Saturday, September 17, 2011

Season's First Visit to Whitewater Draw Conservation Area

We made our first visit of the season to Whitewater Draw on last Saturday arriving just after sunrise on a beautiful, cool ( upper 60's ) morning. Conditions could not have been better as it had rained the night before and no one else was around so at least for a short while Whitewater would be ours to enjoy in solitude.
As you might already know Whitewater Draw is a great place to see the Sandhill Cranes that winter here in the south of Arizona near the Mexican border. After some deliberation and an absolutely wonderful visit there I have decided to continue to my series that I began last October on the Sandhill Cranes.
As a photographer and nature lover I never tire of seeing these amazing creatures up close and although I have some great shots already I know that the quintessential moment is still to come and hopefully I'll be able to capture it.

There were no cranes spotted on this visit but there was plenty to see and it was such a nice morning that we went about our business encountering the small joys that a place like this is rife with including the tiniest frogs I have ever seen and a Great White Egret landing gracefully to feed in the marsh grass.

Bird watching at Whitewater Draw always provides some nice surprises like the flock of White-faced Ibises that flew around us and landed mostly beyond the reach of my 300 mm lens. White-faced Ibises are the western counterpart to the Glossy Ibis which would be considered rare if it was spotted here. It is not unheard of so I am hopeful that someday I'll have the chance to see one here in Arizona.

This is the time of the year that I have been waiting for, a time when the 100+ degree heat diminishes and the humidity begins to abate making outdoor adventures possible once again. If you have never experienced a southern Arizona summer it is hard to imagine a more hostile environment if you are not totally prepared for it. Although monsoon season can be oppressive it is also extremely beautiful with it's spectacular sunrises and sunsets, it's puffy white clouds that build into afternoon downpours and fierce thunder and lightning.

The most amazing thing about being here this time of year is the winged migration that is beginning all around me. So many amazing places to go and enjoy birds as they head back southward in search of food. While most people think of the desert as devoid of life just the opposite is true. There is so much life here including the millions of birds that pass through here each year.

I see quite a few Great Blue Herons in my travels but this one almost went un-noticed as they tend to blend into the marsh.

I have always seen flocks of blackbirds as a harbinger of autumn both in the northeast when I lived there  and here in the southwest. There is nothing that says fall like the large undulating masses of birds that seem to have a single mind in the air.

If you have ever been to Whitewater after it has rained recently than you know that the walking is a little on the difficult side as mud sticks to your shoes and ends up weighing about five pounds on each foot after a short distance. It does not take away from the beauty all around and we were fortunate to have the place to ourselves for our entire visit.

It takes some effort to get to Whitewater as it is not just off the highway but it is well worth the effort especially when there are thousands of Sandhills present but you never know when you might see, say a Great Horned Owl or two!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sweetwater Morning

Thought people might like to see the birds that you can find in central Tucson Arizona. I spent about 90 minutes walking around Sweetwater Wetlands this morning amazed as usual at the variety of birds that are attracted to water here in the desert.

Black Necked Stilts

Female Mallard

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anatomy of Two Arizona Storms

If you can imagine it we Tucsonans are longing for the temperature to drop below the century mark into the 90's. Monsoon weather lingers and everyday this week is likely to be 102 degrees or above. Fortunately this produces some fairly spectacular opportunities to photograph the unique storms that arrive in the afternoons here in southwest Arizona. Recently I photographed storms in Tucson Mountain Park adjacent to Saguaro National Park West and atop Kitt Peak the world renowned observatory located on the Tohono O'odham reservation 35 miles west of Tucson.
On August 19th on my way home from work I spotted this storm as I drove up Ajo Way . I decided it was defined enough and the entire system was visible so I grabbed my camera and ran out to the park which is directly behind my house to see if I could get some decent photos. The following four photos are in sequence as the storm moved from the south toward the north as they often do here.

Most rain during monsoon season here in the Sonoran Desert are not wide spread but rather "scattered" and while it was raining quite hard towards the mountains as you can see it was not raining at all in the location where I was standing to take these photos.
A typical monsoon day as I have observed it starts out with early morning scattered clouds that turn pink and red for a very brief time as the sun rises above the horizon in the east. Depending on the amount and placement of the clouds it can be very beautiful if only for a few fleeting moments.

Storms like these along with the more sedate winter rains are responsible for the incredible diversity of plants and animals here in southern Arizona. Some areas get substantial rain while others are completely passed by and people frequently comment on the torrential rains of the previous day that I had no idea even happened because my little corner of the world remained dry this time. These storms in summer are frequently accompanied by thunder, lightning and high winds that are sometimes extremely violent and do major damage to property and this year have torn down many electric poles leaving residents without air conditioning for hours and days in 100+ degree heat.

The next storm of interest was one that I photographed atop Kitt Peak on what I can only describe as a beautiful, sunny day that was a little too hot at 6000 feet above sea level. As this first picture will show there was not a cloud anywhere to be found at 10:30 A.M. as we ascended the mountain seeking relief from the temperature on the desert floor which was approaching 100 degrees.

One thing that I really enjoy here in the desert is the vast openness of the valley where it is not uncommon to be able to see for hundreds of miles from the right vantage point. I also love the vast blue skies.

At 10:45 we began to see the "puffy whites" forming over the valley in front of Baboquivari which is the sacred mountain of the Tohono O'odham tribe.

Kitt Peak rises 6000 feet above sea level and the views are spectacular on most days. As you can see by 11:13 A.M. the clouds were expanding but still not covering the blue,blue sky.

11:19 A.M.The solar telescope is the mot unusual one on the skyline and give you an idea of how close to the clouds you are standing atop Kitt Peak. I love visiting here just for the view but there is plenty to see including the telescopes, many of which allow you inside for a visit. Kitt Peak Observatory also has many programs during the year that you can read about here: .

At 11:45 A.M. we are starting to see the energy building out over the valley as the clouds are adding height and darkening just a little.

By12:19 P.M. the first columns of rain and a few lightning strikes appeared in the greatly expanded as well as darkened cloud mass.

12.21 P.M.
12:27 P.M.

12:30 P.M. It's certainly has grown into a force of nature in a very short time and it was really terrific to be able to see the whole process from the top of Kitt Peak.

12:34 P.M A curtain of water has developed from what a short time ago seemed like an empty sky. Amazing!

California Condor Release in Arizona

On September 24th 2011 three California Condors will be released at Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona. The public will be allowed to view the release at 11:00 A.M. from a predetermined viewing area.
California Condor Sweeps the Grand Canyon
More information on the release can be found at the Peregrine Funds website here:

Rescued and Released in Key West

Sarah releases our Swallow-tailed kite into the air just south of Fort Taylor so it can rejoin the migration to South America. A large kettle of Swallow-tailed Kites was seen heading south soon after this release. This bird was rescued by the crew of The Piscivorious a few miles off of Key West.
By: Key West Wildlife Center

Sarah (my daughter) makes me proud once again. It is people like Sarah around the country that do the day to day hard work involved in saving the planet from all manner of ecologic catastrophe. I can't help but notice the joy in her expression as she releases the Swallow-tailed Kite to resume it's interrupted journey to South America. Kudos to the crew of the Piscivorious!
You can learn more about the Swallow-tailed Kite at: