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A snowy egret at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Northern Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A snowy egret at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Northern Utah. — Photo by Pat Bean

        “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” — Henry David Thoreau

Some of my Favorite Places

There are 59 national parks, and in my lifetime I’ve been to 44 of them, mostly missing the ones in Alaska. They are some of my favorite places in the world.

This pond captured images of the Wasatch Mountains and the clouds above them. I love it. -- Photo by Pat Bean

This pond captured images of the Wasatch Mountains and the clouds above them. I love it. — Photo by Pat Bean

On the other hand, there are over 550 national wildlife refuges. And they are also some of my favorite places – even though I haven’t kept track of the ones I’ve visited. During my nine years of traveling this awesome country, I stopped at any refuge in my vicinity, mostly to bird watch. .

Among the more memorable ones that would be on my list of the refuges I’ve explored, if I had such a list, would be Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, located 15 minutes from my son Lewis’ Texas Gulf Coast home, and where I turned him into a birding addict like me. This refuge has added 16 birds to my life list of 710 species.

But that pales with the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge that has given me 31 of my life birds. This refuge is very special to me because the first time I visited it was in the 1970s, when it was lush and green – and long before bird watching became one of my passions.

In the 1980s, I watched as the now 80,000-acre refuge was inundated by Great Salt Lake flood waters, whose salty content pretty much destroyed everything, including an almost new visitor’s center. I then regularly watched as the refuge, less than an hour’s drive from my Ogden, Utah, home for 25 years, made its comeback.

Pickleweed. I remember how thrilled I was when I saw the tiny beginning of this plant in a place desolate of greenery.

Pickleweed. I remember how thrilled I was when I saw the tiny beginning of this plant in a place desolate of greenery.

It started with pickleweed, one of the first plants to come back and one that helped eliminate the salt in the landscape. This was all explained to me during a tour of the damaged refuge for a newspaper story I was writing. Have I ever told you how much I loved my journalism career?

I was already retired, and traveling, but I made it to the grand opening of the refuge’s new visitor’s center in 2006. This time the center was located a good ways away from the flood zone, and next to Interstate 15 near Brigham City. The site offers visitors a convenient and quick view of a bit of what the refuge has to offer without the 10-mile drive on a rutted, unpaved road to the main refuge area.

I used to hate that rough ride – but I loved it, too. It kept the crowds away. Sometimes it seemed as if I had the whole refuge to myself, and if not, the other visitors were most likely to be nature lovers who, like me, thought the birds, animals and scenery were worth the bumpy drive.

If you’re one of us, along with visiting a national park during this year celebrating the system’s 100th birthday, you might want to also check out a national wildlife refuge. Most likely there is one not too far from where you live. https://www.fws.gov/refuges/

And if you’re interested in a good book, check out Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. It’s much about the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Living Life Almost Gracefully http://tinyurl.com/h97kl2v Chasing the Sun

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Parry's Agave. It's not a great photo, especial given the background, but I only had this view from below it's high perch. I'm so glad I could finally identify it. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Parry’s Agave. It’s not a great photo, especial given the background, but I only had this view from below its high perch. I’m so glad I could finally identify it. — Photo by Pat Bean

   “There are more truths in a good book than its author meant to put in it.”-Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Reading Let Me Name a Plant

During my recent road trip to the top of Mount Lemmon, I snapped a photo of a tall plant high on a cliff. I couldn’t see its base, just a slender stalk whose top was bedecked in candelabra fashion with clusters of green nodules. I wondered if it was a plant or a tree.

And this is what the plant looks like before it shoots up a stalk. -- Wikimedia photo

And this is what the plant looks like before it shoots up a stalk. — Wikimedia photo

This morning, as I was reading Richard Shelton’s Going Back to Bisbee – a fascinating book that is educating me about the landscape of my new home in the Sonoran Desert of Southeastern Arizona – I came across a perfect description of the plant, and learned that it was a Parry’s agave, an amazing cactus.

The one I saw was probably between 10 and 25 years old, and was in its final year of life, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it. The plant, for most of its life, is short and bowl-like. When it finally blooms, it sends all of its life forces into a stalk that quickly sprouts up to 20 feet tall, and sends out blossoms at the top. The one I saw hadn’t bloomed yet, but Shelton described the blossoms as “shallow bowls about half a foot across and filled with frothy pink ice cream.”

A few pages on in the book, Shelton wrote about the magic of names and naming, a skill which all good writers should possess. A tree is never just a tree it’s a live oak or a baobab, a dog is a Rottweiler or a poodle, and a bird is a robin or a golden eagle. Such naming provides better images in a reader’s mind. And being able to put a name to something, be it a tree, a mountain, or a plant, gives me joy. So thank you Richard Shelton for helping me learn the name of the plant that I photographed – and for writing such a fantastic book, which I’m slowly savoring.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: The Methuselah Grove   http://tinyurl.com/hskgrcj Great Basin National Park, one of my favorite places.

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             “At one time in my life, I sought logic in everything – now I know better.” – Pat Bean

A section of a page from the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, whichI used to identify the Lucifer hummingbird. My bird looked exactly like the lower right photo, including the purple specks on the neck. Since I'm a writer and not a photographer, I didn't get a good photo.

A section of a page from the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which I used to identify the Lucifer hummingbird. My bird looked exactly like the lower right photo, including the purple specks on the neck. Since I’m a writer and not a photographer, I didn’t get a good photo.

A Lucifer Hummingbird

I’ve birded all over North America and a few other places as well. I’m not quick on identifying species, like many of my birding mentors, mostly I think because I didn’t become passionate about the addictive activity until I was 60. As birding goes, I’m a late bloomer.

I did get a fairly decent photo of a house finch that was on the bird feeder hung on my balcony. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I did get a fairly decent photo of a house finch that was on the bird feeder hung on my balcony. — Photo by Pat Bean

Before 1999, I could identify cardinals and mockingbirds, the first because it was so red and distinctive, and the latter because it was the State Bird of Texas, and I saw it everywhere as a child. I also thought I could identify house sparrows because they are so common. But once I began studying bird field guides, I realized there were over 35 different sparrows in North America alone – and only some of the ones I had been seeing were house sparrows.

One of the reasons I enjoy birding is because I enjoy reading mysteries, and identifying the murderer before the last page. Identifying a bird by its field marks is pretty similar. Another reason I enjoy birding is because I’m an avid list keeper – and listing the birds I’ve seen is fun for me.

This morning I identified my 709th bird,

It was a Lucifer hummingbird, flitting about in a tree near my living room balcony. It was hard at first for me to believe it, but the curved-down bill couldn’t be mistaken. It would have been a cinch to identify if it had been an adult male, which has a brilliant purple throat, but this one was a young juvenile – but with all the right field marks, including cinnamon-colored sides and a few purple flecks on its throat.

As far as hummingbirds go, Tucson has six common species: Anna’s, broad-billed, broad-tailed, Costa, black-shinned and rufous. I’ve seen all six at my hummingbird feeder just within the past two weeks.

A Lucifer hummingbird in Tucson, however, is rare – but possible. It’s a Mexican species that occasionally flies across the border into Southeastern Arizona and Texas’ Big Bend Region. While it never came to my nectar feeder, I watched it off and on for over half an hour as it flitted about the tree next to my apartment. Each sighting more definitely confirmed my good luck.

I’m a happy birder. The Lucifer was a lifer for me.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: More about birds http://tinyurl.com/hgb22z9 The butcher bird, also known as the loggerhead strike. Great photos.

 

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Looking down from one of the many overlooks on the Sky Island Scenic Byway. I stopped at almost every overlook. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Looking down from one of the many overlooks on the Sky Island Scenic Byway. I stopped at almost every overlook. — Photo by Pat Bean

The Wanderings of a Nested Wanderer

Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different landscapes. My wondering-wandering curiosity had me looking up the term after I drove the Sky Island Scenic Byway to the top of Mount Lemon as a day road trip to pacify my wanderlust. We left before the sun came up and my canine companion, Pepper, and I didn’t get back home from the 60-mile round trip until mid-afternoon.

Hoodoos, like this, were plentiful along the way. I love the word hoodoo -- and the most colorful ones can be found in Southern Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Hoodoos, like this, were plentiful along the way. I love the word hoodoo — and the most colorful ones can be found in Southern Utah. — Photo by Pat Bean

It was a great, soul cleansing day.

I hadn’t really heard the tern sky island until I settled in Tucson three years ago, and then it seemed to be frequently popping up. That’s because, the Catalina, Santa Rita and the Chiricahua mountain ranges that surround Tucson are all perfect examples of sky islands.

I live in the 3-000-foot shadow of the 9,159-foot tall Mount Lemmon, meaning my road trip took me from an arid desert landscape to a much cooler landscape 6,000 feet higher. It was the perfect escape on a hot day. A gazillion bicyclists thought so too. Next time, perhaps, I’ll take the drive on a weekday instead of a weekend.

Real soon, I decided.

I called this one spaceship rock. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I called this one spaceship rock. — Photo by Pat Bean

Bean Pat: Raspberry Sunset http://tinyurl.com/j68j4cf Great Yellowstone wildlife capture with a camera. I love this blog.

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.           “Time passes too fast. Like a hummingbird flying by, it’s just a blur to my eyes.” – Amanda Leigh

A male Anna's hummingbird. But the one I saw this morning was a less colorful female. Wikimedia photo, Brocken Inaglory

A male Anna’s hummingbird. But the one I saw this morning was a less colorful female. Wikimedia photo, Brocken Inaglory

Life is Good

Female Anna's hummingbird. -- Wikimedia photo

Female Anna’s hummingbird. — Wikimedia photo

Last night, at around 9 o’clock, I sat on my bedroom’s third-floor balcony and watched lightning flash across the sky like fireworks. Sometimes a deep rumbling followed, but mostly it was a silent event, until I moved to the living room balcony where the rumbling was more consistent. The air smelled musty with the rain that never fell, and I was awed by the deep magenta hue of the sky, wondering how that was possible.

The show was long, and so I fixed myself a Jack and Coke and settled into a patio chair to watch in leisure, afterwards falling into a relaxed sleep that held me until a sliver of light seeped through my bedroom shutters.

Broad-billed Hummingbird at the San Diego Zoo. -- Wikimedia photo

Broad-billed Hummingbird at the San Diego Zoo. — Wikimedia photo

The morning was muggy, but still cool enough here in Tucson for me to sit again on my balcony and sky watch, this time with my morning ritual of cream-laced coffee and my journal. As I watched, through my usually handy binoculars, a broad-billed hummingbird landed on a nearby tree and then zoomed straight to my nectar feeder that sat above my head. Seeing me, it zoomed away, but soon returned, and after deciding I was harmless, fed.

Then there were two hummingbirds flitting about in competition for the feeder. The second one was a black-chinned hummingbird, the species I see most often. After they had left, a third hummingbird appeared and drank. It was an Anna’s, although because it was a female, it took me a while to identify. The males, with their spectacular pinkish-purplish heads are an identification no-brainer.

Black-chinned hummingbird -- Wikimedia photo

Black-chinned hummingbird — Wikimedia photo

Seeing these three hummingbird species took me back to the morning I awoke to find three hummingbirds flitting in my ten. It happened in 1991, during a rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – before I became addicted to bird watching. I had no idea what species of hummingbirds they were at that time. I’m not sure I even knew then that hummingbirds came in different races.

While seeing those three hummingbirds flitting above my head in the tent 25 years ago thrilled me, seeing the trio this morning, and being able to identify each of them, was just as thrilling.

Life is good. And I am blessed.

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Photo Challenge

A small patch of bank beside the Gunnison River in Colorado. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A small patch of bank beside the Gunnison River in Colorado. — Photo by Pat Bean

Details

Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. Ernest Hemingway

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It’s a Raven!

“I believed then – in a deep, easy way that is impossible for me as an adult – that there was more to this world than meets the eye. Trees had spirits; the wind spoke. If you followed a toad or raven deep into the heart of the forest, they were sure to lead you to something magical.” – Jennifer McMahon

            “I’m so sorry Jennifer. I’ve long been an adult – and I still believe.” – Pat Bean

Life outside my window. -- Watercolor by Pat Bean

Life outside my window. — Watercolor by Pat Bean

Or is it a Crow?

            Ravens didn’t live in Dallas, where I grew up. It was only after I moved West that I began seeing them. They looked just like crows to me. But being the curious person that I am, I soon wanted to know how to tell a raven from a crow.

Note the wedge-shaped tail on this raven Also, except for once during breeding season, I've never seen more than one or two ravens together. Crows, on the other hand, most often flock together. -- Wikimedia photo

Note the wedge-shaped tail on this raven Also, except for once during breeding season, I’ve never seen more than one or two ravens together. Crows, on the other hand, most often flock together. — Wikimedia photo

While ravens are larger, unless you see them side by side you can’t really identify them by that clue. But it’s easy to tell them apart if you see them flying. The raven’s tail is wedge-shaped, while the end of the crow’s tail is straight.

I see a pair of ravens almost daily here in Tucson, They land in the trees outside my windows and hop about on the roof opposite my back balcony – and they inspired my latest watercolor.

Bean Pat: Daily Echo http://tinyurl.com/hjeleff This blog so reminds me of the way I traveled and dawdled when I lived in my RV and was exploring North America. U think my wanderlust is getting to me. I need to take a road trip soon.

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