You Never Know Where You Will Find a Bird

I saw a bird! Bird-watching is all about keeping our ears and eyes open all the time. Birds are around and sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised to see one. Here was a colorful, male vermilion flycatcher sitting on a fence.

Or we hear a pecking sound of a woodpecker, not a squawking Gila woodpecker, and discover it is a young ladder-backed woodpecker.

Where there is water, a bird may stop by. A hermit thrush was drinking treated water from a treatment plant. I happened to be walking in the otherwise dry creek bed, saw the flow of water and the bird.

Recently I was driving a road and noticed a creek bed. I had time to stop and check it out. In time a song sparrow flew in. I was lucky! So many times I check out creek beds and see no birds.

Who would have thought I would see a bird while pumping gas into my car! A western meadowlark was walking around like he owned the place!

Under bridges, especially those with water flowing underneath them, is a great place to look for birds. I saw a belted kingfisher sitting on a concrete pillar and a green heron in the midst of the river’s water flow!

Or you notice on a “bird alert”list, a bird at a local pond which if you see it would add to your life list. My track record in finding/seeing the bird alerted to other birders is dismal, but I go and check the location when I have the time. Wow, this time a common goldeneye! I was lucky and glad to have zoom lens with teleconverter on it to capture a photo.

When we keep all our senses attuned and noticing what is around us each day, we’ll see birds.  Hawks, doves, crows, pigeons and various other birds visit our area too. There is no need to know the name of each bird, only recognize the life they bring to our environment. The balance between wildlife and humans is important. 

On a final note, let me share a quote from Albert Einstein: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” I most certainly agree! Do you?

Visiting Patagonia … Arizona This Time!

To be clear within this blog post, I am referring to Arizona’s southern town of Patagonia. In 2013, I did visit the Patagonian region on the Argentinian side of the tip of South America. Whenever I think of Patagonia here, I have great memories of that travel and look forward to visiting the Patagonian region on the Chilean side someday! (Isn’t it said, anticipation of travel brings happiness to one!?!)

My recent visit to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area which includes the Patagonia Lake dam/spillway was an adventure. While driving the mile-long dirt road to the parking lot, a coyote ran across with its fresh kill followed by another coyote. I could only grab my camera fast enough to get the second coyote. Further down the road was a coral and a cow lounging around. I’ll see more of these creatures later in my visit.

From the parking lot to the spillway is a dirt trail for a short distance and then a steep, concrete road to the spillway. As you are on your way down, do take a look at the lake. At the spillway, you can walk across even when there are a couple of inches of water flowing over it. Be careful though as the mud and algae do make it slick.

Some birds lazily swim along, while others fly in and out to snag insects in the air and never seem to stop flying! That was my challenge with the swallows and it was not till I arrived home to discover I had observed 2 different swallows. Here are some of the birds I photographed:

I hiked further along and parallel to the creek which joins the Black Hawk trail. About .6 mile from the spillway was my turn-around point. This photo shows the depth the trail goes down to the creek’s edge again, so I will save that for another day.

So, I need to go down & then back up … saved for another day!

On my way back to the spillway, I stopped at Jen’s vista for a snack and water. There is a bench to sit and enjoy the vista. Here are photos looking both directions from there.

It is an open range so cattle are all over as obvious by the observed cow dung and cows grazing near and on the hiking trail. I worked my way past a few cows to discover around a corner another one was staring at me. They seem to be comfortable with humans, yet all day I only saw 3 people on the trail. I talked to them as I walked by, and while they took notice they seemed unimpressed … maybe with what I was saying!

Back at the spillway I spent more time trying to figure out which type of sandpiper I was observing. There were 10 of these birds! I was challenged and apparently so was the Merlin Bird ID app I use for help with bird identification. Here is the bird. If you know what it is, let me know. Thanks.

Know what it is? Let me know. Thanks.

