Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Harris’s Sparrow in Tucson

1. Harris sparrow-kab Harris’s Sparrow in Oklahoma 3-18-2010

It’s been a busy holiday season and Chris and I had not been able to go birding together even though he has time off from work. So, with my guys busy watching football on Sunday Chris and I made arrangements to go birding together that morning. We talked about driving out to Arivaca Cienega since I have not been there since moving back to Tucson, but we changed our minds that morning when we both realized we were too tired to go that far. Instead we opted to drive to Montosa Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains to see if we could find the Black-capped Gnatcatcher, which would be a Life Bird for both of us.

2. 12-30-13 Elephant head road While the rest of the United States is freezing beneath a blanket of snow, ice and arctic cold, we are enjoying glorious blue skies and soothing warm temperatures that are ranging from the mid 60’s to the low 70’s here! Though there is a bit of a chill in the air as we set out, it isn’t long before the blazing sun is driving the temperature ever higher. As we turn onto Elephant Head Road the sun is almost blinding, but I pull off the road and park the car when we see birds everywhere on both sides of the road. Car after car goes racing by as Chris and I stand there with bins and camera counting rufous-winged sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, lark sparrows, pyrruloxias, 2 red-tailed hawks, and a Gila woodpecker and a black phoebe in the trees over a farm pond. Our 26 minute stop netted us 134 species of birds in that location alone and we are just getting started!

3. BT Gnatcatcher by CRohrer Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 12-29-13 Montosa Canyon

The heavy traffic on Elephant Head Road finally causes us to drive on, but all along the way we continue to count birds. I am pleased when we turn onto Hopkins Road and the traffic diminishes greatly. Now I drive slowly up the mountainside stopping whenever we see birds. We spot a greater roadrunner alongside the road and drive by slowly hoping for a photo op. The bird is on Chris’ side of the car, so he takes the shot. We are seeing and hearing Rufous-winged sparrows and Black-throated sparrows everywhere. With the knowledge that I will be moving back to Maine soon, I look at each bird with a bit of sweet sadness knowing that it may be a very long time before I ever seen them again.

4. Hooded skunk by CRohrer Hooded skunk in Montosa Canyon 12-29-13 by C. Rohrer

When we arrive at the canyon we pull into the observatory parking lot where there is a picnic area and nature trail. there is also a restroom here with flush toilets, a luxury for me when we are out birding in the back of beyond like this. I do not think we will be here long, so I leave my camera in the car and head for the restroom while Chris walks around with his camera in hand to check things out. The restroom is lower than the parking lot and down some steps to the nature trail, so when I come out, Chris is already checking out birds which seem to be everywhere! I quickly join him and we start counting as sparrows and canyon towhees are everywhere! Ruby-crowned kinglets are bouncing in the trees as well as a pair of Bewicks wrens! We hardly know where to look first when suddenly i see a skunk ambling along through the brush. The skunk is now between me and the parking lot where my car and my camera are! I curse myself for not bring it with me because the photography opportunities are everywhere! While we are fairly close to the skunk, it pays us no mind as it scampers into a culvert under the trail and disappears. Chris and I both watch for it to come out the other end but it never does. We continue around the loop trail and come up the other side and back to the parking lot.

5. Rufous-winged sparrow CRohrer Chris got this perfect shot of a rufous-winged sparrows in the loop trail. You can even see the rufous on its upper wing coverts as well as the double-whisker marks which are the field marks of this species. After getting back in the car we continue up the road in search of the Black-capped Gnatcatcher.   About a half-mile up I pull off the road and we get out and start walking. This is the area where the gnatcatchers have been seen before. In fact, according to the info Chris has, someone saw them in this exact location yesterday! But, in stark contrast to the lower nature trail and picnic area, today all is quiet. At first we do not see ANY birds. We walk along a dirt road watching and listening, but all we find are a few hunters or campers picnicking in the mesquite woods.

6. Montosa Canyon We emerge back onto the paved road near the Elephant Head trail. We are just starting to see a few birds when a pair of hikers come up the trail with their dog. When the dog sees us it starts to bark. Loudly. There go the birds! The women hesitate and are apologetic. We take it all in good stride and continue on our way. But, all our seeking and searching only yields us a pair of ladder-backed woodpeckers. while we are busy looking at them I hear a strange and loud scream. I know it sounds familiar, but its been awhile. I gaze around, then look overhead to find a pair of Red-tailed hawks flying close together overhead. Chris and I finally decide to cash it in and with our stomachs rumbling we head down the mountain.

It is our plan now to head straight to town and get something to eat! We have not eaten since 8 AM and it is now almost two, but as we are heading down the mountain Chris start to read the latest info from the rare bird alert. he tells me that a Harris's sparrow has been spotted in Tucson near Himmel Park and it was seen just a half hour ago! We have a quick discussion and decide to head for the park. Our tummies can wait! When we arrive we drive around the park to Forgues road where we park on the street. As son as we exit the car we are greeted by another birder who just saw the sparrow 10 minutes ago! It is a short walk to a nearby alley way where some local Tucson Birders are gathered looking for the bird. Mark Stevenson and Molly Pollock are there and have already seen the bird. Andrew Core soon shows up and we spend the next hour and a half looking and searching for it. We know it is nearby, but where will it pop up next! Mark and Molly soon leave as they have already seen the bird. It is Andrew who finally spots in on the corrugated rooftop of a car port! Chris has his camera ready but I am looking through my binoculars. I get a quick look, then raise my camera and the bird ducks down and disappears from view! No picture for me! But Chris kindly lets me use his.

7. 12-30-13 Harris Sparrow by CRohrer This is the Harris’s sparrow seen by Chris and I and many others near Himmel Park in Tucson on December 29, 2013. It is a first winter sparrows and does not show the dark throat or black and gray feathers seen in my photos of adult breeding birds at the top and bottom of this post. I took those photos in Oklahoma back in 2010 while visiting T.R. Ryan. That was the only other time I have seen this species of sparrow. This bird was hanging out with a mixed flock of House sparrows and White-crowned sparrows. At first glance it could easily be mistaken for one of them, but note the pinkish conical beak and the warm brown cheek of this bird. It is also larger and longer-tailed than either of those species. Still, I am not sure I would have realized what I was looking at if Andrew Core had not seen it first and alerted the rest of us, so Thank You Andrew! This is a First of the Year for my 2013 Year List and a new species for my Arizona Life List but for Chris Rohrer it is a Life Bird! congratulations Chris! What a way to wrap up the year!

8. Harris sparrow in OK-kab Harris’s Sparrow in Oklahoma 2010

Happy New Year Everyone!

Note: Today’s post is a mixture of my photos and Chris Rohrer’s photos. I am hoping to get more of my photos processed and posted soon, hopefully before I move and get out of sync once again!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve Story

12-23-13 Celeste and kathie riding

Celeste and Kathie 12-23-13

Like everyone else I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. But I am not out buying presents and shopping. I am busy spending time with family and friends. Earlier this week I went for walk in the Tanque Verde Wash with Chris. This morning I met Celeste near a trailhead where we went on a horseback ride with Pantano Stables through Saguaro National Park! I did this on the same day last year with my daughter, Renée.

12-23-12 happy trails-kabRenee and Soldier last year 12-23-12

It was such fun to do it again this year with this dear friend. The day is warm and sunny and as we plod along on dusty trails through a forest of mesquite and Palo Verde trees interspersed with cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. The typical desert birds call to us as they go about their desert business. I listen and look. I did not bring my camera or my binoculars. I just want to soak in the whole experience and remember how this feels.

12-23-13 Celeste and Shooter Celeste and Shooter 12-23-13

A ladder-backed woodpecker clings to the tip of a mesquite tree and gives a warning call before flying off into the desert. Curve-billed thrashers sing “whit-WHEET” as we walk slowly by in a long snaky string of horses and riders. I hear a gilded woodpecker cry its sharp screech against the clear blue sky, and then a Gila woodpecker laughs as we go plodding past the tall saguaro it has its home in! All around us the Black-throated sparrows send their silver song with a sound like tinkling bells sailing over the desert. This is Christmas in the desert!

12-23-13 Kathie and soildierCowgirl Kathie with Soldier 12-23-13

But my day was not yet over. In the evening I take my grandson to Pantano Stables for a ride on a horse drawn hay wagon through the desert that is decorated with Christmas lights. The draft horses have their harnesses fitted with jingle bells that tinkle gently as the horses plod along in companionable harmony before us. We sit on sweet bales of hay and gaze into the darkness. Around us Christmas lights illumine the desert while overhead the stars shine brightly in our desert sky. With a pony ride before the wagon ride and a visit with Santa afterwards to top it all off , I am making memories to keep!

The busy day and fresh air soon tire me out and I am in bed before 11 p.m., but I wake up around 2:30 a.m. thinking it is morning! I am so surprised to discover that night is only half spent! However, I can’t stop thinking of all the things I still need or want to do, so I put on my robe and go downstairs. I turn on the Christmas tree lights and load my CD player with Christmas music. I wrap a few presents and finally finish decorating the Christmas tree. Thanks to Celeste and my sister my tree is birdier than ever this year!

