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!

Fastest Minute of my ….

I was sort of lackadaisical in getting out of my car before taking a hike. I walked around to the passenger side of the car to take out my camera. Wow, within no time … thankfully I had the 200-500 mm lens on the camera, a red-tailed hawk is flying so close I just had to get a photograph!

Surprise… it is flying back towards me, so a fantastic opportunity to take another photo, just in case my first one is out of focus!

This bird is going nowhere, except hanging out with me. What’s going on? The bird makes a small circle and is back! Do you know how heavy that lens is … I tell myself, don’t think about it, this is an opportunity, so take another photo!

One has to love those red tail feathers! Is it my imagination or does the bird see something to the left of me?Thank you hawk for flying back so I could capture that look! Oh this bird is not done, as it is now just about above my head!

And now it is above my head … with all of this happening within one minute of time from my first photograph to this last one. And then I went on my hike to see a green heron and northern shovelers, 2 bobcats, and other birds, but this minute was the most amazing for this day!

One and a half hours later I was back at my car and who do I see? I’m thinking it is the same red-tailed hawk, despite the fact there are many red-tail hawks in the area. So that is what you look like when you are not flying around; what fun!

To Much Time To Think

I have the luxury of time, I know! Others work hard to put food on their table, care for children and family, and want a worry-free night of sleep, especially as our Covid-19 world has increased cases and deaths across our nation. And yet so it is, I do spend much of my time thinking. Here are a few of my latest thoughts.

There was a time the “C” word created anxiety, but in 2020, which “C” word are we referring to? Family and friends diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, surviving radiation and/or chemotherapy, do have cancer and a “C” worthy of worry. Covid-19 or coronavirus is another “C” word within our latest struggle causing us to evaluate inpatient and outpatient medical care along with prioritization of services. Another “C” word is the common cold, or is what I have a cold or not? Recently I convinced myself to contact my doctor for advice on why I was feeling as I did. I wanted my doctor caring for the other “C”- diagnosed patients before me as I was sure I would survive given time. After two video-conferenced appointments with my doctor, prescribed medication, and a 2 week period for whatever in my body to run its course, I am fine. I wish for all others to be so fortunate too.

I’m not a therapist, psychoanalyst or medical professional, but I do listen to what you say when you tell me your safety-conscious bubble continues to bump into areas of stress. I know you weren’t always judgmental. Once differing opinions lead to dynamic conversations, but now you cannot be sure if it is safe to speak your mind. Your workplace once encouraged  camaraderie and teamwork, but now some employees practice current safety protocols versus others who do not. Conflict ensues, your workplace has fundamentally changed and feels different. I know we are all tired of the varying levels of quarantine, virtual learning and communicating, but what is the alternative? We do need to make our well-being the priority or we will have no people to return to the world when the virus has run its course. Remember, patience is a virtue!

Truth be told as always, patience is wearing thin with me. I cancelled my fifth trip for this year! I worked my entire career to save money and travel, and now as a retiree, I live to travel. This year has been a bust, a huge disappointment. When I cannot even drive across the state border and enjoy time without worry of the virus, it is a frustrating time! I continue to do my part in masking up and staying physically distant so you and I are healthy. I have great empathy for those who are struggling economically, medically and spiritually. I want lives to be whole again. 2021, a vaccine, and respect toward each other may help us achieve a better tomorrow so we all can move on with and in life.

Finally, on-line games seem to be one thing people always tell me they play to distract themselves from their depression. I decided to check out “Wordscapes”. It is a free, on-line game. I was determined to not put one penny into it. My goal was to play till I could not. This was an interesting experience. After each game there is an advertisement of another game or a product. It is no wonder people are clicking all over their devices to check out items. I did not; I played the game. My last two games though I did watch additional videos, since I did not want to answer research questions or do a survey, to gain clues to finish those games. I am tired of watching any advertisement whether photo or video, so I am done with this game! Overall though, it was an interesting experience. Now I understand how and why people look to these activities for distraction as they are a huge time sink and your next day is here before you know it!

Those have been a few of my latest thoughts… or more simply said …. 2020, be gone!

Almost a Drive-by Miss!

Do we know how much home construction is happening in Arizona!?! I was driving north of Tucson to locate areas with water, such as a tank, pond, small stream, or river and what I saw were huge housing developments being built. As a result, I needed to drive further. Finally, agricultural land with greens and cotton! I drove across a bridge and at the river’s edge I saw a white heron, actually named great egret.

After a quick U-turn on the road and parking my car, I walked the bridge to capture a photo of the great egret. They love these shallow wetlands. I love their kinked neck as they stalk and capture their prey.

There was no way I could get closer to the bird so when it flew off I decided to walk a nearby paved trail where I met some bicyclists. The railing along the bicycle path and distance from the river is a good idea so wildlife can comfortably live their lives. With the egret flying off, I thought it would be the last I would see of it. Ever the optimist, I walked the path to see what else I could discover!

And there was the egret! Further down the river, the egret continued its stalking and I enjoyed observing the bird. After five minutes I realized this bird was in its own heaven and would not be coming any closer to me, so I decided to leave it in peace. This 20 minutes with the great egret almost did not happen. Fortunately I had looked over the bridge’s concrete wall to the river and immediately recognized the white bird as a great egret! A wonderful way to spend time outdoors!

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

In the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and within the Coronado National Forest, you’ll discover Sabino Canyon’s numerous trails which reopened 3 months ago. The Bighorn wildfire burned thousands of acres north of the canyon causing the area’s closure. Many of us are now walking or running the trails or riding the emission-free tram which operates on a paved road. While hiking along, you’ll see some ramadas with tables for picnic time, saguaro cacti and riparian areas, canyons and mountainsides.

Check the park rules to know when bicycling is allowed, be aware dogs are not allowed, and understand wildlife live within or walk through the area. Always carry plenty of water and know where you are in the park since trails are numerous.

Since the Bighorn fire, there are a couple of new fences and gates erected quite possibly to restrict trail access, if needed in the future. Whether it be another fire or monsoon activity, not a bad idea to keep everyone safe since few check local weather or know of hazards as often as we should when thinking to explore an area.

During the pandemic, the majority of hikers are wearing facial masks and/or keeping physically distant while hiking the trails. I have not been near the visitor center so I can only hope safety protocols are followed there too. It is a beautiful place to hike with your family or partner, so I hope to see you on the trail!

Birds and More in Rural Arizona

Have you ever wondered what other birds are in your area, but away from your bird feeder and local city parks? I did. An hour northwest  of where I live there are many quiet, dirt, agricultural area roads passing fields, state land, homes, feedlots, river and canals. My first stop was to say hello to a cow at a feedlot. These cows did get onto their feet when I walked toward them. I hope they were not expecting food or a pat on the head.

Many red-tailed hawks were seen during my couple of hours of driving and bird watching. I also saw an American kestrel!

No one else was on the roads, except an occasional 18 wheeler truck driven by someone who knew the roads! I am not sure what they were hauling, but plenty of hay is for sale and cotton either in square shape or rolls is also ready to go.

Unfortunately I missed photographing an egret and great blue heron. They caught me by surprise as they few up from a grassy area. There are little ponds or tanks every so often, plenty of irrigation canals, and the Santa Cruz River so I kept my eyes open in those areas too. White-crowned sparrows and house finches were numerous in some areas.  I saw one vesper sparrow, one loggerhead shrike and a couple of western meadowlarks.

Irrigation lines were being installed to possibly enlarge a nearby turf farm. Some canals had no water and one had the fastest water flow of all I had seen!  That canal was near this iron contraption which is no longer hooked up. I am not sure of its original use.

Two new birds for my birding life list: Inca dove and crested caracara. The Inca dove does have a “scaled” upper body compared to the mourning doves I typically see each day.

I thought I saw a couple of crested caracara fly overhead. I was told these falcon-like birds can be found in the Santa Cruz Flats so I kept my eyes open. I was thrilled to see them since not many are in Arizona!

It was fun exploring, looking for birds, seeing rural America’s less explored roads. In one direction I could see Picacho Peak where there is a great hike, if you are interested in a hike. In another direction it was an endless road or two which brought back great memories of my solo bicycling trip a couple of years ago. After a few hours I headed home, yet I know I will be back!