Utah ….and Monument Valley …. WOW!

From Grand Junction, Colorado I traveled Interstate 70 west and a route south toward Moab, Utah. I have fun-filled memories of time spent hiking, mountain biking and camping in Moab with my partner many, many years ago. The town has exploded in size since our visit here. When we visited Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse State Park years ago, we never needed on-line reservations ahead of our visit. Now, if you have plans to visit any of the parks, be sure to do your research and know if you need a reservation for a specific day’s timed-entry into a park.

Anyway, I grabbed sandwich-makings at a supermarket and continued on to Monument Valley, Utah where I was camping the next 2 nights. As I passed Bear’s Ears National Monument, I realized I should have added a couple of days to explore that area … next time! 

I arrived at my Utah campground and saw a guided tour was leaving in 15 minutes. I hopped on it. There is a huge advantage to have a guide drive their vehicle over the dirt, washboard-like roads in the Monument Valley Tribal Park which is located in Arizona. An extra benefit I discover, the guide takes us into the back-country where other visitors can only drive on the basic scenic loop. Our Navajo guide was great in explaining things, driving through the sandy areas on the road, and stopping numerous places for us to take photographs. Seven customers, out of 12 of us, were from Europe. Our biggest challenge was the wind blowing sand all around. Thankfully I wore glasses and even put on a face mask so less was in my mouth and nose. Shout out to the “Clean Life, No Rinse Bathing Wipes” I used after the tour! Since it was windy and rainy at 8:30pm when I got back to camp, I used those wipes and could not believe the amount of sand in my ears!

Climbed up the sand dune … heart-pounding work!
Looking back down – just to give you perspective!
See the face?

The next day I drove about a 15 mile loop on a road a local person suggested when I asked for a place to explore. The majority of the distance was on a very sandy, washboard-like dirt road and my van rattled like crazy! I saw 4 other local people on the road and I eventually passed Olijado, Utah. In Navajo it means “moon over water”. Two different locals told me that meaning. Here are two photos:


Only town on the road
Beautiful sight to see!

I returned to Monument Valley Tribal Park … to check out the visitor center and then to participate in another tour. This was a sunset photography tour with a Navajo guide. My first hope was for a sunset worth photographing since the previous day was so windy, cloudy, gray and eventually rainy. Oh no … This evening began with a major downpour of rain and wind-blown sand! I thought what a disaster this was going to be! Two other people were on the tour with me and we remained hopeful. 

Finally the storm passed! Thankfully it was a three hour tour and our guide knew where to drive for good photo opportunities and to not drive in clay areas where we would be stuck in it in our vehicle. (No cell service out here!) The other huge advantage was our vehicle had windows we could close. I felt so sorry for the people in the open-sided vehicles! No rain gear would keep them dry with this storm! 

Our guide was very good. He spoke Navajo, so we could hear the language, and explained what he was saying. He had many interesting stories about his life and the Navajo tribe. It was nice to have a small group on the tour. Photos are below.

If you are interested in visiting Monument Valley Tribal Park, which is in Arizona, you can stay at the campground, cabins or The View Hotel, all on tribal land. I stayed at a Utah campground just outside the area and paid $8.00 per day as I visited the tribal park, plus the fee for any tour taken. I am looking forward to a return visit!

Monument Valley Tribal Park
Monument Valley Tribal Park
Monument Valley Tribal Park

What Fun, Observing Eastern Phoebe Chicks!

Each year a pair of Eastern Phoebes return to their nest at my sister’s Pennsylvania home. This year we checked the nest after seeing a couple of Eastern Phoebe’s flying around last year’s nest. We climbed near the nest, iPhone in hand with outstretched arm, blindly poised above the nest and camera lens aimed at the interior of the nest. Our photo allowed us to discover 4 eggs in the nest!

Adult Eastern phoebe

An adult’s tail-wagging distinguishes this bird from others and their nests are often under eaves of manmade structures, such as the interior of the shed here. They prefer farmland and mate for life; yet some males may have 2 partners. Brown-headed cowbirds are known to replace the phoebe’s eggs with their own, thus the biggest threat to these birds. The eggs incubate for 15- 18 days. The Eastern phoebes are very protective of the area. Even after the eggs hatched, the adult birds kept a close eye on where I was. I set my tripod in one spot and remained still so I could photograph the adult feeding the young.

Eastern phoebe eggs

The 4 eggs hatched and I observed the adults feeding the chicks. Three of the 4 chicks seemed to monopolize their parent’s feeding. It was fascinating to observe the adult birds assess whether they felt safe feeding their chicks while I stood a distance away. I remained still and during a half hour time period I saw the 2 adults each feed the chicks.

Clearly see 3 chicks.
Look closely to see 4 beaks in the air as the adult looks my way.
A minute later the adult directs its attention back to its young.

Eastern phoebes don’t overlap with black phoebes, thus I was happy to see this bird during my east coast travel! I see darker-headed black phoebes where I live on the west coast of the USA. I know many people believe the bird symbolizes stillness in the chaos of life. Whether Celtic, Native American, Greek, Maori, or Far East, there is a common thread about the bird’s symbolism; the bird being a symbol of hope, patience, joy, love and compassion and to follow our heart’s desires.

Eastern phoebes eat many insects.

Somewhere With My Camera

The note I left my partner one morning, “I will be somewhere with my camera”. It was a beautiful morning. I had the whole day ahead of me with no plan or restrictions. With a full tank of gas in my van, snacks and water packed, binoculars, and camera  … I was ready to go … somewhere!

The outdoors can feel endless when a full day may be filled with hikes through various landscapes … should I stop by a wetland, a grassland, a wooded mountainous area … or all of it? To live where outdoor options abound, I can be anywhere or everywhere! Where do I wish to visit? What do I hope to see? Yes I have my camera … which lens will I feel like using? Or maybe I carry a longer lens and use my tripod? Until I step foot on the ground, I am unsure if I will spend time with an insect, flower, bird or landscape scene … or all of it. 

On this day I love the breezes and sunshine. It is an easy day for photography as I put the breeze and sunshine at my side or back. Will I focus on the insect on the flowers with my macro lens? Or use my zoom lens to photograph the flying bird? Or a wide angle lens to capture a beautiful landscape? Time will tell as my day unfolds in various places … since I am somewhere with my camera. 

I hope you get outdoors and enjoy nature!

Make it a great day whatever you choose to do!

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!

It’ll Take a Lifetime!

How many things do we put our mind and body into wanting to accomplish even if the “thing” would take a lifetime? Continued education on many subjects has always been of interest to me, just as my dedication to the many thousand tennis strokes, hundred pickleball strokes and other activities I wanted and needed to learn. In college I thought my basketball and field hockey skills would be fantastic if only I took a lifetime working on them! Instead, we pick and choose what and where we wish to put our energies. For me, at the moment, it is to learn about birds and bird photography. (To this day my basketball and field hockey skills are not good.)

I was thinking about things that seem to take forever to actually happen … does everything require a lifetime!?! I had been on the trail and people would always ask, did you see that bird or did you see this bird? No wonder it is a life list to record the birds you see … it’ll take a lifetime! Are my birding skills getting better? Am I at the best locations and at the best time to see certain birds? My very early morning hours where when I was younger and needing to be at work. Now do I really need to be up with the birds? I guess I need to dedicate myself to the process and get up early too! Or may be not.

Thank goodness I discovered the other day that an early morning rise was not necessary to see a bird I have been looking for the last few weeks. It was 3:30pm, late afternoon in my book. Besides enjoying the birds I saw few human beings, another plus! A cinnamon teal made an appearance.

Cinnamon teal

A bird usually heard from the cattails and never seen was now dipping its head into the stream’s water. The bird is a sora!


But the bird everyone else observed the last few weeks and I had never seen in my lifetime was the wood duck. I visit Sweetwater Wetlands whenever I am on this side of town and I look for these birds. I could only envision their beautiful look from what I had seen on postcards and field guide books. With each person asking if I saw the bird, I was determined that my sighting will come. It did and it was late in the day, not like 7:30am as others mentioned was the time they had seen the ducks.

Wood ducks swim away.

Black-crowned night heron flew in so the wood ducks swam away. What a fortunate sighting for me and it did not take a lifetime!

Black-crowned night heron.

I think the Audubon bird life list is about 9,000 birds. There are some people who travel the world looking for specific birds to add to their list. I remember one woman wanting to see a California condor while she was on a hiking trip I was guiding at Grand Canyon National Park. The following week she was flying to the west coast of Africa to see some of the 150 birds not yet on her life list. (She did see the condor.)

I saw 100 birds along the Amazon River in Peru in 2017. I wonder where I have the list of them; maybe in my travel journal? And what about the birds seen before I started my current life list? I understand I can add historical sightings… hmmmm…maybe I will. I have to be sure to add in the Eastern USA common loon I saw in the late 1970’s. I hiked in 4 miles to an Adirondack lake just to find and to see that bird. It took a few times before I did see the bird, but it was worth it. All the other times I had only heard the loon’s haunting call while I was tenting on an island in another lake. And now I see some loons do winter in Arizona, yet they do not have the call of the loon as the one on the east coast. Interesting. With all the birding done in my lifetime so far, I may be lucky to record 300 birds? Who knows, but when I read about people viewing thousands of birds, wow! I have a lifetime yet to fill, so I best get going!

A Relaxed Great Egret!

Birds at local parks are often comfortable with activity around them. A bird will find and look around to be sure it is in a good spot. As a bird photographer, this allows me a chance to capture a photo and anticipate the bird taking flight to possibly capture another photo! Okay, good luck with all of that! My plan, a return visit to Lakeside Park to see and photograph some birds.

Across the lake, I see a great egret. It is standing there. Will it fly toward me at some point? No, it flies about 20 feet to a slightly higher spot further from the water’s edge. No problem, I can wait as I anticipate it will fly at some point in time across the lake!

The great egret is relaxed, looking around, in no hurry and I am thinking I may not be seeing this bird move or fly in the next hour, if I was to remain here so long … which I could not. I’m looking around too and noticing the American wigeons, mallards, and western bluebirds.

After 20 minutes the great egret is in flight! Not the best light, but I am here to practice my photography skills so I get a few photos!

The great egret lands and gets comfortable in this new spot. I take a peek at my photos and discover a couple of them seem okay, plus it is time for me to go! It was a productive three-quarters of an hour, yet not as relaxing for me as it was for the great egret.

Learn With Barn Swallows

One of my many photography goals is to photograph birds in flight. Finding the correct location to take such a photograph requires knowing the bird’s flight plan, where the sun is in the sky relative to that info, what the water’s edge looks like, reedy or open so a photo can be taken from lift-off or only in the sky, handhold the camera or use a gimbal on a tripod, and what camera settings to use.

The other night I spent more than an hour at a local place watching ducks fly in and fly out a couple of times. Plenty of photos were taken as I figured out my camera settings, lighting, and guessing whether that bird was about to fly. Out of all, I was lucky to capture one good photo of a mallard duck.

Mallard duck.

Then I heard about auto ISO and how it is useful with bird photography. I decided to try my newly discovered camera setting on some ducks, hopefully in flight, the next day. I re-read various photography papers about auto ISO and consulted my camera’s on-line manual. So with the auto ISO sensitivity this brings my birds in flight challenge to a different level and somewhat easier, I hope!

I was at a different local place the next morning and the ducks were more interested in eating their meal than flying. I watched barn swallows quickly fly over the water, snatch insects at the water’s surface and then fly off…so fast!

Was I up to the challenge to use what I learned about auto ISO with these fast-flying barn swallows? Why not? I thought if I can capture some good photos of these fliers, then auto ISO will become another tool I can use with my photography! So with camera on the gimbal on the tripod, shutter speed and aperture settings ready and auto ISO on, the shooting began! Barn swallows fly fast in the sky and near the water’s surface. Trying to keep up with them was almost impossible! I took some photos, changed the shutter speed for some photos, and here were the results.

Wow, I actually had some okay photos within my numerous attempts; I am talking at least 100! A good first lesson. I look forward to using auto ISO when the need arises, and hopefully with something that moves a bit slower! Or maybe not; this was fun!

Green Heron, My Model!

Did I tell you I am working on my photography skills while social distancing from every human being I know? Thankfully the fauna and flora I see while outdoors on walks or drives has kept me challenged!

My favorite bird of the moment is the green heron I saw at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, AZ! This bird was so focused on eating while standing in a quiet stream, I could focus on him and his behaviors. He looked around, high and low; zeroed in on prey and caught small fish and other creepy looking things!

My challenge was to capture it all in photos, in focus, and with some success I did! Photos below to prove it. My future challenge will be to capture birds not so accommodating! Give me time, I will get there! In the meantime, I love my green heron!

Green heron looking around.
Green heron looking around.
Green heron looking in the other direction.
Aha, green heron got the fish! I got the photo!

Wonder What He’s Thinking?


Photography is my new goal…or maybe not so new, continued goal…I keep hoping it takes a lifetime to learn…just like tennis is a lifetime sport! Anyway, I like photos that are not the usual. I wonder what this guy is thinking?


Am I done for the day? Am I really ready to ride home on my bicycle with my surfboard? That ship really should not come any closer! Are the waves getting bigger or is that my imagination? Did I really need my full wetsuit today? Is it really necessary to be on my way or do I have another place to stop? Hmmm…

I know this guy had a great day! Did you? I did!