When I am all done I have the empty cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper as well as a few other recycles, and so I unlock the front door and trot them out to the recycle bin, since today is trash day in our neighborhood and the bins are already at the curb. As I am placing the items in the bin I suddenly hear a soft hooting drifting over the neighborhood. I cannot believe my ears! It is a pair of great horned owls! Last year when my all my children were home for Christmas one of my sons saw an owl on a rooftop in the backyard. But I was sleeping and never saw it. Earlier this month I finally heard the owls calling for the first time and was thrilled, but I still never saw them. This time I stand in the dark in my front yard and listen to their calls as the sound drifts over the tree tops. I notice the Christmas light that are still on in my neighborhood, and not far away on the main road I hear the sounds of traffic, louder and more frequent than usual for this time of the morning and I imagine the people who are still out shopping and running last minute Christmas errands. I think how lucky I am to be standing here in the dark listening to great horned owls instead! But the owls are still too far away to see. After soaking in the experience for a few moments, I go back inside and submit a record to eBird.

As I am sitting at the kitchen counter writing suddenly I hear the owls even louder and closer and even though I have the windows and doors all closed! I know they are in my backyard now, so I jump off the stool and slide open the door and walk back out into the dark mooring. It’s nearly 4:30 a.m. by now and though I can hear the owls so loud and clear I still cannot see them. I quickly hurry inside and upstairs where I enter my bedroom and open the door to the balcony. I quickly and quietly close the door behind me and search the moonlit darkness for the owls. I scan the nearby rooftops but cannot find them even though I can hear them so clearly! Finally I reposition myself where I can see through a gap in the trees to a rooftop beyond where one owl is perched on top of a vent pipe. I think it is the female for her hind end is elevated and she keeps lifting it up and looking down. Below her on the rooftop is the male. They are both calling to each other and I think that they have just mated, or are about to mate, but then the male flies over and lands on the vent pipe directly behind my house and though it is dark, I can still see the owl through my Eagle Ranger binoculars! I am just thrilled and I stand there in the cold dark morning practically holding my breath while my heart beats wildly in my chest. I cannot believe that this is all happening right here in my suburban backyard! In fact, when I think about it, I cannot believe most of the wildlife and birds that have visited this yard in the 18 months that I have lived here!

As I continue to watch and listen to the owls the male decides to fly off towards the Rincon Mountains to the east. Meanwhile the female continues her soft hooting from her perch on my neighbor’s roof. I wonder if I am the only one who hears them and knows what is going on. Overhead I glance up at the Big Dipper which is high in the sky and upside down as if it is spilling out Christmas magic into the night! Finally I start to feel chilled and I head back inside the house. I feel so privileged to have witnessed this. I feel like it is a gift from nature just for me and I am so thankful. Now I can let the festivities begin!

12-27-12 Brown family christmas The Brown Family Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

AFF 11: Winter Birds

12-20-13 Winter birds-AFF11

Merry Christmas!

Thank You to everyone who who has visited my blog this past year.

I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!

Artsy Fartsy Fridays

Note: Photo taken at my mother’s house in Connecticut in February of 2012.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Walk in the Tanque Verde Wash

12-18-13 Cottonwood tree at sunset-kabCottonwood Sunset in the Tanque Verde Wash 

December 18, 2013: It’s a partially cloudy Wednesday afternoon and I am caught up in the usual rush of holiday preparations. I’ve been working on making my own Christmas Card since last week and I am down to the final formatting. I am trying to get this done before Chris calls to tell me he is on his way to the Tanque Verde Wash where we plan on meeting and searching for a vagrant Magnolia Warbler that has been seen there. I have only birded that wash one time before and that was when I first met Chris in the fall of 2012. It was a hot day that day and though we saw some great birds, we both remember it as being hot, dusty and sort of miserable. We have not gone back since. But, the chance to get a magnolia warbler is enticing, and so we agree to a plan.

Chris calls me as I am formatting text on my computer. He is on his way but it will take him awhile to get here from his location on the northwest side of Tucson. I grab my painting and head out the door to a printer in a nearby shopping center. With a bit of consultation we agree to a price and a plan, but I have to rush back home to reformat one section of the printed document and re-email it to them. Chris calls just as I pull into the driveway. I tell him I will be there soon. I go as fast as I can and drive back to the printers. I want to get this done today! We soon have things set and I am off!

