Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Some Big Wings Soar

Sometimes I think a person who has escaped the cubicle and the rat race can undermine their own cause by puffing up with expectations that are too grand and romantic. No matter how you envision the perfect lifestyle, daily life still has to be built one humble brick at a time: perhaps a better diet, working on your rig, taking the dog for numerous walks, watching thunderstorms build up, reading and writing, investing, or keeping a keen eye for wildlife and birds. 

Lately I have drifted away from photographing birds. The great advantage of being a bird watcher is that it can be done anywhere and almost any day. But that is looking at life the way a Baron d'Holbach or utilitarian philosopher would. There are advantages to their approach, as I was writing about last post.

Or there is that other utilitarian, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a classic line in his autobiography: "Human Felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day."

But their approach doesn't inspire a strong interest or passion in something. So I switched back to the rival philosophical camp, the Romantic one, to revive my interest in birds. This approach might work for many people.

You could take off on a walk up the ridges and mesas of open BLM country. But mountain biking will work even better because it puts the mind in the mood of graceful flow. Up you go, getting warm even on a cool morning. You notice a cooling breeze that brings relief, but also sucks you into a way of thinking, a way of being affected by what you see. The endorphins and dopamines do their job as usual, as do a gain in altitude and an escape from the lowly clutter of towns. (Extra credit to any reader who can insert the canonical quote from William Blake at this spot.) Also, I managed to make a through-route out of a previous dead-end route.

Therefore the Romantic in me was prepared to see any thought that popped into my head as a higher form of Wisdom. An unusual view popped up, at just the right moment. 


The white tail and wing patches grabbed my eye. At first I thought I was seeing my first bald eagle, but they have white heads. Another bird of the same size and shape glided circles nearby, but since it was dark and drab, it was probably his mate. 

A poor internet signal at the moment keeps me from doing thorough homework on the What Bird website. So far I have checked out various hawks, eagles, and vultures; but this bird doesn't match any of them. The bird-identification websites always show pictures of a bird from underneath, the usual position of the observer!


My camera was zoomed out to take this moving photo. Isn't it great that their auto-focus capabilities have gotten so good that it could focus on a moving bird?

Once again, one of my happiest moments occurs at high altitude on open land, with birds playing gloriously with thermals or ridge-lift. Am I really too old to take up hang-gliding?

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Brave Little Beast

A couple birds carried-on a noisy aerial dogfight over my trailer. It's not unusual for a couple small birds to get after a large raptor, but here a single small bird held forth, valiantly. The fight went on for half an hour. My dog was annoyed the entire time.

But isn't it amazing what inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras can do these days! Those two birds were up there, say, 300 feet. I took the optical zoom way out there, so far that it was hard to keep them in the frame. And yet the box turned green -- focus was achieved. And even after digital zoom was added, the photo is still pretty clear:


I am now reading Jack London's "The Sea Wolf," so my mind takes to "wind sports". I wonder if London ever wrote a couple paragraphs on something like what is in this photo, and what meaning he read into it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Top Gun" at Cliff's Edge

Luna, NM. If you ever spend time reading product reviews or discussion forums on digital cameras, well, I hope you get more out of them than I do. It's far easier to just say that the "best" camera is the one that gets taken -- every time.

Recently I was chewing myself out for forgetting my camera on the short dog-walk when Coffee Girl treed the coatimundi, the first I've ever seen. It's so easy to do so because short walks don't seem to "count." 

A few days after the coatimundi sighting: "Come on down, whoever you are, and I'll go easy on ya!"

Chastened by self-nagging, I went for a late afternoon dog-walk, this time with my camera. Out the RV door we went, walking up the short distance to the cliff's edge.

Although I could camp -- and in fact have camped -- right at the cliff-line for a dramatic view, experience has shown it best to camp a short distance away. This is a statement that many optical sybarites would never buy. I can think of one Lazy Daze motorhomer who would back his living room and IMAX window right up to -- or even hang over -- the cliff, if he were here. (grin)

The situation here is analogous to RVers trying to jockey their beached whales right onto the sand, when they camp in Baja California. What they won't go through to get the biggest window to face the ocean! They do so because it reminds them of a front cover on some glossie RV magazine. The result is wind, sand, and salt spray. They are lucky if they escape getting stuck in the sand.

