“Healer of Angels” – The Eagle Whisperer – Martin Tyner of Southwest Wildlife Foundation

August 2016 – During our RV travels in Utah we have had many unique and memorable experiences, and one particularly delightful encounter was when we met Martin Tyner of the Southwest Wildlife Foundation back in 2008. Martin is one of America’s top master falconers as well as a native animal rehabilitation specialist. He revives ailing creatures that have been found and brought in to him, and he releases them back to nature.

Golden Eagle release Southwest Wildlife Foundation Cedar City Utah

Into the wild — with prayers!

Those animals that can’t be released become part of his education program where he teaches young and old, both far and near, about the beauty and wonder of Nature’s creatures.

Back in 2008, we watched Martin’s heartwarming presentation of several rehabilitated raptors during the Iron County Fair in Parowan, Utah. His gentle manner with these big, beautiful, birds of prey was remarkable, and his tales of healing countless injured and sick birds over more than four decades were extraordinary.

Martin Tyner Harris Hawk Thumper Education Outreach Iron County Fair Parowan Utah 2008

Martin Tyner tells us about Thumper the Harris Hawk at the Iron County Fair in Parowan, Utah, in 2008

Years ago, Martin had a unique encounter with a Native American spiritual leader, Clifford Jake, and he learned that the Paiute Indians have long believed that a prayer said over an eagle feather is carried directly to the heavens. To them, eagles are angels who fly between the human world and the Great Spirit.

Martin had the idea that since an eagle has 7,000 feathers, it can carry 7,000 prayers when it is released into the wild after being nursed back to health, and he has been releasing eagles carrying special prayers to the gods ever since.

In recognition of his gift nurturing eagles, spiritual leader Clifford Jake held a special ceremony and gave Martin a Paiute name which means Healer of Angels.

Martin Tyner Golden Eagle Scout Education Outreach Iron County Fair Parowan Utah 2008

Scout, Martin’s companion Golden Eagle at Parowan Utah’s Iron County Fair in 2008

After we watched Martin’s bird presentation all those years ago, we found out he was going to release a rehabilitated golden eagle a few days later.

He was gathering together Utah’s “downwinders,” that is, cancer survivors who have suffered the ravages of disease caused by being downwind of the nuclear bomb testing that took place next door in Nevada in the 1950’s. This eagle would carry the community’s prayers for their health and healing up to the heavens.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay to see this unusual event, and we left the area heartbroken to have missed it. However, we got onto the Southwest Wildlife Foundation newsletter mailing list, and we have wistfully watched announcements of raptor releases from afar ever since.

Martin Tyner Peregrine Falcon Igor Education Outreach Iron County Fair Parowan Utah 2008

Martin presents Igor, a speedy Prairie Falcon

Miraculously, just as we brought our RV into Cedar City, Utah, in late August this year, we received a Southwest Wildlife Foundation newsletter email announcing that a golden eagle would be released from a mountaintop outside Cedar City in a few days.

This eagle would be carrying prayers for America’s First Responders who put their lives on the line everyday despite ever increasing violence in the streets.

We were thrilled! On the appointed afternoon, we drove up to the parking area on the mountain and found that a crowd was gathering and excitement filled the air.

People wait for the rehabilitated eagle release by Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Cedar City Utah

People were waiting on the mountaintop for the much anticipated eagle release.

A videographer had set up cameras to capture the release on video so it could be streamed live on Facebook!

Video equipment to film rehabilitated eagle release by Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Cedar City Utah

Video gear is set up to stream the eagle release live on Facebook

The view from the mountain looked out over gorgeous red rock hills in the distance and Cedar City far below. People were staking out spots all over the place to get a good view of the eagle as it returned to its home in the wild.

View from mountain over Cedar City Utah

An eagle eye’s view over the red rock mountains outside Cedar City.

Martin Tyner has written a delightful book about his journey to becoming one of America’s top master falconers and wildlife rehabilitators, called Healer of Angels. As I read his hilarious and deeply touching stories about his boyhood and young adult years, I found myself alternately laughing aloud and wiping away tears.

Martin Tyner Autobiography Healer of Angel

A must-read for any animal lover: Healer of Angels,
Martin Tyner’s heartwarming autobiographical stories!

Anyone who has a soft spot for animals will absolutely love this book!

A native of California and a true lover of nature as a youngster, Martin nursed an orphaned baby barn owl when he was just twelve and soon began receiving all kinds of injured animals from friends, neighbors and even the game warden to care for.

As a teenager he apprenticed himself to Hubert Wells of Animal Actors of Hollywood who taught him the ins and outs of training elephants and big cats. Then he became the Curator of Birds of Prey at Busch Gardens in Van Nuys, California.

Whether it has two wings or four legs, big teeth or fierce talons, or even a tiny hummingbird’s beak, Martin knows how to take care of it.

Here on the top of this mountain above Cedar City the crowd quickly parted when Martin showed up in the Southwest Wildlife Foundation’s cool Subaru wagon.

Utah's Cedar Canyon Nature Park by Southwest Wildlife Foundation Cedar City

Martin arrived with his special cargo in the back.

GoWildlife.org Subaru with Golden Eagle Image

This car is the Southwest Wildlife Foundation’s animal transport vehicle, and the website is www.gowildlife.org

His precious cargo was with him, and he swung open the tailgate to reveal the eagle’s carrier.

Southwest Wildlife Foundation Golden Eagle Release Preparation

The lucky golden eagle was waiting patiently inside her carrier.

Martin had spent the last month bringing this golden eagle back to vibrant health after she was found nearly dead during a massive heat wave in July.

Because the Southwest Wildlife Foundation was dedicating her release to First Responders, the event was well attended by the local police, EMTs, sheriffs and others whose job it is to run headlong into danger when chaos and violence erupt in the community.

Several representatives of each group gave speeches, and Lisa Hendrickson from Southwest Wildlife Foundation read aloud a letter written by Ken Osmond, the actor who played Eddie Haskell on the TV show Leave it to Beaver.

As the former actor explained in his letter of support for the Foundation’s eagle release, he had spent his early adult career as a policeman in LA, and he had been shot, nearly fatally, on two different occasions just a few months apart.

Dignitaries speaking at Golden Eagle Release Southwest Wildlife Foundation GoWildlife.org

First Responders share their deep appreciation for this unique event.

Then Martin headed over to the car and brought out the guest of honor.

Martin Tyner prepares to release a Golden Eagle above Cedar City Utah

The guest of honor arrives.

The eagle’s eyes were covered with a leather hood to keep her from getting too stressed out by all the people.

As Martin carried the eagle to the release spot, he explained that they have eyesight that is phenomenally better than ours. An eagle can spot a jackrabbit from 5 miles away! So, it is easy to imagine that if this eagle suddenly found herself surrounded by people staring at her, she would have been terrified. She was much calmer with her little blindfold on.

Southwest Wildlife Foundation Director Martin Tyner prepares to release a Golden Eagle into the wild in Cedar City Utah

Martin told us a little about the eagle’s history and her amazing capabilities.

Martin went on to tell us that eagles are extraordinary hunters. They dive from enormous heights and grab their prey with their feet. And what amazing (and huge!) feet they have!!

Talons of a golden eagle ready to be released into the wild in Utah

I wouldn’t want to be a rabbit looking up at these talons!

Martin was the first falconer ever licensed to keep an eagle for falconry, and the golden eagle he worked with, named Bud, was his constant companion for fifteen happy years.

Martin would take him out hunting a few times a week, not to get food for himself but to get dinner for Bud and keep his hunting skills sharp. Martin would run ahead flushing rabbits out of the underbrush while Bud would soar high above and wait for the right moment to dive.

An eagle’s hit rate isn’t as good as you might expect, however! Martin found it took about 40 rabbit flushings for Bud to score a meal. And the bird clearly had his human companion well trained to help him out!!

Martin Tyner master falconer releases rehabilitated eagle from mountain in Cedar City Utah

Martin sets up at the release spot.

Turning to a woman by his side, Martin introduced Nannette Wride, the widow of Sgt. Cory Wride who was shot and killed in the line of duty two years ago. Representing all the First Responders who have died as well as their loved ones left behind, Nannette took the microphone for a few moments and told the most touching story.

Golden Eagle Release in Cedar City Utah

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Nannette’s husband was tragically shot and killed by a couple that turned out later to be on a wild crime spree. He had simply been checking on a seemingly abandoned pickup truck. The pickup truck was on the side of the road in Utah near, of all places, Eagle Mountain.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Nannette began having dreams about him. In one dream he brought an eagle to her and set it on her arm, and it walked up and sat on her shoulder. He told her this eagle would watch over her and protect her until she could be with him again.

Understandably, she was utterly astonished when she got a call from Southwest Wildlife Foundation the day before this eagle release asking her to be the one to hold and release the eagle, carrying prayers for all of America’s First Responders and their loved ones.

A shiver ran up my spine as she said this and I felt tears in my eyes. All around me, people were wiping their eyes too.

Martin gently placed the eagle in Nannette’s arms and showed her how to hold the eagle by the legs and then release her by pushing her away.

Martin Tyner master falconer Southwest Wildlife Foundation releases rehabilitated eagle from mountain in Cedar City Utah

Martin places the eagle in Nannette’s arms and explains how to release the bird.

“I have my eagle now,” she whispered through tears.

“You have your eagle now,” he said gently.

Martin Tyner of Southwest Wildlife Foundation prepares to release a Golden Eagle back into the wild in Cedar City Utah.jpg

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Martin untied the hood on the eagle’s head and asked us all to say a prayer to send up to the heavens with her.

Southwest Wildlife Foundation releases rehabilitated Golden Eagle in Cedar City Utah

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Then suddenly Nannette let the bird fly while everyone held their breath.

A golden eagle is released into the wild by Martin Tyner of Southwest Wildlife Foundation Cedar City Utah

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Just released by Southwest Wildlife Foundation - a golden eagle soars over Cedar City Utah

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The eagle stretched her feathers across the air currents, flapped her powerful wings, and joyfully took off.

Rehabilitated Golden Eagle release to freedom Southwest Wildlife Foundation Cedar City Utah

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Rehabilitated Golden Eagle release to freedom Southwest Wildlife Foundation Cedar City Utah

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Flying far out over Cedar City, she flapped once or twice more, banked left, and then soared out of sight.

Southwest Wildlife Foundation rehabilitated golden eagle release Cedar City Utah

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Golden eagle release Cedar City Utah Southwest Wildlife Foundation

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The focus of this eagle release was on gathering people together in support of America’s First Responders. But the real hero, to me, is Martin Tyner and his foundation.

Martin has worked tirelessly for 48 years nurturing Utah’s native wildlife and returning the animals back to nature. The ones who can never fend for themselves again in the wild — the birds with broken wings and other disabilities — he uses for educational purposes.

The Southwest Wildlife Foundation holds 100 educational events every year and reaches 30,000 people with their message of healing, teaching and conservation.

However, Martin has bigger dreams. He wants his Foundation being able to build the Cedar Canyon Nature Park and wildlife rehabilitation facility just outside Cedar City. By a series of miracles, the Southwest Wildlife Foundation has been given a beautiful piece of property in Cedar Canyon that lies at the end of the paved bike path coming from town. This property will become the Nature Park and rehabilitation facility he envisions.

However, Southwest Wildlife Foundation doesn’t yet have the funds to build the park, despite energetic efforts to raise money. Of all crazy things, they don’t qualify for Kickstarter funding because they are a non-profit organization.

One easy way to contribute to this unique park and facility is to buy Martin’s book, Healer of Angels. It is available on Amazon too, but the Southwest Wildlife Foundation receives only $1 when it is purchased through Amazon. So, buy the book directly through the SWF website here and the entire purchase price except shipping and handling will go towards the Nature Park!

The inside cover of the book is signed with a footprint from Martin’s golden eagle, Scout. How cool is that?!

The Foundation also sell t-shirts and donor plaques that are placed on the Memorial Bridge at the Cedar Canyon Nature Park property.

If your RV travels ever take you along I-15 through Cedar City, Utah, experiencing one of these wild raptor releases is something you will never forget. The way to find out when they are is to sign up for the Southwest Wildlife Foundation newsletter.

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Eagles and Hummingbirds in Libby, Montana

July 2016 – While RV camping in Libby, Montana, we had some fabulous encounters with wild birds: a beautiful big bald eagle and a mixed flock of tiny hummingbirds. Over at Libby Dam, we were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring high overhead.

Bald Eagle Flying in Libby Montana

A bald eagle flies near Libby Dam in Montana

This eagle was well known to the employees and volunteers who work at Libby Dam. He liked to fish in the water just below the dam where the fish pile up as they migrate upstream and find themselves trapped by the dam. The pool of fish made a smorgasbord for this very happy eagle, and he had an easy time getting breakfast, lunch and dinner whenever he got a bit hungry.

One morning we spotted him sitting high up in a tree right by the dam.

Bald eagle near Libby Dam Montana

We looked up to see this guy at the top of a tree.

We started snapping photos as we crept towards him, and assumed he would fly off any second. Surprisingly, he stayed put!

Bald Eagle Montana

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Hoping for some better pics, we returned the next morning with our long lenses and tripods. There he was again, checking us out over his shoulder.

Bald Eagle in tree Libby Montana

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He sat still for a while, preened a little bit, and then started making noises. I think he was trying to talk to a good buddy on the other side of the Kootenai River. He let out a loud squawk.

Bald Eagle squawking Libby Montana

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We didn’t hear a response, but he squawked a few more times.

Bald Eagle Calling Libby Montana

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He must have heard a reply, or decided to go looking for his friend in person, because suddenly he crouched.

Bald Eagle Ready to fly Libby Montana

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And launched…

Bald Eagle Taking off Libby Montana

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Bald Eagle Launching Libby Montana

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What a magnificent sight in the sky!

Bald Eagle flying Libby Montana

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Bald Eagle in flight Libby Montana

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Meanwhile, back at our trailer, we had noticed some hummingbirds poking around, peeking in our windows, and generally scoping us out. We put out our window hummingbird feeder that attaches to the RV window with suction cups, and sat back to see if anyone would find it.

Within minutes, the word was out. The hummingbirds in this area know what feeders are, and they have passed the info on from friend to friend and generation to generation. As soon as a new feeder is found, a memo goes out to the whole community.

Hummingbirds at feeder on RV window

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By sunset, the feeder had been drained! By noon the next day it had been drained again!

We’ve always had a few hummingbird feeders with us, but we were chagrined to find that they all leaked because we hadn’t used them in a long time. We were also out of regular granulated table sugar. So, we went into town to get another five pound bag of sugar and a second feeder. Luck was with us, and there was one last window feeder left on the shelf!!

Hummingbird flying above feeder

Almost close enough to touch!

For the next 10 days, we filled these two feeders every morning and every evening, and our world was abuzz with hummers.

We noticed that these little hummingbirds had different spots and colors, and we got curious about which ones they were. Our general purpose Peterson bird guides and National Geographic bird guide don’t make it so easy to tell one hummingbird species from another.

Luckily, we have found a super book about hummingbirds that makes it really easy to know who’s slurping up all the sugar water we’re putting out.

Hummingbird flying Libby Montana

Black chinned hummingbird. His neck flashes violet in the sun!

It’s a small book called the Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds by Donald and Lillian Stokes.

What’s neat is that the very first two pages show which hummingbirds can be found in which of the four regions in the country: East/Central, Gulf Coast, West, and Southwest. It also delineates the species by the color of the male’s throat: Orange, Red/Pink, Purple/Violet, Green, White and Blue.

It also marks the sides of the pages by color, so you can easily flip to the appropriate section and see multiple photos of both the males and females and see a map of where they live.

Hummingbird in flight Libby Montana

The female black chinned hummingbird wears a whole different wardrobe!

We determined that we were seeing Black Chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds. The males were easy to spot because they have dramatic coloring on their necks and heads. But the muted and spotted colors of the juveniles and females made them all look alike!

The fun thing about the Black Chinned hummingbirds is that they truly buzz when they fly. They sound like a bunch of bees as they zoom around, but they’re a whole lot cuter.

The Rufous hummingbirds have bright orange on their necks and an orange tint to their little bodies. They are beautiful and very petite. But they act be like little Napoleons sometimes. They are extremely skittish, but nonetheless some of them want to rule the world anyway, and they make every effort to.

Rufous Hummingbird Libby Montana

Rufous hummingbird – Small, skittish and domineering!

All hummingbirds can be very territorial about their feeders, and the turf wars can be astonishing to watch.

The King of the Feeder will stand watch over it from a nearby branch, and will dive bomb any other hummingbird that tries to get a drink! It is particularly funny when one little Rufous decides to chase off twenty other hummingbirds from his personal feeder. He is one busy little guy!

Rufous Hummingbird_

Mine!

Over the years, when it has seemed that one particular hummingbird has become a little too dominant at our feeder, we’ve found a good solution is to put out multiple feeders in such a way that one hummingbird can see only one feeder at a time. Hanging them on opposite sides of the trailer is a good trick.

But for the most part, it seems that everyone gets a turn eventually.

Hummingbirds share a drink at the RV window feeder

Hummingbirds can be territorial, but they do know how to share too!

We got immense pleasure from watching these guys from inside our RV. Our trailer’s windows are darkly tinted, and with the feeder mounted on the window, if we didn’t move or make any noises in the trailer, we could watch them from just a foot or two away from inside.

 

We were astonished to see that sometimes the hummingbirds would double dip, with two of them poking their beaks into one hole in the feeder at the same time, even though the holes in the feeder are tiny. At other times, the bird sitting on the perch would lean way back while the one hovering overhead got a quickie slurp. They would take turns drinking that way.

Hummingbirds share RV window feeder

Two for one!

Sometimes they even lined up in front of the feeder, like airplanes in a landing pattern, with each bird getting a chance to drink his fill before flying off.

Hummingbirds line up at RV window feeder

The hummers get into a landing pattern at our feeder!

By the way, the recipe for hummingbird nectar is super easy:

1 part sugar
4 parts water

I like to mix up one cup of nectar at a time. I’ll put 1/4 cup of sugar into a 1/4 cup of warm water and stir it until it dissolves. Then I’ll add another 3/4 cup of cold water and stir some more before serving.

Hummers aren’t Natural Food fanatics, so they don’t go for Raw or Turbinado sugar or brown sugar, and they don’t like other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or confectioners sugar either.

There was lots of wildlife in around Libby Dam and in the neighboring Kootenai National Forest, and staying in the Libby area, it felt like we were a world apart.

Deer near Libby, Montana

We saw lots of wildlife in Libby, Montana.

If you take your RV to northwestern Montana, and especially to the small town of Libby, pay a visit to the Libby Dam and keep an eye out for the big, beautiful bald eagle. And if you are there in July, put a hummingbird feeder out, and be prepared with a stockpile of sugar and your camera!!

There’s more info on Libby, Montana and hummingbirds below.

RV at sunset Montana

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Peach Faced Lovebirds in Phoenix, AZ – Parrots in Cactus!

If you are walking down the city streets of Scottsdale or Mesa in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area, you are bound to hear the squeaks of little green peach faced lovebirds as they fly between the trees and cactuses.

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird perches on a saguaro cactus.

They nest in the holes in the saguaro cactuses that have been made by other birds (mostly woodpeckers and flickers), and they are just as adorable as can be when they peek out of these nesting holes and look down at you.

Peach faced lovebird in a saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird peeks out of a saguaro cactus

I have wanted to get a photo of one of these little cuties sitting in a saguaro for ages, and I had the chance a few days ago when we were visiting with our friend John Sherman, a professional wildlife and bird photographer who shoots for Arizona Highways. He knew of a saguaro cactus nearby where the peach faced lovebirds hang out in the late afternoons. 

Peach faced lovebird in saguaro cactus nest in Scottsdale Arizona

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He is a full-time RVer who lives in a wonderful custom built Class C motorhome, and he has a mouthwatering collection of photography gear.  He very kindly he let me borrow his humongous 150-600 mm Tamron lens (that I have been lusting after) to take a bunch of shots.

Wow, what a lens, and WOW what a fun experience! (And thanks, John, for the inspiration to buy one a few months later!).

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Phoenix Arizona

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I’m not used to lenses that hang out nearly a foot from the camera body, so it took me a while to wrestle the thing into submission and make it stay still in my hands. But the little birds in the arms of the saguaro cactus waited very patiently as I got myself sorted out, and once I started shooting, they seemed happy to pose.

What a surprise it was to see one lovebird in the flock that was a blue mutation!

Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation Scottsdale Arizona

A blue mutation of a peach faced lovebird!!

Peach faced lovebirds are not native to Arizona. They are actually native to southwestern Africa! However, over the years escaped pet birds have established themselves in the urban Sonoran Desert, and they have become naturalized citizens of the state.  All the flocks in the desert areas here are descendants of escaped pet birds.

Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

Pretty in pink…and pretty in blue!

They love the dry desert heat of the Sonoran Desert because it is just like their ancestral home across the ocean in southwestern Africa! They are savvy to bird feeders, and they make the most of whatever offerings they can find in residents’ back yards.  Wisely, they seem to have developed a palate for yummy Sonoran Desert goodies too.

Peach faced lovebird parrot Mesa Arizona

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Not all “introduced” species are appreciated, and certainly not all of them have endearing little personalities like these guys.  This part of Arizona seems to attract special feral animals, though, and last year I wrote about the wonderful wild horses we found living just beyond the Phoenix city limits.  Arizona’s wild parrots have been enjoyed for many years (here is an article from Bird Talk Magazine about them.

Peach faced lovebird parrot in Mesa Arizona

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Wild parrots can be found all over the country, and a few years back we bumped into a wonderful documentary about a flock of wild parrots that has taken up residence in San Francisco.  This is charming movie, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is one of our favorites (blush), and we have watched it time and again, as it always makes us smile.

Peach faced lovebird parrot in a palo verde in Mesa Arizona

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Where do these peach faced lovebirds live around Phoenix? Check out the streets between 52nd and 64th Street and Cactus Road to Thunderbird Road in Scottsdale. They can also be seen in the trees between Albertson’s and the Shell station across the parking lot at McDowell Road and Power Road in Mesa, here.

Peach faced lovebird parrot on saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

You’ll hear these guys’ high pitched squeals long before you see them!

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Sunny Side Up – Baby Sandhill Cranes Hatch in Sarasota FL

Sandhill cranes are common in Florida. Indeed, they are so common in the Sarasota area that there are roadsigns in quieter places away from town where they are known to congregate. After seeing the the magnificent flocks in Willcox, Arizona, a few months ago, I was hoping we might see some sandhill cranes up close during our stay in the Sunshine State.

Sandhill cranes hatching area in Sarasota Florida

Well, my wish to see some sandhill cranes “up close and personal” came true in spades in the last few days as we became witness to the most beautiful little slice of life and glimpse of Mother Nature’s wondrous works.

A pair of these enormous birds decided to ignore the roadsigns entirely and build a nest in a most unlikely spot, sandwiched between a Bob Evans restaurant and a Lowes home improvement store in a very busy part of the city next to a tiny pond filled with lily pads.

Sandhill Crane sitting on a nest

Mom takes a turn sitting on the nest (the parents share!)

The parents were attentive to all the traffic and city noise around them, but they were surprisingly calm.

Pair of Sandhill Cranes with a nest

Dad stands watch while Mom snoozes on the nest (with one eye open)

When Mom stood up, we saw two little eggs in the nest. She gently rolled them around and then settled back down on them.

Sandhill crane checks eggs in nest Sarasota Florida

Mom rolls her two eggs around for even baking on all sides. Both eggs have pip holes in them!!

Now, this is not only a very busy area, with locals and tourists driving by all the time, city sirens screaming in the distance, and a general urban hum of activity filling the air, but a flock of crazy photographers and birders had taken up residence right in front of the nest!

Photographers and birders watch the baby sandhill cranes

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When our friend and host first took us to the nest, we stuck around for a while to see if the eggs would hatch. No such luck. The sun began to set, and the babies were still in their eggs, so we took off.

When we returned the next morning, the photographers and birders will all in position with huge grins on their faces. The first egg had just hatched!

Sandhill crane with hatchling Sarasota Florida

The baby bird was a little unsteady, but for being just an hour old, he was doing amazingly well, sitting upright and looking around.

Florida sandhill crane chick in nest in Sarasota

Mama kept poking her head down to see how he was doing…

Newborn sandhill crane chick with mom

“I’m okay, Mom”

Sandhill crane chick looks mom in the eye

His little batteries were very small and needed lots of recharging. He’d look around for a few minutes and then he’d flop over and fall asleep.

Sandhill crane checks on sleeping check Sarasota Florida

While he was sleeping, Mom was eager for the other egg to hatch. She helped it a long a bit (we were all quite surprised!).

Sandhill crane helps chick hatch Sarasota Florida

Dad had been hanging out on the other side of the pond. He flew over to the nest and the two parents walked around the chick and the egg for a while.

Pair of sandhill cranes in Sarasota Florida with chick in nest

The baby slept right through Dad’s arrival.

It was amazing to look at these big birds and to think that they had been tiny little chicks once too.

Sarasota Florida a pair of sandhill cranes with chick and egg in nest

When the baby chick sat up again, the sound of camera shutters clicking filled the air as everyone holding a camera leaped into action, from the guys with the huge lenses and tripods to the growing crowd with cell phones.

Florida Sandhill crane chick sits up in nest_

This little guy will have a younger sister or brother really soon!

These chicks have enormous legs and feet, and the little chick tried to get them coordinated underneath himself to walk around. This was not so easy — he instantly lost his balance and fell over backwards!!

Sarasota Florida sandhill crane in nest falls over

Oops!!

Sandhill crane chick on its back in the nest

Oh dear!! Maybe the trick is to roll over…

Newly hatched sandhill crane chick just hours old

He finally got himself upright and situated over his two feet. This had taken a lot out of him. He looked around and let out a big yawn.

Just hatched sandhill crane chick 2 hours old sits up in nest

The audience of photographers were all chuckling at his antics by now. This little bird was just too cute!

“Who’s going to hand out the cigars when that other one hatches?” A guy behind me asked.

We all watched in wonder as this tiny creature that had been tucked into an egg just two hours ago made his way down to the water’s edge. Mom and Dad didn’t discourage him. They were busy eating his discarded egg shell and cleaning up!

Two hour old sandhill chick by pond in Florida

Two hours ago this guy was in an egg!!

It was late morning by now, and we both had hundreds of photos on our cameras. We decided to leave the scene and come back later to see if the other chick hatched.

When we returned later in the afternoon, the crowd of birders and photographers was even bigger, and we found out the second chick had emerged from his egg too. Mom was keeping a close eye on both of her new babies.

Female sandhill crane with two hatched chicks

The two little fluff balls sat side by side while we all said “aw” over and over as they fumbled around.

Sandhill crane nest Sarasota Florida 2 baby chicks

They managed to get themselves up on their feet and face each other, and the crowd gasped in laughing surprise as they began to spar a little and flap their wings.

Two sandhill crane chicks just hatched in Sarasota Florida nest

Mom poked her head in again to see what was going on with these two.

Mother sandhill crane with two babies in nest

All this excitement was a lot for a five hour old bird. The older one in front began yawning again.

Baby sandhill crane chick yawning in nest Sarasota Florida

Then he fell over on his side and crashed, fast asleep, while the other one looked around.

Sandhill crane chick napping in Sarasota Florida nest

After just a minute or two he woke up and sat back up again while the younger bird in back fell over on his side, fast asleep. This business of living takes a lot of energy for a little bird!

Pair of sandhill crane chick babies in nest in Sarasota Florida

The older in front couldn’t stay awake long either. All of a sudden he rolled over on his side and fell asleep too.

Newly hatched sandhill crane chicks nap in Sarasota Florida nest

We tip-toed away, and the other photographers began to wrap up their gear and head home too.

A little later in the day we snuck back to check on them, and the birds were on their own without an audience of people. They had moved about 100 feet from the nest to a new location in tall, protective grasses.

By the next morning, the whole little family was gone!

______________

The photos here were taken with a Nikon D610 camera and a Tamron 150-600 mm lens and a Benro carbon fiber tripod.

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Sandhill Cranes in Willcox Arizona – What a Party!

February, 2015 – Every winter an amazing sandhill crane extravaganza takes place in southern Arizona and New Mexico. These big, raucous birds don’t mean to put themselves on display, but whenever 20,000 or so of any species show up in one place, whether its to witness a rock concert or just to loll about by the water’s edge, the sheer volume of identical creatures becomes an Event.

The sandhill cranes show up in November every year, and they hang around until March, and one of the best places to see them during those months is around Willcox, Arizona. When we woke up on our first morning there, it was the cries of sandhill cranes flying overhead that got us out of bed.

“It’s them!” I said to Mark excitedly as I whipped off the covers and flew out the door in my PJ’s. “They’re here!”

Sandhill cranes in southeastern Arizona

We look up and see wild zig-zag patterns of sandhill cranes in the sky.

“Huh?” He said, clambering out of bed beind me. “Who?”

