Gopher Snake Sighting!

If I am going to be awake at 6:25am for a morning walk in this Arizona heat, then I want to see wildlife since I am past 5:25am sunrise photo opportunities! A hawk was seen at a telephone pole, but the gopher snake was of particular interest to me. They were a distance apart, but I did think … imagine the hawk swooping in to capture this snake! Darn, not today.

Gopher snake!

Anyway, this snake was on a mission crossing the road and slithering up the hillside of prickly pear cacti, ground squirrel holes and lizards running through the area.

I took a few photos, then returned a few minutes later to allow the snake to move along comfortably. The snake was still a distance from the lizard so I suspect it may remain in the area and have luck capturing another one.

I did not stay to watch them much longer as I had miles to walk before the temperature hit 85 degrees, knowing this was still cooler than the 106 degrees to occur later in the day. After a swig of water from my water bottle, I was on my way again. That was a good sighting; glad I was awake and here for it!

Birding By the Roadside!

Due to the Bighorn wildfire burning almost 120,000 acres of land just north of Tucson, AZ through the months of June and July, the Coronado National Forest trailheads will be closed to hikers until possibly November 1. Businesses in the town of Summerhaven hoped for the 25 mile road to their town to open quicker than it did, but once it was open to more than just residents and employees, locals headed to the mountain town at the start of August. In support of local businesses and to escape the desert 100+ degree heat, Summerhaven was a treat in many ways! Although physical distancing and wearing face masks, due to the pandemic, are required, I drove there also to look for some birds. The rule though is with forest areas off-limits, one must stay on the roadside pavement at all times.

I stopped at some spots along the road where parking was allowed and eventually worked my way to the town of Summerhaven. I bought some items at the local grocery store and just had to indulge in their fudge! A couple of other businesses were open, but I was happy with my treat and also seeing the following birds: yellow-eyed junco, Steller’s Jay, acorn woodpecker, and painted redstart. One really does not have to be in the middle of a forest to see birds. With some patience, birds can be seen along a roadside! The acorn woodpecker and Steller’s jay though were seen by a business that does put out peanuts for the birds.

I headed toward Ski Run Road where the temperature dipped to a wonderful 65 degrees. Along the way, and as I did while driving to Summerhaven, I noticed burnt areas from the wildfire. Ferns are the fastest growing plants in those charred areas.

Trailheads are closed to all of us because the soil is no longer being held in place by the forest growth once there and we are entering our monsoon, heavy rain, season. I was thrilled to see some birds, support a local business, eat some fudge, watch people ride the chairlift at Ski Valley, and see others picnicking/relaxing in the cooler temperatures on the mountain. My ride down the mountain was eventful. It started to rain the largest raindrops ever seen and hailed some good-sized hailstones! Just when I thought I could finish my lunch somewhere along my way home, that was not going to happen in this storm. Darn, back to the heat sooner than I had hoped!

Rain and hail!

Bird Photography Takes Work!

Taking time off the tennis and pickleball courts to learn about birds and photography has been my escape during the pandemic. It allows me to be outdoors, easily physically distanced from others, and on my own timeline. During the hot summer southwest USA days, one needs to be up with the birds to capture them in the trees or on bushes. Those locations are most natural for a photo.

I do not have hummingbird feeders at my home so I decided to go where I know there are some feeders. My challenge has been to capture a photo of a bird flying toward or away from a feeder AND to have a sharp image! Ah yes, therein lies the real challenge that I must continue to work on!

But when one sees 3 different hummingbirds in one day with one being a new bird for my life list, I do not care if it is not the sharpest photo in town!

Two hummingbirds: rufous on left and magnificent (rivoli’s) on right.
Female rufous hummingbird for my life list!

Obviously I need to work on this project some more. Feeders are nice to have but my goal still remains to capture each bird in flight. I was watching a couple of broad-billed hummingbirds flitting around a bush also and was so excited when one landed for a moment. Whew! a photo in focus!

Broad-billed hummingbird.

Proctor Trail, Madera Canyon, AZ

The ceremonial opening of the newly repaired Proctor Loop Trail in Madera Canyon was on December 3, 2019. Thanks to day permit fees and donations from Friends of Madera Canyon this 3 year project resulted in a trailhead with a short paved handicap accessible section. Just off the parking lot, there is an honor wall.