Although it almost seemed perverse, it worked better to camp on the inland side of the highway, hidden (!) from the ocean view by small sand dunes. Then, every brief dog-walk out to the beach produced a blast across the eyeballs, a blast that refreshes you because you are conscious of it. Each variation in the viewscape is like an incoming ocean wave itself: you can sense the wave, but not the ocean.


The beach was a mirror, with incoming waves on one side, and our brief and recurring dog-walks on the other side, as the mirror image.
And so it was that we went on a short dog-walk to the cliff's edge, with the camera. A few steps away from the RV's door I noticed something odd.



A large bird, probably a raptor of some kind, was levitating about 50 feet from the edge of the cliff, just ahead of us. By 'levitating' I mean that his wings were not flapping and his ground speed was zero. So perfectly stationary was he that a camera on a tripod could have filmed him for 30 seconds or more, without moving the camera!

When the fumbling over the camera was over, I noticed the wind, the ridge lift, that the raptor was exploiting. "Wind whispering in the pines" is a hackneyed expression; "Whispering Pines" is a stereotypical name for a resort cabin lodge.

"Whispering," eh? This was no nambie-pambie sibilant sound.  The wind in the tops of the ponderosas sounded like a freight train. That was the other reason I gave up on camping right at the edge of the cliff: I was afraid of ponderosa pines falling on me.



Since this area is so volcanic, the ponderosas develop shallow root systems. The volcanic rock is porous, so water soaks in and leaves tinder-dry ponderosas, hence the monster fires that the area is prone to.

There have been many times when I've admired birds at cliffs or ridgelines. Frequently it is ravens who seem to display an intelligent playfulness when disporting with ridge-lift. But this situation did not require intelligence; it took sheer guts and athleticism. I've never seen anything like it.


White breast and hooked beak.

  I've got to take up hang gliding!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Western Tanager

It would have been easy to drop my hiking pole over the cliff (like Gayle the other day) when I saw this bird on a trail that would soon present a marvelous vista of Ouray CO.  After fighting the urge to immediately run to Bobbie (in the Ouray RVing and Hiking Team) for help, I actually managed to identify it as a western tanager. It would only pose for one shot before it flew off. (From my 'birds' album in Picasa:)


This made the hike for me, as did coffee and banana/pumpkin bread back in town.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

To Nail a Mockingbird

They say that coyotes can fool you into thinking there are a half a dozen yipping away, when in fact it's only a couple. I've been experiencing that with a "flock" of birds in the riparian areas around Glenwood NM. 

It's so hard to write about the pleasure of hearing birds in the morning. It always sounds corny or sappy. But over the years, I notice that this pleasure is growing.

I couldn't take it anymore. I just had to find out who was making all the noise in my camping area. Actually most of it was quite musical. Maybe it was just one bird who was vocally gifted. At long last I photographed the culprit.



I really should learn how to record sound on my camera and present it on the blog. This fellow could make at least a half dozen distinct sounds; he would switch from one hit-tune to the next. It was hard to keep track of them all.

He is a medium-sized, slender bird with a grey back, white breast, and showy white bands on the wings, which are most noticeable when flying.


Besides his amazing range of vocalizations, he was impressive in his goofy fluttering from his perch on a tree. The white bands were most visible.






But there can be only one explanation for his showy and ludicrous crooning and athleticisms; there are certain forms of male behavior that are universal:


I'm afraid the poor lad is smitten with the Grand Passion. So are we agreed that he is a mockingbird?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Owl in a Cactus

I've only gotten close to an owl once before today, and that was when mountain biking in a ponderosa forest. They are larger and more powerful than I expected. They seem more exotic and menacing than other raptors. So I grinned from ear to ear when a friend walked us over to an owl nest on the southwest side of Tucson. (Gee, maybe I should provide GPS coordinates so readers will have the ultimate in convenience in finding the owl. Isn't that how "RV blogs" are supposed to work?)

An impudent Malevolence in the shadows...






Thursday, February 9, 2012

Capturing the Perfect Cactus Photo Cliche

Somewhere and somehow I got a photo cliche into my head: a Gila woodpecker or a cactus wren or a curved bill thrasher sticking its head out of a cactus lacuna. These rascals are always interrupting my bike rides by tempting me with the expectation of capturing this photo cliche. But as I approach, they skedaddle.



Phainopeplas are not rare around here. What I liked about this next guy is the geometry of the ocotillo stalks that he chose to frame his portrait with:

 

And then there is the bird with the sexiest curves of all, the curved bill thrasher:


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Garrulous Grackle?

During one of our quotidian rides to the bakery and coffee shop, these noisy birds caught my attention. So did their silhouette. Subscription prices and advertising income are a bit low for this blog, so I can't keep a paid birder on staff. If anybody has a guesses about what kind of birds they are, please speak up.

The garrulity of birds is always fun to capture "on film". It makes them look more sentient and intelligent. It's also satisfying to use the camera to invoke the feel of other senses, such as sound in this case.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gila Woodpecker?

Perhaps I'll have a chance to enjoy one of the bird preserves in Arizona before I take flight in April. Until then there will be only occasional opportunities. In my current campsite in the Sonoran desert I can hear a pretty good symphony in the morning. How nice that is compared to the 7 and 24 noise pollution of camping in a city. It's more fun to hear than see them. (Some campers couldn't be bothered by any of this; they'd have to wake up in the morning-- grin.)

I've warned readers that -- unlike my opinions on sex, politics, and religion -- my bird identifications are prone to error. But I think this little devil is a Gila woodpecker:




Sunday, December 25, 2011

Better Than a Stick in the Eye

It was so cold in Silver City NM that we only had one good birding year. Sensible birds go to Arizona in the winter, but not to dry lunar settings like where I am now. The best refuges are along creeks in southeastern Arizona. I miss photographing these rascals. Of course to do it right you need a five pound camera, a one-foot-long telephoto lens, and a tripod. You must also be willing to go where the birds are, rather than the other way around. So I'll never be a real birder. Still, it's fun to get what I can. It's remarkable how much variation there is in the color of red-tailed hawks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Next Life of Certain RV Bloggers

It is very satisfying to rise to the challenge of walking in generic (non-national-park) deserts and finding things that interest you. You have to use every angle that you can think of. You can't just be passive and expect the sheer optical pop-titude [*] of the place to wow you into a state of entertainment. (This is one of the False Doctrines of the Desert that some blogs preach. grin.) In the Wickenburg AZ area Coffee Girl and I went to work on the generic Sonoran desert landscape.

Imagining the topography as time lapse, accelerated photography is one of the great advantages of arid land, since geologic layers are exposed. Except for crumples in the earth and lava expulsions, much of the topography is formed subtractively -- that is, erosively -- from layers upon layers that have different erosion rates.


This caprock is only four inches thick; it overhangs about one foot. The mesa is only 20 feet over the lower lands adjacent to it. And yet this numerically humble caprock illustrates the process of topographic development as well as a bigger or prettier mesa would. "Process of development", rather than the supposed static perfection and holiness of the "cathedral of nature", is what nature is all about.

Soon a female kestrel flew overhead but I didn't have time to photograph her. Later, Coffee Girl responded to some bovines; she is a cattle dog after all. It's not difficult to distinguish her beef-bark from her more-serious coyote alarm and growl. She also is learning to leave cattle alone, at my command. But I let her take to the hills when she saw a deer buck. 

What's this white-breasted bird, facing the warming morning sun?  It let me walk up almost to the foot of the saguaro cactus, one of the tallest in the area, perhaps 30 feet high! This reminds me of something.
  

Perhaps in this raptor's earlier life it was one of the prophets of the Syrian or Egyptian desert; one of those ostentatious self-flagellants who was eventually canonized, men such as St. Anthony or St. Simeon Stylite (as in 'stylus'.) They were said to stand in their towers for years without ever coming down.


(from this Wikipedia article.)

At this time of the year there are many such wandering prophets of the desert in places such as Quartzsite or the Slabs. The original saints sometimes put their respective towers within talking distance of each other so they could argue theology. The modern desert saints are more likely to thrash through the polemics of Simplicity, frugality, mobility, generators versus solar panels, glass mat batteries versus flooded, etc.

The original Stylite, St. Simeon, is said to have held his ground -- or rather, his air -- for 39 years. Perhaps the modern desert saints are lucky that the BLM imposes a 14 day limit, when they must then...


[*] from David Seltzer, screenwriter of Punchline, starring Tom Hanks and Sally Fields.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Swallows near a Coffee Shop


This is the last of the swallow homebuilder photos. I promise. With hindsight I really appreciate how lucky I was a couple weeks ago to see and photograph them during their maximum presence near my coffee shop. I haven't seen them since.

