Thursday, January 15, 2009
Muleshoe Ranch is about an hour and a half drive from Willcox (when you stop for every bird you see. Other people may not take so long.) down a dirt road. The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management (the BLM and TNC to the In Crowd) run the place. It is a terrific place to visit, but I must admit that this city girl can't imagine living that far away from everything all the time. Ah well, back to the story. Birding was great! We saw the wished for Roadrunner on the drive in, and several Red Tailed Hawks. The Red Tails really appreciate humans who put up all those tall poles just for hawks to perch on while looking for lunch, since there aren't many trees for this purpose. Female Cardinals impersonated the Pyrrhuloxia, which is going to be the next bird on the wish list. Western Bluebirds met some Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches for breakfast. We heard a Kingfisher along the river, and saw several Yellow Rumped Warblers. The most exciting find for today were the Golden Eagle and a Caracara!! So we are the first on the bird list for the festival. The Caracara was outside its normal range, and we kept thinking it was a Red Tail, until it turned and we saw the crest on its head. Life is simple - eat, sleep, bird. So far, we have concentrated on the Sonoran desert, but Muleshoe is in a riparian area - and that's a big thing in Arizona. Riparian means having water, especially flowing water. The site is home to many springs, including some hot springs, which help support a fine community of tiny fish and algae drawing green art in the stream. When we learned about the hot tubs, we thought it would be close to the casitas, but this was a longer walk than we wanted to take in the cold dark night. The stars though.... Wow, it's been literally years since I have seen so many stars at night. Today's big activity was a hike down the Bass Canyon. Can you believe this crystal blue sky!! I love it! One of our leaders is a fish specialist. Ducks and fish in the desert - my assumptions about Arizona are dropping daily! We learned about the native fish, and her reintroduction of a few species. On the hike, she carried a net, and captured some to show us, up close and personal. The water was crystal clear, and you could see them swimming around in the sparkles of sunshine. Some did the fish version of "pumping iron" as they swam upstream in the swift riffles as fast as their little fins could go. We also learned about controlled burns to encourage the right growth of grasses for this area. Controlled burns use an incendiary called ping pong balls and just do a literal spot burn, so you have to be in an airplane or the middle of the burned area itself to know there was any fire at all. The river flows for a while, then just disappears into the sand. You can tell that the river beds are huge for the flash floods in summer. The power of the water washes out large trees and large rocks equally. As amateur geologists we were fascinated with all the basalt, and how it lies in layers of big boulders along the river banks. We crossed the stream to see an archaeological site with grinding holes and petroglyphs made by ancient man. If my life depended on recognizing tracks in the sand, I'd end up dead pretty fast. I couldn't tell a coyote from the cougar tracks we found. Guess which one this is! And there was morning and there was evening, of the fourth day, and it was good. Tomorrow the actual birding festival begins in Willcox.