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.