Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some New Faces to go with the Familiar Ones...

We're way behind posting, but hopefully will catch up this weekend. Waaay back on the 2nd we took a day trip out to Tombstone and Whitewater Draw, one of the earliest visits of the season we've made to the popular birding site. The excuse for the trip was our Phoenix friend Donna and her mother Shirley visiting from Florida making a multi-day tour of Tucson. Add to that another friend Margie who was taking the scenic route to her place in Mexico, and Derald, who we talked into joining us to help balance out all the females, and we had a crowd! Shirley had never been to Southern Arizona before, and she was pretty much astounded by the vista as we rounded every corner. Our general plan was a morning departure, spend a couple hours checking out Tombstone (the town too tough to die), purported at one time to be the largest city between St Louis and San Francisco in the mid-1800 heyday. Then, after a bite of late lunch, head the 25 miles to Whitewater Draw to watch the Sandhill Cranes return from their feeding to gather at the wetlands there.

Interestingly, on our first stop in Tombstone, sort of an art gallery co-op, we ran into an astronomical celebrity! Bob Kepple looked familiar to me as we entered and roamed around, but it wasn't till we saw the "Night Sky Observer's Guide" in front of him (he is co-author) that I remembered we had chatted just this last summer at the Astronomical League meeting. He lives nearby in Sierra Vista and just happened to be volunteering that day to tend the gallery. Since all of us had a little astronomy background, we chatted it up and he pointed out his astronomical-themed paintings he had done. Unfortunately, he didn't make any sales to us, but we did take him up on his recommendation for lunch and headed to the Longhorn. Most of the females in the group shopped on the way, Margie for art and jewelry, Donna and Shirley for souvenirs. I caught Melinda making out with a cigar store Indian, and also captured mother and daughter before they ducked out of view into another shop.

After lunch at the Longhorn, we headed to Whitewater Draw. It is always a surprise as to what will greet us on our arrival, but we were gratified there were lots of cranes. Unfortunately, the water level was just about the lowest I've ever witnessed. The ponds that were usually filled with coots and duck varieties were mostly dry, and while there were lots of cranes, they were not particularly close to the viewing areas. The waterfowl attendance was very low, though we did spot some Northern Shovelers and Cinnamon Teal. Shown above too is a Say's Phoebe, showing the characteristic short loopy flights of flycatchers, oftentimes landing at the same spot they launched.

Of course, I was overjoyed to catch my favorite of the location, the Vermillion Flycatcher. The male is so spectacular, how can you not love him? The female is a drab brown, and was hanging about nearby. Interestingly, I've never seen more than a single male - I think they are pretty territorial. Whether I've been seeing the same individual year after year, or different ones, I'm not sure, but I'm glad to have captured him. This one fluffed the feathers atop his head, and looks like he's wearing a really bad toupee from the rear...

Inevitably, the sun headed for the western horizon and the birds started settling in for the night. The Northern Harrier that we saw last trip made a couple passes, always producing a commotion when passing as the birds shout out warnings. I spotted a Loggerhead Shrike, but he was too fast for me to catch with camera. At left is a shot of our group (except for me) at one of the viewing stands, with the sunset-lit LBT dome atop Mount Graham 85 miles distant. From left are Donna, Shirley, Margie, Derald and Melinda. Always visible from the site is the profile of the Chiricahua Apache Indian chief Cochise, in a landmark called "Cochise's Head", nearly 50 miles distant. By the way, ALL of these shots were taken with the Canon XSi shooting through a small Meade telescope - an 80mm F/6, 3-element APO (480mm focal length), with manual focus, of course.

The sun set, and as darkness approached, so did additional cranes, returning from nearby fields to the water for safety from predators. I was able to get one more shot in the dying light against distant pink clouds. The deafening noise that 30,000 cranes make is hard to describe, but even as the frigid temperatures envelop you, it is difficult to leave as hundreds and thousands more arrive, flying invisibly over your head, yet calling to those already on the ground. As we finally walked back in the dark, we had yet one more friend to greet from last year - a Great Horned Owl, seen only as a faint silhouette in a tree, yet confirmed by his glowing eye in the flash picture. We finally departed for civilization, enjoying a fine Italian dinner near Derald's house in Corona de Tucson, and we made it back home about 10pm, even getting to watch the last few plays of the Arizona Wildcats losing to arch-nemesis ASU. But still a great day spent with friends and the cast of characters we visit once again at Whitewater Draw.

1 comment:

Juanita said...

We have what I thougt was a vermillion flycatcher and mate near by and they are FUN to watch and he is SO RED! Maybe he's a different bird b/c he has more red (esp on his chest)than the fellow you caught....hmmm will have to investigate.