To the Mountains

Ramona explains how she makes the pottery.
Ramona explains how she makes the pottery. She uses a small stone to make a smooth finish.

Yesterday was warm and sunny and the whole fam-dam-ily took a road trip up to the remote ranchos in the mountains to look for pottery. Dad and friend in one car and Burt, Jen, and Robin in another. I bounced back and forth. I’m not sure dad enjoyed himself. He seemed a little subdued. It might have been an upset stomach or just the really rough roads through very remote desert.

Our first stop was to see Ramona. At 70 Ramona doesn’t produce much these days but her pieces are more whimsical than other local artists. There are pigs, cows, turtles, chickens and other local species transformed into jars and bowls and serving vessels. She explained to us that she was hoping for a new oven because her current one was too big for her to fill these days. She wanted to be able to fire smaller loads. Ramona uses pitaya cactus wood as her main fuel. It doesn’t take much time to form a simple cup but the finishing takes a lot of rubbing with a smooth stone over many days. She does a little bit every day until the piece is smooth and dried just right for firing. If she does too much work one day the piece will dry too quickly and crack. Ramona learned how to do this from her great-grandmother.

Next we went to the locally famous guy’s house but he wasn’t home. Marcos makes bigger and more finely crafted casseroles and bowls. You can drop a substantial amount of pesos at his house. I figured it was our lucky day to not be tempted. Our last visit was to our friends at the end of the road. We don’t even know their names but they call us friend and we’ve been many times. The main man in the photo below has never smiled for us. Until now. The ladies were all unpacking a bunch of cups and bowls for us to look over and I wondered why the man of the house wasn’t showing us his wares. This guy embodies strong, silent type. I knew he wove lariats and riatas and horse accoutrements.  Last year I bought a key chain from him. The hand of the car I call it. So this year I gathered my gumption and asked him, “And where is your work?” I got a flicker of a smile for remembering. He quickly tried to conceal it and he headed off to get his stuff for me. This year I bought a bull’s head made of pig teeth. He makes this stuff to sell down in Cabo San Lucas.

The women asked how our walk (recall the death march to Titi Mountain?) went earlier in the spring. I told them how far we made it and that we were looking for birds. I always say we are scientists studying birds because it’s easier to understand. This brought a piece or unsolicited news. The older woman and the youngest kids had seen a new bird in the area. A blue bird with a crest. I showed a picture of the very common California Scrub Jay and they said, “Noooo, not that one. That one doesn’t have a crest.” I searched for jays on my phone app and found a mainland bird, the Stellar’s Jay, dark blue with a prominent crest.  I showed them this picture and they said, “Yes, that one has been here for a couple of years. It’s new here.” Hmmmmm. We could be real scientists after all on the brink of a new discovery.  I have no doubt they know what they see. These people are living straight off the land. They pay attention. Burt and I hope to head back up in a few weeks and see for ourselves.

This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull's head. The 'horns' are teeth from a hog. I don't remember his name. He never smiles. Except once.
This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull’s head. The ‘horns’ are teeth from a hog. I don’t remember his name. He never smiles but he let me take this photo.
Gallinas.
Gallinas.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Going Pro

Size matters
Size matters

I boldly secured my first professional bird guiding job and immediately came to have second thoughts. Firstly, do I know what I am doing? General anxiety about competence plagues many people. Me? Not so much. I’m usually thinking we’ll figure it out somehow. YouTube videos and the internet can help with almost any scenario. Identifying birds in the field with clients watching is high pressure. This was worse than joining a band and standing on stage for two hours and not knowing a single song. My next major concern was the condition of our vehicle. The Exploder has a skin condition, electric windows that require manual assists and a second helper, passenger doors that don’t open from the inside, and the dirt was two years thick. Last week my dad surmised that dirt might be the only thing holding it together. Thirdly was the mystery of the persons behind the email. Would they be world class amateurs looking to expand their list? Would they be aggressive, fit, sparrow-chasing maniacs? Would they ask what every call meant? Did they want a deep biological interpretation of bird behavior? Were they uptight, unfit, vegans? Blind, deaf, and argumentative? Boring? Turning a hobby into a paying gig…People dream of this but I know it is fraught with problems. Number one is the clients.

I prepared by looking up some troubling species and considering the most interesting birds to see. Swifts, swallows, warblers, flycatchers are all difficult. The verdin, woodpeckers, and yellowthroats are flashy and fun. Many raptors have migrated so that makes it easier. Then there’s shore birds. My client expressed an interest in this area and I truthfully told him we don’t have many in our immediate area. I left out the I suck at them bit. I also went out and birded my local patches to see who was still here and where they were. The pre-trip excursions got my brain and eyes warmed up. They are also fun. I also gave myself pep talks. I imagined Peg and Rose Ann telling me I could do it. I chose not to actually call them because I didn’t want them to have to lie. I figured I could just pretend to have their unmitigated support. It worked.

Then I had my man get the car washed. He was soooooo nice about this. I popped it on him with little warning and he got it done without complaint. Maybe not asking for a clean car once in all my years of marriage netted this result. Mostly I think it was because Burt is usually a wonderful man and likes to see me succeed.

Burt was a bit surprised at my chuzpah. For years he’s been facetiously claiming to be a professional birder and here I was turning into one right before his eyes. At first I had no intention of asking him along but the day arrived and he was free and I knew it would be more fun for everyone with Burt on the team so I hired him. I was right.

At 7:30 yesterday we picked up our Canadian clients and headed out. Right away we knew we’d hit the jackpot with John and Aleitha. They came to Todos Santos from Yellow Knife, in the Northwest Territories. That’s some 30 hours of driving north of Montana. People from those extreme parts of the world are not phased by a shabby car with amenity problems. These particular people were funny and light hearted and very good natured. Our day began with a positive sign. On the highway to bird spot number one we saw a Cara-Cara. Life bird in prominent display. And a huge, charismatic carrion eater to boot. You can’t ask for a better start. Burt pulled a quick u-turn and assisted with the mega lens and I knew it was going to be okay.

We did the bird loop at Las Palmas and hit downtown Pescadero. We ate lunch. Split for a siesta. Laughed a lot. The clients asked us how many trips we did a week. Burt was evasive. I presumed they meant personal trips so I said 2 or 3. Later I realized I might of accidentally lied. Or was it on purpose? The brain and my intentions are mysterious. We regrouped at 5. Birded the dam. Uh oh. Shorebirds. Swallows. A freaking vireo. Things got sorted out with the help of iBirdPro. Darkness came. We called in a handful of elf owls. They even flew near us. If we’d had a flashlight we might have seen them. We always have a solar powered flashlight in our car but guess what? Cleaning the car has its downsides. The flashlight was still on the kitchen table. We forgot to return it to the car.

At our 9:30 PM pizza dinner in a mood of post-birding delight I confessed (after being handed a baggy of bills) to our new friends that they were my first paying clients. John and Aleitha were surprised and delighted. Aleitha even said she was honored. Can you get any luckier than this?

I learned a couple of things. A laser pointer would be nice to have. A flashlight, duh. Some snacks are good. And I do know enough about the birds here to lead a productive and pleasant tour. I am no bird expert but I know my patch. And we made two new friends. And life is always better with Burt.

Don't do this.
Don’t do this.
Bald headed baby doll bird. Best sight of the day.
Bald headed baby doll bird. Best sight of the day.
Bi-pod Burt
Bi-pod Burt
Size can be a problem.
Size can be a problem.
La Presa Santa Ines
La Presa Santa Ines
Elf owling looks like this when you forget the flashlight.
Elf owling looks like this when you forget the flashlight.
Where's the flashlight?
Where’s the flashlight?
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Galapagos with the Gypsy Carpenters

Burt and I are leading a trip to the Galapagos Islands in early February 2018.  We are thrilled to be hosting this fun extravaganza of nature and music for Naturalist Journeys. Are you interested in seeing this exciting, animal filled wonderland and enjoying fresh tunes in the evening? Come sing and dance with us! You can check out similar itineraries at this LINK. Our trip isn’t posted publicly because this particular offering is currently only open to our friends and fans. Let me know if you want the specific details and I will send them to you. Space is limited.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Olive is disgusting

Olive in the smelly mud.
Olive in the smelly mud. The skull is just in front of her nose.

Swamp water and mud has a mighty aroma.  Smells like love to a dog. Yesterday we took the dogs to Playa Las Palmas and did a bird stroll. I’m prepping to take out a pair of paying clients next week so I thought I’d tour the local bird hot spots and see what I could see. Most of the water is gone from our local oasis and a bunch of deep dark mud remains. Olive and Elvis plunged into the reeds and found some fetid, foul water and happy danced among the green. Swampy water reminds me of the back of a forgotten gym locker or a particular closet in my grandma’s house. Stale, anaerobic, moist, decay. The decay turned out to be actual rather than imaginary when Olive dug up the skull of a raccoon from her wallow. Mmmmmmm, good!

From the swamp we headed to the beach. My dogs took off at a run and left me trying to decided if I was seeing Common or Belding’s Yellowthroats. I counted 8 house finches and decided it was a Common Yellowthroat. When I finally looked up to find the dogs I saw them about 100 yards away rolling in a dead sea lion. Great Googly Woogly. This was a banner day to be a dog. Not such a great day to be a canine companion. Sara Gay and dad had mentioned seeing this poor dreature the day before and I had forgotten. My poor excuse for a nose could not detect the rotting flesh but it was obvious the dogs smelled it from a long way back. I saw the dogs see me and hear me and they got in one last roll when they decided I was too far away to exact a punishment. As I approached they ran off and kept a safe distance from me. They knew the fun was over.  I looked over the carcass and decided it was too disgusting to snatch the skull. The smell was overwhelming up close. The turkey vultures hovered nearby waiting to get back to their feast. I remembered reading vultures don’t like putrefaction and pondered how far along flesh can be before it is too gross for a TuVu. Maybe a sea lion is just too tasty to pass by even with maggots.

You wanted Olive, come and get her.

Maggots: perfect rolling substrate after mud bath.
Maggots: perfect rolling substrate after mud bath.
Maggot home: sea lion carcass
Maggot home: sea lion carcass
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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.

IMG_6485
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.
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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.
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest