Twelve Days of Family & Friend Time

The State of New York state’s website, required anyone coming in to the state, not from a bordering state, to complete a “New York State Traveler Health Form” within 24 hours of arrival. So I did. People said to me, oh you do not need to do that. With a two thousand dollar fine for not doing so, again according to their website, I was not willing to take the chance! (By the way, I did have one check via phone on how I was feeling since my Covid vaccinations, yet I did not think it was related to the NYS check.)

Driving onto Long Island was horrendous; traffic from miles before the George Washington Bridge continuing on the Cross Bronx Expressway, Throgs Neck Bridge and Southern State Parkway — all a nightmare. I realized I did choose to put myself in the traffic so I could enjoy time with family members who live on Long Island. (If I wished to avoid all traffic, I could have traveled at 3:30AM, but that was not happening!) Borrowing my PA sister’s EZ-Pass allowed me to zip through toll booths and pay the tolls. If I was not successful in displaying the pass, the state takes photos of car licenses and will mail me my bill. (Something to look forward to when I get home!)

Enjoying time with my family is always fun. My mom enjoys her senior years with her friends and various activities, such as watercolor painting. I am so proud of the energy she puts forth and can only wish I too have it when I am 90 something! She lives independently with, as my sisters and I refer to, a “village” that helps my mom in so many wonderful ways, allowing her to live independently. I had time to help with shopping for food, clothing, and other odds and ends needed around the house, and helping my nephew put plants in my mom’s garden. I also had time to hang out and talk with another sister and my mom at home, the beach, or a local bar to enjoy German food and beer. We are grateful for our good health and ability to live the life we each wish to achieve. As different as we each are, our parents did raise four independent females who respect one another.

I checked local areas for birds and did watch monk parakeets build their huge nests just blocks from where my mom lives. My mom and I drove to and stopped at some beaches by Jones Beach State Park and Fire Island. With the heat and humidity we were thrilled to feel the blowing wind! Of course, we had to stop at a gelato place to enjoy a cold treat after hours in the sun.

Yellow warning car light is on! My PA brother-in-law had determined which tire was with a slow leak and sure enough it was low again while on the island. I got my car tire plugged since it was discovered to be a nail causing the slow leak. Fortunately the nail was in the center of the tire and I did not need a new tire. I wonder where I picked that nail up?

I returned to Pennsylvania where my sister and her husband have their alpaca farm. They have lots of daily work to maintain that operation. While photographing their place, I realized I loved capturing the faces of the alpacas! 

Spending time with friends was a special treat, especially when some have been decades-old friends. Now I live thousands of miles away from them and do not see them as often as I may have hoped, so getting together with them on this trip was truly fun! It is amazing to share memories and laugh about old times. I wished I could have stopped by to visit more friends in Lansing, Ithaca, Buffalo, and other towns in New York State, but my priorities for this trip were to share time with my mom and my very best friend which is to happen in upcoming days.

If you are interested in knowing more about alpacas, visiting the area and wish a tour of their farm, or to shop for alpaca products at their on-site and/or on-line store, where they are having a 15% off Christmas in July sale, possibly extended through August, click the link: Quality products for sure!

Bicycle Riding Day … 41 miles!

The sun came out and the wind did blow, but it was a good day for a bicycle ride. I headed south from Chula Vista, CA on Sweetwater Bikeway and eventually hooked up with the Bayshore Bikeway. As you ride the path, you will notice huge piles of salt. With some research, I learned this area has been salt works since the 1860’s. It is the second-longest running business in San Diego. Water evaporated from the salt ponds comes from the Pacific Ocean and there used to be 80,000 pounds of salt per harvest. In time though this salt works may be converted to an interpretative center for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The salt ponds are within the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Brine flies and brine shrimp breed in those salty waters and are a source of food for birds, especially in the winter for migratory birds.

