Birding at Kachina Wetlands, Flagstaff, AZ

Friends and I traveled to a new birding location. Kachina Wetlands receives wastewater, from a nearby community a mile away, after its secondary treatment and chlorination. The water then flows here through 8 ponds by gravity. The initial plan for this wetland had more ponds, but work and constant evaluation through the years by many individuals checking the pond water’s pH, checking that there are no leaks, planting native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and constructing birdhouses and blinds with an overall goal to create a wildlife habitat. Thanks to the cooperation between Northern Arizona University, AZ Game & Fish, and Coconino County their work and continued efforts make it possible for many of us to birdwatch on this 70 acre parcel of land. I believe we will see more wetlands near communities, but understand years of work are needed to get to this stage. The operation here began in 1988. When we look at environmental issues needing solutions, time is needed. That is why we’ll be hearing more about climate change and the timeline needed for certain actions and solutions now, assuring future generations of us leaving them clean air and water.

We walked the trails around the ponds while a few other people rode their bicycle. Egrets, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows and other small birds were abundant.

We spent time watching a couple of ospreys flying easily on the thermals and then diving to the pond’s surface to capture a fish. Many times they were not successful, but sometimes they had a fish to show for their efforts.

Off in the distance we saw a bird in the air and identified it as a bald eagle. We watched it land in a tree and my camera still did not have the capability of getting a good photo. So we walked toward where we saw the eagle land.

There is a balancing act when attempting wildlife photography. Do you take the photo you can from where you are, or do you try to get closer to the subject and take the photo, and/or do you put a teleconverter on your camera and hope for the best from where you are standing? I decided to move closer, but there was a pond between me and what I discover are 2 bald eagles in a tree! I took my photos. When I do move closer the angle from under the tree is not right and then the birds take off. We saw 2 majestic bald eagles and when I looked across the wetland, a coyote was also passing though. The wildlife appreciate this habitat!

Coyotes are here too!

Walking a Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

Seven thousand feet elevation is slightly different than where we live, so we hoped to see different birds while on our hike. The ponderosa pine trees were majestic and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. We walked the Sandy Seep Trail uphill, about 1.3 miles, till it met other trails heading off in other directions. It is an out-and-back trail but we decided to hike a social trail back to the parking lot. At first, we did miss which social trail to take to return to our car. Thanks to the AllTrails app we knew exactly where we were and walked through a beautiful area observing birds, hearing an over-ambitious woodpecker hammering on a tree, and just before leaving the trail we saw a man on his horse. He seemed to be training his horse to not be startled by the lasso whirling by its head.

Birds seen: mountain chickadees, green-tailed towhee, Steller’s jay, ravens, Virginia’s warbler.

Ospreys at Work

Taking time to observe wildlife. A photo story of 2 ospreys at their nest …

And the other osprey flying to the same nest …

Hmmm… will be interesting to see what happens in the next days …. this may only be nest-building time. I hope I see more activity in the upcoming days.

Ocean to Inland Sea: the Salton Sea

To break up the long drive home, I decided to stop and stay a night on the east side of the Salton Sea at a state park campground, yet to sleep in my car for the one night … that is one reason I built the bed platform! I drove the most scenic route from San Diego to the Salton Sea. I drove past ranches and vineyards, then on winding roads through mountains with a stop in the small town of Julian known for its pies. Through national forest land and state parks all looking like perfect areas to return to someday and camp. At lunch time, I pulled off the road and while I ate I worked on my journal.

Hinged kitchen shelf worked well!

Then the landscape dramatically changes as you soon drive through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the Salton Sea. Plenty of history about this area. I settled in at the campground which meant I drove my car in. Nothing else to do since all is contained in my car and I would not be setting up a tent. Down at the water’s edge I did cook some dinner and look for birds. New birds for me here: lesser nighthawk, Forster’s tern, black-bellied plover and eared grebe. Unfortunately I could not get a photo of the one tern that flew over, but a local birder acknowledged for me that it was the type of tern seen in this area.

I love seeing birds having fun so I had to capture these photos:

My eventual goal, beyond learning what bird is what and bird photography, is to capture birds in interesting activity. All these skills will come together some day. Finally time to sleep and keep the annoying black flies out my sleeping area. I finally have a chance to test my mosquito netting on the back of my car. I rigged it from a baby carriage mosquito netting. I will report, it worked great, but then again once the air temperature got cool the flies were not hanging around. My three season sleeping bag was perfect as the cool temperatures arrived around 2AM.

The next morning I met a friend for breakfast and then was on my way home. During the pandemic, which we are still in until we reach herd immunity in this country as far as I am concerned, I did travel, wear a mask and for the most part stay away from many people. I am fortunate to enjoy this type of activity. So this adventure was well worth it for me and I will have to think of what will be my next road trip.

In the meantime, I encourage all to get vaccinated. As more places open up here and around the world, I do believe proof of vaccination will be required. Till my next adventure, let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors Henry David Thoreau, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees”.

Tijuana River Valley … Plenty to See!

My usual leisurely morning routine of cold cereal, yogurt, blackberries and coffee while reading emails and the NY Times was hurried along as the weather looked good and I wanted to visit the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park which includes a Bird and Butterfly Park about 10 miles south of here. Many horse properties and riding opportunities for anyone who is interested. I even saw a young lady riding her horse in this small town, waiting for the traffic signal to change, then rode her horse on the pedestrian crosswalk to cross the street. Hours later I see her again in an area further down the road where I was.

The Tijuana Bird and Butterfly Park has a few trails. In some areas you’ll see pipes dripping water for the wildlife to enjoy. It is a small park so I decided to avoid people and walk a nearby area. As I mentioned my plan, one woman did suggest I stay on the trail or road and that she would not walk alone. I had no idea what her concern was with that comment. About 1/4 mile away I bumped into a guy and asked him about the trail. He’s been a local since the 1970’s, worked Border Patrol, and truly knew the area. He warned me of rattlesnakes especially where the grasses along side the trail are dense. His recommendation was what he does: puts spit on the end of his hiking stick and then waves it along the sides of the trail. He understands if the rattlesnake sniffs the spit they are not so keen to bother you. I am not sure this is accurate info, but I do know if you provide enough vibration then the snake knows someone is in the area, are not startled, and will remain where they are. Anyway, he and I walked and talked all the way back to the park where I spent more time. I did not see many birds, but 2 new to me: the common ground dove and the Pacific-slope flycatcher are now added to my life list. Not many butterflies, but I did capture one in a photo!

I decided since no one else was around at this park I would sit on the car’s tailgate and have my lunch: cheddar cheese, crackers and Granny Smith apple. Can you believe it? A squirrel sitting on a railing! This is definitely my year for seeing squirrels in trees and on railings!

I drove further south to Border Fields State Park. Although I knew it was closed I would pass a new campground being constructed that was to include yurts and I wanted to see them. The road was not in the best shape, but I saw the yurts, plenty of Border Patrol people, and stopped at the end of the road where the Border Field State Park is supposed to be when open … but has not been for sometime. Within a half mile I could see the border wall. Actually in this area there are 3 fences according to the guy I met this morning. Two walls are substantial and the third is chain link fence, all visible from where I stood. We also talked about the constant helicopters flying over the area. He explained they each do 6 hours of “touch and go” drills and you’ll know when they pass their test they fly to the mountains.

At the end of this road I met another guy who was just walking out of a restricted area. I asked where he had been. The road is through the closed state park and ends at the Pacific Ocean. According to him he has walked the road and Border Patrol only say, “technically sir, this road is closed”. A guy on a bicyclist comes down another path which is clearly part of the refuge, so I ask him where he came from. He also went to a point beyond and said no one has ever stopped him. These guys got arguing about which path I should take and finally I said, “I am not in the mood to deal with Border Patrol when clearly I am in the wrong walking past a no trespassing sign, no matter what you both say”. The one guy thought I was missing the best part of California. Oh well. Seeing that abandoned bicycle also made me wonder where is that person!?!

Next I drove to the Tijuana River Valley National Estuarine Research area. It is huge with a few paths to follow and most the area protected for the birds. Walkers, joggers, dog walkers all enjoyed the area too. I walked a couple of trails and drove around to the other side of it about a mile away, where the town is, to look back on the area for birds from that angle. Two new birds from this area: Ridgway’s rail and yellow-crowned night heron.

It’s been great to see colorful flowers, butterflies, lizards and squirrels! While I have spent most of my time focused on birds, the goal of this adventure, I cannot help but notice what a beautiful country we live in. I was fortunate to have parents who traveled the world and also took our family various places in the USA. I hope more people are able to get out and see what a beautiful world we live in and is worth protecting.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

At least 55 years ago my family and I visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano. I remember nothing else around the mission at that time, yet now the town is jam-packed with homes and businesses. The old train depot has been converted to a restaurant and the nearby street has old houses with shops, but all else is new construction. Beautiful flowers are everywhere!

The story of the swallows and San Juan Capistrano is well-known, but if you do not know it, here it is in a nutshell. In the 1930’s the swallows were a nuisance for a shop-owner in town. As the person was destroying their mud nests, Father O’Sullivan asked the shop owner why they destroy the homes made by and needed for the swallows? In discovering the person’s annoyance, Father said the swallows were welcomed at the mission. The swallows did begin building nests at the church.

In the 1990’s the nests were removed from the ruins of the Great Stone Church and with the loss of habitat the swallows did not return. With the help of cliff swallow experts, they have been able to lure the swallows back to the mission. Nowadays the number of swallows fluctuates. Their migration along the Pacific Flyway is really amazing when you realize these birds are flying 6,000 miles one way from Argentina to California!

Here are some photos taken at the mission:

After a delicious lunch in San Juan Capistrano, I drove to the San Joaquin Wildlife Marsh, Irvine, CA, and parked near Tree Hill. Of course, now I realize how huge the water treatment district is with 5 ponds. I discover this first-hand walking from one end to another. I saw a number of birds; 2 new ones for me: black skimmer and Clark’s grebe. 

I had a fascinating moment watching bird behavior between a male and female house finch. The male house finch was singing loud, non-stop and looking at the female as he continued to sing. The female house finch was not impressed or playing hard to get. She flew off!

To find my car, I walked the road/pedestrian access walkway along the San Diego River. There was the killdeer on the berm again (saw it 2 days ago), yet it stayed on its nest as I walked toward it. I walked near the wall since due to “no trespassing” signs posted on the berm I could not go below it to give the killdeer more space. The bird remained on the nest, looked at me, and seemed unstressed by my walking by. Maybe the bird remembered me from a couple of days ago when I had seen the egg the bird was sitting on.

Here are a few other photos from the visit to the San Joaquin Wildlife Marsh:

Common yellowthroat

The mission was a busy place but people wore masks and kept their distance. Parts of the mission were closed and other indoor places they did limit the number of people inside at a time, so all was good. I ate my lunch at an outdoor table and waiters wore masks. Tables were close, but the outdoor air helped alleviate any concerns I had. At the two birding places today, people wore masks if within 6 feet of another and for the most part it was just me outdoors with the birds. Californians seem to follow directions well when masks are required and some people shared the fact they had been fully vaccinated. It seems travelers have a natural sense of doing all that needs to happen to be healthy and out traveling again. Heck, whatever it takes to motivate people to get vaccinated, I am for it! Stay healthy all!

Time to Bicycle Ride!

Cycling, camping, birdwatching, outdoor activities and many other activities have become more popular during the pandemic because we are able to give each other space. My day began with a cool Californian morning which means cold to a southern Arizonian.  With overcast sky and slight wind in the air, I ate my breakfast and decided to have my coffee at Starbucks and finally have WiFi access since it is not available at the state park. It also provided me an opportunity to look at my photos from the previous days!

As the day warmed, I drove to Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park. While talking with a man coming off the trails on his bicycle, I asked for an easy mountain bike trail for a gravel bike, like his and mine. I knew there is a paved bike path, but why not first try some mountain biking on my gravel bike? Off I went with basics on my bicycle … bike tools, lunch, snacks, water and one camera…. I bicycled about 8 miles before I realized my bike lacked some needed front and rear suspension, so I decided to return and ride pavement while I still had a back and butt. The ride was beautiful and fun and I also talked with others on the trail who mentioned coming to Arizona for college searches.

Back at my car, I  went to the paved bike path along the Aliso Creek which I originally planned to do. Ah yes, smooth and easy on the body! Trail signs seemed to indicate there would be some closures, but all went well for me. I saw a white-faced ibis, mallards and swallows. The amount of white on a white-faced ibis is so small this name for the bird cracks me up. Anyway, here is a white-faced ibis:

Back at the campground, my tent was not blown away and the shower water was hot! Fifty-cents-worth, 2 tokens provided 3 minutes of shower water and I was thrilled! Another day outdoors and only speaking with 3 people so felt safe. At the Starbucks I sat indoors, alone thanks to their sign stating indoors was not open, yet when I asked if indoor seating was available, they said yes. Perfect!

Bird Watching Bonanza in CA!

One goal during this travel opportunity is to view shorebirds since they’ll not hang out in the desert where I live. My birdwatching fun began while I was eating breakfast at my tent site. I observed and photographed a California towhee, a California thrasher and cliff swallows! I was also distracted by the numerous rabbits and squirrels running around the tent site and noticing the holes the squirrels dig. Seeing the California thrashers and California towhees was exciting and interesting too as I noticed their differences from the curve-billed thrasher or sage thrasher and Abert’s towhees I would see in Arizona! 

I drove north to Dana Point where a masked booby had been reported on eBird, and a CA friend had seen it just a few weeks ago, so I decided to see if it was still in the area. It is rare for the bird to be here. And, yes it was! 

I also saw a few great blue heron nests and one nest with 2 juveniles in it. I love seeing brown pelicans and all types of terns, but one really odd-looking bird was an Egyptian goose. See what you think of the bird flying over the car’s roof below. The terns and pelicans are amazing when they dive straight down into the water to catch their fish!

I then drove further north to San Joaquin Wildlife Marsh which is in conjunction with the wastewater treatment plant in the area. I spent most of my time at the San Diego River and finally to one small marshy area. As I walked the mile back to my car, I surprisingly flushed a killdeer off its egg! I remember seeing the bird earlier in my visit. The killdeer was walking along the berm; I thought it strange to be so far from the water and the other birds. But when I realized it was on an egg, I had to take a closer look at the egg. The bird allowed me a closer look. The egg was colored like the gravel it was on. I then gave the bird plenty of room as she watched me walk down the trail before she would return to her nest.

Another good day without interacting with to many people and those that I did were wearing masks. Most people were curious as to what the birds were that we were all looking at. It’s nice to know the names of the birds and be able to help other people out with the identification of those birds. That killdeer egg was a highlight today … I was the only one to see it!

Stop By Marana’s El Rio OpenSpace

In the 18th century Juan Bautista de Anza once camped in this area as he and his followers were on their way from southern Arizona to San Francisco. I could see how this area would be best to travel through; flattened by any run-off from the Tucson Mountain slopes and the Santa Cruz River overflow. Today, many people live in the Marana, Arizona area and enjoy the outdoor space for hiking, bicycling the Loop path, and bird-watching. Within the 104 acres, the wetland area attracts resident and migrating birds. Recently I observed 15 different species of birds of the 244 individual bird species reported to stop by sometime within a year. 

Looking for another area to explore? Stop by when you are riding the bicycle Loop path or park your car and observe birds from the observation deck. A hiking trail seems to be taking shape and you’ll also notice a variety of bird houses. It looks like the area will continue to develop.

Here are a few birds I saw on my most recent visit:

Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary sandpiper

What’s In Your Backyard?

Often we live in an area and do not spend time discovering what is nearby. We hear people talk about living in a town for years and not realizing an interesting or beautiful place is just down the road. I always find this tragic as people miss opportunities to learn or enjoy places right in their backyard!

Catalina State Park was one of those places for me so I took time to visit it and actually will return in a few weeks to camp there. This state park is located within a national forest: Coronado, where we had a horrific wildfire burning here a couple of years ago. Many acres of land were burned, forcing wildlife to flee, and still some trails are closed due to the potential of flood waters carrying forest debris down the streams causing mudslides onto trails and roads. But the hiking I did was on three one-mile open trails: an interpretive trail, birding trail and nature trail and fortunately all accomplished with few rain drops.

The Romero Ruin interpretive trail is a loop through the site where a historic ranch and Hohokam village once stood. The signage along the trail helped one understand the advantages of the site’s location, the housing, ball court and trash mound so all the fallen rock walls we saw made sense as we walked the trail.

On the birding trail you see many remaining charred trees with grasses and shrubs growing back. Few birds were seen, yet I did get a chance to photograph one, a northern cardinal.

On our way out of the park we spotted a red-tailed hawk.