Sunday, November 16, 2014

Madera in the Morning

For the bird watchers out there this is an excellent time to head to Madera Canyon. There is strong stream flow and lots of fall colors as well lots of song birds flitting in the trees along the stream. We spotted a Painted Redstart, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a Townsend's Warbler all at different locations along the stream. We came to walk and I in particular came to take some landscape photographs. Even though I wasn't expecting much for color I was pleasantly surprised. We stayed in the lower canyon during our visit hoping to get a look at a few deer or maybe Javelina which we have seen on many visits but it was not to be on this day. The weather however was perfect, the air was refreshing and we had arrived early enough that the canyon was not yet over crowded as it sometimes can get when it's this nice on a week-end day.

Read about the Painted Redstart here:
                         Ruby-crowned Kinglet here:
                         Townsend's Warbler Here:

I have always been fascinated by riparian areas and especially the magnificent trees that manage to grow to incredible size like the Arizona Sycamore. Madera Creek does not flow year round and is dependent on snow melt, monsoon and winter rains that all vary from year to year. We have visited when the creek bed was completely dry and when it was flowing quite strongly. Here is information put together by The Friends of Madera Canyon that you will find very helpful. 

   Madera Creek

 Sycamore Leaves

Learn about bats and bat houses here:

Bat Houses by Friends of Madera Canyon

I never tire of visiting Madera but I especially like to go very early in the morning because I only have to share it with one or two others and frankly I tend to see more wildlife. It's also very quiet at that time and while I have had some very interesting conversations with visitors over the years a little solitude once in a while is good for the spirit.
Learn more about the Arizona Sycamore here:

View out towards Baboquivari and the Quinlan Mountains

Elephant Rock

We saw a flock of a dozen Wild Turkey once on the way in and again on the way back out. Read about the Wild Turkey here:

Wild Turkey

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tucson Mountain Park

Golden Gate Mountain

The other day I was returning from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's Ironwood Gallery which is located within the confines of Tucson Mountain Park and I decided to stop along the way and take a few photos of the mountains. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon and the light had a nice golden color and was already fairly low in the sky producing some very nice long shadows. Golden Gate is in the Tucson Mountain Range and is part of the 20,000 acres that make up TMP which includes 62 miles of trails open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bike riders. TMP is the largest natural resource area owned and managed by a local government in the United States.

I live just outside the park boundary and have a nice view of Golden Gate from the house and I often marvel at how different the mountain looks from my side. There is a trail that leads from my house through the saddle to Gates Pass that is a good hike with some pretty fantastic views back towards Tucson and once you get the Gates Pass you can see expansive views of TMP. Trail maps can be found on Kinney Road and at Gates Pass overlook. Great place to hike this time of year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Along the Southern Border in Arizona

Nan and I just returned from a trip down along the southern border with Mexico. Without a doubt there are some great places to go bird watching in the southern part of the state including the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area and Whitewater Draw Conservation Area both within a few hours of Tucson. San Pedro is just outside Sierra Vista and encompasses nearly 57,000 acres that stretch from the border to St. David Az. where the river meanders for nearly 40 miles. San Pedro is considered one of the most important riparian areas in the United States and is home to 100 species of mammals as well as 100 species of breeding birds. Even though our visit was brief we spotted this Western Screech Owl in an ancient Cottonwood.
Learn about the Western Screech Owl at:

Western Screech Owl

After leaving San Pedro we headed to Bisbee, Arizona for lunch at the Copper Queen Hotel which was built between 1898 and 1902 by the Phelps Dodge Mining Company. Unfortunately the dining room was closed when we arrived but they did offer a complete menu in the Copper Queen Saloon. Nan and I both love spaghetti so it was an easy choice for us and I have to say it was delicious. Everyone we met at the Copper Queen was friendly and they had no problem with me taking a few photos while we waited for lunch to be ready.
 The Copper Queen is like stepping back into history which is something I like to do from time to time and I have to admit that I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere in Bisbee which become a haven for artists and artisans over the years.
You can read more about the Copper Queen here:

Parlor at the Copper Queen Hotel

After lunch we decided to head to Douglas via route 80 which takes you past the Copper Queen open pit mine which in it's day was considered the countries best producer of copper with smaller amounts of gold and silver as well. Sadly open pit mining is not kind to the earth as evidenced by the photo below. It should be abundantly clear to everyone by now that if we continue to allow the currant rate of population growth more and more destruction of the planet in search of resources will be a given.

Copper Queen Mine

The road to Douglas has some interesting geological formations along the way and as you approach the town you can see a large section of the border fence just to the south of route 80. I can't help but wonder about the disruption to wildlife that the fence causes and what the long term consequences might be. Not only does it isolate the people who lived here together for centuries from one another but it also prevents the natural passage of animals from one country to the other. It cuts off some animals from their water sources and I'm certain it has had a great unbalancing effect on nature all along it's massive length. 

Tiffany Stained Glass Windows at the Gadsden

We stayed overnight at the Gadsden Hotel which opened a little over 100 years ago in 1907. I enjoyed photographing their magnificent lobby with it's Tiffany stained glass windows and huge stately columns. We were pretty tired when we arrived at the hotel so we decided to go to the store and get water for the trip to Whitewater Draw in the morning. We drove past the Port of Entry and could see how the fence had cut the town pretty much in half. It must be very strange to live for hundreds of years side by side an then all of the sudden have a fence take that away.

Sandhill Cranes Return to Whitewater

We headed to Whitewater Draw to hopefully photograph the Sandhills but the picture above is as close as we ever got to them because of huh water forcing them to land a great distance from our location. We did observe about 150 of the birds returning to roost while we were there. We will more than likely plan a trip to the conservation area late December when the water has receded some and the shear numbers of cranes will give us a chance to get much closer.

White faced Ibises

This flock of White Faced Ibises circled our location for quite a while trying to use a thermal to gain height before disappearing to where ever they where off to. We also watched a Belted Kingfisher feeding from an observation platform and a Western Grebe darting in and out of the marsh grasses, diving for food.
Learn about the Western Grebe at:
                          White-faced Ibis at:
                          Belted Kingfisher at:

This did not turn out to be the photo opportunity that I had hoped for because most of the birds kept their distance probably because they haven't gotten used to to birdwatchers invading their space yet. I suspect that later in the season they won't be so skittish as their numbers increase along with the number of people watching them does too. Nan was fortunate enough to see a pair of Red Tails latch onto each other and spiral downward toward the earth and releasing just before impact and soaring back into the sky.
Read about Red-tailed Hawks at:

Whitewater Draw

Sometimes it takes more than one trip to accomplish decent photos but Nan and I were both happy to be out in nature alone as there were no other people there during our visit. On our next visit I hope to see Sandhills in the thousands, flocks of Snow Geese and hundreds if not thousands of ducks.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens for Canon

It's finally October and I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a rental lens before heading out to photograph birds and animals along the southern border with Mexico. I chose a Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens to try on my Canon 7D because I had heard good things about the lens and I don't have anything in my camera bag that comes even close to this focal length.
Nan and I will be heading to Whitewater Draw Conservation Area which is east of Bisbee Arizona and is the wintering home for thousands of Sandhill Cranes. We're taking a big chance as the earliest we have seen Sandhills at Whitewater is October 8th but we will be arriving later in the week and hopefully there will be plenty of activity by then. Cochise County where Whitewater is located has had substantial rain this monsoon season which should make for some interesting birding even if the Sandhills have not arrived. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
I have been away from wildlife photography for about a year now so I'm a little rusty but this actually adds to the excitement and Nan and I have made a few trips out to places like Madera Canyon, Sabino Canyon and the Santa Catalinas so I can practice. In my travels I was able to see and photograph a Starthroat Hummingbird as well a few more not so common hummers and although I saw quite a few deer I wasn't able to get any usable photos but it was nice to see a couple of Couse White-tailed bucks and later a doe and fawn.
The lens has arrived and we headed over to Sweetwater Wetlands on Saturday and then I followed up with a visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on Sunday so that I could get a feel for the lens and it's capabilities on the Canon 7D. My comments are only about how the lens performs on the APS-C sensor which has a 1.6x crop factor. The lens extended to 600mm on the 7D will be 973mm. Here are a couple examples of the results from Sweetwater.

Bull Frog an Invasive Species

                                                                        Coopers Hawk

The lens is very heavy compared to what I'm used to but so far that is my one criticism. All these photos are hand held including the batch from the Desert Museum below.

Grey Fox

                                                                        Barn Owl

I am impressed with the performance of the lens shooting handheld and I look forward to seeing the results on a tripod. I have photographed the Sandhill Cranes several times and I can't wait to do so again with this lens. Auto focus is very responsive which you can see if you look at an enlarged version of the barn owl's eye. I am also impressed with the price of the lens which can be bought for just over $1000.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mid September, The Return of Sonoran Connection


Lately I been feeling a little like a spider waiting for a meal to come along. With the intense heat and high humidity of the Southern Arizona summer my outdoor activities have been somewhat curtailed. I'm a morning person. I like getting up at 4 A.M. but I've been waiting for temperatures to cool so I can get outside and once again spend more than an hour or two communing with nature in this very diverse part of the world.
Now don't get me wrong I haven't been totally lazy this summer. I completed 500 hours of volunteer work at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's Ironwood Gallery. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the gallery it's exhibits are geared toward educating the public about nature and it has had some first rate exhibits in the last year including the works of Sheridan Oman who was an accomplished animal artist from Tucson. We also had an exhibit by the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program that I was not only able to work with the gallery on but was also able to work with the florilegium program on their online exhibit doing photography for both groups. We also had a terrific scratchboard exhibit by John Agnew who is recognized as one of the  premiere scratchboard artist in the world. John traveled to many parts of the world to study and draw crocodiles and alligators. We also hosted "Art and the Animal" by the Society of Animal Artists and currently are showcasing "America's Parks of the Southwest"
I have also been doing a project on the architecture around Tucson especially the University of Arizona which is basically me taking off early, early morning to photograph buildings. I actually started doing this for the exercise but surprisingly I really kind of enjoyed photographing interesting parts of the central city before sunrise when I have the place to myself except for some street folks and the exercise crowd
Now that summer is on the wane I fully intend to take advantage of the good weather and get back to  my roots which is as you know nature and landscape photography. As I have said before the best part of photography is the adventure of going new places, seeing and recording nature and spending time in the great outdoors. With that in mind I have some exciting projects in mind this fall and winter including an attempt to once again photograph the wonder of the Sandhill Cranes in the Sulphur Springs Valley which is located in Cochise County home of Tombstone, Arizona and Cochise's Stronghold. In early October Nan and I will make a trip to Douglas, Arizona to stay over night at the Gadsden Hotel where I will attempt to photograph the lobby which has a huge Tiffany stained glass window at the top of a grand staircase.
I will also continue to write about the Yellowstone Buffalo and the horrendous treatment they receive at the hands of the State of Montana and the Federal Government and I will continue to advocate for wolves in general and Mexican Gray Wolves in particular. I will also do my best to share what I see so that we may all learn a thing or two about this rapidly changing world of nature.
Talk to you again soon.

Ray Goodwin

Friday, July 25, 2014

Climate Responsibility

Four years ago BP spilled millions of barrels of poison into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest crude oil spill in history. The Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California. In February millions of gallons of toxic coal ash were spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina. In July 2011 an Exxon pipeline spilled 63,000 barrels of crude fouling 70 miles of the Yellowstone River in Montana.  25 years after the Exxon Valdez spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound fouling 1,300 miles of coastline and covering 11,000 square miles of ocean surface it's clear that even after the oil is completely gone (which it is not) the Sound will never fully recover. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima is still not under control and even if it was there is nothing to prevent another tsunami and a repeat of the disaster. The worlds bees and other pollinators are dying off due largely to the use of pesticides in agriculture and at home. The litany goes on and on and on. With a little research anyone could come up with a list of thousands of examples of human impact on the planet. And yet a majority of Americans are skeptical of, if not down right hostile to the idea that humans are the cause of climate change. All the examples that I have given have had devastating, long lasting impacts on the planet and nobody can claim that they were not caused by humans.
So why in the world are so many refusing to connect the dots when it comes to climate change? Could it be that the problem is so large and unmanageable in the minds of many that it is easier to reject science altogether than to admit that humans are the cause of the changing weather around the world.
Direct human intervention is the cause of almost all declines in animals, birds, fish, and plants. Loss of habitat, over grazing, cultivation, urbanization, deforestation, suburban sprawl, mining, war, over pumping of ground water, excessively high use of toxic chemicals, and yes fossil fuels all contribute to a rapidly declining planet earth as the climate reaches a tipping point.
Perhaps the biggest unaddressed problem of all, the elephant in the room, is population and a world wide lack of recognition that we will never solve our problems as long as we base our economies on growth to keep up with a burgeoning population. Growth of the population will exacerbate the warming climate, sea level rise, food instability, refugee status, drought, floods, and a seemingly endless parade of bad outcomes. Growth demands more, more of everything and that means more pollutants in our atmosphere, more fossil fuel disasters, higher temperatures and more wars. On the flip side it also means less, less bees, less birds, less mammals, less clean air, less clean water, and less of chance of survival for future generations. That is unless we change our ways and move from a growth based world economy to one of sustainability.
Take a step back and consider weather we need fewer wetlands, fewer forests, fewer mountain tops, less clean air, less clean water, fewer bees, fewer birds, fewer mammals, and more chemicals in the environment........ and more and more people using an ever increasing amount of the earths decreasing natural resources.
Along with the rapidly expanding population we must also combat apathy and the outright hostility to the idea that humans are responsible for what's happening to the earth.  Here in Arizona the population growth between 2000 and 2010 was 24.6% while in the rest of the country the number of people using resources grew by 9.7% (national average).  There are powerful forces in this country who care little for the environment. They spread lies about the role humans play in climate change and try to blame natural events or even God. Meanwhile the sea is rising and fresh water is being used at alarming rates. Severe droughts and forest fires are more devastating than ever and the earth is careening towards certain disaster.
My fervent hope is that we are better than this and can rise to the occasion and solve these problems before it's too late.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Next Generation

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to watch and this has been a banner year so far. I stepped outside my front door and was able to get this picture because the mother bird is used to having me around and doesn't seem to mind my presence. I will watch these (two, one not visible) over the next couple of weeks to see how they are doing. 

Fledged Today

As I suspected the nestlings in the Palo Verde in the front of the house have begun to abandon the nest that has been their home for the last few weeks. The mother has really done an excellent job caring for her two offspring with a well built and well placed nest that has held together through a couple of very windy days, one accompanied by rain. The main solidifying ingredient in a hummingbirds nest is the spider webs that hold the nest together and also attach it to the tree or shrub where it is located.

This is the first fledgling to actually leave this nest. The other one is still in the nest but is displaying signs of being ready to vacate very soon. It's was on 3/10/14 that I spotted the first beak sticking up out of this nest, so just a little over two weeks for this remarkable transition.

After leaving the nest the fledgling has taken up residence in a nearby Texas Ranger where the mother continues to feed it for as many as a few days before it must make it's way in the world on it's own. I expect that the other one will find it's way to the same location very soon, perhaps some time today.

Not quite ready to make the leap this one is sitting on the side of the nest and exercising it's wings and waiting to be fed. Once it leaves the nest none of the family will return to the nest. As a side note the male does not participate in the building of the nest or the raising of the chicks or any of the care or training. All the work is left to the female who drives all other hummingbirds away if they approach anywhere near the nest.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Museums, Hummingbirds, and Photography

                                                    ART AND THE ANIMAL EXHIBIT

It's been quite some time since I last sat down at the computer to write about life here in the Sonoran Desert. There's not really a good reason for my absence other than to say I felt like I needed a break from the blog and I wanted to get involved in something new. Knowing that at some point I would return to the pages of Sonoran Connection I have concentrated on improving my photography, volunteering, and just plain enjoying life here in the desert.
In August 2013 I began volunteering at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Art Institute in the Ironwood Gallery.  I chose the gallery because it would afford me the opportunity to meet and work with people involved in educating others about the Sonoran Desert. I am filling a number of roles as a volunteer including assisting with the set up of new exhibits which I enjoy  immensely, working the Sunday morning shift as a gallery attendant and as luck would have I have been tapped to photograph the galleries exhibits and museum events. The current exhibit is "Art and the Animal" which is a traveling around the country from Vermont to Georgia. Art and the Animal is a project of the Society of Animal Artists and you can read more about them here: Also as part of my work with the gallery I have been involved with a project of "The Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program" whose mission is to promote and preserve botanical illustrations of the Sonoran Desert region. You can find the project at .

One of the benefits of volunteering at the Desert Museum is that every Sunday before my gallery shift I get to walk the grounds with my camera. For those of you unfamiliar with the museum it is a world class facility that includes a zoo, botanical gardens, art gallery, educational facilities, an aquarium, as well as aviaries and research projects. Currently I am working on a portfolio of photo's exclusively from the museum including animals, birds, and plants.


                                          Not quite fledged from the first nest of the season

Another project that I enjoy takes place right here at the house. It is my hummingbird feeding stations that I keep on both sides of the house. In early January I spotted my first nest in the oleander near the carport. The nest could be easily observed from inside the house so I was able to watch as the Black-chinned female fussed over the construction, laid her two eggs, fed and raised them and finally as they fledged. The two little ones hung around for a while before moving on to their new unknown territories.
At the present time I have two more active nests close to the house. One is located in an oleander on the opposite side of the house near the front door and the other is located in a Palo Verde tree on the west side of the house. Right now I feel bad for the two Mom's who are sitting on their nests riding out a rain and wind storm that just blew in. We are going to have rain on and off for the next 24 hours so I'm hoping that the day is not to hard on them. Sometimes nature is very difficult to watch but my guess is they will be alright.
I wanted to mention that if you are planning to provide feeders for the hummingbirds please don't use the commercial red food dyed mixes you see everywhere. They are not healthy for the hummers who should be fed a clear 4 parts water 1 part sugar mix that is changed out every two or three days. I boil my mixture for a couple of minutes and let it cool to room temperature before bringing in the feeders and cleaning them with Dawn and hot water.


It's important to note that the weather here has been for the most part very warm and everything seems to be early including nesting activities. I'm not actually sure just how many hummers there are here in the yard as it varies from a few to as many as 8 or 9 at a time. The most likely visitors are Anna's, Costa's Black-chinned, as well as an occasional Magnificent and Rufous. Some stay for extended periods and some are migrants. All in all it's quite active and extremely entertaining.

UPDATE 3/10/14
It's been a seemingly endless wait but just now I spotted the mother feeding at least one newborn chick in the nest located in the Palo Verde tree out front. Yesterday was an unusually windy day and I worried that the nests could be disrupted at a critical time but I see no evidence that this was the case. Hummingbird nests are fortified with spider webs which is one of the reasons our yard is so popular  We do not use pesticides so there is lots of this critical building material readily available.
I also witnessed the other mom defending her nest from a sparrow that landed too close. She confronted the sparrow repeatedly darting in and making contact with her beak and at one point she knocked the sparrow to the ground. That would be like a person confronting a bear and winning.
I'll post a picture as soon as I feel comfortable getting close enough to the nest. The females are used to my presence in and around their territories but I try not to intrude too often.

UPDATE 3/14/14
I spotted for the first time today a second little black bill sticking up out of the nest in the Palo Verde. This makes 4 chicks so far this season. The nest in the oleander is still active but no sign of hatchlings.

UPDATE 3/22/14
We now have at least one nestling in the nest in the oleander as I saw the mother feeding a youngster. Sometimes the eggs hatch several days apart so as soon as I know for sure that there are two in the nest I will report that here. The two in the Palo Verde are approaching fledgeling stage and I expect that it won't be too long before they leave the nest. There is nothing more satisfying than having a hummingbird land on a feeder while it's still in your hand which happens a lot to me as I change the liquid every 2 or 3 days.

UPDATE 3/23/14 Definitely two in the nest in the oleander out front.