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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Goose Head Rock: One of my favorite Mount Lemmon hoodoos.

          Monday my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn took me for a drive up to the top of Mount Lemmon. I’ve made the drive a dozen or more times since moving to Tucson in 2013, and always found it enjoyable. This day was no exception, except the passing landscape was greener than I had ever seen it, thanks to the fact that this year the Sonoran Desert got its summer monsoon season back.

          It was so dry last year that part of the mountain areas suffered wildfires, some of the worst in Arizona’s history. The three of us got to see some of the devastation caused by the blazes from one of the upper overlook pullouts.

          The 25-mile drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway winds upward from mile zero at just about 3,000 feet elevation to more than 9,000 feet at its end. Six life zones are crossed along the way. We lost the saguaros at 4,000 feet and were into Douglas firs by the time we reached the top.

          As an avid birdwatcher, I took along my binoculars, but the only birds we saw were a raven and a turkey vulture, and one unidentified small black and white bird that flashed past us as we were driving.

          Partway up the mountain, we stopped at one of the pullouts where a short trail skims along a canyon ridge, below which flows a small mountain stream. The girls went right on an unpaved section of the trail and I went left, partly because the trail here was paved and I’ve reached a stage in my life where my legs aren’t always stable, but also partly because I simply wanted to be alone for a few minutes in Mother Nature’s company.

          The pavement ended quickly but I decided to venture a little farther, deciding I could handle the unevenness of the rocky path. I did quite well, and was proud of myself. On the walk back, however, I came to a spot where, while I had easily made it up the rocks, I now felt I would fall if I tried to step down them.

          I was frustrated but tried to take it in stride until my granddaughter came along and gave me a hand down. What goes up should be able to come down – or not, I laughed. That was good, not all that many years ago I had cried when my old broad’s body couldn’t handle a much harder spot on a trail without help.

          This day, having finally begun to accept the consequences of being 82 years old, I pushed the incident out of my brain and went on to enjoy a marvelous day on Mount Lemmon with two marvelous companions.

Now if I could just push the image of that unidentified black and white bird out of my brain … maybe it was a downy woodpecker – or not.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusstic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Stupid Birds … Or Not

I sketched this red-winged blackbird on an outing to Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake on one of bird outings.

An old friend, whom I often dragged on many of my bird outings, told me that he only liked seeing the big birds. Translated that meant such birds as great blue herons, tundra swans, bald eagles and double-crested cormorants, all frequent sights around Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Bear River areas where I frequently used to go to watch birds.

His comments were also a gently hint to me that he didn’t enjoy standing around for hours trying to get a glimpse of and identify any small bird that preferred to stay out of sight – like the tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that never stopped moving as they flitted between thick tree foliage, or the marsh wrens that sang duets from their hiding places in a patch of phragmite or cattails.

I thought about that while reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude with my morning coffee. She was an avid gardener and also one who kept a supply of seed on hand to feed wild birds. But for this April day entry, May had noted that there were only starlings, red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds at the feeder. “Too stupid,” she wrote.

Now as much as I’m a May Sarton fan, I think she misspoke here. I think her disgust was not because these are stupid birds, but because they are some of the birds that everyone can see almost daily in this country, from ocean to ocean and border to border.

 Here in Tucson, I have three bird species that I see every day: house sparrows and mourning doves when I take my canine companion Scamp for his first walk of the day, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that tries to guard the nectar feeder hanging on my balcony every day from all intruders.

 When I also catch a glimpse of a bright yellow and black American goldfinch, or a Cooper’s hawk skimming overhead, my morning walk seems more special. Like this morning when a broad-billed hummingbird visited my balcony feeder. While the broad-billed is not as brightly colored as the Anna’s – the male of which has brilliant magenta head feathers – I was more thrilled because I don’t see this species every day.

 We humans are a funny lot. Perhaps we are more stupid than the birds. For sure we’re not so fond of the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And just what does that mean anyway?

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Refinding My Mojo

Watching — and drawing — birds is good for my mojo. Art by Pat Bean

          My mojo is in the toilet because of Covid isolation – for the second time given the Delta variant going around strongly here in Tucson. Because I’m 82, even my good friends and family, who are daily out in the world –including one who is a teacher and had had six students come down with Covid within a week of school starting – are staying away from me.

          I’m a social person and it is getting to me. And then there is what’s going on in the world with war and politics. Keeping up with current events is a downer, but closing a blind eye is not an option for this former journalist.

          Ok. Enough is enough.

It’s time to start counting my blessings. That always helps.

          Beginning with the basics: I have a comfortable roof over my head, more than enough food to eat, air conditioning to keep the Sonoran Desert heat at bay, money enough to at least buy a book when I want it, decent health insurance, and I’m loved.

          I have a fantastic canine companion, beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, heated water for a bath every night, internet access to the world, birds to watch from my third-story balcony, and an inquisitive mind that usually keeps me from ever becoming bored.

          I’m the last person in the world who should be feeling sorry for herself.

           Even isolation hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me time to learn how much I do enjoy my own company. I just don’t want it to go on forever. Plus, I still believe in silver linings.

          One has to be out there — somewhere.  

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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An up close look at a pair of Eurasian Wigeons. — Wikimedia photo

          I was a reporter following former Congressman Jim Hansen around for the day for a newspaper story back in the early 1990s, during which we stopped for lunch at the Bear River Duck Club near Northern Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

          As Hansen and I stepped outside to take in the birdy wetlands view after our meal, a number of nearby members of the club — locally known as the Millionaire’s Duck Club because of the status of its members — suddenly became animated and excited. One of them, looking in our direction, shouted: “Hey Jim!  There’s a Eurasian Wigeon among that flock of ducks out there.” It was a quite rare find for Utah, I was told.

I took a quick look, and noted it down in my notebook for possible inclusion into my story.

Some years later, April 1, 1999, to be exact, I admitted I was addicted to bird watching, and started my life list of birds. The list began with the birds I saw on an outing to Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. But then I remembered that day at the Duck Club with Hansen and added Eurasian Wigeon at the end of that day’s list.

It was an addition that I soon regretted. I could only identify an American wigeon with a field guide handy, and wouldn’t have recognized a Eurasian species if one stood two feet in front of me.

This early episode in my birding adventures was brought to the forefront of my brain while reading the latest issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. There is an article in it by Dawn Hewitt called The Curse of the Least Bittern, in which she writes about adding this particular bird to her life list on Dec. 31, 1982, at a pond thick with birdwatchers. Someone yelled out “Least Bittern,” and while Hewitt says she has no memory of seeing the bird, she added it to her list.

Not sure why either of us didn’t later just scratch the dubious birds off our lists, but we didn’t. We both went on a hunt to actually get a good look at our respective birds. I was the luckier of the two, I spotted the Eurasian Wigeon five years later in a group of ducks at Yellowstone National Park. It took Hewitt 22 years for her to get a good look at the more secretive Least Bittern, which by the way is not one of the 700 plus birds on my current life list.

Hewitt and I are alike in another way, too. We both remember the sighting of that first bird on our lists. Mine was an American Avocet and hers was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Gila Woodpeckers favor saguaro cacti for their homes, which is one reason I’m always looking at them. — Photo by Pat Bean

          One of the many delightful things about living in Tucson are the Saguaros, a slow-growing cactus that at about the age of 50 develops tree-branch arms. The cactus then lives on for another hundred years or so, continuing to grow more arms and stretch up toward the sky.

          They are visible all-around Tucson’s Sonoran Desert landscape. In the area’s monsoon seasons– sadly absent the past couple of years – the trunks of the cactus take in and store water to last it during the dry spells. You can visibly see the saguaros trunk bulge after a heavy rain.

For the nine years I’ve now lived in Tucson, I’ve also watched these cacti sprout enchanting white flowers with golden centers on the tips of their arms for a few weeks each spring.

This spring the blossoms were more abundant than I’ve ever seen them, plus the blossoms were also growing elsewhere on the cacti. It’s something I haven’t seen before, and neither have others. The phenomena has been strange enough that desert ecologists are trying to come up with an answer for it.

 One thought is that the area’s drought and above-average heat are behind the changes in the saguaros.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed another phenomena here at my apartment complex in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills. We have an abundance of house sparrow babies. I can’t step outside my apartment without seeing a host (the name for a group of sparrows) littering the grass where I walk. I would enjoy them more if my canine companion Scamp didn’t think it would be fun to try and catch one, an action I highly oppose.

I do, however, enjoy waking up in the mornings to their cheery chirp…chirp…chirps.  

I suspect that their parents took advantage of the many thick bushes around the complex for nesting and the abundance of water sprinklers that are used to keep two of the apartment’s three courtyards green. I also suspect the abundance of sparrows is probably why our resident great horned owls continue to raise their young in the tall trees that look down on those courtyards.

So what is Mother Nature up to where you live?

Pat Bean is a retired, award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

An old saguaro that I thought looked like an old man, whose death I watched over a period of several months.

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Male House Sparrow in breeding colors -- Wikimedia photo

          Three weeks ago, if I covered my left eye, my vision became quite blurry. Today the blur is gone and I can see better with just the right eye than I could with both eyes before – which means the Lasik and cataract removal procedures on my right eye were a success.

          Monday, I get the same procedures done on the left eye and my vision hopefully will be even better. We live in a wonderful age, especially for avid readers and enthusiastic birdwatchers like me.

          Six months ago, I had to enlarge my computer point from 12 point to 16 point to be able to see it comfortably. And reading small print was beyond me. As for identifying birds, that has been getting more difficult for the past few years.

          I could easily tell a sparrow from a dove, both of which are plentiful around my apartment complex, but I couldn’t tell what species of sparrow I was seeing.

          There are over 35 different species of sparrows in North America, but all the tiny markings that distinguish one species from another weren’t visible to my eyes. All I was seeing was one grayish mass.

          That has now changed, I realized, when a few days ago I clearly saw all the details that make a common house sparrow beautiful. Because it’s so common, I think people don’t give it the credit it deserves. Perhaps that is also why, truly seeing it for the first time again, is why I was so thrilled to be able to identify it by its markings. .

          Since then, I’ve also seen the yellow marking on the verdins that eat at my hummingbird feeder, and clearly seen, through my binoculars, the yellow eyes of the great horned owls that call my apartment complex home.

          I’ve been updated. Yea!

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining

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These days, I have time to not just smell the flowers but to paint them. Life is good.

What the heck! Who have I become?

I asked myself that question this morning as I carefully zipped closed Scamp’s package of peanut butter doggie treats after our morning walk.

          The bag hadn’t fully closed the first time I zipped it shut, and I was taking the time to redo it, and then checked a third time to make sure it was truly closed.

          This time-consuming action made me think of the person who was always in too much of a hurry to even close cabinet doors, a habit that annoyed orderly people.

          Following this memory, I remembered myself merrily tripping up and down stairs as if they were flat ground. Hand holds – well except when I was climbing to the top of Zion’s Angels Landing – were mere architectural doodads.

Today I hold onto stair railings for dear life and look for other handholds anytime I have to maneuver uneven ground or floors. What happened to that person who ran instead of walked from place to place, I ask myself?

That impatience gene that once ruled my body, driving me to constantly sprint to get somewhere, to jump from one task to another, to always come in first, has clearly taken a vacation to Timbuktu — and decided to stay.

I guess it’s what happens to you when you’ve lived on this planet for 82 years. The funny thing is that life is still rich and exciting. I’m more observant when I get out in nature, sometimes seeing more on a short walk than I did on a 10-mile hike.

I take time to satisfy my curiosity. My home stays neater. I explore the world through travel books. I bird from my balcony window. I piddle around with watercolors. Sometimes I just sit and connect the dots of my life. My writing is richer because of my experiences and I get to write what I want to write. And I feel closer to friends and family than I ever did during my younger years.

