Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 201

December 14, 2014 ~ Tucson, AZ to Sierra Vista, AZ

So, the day's plan was Sabino Canyon and Mt. Lemmon, both 15-20 minutes northeast of downtown Tucson. It was a cool and sunny morning, perfect for hiking. Sabino Canyon is a place of spectacular beauty. People were out on the trails, more than any other place I've been - families, old and young, serious walkers and hikers. Words and photographs can show some of this stunning land, but one doesn't feel or smell the desert air, or the sand and rocks underfoot, or the sharpness of the thorns and cactus spines, or hear the sound of Sabino Creek as it spills over the dam and finds a way through the desert.
Sabino Canyon - AZ

I am now reading a book by Craig Childs - The Secret Knowledge of Water - telling of his time walking in the desert, finding water. The author and the desert are intimate. His words are lyrical and tender. born of this love affair. Obviously, the desert seduces certain individuals and they can't stay away; others are willing and occasional visitors captivated by its diversity and beauty; others need to travel through as best they can to get somewhere else; and others die in this need.

Also, I can't get The Devil's Highway (El Camino Del Diablo) out of my mind, the book about the "undocumented entrants" by Urrea.

I now know the names of the ocotillo (which Childs described as "arms reaching for the sky,") saguaro, palo verde, mesquite, creosote, chollo... I know that a tinaja is a pocket of water, that the rough roads near the border are smoothed so "sign cutting" or looking for footprints is easier, that "hoodoos" may roam the desert at night, that humans have been mapping water points for centuries, that the Sonoran Desert is the historic home of the Tohono O'odham, who, of course, have been divested of their aboriginal lands. They live now on four separate reservations: the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Salt River (Pima Maricopa) Indian Community. Their web site is www.tonation-nsn.gov.

There is a road to the summit of Mt. Lemmon, but I only drove part of the way, stopping several times to look and listen for birds as I climbed higher and the habitat changed, and to savor the immediate surroundings without having to keep an eye on the road, which, although precipitous, is easy to drive, with guardrails and pullouts. At one stop, I head a tremendous thundering boom, followed for the next 15 minutes by regular, more distant explosions or whatever they were. I still don't know. The first one startled me enough so I jumped; the others were farther away.
Kestrel on saguaro - Sabino Canyon - AZ

The temperature dropped as I climbed. It had been in the 20s at the top this morning. If we have time, DHC and I can go to Summerhaven, the small village up there on privately owned land. The rest of the mountain is part of the Coronado National Forest. Bicyclists were slowly and methodically pedaling up the mountain and others were coasting down with speed and concentration. It's 27 miles to Summerhaven and the temperature is 30 degrees cooler than in Tucson, making it very popular in the summer.

Modern Tucson or old Tohono O'odham.... lycra or clay.....

I spent the night in a motel in Sierra Vista, 100 miles southwest of Tucson, in the broad San Pedro River Valley between the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountains. I stayed at the Windemere Hotel and was checked in by the most friendly and pleasant person I have encountered on this trip at a motel reception desk. Her name was Regina. She asked questions about why I stopped in Sierra Vista, listened to the answers and printed out information on local birding areas which she slipped under my door within the hour. While the accommodations were not extraordinary, she was the reason I elected to stay a second night. I also had a day's worth of housekeeping and paperwork to tend to, AND this is one of the best areas for birds in Arizona.

Dinner at an Applebee's across the street, along with stops at Best Buy, where I checked whether Canon cameras were on sale for Christmas, and Wells Fargo where I deposited a check.

Sabino Canyon - AZ




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 200

December 13, 2014 ~ Patagonia, AZ to Tucson, AZ

I don't know exactly why I went back to Tucson, but it had something to do with the weather. Rain was in the forecast, and at first I thought it might clear, but it didn't and started raining intermittently at first and then harder as the day progressed.

Initially, I headed for what Larry at the Paton house called the "grasslands" and which should be good for sparrows. I checked out of the hotel, had another delicious breakfast at the coffee house, looked at the maps and starting driving, generally south of town, but soon was on gravel roads with warnings about being close to the border and primitive roads that weren't maintained and to travel at your own risk, and I wasn't quite certain where I was. I came to an intersection with arrows and signs and road numbers not exactly making sense according to my maps. And, in fact, I was off a bit when I finally realized where I was. I was supposed to look for a horse tank, etc., but after 45 minutes of slow gravel-driving in the rattling van, I came out at a high point, probably only a few miles from the border and turned back.

Near San Rafael Valley, south of Patagonia - AZ
Besides, it was not good birding weather as it was chilly, breezy and starting to rain more than it didn't.

So I pondered where to go next and thought how I hadn't checked out some important Tucson venues and that there was WiFi available at the Starbucks near the Walmart where I stayed before heading south and how Tucson really wasn't that far. So I went back, now driving in significant rain, but by the time I got to Interstate 10, the rain abated. I took a route around the south and west of Tucson, stopping again at the Arizona Sonora Museum and again going through Saguaro National Park. The rain made the air sweet and delicious. The lady at the museum ticket office told me it was the creosote. This place is stunning, and with far fewer people (being the end of a rainy day) and a clearing sky, I was glad I returned, even though now I regretted not having more time.
Sonoran Desert - west of Tucson - AZ

When I got into town, I ate at Starbucks and worked on the computer until 9:30 p.m.

It was going to be sunny in the morning.

Blue Goose ~ Day 199

December 12, 2014 ~ Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ to Patagonia, AZ

I left the campground early and had breakfast and coffee at Gathering Grounds before going to The Nature Conservancy land where I hiked a couple of miles. What I didn't know but learned from a couple of women I met on the trail was that a rare Rufous-backed Robin has been seen here lately. I had passed a guy when I started walking who was looking through his binoculars. I continued on without speaking, but ran into his parents who said he doesn't like to hike with them because he wants perfect silence, no talking, gets impatient if there is any noise. Jeez, I was glad I didn't say a word to him. He lives in Denver but was visiting his parents who live down here in Sierra Vista.

One trail option was an old raised railroad bed, the tracks dismantled, so one was 8-10 feet above the surrounding land. The cottonwoods were immense, old and weathered and gnarled with thick roots half exposed, spreading far from the main trunk. I keep reading about the Fremont cottonwood / Goodding's willow habitat in the lower elevations, along the creeks and in the cienagas. There was actual running water in Sonoita Creek here and at Patagonia Lake instead of a dry wash.
Sonoita Creek - near Patagonia - AZ


Later I saw the unsocial birder coming towards me, and he asked if I'd seen "the robin." I told him, "No, it's what I'm looking for..." like this was my mission from the get-go. He was leaving and said if I found it, let out a "loud bird call.....just kidding..." I did wait quietly, willing this bird to show. It didn't.

The volunteer couple at the small Visitor Center told me they will be here for several months and then go back to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, where they've worked before, and are also scheduled to go to Martha's Vineyard next year. They love doing this, are currently living in a small RV on The Conservancy property and are always busy. No, they said, it doesn't get boring ever.

And then one more trip to the Paton yard where a multigenerational family group from Minnesota was hanging out. An older woman had been here a couple of time before but over 20 years ago. Birds:  a Lincoln's Sparrow, Bewick's Wren, a Green-tailed Towhee... Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias side by side for comparison, the Lazuli Buntings, Lesser Goldfinches, Gila, Ladder-backed and Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker...all good.

I had made a reservation at the hotel in order to work so checked in about 3 p.m. It had some charming features in that it was old but refurbished, with a real log fire in the lobby fireplace, Christmas greenery running up the bannister, a decorated tree, an upstairs lounge with living plants,  and games and puzzles, several shelves of books, tables and a couch and comfortable chairs, a computer and printer. One walked up an indoor staircase to access a balcony with the rooms surrounding a pool. It was too chilly to use today, but there was also an outdoor second-floor covered patio with comfortable chairs. The rooms were adequate, and the Internet connection not problematic.

I had the intention of eating at the Stage and Stop (connected to the hotel) which would be decorated nicely for Christmas with low lights, and locals and fellow travelers eating out on Friday night. The food would be exceptional, the wine chilled and the ambient temperature perfect. There would be classy music. It would be festive and relaxing. That was the plan.

The reality was that I was the only person in a bright dining room which was clean but not cozy or even comfortable; the food was priced twice what it should have been and wasn't exceptional in any way. A sweet young girl (is there a legal age for kids to work in this state? as she looked about 12 or 13) took my order. The BLT with avocado on ciabatta was on whole wheat. The tortilla soup was dense. I think this was a family project and the kids were hanging out where their mom worked. There was a cute little toddler also present for awhile. I don't know if or how they were related to the proprietor of the hotel or what exactly. I just regretted eating there. How do these places stay open if no one comes in? Jerry of the hotel did say they were just starting to serve dinner. There isn't much choice in Patagonia.

Oh well....I have had three extraordinary meals on this trip so far.
American Coot - Patagonia Lake SP - AZ


Blue Goose ~ Day 198


December 11, 2014 ~ Patagonia Lake Campground, AZ

I woke before dawn, read some more and took a shower at first light. The bathroom was pristine and heated.

Connie and Joe had a plane to catch and packed up right after breakfast. Connie was always looking in the trees with her binocs and spotted a brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher high on a nearby exposed branch, a great start to this chilly, sunny morning.
Vermilion Flycatcher - Patagonia Lake SP - AZ
She told me that one of their daughters lives in the Florida Panhandle and gave me her email address...someone to go birding with once I get there. I would love to have Maggie connect with them somehow, and maybe Livy, Camille and Louise could spend a session at the camp...and Donovan if he wanted. Maggie could work there...spinning this out. They gave me an open invitation to visit... "We have a wonderful chef!" What a life for these two. It was a pleasure to meet them.

I hiked back along Sonoita Creek, and hung around the trogon area for 40 minutes but saw only a few birds and not the ET. Pete Dunne describes it thusly: "The adult male looks like a bird painted by a color-struck four-year-old." He writes of the bird sitting immobile for a long time and then it "suddenly goes berserk, throwing itself against the foliage in a fluttering frenzy of wings and a fanned tail, grabs a large insect (or plucks a fruit) and takes a perch, once again composed." The trogon is large and colorful and elusive, a perfect nemesis bird.

I told the ranger I would be staying a second night and returned to Patagonia, got a few groceries, had coffee, poked through a few of the small galleries and went again to the Paton yard, before returning to the campground to read in the sun mid afternoon.

I was on the bridge early enough to watch the birds as the sun began to set: Great Blue Herons, Coots, a Marsh Wren working through the reeds and the Black-crowned Night-Herons flying in.
Great Blue Heron - Patagonia Lake SP - AZ
A gentleman came up, also to watch. He was from Maine and was traveling with his 92-year-old Dad, visiting historical spots in the Southwest, just back from the Grand Canyon. He was my age and had to soon fly back to Maine, but his Dad was continuing the road trip...his 92-year-old Dad would be driving around in the RV by himself. Yes, he did worry a bit, but what can you do? He had binoculars and a worn bird guide in his pocket. More and more I can speak the language with other birders, or even help some of them....They too had been trogon-seeking today but didn't see it either.

Earlier in the afternoon, when I got back to my campsite, there was a mid-size RV parked very close. A gentleman was trying to get it positioned perfectly, slowly backing up an inch or two, getting out and checking it, moving forward, backing up.... They were German, Reiner and Katherine. I asked him to spell his name before I could understand him. He said, "This is not a good system.." but I had no idea if he meant we were too close to each other or what exactly. They never left the RV as far as I could tell and covered their windshield and I covered my side windows as I could see him sitting by a small high window, reading (or maybe watching TV), very near the van.  I would have liked to talk with them, to hear their traveling tales.

Patagonia Lake State Park - AZ





Blue Goose ~ Day 197


December 10, 2014 ~ Nogales, AZ to Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ

Nogales was bigger and busier than I expected, like El Paso was when I drove through there two years ago. I went to McDonalds just down the street, and by the time I left two hours later, it was full of Hispanic families, laughing, socializing, hanging out, their beautiful, dark-eyed, pre-school children solemnly looking at me.  
The ephemeral Santa Cruz River at Nogales - AZ

My destination for the day was Patagonia just 20 miles north. Five miles south of town, I turned into Patagonia Lake State Park and reserved a campsite for the night. There were only two no-hookup sites available, but they were on the lake, which is actually a reservoir of Sonoita Creek. The campground was four miles off the highway, the road passing through grasslands, winding around and down to the lake, past nice homes / casitas widely scattered on the hillsides. I know Jim Harrison once lived in Patagonia. I wondered if one of these places were his, or if he even continues to maintain a home here and if the locals know him. A lady running a gift shop wasn’t sure. The landscape is scenic with red canyons, tawny grasses, pine trees on the mountainsides, washes with sycamores and cottonwoods and willows…bosques and cienegas (woods and wet places), sunshine and blue, blue skies. 
Patagonia - AZ


One reason Patagonia attracts birders from all over the world is the Paton yard with its many feeders on the edge of town and contiguous with a Nature Conservancy property. Patagonia is small…a quintessential dry southwestern town with a small post office (where I picked up a monthly mail drop), a hotel, a few gift shop/galleries, a bird feed store, a couple of restaurants, a real estate office, a coffee shop, a church. A covered sidewalk fronts some of these buildings. A second main street runs parallel a block away with the PIGS (Politically Incorrect Gas Station), a grocery store, a saloon, etc. The town is not pretentious in any way. A nice surprise was the Gathering Grounds, a coffee shop / bakery, which also served breakfast and lunch. The food was extraordinarily tasty and fresh...quiches, savory pies, soups, salads for lunch and all the normal breakfast offerings. Surely it is filling a niche in Patagonia. The coffee was also as good as it gets. To me, the staff were what I think of as enlightened focused hippies...a bit aloof to strangers, tending to business, chatting with the regulars...
I followed easy directions, arrived at the Paton yard and immediately locked my keys in the car, but did it well in that they were visible on the passenger seat and I had cracked the windows a couple of inches. Still, I've been so mindful of this possibility, always mentally noting as I leave the car that the keys are in my hand but, as Dave VH says, “It’s not if; it’s when..” I was disgruntled because it could have been a huge expensive problem. I have a spare in my purse which was in the car. What I had in hand were binoculars and camera. But it was a lovely warm and sunny morning and not a crisis yet. I walked behind the house where a gentleman named Larry Morgan (who now lives in the Paton house and takes care of the property) was talking with two other birders, but he immediately got a coat hanger and easily retrieved my keys. I didn't have to break a window or wait hours for a key to get made somewhere, somehow. Everyone has locked-keys-in-the-car stories.
The deal with the famous Paton yard is this: Marion Paton fed the birds for years; however, she died in 2009. Her kids continued the tradition but didn't have the commitment and passion their mother had, or at least not all of them did. So Victor Emanuel Tours (a prestigious bird-guiding business) and the Tucson Audubon Society raised the money and bought this place. How cool is that??? It's an hour from Tucson. Larry, who moved from Mississippi a few years ago, is the man in that he is cordial, helpful, knows his birds and constantly spots them all over the yard: at the dripping water feature, in the brush piles, on the feeders, on the fences, in the trees. I went back two more times while in the area, and each time Larry was out meeting people, finding birds, talking birds…. He mows the lawns, fills the feeders and generally maintains the property. It’s the place for hummingbirds in the spring, so I hope DHC and I will see the some of the dozen species that pass through, like a Violet-crowned Hummingbird. In late fall and winter, Anna's are the most common. Dozens of other species also stop by, even during this relatively slow time of year. The “most colorful birds” lately were a pair of Lazuli Buntings, but there were also woodpeckers, wrens, sparrows, cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias, finches, doves, hawks, warblers (always the Yellow-rumps), juncos, towhees, thrashers, a Bullock's Oriole... Ravens flew overhead, Common and/or Chihuahuan, very similar and hard for me to ID without more exposure. 
There were benches and chairs in a central area, facing all directions, some under a shade screen. Birds flew in and out constantly except for a Sharp-shinned Hawk flyover when they all briefly headed for cover. 
I also drove through the famous Patagonia Rest Area, a pull-off along the main highway, with steep cliffs on one side and riparian brush and trees on the other. For some reason, it was a bit spooky to me, and there few birds this time of year, this time of day. Maybe next spring….It is always mentioned as a premier spot for migrating birds, and rarities often are seen here. 
Back at the campground I pulled out a chair, poured a glass of wine, got some cheese and crackers, put my feet up on the picnic bench and read in the sun. I had noticed a blue tent on the site next to me but didn’t make the connection to Connie and Joe until they pulled up in their rental car. Connie and Joe from Madera Canyon. For me, this was a pleasant surprise, totally unexpected. 
So, we caught up on the interval since I had seen them last. They are just so cool, doing what they do on Canoe Island and flying to places with all the camping gear they need; tent, cooking gear and bedding and then camp the old-fashioned way. I totally admired them for this and vow to do better at camping / cooking myself. They hike and bird and check out local history, return to camp, build a fire, have a G and T, cook a meal.... 
They had hiked up the Sonoita Creek trail earlier in the day into Elegant Trogon Possible Sighting Territory, as one of these birds winters here also, among the sycamores along the creek. They didn’t see it but other birders did, so just before dusk we all headed back down the trail hoping, hoping…. No luck, and the light faded quickly and early but a mile hike in the increasing gloom was fun with such accomplished partners. The trail is partly on ranch property and cows poop on the trails and quietly munch away under the trees. We heard a birds calling from the marsh, but it got too dark to see them. 
Notices in several places warned that a mountain lion (cougar) had recently been sighted in the campsite. Joe had a great story about seeing cougars: He actually said he has seen them four times, but one time was especially awesome. He was driving the bus back from some outing when they worked in central Oregon. It was dark and suddenly a HUGE cougar leaped across the road right in front of the windshield, like nearly touching the bus. He was utterly stunned by its size, and still has a vivid clear memory of that moment. He went back the next day to track it and found that the cougar had stopped up the hill from the road, sat and watched the bus. Joe regretted that he hadn’t had the presence of mind to use his spotlight and was sure he might have highlighted this magnificent creature for all the kids on the bus to see. And now, I too, will have this visual image of a golden lion leaping in the headlights on a dark night in the Oregon desert. 
Very near the campsite was a pedestrian bridge over a backwater of the lake. It rose and descended steeply  over the water. We climbed to the top and looked for roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons and could just see them silhouetted against the water. It was about 6 p.m. and felt like at least 10 p.m. 
Patagonia Lake State Park - AZ
I retired, got cozy and read for a long time, looking at the stars out the window.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 202

December 15, 2014 ~ Sierra Vista, AZ

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), six miles from the motel, was the first IBA (Globally Important Bird Area).

WWW.BLM.GOV
The primary purpose for the special designation is to protect and enhance the desert riparian ecosystem, a rare remnant of what was once an extensive network of similar riparian systems throughout the American Southwest. One of the most important riparian areas in the United States, the San Pedro River runs through the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sonoran Desert in southeastern Arizona. The river’s stretch is home to more than 80 species of mammals, two native species and several introduced species of fish, more than 40 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 100 species of breeding birds. It also provides invaluable habitat for 250 species of migrant and wintering birds and contains archaeological sites representing the remains of human occupation from 13,000 years ago.

The VC is the San Pedro House - a modest four-square home shaded by immense cottonwoods. Volunteers staff it and manage a well-stocked gift shop. The property consists of 57,000 acres on BLM land, 40 miles along the river. Because of the available water of the San Pedro River and the silver discovered near Tombstone to the north, the area is rich with history - Spanish, Apache, miners, Mexican cattlemen and their grand ranches.... The river originates in Mexico and runs north from the border joining the Gila River between Phoenix and Tucson. The Gila then runs west and empties into the Colorado River at Yuma in  the southwest corner of Arizona. And then.....

WWW.LIVESCIENCE.COM
For the first time in 16 years, freshwater from the Colorado River has flowed into the salty waters of the Gulf of California. On Thursday (May 15, 2014) a high tide surged past a stubborn sandbar and connected the river with the Sea of Cortez, said Francisco Zamora, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program for the Sonoran Institute. Because of water use upstream, little flow from the 1,450-mile Colorado River has reached the sea in 50 years.
[The Sea of Cortez is also known as the Gulf of California, the water between the Baja Peninsula and the mainland of Mexico.]

There were a few other hikers/birders about, most down along the river, which is where I walked for a couple of hours. The trail was like a trace (as in Natchez), a narrow 1-4 foot depression in the earth.
San Pedro River - AZ
The river is not impressive but at least is not ephemeral, and there are ponds and oxbows and evidence of seasons of flooding. Birding often requires a zen attitude. Stand still in one place and the birds usually will show, like a furtive Bewick's Wren moving along the opposite bank or the Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Black Phoebes. Hawks soared overhead and woodpeckers worked the tall trees. I read that half the migrating birds in the US pass through this corridor, an estimated 3-5 million songbirds in the spring. The trail meandered along, silent today, a study in tall leafless cottonwoods, tangled brush, matted grasses and damp dirt. Appealing to birds and birding people but few others, perhaps fortunately, and now protected.

I learned later there was a rare (for this area) Louisiana Waterthrush moving on the mud flats, and a gentleman with digiscoping ambition was headed there as I was leaving.

In the brush and fields west of the river were Green-tailed, Spotted and Abert's Towhees, Curve-billed Thrashers and many sparrows. I am working hard on sparrow ID. The most common and obvious lately have been White-crowned, but I also see Savannah, Lincoln's, Vesper, Song and Lark Sparrows and know I'm missing half a dozen other sparrow species.

The feeders at the VC were also busy with Pyrrhuloxias, sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-winged Doves....
Pyrrhuloxia at San Pedro Riparian NCA - AZ

WWW.BLM.GOV

The primary purpose for the special designation is to protect and enhance the desert riparian ecosystem, a rare remnant of what was once an extensive network of similar riparian systems throughout the American Southwest. One of the most important riparian areas in the United States, the San Pedro River runs through the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sonoran Desert in southeastern Arizona. The river’s stretch is home to more than 80 species of mammals, two native species and several introduced species of fish, more than 40 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 100 species of breeding birds. It also provides invaluable habitat for 250 species of migrant and wintering birds and contains archaeological sites representing the remains of human occupation from 13,000 years ago.

The San Pedro House is a former ranch house, 80 years old, close to Sierra Vista but also tucked away down near the river, modest and appealing, with porches and sun coming in the windows, a fire burning for warmth and an adjacent old log cabin sagging under the weight of a huge branch of a giant cottonwood on the roof.
San Pedro Riparian NCA - near Sierra Vista, AZ

I then tried to go to Garden Canyon on Fort Huachaca, getting permission from the guard at the main gate: "Do you have any weapons ma'am?" I drove past several firing ranges on the road to the canyon, but was eventually barred by a gate across the road so I turned around and went back to  the motel in Sierra Vista (actually to an Olive Garden first). This city reminded me of Ridgecrest, California next to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, both desert towns with their economies enhanced by a significant military presence.

Blue Goose ~ Day 196

December 9, 2014 ~ Madera Canyon, AZ to Nogales, AZ

I walked by Connie and Joe’s campsite on the way to the bathroom. They offered coffee and breakfast which I accepted. Joe soon had the coffee ready, and Connie made a cheese, egg and veggie tortilla wrap; their mesquite campfire was burning nicely and adding warmth. Although it was warmer today than yesterday, it was still only in the 40s. When the sun clears the mountain tops though, the temperatures quickly rise into the 60s and 70s.  We talked about our respective lives generally and our respective plans for the day specifically.  Meeting them was one of the pleasant surprises that a trip like mine offers. It was serendipitous that they also were seeking birds and appreciating the natural world. 
The second Elegant Trogon wintering spot was Florida Canyon so I went there after leaving Bog Springs, and hiked up a trail to the first high spot, looking and listening. I think I may have heard the trogon three separate times - a loud hoarse barking call - but it was distant and only very intermittent. The habitat had the requisite sycamores that trogons prefer, still with yellow leaves. The morning was again sunny and quiet, easily shirt-sleeve weather by 10 a.m. The canyon bed was dry with large rocks but one can always see evidence of water on the sides of the washes, in the stream bed erosions. in the driftwood tangles and the still-flattened grasses. 

(Within a day or so, someone posted a photo of the trogon right at the trailhead here. So it goes....)
Yes, I decided I would visit my uncle and aunt and found their home on the south end of Green Valley, situated with wonderful views over the valley and of the Santa Ritas on the eastern horizon.
After two hours of visiting, reminiscing and catching up on 20 years of family doings, I left for Buenos Aires NWR. 

(After I went to Buenos Aires, I read The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea -  a true story about a group of Mexicans attempting to illegally enter the United States, and the Border Patrol whose job it is to apprehend them. Please read this book. As the author states, who else is going to bear witness for these unfortunates?  I found it fascinating, especially as I have been driving around southern Arizona for last few weeks.)

The road to Buenos Aires NWR is 50 miles on a road full of curves and dips, through the small town of Arivaca, through a Border Patrol stop, past another group of BP agents farther down the road, standing around with a slightly disheveled Hispanic woman. 

The refuge is eight miles from the border, but the volunteer couple (from Lowell, Michigan) were not bothered as the  BP agents are a near-constant presence. But "everyone told us it was dangerous" when their friends learned where they were going. 


Loggerhead Shrike - Buenos Aires NWR - AZ
The "chicken-scratch" town of Sasabe is just down the road. I almost went there, just to see a town named Sasabe. The "chicken-scratch" adjective comes from the book I just mentioned. 

This couple will be at the refuge for five months, living in an RV, getting their propane, helping out. The volunteer told me that when he was small, his parents made a trip to the American Southwest and bought one of those little clear glass containers with layers of colored sand, representing Arizona. He said he thought it was an exaggeration but is now seeing the sunrises and sunsets and is a believer.  We went down the hill to see a dozen Masked Bobwhite Quail in an screened enclosure. This species is in danger of extinction: 

ARCHIVE.AZCENTRAL.COM
Captive-raised birds don’t have the natural instinct to find food, evade predators or raise their young. The agency has released thousands of birds in the 117,465-acre refuge about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, and sometimes fits them with radio collars to track their movement. The collars have been found in hawk nests. 
WWW.DESERTINVASION.US
In the last century, the Altar Valley was an open grassland teeming with large herds of pronghorn. Aplomado falcons swooped down on rodent prey and masked bobwhite quail calls filled the early morning summer air. Mexican wolves, black bear, and an occasional jaguar roamed the grassland, traveling between mountain ranges.  As settlements sprang up in the Altar Valley in the 1860s, the delicate balance of the ecosystem was changed. Overgrazing left the ground bare, exposing it to torrential summer rains that quickly eroded the soil. With the grass gone and natural fires suppressed, mesquite gained a foothold. The grassland could no longer support masked bobwhite quail or aplomado falcon. Pronghorn, wolves, bear, and jaguar were hunted or trapped out. Lehmann's lovegrass, an African grass, was introduced in the 1970s to help stop erosion. While the grass did hold the soil down and was drought resistant, it was a poor substitute for the diverse native grasses it replaced. An ecosystem without its natural diversity is a bleak landscape for many wild creatures.
In addition to the masked bobwhite quail, Buenos Aires NWR protects habitat for six other endangered species (cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, Pima pineapple cactus, Kearney bluestar, peregrine falcon, southwest willow flycatcher, and razorback sucker).  

The staff at Buenos Aires works in this remote area of Arizona, in the heat and aridity, in a place that most Americans consider dangerous, in this wild sunny landscape of mountains and desert and grasslands so that our indigenous flora and fauna may again flourish.

The volunteer pointed out two trees on the lawn at the VC: one was a Cedar of Lebanon and the other an Aleppo Pine.

Back to I19 in the golden light of late afternoon, and then down to Nogales, AZ, where I stayed in a Walmart lot. All the signs were in Spanish and I didn't hear anyone speak English. Many of the license plates were from Sonora, which I soon realized was the Mexican state across the border.

My vehicle is cluttered and again needs rearranging. It was cold by morning and I questioned what I was doing.
Between Tucson and Nogales - AZ