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

Thursday, December 2, 2021—Whitewater Draw

The next leg of the trip took us from Rusty’s RV Ranch in Rodeo, NM, to Whitewater Draw near McNeal, AZ. As a result of the short drive, we arrived via a few miles of dusty gravel roads just as they began returning from their morning feeding.

Located in southeastern Arizona, Whitewater Draw is a major roost site for Sandhill Cranes, Arizona Game and Fish Department currently manages Whitewater Draw for waterfowl, cranes, and other wetland associated birds. Each winter Whitewater Draw offers memorable sights and sounds of more than 20,000 sandhill cranes. These birds spend the night standing in Whitewater Draw’s shallow waters to evade predators, and then fly out each morning about sunrise to feed and socialize in the surrounding area. They begin returning to Whitewater Draw about 11 AM, continuing into the afternoon and evening.

It didn’t take long to capture the amazing sights of the cranes coming in for a landing, often flying in “V” formation. And the sound was a cacophony of squeaks, cries, otherwise “obnoxious” sounds.

Because this area is so far off the beaten path, dry camping is a must; usually no problem for us. However, the inverter refused to work, negating power from the batteries to the receptacles. The generator bailed us out and allowed us to use all the outlets and appliances, exspecially for heat and keeping the batteries charged..

Wednesday, December 1, 2021—The Chiricahua Mountains

Today, we drove the road to Paradise to capture a couple of landscapes in the morning light. Yesterday, an arch was observed at the top of one of the rhyolite mountains, and this morning a smaller arch next to the larger arch could be seen. 

A final 200-yard hike to a scenic viewpoint afforded seemingly different views of the same mountains that were photographed previously. This is, in my opinion, the Zion National Park of Arizona, and just as pretty as the Zion NP in Utah.

Tomorrow, we depart for Whitewater Draw, Arizona.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021—Willow Tank, Cave Creek Canyon, and Paradise

Arizona’s Willow Tank has been one of the best bird watching sites in the Portal/Rodeo area outside of Cave Creek Canyon. It was our first stop. The one acre pond yielded Ring-necked Ducks, and Dan was able to photograph a family of White-collared Peccaries (Javelina). 

Landscape photography was the target for the rest of the morning and mid-day. A drive up Cave Creek Canyon yielded incredible views of the rugged rhyolite mountains. The subtle hues of tan, pink, green, and yellow were almost breathtaking. The sun did not rise over the canyon walls until near noon further muting the canyon colors. A short hike in the foothills provided a different view at each turn of the trail.

The road to Paradise zigzagged upward on the switchbacks through the high desert mountain roads. We reached the George Walker House at Paradise near noon, and began observing the Mexican Jays flying in and out of the feeding station area. House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches were gorging on the seeds that had fallen to the ground. A Spotted Towhee and Yellow-rumped Warbler were seen among the shadows near the watering area. And lastly, an Arizona Woodpecker arrived near the suet on the old tree standing guard near the house.

Following the visit to Paradise, we returned to Cave Creek Ranch and photographed a few new birds including Cedar Waxwings, Nuthatches, and White-winged Doves.

Hoping the Elegant Trogan would make another appearance in the Pyracantha Shrub, we waited patiently. Sure enough, at or near 2:50 PM, the same time as the day before, the young male made an appearance, and offered a close, open pose. I’m a happy camper now.

Monday, November 29, 2021—Canyons and Birds

After early morning photo editing, we crossed the border into Arizona and the town of Portal. Some of the best birding in the United States is in the Chiricahua Mountains, Portal, and at Cave Creek Ranch. According to Richard Cachor Taylor’s Location Checklist to the Birds of the Chiricahua Mountains, “…the Chiricahua checklist presently stands at 375 species, not including 13 species still considered hypothetical — about half of all the birds regularly occurring on this continent north of Mexico.”This area is the most biodiverse landmass on the continent of North America, and the bird life reflects that. Cave Creek Canyon is the largest and best watered canyon in the Chiricahuas, and Cave Creek Ranch sits in the mouth of the canyon.

Our first stop was at the Rodriguez place, hoping to find birds galore to photograph. Mr. Rodriguez was at the feeding area when we arrived, and said that most of “his” birds left a couple of months ago. While we saw Gambel’s Quail, an occasional Mexican Jay, and a Pyrrhuloxia (aka Desert Cardinal), birds were scarce, no photos were made and processed. Next, Cave Creek Canyon beckoned, and the mountains, evergreens, and high desert proved once again that it was my “”happy place. Stops were made along the road where Dan had spotted birds on his previous trips. Birds were scarce; only an Acorn Woodpecker, American Snout butterfly, and Gould’s Turkey were photographed.

