Monday, December 31, 2012

A Shortened Review

At the end of the year it’s a common practice to look back and summarize or highlight the events of the year.  Seems like a huge task, so it strikes me as a little easier to just think about the last two months that we have been in Arizona. In that time we have been living in our RV continuously and volunteering in Arizona State Parks. Birding has been a major theme with consistent daily birding, eBird listings, and copious photographs, most of which end up being discarded.  However some have make the grade and during the last two months photographs of over 20 different species have been added to  or upgraded in the Critters section of Cascade Ramblings.  Check out the list here, note that they are sorted by date, with the latest being the Black Phoebe as shown above.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lighthouses of Lake Havasu

It was cool and cloudy today but we still went out late morning to explore more of Lake Havasu State Park.  There are a number of small lighthouses that decorate various points of Lake Havasu with their interesting architecture. They are actually navigational lights that do serve a purpose in guiding vessels at night. This one at the north end of our park is a replica of the Cape Hatteras Light House.  Here is what I learned.
“The Cape Hatteras Light, at 193' is the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S. and is located in Buxton, North Carolina. In approximately 1851 this light was raised from its original height of 95' to 150' to provide better visibility. After the Civil War, it was rebuilt to 193' and closer to the water, again to improve visibility. The tower received a new first-order Fresnel lens and put into operation in 1871. Because of beach erosion, the Cape Hatteras Light has been moved to safety and now sits at its original distance to the water. Our replica of this light is 30' tall and is the tallest on Lake Havasu”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu is a huge reservoir of over 19,000 acres.  Its blue waters are a magical force in this desert location, drawing people to its beauty and varied recreational opportunities. Lake Havasu State Park occupies some 920 acres along its eastern shore, backed up and surrounded on three sides by Lake Havasu City. Daily I am out scouting for birds along the park’s shoreline in preparation for leading bird hikes in the coming two months. Not a bad assignment.

Friday, December 28, 2012

London Bridge

This is a copied photo of the famous London Bridge in Lake Havasu City.  I’ve been kicking myself because I failed to get a photo of my own when we were there yesterday sitting in the sunshine eating ice cream. Would have been a great photo! We have been busy re-acquainting ourselves with Lake Havasu City.  We were here in 2008 when we volunteered at the park, but as memory fades we have a lot of catching up to do. One of the great things about the location of Lake Havasu State Park is that it is right next to the London Bridge area, making it within walking distance for us.  That is just what happened yesterday afternoon, we started out for a walk, not exactly defined as a Buster walk, or a bird walk, and ended up walking to the London Bridge area and getting an ice cream.  It’s a great tourist area with lots of shops and boat tours of Lake Havasu. Come see us and we will take you on a stroll to the London Bridge. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Moved to Lake Havasu

Yesterday morning we unhooked our motor home from our site in Buckskin Mountain State Park and drove 35 miles north on Highway 95 to Lake Havasu State Park.  Moving is always an experience filled with mixed emotions. There is sadness leaving a park where you have made good friends among fellow volunteers and campers, mixed with feelings of excitement about a new location and new experiences. Added to the mix is some nervous anxiety about the unknown, like how will the new site work out. After getting set up here and spending the night, I can report it feels very good.  We have an unusual set-up here in that we are located between a couple of FEMA trailers in the ranger residence area instead of the campground. Last night was quiet; in fact it felt as though we were on vacation.  Living in campgrounds is sort of akin to living in a fish bowl, in a way you are on duty 24 hours a day.  Another thing that is going to be quite different for us is the proximity to all the services of a city; Lake Havasu State Park is located within the boundaries of Lake Havasu City, so shopping and all will be at a new level of convenience. Bottom line is we think we will be very happy here for the next two months.   

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Apple iPad Mini

Santa brought Jeanette a new Apple iPad Mini for Christmas this year.  It makes it easy to stay in bed and play Words with Friends or Zynga Poker, and watch videos of grandson Bobby Bear.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Desert Holly

Holly is a part of the Christmas Season right?  So, I thought it would be appropriate to post about Desert Holly, even though it is not actually a holly but only named such because of the shape of its leaves.  Today was possibly our last day to hike the Buckskin trails for the year, so for a special destination I took Jeanette to see some Desert Holly.  For the most part it’s not possible to see Desert Holly in its natural setting here in the park, but a few years ago while exploring off trail I discovered a few hidden ravines that contain a small scattering of Desert Holly. Because Desert Holly plants have either male or female flowers it means that they kind of need a community to ensure their propagation. Jeanette is shown here with one of the very few small young plants. By the way, I took this photo using my new iPod Touch. I continue to be amazed at the great photos the iPod takes.  In fact since getting my iPod I have taken very few photos using my Canon Power Shot camera.  I’ll still use the Canon because of its 35X Zoom for bird photos, but for the rest I’ll be using my iPod. I’m convinced the quality is there and because of its size it will always be in my pocket.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Season's Greetings

I took this cactus photo on the Lighting Bolt Trail back on December 8th.  With its bright red fruit, this tiny Pincushion Cactus is the most Christmassy thing I could think of to post for the season.
This week is a transition time for Jeanette and me here at Buckskin Mountain State Park.  I have finished my trail work for the season and today I led my last guided Bird Walk.  On Tuesday we will join in with all the volunteers of the park for a Christmas Day Dinner and then the following day or so we will move to Lake Havasu State Park where we will be volunteering for the months of January and February.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Most Common Birds

Here are the three most common birds currently seen on the Colorado River at Buckskin Mountain State Park.

American Coot

The American Coot is by far the most numerous of water fowl on the Lower Colorado River and possibly the whole West Coast.  They are not actually a duck, but a member of the Rail family.  They are easily identified by their black head and body with a white beak. Awkward on land, they spend most of their time on water in large flocks.
American Widgeon
American Widgeon males are easy to spot with their light colored forehead giving them a bald looking appearance.  A winter migrant to this area they spend a lot of their time following the coots and taking food from them. Although they are seen every day here at the park, their numbers are one tenth of the more numerous Coots.
Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebes can be seen consistently every day but in small numbers of three to five and on their own.  They dive for their own food which is mostly crustaceans. Like the Coots they are year around residents. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Workin' with James

Yesterday I finished up my trail work for the season so today I went in search of what I could help out with here in the campground.  I ended up working with James.  I went with him on his garbage pick-up and then we worked at removing mistletoe from the mesquite trees. Although mistletoe berries are an important food source to several birds, particularly Phainopepla, the mistletoe will eventually kill the mesquite trees if not kept in check. At 85 James House is the oldest volunteer here at Buckskin Mountain State Park where he has volunteered for the last five winters.  His great work ethic, sharp wit, calm demeanor, and positive attitude are a real inspiration to me, providing hope that there are still good years ahead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


On yesterday’s blog, Donaldsville Larry commented-- “I think I'd like to see the picture of the scat”, so here you are Larry-----(click for a closer look)

For the last two months we have been noticing fresh scat on the trails of Buckskin.  This has led to lots of speculation as to what animal it might be.  After lots of discussion and reading my best guess is that they are from the Ringtail or also commonly called the Ringtail Cat. They are not technically cats, but members of the raccoon family.  Because they sleep during the day and hunt at night it is not easy to get a chance to see them. Our trail area is great habitat for them because the rocky canyon walls are littered with small caves which make perfect dens for them for their day time occupation. The brown seeds in the middle of the photo are the beans from the Paloverde tree.  They evidently eat pods and all, but the hard beans do not break down and are passed out.  Paloverde trees, which are scrub sized for the most part, are very numerous in the canyons also, so this all makes sense.  Black in the stool is usually caused by blood, which left me puzzled, what else they are feeding on until one day I noticed a partially digested lizard in a scat sample.  Side-blotched Lizards are probably the most numerous life form out on the trails.  Maybe TMI, but it’s the kind of thing that occupies my mind while out on the trail.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Camera

Actually it’s not just a new camera; it’s my new iPod Touch which has a built in camera. I have been using a first generation iPod Touch for a number of years. I use it for everything, I read my e-mail, use Facebook, read the news, and surf the net. I also take it with me birding because it has four birding apps loaded, plus I have loaded a number of bird photos that I use to help people on my bird walks with identification.   It is however beginning to show some wear; it has taken a number of spills with the last one resulting in a cracked screen after hitting a rock. I guess I used this latest accident as a justification to get a new fifth generation iPod Touch, which along with a number of new features has a camera. This morning on our routine morning hike up the Lighting Bolt Trail I snapped this photo.  I think I’m going to find it real handy to always have in my pocket and not have to lugging a full sized camera around.  At this early point I am real impressed with the quality of the photos.  I also took a photo of some Ringtail scat, which blew me away with its clarity and detail, but I thought it would be more appropriate to show a picture of Jeanette and the trail sign.


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Lone Canada Goose

This lone Canada Goose showed up here Friday during our two day storm and is still here after five days. Seeing a Canada Goose is no big deal where I come from in Western Oregon, but here on the lower Colorado River it is unusual.  Looking at past data, the Canada Goose has normally been seen one at a time with the exception of CibolaNational Wildlife Refuge where they can be seen in the hundreds. My guess is this guy got dropped from the flock that was heading south during the storm, maybe tired, maybe injured, and put down here behind the safety of the chain-link fence to rest and feed on our green grass. He may feel safe from people because of the fence, but I doubt that he is aware that a Bobcat is known to prowl around on that side of the fence.  I will keep watching.  This goose joins a small list of other lone species I have noticed here at Buckskin.  The first was a single Western Grebe over a month ago that seemed to be under sized and spent most of his day sleeping.  For several weeks now I have been watching a lone Common Loon busy fishing and preening. Most unusual would have to be a Red-breasted Nuthatch in an olive tree at the Ranger Station that I watched for three days. Lone and unusual species catch my eye and give me a special joy in following.         

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Scoping out the Birds

After two days of rain we had a nice sunny morning for my guided Bird Walk.  The group is shown here taking turns looking in the spotting scope at a Phainopepla in a nearby mesquite tree.  Incidentally all four people are from Montana. We identified 23 different species, which included the normal players, plus a first time for me in the park, an Orange-crownedWarbler.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rained Out!

For the second day in a row my guided hikes at Buckskin Mountain State Park have been rained out. For many years I participated in, and led hikes with the Chemeketans, an outdoor club in Salem Oregon, where the idea of canceling a hike on the account of rain, or for that matter weather, of any kind would have been laughable. Yesterday we received an inch of rain, and today my guess is that we will probably end up with at least a half an inch more.  To put this in perspective, I would point out that this area’s total annual rain fall is around three inches, so we have experienced half of the total rain for the year in the last two days!

Monday, December 10, 2012


Today we went birding at Ahakhav Tribal Preserve just south of Parker. It’s a favorite place of ours to hike and bird, and we always go there several times every year when we are here. We saw and identified a good number of birds, among them a Greater Roadrunner and a Belted Kingfisher, but one of the memories we will carry with us is the two coyotes we intercepted. We hear coyotes from our campground most nights, but it’s a little unusual to get to actually see them. We weren’t sure how Buster would react.  He watched them and then stayed close with us.  It seemed to take his exploring attitude down a notch or two.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Vermillion Flycatcher

One of the most sought after sightings at Buckskin Mountain State Park is the male Vermillion Flycatcher as shown in this photo taken this morning during my guided Bird Walk. Visitors love to report seeing this flamboyant little bird.  This area is at the northern end of the Vermillion’s range so most people have not seen this bird “back home”.  We currently have a pair here in the park that are still operating in separate areas.  The male can be seen on the east side of the Buckskin Store, the female is always on the west side of the store.  I’m sure during the next couple of months they will get together and my bet is that he will be found on the west side of the store showing off his brilliant colors. By that time the red color of the breast and abdomen will more closely match the bright color of his crown. Below is a photo of the female.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Nature Hikes

Every Saturday I lead a Nature Hike on the Buckskin LoopTrail.  I never know what kind of interests the people who show up will have.  Will they just be interested in hiking, will they have an interest in desert plants, or birds, or geology? Today I hit the jackpot in the person of Ron Smith who was interested in all of the above, plus also interested in taking photos. In the top photo Ron is shown with a Leafless Milkweed plant.  In the lower photo he is shown taking a photo of a tiny Side-blotched Lizard.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sunsets Galore

I try to remind myself every day how fortunate we are to be here where our days are filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. As evening falls I am awed with our beautiful sunsets and I need no reminding, we are indeed fortunate. Included here is a sampling of tonight’s sunset.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rare White-winged Scoter

I took this photo this morning on Lake Havasu at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a duck of the Pacific Coast and a very unusual duck to be seen here in Arizona. I’ve managed to photograph two rare birds in the last couple of days, which is very unusual for me as I’m not one to go chasing rarities. Birders develop along a series of steps.  It usually starts out innocently enough, maybe paying a little attention to birds at your backyard feeder.  Next you buy a bird identification guide, then a pair of binoculars. Somewhere along the line you start keeping track and making lists of birds you see.  Then it’s more bird guides, better binoculars, maybe a spotting scope. At some undefinable point you go from being just a “bird watcher” to a “birder”. The most obsessed among birders are the ones that chase after rarities. They are not content with the normal everyday birds; their habit requires the fix of something new and different.  They read blogs, search the Internet, and drive all over in search for the ellusive rare sighting.  I just want it to be perfectly clear, ---I did not go looking for these rare birds, they just happened to show up where I was.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rare Red-breasted Nuthatch


I am very familiar with the little Red-breasted Nuthatch, they come to our bird feeder at home in Elkton on a regular basis, and their call of yank, yank, yank, high the pine trees at Collier State Park where we volunteered this past summer was a very familiar sound.  However, they are considered “rare” here in the desert south-west. I thought I had heard one last month here at Buckskin, but was unable to see it.  Yesterday I got a good surprise; I spotted one in an olive tree by the office. As I moved closer to get a good photo it disappeared into the tree.  Unable to find it, I resorted to playing its call on my iPod which brought it directly out of hiding allowing me to get several photos. 
This is only the second area in La Paz County that this bird has been sighted this year.  From some blogs I have read I understand this is an “irruption year” for Red-breasted Nuthatches, meaning they are forced to expand from their normal areas because of lack of seeds of their normal diet.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Great-tailed Grackles

Great-tailed Grackles have been the most noticeable bird around Buckskin Mountain State Park this weekend, I think in large part because the campground has been filled with mostly tear-drop trailers. The owners of these tiny trailers are forced because of size to have all their meals and snacks outside.  The Grackles have been quick to pick up on this and are constantly raiding any unattended picnic tables for food. A dozen to two dozen birds seem to be constantly swarming from campsite to campsite. Plus they are interested in the small figs of the Ficus Trees that provide shade to quite a few of the campsites. Unfortunately the Grackles have gone from being birds of interest to being considered pests by a lot of the campers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Our Day at Bucksin

These two photos give a pretty good idea of a typical day for us at Buckskin Mountain State Park. The top photo shows us this morning leading a Nature Hike on the Buckskin Loop Trail. Most of our mornings start this way with a hike on the trails.  The lower photo shows the beautiful sunset we had tonight that closed out our day light hours.  It’s pretty common for us to have glorious sunsets most nights here, but this one was an exceptional one that occupied a 360 degree view of the sky, an impossibility to capture with the camera.