera and bins. It helps to keep my skin dry also.

We leave the flatlands and head up the hill. Tulip trees tower over our heads. I hear the familiar call of a red-eyed vireo and crane my neck to find it. These little insects eaters are so curious and soon it makes its way from twig to twig getting ever closer to us. Chris gets to see the sweet little bird before we head further up the path. At this part of the trail we are walking across the face of the hill. Trees dominate the landscape and grow above and below us. To our right the hill is a drop off to the fields and salt marsh below. As Chris is looking through the brush he spots a large white bird flying over the marsh below. Excitedly he asks me what it is, so I squat down with bins in hand. It lands in the reeds beyond a bend but then another person walks by and the egret flushes to a more open location. The large yellow beak reveals it to be a Great Egret and not a snowy. It is the first time Chris has seen one and I take pleasure in his delight. I explain to him that if it was a Snowy Egret, it would be a bit smaller with a black bill, black legs and yellow feet. A good way to remember the field marks of a snowy egret are to think of it as always having on its yellow galoshes because it is so snowy.

The trials of Inwood Hill wind through a deciduous forest. Tulip trees, oaks and maples are mixed with mulberry and cherry trees. In places the paths are wet with crushed berries as well as the recent rain. We capture views of the rivers as we walk the paved trail. A flash of brilliants orange flies by and we fine a Baltimore oriole in the tree canopy. I feel as if I am walking through an emerald forest with a world of birds around me.

While I am watching and counting birds, Chris is more impressed with the architecture of the bridges and the details of texture and pattern. It isn't long before I hand my camera over to him and we are both lost in our own little worlds. He finds a lovely bird nest in the crotch of a tree, remnents of life and witness to hope. Did the bird family from this nest survive? I only have questions for answers. There is only architecture in the trees.

We follow the path beneath a bridge that crosses beneath the the southbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway. It emerges in the median divider where flowers, trees and ivy grow. We find the iron lampposts of another era rusting in the woods. Moss and mushrooms are everywhere in this transitional world. As we enter the tunnel beneath the northbound lanes of the highway a surprise waits for us. Someone has started a mosaic of tiles and bottles and broken things on the tunnel walls. I am fond of saying that "birds are everywhere," but here in New York city, so is art. Like the bird nest in the forest, these silent pieces of human life stand witness to the human spirit and the desire to create and express. Did the person who created this want it to be seen? Is it a work in progress or is it done? Is the artist still around, or has the the artist moved on to new territories like the birds.

Forest Floor by Chris 6-21-09

Inwood Hill is a birder's paradise. If you are looking for peace in the City, you will find it here. Though there are paved paths in some locations, much of the park is left wild with rambling dirt paths that cross and criss-cross the hill. At 200 feet in elevation, it is perhaps the highest point on the whole island of Manhattan. We had such a good morning on Inwood Hill with birds and birdsong everywhere and a little art to boot!

To learn more about Inwood Hill Park click on the link.

Bird seen at Inwood Hill Park on 6-21-09:
  1. Canada Goose
  2. mallard
  3. great egret
  4. Rock pigeon
  5. Mourning dove
  6. red-bellied woodpecker
  7. Red-eyed vireo
  8. blue jay
  9. barn swallow
  10. tufted titmouse
  11. white-breasted nuthatch
  12. wood thrush
  13. catbird
  14. starling
  15. eastern towhee
  16. northern cardinal
  17. common grackle
  18. Baltimore oriole
  19. red-winged blackbird
  20. House finch
  21. House sparrow

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New York Bird Watching News

High Line Trail Photo by Tony 6-20-09

It is sunny, muggy, and warm as we drive south on the Merritt Parkway Friday. The air inside the car is full of conversation flying back and forth between my youngest brother and I. It has been over 10 years since I have been to New York City. Last time I was here the World Trade Center was here also and my two youngest children were in middle school. Now Chris and I fill the time with our plans for the weekend as the greenery rolls by out the windows. As always I am scanning the sides of the highway for birds and I luck out by seeing a lone female turkey in one spot and a family of geese in another.

Once in the city it takes a while to find a parking space for the car but soon we are unloaded and out the door, headed for Central Park. I am surprised by the tree-lined street as we walk a half a block to Central Park West. Before we even entered the park a blue jay swoops overhead and lands in the upper story of a nearby tree. The park is alive with people and birds. The birds are the common kind. We see pigeons, of course, and house sparrows, along with starlings and robins. In the lake we see mallards, in The Ramble Chris spots a red-bellied woodpecker. I spot a distant pair of flickers flying with their white rumps exposed in flight. A male cardinal scolds a cat on a leash while in the same tree a common grackle looks on warily. Muddy paths are everywhere, evident of the recent rains. We walk on in our meandering way, following whatever inner whim calls to us. The time is passing quickly and we head home to prepare for our evening commitments.

The night falls soft and cool around us. People pass by in the street. A girl in a black dress with a red flower in her hair flashes a smile at me. I’m in the vibrant heart of the city with good friends and family around. I’m in the vibrant heart of the city, pulsing with vibrant life.

Night passes slowly with shadows dancing on the ceiling. Outside the open window the city noises punctuate my attempt at sleep. The night is restless within me. I awake at dawn to bird song and roll over and try to sleep. The sound of a bird like an untrained phoebe weaves in and out of my dreams. In the mornings the eastern phoebe will repeat his rapid call, phee-BEE, phee-BEE, phee-BEE. But whatever this bird is, it only says, “...phee, ...phee, ...phee.”

After breakfast we take the subway to the newly opened High Line Trail. Developed by the City of New York, the High Line is an elevated trail that runs from Washington and Gansevoort to 10th Ave. and 19th Street. All along the way grasses, flowers and tree are growing. Overhead I see barn swallows fly. With a view down to the Hudson River, I spot a cormorant on the pier. It is a rainy day and I’m dressed in my usual rain gear. However, my camouflage rain poncho does not hide me in the city, but rather I stick out like Roseate spoonbill in the boreal forest would. The variety of birds I see is limited, but I am happy with each one I see. They are all new for my New York City list that I am only starting to build.

The rest of the day remains rainy. We wander through art galleries in Chelsea and dine in an Italian restaurant for lunch. We choose a table outside under an awning with rain drizzling soft music in our ears.

These are the birds I have seen in New York City so far:

Mallard, cormorant, seagull, pigeon, mourning dove, Northern flicker, Red-bellied woodpecker, barn swallow, Blue jay, robin, Northern cardinal, common grackle, red-winged black-bird, house sparrow, catbird.

Kathiesbirds photo by Tony 6-20-09

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If It Ever Stops Raining

Hello from Connecticut! Yes, I am here, and if it ever stops raining I'll be able to go out and see more birds. I flew in yesterday at 1:00 a.m. My brother, Stephen, picked me up at the airport. We drove to his cottage on Lake Hayward in the dark and fell into bed exhausted but glad to be here. After a few hours of sleep I was awakened by the dawn chorus of birds and the eastern sun rising in my window. I could hear the cardinals and wood thrushes calling me, but I snuggled into my warm bed and slept for another hour or two. By 7:15 a.m. I couldn't stand it any longer and got up. By 8:00 I was sitting outside on the deck watching all the woodland birds in my brother's yard.

It's been raining and cold here in New England. My sister asked me to bring the sunshine and warmth with me, and for today it looks like I did, for the chilly dawn warmed with the sun and by afternoon I could actually take my long-sleeved shirt off. I walked down to the lake shore and on my way I spotted a worm-eating warbler in the understory of vegetation that covers the Connecticut hillsides. Cardinals and titmice are everywhere, but chickadees seem a bit scare this year.

As I cross the sand of one of the beaches I am drawn to a downy woodpecker clinging to the boards of a picket fence. Then I notice the feeders and suet basket. Then I notice the people standing there watching me. I walk closer and politely introduce myself. I ask if it is okay for me to look at birds in their yard. They graciously respond yes and we strike up a conversation. That is how I met Paul and Carol, fellow bird watchers from Massachusetts. Their lovely little cottage has a nice view of the lake and while we chatted we were entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Downy woodpecker, along with numerous house sparrows, a song sparrow, a chipping sparrow, and a hummingbird. Over the lake the barn swallows were diving and capturing insects in mid-flight. A Baltimore oriole flew across the open expanse and landed in one of the tall trees on the shore. Carol and Paul were fun to talk to and share a common interest with. After awhile we parted ways and I headed back to the cottage.

I spent the rest of this sunny day counting birds wherever we went. Whether eating fried clams with bellies at Harry's Place in Colchester (where I saw a Northern Flicker of all things) or up at the Bacon Academy track where I counted birds while my siblings and nephew practiced for the upcoming Adams Family Road Race. I saw a hairy woodpecker in the woods there, as well as an Eastern Phoebe. Birds are everywhere and everywhere I go, I count the birds.

Yes, I am taking pictures and I might be able to upload them to my Mom's computer if I knew how to use this stupid Vista software! Grrrrr! Well, at least I can write. After a sunny day yesterday today dawned cold and gray. I thought I might go out for another walk around town and count birds, but as soon as I was done with my shower the sky started its own. Its been pouring ever since, and thus I am confined to the indoors. My thin Arizona blood is trying to stay warm. I had to shut all my Mom's windows and turn up the heat just a tad so my feet wouldn't turn to ice!

Around noontime my nephew, Bernie showed up and I started to teach him to watch birds. He will be 14 next week but he has a brain and curiosity beyond his years. He is already writing his first novel and he wants to live in the White House someday! From my mother's house we counted birds on the front lawn. Then, we went to the computer where he signed up for eBird and we entered his very first bird count! He is much more adept at the computer and his fingers just fly across that keyboard. Soon he will be a better eBirder than I am. Next, I taught him about binoculars and how to adjust the diopter to get the best focus.

If you have never done this before, click here: Binocular Tune-up.

As the rain continues to pour we decide to take a short drive to the local Dukin' Donuts shop for coffee and a doughnut. Bernie is graduating from the 8th grade today, so it's my treat. With coffee and donuts obtained, we drive up Halls Hill road to the local Lions Pond. When I was young we ice skated here. Now I come here to watch birds. Usually I walk here from my mother's house, but with today's rain we need the protection from the car. I do not know if we will see anything, but even as I am pulling in to the parking lot I spot a great blue heron on the far shore. With the car in park we watch through blurry windows as the heron hides in the foliage. Munching on donuts and sipping coffee we watch common grackles and house sparrows landing and feeding on the shore. Undeterred by the downpour, they feed away on God knows what. Then, I roll the window down for Bernie to get a better look through the binoculars, for the heron has actually flown closer to us. We watch as the heron stealthily raises his head searching the shallow water for a fish or a frog. Just when he looks as if he is going to strike with that javelin shaped bill of his, he freezes. Suddenly his eyes are focused someplace else. I turn towards his gaze and see that in spite of the downpour another person has wandered over to the benches at the edge of the pond. Totally unaware of the heron or the fact that we are bird watching, the unknown person comes closer and the heron takes flight. As it circles the pond it scares up another heron and we watch in wonder as the two birds fly right over our heads, long legs dangling, wide wings spread. We are both smiling now, but it is time to go. My sister will be coming by my mother's house soon to pick her son up for his graduation.

I am at home now thinking of my plans for tomorrow when I will meet up with my youngest brother, Chris. He is taking me to New York City where I will go birding in Central Park for the first time ever! I am hoping this rain will stop, but if not, I have come prepared. The green camouflaged rain poncho I bought to use in West Virginia is with me and will be put to use once again. It may well be two weeks before I get to upload photos, but I should be able to blog at least.

In a little over 24 hours I have already counted 37 species of birds. Most of them were counted yesterday. The Great Blue heron is the only new species I've added today.

Here is what I've seen so far:
  1. great blue heron
  2. turkey vulture
  3. red-tailed hawk
  4. mourning dove
  5. chimney swift
  6. ruby-throated hummingbird
  7. downy woodpecker
  8. hairy woodpecker
  9. northern flicker
  10. eastern phoebe
  11. red-eyed vireo (heard only)
  12. blue jay
  13. American crow
  14. tree swallow
  15. northern rough-winged Swallow
  16. barn swallow
  17. black-capped chickadeee
  18. tufted titmouse
  19. white-breasted nuthatch
  20. blue-gray gnatcatcher
  21. wood thrush
  22. American robin
  23. catbird
  24. European starling
  25. cedar waxwing
  26. worm eating warbler
  27. chipping sparrow
  28. song sparrow
  29. Northern cardinal
  30. rose-breasted grosbeak
  31. common grackle
  32. brown-headed cowbird
  33. Baltimore oriole
  34. purple finch
  35. house finch
  36. American goldfinch
  37. house sparrow

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Birding in Rio Rico

Gray Hawk at the De Anza Trailhead in Rio Rico 6-12-09

It has been longer than 2 months since Gus and I have visited Rio Rico. We first took a trip down to this small town last September. We have never been here at this time of year. I am wondering what birds will be there now, so early on Friday morning we hop in the car and head south. It is 6 a.m. when we stop in Green Valley at the McDonald's on Continental Road for a quick breakfast sandwich and some coffee. By 6:30 a.m. we are standing on the side of the San Cayentano Mountains overlooking the Rio Rico Valley below. From here you can see the green stripe of vegetation that grows wide along the banks of the Santa Cruz river. From here we can see Nogales, Mexico and the Tumacacori Mountains. From here, high on the side of the mountain the world is spread out below us with the sun at our backs and the wind blowing wild over the mountain ridges.

Ash-throated Flycatcher San Cayentano Mountains 6-12-09

While Gus is enjoying the view and forming a dream in his mind I am counting birds. I see my first Phainopeplas at this location as well as white-winged doves and a pyrrhuloxia. I wander about for an hour counting birds, then Gus comes and gets me with the car and we drive farther up the mountainside where the view is even more spectacular. Suddenly an ash-throated flycatcher lands on the mesquite about 10 feet away from me. I carefully raise my camera and snap off a few shots before it flies away.

Ocotillo glow 6-12-09

Behind me the rising sun back lights the ocotillo causing it to glow lime green against the shadowed mountain. Though I have thought of this plant as a cactus, I recently learned it belongs to the Candlewood family of plants. It looks like a flaming candle when it is in bloom and numerous birds and insects are drawn to the bright orange blossoms for nectar and food. Recent rains have made the plant put forth leaves but if new rains do not fall soon the tiny green leaves will turn yellow and drop like golden coins to the desert floor. When the monsoon comes this drought deciduous plant will flush with green once again.

Black-bellied whistling ducks at Rio Rico Pond 6-12-09

We leave the mountainside and drive down to Rio Rico Pond on Rio Rico Drive. This small pond sits alongside the road in a mesquite bosque bordered by pasture. Everytime I come here I see different birds and today is no exception. Gus pulls the car off onto the dirt shoulder and I am excited before I even leave the car for I see a snowy egret feeding in the shallow pond. As I draw near it flies a bit farther off revealing the yellow feet that are distinctive for this bright white bird. And then, I start to shake with excitement for there at the far end of the pond is a species of bird I have never seen before. A flock of 35 Black-bellied whistling ducks is feeding and roosting in the shade of the mesquite trees. This is Life Bird number 348 for me. After I calm down a bit I count the rest of the birds I am seeing, including a green heron and numerous barn swallows. We stay at the pond about 20 minutes before we move over to the De Anza Trailhead just around the corner.

Gray hawk 6-12-09

Gus rests in the shade of a picnic ramada while I wander off to see what I can see. I am hearing all kinds of birds down by the river but the thick green foliage is preventing me from seeing most of them. I spot a family of black phoebes in the trees along the bank, but I hear more birds than I can see. I start searching for a way to get down to the river bank which is 3 feet or more below me down a steep rock wall. I spot a young Inca dove in one of the trees along the bank. Its scaly feathers still have a bit of down fluffing out in spots. It watches me with dark red eyes and flies away before I draw too near. I finally find a place where I can climb safely down and and right away I start seeing birds. I spot a song sparrow along the shore and a vermilion flycatcher on the opposite bank. It is a young male all blotched red and white as it gains its adult plumage. A female vermilion flycatcher flits from branch to branch nearby and another black phoebe flies onto a branch right in front of me, but I am quickly distracted by the call of a hawk. Eee-o-0-0 it cries to me. Eee-o-O-O! I scan the sky looking for it. It lands on a dead snag nearby high above me. I try to focus through the sticks and twigs as it calls and flies away. The barred gray body and white bands in the tail tell me what I am hoping is true. This is a gray hawk, a species of raptor many people travel to Southeast Arizona to see. It is only my third time seeing this species of hawk and I am thrilled! I have to tell myself to keep my feet in place and watch where I am steppig for I do not want to step off the bank and into the river below which is flowing with treated effluent from the Nogales wastewater treatment plant farther south. The Santa Cruz River flows north from here to Tucson before turning south once again. This water will never reach Tucson, however, but here in Rio Rico it turns the landscape green.

I think that I have seen my fill, but then it flies by again, over and over my head. But now the towering trees along the river bank obstruct my view as I get glimpses between the trees. I try to focus in the small blue patches of sky where it flies into the open but soon it dips below the treeline again. Then I see another smaller falcon chasing this larger bird of prey. An American kestrel is trying to chase the gray hawk from its territory! Around and around the two birds circle, the kestrel diving at the larger bird. The gray hawk lands in the nearby tree again, then lifts off on broad barred wings.

I climb up out of the river bank into the open parking area and now I can see it easily as it circles overhead. My heart is pounding with the views I am getting and the excitement of witnessing this battle between hawk and falcon. Finally I walk away, back to the car where Gus is waiting to go home. He has been very patient with me, but the sun has risen higher and with it the temperature. His hand and elbow are getting tired from his recent carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve surgery and he is ready to go home. I climb into the car reluctant, but happy. It is only 10 a.m. as we head home, but I have had such a fun day! Later on when I submit my bird counts to eBird I discover I have added 1 new species to my life list, 2 species to my Arizona Life List, and 6 species to my Rio Rico list! I discovered that birding is very good in Rio Rico at this time of year.

And that is My World Tuesday. I hope you can come see it for yourself!

Birds seen in Rio Rico 6-12-09
  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck*
  2. Gambel's Quail
  3. Gray hawk
  4. American kestrel
  5. Black Vulture
  6. Turkey Vulture
  7. Mourning Dove
  8. White-winged dove
  9. Inca dove
  10. Green heron
  11. Snowy Egret
  12. Gila woodpecker
  13. Barn Swallow
  14. N. rough-winged swallow
  15. Vermillion flycatcher
  16. Ash-throated flycatcher
  17. Dusky-capped flycatcher
  18. Western kingbird
  19. Black Phoebe
  20. Phainopepla
  21. Verdin
  22. Cactus Wren
  23. Curve-billed thrasher
  24. Starling
  25. Song Sparrow
  26. Rufous-winged sparrow
  27. Black-throated sparrow
  28. Red-winged blackbird
  29. Brown-headed cowbird
  30. Great-tailed grackle
  31. Pyrrhuloxia
  32. House finch

*Life Bird (first time I have seen this species of bird)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Fleeing Raven

Kingbird Chasing Raven 6-6-09

(click to enlarge)

While at the Fort Huachuca Duathlon last Saturday with my brother, Stephen, I watched birds as well. I saw this raven being chased by Western Kingbirds and snapped a shot.

Visit Skywatch Friday for more amazing skys.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What Can Happen in a Week?

Ash-throated flycatcher 6-7-09

The sun shines brightly over Sycamore Canyon when I awake on Sunday morning. I fell into bed exhausted last night but woke early with the sun. Now I am sitting out on my patio enjoying the cool temperature as I try to process the events of the past week. It is 6:30 a.m. MST and the birds are all around me fluttering and singing, eating and flying. My yard and the wash around me is a very active place. Could it really be that just a week ago my youngest child got married?

Diane, the bride 5-31-09

Diane made a beautiful bride as she walked down the aisle. Alex and Diane asked me to be their photographer, so I was preoccupied with trying to make sure I got all the shots they would want. Now as I look through and process the photos it brings tears to my eyes. What a beautiful day it was. What a beautiful bride.

Alex and Diane say their vows 5-31-09

I use to wonder if Alex would ever take this step, but now, here he was promising to love another woman for the rest of his life. When he was 4 years old, he insisted he would marry me when he grew up. Now my baby has a new love for the rest of his life. We left the wedding reception around 5:30 in the afternoon. After a 2 1/2 hour ride home we barely made it in time to let the poor dog out before turning around and heading back to Tucson to pick up my brother Stephen at the airport.

Stephen working on his webpage 6-4-09

This is my brother Stephen's first time visiting me in Arizona. As the owner and writer of the American Triathlon Calender he is a busy man. He brings his laptop everywhere to keep up with his website. Stephen grew the Calender from a small web page he wrote using Web TV to the largest Triathlon Calendar in the world. On his way to visit me he stopped off in Boise, ID to run a duathlon with his new business partner. Stephen will be here for a week before returning to CT.

Stephen runs up the mountainside in Sycamore Canyon 6-4-09

He wants to do some high altitude training, so he maps out a mile course up through the new Sombra neighborhood. Here the road is paved, but there are no houses yet, so it is a peaceful place to run with views of the mountains and birds and wildlife all around. The jackrabbits and cottontails watch as Stephen runs up....

...and Stephen runs down.

Gus shows off his stitches 6-4-09

When we first made these plans for Stephen to come, there wasn't any wedding planned, nor any surgery for Gus, but on Tuesday Gus had surgery for his carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar neuropathy. Both of Gus' wrists and elbows bother him. It got so bad that he could no longer hold the camera up to shoot pictures. We got him the smaller Cannon, which is what he uses now. Since then I have taken primary control of the Nikon D80. He wanted to have this surgery done months ago, but it was delayed by the need for an angiogram first. Finally he got the all clear and the surgery was scheduled. They did the left hand first and when that heals up they will do the right hand. He came home the same day groggy and in pain. On Wednesday he got worse and on Thursday he ran a fever. It was our anniversary this day, but it went unnoticed. I just wanted Gus to get well. We had all planned on going out for dinner on this day, but those plans had to be scrapped. Meanwhile, a new idea was born...

Stephen observes saguaro ribs 6-5-09

... Stephen would run a race in Arizona! He looked for races nearby and the only one we could find was in Ft. Huachuca on Saturday, the day he had to leave. Thankfully, he didn't have to leave until the evening, so he signed up. But first I take Stephen for a walk through my beautiful desert. Everyday I live here I love it even more. The weather is so wonderful. I can be outside almost any day of the year. On Friday our skies were overcast allowing for a comfortable stroll through the desert. for the first time since he arrived, Stepehn got up close to a saguaro. Farther down the path I showed his the ribs of a dead saguaro. He found this plant fascinating with its inner support system and outed pleated skin. We could hear the wind whining as it blew through the saguaro spines and we watched as the giants cacti swayed gently like a tree in the wind. the saguaros we walked past were probably close to 200 years old with their large size and many arms. It takes anywhere from 40 to 60 years for a saguaro to even begin to sprout arms!

Lizard 6-5-09

Since it was windy and the middle of the day we did not see a lot of birds but, but the lizards scampered everywhere. We also saw cottontails and giant jack-rabbits. We had a pleasant walk.

Xavier meets his uncle Stephen 6-5-09

Later on Friday afternoon Trish and Xavier arrived to meet my brother. Though G and Trish have been married for over 5 years now, this is the first time that Trish has met my brother and the first time Stephen has seen his new nephew. I think they have the same eyebrows! Then, while I watched Xavier, Trish drove Stephen off to pick up a racing bike he rented to use in the Fort Huachuca Duathlon the next day!

Yep, my brother Stephen is participating in a duathlon! While he has run a triathlon before, this will be his second duathlon in a week! He found the race online because he wants to run a road race in every state. So, early on Saturday morning we got up and drove to Sierra Vista where Ft. Huachuca sits at the base of the Huachuca Mountains. Ft. Huachuca is a well known birding destination, but we are not going to the canyons where the best birds are, we are going to the corner of Site Monitor Road and Whitside, where the race begins.

Stephen sets up his bike 6-6-09

It is a sunny and windy day in Sierra Vista. The road is blocked off for the run and the nearby music speakers blast a song with lyrics that say "running with the devil..." don't ask me who sings it, but it was perky enough and loud enough to scare away almost all of the birds! Yes, I brought my bins and camera with me. I had my notepad and pen in my back pocket, just in case I got the opportunity to count birds!

Before the race begins the national anthem is played and everyone places their hands over their hearts or salutes. I see people of all ages here, from old veterans to young children. All are ready to run 2 miles, bike 10 and then run 2 more miles. Me? I'm just here to observe people and birds! The race is put on by Thunder Mountain Running Club and the Army's MWR which I find out stands for Moral, Welfare and Recreation. Before the race we meet Lynn Jones, Vice President of The Thunder Mountain Running Club who is a triathlete herself.

They're off!

Stephen waves as he runs past.

As if on cue a roadrunner runs down the same street! I hope he read the sign first!

In the distance the Huachuca mountains rise.

Turning the corner to mount the bikes...

I watch as my brother rides off and wait anxiously for his return. He is so competitive and so fast I am sure he will be returning soon, but rider after rider passes me and still no brother. I walk about 1/2 mile down the road to get farther away from the blaring music in hopes of seeing some birds, but all I see are mourning doves and ravens and another road runner hiding in a tree. Finally I see Stephen and he comes riding up to me. He has a story to tell of a popped tire and a good Samaritan who helped him change it so he could finish the race!

We never got his name but he had the best smile!
Thank you whoever you are!

Though Stephen's time is way off now, he does the best that he can...

...and burns it up at the finish line at 8:30 a.m.!

40 minutes later the last runner crosses the line. Everyone cheers her on...

...then it is time for the awards. There are trophies and medals in every category. This young man poses for a photo for his beaming parents.

Stephen and Greg McQuaide 6-6-09

While we wait, we make new friends.

Then we head home to return the bike. Stephen has to leave tonight. I will be sad to see him go. We are both exhausted since we have been awake since 3 a.m. and up since 4 a.m. for the race. However, I take Stephen by Saguaro National Park East's visitor center so he can buy a couple of gifts for his grandchildren. While we are there I look out the picture window and for the first time since I moved here over 2 years ago I see...


There, napping in the shade by the building! And they have babies! Cute babies! So cute I want to run out and pick one up, but I don't, because that would be really stupid! Javalinas can give a nasty bite and will defend their young viciously. So, instead I rush excitedly over to Stephen who is browsing the gift shelves and drag him to the window. What a way to end the day!

Kathie and Stephen 6-6-09

We return home where Stephen takes a shower while Gus orders pizza. We have just a short time to eat before I have to take him to the airport. Due to Gus' surgery we didn't do half of the things we had planned on, but we still had a really good time. I had so much fun at the duathlon. I hope my brother will return and do it again next year! He is trying to get me to do it with him, but I don't know... can I count birds and run at the same time?

As I drive Stephen to the airport we talk about the Adams Road Race which is coming up later this month. In a little more than a week I will be boarding a plane for Connecticut where Stephen will pick me up at Bradly International Airport and I intend to count birds all over New England and in New York City!

The birds are visiting me in large numbers here this morning. I had not intended to count birds today as I sit here on the patio recalling the events of this week, but as species after species flies by I can't resist. Soon I am glad I did, for in the 2 hours I sit outside I see over 20 species of birds, including 2 Ash-throated Flycatchers! I have also had black-throated sparrows on a reagular basis lately. I can only assume that they are feeling more comfortable as the vegetation fills in from the original construction. I think this may be the largest yard list I have ever recordeded in one day.

Birds seen from my yard on Sunday, June 7, 2009

1. Turkey Vulture (1)

2. Gambel's Quail (9 adults + 5 juveniles = 14)

3. Mourning Dove (13)

4. White-winged dove (2)

5. Pigeon (30)

6. Gila Woodpecker (3)

7. Gilded flicker (5)

8. Costa's hummingbird (5)

9. Purple martin (1)

10. Say's Phoebe (1)

11. Ash-throated Flycatcher (2)

12. Raven (2)

13. Cactus Wren (3)

14. Curve-billed thrasher (3)

15. Canyon towhee (1)

16. Black-throated sparrow (2)

17. Northern Cardinal (1)

18. Brown-headed Cowbird (1)

19. House Finch (15)

20. Lesser Goldfinch (12)

21. House sparrow (29)

Apparently a lot can happen in a week!

(I hope you will return to read further adventures in Sycamore Canyon. Plus, I will post a New River Wrap-up later on this week.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Wildfire in the Santa Ritas

Smoke from the Melendez Fire in the Santa Rita Mountains 6-1-09

Wildfire Sky 6-1-09

The lightening caused Melendez Fire has burned close to 6,000 acres in the Santa Rita Mountains behind Sycamore Canyon since last Friday. I could smell the smoke in the air Sunday morning as we prepared for Alex's wedding. It is not threatening any structures and the forest service has decided to let it burn.
I took these photos Monday from the east rim of Sycamore Canyon in the new Estate Lots section Sycamore Canyon with the Nikon D80 and the 18 to 70 mm lens.

Visit more amazing skies at Sywatch Friday!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Diane and Alex Brown 5-31-09

We are pleased to announce the wedding of our youngest son, Alex Brown to his fiance Diane on Sunday, May 31, 2009 in Avondale, AZ. I was the photographer for the wedding so it was a very busy day. My brother Stephen arrived at 10 p.m. the same night and Gus had surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome early Tuesday morning. Life is Happening here in Sycamore Canyon! More photos and stories to follow well as the continuation of the New River Birding Festival!

Monday, June 1, 2009

New River Day 4: High Country

Chestnut-sided Warbler 4-30-09

Today is cold and rainy once again as we set off on a High Country Adventure. Our bus travels bumpy dirt roads and wet paved lanes through the West Virginia countryside. Our guides today are Connie Toops, Paul Shaw and Steve McCarthy.

Bluets 4-30-09

Soon it stops alongside a bog where we clamber out to watch birds. A light rain is falling once again and I marvel at the delicate bluets growing alongside the road. These tiny eastern flowers are a favorite of mine, so much so that I would have had them as my wedding bouquet if I could have, but they are so tiny and fragile that I can only enjoy them in the wild. Looking at them now with nodding heads I recall that I used their colors as inspiration for my wedding instead. It'll be 32 years on June 4th since Gus and I were married. Now, here I am in the woods and meadows of West Virginia while he holds down the fort at home.

Roadside Bird watching 4-30-09

We stop along a couple of places with small ponds and bogs. We see king fishers and swamp sparrows, and red-shouldered hawks. We hear a sedge wren and capture a quick flash of its tiny buffy body as it darts from sedge to sedge. A pair of gnatcatchers scolds us from the brush, while in the distance the red-winged blackbirds trill. At some stops the rain is just too heavy for taking photographs, so I and others leave our cameras on the bus.

Stone work at Babcock State Park 4-30-09

It's mid-morning by the time we reach Babcock State park. The bus lets us off at the top of the road and we walk our way in past this stone structure. The woods are deep green and gray around us. Birds sing from the treetops and bushes. We stop alongside the Rhododendron bushes where we hear a Swainson's warbler call. However, it never comes out into full view for us, no matter how hard Paul and Steve try to call it up.

Alien in the woods 4-30-09

In misty gray light we walk past ancient trees with roots that look like alien bodies buried long ago and now squeezed from beneath the earth. The bus is waiting for us by the old mill and we eat our lunch inside its warmth. It is too cold and wet to dine outside on the picnic tables. Still, many of us try to capture the beauty of the old mill that is so famously photographed by so many people. Soon, we are off to watch birds again. Our ultimate destination today is the bobolink fields. After hearing their calls last night recorded by Wil Hershbereger and played for us at Smokey's on the Gorge I am looking forward to seeing this species of bird more than any other on this trip. We pile into the bus and head up Glade Creek road to our destination.

Great-crested Flycatcher 4-30-09

Along the way we continue to stop and hunt for birds, for birds are everywhere. here by an old farm house with pastures and cows, a pond and some woods the birding is excellent. A great Crested Flycatcher calls from a tree and I am amazed at how loud its voice is. It could easily be confused with our Brown-crested flycatcher or Ash-throated flycatcher if we were in Arizona. thank goodness we are not. This is a Life Bird for me.

Blue-headed vireo 4-30-09

You won't find a blue-headed vireo at your feeders, for these are insect eating birds. I have added 3 species of vireos to my life list so far. These are birds you have to go out and find or look up in your yard. And if you want vireos in your yards, don't spray pesticides! The vireos and other insect eating birds will take care of the bugs for you!

Chestnut-sided warbler 4-30-09

Warblers are everywhere and I finally am able to capture some decent photos of a chestnut sided warbler. the rain has tapered off, and the sun is even starting to peek out now and again. We are all shedding our rain coats and jackets as the muggy temperature rises.

Intense bird watching 4-30-09

Cameras and binoculars are getting a good workout this day. I think they are all looking at a broad-winged hawk on her nest.

Mystery in the water 4-30-09

We wander the gravel road where we discover bear scat and flowers. In a shallow pool we find these flaming orange candles growing from dried leaves. There is mystery and wonder everywhere.

Paul Shaw holds up a clump for all of us to see.

And then, we climb back into the bus. The time is passing by quickly. none of us wants this day to end but poor Connie has to be back to give a speech for the Elderhostel and it is getting late. We finally reach the rolling green fields where bobolinks play. Once again the West Virginia fog has rolled in. We walk through knee high grass. the farmers dogs rush out to greet us with cheerful barks. Normally I love to see dogs, but today I am focused on the birds. These birds. These electronic sounding black balls of feathers. Where are they? Where are they?

I search the field and sky with my bins. I listen with all my might. I find an eastern meadowlark on the wires, but I want to see the bobolinks and then...

Bobolink 4-30-09

I hear them. Then I see them and one lands near enough for me to photograph. but it is still so far away. The light is bad and the ground is wet and we have to go and I don't want to! I want to stay in the bobolink field for the rest of the day! i want to listen to them sing and watch them play. I want to fill my head and ears and eyes with bobolinks. I want to remember this day forever and ever. I pray there will always be bobolinks in the fields of West Virginia. This bird out of all the others is the one I want to go back and see again.

Birds Seen Today *Life Bird
  1. Great blue Heron
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Broad-winged hawk
  4. Red-shouldered hawk
  5. Cooper's hawk
  6. Osprey
  7. Killdeer
  8. Mourning dove
  9. N. Flicker
  10. Red-bellied woodpecker
  11. Downy woodpecker
  12. Pileated Woodpecker
  13. Great-crested flycatcher*
  14. Eastern Phoebe
  15. Eastern Kingbird
  16. King Fisher
  17. Red-eyed vireo
  18. Black-throated blue vireo
  19. Blue jay
  20. Common Raven
  21. Crow
  22. Northern Rough-winged swallow
  23. Barn Swallow
  24. Tree swallow
  25. Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  26. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  27. Brown Trasher
  28. Eastern Bluebird
  29. Robin
  30. Wood thrush
  31. Black-capped chickadee
  32. Tufted titmouse
  33. White-breasted nuthatch
  34. Sedge wren* (heard with a brief glimpse)
  35. Starling
  36. Hooded warbler
  37. Black and white warbler
  38. Common yellow-throat
  39. Blue-winged warbler
  40. Black-throated blue warbler
  41. Chestnut-sided warbler
  42. Swainson's Warbler* (heard only)
  43. Louisianna Water thrush* (heard only)
  44. Ovenbird
  45. Song sparrow
  46. Chipping sparrow
  47. Swamp sparrow*
  48. N. Cardinal
  49. Indigo bunting
  50. Red-winged blackbird
  51. Brown-headed cowbird
  52. Bobolink*
  53. Eastern meadowlark
  54. American Goldfinch
All of today's photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.