I continued my ride through Coronado. Ferry walkers and bicyclists can ride to 2 different locations about 5 or 10 minutes across the bay. Instead of taking the ferry, I enjoyed my lunch at a sandy beach and returned the way I had come to complete a 41 mile ride today! 

I did see numerous birds, but I did not stop to take photos; I wanted  to observe the birds and cycle. Many people were out on their bicycle today also. Certain beach areas were closed or only allowed passive activities, walking, jogging and no laying around on the beach.

People often ask, what is a typical travel day for me. My best answer is as follows:

I am usually awake about 7:00AM but I like to read the headlines, and maybe an article from the digital NY Times, play Words With Friends, complete the mini crossword and Spelling Bee games in the NY Times, check on emails and text messages since the phone will probably be turned off for the remainder of the day. I roll out of my sleeping bag and tent soon there after, have breakfast and coffee, and prepare for the day. I am always looking for birding hotspots, places to bicycle ride, and/or places of interest to check out. In these days of Covid-19, I also am watchful of crowds.

At night, I enjoy having a shower and dinner before sundown so I aim to arrive by 3 – 4PM. During or after dinner, my goal is to list birds seen during the day in my bird journal, take a quick look at photos especially if I want to include any for eBird, report my sightings to eBird, and finally read emails and write some notes for future blog posts. With dinner and dishwashing done, it is a perfect time to take a walk around the campground before my 8 – 10 PM “office hours” in my car. There I am with my laptop to finish whatever I did not get to earlier. Campgrounds are typically not full during weekdays and therefore quiet, so I may be one of the few people still awake at 10PM. After a full day of outdoor activity in the sun and wind, I sleep well! Tonight for sure, after cycling 41 miles with the wind not always at my back!

Add Some Kindness Today

For weeks humankind has continued to suffer, whether we consider the effects of the Coronavirus, mass shootings, or any other hardship in one’s life. During this time of physical distancing, our hugs are too few. With facial masks being worn, our smiles are too few. We need to listen and comfort one another because tough times have continued for so many. No one has a crystal ball to know when we will emerge from the hardships each of us are facing, but staying positive and offering another person kindness can go a long way for the other person and yourself!

I love being outdoors. I like respecting and caring for the environment I am in. I also love seeing a sign from another human being. It may be a labyrinth where the path leads to a center. This kind person spent time putting rocks in place for others to walk the journey.

Or sometimes you see the touch of a person at a stream/creek where balancing rocks are shared and we can add to them. Each rock can signify an intention as one patiently creates the balance for one rock upon another. Rarely do I add a rock to another person’s work as I would feel awful if they fell!

I have walked along paths and seen small, colorful rocks with messages on them, but recently I noticed this in my neighborhood. The Sedona rocks, known for their energy, were provided to others here in Tucson.

I thought this latest addition of kindness in the world is reflective of the latest hardships and sadness that we as a world are continuing to endure. Here a kind person provided an opportunity for others to partake in a positive activity! Photography is my fun, and the positive spin I wanted to take away from this offering is here:

Thank you all for sharing your time and energy in creating something each of us can enjoy with no strings attached. I hope I do the same for you too!

Getting Vaccinated … It Is A Process!

Finally, vaccinated!

I was beginning to feel it takes a village for individuals to get vaccinated. Why, you may ask? First, when my mom called me, we live on opposite coasts in the USA, and asked how to fill out her vaccination consent form I knew this would be a challenge for many seniors. Software developers don’t think about arthritic fingers hitting specific spots, or wrong choices, on a computer or tablet screen, print-type needing to be a larger size to be seen by failing eyes, or understanding that not all people know how to scroll from place to place or page to page. But my mom had a stylus and I downloaded the form too; we went through it and all was completed. Thankfully it was her local legislative office staff that helped arrange and confirm the vaccine appointment and my sister who drove her to her appointments. 

