Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Sun Doesn't Rise Where it Used To

I spend a lot of time driving. I wish I didn't have to for the obvious environmental and economical reasons, but it is a simple fact of the distances between people in the place I live. The last two days I had to drive about 600 miles for two work meetings. One of the perks of that much road time is that I get to listen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio. Yesterday I listened to an excellent documentary called Arctic Re-imagined (listen to it here) about what the Arctic means to Canada and how the northern part of that country is changing. Most Canadians live next the the US border, like a horizontal Chile, and have never been to the Arctic despite Canadian icons being mostly arctic in origin - think Polar Bears and inukshuks. Thus for most Canadians (and most people in the world for that matter) the Arctic is mostly an imagined place. The documentary describes how that imagined landscape is fast becoming obsolete in the face of rapid climate change and how people are adjusting to a new and different life in the Arctic.
We often don't think about how warming affects people because we really haven't seen the impacts like the residents where it has really changed things. What does a few degrees in average temperature mean? I see it belittled often. However, when you live someplace where it means the difference between a frozen landscape and a melted landscape, those few degrees are huge. And it effects a life they have known for thousands of years in ways those of use who do not live in that environment would never imagine. A seal that had it been shot 10 years ago would have floated in the salty water but now sinks because the water has become more brackish from increased melt water.
These same changes are happening in the other polar region on earth but absent a long-standing human culture to put a human face to those changes, only those of us who have traveled there many times over the last couple of decades are able to tell that story. My friend Jon Bowermaster had a post from today (here) that does a good job of talking about some the changes on that side of the world.

Oh yeah, the title of this post? You will have to listen to the documentary figure that one out. And don't think I don't appreciate the irony of my long drive and the change described in the story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yesterday while waiting for my youngest son to complete his Monday preschool, I headed out of town looking to find some Greater Sage-Grouse to try for some winter photos. I found the birds but wasn't able to make the photo part of the equation work out for the day. On the way back to town I spied this White-tailed Jackrabbit in a hole along the road. He was quite tolerant and allowed me to get fairly close.

I guess this is what he thought of me.

Home again

White-tailed Jackrabbit

Monday, February 15, 2010

LeContes Revisted

A couple of years ago I went looking for a LeConte's Thrasher in Arizona. As I noted in my description of that endeavor, I wouldn't mind heading back to see them again.

Friday morning I was able to head back to the thrasher site. I anticipated finding singing thrashers this time since I was visiting during the time of the year when they would be expected to be setting up territories and courting. No such luck. I couldn't hear anything singing over the traffic noise on the nearby highway as the sun broke over the Phoenix smog to the east and lit up the steam rising from the nearby nuclear power plant to the west. Not exactly a pristine birding experience, but this is where I knew the thrashers could be found. I wandered around the area for quite a while, watching the Sage Sparrows dart from shrub to shrub with their tails in the air as the White-crowned Sparrows flitted around. I saw one Sage Thrasher obviously molting and a few Anna's Hummingbird moving around the tops of the creosote bushes.

I was just about to call it a morning when I thought I saw a thrasher dart under a shrub. I waited and sure enough, it was what I had hoped to see. I shadowed the bird as it foraged from one shrub to the next.

Most of my observations were the bird running across the open ground. What is it with this posture in desert birds? Tail up and darting across the ground - Sage Sparrow, LeConte's Thrashers, and Roadrunners all have this same look.

I found at least two thrashers working through the shrubs. At one point I watched one of the birds thrashing through some loamy soil at the base of a saltbush.

It would bury it's bill to the base in the dirt and move it back and forth looking for some invertebrate morsel.

It's eyes would close when the bill was buried to the base.

I watched the bird forage for a while and then it moved off to the next shrub. I followed the bird for a bit longer and it eventually jumped up on a low branch and sat there for a while, giving me a good look. Then it was time for me to head back to the hotel, gather our goods, and say goodbye to the desert again. For now.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Anna's Song

While walking on the Dreamy Draw trail in Phoenix, I found this male Anna's Hummingbird. He had one prefered perch that was low enough to allowed me to position myself where I could get some photos without shooting up into the top of a tree. On top of that he was tolerant of my presence. I visited him every day I was there. He would use this perch and another at the top of a nearby Palo Verde tree. Often I observed him foraging in nearby shrubs or rocketing off to chase a nearby neighbor hummingbird that had ventured into his turf. I just waited until he returned to this spot.

He would often break into song while perched in front of me. The song, a series of rather harsh chirping buzzes and whistles, was not very sonorous to my ear, but he more than made up for any vocal shortcomings with a dazzling visual display.

As he sang, he would stretch forward from his perch, flare the feathers on his head, and wag his head back and forth to provide all points of view a chance to see the show. And what a show it was.

I had a front row seat and was enamored with the range of colors produced by the light reflected* from the feathers on his head.

Most of the time his gorget would appear black with maybe a few small points showing some ruby red flashes.

A slight turn of his head may reveal a wider range of flashing color - metalic green, bronze, rose red, ruby, or violet.

But then, if I was lined up right with the sun, he would turn and and flash me the full color and it was dazzling.

A full shot of frozen hot light would fire from his face.

Then he would turn away to direct his fire at something else and it was gone.

By the time we left I was grateful for the time he allowed me to share with him and I appreciated his tolerance for my intrusion into his world. As I left and headed down the trail for the last time, he rocketed from his perch and buzzed by within inches of my face, no doubt heading off for another showdown with his neighbor down the hill.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It got quite a bit warmer for us last week which resulted in a few kinds of birds we haven't seen for quite a while.

Northern Mockingbird

Black-throated Sparrow

As you might have already guessed, the "we" in the sentence above was not the collective we of the residents of northeastern Montana, but just Laura and me. A week in the upper Sonoran desert in Phoenix for a rural healthcare conference was a nice change from the high plains snow and cold.



We were able to get out for a nice hike at the nearby Piestewa Peak Area one afternoon where Laura spotted this Roadrunner right in front of us. I was able to follow him for a while as he hunted along the edge of a ridge.

Cactus Wren

Anna's Hummingbird

We are now back to experiencing temps 60 degrees colder, but it was certainly nice while it lasted. Oh yeah, the conference was good too!