Route 66 (week 3)

Sunday, November 14
We got up extra early and gassed the truck up then headed back down to Paton Center for Hummingbirds. We saw several new birds and hiked a short trail branching away from the center. At one point, I noticed a wren in a weird position in a bush. Turns out he’d gotten his tail feathers stuck in the branch. I carefully reached out and gave him a tug and off he flew.

Next up was Tumacácori National Historical Park where we learned about the building of a mission there. We came across two stray dogs, very sweet and friendly and later learned they belonged to a “neighbor” of the park.

After that we stopped at Madera Canyon where we had a picnic lunch, saw a bunch of Mexican jays, and hiked a pretty steep nature trail for about a mile. Good exercise. So far we have seen 7 new birds since arriving in Tucson. We checked in at the Country Inn & Suites near the airport and found our suite next to perfect (especially considering the previous hotel). Yay! For dinner we ordered pizza.

Monday, November 15
This morning we got a late start (for us) and headed to Saguaro National Park. Alan went out on the short trail, just below the balcony at the visitor center, and got a few nice photos of butterflies, then together we hiked the same short trail and got a few more nice shots. We then drove out the the Wild Dog trail head. We hiked downhill for a mile, and uphill (about a 200′ elevation gain) for the mile back. It was already late in the morning when we started, but we figured we’d be okay. Boy, were we wrong! Thank goodness we had enough water with us. The sun beat down on us, and the dry desert sapped our energy. I was grateful to Alan when he made us sit down on some rocks for awhile. I was having some serious concerns about making it back the last half-mile. When I saw the last wash to be hiked down into, I was giddy – the end was in sight!

For lunch we stopped along the road at a taco truck and picked up some Sonoran hotdogs, recommended to us by my friend Helaine, and took them to Kennedy Park for a picnic. It was the perfect end to a hike like that. The location was great too because we got some great photos of a vermillion flycatcher, redhead ducks, greater scaups, black-crowned night heron, and some ruddy ducks. Alan even go a photo of a pyrrolaxia!

From there we went back to the hotel and did some laundry, showered, and rested a little bit. We went to Los Tacos Apson, a tiny outdoor restaurant with authentic Mexican fare, for dinner. Alan had two of the asada tacos Apson and I had a pastor torta. It was all very yummy.

We stopped for a couple of donuts for desert on the way back to the hotel where we downloaded our photos, folded our clothes, and watched Monday Night Football. One thing we know for sure – we are burning out on this trip. We may be going home sooner than later.

Tuesday, November 16
Our first stop this morning was back at Saguaro where I scoped out locations for tonight’s star shoot. Next we drove to Sweetwater Wetlands Park, a birding Hotspot, but they had recently performed a controlled burn and most birds were not around. We were told about Christopher Columbus Park nearby by another birder, so we checked that out. We noticed several police cars and a fire truck on the other side of the pond. Police tape was being removed. I looked it up and turns out there was a shooting earlier. I wasn’t feeling well, so Alan struck out on his own to see what wildlife he could find. I rested in the truck. This afternoon we did something different. We ate lunch at a cute Mexican restaurant, then went to see a movie (The Eternals). From there we returned to the hotel with hopes that the cloud cover would dissipate and I will be able to do a night shoot. We had a late dinner at Delicias Mexican Grill. It was very authentic and incredibly good! We stuffed ourselves, then ordered churros to-go. At 9:30 we drove back out to Saguaro and I tried my hand at some night shots for the first time with my Sony. The moon was out and 3/4 full, so anything worthwhile wasn’t going to happen, but it was a good learning experience.

Country Inn & Suites Airport, Tucson (5.0)

Wednesday, November 17
We arrived in Socorro, NM in the afternoon, checked in at our hotel, had a slight problem with the door keys, and then left for Bosque del Apache NWR.

As we neared the refuge we noticed there was no water in the cranes usual overnighting pond on the north end of the refuge. New Mexico had been suffering from the same drought conditions as the rest of the western U.S. We drove the north loop and saw thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese. We watched a spectacular sunset, which at some point I opened up the tailgate of the truck, pulled my bag out, and retrieved my wide angle lens.

Having taken a few shots with that lens we bundled back into the truck and headed north to our hotel. After 8 miles I suddenly remembered that I’d left the tailgate down with my camera bag on it! Alan pulled over as quickly as was safe and I ran around to the back. Miraculously, the bag was still on the gate and nothing else had fallen out.

When we got back into town we shopped at Walmart to pick up some salads for dinner. When we got back to the hotel we could not get in. Management sent over a wonderful fellow, Rodrigo, who got us into our room and ended up changing the lock on our door and getting us new keys.

Thursday, November 18
Early birds and photographers get the worm, so we were up well before the sunrise. The temperature was in the upper twenties, so I layered up. We drove around the north loop and pulled up, along with several other photographers, to where the tens-of-thousands of snow geese had overnighted. Just as we set up the geese burst into flight! We could feel the burst as it happened. Cackle and wing beats assaulted our ears and thrummed through our cores. Fantastic!

Next we drove the south loop to the boardwalk and met a gentleman who told us about his encounter with a bobcat right on the boardwalk earlier in the week. It seemed that just about everyone who frequented the park had a bobcat story, so we were hopeful. He also clued us in on a few birds to be on the lookout for; a white-tailed kite and a merlin – and where we had a greater chance of seeing them.

We drove the rest of the south loop, then the north loop and by then it was time for lunch. We went back to town and had lunch at Sonic. After dumping our memory cards at the hotel, we drove back to the refuge. This would be our routine for the next few days. Once again we drove the south loop. At one point a huge white tail buck ran across the road in front of us. Along the north loop we saw some excited folks taking pictures of some javelina. They were tourists, so I filled them in on what javelinas were, and how to spell the name. This was the quietest group of javalinas we’d ever seen; quite unperturbed by our presence.

On our last pass on the south loop we saw a white bird hovering in the air. We quickly realized that this was the white-tailed kite we had been told about, so we stopped and got a slew if great pictures. We watched it hunt and strike a small bird on the ground before taking off to enjoy its meal.

One bird of note was the northern harrier, a raptor which I had time and again failed to photograph well. He had become the bane of my existence, and appeared to be teasing me on this trip. It seemed we saw one in every field we passed.

As nightfall approached, I started setting up for my shoot. There is a tall snag that sits in the middle of the large north pond. A bald eagle roosts on this snag every morning and evening, and has been doing so for as long as we’ve been coming to the refuge. I planned to shoot a photo of this eagle, with the moon rising behind it, for quite some time. It pays to plan. I nailed the shot.

Full moon rises behind a bald eagle on a snag in Bosque del Apache NWR.

We celebrated with dinner at Yo Mama’s in town. Great food!

Friday, November 19
The temps this morning were in the lower twenties again, so I broke out my down jacket, then back we were at the refuge for another full day of shooting. On the boardwalk I met a nice young man who offered to sell me some wide angle lenses. He is primarily a wedding photographer and had several he didn’t need anymore. We got to talking gear and the refuge and he told us about his lucky shots earlier in the week of the female bobcat with two kittens nearby, hunting ducks. Damn. See? Yet another tale of a bobcat sighting. Further down the boardwalk Alan motioned me to com’re!! There was a belted kingfisher hanging out close by on the handrail. Fun! Hooded mergansers and bufflehead ducks seem to prefer the pond at the boardwalk, so we managed to get some pretty nice shots of both.

Later in the day we drove the north loop and saw three red tailed hawks hunting together. It must have been a family unit because one did not yet have its full colors. On the farthest end if the loop we both finally got great photos of a kestral. We also saw a roadrunner (but no coyote).

While shooting the roadrunner we saw a mass of geese taking flight. Somebody had a good afternoon! We approached the area where there were still thousands of geese, and some cranes, and struck up a conversation with Mark, an annual volunteer at this refuge, and other refuges too. Mark, who also had a bobcat story, filled us in on more specific locations to look for the bobcats and merlin. We planned to use the next day to focus on those two animals. He also suggested that I try to shoot the cranes flying across the moon this evening instead of repeating the previous night’s shoot. I tried Mark’s idea for the moon shoot and took a load of bursts – about 900 photos – a few of which were keepers. Dinner was wood fired pizza at Socorro Springs.

Saturday, November 20
The temperature this morning was 22°. We took a hike on the boardwalk where I got a great high-key image of a hooded merganser. Where the boardwalk ends a loop trail begins, so we hiked that and got photos of a cressil thrasher, and a few smaller birds. We hung around where bobcat sightings had been reported, but saw nothing all morning. I decided to pursue the northern harrier, and late in the morning I finally got him! After that we hiked out to the old photo blind, and beyond that, to wind up on the backside of where the geese hang out during the day. On the way back to the truck we saw another roadrunner. For lunch we had the famous green chili burgers at Owl Bar & Grill. We didn’t return to the refuge in the afternoon because we were tired and wanted to pack for the trip home. Dinner was leftover pizza and salads.

Best Western, Socorro (4.8 issues with keys)

Sunday, November 21
Made it to Fort Smith, AR. Alan really pushed it. I didn’t realize how badly he wants to get home.

Comfort Inn & Suites (4.6) $98

Monday, November 22

Still pushing it hard. I helped with some of the driving today. Tomorrow we will be home.

Country Inn & Suites, Cookeville, TN (4.9) $112

7039 miles
22.2 mpg
145 hrs travel time
612 electric miles