Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

Sandhill cranes are wonderful to see! My annual visit to Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area included an overnight. I was in my van as the night temperature was not higher than15 degrees! During the day, 30 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit … brrr! You gotta love sandhill cranes and birds in general to put yourself out there!

My visit was most enjoyable when I arrived. I was fortunate to pull my van into one of the two overnight spots still available. The majority of the cranes were out for lunch! Many people were visiting the area. I was especially surprised when I bumped into a Flagstaff tennis buddy who was with a Tohono Chul day trip group! Small world for sure! Always wonderful to see friends.

I took some photos and waited for the birds to return, but also saw a variety of other birds … even the sora hiding in the bushes!

Sleeping in my van with no additional heat is a challenge. But as a backpacker I knew I would be okay. Well okay as long as I was in my warm, down sleeping bag! Getting out of it the next morning to see the sandhill cranes take off, did not happen. Instead, my warm body had immediately cold fingers that froze in place necessitating me to manage the symptoms of my Raynaud’s syndrome/disease. Another time I will write about surviving cold weather when camping with Raynaud’s. It is doable, just a challenge one learns to live with since there is no cure.

So I walked the area, observed birds and returned to my van to make hot tea and walk the area again enjoying that cup of tea! I watched a red-tailed hawk eat its prey, fly off to another location, and then sit for us all to easily view it. Many of us were enjoying the beautiful cold morning as some of the birds walked on ice! 

Beautiful area:

Last year I was camping out in my van at Kearney, Nebraska’s Platte River area and freezing my butt off there to see the cranes. I need to discover where these birds hang out when it is a bit warmer. Actually, someone mentioned to me there are a couple of sandhill crane flocks that don’t migrate. Well I researched it and learned 3 of the 6 subspecies of sandhill cranes do not migrate. They are in Florida, Mississippi and Cuba. Good to know! Even so with the cold temperature, I was glad to visit here!

Some photos from Whitewater Draw. You’ll notice a couple of photos where I spent time watching the cranes drink water:

Sandhill cranes on the fly

Of course there are other beautiful birds here too! Plus the spectacular yellow-headed blackbirds as they flew as flock and could change direction as a group so quickly! Here’s a past post when I saw their behavior for the first time. People were so captivated watching these birds; I loved it!

Yellow-headed blackbirds. See past post if you have not already.
Killdeer
Northern pintail
Northern shovelers and American wigeons in the water, Northern harrier flew around.

Many people visit Whitewater Draw as a day trip and try to time when the sandhill cranes are flying in or out. It’s a great way to spend a day! If you have not, add it to your list of places to visit, especially if you are a birder! Then enjoy!

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!

Waterfowl Bathe While in the Water

Waterfowl, such as ducks, splash around in water to clean their feathers. While photographing a cinnamon teal recently, the bird was so engrossed in its bathing that it left me few minutes to capture a photo when water was not splashing! So I stayed and watched the bird.

Here is the cinnamon teal:

Cinnamon teal

Besides eating, bathing is an important task for ducks to do each day. Soiled feathers are cleaned of excess oil and ectoparasites. Ducks splash water over their backs and wings, shake the water from their wings and then spend time preening. The bird uses its beak to position and smooth its feathers. Feathers are very important in helping the bird maintain its insulation, waterproofing and aerodynamic flight. 

Getting the spot on the back of its head
This side too!

With an extra shake, water is off the duck and any feather barbules that unhooked can now zip back together. Birds are born knowing this regular maintenance behavior and preen often in a day. And here I thought the bird was having a good time … well, maybe it was while also getting itself clean!

Getting to all the right places!
This is so much better! Shake it off!

Another bird that caught my attention … a ring-necked duck. Here it was:

And then it too was bathing and shaking its feathers …

It is fun to observe birds as they go about doing what they need to do within their day. Take time to notice … another joy in being outdoors in nature.

My 4 Days of Winter!

It’s now winter! We beat the closure of Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. We were already relaxed in a warm Maswik Lodge room at Grand Canyon National Park. Driving the interstate highway the previous day was a breeze. We were ahead of the snow storm that eventually caused the highway’s closure. 

Coming to this national park when fewer people visit is what is best about the winter season. Unfortunately Covid is still in the air so facial masks are required in every building. Due to less staff and various supplies, we did find some restaurants with limited menus. We were here for the beauty of the place, so we were okay with how things were at the moment.

It is easy to spend 4 winter days here. We walked many parts of the rim trail. We stopped in at the art exhibit at the Kolb Studio and the geology museum. I do not think we missed any shop on the rim either. At Desert View we climbed the watchtower to see the eastern end of the canyon. Then we drove all the way to the western end at Hermit’s Rest to walk the rim trail. Meals were eaten at the historic El Tovar, Bright Angel Restaurant and AZ Steakhouse.

The day of our arrival there was no snow, but overnight the winter snow came! Unfortunate for those on the highway, but we woke to at least 6 inches of snow! Mule deer and elk were walking about during our visit. We bundled plenty of clothing layers on our body … it was cold weather! This was our 4 days of winter before returning to southern Arizona where we rarely see snow at our doorstep. It was a wonderful winter!

Enjoy the photos from our Grand Canyon stay.

Grand Canyon before the snow arrived.
Grand Canyon is beautiful all seasons!

Part 2 of 2: Carrizo Canyon Trail, Palm Desert, California

The Carrizo Canyon Trail is an approximately 3 mile out and back trail. I would much prefer a loop trail; however, since there were supposedly bighorn sheep in the area I thought, okay this out and back trail would give me a better chance in seeing the wildlife! Spoiler alert: I did not see even one bighorn sheep! Maybe next visit.

Carrizo Canyon is part of an Ecological Reserve to protect bighorn sheep. This area is only open to the public for 3 months, October – December.  This allows the bighorn sheep safe time for breeding and raising their young during the other months.

Carrizo Canyon trail is a nice mixture of trail surfaces. The trail starts easy, sandy and only interesting in the fact you are searching the mountainside to hopefully see bighorn sheep. The next part of the trail is rocky; I too was hoping to see a bighorn sheep run up some rocky mountainside. The final part of the trail, we climbed over boulders, took a side trail to a waterfall that wasn’t, and then finally at our destination, an overlook. Down below we could see palm trees surviving because of the water they could reach through a large crack in the land’s surface. Our continued search for the bighorn sheep was disappointing because then and on our way to our starting point, we saw no bighorn sheep. Darn … but I understand if I get on the trail in the early morning hours I have a better chance in seeing bighorn sheep. Ok, maybe my next visit here.

A couple of photos from the overlook:

From the overlook, in another direction, to see the growing palm trees.

Part 1 of 2: Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, California

Unfortunately no desert tortoise will be seen, on or near this trail, till maybe February. However, we hiked this trail and enjoyed the quiet, some wildflowers, birds, and amazing geology. This land and culture still exists for the Cahuilla people. The artwork at the start of the trail is a reminder of their basket-making tradition.

Work of Gerald Clarke Jr. … 2014, Enduring Tradition

Along the sandy, loop, approximately 3 mile trail, we saw at least 8 different species of birds and many plants. Few people were hiking the trail. One runner and one mountain biker though were enjoying the trail and day too. The rock formation, especially where the curving rock can be seen on the hillside is fascinating. It makes one wonder what geologic event was happening to the land at that time.

Look at the folds in the rock! Wow.

Stop at the visitor center near the parking lot and start of the trail. There are very informative displays and staff who are knowledgeable about the area. As a result of one conversation, the next day we went across the highway to hike a canyon trail and look for bighorn sheep! Below are other photos from this hike.

Could not miss seeing this mountain biker!

Bobcat Sighting!

Seeing a bobcat at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, Arizona is not usual, but it has happened for me a couple of times the last few years. Most recent, my partner and I were birding there and found a cottonwood tree where birds loved to be within its leaves. While we searched for birds, a bobcat was nearby.

My eye caught sight of the bobcat. I told my partner to slowly turn around and see what was behind us. There was “Wyatt”, a bobcat we later learn about from the Bobcats in Tucson research being done in our area. We noticed his long legs, large feet, short tail, and a radio-collar around his neck. He walked on and so did we as we watched his behavior.

I saw a young boy waving a stick around, his parents walking behind him, and approaching us from another direction on the trail. I signaled to them to move slowly and be alert while they watched the bobcat at a respectful distance. They were thrilled, as we were, to see this animal. The bobcat sat and watched an area of tall grasses intently. We watched it all too.

After a couple of minutes, the bobcat moved to another spot. Their sit, stealthly-look, and wait is characteristic of these animals who mostly eat rabbits and all kinds of rodents. They camouflage nicely in these woods and use it to their advantage to catch prey.

Bobcats are beautiful creatures! They are found in about every U.S. state in wild lands and urban areas. Research teams studying bobcats in the Tucson area began in November 2020. They have trapped and radio-collared at least 15 bobcats so they can study the movement of these animals. Male bobcats have large areas which overlap with other males, but females do not have their smaller areas overlap with other females. The Bobcats in Tucson research also indicates bobcats living in urban areas: people’s backyard, under a storage unit, or on a house roof! The findings from their research is absolutely fascinating!

I know in our neighborhood there are bobcats because we have seen them fighting behind our neighbor’s home or walking down the middle of a nearby road. We have a number of washes and riparian areas the bobcats most likely use as ways to cross through our area. A bobcat crossing a road though is a bobcats biggest hazard. One male was tracked crossing roads 2,000 times during 10 months of their tracking … the 75th time crossing a particular road was when it was hit by a vehicle and killed.

Bobcats live on average 7 – 8 years. Kittens are born usually in April, nursed by the female for 3-4 months, and continue to travel with the mother from 5 – 8 months before going on their own. When a female can leave an urban area and make a den on wild land, it will do so. But sometimes people have discovered a female bobcat having its kittens in their backyard. People have been flexible in allowing the bobcats to remain there for the time needed for the developing kittens. Then the bobcats move on.

And so did “Wyatt”, the male bobcat studied by the Bobcats in Tucson research group, and the one we saw at the wetlands on our hike. We watched as he slipped back into another area of the wetlands. Wow, what a sighting … and shared with other people who were as thrilled as we were! Check out the Bobcats in Tucson website for more information.

It’s Not Always About the Birds!

I was thinking about the readers of this blog. Are they saying, is it always about birds? So I went back through my photos to see and this is what I discovered. Many are birds, but there are some exceptions … time to share a few of those photos if I have not done so already.

Other animals: javelina, gray fox, squirrels in various locations in Texas, spider’s web, alligators, flowers and butterflies:

A woman walked by my campsite and asked what was for dinner. I told her minced clams with onions and rice noodles. She was amazed to find out I could cook it all on a backpacker stove. And yes, I do enjoy a Deschutes black porter beer! 

So now I see I am bird – obsessed sprinkled with some other observations! How can I not be though. I saw so many new birds in my life and that has been exciting! What are there, 10,000 different species of birds in the world? I now have 374 … I’ve got some work to do! I look forward to sharing them and my van adventures with you … and other thoughts and happenings … hang in there as who knows what the next year will bring!

Time Before the TX Bird Festival

Arriving a few days before a big event allows me time to discover an area. Plus I can relax after driving so many miles. When given the opportunity though, a bicycle ride is a wonderful way to start a day! Off I went to the southern tip of South Padre Island to see the Jesus Christ of the Fisherman statue.

While at the statue I spent time looking at dolphins, birds, and talking with a man from Alaska. He lived there for 33 years and is now traveling and specifically interested in SpaceX launches. We sat here looking across the bay to the launch pad where they are testing the Starship. This huge rocket is being designed for future missions to Mars. The man is hoping to see the launch before he heads on.

I bicycled north on the island. It is a very pleasant approximately 12 mile ride with the wind at my back. Then the road ends in the middle of sand dunes. When I headed back to my campsite and the wind was in my face, it made for a not-so-enjoyable ride! But you do what you have to do and keep pedaling!

This night I stayed at CD&J Mini Ranch, a Harvest Host in San Benito, Texas. They have an amazing place with goats, turkeys, chickens, beef cattle, and greenhouse producing various greens. Plus a waterway to view many birds. The people were very informative about the area. I parked my van to watch the lunar eclipse from 3 – 5 in the morning without even getting off my mattress! I did see my first Altamira oriole here!

Altamira oriole

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

It is not possible to visit all the locations listed on the birding festival registration during the festival. So I decided to visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on my own ahead of the festival. On my way to the visitor center, I saw ocelet road-crossing signs. But then I saw a big brown animal crossing the road!  It looked like a weird-shaped cow. I knew from my reading it is a nilgai (pronounced nil gi) antelope, or also called bluebuck. I wish I had my camera out to take a photo, but I did not! This animal was introduced in Texas in the 1930’s originally from India/Pakistan. Now there are over 30,000 of them, hunted for their good meat. I learned the animal has a tick detrimental to other animals here in Texas …another reason for the hunt.

Certain areas of the refuge were closed due to the hunt in progress. Fortunately I still had a couple of trails open to walk. That was plenty since it was at least 85 degrees and humid. A couple of bird blinds allowed me to get some photos. I drove out to Osprey Overlook and saw plenty of birds there, but no osprey! A couple of bird photos from today:

Green jay
Scissor-tailed flycatcher

Early to bed at the hotel. I decided it easiest to be sleeping right at the festival’s location. Transportation to the birding spots leaves at 6:00AM. Thus easier for me to roll out of a hotel room and catch my ride. Looking forward to my first bird festival field trip tomorrow!

Am I There Yet? The Oregon Coast!

Many miles to drive before I sleep to arrive at the Oregon coast. I am here days later from Arizona! While on the road, I stayed a night in Garberville, CA where many straight and tall redwood trees stand … wow … they are magnificent.

I did drive hundreds of miles, some on boring interstates and others on twisty, winding rural roads to finally arrive on the coast! Traffic jams are annoying  and I can never figure out what caused the bottleneck ahead of me. When I get to the supposed jam, there seems to be no reason for any back-up!

I try to stop every couple of hours, basically to stretch my body. Sometimes there is a photo-op, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lone Sailor statue, a half hour nap thanks to that bed in my van, or a chai latte and cream donut to bring on a sugar spark. I listen to audiobooks for a couple of hours, then music, then news if an interesting piece is reported.

Golden Gate Bridge

The photo below is the memorial, The Lone Sailor, at the northern end of the Golden Gate. It is here where every person in the Marine Corp, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Navy would see this spot as they leave and return from service. 

There has to be wildlife sightings:

Near the Benbow Historic Inn, I found an active pair of acorn woodpeckers. The pair were caring for young within the tree trunk.

Acorn woodpecker by entrance to nest within tree trunk.
Two woodpeckers at the nest and screaming young within.

Elk signs are everywhere and seeing them was a treat even if roadside:

Elk!

Finally….

I am looking out on the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon coast. The mist seems to hang all morning before the sun comes through. It is cool, very windy and beautiful. I am driving along Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Bike Route. A number of bicyclists are braving the hills, long distances between towns, and unbelievable wind. I say that because as I took some of the photos below, I could barely stand up! A bicycle with full panniers would be like a wall for the wind to push against and while the cyclist holds tight to stay upright. I notice the bike lane is available and sometimes wider on the coast side which makes sense since most cyclists ride north to south. Where the road is too narrow the north-bound bike lane is small or not there at all.