My Travel Adventure to the East Coast Begins!

My eastward van travel from Arizona to New York will be unlike last year’s trip. No freezing Colorado or Nebraska nights for me! Although seeing the sandhill cranes come to roost at night and take off in the morning in Nebraska was spectacular! Part one during this travel: discover what birds I can along the coastal waters of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. I also decided to stay at Harvest Host locations … since I spent money for that annual membership … and really wanted to determine if it was a good option beyond KOA campgrounds.

Well the cold weather began my first night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but with my winter sleeping bag I was fine! My favorite breakfast place is The Shed Restaurant in town. It was wonderful talking with the waitress I met on past visits. There is something to be said when we can connect with people time and time again across the USA as one travels. I again visited South Llano River Park in Junction, Texas while on my way to San Antonio. Besides viewing birds I saw my first live armadillo!

I loved the warm weather in San Antonio, Texas and a return visit to birdwatch at Mitchell Lake. While at this location a woman told me about Crescent Bend Nature Center just about a half hour away. Of course, I went there too. Next time I will make time to bicycle the gravel paths at this place.

A big surprise was meeting a family I had met at the San Antonio KOA last November. With a glass of wine and good conversation, we caught up with each other and how life has been treating us. It truly is a not small world, but simply amazing when your path crosses with another when hundreds of miles from each ones home! Rain always threatened, but I decided I brought my bicycle to ride so I hopped on it for a quick ride before rain and leaving San Antonio. One new bird: cave swallow, yet no good photo. They flew too fast for me to even take a photo.

South Llano River Park photos:

Black-chinned hummingbird
Armadillo… quite an interesting look!

Mitchell Lake, San Antonio, Texas bird photo:

Black-necked stilt

At Crescent Bend Nature Center, this northern cardinal spent many minutes looking at the window and the side mirror of the car belonging to a couple of woman who were relaxing at the park. We were amazed at the amount of time it spent there.

Northern cardinal

Finally, 2 black vultures preening each other:

Hiking Arizona’s Saguaro National Park East

When hiking in Arizona, one cannot help but notice how varied the landscapes are in this state. On this day we chose to hike in the Rincon Mountain area, one of the 5 mountain ranges surrounding Tucson Arizona. An easy ten mile drive brings us to Saguaro National Park East off Speedway Road. Our plan was to combine some trails and loop around for a 4 – 5 mile hike. 

A good portion of the hike was in washes and on horse trails. Wildflowers were starting to bloom, Saguaro cacti were numerous and birds were seen every so often. It was sunny day with a constant breeze and blue sky. We followed our plan with a map and were happy to see good signage at the various trail intersections. Our only challenge came toward the end of the hike when the exit was to walk through a wash. This wash actually had a few inches of water in it! We made no plan for water crossings or wading through water so we made a slight change in our plan, and walked another trail out. Great hiking day …. 5.5 miles in just under 3 hours. 

Here are some photos from the day:

Wild Horse Trail did have some people riding horses on it!

Saguaro cacti are throughout the park; however, to see a “crested” or “cristate” saguaro is rare since there are only about 2,000 crested saguaros in the Sonoran Desert region … growing in this national park in an isolated and rugged area.

Crested Saguaro cactus

We could not help but notice remaining effects of the power of water. This cliffside has been swept aside after many seasons of water flow and we can see tree roots hanging on. Some trails were also like trenches due to water erosion and the horses and people who have traveled the trail for hundreds of years.

Very worn trail!

The landscape is beautiful:

Fairy duster plant
Ocotillo plant … don’t plan to grab this plant if you are falling!
Many Saguaro cacti in this area

Thoughts While Mountain Biking

Actually it would be safer for me to have no or few thoughts while mountain biking! It is one of the best activities for me to totally focus on what is happening in the moment and not fret about the worries of the world. Yet I was thinking about the home construction happening around one of our favorite places to mountain bike ride here, Fantasy Island. Some trails have been changed and others have been lost to the new homes and water treatment plant. Hopefully we will not lose the trails that remain.

We love stopping at this one huge Saguaro cactus! May it live another 100 years!

Saguaro cactus … is holding up!

But I want to mention something more specific to the bike trails. We mountain biked 14 miles and most of the trails were in good shape. Of course, we are on the easy trail … affectionately called the Bunny Trail, then Snake Dance and Bunny’s Revenge before we return to our starting point. Each of those trails are fun, nothing too dangerous with easy dips and climbs on hard-packed dirt for the most part! I know people love to ride, but it is important to give a trail time to dry out after a rainstorm. Here as shown in the photo below, some people had ridden while the ground was muddy. Creating ruts aren’t helpful to the next riders and only aids in the soil erosion as water flows through this area again. I want to be riding as much as the other people, but take a day off after a rainstorm to allow the bike trail to dry out.

