It’s A Wild Wild Life 2

Isla San Esteban Chuckwalla at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

February 24 & March 9 – 11, 2019.

I believe that I have mentioned that Greg (and subsequently I) has taken up the hobby of birding. It is a quite timely hobby in this era of COVID-19. A friend recently told me that she is glad to be at an age where she is just happy to take walks and hang out at home watching the birds at her feeder. We are too. And we are so lucky that the whole of the outside world is our feeder.

Unfortunately, although Greg had been saying he wanted to become a birder for some time, I didn’t really think about that when I bought my new camera. I had two choices – a more expensive one that had a longer zoom lens or a cheaper one that was better for taking pictures in lower light but had a shorter zoom. Since I like to take pictures in buildings, like museums, with lower light and love saving money I opted for the latter choice. If only I had known that the world was going to turn upside down and that we wouldn’t be going to museums or actually into any buildings except for grocery stores, I would have gotten that longer zoom. And you, my loyal readers, would never have to see a fuzzy bird picture on this blog.*

I have to admit we will probably never be the best birders. We like to keep moving. We might spot a bird in the distance but as soon as we get nearer the crunch, crunch, crunch of our footsteps on the road scares them away. To be a real birder I imagine you need to painstakingly stake out a place, get up before the crack of dawn, set out in your camos with your super zoom camera and tripod to your designated spot, and just sit and wait. This is not really our style (the sitting and waiting) although we have considered camouflaging Ballena Blanca, turning her into a rolling bird blind, parking her in a wash, and seeing who shows up.

So with the current restrictions on where we can go and what we can do and our new enthusiasm about this hobby, we are thinking that this blog may be going in a whole new direction. We may change its name to Make Like A Birder, or perhaps The Cynical Birder and his Photographing Sidekick or Birding About or Call It Birding (stole those last three from some blogging friends – see their blogs in the links in the sidebar). But no worries – I’m sure eventually we will get back to Utah and be enthused about rocks again or take up entomology. What do you think, Make Like A Bug-hunter?

*BTW – I actually love my new camera despite its limitations. And although you may be seeing a few fuzzy pictures here, my camera does take some very good shots especially when the subject is sitting still, well lit, and quite close.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is another one of those places, like the Biosphere 2 in our previous post, which I have been wanting to visit but felt the entry fee was too costly. This year we decided to shell out the bucks and go. I asked our friend Deanna, who lives in Tucson if she wanted to go with us. She did – and bonus! She is a member of the Museum and had two free passes.

The Desert Museum is more than just a museum. It is also part wildlife rescue, zoo, botanical garden, and immersive experience. The part of our day at the museum we were most looking forward to was the Raptor Free Flight. What is a Raptor Free Flight? It is birds of prey flying freely (untethered) right over your head in open desert. I don’t mean right over your head way up in the sky (they do that too) but literally you can feel the rush of air as they swoop over the crowd.

At the Raptor Free Flight handlers bring birds out into the open desert.

Here is a Red Tailed Hawk.

And let them fly freely.

Crested Caracara in flight.

They land wherever they like, usually on either side of the crowd who is packed together contained between metal railings.

Ferruginous Hawk. (Hat brim on the right. The birds really do fly in close overhead.)
Ferruginous Hawk.
Peregrine Falcon. When freed, this one took off for a while way up in the sky. They can dive in at 60mph. Very impressive when it decided to come back for its treats.
Harris Hawk.
Harris Hawk in flight.
Harris Hawk leans in to practice mantling. When hawks feed they bend over to hide their food from others.
Hawks usually hunt alone. In Arizona, though, Harris Hawks have adapted to hunt in groups.
Since they hunt and feed in groups, Harris Hawks develop and maintain a pecking order.
Crested Caracara. When Caracaras get excited their blue beak tips get brighter.
Great Horned Owl comin’ at ya.
Great Horned Owl.
Chihuahuan Raven in flight.
Sunlight reflects off this Red-Tailed Hawk in flight. His work is done for the day.

The zoo part of the museum features desert animals in enclosed environments.

River Otter doing some grooming.
Gray Fox. These guys like to poop in the middle of dirt roads. We’ve seen a LOT of fox scat, which usually has a high percentage of fur in it.
Male Bighorn Sheep behind two females.
Bighorn Sheep.
Mountain Lion.

The museum also has indoor presentations. The one we went to featured a Gila Monster and a Rattlesnake.

Gila Monster.
Rattlesnake found in the kid’s play area by the Gem Mine in the Desert Museum.

And then there was the Walk-in Aviary & Hummingbird Aviary

White Winged Dove. We see a lot of these. Those that we don’t see we hear chirping as they fly away.
Black Crowned NIght Heron.
Pyrrhuloxia, or Desert Cardinal.
Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks.

Of course, we couldn’t miss the Reptile, Invertebrate & Amphibian Hall

Mole Salamanders.

The museum also has displays just for children, a gem and mineral exhibit, an art gallery, and more. And as you walk from one exhibit to the next you pass through an amazing botanical garden of desert plants. A whole day is simply not enough to see everything.

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge & Prieta Cabeza Visitor Center

A few weeks after our Desert Museum we found ourselves experiencing wildlife actually out in the wild. The first stop was at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

Endangered Pupfish. We’ve also seen these in a small pond in Organ Pipe National Monument on the Mexican border. At Cibola there is a Pupfish pond. But it’s easier to see them in this aquarium in the Visitor Center.
Yellow-headed blackbirds.
More Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
…and even more Yellow-headed blackbirds.
There were also Red-winged Blackbirds among the Yellow-headed ones. You can see one in flight just below the center in this pic.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.
Cinnamon Teals.
On the left are nests of Burrowing Owls. The owls find and occupy holes that other animals have already dug. These are marked and protected by stones so they won’t be disturbed. Right: Burrowing Owl.
Great Egret in flight.
Coyote takes note of us.
The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge is located by the Colorado River. Levees have been erected to hold the river between its banks, stopping the seasonal flow into river wetlands like this. At Cibola water is artificially diverted from the river into this wetland lake.
Glossy Ibises in flight.

You can only visit the Prieta Cabeza National Wildlife Refuge by permit. We stopped at the visitor center in Ajo to find out the details in obtaining one (we now know the permit is free and available online). The visitor center has a nice museum and a bird blind out back. We were very excited about the bird blind where we got our first glimpse of a Gambel’s Quail.

House Finches. The male has a distinctive rosy red face.
White-Crowned Sparrow. We see lots of these.
Gambel’s Quail.

*Click pics to enlarge and view in a slideshow.

**BTW – this is the second of our It’s A Wild Wild Life posts. The first about our experience at the Crane Fest in Mississippi and our visit to Davis Bayou can be found here.

Do you have any new hobbies? Have you ever thought about being a birder? We’d love to hear your comments about this post or anything it has inspired you to think about!

10 thoughts on “It’s A Wild Wild Life 2

  1. Loved this post with all the animals and especially the raptors! If you are back in our area in Sept. you should go to Caesars Head and participate in the Hawk Watch – thousands can be seen overhead traveling South. I have spotted 450 within one hour that were added to the official count as everyone else had left. It is so thrilling to see so many. Also, the yellow headed black bird which is common out west is not so common here. Several years ago one of my horses was having a fit – then I heard a strange, uncommon bird call. The horse was like a guard dog and he was alerted by the unusual bird. It was a Yellow Headed Blackbird. I started taking pics from FAR away as I knew it would leave – eventually it came within 15 feet and I got some pictures…back in the film day and I used an entire 36 shot roll on that bird. BTWm YEARS ago there was a Caracara at the Greenville Zoo….talking about 1970’s….caretaker showed me that bird loved having his head scratched. I would visit from time to time and scratch that birds head….people were amazed that I knew he would let me do that. Thanks for sharing and enjoy your trip and the birds!

    1. Wow! We’d love to do the Hawk Watch. We weren’t planning on being back east that early but who knows any more. 450 in one hour! Love it!

      And love your story about the yellow headed blackbird. I loved seeing them on our trip to Cibola. They look so tropical.

      And of course, you would totally charm a bird!

      Thank you so much for you stories. Sending out best to you and Pat.

  2. Al last caught up with the blog posts, yay!

    Now, this is a first-rate birding guide. Even without having a big zoom lens. Embrace the extra challenges! 🙂 It looks like you’re both having a lot of fun with this new hobby. We often think about you two – well, mostly about Greg – basically, every time we see a bird. 🙂

    Birding About! Yep, that’ll have to be your new blog name. You know, I’ve actually played around with writing a series of memoirs – the first being “Floating About”, followed by “Sitting About” (house and pet sitting adventures), and the last one, “Vanning About”. Feel free to use the “Birding About” – I won’t be using that one. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’m learning a lot about how to get good pics of birds with my “limited” camera.

      I love the series of “Xing About” memoirs! they would make fun short stories?

      So nice that you think of Greg when you see birds. He is getting quite good at birding. He can recognize some birds by their calls. I know absolutely nothing – I just take the pictures, resize and fix the lighting in Photoshop, name them bird1, bird2, etc and let Greg figure out what they are.

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