Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time flies like the birds

Botteri's sparrow

Wow. As I sit here at my laptop, late at night, I look at all that has happened. As time passes by on it's long, steady journey, with little notice to us, we notice it with great detail. We notice every little thing that has occurred within it's frame. How we all find ourselves doing things we used to dream of. I'm still pinching myself, making sure I'm not dreaming. I watch as my friends find jobs, get married, try to live their dreams, and find myself just as well off. 
I've been here in Arizona for nearly 3 weeks and find myself wondering where the time went. It seems like just yesterday I was driving through the desert and spotted the Ryolite cliffs from afar. 
When I came over the hill and spotted the mountains in front of me, it was almost like coming home after a long absence. Letting my gaze fall over the cliffs and canyons that I had come to know last summer. While it is a beautiful place, I can never truly call it home. For now though, it is home away from home and will do while I'm out here. 

As I drive into the canyon, I can hear the birds singing. Many familiar, some unknown to me. I would learn them all in time.  
I headed directly into the small town of Portal. The Quail called from the roadside, the Thrasher sang his jumbled tune, A Wren trilled from the mesquite bush as I rolled into town. It was all so familiar, so known, yet unknown at the same time. 

The days passed. I caught up on the songs of the western birds around me. They became my friends. Always in the same place, always dependable to be there. The Vireo in his mesquite bush, the Phoebe by her pool. The Owl always at his hole, watching all that goes on with a knowing gaze. 

It seems sometimes, as if I have known the mountains forever and have found their every surprise. Yet, I have barely begun to explore these mountains and will never know them as thoroughly as they would like. What is hidden in some forgotten canyon where human feet never tread, only the creatures themselves can say. 

One could spend a lifetime in these mountains and never even come close to knowing their secrets. I will settle for just skimming the top of their ancient knowledge. There are many other places on the planet that have yet to be explored to spend much time in one location alone. 

Tomorrow, I leave for the Huachuca Mountains. A range so similar to the Chiricahuas, that when people finally arrive here, they come for only 1 bird.  
Jacob Cooper and I will be spending Friday evening, Sat and part of Sunday morning searching the Huachucas for their superficial secrets and hidden birds. 
On Monday, I take Dave to the airport and he will fly out, leaving me in charge of the house, feeders and clients for the summer. What will happen this summer, one can only guess. Will I even end up back home? eventually.  One of my favorite verses, written by J.R.R Tolkien: "Roads go ever, ever on. Under cloud and under star, but feet that wandering have gone, return at last to home afar."  
We always return home at some point. The only difference being what we call home. 

I'll leave you with that thought. It is time to enter the land of never being and fantasy. 
Til next time, may you live your dream to it's fullest. We all attempt to do so. Few actually succeed. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where in the world is Chris?

Ok, I haven't vanished. Not quite.  A lot has happened since my last post so I'll just give you a few photos and a recap starting where I left off.  

Palo Duro State park, Saturday morning, May 9th: 
I arrived at the park at about 9am (I slept in) on a cloudy, cool Texas day.  
I cruised into the park (where I picked up Cassin's Sparrow right at the entrance) and down into the canyon.  I drove down to the second Day use area and parked. The habitat looked perfect for finding my nemesis bird. 

I stomped around for a while and found a few interesting things. The first thing I found was a Mississippi Kite that was sitting in a tree just beyond the parking lot.  Then I heard a sound similar to a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Except, this is Texas. It turned out to be a Golden-fronted Woodpecker!  My first lifer of the day. 
Then, I saw another smalle bird flit past and land in a mesquite. Looked similar to a Tufted Titmouse, except this one had black on the front of the crest........... Black-crested Titmouse!!
I watched the Titmouse for a while and then walked back down the trail again. Something brightly colored caught my eye as it flashed past across the path.  It was nice enough to sit out in the open for all to see: 

There, on the branch, sat my #1 Nemesis bird of 14 years.  An adult male in breeding plumage. 
An absolutely stunning Painted Bunting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I got a few photos of him since he was kind enough to sit still for me. 

That was one beautiful bird and completely made my year. I was more excited about seeing a Painted Bunting than I have been about seeing any other bird. Period. 

Having nailed my nemesis bird, I headed on south and west. In Roswell, NM, I picked up a Burrowing Owl that was sitting on a Telephone wire. Interesting place for such a bird. 

I arrived at Bosque Del Apache at Sunset and decided to take a quick spin through before crashing for the night. It was the best decision I'd made so far.  The Lesser Nighthawks were so loud, I could barely hear anything else.  I took a spin down the marsh loop at the Bosque in hopes of picking up some rails. I wasn't disappointed.  As I slowly cruised along, I suddenly heard the sharp "cack cack cack cack" of a rail.  The sound startled me slightly because, after all, this was New Mexico. Not New Jersey. But, there it was again. The sharp "cack cack cack cack" of a King Rail!  
I reported the sighting to the nature center the next morning, and posted it to the list serve that evening. By Monday morning, more than a dozen people showed up. It turned out that the King Rail I had found, was only the 2nd state record for New Mexico! That was pretty sweet! 

