Saturday, March 15, 2014

We are learning it is always wise to have a Plan B

Well... we made it back to the Bay Area from Kona late February 11th. After resting up for a day or so we climbed in the truck and headed up to Ashland to get the house set up to put on the market. We love our life on the road and really want to simplify and cut costs. It is amazing how much we have been able to reduce our monthly cost of living & neither one of us can imagine living in a house at this point in our lives. Once we had a chance to see some friends and meet with our realtor we headed back down to the Bay Area and then off to Lake Havasu City to pick up Shak 3. (We lucked out again regarding the weather-it started snowing the day we left Ashland:))

We were both a little nervous driving down to pick up Shak 3- we were afraid we would not remember how to perform the hooking up and dropping of and all of the regular chores we had become accustom to..... once we arrived at our storage location it was just like riding a bike:-)

We spent from Feb 21-25th in Lake Havasu City getting things ready- making sure everything was running correctly and in order for our next big adventure. It felt like coming home. We needed every single minute we had to get things in order to start on our next adventure.

On the 25th we hit the road on the way to our volunteer gig at TNC's Muleshoe Ranch Preserve to the northwest of Willcox, AZ. Our first stay was outside of Gila Bend at Augie's Quail Trail RV Park. We arrived around noon so we wanted to do some exploring. We went and checked out the Painted Rock Petroglyph Park & Campground. It had some beautiful dry camping spots with great birding in the adjacent washes around the campground. The petroglyphs are amazing!

We woke up the next morning and headed to Benson. We stayed at the Cochise Terrace Campground from the 23rd to the 26th. We were trying to not rush on our way to Muleshoe so we would not be exhausted when we got there. We took the opportunity to bird around Benson as well as further south in Sierra Vista at Ft Huachuca. Amazing birding!!

We visited the Benson Water Treatment Plant always a great place to find some interesting birds.

A Wilson's Snipe below:

A Vesper Sparrow with its rufous shoulder patch which is often concealed

A Black-throated Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows

We visited the Ft Huachuca in Sierra Vista (right down the road) to go birding. It is wonderful that the Ft. allows access to the public. There are incredible canyons leading up into the Huachuca Mtns and the birding is amazing. Understand that we are early for the normal migration activity in SE Arizona. We have been told that prime birding takes place around April 15 - May 15. We feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy this spectacular weather and catch a glimpse of these wonderful creatures!

This was a new bird- a Canyon Towhee we saw at the gravel pond on the way to Garden Canyon

This Gray-headed Junco ( a subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco) was hanging out at the picnic area. We are keeping our eyes open for a bi-colored bill with a black upper mandible that would indicate a "Red-backed" Dark-eyed Junco- we have not seen one yet....
A local resident the Townsend's Warbler is always a pleasure to see
The big question- what is this flycatcher? A Dusky-Hammonds?? We will never know..

A glimpse from below of the Hutton's Vireo that was carrying on for awhile over our heads. We were thinking it might be defining its territory and/or looking for a mate

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were in every tree- we call them the expresso bird because of the way they flit from branch to branch like they have had too much coffee

Bushtit female with her beautiful yellow eye

This Mexican Jay looks like it is doing a dance with the little insect it has caught

What a beautiful color jay

This Curve-billed Thrasher was calling us right outside our trailer! What a whistle they have:)

We visited Huachuca Canyon (another canyon located in the Fort) We were blessed to see this Painted Redstart singing and flitting about feeding. What a spectacular warbler!

We found this Cooper's Hawk because all of the birds started mobbing it. We heard a commotion and went to investigate and this is what we found
Look at this little Mexican Wren- this is a Sinaloa Wren from Mexico that has taken up residency in the creek at the bottom of the Huachuca Canyon.

What a surprise when we looked up and saw this male Hepatic Tanager. He was calling to his mate- see below
The female Hepatic Tanager has caught something
Now she has finished her meal
A Hermit Warbler was hanging out with the gang
This Bewick's Wren was hanging out next to the Sinaloa Wren- causing everyone to double check what bird they were looking at
Here was a lone American Widgeon

We hiked up Scheelite Canyon further up the road after lunch. This canyon is known for having Mexican Spotted Owl. We were not fortunate enough to see the owls but we were fortunate enough to get these great views of stunning female and male Arizona Woodpeckers!!

The female Arizona Woodpecker

The male Arizona Woodpecker

And this little Hermit Thrush bid us farewell on our way out of the canyon

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area (previously Hyannis Cattle Company) is amazing! It is a 1400 acres site that was purchased by Arizona Game and Fish Department to protect the major Sandhill Crane roost. THANK GOODNESS! The pond size varies with runoff. There is a Wings over Willcox festival to celebrate the roosting Sandhill Cranes in January. I hear there are thousands of cranes. We headed down early to catch the sunrise and see the cranes take off for the day. It was a chilly 28 degrees!!! We were not dressed for the cold temps. By 11 am it was 75 degrees! Talk about temperature swings

Sunrise at Whitewater Draw

The American Avocets and Northern Shovelers were working and feeding together 
A few Dowitcher species speckled the shore

This female Yellow-headed Blackbird was enjoying the sunrise as well

as this juvenile White-crowned Sparrow (which were everywhere-the Labrador Retriever of birds)

I had the good fortune to get some incredible looks at this gorgeous Green-tailed Towhee feeding in the leaf litter- doing the Towhee dance- scratching about

A Savannah Sparrow all puffed up keeping warm
The American Avocets are such beautiful birds- especially in breeding plumage.....

This Great Blue Heron came gliding by
I love the elegance of the Northern Pintail
This Hermit Thrush came out to say hello as things began to warm up
The Sandhill Cranes began coming back into the pond area around 10 am (the were leaving around 6-6:30 am)
Another White-crowned Sparrow ( we are always checking that bill to see if it is darker -orange bill is a key indicator that it is a White-crowned- there are so many new sparrows in this area that it keeps us on our toes)
Northern Shoveler with mud on his shovel
Female Vermillion Flycatcher- this little gal had us running after her trying to figure out what kind of flycatcher she was- most of the females have more of a pink plush on there underside and this one had a yellow flank area. They are very friendly:)
An elusive Belted Kingfisher hiding out
Here is a beautiful Eastern Meadowlark known as "Lilian's" The only way we could really tell the difference, because they have both the Western and the Eastern variety, is by their song.
An encounter of the Northern Shovelers & a lone Dowitcher
The Sandhills have started returning from feeding in the local fields- see the Great Blue Heron in the crowd below?
Here they come in groups and pairs

The Great Blue Heron wants to be an crane I think?
A Lincoln's Sparrow hanging out and watching the show
Bob next to the Owl Roosting sign- we did not see any on this trip but we will be back
Bob from the viewing platform- see the cranes in the background
Precious beings- the Sandhill Cranes

They are so sweet

Next we moved 39 miles east down I-10 to Willcox, AZ. We had a hard time finding a RV Park. We ended up staying at Lifestyle RV Resort in Willcox.(The park was nice but located right next to train tracks where the trains come through blowing their horns all night!!) We wanted to be in Willcox since it would be the closest town to Muleshoe where we would come to connect to the internet and make calls on a periodic basis. We also wanted to go check out the drive to Muleshoe from Willcox to make sure that Shak 3 could make it in....more on that in a bit.

First off the drive to Muleshoe is amazing. At the beginning you pass through some pretty drought ridden mesquite areas but then you come up to these amazing grasslands with mountains all around you. We had a Zone-tailed Hawk being mobbed by a few Common Ravens on one of our drives out. of our drives. When we arrived at the preserve the first time we experienced a range of emotions......OMG this is stunning remote & beautiful in every direction ..... & .....OMG there is NO WAY we will every be able to get Shak 3 out here!! We met with the Preserve manager- an amazing person that we really wanted to work with & walked the incredible Nature Trail. He is such a problem solver that by the time we were done walking the road with Ron we were thinking there might be a chance if we did some clearing of over head branches and turning areas.... Ron gave us some loppers and permission to cut what we needed to get Shak 3 in. Note- the 30 mile dirt road from Willcox was not the problem, it was the narrow turning radius we had to make 3 turns to get into the RV parking area- this ranch was built in the early 1900s for horse and buggies. We drove home and figured we would sleep on it (neither of us could sleep-trying to figure out how to get Shak in there) We woke up and said- "we have to follow our first instinct and tell Ron we are sorry but we can't make it". Well .... we drove up feeling so sad - in our brief first visit we had fallen in love with the area. We met with Ron & he was so sure we could make it that he convinced us to give it a "college try". It was supposed to rain the next day so he encouraged us to come up that afternoon and spend as many days as it takes to do the necessary trimming. OH BOY- WE LOVE  A CHALLENGE!

After our first drive up to Muleshoe we went back to the trailer and I took this photo to send to Ron to make sure he understood the size of our home on wheels.

On our drive up on Muleshoe Rd we had these Common Ravens mobbing this Zone-tailed Hawk. Notice the orange legs and feet.

Gila Woodpeckers are all around but hard to get photos of- this guy was calling from the top of the telephone pole
Townsend's Solitaires were all around the area- whistling their "to-to-to" making me suspect a Northern Pygmy Owl
One of my favorite sparrows- the Black-throated Sparrow has such a happy song
An Inca Dove hanging out
Wow- these male Vermillion Flycatchers are incredible!
Another "RED" bird- the Northern Cardinal. We understand that the Vermillion Flycatchers and Northern Cardinals had recently shown up. The Cardinals were very vocal and it seemed that they would follow us along on our hikes

So.......We raced back to Willcox to Shak3 (as fast as you can go on these dirt roads) to pack her up and head up to Muleshoe. We left about 3 pm and arrived up at the first gate about 5 pm- getting out and cutting tree branches as needed. Well.....the first left turn was a doozy- we ended up wedged in-between an overhanging big limb stub and a metal fence post (with about 2-3 inches to spare- I was wedging myself in between the post and Shak 3 so it would not get damaged.) Bob got out and his adrenaline was pumping and he bent the post right over and then pulled Shak 3 in.... Just as we cleared the gate- a guest comes driving in (seriously???!!!) I wish I had taken some photos but there was not time for any of that... at this point we had 2 more turns to make and it was getting dark- we pulled into a horse trailer paddock area for the night. So here we were boon docking in the horse paddock area. The story continues....... we woke in the morning jonesing for some birding so we took a great bird walk on the nature trail to remind us why were are here. After an hour or so it was starting to rain.... we headed back and starting cutting and trimming the first part of the road. 4 hours later we had barely made a dent and were exhausted. We had some dinner and fell into bed to the sound of soft rain on the roof. I drifted off to sleep but Bob was awake to hear the real storm hit - it was pouring. Bob was having visions of the road washing out and us being stuck there- needless to say how were we going to get out of the horse paddock area. He was imagining that it was muddy goo. I awoke around 2 and we talked until 4 making back up plans and finally got up. It was pouring but the ground was amazingly firm and dry in most spots!!! Rain in the desert..... we lucked out because it was a slow steady rain-not a deluge. We did our yoga and breakfast and donned our rain gear and headed out to continue clearing the next section of the road around the critical right corner. We were on a mission! We worked for 6 plus hours until we were drowned rats & had not finished the trimming needed to make the final left turn into the RV parking area. The rain began to subside late Saturday afternoon. We decided that we would make a decision one way or another by noon on Sunday. We woke up very early on Sunday and were out trimming by 7:00 am. We figured we would trim until 10 and then where ever we were at that point we would try to get the trailer in as far as we could. Well at 10 we we got into the truck and hooked the trailer up and Ron came out to help us navigate out of the horse paddock hour later we still had not made it out of the paddock area....we had lost all confidence of being able to make the tight right turn since we could not maneuver the trailer out of the paddock.... to end this sad part of the story we decided we were calling it and heading back to civilization. Not sure where we were going but we were exhausted and needed some food and a place to park.

Plan B-On the way home from our first trip to Muleshoe when we were thinking "no way can we get Shak3 into that place" I started making some calls. I found us a great RV park in Huachuca City that was convenient to most of the birding places we wanted to explore. I contacted a few local organizations that use volunteers and found some great potential volunteer opportunities.....basically a  fun plan B. So we were on our way.....

Stay tuned for Plan B:-)

Life is full of beauty & wonder,

Turtle and Hawk

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