What is wrong with me?

Common Gallinule. Some crazy facial features on these birds.
Common Gallinule. Some crazy facial features on these birds.

Last night I woke up feeling so awful I thought maybe it was the end. The kind of dread filled awful that fills a person when the blankets hurt to touch your skin,  joints were burning, the body was hot and then cold. I thrashed and could not sleep. Burt and I had a big day planned and there I was with hands too painful to move and a gut that seemed paralyzed.

My Dad arrives this Tuesday. We picked today (Thursday) as our day to head to Cabo San Lucas and pick up comfort foods for him at Coscto. Potato chips, peanuts, chocolate, wine, parmesan cheese. Things that will help ease his transition into our rustic life in Pescadero Heights. To entice us to make the run Burt decided to load up our Sea King rowboat onto the truck and we’d float out on the San Jose estuary and do so killer birding before we went shopping. All night long I obsessed about our plans falling apart. I Decided I would go no matter how bad I felt. And that is what I did. I figured I could lie in the boat while boat rowed us around. I pondered the inevitability of my gut starting to move again and figured I might have to explode from one end or the other over the gunnels of the vessel. Burt could handle it.

We made it to the Laguna San Juan in record time thanks to the newish toll roads by-passing all of the Cabo hotels and urban areas. At 8:30 we pulled into the lagoon parking and re-read the signs that we just then remembered telling us no boats are allowed on the lagoon. Oops. Funny how we both remembered we knew this fact just as we were reading signs reminding us of the fact. So here I was on an adventure that now required self locomotion. I gathered my wits and slowly trudged about. We checked out the new birding platforms. Be forewarned the steps were designed to give a degree of excitement not typically found while bird watching. The predicted gut explosion came right after I exited the scary bird tower and just as 40 some school children headed our way. Lovely timing body. Thus relieved I suggested we drive to another spot and see what we could see. Time to get some distance between me and my scat.

At the new area just a 100′ away from the previous area (water in between) we got the best look yet at the endangered and endemic Belding’s Yellowthroat. I captured a picture for my eBird records. Soon it was time to address our shopping chores. I gathered my strength and resisted the wheel chair cart at Costco. No actual parmesan cheese was found so we bought the green canned cheese-stuff to tide us over. Dad can have the remaining imported Parmesan and Burt and I will eat the salty, white, sawdust. My legs gave out for Soriana’s and Home Depot. We made it home with an hour and a half to rest before music class.  Five new species were added to our Mexico list.

So here are the possible causes of my -lips-hurt-so-much-I-can’t- talk disease: Too much pickleball yesterday? Sunburn? I even tried to convince Burt I must have an invisible sunburn because my skin hurts so intensely. Dengue fever? Food-born illness? I looked up Dengue Fever and I really hope I don’t have it. They call it bone break fever because of the debilitating body pain. Let’s all hope this is just a little food borne illness or too much pickleball.

Belding's Yellowthroat
Belding’s Yellowthroat

 

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Took a kid outside

Evely took a bunch of pictures of me.
Evely took a bunch of pictures of me.
Evely says the water is cold
Evely says the water is cold

I did something I’ve never done before. I took a kid in the woods. A real kid. By myself. Sure I’ve been in the woods with bunches of children and their parents. I’ve skied and boated and hiked with kids but there was always a real caretaker nearby. Then there’s the twenty-somethings. I’ve been out with a few of them.

Evely is one of our regular students in the art and music and English classes. She has always been kind and polite. She helps the younger kids. She never acts bored or too cool to participate. In last year’s class we had another girl her age and she was disruptive because she thought she was too old for the activities. Evely understands the younger girls follow her lead and she is all in and eager to learn. Watching 13 year old Evely show up and work hard, always with a smile on her face, gave me the idea that maybe she was ready for a side trip all her own. I decided to invite her birding with Burt and me. I told her we’d look at nature and look for birds. She said she’d like to go. I told her to get permission from her parents. It was all arranged.

Today was the day. Burt woke up sick. Enter massive anxiety for me. I have to take a child on a trip by myself? What if she gets hurt or hates it or can’t carry the stuff? Who was going to take care of us? Who would drive? Burt wouldn’t listen. He insisted I was ready. Ack ack ack. So I went alone. Me and my anxiety.

I’ll admit there wasn’t much small talk. Evely is a quiet girl and me, well, you know, I don’t have much to say most days. The car ride was very quiet. Evely texted. I fretted. Maybe she just wanted to get away from her parents and play with her phone? Once we arrived at Las Palmas I realized I had picked the right kid. I showed her how to use the binoculars. We found some lesser goldfinches and practiced looking for them as they flitted in and out of a bush. Evely described the birds to me. We found a lizard. We focised on things near and far. The phone was gone and the binos were glued to her eyes. It was time to explore.

Right away we spotted a sweet Verdin. These yellow faced birds are the definition of darling. With binos to eyes Evely exclaimed, “Que hermoso pajaro!” I asked if she wanted to take a picture and gave her complete control of my telephoto equipped real life camera. And that was the end of my worrying about entertaining my companion. The next two hours she took photos while we found birds and horses and a dead raccoon. The dead raccoon sealed the deal. Without saying a word she started photographing while I put its head back together. As is typical, the lower jam was found apart from the head. She was not disgusted one bit as I ripped away the tattered mass of fur. My kinda girl!

After it was all over I thanked her for her fine companionship and told her we’d head out again soon. I believe, almost as much as I believe anything, that if people don’t appreciate the natural world our planet is doomed. I have hope.

Me by Evly Cota
Me by Evly Cota
Calavera Mapache by Evely Cota
Calavera Mapache by Evely Cota
Horses by Evely Cota
Horses by Evely Cota
Verdin by Evely Cota
Verdin by Evely Cota
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Mini-road Trip

Kingfisher
Kingfisher

We heard through e-bird a group of groove-billed anis were spotted in the La Ribera area about a week ago and thought we’d go take a look. La Ribera is about 30 miles away if you could fly over the mountains. It takes two and a half or more hours to drive there because you have to drive around the peninsula. There is no usable road through the corrugated Sierra de la Laguna Mountains.  There is a dirt track that some consider driveable but it takes 4 times as much time and an infinite amount more in discomfort. Yesterday after Spanish class, Burt and I and the Olvis hit the pavement. It was an easy afternoon drive.

We found the spot using GPS and it was a nearly empty beach with a small lagoon and a palm oasis. It was great diverse edge to edge micro-habitats. The birding was exciting and netted us a bunch of new species for our Mexico list but we did not see the ani. Anis are described as large black birds of a disheveled appearance. Their wings droop and their feathers are ruffled. Their beaks are very heavy and distinct. Hard to miss a messy giant black bird but  four birds in miles of scrub have a lot of cover. They did not come out to the water’s edge while we were looking. Maybe they’ll fly over and visit us.

It was good to go wander a bit. Camping can be an effective cure for hitch itch. The need to wander is abated by sleeping on the ground, missing showers, and eating cold food. But sometimes hitch itch is inflamed by seeing beautiful new spots and doing fun activities. I think I came out about the same as I went in.

Spawning beds
Spawning beds
The lagoon
The lagoon
Sea of Cortez or Golfo de California
Sea of Cortez or Golfo de California
Spawning fish
Spawning fish
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Burrowing Owl

Santo Domingo hike
Santo Domingo hike. Salty and Elvis.

We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.

Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.

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Burrowing owl outside its burrow. Those long legs are for walking.
Bequia on the hike.
Bequia on the hike. That skinny dog at her feet lives on the rancho. He could use some more food but he’s in good health.
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Audacity and Despair

Sad ending to a brave bird.
Sad ending to a brave bird.

When people said we were brave for taking on this bird I didn’t understand. Now that my heart is broken I realize they meant brave for leaping into the chasm of doomed love.  We could have left him to his fate that cool night a week ago. It wouldn’t have been the wrong thing to do. It would have been easier to walk away and let nature take its course but we didn’t. We dared to care, we tried to help and now we suffer for his loss. I am always shocked by how the death of an animal can feel so sharp. Someone provided comfort by explaining that love is what motivated us. A short lived but powerful love.

BH’s wound was simply too serious and the resources for repair do not exist here. He would have died without our help and he did die with our help. I wonder if our arrogance caused him more pain or I wonder if humans all over are better because we simply try. That we all collectively care is important. We need to hang on to our desire to help people and animals.

It is sad but also we learned some things. Maybe next time we will leave an injured animal to its fate but maybe not. Maybe we will seek medical care sooner. Maybe we will apply our new knowledge. Maybe we will succeed.

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Stress

 

Blooming fish hook cactus.
Blooming fish hook cactus.

The dude continues to eat despite yesterday’s attempts to ‘help’. After much reading and consulting with various experienced persons we decided to sling the kestrel’s broken wing. First step was a sock on the head. That is instantly calming or, perhaps, so terrifying that the bird is catatonic. With a sock on the head Bad Hombre freezes and curls up his toes. If he happens to be gripping your finger at the time of cloaking you might need help removing him from your finger. I know I did. Burt had to peel BH’s mighty talons from my thumb. I was uninjured but only because his claws hadn’t pinched loose skin. I can now sympathize with how helpless a lizard or bird must feel if caught in this deadly grip. Here I was a mere 1,000 times larger and I needed help to get free.

Once calm and unattached to me we explored the bird’s wing. Sadly, we found an open wound. The wound was healing but there was a little pus. I would guess another bird of prey got a shot at this guy. I cleaned the wound and applied antibiotic ointment. Before treating him I used my iPhone to quickly see if bids were allergic to antibiotic ointment. Some antibiotics kill birds of prey. I knew this because a cow medicine is killing vultures. The internet said ointment is okay. I gooshed a bunch in the hole. Then we wrapped an X-bandage of self sticking tape around the wing and then wrapped another bandage around the wing and the bird’s body to stabilize things. One of the more alarming aspects of caring for the bird is if he freaks out and tried to fly he gets his bad wing all tangled and it is a horrifying sight. I cannot imagine it feels good. The bandages we used are the stuff that sticks to itself but not the skin or, in this case, feathers.

Withing seconds BH was tangled in the bandage around his body. Those crazy strong talons got up inside and tried to pull it off even with the hood on. I re-attached it with more determination and slightly tighter. Same problem. I gave up on it after a second fiasco of wings, bandage, and talon knot. This was looking dangerous for all of us. So we put BH back in the kennel and he slumped over in his post-human contact coma. The X-bandage was in place, the wound was treated, and he was still breathing. Burt and I left for Bridge.

Big surprise. We played horribly at Bridge. I was in a funk. The wound. The bandage failure. Long term care issues. Crazy cards. Really good players. Bleh. We came home and found BH roosting, ready for dinner, bandage off. I told him he was on his own. I was not going to try again. We fed his some grouse heart and other yummy bits and said good night. I feel my funk lifting as I share all this drama with you.

This cardon is doing something so beautiful that we humans could never intentionally replicate. Wabi sabi. Gorgeous decay.
This cardon is doing something so beautiful that we humans could never intentionally replicate. Wabi sabi. Gorgeous decay.
Check out the chamfer corner on the dry set wall.
Check out the chamfer corner on the dry set wall.
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Primary Colors

Kestrel guards the grouse wing.
Kestrel guards the grouse wing.

Bad Hombre is getting used to us. As my friend Gretchen says,”You’ve become a neutral stimulant.” So far he won’t eat while we watch but he no longer falls over unconscious when we walk in the room. Progress. It’s become apparent that his wing is likely a permanent disability. This birdie will need a permanent home. Feeding him is a significant commitment. For optimal health he needs a variety of rodents, birds, and insects. We had a sharp tailed grouse in our freezer but were short on insects and rodents. Yesterday we threw a live cockroach in the kennel and left. Did the roach leave or was it eaten? We are in the uncomfortable position of not knowing.

Yesterday was Ladies Bridge. We meet Saturdays for lunch and cards. How did this happen to me? Bridge, ladies club? Well these women are smart and fun and not your run of the mill gals. Our host, Lorna, is also a bird fan. As  I was describing my kestrel’s dietary preferences to Lorna and another early arriver, Lorna said, “I have a white winged dove in my freezer. You can have it.” Now that is kismet and further proof that Bridge ladies are my kind of ladies. This poor white winged dove had died on impact on Lorna’s window. Lorna was saving it to eat.

In other news, our first art class with Maestra Jolyn Wells Moran was this week. We gathered up the neighborhood kids and brought them to our yard. Most of them are 6-10 years old but there’s a 13 year old and a 4 year old, too.  Germany (4) comes with her mom. Burt had set up saw horses and boards and Jolyn had made paint palettes from plastic plates. Jolyn knows her art. She is a prolific producer of lovely landscapes from around our area. She is also a retired therapist. We are very pleased she wanted to work with our kids. It was all her idea. I help translate and Jo has the materials and lesson plan. Our first class was well received and they all say they want to come up again.

During class I was stunned to learn that the kids didn’t know that blue, yellow, and red made all other colors in the universe. It also alarmed me that it was very hard for the girls to get over their inhibitions and take action. I had to take their hands and move the brush from paint to paint and start mixing for a few. I also had to start painting the forms for their favorite animal for most. It was a weird moment. Jo had asked them to paint their favorite animal in secondary colors. That means paint a dog or horse or snake in orange, green, or purple. The kids (all except the one boy) were absolutely paralyzed. First off they couldn’t decide on a favorite animal. Then they couldn’t figure out how to form it. Then they couldn’t figure out how to use such un-natural colors. I had to explain it’s an at exercise not meant to be reality. Finally I started with a duck shape for someone that wanted to paint a duck. Then everyone wanted a duck. The follow the crowd mentality took hold and all favorite animals were suddenly ducks. Nobody wanted to stand out. Except Vince. Vince painted monsters. And my one shining star. Janexi came to me with a picture she had painted all on her own. It was a purple brownish blob. I asked if it was a duck. No. It was a spider. Spiders are her favorite animal. My freaking hero Janexi. Bucking the crowd at 6 years old. All the other girls confirmed that Janexi really did like spiders. I told her I liked them, too, and promised her a spider hunt in the future.

The need for art (and science) education was very apparent.

You can see the left wing is flared away from his body.
You can see the left wing is flared away from his body.
Jolyn and the art kids
Jolyn and the art kids
Vince at work
Vince at work
Art class results
Ducks, monsters and a spider. The turtle like thing in the middle of the front row with a red blob is Janexi’s spider. You can see her signature.
Some of the class
Some of the class
Yeraska's mixing tray was art enough.
Yeraska’s mixing tray was art enough.
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One Bad Hombre

American Kestrel now known as Bad Hombre.
American Kestrel now known as Bad Hombre.

I started cooking this morning. I have a new recipe. It’s called Kestrel’s Favorite Soup. Canned cat food, chicken puree baby food, electrolyte drink, and sugar water are all mixed in equal parts. Heat it up until warm and take it with a dropper. Burt found this injured male Kestrel last night while we were birding. It was dragging a wing and ran itself into a dead end where Burt was able to capture him. Now we have a bird of prey living with us. He’s staying in the dog kennel. So far he hates us. He’s paralyzed with fear. The prognosis is unknown. On the plus side: he survived the night. On the negative side: he is a wild creature and all systems are pegged at red, he is injured, he is susceptible to infection. We now he would have died if left alone. Kestrels are estimated to die at a rate of 65% per year. How’s that for a short life? With us he has one last chance to heal and fly away. If he heals and can’t fly we know a guy that will care for him. Burt and I will try to get this ferocious bird and insect eating dude back on his wings. Since these birds are commonly used in falconry there is a lot of information on the internet on how to care for them. Several people have already told me how they succeeded in rehabbing other individuals. If there were a raptor center nearby I would take him there but as far as I know the closest one is in Tucson.

Night in the Desert. Common Poorwill.
Night in the Desert. Common Poorwill.
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Birdies flocking together

Cara-caras in Elias Calles
Cara-caras in Elias Calles

We drove down here with a 5 pound bag of bird food. Burt was feeling tolerant of my whims. Usually he says, “Too much. Buy it there.” I only bought it because I was afraid I would forget to buy some here. As soon as we were situated I put out some seed. It was a cheap bag of food and nobody came. I tried a couple of locations. Nothing. All the other bird features were busy but sugar water only attracts a subset of feeder birds and I wanted to see more varieties. I despaired. Maybe my food was spoiled or just not to their tastes?

Last week our friend Bobbi asked us to come to her place and help her identify her birds. It was on our way to her house that we spotted the pair of cara-caras sitting in the dead palm. As we sat there on her porch and watched a veritable flock of birds dining ten feet away I realized my mistake. It wasn’t the food. It was the location and type of feeder. The bowls were too exposed and the table was too close to our trailer. I made one small change. I placed the food in a piece of driftwood and hung the driftwood on the fence. The feeding station is two feet further away from our trailer and higher off the ground. The next day there was a seed eater on it. A very shy cardinal flitted in and out taking a seed at a time. The day after that four new species of birds were in the yard: Black headed grosbeak, house finch, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia.  Yippee skippy!

Moral of this story, same as all the rest: Don’t give up.

Cara-caras in Elias Calles
Female Cardinal
IMG_1524
Cardinal at take-off
IMG_1518
Cardinal and black headed grosbeak
IMG_1509
House finch and orange crowned warbler taking a bath together. I wonder what the missus will say?
IMG_1502
House finch, hooded oriole, and orange crowned warbler. The bath is very popular.
IMG_1501
Pyrrhuloxia
IMG_1493
Northern mockingbird and a hooded oriole squabble over who’s turn.
IMG_1488
Scott’s oriole, hooded oriole, house finch in line.
New feeder with cardinal
New feeder with cardinal

 

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Gobble, Gobble, Gobbled

Pavos
Pavos or turkeys

Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.

Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.

The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.

At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.

Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.

Zalate or fig tree
Zalate or fig tree
Presa or dam
Presa or dam
Borregos or sheep
Borregos or sheep
Wild birds in cages. Que triste.
Wild birds in cages. Que triste.
Haciendo queso. Lupita is making cow's milk cheese.
Haciendo queso. Lupita is making cow’s milk cheese.
Pavo sin suerte. The unlucky turkey.
Pavo sin suerte. The unlucky turkey.
Insertion into boiling water loosens the feathers.
Insertion into boiling water loosens the feathers.
Hanging fowl upside down calms them.
Hanging fowl upside down calms them.
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