Thursday, July 30, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Trico Road

Looking West on Trico Rd 7-24-09

I spent a week travelling all around Arizona counting birds but last Friday when I was on my way home I was ready to GET home. However, a traffic backup on I-10 near Picacho Peak in 104 degree heat was enough incentive to get off the road and do somemore bird watching. I took the Picacho Peak exit and stopped at the local Dairy Queen before heading off down the back roads of Arizona. Eventually I found my way to the Pinal Air Park and Trico Road. Serenaded by a western meadowlark, I took this picture of the western mountains and the surrounding agricultural fields. Over my head a family of western kingbirds hunted insects from the utility lines and though I was hot and weary and ready for home, this spot was a pleasant find and the scenery was refreshing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My World: Desert Summer Morning

Gray Dawn 7-29-09

I awake this morning before the sun to a gray world of haze. It’s 5:30 a.m. and a quick glance at my thermometer tells me the temperature here in Sycamore Canyon is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. In the next few minutes the temperature momentarily drops to 73 degrees, but down in Tucson they are into the 20th day of record high low temperatures with overnight lows averaging 75 degrees or higher. As for me, I am tired of the heat. I am longing for a cool breeze. The heat drives me inside and makes me grumpy. I just want to be outside!

Tucson city lights 7-29-09

I step out the back door into the gray dawn. I hear the rumble of some big truck coming up the canyon. Across the wash I see there are workers already on the lot of the next house being built. This one is directly behind me and soon the roof line will totally block any remaining view I have of the Rincon Mountains. As I putter about watering plants I gaze off into the distance where the Catalinas and Rincons are lost in the smoky haze of summer heat. In a peek-a-boo view between houses I can still see the lights of Tucson glimmer before the sun rises and outshines them.

Foundation Pour 7-29-09

The rumble has grown louder as the huge truck lumbers into the neighborhood. I see the large insect like boom carried on its back and I know that today they will pour the foundation. As the truck maneuvers itself into place and extends its supports like the legs of some giant grasshopper the sun slowly rises from behind the eastern row of houses and with it the temperature rises to 75 degrees.

Prickly pears 7-29-09

I have so many things to do, but I hurry inside and grab my gear and head out the door for the desert. It has been so long since I have walked in the wash and I know I need to take advantage of these cool temperatures while I can. As I amble along the desert trail I hear the raucous call of a brown-crested flycatcher. A covey of Gamble’s quail scurries out of my way as golden sunlight falls on prickly pear fruit deepening its garnet blush. As I travel along the desert wash the gravel crunches beneath my feet. I find a partially eaten prickly pear lying on the ground in the middle of the path and wonder who or what left it there. I know the birds have been eating this ripe fruit, for they appear at my feeders stained with the juice. Perhaps a ground squirrel left it here, or a woodpecker dropped it in flight.

Santa Ritas 7-29-09

The shadows fall silent and soft across my path. The Santa Rita’s tower in front of me invitingly. Around me the desert is full of bird song with curve-billed thrashers calling, black-throated sparrows singing, purple martins twittering and cactus wrens cackling. The brown-crested flycatchers continue their chorus while Gila woodpeckers whinny and gilded flickers shriek. Yeah, it’s loud out here in the morning! The birds are calling me awake!

Skeleton 7-29-09

In the distance I can still hear the roar of the cement truck, but beyond that I hear a hammer’s ring. I glance to the south towards the sound trying to locate it. High on the canyon’s rim I see the skeleton of a house rising from the mesquite in the new Sombra neighborhood. This will be the first house to go in this exclusive neighborhood with lots sizes over an acre or more and homes to match. Higher up the mountainside, these “Estate Lots” will have the best views of the canyon in a gated community. Me, I am just a commoner down here in the neighborhood with an uncommon enjoyment of where I live.

Purple martin sillouette 7-29-09

I have been all over Arizona lately with trips to Coolidge, Superior, Miami and Globe. Yes, there is a town named Miami in Arizona, but it’s nothing like a beach. Located high in the Pinal Mountains, it is a mining town located deep in the canyons where copper is king. From there I have been to Maricopa, a small cow town in the west desert that is quickly growing up. I have been hot and weary and watching birds. Finally I am home.

Dirt Berm Hill 7-29-09

Home in my Sycamore Canyon. Home in the Sonoran Desert. All around me saguaros tower, mesquite trees rustle in the desert wind. Palo Verde trees provides thick cover for the birds. Cholla cacti provide homes and food for birds and mammals. The many tentacled ocotillos are thick with leaves at the moment, in spite of the fact that our monsoon has been mostly a no show this year. So far it has not rained often enough to even fill the retention basin next to my house. I have not seen a Sonoran desert toad in days. I have not heard their violent mating cries about the steady drone of rain. If it does not rain, will they not mate? I don’t know the answer to that. And come to think of it, where do they lay their eggs, and how do the babies hatch? These are desert questions that I need to find answers to.

Sycamore Canyon Desert 7-29-09

With the rising sun I feel the sweat starting to trickle down the center of my back. I hurry along the canyon’s west rim now and up and over the bermed hill created by leftover dirt from the construction sites. I stay in the shadow of these dirt mounds as much as I can until I have no choice. All in all it is still a pleasant walk back home again as birds sing me all the way back. It has not warmed up enough yet for the lizards to be out. I have not seen any snakes, but as I cross the dirt bermmed hill I meet the morning dog walkers and joggers. Others are emerging from their homes while I am heading back to mine. It was 108 degrees yesterday and we should get close to that again today. By the time I am home at 7:20 it is already 81 up here, but down in Tucson the weather girl reports they are already at 86 degrees!

In My World today at home...

...a butterfly has found the asclepia...

...mesquite bugs are everywhere...

...a single pomegrante is growing in my garden...

...while the oranges grow fat and green on my dwarf orange tree!

Here in the heat of a desert summer morning this is My World.

(All photos were taken by Kathie. Please click to enlarge)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Thunderstorm Sunset

High Wire Sunset by Gusto! 7-20-09 7:35 p.m.

Down Draft 7-20-09 by Gusto! 7:12 p.m. MST

Monday thunderstorm 7-20-09 by Gusto! 7:09 p.m. MST

(Do yourself a favor and click to enlarge!)

Gus took these photos on Monday night as we headed down to Rita Ranch to fill the gas tank in my car. Thankfully we brought the camera with us as the views were spectacular along Houghton and Rita Roads. Gus stopped at various points along the way and snapped these photos off to the west towards the I-10 corridor and Sahuarita. The photos are in reverse order because I put his favorite shot up first. I picked the other two from out of the 45 or more shots that he took using the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.

Do yourself another favor and visit...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My World: Maine in Green and Gray

Aroostook County Extension Farm 6-26-09

Song Sparrow 6-26-09 behind motel

Mantle Lake Park Presque Isle 6-26-09

Muskrat at Mantle Lake 6-26-09

Arnold Brook Lake Presque Isle, ME 6-27-09

( I saw two loons in the water here.)

Into the woods @ Arnold Brook Lake 6-27-09

(It is down this path that I found the magnolia warbler)

Amish Carriage on State St. Bridge,
Presque Isle, ME 6-27-09

Presque Isle alley 6-27-09

( I counted a couple of chickadees in the tree down this alley.
Birds are everywhere!)

Falmouth, ME

Seagull and unknown birds in the harbour 6-29-09

Common Eiders at Falmouth Landing 6-29-09

Lobster cages stacked in the harbour 6-29-09

Boats in the harbour 6-29-09

Mackworth Island Causeway looking towards the mainland.

Laughing gull in gray sky (he's the only one laughing!)

In June I took a trip to the east coast where I visited Connecticut and Maine. Together my mother and I took a drive up to Aroostook County, ME where my second son lives with two of my grandchildren. Though normally gorgeously sunny and blue and green this time of year, the skies remained leaden and gray the whole weekend. Trees dripped rain drops constantly and the wet grass soaked though my shoes. Still, every morning before everyone else got up I was out the door looking for birds.

Aroostook County is the largest and least populated county in Maine. It is best known for its potatoes and lumber mills. Vast tracks of land are owned by the lumber companies and thus are undeveloped. The many small towns are influenced by their french speaking Canadian neighbors and up along the border in Fort Kent the local fast food chains have the menu in both English and French. When I lived here in the late 90's one could easily cross the border into Canada and back, but now all of that has changed. The people of Aroostook County have a strong sense of place and their identity is strongly tied to being from "The County." When I lived there I met people who have never even been to Bangor, ME, which is the largest town to the south. It takes about 3 hours to get from Bangor to Presque Isle. When you leave Bangor it feels like you have just left the edge of the known world. From there on out it is all trees, rivers, swamps, mountains and rolling hills. Near Millinocket one can see Mt. Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.

On our way home from Aroostook County my mother and I stopped in Falmouth to visit a cousin. Early Monday morning I was out the door once again looking at birds. The constant rain has turned the land lush green under gray and foggy skies and thus I decided to name this post, Maine in Green and Gray. (If anyone thinks they know what the bird in the water is, please feel free to make a guess in the comments!)

and that's...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Heat

Immature Female Hooded oriole 7-15-09

The summer heat we were suppose to have in June has finally arrived in July. With temperatures running about 10 degrees above normal we hit 107 yesterday and we are on our way to 108 or better today. Right now at 11:00 a.m. MST here in Sycamore Canyon it is already 100 degrees F. In spite of the heat, the birds are still coming to my feeders and seeking shade anywhere they can find it. This little female oriole surprised me by landing on the window over my kitchen sink last week in the middle of the afternoon. She acted like she wanted to come inside out of the heat of the day. As you can see, she is panting, as are all the birds around here latley. I decided she was an immature female hooded oriole based on the fact that she has a thin curved bill with a pale lower mandible.

Female hooded oriole trying to get at nectar 7-15-09

I also think it is a hooded oriole because of its slender build, more extensive yellow on the body and not as bright of color as a female Bullock's would be.

Roadrunner in Sycamore Canyon 7-14-09

Apparently the summer heat has brought out the roadrunners. I saw this fine bird early on Tuesday morning when I went out to count birds on Harrison Rd. When I first moved here to Sycamore Canyon I would see roadrunners on a regular basis up by my house, which is further up the canyon, but I have not seen one there in well over a year, so I was quite please to even find this one down here. Later on that afternoon as I was shutting the blinds to help keep the house cool a roadrunner suddenly appeared right by my back patio door! I stood there astonished at first, then went to grab the camera, but the bird was too fast for me and all the other blinds were shut, so I was unable to get a shot of it in my yard. Then, this morning when I went to fill the feeders outside the den window I was startled by a roadrunner that was hiding under the front yard bushes. So, I'm pleased to report that roadrunners are still present here in Sycamore Canyon after all.

Pitiful curved-billed thrasher 7-7-09

Right after I returned from Connecticut this pitiful looking curve-billed thrasher showed up at my feeders without its tail feathers! I don't know whether it was just molting or whether a coyote or some other animal had grabbed it by the tail as it flew away, I only know it made a comical sight. The poor thing looks so out of balance without its tail, but I am happy to report that I have seen it numerous times since I took this shot and the tail is gradually growing longer!

Our Mesquite tree 7-14-09

On a final note, the mesquite tree survived the insect attack of a week ago. It continues to grow and provide shade for us and shelter for the birds. The velvet mesquite tree is the native species here in the Sonoran desert and the birds just love it. With a steady supply of water, this tree should grow quite large and shade the whole back yard one day. Thank you all of you who commented on last week's post and have since inquired into its health. We finally made it down to Rio Rico on Friday where the birds and the bugs are plentiful in spite of the heat!

(Click on any photo to enlarge for the bestview)

Temperature Update: 12:45 PM/103 degrees F.

