In the northern Arizona strip, the Navajo Bridge is everyone’s way across the Colorado River. On our way to southern Arizona, we stopped again at the bridge with hopes to view some condors. This time we saw 2 adults and 1 juvenile condor. Notice the pinkish-orange color of the head of the adult condors. Maybe not as clear here, the juvenile condor has a black head.

Adult condor; notice color of head.
Dark head of this juvenile may not be very obvious, but it is not an adult condor!

Condors are released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area. They come from a breeding facility in California and spend a couple of days in a pen above on the Paria Plateau before being released. As more of the birds reach breeding age there will be more wild reproduction. We are fortunate to have the recovery program to help restore the population of condors. It started in 1996 with 6 condors transferred from the breeding facility and released at the Vermilion Cliffs, to 6 – 10 condors released now per year. Each condor is fitted with a number tag and transmitter to help monitor its behavior, movement, feeding and survival. 

They are huge birds! Wingspans are 9.5 feet in length as they fly up to 200 miles a day. They are the largest flying land bird in North America and can fly up to 50 miles per hour! Their food source is carcasses of dead animal; therefore, they are helpful scavengers. Condors can live 60 years and breed into their 30s! Here again is a photo showing the size of a condor in comparison with other birds of prey. (If you follow my blog, yes I am repeating this photo.)

9.5 feet for a wingspan compared to eagle and hawk … wow!

The condors were almost gone due to various reasons: the west being settled, lead poisonings and egg collecting. Thanks to the recovery program a healthy population of condors continues to rise. You can do your part to help: use non-lead ammunition if you hunt, never shoot or harm a condor, and do not litter so birds are never eating trash.

I hope you have an opportunity someday to see these amazing birds! I was looking over the side of the bridge as I saw the other condor walking along. See photo below.

The other adult condor … notice different number tag.

Visiting Colorful Colorado!

Interstate 76 from Nebraska to the Denver area of Colorado is beautiful; so much green! Spring has truly sprung in colorful Colorado!

My original Colorado plan was shortened. Rain was moving in for 3 days in the Denver area, so I nixed my cycling in the Fort Collins area. I did however travel south of Denver to visit with friends and enjoy dinner at the Sherpa House in Golden. Wow, this place brought back my memories of my Nepal – Everest Base Camp trek in 2001! The “house” really looks like a lodge you would find in Nepal and the food was delicious!

Fortunately my friends have a quiet neighborhood so I slept in my van. This worked perfectly since one left for work at 5:30am and the other one was enjoying the morning to sleep in. I wanted an early morning start too. I was off to Grand Junction, CO.

Interstate 70 west travels through the Rocky Mountains, thus tunnels and beautiful towns on the forested mountainside during the first half of my travel. I birded at a rest area … pleasantly surprised to see an American dipper at the creek’s edge. Then the landscape scenery opens up to flat land with mesas in the distance and a drier look to the land.

I arrived in Grand Junction relaxed. Last year I drove through the National Monument located here and with rain sprinkles, once again I hd to nix my idea of bicycling. (If you have not visited the National Monument, add it to your “to do” list.)

Next morning I birded at Grand Valley Audubon Nature Preserve. It is a wetland area. I decided to only stay an hour since I still had a 4.5 hour drive ahead to Monument Valley, Utah. On the road again….

Here are a couple of photos from my birding. I spent time watching this osprey bring in food, and watch the other adult feed the 3 young, but one young always seemed to be missing out on getting food.

Not a great photo, but osprey is bringing a fish to its nest.
Three young and 2 adults at the nest.

Keep A Watchful Eye Open & See….

Of course I am always looking around while walking in a parking lot or on a hiking trail. I never know what I will see! While visiting Ohio’s Mentor Lagoons, I saw 29 different species of birds, many purple martins at their nest, and a chimney swift tower, but they weren’t the most interesting things to happen during my hike!

I was deep in the wooded area, more than an hour from the parking lot, and decided to call it a day. On my way back, something caught my attention … and so I looked closely … do you see it in the photo below?