I then noticed a bird with a longer bill and different colored body nearby and knew it was no sandpiper. A much longer bill and stripes on its body compared to a sandpiper. Wilson’s snipe has now been added to my life list! Here is a Wilson’s snipe:

There are other trails in this area, but this is the only direct trail to the spillway. The Black Hawk trail continues for miles and can link with other trails to make for a long hiking day. I limit my hiking miles since carrying my camera backpack, tripod, lunch and water are a weight, plus I like to spend at least 45 minutes at a spot with birds so they get used to me being around. The spillway was a great place to spend time with the birds. In the future I would continue along the trail, about 1 mile I guess, to get down to the creek’s edge. Thankfully we have these protected areas for our adventures and safe places for wildlife to roam/fly in and out. Anyway you can support these efforts is greatly appreciated.

How Is Your Toilet Waste Related to SHARP?

You flush your toilet a few times a day, but do you really know what happens then to the liquid and solid waste? If you are on a city sewer system, all eventually moves through a system of pipes in your area to a wastewater treatment plant. (Or you may have your own septic tank on your own property.) The waste in the sewer system undergoes several stages of treatment with the liquid portion prepared for discharge into the environment. This is referred to as reclaimed water. Around the world, we all need water; it is essential for our survival! Instead of losing waste water, it is important to have reclaimed water for a next step in the process.

After the waste water treatment what happens? The reclaimed water is filled into recharge basins at locations, such as at SHARP: Southeast Houghton Area Recharge Project in Tucson Arizona. Here there are 3 recharge basins covering a huge portion of 40 acres of land. The reclaimed water seeps to an aquifer about 350 deep so we keep our aquifer available to us for our future water needs. This waste water treatment plant with its recharge basins is crucial in processing at maximum capacity 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. Water is essential and this process is crucial for all of us living here.

SHARP, a Tucson Water and City of Tucson waste water treatment project, has landscaped around the recharge basins with walking and mountain biking trails, three ramadas, some benches and a restroom. With water eventually in the recharge basins and the newly planted 1500 plants more fully grown, including 500 trees, it will be attractive to birds. Birds will love the water in the recharge basins, the seeds from trees and plants, and a safe environment to stay and/or migrate through. Of course, bird watchers/lovers look forward to this area developing just as another recharge project on the other side of the city, Sweetwater Wetlands, is enjoyed as a birding hotspot.

I decided to visit the SHARP location now to document the newly created landscape of recharge basins, plantings, and trails so I could look back on it all someday as more birds and people visit. It was quiet this cloudy afternoon, however, one family was there with their child riding a bicycle as I walked around to take photographs. I saw a Say’s phoebe and male house finch also. Knowing my household waste is being treated and recycled is important to me and I look forward to SHARP being a future birding hotspot too!

Here are photos I will use to compare plant growth, etc in future years. I kept mountain ranges in the background so I would know how to line up a photo in the future. It’s not that picturesque yet, but it is a start!

SHARP is on the north side of Fantasy Island, an established mountain biking trail system which has been encroached upon for home construction and SHARP. I noticed dirt paths for mountain biking within SHARP and there seems to be an effort to connect SHARP with Fantasy Island. In time I think it may be more easily realized.

This sign is not clear to me. Maybe it means, if you walk your bicycle then walk in the same direction as the walkers? I look forward to spending more time here as it is closer to my home than Sweetwater Wetlands, which I love, but on the other side of the city. Anyway, the project is truly important! Know good things are happening when you flush your toilet!

Who Else Is In The Woods With Me?

I love being in the woods, especially with no or few people around. I am always looking for birds to photograph; I know they love it when few people are around. Others animals enjoy the quiet and ease of walking around in the woods too. At certain locations in the woods, I always set my camera and tripod up and stand silently for a half hour or so. When the woods are quiet or when the birds start to fly around and not notice me, I discover other animals will do the same and possibly within my circle of view.

One occasion, I saw two deer visiting a stream, do doubt coming for a drink of water and then to return higher on the hillside. On my walk back to my car, I passed a picnic area and saw a coatimundi. Actually it was obvious to see as the young people there were standing on the picnic table to get away from the animal. (Please do not feed wild animals or leave food scraps behind when you are picnicking.)

