So as most of our friends and business associates know, we love to walk, and we especially enjoy bird-watching. If you want the background story, visit our corporate website www.dsamedia.ca and in the “about” section, you’ll find a piece called “Why Birds? With all of our travels over the past 30 years, Mary has now seen well over 300 different species of birds, and I’m just past the 250 mark.
We find that when we are out walking, listening, and looking at everything around us, time slows down. We seem to gain a new appreciation for all things living, and when I weigh that against the stress and strain of 40 years in the advertising and marketing community, it is a time that I have come to cherish.
The blogs I’ve posted so far have been about cities, towns, buildings, roads, attractions, restaurants, and sporting events. I thought it was time I shared some of the other wonderful things we’ve seen so far, as we’ve also made time for hiking and of course, bird-watching. I hope you enjoy a sample of some of the photographs I’ve taken so far.
In our first week away from home, we visited Scottsdale, Arizona, for 3 1/2 days (a Canuck road trip excursion), and stayed at the very beautiful JW Desert Ridge Marriott Resort. Over and above all the wonderful luxuries that accompanied a stay in a beautiful facility like that, was the fact that we could walk for several miles around the resort and see some spectacular landscape. There were more different kinds of cacti then we realized existed, and we encountered a remarkable number of new birds for our respective lists. In fact, out of the 19 different birds we spotted over a period of 3 days, 10 of them were birds we had never seen before.
There were two different types of hummingbirds that we watched in fascination, and we spotted a Gila Woodpecker, a species that can only be seen in the Southwest United States, and Northern Mexico. My personal favorite was this Harris’s Hawk. We spotted him on top of a light standard where he was chowing down on something he had caught. When we stood there a bit too long, he left his meal and gave us the merry old dickens.
Once we were back out on the road, the next opportunity we had to absorb some nature was the day we visited the Grand Canyon. We saw Osprey, Ravens, Turkey Vultures and numerous other birds riding thermal waves in and around the Canyon walls, but among the things that made us smile the most were catching sight of this mule deer minding his own business, chillaxing under a tree.
We also had fun watching this Rock Squirrel warily come out to check on us, and after coming within about 3 feet of us, he heard other people approaching, and took off to his hiding place below the edge of the cliff.
Toward the end of our day, this American Robin brought a smile to our face, as it was our first Robin of the year, and that is always a sign of spring, regardless of where you live.
Once we arrived in Scottsdale (by car this time), we made sure to take time to explore a number of different hiking trails. One we particularly enjoyed was the McDowell Mountain Trail, a mere 15 minutes from our condo. The timing of our visit to Arizona was such that we were able to see the desert in bloom, something that really only lasts for about two weeks each year. There were splashes of colour emerging that we just as easily could have missed. The reds, purples, pinks and yellows changed the barren landscape dramatically, even it was just for a little while.
One of the highlights of our stay in Arizona was a visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. There were Hummingbirds everywhere we walked, and no wonder, given all the bright and beautiful flowers that acted as nectar magnets.
There was also an absolutely stunning Butterfly pavilion in the middle of the gardens. I don’t know all the names or species than we encountered, but they were so colourful, I had a hard time tearing myself away from them. There were blue ones, orange ones, yellow ones, and striped ones. There were even some that you’d almost miss, as they were the same colour as the leaves on which they were perched.
The “prize” of their exhibit were three beautiful Luna Moths. I was amazed to learn that their life-span is only 7 days!
As we departed the Butterfly pavilion, we had two more encounters with rock squirrels. The first one, was when one of the little guys darted out from a low cement divider to find 4 people a mere 5 feet away. I just happened to have my camera turned on and snapped this picture of him before he scooted right back from where he came. Then, much to our delight we spotted two of them “perched” up in a tree, happily eating away. After seeing them on the ground from time to time, it was a shock to see them precariously balanced on the narrowest of branches.
The next encounter with nature has become an ongoing source of humour for Mary and I on this trip. As background, you should know that Mary has been on a personal quest to see a Roadrunner since 2005, during our first visit to Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas. During 3 subsequent visits over the next 6 years, these supposedly common desert birds had thrown a no-hitter against Mary and her favorite pair of binoculars. Three weeks into this road-trip, we had still not seen one. Then, on her birthday, we went into downtown Phoenix and took a tour of a historical home – Rosson House (I’ll tell you more about that in a separate blog post). At the conclusion of the tour, the guide told us if we wanted to have a spectacular view of the entire valley, we should head to the south end of Central Ave, and drive up to the top of South Mountain Park. The way he described it, we had the impression it was just a short drive away. As it turned out, it was a 20 minute drive to the base of the mountain, a drive that took us through a particularly poor, and run-down part of Phoenix. I could hear Mary thinking where the heck is David taking me and why are we wasting time on my birthday to drive up some stupid mountain. As we began to slowly climb the winding road up the side of the mountain, Mary was getting visibly grumpy and impatient. Suddenly, she yelled, “holy S*!t, a Roadrunner”, and sure enough there was one right in the middle of the road.