At a distance, at first I was unsure what I was looking at.

I zoomed my camera in to see the raccoon climbing up the tree! It made it to a hole in the tree and then explored within the hole! The hole was at least 15 feet up!

I wasn’t around to see if the raccoon worked itself own from the hole.

I arrived at the parking lot and decided to walk along the lagoon’s edge toward the bridge since I had not checked it out upon my arrival. I saw a couple of great blue herons and a few red-winged blackbirds. Red-winged blackbirds are very protective of their nests. I know this first-hand from various experiences I have had where they tried to bombard me … literally flying at me! Well this is what they were doing to one of the great blue herons!

Attack-mode from the red-winged blackbird!
And again the bird is back to harass the heron which does fly off!

On another note: If you are interested in knowing what a chimney swift tower looks like, it is in the photo below. Ohio is trying to provide habitat for these birds which have declined 72% since 1966. Fifty thousand swifts can roost overnight in large industrial chimneys!

Chimney swift tower

Alpaca Farm Life in PA

I’m visiting family, sister and brother-in-law in Pennsylvania, and they have 40 alpacas. When they both worked full-time they also had 40 alpacas. Retired life has left them with the same responsibilities caring for these alpacas, and quite honestly I am not sure how they accomplished all when they worked full-time!

The morning couple of hours involves putting out water basins, new hay and grain, and scooping the poop along with recording and meeting special needs for specific alpacas. It all takes time and there are some things to be done in the evening too! I help in the morning with scooping poop and that in itself takes me hours. If I had the total responsibility, I would still be out there working! So hiring individuals to complete the tasks when my family wishes help or to take time elsewhere, necessitates special people who can rise to the level of expertise and ability to complete the tasks in a timely manner. (Like I said, I would be completing morning tasks in time to start evening ones! I would never be hired.)

Old, dirty hay and poop get dumped in a pile where we saw yellow bugs flying around. With the iNaturalist app, we identified them as golden dung flies. Most appropriate name for it as you will see in the photo below:

Golden dung fly

I enjoyed seeing the birds flitting around the area. My sister noted a couple of nests of birds that return each year to lay eggs. One nest was with 5 dark-eyed junco eggs. Not the most focused photo because it was taken from above the nest, blindly and quickly so as not to disturb the birds.

Dark-eyed junco

And another nest was with 4 Eastern Phoebe eggs:

Eastern phoebe eggs
Eastern phoebe

“No job ever takes 15 minutes”, says my sister as she and her husband leave to accomplish some outdoor project. And that’s the truth! They have been transplanting a tree and a bush for the last couple of hours using two huge different pieces of equipment. Don’t ask me what equipment since I only know a tractor and it wasn’t that one! 

During their work time, I walked the area to observe and photograph birds. I saw or heard 17 different species of birds and was pleasantly surprised to see an American redstart.

American redstart

We all choose our work and hobbies. My sister and brother-in-law obviously love their life on the farm with these alpacas and all the responsibility that goes with it. Kudos to all people who work on farms and/or own farms with projects that undoubtedly take more than 15 minutes to complete!

Mountain Lion Anxiety

We were hiking at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in Tucson, Arizona. Attention to each of my footsteps was greater this spring day as the cold-blooded rattlesnakes may be warming themselves on nearby rocks. So my footsteps were carefully placed as were my hands when I used a rock for balance or to sit on and have a snack.

Parallel to the trail we were hiking was a creek where a woman was hiking. She exclaimed she was glad to see us since so few people were on the trails. The woman mentioned being anxious about a mountain lion jumping on her. There are mountain lion sightings at this park … rare, but do happen. I actually saw a mountain lion a few years back just outside the park! Thankfully I was a distance from it and could comfortably watch it.

I mentioned to the woman most healthy wild animals keep away from humans. Also, if we provide some noise, thus notice, an animal becomes aware someone is close and will move elsewhere. My go-to noise is to yell “yahoo” a couple of times, especially when near berry bushes, narrow trail passages, and any place I think an animal may be sleeping. I never wish to startle an animal, any animal, as they will take an offensive move when disturbed by an unknown. (It is comical though when another human being approaches me after hearing my yahoo and they wonder what is in the area or what is up with me!)

Here is an information sign, I saw at a local state park, regarding how to act if you encounter a mountain lion. In the meantime, enjoy the outdoors and give animals space to live in the area too. Many are there in the landscape you are walking through … your heavy footsteps, clicking hiking poles, conversation with another, or your “yahoo” provides notice of your arrival … thus you are not bothering them and they are not bothering you! Life goes on in the natural world!

Good information!

A few minutes later, I heard the woman’s yahoo! I hope she had a good hike! No mountain lion reports were made this day!

Don’t Mess With My Food!

When I was a 7th grade science teacher, an activity for my students was to create a beak for a bird to dig, grab and eat the bird’s food. Dependent on the student’s research of what food the bird eats would determine the shape of the bird’s beak. Then their challenge was creating the beak and only allowed to use two of their fingers to move their created beak. Really interesting creations were made and some truly worked in picking up “food”.

Often I think of this science activity as I observe birds working to find food in the natural environment. Every so often I also see other birds try to “steal” another bird’s food. While walking along the north trail at Imperial Beach, CA, I did see one gull try to get another gull’s food. I suspect this happens often, yet here was my opportunity to observe the action.

Here is a western gull with food in its beak. It shook the food and a small bit fell off. The other gull picked up the piece and moved closer to the gull. 

They see each other and the one gull tries to get closer. The gull displays its annoyance to get the one to move away. I watched this activity between the birds for a couple of minutes and the gull with the food was having none of this annoyance from the other gull! Do not mess with my food! Looks like it snipped at the gull’s tail feathers.

Ok! that gull will leave the other one alone now!

Brown Pelican … in Action!

Bird photography has its challenges! I set myself in a place to capture a photo as a bird flies into the wind and hopefully towards me and within reach of my camera lens. While on Southern California’s Pacific Ocean, I saw a number of brown pelicans and thought this was a good bird to photograph.

All set up to capture the brown pelican flying towards me.

Then before I knew it, the bird must have seen some fish just below the water’s surface and dove into the water! It’s head was well underwater!

I was originally looking at the bird’s breeding plumage and large bill and pouch, but then was holding my breath as it plunged underwater! The bird feeds on small fish and I could only hope it would be successful.

Back to the surface!

Once back on the surface, it looked like the brown pelican was running across the water. Check out the photos and see what you think. I loved seeing and photographing this bird!

Lunch with a Friend & a Hawk!?!

My friend and I just finished a bird walk with a local group. We then decided to get out of the wind and sit in a car to eat lunch. As we talked and looked over a grassy field, we noticed some birds. At first glance we thought it was two birds mating, but after there was no movement for a few minutes we took a better look. What’s that? A Cooper’s hawk on top of a Greater roadrunner. Wow! The tussle we witnessed between two birds was no love affair as they were two in battle! The hawk won.

I got out of the car and brought my camera along hoping to get a photo before any bird flew off. Well the roadrunner was not going anywhere as it was dead and the hawk simply stayed on it … all in the middle of a local road. Those hawk’s talons in the dead bird made me feel sorry for the now dead roadrunner.

After a few minutes, and after a pick-up truck maneuvered around the birds in the road, the hawk decided to pull its prey to the grassy field. This was not an easy task for the hawk! But the hawk had success.

We watched the hawk continually look around … was it being sure no other predator would steal his prey? Or was it trying to figure out where to put his prey for consumption later in the day? Or how was it simply going to move it out of sight of every other living thing? Minutes went by…

Cooper’s hawks do eat medium-sized birds, like a robin, or small mammals, like chipmunks … but this hawk seemed to have gotten a big prize capturing a roadrunner. Now its challenge was what to do with it!

I moved closer to the hawk and there was no doubt he saw me. I was moving slowly, not waving my arms or anything around to cause it any real disturbance. It had to know I had no interest in his prey, right?

