Monday, February 26, 2018

25 February 2018 - Playing Tourist in Arizona

I recently spent a week in Apache Junction with some friends. Carolyn and Joe own a beautiful home down there, a wonderful place to flee from the winters of Northern Michigan. Kathy, also from Michigan and I spent a week with her. It was so much fun to catch up with friends I haven't seen for two years. 

We took a trip to Oracle, Arizona and toured the Biosphere. It was absolutely incredible. I was bowled over by the infrastructure. Part of the tour took us through all the guts in the basement. The planning, engineering and details that went into the construction was even more astounding to me than the actual building. I can't even imagine what it took to figure out how to build a dome covering three acres, seal it up and have it sustain seven different ecosystems, as well as provide food for the crew. What a testament to human ingenuity. 

Inside we found a desert, rainforest, ocean with coral reef, savannah, grasslands, mangrove swamp and fog desert. I highly recommend this tour to anyone passing through Arizona. 

Here is our intrepid group of explorers. 

We also visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Another huge WOW!  We were there for five hours and maybe got through a third of it. The building was gorgeous. Two floors were divided into rooms labeled by continent. Inside each room were instruments from 200 continents. Over 6800 instruments were on display. Each display had a monitor.  Wearing a headset, as you got close to the monitor you could watch clips of how the different instruments were played. For example, here is a nyckelharpa with the video where you hear and see it in action.  

One large room was filled with mechanical music machines. Music boxes, player pianos, horns and other instruments all played through mechanical means.  My favorite was the Apollina which took up an entire wall. It was beautiful and complicated, with a piano, two accordians, two saxophones, drum set and other instruments inside. 

This three foot high piece reminds me of a snowdome. In addition to playing music, the windmill turns, the train moves on the track and the watermill and ship move. Pretty fancy! 

Another exhibit showed how they made piano player rolls. Fascinating. 

These examples don't come close to the amazing scope of this museum. 

One of the artist exhibits had a clip of Dolly Parton singing Apple Jack, a favorite of our dear friend Charlie Gilbert. Carolyn and Kathy (pictured here with Dolly) still perform that song. 
We were able to help Joe celebrate his 70th birthday while we were in town. That was great fun, and the cake was not only pretty, but delicious! 

We had a gorgeous day to walk several miles through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum--one of my favorite places. 

Look at the size of this tree trunk!

Just a lovely week with friends in gorgeous surroundings. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

12 February 2018 - Utah's February Landscapes

So many things to like about Utah! In particular, I like the juxtaposition of the flat valley with the drama of the mountains rising above them.  While I didn't get too far afield this month, here are some favorite views so far in February.

The main colors of February range from pale straw colored grasses to the darker gold of phragmites against the blue of water, sky and mountains. A pretty palette to my way of thinking. 

This is west of Provo looking east at the snow covered peaks of Mount Timpanogos.

Formations near Henefer glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Road to Salt Creek

Hot springs in Midway

Antelope Island, looking over the non-existent Great Salt Lake. Not a good water year and much of what should end up in the lake is being siphoned off for human use. 

Great Salt Lake below

Big Cottonwood Park

Looking across part of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Those tiny white dots in the middle are tundra swans, resting here on their journey north. 

Every month is different, but February holds it own. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

29 January 2018 - No snow, lots of frost

Our snow-less winter continues. But in my travels up north, there are places where the fog settles in and freezes, creating a crystalline fairy tale setting. It can be blindingly beautiful when the sun hits it, then it melts very quickly.  In this case, I there hadn't been any sun for quite some time. Here are some photos from my last foggy adventure. In many cases it looks like snow, but it is ice crystals covering everything the fog touches.  The world was gray and white. 

Look closely at the magpie below and you can see he has frost on his whiskers at the base of the bill. 

Everything in this pasture is coated with a layer of hoar frost, even the horses. 

Left the foggy Cache Valley behind and headed west to the playas of West Weber. Cold, but at least the sun was out. This is basically a huge expanse of, well, pretty much nothing, where I was attempting the birding equivalent of Where's Waldo.

The sparse vegetation is about 4 inches high and mostly made up of pickleweed. This area attracts hundreds of horned larks in the winter who feed on the seeds. The Where's Waldo part is that sometimes amongst the many larks you can find a Lapland Longspur or even better, a McCown's Longspur. First, you slog at least a mile or more out unto the gooey, sticky playa while carrying a scope over your shoulder.  

Any sign of movement in the weeds, and you set up your scope and scan the birds for one that is different. Yep! Some kinds of fun are a bit on the odd side. 

I suppose you are wondering what this has to do with frost. Well, if there is frost or a bit of snow, the birds are a lot easier to spot. They might sit a little higher in the pickleweed and the contrast is better. 

Several hours later after looking at hundreds of birds, we found a couple that were different. 

Here's our Waldo's for the day:
The Lapland Longspur

And the even rarer McCown's Longpur. 

Perseverance pays off! 

One last thing about the little bit of snow on the playa:  bird angels!  Not sure if this pattern is from a take off or a landing, but the feather imprints are wonderful. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

19 January 2018 -- Brrr-ding

What a bizarre winter we have had so far. November was the hottest on record. Little to no snow in December. I have used my snow blower once. The snow pack in the hills is the lowest it has been since 1944.  The reservoirs are so low it is scary. So far in January we've had many days with highs in the low fifties. Today we hit 61, although it is accompanied by strong winds as a front rolls in with a chance of snow starting  tonight, but who knows if it will really hit? 

Normally, looking for birds in January is a cold proposition with many layers of clothes involved. While some days have been chilly because of the wind, if you can stand in the sun it's been pretty darned pleasant. 

For me, January means waterfowl. Ducks, geese and swans. It also means gulls. But since it has been unseasonably warm, the lakes are not freezing so the birds are not concentrated in small areas of open water.  It is odd not finding birds where you would expect...takes more looking. 

I have come to appreciate ducks. The variety of plumage, especially now with all the fresh breeding plumage makes them a pleasure to see. 

Wood Duck


Pair of Barrow's Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye


Northern Pintail


Hooded Merganser

And there are so many more. 

Geese. If you start scanning the huge numbers of Canada geese, often there are some surprises you can find hidden in the flocks. 

Snow Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose.  Considering he is only half the size of a Canada goose, it is interesting he is called a Greater. Above is an adult, below a juvenile. 

Cackling Goose. This is the little goose in front of the Canada. It looks like a miniature Canada.

Swans. So far this month I have seen Tundra, Trumpeter and Mute Swans.  Here are some Tundras:

Mute swans

Trumpeter in back, mute in front. A good look at the differences in the head and beak shapes.

All in all, you can see there is a lot to look out, even in January, when many people would not expect to see birds.