That person who never had time to make sure packages or cabinet doors were closed is gone. I miss her. But I love her replacement.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Bluebirds

Western Bluebird — Wikimedia photo

 If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the popular World War II song, There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover.

       If you’re an ornithologist, that phrase might make you chaff. England has no bluebirds. But if you’re just an enthusiastic birder, like me, it might bring a smile to your face.

That’s what it did when I read this piece of trivia. It’s amazing the things you learn if you’re an eclectic reader. As a birder, I do know that America does have bluebirds, three species. The Mountain Bluebird, which is bright blue and resembles images of the Blue Bird of Happiness, and Western and Eastern Bluebirds, which also have a bit of white and rusty-red hues in their feathers.

          But in defense of idea about Bluebirds flying over England’s White Cliff’s of Dover, some say the bluebird in the song refers to English war planes flying over the cliffs, others that it refers to swallows and martins, which do fly over the cliffs, and which have a blue sheen.

          Anyway, in case you remember the song, which was written in 1941 by Walter Kemp with lyrics by Nat Burton, and made popular by Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording, the lyrics go like this:

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry sky’s
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away I still can hear them say
Sun’s up
For when the dawn comes up
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Soap Box Rant: Bullies

One way to keep America Great would be export all the bullies. — Bald Eagle art by Pat Bean

          Reading the news this morning sent me off on one of my rants, and I decided it was time to vent.

When did calling people hateful names for something they said instead of intelligently debating their words become a daily part of American culture?

          This behavior sickens me. And the only way I could escape it these days would be to read no newspapers, unplug my radio and television and lock myself in my apartment and shut all my window shutters.

That’s not a life I want to live, especially after being somewhat isolated for over a year.

          Instead of mouthing nothing but derogatory rants about political opponents, tell me what your plans for America are. If you don’t like the proposals of the opposite side, give me a different solution. Why are your ideas better than your opponents?

          Heaven forbid – OK I’m being sarcastic — that a bit of one and a bit of the other might even be a better solution.

          It sounds to me that those who savage people instead of their words don’t have any solutions or plans, and they think if they shout the insults loudly enough it will scare off any contenders who oppose them.

          It also seems to me that all these revengeful attacks against people with different ideas is no different than schoolyard bullying of the kid who is different, only on an adult level.

What kind of example is being set for our young people? I ask as a great-grandmother of seven who wants them to be raised in a kind world – without bullies.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Curlew Day

Long-billed Curlew in flight. — Wikimedia photo

          Today, April 21, is World Curlew Day.

On reading this bit of trivia in Bird Watcher’s Digest, I immediately thought of being dive-bombed by Long-billed Curlews while traveling across the eastern causeway to Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island in the late 1990s.

          I was researching a series on the lake and had gotten permission to travel the little-used, non-public causeway with a photographer. We were carefully making our way down the rutted road when we came across a bunch of curlew chicks dashing back and forth.

       . We stopped and got out of our four-wheel vehicle to investigate — and immediately found ourselves being dive-bombed by birds with long pointy bills.

          I immediately got back into the vehicle, but the photographer stayed a few more seconds to try and snap a few photos. One of the birds knocked his hat off, and as I recall, he didn’t even try to retrieve it.

          I consider that day one of my best off-the-beaten-track adventures.

          There are eight species of curlews in the world, but only the Long-billed makes its home in North America. The other seven are Little, Eurasian, Bristle-thighed, Slender-billed, Whimbrel, Far Eastern and Eskimo, which is thought to already be extinct. One hasn’t been sighted since the 1980s.

Only the Whimbrel, Long-billed and Little curlews are not considered endangered. The Long-billed Curlew is actually fairly common in the western half of North America.

          Bean Pat: If you want to know about curlews, check out curlewaction.org. or read Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell, who walked 500 miles — from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England –, to discover what is happening to the UK’s much-loved Eurasian Curlew, whose population had dwindled 50 percent over the past 20 years.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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