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Sunset, Imperial NWR, AZ

Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Holy Sauerkraut, Batman!”

Tonight’s post is going to be another mixture of several unrelated subjects.  Sometimes, that’s how life its.

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Just before sunset last night, I had a new visitor to the hummingbird feeder.  A diminutive Verdin came to dine.  This little dude is about the size of a chickadee and eats small insects, fruit, and nectar found in the desert.  I really like that yellow face and splash of red at the top of its wing.

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They’re quite acrobatic and don’t sit still for long.  Kind of reminded me of an Olympic athlete on a bar or ring routine.  Can’t imagine how they have the strength to do this.  I’m thinking I may hang a half of an orange out tomorrow to enjoy more views of this little dynamite. 

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I couldn’t believe I slept in until almost 8:00 this morning, but it wasn’t very bright outside.  On Emma’s first outs, I was shocked at the view.  What happened to the pond?  It was lost in the dense fog.  I just never really expected fog in the desert.

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I had to bring a towel out to cover my rocker before I could sit down without getting a wet deck.  By 9:30 some of it had lifted and I could see the pond once again, but it took some time for that fog to lift off of the mountains.

79 Imperial NWR 2014-153Later in the morning, it was time to head into town to do my weekly grocery shopping.  Before hitting Fry’s, I like to stop at one of the two farm stands along US 95.  Only sweet onions, navel oranges, and tangelos for me today, but I’m just loving all the fresh vegies that are available here.  I’ve always liked iceberg lettuce, but never had it as fresh as it is here where it is grown.  Yuma is known as the lettuce capitol, and I can see why.

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Both farm stands are surrounded by farmer’s fields.  Can’t imagine how many pounds of sauerkraut could be made from this one field of cabbage.  I’ve heard that farmers here have seven crops per year.  Cotton in the summer, and then cabbage, onions, broccoli, kale, several varieties of lettuce, cauliflower, and who knows what else in fall winter and spring.  It’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around it if you’re from the north where farmers are lucky to get one or two crops a year. 

The rows of crops are also different than I’m used to seeing.  Instead of a single row of a crop, hills are built up with irrigation ditches in between.  Each row is then planted with at least three plants of each vegetable next to each other.  So there’s three heads of cabbage or cauliflower or broccoli, etc., across the hill in each row.  Not sure I explained that well, but I hope you can figure out what I mean.  I find all of this very interesting.  I’ve also heard that it can take up to two weeks for a head of lettuce, for instance, to make it to a northern store after it has been picked.  I just never thought about that before. You folks in the north will just have to drool over the difference in taste with fresh vegetables that I have compared to what you are getting in the stores in winter.  Thinking smile

Several of the ladies here in the volunteer village have been busy baking away and providing sweet treats to everyone to help celebrate the holiday season.  I don’t do much baking of cookies and breads and such, so it has really been a tasty treat for me.  If I baked two dozen cookies, they’d probably be hard as a rock before I ever finished them.  I’m more of a salty crunchy snack person.

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So, today while in town I gathered the ingredients for Cheesy Pretzels.  It takes three days before these pretzels are ready, but they are delicious.  I haven’t made them in quite a few years as three pounds of pretzels is more than even I can consume before they get punkie.  I’m kind of wishing there was an HEB in Arizona as they have more interestingly shaped pretzels.  You need three different kinds, and at HEB I’ve found pretzels with Texas shapes such as cowboy boots, the Texas state outline, and even Christmas shapes.

Just after sunset tonight, Emma went berserk in the rig.  I guess she saw something out the front window.  Probably a coyote by the way she was carrying on.  I had to chuckle out loud as her barking resonated in the Thunder Gourd I have hanging down from the driver’s side sun visor.  It was like surround sound barking!  The coyotes sure got the message, and took up howling and yipping away not too far from the rig.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra never sounded like this!  It wasn’t Ferde Grofe’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite’, but it may have been ‘Emma’s Imperial Desert Suite’.  Winking smile

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                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Learned a few new things this week

For quite a long time now, I’ve had a personal goal of trying to learn something new each day.  Most days I’m successful.  Sometimes those things I learn are rather mundane, like learning to install a new latch on one of the rig’s drawers or to turn my outside chairs over if rain is predicted so a puddle doesn’t appear in the seat.

