Snowbirders Descend Upon SE Arizona!

As I was hiking the trail between Proctor Road and Madera Picnic Area in Madera Canyon,, I realized “snowbirders, the people”, are coming and here in SE Arizona! It’s that time of year when many people escape their anticipated cold, long winters where they live and descend upon SE Arizona. Others choose this area because the birding possibilities are numerous. Whatever the reason … welcome!

But also know … I live here year-round and have observed when snowbirds arrive there are more vehicular accidents and traffic on the roads. (We have pedestrian walkways with lights where you must stop with traffic lights to be observed and followed.) The Rillito farmer’s market, our largest one, becomes unbelievably crowded with people, no dogs please, and recently I almost found no parking space. The market only opened 15 minutes earlier! Next time I will bike/walk to the market which is right off the Chuck Huckleberry Bike Loop. You know about that bike loop, right? (If not, check it out, http://tucson it is a gem in Tucson and beyond.)

I am not complaining … or maybe a bit … but please know it is a wonderful area to visit in the winter and I wish to see it remain safe on the roads and pleasant in the canyon. Some of you may want to observe the elegant trogon and others may wish to hike a trail with other pleasant people. I saw 8 people walk on a trail and totally miss the elegant trogon in the tree. Stop being distracted on the road or trail and take time to LOOK! I know snowbirders are here and we can co-exist, but take time to look on the road and trail!

Elegant trogon was there for all to see

Arizona’s Hassayampa River Preserve

Hassayampa River Preserve is a nature preserve four miles southeast of Wickenburg, Arizona and worth a hike. It is a 770-acre riparian nature preserve. In the 1860’s it was a stagecoach stop; in 1913 a guest ranch. More recently, after more than 25 years of the property being owned by The Nature Conservancy, a partnership was created seven years ago with the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. The Conservancy however retains most of the preserve. 

When you check-in at the visitor center and pay five dollars per person, collected by the Maricopa Parks and Recreation Department, you discover their ownership includes the visitor center, a portion of the river channel and Palm Lake. The trail to Palm Lake is currently closed due to construction of a wildlife viewing platform at the lake. The Conservancy put a conservation easement on the property to ensure the land’s natural values are forever protected.

The flowing river was wonderful to see as I visited the preserve specifically to birdwatch. The Hassayampa name comes from a Yavapai Indian word “hayesamo, meaning following the water as far as it goes”. It has also been referred to as the “upside down river” by Apache Indians because the river flows underground most the way. Water is important for wildlife. As a result of the existence of this river, the preserve is home to a variety of wildlife and approximately 300 bird species. I did see lizards and deer, smelled skunk and observed numerous birds! Actually I saw two new birds to add to my life list: golden-crowned kinglet and a varied thrush! I will make a point of visiting the preserve each season to observe more wildlife!

Things to know before you visit:

The preserve is closed each Monday and Tuesday. There are specific park hours per season, so check what they are before you head out. The trails are sandy, so if you have difficulty walking on pavement, please know this could be a challenge for you. Pets are not allowed at the preserve. The trail loops 2.2 miles. Lykes Lookout trail ends with a very steep 123 foot elevation gain. Remember, what you climb up, you need to come back down … plan what is best for yourself! At top, you do get a 360 degree view and possibly see and hear a train passing by! Enjoy your visit and be safe … remember the usual: hat, sunscreen and plenty of water! The Hassayampa River Trail can be downloaded at the AllTrails app.

Varied Thrush … poor quality photo, but I was a distance away from the bird!
Bridge across the stream
At Lykes Lookout, 360 degree view.
Overlooking the preserve from Lykes Lookout.

Where’s My Camera: A Solution

At first it was not about the camera.

Numerous mornings I would look out my back window at our two bird feeders. They would sway in the breeze or hang perfectly still. Sometimes with a bird or two trying to feed at them, other times no one. My 2023 goal has been to enter a daily eBird checklist. Most often when I am home, I am observing the birds here at our feeders.

As fall temperatures arrived, I noticed the birds coming to the feeder later per day, sitting on tree branches in the sunshine and not moving to the feeder till minutes later. They would sit with puffed-up feathers, content to just be.

I too am finding fall mornings more mellow, less rushed, and allowing me time to consider a midday walk while temperatures are still comfortable. Gone are the days in needing to walk during the early sunrising hours or planning a trip to the air-conditioned local gym. 

A few days ago I observed a Greater roadrunner walking across our yard’s back wall. The bird was in no rush. I thought, wow, I have so much time to capture a photo, but where’s my camera? The next day I wondered if the birds I was observing were white-crowned sparrows with dark-lores or not. 

Where’s my camera? Isn’t it always someplace a distance away? Or with lens not attached to the camera body? Or simply not where you want it and need it to be?