I grinned at him as he joined me outside the rig in the pre-dawn light, and we both stared at the sky in awe as hundreds of sandhill cranes flew right over our trailer, making scattered V-formations all across the sky.

This was their morning commute, and they were honking and jostling around in the sky just like motorists do on the freeways every morning on their way to the office. These guys were heading for their favorite foraging grounds, however. Once there, they would catch a bit of breakfast and then find a quiet spot for some mid-day frolicking or perhaps a nap. In the late afternoon they’d grab another quick bite to eat and then commute home to roost.

Sandhill cranes fly in formation in Willcox Arizona

These guys are heading to breakfast out in the farm fields.

One of the best viewing areas is the roosting area at Whitewater Draw, a wide and shallow body of water about 6 miles south of the tiny town of Elfrida. As we drove down there in the middle of the day, we saw little pockets of sandhill cranes flying here and there, and we spotted little groups of them standing around in the farm fields. Their distinctive cries filled the air now and then as they called out to each other.

Great exhibitions often come with entertaining sideshows, and the sandhill crane exhibition at Whitewater Draw is no exception. A pair of great horned owls had taken up residence in a large lean-to building, living in the rafters and watching all the crazy bird people coming and going below them.

Great Horned Owl

The “sideshow” at the sandhill crane extravaganza

Crazy bird people never miss a bird trick, though, and these birders had set up a row of seats right below the owls so everyone could have a good look at them. When we got there, only one owl was in the rafters, but he made some priceless faces for us as we set up our tripods and took portrait shots of him.

Sandhill cranes at a pond

Throngs of birds line the shore

A little ways from this shelter is a paved walking path for people to stroll along the edges of the water and take in the exotic spectacle of thousands of large birds standing around. At midday, most of the flock was out in the farm fields, but a sizable number was still at the water’s edge here at Roost Central.

Sandhill cranes milling around by the water

These guys were busy and oblivious to the people watching them from the walking paths nearby!

The noise of these guys conversing among themselves was a low, continuous hum.

A pair of sandhill cranes flies overhead

Every so often a pair or trio would fly by.

Overhead we’d catch them flying by every so often. This was a lazy time of day for them, and they flew past in pairs and threes. Most of their social activities were taking place on the ground, though, and they strutted and flapped and preened and marched around on the far side of the pond. Every once in a while the noise of their cries would rise momentarily and a few birds would take to the air and fly to a new spot.

Three sandhill cranes fly over farmland in southeastern Arizona

Three sandhill cranes flying over Whitewater Draw Arizona

Sandhill cranes flying

Hey! Wait for me!!!


As the sun began to set, we suddenly began to notice small flocks of cranes flying in. The din of squawking and flapping from the birds on the ground would swell slightly when a new flock was sighted in the distance.

The first sandhill cranes arrive at the lake

As the sun began to sink in the sky, small flocks appeared on the horizon.

As the flock would get closer the cries from the crowd on the ground would increase. Then another flock would show up on the horizon and the squawks from the home team would grow a little louder.

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Arizona at sunset

More and more flocks began arriving.

Soon the arriving flocks were truly enormous. Literally thousands of birds were arriving at once, coming in from all directions and flying in massive V’s and W’s. The welcoming song from the birds on the ground grew ever louder, as if an orchestra conductor were leading them, waving his baton and flapping his arms and coaxing them to sing ever louder.

A flock of sandhill cranes arrives at sunset in southern Arizona

The noise of the excited birds on the ground and in the air calling to each other was deafening!!

The crescendo grew louder and louder until the sound was truly startling. It was as if the rock stars had arrived. The crowd on the ground surged as the arriving birds landed, and the noise of them all squawking at the tops of their lungs became a defeaning din.

For once, the people — the humans watcing all this — were all silent. Crazy birders, maniac photographers, and happy couples out for a stroll, all stared in stunned silence as the Arrival of the Cranes took place.

People watch the sandhill cranes fly in Arizona sunset

People watch the cranes arrive.

We all watched with silly, happy smiles too. For once, humanity was completely upstaged by Nature as this miraculous event unfolded before us, totally beyond our control.

And then, as if a light switch had been thrown, the vivid orange of sunset was gone, and delicious shades of pink and blue slowly blanketed the sky. The birds had all landed now, and the roar of excitement was gone from the air.

Sunset at Whitewater Draw

Peace reins once the birds have all found a spot by the water’s edge.

The birds didn’t completely settle down for hours, though, and we heard them long into the night. Little squabbles would break out now and then, and suddenly a bird or two would take to the air in a huff, squawking loudly as he flew.

First thing in the morning, about an hour before dawn, we crept down to the water’s edge, drawn by the rising sound of the sandhill cranes. When it was finally light enough to see across the pond, we noticed that the cranes had settled in the water overnight rather than on shore. No dry toes at bedtime for these guys. They like to stand knee deep in water when they sleep!

Flocks of birds standing in a pond at sunrise

We creep down before sunrise and find the birds slept standing in the water overnight!

They shuffled around and, one by one, each bird’s head came out from under its wing as it shook the fuzzies and sleepies from its feathers. And then the low hum of crane squawks began to grow again. Soon the low rumble became a roar, rolling across the water like thunder, and then suddenly the pitch seemed to rise and the noise peaked, just as it had the night before.

The rock stars had taken flight, and they were off — and they were ushered off stage with a cacophony of beating wings and loud squawks. Thin ribbons of birds began to fill the sky, and they wove their jagged patterns from horizon to horizon as they set off to get breakfast.

In no time, the number of birds in the water had dwindled to just a small remaining few. The morning show was over, and the rush hour commute to the distant farm fields was well underway.

Sandhill cranes roosing and flying in the morning in Arizona

The raucous send-off is just as loud and wild as the welcome home was the night befor

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Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot!

We spent a few hours hoo-hoo-ing with the owls at Zanjero Park in Gilbert, Arizona, the other day. What a great spot for a day trip! Our friend Rick had told us about it, and he showed us some amazing photos he’d taken there. So off we went to do a little owling.

A burrowing owl in Phoenix Arizona

A burrowing owl checks us out!!

Zanjero Park is is on the southern part of the 202 loop on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona. As we drove towards it, we wondered if we’d come to the right place, because it is as nondescript as can be. It’s in farm country and takes up just a few acres, and it is pressed right up against the highway berm! There’s a dirt parking lot and a small sign identifying the park and a larger sign explaining what this unique owl habitat is all about. And that’s about it!

A burrowing owl at Zanjero Park in Gilbert AZ

You rang?

Burrowing owls like to live in tunnels, so volunteers have erected tunnels for them using large diameter pipe. Each owl house has a front door and a back door, and the owls like to hang out by their doors and watch the wold go by. There are about 15 or so owl burrows scattered along the ground next to the paved walkway though the park.

An owl looks out of his burrow

Whatcha lookin’ at ??

What’s funny is that his is not a particularly scenic park. The highway traffic zooms by right next door, and it is definitely not a place that shows off Arizona’s gorgeous Sonoran Desert landscape that we love so much. However, despite being rather bleak and barren, it sits right next to a farm field full of yummy mice, and that’s why the owls like to live here and why the volunteers decided to help them out.

Burrowing owl Zanjero Park Gilbert AZ

Maybe I’m just a softy old bird lover, but these guys are darn cute!!

