Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good Morning Sunshine

Good morning sunshine
The earth says hello
You shine bright above us
We squint far below

Good morning sunshine
You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
Our early morning singin' song

Gliddy glub gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba
Le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla
Nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song

With respect to the musical "Hair", have you ever read the lyrics to that Starshine song? Goodness, the things we did in our youth! In any event, isn't the sunshine lovely this morning? The ice just sparkles, and I hope some more of it will melt on the pavement and trees this afternoon.
Slate colored Junco

Table for three please.

The things I do for a little sunflower seed. The Birdcage Saloon!

It's time to search around for the next birding trip we can make, since we enjoyed Arizona so much. Jekyll Island has a festival in October. Crane Creek in Ohio is closer. They have a big to-do in May, but May is already so full here in Kentucky. Of course, South Texas has their big festival at the Rio Grande Valley Bird Fest in November. I still want to go to the Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan. Dick got the schedules for his two main volunteer jobs, and is feeling a little overwhelmed. "Remember," I remind him, "Volunteer means you go when you want to, not just because they have something going on." My own retirement gets closer every day, and we'll be able to make some of these trips during the week instead of trying to find a free weekend very soon. WooHoo!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not Nice Ice

I should have stayed in Arizona!
CRACK! Another tree limb succumbs to the icy weight and crashes to the ground. The Ohio Valley is covered with ice, and now snow is falling on top of it. The office opens at 10:00 today, and a co-worker with 4WD who lives nearby will come to get me. I hope we get brownie points for making the effort. Over 75,000 people in the metro area are without power, and I hold my breath each time the lights flicker. Before we get too far, we get word that the firm has closed for the day, and we should all stay home.

All three pines in the back yard have been topped by the ice. I reassure my husband - now we can have more woodpecker condos. One limb fell on our nice swing smashing it.

Our son has no power at his apartment, so we invite him to bring the cat and come stay with us, if he can get his car out. We are short on disaster supplies though. The thistle feeder is down to the last inch of seed, and the empty seed jug sits by the door to remind us to get more. When the snowplows scrape the street in our subdivision, they pile it up in front of the driveway so you can not get past that big barrier. We shoveled just the ends of the driveway so son/daughter can at least find it if they come to stay. Don't we have some salt in the garage? Maybe in the shed, but it's iced closed. Same for extra firewood, which would be good for heating the basement should our power go out. The basement has no windows and holds the heat pretty well from a fire. The Ohio Valley tends to move weather systems either north or south of us, and despite the storm warnings it isn't so bad here in Louisville. People rush to the store for milk and bread, and then the storm doesn't really affect us that much. This time the weather man was not crying Wolf!

Let's take a walk around the block, now that it's light enough for pictures. Here's an example of why the conifers in the mountains are tall and skinny - it helps them survive all that snow, while broad branched pine branches break from the weight.

Heard a story this morning of a house that caught fire when branches fell on a transformer, which then burst into flames, catching the house on fire too.

Small icicles can be very pretty, but let's keep them small. Hope all of you are safe and warm.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flycatcher in the Park

Well, it's the last day in Arizona. We have to pack everything up and go to the airport about 11:30. What shall we do this morning? Go birding, of course. Several people mentioned Reid Park, which is not far from the airport at all. Primarily, we are going there to get pictures of the Vermilion Flycatcher that Kathie says lives there, and as you can see, we found him! In the sun, he's so red he almost looks orange! After flitting about for a while, he settled down and posed nicely for us.

Here is a family portrait of the male and female together....

...and here is the portrait of just the female. She's just as beautiful as the male.

Around 9:30 in the morning, Reid Park is a very noisy place. First, the Long Tailed Grackles call and chatter and whistle incessantly. These guys are getting a drink from a sidewalk puddle. Then some loud burglar alarm started going off. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Yikes - what is going on? Why doesn't someone turn that thing off? Wait, I recognize that noise. It's Gibbons at the zoo!

Then these giant Jet Birds started flying overhead. It must be their mating season, because they called back and forth the whole time, and we always saw pairs of them.

The lakes had a nice assortment of ducks, including some we had not seen at Sweetwater. I like duck hunting at a city park, where there are no cattails or mud between me and a great photo of the ducks.

One little Ross' Goose was hanging out with the ducks and some domestic geese.

Ring-necked ducks

Redhead Ducks

Canvas Backs

American Coot

And the Gila Woodpecker was just as active on a tree as in Saguaro cactus. Total count for the week: 106 Species, 54 Life Birds!!! Wow, I ought to travel far more often!

Post Vacation Thoughts...
We always pack too much, and each year resolve to be more realistic on our clothing and luggage. They warned us that it gets to 15 degrees though, so we brought way too many clothes for cold weather. Ah well, it never hurts to be prepared.

This laptop is great for vacations. Work on pictures, post them to the blog each day, and check for emails so we don't get behind. Most hotels have wireless.

Wouldn't it be nice to spend a month or so at one of these great spots? Florida, Arizona--there's never enough time to see everything we would really like to see. But what about Bob? Not really, but we do have two cats at home. Our son came to stay with them, and brought his cat to visit. People take their dogs on long vacations, but I don't think the cats would get much from a long car drive, or even worse, riding on an airplane. They are homebodies, not tourists.

We were the only people under age 70 when we met Kathie at the McDonald's in Green Valley. One of the birding trips had a guy with a walker getting on the bus. Part of me says "If you can't do the walk, why are you here?" while another part says "Good for you, get out there and keep going." Would it be nice to move someplace warm, like Arizona, when all our connections are back east? What do those people do if they get sick? Getting old -- shudder. Well, as Scarlett O'Hara says, I'll think about that tomorrow.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Madera Canyon

Today is our next-to-last day in Arizona, and we had a triple treat. We met Kathie of Sycamore Canyon blog fame, and she really is as nice as you would expect reading her blog. She joined us at Madera Canyon to show us around, AND we saw some really wonderful birds, adding greatly to our Life List for this trip. She also went to Whitewater Draw this week, and may have been there the same day I was - ships passing in the sunshine, as it were. The weather today was even more perfect than it has been all week, starting at a balmy 59 degrees this morning.

It's hard to decide what the most exciting bird of the day was. Certainly this bright Townsend's Warbler should be close to the top. We followed him from branch to branch and shade to sun, snapping dozens of pictures. I'm not strong on warblers in general, so I'm really pleased with this. Sometimes, the top bird is the one that got away from the camera.

Ruby Crowned Kinglets followed us all the way up the canyon, jumping busily from tree to tree as usual. We went to the top of the road, and hiked a little farther beyond that. Some bird we didn't recognize seemed to be following us. Where is that little devil, and what in the world can it be? Each time we thought we'd found it, we saw another Kinglet instead. Eventually we decided that the Kinglets were persistently trying to teach us what they sound like. I'd certainly not heard one before, so we learned a new call, and I got my first picture of an actual Kinglet sitting still for a split second.

Can we get Birder's Compensation from the American Birding Association for the crick in my neck trying to take pictures of this Red-naped Sapsucker directly above my head? While we followed this bird around, Kathie spotted a Painted Redstart that was absolutely amazing. Others in the Seen But Not Photographed Category include a Verdin and a cute little Brown Creeper found by my husband. Good eye, honey! Kathie spotted a Green Tailed Towhee, and I saw about 4 feathers on it before it ducked into a different bush.

We took a break at the Santa Rita Lodge area to do a little birding while sitting down, watching the crowd at the bird feeders. I tried and tried to get a clear shot of the Bridled Titmouse at these feeders, but it moves just as fast here as in the trees, and they ended up pretty blurred. My camera settings were OK, but it just moved out of focus before I could take the shot. Ah well, guess I'll just have to come back some day. These little Oregon Juncos and Dark Eyed Juncos were much more co-operative.

Have you ever noticed that birders don't get to actually sit down and eat their own lunch while on a really good birding trip? We sat at the picnic tables, and took off cameras and binoculars while we ate, but kept getting up to examine some bird in a tree, or take a picture of a bird we'd hoped to see, such as this Hermit Thrush.

The Jays, of course, followed us up and down the canyon in noisy groups of 5 or 6 birds. I left a little "bait" on the bench hoping to lure in a Bridled Titmouse long enough to take a shot, but the Jays ate the bait instead.

Woodpeckers scavenged in almost every tree be passed. Sometimes it was the brown backed Arizona Woodpecker (above). More often it was the clown faced Acorn Woodpecker (below). Don't you just love that look?