Another day I had 3 animal sightings. Two deer eating along a hillside looked at me and then went back to eating. One spot where my camera was set, I heard some movement and noticed a coatimundi climbing up a rocky area. And in a rocky ditch by a bed & breakfast place that has been closed the past season, I saw a raccoon. As I watched the raccoon moving toward me I knew he was curious about my snack food so I decided to leave. 

It is a shame people walk quickly through the woods and miss seeing wildlife. Animals are around, most often near water, and away from people. There is no harm in stepping off trail, being quiet while watching and listening to see if anyone else is around. You might be pleasantly surprised who is also in the woods! Enjoy!

To The Moon & Back, Now I Know

In 1971, on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon, astronaut Stuart Roosa had about 500 tree seeds with him. He and the seeds experienced 34 orbits around the moon. It was during a college summer break, when Roosa was a “smoke jumper” risking his life and parachuting into an area to fight forests fires. He took these seeds to the lunar orbit for a US Forest Service germination experiment and also as a tribute to “smoke jumpers”.

An American sycamore seedling was planted at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, on Arbor Day, April 30, 1976 in honor of the US Bicentennial. It was the only original moon tree still alive in Arizona with 64 other moon trees at various locations around the world.

A 2015 news reporter questioned whether the sycamore tree would last another 5 years, so it was time for me to find it. Prior to this I had never heard about any “moon trees”. My partner and I bicycled to the campus and did find the tree! 2020 and the tree was still alive which I was happy to see! May it live many more years!

American sycamore tree still alive December 2020 at U of A campus.

Are We Any Safer Today?

January 8, 2011, a “Congress on Your Corner” meeting was held at a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona where U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people were shot. To this day gun safety advocates push for increased restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition, not to take away people’s guns but to have some commonsense regulations for gun owners.

Five people died on the scene that day 10 years ago, including 9 year old Christina-Taylor Green dead on arrival at the hospital. February 28, 2011, a section of the CDO in Tucson was renamed to Cañada del Oro Christina-Taylor Green Memorial River Park. The memorial park includes botanical trails, a bronze statue surrounded by a butterfly garden and shaded seating plaza. Walkers, bicyclists and other users of the Tucson “loop” can enjoy the desert garden which celebrates this young girl’s spirit and love of butterflies.

Commonsense gun reform is about saving lives from gun violence in America. Requiring criminal background checks for gun purchases, conducting gun violence research and regulating semi-automatic assault weapons is what Gabby Giffords PAC work is about and supports Republican and Democratic candidates who focus on these issues. We do not need any more mass shootings or gun violence anywhere. The gun violence crisis is here and action is needed by our political leaders now. Responsible solutions are needed, not just “thoughts and prayers” when we hear of our next shooting someplace in America. Address the issue: prevent gun violence. Whether you are a NRA member or not, there are responsible legislative actions to support. Americans can be pro-gun rights and pro-gun violence prevention, so let’s get on with being responsible and safe. Ask yourself and your representatives, all of them, where they stand on the issue!

Bicycling & Birding … Good Idea or Not?

I am not sure birding while bicycling is the safest combination of activities. My eyes are on the road, then the sky, then the road, then a tree and wherever else next! Thank goodness I am riding low trafficked roads or the Tucson bicycle loop to keep me safe while also birding. The other day I wanted to linger longer to check out a few ponds I do not ordinarily see at Sweetwater Wetlands, especially when wondering what is that beautiful bird! So the following day I went back, on foot, to walk about a half mile down the bicycle loop to check on the birds at a pond.

Many, many birds were hanging out and so too was the beautiful bird: a northern pintail.

As I was looking around at all the birds, a hawk-like bird flew onto a tree between the 2 ponds. Of course, the bird’s back was to me so it was difficult to identify it. As it wrestled around on the tree branches one of my photos caught a quick look at its face and now we know it is a northern harrier. If you look closely, see the owl-like facial disc that helps in identifying this bird. When it first flew in I only noticed the white band across its rump.

Plenty of ring-necked ducks and mallards were flying in and out of the area. All the birds seem to really appreciate the wetlands. I am glad the ponds are here for them too, as the treated effluent (water waste) is returned to the aquifer for future use. Reusing water in Arizona is a huge need.

While I enjoy bicycling and also looking for birds at the same time, I think it is safer for me to keep the two activities separate. Plus, I usually do not carry my camera with me while bicycling. I love photographing birds so that would be best within dedicated birding time. That’s not to say my eyes will not be on the sky or at a tree looking for birds while bicycling in 2021! I’ll also be looking for a vaccine, and 2 shots worth, so I can bird in other places in the USA and world! Stay safe everyone!

Tamale Time in the Kitchen!

We often eat tamales. We have seen tamales made for us. We buy local tamales. We received a tamale-making package that even included the steam pot, yet we were slow on taking up the challenge to make our own tamales, until now! I checked YouTube cooking info, read the directions on the back of our masa bag, my notes from being shown a couple of years ago by another person on how to make tamales, and then we decided to dive into this challenge! To make our cooking a bit easier, we decided on a simple stuffing: chiles, turkey and cheese all available in our refrigerator.

Masa, chile, cheese onto recently soaked corn husk.

The first challenge was knowing how many corn husks we had since they are dried tightly and wrapped in a cellophane bag. We guessed there may be 25. We soaked them in warm water for about 20 minutes. What we forgot, about spooning masa onto or using a spreader, was which side of the husk to put the masa! Next time we will get it right, onto the smooth side! Large husks allow you to rip a strip off the side of it so you can use it to tie the husk and ingredients together as a small package.

Water is in the pot to the level just below the shelf the tamales will sit straight up on once the water is brought to boiling. They are steamed in the covered pot for 50 minutes on high heat, then while also keeping the pot covered for an additional 20 minutes with no heat … to rest! Since we made 16 tamales from the 2 cups of masa and fixings, we put the leftover corn husks in the middle so all tamales would remain upright through the steaming process. I guess you can put a ball of foil there instead according to something I read.

Time to take the tamales out!

Our tamales had no extra sauce in the masa or meat as we knew we would have salsa to put on top of each tamale. Future tamales we will get more creative with beans, corn, sauce and remember what side to put the masa on the husk! For our first attempt, not bad. Extras are being frozen for easy meals. Don’t forget to enjoy your tamales with a good wine!

Parker Canyon Lake in Arizona

Arizona may be desert, but a couple hours south of Tucson is a large amount of water! You’re able to walk within feet of the reservoir/lake’s water as you hike the 4.9 miles around Parker Canyon Lake. Other people will also be walking, fishing, bird-watching, or kayaking/boating on the lake. I could imagine this place very busy on a weekend.

The trail is rocky, along the canyon’s edge and in other sections flat dirt. Watch your footing and not the birds at the same time! Across the lake I saw three deer at the lake edge to drink water.

Waterfowl were seen in different areas of the lake. American coots seemed to be the most numerous; however, there were also bufflehead, Northern shovelers, American wigeons, and mallards (with a buff-colored one hanging with the mallards). In the trees some other birds along with black phoebe and Mexican jay. Did not see a Mexican gartersnake … yet found their sign informative!

There are places to relax along the trail, benches provided in a couple of places. One sign mentioned a bald eagle had nested in this area at one time. Saw no eagle on this day! I liked seeing the container to recycle the monofilament used for fishing.

If you are looking for a day trip then head to Parker Canyon Lake. Renting a fishing boat or kayak will necessitate a visit Thursday – Sunday when the store is open for service, but quieter times are the other days. A campground is a short distance away with RV and trailers in one loop, and tent only sites in another loop with those having nice views of the lake.

Looking back to the marina and boat launch area at Parker Canyon Lake.

What do you see?

You are on the trail, you hear movement and see something coming down a tree limb and you are not sure what it is … and there may be two somethings! I am showing the 3 photos I took as I tried to figure out what was causing the movement within 10 feet of me. Photos have not been edited so you have a chance to see what I saw and in the order of what I saw.

If you read yesterday’s blog post you might have a hint. Do you see two bobcats? Yup, that’s what was happening … two bobcats on the move …. off a tree limb and walking along yet I could not see them beyond these couple of peeks. I love nature!