Monday, February 27, 2017

Patagonia Lake State Park

Broad-billed Hummingbird

 Fifteen minutes after backing into our camping site this afternoon, not even taking time to hook up the water and electricity, we were out the door and walking to the Visitor's Center were I took this photo of a male Broad-billed Hummingbird.  We had no idea what kind of a hummingbird it was.  Lucky for us a park volunteer came walking by and told us it was a Broad-billed.  Score one more for our Life Lists!  Patagonia Lake State Park is the top birding site in Arizona, and we decided almost spur of the moment while in Yuma a couple of weeks ago, that we would make the effort this year to get to Patagonia Lake. In the past it has seemed too far to travel, but now that we are here, we think it is going to be worth the extra driving.  We have reservations here until Friday the 3rd.  The weather is supposed to take a turn to the worse tomorrow with high winds and a chance of rain, so we made an effort to get in some birding time this afternoon.  You can look at our observation list here. The weather started deteriorating with over cast skies and wind this afternoon, but by Wednesday when the weather turns back to good, we plan on turning in a better list. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is primarily about wintering Sandhill Cranes, and we are talking thousands of these large birds. Arizona State Game and Fish Department counted 13,522 on January 6th 2017. Early in the morning flights of cranes take off and leave to fly to nearby corn fields to feed on the left- overs from harvest.  Mid-day they return to the wildlife area to rest and congregate for the night, and this is when the spectacular scene occurs, flight after flight coming in to land in the wetlands.  We arrived here yesterday at 10:00am and birdered for an hour or so, as the number of cranes grew from a few to more than it was possible to count.  By then the crowd of folks who were coming to watch the incoming cranes were starting to fill to full capacity.  All kinds of folks, birders, cowboys, old folks and young folks, walked, ambled, and limped to the pond's edge to point and gawk, and photograph.  It reminded me of the state fair.  We were happy to return to the quietness of our motor home in a parking lot where RVs are allowed to park for up to three days for free. In our ramblings around Arizona this winter several people have recommended Whitewater Draw, and we made time in our schedule to stop here. We love the combination of free camping and bird watching at the same location.  It was interesting and we enjoyed it, but once is probably enough.  The highlight of our stop actually occurred in the evening when friends Dan and Elaine Scott made a stop here for the night.  They are from the Seattle area, and have also been traveling around the south-west this winter, including a short venture across the border into Mexico.  It was great to get got up with them and talk RVs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dankworth Pond

Today we had the great good fortune of meeting the top birder in Graham County, Jeff Coker.   We left the campground at Roper Lake, early and traveled a few miles south to Dankworth Pond, a Arizona State Park Day Use Area.  Jeanette and I had a successful hour of birding, around the 15-acre pond and had just returned to the motorhome for a break, when a person came over and asked if he could look at the inside of our motorhome as he was interested in possibly purchasing one in a couple of years.  As we started to talk, he suddenly asked, "Are you Jim and Jeanette Scott"?  He had been watching our input on birding lists in eBird and guessed who we were.  He was here at Dankworth Pond to scout out the birds in preperation to lead a bird walk here tomorrow morning.  He invited us to come along on his morning scouting trip.  For the next two hours we were completely enmeshed in birding in general and the birds of Dankworth Pond in particular.  We have high hopes of keeping in touch as he shops for a van and we continue our birding passion.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

More on Roper Lake State Park

We are enjoying our stay at Roper Lake State Park so much.  Everyday we have explored a new area. Of course we love it for the birding.  Yesterday we turned in a list of 41 different species.  But other people appear to come here for an assortment of other reasons, the scenery, fishing, kayaking, biking, or just the camping experience. Below are four photos that I am sharing to try to give you and idea of the beauty of this park.

--and on the last day we found the outdoor hot tub.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Roper Lake State Park

Once again it appears we have fallen into a pot of jam.  We are loving it here at Roper Lake State Park.  While at Gilbert Ray Campground I was shearching for good birding spots where we could camp, when I stumbled on Roper Lake State Park. Not a place I knew anything about, but it did have a good number of observed species birds.  Driving here we learned it is located in the barren desert on the east side of Arizona, at the foot of Graham Mountain (shown in the background), and most importantly for birds and campers, it has the attraction of water--the man-made Roper Lake. The small town of Stafford lies six miles north in the Gila Valley. In campgrounds like this its easy to meet like minded new friends, which is our experience here.  Camping next to us was Doug Boser, who asked if he could tag aloung with us on our morning bird walk.  He was a great addition, a curious person, full of good questions that made our morning a delight. In the photo above, Doug is shown with Jeanette, looking for birds on one of the many trails we took. For our list of birds and photos click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Birds of Tucson Mountain Park

Looks like we have survived the storms of rain and wind of the last two days here in the Gilbert Ray Campgound in Tucson Mountain Park. We did bird every day of our four day stay, and although the birds are not numerous, we were able to identify 22 different species.  That's not a very high number for us considering the effort we put into it, but it is after all a desert without any water, and we did get in our daily exercise. The following photos are representive of what we saw.

male Costa's Hummingbird

male Gila Woodpecker

female American Kestrel

Cactus Wren

Northern Mockingbird

female Phaninopepla

Our next destination is Roper Lake State Park, with reservations from 2/21 to 2/24.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gilbert Ray Campground

This past week I have been worrying about how to avoid the predicted storm of rain and high winds coming this weekend. There seemed to be no place to hide in California or Arizona, however Tuscon looked to have a lower percentage of wind and rain.  Our goal became getting to a campground where we could hunker down for a few days and avoid having to drive during the time of predicted 40 miles gusts. Early yesterday morning we left Yuma and fled across the Arizona desert to the Gilbert Ray Campground, south-west of Tucson.  We spent the whole morning driving with-out stopping to look for any birds.  Arriving at Gilbert Ray at noon we were extremely lucky to get one of the last four remaining camping sites out of 134, site #36 as shown above.  The other sites filled while we were setting up. We have fond memories of camping here ten years ago, so already know we will enjoy hiking and birding here. The campground is well maintained in a natural desert setting and a bargain at 20 dollars a night. We paid for four nights, and can stay an additional three.  The weather is starting to turn today, and the major wind and rain will be tomorrow, Saturday. We are happy to be able to just stay put.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gila Woodpecker in the Sunset

For the past two days we have been the guests of our gracious hosts Ed and Joyce Dart at their winter place in The Foothills in Yuma.  They have a double lot with hook-ups, so it's been an easy place to park. They are long time friends that I grew up with in Lebanon, Oregon. Also living in the winter at The Foothills are Duane and Gwen Christiansen, another set of long time friends from Lebanon.  It's been great getting together and trying to remember other friends from the past.  The birds have been rather sparse, but tonight, which is our last night here, we got in a nice bird walk and found a birdy area and I was able to get this photo of a Gila Woodpecker in a palm tree lit by the orange light of a sunset.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Golden Acorn Casino

We left Dos Picos Park yesterday morning with the plan of traveling to another San Diego County Park, Lake Morena for a stay of a day or two.  However when we arrived we were surprised to find we had no cell phone service.  We checked with the Ranger Station, and there is only AT&T coverage.  No cell service is a deal breaker for us.  We depend on cell service for a major part of our daily life.  We use the Internet to log our daily bird observations, for posting my blog, our planning for RV destinations, route finding, the weather, the news, and contact with family and friends.  So, we decided to travel on. We had loaded fresh water before leaving Dos Picos and dumped the black and grey tanks, so we were good to explore, but we did need fuel.  We were told the best place for fuel was a the nearby Gold Acorn Casino on I-8.  Casinos mean a free place to park.  After getting fuel we looked over the parking lot and discovered there was space aplenty. Some casino lots are crowded and busy.  As you can see this one had lots of space and proved to be very quiet.  Being completely self contained its pretty easy to just park and relax for the afternoon and evening.  I thought I would take my valentine out for a prime rib dinner as advertised, but when she checked the reviews, she decided she would rather make dinner in the motor home.

 Even in a casino parking lot there are opportunities to observe birds. Here are some that I enjoyed.

 Common Ravin

California Thrasher

California Scrub-Jay

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dos Picos County Park

Dos Picos in Spanish means two peaks, but it's hard to decide what two peaks they might be referring to as this campground is surrounded by many rocky peaks. In the last five nights we have stayed in three different San Deigo county parks.  Because of the vast size and great geographical variety of the county we have been able to chose our campground based on the weather and temperature we wanted. A pretty unique experience and one that we hope to repeat. The campgound at Dos Picos has 64 spaces and is well maintained with lots of trees and shrubs. The placement of sites are well thought out to allow for a variety of camping choices. There are trails to hike and explore, but the magnet for us and the birds is a small pond, which for its size holds a surprising amount of water fowl. Yesterday we turned in an amazing list of 38 species of birds during our morning of birding.  Click here for the list.

One of our favorite photos of the morning was this beautiful pair of Gadwall.

Beside birds we also enjoyed watching turtles like this adult and baby Red-Eared Slider.

Yesterday's birding effort was so successful, but draining, that today we sort of felt that we needed a day off and are doing a travel day.  More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

William Heise County Park

Jeanette deserves the credit for this well composed shot of our campsite in William Heise County Park where we moved on Friday afternoon to escape a crowd gathering in our original campsite of Thursday night. We became surrounded with campers in the #1 camping circle, here at #2 we had it all to ourselves. We had left Vallecito Stage Station County Park on Thursday morning in the Anza Borrego Desert area in order to avoid the heat that was coming in the high eighties. The choice of William Heise Park at 4200' was an easy one, in fact we were here two years ago on the very same day for the very same reason, that of escaping the heat.  We have appreciated the lush vegetation and pine and oak trees on both trips, and we have also enjoyed great birding with lots of hiking opportunities. On this Saturday morning a big weather change brought in rain and with temps expected to cool into the 30's, so we fled down the mountain this morning to the lower elevations of the town of Ramona to do laundry and buy groceries and camp at Dos Picos County Park, elevation 1500'.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Vallencito Stage Station County Park

As you can see we are starting to get into a little more relaxed mode with our RV life style.  Today we are camped at the historic Vallencito Stage Station in the Anza Borrego Desert.  In fact, we are the only ones camped here.  There are 44 sites, in this San Diego County Park, and ours is the only occupied site.  We were sitting here this afternoon relaxing in the shade of our motor home, when a large dove flew in.  It was a White-winged Dove, a species never seen before by Jeanette or I--a new addition to our Life List, #300! This was after a pretty good morning of birding where we added #299, a Sage Thrasher.

White-winged Dove

Sage Thrasher

Tomorrow we move up to Julian and the William Heise County Park to escape the heat here in the desert for a couple of days.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Salton Sea State Recreation Area

We left Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort yesterday morning, driving west through the desert, then dropping down through picturesque Box Canyon and out to the expanse of the Salton Sea area.  Our first stop was the Visitor Center of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.  To be honest, I have to admit because of all the bad publicity regarding the Salton Sea, I have been rather reluctant to admit it was one of our destinations. But we were pleasantly surprised at our positive first reactions.  No stench coming off the lake, lots of camping sites available, perfect weather, and few visitors.

Buster was anxious to get out of the RV and explore.  So we set off to see what we could find.  Birds were scarce right at the visitors center, but soon as we started to look a little closer we began to find a great assortment. You can see our bird list here.

