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!

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!

Six Minutes With One Bird!

I heard there was a tricolored heron in the neighborhood. (In actuality it was a 20 minute drive from my home. Close enough.) Off I went to find the bird since this would be a new sighting for my life list of birds!

From one side of the lake I see a bird, and quite possibly the tricolored heron. I walk around the lake to get a closer look and hopefully a photograph too.

Tricolored heron

I walked closer and closer to the bird, wishing I had a different lens on my camera, but thought what fun to walk quietly and actually see how close I could get to it! Not bad! The bird took time to ruffle its feathers.

Then it was time for the bird to fly!

It flew across the lake. I decided to let it be. Instead I checked out the park.

Truth in a Statue in Tucson

Near downtown Tucson, I noticed a statue of a fireman, so I stopped to learn why it was there by the Central Fire Station. It is a memorial and recognition of firefighter’s “ultimate sacrifice”. 

The past few months, numerous firefighters have been fighting the Bighorn Fire in our national forest and state park. No structures or people have been lost with almost 120,000 acres burned. Seven fire fighters had non-fatal injuries.

Truth be told, we are appreciative of every firefighter. Carrying their gear, climbing the mountainside, working on the fire line, tenting at night, and caring about the people and buildings in the area all in very hot, varying elevation and weather conditions … a profession many people do not run to train and be active in. I greatly appreciate those who do choose this work and relieved when I know all survived. Thank you!

Due to the charred areas not being able to absorb water and the upcoming monsoon season, the areas will remain closed till about November 1. Before you head out, check Pima County website to know if you can hike in certain areas. Be safe.

Thrasher & Finch Morning!

I am new to bird feeding. Eventually I will learn what type of feeder design and type of seed will prompt a variety of birds to come and also return to my feeders. Now it is a bit of a guessing game, but I am happy with surprises also!

My morning began with a curve-billed thrasher sighting as one sat on our back wall. We know these birds are in the neighborhood as we often hear their loud whit-wheet! call.

Curve-billed thrasher

I love looking at their bright orange eyes and long, slightly curved bill; however, once the bird was at the feeder this morning I noticed how it used its long tail. Another moment I caught a glimpse of the seed within its beak.

The curve-billed thrasher seemed so excited about locating this feeder with delicious seed it started to call others. It called from the top of the feeder and from trees in the backyard, except it finally gave up after about 3 minutes. No thrasher seemed be listening.

Once the thrasher left the feeder and no longer calling for others, my usual house finches returned! The female was the first to fly in to eat and then relax.

Finally to complete my morning, the male house finch stopped by. These house finches are residents here at this location. I am convinced they are the same ones I see day in and day out! And that is okay by me!

Male house finch

Monday Memories: India and Bhutan

In 2017, my goal was to visit northern India from west to east, and then the small country of Bhutan. Only my daily journal could capture all I experienced during this trip. It was a fascinating experience and I have hopes of returning to see all of India some day.

Here’s a capsule of the adventure. After arriving in New Delhi, India, walking through various neighborhoods with our guide and seeing historic buildings, we headed toward the India – Pakistan border to watch the daily military ceremony referred to as a “border ceremony”. In the city of Amritsar, where the famous Golden Temple – a religious complex of the Sikh religion – is, I had unique experience with a local man who had poor vision. While helping him cross an area with road barriers, he and I talked. I invited him to join me for a soda or tea. I located a place to have our drink, much to the surprise of the shop owner and adolescent boys sitting in the shop, but my new friend and I had a good conversation.

Our tour continued north to Dharamshala where exiled Tibetan people live and work. The Dalai Lama resides here too when he is not speaking around the world. I loved seeing the Himalayan Mountains once again; last seen in 2001. Shops here support the Tibetan culture and handicrafts.

Women spinning wool.

We returned to New Delhi for a few more days and touring, then flew to Darjeeling, famous for its tea cultivation. While the streets of New Delhi and Delhi are hectic with wandering cows, people with push carts, wires hanging everywhere from poles, I appreciated people allowing me to photograph them; one man even asked that I photograph him! People in the countryside provided permission for me to photograph them too. But it was while I was in a moving vehicle that I caught sight of a man at his roadside dental appointment. Along that wall, many businesses were conducted.

I bought tea while in Darjeeling, relaxed in the British flair of this city, but I wanted to return to the Himalayan Mountains and visit Bhutan! Bhutan caps the number of visitors entering their country and maintains some traditions to hold on to their culture. Bhutan is a very small country between two super powers: India and China. It is an environmentally aware country and known for its “Gross National Happiness” philosophy. I asked for a specific example of where the people’s happiness and decision of the government may influence that philosophical index. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and many workers live on the other side of the mountain and have an hour’s drive to work each day. Workers wanting a shorter drive requested the government build a tunnel through the mountain. The government thought it best to use the construction money to build paved roads throughout the country to help a larger number of people, and thus did not build a tunnel. Great example, and roads were being built mostly by Indian workers throughout the country.

Thimphu is the main city; however, just outside of it you will see a huge statue of Buddha that has many more Buddhas within it. The countryside is beautiful and at one point we did stop to talk with a nomad.

We stayed in Paro, Bhutan for a couple of days so we could climb to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, a sacred Buddhist site. It requires an entire day to drive about 10 miles to the site, climb the 2 miles up to the monastery with an elevation gain of 1700 feet, and be at 10,232 feet where the air is thin. No vehicles are in this area, one must climb. It was worth the hike!

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Two men from Bhutan will always remain in my memory. In my wandering I started speaking with a young man asking about his work. He acknowledged he was a young artist, but his job now was to sell the owner’s art work. I asked to see what he had drawn and I bought a piece of his work. Today it is framed and hangs on my wall. The other man was carving wood with his feet. I learned Bhutan’s Queen Jetsun Pema supports people living with disabilities and he has gained a thriving business as a result of Her Majesty’s support.

There are so many more memories of my visit to India and Bhutan, but I have kept these for now along with a fraction of photos taken during this trip. Someday I will return and create new memories. People have asked why I did not go to the Taj Mahal, etc. My answer: those areas are so over-run with tourists and I believe I will be able to visit them while in a wheel chair. On this trip I wanted to go where I had to hike to see the sites.

Never in my mind did I think there would be a global pandemic, as we have happening now, where country borders and sites are closed. I am so glad I traveled when I did. I look forward to more travel in the future.

Roadrunner in Tree!

The Greater Roadrunner, of the cuckoo family, is found in southwest USA and Mexico. I often see them running across a road or hunting for small lizards.  A roadrunner pair will form a lifelong bond. A few months ago, I had a chance opportunity to watch their courtship steps, tail flicks and mating. These roadrunners are not like the cartoon character, but instead can kill rattlesnakes and outrun humans.

Roadrunner

They can run 19 miles per hour and only when in danger or traveling downhill do they fly. On this day the roadrunner must have sensed danger as it was airborne for a few seconds and onto a tree limb when I noticed his silhouette. 

For a couple of minutes the bird remained in the tree. It is summer now so I know it was not raising a brood, nor did I see a nest. Their next breeding here in Arizona will be in August or after the monsoon rains so the bird must have felt in danger. Soon it was off the branch and running down the path.

Off to somewhere else!

I continued my walk through the park. About 25 minutes later I discover another bird, or maybe the same roadrunner, jumping into a tree! What a surprise! I quickly grabbed my camera, moved into the tree branches from different angles and tried to capture a photo or two with poor results.

A few minutes later, this roadrunner was leaving. I continued my morning walk around the park and saw no roadrunners!

Off it goes!

Monday Memories: Morocco

In my last “Monday Memories” post I mentioned Morocco, so I caught myself thinking about my 2019 trip. I am so glad I did not put that trip off to now, 2020. I would not have been able to travel to Morocco at the rate this pandemic is affecting our planet.

After three weeks of travel in the Kingdom of Morocco, I realized what a learning experience it was for me. In Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque, second largest mosque in Africa, was simply incredible to see. I could not imagine 25,000 people inside it and 80,000 on its outdoor grounds. The mosque is huge, beautifully situated by the oceanside, ornate, and with a 210 meter minaret. Specific rules were followed to allow non-Muslim visitors inside the mosque.

