Monday, February 8, 2016

A Hummingbird Tale

One of the great joys of living in Tucson is the year-around presence of hummingbirds.  This year, in particular, for whatever reason, the hummingbird population at my feeders has exploded.  Rather than the three or four regulars through the winter season, I'm seeing up to 15 of the tiny birds.  At times, they resemble a swarm of bees, especially during a rainstorm when their feeding seems particularly frantic.

With all this air traffic, accidents are bound to happen.  I have floor-to-ceiling windows facing a front courtyard where several feeders hang.  Occasionally, a bird will crash in to a window and knock himself out.  One chilly day last week I heard a thump on the window.  Afraid of what it meant, I looked out on the ground below the window and there was a lifeless-looking little bundle of feathers.  I gathered him up and brought him in the house for some revival warmth.

He rested calmly for about 15 minutes, then he signaled his readiness to go by fluttering his wings.  Outside we went and as soon as I opened my hand, off he flew.  Success!

Just a few days later, on what was to be our coldest night, darkness had already settled, and inside, I was sitting just a few feet from the window.  I kept hearing a fluttering sound, sort of like when a moth is trying to escape.  I turned around to look for the moth.  Instead, on the outside down on the sill was a hummingbird flying up and down the window.  How odd, I thought.  But, I knew she must be in trouble, so I went into rescue mode again.  It was a little female, possibly a juvenile as there were no markings.  I scooped her up and brought her inside.  She seemed exhausted. When she finally appeared to recover, I was afraid to release her into the cold and dark. Hummingbirds go to their overnight roost before dark and, when the temperatures are cold, go into a state of torpor, or lowered metabolic rate.  This allows them to survive sub-freezing temperatures.

My husband scrounged around the house and found a box, which we then outfitted with a soft towel for a perch and another light towel over the top allowing for air.  I put her in and closed the top and she immediately settled quietly.  Once the sun was up the next morning and the temperature had risen somewhat, I placed the box outside and removed the lid.  She sat patiently for a few minutes, and then she was gone.

 I saw her later at the feeder chowing down on sugar water.  Did she nod at me and wink?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Blowing in the Wind

It seems that last post kind of left you hanging, didn't it.  That certainly wasn't my intention.  Forgive me and let's pick up the trail.

Traveling north on Highway 89 out of Flagstaff, I found myself constantly on the lookout for where we would pull over if the truck decided to quit again.  A very unsettling feeling.  Turning off onto Highway 89A the feeling got even worse, as there is literally no shoulder, a skinny 2-lane road and nowhere to pull off.  Across the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge, and along the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs, past tiny settlements and finally up the steep grade toward Jacob Lake, fingers crossed all the while.  My worry was for naught as the drive was without incident and we happily pulled into the Jacob Lake Forest Service campground for the night.   At the busy intersection to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, this campground stays pretty full in the summer and we were happy we had arrived early in the afternoon.

After a walk and an ice cream break at the store, I did some birding while Jay cleaned out the storage compartments of the trailer.  Odd time to do it, but whatever.  Look at this pile of stuff we've been hauling around forever! Good time to do some organizing.

Coming down off the Kaibab Plateau, the most spectacular views unfold, revealing the red rock canyons of southern Utah.  We stopped in Kanab for lunch, and then back into Arizona to continue through polygamist country, back to Utah and on to Zion National Park.

When I planned this trip, I was happy to be able to snag a camp space in the park over Fourth of July, which certainly wasn't my preference for the time to be there, but it's what worked for our trip.  Yes, it was crowded, but the park does an amazing job of dealing efficiently with the crowds. In our many trips through southern Utah, we had never camped in Zion, so I was excited to have four days here, with time to really explore the park and the trails. Just a 2-minute walk took us to the visitor center and the shuttles that eliminate the need for driving inside the park.  The town of Springdale is also just an easy walk. We did take a day trip through the park to the east, north on Highway 89,and then up over the mountains on Highway 14, back to Cedar City where a tremendous thunderstorm hit.  Once the rain abated, we explored the Kolob Canyons section of Zion NP, which is only accessible off I-15 and which we had never visited before.  A 5-mile drive takes you into spectacular red rock canyons studded with cedars, oaks and pines.  
Back in the park, it was time to do some hiking.  So many trails, so little time!  I chose several in the canyon, the highlight of which was Angel's Landing.  The 'high' part for sure.  An easy walk along the river, then up the steep switchbacks to Refrigerator Canyon, shady and cool, then you hit Walter's Wiggles, tight and steep switchbacks leading to Scout's Lookout.  There on the expanse of flat rocks, all manner of people lounged, savoring the rest and the glorious day. Did I really want to go the rest of the way?  I looked across a saddle to the absurdly steep and narrow Hogsback and thought, no way!  What?  You came all this way to chicken out now??  Nope.  So, shedding my backpack to the mercy of the squirrels, I joined the line of equally idiotic people making their way up to the top, using chains bolted to the rocks to keep from falling into the abyss.  The worst part was making way for people coming the opposite direction, as the trail was only wide enough for one person at a time.  That half mile seemed to go on forever, but I finally stepped onto the Landing, where it felt like a celebration taking place.  Where's the champagne?!  After a well-earned rest and some photos of the magnificent views, it was time to start back down - definitely harder than going up!  I met a guy coming the other way who asked me how old I was - he and I were by far the oldest people up there.  Some kind people had rescued my backpack from the industrious squirrels.  Retrieving it, I began the long descent with the legs and knees burning all the way.  Jay met me at the shuttle stop and we headed back to town for a cold beer.

It's been 6 months, and now I'm tired all over again just writing about it!  Here's to great adventures!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Starting North - Flagstaff

I was anxious to get to Reno to see an old friend who is not doing well, and I let that cloud my judgement about when to travel.  I saw there was a camp space at Zion NP for four nights over Fourth of July, so I grabbed it.  What was I thinking??  Leaving Tucson on July 1st, I planned to spend two nights in Flagstaff and one at Jacob Lake, then on to Zion.  I had made reservations at the KOA in Flagstaff, not my favorite place, but the others were full already, and it is convenient for activities around town. Besides, it was a holiday weekend upcoming, so choices were limited. The best laid plans . . .  . About 30 miles south of Flagstaff on Highway 17, making a pretty good climb, I heard my husband mumble, "Uh oh".  Not a good sign. A few seconds later the truck just died.  Thankfully there was a wide enough shoulder that we could get our 50'+ long rig off the road.  What a nightmare it would have been had we not been able to get out of the traffic lanes as we were on a blind corner with big trucks and other vehicles whizzing by.  Naturally, cell service was almost non-existent.  We were, however, able to get a 911 call through and the dispatcher sent a deputy.  He arrived in about 20 minutes and called a tow truck for us.  About an hour later, the tow truck arrived and before long we were on our way to Flagstaff - truck, trailer and all.  The driver took us to the GMC dealer where we left the truck, then he hauled us and the trailer to the KOA.  Our driver was unflappable and the tight turns, narrow roads and trees in the park didn't bother him a bit.  The GMC dealer sent a shuttle driver to take me to Enterprise to rent a car, and I just made it there before they closed.  They were very busy and it took half an hour or so to get out of there.  Needless to say, by then I needed a drink!

Later in the evening, we left for dinner, but Jay wanted to stop by the GMC dealer first and see if they had looked at the truck.  He spent half an hour chatting with the technicians about the issue, trying to impress upon them the need for a speedy repair, then it was off to dinner at Fat Olives, a bustling, comfortable pizza place.  So nice to relax after such a crazy day.

With only two nights reserved here, and no spaces available after that, we wondered what we'd do if the truck didn't get fixed in time.  Oh well, might as well go do what we wanted to do and not worry about it. I love old downtown Flagstaff for its history, charm, great architecture, hip restaurants and bars and great people-watching.  And, oh, were we happy to be parking the little rent-car instead of the big Duramax! Mart Ann's on Highway 66 was our choice for breakfast and a good choice it was!

Leaving downtown, first on my list was the  Arboretum at Flagstaff, which looked close on the map but proved to be about 9 miles on a dirt road, with very poor signage.  But the drive was worthwhile as the arboretum was really lovely.  Showcasing native Colorado plateau plants in various gardens, they also had a bird program, a gift shop and greenhouses where many plants were being propagated.  The gardens and buildings were the residence of the Arboretum's founder, Frances McAllister.

Even with large groups of school kids there for educational programs, the grounds were peaceful and inspiring.

Next stop, Lowell Observatory.  Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell and famous for the discovery of Pluto, among many other achievements.  High on  Mars Hill overlooking Flagstaff, the observatory continues state-of-the-art research by acquiring and upgrading its telescopes and facilities, while honoring and preserving its history.

I think the kids from the Arboretum followed us here!

I was on the Pluto tour, and it seems the kids were going the same place we were.  We let them pass and then made our way along the path lined with busts of astronomers and a line depicting the distance of the planets from the sun and from each other.  Big, black thunderclouds filled the sky and I was sure were in for a downpour.  At over 7000' in elevation, Flagstaff is pleasantly warm in summer with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.  Our group of perhaps 20 was led by a docent who was a retired high school science teacher.

