Friday, November 30, 2012

Fremont Cottonwoods at San Pedro

Riparian areas in Arizona are few and far between but they are easily spotted from a distance thanks to the presence of the Cottonwood trees. Cottonwoods can thrive only when there is an adequate supply of water which is why they look very much like a ribbon crossing the desert growing as they do along rivers and streams with a constant flow. Taller by far than all other surrounding vegetation Cottonwoods can be seen sometimes from miles away.

Fremont Cottonwoods growing along the banks of Green Kingfisher Pond. Green Kingfisher Pond was created by sand and gravel operations many years ago and has no inlets or outlets but is filled by ground water. Very young Cottonwoods can be seen along the banks and on the far shore an older but still very young specimen.

The trees surrounding the San Pedro House vary in age with the largest one up to 130 years old. Below Nan is standing on a piece of limb limb and is still dwarfed by the amazing tree.

I have photographed this tree a few times and none of my efforts ever showed it's immense size until I put humans next to it. You can read about Fremont Cottonwoods here:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Buffalo Field Campaign Update

 Update from the Field

We haven't seen any buffalo in Montana since the 31 we reported last week as having been killed by hunters in a matter of days. The few that were not shot quickly walked into Yellowstone, leaving scarcely a trace. BFC patrols remain in the field, seeking signs of the gentle giants.

This week, BFC attended the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) meetings in Bozeman, Montana. These meetings are always frustrating, but it is important that we are there to learn what the agencies and tribes are planning, to speak for the buffalo at every opportunity, and to videotape the proceedings. The agencies lack vision and understanding of the buffalo whose lives -- and deaths -- they dictate. Constrained by livestock industry-driven politics, the discussions and decisions never consider the buffalo's perspective. They have forgotten to listen to the animals.

Maintaining "a wild, free-roaming" population of bison is supposedly one of the two primary goals in the highly controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan. "Wild, free-roaming" is defined as "not routinely handled by humans." A Nez Perce spokesman for the IBMP passionately asked when the IBMP would actually start addressing this goal. The Montana Department of Livestock smugly asserted that this goal is being met. The manipulation, interference and forcible reversal of wild buffalo migrations compounded with capture, slaughter, quarantine and invasive research are stark examples of its failings. Further, seeking to manage a minimum population of the most unique herds of American bison in the country, animals that are ecologically extinct throughout their native range, is disastrous.

The tides are turning. The old excuses are not holding water. While it seems positive change is very slow to come, minds are evolving. We are all making a difference together, for the buffalo. With persistence, resistance and endurance, we are creating a strong, positive future for them.

Wild is the Way ~ Roam Free!

A note from Ray. You can help the Yellowstone buffalo here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Photo of the Week White -Crowned Sparrow

I'm headed down to Sierra Vista to visit San Pedro National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow where I took this picture on a very brief stop over last week on the way to Whitewater Draw. I had a great time with the rental lens and am making plans for the future. For now however it's back to the 70-300 mm lens.
Learn about White-Crowned Sparrows at:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Groove-billed Ani.... Arizona Rare Bird

The Groove-billed Ani is a tropical bird that only very rarely is spotted in Arizona and this one has taken up residence for the time being in Tucson. Information about Ani's can be found at:

Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

We had a great trip to Whitewater Draw on Saturday arriving at about 10 A.M. which is about an hour before the Sandhills return from the grain fields to roost for the remainder of the day. The first thing I noticed was the water levels were low due to the continuing drought in the area. In fact the water levels are being kept as high as they are by Fish and Wildlife pumping in water from a couple of wells.

There weren't as many birds around as we have seen in past visits but there were Wilson's Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Snow Geese, Ross's Goose, Black Phoebe, Pintails, American Coot, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, possible prairie falcon, American Kestrel and a few others .

Whitewater is about a 120 miles from our home in Tucson but it is well worth the trip. It is quite remote and the first time you travel here it feels like you're traveling  into the wilds of the borderlands. For those of you who would prefer to visit Whitewater with knowledgable birders Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory has some guided trips that you can sign up for here:
SABO is also involved in lots of interesting and fun activities involving birds and birding including the Sandhill Crane Watch and I suggest that you check them out at:

Each morning before sunrise the Sandhills leave Whitewater and head to the grain fields of Wilcox and Elfrida and the surrounding areas. It's a sight I have personally enjoyed only once but I'm happy to say that I have witnessed their return to the roosting area at Whitewater many times. Usually you can expect to see what looks like smoke on the horizon before the cranes are close enough to make out. They come in groups of 3 or 50 or 100 or 300 and sometimes as many as a thousand in the skies overhead. On any given day the cranes start their return around 11 A.M. and continue for a couple of hours until they are mostly all back.

Sandhill Cranes that come to Southern Arizona come from Wyoming, Alaska, Canada, and northeastern Siberia where they breed usually having one or two offspring each season. All of the breeding takes place in the north country but you can see younger birds here in Arizona.

Most of the Sandhills that come to Whitewater are the Lesser Sandhill Crane which is the smaller of the two but if you look carefully you will see that there are quite a few Greater Sandhill Cranes which are a sub species of Grus canadensis canadensis (Lesser Sandhill) mixed in with the flocks. Here are a few web sites that will give you a more detailed look at Sandhill Cranes as well as the other cranes around the world. 

Sandhills mostly like to stay in large groups for protection but if they feel safe some birds will venture out from the main group as can be seen here. It is very rare to see a Sandhill separated from the main flock essentially by itself. There is strength in numbers and Sandhills even though they are large birds they do have predators such as Eagles and Coyotes.

While I didn't get the photographs I had hoped for I was happy to be there and witness approximately 10,000 Sandhills return from feeding. The birds as is their habit stayed fairly far away while I was there I think in large part to the large number of people who came to see them. My next trip will be planned on a weekday which may give me a better chance of some close up photos.

I expect that the number of cranes here will grow considerably by the end of December. There have been as many as 40,000 in Southern Arizona in past years and I have witnessed 30,000 in a single day.

 We're not sure what caused this fly up but it could have been a nervous reaction to a Great Blue Heron that flew over at the precise moment these birds moved from one roosting area to another.

This Great Blue Heron flew right at my camera while I was trying to focus on some Sandhills so I took the opportunity to get a few shots. If you click on the photo you can get a really good look at it's anatomy.

In my next post I will be including some photos of Sparrows that I took during a quick stop over at San Pedro National Wildlife Refuge. I will be heading back there next week for some more photography and walking.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Yellowstone Slaughter Continues....

Dear Ray,

Your dedication to protecting wild bison is our greatest strength. We thank you for making Buffalo Field Campaign possible.
At the beginning we were hopeful that our presence in the field and our grassroots advocacy would stop the slaughter within a few years. Protecting the buffalo, we have learned, requires a long-term commitment and sustaining hope through incredibly difficult times.

In the past two weeks more than thirty buffalo, nearly all the buffalo that have migrated from Yellowstone, have been shot by hunters. The living members of the family groups that the buffalo were taken from have fled, and all that remains on the landscape are hoof prints and gut piles.  After having spent the summer months being admired and photographed by millions of Yellowstone National Park visitors, the seasonal changes have replaced cameras with rifles, and buffalo are falling by the dozens.
When the struggle gets particularly difficult I like to picture the buffalo, migrating from Yellowstone through deep and drifting snow, trudging single file, slow and steady. Making the journey a step at a time, hauling their massive bodies through the drifts, the buffalo in front bear the brunt of breaking trail.  Those behind have an easier time stepping in the hoof-prints of their herd-mates.  After a while the one in the lead, exhausted, steps aside and another steps up, sharing in the work and keeping the line of buffalo always moving forward.

Being with the buffalo day in and day out, sharing their story with the world, and speaking for them in the legal and policy arenas will bring about their protection.  But it won't happen overnight and it won't happen without your help.
State, federal, and tribal governments are aiming to kill more than 450 buffalo this winter through hunting, slaughter, or both.  The agencies state that they want to "even the sex ratio" and have placed a heavy target on female buffalo, wanting to kill 400 that migrate north of the Park into the Gardiner Basin.  The herds that migrate north include buffalo from both the Northern and Central herds, which also means that the Central herds (which migrate both to the west and to the north) will be doubly impacted by hunting and slaughter.

Yellowstone National Park states that a "skewed sex ratio" has resulted from recent capture and slaughter operations, which have removed more bulls than cows from the population. In other words the managers are saying: We have to slaughter more buffalo to mitigate the impact of slaughtering so many buffalo.  Talk about playing God in Yellowstone.
Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer patrols are up and running along the Yellowstone boundary for the 16th consecutive winter. Our attorneys are working in the courts to allow bison room to roam in the Gardiner Basin, to halt the commercial privatization of Yellowstone bison offspring, and to ensure that the Department of Livestock's helicopter is not allowed to terrorize the Yellowstone ecosystem or America's last wild bison this coming spring.  We are networking with members of Congress to change the laws and policies which result in the senseless intolerance and slaughter of the sacred buffalo.  None of these efforts are cheap and none come easy.  We need your help to continue to move forward in our work to protect the buffalo. Please give today so that we can stay strong in our fight for the buffalo's right to roam.
Thank you for your actions, your ideas, your hard work, and your donations. Together we will press on until America's only continuously wild buffalo are honored and protected and their right to migrate is respected.  Without you there would be no Buffalo Field Campaign.