I am now aware of “guardian angels” who are helping senior citizens with paperwork and getting to their two appointments, especially for seniors not living in nursing homes where most had the process facilitated by their staff. For myself, my help came from a tennis friend who knew of a “pop-up” location. Unfortunately I missed that opportunity. Then my friend texted me of the arrival of thousands of vaccine doses within the next days. I immediately searched the provided website, registered, and received my first dose of the vaccine 4 days later! This was a huge accomplishment because I had been registered in 3 other places and on one wait list for more than a month, but now in a matter of a few clicks I was on my way to being vaccinated.

Kudos to all who volunteered at the University of Arizona to direct vehicle drivers through a very organized maze: 1) personal identification and check of appointment registration, 2) info provided about the vaccine and asking about each person’s allergies or recent surgeries, etc, 3) car engine off, sleeve rolled up to receive the shot after again being asked again about our health, and 4) we moved our car to another location where a person was checking in on us all as we waited 15 minutes and, if need be, arranged second dose appointment before we could pull away from the area. They even had another person pulling a wagon of water and crackers from car to car for people needing some food or drink. For the volunteers working in this desert heat and recent winds, I hoped they were all staying hydrated too.

There were hundreds of volunteers working to get us all vaccinated at this site! I was pleasantly surprised while receiving my second dose that it was a local bicyclist I know providing me with my vaccination; it is a small world! 

So in the  past 3 weeks there have been almost 150,000 people vaccinated at the University of Arizona Tucson site and when they reach that goal, they will start their count again. Please get vaccinated soon so we as a country do not have another wave of the virus and that if you do get the virus you are protected enough not to die from it. There is plenty of scientific information about the vaccines and videos explaining it all, so check out what you need to get answers to any questions you may have. Knowledge is power so you make the best decision for yourself.

Know About Oracle State Park?

In 2001, a 4,000 acre wildlife refuge and environmental center was named Oracle State Park. It is located about 20 miles north of Tucson, Arizona. I recently visited the park and was fascinated with its history.

In 1903, two Kannally brothers from Illinois purchased 160 acres of land here with one brother hoping the dry air would help his tuberculosis. Two sisters eventually join the brothers and with land purchases the ranch land expands to 50,000 acres. They built a unique Mediterranean and Moorish-style ranch house which can be toured when Covid-19 pandemic concerns ends and allows tours, but visitors can sit at the patio. Bird feeders on one end, view of Antelope Peak to the north, San Pedro River to the east and Mount Lemmon area to the south, yet the summit there is blocked by Apache Peak.

There are numerous trails to hike and/or mountain bike. All trails are very well signed. From the nature trail one can look back on the ranch house.

Midway on the 1.2 mile loop nature trail is an adobe wildlife viewing blind. The only activity at the water hole was in the tree where I watched 2 ravens build a nest. At one point a raven brought in a long twig and it took its time to problem-solve where to put it in place while it kept hitting other parts of the tree and branches.

Although much of the 50,000 acres were sold to Magma Copper Company in 1952, it was Lucille Kannally who willed 4,000 acres to a non-profit, Defenders of Wildlife. Lucille died in 1976. In 1985, Defenders of Wildlife transferred the ranch house and land to the state of Arizona founding a new state park in 2001. In November 2014, Oracle State Park became the World’s 20th International Dark Sky Park and the first AZ state park to receive that recognition!

As an environmental education center some areas are available for school groups. There are plenty of trails to hike and/or bike. A windmill is further out on the property and one of my future hiking destinations. I look forward to the day I can tour the ranch house too. It is wonderful to see the National Scenic Arizona Trail also passing through some of its land. Want to spend some time outdoors, check out this park!

Memories of Holland

I am thinking of places to travel! Will it be by years end, 2021? Or maybe, 2022? Bicycling to the windmills and colorful places in Holland would be great fun! Also revisiting museums in Amsterdam. Will Europe welcome tourists and will we need to show proof of vaccination? I have wonderful memories of Holland and how easy it was to travel to nearby countries. Someday soon we all will be back on the road! Please do your part so we can get wherever we wish to go this year!

                               Colorful Holland
                         Holland in Color

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!