My list shows 27 species for the day, including 7 Lifers! I'll have to check with Kathie's list and see if she has something I forgot to write down - a distinct possibility. Tomorrow we will pack the car, and head to Tucson's Reid Park for some quick birding before catching the plane back to Louisville.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hawk Stalk

Saving the best for last, I headed out to stalk hawks today with Sheri Williamson and Tom Woods of the Southeast Arizona Bird Observatory. I know a lot of knowledgeable birders, but they were absolutely outstanding in this field. That's a literal statement, because we spent the day going from one farmer's field to another to find our hawks. Sheri taught us how to distinguish one hawk from another - Coopers from Sharp Shinned, for example, and all the different color morphs of the Red Tailed hawk.
Red Tail - light morph
Red Tail - dark morph
We found over 50 Red Tails, including a beautiful Dark Morph. Sheri is my kind of birder. She jumps up and down shouting "Ooh, ooh, OOH!" just as I do, when she finds something exciting. I told her my husband gets irritated when I do this, and she says Tom reacts the same way. We decided that all the best birders get speechless when they are passionate about finding a bird! Unfortunately, the best birds were across the field, or up in the tops of a tree surrounded by branches, so I don't have a lot of sharp pictures today. Our first stop was a plowed field, where at least 12 Red Hawks perched in trees or the irrigation pipes. Four Ferruginous hawks stood on the ground listening for gophers. Sheri says they hunt by sound more than sight. A juvenile Bald Eagle joined the crowd with his support group, the Ravens. Anywhere the Eagle went the Ravens went too. (Sounds like football, doesn't it?) Two younger Ferruginous hawks perched on the same phone pole, and tried to stare each other into going someplace else.

Our findings weren't limited to raptors, although that was my favorite part. At a lake before a dairy cattle factory, we found both Snow Geese and Ross' Geese. The Ross' have much smaller bills and a forehead. The lake at the power plant, next to the Sandhill Crane viewing area, hosted four (count 'em) Tundra Swans! This is the real Swan Lake, as they dipped their heads in synchronized swimming from one side of the lake to the other. Ruddy ducks, Buffleheads, American Wigeons and Common Mergansers were added to the total list for the day.

We tracked down a Merlin in her customary area. A single Harris hawk roamed around looking lost, but later we we found two nearby, and hope this single will rejoin the family. Meanwhile a Northern Harrier roused flocks of sparrows from the grass. It finally disappeared into the grass, and we assumed it stopped for lunch just as we had.

Thank you, Sheri and Tom, for the best day of the festival! Tomorrow we are heading to Madera Canyon, then home on Tuesday. We tallied up the birds we've seen this week, not just at the festival, and came up with 38 new birds to add to our Life List. Too Cool! After that comes the really hard part - trying to decide which birding festival to attend next time!

Chiricahua Montane

Saturday, I left the plains and deserts to look for birds in the Chiricahua Mountains. The volcanic rhyolite rocks weather into shapes that look like skyscrapers, leaving small rocks precariously balanced on larger columns. We went up to about 6800 feet and worked our way back down. The leader warned us that since the weather has been so warm lately, the birding might be hit or miss, and he was right. We did not see a lot of birds, and he worked hard to call in the birds we did see. Pine and fir trees murmured in the wind, even if the birds did not sing though. We saw some birds found only in these Sky Islands of Arizona, such as the Mexican Chickadee and the Yellow-eyed Junco. These are small birds, perching as high as they can in the branches, and I didn't get very good pictures. Acorn Woodpeckers sounded like parrots when we first heard them, and they look a bit like clowns. Bridled Titmice are real cuties, but move to fast for me to photo. Here is some of what I was able to capture.

White Breasted Nuthatch

Rose Breasted Nuthatch

Mexican Chickadee
Mexican Jay
Acorn Woodpecker
Birding is a religious experience for me. First, I love wandering around listening to them sing, and finding them as they hide. Taking photos of them takes a lot of faith - I never know if it's going to work or not, but I take them anyway. Finally, our trip down the icy mountain road on a school bus, fer cryin' out loud, involved a lot of praying. The kids will probably wonder why there is a large dent in the back of the seat. Well, that was me, trying to keep the bus on the road by grasping the seat in front of me!