For the Buffalo,
Dan Brister
Buffalo Field Campaign

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mockingbird and Robin

I went to Sabino Canyon this morning to practice with my rental lens before I head to Whitewater Draw on Saturday. The last time I was there , not that long ago, there were birds everywhere but this morning it was really very quiet. We saw mockingbirds and phainopepla and robins and a few western bluebirds but not much else.

The bluebirds would not cooperate but I did get some shots that allowed me to practice. The lens is very heavy and carrying it on a monopod is a chore but I have to say so far I like the results. The image quality is excellent and I'm still achieving a good rate of acceptable photos. Photographing birds is not as easy as you might think even when they are just sitting in a tree or bush if you don't get proper eye contact and a decent pose the picture turns out to be worthless.

Nan and I both love seeing Robins and Sabino Canyon is one of the few places that we have seen them consistently at this time of year. We saw several today all of them females. Still an exciting find for a New England boy who grew up with Robins as the harbinger go spring. Tomorrow we're picnicking in Madera Canyon for the holiday and some more practice. Have a happy Thankgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

We have had a couple of new birds in the yard lately including a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers who have been regular visitors for a couple of weeks and today this Dark-eyed Junco Oregon variety showed up and spent most of the day feeding in the front yard.

Dark-eyed Junco's were considered four separate species but have since been recognized as one highly complex species. You can learn more about Dark-eyed Junco's here at:

This is the first junco that I have seen here at the house which is not at all near any forest. I have seen many of these in Madera Canyon and onMt. Lemmon but never here in the valley.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cooper's Hawk

This morning I decided to take my camera with me on my daily walk through Tucson Estates. Some mornings I take it and see very little worth photographing. On other days I leave it home and see quite a few things that I would like a picture of. Yesterday was a good example of this phenomenon. No camera and an Anna's Hummingbird landed in a mesquite not more than five feet away and proudly proclaimed it's presence.
This accipiter is a regular who likes to chase doves throughout the complex so I see him quite often, usually as doves scatter to the wind as he approaches.
Today while chasing off a few doves he landed in a tree just as I was walking by. I thought for sure that my presence would spook him and I would not get an opportunity to photograph him as has happened so many times before. Today however he was not at all concerned by me and even with a 28-135 mm lens I was able to get this picture. It wasn't until he spotted another batch of doves that he flew off to scatter them once again. You can find detailed information on the range and habits of the Cooper's Hawk here:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Abert's Squirrel

We spotted this Abert's Squirrel feeding in a Ponderosa Pine on a hill overlooking Summerhaven Arizona.   Information on the Abert's can be found at:
It was actually the ears that caught our attention as squirrels where we come from are mostly Gray Squirrels whose ears are allot smaller and less defined.

Unfortunately my rental lens has been delayed until Tuesday and as you might imagine I'm a little bummed as I have to redo my schedule for the week. I had planned to be at Whitewater Draw on Tuesday but now I'll have to wait for the delivery instead.

I ran into my friend Geologist Richard Conway today at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and we may get together to hike to the saddle at Baboquivari Peak for a project he's working on. Richard will be doing a presentation on the geology of Madera Canyon in January. Information on the event taken from the Friends of Madera Canyon newsletter is listed below.

January 15, 2013 - Richard Conway returns to share with us more on the Geology of Madera Canyon. He intrigued us last fall with the geology of the Santa Rita Mountains and will make it specific to Madera Canyon this season. Richard, George Cottay, and Doug Moore have created a brochure on the geology of Madera Canyon that will be available at the program. The Geology Brochure joins our other brochures available in the canyon to advance education and the enjoyment of Madera Canyon.
All Nature Series Programs will again be held at the Community Performance and Art Center on Continental Road. Programs will be held in the theater and will begin at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $5.00 per person and will be available after September 15 either on the Friends web site (www. or at the Green Valley/Sahua- rita Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mountain Lions Spotted in Sabino Canyon

According to wildlife officials there are approximately 67 mountain lions in the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains and one lucky biker saw three of them near the Sabino Dam overlook last Friday. Hugh Garvey was able to photograph the three described as a female and two older cubs. I have not included the link to the story as I don't know how long it will be active but I easily found the story by searching Sabino Canyon Mountain Lions.

This is the view from the overlook taken in January 2012 when the stream was running. On our visit this last Sunday there was very little water and nothing behind the dam.

As it turns out Nan and I were a couple of days late arriving at the overlook on Sunday where we enjoyed the view and a snack before descending to the dam and hiking our way out along the mostly dry stream. Had I known that mountain lions had been seen in the area I would have been more vigilant  especially while at the overlook which is my usual resting spot on this hike.

