2021, It’s a Wrap—January through June

This year, 2021, has been filled with blessings, and lots of ups and downs. 

While residing in Palm Creek in Casa Grande, Arizona, we traveled to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the US/Mexico border in southern Arizona, in early January. We also ascended Mount Lemmon near Tucson, by auto. Of course photos were made frequently, and we both played lots of pickleball and golf. 

Mount Lemmon

In February, Madera Canyon was visited in hopes of seeing the Elegant Trogon, but no such luck. Near the middle of the month, Kay and I got our first COVID vaccination. A trip to Yuma, with lunch in Mexico, was made, mainly in search of Costa’s Hummingbirds. We were rewarded for the long drive with photographs of several nectaring on blooming shrubs. I “blew out” my left knee playing pickleball, making for a lot of down time from both pickleball and golf. A number of trips were made to the Phoenix area to visit the Phoenix Botanical Garden and the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert, AZ—one of my favorite places to take photographs.

Back to Madera Canyon in early March, again “chasing” the Elegant Trogon, we observed and photographed our first Broad-billed Hummingbird up close and personal; the Trogon escaped us again. To say our winter at Palm Creek was subdued because of COVID would be an understatement as we rigorously followed recommended protocols. We returned home immediately after getting our second COVID vaccinations in mid-March, hoping for some normalcy, but no such luck. Time with grandkids was disciplined and sparse. Kay returned to the golf course and all of her social activities, but my blown-out knee still needed time to heal, thus no pickleball or golf. Instead, a number of trips were made to local hot spots for photos of wildflowers and emerging butterflies. 

March turned into April, and wildflowers availed themselves to the camera, but the number of butterflies and dragonflies was way down compared to a normal year, and few opportunities to photograph them arose. Kay kept busy with golf, PEO, and church activities, and I gradually began playing golf and pickleball, and managed a cycling trip on the Delta Heritage Trail. We still maintained a disciplined COVID posture towards the kids and grandkids, seeing them rarely, but FaceTiming frequently. 

Kay and I made a spur of the moment trip to northwest Arkansas the last day of April and first couple of days in May to visit Crystal Bridges, and really enjoyed the time away from our new, but quiet, routine. We especially enjoyed the Farmers’ Market in Bentonville; it was filled with activities, young families, and a sense of vibrancy we’ve observed in “big” cities. A few butterflies and dragonflies began to emerge, though no new species were seen or photographed. We did get to spend quality time with Karyn and her family during the Memorial Day weekend, and it was especially poignant in as much as Ridge did his first solo trip in a kayak. 

Normally good weather in early June gave way to almost daily rain.  And just when we though we were out of the woods with respect to COVID, Kay was potentially exposed; she attended a luncheon meeting and sat next to a lady who herself had been exposed to a person testing positive. However, Kay tested negative. The rest of the month was full of golf, pickleball, and church activities. And then, as the month neared its end, I pulled the left hamstring playing pickleball—no golf or pickleball for a few weeks.

Tuesday through Tuesday, December 21-28, 2021—Home Again

Up early, 3:30 AM on Tuesday, December 21, we grabbed coffee, CPAPs, and carry on bags and drove to Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Finding the already paid for parking was a bit of a challenge, but Dan’s navigating skills got us there. The plane left on schedule, and we made it to the Little Rock airport, via DFW, at about 2 PM. Kay and Pat were waiting to pick us up, and we arrived back in the Hot Springs Village about an hour later. 

Wednesday was the “calm before the storm” as I enjoyed the massive Christmas decorations Kay had erected, as well as the assorted cookies, candies, and cakes! We had cocktails and dinner with Jim and Ginny Passe, friends who we haven’t seen in two years because of COVID restrictions and  travel; it had been entirely too long.

Our family Christmas celebrations began in earnest on Thursday as Kay and I traveled to Memphis to  spend a few hours with Jenny and her kids Harper, Linc, and Sutton. It is amazing that she manages a 9-year old, a 2-year old, and a 1-year old as a single mother, but she does. (Kay and I are blessed that all of our kids are good parents.) Watching the kids with their gifts was a hoot. Harper was in shock when she opened and saw the new iPad and cover; now she won’t have to share! Linc loved his trucks and doggy sleeping bag. He had the truck carrier disassembled in record time, and couldn’t wait to crawl into the sleeping bag. And Sutton loved Linc’s gifts too, despite get some girly gifts and lots of pajamas. Back home after almost 7 hours of driving today, we rested and prepared for the next big event.

Christmas with Kay’s family was celebrated Friday, Christmas Eve with a brunch followed by gift exchange at Karyn’s. Again, it was truly fun watching the grandkids. Ridge had a look of disbelief when he opened and identified the new iPad. And then, Kay had wrapped and stacked inside one another, several boxes with a gift paper for he and DD (that’s me) to shop for soccer shoes this coming spring. Aker loved her gifts but was really thrilled to find out she would inherit Ridge’s old tablet. It was a really fun morning with good food and great family time, though we sure missed Kaden and Diana.

Back at home, we enjoyed a brief rest before going to church for Christmas Eve service, a tradition Kay and I began before we were married; we’ve only missed one or two in 21 years. Following the candlelight and communion service, we enjoyed a new tradition started after moving to Hot Springs Village, spaghetti dinner with Jim and Jackie Morris. By the time early evening arrived, we were pooped and ready for bed.

Kay and I opened gifts on Saturday, Christmas morning. We reached the age several years ago where we blessed to already have what we need and want, so there were few surprises. But, it was fun all the same. And then, Christmas was over! And, deconstruction of holiday decorations began. With three large trees and seven smaller ones, it didn’t take near as long for the both of us to remove ornaments and take down and store the decorations.

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were spent preparing the house for our prolonged absence, though not a lot had to be done.

Friday through Monday, December 17-20—More Birds

Friday was a pretty quiet day here at Palm Creek in Casa Grande, Arizona. Without Kay, I’m not into the swing of things just yet, and I sure miss her being here. Mixed doubles round robin pickleball games were played on Saturday—I really like the game, and strive to get better, though fun is the second main objective of playing; the first is not to get hurt or injured!

Gilbert Water Ranch, aka the Riparian Preserve, in Gilbert, Arizona, was the order of the day on Sunday. We arrived there about 9 AM, and birds were eagerly feeding on seeds and berries.

We made our way to Pond #5, set up stools, and began photographing shore birds immediately. Today’s goal was to practice “birds in flight”, and it proved to be quite challenging. It was humorous watching the Pelicans fish, and then swallow them in a big gulp. 

Even a Cormorant got into the action.

The Pelicans shared the pond with Herons, Egrets, and other shore and wading birds.

Hummingbirds were active as well, though it was difficult to capture them in flight.

Monday was the last day of pickleball until after Christmas. The games were fast, but fun, testing my endurance and stamina. Hopefully, I can play myself into better shape. Much of the day was spent storing “stuff” during my upcoming absence. Photographic equipment was cleaned and stored, computer files were backed up, and the motorhome tidied up a bit.

Dan and I have had a great 25 days of photography related activities, having shot and processed thousands of photographs, but it’s time for the both of us to return to Hot Springs Village until after Christmas. And, I’m looking forward to seeing my honey.

Tuesday through Thursday, December 14-16, 2021—Another Day Afield

A “mixed” 3.5 level pickleball round robin was scheduled for Tuesday morning, but rain all last night resulted in the matches being canceled. However, a number of us joined higher level pickleballers and formed a substitute round robin. The group was made up of lower level 3.5s (called the 3.5 Creek level here at Palm Creek), the higher 3.5s (called the 3.5 Palm level), and a number of level 4.0s. The action was fast and furious, and perhaps the most fun I’ve had playing pickleball.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what happened on Wednesday (this is being written almost a week later). There were no pickleball games, no photography, no big chores, etc. Maybe Wednesday didn’t happen!

On Thursday, Dan and I traveled to Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona. With the addition of the Wallace Desert Garden, Boyce Thompson Arboretum now holds collections of desert plants from the United States, Mexico, Australia, Madagascar, India, China, Japan, Israel, South America, the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Arabian Peninsula—all told 3,900 taxa and 19,000 plants within 135 acres of gardens. (Note: Deserts make up about 25 percent of the earth’s surface.) Situated on 343 acres of scenic upland Sonoran Desert with nearly five miles of trails, The arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden and one of Arizona’s top tourism sites.

“Armed” with camera gear, we began hunting birds and butterflies in earnest. No new birds were “captured”, but several birds presented themselves for photographs.

A number of other interesting subjects were photographed.

As the day’s temperature warmed, the butterfly action improved.

Three “LIFERS” were photographed: Gray Buckeye, Mexican Yellow, and Realkirt’s Blue.

Monday, December 13, 2021—Madera Canyon

Having taken a short break from making photos, Dan and I traveled to Madera Canyon just east of Green Valley, AZ, to “capture” additional birds.

Though we traveled up and down the Canyon, Santa Rita Lodge’s feeding station proved to provide the best opportunities. The regulars were there; Mexican Jays, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Lesser Goldfinches, and Acorn Woodpeckers.

A Rivoli Hummingbird nectared at a nearby feeder, but did to offer a good photo opportunity. 

And, all at once, a beautiful orange bird perched in a tree directly facing me. It proved to be a male Hipatic Tanager. Soon, his female partner landed in the tree, and offered a brief pose. These birds were “LIFERS” for me.

A number of Gould’s Turkeys were feeding on seed dropped from the feeders, and the resident Coatimundi wandered from seed pile to seed pile, scarfing up the fallen seeds.

Wednesday through Sunday, December 8-12, 2021—Settling in for the Winter

With Apache Flats RV Park at Fort Huachuca in the rearview mirror Wednesday morning, the short drive to Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort in Casa Grande, AZ, was completed about 12 noon. After checking in at Palm Creek and getting photo IDs made, a “Ranger” guided us to the site which will become our winter home. This will make three seasons that Kay and I have stayed at Palm Creek. 

The motorhome was positioned on the site, electricity connected, and stabilizing jacks and slides deployed.  The bicycles and rack were removed from the Honda CR-V, and the packed to capacity car was unloaded; the site looked like Gypsy Central! After a brief rest, the water softener was recharged and water connected to the motorhome. 

Both the car and motorhome were really dirty after all the miles of travel and dusty roads. Each season we buy unlimited monthly car washes from Clean Freak Car Wash, and for the first month it was only $11; and the car wash has great vacuums and air nozzles! After the car wash, a call was made to have the motorhome washed and waxed. Disappointed with last year’s job, a new “contractor” was hired this year.

Thursday was for removing items from the storage compartments (golf clubs, carts, etc.) and storing things that would not be used very often during the winter (motorhome brake assist, Dan’s luggage, etc.). We were up early to pick up an order of groceries at Fry’s, the local Kroger affiliate here in Casa Grande. And then back at Palm Creek, we moved chairs, grill, bicycles, table, etc. away from the motorhome; it got washed and waxed today. The young guy and his helper are to be applauded for being entrepreneurs, and good products were used, but the quality was not the best. On Friday, Dan traveled north to the greater Phoenix area to photograph birds while I hung out at Palm Creek visiting the pickleball courts, and tinkering with the solar panels.

I finally got back on the pickleball courts Saturday, playing in the Mixed 3.5 Creek group, and was a bit nervous as I had not played with the 3.5 groups here at Palm Creek. Holding my own, it was a blast, and a very fast game with lots of finesse. Sunday morning was wash, dry, and fold clothes time, and afterwards, we visited SkyDive Arizona to watch the “free fallers” and tandem jumpers depart perfectly good airplanes in mid-air. The rest of the afternoon was used to edit photos and write on the blog, trying to catch up.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021—Battiste’s Bed, Breakfast, and Birds

After such an incredible day yesterday, today’s itinerary called for a visit to one of Dan’s favorite places, Battiste’s Bed, Breakfast, and Birds (BB&B) in Hereford, AZ. Battiste’s BB&B is located in the famed Miller Canyon area in the Huachuca Mountains. Many feeders have been placed in the garden to provide close-up views of the numerous bird species that frequent the yard; over 150 bird species have been seen in or from the yard.

Birds began feeding on the many feeders, and provided a great photography experience. Tony Battiste has created the feeding stations so that birds perch nearby on old trees and limbs placed there to enhance photography. First, a Northern Mockingbird appeared.

And then, another of my favorites, the Curve-bill Thrasher snuck in for seeds.

Next, a Lesser Goldfinch flew in.

Not to be forgotten about, woodpeckers came to the trees using their bouncy flight patterns.

And of course, a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers appeared, darting among the trees here and there.

