We have been in the grip of a prolonged vortex of cold air from our northern neighbors since February 4 with daytime highs in the negative digits (F) and nighttime lows dipping well below -10 F (e.g. last night was -21 F). Just for something to inspire me mentally (?), I added up the last 10 nights of low temperatures and came up with a grand total sum of -95 degrees. Now that’s arctic! Needless to say it’s difficult for my fingers to work camera buttons at these temperatures, let alone get outdoors for a walk in the backyard.
But, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and to commemorate a time when I was braver about venturing out in -15F weather, here are a few photos of the Trumpeter Swans on the Mississippi River at Monticello, MN, engaging in courtship displays to cement their pair bond — love is in the air for these swans, most of which mate for life.
Thinking of warmer days ahead, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day, 2021.
It’s pretty quiet in the backyard these days, and even the deer aren’t stopping by. But a walk in Reservoir Woods the other day produced some surprises, even if the wildlife weren’t cooperating.
Continuing on down the trail, I found a variety of forts had been built around some of the cottonwoods and oaks in the forest. Some were simple constructions that might fit one pre-teen sized kid inside…
But this next find was the real gem of my 4 mile stroll through Reservoir Woods.
Even with all the very bad experiences that 2020 brought us, there are also quite a few pleasant surprises. People who take time to decorate a lonely little fir tree and who bring a moment of joy to a walker with their humorous construction are just a few of the “benefits” of time away from our usual busy routine to think more creatively, to get out and enjoy the natural world, maybe leaving a little piece of ourselves to bring joy to others.
Preparations for the Christmas holiday delayed my final post of the November-December journey to the west coast and back. But in moving photos from one computer to another, I rediscovered our final wildlife encounter of the trip back to Minnesota at Bosque del Apache in south-central New Mexico. From there it was an arduous two-day long drive back home, so this was a final chance to get out and enjoy the spectacular wildlife and scenery.
Tall cottonwood trees line the banks of the river channels, providing cover for a variety of songbirds that migrate through this area. It is this riparian forest that gives the area its name, “forest of the Apaches”, a site where the local Apache Indians gathered to hunt the wildlife during peak times of migration. However, the area was initially settled more than 700 years ago by Pueblo-building Piro Indians that farmed the fertile, flooded regions around the Rio Grande. They were eventually driven out of the area by Apache raiding parties and Spanish explorers/colonists.
We have seen many more Sandhill Cranes here in mid-January, so perhaps the bulk of the migrants from northern-most parts of North America have not arrived yet, or perhaps some cranes that might stop here prefer to overwinter further south in Mexico. (Click here to see a video of the cranes coming in to roost on the river at Bosque del Apache in January.)
The Cranes probably won’t stop here on their way north again in the spring, but will congregate in huge numbers in March and April in Grand Island, Nebraska on the Platte River — and that is a sight to behold!
The last couple of sunny days I have walked out on the lake across the street right before sunset and found quite a number of people also enjoying the lake amenities: ice for ice skaters and hockey players, snow for the skiers and snowmobilers, and quite a nice ice road around the perimeter of the lake for the walkers. You can appreciate the size of this lake when you get out in the middle and turn in a circle, seeing shorelines in the far distance all around.
The sun came out this afternoon to give us a brief reprieve from the gray gloom that set in after the recent snow. I thought the new snow might look pretty in sunset colors, so I took a walk through the woods in the backyard.
Somehow, I changed the settings on my camera without trying, and took a few photos using the “watercolor” picture effect. This might be a nice start to a watercolor painting, if I knew how to do that.
We were 3 miles from our destination at Cave Creek Ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains of extreme southeastern Arizona when a rear tire on our Highlander went flat (note to self: avoid driving on gravel roads!). And although this was a major inconvenience for my husband who had to drive 60 miles to the nearest Walmart to get a new tire, it meant we could stay at the ranch an extra day.
The Chiricahua Mountains rise 6,000 feet above the desert floor that surrounds them, making them an “island in a sea of desert”. A variety of life zones occur along the gradient from hot dry, desert to cool pine forest at peak elevation, and this means these montane islands are a hot spot of biodiversity. And like animals on oceanic islands, Sky Island animals are restricted to their mountain environment, and may become locally endemic, not mixing or interbreeding with the rest of their parent species.
Such”sky islands” occur in a number of locations in North America, but this one in the Chiricahuas is particularly interesting because it attracts more southern-distributed Mexican and Central American species like Trogons, Mexican Jays, coatis (raccoon relatives), Jaguars, Mexican wolves, javelinas, and some endemic races of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.
Quite a diverse place, those Sky Islands of Arizona!
What can you see in just a couple hours time in the Sonoran desert north of Tucson? Quite a lot it turns out! We bagged (photo-wise) a badger and a roadrunner in the first 15 minutes after getting out of the car at Catalina State Park, and thought we were off to a good start finding animals we hadn’t yet seen on the trip.
Crossing the dry wash and climbing the adjacent hill we found a few old friends:
The adult cousins wanted to take their kids on a hike in the Sierra Azul open space preserve, so we tagged along to see what there was to see in this very large semi-wild area in the foothills of the outer coast range mountains south of San Jose, CA.
One (positive) thing about restricted travel in the Age of Covid is finding new places to hike/bird watch within a few miles of places you have visited many times before. And so it happened that a new friend took us on a drive to the San Leandro reservoir part of the East Bay watershed, just 20 minutes from my daughter’s house. And now I have a new favorite hunting ground for bird photography!
The landscapes definitely held my interest, but that’s not why we were here either. It was for the birds, of course, and they didn’t disappoint.
Here’s a teaser, and I’ll post more on the bird life of Valle Vista Staging Area next time.