I Got Lucky!

This is a male Pyrrhuloxia, sometimes called the “Desert Cardinal.” It is a cousin to the Northern Cardinal. He has been a nemesis bird for me. Their range is more in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, southern Texas, and Mexico so they are not very common in the Phoenix area. However, this particular bird is now spending his 3rd (at least) winter at the Desert Botanical Garden and I’ve been chasing him that whole time but he was very elusive. I kept seeing photos of him in my Facebook birding group from many other people. He hangs out in a specific area quite a bit and, a few days ago, I sat there for 2 hours waiting for a glimpse. No show. I was getting discouraged but decided to go over one afternoon this past week and get disappointed again. I sat down and, within about a minute, he appeared! And he seemed to do a lot of posing just for me, probably recognizing me from all the times I’ve been looking for him:

Isn’t he beautiful/adorable/unusual? During breeding season, his bill is also bright yellow so he’s even more colorful then but he doesn’t breed up here so I’ll have to try to catch one in southern Arizona sometime.

Gilded Flicker, male

Northern Mockingbird

Queen

A couple days before finally seeing the Pyrrhuloxia, I went to Gilbert Riparian Preserve (Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch) in search of some rarities being seen there. I never have good luck there unless I’m with an experienced birder. Fortunately, one showed up and, when the bird finally appeared, helped me find it. It was a Prairie Warbler, very unusual for this part of the country, but my picture is not good at all. There are now several more rare (for Arizona) birds there so I should try to make it out there one day this coming week and hope someone can help me find them, too.

Desert Cottontail

And I saw a ton of these fast, little guys:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Say’s Phoebe

Western Meadowlark

And these little warblers were energetically flitting about right in the same area as the Prairie Warbler giving me false hope several times as they have the same coloring.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Audubon’s

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Theodore Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake Bridge

I’ve liked every place we’ve gone on our day trips but some are a little more special than others (to me) and this is one of them. I love this area. This bridge was completed in 1992. Prior to this, people could drive over the dam itself. I had not been here since the mid-1980s and it was even more impressive than I remembered…although we were able to drive over the dam when I was first there and it was far more “historic-looking.”

The dam was completed in 1911 after several years of work and mishaps. Former President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the dam which had the primary purpose of providing water storage for the Salt River Project and flood control through the Salt River Valley. In 1989, renovations and reconstruction began until completion in 1996. As a result of the reconstruction, the dam has a completely altered appearance from when it was originally listed as a National Historic Landmark. The original rubble-masonry dam was completely encased in concrete, and the structural height was extended from 280 feet to 357 feet. Since the dam no longer had the integrity of the design, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association that it had when it was originally listed, the National Historic Landmark designation was withdrawn on March 10, 1999.

This majestic guy was perched on the outcropping in the far right of the above photo, overlooking the dam:

Here is a public domain photo of the original dam:

The following photo shows an aerial view (by the Bureau of Reclamation). Wish I could have gotten this shot!

State Route 188 had to be reconfigured when the new bridge was built.

In the aerial view of the dam, you can see a winding road on the lower right side. That is the old Apache Trail. It starts out paved at the dam but soon changes to an unpaved, winding road with hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs. It is apparently really beautiful but since it lasts for about 40 miles, we opted not to go. Plenty of people do take it, though, or parts of it, and the canyon floors are littered with cars that went over.

It runs along the glittering Salt River to Apache Junction.

There is a part of it that is paved out of Apache Junction to beyond Tortilla Flat, a remaining stagecoach stop. That is going on our list of future “to-dos.” The unpaved, winding part? Not so sure I’ll ever see that. That’s okay, I watched a YouTube video of it.

We also stopped at Tonto National Monument, right along the lake: well-preserved cliff dwellings from the Salado culture 850 years ago. It’s a half-mile hike up to the dwellings with a 350 foot ascension. There’s very little shade so even though the temperatures were in the upper 70s, it was pretty hot. The unique thing about these dwellings is that you can actually go inside them. There is a ranger stationed there asking you to not touch the walls but it’s pretty cool to actually be able to go inside.

This is what the Salado people saw looking out from their home:

A handprint from 850 years ago

Another photo that is not mine of the cliff dwellings (Wikipedia):

We didn’t see many birds but it was awesome, nevertheless.

