California Condors

We spent four wondrous days sitting on cliffs above the Colorado River, the pink Vermillion Cliffs behind, watching California condors.

Now, if you don’t know how amazing this is, let me explain.

In the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the wild.


That’s it.

People have been fighting to bring them back from the edge of extinction and now approximately 300 exist in the wild. 100 of them are found in the Colorado River corridor.

These birds are magnificent, with 9.5 foot wingspans, a lifespan of 60 years. Their bald heads and necks allow them to feast away on carcasses without messing feathers. I could go on.

They’re existence is still very tenuous. I am so grateful to those who have fought and worked for these birds. It would be a sad, lonely place without condors in the sky.

I am delighted beyond expressing having had the opportunity to spend so many days watching 22 individuals go about their lives – including some mating displays.


A Titmouse And The Grand Canyon

While John and I were walking along the Grand Canyon rim we noticed so many people will jump out of their vehicles, snap a few photos (almost always of themselves), then jump back into their vehicles and speed off to the next lookout. They seem barely to pause and look beyond the phone screen.

We were stopped near the parking lot of one lookout peering up into a juniper tree when a couple passing by asked, “What do you see?”

“Titmouse,” was John’s reply.

They gave us a perplexed, tinged with horror, look then jumped in their luxury SUV and sped off. Perhaps they hoped for something grander, a bald eagle perhaps?

We, however, were absolutely delighted by a friendly little juniper titmouse singing the loveliest of songs.

This is why we spend so much time outside, to meet the wild feathered and furred. Sure, Grand Canyon is grand and all but so are all the critters trying to make a home there, amid the hordes of speed-loving tourists.

Those long moments John and I stood admiring this wee little plain looking bird was exquisite in its simplicity. But no one seemed to notice or care about him.

And that speaks volumes about what we value and the state of our natural world.

John Lennon sang about giving peace a chance. Let’s give wilderness a chance too.


New Mexico’s National Wildlife Refuges (Part 2)

Below is a list of birds we saw in the 2 wildlife refuges we visited in New Mexico. I realize few others than birders will be interested in this list and this post isn’t exactly the kind that gets likes or reposted about. But that’s not why I’m posting. I’m not writing this for the likes. I’m writing this for the birds.

There were a couple of birds we saw that made our visit a little bit more special, birds we had never seen before. These I’ve put an asterisk beside.

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge:

Ross goose     White-crowned sparrow     Snow gooseSpotted towhee     Sandhill crane                      Red-naped sapsucker     Mallard     American avocet *     Northern pintail                    Killdeer     American wigeon     Western meadowlark     Northern shoveler                   Greater roadrunner     Common goldeneye     Common raven     American coot                        American kestrel     Ruddy duck    Northern harrier     Green-winged teal     red-winged blackbird     Great horned owl     Willet     Red-tailed hawk

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

Mallard     American Bittern *     Northern pintail     Northern harrier     Northern shoveler     Pomeraine jaeger     American coot     Snowy egret     Sandhill crane                         Greater egret     Snow goose     Western meadowlark     Ross’ goose     Pied grebe California quail     Red-winged blackbird     Bufflehead.    Loggerhead shrike

Unfortunately, these are partial lists. We focused less on taking notes and more on just being in the moment. These lists were compiled by memory as we were driving out of the refuges after sunset.

I am not someone who tells people, “You have to go.” Where a person “should” go depends on their interests, which are not always the same as mine. I will, however, proclaim, if you are an avid birder, GO to Bosque Del Apache and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuges.

I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


New Mexico’s National Wildlife Refuges (Part 1)

In December John and I visited two national wildlife refuges that are a must visit for any avid birder. The power and beauty and wildness we stood on the fringes of cannot be captured in photos or words. It is a powerful sight to see, a thunderous place to listen.

During sunrise in Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge we watched hundreds of snow geese and ross’ geese descend into a lake and upon four sleeping sandhill cranes.

The sound of their wingbeats I won’t soon forget.

I don’t cry easily but observing thousands of ross’ and snow geese and sandhill cranes flying overhead as the sun rises over the horizon caused tears to fall hard.

I am so grateful to be able to visit the wintering grounds of these birds, whose return to the Canadian North, their breeding grounds, my home, I anticipate with such eagerness each spring.

While the natural world continues to lose ground and bird populations fall at staggering rates, knowing this Refuge exists provides a touch of reassurance these birds will continue to exist and, dare I hope, thrive.

Visiting these refuges in December requires puffy jackets. Layers of puffy jackets. And toques and mittens and a mug of hot coffee. Camping is not allowed in the refuge so we spent the night before dispersed camping in the Apache National Forest about a half hour to the south. This meant waking up at 4am to reach the refuge for the 5am sunrise but such an early rise was not without its reward. As we packed up camp shooting stars streaked across the moonless sky.

And the sunrise over Bosque Del Apache is beautiful all on its own. Add a few thousand geese and it becomes as awe inspiring event only nature can conjure up. For me it also only helped me recommit myself to raise my voice louder than ever before to speak up for the natural world, to advocate for wild places and to show that a simple life can make people happy (and less stressful).

It’s Birding Season Again

Autoimmune illness flares again but the great thing about a week spent birding is very little energy is required. We can sit in the woods and alongside marshes, just listening and watching, occasionally falling asleep until a ruffed grouse begins to drum or another bird peeps or screeches, waking us.

Rusty blackbirds and greater yellowlegs were loud in the marshes while the mallards, long-tailed ducks and shovelers quietly fed. Along the shores of Little Atlin Lake we found a boreal chickadee excavating a nest cavity in an old spruce snag and a pair of black-billed magpies were building a nest in a willow thicket. In the alpine, Wilson’s snipes winnowed and wandering tattlers ambled lakeshores.

At our campsite on Chotla Lake, a ruby-crowned kinglet sung all evening while three American kestrels hunted the snow-free hillsides.

A wonderful bonus to sitting quietly in wilderness looking for birds are all the wildlife we also spot. Moose, caribou, Dall sheep. The chipmunks and arctic ground squirrels, including skittish melanistic ones (they must know they are much more vulnerable than the ”normal” coloured relatives) were also out enjoying the spring weather after eight longs months of hibernation. Sunshine, birds, mountains and wildlife. We couldn’t have hoped for more.

Happily Unemployed – Week One of About 16

With four months of unemployment upon us now, off we went hiking and camping along the snow-free sections of the South Klondike Highway. For a week we enjoyed blinding blue skies and an alpine a-bloom with violet crocuses, mountain forget-me-nots and arnica and nesting ptarmigan. We spied two nanny goats with very young kids resting and feeding on the only grassy knoll along the steep cliffs. The first of the swallowtail butterflies mud-puddled and fluttered beneath our feet. Being unemployed means we get to play during the week while everyone else toils at work. We have the silence of the mountains, lakes, rivers and campsites to ourselves.

And while we are out in the mountains without responsibilities of any kind I can imbibe in some Nova Scotia caramel hooch with breakfast while sitting on the shore of Tutshi Lake. A mouse scuttles in the soapberry bushes behind me and a belted kingfisher fishes from a branch above the eddy across from me while red-breasted mergansers fly upstream, ignoring both the kingfisher and me. It’s quite a lovely way to spend a morning as John cooks up breakfast and boils tea. I have very few complaints.

The rest of our week was quintessential Yukon wilderness travel: getting snorted at by caribou, watching Dall sheep travel across scree slopes, black bears graze the first of the green grasses and fresh grizzly bear and wolf tracks in the mud let us know that large beasts roam the hillsides not far ahead. There was so much wildlife to help remind us of our insignificance.

Life in the mountains is so much quieter, calmer, saner. What a shame that we build our cities to scream and rush and yell.

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