Wednesday, May 17, 2006

She scares me sometimes...

The last two days have had us on edge. A little moist air and temperatures in the 80s combined to cook up some thunderclouds, which could bring much-needed rain, dangerous wind gusts, fire-starting lightning, or all three. Yesterday as I worked in the garden, I watched a nice storm developing over the southern Sulphur Springs Valley. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, but - big surprise - no rain fell on our half acre.

Today we got the same setup, but I resolved not to get my hopes up even when it looked like a burly slate-gray thunderhead was moving our way. In between butt-numbing stints at the computer dealing with a couple of weeks' worth of e-mail backlog, I popped into the kitchen for a drink. From the living room I heard Jesse say, "It's sprinkling." I replied, "Yeah, right - it's sprinkling. No such luck, my dear." I returned to the computer for another half hour, until I noticed a lovely moist fragrance wafting into the study on the AC. Torn between skepticism and hope, I peeked outside and found the patio drying from a recent shower. Jesse was right - it had been sprinkling.

Jesse is a 19-year-old, captive-bred, hand-raised African Grey Parrot. Until today, I didn't even know that she'd added "It's sprinkling" to her already prodigious vocabulary. Her cage sits by a window overlooking the patio, where she could see the rain falling. Did she really understand what she was saying? I don't know, but she does things like this all the time. In our house, "bird-brained" is a compliment. One of these days, I'll take dictation from her and transcribe a few minutes' worth of her more intelligible utterances into her very own blog entry. --SW

Monday, May 15, 2006

May in Arizona

Well, here’s my monthly blog entry. This is HARD! I have even more admiration for Amy, Julie, Bill, Sharon and others that blog every day. It has been a busy month with a few milestones. Our community radio station KBRP is back to streaming on the web so you can catch my Wed. night music mix 7-9 MST from anywhere. The new edition of the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail Map is finally done and available, and it looks great.

I just finished helping with my second five day birding Elderhostel class in the Chiricahuas. This is a great time to be out and about in the “sky islands” with a few winter birds still hanging around and new arrivals every day. Elderhostel groups are fun; most folks are beginning or moderate level birders so there’s none of the pressure of the white-knuckle lister who HAS to see that 700th bird. The groups are large (we had 19) but easy to handle.

We had to work hard for the Elegant Trogon but persistence finally paid off. We did amazingly well with most of the other southwestern birds and ended with over 150 species. Highlights included Barn, Whiskered-screech and Elf Owls, a well seen Whip-poor-will and dozens of warblers and tanagers at what little water is available in the mountain canyons.. I’ve often thought that the total list at the end of the day should be weighted with extra points for especially charismatic (Painted Redstart), colorful (Lazuli Bunting), or rare (trogon) species as well as cool behavior (young redtails fighting over an unfortunate Scaled Quail). Mammals (javelina, Apache Fox Squirrel) and reptiles (Whipsnake) should count a little extra since they are so seldom seen. As usual, the total number of birds seen is a poor measure of a good week in the field.

I rarely see a life bird in Arizona anymore - I can’t remember the last one I saw. But I’ve adopted the hockey players system of counting points; one point for a new bird and one point for an assist with a new bird. By that measure, I scored big time with these Elderhostel groups. They probably averaged 40 or so life birds each and we had a grand time showing them.