Here’s my solution. Keep the camera with your lens of choice on a tripod in the room where most sightings are being made. For me, I can see our bird feeders and the pollinator plants that attract birds with my camera in place on a tripod. Having the camera on the tripod makes it immediately available to me, along with it being on a tripod so I can pivot from feeder to plant or wherever … even that brick wall! While it is true that I am shooting through our back window, which I am fortunate to have a clean window, there is some challenge to getting the absolute best photo, but I am not complaining … I got a photo! Here are some from one morning:

Warming up before feeding time.
Hummingbird scooted around this plant for a minute.
Hungry hummingbird!
The hummingbird did take time to sit on a branch!
Then … it took off … and so did I …. happy to have had my camera!

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is Quiet!

A fall, weekday, school day, midday afternoon is the best time to visit Sabino Canyon Recreation Area! You’ll feel like the park is all yours, and it will be! Times, such as this, I imagine taking a first-time hiker to the park. The person can see saguaro cacti of all sizes, even young ones emerging from below mesquite trees. They can hear bird songs and/or calls with no interrupting noises. Other wildlife may wander past, water may flow over the dam, and we could choose from a variety of 30 miles of hiking trails.

Saguaro cactus on a sunny day in Tucson

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. As my imagined hiker looks beyond the park, he/she would see the Santa Rita Mountains to the south and the Rincon Mountains to the east. They would hear a cactus wren, a rock wren and curve-billed thrasher and see black-throated sparrows. Often a Gila woodpecker can be calling and flying overhead as would common ravens. Wildflowers may be at their peak or slowly dying off as cool air begins to descend here and on our nearby Sonoran desert. But saguaro cacti stand tall with their gangly-looking “arms”. Some birds make nests in these cacti and Native American people have multiple uses for this plant. The saguaro cacti really do have shallow roots as seen in the photo below:

Shallow roots of a saguaro cactus
Black-throated sparrow

Respect …

Respect for wildlife is important to me. I want the birds, the wildflowers, the insects and animals to find safety in this protected area. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area provides for that with “no pets or camping being allowed”. For photographers, artists, joggers, hikers or cyclists there are times and places we can use the area with respect. Despite a sign at the entrance of where I enter the area, people still do not seem to understand, dogs are not allowed. Thus, park officials erected another sign to make the point clear!

The rules seem clear.
Signage seems clear.

It seems obvious to me why dogs are not allowed. How would this funnel web wolf spider survive if a dog ran through its web? And trampled wildflowers are not what we want to see from dogs running through an area or people hiking off-trail.

Funnel web made by a wolf spider

Respect … our Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has been here many years and finally closed to vehicles since 1978. A shuttle is available within the park. Hard to imagine private vehicles ever being here, especially now with about a million park visitors per year! All the more reason for me to enjoy my quiet time …. now!

Shuttle is available.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is here for us to respectfully enjoy!

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park … A New Park For Me!

Finally … arrived in North Dakota! Theodore Roosevelt National Park is my 35th national park seen in the USA! (There are 63 national parks, so more for me to visit!)

Theodore Roosevelt once commented he wanted to protect the land before it was logged, mined and with dirty water. Due to his eventual environmental action, the park becomes part of the national system. Thankfully the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve the natural and cultural resources to look the same 100 years from now. I can imagine this park looks similar to what others saw a hundred years ago, since the National Park designation prohibits mining, drilling or logging the area for it to remain unaltered for future generations to enjoy.

I visited the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park one day which is an hour plus north of the southern part of the park. The northern unit has a scenic road loop. I stopped numerous times at vista points and/or to see bison. Some of the bison were in the middle of the road and could not be missed! I camped a couple of nights at the south unit of the park. The second day I visited the south unit. It’s scenic road did not loop due to a washout of the road; therefore, we all drove to a turn-around point and back. It was still worth the drive, plus other roads went off this main road, such as to Buck Hill. Wow, I went up there and the wind was blowing! No one was wearing a baseball cap for long!

One interesting time while on the road: I was driving back and there were 10 cars stopped by a herd of bison in the road! On the other side of the herd were at least 10 more cars and all were at a standstill. I turned my van’s engine off since it looked like there would be no movement soon. After about 5-10 minutes a tow truck with a long flatbed came barreling past my van and the 10 cars in front of me. The bison heard that truck coming at them and did move! As a result we were also able to drive through the area. I appreciated that trucker coming through!

Besides bison, I also saw prairie dogs in their “towns”, white-tailed deer, and feral horses. The horse were literally in my campsite area! Park visitors were careful observing all wild animals, so I was happy about that and I learned buffalo are in Africa and Asia; bison are in Europe and North America. They are distinctly different animals.

Photos from the park …. And one never got tired of seeing the bison!

Bison can run 30mph and I saw them run!
From a viewpoint. Fall colors are on their way.
The horses that passed my campsite!
South slopes are dry and north slopes have vegetation.
Cannonball concretions: deposited minerals in gaps, forming these “cannonballs”.
And I waited for the bison to cross the road.

Wildlife in the Backyard!

Wildlife is around us! While I enjoy observing birds at our backyard feeders, other wildlife visit the backyard too! One morning I noticed two newcomers to the area.

A Harris’ antelope squirrel was eating seed that fell from our bird feeder hanging a few feet above. This animal leaves its burrow to eat in the early morning and retreat to it when the heat rises. This type of ground squirrel is found in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico and can resist hypothermia. They can survive temperature over 104 degrees. This squirrel is doing okay in the Tucson, Arizona area when our temperatures hit 106 degrees! They are back to their burrow, I would imagine! No doubt it is this creature making the burrowing holes under our mesquite trees. They also enjoy the fallen bird seed when not eating their usual mesquite beans and fruit from local cacti.

Harris’ antelope squirrel

Another desert creature I usually see sitting on a rock in our water basins with mulch are reptiles. This one in particular is the twin-spotted spiny lizard. Not much is known about this reptile. It is within the same group as the desert spiny lizard … also seen in our backyard. The twin-spotted spiny lizard can grow to 13 inches. This one seen our our tree seems to be on his way to full growth! These reptiles like rocky desert landscapes and eat large insects and other arthropods, such as spiders and centipedes. A good one to have around!

Twin-spotted spiny lizard

Keep your eyes open for all wildlife. Some may only arrive in the early morning coolness while others hang out all day long. Each animal plays a part in the overall ecosystem, our natural world. Do not be too quick to want it out of your neighborhood. Observe, learn and appreciate the life around you in your backyard.


In the northern Arizona strip, the Navajo Bridge is everyone’s way across the Colorado River. On our way to southern Arizona, we stopped again at the bridge with hopes to view some condors. This time we saw 2 adults and 1 juvenile condor. Notice the pinkish-orange color of the head of the adult condors. Maybe not as clear here, the juvenile condor has a black head.

Adult condor; notice color of head.
Dark head of this juvenile may not be very obvious, but it is not an adult condor!

Condors are released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area. They come from a breeding facility in California and spend a couple of days in a pen above on the Paria Plateau before being released. As more of the birds reach breeding age there will be more wild reproduction. We are fortunate to have the recovery program to help restore the population of condors. It started in 1996 with 6 condors transferred from the breeding facility and released at the Vermilion Cliffs, to 6 – 10 condors released now per year. Each condor is fitted with a number tag and transmitter to help monitor its behavior, movement, feeding and survival. 

They are huge birds! Wingspans are 9.5 feet in length as they fly up to 200 miles a day. They are the largest flying land bird in North America and can fly up to 50 miles per hour! Their food source is carcasses of dead animal; therefore, they are helpful scavengers. Condors can live 60 years and breed into their 30s! Here again is a photo showing the size of a condor in comparison with other birds of prey. (If you follow my blog, yes I am repeating this photo.)

9.5 feet for a wingspan compared to eagle and hawk … wow!

The condors were almost gone due to various reasons: the west being settled, lead poisonings and egg collecting. Thanks to the recovery program a healthy population of condors continues to rise. You can do your part to help: use non-lead ammunition if you hunt, never shoot or harm a condor, and do not litter so birds are never eating trash.

I hope you have an opportunity someday to see these amazing birds! I was looking over the side of the bridge as I saw the other condor walking along. See photo below.

The other adult condor … notice different number tag.

Citizen Scientists, YOU, Can Use iNaturalist App

iNaturalist is now an independent organization! You may not know about iNaturalist, so let me tell you about this app that has encouraged my participation as a “citizen scientist” these past 4 years. The app is free, easy to use and you may wish to use it too.

I use the iNaturalist app to help me identify a plant or animal I do not know. I use my smartphone, take a photo of the unknown, and download the photo at the app. Once location and date are entered, the app provides suggestions of what it is I observed. I decide if the suggestion or the next suggestion in the list is best and then click on “share”. Others may agree with what I chose as identification or may disagree and offer another suggestion. Eventually my observation’s data quality is at “research grade”, meaning the community agrees on the identification. I now count it as one of my hundreds of observations. 

How it is that iNaturalist can have 1 million observations per year? This may explain that fact. I met a guy in California while he was taking photos of a number of plants. During our conversation he told me his observations were all going to the iNaturalist app. As an environmental educator he believed he was doing his part in adding his observations. The info allows researchers to use the collective info for their fields in ecology, conservation or where needed.

So whether you view yourself as a “citizen scientist” or part of “community science”, this app may be of interest to you. This app began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley master’s program and joined with CA Academy Sciences and National Geographic Society in 2014. It is now  an independent 501(c)(3) USA-based non-profit organization! The app team plans to keep the app free because “we believe nature is for everyone”. Fortunately iNaturalist receives generous donations and grants.

So … download the iNaturalist app … you’ll have it on your phone for the next plant or animal you wish to photograph, identify and share with others. Researchers will appreciate your effort and if it is a living thing new to you, now you’ll know what it is! Get outdoors and have fun!

Identified by iNaturalist: desert spiny lizard
iNaturalist app

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!

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!