Hooked on the Christmas Bird Count

Audubon logoThis past weekend was the 112th National Audubon Christmas Bird Count when tens of thousands of citizen scientists all over the country brave winter conditions to do a census of their local bird population. In my Chiricahua Mountain community of Portal, Arizona, it was the 38th annual count — and no courage was required with sunny skies, no wind, and temperatures in the 60s.

House finchI’m — at best — a rookie birder, but I got to tag along on Reed Peter’s 2-mile territory that extended from his Cave Creek Ranch to Sunny Flats Campground at an elevation of about 5,000′.  We saw a total of 41 species, including house finches, lesser goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, Gambel’s quail, many Mexican jays, along with canyon towhees, two red-naped sapsuckers, and lots of white-crowned sparrows. Most unusual was the arrival of a Scott’s Oriole on the ranch feeder!

Acorn woodpecker

My favorite bird is still the clownish acorn woodpecker — tragically, we arrived too late to rescue one from a passing Cooper’s hawk.

Sunday was the 37th annual Peloncillo count across the state line near Animas, New Mexico, and again I tagged along, this time with Reed Peters, Peg Abbott, of Naturalist Journeys, and a birder named Steve from Santa Fe. Wow — what a magnificent area! Our territory was a chunk of the Dunnegan Ranch, which is part of the 322,000-acre Nature Conservancy Gray Ranch, owned by the Animas Foundation and usually closed to the public. We traversed desert flats and sprawling grasslands, crossed clear flowing streams, scampered through narrow canyons, and crunched across oak/juniper woodlands. We recorded 46 species — and about 40 were ones we didn’t see in the higher elevations during yesterday’s count. Most of all, I learned that sparrows are HARD to identify! We saw hundreds of them, including Bairds, grasshopper, savannah, Brewers, white-crowned, black-throated, chipping, lark, and vespers.

Watching the prairie falcon skim over the grass tops, the roadrunner bask in the early morning sun on top of a juniper, and seeing a cloud of 100 mountain bluebirds descend into a nearby tree were sights I won’t soon forget.

Many thanks to the ever-patient Reed and Peg! I’m definitely hooked and hope to be more knowledgable this time next year when the next Christmas count rolls around…

Big valley and Animas Mtns

Peg Abbott soaks up the view of grasslands stretching across the Gray Ranch toward the snow-capped Animas Mountains.

A First-Time Gathering of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon

FoCCC logoConsidered by many to be the crown jewel of southern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon now has a new friend — or, at last count, nearly 100 of them.

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FoCCC) mission is

To inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of
Cave Creek Canyon.

To accomplish that goal, a year ago a small steering group began dealing with IRS paperwork and legalese in order to become an official 503(c) (3) Friends group. They also worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service employees of Coronado National Forest to find the best way for FoCCC volunteers to help support the USFS work and mission in Southeast Arizona.

Since getting established in September, the group has already
• set up a website and a Facebook page,
• teamed the Forest Service with local volunteers to establish benches in South Fork, clear VIsta Point, and maintain the Cave Creek Nature Trail,
• co-hosted a Portal-based Celtic Music weekend, and
• sponsored an educational forum with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept. to help landowners learn how to cope with the black bears in town following the Horseshoe 2 fire.

Hosted by the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, N.M., forty-seven enthusiastic residents attended FoCCC’s first annual membership meeting, bringing offers to volunteer, along with discussion of many potential projects, including:
• adding an information kiosk at the opening of the canyon,
• replacing signs identifying some of the more noteworthy rock formations,
• photo-monitoring of regeneration after the fire that burned 230,000 acres,
• compiling a Biota Bibliographic project that would be a repository of links to scientific papers on the region,
• establishing an annual Bat Watch event, and
• providing hosts for the Visitor Center in order to keep it open longer.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the meeting went,” said Reed Peters, FoCCC president. “The community certainly showed that Friends is something they care about and want to be involved in.”

Larry Pratt, Developed Recreation Project Manager for the Coronado, agreed. “I don’t live in this canyon, but my wife and I have been coming here for years,” he said after the meeting. “I’m very excited to see the formation of this Friends group and look forward to working with the members and seeing it succeed.”

For more information on membership, donations, or volunteer opportunities, check out the FoCCC website and Facebook page.

[DISCLOSURE: I’m on the Board of Directors.]

In love … with an octopus??

Photo by Brandon Cole

Photo by Brandon Cole

I confess. I’ve always been a lover of cephalopods – and not just for dinner.

In “Deep Intellect: Inside the Mind of an Octopus,” published in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion magazine, Sy Montgomery has written a stunning piece of literary journalism. By meeting Athena, a 5-foot, 40-pound Pacific octopus, we see these creatures’ personalities, opinions, intelligence, ability to “see” with their skin, and even their need to play.

Not surprisingly, the article has leapt to the top of Orion magazine’s most-read list. Click here to see why. You can also download a conversation with the author here in which she explains more about how writing this story affected her.

A wonderful read — thank you, Sy Montgomery and Orion!

Even if it does mean I may never eat octopus again.

Woooo-HOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Steam Locomotive No. 844

Steam Locomotive No. 844 passes through Steins, N.M.