Other times, I learn something that I think is very interesting.  I’m going to share a few of the discoveries I made this week.

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While I was working the VC this week, fellow volunteer Greg brought in one of the scopes from the overlook nearby.  I’m sure most of you have seen these scopes at various places.  They’re mounted on a post, and sometimes you have to put in a quarter to get a close-up view of say, Niagara Falls.  Well, I had mentioned that the two scopes that I had the school kids looking through were awfully foggy.  Kids have good imaginations and still swore they saw all kinds of things through them, but I sure couldn’t figure out how.  I’m sure others noticed the same thing as I had.

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I’ve often wondered what these scopes look like inside.  When I found out Greg was going to clean them up, I was very interested.

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There are all kinds of long screws and special locks on these things that have to be removed first.  Then Greg took a cloth wrapped screwdriver to carefully pry the top and bottom sections apart.

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It was quite a surprise to all of us to see that these big heavy scopes just have an ordinary pair of binoculars inside of them!

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I would have suspected some super-duper lenses were inside.  What about you?  This particular scope was assembled in Sept. of 2009.  So that means it’s probably been out in the weather and dust storms for going on five years.

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I wetted my finger and made that X so you could see how much dust has accumulated inside even though it is screwed tightly together and there are rubber gaskets.  The glass in front was just as dirty, so it’s no wonder I couldn’t see much through these scopes.

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                  Greg got them all cleaned up, so I guess they’ll be good for another five years or so.

Emma and I were sitting outside again this afternoon after the rain had moved on, and I noticed that the water level in the pond had once again risen.  I don’t think it had much to do with the rain since I’d guess we only had about a quarter of an inch at best.  The pond seems to rise and fall almost every other day.  Sometimes there are mud flats that the shorebirds like, and sometimes there aren’t.  I’m not sure what causes such a fluctuation in its level.  I think it’s kind of a backwash of the Colorado River, and the river is really low at this time of year.  Why it goes up and down is a mystery so far to me.

Anyway, there are lots of coots and gadwalls on the pond each day.  Generally each species hangs out with its own kind.  (birds of a feather flock together, etc.)  Well, today that was not the case.  The water was quite high, and each coot was closely accompanied by an individual gadwall.  That seemed odd, but I think I figured it out.  As I watched through my scope, the story unfolded.  Gadwalls are dabbler ducks, not diving ducks.  Coots can dive.  With the deeper water, the gadwalls perhaps couldn’t reach the vegetation.  The diving coots could, and the gadwalls helped them eat the vegetation they brought up.  Interesting relationship, eh?

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Here’s the latest inhabitant of the VC.  It’s a Desert Blonde Tarantula.  We think it’s a female because of its size and coloration.  It’s big!  She has made herself at home in a ten gallon terrarium, and even started weaving a web on Monday.  It took her most of the day.  It was fascinating to watch.  She’s so big you can see the spinnerets on her rear end.  We put crickets in there for her to hunt and eat.  We’ll also release her back to the desert at the end of March when all the volunteers leave.  Did you know that this female can live to the age of 25 years?  I sure didn’t.  Males only live to about ten or fifteen years.  It takes almost ten years before they are mature enough to mate and reproduce.  Once the male gets ‘the urge’, he searches far and wide for a female.  It’s a short lived pleasure, however, as once he mates with her she kills him.  Disappointed smile

One of the other volunteers calls her Whiskers, but I think we should have a contest to name the tarantula.  I’m leaning towards something like ‘Waltzing Matilda’ since she’s quite active, or ‘Marilyn Monroe’ since she’s a blonde.  Got any other name ideas?

How’s that for some trivia from the desert?

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A new personal challenge

You know, sometimes when you’re retired you lose track of the days.  Tonight I was trying to remember what I did yesterday.  It was my last day off before working three days in the VC, and it seems I didn’t do much of anything.

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I did sit out on the patio to enjoy the play of sunlight and cloud shadows on the mountains beyond the pond.

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Emma continued her bee patrol.  I guess I have to say that she didn’t learn her lesson about bees the other day.  She’s still chasing them.  Bees must be taking the place of squirrels and chipmunks for her.  Not too many of those species in the desert.

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And I watched an osprey soar above the pond looking for dinner.  It didn’t have much luck.  A simple pleasures kind of day.

