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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Mockingbirds

Northern mockingbird — Wikimedia photo

I don’t ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful.” — Pete Hamill

I Brake for Birds

Galapagos mockingbird … Wikimedia photo

I was sitting outside with two friends in a small fenced-in park Sunday, drinking coffee and watching our three dogs have a play date. As usual, I was keeping my eye out for birds. Before 1999, when I got bit by the birding bug, I rarely noticed the winged creatures that share the outdoors with us. Today, I can’t not notice birds.

Mourning and white-winged doves were the most prolific this day, along with a flock of rock pigeons that flew together and landed on a utility line. But it was the lone gray bird with white flashing on its wings as it flew past that grabbed my attention.

“Look,” I said “A northern mockingbird.”

Hood mockingbird, which species I saw in the Galapagos, where birds are not afraid of humans. One landed on my foot and tried to get  at my water bottle. — Wikimedia photo

“Umhuh,” said one of the women, while the other one didn’t seem to hear me. They kept on talking, but my mind stayed on the bird, and flashed back to a Christmas Bird Count in 2003, when I was with a group of Audubon birders and we saw the first-ever northern mockingbird spotted in Ogden, Utah, on a Christmas bird count.

The expert birder who was leading the group asked for my confirmation of the ID, doing so because he knew I was a native Texan, and the northern mockingbird is Texas’ state bird. Since I was the newbie birder in the group, I felt honored.

The mockingbird was one of only about three birds I could identify growing up, and then only because all school children were taught about it being the state bird. The first mockingbird on my life list of birds, which I started keeping 18 years ago, was one I saw in Killeen, Texas, in 2001.

I added the hood and Galapagos mockingbirds to my life list in 2005, after seeing them during a trip to the Galapagos Islands in June of 2005, and the Bahama mockingbird was added to my list in 2008 during a visit to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Shortly after I began watching and listing birds, my kids kidded me that I was better at remembering when and where I had seen a specific bird than I was at remembering family birthdays. I think they were right.

      Bean Pat: mybeautifulthings http://tinyurl.com/ya86h9e7 Simple daily things and a poem for lovers of words, like me.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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Ravens

A rare photo of a Chihuahuan raven with its white neck feathers showing. It must be a windy day.

 

“But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only, That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered – Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before – On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’ Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.” –Edgar Allan Poe.

The Chihuahuan Species

Shortly after I became an addicted bird watcher, which meant going from one who didn’t notice birds to one who couldn’t not notice them, I found myself staring at a raven sitting on a saguaro. I was returning to Utah from my annual trip to Texas, taking a longer route as I always did to appease my wanderlust. This time I was following Highway 80 near Arizona’s border with Mexico, just outside of Douglas and headed to historic Bisbee where I intended to spend the night.

I had spent a good bit of time learning how to tell a crow from a raven – while crows are smaller than ravens, it is often hard to judge size and so I use the tail as my field identification key. A raven’s is wedge shaped. Anyway, I thought I was simple looking at a common raven until I noticed white feathers, ruffling in the wind, on the raven’s neck.

I pulled my car over to the side, and reached for my National Geographic Field Guide of the Birds of North America – and learned I was looking at a Chihuahuan raven. I was ecstatic. It was a new bird for my life list.

What I didn’t realize was how rare my sighting was. Not because I was looking at a Chihuahuan raven, but that I saw the white feathers. Normally, except for it being just a bit smaller – common ravens average about 24 inches in size and Chihuahuans only about 19 inches – it’s almost impossible to distinguish the two ravens apart.

I’m sure, living where I do in the Sonoran Desert, which is the heart of the Chihuahuan raven’s territory in North America, that I’ve seen many a Chihuahuan raven – but I’ve never again seen the white neck feathers.

Bean Pat: Six Word Saturday http://tinyurl.com/y8wbcjvm Something to always keep in mind.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

 

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Flashing rays of the morning sun at Steinaker State Park near Vernal, Utah — where dinosaurs once roamed. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” — Frank Borman

Steinaker State Park

Pepper and me enjoying our morning walk at Steinaker State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

“I’m fond of camping at state parks. I’ve truly never found one I haven’t liked. I’m also fond of traveling backroads and avoiding major highways and crowds, which you might say is how I ended up during one of my journeys spending a few days at Steinaker State Park near Vernal, Utah.

