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Turkey vultures catching some rays, Imperial NWR, AZ

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Last Sunday bird tour

Today was the first of the last three days of my assignment at Imperial NWR.  Nan and John Talley were signed up for my last bird tour of the season, but Nan sent me a message the other day that they were not enjoying the almost triple digit temps and had decided to head north to cooler weather. 

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So that left me with just myself for this tour.  Not a problem!  Instead of making sure any visitors had an enjoyable time, I could concentrate on just enjoying myself with my last glimpses of the wildlife management areas along the Colorado River.  

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Even though the temps were quickly approaching the 80’s, I was garbed in sweatpants and hoody inside the vehicle to help ward off the hordes of mosquitoes.  Ever since the refuge has flooded the marsh areas, and much water has been released from the upriver dams, the refuge has turned into a mosquito paradise with all the standing water.  I’d have to say it competes with the marshes of the upper Texas gulf coast for mosquito numbers.   I never expected that considering I’m in the Sonoran desert.

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Most of the wintering waterfowl has headed north towards their breeding grounds, but there are still plenty of American coots and egrets around.  Those are the Chocolate Mountains in the background.

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With the flooding of the marsh areas, the herons are busy beginning to nest and catch fish in the marsh areas.

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While encountering a couple of turkey vultures along the way, I spotted something else in the distance.

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Up popped a coyote out of the wet area.  It quickly headed out away from me.  I’ve noticed a definite lessening of coyote activity around the rig lately.  I’m guessing they’re busy raising this year’s young and can’t be bothered with Emma at the moment.  I’m happy about that.

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I also found a pair of Western Kingbirds in one of the riparian areas.  The top one was wrestling with a dragonfly.  I wish it had found something else to eat as dragonflies love feeding on mosquitoes.

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I decided I just couldn’t not include a pic of an American coot before I left here.  It’s the only bird I guarantee visitors will see on any bird tour I give here.  They’re almost as numerous as the mosquitoes.  I really liked the reflections of the bull rushes in the water as well. 

I took this shot as I was trying to get a clapper rail out into the open.  He was ‘clapping’ away not far from me.  I picked up two rocks to click together in hopes of enticing him out of the reeds, but it didn’t work.

It’s spring break around here for school kids, and tomorrow we have almost 30 youngsters coming to the refuge from the Yuma Proving Grounds holiday/summer day care program.  In this heat, that ought to wear us out for the day. Disappointed smile

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                                                                             THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Counting down the days and some surprises

I just finished three more days in the VC, and have three more to do before I slowly move on towards Oregon.  Yesterday afternoon, the refuge manager asked if he could talk to me in his office.  My first thought was ‘here we go again’, and my heart skipped a beat as he once again closed the door behind me.  Now what?  I was quite surprised when he proceeded to tell me that he had been premature in telling me that I would not be asked to return to volunteer next winter.  He then apologized and asked me to consider returning.

79 Imperial NWR 2014-1518                                                                   Blooming buckhorn cholla.

I told him I’d think about it.  I also told him I had been going to ask for an exit interview to discuss some things that I thought he was unaware of.  I covered most of those things in this talk.  I have a week to consider the pros and cons.  I will make a decision before I leave in a week.  I appreciated that he was professional and man enough to admit to his mistake.  If I were to return, I would not be exclusively working in the VC.  We agreed upon that point.

When I went out the side door to the picnic area beside the VC to have my lunch today, I was surprised to see another western diamond-backed rattlesnake slithering out of the first desert tortoise habitat.  Oh my!  We had quite a few visitors inside, and I was concerned for their safety.  I dropped my lunch bag and hot footed it back inside to tell the refuge manager.

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Nate grabbed the snake catcher and a red bucket, and jokingly told me he expected Linda and I to grab the snake.  Ha!  Not in my job description!  The snake had moved down the walking path a ways.  It was loudly rattling up quite a storm as Nate approached with the ‘grabber’.  Can you see it’s tongue sticking out?

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The idea is to use the ‘grabber’ to clamp down just behind the head of the snake.  This was not the same snake that was here a week ago.  This one had twelve rattles on its tail and was much bigger.

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                                                         Nate maneuvered him into the bucket…

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…and clamped the lid on before releasing the grip on the rattler.  Now that was some lunchtime excitement for me!  It was later released quite some distance from the VC, but not before it repeatedly made strikes against the lid of the bucket. 

I leave you tonight with a little bird lesson.

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I snapped this pic on Sunday morning’s bird tour.  A couple of migrating turkey vultures catching some rays in the early morning.  If you look really closely, you can see that these birds have reddish/pink legs with white wash on them.  Vultures defecate on their legs.  Turkey vultures cannot be banded on the legs like other birds.  Their white wash is very acidic.  It turned out that the first vultures that were banded ended up losing their foot on the leg that was banded.  That acidic ‘poop’ accumulated inside the bands and ate through their legs.  That little piece of trivia should lighten up any dinner conversation don’t you think? Winking smile

Anyway, besides doing the packing up chores the next few days, I’ll be contemplating where I’ll be heading next winter.  This has been the warmest winter I’ve spent in the last nine years, but I like green as well.  Decisions, decisions…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do you have a recommendation?

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is one of three refuges in the Southwest Arizona National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  As I understand it, each refuge manager reports to the Complex manager.  The complex manager decided to have a cookout luncheon today to honor the volunteers at all three refuges.  Nice idea.  We were served up hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, fresh green salad, Cole slaw, and an assortment of deserts, chips and salsa.  The Kofa NWR manager did the grilling.  I truly appreciated not having to cook for a change.

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As I went to retrieve my ‘little’ camera out of the car, I encountered this roadrunner doing his running thing along the complex office sidewalks.  I had a little time to get some pics.  You see, all staff and volunteers were in back of the complex building for the BBQ, so all the doors were locked when I tried to get back in.  Disappointed smile

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Eventually, I found someone to unlock the door so I could return to the gathering.  The complex manager gave a speech and thanked all of us volunteers for the over 11,000 hours we’ve put in this winter.  That equates to the work done by five full-time employees.  Not too shabby in my estimation. 

Elaine, the complex manager, had her lunch with me and four other Imperial volunteers.  First time I’ve spent any time with her, and I liked her.  After her speech, each refuge manager recognized each of their volunteers with small thank you gifts.  I received my 7000 hour volunteer pin.  The Imperial manager and I have our differences, but he did acknowledge that he didn’t know that he had ever met anyone with more volunteer hours with the Fish & Wildlife Service.  There are lots of folks that have more hours, but I’m proud of my contribution.

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The reason I went back to my car to get my little camera is that there was a hummingbird nest in a Palo Verde tree very close to where we were eating.  I believe this is a female black-chinned hummingbird sitting on her eggs.  I remarked that the nest looked pretty large for a hummer.  It turns out a month ago a hummingbird had a nest here.  Can you see that this female built her nest atop the old used nest?  They make their nests out of cob webs and lichen and such.  The eggs are the size of little jelly beans.  I just might go back with my good camera to see if I can get some more shots.

As my time here at Imperial winds down, there are also several other changes I’m having to deal with.  My mail service in South Dakota (formerly called Alternative Resources) has changed their name to Dakota Post and changed their address as well.  That means I have to change all my addresses as well.  What a pain that is. 

Then in May, my extended warranty on the rig expires since the rig will be seven years old.  That warranty included roadside assistance.  I need to find my own roadside assistance.  I’ve used Good Sam in the past, but was wondering if you readers could give me some input.  The other companies I’ve heard good reports about are Coach net and Progressive.  What thinkest thou?

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                                                                                THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, March 16, 2015

♫ I get along with a little help from my friends ♪

Actually, I get along with a lot of help from my friends, but I’ll explain that a little later.  First, I want to talk about the new things that I saw on Sunday.  I had the bird tour first thing in the morning, and there was the usual cast of avian characters.  For several weeks, I’ve been hearing about an American Bittern that has been hanging out down where I give the tour, but had not been able to spot it.

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To my happy surprise, it made an appearance for the tour.  This bittern went into his ‘hiding’ stance as we approached in the vehicle.  They typically raise their beak skyward hoping to look like a reed in the middle of a wetland, and stand stock still.  I’ve posted pics of bitterns from several different states in the past, but that doesn’t lessen the thrill for me to spot one here. 

Then working the VC in the afternoon, we had another surprise.  A visitor came in to tell us there was a snake in Digger, the desert tortoise’s, habitat area.  I grabbed my camera and dashed outside.

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Sure enough, a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake had curled up under the creosote bush in Digger’s pen while he munched away on broccoli close by. 

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We cautioned the visitors about getting too close to this most poisonous rattlesnake.  It had the diagnostic large black and white bands on its tail before the rattle to differentiate it from the Mohave rattler.  Don’t know if it’s fact or fiction that each set of rattles signifies one year, but if true this snake was eight years old.

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There are some openings in the wall of the tortoise habitats, and eventually this diamond back made his way out of the pen, through the picnic benches, and back out into the desert.  It was pretty exciting, but also makes me think with the soaring temperatures, it’s about time for me to get out of Dodge.  I really don’t want to see too many more of these reptiles.

A short time later, my friends Bridget and John Hatch arrived for a visit in their motorhome.  Some may remember that I volunteered with this fun couple last summer at Tamarac.  They just finished heading up the parking crew at the Escapade in Tucson, and are on their way for a volunteer assignment at a refuge in Oregon. 

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It’s my opinion that John can fix just about anything on an RV, and when we firmed up their coming I asked John if he would help me with a few needed repairs on my rig.  Winking smile He asked me to send him a list so he could be prepared when he arrived.  Today was the day.  First up was a repair to my outside awning.  That was a challenge, but it’s working just fine now.  Next up was a little ‘oops’ I had putting out a slide a while back.  It got hooked on a cabinet door and tore off the oak trim on the slide.  Everything is back where it belongs, and looks good as new.

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The third of the four things on my list was the back-up camera that had stopped working.  John’s a tall guy and was trying to squeeze himself into a very small space.  He got the side view turning cameras working, but never could get the back up one fixed.  I want to mention that I had tried to fix all of these things myself, but was unsuccessful.

Last but not least was my off again/on again problem with the leaking fresh water tank.  John spent a lot of time under my rig on his back figuring this one out, but fixed the problem by installing a new sliding valve shut off thingy.  Confused smile  Other friends had tried to fix this with no luck. 

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While John was working away in the 93* heat, Bridget and I got to do some visiting, and I played gopher helping out where I could.

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The least I could do was fix dinner for them.  We had a variety of sausages and a whole lot of grilled fresh asparagus.  You can’t be in the Yuma area and not enjoy fresh asparagus.  We had a great time catching up until at exactly 6:30 the mosquitoes descended on us with a vengeance!  OMG!  Within a minute’s time  I had 16 bites on my legs, arms, and ears.  We bid a hasty goodbye until the next time we meet.

I am so grateful for being able to get by with a little help from my friends!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Artful Dodger

On one side of the VC outside, we have three desert tortoise habitats. 

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Digger, the 50 year old tortoise, lives in the first one.  Dozer lives in the third one way to the right of this pic.  Desert tortoises spent about 90% of their lives in their underground burrows.  For well over a year, there have only been two tortoises living here.  I’ve shown pictures of both Digger and Dozer in the past.  There was another tortoise in the middle habitat, but it disappeared quite some time ago.

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A couple of weeks ago, this little tortoise suddenly appeared in the middle habitat.  It’s shell is only about six inches from front to back.  Where did it come from?  It’s been a mystery to all of us.  Could it have not been seen for over a year?  All three habitats have a feeding dish that we fill with things like broccoli and other dark green fresh vegetables for the tortoises to eat.  No food has been put in the middle habitat for a year or more.

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A visitor was the first one to spot this tortoise, and thankfully she came in to tell us about it.  It was a surprise to everyone!  Poor little thing didn’t really have a name.  Since the other two tortoises had “D” names, I suggested Dodger.  It reminded me of Dickens's Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver Twist’.  After all, had it not avoided detection for over a year?  If not, it’s just one of life’s little mysteries.

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There is also a desert garden surrounding the VC, and the Beaver Tail Cacti have begun to bloom.  Their flowers are such a brilliant rose/pink color that all the blooms just hit you in the face as you walk down the entrance sidewalk.

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The ocotillos are also blooming even though there are no leaves on their stalks.  The plants here in the desert certainly have interesting adaptations to deal with the arid conditions.  The black-chinned hummingbirds have arrived and they are also enjoying the nectar from these blooms.

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This little cactus is only about five inches tall, but it’s blooming too.  Can you see how it got it’s name?  It’s a nipple cactus.

Today I drove to Yuma to meet Janna, from Montana.  When she read that I was uncomfortable going to Los Algodones, Mexico, by myself, she offered to go with me.  She wanted to get her teeth cleaned, and I wanted to get a filling fixed.  I chose not to go with their suggestion of treatment.  They wanted to do a crown, and I’m not ready to go there yet or return two more times to accomplish it.  I’m a chicken when it comes to dentists and going to Mexico.  It is what it is.  I guess I’ll just visit the dentist I’m sort of comfortable with in Minnesota next fall.  Going to a dentist makes me nervous enough that I didn’t even get a picture of meeting Janna.  I’d like to thank her though for making this trip so much less stressful for me.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wonderful day (part 2)

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As we finished up our time at the Lake Cabin, we headed back out through the tunnel and motored further up the Colorado River.  You’ve probably noticed that it was a simply gorgeous day for this excursion.

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Our next destination was a refuge BAR (Burned Area Rehabilitation) site.  It was located on the east side of the river across from Picacho State Recreation Area.

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There was a wildfire in this area in 2013, and efforts are being made to clean parts of it up and replant cottonwood trees.  Inmates from the Yuma Prison that have been trained as fire crews have spent about ten weeks helping with the cleanup and replanting.  How they are transported out here in the middle of nowhere is another whole story that I won’t go into today.

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Brownshirt Chris is a temporary employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and he is heading up this rehabilitation.  I refer to him as the ‘tree’ man, and I was happy to find out what exactly he does.  He gave us great insights to what is being attempted.  I just wish we had this understanding at the beginning of our tour of duty rather than at the end.

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It was then time to head back across the river to the lower boat dock of Picacho State Recreation Area for a picnic lunch, and to visit their much appreciated pit toilets.  We had been instructed by Vance to bring enough water and food on this trip for two days, just in case.  That seemed a little odd to us, but it became more obvious why as the day went on.

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The last stop for us after lunch before heading back to Meer’s Point was the historic Norton’s Landing.  This place was very important in the late 1800’s during the mining and steamboat era on the river.  That was, of course, before all the dams were constructed along the river.

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The landing is presently owned by the man that until recently ran boat tours out of Martinez Lake.  It was a lunch stop on his tours.  There are no trespassing signs posted all over, but the man is a good friend of the refuge, so we felt comfortable walking around.  All the old artifacts are especially interesting if you’re one of those people that really likes old rusty stuff.  Me, not so much. 

It was on the way back that the engine on the jet boat began to have some problems.  It didn’t seem to be able to pick up any speed.  That was a concern as we slowly tried to get back down the river.  The caution to bring plenty of water and food was brought home to us.  Then, all of a sudden, the engine kicked into gear and we blasted through the water.  There had been thoughts of stopping at the site where Chris was on the way back, but Norm said there was no way he was stopping for anything for fear the engine would die.  Thankfully, it was a swift return to Meer’s Point.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank wildlife specialist Vance for arranging this great tour, and Norm for being our captain of the ship.  What a grand time I had.  A good memory to take away with me from Imperial NWR.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A wonderful day at Imperial (part 1)

I’ve been excited in anticipation of today for about two weeks.  Vance, the refuge wildlife specialist, would be taking half of us volunteers out for a day on the Colorado River.  There are ten RV volunteers, and since the boat can only take five at a time we were divided into two groups.  The first group was supposed to go last Monday, but it was cancelled due to rain.  That meant group 2 would actually be number one for going on this adventure.  And an adventure it was!

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We headed out about 9:30 this morning, and soon left the Meer’s Point picnic area/boat ramp behind us.  I lucked out with a comfortably padded front seat in the jet boat.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had no idea what Vance had in mind for us today.

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I was sure glad I was bundled up in several layers along with my life vest.  The river and speed of the boat made it quite chilly as we blasted up the Colorado.  I recognized the painted desert of the refuge from a new perspective.

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Before too long Vance told volunteer Norm, who was driving the boat, to head to shore.  It looked pretty impenetrable to me, but Vance insisted Norm just pull in by the palm tree.

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This was my view as we crashed into the phragmites.  Then Vance said we should just hop out and climb up the hill.  Really??  Did he forget this is the geriatric cruise?  Confused smile  After securing the anchor on land, he held back some of the phragmites, and we did our best clambering out of the boat.  It wasn’t graceful by any means…

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It was kind of steep, and the footing was a challenge with the loose rocks, but we all made it.  (That’s Gail and Greg)

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Vance had sprung ahead to show us the way to what he wanted us to see.  I was wishing I had brought my hiking stick, but it was all worth it.

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Petroglyphs etched into the desert varnish on the side of the rocks on refuge property.  Cool beans!  To save this site for future generations from vandalism, the boat docking site has not been cleared out and made obvious.  I’m sure long time local residents know about this location, but there wasn’t too much graffiti desecrating the site.  Don’t know why people think they need to do that.  I was thrilled to walk this ancient area.

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       Our next stop wasn’t quite as hidden, but it was still an interesting entrance to an historic area.

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This tunnel through the vegetation had been trimmed so boats could get through.  I know several readers have recently taken this same tunnel.

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                                Once you pop out the other side, it’s an easy float to the Lake Cabin.

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The real Watchman’s Cabin is a ways over one of the ridges, and was used during the 1800’s.  It was used during the mining times.  (I think, if I remember correctly)  That’s Norm and me enjoying the comfortable chairs outside the cabin in the top left.  One of the volunteers quipped that we looked like Ma and Pa Kettle.  Ha!  Norm is a fellow solo volunteer, and we exchange disparaging remarks whenever our paths cross on the refuge.  He’s a retired Navy guy, and I leave it to your imagination what his banter is like.  (think rough dock worker with most words being four letters in length)  Surprised smile  I do have to say, though, that it was Norm that helped me down all of the steep embankments on our journey today.  He went first with me hanging onto his shoulders so I wouldn’t slide down and break a hip!

Well, these two visits only got us half way through the day and I’ve already passed my word limit for a post, so I’ll do a part two to the day tomorrow.  I leave you tonight with my best view of my friend Norm in the phragmites…

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                                                                             THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy