I am forced to take a break in the action today as the wind from the north hits 35-40 mph and I am all but blown off the desert knoll I am perched on.
I made the mistake of filling this feeder with seed for the finches right at sunrise this morning. An hour later the wind began to blow… and blow some more. The wind emptied it, and the other platform feeders in just a matter of minutes.
The calm before the storm this morning. I did get to take a few shots before the wind started howling ( pull in the motorhome slides howling and put everything outside inside howling ). The shot above shows my setup for all the bird images I am posting on the blog.
This Verdin was a newcomer here….
…as was this White-crowned Sparrow.
I did add a watering hole for the birds this week and it is quite popular with everyone but the Gambel’s Quail. Don’t know why, but they walk right past it several times every day and never stop to drink.
I started out with just a single Mourning Dove here a month ago, but that number has increased to as many as thirty in here early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
As much as I’d like to keep trying to get some nice hummingbird shots and perhaps lure in other types of hummers …
… the bees have pretty much brought my attempts to do so to a halt. Other than the first hour or so after sunrise they are constantly swarming the sugar water feeders and very effectively deterring the hummingbirds attempts to approach the feeders. Since they are also hovering around me I end up having to remove the feeders for my own protection.
Male House Finch Variant
This guy has obviously caught my attention. Apparently, this color variation is not terribly uncommon, especially in the Southwest. From the Cornell Lab:
“All male House Finches have the same potential for yellow, orange, or red coloration. Researchers who kept House Finches in captivity found that the red plumage was replaced by yellow plumage unless a carotenoid pigment was mixed in with their food during molt. In the wild, three carotenoid pigments found in natural foods give House Finches their color. Beta-carotene produces yellow to orange colors, isocryptoxanthin produces orange colors, and echinenone produces red colors. Yellow House Finches are frequently seen in the southwest and Hawaii where natural foods are low in some of these carotenoids. In the east birds often feed on the high-carotenoid fruits of ornamental plants.”
A ” normal” male House Finch.
Another newcomer here was this male Gila Woodpecker.
And he was joined by the Mrs. this morning…
…though they usually feed at separate feeders.
And of course, yet more Gambel’s Quail shots.
A bit disheveled looking as that north wind pretty much blows this guy right off the top of the knoll.
Taken last night around sunset when the quail come in to feast before roosting. Like the doves their numbers have increased from just a single pair early on to as many as twenty-four in here at one time now.
Lastly, a couple of sunrises from the past week, showing the varying colors from day to day. Most mornings, there are no clouds to produce the dramatic sunrises I like to see.
A cold front came whipping through and night time temperatures dropped into the low 20’s here Friday. I ran into Walmart and picked up some 1″ foam to cut up and use to try and insulate my basement storage compartment that houses my water pump since my motorhome is not really set up for winter camping. Thankfully, sealing up the compartment and then leaving the basement light on all night did get me through the night without freezing up. With no hookups here at the campground, I had to leave my seldom used gas furnace running all night to help make it through the night without freezing everything solid.
No question I need to continue south, but ironically, it is still way too warm for my tastes at my next destination, the long term visitor’s BLM area outside of Yuma, AZ. Temps there are still hovering around 90 degrees.
This has to be one of only two places I can think of where you could get a picture like this one, a free roaming wild bison herd grazing within view of downtown high-rise office buildings in a major metropolitan area.
Friday and Saturday had very unsettled weather blowing through, black threatening clouds alternating with sunny blue skies.
Antelope Island Wildlife
There are several great looking mule bucks wandering around the island looking for love at this time.
These shots were taken before the sun had come up Saturday Morning.
The same buck ( notice the identifying broken antler ) encountered later in the day.
Another wandering buck.
And yet another. This shot was taken at about a quarter mile away. I have seen this guy several times but always at a great distance away. Would love to get closer to this one.
The island must be a paradise for it’s hoofed creatures, since I believe there are no large predators here. The coyotes may well be the only predators around, at least they are the only ones I have encountered.
Finally, I Find the Pronghorns
Friday afternoon I finally saw some of the animals the island is named after, Pronghorn Antelope. A large herd of some 30 or 40 animals slowly came grazing over a hill not far from the road down at the southern end of the island. They were no more than a few hundred feet from the road and happened to show up when some sun was shining through the clouds and so I thought I finally was going to get a great opportunity to get some nice shots.
With the nasty weather today there were very few other people out and about this afternoon, so I slowly pulled off to the side of the road and rolled down the window, got my piece of foam pipe insulation out and mounted to my window glass ( transforms my window glass to a makeshift tripod for my long lenses ) and prepared to shoot.
And then, of all things, considering there was almost no vehicle traffic on the road this afternoon, what pulls up but a #$@!*! TOUR BUS ! Hits it’s brakes, stops, releases a very loud hiss, and opens it’s door for it’s passengers to get out so they could scare off the pronghorns that the bus’s noise hasn’t already spooked…. and off goes the herd and my opportunity to get some nice pronghorn shots.
They all crossed the road and didn’t stop running until they put a lot of distance between themselves and the bus, and, of course, me.
The next morning I spotted them again about a mile from the road grazing on the side of the mountain, but never got close to them again.
You have to get this close to fully realize just how large these bulls really are. Sitting low in my Prius as one like this approaches can be a little intimidating as he towers over the vehicle.
I tentatively plan to leave here Monday and head a little farther south, not sure exactly where yet since it still too warm for me down around Yuma.
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Wednesday morning I left Why at 9 AM and drove east on Route 86 to Three Points where I topped off the gas at the intersection of Routes 86 and 286, then drove south on 286 to the Buenos Aries NWR Visitor’s center. Spoke with the volunteers there to find an accessible spot for camping, one where I know I could turn around with my rig, and they directed me to Road # 277 off the Sasabe/Arivaca Road.
As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.
Pulled in about 1/4 mile on that road and set up camp around 2PM, all alone out here which is both good and bad. I get a little nervous when completely isolated though I love the solitude. ( This changed a few days later when neighbors arrived and filled the next 5 spots up the road, but since the sites are hundreds of feet apart, privacy was still not an issue ) As you can see from the campsite photos, this place is a major change from sites of the past few months. Wide open spaces, no cacti, fantastic distant views, and lots of grass. Incredibly, once again, I have a very strong Verizon signal here in the middle of nowhere and there obviously is nothing here to interfere with satellite reception.
The wide open spaces view across the grasslands to the mountains to the west is impressive and the same goes for the view to the east. Certainly a change of pace from the “ Green Desert “ views of the past few weeks as I am now in the “ semi-desert/ grasslands “ of the NWR. From what I read this entire valley between the two north/south running mountain ranges was all clear grasslands until fire suppression measures allowed all the mesquite trees to establish themselves. Must have been something to see.
Drove the Prius back down to the refuge headquarters and did the Antelope Loop Road, but didn’t see a thing.
The Sasabe/Arivaca Road is posted with several ” Open Range ” signs and this gal seemed to know she had the right of way. ( Loved the white eyebrows on her ) Fortunately, and also unfortunately, this road, from the intersection with Route 85 through the town of Arivaca, is a paved road desperately in need of repaving, so I was going slow enough to see her in time to avoid a collision. There are potholes as deep as 10″ everywhere on this stretch of road and if going anywhere near the speed limit, there are so many of them, they can’t be completely avoided. In the motorhome, I had to all but crawl through some sections of this road to avoid losing a tire.
Since I was in the area, I drove down to Sasabe, a depressing tiny village on the border, took a few shots of the colorful, rundown buildings.
Can’t imagine what it would be like to have the misfortune to be born and raised in a place like this.
A Scouting Trip to Madera Canyon
By the end of the week, being short on supplies, I decided to do a trip up to Green valley and hit the Walmart there, a 100 mile round trip. I haven’t been near a grocery store since leaving Yuma a little over 2 weeks ago. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and check out Madera Canyon on the way since I would like to spend some time exploring that area, supposed to be quite the place for bird photography.
There are no private campgrounds anywhere near Madera Canyon so I checked out what on Google Earth looked like possible boon docking sites on Proctor Road just at the entrance to the canyon. I drove down Proctor Road in the Prius and found 2 ( out of 10 ) possible sites I might have been able to get into on this VERY near impassable narrow rough road. No place to turn around a rig with a toad if those 2 sites are occupied. I would definitely not risk going in here with my motorhome. I then drove up to Bog Spring Campground off the road into Madera Canyon. This is a very nice, shaded campground but with sites suitable only for small rigs, also pretty near impossible to ever find an empty site, it being very popular with the locals.
In the hour and a half I spent exploring all the roads, parking lots, and picnic areas in Madera Canyon, not only did I not see any birds, I never even heard a bird! This place is truly beautiful and, at 5000′ elevation under a dense canopy of trees, an incredible change from my desert surroundings of the past several months. But where were the birds! This spot is supposedly a world renown birding location, so I guess I am just here at the wrong time of year. The total lack of anywhere nearby to camp means i will be skipping Madera canyon and continuing on east in Arizona.
Arivaca Cienga Trail
Saturday morning I drove through Arivaca to the Arivaca Cienega Trail parking lot and walked the trail. This is supposed to be a prime birding area because it is a natural wetlands area fed by several springs. Over the course of a couple of hours and a mile and a half of easy walking, I saw a couple of white-crowned sparrows and a probable marsh wren .. that’s it. A local couple told me the water levels were way down this year and they thought this probably could explain the complete absence of birds. It did seem odd that this desert oasis should be so devoid of life, since water is so very scarce in this desert environment.
Camping in the refuge
Since I was out in the Prius, I drove past my campsite and explored a little farther down the dirt road ( #277 ) I am camped on. I am on site #41 and the next four sites heading north ( #40-#37 ) on this road are suitable for big rigs, with sufficient room to turn around. Beyond that, there are many more campsites, but the condition of the road and the campsites deteriorates. I wouldn’t venture farther in than site # 38 in a big rig. There are many campsites scattered all over the refuge, all on back roads, and most difficult to access with a big rig. If coming here I would recommend checking in at the Visitor’s Center and inquiring as to which sites might be accessible for the rig you are using.
This campsite, being situated on a rise in the valley between mountain ranges to the east and the west, was a great vantage site for desert sunsets, and there were two particularly nice ones while I was here.
The above shot was a bit of an accident as it was taken when I rested the camera on the roof of the Prius before getting the tripod out of the car. I hadn’t noticed the sunset reflections on the roof and back of the car when I was taking the shot, but thought it actually added something to the image when I was processing it later.
I really liked the more subtle colors of in the sky to the south of the actual sunset, shown in the image above.
And of course there also were magnificent sunrises..
Final opinion of the refuge
Sunday morning I took one more trip around the Antelope Loop Road in the refuge and once again came up empty. Overall, I would have to say I was quite disappointed in the refuge as a place to spot and photograph wildlife, but was delighted in the campsite here, a very nice place to stay and just enjoy the wide open spaces around you.
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