I was surprised how contentious these birds were with each other. It wasn't exactly a replay of the harmonious, Amish, barn-raising scene in the Harrison Ford movie, Witness. Nor did it make me want to go out and buy Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village. If anything, these swallows were fans of Ayn Rand.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Male of a Quail


It's a guy thing, I guess. Or maybe this Gambel quail is just trying to warm up instead of looking macho.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Un-photographed Owl

I was mountain biking along a scenic ridge the other day when I was startled by some large and noisy animal on the ground, just a few feet in front of me. A deer would have been a good guess. There is nothing exciting about a deer, but I didn't want myself or the bike to get kicked by those snapping hoofs.

It was no deer. It was a large owl that took off from ground level. Well, we've all seen an owl at one time in our lives, but I've never seen one that close. Its big head reminded me of a small football helmet. I didn't see the specific place where it landed, but it might have been at the tree where a half dozen small birds started screaming bloody murder.

It certainly would have been a pleasure to photograph this owl, but it would have taken a helmet mounted video camera. I knew of a mountain biker who did that.

Long-suffering readers know that I am always railing against the perverted aesthetic of nature that is common in our society. I know what made this owl impressive: give the credit to a teacup yorkie who lives in my RV park. Every couple days I cross paths with him and try to win him as a friend, but he lacks confidence. Somebody was joking that he was real owl-bait. Indeed. And it was the horror of that image that made the experience of seeing the owl memorable and interesting to me.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Quail of a Tail


Actually there is no tale today. But it was good to get my first photograph of quails after being startled by them a thousand times. My dog has gotten quite fond of charging into bushes to flush them out; she looks like a bowling ball scattering the pins. There is a small dust storm after this, but I'm not sure if the cause is the dog or the furious beating of quail wings.

The male half of the Gambel quail couple in on the right.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Playing Hard to Get

It's natural for a beautiful girl dog's thoughts to turn to Love with the spring weather we've been having lately. My kelpie, Coffee Girl, has a new playmate in the morning: a French Brittany spaniel, named Jake. (How declasse'.) I've never seen her act so silly before; she runs alongside him, licking his face. When he stops, she pushes the side of her body against his. A lot of good it does her. Jake is a (hunting) workaholic who has no time to waste on romantic nonsense.

He has another quirk besides this: he picked up a cholla thorn the other day. His owner had to hold him down, while I pulled the two thorns out. They barely required any pulling, yet he howled bloody murder about it. I couldn't resist giggling.



On our bike ride to town we saw an impressive, medium-sized, brown hawk that flew only five feet off the ground. A half dozen times I almost got my camera out, but he wouldn't cooperate. What a tease! It had a conspicuous transverse white stripe on the tail. It's funny how territorial hawks can be. 

Closer to town we once again saw the only butterfly that I've seen this spring: large and black, with a light yellow transverse stripe on the rearward edge of the wing. I've come so close to photographing these guys, but not quite!


Finally we reached the usual coffee shop downtown, where one of the handsomest dogs in the world was relaxing with his human companion. Smokey is a mixed breed from the animal shelter. He has the good looks and star quality to get a gig doing dog food commercials. But he growls if Coffee Girl approaches him. What's a girl to do?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bluebird Rivalry?


Why is the old boy on top conquering the female's heart? The lower male seems more colorful.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nice Tuft


I'm not any good at identifying birds in silhouette. But the tuft grabbed my eyes from a long distance, and he let me approach.

Update: the two commenters were right. It's a phainopepia. I forgot to check my own Picasa web album before giving up on the silhouette above:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Wing Artist

On a standard mountain bike route the other day, I was passing by the western edge of a hill. The first runner that I've seen in a long time came by and joked about how cold and windy it was. I had to agree, but wouldn't complain about sunny, cold, and windy weather. It is New Mexico after all.


A few seconds later I was at a cliff face that faced west, where a raven was showing off, thanks to ridge lift. The raven was so close. He folded his wings in and, for just a second, paused, suspended in space with all the drama of an Olympic high diver at the edge of the board. Then he fell straight down.

The fall was so different than the flight, and yet, they both borrowed from something outside that individual bird. The raven was borrowing the Will of Gravity and Wind, combining them, and composing something that befitted his intelligence and playful mood.

In all the rides and walks that I've been on, over the years, I've never seen anything quite like that. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mohawk Hairdo



If I had known that I would someday be interested in a bird named phainopepla, I never would have gotten into this birding racket. (The usual disclaimer: unlike my opinions on sex, politics, and religion, my bird IDs are prone to occasional error.) Still, you gotta love that crest and red eyes. Finally we are getting some migratory birds, but it hasn't been a blockbuster season like last autumn.