Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

Whitewater Draw   5 comments

Posted at 11:54 am in Arizona,birds

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

We now return to my intended post after last night’s unscheduled entry.

I can’t write about my winter in Bisbee without mentioning Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area as Sabrina and I spent quite a few days there with and without house guests. It’s a great spot for birders, especially because it is one of the main wintering areas for Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis). From around the beginning of December through to some time in March, the Sulphur Springs Valley is home to something like 30,000 of these cranes. On any day, you can usually find hundreds of cranes feeding in the dry winter pastures surrounding Whitewater Draw and the Willcox Playa which lies further north in the valley. A couple of times a day, thousands of birds can be seen as they fly out from these shallow lakes to feed on the range, and then return around sunset, but with many making a return trip around noon. I’ve posted a few photos below to give you some idea of the landscape surrounding Whitewater Draw. It’s a very flat plain surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides (Mule, Swisshelm, Pedregosa, Dragoons, Chiricahua, Dos Cabezas ranges, and the Charleston hills).

The wildlife area consists of two more or less year-round ponds surrounded by high levees with a trail system that you can walk over. Here is a map of the area that I found online. It will give you some idea of the lay of the land. The above photo is of the Cattail Pond indicated on the map.

As mentioned, a couple of times a day, the Sandhill Cranes fly in from the grasslands by the hundreds, forming wave after wave of birds. Generally, you hear them before you see them. I had hoped to put up a videotape to accompany this post, but I’m a bit pressed for time this morning. As you might have guessed by my previous post, I’m “on the road” now – more or less headed for home – so don’t have time to prepare a video clip right now. If I get a few spare moments in the next few days, I’ll post a clip in a separate post. Suffice to say that the sight and sound of hundreds of cranes flying overhead is awesome. Sometimes there are so many circling and flying in straight lines back and forth in strange formations, that I find myself thinking that the sky looks like a slide under a microscope, with hundreds of some type of organism swirling in random ways from side to side. It’s almost impossible to get your head around the sight of so many huge birds swirling around above you, never seeming to collide.

After awhile, a few will begin to drop to the earth, followed by more and more. Eventually, most will be on the ground, but from time to time, a flock will rise up and fly around for a bit before resettling somewhere else.

Stray flocks flying around just at sunset is a truly beautiful sight, so it’s well worth staying around for awhile even after most of the action seems to be over for the day.

Over the winter, a large flock of Snow Geese hung out around Whitewater Draw. They would put on quite a show with low passes back and forth over the water. Often, a few Sandhill Cranes would join their formation which was always entertaining to watch as they tried to keep pace.

At least one Vermillion Flycatcher could be counted upon to make an appearance. He hangs out on the willows at the south end of the Cattail Pond. Sometimes others could be found in the tall grass to the south of the ponds.

Over winter, hawks are also plentiful in the Sulphur Springs Valley. I think I saw more Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and Kestrels this winter than (collectively) in my entire life. When I’d drive to Whitewater Draw or Chiricahua National Monument, I would see at least one or two dozen (or more) perched on powerline poles, fence posts, or coursing over the grasslands. From a birding perspective, southeastern Arizona is an incredible place to spend a few weeks in winter.

and so we came to bisbee   11 comments

Posted at 11:11 am in Arizona,birds,insects,loss,mammals

Sabrina looking out over the garden wall towards town at the beginning of our first day in Bisbee

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Six weeks after setting out on our journey, Sabrina and I arrived in Bisbee. Before leaving eastern Ontario, I had made arrangements to rent a house on the outskirts of the town. It’s perched on the side of one of the round-topped hills in the Mule Mountains, surrounded by live oaks and manzanita. The place was ideal for us. It had a flat garden where Sabrina could roam about. In her (at that time) somewhat debilitated state, she couldn’t handle stairs or steep hills. For myself, it proved to be a peaceful place filled with interesting plants, insects, birds and mammals. Within a day of arriving, I had already shot dozens of photos of the butterflies, grasshoppers, bees, flies and other insects visiting the flowers in the garden and on the surrounding hillside.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Although all turned out for the best, our arrival was not without some stress. On the way up the steep lane to the house, the transmission of my limping van gave out — requiring replacement of the torque converter at a cost of about Cdn $1000. However, I tried not to let such things bother me — after all I had been through over the past year, a broken down van seemed like nothing more than a mere blip on my radar screen. It was just good to be in a quiet place surrounded by nature.

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)

Within a few days of arriving, I filled some bird feeders and soon had about 15 species of birds coming to the garden each day. The Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus) are a favourite and there were two pair visiting on a steady basis. The little Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) were our constant companions, even through a few snowy days when I would see them coming and going from their cover within an Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) just beyond the garden wall.

Javelina (Pecari tajacu) on the hillside beside the lane

Almost like clockwork, a small herd of Javelina (Pecari tajacu) wandered along the outside of the wall by the kitchen window each evening while I prepared dinner. At first there seemed to be five, but their numbers have since increased to eight as three young appeared soon after my arrival. At first, Sabrina didn’t know what to make of these strange creatures, but she has since become accustomed to seeing them trot past the yard.

If you wonder how I came to choose Bisbee as a place to rest, it was an easy decision. Don and I had always wanted to spend some time in this area after visiting once back in 2001. While enduring his series of chemo and radiation treatments, Don would often sit with my laptop, looking at possible rental properties in the southeast area of Arizona. It was our hope that, if the EGFR inhibitor drug he began in August worked, we would be able to escape to the south for at least a little while. Unfortunately, that treatment failed and he passed away in early September. However, the dream of spending the winter in Bisbee did not die — and so Sabrina and I came to be here. All in all, this has been a good place to rest for a time. It’s with some regrets that I will soon be leaving to return to eastern Ontario as we have made friends and learned to love the land here. However, we are certain to return, but more about that later. For now, I will be writing a few posts about some of the places we have hiked, and the flora, fauna and geology we have seen.

But speaking of flora and fauna and the desert, the second edition of Carnival of the Arid is now up at Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing Be sure to pay a visit and check out some of the wonderful writing, art, and photography.

on the road to arizona   14 comments

Posted at 3:27 pm in birds,california

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

After spending the previous day resting and exploring in the Ridgecrest area, it was time to move on. My goal was to arrive at our final destination in southeast Arizona on November 15th, so two more days of travel ahead of us. I can probably speak for Sabrina in saying that we were both tired of being on the road.

Before departing from Ridgecrest, we stopped to eat breakfast in a park on the east side of town. Almost as soon as we sat down in a tree-shaded area, we were accosted by an unkindness of ravens. In fact, all of the trees in the parks were filled with similar groups that croaked and kraaked at us. The boldest dropped down onto the nearby pedestal barbecues, or to the ground to march up to make their demands known. Clearly, they expected some form of tribute. Sabrina was slightly intimidated by their aggressive behaviour. She would turn her head to look elsewhere as they cocked their heads and ogled her from a few feet away. Unfortunately, that just encouraged them to move in closer. She would then quickly turn her head back to see how far they had advanced. The closest might hop back a step or two, but soon marched forward a few more paces.

I came across several references to Common Ravens in the Mojave region. Apparently, there has been a great increase in their numbers over the past couple of decades, with large numbers of birds hanging out in urban areas or around dump sites. There is concern over risk of raven predation on desert tortoises in the western Mojave Desert. They do seem both plentiful and aggressive, so I would think they could pose a threat to any small creature.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed south to catch 395, where we promptly hit a patch of road construction and sat in the van long enough to experience how quickly it could be transformed into a Mojave-style easy-bake oven. Continuing south, we passed through the village of Red Mountain, which seems to be home to an eclectic mix of found-art creatives. About the middle of town stands what I’m guessing to be a Yucca bearifolia.

Leaving Red Mountain behind, we continued south towards Kramer Junction where we would pick up Hwy 58 to head east toward Barstow. Just before that junction, there is a massive solar concentrator installation. It can’t really be photographed from the ground, so refer to the above link, or google “Kramer Junction solar concentrator”. As in my last two posts about the Searles Valley with its mineral extraction, and the military weapons ranges, etc.. at China Lake near Ridgecrest, it’s impossible to ignore how the deserts of the southwest are becoming a hotbed of industrial activity — without doubt, to the detriment of the considerable flora and fauna. For a more complete background on this topic, do check out this and other related posts on Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing.

To an outsider such as myself, it was somewhat jarring to find the ubiquitous assortment of service vehicles, filled with survey or work crews, scattered almost everywhere as I crossed the Mojave. I can’t help but wonder if all of this activity is flying under the radar screens of the many as….well….the common perception of the desert is that it is “just a big empty space, isn’t it?” I admit to having experienced a brief twinge of that notion during the first day of my first visit to Arizona about thirteen years ago. However, that illusion soon melted away as I began to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of the desert. In fact, after visiting the desert several times over the years, I can say without hesitation, that deserts are among the most fascinating and active places on earth — this from someone who has done quite a few surveys of flora and fauna, and a good deal of nature photography, in a wide range of vastly different habitats.

On this day, my plan was to drive through to stay at a motel in Lake Havasu. I would have preferred to camp the last leg of our trip to southeast Arizona, but Sabrina and I were really hitting the wall as far as energy was concerned. We were now reduced to just driving, sleeping and trying to find some kind of edibles to see us through to our final destination. Also, I was beginning to experience a lot of fatigue – both physical and psychological. One of the most difficult things to deal with was the growing sense of isolation that I felt while traveling. I have touched on this a bit in previous posts. Traveling alone with my dog, I couldn’t help but notice that almost everywhere I went, others traveled as pairs, or with friends. At rest stops, they would get out and wander around, picnic, switch drivers, and then carry on. The only solitary travelers seemed to be the long haul truckers, and even many of them were traveling with their spouses. At the above rest stop along I-40, a trucker climbed out of his cab, gave his wife a hand down, and then lifted their white toy poodle to the ground. Such was actually a fairly common sight throughout this trip.

No doubt, the following observations have to do with my overly sensitized state, but I seemed to encounter signs of “couple-dom” in every direction that I looked. At Trona Pinnacles, it was the message in stones. At this rest stop, it was a debarked tree trunk (above) upon which were scribbled countless proclamations of so-and-so loves so-and-so. Further along from this rest stop, there were many big cupid’s hearts and initials, formed of arrangements of black volcanic rock, on every little hillside facing the highway. Recently, I’ve read the writings of other bereaved men and women who have described much the same feeling — that after the death of a partner, it appears as though the world is the territory of couples and families, and not so much for those who must, or choose to, journey through life alone. Such does seem to be the case. I suppose that those of us who are forced to carry on alone, must search for our own icons and messages. Among all the tree graffiti, there was one that seemed meant to speak to every traveler.

From Lake Havasu, I traveled to Tucson, and then on to the southeast region of Arizona, where I have been spending the winter. My next few posts will be about some of the places I have hiked and photographed nature. In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving to gradually make my way back north to Ontario and then probably on to Nova Scotia. I’m hoping that the weather will be a little more cooperative. After a winter of good food and plenty of hiking, Sabrina is in much better condition and should be up to doing more hiking than on the trip south. More about southeast Arizona and my rather nebulous trip plans coming up very soon.

Written by bev on February 21st, 2009

return to the redwoods – part 2   14 comments

Posted at 4:01 pm in birds,california,memory,trees

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

It’s a fact. Traveling alone can be quite stressful. When driving in unfamiliar territory, you struggle to read maps and navigate through traffic. In the past, Don did much of the driving while I read maps and charted our course. Luckily, I’m a good navigator. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be sitting here in Arizona writing about my travels of the past few months.

There are other stresses as well. What if I get lost? What if the van breaks down? What if I get sick — who will take care of Sabrina? What if I lose my car keys, wallet, money, or passport? Luckily, none of those things happened, although I did, in fact, lose one of my car keys (we’ll get to that story sometime soon). When there are two of you on the road together, none of these things seems quite so problematic. You’re both carrying keys, wallets, and money. You never feel truly “lost” — instead, you’re just taking the scenic route and can laugh about the “very long detour” at a later date. If you get sick, there’s someone to look after everything until you’re feeling better. Also, there are two of you to discuss and decide on a route, or one to take over as the “relief driver” when the other begins to feel fatigued. Together, you can figure out how late you should travel before getting a campsite or looking for a motel. Alone, such considerations become more critical. All of the above niggling fears were never far from my mind as I made my way from Oregon to Arizona. Add the constant stress to that which I’d experienced over the past year, and sometimes it was hard to avoid feeling too overwhelmed to push on, but at this point in the journey, I didn’t have a choice. To cope with these feelings, I pretended that each morning was the beginning of a fresh, new adventure, while days that ended badly due to difficulties or mistakes were regarded as “interesting experiments” that didn’t turn out quite as planned. Most times, that form of mental trickery seemed to work — more or less.

On my second day in California, I found myself struggling to make some decisions. I’d been hoping for decent weather so that I could spend a few hours along two rivers which Don and I had visited in 2006. However, a large and very unfriendly weather system moved in during the night after my arrival at the Smith River. Sabrina and I awoke to the sound of a steady rain beating down on the van roof. I soon made an executive decision to move on and look elsewhere for the coming evening’s campsite. Regrettably, that entailed abandoning my plan to linger along those rivers that meant so much to me. However, I decided to at least drive to the coast to revisit a few of our favourite spots around Crescent City. It was stormy and cold at the look-off for the Battery Point lighthouse (see above – click on all photos for larger view). Sabrina and I found ourselves alone gazing down at the swelling seas breaking on the rocks far below.

I drove over to the breakwater pier, hoping to see Brown Pelicans — I’d harbored a wish to see flocks of them as Don and I had so enjoyed watching them fly overhead at so many points along the California coast in 2006. At first, it seemed that there were none around. Sabrina and I stood searching the sky while getting well and truly soaked by the frigid rain. At last, I called it quits and walked back to the van. As I stood by the van’s sliding door, drying Sabrina with a towel, I caught sight of a long line of Pelicans struggling southwards into the wind. They were having a difficult time making headway, but on they went. I shot a couple of photos, shut the van doors, and drove southward, in the wake of the wind-battered Pelicans.

As I’ve written elsewhere, many points of this journey intersect with those of my past travels in the west – some with Don, and others with a close friend. My “trip map” resides in my thoughts — a palimpsest of routes interwoven through time and space. One of the intersections is the redwoods of Prairie Creek – and more specifically, the Corkscrew Tree. In my personal mythology, it figures like some form of energy vortex, binding several pathways into one. With a light rain falling, Sabrina and I made our way to the tree where I put my hands onto its thick, twisting bark, roughly where I remembered Don having placed his hands just two years before. Perhaps, subconsciously, I hoped to connect to that time, and in some ways that was true. It felt as though very little time had passed — much like when you run into an old friend and ten years feels more like ten minutes. However, in the end, it was just Sabrina and I standing in the rain, with her looking soggy, bewildered and even a little sad.

We returned to the van. I took a photo of Sabrina walking ahead of me. Oddly, the camera seemed to capture just how that scene looked through my eyes as my tears mixed with the now rapidly falling rain.

I now had to make a decision about which route to take and where to stay for the night. I had briefly considered turning inland at Arcata to take Hwy 299 through the Trinity Alps Wilderness region, but the sight of an upside down pick-up truck that had spun out during a few minutes of freezing sleet about an hour back along the road made me reconsider. That turned out to be a wiser choice than I had imagined as the 299 route takes longer than I had calculated (more on this in “part 3”). Instead, I chose to continue southwards, wondering if the weather would improve by the time I got to Patrick’s Point (it didn’t). The only plan I could come up with was to either look for a motel around Eureka, or find a campsite at an inland park. I quickly discounted the motel idea as I was feeling the need to be in the redwoods — as alone in the forest as is possible at a campground. I decided on trying to make it down to Burlington Grove in the Humboldt Redwoods, so drove on through the rain, hoping that I might leave it behind as I moved inland. Taking a rest from driving, I stopped at the rock shop along the highway near Rio Dell, and ended up buying a slice of green rock that the owner of the shop said was Mariposite, from Mariposa, California. That got us talking about places and travels. When he heard I was from Canada, he said he’d never been “up there” and that I’d come an awfully long way from home. He was quite right, in more ways that one.

It was still raining when I got to Burlington Grove, but lightly enough that I was able to cook us a hot meal over the little propane stove. I chose a campsite in the shelter of a burned out redwood stump – the same one in which I camped in 2007 while traveling with a friend. Thankfully, the campgrounds were almost empty as it was inclement and so late in the season. It felt peaceful and safe. With raindrops pattering onto the van roof, Sabrina and I soon fell asleep and restored a little of the precious energy we’d been expending all too quickly for the past few weeks.

Written by bev on January 6th, 2009