Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cochise County Road Trip!

Our friend Carolyn is in town visiting for a week.  It was a LONG week at work for me, so it wasn't till yesterday (Saturday), that I had a chance to hang out.  In previous years trips we've gone North to the Canyon, West to San Diego and Los Angeles, and South to whale-watch on Baja.  Last year we stayed closer to home, but spent a weekend going down to Rocky Point, MZ for beach time there.  This trip we're spending the entire week in the Tucson area to consolidate some time here, and it is great week with temps in the upper 70s - just what a Midwestern Girl needs the first days of March!

Yesterday we decided to do a road trip down in Cochise County, SE of Tucson.  She had been in Tombstone on a previous trip, so we barely slowed down as we drove through that town.  We could see that the current crop of winter visitors had packed the town to the gills as they went to experience the boardwalk, the actors playing wild-west characters, witnessing the re-enactment of the OK Corral shootout, and shopping for old-west trinkets. 

Our goal was Bisbee, another 25 miles beyond and another town from the wild west, this one a mining city established about the same time as Tombstone, but with a different path to present-day.  Supposedly early in the days of the last century, Bisbee was the largest city between St Louis and San Francisco - full of miners, mostly after copper and silver.  After the miners left, in the 1970s for the last time, it was taken over by hippies and artist types, who remain to this day.  Now the town is full of high-priced art galleries and antique shops, dealing the remnants of local estate sales to numerous tourists who come for the cooler temps of the mile-high city.  The picture at left shows Min at right, Caroline at left just as we're entering the "downtown" section of Bisbee.  Note that it is built amongst the peaks of the Mule Mountains, and just above the rear-view mirror is the "B" (standing for Bisbee) high on a hill overlooking town.  While we couldn't find any parking on the street, we invested a few bucks to park at the intersection of the main drag and "Brewery Gulch", a short walk to anywhere.
Arriving right about 12:30, we'd been saving ourselves for lunch, and what more iconic place than the 105 year-old Copper Queen, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Arizona.  We briefly perused the lobby and a few historical displays before heading to the restaurant, asking for the patio which was quite pleasant.  The sounds of birds in the trees serenaded us, brought back to reality with the sounds of diesel trucks and cars on the adjacent street.  But a fine place to "people watch" the tourists and occasional eccentric resident.  At left above is an HDR (high-dynamic range) panorama of the patio, again, you can see the peaks among which Bisbee is located.  They had a nice menu selection - Melinda and I both got the "Sandwich of the Day", ham and cheese on sourdough, which was quite tasty and hit the spot.
We did our duty and strolled the streets, going in most every shop we passed.  We didn't take advantage of the $11,000 paintings at one of the art galleries, but enjoyed looking just the same.  At an antique store where I last bought a Russian microscope for $35 (they didn't know what they had, and I use it almost daily at work when precision measurements need to be made) we looked around, but nothing that excited me this trip, though I had fun going through a box of 100 year old stereo pictures.  I sort of collect astronomical ones, so felt it my duty to look through the few hundred they had for sale...  The girls each bought a book at the town's music and bookstore, and a few other trinkets elsewhere.
Our next stop - Whitewater Draw!  Though we had already been there a couple times this year, Carolyn was interested in going, and we were interested in checking out if there were still sandhill cranes.  We normally think of them departing mid-February, but perhaps with the recent cold weather they might still be around.  We found a "shortcut" from Bisbee and were there in about 30 minutes.  We parked, got our camera gear (for all these I used the Canon XSi with the Meade 80mm F/6 APO, so 480mm focal length, manual focus) and walked over to the observation stand - it was weird, but even though there were lots of cranes we could see, it was eerily quiet - not the normal raucous rattling sound they make - strange!  Anyway, the first picture I took was of a wading bird that looked quite striking close-up.  This is a full-resolution picture (load into Photoshop, click "full pixels", and crop without changing size).  I lucked out and hit a good focus the first time.  The bird - a common Killdeer, but he was so cute, and I've not had a picture before...
Yes, it was quiet, and cranes appeared in the sky by the hundreds in long lines shown here with Dos Cabezas in the background.  Dos Cabezas, which means "two heads" in Spanish, is for the two granite domes that resemble heads, though from the viewing angle from Whitewater, they line up and look like a single domed peak.  I couldn't tell if the long lines of cranes were of arriving or departing birds, but the surrounding fields I could see from the viewing platform were empty of normally feeding cranes.  Seconds after the picture at left was taken, suddenly a huge number took flight - someone thought they had seen a dog or coyote near the edge of the flock, though I didn't spot any on my photos.  But it makes for an interesting shot here at right.  A minute or two they settled back down and continued their rest for their long trip north.
While I didn't see many new birds this trip, there were a few I'd not seen in a while.  Some of the flycatchers I missed our previous two trips reappeared, including a Black Phoebe as well as a Say's Phoebe.  There were a couple pairs of the Green-Winged Teal feeding a couple dozen feet away, and even though I got a great pic last time, I got more good ones this time as well, so include it here.  Their heads are underwater so much it is a challenge to get much of their head below their eyes!
I ambled over towards the other viewing platform, but well before getting there I spotted an unusual sight.  While sighting a single Heron or Egret is not uncommon, I've never seen them in close-enough proximity to be able to get them both in the same shot!  For some reason, you just don't see them hanging out, but here they are.  The Heron seemed a little worried, but the Egret mostly ignored me as it preened...  A few steps closer and I noted another lump in the dried reeds, a bird I'd never spotted before, and in fact, didn't know what it was till I asked other birders later.  Almost hidden in a clump of reeds was an American Bittern, grooming itself!  I thought it was one of the odder Heron species, but no...  It didn't expose itself much, casting an occasional eye to me as it worked on its feathers, when I got this shot.  As I circled around to the platform, the Heron and Egret moved a little further away, and eventually the Bittern also flew off, looking Heron-like to me...  It returned a little later, its flights attracting some birders who IDed it for me.
The sun set quickly it seemed, and before I knew it, I was fighting to catch the reflections of cranes in the twilight colors reflected off the water.  You can judge if it turned out as well as last time...  I think I prefer this wider view with a little more pink of the sky.
Finally it turned pretty dark and I returned to the first observing platform where Melinda and Carolyn were hanging out.  Shortly before we thought about departing, I again tried the trick of using the on-camera flash to get a "catseye" effect.  Similar to the "red-eye" effect on humans and cats with flash photography, the birds eyeball focuses the light on the retina and the return reflection appears to fill the pupil with a bright return.  In the growing darkness, yes, the 3-stooges of cranes here looking at me all had a good eye-return.  Click to see it more clearly - this shot had to be stretched a bit to show detail...  And as it got darker still, we started heading back to the car, yet I spotted a shadow on the water - a Heron appearing to fish in the dark!  It was way to dark to image it without aid, so again used the flash - not only did I get a pretty hot eye return, but the flash reflecting off the water waves, focused the flash light into horizontal lines projected onto the Heron.  I was amazed I was able to focus as well as I did on him (her?), but got a half dozen shots or so, this one at right being our favorite.  Of course, I had to include the reflection in the final cropped image...
Hitting the road, we again stopped in Tombstone for dinner - this time at the Longhorn - the meatloaf special for the girlz, a chimichanga for me.  Home by 10;30 - a long, but satisfying day trip in Cochise County, AZ!

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