Weather Update 7-20-09: Tucson broke a record yesterday when the temp reached 109 degrees F. Then some storms rolled through and it dropped 20 degrees in less than an hour. Up here in Sycamore Canyon the hottest I saw was 105. We're in for more of the same all week long!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Weather Window

Nana's Kitchen Window 7-1-09

Every year when I return home to Colchester I stay with my mother in the house she grew up in. I know it as Nana and Grandpa's House, but it has been my mother's since 1999. As is typical in many New England homes, not much as changed since I was a child. The kitchen still has the old cast iron farm sink and the cupboards are still painted in the same colors as when my Nana was alive. I don't know when it started, but it became my ritual to go to this window first thing in the morning and at various times throughout the day to look at the sky and check on the weather and read the old thermometer that hung outside on the glass. Living in New England is all about the weather and somehow that old thermometer gave me a sense of comfort to look and see that the temperature was as good or as bad as I suspected. So, imagine my chagrin when I arrived this year and walked to the window and the thermometer wasn't there! Apparently it had been removed last year when the storm windows were taken down to be repainted. No one had bothered to put it back up again.

For me, I felt lost without it. I could not believe what a ritual checking the thermometer had become, and though I knew it wasn't there any longer, the whole time I was at my mother's house I still kept walking to the window to check on the weather. I hope she puts a new one up before I come back next year. I don't think I could take feeling this lost again!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Colchester: Walking The Lane

The Lane 6-17-09

It is my first evening in Colchester and I am going for a walk. Gray skies boil overhead as I follow the familiar streets. I walk past places that are still the same and others that have changed so much. Each step is a memory as I watch and listen for birds. I am seeking escape from the traffic and noise in the center of town where a weekly car rally is being held on the town green. Eventually I find my way to the field behind St. Andrew's Church on Norwich Avenue. All along the way I am mostly seeing starlings, robins, and barn swallows. To my utter surprise I have seen a few cedar waxwings right here in town! The typical house sparrows are out and about, but I have found a few chipping sparrows as well as a song sparrow or two. But now as I reach the farthest edge of the field all thoughts of birds are forgotten. I pause before the back of a small gray shingled house and look at the mowed path that runs alongside it. In my mind I am running down this path as a child, running for my life in fear of the Big Black Dog!

The lane 6-17-09

It was shortly after I turned 8 years old when we moved into the house on 23 Pleasant street. My mom was a single mother raising five children on her own. My grandfather still ran a few dairy cattle on the old family farm in the center of town and every few days he gave us some fresh milk. It was the job of my oldest brother, Rick and I to get the milk and bring it home. We carried the milk between us in an old-fashioned milk can, the silver kind with a handle on each side and a tight fitting lid with a handle on top. To get to the farm we had to walk down the lane, and to walk down the lane we had to pass the little gray house to which the Big Black Dog was chained. The Big Black Dog didn't like kids passing his house. The Big Black Dog would rush snarling and snapping to the end of his chain which just barely missed reaching the edge of the lane, and though I knew this, the Big Black Dog still struck terror in my heart. Rick and I would walk across the road, then he would rush past leaving me to fend for myself. I would stand there at the edge of the yard, then run past as fast as my little 8 year old legs could carry me, sure that I could feel the dog's hot breath on my legs. There was little doubt its ferocious barking resounded in my ears. Once safely past the Big Black Dog it was a pleasant walk the rest of the way down the lane. I turn to see the path now dark in the gray light of evening made grayer still by the leaden sky. A light rain is falling on me and I see the once clear lane overgrown thickly with brambles and brush, with a small forest growing where the pasture once was.

The Old Brown Family Farm 6-29-09

Eventually Rick and I would emerge on South Main Street at the old Family Farm. This is the house as it looks now, but it used to be white and gracious. The wide veranda was like a big hug waiting to sweep you up in welcoming arms. It was where we all gathered at Christmastime for the ultimate family feast. It was where I learned all the complexities of family relations from second cousins and great aunts to first-cousins-once-removed.