Following various other exclamations including “I can’t believe it”, and “what were the chances of that happening”, she started to laugh. She looked at me and said “I guess that will teach me to not get grumpy and impatient and just let life unfold”.
On April 4th, the day before we were due to leave our Scottsdale condo, we headed northeast of Phoenix,through Sun City, with a destination of Wickenburg, Arizona. Just before you arrive at Wickenburg, there is a lovely wildlife sanctuary called Hassayampa. We planned a stop there, and imagine our delight and surprise as we approached the visitor centre. There were 8 Hummingbird feeders hanging from the eave of the building and anywhere from 2 to 5 hummingbirds at every feeder.
The sight was amazing and the sound was even more remarkable. The only way I can describe the noise is to tell you it sounded like there were several hundred large bees swarming around.
We chatted with some of the people in the visitor’s centre, then headed out on one of the many trails that go through a variety of different topographies. During our 3 hour hike we spotted 8 different species of birds including two “lifers” – a Vermillion Flycatcher and a Lesser Goldfinch. I couldn’t get a decent picture of either of them, but what I did manage to do was sneak up on my absolute favorite bird, a Great Blue Heron, and capture a number of great images of him hunting for food. This was the best one of the lot.
We also saw some beautiful butterflies, and caterpillars while on our walk through the forest.
What a beautiful, peaceful morning that was.
One of the things we’ve learned through the years, is that you never know what you’re going to see or find, and that if you keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you, you’ll have some amazing surprises. Like this one. Last Tuesday, as were leaving Tucson, to head east, we briefly stopped at the Pima Air and Space Museum. It was only a brief stop, since one would need to spend an entire day there to see everything, and we weren’t prepared to commit that much time to it. However, as we got out of the Jeep to walk to the visitor’s center, Mary noticed a commotion at the side of the SUV parked two spots away from us. I slowly turned with my camera at the ready, and saw this Pyrhuloxia (otherwise known as a “desert Cardinal”), perched on the side-view mirror. She kept lunging at the mirror and we realized that she thought she was seeing another bird. She would flutter away, then stop and perch on the mirror; pause, and then take another run at the mirror.
We laughed and watched her for a full two minutes before she decided that the “other bird” didn’t want to play, and she flew away.
Yesterday, Friday April 11th, we decided to devote the bulk of the day to bird-watching as I had read that the part of New Mexico we were in, Socorro County, New Mexico, was considered the best in the entire state for seeing multiple species of birds in their natural habitat.
We first visited “The Box”, a hiking area that was identified as a “birdwatcher’s paradise”. We had no trouble finding it, but when we got there we encountered two men setting up a campsite right in the gravel parking lot, beside their 5th wheel trailer. There was nobody else around except them and us. I’m not ashamed to tell you that with all the stories we’ve heard in the past few years about “older couples” disappearing while on road trips, we were more than a little uncomfortable with the circumstances. So, we moved on to area #2, a campground area called Water Canyon.
Fairly quickly we were rewarded with spotting an Acorn Woodpecker affectionately known as a “clown” because of it’s facial markings, This was another “lifer” for Mary and I, and we thought, “this is going to be awesome”. We were wrong, and it turned out to be awful. Every time we parked the car to get out and walk or look around we were swarmed by flies. The area was just lousy with them, and we couldn’t take it, so once again we moved on.
Truth be told, we were a little bit discouraged and disappointed and we actually considered passing on a visit to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Partly because it was 20 miles in the opposite direction, and also because we didn’t want to be further disappointed. We ultimately decided to take a chance though, and are we ever glad we did.
The Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge is a flyway for migratory birds and from the moment we first stopped at the Visitor’s Centre to the end of our visit, five hours later, we were rewarded with some magnificent sights. We saw 27 different species of birds including five first-time sightings for us, but more than that, there was hardly anyone else there. It was quiet and peaceful, except for the sounds of the birds themselves, and after nearly five weeks of driving, and sight-seeing it was just the kind of day we needed. In addition to the birds that we saw and identified, we had a great laugh when we came across these two “piggy-backed” turtles, just laying on a submerged log in the water.
A short while later we saw a large black animal moving across the dirt road in the distance. As we inched closer, Mary zoomed in with her binoculars, then started laughing. She had me stop the car, and handed me the glasses. There, ahead of us was a very large wild turkey, and as we inched closer to him with the windows down, we could hear him “gobble gobbling” as he crossed the road, and slowly sauntered off into the scrub.
You might think that we’re crazy to invest the kind of time that we spend out wandering around in the woods and on the trails of North America. You might even think we are pretty “wussy” to care about birds, and squirrels, and butterflies to the degree that we do, and perhaps you’re right. All I can tell you is, that it is something that Mary and have delighted in for almost 30 years, and we both look forward to many more of these gentle encounters with nature.
Wait, did I say gentle? Just check out this sign from one of the trails at the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Maybe we’re not such wusses after all!