I loved Moroccan food. Each day I had freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread and olives of all kinds, and hot, sweet, mint tea. Meats, vegetables and couscous were cooked in tajines and a Berber omelet were my most delicious meals.

We visited many cities around the country. The tannery in Fez was fascinating as we saw early stages of the product that would become a leather jacket. Every visitor to Morocco speaks of the blue city, Chefchaouen, so we visited there too. Four years earlier I visited Tangier’s old medina and thought the winding pathways and various markets chaotic. Its new town did not seem to be so crazy, but I am sure you can still buy just about everything there. Whenever we were in the countryside or the mountain villages, it was more relaxing and enjoyable to me. 

Most relaxing was our time in the Sahara Desert. To be honest, it was not very relaxing riding the camel to our campsite. But once there, climbing and then sitting on the ridge of a sand dune with a glass of wine, it was relaxing! Even better, the night came with shining stars and silence. I loved it!

I will remember many things about Morocco: our fantastic guide, people who allowed me to photograph them as I asked permission to do so, the women cooperatives we visited, the cats seen everywhere in so many cities and the goats in the trees!

When I return to Morocco some day, I wish to spend more time in the desert and to photograph it day and night. That would be an amazing accomplishment for me to be able to do such photography, and to enjoy the desert! 

Monday Memories: Poland

As I look back on 2019, I am thrilled I did not put off international travel to save money for future trips: New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and Antartica. On this trip to Poland I had an opportunity to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity (H4H) in Gliwice, Poland. Once realizing I was flying from western USA to Poland, I decided to travel on my own prior to my H4H responsibility.

I arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spent a few days joining walking tours to learn about and understand Poland’s history. I walked around the city which has so many museums and places to visit, such as the POLIN Museum about the history of the Polish Jewish community and the Warsaw Rising Museum, just to mention a couple of museums. I was glad to return to this city for a couple of days before flying home at the end of this trip, especially to decompress while walking through the Royal Łazienki Park.

Walk the city of Warsaw and see where the ghetto wall held in the Jewish people.

My travel around the country was by train so I could talk with people and see the countryside while traveling. Polish people were very friendly and there were interesting small towns and beautiful fields along the way to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. Buildings here were more colorful than Warsaw and the Museum of the Second World War was definitely worth visiting. I took the train to Sopot and Gdynia for a day trip. Sopot was unbelievably crowded and Gydnia’s Emigration Museum telling the history of migrating Poles was worth visiting.

My two favorite meals while in Poland were pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese, cooked in boiling water and not pan-fried, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. I was becoming a critic of the best of each during my 3 weeks in Poland and loved eating it all!

There were so many cities to visit in Poland, yet I hop off the train in Wrocław. As you stand in the main square of this city, you’ll see the Gothic Old Town Hall with its astronomical clock and have plenty of time to people watch. I loved looking for the gnomes around the city … visit to find out the history and importance of these characters.

After a few days I visited Kraków. As you stand in its main square you see the Cloth Hall and the 14th century Gothic church: St. Mary’s Basilica, where I also attended an evening organ concert. The Rynek Underground Museum was interesting and the walking tours about Jewish history were informative. There is plenty to do in Kraków and it is an easy city to walk.

I joined a day tour to learn more about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against Poles at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau sites. While some buildings are not open to the public, one clearly feels the horror that occurred at these places. The shoes, luggage and hair collected, the sleeping areas, electric fences, cattle cars which brought people in to these concentration camps, and the crematoriums were just horrifying to see knowing now the history. Another day I toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine where all statues, etc are carved into the salt. It was a good way to decompress after being at the camps the day before.

I met the team of Global Village/Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Krakow and we traveled to Gliwice, northwest of Kraków. For the next 5 days we helped renovate some old buildings to eventually house teenagers with addiction issues. We met and had dinner with some of the young people at their current site. Our work during the day was plastering walls or pulling up old flooring. Our hard-working crews accomplished so much in the short time; however, it may be a year before all work is complete … and that was the prediction before Covid-19 became real.

I returned to Warsaw. I flew home thankful for the opportunity to volunteer my time and energy to a worthy project and also visit a country I had wished to visit someday. Now in 2020 I wonder when my international travel will resume. Only time will tell as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.