It’s not often that I’ll rise before dawn and brave temperatures in the 30s with a howling wind … for a machine.

But what a machine! Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 flew past the ghost town of Steins, N. M. at 8:15 this morning, welcomed by two dozen cold but enthusiastically waving train fans. The Union Pacific Heritage train was on its way to its first Arizona stop in Willcox and will arrive in Tucson for a display day on Friday. The New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour started in Cheyenne, Wyo., will last 32 days, and go through nine states.

No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for United Pacific Railroad and was saved from being scrapped in 1960 to be held for special service.

And special it was – it’s been nearly 35 years since the U.S. Bicentennial when a steam locomotive last passed through the state.

To read more about it and to see an interactive map, check out the United Pacific website – from the warmth of your computer!

BioBlitz 2011 Adds 400 Species — and 94 Poems

Not only did 5,500 people spend Friday and Saturday out in Saguaro National Park counting everything from fungi to water bears, but nearly 100 poets contributed poems to the cause as well.

The Poetic Inventory of Saguaro National Park was an additional part of the National Geographic BioBlitz 2011. Organized by poet and artist Eric Magrane, invited regional poets were given a choice of two Saguaro species as subjects. Some poets were filmed reading their poems, and the video loop was shown at the Red Hills Visitor Center during the weekend. Others were invited to read their work at the visitor center either Friday or Saturday. Poets could also add all or part of their poems to a Jaguar Biodiversity Quilt that will be travelling around the state and can also submit their work to a special issue of the literary journal Spiral Orb.

According to KOLD-TV, volunteers added 400 species to the biota of the park. Two stories of the event are here and here.

I was only there Saturday, but from what I saw, the whole event was beautifully organized, from the shuttle buses, to the informational tents, to the 24 hours of data-gathering, to the poetic inventory.

I was honored that my poem was chosen to close the Poetic Inventory:

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

I push your wheelchair up the hill 
behind the nursing home to the palo verde’s lacy shade. 
You help lock the brakes, I settle on the curb, and we sit, 
talking quietly—almost like the lovers we were
before the stroke blossomed through your brain, its branches snaking deep,
snuffing neurons, dimming your bright youthful mind, 
leaving your left side limp dead weight.

As we fall silent, wrapped in the Rincon mountain vista 
and memories of shared hikes and backcountry trips, 
a lanky form with black tufted ear tips and stubby tail 
emerges from the urban trash-entangled desert, prickly pears festooned
in grocery bags, gravel strewn with old carpet pieces, 
fast-food cups, a discarded pail. 

Ambling across the driveway, some hapless rodent swinging
inertly from its jowls, the regal bobcat doesn’t deign to look our way. 
It strolls between parked cars, then nestles in among the lantana, 
its blotches blending into the building’s drab beige walls— 
and disappears.

Thank you, Babe, you whisper, for bringing me here. 

No, I think, 
my face as wet with tears as yours.

Thank you, Bobcat, for bringing a gift of wildness that links us
to our past and—I pray—our future. 

Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb a Blast!

Bisbee 1000 logo

And, what’s more, it was even worth getting up at 3 a.m.

Debbie and I met in Rodeo at 4: 30 a.m. and arrived in Bisbee around 6  with plenty of time to park, find our way around, and settle in at the Screaming Banshee to drink coffee while watching everyone else scramble for parking … perfect!

The event itself is easier than it sounds, at least if you start in the last “corral” with the walkers. We ran a few of the downhill streets, but walked up all the steps since there were so many folks ahead of us. What a fun and festive way to see Bisbee’s quirky backside: artsy railings (I particularly love the dragon), cheerful paint schemes, ceramics incorporated into rock walls, and it’s always interesting to see what other people plant in their back yards.

Musicians played and sang on most of the landings,hundreds of volunteers lined the route and handed out water, and even helped us remove the computerized chips from our shoelaces. After the run, which is closer to 4 miles than 5K, we rambled through the Artisans Market, enjoyed our well-earned beers, and headed back to the by-then packed Screaming Banshee for excellent pizza. I recommend the house-made fennel sausage/mozzarella/roasted onions/mushrooms/rosemary. Yuumm-m-m.

This was the 21st running of the Stair Climb, a benefit for Bisbee community development. According to the website, “Save Our Stairs, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to playing a positive role in community development by providing & supporting initiatives that promote healthy, active living in Cochise County. We accomplish this through an annual fitness festival, the Bisbee 1000, The Great Stair Climb, partial proceeds of which are used to support healthy, active living programming in Bisbee, Cochise County and all of Arizona.”

This year entries and donations exceeded $20,000 — and Freeport-Mcmoran Copper & Gold Foundation matched it.

Next year’s event is Saturday, October 20, 2012. Time now to make a hotel reservation so you DON’T have to get up at 3 a.m. …

Home! at last …

For the first time since the Horseshoe 2 fire evacuation June 8, all of us — except Jim — are Home. Horses, dogs, cats, vehicles, sundry belongings.

And Jim, who was airlifted during the fire to Tucson with a severe stroke, is still in the nursing home five months later. But he’s recovering well, and he too was Home yesterday for a 3-hour visit.

Life IS good!