And my beloved Cactus Wren…

And no blog post featuring birds would be complete with a hummingbird (Anna’s Hummingbird), even if it is having a bad hair day!

Fort Huachuca has two canyons known for great birding: Garden Canyon and Huachuca Canyon. The picnic areas in Garden Canyon are known birding locations, however we did not have many observations. One tree held several flighty Cedar Waxwings, but otherwise few birds were moving. We continued up the steep canyon on washed out roads, stopping occasionally to glass for birds, but to no avail. Finally, we reached the limits of the Honda CR-V.

Monday, December 6, 2021—Patagonia, AZ, and Two Lifers

Monday morning, we traveled east about 50 miles to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, AZ. This is one of my favorite places to photograph birds, and especially hummingbirds.

Not long after arrival, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird began nectaring on a nearby feeder hung from the eave of the Paton house, indicating that it was going to be a good day. With tripod-mounted camera aimed toward a hummingbird feeder, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird showed up, fed, and perched on a nearby limb. He stayed there most of the morning, undeterred by birders walking nearby.  He was photographed many times that morning! 

A female Northern Cardinal hung around the tree for a while, maintaining a guard over its surroundings.

And then, a somewhat muted but colorful bird landed on the water container atop the hummingbird feeder. It looked familiar, and I opined that it was a Northern Parula. The volunteer expert ornithologist looked at the photo on the camera’s monitor and corrected the identification as a Lazuli Bunting. Though not exciting to the other birders there, it was a LIFER for me, whereas a Northern Parula landed on one of the feeders at the Norfork house several years ago. Photographing the Lazuli Bunting made my day!

Lazuli Bunting

The ornithologist suddenly got excited as he spotted a Rose-throated Becard high in a nearby tree. As we all tried getting a look and a photograph, it had its back to us. And then, it moved to another tree, hiding behind some dense foliage. Fortunately, it moved again, allowing a good look. Another LIFER observed and photographed. Along with the Lazuli Bunting, two LIFERS in one day will be an unforgettable experience!

Saturday and Sunday, December 4-5, 2021—Fort Huachuca, AZ

Today’s (Saturday) drive took us to Fort Huachuca, AZ, near Sierra Vista.

Fort Huachuca was founded to counter the Chiricahua Apache threat and secure the border with Mexico during the Apache Wars. General Nelson A. Miles commanded Fort Huachuca as his headquarters in his campaign against Geronimo in 1886. After the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, the Apache threat was extinguished, but the army continued to operate Fort Huachuca due to its strategic border position. In 1913, the fort became the base for the “Buffalo Soldiers”, the 10th Calvary Regiment  composed of African Americans. It served this purpose for twenty years.

Fort Huachuca’s RV Park, Apache Flats, has full hookups, is clean, and not terribly expensive. The motorhome was set up, and Dan took the car for a wash and did his laundry while I cleaned the RV. The rest of the day was uneventful.

Arriving at Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary near Hereford, AZ, about mid-morning on Sunday, we were greeted by a very nice volunteer. Since no one had reserved the photo blind, he offered it to us. We immediately set up and began seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers in droves.

Mexican Jays, Pyrrhuloxia, Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, and House Finches also”posed” for photographs.

And, one of my many favorites, the Bridled Titmouse, made an appearance.

After photographing in the blind, a move was made to the main feeding station in the “front” yard. There, Lesser Goldfinches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and even a Gulf Fritillary butterfly were observed.

Friday, December 3, 2021—Whitewater Draw, Day 2

We were up early this morning to catch the flight out and away from the roost area (aka flight line). Swoop after swoop flew overhead as we photographed them.

Returning to the motorhome, we had our usual breakfast of maple and brown sugar oatmeal, downloaded photographs, and began the laborious process of post processing. At about 1030, it was back to the reservoir to watch and photograph the Sandhill Cranes return to their roost area. 

Later in the day, a few other birds made an appearance.

Another problem cropped up with the motorhome; the generator shut down, and gave an error essage regarding the rotor ($$$). We were now dependent on power from “solar” generators brought along, a Rockpals (don’t recommend it) and a Jackery (best of the best). Along with the coach and chassis batteries, we had enough power to run the computers for photo editing and CPAPs for sleeping! Fortunately, the refrigerator, water heater, and stove top work on LP so we were good to go.

On the left, our “dry camping” site at Whitewater Draw