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A Baltimore Oriole

“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

A male Baltimore oriole. — Wikimedia photo

My 477th Bird

Back in 2006, when I was still a full-time RV-er traveling across America, I found myself camped beside Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. On my second day there, I was up by 6 a.m., and after a quick cup of cream-laced coffee and a short walk with my canine traveling companion Maggie, I took off alone to explore the park’s nature trail. It was summer-hot and humid, and Maggie had seemed quite agreeable to be left behind to sit in her favorite perch in front of the air conditioner.

View of Grand Lake that I had through the window of my RV at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. — Photo by Pat Bean

Several bird feeders set out near the trailhead were bustling with Carolina chickadees and American goldfinches, and as I watched, a nearby downy, North America’s most common and smallest woodpecker, drummed its own attention-getting beat. It was going to be a good day, I decided.

As I continued on down the path, I took plenty of time to breathe in the simple beauty around me: a yellow patch of wall flowers, the artistic composition of a small dead tree reclaimed by vines, and an occasional peek of a glistening, sun-speckled lake through thick foliage

I’ve often wondered how people who don’t take nature breaks stay sane in today’s fast-paced world? I suspect that the angry psychopaths who do evil and harm are among the deprived.

My thoughts were interrupted when a doe and her freckled fawn came into sight around a curve in the path. I froze, as did the two deer. We all stared intently. When I finally took a step forward, mom stepped into the woods. Her baby gave me one last look of interest then quickly followed. It amazes me how fast wildlife can disappear from sight.

A male Bullock’s oriole — Wikimedia photo

My thoughts were still on the deer when a flash of orange drew my attention. With eyes glued to my binoculars, I followed the color through the tree branches, and realized I was most likely looking at a Baltimore oriole. While common in the East, these orioles don’t visit the West, where I had lived when I took up birdwatching.

Out West, the Baltimore’s look-alike cousin is the Bullock oriole. I had seen hundreds of Bullocks, but this was my first Baltimore. It was what we birders call a lifer. While I rejoiced, I lamented the too brief view I had before the bird disappeared amongst the trees. I had identified the bird more because of its color and location than because of specific field marks.

Later in the day, as I was sitting at my table writing, the omission was rectified. A Baltimore oriole flew right outside my RV window, and then lingered in the area. It was a breeding male with a black head atop a bright orange body that had thin white streaks on black wings. A Bullock wears only a black cap atop its head and its black wings have prominent white patches on them.

After the oriole flew away, I got out my world bird list and added the Baltimore oriole to it. It was bird 477. I had been hesitant to put it on the list earlier because of the poor sighting. Life is good, I thought, as I added the date and place of its sighting beside the bird’s name.

As I had suspected, it turned out to be a very good day.

Bean Pat: Houston Art Car Parade http://tinyurl.com/mqug4ef For people watchers, too. As a writer, these photos are good examples of interesting characters.

The Elegant Trogon

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One Colorful Bird. No, Make That Two Birds

Elegant trogon. — Wikimedia photo

at Two

I hunted for the elegant trogon twice in Madera Canyon here in Southeastern Arizona – and did not find it. For my third try, a detour on one of my annual trips from Utah to Texas, I hired a bird guide out of Sierra Vista, and made a reservation at a Sierra Vista hotel to spend a couple of nights.

Three days before my trip was to begin, I bought Gypsy Lee, the small RV in which I would soon live in and travel in for nine years. I then switched my hotel reservation to an RV park reservation, which is how Sierra Vista became the first place I hooked up my RV. I still remember the trepidation I felt about that virgin event. I had to purchase a special sewer connection sold by the park. It was a connection that I never had to use again, and once I had the hang of it, I could hook up the water, electricity and sewer to my RV in just a couple of minutes.

I found my elegant trogon up Garden Canyon in Huachuca Mountains, just an hour and a half away from Tucson. . — Wikimedia photo

But back to that elegant trogon, which at the time was just as important to me as getting familiar with my new home on wheels.

The guide took me and two other birders onto Fort Huachuca in his VW Camper, and then on a hike up Garden Canyon. We hadn’t gone far when he pointed out an elegant trogon quietly sitting on a branch above a small stream. I could hardly breathe. This is one colorful bird.

I was the one, meanwhile, who saw the second trogon, and pointed it out. As our quartet of gazes shifted between the two birds, the first flew over to the second, and mated with her. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

I thought about this sighting, which took place on May 9, 2004, because I’m been thinking of a return trip to Garden Canyon, which I have never visited again. Nor have I seen another trogon.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Mammoth Cave http://tinyurl.com/kap7kxd For the armchair traveler – and my bucket list.

A view of the Ajo Mountains across from the Organ Pipe Cactus Visitor Center. — Photo by Pat Bean

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” – John Muir

An organ pipe cactus as part of the Kris Eggle memorial at the Visitor Center that was named in his honor. Eggle was a park ranger killed near the U.S.-Mexico border. — Photo by Pat Bean

And a Lifer and the Ajo Mountains

            My wanderlust, these days, is sustained by day trips around Tucson. So it was that I decided to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The next day, as I was reading To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel, which is about the author’s bird-chasing father, I came across a tidbit about the monument.