Sunday morning: 
After picking up my lifer Virginia's Warbler, I continued on to Portal, AZ.  I didn't do any more stopping though since something was acting up with the RPMs on my car. Turned out later that the Speed sensor went out. Just had it replaced a few days ago.  
Sunday evening, Dave Jasper and I took a couple of birders out owling. we picked up Elf, Whiskered and Western Screech-owls and Spotted Owl. A good end to a good day. 

Moday, May 11th: 
I spent the day out birding.  I managed to pick up a good number of year birds (most of the common stuff) including Green-tailed Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow and Bridled Titmouse. 

On Tues, Dave and I went over what had to be done around the house and filled up the water tank.  Not much birding done. 

Dave and I went to Douglas to go shopping.  
Upon arriving back in town, I found out that a young male Crescent-chested Warbler had been seen at Pinery Campground that morning.  I went to bed hoping it would stick around. 

I got up bright and early and ran up to the campground after the warbler.  When I arrived, Rose Anne Rowlett and Richard Webster were just leaving after seeing the bird.  I followed their directions up the hill and waited. Nada. The warbler flock had moved on. I walked back down to the road and searched the trees along the roadside. There was the bird!  It was my 538th life bird, and a bird that I'd been wanting for a while. 

Yesterday, my friend Tyler Loomis from Tempe, AZ came down to see the bird. We managed to get decent looks at it for about 2 minutes before it vanished.  To my knowledge, it was never seen again. 

Today, I picked up my year Bendire's Thrasher and my lifer MONTEZUMA QUAIL!!!   
Currently, I have only one more life bird to find in the Chiricahuas that is a regular nesting or migrant bird. Flammulated Owl. Otherwise, I've cleaned out the mountains completely. 

I'll post more photos soon and I'll try and keep you all updated more often. 

Til next time, 
Happy Birding! 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Quick update

Ok, so I have a couple posts about last weekend that I'll try to get in at some point. One of them includes a beautiful Cerulean Warbler that posed quite nicely for me. 

In the meantime, here's what happened to me since I left Wisco on Tuesday morning. 

Tues, May 5th: 
I left Wisco at about 9am and headed southwest.  A quick stop at Potosi Bottoms produced Great Egrets, a Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, Carolina Wren, Pelicans, and a few other interesting species.  
My next stop was Neal Smith NWR just south of Des Moines. The only new bird there was a Sedge Wren. Otherwise it was pretty quiet.  Then I decided to head to St Joeseph, MO for the night.  After some hunting, I stayed at Bluffwoods conservation park just south of the city. It was a very quiet little park and I awoke to singing Parulas and Louisiana Waterthrush. 

Wed, May 6th: 
I went searching for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that had been seen last week. No sign of that bird. However, I did pick up Snowy Egret, Dickcissel, Orchard Oriole, and a few other birds. 
Then I hopped on highway 59 to Topeka, KS.   On the way, I noticed the transmission was slipping a little bit. When I arrived in Topeka, it wouldn't shift out of 1st gear. I pulled into a gas station to discover that the transmission fluid was literally pouring out from somewhere underneath the transmission.  I knew then that the car wasn't going any farther.  I asked around for a mechanic. The guy at the desk didn't know. I was about to start looking through the phonebook, when some guy walked up to me, handed me a card for a mechanic down the street, and walked away.  I don't know who he was, but I have him to thank for directing me to the right place.  
I called "The Rod Shop" and he had me bring the car down to the shop (it was literally right down the road.). So I practically rolled the car down in 1st gear.  
After debating and explaining the situation a bit, Rod agreed to turn it around as fast as possible.  
It turned out that Rod was the only mechanic on the street who wouldn't swindle out-of-staters into buying all new parts.  I lost almost two full days because of all the problems, but I can't thank Rod and his crew enough for not only fixing the transmission, but also for finding and fixing other potential problems as well. Hopefully, the next time my car is in the shop, the only thing it will need is an oil change. 

While hanging out in Topeka with no transportation and nothing to do, I walked around some of the roads nearby. Managed to pick up Great-tailed Grackle, Summer Tanager, Tennessee Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, N Mockingbird and a few other birds. 

Today, Fri, May 8th: 
I picked up Spotted Towhee at Wilson State Park where I stayed last night.  Then I headed south to Cheyenne Bottoms WA. (aka, the best shorebird spot in the state of Kansas).  
There, I picked up 18 species of shorebirds including several thousand Wilson's Phalaropes, a few Red-necked Phalaropes, Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet and others.  In Cheyenne Bottoms, there were many Eastern Kingbirds.  Between Cheyenne Bottoms and Dodge City, they all changed over to Western Kingbirds. It seemed as if there was one on every power line.  Between Dodge and Cimarron, it seemed as if there was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on every fence. 
On the way to Elkhart, KS, I finally nailed my #2 nemesis bird! I was driving along and was thinking that I had to be within the range of Mississippi Kite, but I wasn't sure. I stopped, checked the field guide, put the guide down, looked up, and there were two Mississippi Kites flying above my car! An awesome way to get a life bird!!  Now for my #1 nemesis bird. Painted Bunting!  But that's for tomorrow. 

I'm currently in Amarillo, TX. Visiting Palo Duro State Park tomorrow. Wish me luck!
No idea when I'll have internet again. I'll keep the updates coming as well as I can though. 

Happy Birding!