It doesn’t take me long to drive to Wentworth Road where the trailhead is for the wash. I am talking to Chris on my Bluetooth the whole time I am driving. He tells me he has located the warbler. I wind my way through the construction on Houghton Road. Though the air is warm, overhead the clouds continue to thicken into a velvety gray blanket. In a few places there is a tear in the cover and silvery light streams through. I turn west onto Speedway towards the Rincon Mountains. Ahead of me a line of cars drives slowly behind a horse trailer. To my dismay the entire line of cars turns north onto Wentworth Road! I creep along slowly past the old ranches where the horse trailer finally pulls over and the other cars proceed. One pulls into a driveway and another forges ahead in the direction I am going. I can see Chris standing by his car ahead of me. I turn my car around and pull in behind him.2. Tangue Verde wash 12-18-13

Last time I was here Chris and I hiked the east side of the wash. This time we head down the sandy trail to the west. The gravel trail is the width of a four-wheeler and I listen as the gravel crunches beneath my feet. Desert broom, mesquite and acacia are just some of the bushes that line the wash. Here by the road the trees and bushes are small and the area looks wide and open, but up ahead I can see tall cottonwoods tossing golden leaves the size of small plates to the ground. To the north there is some kind of human activity with heavy machinery making loud, growling noises. Still, we can see and hear a few mourning doves and white-crowned sparrows in the brush as we pass. Then Chris stops me as we near the location where he spotted the magnolia warbler.

3. Magnolia wa by CRohrer We have not walked very far down the trail; only about ¼ of a mile. Here the tall cottonwoods shade smaller trees and bushes and we are on the edge of what I later learn is a golf course and some maintenance buildings. The light is soft and gray with muted shadows. The air is still and calm, but our hearts are pounding as Chris spots the warbler bouncing around in a small nearby tree. I get my bins on it and see the bright yellow breast and belly. I see the darker back and its wingbars. I start to raise my camera to get a shot when Chris steps a bit closer to take another picture himself and the bird flies off toward the maintenance building! And though we hunt for it, we cannot relocate it again. We spot a few Western Bluebirds also flitting around in the same trees, but when a big and loud piece of machinery drives by, all the birds flee and the woods grow quiet.

4. Horse n rider by CRohrer As Chris and I are standing there on a golden carpet with a golden shower of leaves that continues to fall we suddenly see a horse and rider emerging from a tunnel of trees to the west. A gal is on a lovely cream-colored palomino horse which balks at the sight of us standing on the trail. Chris and I move off to the side as the rider encourages the horse to move on. Soon they are walking past us in a soft clip clop and I can’t help but wish that I was riding a horse through these still woods on this soft day.

Now that the horse and rider have left and the birds have all dispersed Chris and I decide to head farther down the trail to the west. We walk through that same tunnel of trees and emerge in a wider area of the wash with towering cottonwood trees and invasive phragmites lining the edges. These plumed reeds look so pretty, but they do not belong here in our desert washes. However, today I am not here to make environmental judgments. I just want to relax and enjoy this moment.

5. Plumbeous vireo by Chris R It feels so different here in this wash. I realize that I am missing such tall trees. I like the way it feels here and I want to stay. I no longer feel like I am in the desert, but rather a cottonwood forest with mesquite trees on the edges. In some spots I can see and smell the damp earth where the water moves just beneath the soil. Chris and I stop when we observe some bird action in the trees. Suddenly a flock of Western bluebirds flies in. Overhead we hear ravens calling. High in the trees a Gila woodpecker squeaks, and then I spot a small gray bird high in what looks like a slim poplar tree. At first glance as it sits behind a branch I almost think it is a cedar waxwing. Then, as the bird moves out from behind the branch its colors and patterns become evident. It is a yellow-rumped warbler. Shortly thereafter a ruby-crowned kinglet puts in an appearance, and then another small gray bird is spotted. Chris gets his camera on it while I try to decide what it is. When I see what look like pale gray spectacles around its eyes and two wingbars on a lead-gray body I start to get excited. Chris and I now both know that we are seeing a vireo. But is it Cassin’s or Plumbeous. After a few more minutes of observation and a study of Chris’s photos we realize we are seeing a Plumbeous vireo! There is no yellow wash on the flanks anywhere.

We continue west down the wash. Clouds thicken overhead. We both wonder if it is going to rain, though none was predicted for today. A woman walking the wash on the southern edge waves happily to us and wishes us Merry Christmas. She enthusiastically asks if we are seeing any good birds. The birds are between her and us. I try to answer politely and quietly but the birds all take flight from our noisy exchange! Oh well! I am still pleased by her kindness and friendly attitude and we walk on. Soon we are overtaken by the first horse and rider on their return trip.

All along the wash we encounter piles of brush and debris from the summer monsoon. In almost every one of these piles we find Abert’s towhees and White-crowned sparrows. Then, to our amazement, we find a lone chipping sparrows mixed in with the White-crowns!