The short paved section has informative nature signs and you’ll see bird watchers, people walking their pet on a leash, hikers and all handling the gradual slope with ease. Most of the trail is in the shade which is nice for an August day, but do not expect to see the “secret waterfall”.

Further along the trail you discover the trail is not paved, but a foot path with good signage so you know where you are. You’ll also see bat houses for any of the 17 different species found in this area. An upper loop to other areas in the canyon is with some climbing and crossing bridge and walkway.

I was here to watch for birds and in the shade I had my challenges, plus with others on the trail the birds were not as accommodating as I had wished. But I did see bridled titmouse, turkey vultures, flycatchers and many silhouetted birds. I couldn’t figure out what caught the mule deer’s attention; it was totally oblivious of me! They certainly know that are safe in this environment!

One can drive the 3 miles up the start of the canyon which is all part of the Santa Rita Mountains, fourth highest of the Sky Islands in the Coronado National Forest. The range rises 6,000 feet and has plenty to offer hikers, birders, star gazers and campers. There are 3 picnic ares, 5 trailheads and a campground. Someday I am hoping to see the elegant trogon. I want to see if that bird is really as beautiful as pictures I have seen of it!

Mesquite Trees; Here To Stay!

Wherever you look in the Sonoran Desert there are mesquite trees. These shrubby, small trees armed with thorns are in the legume family. They bear flowers, but more noticeably are the large seed pods eaten by coyote in the winter or collected by humans to mill and use the mesquite flour for baking.

A mesquite tree’s taproot can reach subsurface water 150 feet below ground level. Ranchers are not happy with these trees on their land since less water is then not available for their livestock and farming land. I know about that taproot because even in my backyard if I do not want a mesquite tree growing in a certain location I need to dig deep to get it out, or I will see it sprout again. This however is due to the fact the tree’s bud regeneration zone is 6 inches below ground level.

Mesquite tree growing in a park area.

Often we notice mistletoe growing in a mesquite tree. Unfortunately this mesquite mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant. It sends rootlike structures into the mesquite’s tree branches and takes water and minerals from the tree and in time can be detrimental to the tree. The mistletoe does carry on its own photosynthesis and produces red to clear berries eaten by phainopepla. Mistletoe seeds are dispersed via the bird defecating or wiping its bill.

Look up into the tree and see mistletoe stealing nutrients.
Mistletoe killed the tree and now it has no way to get nutrients and it will die too.

Another observation related to mesquite trees is they are “nurse trees” for young saguaro cacti. The cacti and tree do compete for the same resources, thus hastening the death of the tree. As a result, young saguaro cacti are near mesquite trees and old cacti are not.

Mesquite trees will live a long time in the desert. Once fully grown at 20 years, they are known to live 100 years. If only they could speak … what perspective would the tree have about the world around it? We can sit under the shade of the trees and wonder.

Mesquite trees offer some nice shade on hot days in the desert!

Celebrate … With Wine!

Which wine will you have today? Are you ready to celebrate National Pinot Noir Day? A glass of wine is part of my daily routine with special attention this week to the national celebration on August 18, 2020, National Pinot Noir Day.

Unfortunately, no wine-country travel happening for me at the moment, but I have plenty of memories in discovering wine, specifically pinot noir!

Many years ago our travel brought us through California’s Dry Creek Valley area for road bicycling and we stopped at various wineries and tasting rooms. When we asked about pinot noir, one place directed us to Kokomo Winery. So down the road we went to discover this place which was only a very small tasting room. It was a new place in 2004, sort of discovering itself, so when we asked more specifically about pinot noir they recommended Papapietro Perry. Across the parking lot was Papapietro Perry that had a pinot noir, full bodied and twice the price. At that time it was difficult to imagine paying the price, so we limited ourselves to our budget. We returned other times to partake in a wine and food pairing at Papapietro Perry and now we do purchase Kokomo and Papapietro Perry wines!

A few years later we decided it was time to only focus on pinot noir wines as we did not know much about them compared to us having the old vine zinfandel wine drunk most often. When in wine country it is easy to drink and think all are delicious. But when focused on one wine and learning where the grapes are grown for a pinot noir it helped us choose what we enjoyed most.

We drove along the coast of California and Anderson Valley where we discovered Handley Cellars Winery and only tasted pinot noir. Fantastic wine tasting opportunity for us. Milla Handley was the first woman winemaker to open a winery in her own name in California and unfortunately she recently died due to Covid-19.

Another trip we visited a Russian River Valley winery called Benovia. Founded in 2005, the various estate vineyards each have distinct-tasting pinot noirs. We had a private tasting and the land is beautiful as we someday hope to stay at the guest cottage available on the land.

We now purchase the pinot noir wines from the four wineries with each having a different price point. Higher priced wine does not always mean it is the better tasting wine! Dependent on the year, the weather, the vineyard, the food eaten with the wine and whatever else, all the wines are enjoyed throughout the year which is one of the things I really enjoy about pinot noir wines!

Are you ready to celebrate National Pinot Noir Day on August 18, 2020? Get ready to celebrate!

Chuck Ford Lakeside Park, Tucson, AZ

I stopped by to visit another city park in Tucson, AZ. Here in the desert one does not often see water, but this lake supports bass and catfish so anyone who fishes is happy. I was here to do some bird watching. Between all the trees and shoreline there were birds to be seen. Excessive noise is prohibited so it really is a quiet park.

Plenty of wildlife seen: Black crowned night heron, roadrunner, tricolored heron, cooper’s hawks – actually 3 of them, many mallards and hummingbirds and plenty of other birds, and turtles.

The following is not a good photo, but it is the first time I have ever seen a hawk pull its tail feathers up! There were three Cooper’s hawks in the tree. It was a very hot day, 100+ degrees Fahrenheit. They were hiding and I guess I got to close!?! They had wonderful shade and thus the photo is grainy.

Cooper’s hawk with tail feathers up!

The park has plenty of places for people to sit and relax, plus a playground, ball park, and activity court with various games.

Funniest looking bird was hanging out with the mallards. I really cannot explain its look.

Another park for me to check out during the various seasons!

Mourning Dove Gives Birth!

They’re back, much to the chagrin of my partner. This year mourning doves built their nest in the same location, same gutter as last year, but on our mesh-topping that was to discourage their laying a nest in that spot this year. Ha ha, we did not discourage their use of that spot at all! Nope; birds – 2, humans – 0.

Dove builds nest right here!

Mourning doves are interesting birds. I started watching their nest building activity a few weeks ago; not the prettiest bunch of twigs thrown together on that mesh, but maybe they had to improvise. Once built, eggs must have been laid as it seemed a bird was always on  the nest. Yet one night, after midnight as I was working at my computer, I heard a couple of doves at the nest. I now know there is always a bird on the nest during incubation time; male on daytime shift and female on night shift. 

I understand it’s possible for one to not even realize if eggs were laid or young were hatched. I can attest to that. I always wondered what stage all was at once there was always one adult on the nest. Are you laying on the  eggs or the hatchlings? Every day I walked about 6 – 10 feet from the nest to my backyard. No adult ever worried about me in the area. They knew it was a safe place to be, but could they give me a hint of what is happening?

Mourning doves are known to lay 2 eggs and incubate them for 14 – 15 days. Once the young hatch, adults brood them continually 4 – 5 days. I finally saw a squab, a baby dove! Actually there were 2 squabs!

I hoped to see some feeding activity. Doves produce pigeon milk, which is not really milk, from glands in the crop of the adult. The parent opens their mouth wide allowing the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food for a few days. Then the squabs will eat regurgitated seeds for about a month. I watched some of that activity from a bedroom window.

They have flown the nest! I saw the squabs hanging out on their own at the nest for a few days and an adult would fly in for a short time. Then it seemed they were gone! What a wonderful opportunity to watch all of this unfold these past few weeks! I love nature and was satisfied with the work these adults did in caring for their young!

I Scream “Ice Cream”!

You may not have known, National Ice Cream month was July! Perfect timing for me as I screamed “ice cream is what I need right now”. Ice cream was my pick-me-up, especially during this very hot temperatures, Covid-19 month in southwest USA. With time on my hands, I wondered how much I did not know about ice cream, and as a consumer I wanted to support local businesses. This was my time to read about ice cream and buy it from various locations! Great idea and delicious products to eat; such a special treat given I most often do not have ice cream!

Plenty of info on the history of ice cream is available on the web, but suffice it to say, early ice cream from China and Roman Empire days is nothing like what we have now, thank goodness. Interestingly, it was Marco Polo’s travel in China that brought ice-cream to Italy. One can read more about sundaes, ice cream cones, and Jefferson bringing ice cream recipes and a freezer from France, but my bottomline was to forget all of that and simply enjoy ice cream during the month.

And so I did! I started with store-bought Klondike bar from a supermarket freezer. Klondike bars are my go-to ice cream since they are on sale every so often and store nicely in my freezer. Basic vanilla and chocolate outside layer, simply a treat. Klondike does have many other flavors to choose, so check them out.

Original started in 1922, better tasting than those from Roman Empire!

Next stop, especially since I cannot be in Italy, was to my favorite gelato place, Frost. Gelato has more milk (less cream, so less fat) and is denser (more flavor) compared to ice cream. My favorite gelato is stracciatella, closest I can get to chocolate chip, in a small cup. I could have 2 flavors in the cup and chocolate espresso would have been another great choice. Frost serves many flavors and medium and large cups are available for gelato. They also have milkshakes.

A few days later it was hotter-than-hell here in Arizona, so ice cream was on that night’s dessert menu. I stopped at our local Cold Stone Creamery, ordered 2 “Like It” size cups … one French vanilla with walnuts, tempted to add chocolate chips but chose healthy nuts, and the other butter pecan with pecans. Rushed them from store to cooler in my car, then drove 5 miles to put them in the home freezer. The dessert was delicious!

By the way, top 3 popular flavors in 2015: vanilla, chocolate and butter pecan … who knew? But in 2020, butter pecan is #6, with cookies and cream #3, mint chocolate chip #4 and chocolate chip cookie dough #5. My absolute favorite is chocolate chip … and only with dark chocolate chips!

Yum!

Time to check out a new ice cream place for me, Screamery. What a great name! Ice cream is made from scratch here with whole and natural ingredients mixed with premium milk and cream. I can report the fudge chocolate chunks are absolutely huge and delicious! Sure this establishment has the usual flavors of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butter pecan with fresh picked or roasted whatever, but I ate “Funky Monkey”. This one is banana-based with homemade fudge and fresh walnuts, yum! I liked the fact they list which flavor “contains gluten”. On their menu I saw a future temptation: a “Flight of Ice Cream”. Maybe when a few friends and I can share it someday. They do have milkshakes, etc.

Just down the road from home I have been passing the Dairy Queen, so I decide to support this local business too and discover what they sell. All kinds of interesting things, no wonder there is a line at this drive thru! I ordered vanilla with walnuts and another of vanilla with walnuts and chocolate fudge all swirled in; known as a “Blizzard”.

Final treat for us during July was a purchase at Baskin Robbins. Normally there is a special 31st of the month discount on a single scoop to be $1.31, but during the pandemic no lower price per scoop. Chocolate chip single scoop and butter pecan single scoop for cups bought at this drive thru establishment. Again, masked and gloved employees, thank you.

Final ice cream for the month on July 31

I enjoyed plenty of ice cream while growing up. It was one of my favorite desserts. I still enjoy ice cream and was happy to participate in National Ice Cream month. (Still have Klondike bars in the freezer!)

Quickly Wake Up!

I wandered to the window this morning to check for any birds at my feeder. Expecting the usual ones, I knew my coffee would soon be enjoyed by me along with breakfast. It was a late night last night, early morning, due to my volunteering on a crisis hot line. I was half asleep as I checked on the birds and expected nothing unusual.

What! Wake up, what do I see? Where’s my camera and tripod? Am I really seeing a ground squirrel pulling at my prayer flags flying below the bird feeder? Ok, this is not a usual sight. I need to take a photo as I believe I am seeing this happen and I will want to share this activity with others.

Ground squirrel at prayer flags

The prayer flags have been left to blow in the wind and I have seen birds take a piece, no doubt for nests. But this I have never seen. Soon the ground squirrel was into a full-on pull of the line with definite use of its thigh muscles!

After much time tugging, the ground squirrel relaxed on the wall and paid attention to something happening on the other side of the wall. I have no idea what caught his attention, but I did realize I woke up quickly this morning due to his activity!

Moment to relax

Then back at the prayer flags after a few minutes of distraction. The ground squirrel pulled at a few more before finally taking off to other areas of the backyard.

I quickly went for my coffee maker to make coffee and have breakfast. Wow, what a way to wake up in the morning! Quite the jolt to my system and so different from caffeinated coffee! Yet nice to have it all happening!