The hawk decides it is best to get back to the road. And so it pulls the roadrunner through the grass and an opening in the fence and onto the road. That must have taken plenty of energy to accomplish. I was amazed to see the hawk move that bird to the road.

Back out on the road, I figured the birds would not hang out here too long. A Greater roadrunner weighs at least 8-15 ounces and of course we are talking dead weight now! A Cooper’s hawk can weigh up to 1.2 pounds and usually will not be able to carry anything heavier than itself, so this was a huge kill for the hawk. I could only imagine the hawk continuing to drag the roadrunner along. But then again, I may be wrong …. and I was as I saw the hawk fly off down the road with the roadrunner.

There the hawk went with its prey; quite the predator-prey interaction of 21 minutes we shared with these birds!

I wish I knew how far the hawk actually carried and stashed his prey. That had to take plenty of energy to accomplish the carry. No doubt the hawk will rest and eat … and if birds can be happy, then this is one happy hawk!

Turtles Brumate. What!?!

Where are all the turtles? Last month the question was asked of me by a young girl who obviously knew we usually see many, many turtles basking in the sun on the logs near the pond’s edge. Not on this winter day though. My answer was, the turtles probably are buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond since the water is very cold in winter. We will see them again when the weather warms.

I worked as a naturalist for a few summers when I was in my 20’s and learned to follow up on questions asked by people on my nature walks. It was important for me to learn more about a topic so I could provide accurate information when asked again by someone on my next hike. So I did some reading about the red-eared slider. This semi-aquatic, freshwater turtle is often seen here and I no doubt will hear that question again.

Red-eared slider

So where did the turtles go? Turtles are cold-blooded animals not capable of generating body heat. When water is below 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle slows down, is less active, and does bury itself only to rise to the surface as needed. Since it needs to drink water during this time it is not hibernation like we read about with bears, it is brumation. As a turtle brumates it can still move around, sleep underwater by resting on a pond’s bottom or float on the surface with an inflated throat as a floatation aid. Apparently a red-eared slider can survive in this cold water with no food for 70 – 100 days. If water dries up, they will travel in search of more water.

The turtles are back! Red-eared turtles are semi-aquatic so we see them in water and on land. They eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, tadpoles and fish. We love seeing them on rocks and logs as they warm themselves in the sun. If there are not enough logs they will even stack upon one another. They communicate with each other through touch and vibrations. One could wonder what the “message” was between them all.

Want one as a pet? The red-eared slider is one of 3 North American Pond Sliders. While red-eared sliders live long in captivity, they are one of the most invasive species found on every continent, except Antarctica, due to people unfortunately releasing their turtle to the wild. If you want a turtle at home, know the rules and regulations which vary per state in keeping it as a pet. Plus know how to care for it through all seasons, especially knowing it could live with you for many years. Otherwise, enjoy your red-eared turtle sightings when you are outdoors!

Waterfowl Bathe While in the Water

Waterfowl, such as ducks, splash around in water to clean their feathers. While photographing a cinnamon teal recently, the bird was so engrossed in its bathing that it left me few minutes to capture a photo when water was not splashing! So I stayed and watched the bird.

Here is the cinnamon teal:

Cinnamon teal

Besides eating, bathing is an important task for ducks to do each day. Soiled feathers are cleaned of excess oil and ectoparasites. Ducks splash water over their backs and wings, shake the water from their wings and then spend time preening. The bird uses its beak to position and smooth its feathers. Feathers are very important in helping the bird maintain its insulation, waterproofing and aerodynamic flight. 

Getting the spot on the back of its head
This side too!

With an extra shake, water is off the duck and any feather barbules that unhooked can now zip back together. Birds are born knowing this regular maintenance behavior and preen often in a day. And here I thought the bird was having a good time … well, maybe it was while also getting itself clean!

Getting to all the right places!
This is so much better! Shake it off!

Another bird that caught my attention … a ring-necked duck. Here it was:

And then it too was bathing and shaking its feathers …

It is fun to observe birds as they go about doing what they need to do within their day. Take time to notice … another joy in being outdoors in nature.