Great Blue Heron

Here’s a short video of the dam’s history if you’re interested:

 

 

 

Earth-based Faith

Like many other people, I’ve been constantly monitoring the last two U.S. hurricanes (with a 3rd and 4th coming) and their damage on TV as well as reading news coverage about the forest fires in Montana and Oregon and the earthquake in Mexico and wondering why there are so many natural disasters lately here and throughout the world. Some of it is definitely human-caused in the form of climate change and carelessness. Yes, there have always been hurricanes and earthquakes and forest fires but the increased frequency, size, and intensity are from climate change, the climate scientists agree. It’s sad what is happening to our planet.

I’m sure many of us know people in several of the affected areas and are concerned for their well-being. We have a friend who lives in Puerto Rico now who is okay but is without power and that could last for several months. The U.S. and British Virgin Islands are decimated. Cuba is currently being pummeled. Texas will be recovering for a long time. I have a cousin who lives on Florida’s gulf coast and, although he isn’t there at the moment, he is concerned about his house as so many people are. I have another friend who evacuated and is in Mississippi until Irma passes through, also hoping he has a home to return to. I have a blogger friend who is actually fighting the forest fires in Montana and a friend who was supposed to go to Portland to visit her kids today but decided against it when they told her there was ash floating everywhere.

Last night, just coincidentally, we went to an event sponsored by the Grand Canyon Trust where a Navajo woman spoke eloquently about her earth-based faith and what the land on the Navajo Nation means to her, how she respects it, how water is power, how the spirits of her ancestors still reside there, how she goes there to seek peace all while developers are trying to coerce the Navajos into letting them build resorts there. The U.S. government is considering reducing or eliminating existing National Monuments so we can have more development and less nature.

I’ve been trying to document Fibonacci spirals demonstrating nature’s perfection but this is as far as I’ve gotten:

Virgin Murex

Fiery Skipper

West Indian Fighting Conch

So for now, I’m sending prayers for those being affected by natural disasters…not just in the U.S. but throughout the world, including all the poor animals. We need to be better custodians of our planet while we still have it.

Northern Mockingbird, Florida and Texas State Bird

Western Meadowlark, Montana and Oregon State Bird

Crested Caracara, Mexico’s National Bird

Willow Springs Lake/Christopher Creek

We headed back up to the Mogollon Rim one day last week to go to a different lake…Willow Springs Lake (elevation 7,513 feet). It was beautiful…but raining. The birds were hiding, I didn’t want to get my cameras wet, and it was cold! At the same time that it was 109° in Phoenix it was 50° cooler there.

Abert’s Squirrel

So we left…to return another day. We headed down the hill to Christopher Creek for lunch, hoping it would clear up afterwards.

This is what the Mogollon Rim looks like from below as opposed to what it looks like from above in a previous post.

Christopher Creek is a tiny (3 square miles) census-designated place in northern Gila County. Situated at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the community lies at an elevation of 5,961 feet and is located approximately 23.5 miles northeast of Payson. The population as of the 2010 U.S. Census was 156 (Wikipedia). There were at least 100 homes there so the population must not take into consideration part-time residents. It’s a beautiful little town with some lodges, a couple restaurants, and a market or 2. I was very surprised to see this large, new LDS church there, too.

It’s now the town I wish we could have a 2nd home in (I keep changing towns but it’s just a dream anyway).

It didn’t really clear up, the rain let up a little but it was still very overcast and threatening to rain more so we took a walk on the creek. I heard there are a ton of birds there but they didn’t want to get wet, I guess.

Lots of slippery rocks in the creek as Tony climbed around on them attempting to get that award-winning photo. And this is it:

It’s very pretty. And then he fell on the slippery rocks. He had sprained fingers, we went to the ER in Payson because he thought one was broken, and then we headed home. And this is why you should always have a filter on your lens:

So we will return another day to further explore the area but this is monsoon season so you never know when you’re going to get a non-rainy day, especially up north.

 

 

Late Afternoon Sunlight

Gila Woodpecker, female

A few days ago, when it was unseasonably cool, I wandered over to the Desert Botanical Garden around 5 pm. It was not crowded at all, the birds were happily chirping and eating, everything was blooming, and the sun made it all glow. The Garden is always beautiful but this evening it seemed that everything came together to make it extraordinary. These photos don’t begin to capture the way it looked.

Mexican Fencepost Cactus

Sunflower

Coneflower and bonus bug

Flame Skimmer Dragonfly

Gambel’s Quail nibbling in herb garden

Gaillardia

Lesser Goldfinch

Anna’s Hummingbird

Verdin dining

Queen Butterfly

It was really quite spectacular!