I was up before sunrise today getting things ready for my bird tour.  I had three people signed up to attend.  As I made my way to open the gate around 7:30, a woman waved me down near the VC.  She wanted to know if the bird tour was still on.  I asked her how she got in.  Turns out she went under the gate and walked in while leaving her husband and their car at the gate.

The couple was from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  They’re spending the winter in Phoenix and came here to get out of the city for a couple of days.  They weren’t die hard birders, but enjoyed seeing things, and she was especially interested in trees and plants.  Definitely not my specialty.  Luckily, the other person on the tour was Chris, who works here.  He is a biologist, with expertise on trees and such.  Phew!  I was happy about that.

I must say that I’ve never run into a woman with so many questions on one of my tours.  They were good questions, but many of them were about trees and plants that I couldn’t answer.  Even Chris struggled with some of them.

After last week’s experience, I cautioned everyone not to exit the vehicle unless I suggested it.  As we stopped for the beaver slide viewing and got out of the car, the gentleman said he needed to find a bush.  He said he was not trying to break any rules, but nature was urgently calling.  All righty then.  I told the others to keep their eyes on the slide while he dashed back to relieve himself.  Disappointed smile  Good thing we were out in the middle of nowhere.  I had also made sure everyone had a potty break before we headed out on this excursion.  As Paul Dahl would say, “Semper Gumby”IMG_9261

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It was a fairly busy day at the VC when I got back.  The couple from Alberta decide to take the guided hike in the afternoon of the Painted Desert Trail with fellow volunteer Gail.  I gave Gail a heads up about the wife’s interest in plants, and everything went well on the hike.  It seems she had run out of questions by that time.  Winking smile

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The picnic area outside the VC was chock full of visitors when it came time for my lunch, so I headed off a little way down the road to the Meer’s Point picnic area.  I was the only one there, and this was my view as I had my latest version of broccoli and bacon salad.  This time I added water chestnuts to the mix of broccoli, bacon, raisins, onions, and cranberries.  Very tasty with some added crunch of Triscuit crackers.

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As for the new personal challenge, I’m trying to get the best photo shot I can of a black-tailed gnatcatcher.  These little dudes are about as challenging as hummingbirds and belted kingfishers.  They never sit still.  They skulk around in the low areas of shrubs and mesquite trees in the desert.  This pic is not quite as sharp as I’d like it.  They buzz around outside my patio area, so I think this challenge will help keep me busy in my off time.

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Not an outstanding pic of an Anna’s hummingbird, but do you see those little black smudges in the background?  They look like gnats to me, and the Anna’s and the black-tailed love snacking on them.  I’ll keep you posted on my quest…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, December 12, 2014

A hodgepodge post

First of all, let me tell you that the Benadryl worked for Emma.  As Gail had told me, it would make her sleepy, and it did.  But only for about an hour.  As soon as her pals the coyotes began their evening concert, she was back up and on alert. 

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As you may have guessed, I really like rockers.  While in town on Wednesday I picked up a new rocker to sit outside in.  I still have my old rocker, but this new model has some features I really like.  It has these hydraulic thingies in the back that means it can be set on hard or soft surfaces and still work.  With the old one, I had to haul around cement blocks in case my site wasn’t paved.

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Look how nice it folds up… flat as a pancake.  My old one folded up, but had those arcs that made it too thick for me to store in my basement bin.  All you have to do with the new one is pull up a loop, and it closes right up.  The old one was a real pain and required a screw driver for me to get it closed.

I don’t know if it’s orderable on Amazon, but I wanted to sit in one first before I bought it.  Sometimes seeing the product in person is best.  I unfolded it in the middle of the aisle in Walmart to give it a whirl.  You can’t do that by looking at a picture on your computer.

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Some long time readers may recall that for the last four years or so, my older brother Carl makes a hanging calendar for me.  It arrived in the mail early this week.  He uses pictures from my blog at the top of each month.  It’s always a surprise to me to see which photos he’s selected.  Thanks again, Carl.

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If you look closely at next month’s page, you may recognize yourself if you visited or volunteered with me at either Anahuac, Tamarac, or Imperial.  I’ll be staring at your darling faces for 31 days.  Open-mouthed smile  I never told Carl, but last year one of the months had a big blowup of myself with someone that wasn’t exactly my most favorite person in the world.  That was a long month for me.  Smile with tongue out  Be assured, the month of January will not give me any heartburn!

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It was a windy overcast day today.  That storm in California is sending the clouds our way with a little drizzle this evening.  It sure didn’t keep the ducks away from the pond though.  Business like usual off my patio.

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The cloud cover and windy conditions inspired me to do a chore that is a real challenge for me.  Last time I did it, I got pinned to the wall in the bedroom.  Yep, it was time to rotate the mattress.  Changing the sheets is hard enough for one person, but flipping a queen size mattress is like doing three rounds with Haystack Calhoun! 

Do any of you remember Haystack Calhoun?  Believe it or not, my grandmother was a devoted wrestling fan.  When I was about ten years old, she would watch my brother and I while my mother went out to the Aragon Ballroom on Saturday nights in Chicago.  That meant as soon as my mother left, we switched from The Lawrence Welk Show with all those bubbles to ‘knock-em down’ wrestling.  This was on our little 12” black and white screen TV with all those tubes.  Haystack was one of my favorites, and of course I practiced my ‘Full Nelsons” on younger Nurse Ratchet.

But I digress… Today I was smarter and asked volunteers Dick and Doug if they could help me with the mattress.  It took them about 30 seconds to get the job done, and nobody got ‘pinned’.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A bit of a scare this evening

As usual for my first day off of the week, I did my laundry this morning and then headed to Yuma for grocery shopping.  Those two duties generally take up most of the day since Yuma is 40 miles away.  It was 3:00 before I got back to the rig.

Emma was chomping at the bit to get outside, and I hooked her up to her outside tie while I unloaded the car.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with temps nearing 80*.  I give Emma her supper at 5:00, and she somehow has a clock wired into her consciousness to know what time it is.  Beginning about 4:30 each day, she comes over to place her head on my leg and stare up at me.  It’s uncanny.

I eventually relent, and fix her dish to be eaten outside.  She had no sooner finished eating when suddenly a gang of 50-100 bees descended upon our site.  They were mostly swarming one of my hummingbird feeders, but lots were just flying around the patio area.  This drives Emma nuts, and she chases them.  Sorry to say she caught several in just moments.  That resulted in her coughing and rubbing her face in the gravel, on the patio, and on the small rug I have outside.

The bees then left almost as suddenly as they had appeared.  In the meantime, Emma upchucked her dinner and then just laid down.  She appeared rather dopey for her, and her eyes were drifting shut.  I was concerned.

Just then fellow volunteers Gail and Greg were returning from their evening walk.  Gail was a nurse before retirement.  I explained the crazy bee invasion to them and my concern about Emma.  Gail suggested some Benadryl for Emma.  Of course, I don’t have any of that, but she did.  I covered a low dosage pill in peanut butter, but Emma wasn’t interested.  Very odd for her.  Between the two of us, we got it down her throat.  There was no swelling evident, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Gail told me the pill would make Emma rather drowsy, so we got her up and put her in the rig.  She was lethargic, but made it into the rig.  Not sure I could carry her 45 pounds up those six steps by myself.  She has had a couple of good drinks of water this evening and ate some dry toast.  She seems to be more comfortable now, but I’ll be monitoring her through the night.  As much as I gripe about her being a ‘wild child’, she has wormed her way into my heart.  It was a scary evening.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, December 8, 2014

“Bee-havior”

I had four people signed up for the bird tour yesterday morning, so I was prepared bright and early.  With sunrise not until around 7:30 these days, it’s a bit of a challenge to take Emma for her first outs.  The coyotes have figured out that we’ve moved, and I’m not too comfortable wandering around in the dark with her.

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Everyone showed up for the tour, and my first stop was right in my own front yard.  I had set up my scope so everyone could get a good look at the waterfowl in the pond below my patio.  The two ladies on the left were from Canada, and some of you may recognize the two folks at the top.

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You know I had to take the obligatory shot of fellow RVers and Bloggers, Betty and Joe Graffis.  They had left their RV in Yuma way before the crack of dawn to get here for the tour.  They’re a delightful couple, and Joe is known as an Ace in the horseshoe pitching world.  It was an enthusiastic group I had for this tour. 

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Right on queue, the vermillion flycatcher made his appearance in the morning sunlight.  One of the Canadian women was an avid photographer, and was thrilled with her opportunities with the birds we saw.  So much so that she almost gave me a heart attack.

We mostly stay in the vehicle as it acts as a mobile bird blind, and doesn’t disturb the birds very much.  Not disturbing the birds is paramount in the view of the refuge manager.  He has only allowed these tours for the first time this year since he was assured that birders generally aren’t interested in causing problems.

So what did that lady do?  Well, she snuck out of the back door without mentioning it.  As I began to move forward in the vehicle, the back door slammed, and all I could think of was that I was about to run over a visitor that had fallen out the door. Disappointed smile  You can bet that I’ll give a little talk about staying in the vehicle unless I tell them to get out next week.  I also cautioned her not to get out of the vehicle without permission.

Then, as we made a scheduled stop to view a beaver slide, she took off down the road on foot with her camera.  The result was that all the waterfowl that folks were looking at took off… certainly disturbed.  Grrr!  It’s not often that I get such a self centered person on my tours.  Lesson learned for me.

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As we made our way back toward the VC, there was a flock of about 50 Canada geese in one of the fields.  I picked out one snow goose amongst them.  Snow geese are rather uncommon here on this refuge, so that was a good sighting.

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After a full day working at the VC, this male phainopepla showed up while Emma and I were sitting out in the late afternoon.  Some people call them black cardinals.

Today was another day working the VC.  It was fairly boring until about 1:00 this afternoon.  That’s when an exterminator showed up.  Remember when I showed you all those bees in my hummingbird feeder a week or so ago?  Well, we’ve had an invasion of bees in the VC, so the exterminator was called.  You can’t have visitors getting stung at a federal facility.  You can just imagine possible lawsuits and such.

The bees seemed to be coming in through the air vents in the bathrooms.  I don’t know how they got there, but the plan was to spray under the roof some how.  The result was that we had to close down the VC and lock the gate so no visitors could get into the area. 

With the VC shut down, I left to go home.  I don’t run fast anymore, and we were warned that the bees would be very angry.  I was out of there early!  So sad…Winking smile  I later found out that some visitors snuck in while the FedEx man came in.  Some other volunteers that hadn’t quite left yet had to run for their lives to warn the visitors as hundreds of bees swarmed around.  Can’t say as I’m sorry I missed that ‘bee-havior”.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Settled in

Other than helping out with a big group of fourth graders yesterday for a few hours, I’ve had two days to settle into my new site.  I’ve needed that time to clean things up and just enjoy my new ambiance.

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Surprisingly, I found this beaver tail cactus blooming near the VC.  I don’t know if that was caused by the slight rains we had earlier this week or not.  I thought most blooms occurred starting in February, but I’m pretty new to the desert.

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Yesterday afternoon as I was sitting out with Emma, I got out my scope and set it up.  I wanted to see what was really around on the pond down below.  Although hard to see with the naked eye, I found a great blue heron and a black-crowned night heron perched on little hummocks on the other side of the pond.

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I decided to try shooting a photo with my little Canon PowerShot through the scope.  It didn’t work too well, but at least I can tell it’s a black-crowned night heron.  Sad smile

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I also enjoyed the effect of the sun’s rays on my saguaro cactus.  It looks like a shadow behind it, but turns out that there are really two saguaros right next to each other.  It’s so dry here in this part of the Sonoran desert that saguaros are not very common.  I’m guessing these two are just about the same age that I am since it takes 50-70 years to get that first arm.

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As Emma and I sat out this afternoon, a whole covey of Gambel’s quails came ‘gamboling’ through muttering amongst themselves.

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There’s a pretty steep drop off about four feet past my patio, but that posed no problem for these sociable birds.  They just ran right down it.  I think these quail along with the saguaro cactus will pretty much define my mind’s picture of the Sonoran desert.

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I’m also thinking you’re going to be subjected to a lot of photos of the view from my patio over the next four months.  Each view changes for me with the moving of the sun through the day.  Dawn and dusk are my favorites because of the shadows that bring out the nooks and crannies of the painted desert and the mountains.  Right now I’m enjoying both, but as the days start lengthening next month, I’ll probably see less of the dawns.  Winking smile

I’ll be working the next three days in the VC, but happily I’m doing a bird tour first thing in the morning.  The best part of that is Betty and Joe Graffis will be on the tour.  As many of you know, it’s always nice to meet fellow bloggers in person. 

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                                                                             THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy