The birdies seem to think it’s spring — cardinals and chickadees are singing in the backyard. A pair of Cardinals were courting on the tree outside my porch window yesterday morning, even while it was snowing.
Northeast of the copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona and west of the Chiricahua mountains in the southeastern corner of the state is the Sulphur Springs valley, which has recently become a birding hotspot because of the huge numbers of overwintering cranes, geese, ducks, waterbirds of all kinds, and assorted other small passerines.
Originally this area was a cattle ranch with springs and runoff from a part of the Chiricahua mountains that run through the middle of the valley and eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico. But since the late 1990s, the land has been managed by Arizona Fish and Game and is designated a state wildlife IBA (important birding area). Tens of thousands of Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese spend the winter here foraging in nearby crop fields and wading in the 1500 acres of streams, marshes, and ponds.
You can see some variation in the amount of red on the forehead of the cranes. The forehead is actually bald, devoid of feathers, and the red color is due to blood flow in this area. In territorial disputes or during courtship, the forehead may be flushed with blood and be a much bigger area with brighter color.
The Snow Geese were unusually quiet on this morning, resting on a small pond, rarely making a sound, and just sitting or sleeping. Perhaps they were digesting their early morning meal.
What an incredible morning of birding. It was amazing to see how many people knew about this place and were walking slowly around admiring the birds.
We’re on the road again, sadly on our way back to Minnesota, where I’m hearing winter weather is raging. We’ve decided to try to visit as many new places as possible on the trip east.
Running from the Mexican border to the tiny burg of Arivaca in south central Arizona is a 117,000 acre grassland preserve — the Buenos Aires national wildlife refuge, where the deer and the antelope definitely roam in numbers. An occasional jaguar has even been sighted here. And it also seems to be a haven for wintering raptors.
Buenos Aires NWR is a grassy, semi-desert landscape, but has some woodland features along the creeks and in draws. It supports quite a variety of large mammals (deer and antelope), and a great diversity of bird life that is attracted to the various water landscapes.
Amidst the vast expanse of California’s breadbasket of agricultural production in its Central Valley there are numerous “refugia” for wildlife. I was surprised to find that there are dozens of wildlife refuges scattered near the main artery of Interstate-5 in the Central Valley. We made a brief stop at one of these, the Kern National Wildlife Refuge, on our way north to the Bay Area, two weeks ago.
Kern NWR is at the south end of what was once a huge (at least 625,000 acres) wetland complex in the Tulare Lake Basin that was inhabited by hundreds (if not thousands) of migratory water birds during the winter. Today, 11,250 acres are protected in this area just north of Bakersfield, and visitors can drive a loop road around much of the open wetland areas.
But the most exciting find of the morning was the male Northern Harrier that we found coursing over the tops of some orchard trees along the roadside. We followed it along the road for quite a way, and I got several shots of the bird in flight.
What a beautiful little oasis among the crop fields. I would come back here (on a sunnier day)!
A second day of exploring the Valley of Fire was even better than the first, with lucky encounters with lots of wildlife, especially a couple of tame Bighorn Rams that had no fear of approaching me on their way to find better forage.
On our hikes, I began seeing animal shapes in the rock formations.
We drove from Guymon, Oklahoma to Socorro, New Mexico with the sole purpose of visiting Bosque del Apache around sunset to see the multitudes of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese assemble for the night on the marshes of the reserve. Luckily for us, we stumbled on said assemblage while driving the north loop of the wildlife drive.
Here’s a link to the post from a previous visit to this area three years ago.
By far the most abundant birds in this marsh are the Snow Geese, which seem to gather in the thousands to feed, and fly off in the dozens to hundreds. I rarely saw them in small groups.
We’re on the road again, heading west for a very special 100th birthday party celebration. Heading west, we will be stopping at several points of interest to explore, and the first site on the journey is Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, west of Emporia Kansas.
In 1878, Stephen Jones, a wealthy cattle rancher from Tennessee, acquired some of the 10,000 acres now in the preserve, to start another cattle ranch in Kansas. He built a magnificent 3-story, 11 room house, an enormous 19,000 sq ft barn, and miles of stone walls to enclose his cattle pastures.
I haven’t seen coyotes in the backyard for several years, and I’ve never seen a pair of them hunting together.
There are still a pair of foxes in the neighborhood here, although I don’t know where their den is. Usually, coyotes won’t tolerate foxes in their territory and will kill them or drive them away, so I hope this coyote pair decide to move on to another area — I like having the foxes visit with their kits in the spring.
The deer herd has been running through the backyard frequently, but they don’t usually hang around — they’re always on the move…to somewhere else. But a few days ago, the big buck visited, sampled the greenery, and sat down for a nap.
Of course I love watching birds in the backyard, but I don’t especially love what some of them do to my house. The woodpeckers are at it again, drilling holes into the redwood siding of the house and the garage. The little Downys do a lot of damage by themselves, but this morning the local Pileated Woodpecker got into the action, and started hammering on the garage with some serious blows.