6. tree of life by CRohrer I cannot tell you how it feels to walk in-between these towering cottonwood trees! I feel I have left the busy world behind and entered a place of peace and magic. This place seems so disconnected from the hustle and bustle of holiday traffic and activity. I must say that I did not want to leave! But as the sun slips farther towards the horizon it sends silver shafts of light shooting towards the dome that is our sky. One especially tall cottonwood tree is backlit by this light and transformed into an almost holy spectacle. Chris and I both pause to observe the tree at this moment. All the world falls silent and nothing moves. This is one thing I like about Chris. He knows how to be in the moment and he knows when to be quiet. As we move on from this spot we are both talking in whispers.

I can be lured ever onward by what is around the bend, but I know the daylight will soon end and I must return to my home and to the busy-ness that is this time of year. Ahead of us we see a little island of bush in the middle of the wash with a pile of debris surrounding that trunk of yet another tall tree. Atop the brush pile is what looks like a plywood board and leading up to this platform is a small wooden ladder. In front of the ladder and the platform a rope swing dangles with a wooden bar for grasping. It doesn’t take either of us long to realize this is a rope swing. We decide to walk just that far and turn back. While we don’t find many more birds in this location, we are still caught up in the jungle-like feel of this place and the ethereal light that we are bathed in.

7. Kathie swinging by Chris R Of course, since we are both children at heart we both take a turn at the rope swing. I am reluctant to left my feet and dangle by my arms since I am afraid I will pull my arms out of their sockets since it has been so long since I have even attempted something like this, but Chris does manage to briefly get his feet off the ground before he too stops the swing in fear the tree or the rope will break. It’s time to go and we know it. We turn our faces east and head back the way we came. As we walk the sandy trail a different horse and rider pass us. This girl is a bit friendlier and I comment on what a nice day it is for a ride. She enthusiastically agrees with me and we bid each other a good evening. As she passes by I feel the slight niggle of a childhood dream to own my own horse. It is a dream that has long since faded but every once in awhile emerges again. Then I think about the cost and danger and all those “practical” things and I stuff it back down once again. It’s best if that one stays a fond memory!

The woods behind and around us fall silent and it is not until we emerge into the wide area closer to the road that we start to see birds again. Then a Phainopepla flies overhead while pink and gray mourning doves gather like stones on branches. Beneath the doves a flock of white-crowned sparrows is on the move once again. I start to scan them for something different and though I hope for a rouge white-throated sparrow or even a golden-crowned sparrow all I find is yet another chipping sparrow mixed in with the flock.

As we make our way back to our parked cars we are rudely reminded of the real world when a border patrol truck comes rushing by with flashing lights and screaming siren. I have no idea what the emergency is but not long after I get a phone call from the printer. My Christmas cards are done and ready to be picked up! It’s time to go. Chris and I both get in our respective cars and drive off. The thought is not lost on either of us that soon we will not be able to do this. I try to savor the sweetness of this moment and not let myself cry. I know that moment is coming, but I push it farther down the road of time. Today I will revel in this moment and this feeling of magic and mystery on a walk in the Tanque Verde wash where we saw the Magnolia warbler and listened to the tink of Abert’s Towhees and the clip clop of horse’s hooves and where, for a brief moment I felt like a child again.

magnolia warbler by CRohrer 12-18-13


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Notes From My Nest: All Things Christmas

1. making a Christmas mess 12-17-13 I have not been online much lately because I am busy with all things Christmas. This includes making my own Christmas Card for the first time in 4 years, as well as participating in the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count this past Sunday. I discovered that I am having trouble relaxing when I sat down to paint last week. I have not done it in so long and I felt a creative block at first. I barely knew where or how to begin. I stared at the blank page for a long time, then took up my pencil and set my imagination free. All the time I had this little nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “I should be blogging. I should be counting birds, I should be processing photos! Isn’t there something ELSE I should be doing?” But I ignored the voice, took a deep breath and started drawing. When I finally had a concept that I liked, I colored in the picture with magic markers until I was set with the color combinations. Then, I redrew the image onto some canvas paper and started painting. I know I am not a Van Gogh or Monet by any standards. I do this because it is fun. I finally finished the painting yesterday, so today it is off to the printers and hopefully I will get these in the mail soon! I need to paint more often because I really need to relax!

2. cute Christmas elf 12-12-13 Of course, I did take time to get a few Christmas decorations up. And then this cute little Christmas Elf showed up to help me! He is saying, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” even though he is wearing an incredible Hulk T-shirt. It is so much fun to see Christmas through his eyes. He spent last Christmas with his mother in Boston so it will be so much fun to spend this Christmas with him before Gus and I move back to Maine.

3. 2013 Tucson Valey CBC This past Sunday Chris Rohrer and I participated in the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count. This was our second year doing this. It was a long and exhausting day but so much fun. I was up by 5 AM and out the door by 6:30. After picking Chris up we drove to Rich Hoyer’s house where we started the CBC. His house is right in the center of Area 22, which was the section we were counting4. 12-15-13 TVCBC kelly n kathie by Chris R in. Rich likes walking and we walked so many miles that day. While the morning started off cool, it soon warmed to the high 60’s, which was much warmer than last year. However, many of the locations we counted in were fairly quiet bird wise. Our best counts were early in the day in Rich’s neighborhood and at the University of Arizona ag. fields and farm. We counted 16 Vermillion flycatchers in that location alone and 28 overall! Still, our group counted 40 species in our section adding to a final total of 164 species this year, which is a record high number of species. We started the day with a group of 5 people. One of them was Carole DeAngeli whom I have known through my blog but was finally able to meet in person. She and another lady had to leave after the morning count, but Kelly Rishor stayed on and we continued together for the rest of the day. Chris became the driver so I could focus on keeping tally of all the species. I used my notebooks and Chris kept individual counts on his BirdLog app for eBird. At the end of the day we compared notes and compiled the final count for our section. eBird does want your CBC counts and they have put out guidelines for those of you who are eBirders or would like to become one. You can read all the info by clicking on the link eBirding Your Christmas Bird Counts.

Of course, one does see other things beside birds on the CBC:

5. Cute trailer 12-15-13 I loved this cute little house we passed while counting birds!


6. 12-15-13 coyotes by chris R Coyotes at Evergreen Cemetery 12-15-13

Late in the afternoon we did take a side trip to Evergreen Cemetery which was outside of our section but still in the circle. Rich wanted to be sure the Greater Pewee, which has been hanging out there, was counted and added to the overall count. I wanted to see this bird species since I had only seen it one time when I lived here before. Though we tromped up and down the roads and in-between the graves we thought we would not find it for it was nowhere to be seen. We did find a group of coyotes walking among the graves and Chris was able to get a few pictures of them. I was so tired by then that I had put my camera away. But, just as we were all about to jump in the car and drive off the bird showed up! I grabbed my camera then and snapped off quite a few shots as the large flycatcher perched atop a dead snag at the edge of a section of graves!

12-15-13 Greater Pewee by CRohrer We watched and photographed it for over 5 minutes as it flew out to catch an insect and fly back to its same perch. The wide orange beak was clearly visible against the gray breast from below.

So, I have not processed any new photos in awhile as this whole moving business has only added to the chaos of Christmas. I cannot believe Christmas is only a week away and I have not bought a single present! However, my focus is really not on presents this year. I want to spend time with my family and friends and make memories instead. I feel I am participating in Christmas in my own way and making my Christmas card is my own personal present to my family and friends. Therefore, I had better go get it printed before its too late! I will try to have a new blogpost with new photos up here soon, but forgive me if it doesn’t happen! (And a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has commented on my blog!)

I wish you all a peaceful and joyous holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

Blog Links of CBC Participants:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Notes From My Nest: Weather, Birds, Holidays, and thoughts on Moving

12-10-13 Ginger snaps Ginger Snaps 12-10-13

After a few days of a cold spell with lows below freezing, I awoke this morning to clear skies and rising temperatures. Like everyone else, I am in the midst of holiday preparations. Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking ginger snaps while listening to Christmas music with the Christmas tree all lit up. Yesterday was still cloudy and cold, but today it was already 45F by the time I got up, and 55F by the time I got out of my car at Michael Perry Park to drink my coffee and watch birds.

I am trying to count birds at the park at least once a week until we move. The eBird record for this birding Hotspot is still blank on so many weeks. I am trying to fill in as many of those blanks as I can. I arrived around 9:30 a.m. and spent nearly two hours counting birds. In that time period I saw 24 species of birds, with the highlights being 2 Abert’s towhees, a pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, a Pyrrhuloxia and a gorgeous Plumbeous Vireo I spotted in a pine tree by the restrooms. Its all gray body with two white wingbars, a white throat and belly and sporting a pair of white spectacles made the I.D. unmistakable! I watched as the bird pulled a fat bug from beneath the bark and then gobbled it up! By now I had peeled of the two extra layers I was wearing when I arrived. It had gotten so warm. When I got back to the car and saw the temperature I knew why. In just under two hours the temp had risen nearly 15 degrees to 70F!