As far as campgrounds go, it had all the right stuff: a scenic lake setting and an ample tree-shaded campsite. But what made this off-the-beaten-path park special to me was the chance it offered for a bit of solitude among nature’s marvels. As our world population explodes, and more and more people seeking relief from the daily chaos discover the healing powers of Mother Nature, being alone on established trails and in parks has become a rare thing. Although opportunities exist to escape to this country’s true wilderness areas, at my age this has no longer become a viable option.

I wasn’t able to capture the golden eagle that morning, but I thought you would enjoy this Wikimedia photo by Tony Hiigett. I did.

While I wasn’t alone at Steinaker, which sits at an elevation of 5,500 feet, other campers were scattered enough that I seldom saw any of them. This was especially true when I took my early morning walks with Pepper, my canine companion.

The best morning was the one in which I was awoken by a hooting great horned owl, an  a golden eagle, its wings backlit by a rising sun, doing a flyover. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Bean Pat: Interesting Literature http://tinyurl.com/y9fjj7fr  Best poems about identity and self.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact Bean at patbean@msn.com  (more…)

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A mourning dove outside my third-floor balcony. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill.

Has It Been Too Successful?

A white-winged dove on the roof across from my apartment. — Photo by Pat Bean

In 1974, a small flock of Eurasian collared doves escaped captivity in the Bahamas. By 1982, the doves had made their way to Florida. From there, they spread out all across the country to the Pacific Ocean.

I remember the excitement created by this dove in 2002, when my Northern Utah birding friends began adding it to their life lists. I didn’t see one until two years later, however, and that was on Nov. 4, 2004, in Fowler, Colorado, not long after I had begun my nine-year RVing odyssey.

Eurasian collared doves. — Wikimedia photo by Horia Varlan

Here in Tucson, I daily see mourning doves and white-winged doves from my third-floor balconies, but haven’t yet spotted an Eurasian collared, which has me questioning the concerns some birders have about it impinging on our native doves.

Coincidently, in the latest Bird Watcher’s Digest, I came across this pearl about the Eurasian collared dove written by birdwatcher and postman Mel Carriere, who admits to keeping his eyes on the sky more, sometimes, than on the mail he delivers.

Wrote Mel: “Being a dangerously invasive creature itself, I think Homo Sapiens should reflect carefully before condemning another species just because it has been so overwhelmingly successful at achieving its own Manifest Destiny in so brief a period of time.”

Mel’s words made me smile.

Bean Pat: Bug on a fireweed http://tinyurl.com/y7jl5n22 I love this blogger. I always learn something new.

Pat Bean’s book Travels with Maggie is now available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y9gjlc7r Bean is now working on Bird Droppings, a book about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at https://patbean.wordpress.com

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“A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.” — Ernest Hemingway

Great Horned Owl — Painting by Pat Bean

What Big Beautiful Eyes You Have

Back when I was a normal person and still a working journalist, I found myself eagerly accepting assignments that involved birds, which is how one day I found myself traveling in a van through the Bonneville Salt Flats on Highway 80 between Salt Lake City and Wendover, Nevada, with seven members of HawkWatch International, an organization that monitors raptors as an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.

My goal was to monitor and report on the HawkWatchers.

Eves of a great horned owl. — Wikimedia photo

The first notes I made were about all the birds these seven guys were seeing, mostly turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks. I had driven this route before and had never seen a bird while doing so. That was the day I learned the difference that separates a birdwatcher and a normal person.

Then, after we had entered Nevada and left the interstate and civilization behind, and were driving on an unpaved backroad, one of the guys yelled “Stop! There’s an owl in that cottonwood tree.”

The driver stopped, and all of the guys oohed over the owl, which they had quickly identified as a great-horned. Even after one of the men pointed out to me where the bird was sitting, it took me a couple of minutes to actually see it. But when I did, its giant yellow eyes popped open and it stared straight at me. “Wow” was all I could think as we piled back in the van.

I was well on my way to losing my status as a normal person and becoming one of those crazy birdwatchers

Bean Pat: FrogDiva Thoughts http://tinyurl.com/y7ttlp6q Just do right. A message for these times from my hero, Maya Angelou.

Travels with Maggie, is now available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y9gjlc7r Or for an autographed copy, email me at patbean@msn.com

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The Blue Bench — painted by Pat Bean

“Truly the bench is a boon to idlers. Whoever first came up with the idea is a genius: free public resting places where you can take time out from the bustle and brouhaha of the city, and simply watch and reflect.” – Tom Hodgkinson

Sitting, Watching and Listening

Dock benches at Tom’s Cove Campground on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. — Photo by Pat Bean

When I was a beginning birdwatcher, I thought patience was only an activity for couch potatoes. This non-activity simply wasn’t part of my vocabulary – or my life. But the birds I wanted to see didn’t always, in fact seldom, showed up in a timely fashion.

“Learn to sit quietly for half an hour and you won’t be disappointed,” a birding mentor told me. But 10 minutes was all I could manage for the first couple of years. I had to work up to it, but finally I caught on.

A bench at the Amherstburg Navy Yard in Ontario, Canada.

 

And once I did that, I began looking for places with interesting views to sit. And lo and behold I discovered the joy of benches. The blue one above, which I painted from a photograph (below left),

was located at Lake Walcott State Park in Southern Idaho. It looked out over a meadow filled with tall, grassy reeds where yellow-headed blackbirds could frequently be found.

The benches on the top left were located on a dock on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, where I spent a week. Gulls and boat-tail grackles liked to gather here.

And the photo on the right above was taken in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, where I watched a blue-winged teal swim about in the harbor and house sparrows pecking about in flowerbeds.

Sitting on a bench, in a delectable nature setting, has now become one of my “activities.”

It is much better any day than sitting meditation, which so far, I haven’t managed to do for more than five minutes at a time. My busy brain just won’t turn off when Mother Nature, and birds, aren’t around to keep my attention focused.

I guess you can now call me a bench potato.

Bean Pat: The Page Turner http://tinyurl.com/y9b2y3z3 Enjoy the photography of John Macdonald. I did.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is soon to be released. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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A great egret fishing the Poteau River below the Lake Wister Dam near Poteau, Oklahoma. — Photo by Pat Bean

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” – William Butler Yeats  

Making a Mountain out of a Hill 

           For the nine years in which my home was on the road in a small RV with my canine companion, Maggie, I called myself a wondering-wanderer. It’s because as I drove across North America, through its golden fields of grain and mind-boggling redwood forests, and often went to sleep beside a gurgling body of water, my mind was always asking questions.

Cavanal: World’s Tallest Hill in Poteau, Oklahoma

A week spent at Lake Wister State Park near Poteau, Oklahoma, got me thinking about the difference between a mountain and a hill. That’s because Poteau’s Chamber of Commerce promotes the city as home of the world’s tallest hill, but that hill is officially called Cavanal Mountain.

What I easily learned, from bit of geological research, is that a landscape feature is a mountain if it is 2,000 feet or taller, and a hill if it is less than 2,000 feet tall. Cavanal Mountain is 1,999-feet tall.

The road up to the top of Cavanal Mountain.

Once I put my wondering mind at ease, I was able to enjoy my stay on the park’s tiny Quarry Island, which was accessed by a short bridge.

I awoke each morning to the sound of a chipper mockingbird greeting the day from the top of the picnic table outside my window. Lake Wister, created when a dam on the Poteau River was completed in 1949, also greeted me every morning. It was visible out both my front and rear windows as Quarry Island was quite narrow.

Maggie and I took frequent walks around the island. It was a great week in which my wondering mind did a lot of wandering.

Bean Pat: Deep in my Bones http://tinyurl.com/yayrrvgf A lot to howl about. This reminds me of the night I howled with the wolves, which I write about in Travels with Maggie.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is soon to be released. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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