The house has been sold twice now with the passing of my grandparent's generation. First it was made into a gift shop and now it is being remade into offices of some sort. But I remember it as a place where great-grandmother lived and died and where my great aunt Ruth always welcomed me inside. I remember it with a wooden swing hanging from a huge tree alongside the dirt drive that led down to an old barn pungent with fresh hay and manure. It was there in the basement of the old barn where the cattle stanchions held black and white Holsteins. That was were the fresh cows milk was stored in an old refrigerator. That is where my stern grandfather watched as Rick and I grabbed onto the handles and lifted the can of fresh milk between us. Then we carried the cooled milk back across the street and down the lane past the Big Black Dog to our little apartment on the second floor. Once safely home we'd lift the lid to see the thick cream rising and mom would pour it into smaller bottles to be stored in our refrigerator and we would have to remember to shake the milk before we poured ourselves a glass or we'd get all cream at first, and all skim milk after awhile. The Big Black dog never did get me, though it did make me cry a few times and it haunted my nightmares for years. Somehow I never transferred this fear to other dogs and so I was able to have dogs as pets and best friends growing up. My feet are soggy from the wet grass as I walk away from the lane and head back to my mother's house. I smile as I think to myself that though it is an old-fashioned term, I now see why it's called, "Taking a trip down memory lane." In this case it is both symbolic and literal!

Monday, July 13, 2009

My World: Cohen Woodlands

Lily Pads in Cohen Woodlands Pond 6-30-09

On my last day in Connecticut I took a drive out to the Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands located on McDonald Road off Route 354 in Colchester. After two weeks of endless rain, this day dawned bright and sunny. The property is named for Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen. Ruby Cohen served 30 consecutive years in the Connecticut legislature. He was also the one-time owner of Harry's Place, a favorite hamburger stand still in operation in Colchester Center. This 121 acre property was owned by him and purchased by the town in 2000 as a town park.

Ruby and Elizabeth Cohen Woodlands 6-30-09

There is an ample parking lot with a porta potty on the edge.

Gazebo 6-30-09

Right next to the parking area is a shady gazebo.

Baby Barn Swallow on the Gazebo 6-30-09

Which also serves as a launching pad for baby barn swallows!

Pond and meadows across from Parking lot on McDonald Rd.

McDonald Road bisects the park with a pond on either side. The ponds are surrounded by towering trees and grassy meadows.

Gazebo Pond by parking lot. 6-30-09

Beyond the gazebo pond lies a vast woodland with shady trails. I did not venture down the trails, but chose to stay out in the bright sunshine!

Northern Rough-winged swallow takes flight 6-30-09

There was so much to see right here in the open, with Canada geese in the pond, a great-blue heron stalking fish, Eastern bluebirds hunting insects and swallows on the wing!

Bees in the Bird House 6-30-09

A row of bluebird house rim the pond across the street. While some are occupied by swallows, this one has been taken over by the bees...

Song Sparrow 6-30-09

...and in the grassy meadows the song and savannah sparrows sing,

A Quiet place to sit 6-30-09

...while I wander back to the picnic tables that sit beneath the towering white pines. I find a quiet place to sit and think with bird song filling the air, sunshine warming my skin, and and a soft breeze ruffling my hair.

I would highly recommend Cohen Woodlands as an excellent place to watch birds. I was able to identify 31 species in the short 2 hours I spent there but I know there were a few more that I could not. Next year when I return to Connecticut I will certainly return here, for there is so much more to explore.

And that's...

Birds seen at Cohen Woodlands:

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Great-blue heron
  3. Turkey vulture
  4. Mourning dove
  5. Ruby-throated hummingbird
  6. Great-crested flycatcher
  7. Eastern kingbird
  8. Blue jay
  9. American Crow
  10. Tree Swallow
  11. N. rough-winged swallow
  12. Barn swallow
  13. Black-capped chickadee
  14. tufted titmouse
  15. Eastern bluebird
  16. Wood thrush
  17. Robin
  18. Gray Catbird
  19. Cedar Waxwing
  20. Pine Warbler
  21. Ovenbird
  22. Common yellow-throat
  23. Eastern towhee
  24. Chipping sparrow
  25. Savannah sparrow
  26. Song sparrow
  27. Northern Cardinal
  28. Red-winged blackbird
  29. Brown-headed cowbird
  30. American goldfinch
  31. House sparrow