The Ajo Mountains’ double arch. — Photo by Pat Bean

Koeppel remembered a trip the family had made across country in which his father birded Organ Pipe, and had identified several new species. As a birder, I immediately looked up a list of common birds at the monument. It appeared that I had seen them all.

So it was with much surprise and delight when I identified a dusky-capped flycatcher at the monument, a bird I had never seen before. The sighting came at the very end of the visit, providing an extra layer of icing to a chocolate-cake day that was already well frosted. The bird was a lifer, my 710th species.

Earlier, my off-the-beaten-path heart sang when the day’s activities took me, my canine companion Pepper, and my brother Robert, who came along for the ride, off the pavement on a 21-mile loop drive that took us part-way up into the Ajo Mountains.

Roadside cactus blossoms

The tall candles on the landscape were the saguaro and organ pipe cacti that brightened the landscape around ever twist and turn, of which there were many. Yet another surprise of the trip was coming around a bend and seeing an arch, and then discovering that there were actual two arches. A tiny arch sat atop the larger one.

I’m not sure how the day could have been much better, well worth the 325 miles the round-trip covered.

My brother asked where we were going next, when I dropped him off at the end of the day. The question delighted me because not all of the people I know enjoy long, bumpy off-the-beaten path and into the desert kind of trips.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: New England Nomad http://tinyurl.com/ks56pvc Another blogger exploring their world. Since I can’t travel everywhere, I also enjoy seeing some of it from my armchair.

Quotes from my Journal

A good road trip includes plenty of time to stop and smell the flowers along the way. — Watercolor by Pat Bean

“The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal. Take long walks in the woods.” Robin S. Sharma

One That Gave Me a New Dream

I love quotes, which is why each chapter in my soon to be published, Travels with Maggie, starts off with one about travel. Quotes also generously weave their way through my journals. Occasionally I’ll come across one that leaves me wondering what I was thinking when I wrote it, because it has little meaning for me this second time around. Others that I come across, are as significant to my life today as they were the first time around.

Here are a few that I think worth repeating:

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen

“There are so many ways to lose your life besides dying.” – Mark Jenkins

“Oh, godddamit, we forgot the silent prayer!” – Dwight Eisenhower (This one simply because it made me laugh.)

“Happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have.” – Garth Brooks

“Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me … leading wherever I choose.” – Walt Whitman

And plenty of time to bird watch as well. — Anhinga watercolor by Pat Bean

That last was my life for nine years, and maybe it will be once again. A road trip is

brewing in my little gray cells. A good long one to celebrate my 80th birthday in two years.

I need to step foot in my 50th state. The only one I haven’t visited. And it’s not Alaska or Hawaii. It’s little old Rhode Island, which I missed because I stayed too late up north the year I was just 20 miles from its border. I had to scamper south to escape a storm and cold weather. The more northern RV parks had already closed for the winter.

My initial thoughts for my proposed road trip to Rhode Island are that I travel no more than 300 miles a day, then sit out a day. I can write a book about it and call it Travels with Pepper, a sequel to my soon-to-be-published Travels with Maggie.

It’s a round trip of just over 5,000 miles from Tucson – I just looked the mileage up. But I take back roads and side-trips, so add at least another 1,000 miles. I figure it will take at least two months to do a leisurely loop to there and back, a southern route going and a northern route returning.

Now I have two years to figure out how to finance it, and where to stay along the way. I spent five years planning my nine-year, gallivanting RV days to make my dreams come true. Planning this road trip should be a piece of cake – and darn fun as well.

People need dreams. I’m glad I have a new one.

Bean Pat: Twenty Minutes a Day http://tinyurl.com/l26vy2x One of my favorite bloggers, and I love this Fort Worth museum. I think the portraits featured in the blog are great fodder for writers. Each face tells a story.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places” – Ernest Hemingway (This is a quote that I just added to my journal this morning.)

My granddaughter Keri, and my great-grandson, Kaiden, a few years ago. — Photo by Pat Bean

And a Horse Story

I read a lot of nature books, and I often write down some of the more interesting trivia that I learn, often with a personal comment. For example: “If a female beaver slaps the water with her tail, the entire colony will instantly dive. If an adult male issues the warning, only some will dive.” To which I commented … well males do tend to exaggerate a lot.

But then I also noted in this same journal, when camping beside Lake Claiborne at Isaac Creek Campground in Alabama: “Female pine cones are fatter than their male counterparts.” To which I commented … well that accounts for our big hips.

My granddaughter Heidi, a few years back when I was still a full-time RVer. Note Gypsy Lee in the background. — Photo by Pat Bean

Another nature tidbit that fascinated me was learning that some snakes give birth to live babies, while others lay eggs. This had me doing a bit of research, in which I discovered that 70 percent of the planet’s snakes lay eggs, and 30 percent birth their babies. The vipers fall mostly into the latter category.