The cold temperatures have brought the birds to my feeders in flocks of over 20 Lesser Goldfinches and around 30 House Finches. My Mourning Dove populations are down, however, with the vigilant hunting of a family of Cooper’s Hawks. Sometimes I see the adults and sometimes I find a juvenile. Yesterday morning a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk stood watch from my neighbor’s rooftop where it perched on a vent pip for over an hour. 12-4-13 Cooper's hawk in fornt yard But that is nothing compared to last week when I came out of the garage to get in my car to do errands. I was talking on the phone to my husband and when I turned around I saw an adult Cooper’s perched in the mesquite tree not more than 10 feet away from me. It was so close that I was able to take a picture of it with my cell phone camera. Then, I went back inside and got my Nikon and with its 70 to 300mm zoon on it and tried to take some more shots. By then the bird had hopped up higher in the tree and was peering down at me. Suddenly it launched itself off the branch straight towards me! I dropped the camera to my side and gasped as the hawk hit the side of the thistle seed feeder where a tiny Lesser Goldfinch was eating. Though someone lost a downy feather in the process neither bird was hurt and the hawk flew off over the rooftop with empty talons while I stood there gaping!

Knowing that I am moving to Maine at the end of January makes everything stand out to me. Now each time I see a bird I think that I may not see this species again for a long time. Each day that it is warm enough for me to go outside I think of how cold and snowy it will be in Maine. Each time my grandson hugs me I think of how I will not get these daily hugs once I am gone, and I wonder if he will even remember me?

For those of you who do not know, Gus and I are moving to Maine in January. I’ve known this was a possibility for over two months now, but when the company called him with a job offer right before Thanksgiving I think we were both stunned. We have been married for 36 years and lived in Maine twice, but have never been able to get a job in that state. My husband is a native “Maine-iac” and though he told me he wouldn’t miss the state and that this would be our last move when we moved here to Tucson I just knew when the opportunity presented itself that he would not turn it down if it was offered to him. While he scored a job interview within two weeks of applying for the job, it took another three weeks before it was offered to him. I made the announcement last weekend here and on the Birding Is Fun blog. Now I am just trying to get my own head around it, and enjoy my last few weeks here in sunny Tucson. Moving to Maine in January seems like the height of insanity but once the spring comes I know I will be happy. Gus’ job is in Bath, Maine, so there is the possibility that we will live near the coast. In all of our travels across the United States we have never actually lived near the coast. Even when we lived in Maine before we lived far inland. This time I believe we will stay put until Gus retires.

San Rafael grasslands San Rafael Grassland 11-16-13

As for my other birding adventures, well, Chris and I are still getting around. We took a trip to the San Rafael Grassland a few weekends ago, then we drove out to the Santa Cruz Flats this past Sunday where we finally got our Mountain Plovers! What cute birds! We tried so hard earlier this year to find this species without luck, and since there are no Mountain Plovers in Maine, I was sure happy to get this bird on my Life List before the move! Leaving Chris will be very hard, but we are already planning for him to visit me on the east coast this summer where we hope to bird all over New England. And with both him and Celeste back here in Tucson, as well as my son, I will be coming back to visit them all and go birding! Stay tuned for more birds and part 2 of my Cave Creek Canyon birding Adventure!

Note: all of today’s photos were taken with my smartphone.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Cave Creek Adventure: Day 1

1. coues deer-kab Coues White-tailed Deer at Cave Creek Ranch 10-3-2013

October 3, 2013: After a three hour drive I arrived around noontime in Portal, AZ. I met Donna Simonetti, Cynthia White and Linda Rockwell at the Portal Lodge where we are lunch. After lunch we went back to the cabin where I unloaded my gear and Cynthia and Linda settled in for their afternoon naps. But me? While the others had been here for three or four days, I had just arrived and I was itching to see birds! Donna was none too sleepy either, so we set off together for South fork to take a little hike. We agreed to meet up with the other girls later at the Cave Creek Ranch where, for a small fee, you can sit by their feeders and watch birds.

2. south fork-kab Though we knew the trogons that are seen here all summer were already gone, we still took the hike up the South Fork Trail. The creek was running slow, and in some areas disappeared below ground completely, but the canyon air was cool and clear, the leaves were changing colors, and our little jaunt was restful to the soul and invigorating to the body. I had not seen Donna in over three years, so it was nice to get reacquainted! It didn’t take long for us to feel like old friends again!

3. donna and kathie at cave creek 2013 Kindred Spirits (Donna and Kathie)

Donna is great at setting up her camera for a timed shot.

We only saw 6 species of birds on this little hike, then it was time to meet up with the girls. We hurried back to the car and drove to the ranch. Overhead the Ochre colored rocks of Cave Creek Canyon towered.

4. cave creek ranch-kab 

We sat in chairs or on benches and listened to the fountain bubble.

5. fountain-kab 

Then we started counting birds. At least I did, obsessive counter that I am.