Mud … now creating another trail nearby to avoid this …

Most trails were in good shape, such as this:

So…my point is … as excited as I might be to mountain bike ride, I think twice before doing so when I see we have had rain recently. And then I get out to see the cute bunnies along the trail and maybe even a real one!

Point Loma Tide Pools, California

I live in land-locked Arizona, so getting to the Pacific Ocean a few times a year is great travel fun for me. I’ve written about various California places, but walking at low tide at the intertidal pools within Cabrillo National Monument is worth a visit. Time to visit the Point Loma Tide Pools in the San Diego area!

Be sure to know when the tides are during your visit. You do not want to be caught in high tide when the water is just over 7 feet in depth. If you are looking for sea anemones, crabs and other living things it is best to be here at low tide. At this location there are 2 high and 2 low tides most days. Google it or ask a ranger the tide schedule.

I love checking out the pools of water and seeing living things there or in the cliff’s edge. See the crabs in the photo below? And look at all the life clinging to the cliffside!

Once again we see the power of water as these smaller pools were made.

Many people visit these pools, so plan your arrival as early as you can. Cabrillo National Monument which is where this place is, opens at 9am each day. I have been here other times and found the parking lot closed due to it being full. Of course there is plenty of other spots to stop at this national monument so consider doing that too. Of course, I was happy to get a good photo of a snowy egret flying by!

Seeing A Bird as Birdwatcher or Birder?

I observe a bird and experience simple joy. These past 2 years seeing birds, being present outdoors in natural environments, talking with others about birds, and sketching, painting or photographing birds has helped me maintain some sanity. But I must admit, I have gone down the rabbit-hole! I am deep into birding!

When I think about my first observation of birds, it really was in the 1970’s when I was intrigued with the common loon in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I was camping on an island in Stillwater Reservoir and heard the loon’s eerie call as I laid in my sleeping bag at night. One would think something awful is happening when you first hear this bird, but then you know it is a loon. I also would hike 4 miles to lakes where I knew there were loons, with no binoculars or camera … simply outdoors looking for the bird. Friends would give me loon wood carvings, books, etc. As I have come to discover, the common loon was my “spark” bird. The bird that got me first interested in birds. 

I had been a science teacher and naturalist, so all living things were always of interest to me. In 2017 while traveling in Peru along the Amazon River, seeing 100 birds in 5 days. I thought this is crazy, I do not even know the birds in my backyard! Yet, that did not kick my bird-watching into high gear. Then the pandemic. Now home-bound, I bought bird feeders, spent time watching and learning the birds there and bought a camera to photograph birds. Thanks to various apps, especially Merlin Bird ID, this budding bird-watcher was on my way!

Today I know there is a difference between a bird-watcher and a birder. I also must admit I am officially now a “birder”. A birder is one who over-shadows most things in their life to go out and observe birds. Yes my goal this year is a checklist each day of the birds I observe, and to send via eBird to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Another goal is trying to photograph as many birds as I can. My eyes are always wandering to check the sky, nearby plants, or places bird may perch or fly by. I have a life list of 386 birds seen since the start I made during the pandemic. A “birder” I am and also enjoy being with people who are bird-watchers. It is fun to share observations with the casual observers outdoors seeing a bird.

When I was an assistant guide for a Roads Scholar trip at the Grand Canyon, I met an 80 year old woman who wanted to be sure to see a California condor on our hiking trip. She had her binoculars and named every bird we were seeing on our hike. She also would send bird lists to the companies she was traveling with next in Central America and Africa. Now I truly understand, she was a “birder” and yes she did see a condor. Interestingly I have not added a California condor to my list yet because I have only listed birds since I started this endeavor. Hopefully I’ll see that bird again and be able to list it.

In another blog, I mentioned it took me days to find a yellow-billed loon. Another bird I searched for was a brant. I went to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in California and looked out on the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully I had sketched this bird so in my mind I had an idea of what it looked like. I saw what I thought were 2 brants flew by. I could not capture them in a photograph, but despite being so far away from me I did get a photo of them in the water! Birder success!!!!

White “necklace” helped identify this black bird as a brant for me!

No matter being a birdwatcher or a birder, take time to see the bird, watch what it is doing, marvel at its skills and beautiful look, and enjoy the moment! Relax … don’t worry about knowing its name … simply take a good look and see the bird. Enjoy!

Lunch with a Friend & a Hawk!?!

My friend and I just finished a bird walk with a local group. We then decided to get out of the wind and sit in a car to eat lunch. As we talked and looked over a grassy field, we noticed some birds. At first glance we thought it was two birds mating, but after there was no movement for a few minutes we took a better look. What’s that? A Cooper’s hawk on top of a Greater roadrunner. Wow! The tussle we witnessed between two birds was no love affair as they were two in battle! The hawk won.

I got out of the car and brought my camera along hoping to get a photo before any bird flew off. Well the roadrunner was not going anywhere as it was dead and the hawk simply stayed on it … all in the middle of a local road. Those hawk’s talons in the dead bird made me feel sorry for the now dead roadrunner.

After a few minutes, and after a pick-up truck maneuvered around the birds in the road, the hawk decided to pull its prey to the grassy field. This was not an easy task for the hawk! But the hawk had success.

We watched the hawk continually look around … was it being sure no other predator would steal his prey? Or was it trying to figure out where to put his prey for consumption later in the day? Or how was it simply going to move it out of sight of every other living thing? Minutes went by…

Cooper’s hawks do eat medium-sized birds, like a robin, or small mammals, like chipmunks … but this hawk seemed to have gotten a big prize capturing a roadrunner. Now its challenge was what to do with it!

I moved closer to the hawk and there was no doubt he saw me. I was moving slowly, not waving my arms or anything around to cause it any real disturbance. It had to know I had no interest in his prey, right?

The hawk decides it is best to get back to the road. And so it pulls the roadrunner through the grass and an opening in the fence and onto the road. That must have taken plenty of energy to accomplish. I was amazed to see the hawk move that bird to the road.

Back out on the road, I figured the birds would not hang out here too long. A Greater roadrunner weighs at least 8-15 ounces and of course we are talking dead weight now! A Cooper’s hawk can weigh up to 1.2 pounds and usually will not be able to carry anything heavier than itself, so this was a huge kill for the hawk. I could only imagine the hawk continuing to drag the roadrunner along. But then again, I may be wrong …. and I was as I saw the hawk fly off down the road with the roadrunner.

There the hawk went with its prey; quite the predator-prey interaction of 21 minutes we shared with these birds!

I wish I knew how far the hawk actually carried and stashed his prey. That had to take plenty of energy to accomplish the carry. No doubt the hawk will rest and eat … and if birds can be happy, then this is one happy hawk!

Here Again at Bosque; Part 2 of 2

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge can be visited in a few hours; however, I chose to spend two days. My second day I drove the south loop for a couple of hours. Less activity seemed to be happening on this loop compared to my previous day, yet I saw almost the same number of different bird species as the previous day. Also, 10 javelina were within my sight and I have a new bird for my life list: tundra swan! 

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had only seen one bufflehead, but on this day I saw 15! Here is a male bufflehead:

Male bufflehead

I happened to notice this sharp-shinned hawk as I was walking toward a boardwalk hike I planned to take. Also saw this great blue heron in a roadside ditch and a bald eagle in the middle of the body of water!

Sharp-shinned hawk
Great blue heron
Bald eagle

My new bird though was a tundra swan. There were two of them on the water! These birds breed in the northern parts of Alaska and Canada, rarely seen this far south at anytime. How exciting to see them!

Tundra swans

Just when I think I have seen it all, I see the tundra swans. It’s important to keep your eyes open since a bird may have just flown in or resurface from their dive. I was happy to take two days viewing wildlife at the national wildlife refuge. We are so fortunate to have these areas. Help protect them anyway you can, so you can visit and future generations of people can visit too! Thanks for doing your part.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge; Part 1 of 2

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in New Mexico, is more than 57,000 acres between the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains with 30,000 acres designated as wilderness. I recently visited the refuge for a couple of winter days to view various ducks, sandhill cranes and geese. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this area. It is a challenge to do so because of the shrinking water supply from the Rio Grande River. Birds do land here and then fly off to feed in nearby fields of the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

I scoped out the refuge the previous spring to know what to expect when I arrived here. There is a wonderful visitor center and nature shop. Friendly volunteers will answer questions and provide insight on how best to spend your day if this is your first visit. The first day of my visit I drove the north loop. It was four hours of slowly driving an auto loop, stopping at observation decks and a blind or other spots where I simply noticed some bird activity and wanted to spend more time. At some spots I walked with my camera and tripod to get closer to birds and not flush them with any vehicle noise. I eventually saw 20 different species of birds, 1 coyote, 2 squirrels, and 4 javelina. 

Some photos:

Beautiful landscape!
Cranes eating at the field.
Many birds are here, such as the great blue heron.
I only saw one bufflehead this day, but 15 the next day!
Huge blind yet no water on the other side of it at this time.

Other important info: You are at 4500 feet elevation so plan for cooler weather than the cities, plus hat, layers of clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses. Mountain lion are in the refuge; signs remind you of this fact. There is an annual Festival of Cranes each December to celebrate the sandhill crane migration. Hiking trails and a biking trail are other activities to check out when you have more time at the refuge.

Good things to know, so read the sign!

There were not many sandhill cranes there while I was at the refuge since it was midday and they were out for lunch! But about 150 were in the nearby agricultural land eating their lunch so I was able to observe them.

Sandhill crane.
Northern harrier. I love their owl-like, disc-like face.

Friends of Bosque del Apache help support this wild area since federal funding is not enough to meet the increasing challenges in this area. Here is a link if you wish to join the Friends. Or when you drive on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, plan a couple hours to visit the refuge! You’ll have a great break from driving as you spend time in nature.

Happy Birds at Our Feeder!

The last 4 nights I have been traveling to see sandhill cranes. Freezing mornings, but this morning I am able to observe birds from the comfort of my home. All photos of the birds at our feeder were taken while I stood indoors in a warm setting. A really wonderful way to observe birds! I will write about my latest travel, the cranes, and other birds in upcoming posts.

This post is about the 8 different species of birds that came to our feeder within an hour! Wow! There are two feeders for the birds to eat from. Some birds were very patient while they waited for another who is taking up space and feeding at a feeder. The Gamble’s quail and mourning doves are waiting for seed to drop to the ground. When the male northern cardinal swoops in with its bright red color, it is simply beautiful. Then came the female! Of course, the yellow of lesser goldfinch is an eye-catcher too, especially when in the sunlight! The ladderback woodpecker is becoming a regular here, just like the Gila woodpeckers. I am always surprised when a white-crowned sparrow shows up! Of course, the house finch are often here. Many of the birds also like sitting in the nearby trees. We are happy to see the birds at our feeders.

Enjoy the photos of the morning visitors to our feeders:

Gambel’s quail
Northern cardinal – male
Northern cardinal – female
Lesser goldfinch
Ladderback woodpecker
Gila woodpecker
White-crowned sparrow

Don’t forget to look out your window when home. There may be some birds sitting in the vegetation around your home or flying overhead. Take time to enjoy nature!

Turtles Brumate. What!?!

Where are all the turtles? Last month the question was asked of me by a young girl who obviously knew we usually see many, many turtles basking in the sun on the logs near the pond’s edge. Not on this winter day though. My answer was, the turtles probably are buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond since the water is very cold in winter. We will see them again when the weather warms.

I worked as a naturalist for a few summers when I was in my 20’s and learned to follow up on questions asked by people on my nature walks. It was important for me to learn more about a topic so I could provide accurate information when asked again by someone on my next hike. So I did some reading about the red-eared slider. This semi-aquatic, freshwater turtle is often seen here and I no doubt will hear that question again.

Red-eared slider

So where did the turtles go? Turtles are cold-blooded animals not capable of generating body heat. When water is below 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle slows down, is less active, and does bury itself only to rise to the surface as needed. Since it needs to drink water during this time it is not hibernation like we read about with bears, it is brumation. As a turtle brumates it can still move around, sleep underwater by resting on a pond’s bottom or float on the surface with an inflated throat as a floatation aid. Apparently a red-eared slider can survive in this cold water with no food for 70 – 100 days. If water dries up, they will travel in search of more water.

The turtles are back! Red-eared turtles are semi-aquatic so we see them in water and on land. They eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, tadpoles and fish. We love seeing them on rocks and logs as they warm themselves in the sun. If there are not enough logs they will even stack upon one another. They communicate with each other through touch and vibrations. One could wonder what the “message” was between them all.

Want one as a pet? The red-eared slider is one of 3 North American Pond Sliders. While red-eared sliders live long in captivity, they are one of the most invasive species found on every continent, except Antarctica, due to people unfortunately releasing their turtle to the wild. If you want a turtle at home, know the rules and regulations which vary per state in keeping it as a pet. Plus know how to care for it through all seasons, especially knowing it could live with you for many years. Otherwise, enjoy your red-eared turtle sightings when you are outdoors!