We went at high noon, and much to our surprise, the owls were wide awake and out and about. We saw at least six pairs of burrowing owls lounging around on their front stoops as we strolled down the short paved walkway. In hindsight, morning or evening might be an even better time to visit if you want to take pics, because the owl burrows are lined up along the south side of the walkway, so at noontime you are staring into the sun as you spy on these cute little guys.

If you are staying near Phoenix and are looking for something fun and different to do, go visit the burrowing owls of Zanjero Park, it’s a hoot!

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Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona!

Artist easel in the Sonoran desert

An artist creates his vision in the desert

March, 2014 – The Phoenix area is full of beautiful hiking trails, and the Windy Cave Trail at Usery Mountain is just one of many lovely places to experience the Sonoran desert.

We wandered out into the desert on marked trails and unmarked roads to go hiking — or at least to go for a walk — every day during our stay on the outer eastern edges of the city.  There was always something new to see.

One morning we came across an art class that had set up easels all through the desert.

Wildflower

Spring is springing!

The group of artists was huddled around the teacher as we hiked past, and we found Continue reading

To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!)

Our fifth wheel has a hummingbird window feeder

We love watching the hummingbirds come to our window feeder.

One of my favorite things to do when we set up camp is to put out our hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird window feeder with suction cup

It’s hung with a suction cup – easy!

Hummingbirds always seem to recognize a feeder when they see one, and within a few hours of putting it out, we invariably have a tiny customer sitting on the perch drinking his fill.

There are lots of different kinds of hummingbird feeders on the market, but the one I like most for an RV mounts on the window with a suction cup.

 

Humminbird at our window feeder at dawn

A hummer visits our feeder at dawn

Humminbird hover

“Hello!”

 

We first saw one of these feeders when we spent a happy afternoon with our friends Bob and Donna Lea in their trailer during our first year of full-timing ages ago.

The hummers came by their feeder all afternoon, and the best part was that we could see them up close and at eye level while sitting comfortably on the couch.

This kind of feeder can also be a great way to get hummingbird photos, and the other day, while out in the Arizona desert, we decided to try our hand at being wildlife photographers from inside the comfort of our fifth wheel.

 

Hummingbird lands at our feeder

Swooping down for a drink

 

A simple concoction of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (stirred up well to get the sugar to dissolve) is all it takes to lure the little guys to the feeder.

But the thing is, hummingbirds dart about erratically and move really fast.

Sometimes they hover for a while and look at you while they weave their wings back and forth in a figure eight pattern, as if they’re treading water.  But then, suddenly, they turn and disappear in a flash.

Catching one on camera is not such an easy task!

 

Flying hummingbird

He kindly hummed a little higher to give us a blue sky backdrop

Just as you get the bird in your viewfinder and have lined up the shot the way you want it and are ready to click the shutter — he’s gone.

Plus, the lighting can be tricky. Hummingbirds have irridescent feathers that light up like neon when the sun hits them in a certain way. But at other times their feathers look dull and dark.

Our feeder is often backlit by the sun, since we like to point our wall of windows to the south in the wintertime.  This makes the hummers look like silhouettes, and frequently the lighting is such that their feathers don’t glow. at all

 

Hummingbird's feathers are dark in this light

Hummingbird feathers appear dark when they aren’t lit up by the sun.

The way we have our trailer oriented right now, though, the hummer looked truly stunning at the feeder when we stood in one particular spot during the early afternoon.

The only hard part was that in this light the hummer had a pretty good view into the trailer from his perch, and our movements inside made him nervous.  So, he wouldn’t stick around, especially when we were aiming a big black thing at him through the window.

To circumvent this, we set up a tripod at that spot with a remote shutter trigger.

 

Hovering hummingbird

Hovering

Our thinking was that we’d preset the focus to the perch area and then stand away from the window and click the shutter whenever the hummer turned up. A foolproof method, for sure.

The hummer made his appearance on queue and put on a great performance.

He hovered on the other side of the window, peered in at us, decided it was safe, sipped daintily while hovering, settled on the perch to drink a little more deeply, and then took off.

We happily clicked away on the shutter.  How perfect!!  These would be awesome photos!

 

Hummingbird at our RV feeder

Getting his balance on the perch…

But when we ran through the pics on the back of the camera, it was a disaster!  Every single shot was hopelessly blurry.

Arghh! The 1/125 shutter speed was waaaay too slow.

So we set up at a faster speed, 1/2000, and waited. And waited and waited. We could see him flitting about in the trees, but he was being coy and wouldn’t come anywhere near the feeder.

Mark got bored and sat down to read a book. “That’s why I like landscape photography,” He said.

But I held out.  For a while.  I fidgeted.  I yawned.  And after a while I turned and opened the fridge, figuring I’d pass the time by munching on something.

 

The Wave

He gives us a big wave!

Just as I got my hands on a snack, I heard Mark mutter, “Your little buddy’s back!”

Oh no!  I dropped everything and dove for the camera remote.

I clicked it just in time to get a shot of the tip of the bird’s tail and his feet as he took off — and totally missed the wonderful images of him hovering just outside of the field of view of the camera.

Darn!

Well, one thing was clear.  The tripod and the remote were awkward to maneuver and were too rigidly fixed to capture this speedy, darting bird.

 

Both wings going

The wings beat so very fast…

So I put the camera on a monopod with the idea that this time I’d be able to swing the camera around more freely and focus on him wherever he was rather than pre-focusing and hoping he hung out where the camera was focused.  And then I waited,  And waited and waited.

Mark chuckled at me over his book while I stood there.  “Looks like you’ve got it all set up…” He said.

“Yeah.  All I need is a bird!”

But the hummer was playing hard to get.  My feet got tired.  My knees got tired.  I rested my chin on the camera and groaned.  Where was that bird?

 

Darting hummingbird in a blue sky

Those little wings keep them suspended and stationary in the air

Then he suddenly appeared, and I flew into action.

I’d chosen 3D focus tracking to try to keep the little guy in focus as he moved around.  It was a mode someone had recommended online for bird photography.

As I pressed the shutter button partway down, little focus dots lit up all over the hummer while he was moving about.

It drove me crazy as it focused on his head, his feet, his tail, and his wings, constantly shifting from one part of his body to another.

It was totally distracting, and the result was random body parts being in focus. Ugh! This technique might work for some people, but it definitely wasn’t working for me!

 

The hummer pauses at the feeder

The colors on his head and neck changed with every move he made.

I’d read that the best animal shots have the eyes in perfect focus.  What good was it if the feathers on the bird’s round little belly were in focus but you couldn’t see his face clearly?

My little visitor disappeared again, and I was disappointed in my photos again.

Besides having great focus on everything but his face, in this group of pictures the dimming afternoon light mixed with the dimming afternoon light had made the ISO climb sky high, so the images were coming out rather grainy.

So it was back to the waiting game with a few more adjustments.  “It will be another 10 or 15 minutes,” Mark said.  “He got a really long drink that time!”

 

The hummer gives us a wave

Another wave… I like this guy!

Man! I don’t know how wildlife photographers do it.  Here I was in the comfort of my own home, yet I was impatient and bored and uncomfortable standing around waiting.

Imagine being holed up before dawn in some blind you’d built out in the wilds of Africa!  Could any animal shot be worth that kind of effort?

Well, at least I had nothing else really pressing going on.  We could hear the little hummber out in the branches of the trees making his funny little clicking noises.

 

.

A gambel's quail runs past

While waiting for the hummer, I spotted a Gambel’s quail sauntering by.