In one of my journals, when I was working on my book, Travels with Maggie, I noted that Bob Newhart, at 77, had published a book, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. When asked why, he responded: “I feel we need to empty our brains and pass along things that we’ve learned along the way,” … To which my personal comment was … Good enough for me. 

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: I’ll give this one, once again, to Horse Trail Adventures http://tinyurl.com/lzeada9 written by my daughter, who is recovering from some serious health problems that left her quite depressed. Getting out on her horse once again is helping her spirit recover. But this Bean Pat comes with a story I recorded in one of my journals. My daughter raised three girls (each of whom has given me a great-grandson) and now, my daughter is raising three boys, currently all teenagers. I hope the gods have pity on her. Anyway …

As a mom, my daughter taught her girls that if they got lost while out riding, they should just give their horses their heads, and they would automatically return home. The two oldest, Heidi and Keri, tried this — and three times found themselves back at the far point in their ride. Eventually they had to find their own way home.

I would never have remembered this story if I hadn’t written it down in my journal.

Travel Theme: Earth

Mesa Falls, Idaho. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Sense the blessings of the earth in the perfect arc of a ripe tangerine, the taste of warm, fresh bread, the circling flight of birds, the lavender color of the sky shining in a late afternoon rain puddle, the million times we pass other beings in our cars and shops and out among the trees without crashing, conflict, or harm.” — Jack Kornfield

Earth Day

            As one who has traveled this country widely for the last half of my life, including nine years living full-time in a small RV with the road as my only roots, people are always asking me what is my favorite, or the most beautiful, place I have visited.

I never have an answer. I found beauty everywhere I went, and it would take a list that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific to name my favorite places.

More than once, when surrounded by Mother Nature’s wonders, have I wondered how people exist without putting themselves, at least occasionally, in the earth goddess’ arms, and simply breathing in the splendor of lush green forests; or gazing at purple, snow-covered mountains; or standing in a meadow filled with wildflowers; or walking beside a bubbling stream; or looking out a car window at waving, golden grasses filled with yellow-headed blackbirds; or sitting on a sandy beach watching roaring ocean waves pound the shore; or … well, you get my point.

The Great Dismal Swamp, North Carolina. — Photo by Pat Bean

I’ve seen beauty in a crowded RV park in New Mexico, when a family of quails marched through it. I’ve seen beauty in the wild rock sculptures of Arizona’s Painted Desert. I’ve seen beauty in the hoodoos of Southern Utah. It seen beauty as I’ve strolled among California’s magnificent redwoods. I’ve seen beauty in a sunrise on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine, and while walking beside a laughing creek in Wyoming’s Teton National Park. I’ve even seen beauty in Virginia and North Carolina’s Dismal Swamp.

The beauty of this magnificent planet can be found anywhere. All you have to do is look around. Please take a moment on this Earth Day to do just that. Actually, do it on any day. Even better, do it every day.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Travel Theme Earth http://tinyurl.com/m9y65lv Great blog and the inspiration for today’s blog.

House sparrow. — Wikimedia photo

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” — John Burroughs

Chirp, Chirp, Chirp

My home in Ogden, Utah, had a huge Rose of Sharon bush growing in front of my bedroom window that brought me much delight and pleasure. It grew wild and free, and I let it have its way. I loved that bush, and so did the house sparrows, which also gave me many hours of pleasure.

A female house sparrow. — Wikimedia photo

Until I began seriously watching birds, I had never really noticed these seemingly plain brown birds. At least that’s how I thought of them until I looked more closely and saw that the male, especially in breeding season, was actually quite eye-catching.

On a Jan. 31, 2001, morning, not too long after I became an addicted bird watcher, I watched one such male, and wrote: “I have a gorgeous male house sparrow perched in my Rose of Sharon bush right outside my window. It’s sitting in the sunlight so I can clearly see it in all its splendid colors, rust brown, white and black, a perfect copy of the house sparrow illustration in my bird guide, complete with the white dot next to its eye.”

My Rose of Sharon bush always bloomed profusely in spring, and the blossoms stayed around for a long time. I miss that bush — and its resident sparrows. — Wikimedia photo

On another day, I wrote: “My house sparrow is chirping outside my window. The morning light is still dull so his colors aren’t showing well. But having once seen him in the light, I can pick the colors out. He’s really chirping this morning. Maybe he’s trying to attract a female.”

And so he did. And for the next couple of years, I watched as that first pair of house sparrows to take up residence in my Rose of Sharon raised babies. And I watched one morning as another female flew in, and was then chased away by the resident female while the male just looked on from his perch. And from that time forward, my morning wake-up call was always a chirp, chirp, chirp, which is about all these sparrows ever say.

House sparrows are one of about 25 sparrow species world-wide. They thrive near human populations, and love to forage just about everywhere on the planet where humans drop crumbs, from service stations to picnic grounds. I’ve seen them in Japan and Africa looking just like they did in my Rose of Sharon bush.

I’m sure if you look around you, wherever you live, you will find one, too.

            Bean Pat: Meditate Your Way http://tinyurl.com/n62noxy For all of us who find it impossible to sit still and control our minds. Bird watching works for me.