6. acorn woodpecker-kab Acorn Woodpecker

All was peace and delight as hummingbirds hummed and woodpeckers pecked. A summer tanager flew in and out again. Cardinals hid in the bushes and White-breasted nuthatches flitted in the trees, but then…a pack of javalinas came charging in!

6a. charging-kab

I have never been around wild javalinas before, so I hid behind Donna, who was snapping away with her camera. She wasn’t afraid at all! I’ve seen the Walt Disney Movie Old Yeller too many times to trust javalina. The javalina weren’t interested in me though. They just wanted to eat the leftover seed and grain in the feeding area, then they leapt over the wall and were gone, but not before stopping for a good scratch!

7. javalina-kab 

8. javalina-kab 

9. scratch-kab Scratch!

However, I was much more relaxed once the javalina were gone and the Coues White-tailed Deer arrived. Coues Whitetail Deer are a diminutive sub-species that lives here in the mountains of the southwest.

10. doe-kab Coues White-tailed Deer

It was late afternoon, early evening by now and deep, cool violet-gray shadows had fallen across the canyon floor. Hummingbird activity picked up around the feeders as these small birds tried to fill up on nectar for the night. We saw Black-chins, Anna's, Magnificent, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds. A few rufous hummingbirds still lingered, and we may have seen a lone Calliope, but there was so much activity and so many feeders to watch that it was a bit difficult to keep track of them all! And in the fading light it was even harder to get pictures, but I did my best. All in all I counted 15 species of birds at Cave Creek Ranch while we sat there watching birds and wildlife!

11. rufous hummingbird-kab Rufous Hummingbird at Cave Creek Ranch


12. blue-throated hummingbird-kab Blue-throated Hummingbird at Cave Creek Ranch 10-3-13


Meanwhile, back at the cabin Linda Rockwell cooked up a delicious supper for all of us. It didn’t take me long to realize what a good cook she is! We sat around the table all using our laptops and Smartphones to Facebook and blog. It was such a wonderful evening, but the best was yet to come! After we all settled in for the night Donna and I decided we wanted to sit outside and watch stars. Though it was warm during the day, the nighttime temperature had dropped significantly. We bundled up and grabbed some chairs off the porch to sit in while we gazed into a velvet night.

Far from city lights the night was spangled with stars. We scanned the sky for falling stars and found a few. As Donna and I talked about the stars and the constellations we started to wonder where the Big Dipper was, and where was the North Star. Now, I am not even an amateur astronomer, but I do know that the North Star is the only star in the sky that never moves and the rest of the starts rotate around it. I also know it is in the handle of the Little Dipper but it is not a very bright star. But where was it? Though we were far from the city and from tall buildings, we still had trees and canyon walls to contend with. Plus, I happen to know that at certain times of the year the Big Dipper can be below the horizon for part of the night. In our quest for answers Donna and I were soon walking around in total darkness trying to find a spot where we could see the northern sky.

We eventually ended up on the paved road. Across the street and to the north the land rose slightly and was covered in Mesquite and other brush. After studying the sky for awhile I was able to find the North Star and point it out to Donna. We stood there like two school girls in the dark filled with awe and wonder at the night sky. We kept hoping we would hear an owl calling, but we never did. Donna did know about the constellation, Orion, and we searched the sky for it as well, but Orion had not risen yet. However, later in the night when a mouse in the house woke us up we both saw Orion framed perfectly in the cabin window! It was the perfect ending for one day and the perfect beginning to the next, since it was around 2 a.m. by then! Perhaps Orion gave us his blessing, for in the morning we found so many birds!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I Married a Gypsy Man

1. us-kab Kathie, Gus and Natalie Christmas 2012

I married a gypsy man. I didn’t know that 36 years ago when we walked down the grassy path of our outdoor wedding. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used John Denver’s song, “Follow me where I go what I do and who I know…” as the song we walked off together as husband and wife, because I have been following him all over the country since then!

2. goofy-kab Gus goofing off at the Phoenix Art Museum on my birthday in February 2012


3. being dad-kabGus gives Randy a kiss the night before Renee’s Wedding Nov. 2012

4. proud papa-kab Gus walking his daughter down the hill for her Rocky Mountain Wedding November 3, 2012. What a proud papa!

5. my hero-kab Gus carrying my new scope for me on our trip to the Salton Sea!


6. hat-kab Gus in his hat!

Today is his birthday!

Happy Birthday Gus!

Thanks for a Lifetime of Adventures!

I’ll follow you any day!

7. my boys-kab All my boys!

And I am still following him!

Yes, we are about to move again!

The photo below is a hint, but to get the full story, click on over to

Birding is Fun

Just When I thought I Was Snuggling In

8. acadia np-kab Do you know where this picture was taken?