Cave Creek Ranch was next on the itinerary. From their website: “Located in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeastern Arizona, Cave Creek Ranch occupies 7 secluded acres alongside famous Cave Creek, and offers spectacular views of the rhyolite cliffs of Cave Creek Canyon.” Birds were scarce here, too. An Acorn Woodpecker and White-winged Dove made the photo album. 

And then about 2:50 PM, this beautiful, brightly colored bird swooped in to feed on the Pyracantha berries. It was the Elegant Trogan, a bird I’ve been chasing for three years. The elusive bird did not pose long enough for a good photograph, but the “lifer” was recorded. What a way to end the day.

Elegant Trogon

Sunday, November 28—It’s Rodeo Time

The early morning pre-sunrise shadows added an extra dimension to the dunes. It was cold outside, but the dunes beckoned one last time. 

We were on the road by 9 AM, headed west on I-20. The topography began changing once we were past the Permian Basin. The “hills” and bit more vegetation were a welcome change. We merged with I-10 and crossed into Mountain Standard Time near Van Horn, Texas. The topography drastically changed after we traveled through El Paso shortly after noon, with the hills becoming steep, craggy mountains, generally free of vegetation. Pistachio orchards began appearing and continued as we crossed into southwestern New Mexico. Near the New Mexico/Arizona border, we turned south toward our first target destination, Rusty’s RV Ranch in Rodeo, New Mexico, arriving at about 5 PM. The remainder of the evening was spent setting up, and enjoying the New Mexico sunset.

Friday and Saturday, November 26-27, 2021—A Photography Journey Begins

After hugs and kisses with Kay, I picked up Dan and his traveling and photography gear at 7 AM Friday, and we drove to the RV Storage facility. We successfully finished loading the motorhome, hooked up the “old” Honda CRV, and began our photography odyssey. We stopped for “expensive” fuel a couple times along the way, and arrived at Coffee Creek RV Resort in Santo, TX, about 3:30 PM. The 400+ mile trip was uneventful.

We departed Coffee Creek about 8 AM on Saturday, driving 300+ miles into a headwind all day, reaching Monahans Sandhills State Park mid-afternoon. Attempts to make reservations online or via telephone were fruitless, but we lucked into a pull through space near where I parked last year, completely surrounded by moderate sand dunes in the middle of the west Texas oilfields in the Permian Basin. Cameras and tripods in hand, the dunes proved difficult on which to walk! Nevertheless, we each made several photographs, particularly as the sun sank low on the horizon.

Sunday through Thursday, November 14-25—Family Time

The days Sunday through Friday were spent on the golf course, pickleball courts, monthly book club meeting, and doctor’s office. With only a few days left before winter golf conditions, we’re both trying to play as much as possible. And, we are both so far behind in our pickleball endeavors, that we’ll both have to start afresh. The doctor’s appointment was a wellness visit, and it seems like everything is okay, except for my getting older!

On Saturday, we welcomed Jenny, Harper, Linc, and Sutton for a long awaited visit. Though we see them somewhat regularly, it’s most often in Memphis; this is the family’s first trip to visit us since March 2020 when the world essentially stopped because of COVID. Coincidentally, it was only Linc’s second trip and Sutton’s first. We had a great time, and all the kids really enjoy spending time outdoors. Harper continues to grow like a weed, and is over 5 feet tall; she’s only nine. Linc is in the 90+ percentile in size, looking like a miniature fullback—and strong as one, as well. Sutton is the quiet and contemplative one, definitely a momma’s girl, though she did let KK and DD hug on her a bit. We ate the usual “banana pannas” (banana pancakes) for breakfast, and the two younger ones drank lots of milk.

Prior to their arrival, Kay had erected several Christmas trees with lights, and the kids managed well, except for Linc wanting to turn the lights on and off! Kay and Harper spent some girls time together on Sunday shopping, and Harper and I hiked the Beaver Dam trail in the Village on Monday with Harper taking a number of photos with a “big” camera; she is going to be an extraordinary photographer is she can spend more time with DD. Here are a few of her photos.

It was so good to spend more than just a few hours with them, but we reluctantly said goodbye Tuesday morning as they drove back home. We’ll get to see them again during the Christmas holidays.

Tuesday afternoon Dan and I grocery shopped for our early departure to Arizona (we’ll spend a couple of weeks making pictures in southeast Arizona), and Wednesday, Kay and I continued packing for my early departure and our winter stay in Arizona. 

Thanksgiving Thursday was celebrated with Kay’s family, and all of her grandkids were there (minus bonus granddaughter Jordan). We feasted on all the usual Thanksgiving delights. Cheryl’s family also attended. Early afternoon found us returning home to finish packing the RV for the long journey to Arizona.