Suddenly a Gambel’s quail caught my eye.  He strutted past the window on a mission, his little top-knot feather bouncing up and down as he walked.

I love these little birds too, and I lifted the camera to my face, monopod and all, and stood on my tiptoes to get a shot of him running by.

Just then, the hummingbird was back at the feeder.  And I was out of position!

Mark laughed out loud as I tried to get lined up and refocused while muttering something unintelligible under my breath.

Hummer wings in focus high isd

Eating on the fly!

 

I jammed the shutter button down for a rapid-fire series of shots.

This time I’d nailed it.  I knew it!  And sure enough, when I looked at the photos a few minutes later the results were terrific and I was triumphant.

I gloated quite a bit as I showed a few of the images to Mark.

Now he was intrigued.  I sat down, my own little mission accomplished, and watched him set up shop.

Hummingbird close-up shot

Picture perfect!

A hummingbird peers in our trailer window

What a handsome little guy!

Ditching the monopod, he placed a tripod on the table and switched out the long 70-200 mm lens I had been using for a fixed length 85 mm.

He was bound and determined to make that remote shutter button work.  I shook my head and said there was no way… but then, after a few attempts, he got some really spectacular shots!

Lately, our little bird friend has been hanging out with a buddy, and they seem to be taking our presence in stride.

I want to take this whole operation outside to get some images of them in the trees, and I had hoped to end this post with an awesome photo from the palo verde tree that’s just outside our trailer.

But our hummer and his friend have been keeping a low profile this afternoon.  So, we’ll just have to wait and see if we can catch them tomorrow!

 

Love birds and animals?  You might enjoy some of these other posts where we communed with animals during our travels:

Go Fish! – Some wild ways to catch dinner – It’s for the birds!!

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

One of the unexpected joys in cruising Mexico has been getting to know the wildlife around us. The birds, in particular, are fascinating to watch (as long as they don’t build nests in our boom or soil our decks too much!!).

Osprey in flight

Osprey

And one thing that has surprised me is how many different techniques they use to catch fish.

Osprey were familiar to us from north of Mexico, and we’ve heard their piercing cry up and down the west coast and in Maine. They like to fish feet-first, swooping down to the water and grabbing their prey with their fuzzy taloned feet (here’s a cool video).

 

Frigate bird on wire

Frigate bird

Frigate bird Flying

These guys have a bright red neck
pouch they puff up to impress
the girls!!

Less familiar to us were frigate birds, which we first saw when we started sailing south along the Baja coast. Several played all night long trying to land on our mast!

These prehistoric looking birds fish by skimming along the surface and dipping their long beaks in the water to pluck their prey from the surface. It looks slick (when it works), although it’s less dramatic than the ospreys. However, it doesn’t seem to be all that effective!

So frigates frequently steal fish from other smaller birds – mid-air!

Tern sitting on rock

Tern on a rock

Tern flying

A tern in flight

Terns are terrific fishermen and flyers. They dive beak first and then fly like mad to take their fish somewhere they can eat in peace.

But the frigate birds often gang up on them, hassling them to drop their fish.

The flying displays and dog-fights in these disputes is awe-inspiring. The terns are incredible aerialists, ducking, dodging and darting about, but the bigger and slower frigates usually win, forcing them to drop their catch.

Pelican flying

Pelican scopes out dinner.

Pelican in water

Post-dinner satisfaction.

Pelicans were familiar to us before we started cruising. They soar high above the water and then fold in their wings tight against their bodies as they start their dive. By the time they hit the water they are streamlined to the shape of a javelin.

When a flock of pelicans attacks a school of fish near us, the sky and water look like they’re filled with flying swords. The funny part is when they tip their heads back and gulp down the fish they have caught. Sometimes you can see the fish wriggling down their neck!!

Brown booby flying

Booby

 

Booby on turtle

A Booby rides a sea turtle
It’s a “turtle-bird” !!

Boobies were new to us. They are stout, ungainly birds, and they, too, dive headfirst. When they hit the surface it sounds like a huge boulder landing in the water.

When we first heard a flock of boobies fishing around our boat, we ran out on deck because we thought someone was throwing big rocks at us!

Oddly, these guys barely penetrate the water. They must be extremely buoyant because they seem to penetrate only up to their shoulders. Their tails splash and wag in the air as they right themselves.

Cormorant

Cormorant – free diver!

Cormorants, however, are not buoyant in the least. They are excellent free divers, going quite deep and far. As a small child growing up on the north coast of Boston, Massachuestts, I fondly remember a game I played with my great uncle. We’d count how long the cormorants stayed under water, and we’d guess where they’d pop up again. Some never seemed to resurface!!

Cormorants have much denser bones than all other birds, and their feathers aren’t water resistant. This weighs them down and helps them stay under water longer. A common sight we see is cormorants standing on rocks with their wings spread out to dry!!

Snowy Egret with fish

Snowy Egret
Doesn’t get one feather wet!

 

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret in the waves

Egrets are the opposite. Their long legs let them wade into the water and never get a feather wet. Snowy egrets have wonderful bright yellow feet and some very fluffy and decorative feathers that would look just terrible if they ever got wet.

They manage to fish from the shore with great success, tip-toeing in and out of the waves with ease.

It has struck me, watching all the leggy shore birds that scamper in and out of the waves for dinner, that they know as much about wave mechanics and wave sets as world class surfers do.

Fisherman

When you don’t have wings.

Of course, humans don’t fly, but we’ve developed our own fishing tactics over the years. Many modern human fishing techniques aren’t very green or planet-friendly, but one of our favorite sights on the Mexican coast is watching the fishermen ply the waters with their nets in an age-old technique that is used the world over.

 

 

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Other blog posts that give a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a sailboat:

More funny stories from our Mexico cruise + Tips for planning your own sailing cruise

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Huatulco’s Marina Chahué – Landlubbing with parrots!

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Marina Chahue at the golden hour

Mid-November, 2012 – The great thing about this beautiful little cruising ground among the Bays of Huatulco is that when it gets gnarly out in the bays, you can run for cover in the shelter of the marina.  We left Tangolunda Bay after two days of swinging back and forth like a church bell gone wild, and instantly relaxed as the boat steadied and then went into a wonderful, motionless torpor in the marina.

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

We were gifted with some pretty sunsets

We were treated to lovely afternoon sunsets that lit the sky in shades of gold and pink and orange, and we walked and walked and walked, thrilled to be back on terra firma.  We had been loving swimming off the back of the boat, but the newfound pleasure of stepping off the boat onto dry land was equally thrilling.

Unfortunately, Huatulco’s Marina Chahué (pronounce Cha-WAY) is a poorly appointed little marina that is hopelessly overpriced.  Run by the government, our jaws dropped when we were told the fee would $30 USD a night without hookups to electricity and water!! (those luxuries would have been $5 more).

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Cold water outdoor showers – without privacy!!

The one amenity on offer for visiting boaters is a cold water outdoor shower that doesn’t even have a curtain or door!  Needless to say, there is never a line for the shower!!

By comparison, for the same price, Paradise Village Marina, a resort marina in Puerto Vallarta, offers swimming pools, hot tubs (including a an indoor candle-lit hot tub for the gals), a spa, a beautifully appointed gym with all the latest equipment, a pretty and meticulously groomed beach that goes for miles, and walking access to all the restaurants and boutiques a tourist could ever hope for.  It is no wonder that Marina Chahué is nearly vacant while Paradise Village has lots of boats, especially given the hundreds of miles and several overnights at sea required to get here.

