Sunday, March 18, 2012


Tropical Kingbird - Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

      In examining my relationship to place I realized that I largely experience place through birds. Regardless of where I go I look to birds for clues about where I am, and look at where I am for clues to which birds I might see there. As soon as there's a window to look out of, a place to walk or sit, I look for birds. My first time visiting my sister in Indiana a couple of years ago I saw my first Yellow-shafted Flicker, a woodpecker, along a freeway on-ramp on the way to her house from the airport.
     My love of birds goes back as far as I can remember. When I was maybe four years old I would stay with my grandmother at my great-grandfather's cottage on the beach in Rhode Island. My grandmother would save table scraps for the seagulls. I remember picking favorite individual gulls, especially the young brown gulls who hadn't yet molted into stunning white and grey, and asking my grandmother to be sure they were fed too.

Ring Billed Gull - Island Park, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

      Even after we moved to Phoenix when I was eight years old I watched the birds in our front yard and remember seasonal newcomers like meadowlarks and starlings as they moved through in migration. 

Meadowlark - Elgin, Arizona
     I'll never forget one especially close encounter with a burrowing owl when I was about 18 years old. I had ridden my bicycle down West Bell Road and noticed an overgrown open desert field clearly undeveloped. I laid down my bike and started walking down an arroyo; on the opposite bank I noticed a pair of eyes watching from behind a neat mound of gravel and dirt. As I stood up straight to peer in, the eyes lowered, and as I crouched they raised to track me. I could feel a relationship develop in that moment as we expressed our mutual curiosity of one another.

Burrowing Owl - Tucson, Arizona

       Much later, at thirty years old, my wife and children and I moved to Tucson. It wasn't long before I made friends with a couple of folks, Homer and Jen, who were really connected with the local ecology in a way I hadn't experienced before. One of the ways they expressed this connection was through bird watching. Our first outing was to the local cemetery where Vermillion Flycatchers and Say's Phoebes inspired me to pursue bird watching more avidly.

Greater Peewee - Carr Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona

       One trip after another I experienced new habitat and enjoyed looks at birds I had never seen before. The same could be said for my own backyard where Harris and Coopers Hawks were regular visitors looking for dove and quail to eat, and Cactus Wrens abounded scavenging on our patio for food scraps abandoned by our children. 

Cactus Wren - Tucson, Arizona

      This relationship to birds developed very naturally as did the friendships that came with it. The watching of birds was never about tallying as many species as possible or checking off a list of species for a certain area, it was about really knowing birds in their chosen habitats and engaging deeply socially with the people I had as company in those places. We never called birds in with recordings or waited in massive crowds of birders for a glimpse of a rarity to an area, we just took the birds as they came, or didn't, and when they didn't come we took the time to enjoy the landscape and its other inhabitants. 

Hepatic Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak sharing a bathing spot - Carr Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona

Three Barn Owls - Willcox, Arizona

House Finch with young on nest in cholla cactus - Empire Gulch, Arizona

Gila Monster - Catalina State Park, Arizona

Kissing Bug on a Cottonwood leaf - Empire Gulch, Arizona

Horned Lizard - Greaterville Road, Arizona

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Sweetwater Water Treatment Facility, Tucson, Arizona

Found fallen bird's nest at sunrise - Rucker Canyon, Chriacahua Mountains, Arizona

Zone-tailed Hawk kill, likely by Great Horned Owl - Empire Gulch, Arizona

Devil's Claw and water tank - Sonoita, Arizona

       One year on the Friday after Thanksgiving we took a long route through multiple transitional habitats in Southeastern Arizona visiting grasslands, riparian corridors, and sky islands; as we made our way over Canelo pass we stopped in our tracks to watch as over 20 Merriam's Turkeys strode casually across the road not far ahead of us. We followed at a distance and watched silently as they leapt into the low branches of the surrounding trees to roost for the afternoon while others gently foraged below.

Merriam's Turkey - Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

      Looking back, I realize that engaging place isn't just about me and my private experience but it's equally about who I engage with. I am tied to birds and the people with whom I experience those birds and the habitat we share, whether occasionally or daily, past, or present.

Here are some related posts:
Shrike Tuck

Thursday, March 15, 2012

     A quick update: After rejection from the creative writing program I entered the College of Education graduate program in Secondary Education with an emphasis in Art Education with Certification. In short, I want to teach high school Art. It's taken me years to figure out what I want to be when I grow up (I'm now 41); and once I saw with fresh eyes the path that I've been on it was a relatively easy decision to make. This first two months of classes confirmed my decision was the right one. We're on spring break now. I started the break with a backpacking trip into the desert wilderness of Northeastern Arizona. Here are a few photos from that invigorating journey.

I can see our camp from here!

A very intentional re-purposing of a pot sherd


Buddha Cave

Moon over Conical Hill


Sweet coffee stain
my mother's breath
her laugh
her smile
with friends
her giving
loving life
coffee stains
kitchen table
small windows
fresh air
grass greening
tree budding
birds descending
my mother laughing
sweet coffee stains