As we got inside the small observatory, a huge crack of thunder signaled nearby lighting.  The docent didn't seem too nervous as he told us we shouldn't be in there since the building wasn't grounded, but, oh well, we were there and where else could we go? The entire dome sat on a metal track that rotated, allowing viewing in all directions.  Built in 1928-1929 for the purpose of searching for Planet X, the elusive ninth planet that Percival Lowell thought must exist, the Pluto Discovery Telescope is one of the most famous in American astronomical research.  Examining images from this scope, Clyde Tombaugh made the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

We also toured the Putnam Collection Center, where many historical instruments show just how far we've come in the scientific world, and the visitor center's excellent exhibits.  There's so much more to see here on this famous hill, but it'll have to wait for another day.  Our truck is ready! Yay! We can leave tomorrow as planned and won't be out on the street.  A new fuel line, fuel filter, $500 and she's ready to go.  The great guys at the GMC dealership even hosed the red dust off the rent-car so it wouldn't be so obvious we were on dirt roads.

I'll have to say that every single person we dealt with in Flagstaff could not have been nicer and more accommodating.  They made a stressful situation so much less painful.

We were on the road early the next morning, and I'll admit to some trepidation about whether the truck would really get us there.  I was constantly looking for where we could get off the road if we had to .  The saga continues in the next blog.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Commitment Issues

A blog is most definitely a commitment.  I admire the many bloggers I follow who can find something interesting to write every day, and they commit to doing it.  That, apparently, is not me.  On either count! I am a fickle blogger.  Just take a look at the date of my last post!  Probably because I'd rather be doing this .  .  .

or this .  .  .

Well, you get the idea.  Any excuse will do.  But, here I am, so let's see what's been happening in my corner of the desert.

The coyotes have been very active during the day.  I see them just about every morning on my walk.

First, I spotted him.
Then he spotted me.

                                   Oops, better turn around.
A dove and a pyrrhuloxia sat atop adjacent saguaros seeing who could call the loudest.  
Well, the pyrrhuloxia definitely got more points for melody.  

As fast as the saguaro fruits ripen, some lucky creature is waiting to devour the sweet pulp, leaving an empty red hull that looks for all the world like a flower.

Oh look!  Night blooming cereus buds are getting ready to put on their one-night show.
Only six buds this year, not like the glory days of this plant when it would produce more than 20 flowers.  One recent year, it didn't bloom at all, and I was afraid it had worn itself out.  But, gradually, it has come back after it's little hiatus.  

Rain in Tucson in June is virtually unheard of.  It's usually the dreaded month of bone-dry,100 degree days, not a cloud in sight.  Well, guess what?  This year, we have had rain, thanks to a tropical storm in the Pacific.  


All those cloudy days brought something else wonderful - glorious sunsets.  

Here's a new flower for my garden this year.  I got a start from a friend, stuck it in the ground and .  .  . Voila!
Harissia cactus
Until next time .  .  . whenever that might be!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Greetings!

Here's wishing you joyous holidays, and a New Year filled with the beauty of nature and the love of family and friends.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jungle Fever

What do you get when you add water to the desert?  A jungle, of course.  The Sonoran Desert is already one of the wettest deserts on earth, pushing the limits of what constitutes a desert.  Ask people to give their image of a desert and they'll say, "sandy", "hot", "barren".  Occasionally someone will come up with the one true and necessary component - aridity.  Deserts may not be sandy, they may not be barren, often they are hot, but just as likely may be cold.  They are all dry. To be a desert, a region must be dry, where potential evapotranspiration is greater than precipitation.  Generally, 10" of precipitation is the upper limit for being called a desert.  So, even on a normal year, we're pushing it here in the Arizona Upland division around Tucson with our annual average of 12".

A couple of hurricane remnants plus a rewarding monsoon has turned our desert into a virtual jungle.  As I introduce my Sonoran Desert Discovery tours at the Desert Museum and talk to people about what constitutes a desert, they look out across the landscape and see nothing but greenery.  The looks turn skeptical.  Desert?  No Way!

Even now, in November, when other parts of the country are shivering and shoveling snow, the greenery dominates our views.  Wildflowers still bloom.  The cold-deciduous acacias and mesquites have given no thought to losing their leaves.  Butterflies are abundant and very active.

Passion Flower

Queen on Milkweed

Southern Dogface nectaring on Lagascea decipiens

Bordered Patch

Bahia absinthifolia

Cooper's Paperflower

  1. Thymophylla pentachaeta

Sacred Datura

I led the Butterfly Walk at the Desert Museum last Friday and my two guests from Ohio were boggled by the number and variety we saw.  I believe our count was close to 20 species, even including a lone Monarch.  Monarchs are not common here, though we do see them in small numbers.  Much more common is the Monarch relative, the Queen, another of the milkweed butterflies.  Many sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, ladies, Empress Leilia, American Snouts, and more.

Southern Dogface Butterfly (see the poodle head?)

Bordered Patch

Cloudless Sulphur

Painted Lady

Painted Lady


Winter will inevitably come.  Until then, this is our every day. Fiery skies awake us to another glorious day.

Another blast of color signals the day's close.

The desert is happy!