American White Pelican

After birding and a break for lunch, (one of the joys of RVing is you always have food and shelter available all the time), we sought out a camping site.  We settled on Salt Creek Beach, where eight dollars bought us parking, a picnic table, port-potti, and garbage can.

early morning view of our site

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort

I was originally drawn to stop at Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort because of the unusually high number of species of birds that have been seen here.  It is located out in the middle of a hundred mile stretch of desert halfway between the California towns of Indio and Blyth. It turned out to be an interesting place with an interesting history. It is fairly typical of many "snow bird" parks to be found throughout southern California and Arizona. There is a vibrant sense of community, with all kinds of interaction and events, yet a very relaxed feeling of schedule. We sensed it right away and instead of one night we stayed two.  The uniqueness of the history here is what sets it apart from other parks.  The lake, golf course and homes where originally built by Henry J. Kaiser to house his management personnel at the nearby Eagle Mountain Mine. I think it must of been a kind of country club just out side of the community of Desert Center on what is now Interstate 10.  As a side note, earlier a doctor had set up a clinic in Desert Center to provide medical services for the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct, but he was going broke.  Henry J. Kaiser, who also owned the company digging the aqueduct, stepped in and set up a plan to doc his workers a nickel a day  so that they could have a pre-paid medical plan.  This was the beginning of Kaiser Permanente, the largest private medical plan in the world. Today the mine is closed, the town is in shambles with only the post office open, but Lake Tamarisk is still operating with an RV park that fills each winter with happy souls seeking warmth and sunshine, maybe a little golf, and for the passing birder an oasis for birds. 

Northern Mockingbird

American Wigeon


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Camping with Friends Kerry & Debbie

We met up with our friends and neighbors from Salemtowne, Kerry & Debbie Kliever, yesterday in Parker.  Our dog Buster, and their dog Max are good friends so its always a fun time, plus we all love the RV life, so there is always lots to talk about. We are camping together for two nights at Cattail Cove State Park.  This morning we got in a good hike up and down through some canyons and along the shoreline of Lake Havasu. You can see our bird list and photos here.  All the camping sites in the campground are full, so we are set up in the overflow lot, which is working out real well for us.

Tomorrow we separate, Kerry and Debbie move to Buckskin Mountain State Park for a night, and we head out into the California desert for Lake Tamarisk RV Resort just north of Desert Center.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Day On The Wild Side

Yesterday we crossed over the Colorado River from the Arizona side to the California side.  There are more differences than one would assume, given the short distance involved.  Not only does the river define the border between the two states, it also marks the time zone.  Confusion reigns.  Cell phones, cameras, vehicles and TV's all seem to have a different opinion of where you are and in turn what is the correct time.

We crossed over the river at the town of Parker to explore, or perhaps the right word would be re-acquaint ourselves with the California side.  BLM owns most of this portion of land along the river, but leases out the majority of the river front to various commercial endeavors for RV and mobile home parks, RV and boat storage and a scattering of restaurants and bars.  But what catches the passing tourist's eye are the wild burros that roam the hills, roads, and neighborhoods. The burros are the left overs from the Spanish explorers to the Americas centuries ago, and to this specific area by the gold miners. On the Arizona shoreline of the Colorado in this area the burros have been "relocated", but on the California side they still roam wild.

We did a tour of BLM sites, stopping to checkout Crossroads campground - - too crowded. Checked out the Rock House Boat Ramp for birds, as well as Bullfrog Day Use Area, and then Quail Hollow Day Use Area where Jeanette took pity on some burros and fed them some carrots she was wanting to get rid of.

By mid-afternoon the heat was getting to us, temps were in the 70's and we crossed back over to the Arizona side to look for a place to park for the night with shade.  We lucked out with some shade in this spot in the parking lot of the Blue River Casino.  As the afternoon lengthened into evening we doubled in our appreciation of our good fortune as we discovered the crowds are starting to build for the Parker 500 this weekend.  Even though crowded we had a quiet night.