This photograph was taken at the desert museum and is so far the only place that I have seen Mountain Lions. I was told of a Mountain Lion spotted near where I live in the Tucson Mountains some time last week but unfortunately I have had no corroborating information from any other source so it's impossible to know if it's a legitimate sighting or not. You can read more about Mountain Lions here at:

As a side note I am very excited about next weeks trip to Whitewater Draw to photograph the Sandhill Cranes and whatever else happens to be there during my visit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ferruginous Hawk

I spent some time today at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum photographing hawks during their morning Raptor Free Flight Program.  I have rented a great lens (Canon Ef 2.8 70-200 IS USM II with 2x multiplier) for next week which will allow me to expand my range and I want to be ready for a solid week of photographing nature including hawks in the wild. We will be heading to Whitewater Draw to photograph Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese and to Madera Canyon which has been a great birding spot for us in the past.
I plan to spend a good part of a day on the Sandhills which has been an area of interest for me for several years. Whitewater usually has quite a few surprises From Ibises to Herons so it should be a great experience.

For those of you who like to know about such things the definition of ferruginous is "Having the color of iron rust; reddish-brown."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sabino Canyon WIldlife

We had a nice morning at Sabino Canyon which is nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountains about 40 minutes from where we live here in Tucson. The idea was to walk, do a little bird watching and enjoy the first really cool morning of the season. Within a few minutes we came across five White-tailed Deer browsing  the greenery along the trail.

There were two females and three little ones feeding fairly close to us. Deer in the canyon have learned to live with a huge number of visitors especially on the weekends and while not tame they are not as skittish as deer normally are. The desert here in the southern part of the state can dry out fairly rapidly even after a wet summer and we found very little water running in the stream and nothing behind the dam which is usually full.

We usually see allot of warblers and smaller birds around the water but it was relatively quiet with many Black-throated Sparrows but not much else.

This Mockingbird all but demanded to be photographed and was very curious about what I was up to. I have always enjoyed their vocal prowess. Mockingbirds as you may already be aware love to sing other birds song sometimes one after the other. It is really amazing to hear and they have fooled me a few times by imitating other birds.

This Verdin was feeding in the mesquite along the road to the picnic overlook. There are slots of Verdins here and I see them almost everyday around our hummingbird feeders.

Phainopeplas are hard to photograph and getting a good shot is not a sure thing . Their coloring can make for a very monotone picture but if you can get them in just the right light you can make it happen. More often than not you can't distinguish their eye color as it is almost as dark as their feathers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Desert Sounds

Every now and then I take a photograph that I don't expect to amount to too much but I was pleasantly surprised by this shot. This Curved-billed Thrasher was singing it's heart out which is what attracted my attention in the first place. It's simple and has nice muted color which is why I like it. You can read about the Curve-billed Thrasher and listen to it's songs here:

I'v been shooting with my old Canon xti while I wait for my rental lenses to arrive from BorrowLenses. It's much slower especially in the area of focusing and tracking a moving subject is much harder due to the auto focus. Not the results I've gotten used to but I have to admit it's still fun to shoot with this "old" technology.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Arizona Conservation Wins With Voters

                                                    Burrowing Owl in the Morning Light

Good news from the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection:

PROP 120 DEFEATED: 68% to 32%

Arizona voters soundly rejected Proposition 120, the “State Sovereignty” measure, by more than a two-to-one margin. Proposition 120 was referred to the ballot by the Arizona Legislature. It would have amended the Arizona Constitution to assert state sovereignty and to establish that the state has exclusive authority and jurisdiction over air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife, and other natural resources within the state, in an attempt to both gain control of federal public lands and to undermine important federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

"Arizona voters clearly saw this for what it was – the Legislature’s harsh and unrelenting attack against conservation stewardship and natural resource protection,” said Carolyn Campbell, No on Prop 120 Campaign Chair and Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “These laws are the bedrock of an environmental legacy forged over the last 50 years and are critical to protecting one of the most ecologically rich regions of the country.”

Read the full press release on our website.

PROP 119 APPROVED: 62% to 38%

For years, conservationists across the state have been searching for meaningful State Trust Land reform, with the goal of protecting a small sub-set of lands that contain important wildlife habitat, riparian resources, wildlife linkages, and recreational and scenic values. This proposition makes a welcome change to the current method of State Trust land disposal and allows for a continuing discussion regarding how Arizona can best address its land ownership.
Prop 119 provides an avenue for accountability and transparency to the exchange process, a critical condition to ensure that the citizens of Arizona have a voice in the process.
Prop 119 requires two independent analyses of lands for exchange, public hearings regarding the exchange, and a statewide vote during general election concerning any proposed exchanges.
Prop 119 is good first step to modernize the methods for planning and disposition of State Trust lands, which will have positive ramifications for important conservation lands in the future.