Legacy Westport 164 at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Our new neighbor “Legacy” arrives

What could be a fabulous cruising destination is just a brief stopover point for the handful of boats that pass through.

One such transient boat pulled in during our stay.  The neat thing about megayachts is that you can often look them up online and get a tantalizing peek at what lurks behind the tinted windows.  This one, “Legacy,” is 164′ long and is listed on Charter World as having been launched in December, 2011.  It’s basically brand new!

Cruising friends Colleen and Mark

Young cruisers Colleen and Mark from s/v Mer-Sea

The photos of the interior are lovely, but we had to satisfy ourselves with taking photos of the outside and dreaming.  Other than seeing the scurrying hands while the boat was docking, we never saw a soul on deck!

Even more fun than the exotic super yachts, though, are some of the unusual cruisers we meet along the way.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by Colleen and Marc of the Catalina 27 Mer-Sea.  They had recently sold their boat to our friend Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula to be used for daysailing tours around Puerto Chiapas.  We had known only that “a young couple sailed the boat down from California and then sold it to Arturo over the summer.”

Mer-Sea at Marina Chiapas Mexico

After an exciting cruise south, Colleen and Marc’s boat is ready to take visitors daysailing in Chiapas.

 

What fun it was to meet them and their dog Torch as they got ready to pile into their pickup-conversion-camper and drive home to Texas after an adventurous cruise down the Mexican coast.

Donzi at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A true chick-magnet

 

 

 

 

It is common for retirees to set sail on a boat after years of dreaming and planning.  Their boats are solid and decked out in the latest gear to make living aboard as comfortable and as safe as possible.  Their boats are ready for all that the sea might dish out.  Old folks have the money and the time to do these things, and 95% of cruisers in Pacific Mexico are over 50.

Pura Vida at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

All boats need regular scrub downs

How refreshing and inspiring it is, then, to meet a couple in their twenties who threw caution to the wind, bought a small 1970’s vintage boat, and took off down the scary coast, latest fancy gear be damned.  The boat sailed well, what more could you want?  Now, with one big cruise in their back pockets, they are off to make a little money in Texas and then do it all again — in the Caribbean.

anchor chain and Ultra anchor

The anchor chain is laid out on the dock. The more frequently used end near the anchor is rusted.

Old or new, big or small, if you want your boat to be a chick magnet — or at least to look its best — you gotta work at it.  When the 100 footer Pura Vida pulled in, within moments of tying up, the crew went to work cleaning, polishing and waxing.  At least a few hours of work on a boat each day is just part of the boating life, whether you are paid crew or a grubby cruiser living the Life of Riley.

Mark had a long list of things to do on the boat and we jumped right in.  Most were mundane, like fixing a leak in the kayak (again! but darn, we love that little boat anyway…), and polishing away the various rust stains that had appeared on parts of the hull.  But most interesting was swapping the anchor chain end-for-end.

end for end anchor chain on the dock

Mark puts new tie-wraps at 30′ intervals

After 550 days of anchoring out, the link holding the anchor had been startlingly eaten away by rust, while the opposite end of the chain was still bright silver.

A few of the tie-wraps marking the distances had come off too, so Mark had a chance to put new ones on at 30′ intervals.  That way he has some idea of how much chain he has let out in the water — the deeper the water (or more stormy the situation), the more chain you want to let out.

Marinas are always lively places that are full of action, even little-used ones like Marina Chahué.  One afternoon a TV crew showed up at the mansion on the end of the point.  We discovered the Mexican TV mass media company “Televisa” was doing a segment on Huatulco for a show that highlights cool spots around Mexico.

Sailboat regatta Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A little sailboat race makes a perfect backdrop for the TV cameras

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Palm at sunset

Very conveniently, the local kids’ racing fleet had a small regatta that day, right out front.  They zig-zagged back and forth as the TV cameras rolled.  They were very cute.

During our brief stay, Marina Chahué was loaded with birdlife.  We were woken in the mornings with the calls of great kiskadees, which sound just like their name, “kis-ka-dee.”  Grackles made themselves at home in our cockpit at times, squeaking at each other and peering at us to see just how much intrusion they could get away with before we shooed them off.

A grackle sits on our outboard in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A cheeky grackle makes himself at home on our outboard

One morning Mark popped his head out the companionway and saw a row of birds sitting on the dock line of the boat next to us.  There is quite a bit of surge in this marina, and the boats move around a lot.  As the neighboring boat swung around in its slip, the dock line rose up and down.  The birds didn’t seem to mind one bit as their perch soared and then fell.

Swallows on the dock lines in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A flock of small birds rides the dock lines

Great egret Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A great egret stares us down in the kayak

 

Taking the kayak out to explore the estuary in the back of the marina, we came across a rather stern looking great egret.  He kept a close eye on us and our bright yellow boat as we drifted past him.  But other than annoying him enough for him to lower one foot for a moment, just in case, he seemed okay with us coming quite close.

The prize bird sighting came on land about a quarter mile from the marina, though.  Just outside the busy supermarket, we heard the unmistakeable squeals of a flock of parrots.  They were perched on every available branch of a tree, almost within arm’s reach.  Unfortunately, the wide angle lens I’d brought with me couldn’t quite capture them… And why hadn’t I brought my telephoto lens to the supermarket??  I’m beginning to learn:  take all the camera stuff everywhere!

 

half moon conures in Huatulco Mexico

Half moon conures flirt at sunset

half moon conures bahias de huatulco mexico

A little kiss

We hurried home, teased most of the way by this exuberant flock as it zoomed every which way in the sky, buzzing us repeatedly and landing in trees and chattering at us all along our route home.  Why, oh, why didn’t I have that long lens?  I looked them up online later and found out they were half-moon conures.

We had planned to leave the marina the next morning, but Mark gave me a smirk when I said something about staying one more day — we both knew why.  The next afternoon I ran over to the supermarket, this time with the long lens and fully charged battery, all ready to roll.  I could hear the parrots in the distance.  Suddenly, there they were, landing in the tree right above me at a hopelessly busy street corner.

Half moon conures La Crucecita Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Pssst — I think you’re really cute”

I snapped some shots.  Wrong settings — all dark.  I snapped some more — better, but blurry.  Oh gosh, Don’t fly away!!!  I kept thinking.  Then I remembered the settings Mark had recommended as I leapt off the boat a few minutes ago, and I punched the buttons as the buses and taxis whipped around the corner at rush hour speeds.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Aaaah — that feels so good!!”

Half moon conures Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Can we snuggle just a little closer?”

Camera finally set, the birds began to settle down too.  Little pairs sidled up to each other at the ends of each of the branches.  They all flirted with each other shamelessly, clucking, preening, smooching and all.

One pair just above me put on a wonderful show, nuzzling together like the happiest of lovers, all beneath a single heart shaped leaf.

When they finally finished snuggling with each other and got down to serious preening, two birds were back-to-back.  They craned their necks towards each other, forming a perfect heart shape.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Mmmm…”

What a beautiful few moments.  Eventually the parrot noises in the tree quieted down to a low murmur as the sun stole out of the sky.  I left the birds to their romantic starlit night and wandered home to my own love, totally happy inside.

The incredible charms of the Huatulco area continued to enchant us when we visited the tropical fruit and flower orchard of Hagia Sofia.

half moon conures Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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