I found out I had to go somewhere, where to go where to go? I hadn’t been to Arizona this year so I decided on flying to Phoenix. But where to go once there? I could have went south and visited a friend of mine, Thor from BC who was staying in Green Valley in the southern portion of Arizona and had been having birding greatness, one lifer and some cool rare birds, or I could go on my own and head north….So for no reason other than a gut feeling, Northern Arizona seemed like the ticket, I’d see Thor in February. The trip had some oddness to it and it even included another woman, well another female, anyways…sometimes I think I must make this stuff all up as it can’t really be happening to me? No it is all true.
As I am beginning to plot a route for a possible Big Year attempt in 2016 and well Phoenix is planned on being my second spot in my Big year, so I needed to see what I can get in the winter up north which includes the Rosy-Lovebird, Thrashers, Pinyon Jays, and the Condor, and since I have never looked for the condors and my last trip to Grand Canyon which was way back in 1991, I needed to work on finding it.
Disclaimer: My primary reason for this trip was to upgrade my Delta Medallion status. Phoenix was the cheapest flight from Sioux Falls.
Okay, but what to do in AZ but bird? They had been seeing a Rufous-backed Robin at the old stagecoach stop east of Wickenburg, Arizona and that was where I spent the first half of my first day looking, after spending my fly in night in Sunrise. I found American Robins, a somewhat misplaced brown creeper, lots of Anna’s Humming birds, towhees, flickers and woodpeckers, even a sapsucker….But no rufous-backed robin. I spied many Hermit thrushes which were everywhere There were a group of Harris Hawks outside the gate in the desert I drove on to Agua Frio National Monument and spent an hour in the high desert looking for sparrows. There was a report here of black-chinned sparrows here but I never saw any. Just one of my favorite birds, the Black-throated sparrow Rock wren Brewer’s Sparrows But not my target bird. It was getting late so I headed up to Flagstaff, spent twenty minutes chasing a misplaced evening grosbeak ebird sighting. The dot was on the side of a cliff, not feeders as described so there was nothing to see, not even anything interesting in the neighborhood and so I headed north to the Grand Canyon into the low light of evening. I was worried about winter up here but there was no snow although it looked like it had rained in the past few days at places.
I turned north on State Road 64 and then things started to get a little weird. I was in a straight stretch, flat, it was past dusk and I could see this bus or large motorhome on the other side of the road facing my direction without flashers on so I slowed from sub-warp speed to a more manageable speed as I was going by and then all of a sudden a man holding a purple base, diving to my right, I swerved left and another long haired dude with a green guitar ran to my left. Another guy on my right held a drum and threw his sticks in the air…..I was playing in the band….WTF? Should I stop and go back? Nah………..I don’t want to know their group name.
Driving after dark in the Grand Canyon National Park was tough. I didn’t know where to go and the Bright Angel Lodge is way down the trail. I was pretty road weary when I got there and was stressed out about 6pm check in, but alas that wasn’t the case. I had rented a cabin which I might add looked like a room to me. A room with an odd lock on the door and a hard bed, the sandstone cliff I was standing on would be softer. I went to the lodge to eat. It was crowded, the woman that served me was a Taiwanese national here on a student visa to learn serving…? The cleaning and water boy the same from Jamaica. All on USA leased land for a hotel.
Immediately I could tell that the choice of a fajita was a bad one. I have a temporary crown on a wisdom tooth from the day before I left and the meat was tough, like jerky tough and something just didn’t sit well and then later that evening, I felt the boiling of stuff in my insides, and I couldn’t tell if the backache I had was from the bed or from pancreatitis. At one point I got up to see if I was jaundiced. Thankfully eventually it was 6am and I could go out to the cold and look over the edge. First light was definitely worth it. I needed a change in luck so I donned my lucky Travlin’ Twitchers shirt and headed out. I decided to leave and not eat breakfast at this place, God knows what might be in the food and so I had a tip of a Pinyon Jay spot which can be tricky to find so I drove through the Native community at edge of the park and saw the McDonald’s but decided to let things settle for a while and then looked at my map. I could see the location I was looking for was south of the airport and then I looked for the road. I didn’t see the right number but got my logistics in me that said turn here, and lucky I did.
There are rules of National Forest roads:
Rule 1, the numbers frequently change so they may or may not help you.
Rule 2, signs are typically knocked down or absent, or have gun shots through key letters or numbers so dead reckoning is your best bet.
Rule 3, there can be sudden holes in the road, deer in the road, or men with guns in the road so be careful.
Rule 4, expect campers anywhere.
I was searching for a point called Boggy Tank, and expecting a tank but all I found was a large puddle and a sign with enough letters remaining to recognize I was at the correct spot. I opened the door and then I heard the cacophony, Pinyon Jays were overhead, hundreds of them, flying right over. I jumped out, got the camera ready and took a half ass shot at the final four. I got a sort of picture. If I had stopped for breakfast I would have missed them all. It was a better picture than I had before. I stumbled around in a sea of bluebirds, pygmy nuthatches, woodpeckers, and mountain chickadees and decided to head up to look for Condors, I got another sighting of the canyon. But I read a sign that in quite a complex fashion said feeding the wildlife gave me the plague so afraid of the plague ….I left, Then dropped from 8000 feet eventually to 3400 as I headed to Navajo Bridge. The visitor center at the bridge was closed for “repairs.” But I parked at the east side and avoided the Navajo trinket sales people which were on the whole rather sparse, one here and a very few at the other locations around the northern parts of Arizona. They replaced this bridge in 1996, and I had driven over the old one in 1991, but I don’t remember it and I should have, as it is quite narrow and scary, not as bad as the scary old bridge in Cameron AZ, but bad, built in 1928. It is still open to walk across and I did and I spotted 11 condors, even Thor’s old Number 30, it was quite close. They all have numbers I see. This was life Bird #683, as the ABA just allowed to recount these after they were taken in from the wild in the 1970s. Gosh are they ugly birds, only something a mother condor could love, I guess. I pondered as I looked at the big majestic birds, what do they eat? Then I had an evil, politically incorrect and terrible thought, maybe the question and also the question of why the dearth of Navajo’s selling stuff had the same answer? Lots of stalls but few sellers.
No…the condors aren’t eating the Native Americans….What do you think I meant? I meant that maybe there has been too many jumpers (bungee or suicide?) and since no one comes here anymore as maybe they have all jumped off, there are no people to sell to….. Maybe I should have put the picture earlier in my discussion. With eleven condors there would have to be quite a few jumpers to feed them all. Okay LOL. Ha ha! Okay maybe my logic is sort of lame. I didn’t see any fly though, that would have been cool and my wife thought that I should have thrown something to scare one off its perch? But I OBEY signs (note the no throwing objects sign on the left)…a regular rule follower, I am? Just ask my Highway Patrol buddy Tony how well I obey traffic signs
The Marble Canyon is pretty There are lots of legends with Condors, even one involving Johnny Cash, a busted bearing, lots of liquor, a sudden need to go fishing, a subsequent pickup truck on fire and an even larger forest fire and maybe Condor deaths or maybe fledgling deaths, or maybe they all flew away? There are discrepancies in the story. There is talk that he personally burnt up 4/5 of the known condor population in 1965, who knows but he was fined $80,000 and had a good quote. “I feel sorry it happened but judge, I don’t give a damn about your yellow buzzards.” Soooo Johnny Cash.
I was on a bit of a roll so I high-tailed it south, through Flagstaff, stopped and looked for sparrows in the Aqua Frio again but alas, still no black-chinned sparrows. So then I decided to stay in Glendale because the Cardinal football game was ending and well, it was not near the stadium. The Hampton Inn it turned out was exactly next to the stadium as I forgot …..they got a new Stadium not too many years ago. Oh my….the traffic, ah the TRAFFIC! I couldn’t find the hotel and them on third pass I found it and couldn’t get into it. It took me an hour to go two blocks.
I finally got in and couldn’t figure where to park. Can I park here? I wedged in next to a cab, there was no cabbie…crud, I backed all the way up, then almost hit a drunk fan. I pulled in next to the tail end of a tail-gate party. One guy was wearing a packer uniform. When I said Kuddos to Gang-green, I just about got mugged. I was shaking as I walked in to check-in. I walked back out to the car to get things and people were urinating in the parking lot, one was still swearing at me, the Packer fan. I decided I wasn’t going out anywhere to eat, it was out of control out there.
I was starved so I went to Carl’s Jr, next door to eat, which is Hardees west (I’m not a big fan) and got something…. anything and as I had a ¾ bottle of wine, I needed to wash that down to calm myself down. A Hardees salad couldn’t be worse than the prior night’s cuisine? I have never needed a drink as I did this night. I was having the oddest dreams………we’ll get back to that.
I made a trip out to the Thrasher Spot west of Buckeye AZ. An odd spot that is the confluence of all the thrasher species. It is like at the corner of Under and Sink, unremarkable, a place where you hide things, and not really pristine desert, and kind of a toxic looking place…like my sink.
The land isn’t publically owned, not sure who does. I always suspected someone is going to yell at us for being there and you could find anything out here which I have in the past, like abandoned furniture, people having sex, old encampments, illegals, sacks of drugs, a shoe, a boot (never two?), and today a hair dryer, not the hand held but the salon sized…?…..it sure isn’t much to look at except it has thrashers, gobs of thrashers.
I scouted around for the skulky birds and spotted a Gamble’s quail in a tree, a year bird for me. and then flushed up a LeConte’s Thrasher and saw it briefly, then heard it. I maybe heard a Crissal Thrasher, too but I didn’t count it, I was getting distracted by the hair drier. Then while trying to photograph a black-tailed gnatcatcher, I spied a Bendire’s Thrasher in a bush, I thought this was really lucky photograph, as thrashers never seem to sit up for me. Bendire’s is smaller than the Curve-billed with less of a curve of bill and a smaller bill too.
It was time to head back and then I got gas and turned in my car. I had a incriminating scuffmark on the bumper, I didn’t mention the ravine in the National Forest Road…oops. I think the Hertz guy bought the “it was there” excuse. The ride home was odd, my seat got changed three times and who do I get to sit next to? Lucy the service dog….well service dog in training. As service dogs go, Lucy was borderline behaved. When her owner left she got all friendly with me and licked me, then sat for an hour on my feet. Apparently she is training to be a balance assist dog the exact opposite of our dog, Brighid or a friend’s dog, Whisky which appear to be lose your balance dogs……..It is so nice to be licked on a flight.
I tried to sleep on the way home but in the last day I have been overwhelmed with slutty versions of the Santa Clause movie in my thoughts with nobody to talk too, It is like like the XXX Santa Clause version with my wife. When I dozed off on this flight and then my dreams went wild…something about putting the Ho, ho ho back into Christmas….. and like I said I mean really wild …..I was getting licked by a provocative Mrs. Clause, then I woke up and all it was Lucy, her master was in the bathroom and I had a yellow lab on my lap, she was licking my face. It wasn’t my idea of a lap dance.
It was definitely time to get home, …and I haven’t even been gone that long, the person I was sitting next to on my other side was giving me the strangest looks. I hope I wasn’t moaning, at least not too bad……..not sure it is good to be flying next to a dog. At Minneapolis I was in such a hurry to leave, still thinking the guy thought I was weird, I ended up walking to the Fargo gate a long ways away, wait I’m flying to Sioux Falls. I walked back to the gate I came in on, half an airport back. It was the same plane I had been on, but without Lucy. I better fess up to Silja about the other woman, well..maybe to Brighid about the other dog….But at least my Gold Medallion is now in hand
My year total finished up with the Bendire’s Thrasher at a tally of 507 bird species in the ABA area, the second year of over 500, (610 in 2013), not a bad year all in all and I didn’t try to clean up all the species I could, as I really wasn’t “counting” this year. I added 64 lifers this year and hope to surpass 700 by next June, we’ll see. I did some good logistics and some invaluable research for my possible 2016 ABA Big Year attempt, I think I can get the 40 species I need from this loop. I’m not going to bird for the rest of the year so 507 will be it.
You gotta Love Lucy