Up in the Wild

Old Ranch near Babisal
Old Ranch near Babisal

Babisal Ranch is at the heart of the Norther Jaguar Project’s reserve. The cows are long gone but the original structure is used as a kitchen and two new adobe and stone guest rooms have been added. Burt and I will turn an old water tank into a third guest room. Year round these facilities are used by cowboys and biologists and other visitors. Overflow people stay in tents or hammocks. On this trip Burt and I scored a cabin of our own. The beds are traditional rancho cots made from burlap suspended between two Xs. With a Thermarest pad the bed is pretty comfortable but it moves a lot and the motion made me a little queasy. More Galapagos training I told myself.

Our group consisted of two donors, Mark and Monica, a photographer, Charles, us, and Randy and Turtle, NJP’s staff/guides. After the 12 hours of driving Burt and I headed straight to bed after dinner and didn’t really get a good look at our companions. We were grateful for the warm food and welcome gifts of NJP hats and personal napkins. In the morning we had some more filling and tasty vegan food and then piled in a pickup for a nearby hike.

All seven humans and three dogs rode up the steep mile or so to another defunct ranch. We would hike up the a tight, wet canyon and pass some camera traps and see what some people consider the spiritual heart of the reserve. In fifteen bumpy minutes we reached our starting point. The abandoned ranch buildings were full of wood perfect for our project. It will be fun to deconstruct and reconstruct out in the wilderness. The old wood will look beautiful in a new situation.

Pretty quickly we reached a camera trap. Randy and Turtle removed the data chip and tried to find a camera that could reveal its secrets. There are a few different models of cameras in use at the reserve and they all have their own way of formatting chips. Luckily our third and last try at reading the chip was successful. The chips and batteries are changed out every one to three months. Since this particular trap’s chip had been changed four mountain lions, a few bobcats, and an ocelot had passed by the trap. The ocelot passed just the day before we did. Smiles all around thinking the ocelot was nearby watching us. As Randy says, I haven’t seen a jaguar but I know they’ve seen me. I like that feeling.

Our walk to the canyon wasn’t more than half an hour. We could have gone further but we didn’t feel like swimming and mud crawling so we sat around and enjoyed the scene. I visited the spiders. Snacks and water and getting to know you conversations were had by all. After people were satisfied with the hanging around we had a choice, return home by the trail we had taken in or canyoneer our way down canyon. We chose the adventure route. It was pretty rough going but Randy was a competent guide and very able assistant. Burt and I did fine on our own. We mostly traveled ahead of the group. It took us much longer to reach the truck going down the boulder filled stream bed but it was also more fun. The dogs have a different version. One ran home on the trail. Another was lifted through the worst spot. The third either jumped or fell twenty feet into a pool. She was not happy. Eventually it was just a stream bed and we all dispersed. Burt and Randy went to inventory wood and I wandered downstream alone.

At the truck point we all reunited. Burt and I opted to avoid the truck bed for the downhill jostle and walked back to camp along the stream. It was a tussocky and watery route back. It was noticeable that there were not a lot of birds. When we finally reached camp it was time for lunch and a siesta.

That evening we took a silent sunset walk. We heard an elf owl. Or was it pygmy? I’ve forgotten. Tracks were seen in the creek bed sand. Quail flew up. We thought they were scaled quail but they were Elegant Quail. Similar but not the same. Dinner and bed.

The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Our room.
Our room.
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Getting There

Farmer is a bonny companion.
Farmer is a bonny companion.

Sunday last Burt and I slipped away from Portal at 5 AM. Mimi. Elvis, and Olive were all at their respective captor’s homes. We’d stayed in Portal to play music for friends getting married. Without the wedding we would have headed to Mexico on Saturday and attended the 10th anniversary of the Northern Jaguar Project reserve celebration in Sahuaripa. Instead we made a mad dash to the border and where we entered the weird Sunday morning amateur hour of la frontera. All the border staff were in their twenties and female and serious about their jobs.

First problem was Burt ad stuffed a tissue over the VIN number on the dash and the the guard couldn’t verify our vehicle registration against the VIN. Except the VIN is also on the door. The youngster didn’t want to look at the door she wanted the tissue covered number plate. I admit it looked kind of odd. I tried to dig out the tissue with a rusty scalpel I’ve been keeping on the dash for just such an occasion. The sun decayed tissue did not budge but produced a lot of dust. While I wheezed and dug, Burt kept trying to get the guard to look at the door. She refused. I decided it was because his grammar was slightly off. She could pretend not to understand him and watch me dig. Exasperated, I politely rephrased Burt’s statement and she suddenly looked at the door, took down the number, and let us pass.

Next we got our 6 month visitor’s visa. This time I had to rouse people from hidden chambers. Nobody crosses at 6 AM on Sunday. Tired eyed youngsters materialized at the windows. Our visa forms filled out we took them across the way to pay the fee. This second window was where we needed to get our TIP, too. Mainland Mexico requires a Temporary Import Permit for all vehicles. Baja does not have this requirement so the step was new for me.  Sadly, I accidentally threw away our original 2017 registration in a fit of organizing a month ago. Luckily, Burt discovered it missing so we had a copy the Jefferson County tax assessor had emailed last week.  More sadly, the Mexican government’s representative would not accept a copy. I showed her last year’s original. I explained sweetly and repeatedly that I lost the original and the US government gave me the copy. I wondered if an older more hardened representative would have let me pay the TIP. I wondered if speaking Spanish was working against me. I wondered what to do. Burt and I decided if they didn’t want our money we didn’t need a TIP. We shrugged our shoulders and hoped one arm of big brother didn’t talk to the other arm of big brother and we headed on our way in violation of the law. Most luckily, nobody ever stopped us and there were no checkpoints between the border and our destination.

At noon we arrived in Sahuaripa. We ran into Randy, the ranch manager, leaving for lunch. We ate, did some errands, shifted gear from our truck to his and finally, around 2 PM, started the trip into the mountains. It was 100 degrees. Cholo rode up front with the menfolk. I held my own with Farmer in the backseat. Six hours of single track gravel road later we arrived well after dark at the camp called Babisal. Rancho Babisal is the heart of the reserve. Fresh vegan food and our companions greeted us. We ate and went to bed.

Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
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Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

I was very surprised to see a jaguar on our trip to Mexico but the proof is indisputable. There it is.

That’s the last fake news for this post. Jaguars live among us in southern Arizona and New Mexico. They are few but they are genetically important. The males in the US have come from just south of the border. They disperse and roam away from the wild lands of Mexico and remain available to spread their DNA when the time arrives. Lucky for them a federal judge just deemed these few individuals worthy of consideration when we (our society) makes land use decisions.

I personally consider these US individuals important whether they get a chance to reproduce or not. Here we have an apex predator the likes of which we hardly compare on a human scale. The claws, the jaws, the speed. My cat Mimi times fifty. Taller than me and so much stronger. So seldom are jaguars seen that we need tight networks of cameras surreptitiously taking photos just to prove their existence.  A several hundred pound cat is walking around near major population areas and we can’t see it. Think about it. Habit, camouflage, and rugged terrain make it invisible. In this era of over-exposed everything this mystery gives me joy.

The jaguar species requires vast tracts of land to survive. Aside from room to wander, Jaguars obviously need game to eat and water for fun and nourishment. The land needs to be healthy and full of other animals. Jaguars like to swim.  Protecting the jaguar protects everything in the web of life it shares. The Northern Jaguar Project has been working to provide jaguars sufficient habitat for their survival. They have a 40 something square mile reserve of land in Mexico they own that is managed for the jaguar. The NJP buys land but also works directly with surrounding land owners to provide critical breeding habitat for the northernmost population in the Americas. Nearby cattle ranchers are educated on the jaguar needs and habits and given trail cameras to document individual animals on their land. Through an incentive program that includes damage loss reimbursement, rewards for photos, rent for access to trail cameras, and other things the NJP are expanding their influence and the area of acreage available to the jaguars. In the last ten years fifty individual jaguars have been captured on the NJP’s cameras. One camera even caught a pair copulating. Scores of mountain lions, ocelots, and bobcats have also been seen on the project’s network or cameras.

All this land and cameras requires a team of people to manage. Land costs money but so do staff. There is a ranch manager (Randy, bilingual/bicultural Jack-of-all-Trades) and Turtle (US money wrangler) and a team of cowboys and biologists. There are roads to maintain, fences to mend, and cameras to check. In the backcountry there are simple accommodations that staff and donors use when visiting the area.

For several years Burt has been trying to coordinate a trip in to the reserve to provide some needed carpentry. The main camp cabins are 41 miles and a 6 hour drive from town.  Seven miles an hour and the drive is bone rattling. This year our schedules all had room for a scoping trip. Turtle, Randy, and some donors were headed in and we were available to join them. Working in the wilderness requires a lot of from a team of people. You have to trust each other and you have to be really good with logistics. We all decided to meet and give the job a looksee and decide if we were willing to commit more time. Could we get along with them and could they get along with us?

After our 5 day scoping trip it all looks good from here. More to come. Enjoy these landscape photos of the protected habitat.

The general vicinity of the reserve.
The general vicinity of the reserve.
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve - Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve – Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

 

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Galapagos Training

Annual Selfie. These filters hide all the decay.
Annual Selfie. These filters hide most of the decay.

Floods and fire everywhere we know. The Gypsy Carpenters world is burning down or underwater. Today we are at the edge of the continent looking westward and still the smoke blocks the view. Ocean winds are no match for the 140,000 acre blaze nearby. Last week we left the Willamette valley a day ahead of the over 100 degree heat. It was the second monstrous heat wave of the summer for an area that is normally very temperate. The same news in Montana, California, New Mexico, Washington. The west is on fire. It brings back the early 2000s when I first sunk into clinical depression during Helena’s summer of smoke. Friends there aer suffering again this year. I’m lucky to be mobile. We have found less intense smoke and lower temperatures. That’s enough. And friends.

Meanwhile there’s Houston but you all know about Houston. The news for us was our part of Baja was hit by Tropical storm Lidia. Lidia left nearly 30″ of rain in a day. That hasn’t happened in over 100 years. Cabo San Lucas looks like two feet of mud covered everything. Bridges are gone, landslides over roads, a friend’s house washed away. Only 4 people are known dead but 13 are missing. News from our town of Pescadero is that everyone is okay but roads are a mess. A nice reality check that this place we’ve chosen will always be interesting. Maybe development will take a breather.

As mother nature was reminding everyone who’s in charge we have been dallying on the Oregon coast. Our next job in in Templeton, Ca. It was 110 there yesterday. Hence the foot dragging. Rosemary and Ed hosted us for three night at Washburn State park and then we headed south to Bandon to our Mexican Bridge director’s home for a few more days. The living is good. Food, friends, animated discourse. While in Washburn we were able to visit Kate and Pat. Pat and Burt met keeping bees in the 70s. Kate’s just written a novel about the post-apocalypse. I hope it’s published soon. We may need the guidebook.

Daily activities during this stretch include what I call Galapagos training. Here’s a summary:

Squats while brushing teeth. To help with leg strength for embarking and disembarking of boats and climbing volcanoes.

Cold water swimming to hopefully cut down on the lengthy time it usually takes me to get in cold water. I’m hoping to develop an ability to suck it up and plunge. So far there’s improvement but still a lot of wasted mental effort and time.

Beach walking. Sand legs take a while to develop mentally and physically. Short steps.

Bird watching. Duh. Birds here are different but spotting and getting the binoculars in focus improves with practice.

No snacks. Food (snacks) are not allowed on excursions to unpopulated islands. This news has taken me by complete surprise. I must, again, prepare mentally and physically to be without snacks. Burt and I are building up slowly. I took an hour walk yesterday with only water.

Many thanks to Ed, Rosemary, Pat, Kate, Lorna and Meryl for providing companionship and places to park. Today we have bridge. Tomorrow California.

Feet on beach
Feet on beach. Preparing.
RR and Ed and pups
RR and Ed and pups. Where are the snacks?
Slug
Slug
Pretty purple flowers
Pretty purple flowers
Raft with legs
Raft with legs
The mini-me on the mighty Beaver River.
The mini-me on the mighty Beaver River.
worked rock
worked rock
The log at Lorna's place.
The log at Lorna’s place.
Burt really likes the log.
Burt really likes the log.
Bridge guru gets guitar lesson.
Bridge guru gets guitar lesson.
IMG_8879
Burt and his salmon.
IMG_8883
Random art at Sisters Rocks on the Oregon Coast
IMG_8884
Starfish at Sisters Rocks.
IMG_8887
Sea Cave at Sisters Rocks.
IMG_8893
Sunset on the New River. The red dot is a smoke shrouded sun.
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Global Big Day

Hiding roadrunner
Hiding roadrunner

Time got away from me again. I ahead no idea it was over a week since I last put fingers to keyboard for a blog post. A week ago today Burt and I were out on our annual Global Big Day bird census. Every year birders around the world get out in the same day and take a snap shot of the birds. It’s a big deal. Burt and I submitted 11 checklists and covered about 40 miles, 6 of them on foot. Baja numbers were way down this year which is what it’s felt like all winter. Burt and I managed to see 41 species, down from 47 last year and far from my goal of 50. The results for Baja California Sur for 2017 were were 30% lower than the census after the Class 4 hurricane (Odile, 2015) and and barely half of what was seen last year. Now three years isn’t a trend and a lot depends on where our birders were able to go but it is still sobering. I conclude more attention is needed in this valuable and unique habitat.

Then Burt had his birthday. Say high to Social Security, Burt! Also up, he’s going to buy the $10 lifetime national park pass before that program goes the way of the Dodo. Not that I’m complaining about raising the pass to $85. $10 is a ridiculous small amount and can’t cover the cost of issuing the darn pass. But we’re going to get in there and get one anyway. Life on Social Security isn’t extravagant. Lucky for us we can still work.

Tuesday is our projected exit date from El Pescadero. Last week we rounded up the kids for one last class with us but it wasn’t really with us. The organization that brings the English teachers to town had a special event that coincided with class time so the kids got to do that instead. It was a science fair like party focused on how the body works. I saw some successful demos that were fun and instructional: Making a fake set of lungs with a plastic cup, straws, and balloons, and the electric stimulation of muscles, and the passage of food through the digestive tract. Building neurons with pipe cleaners, not such a hit. The kids were not really getting the neuron thing. On the upside they seem to like their pipe cleaner sculpture. I was sad we couldn’t have a special class to review all we’ve learned this season but the kids did like the workshop. Meanwhile English classes will continue with Yvonne and Ale. The kids will have to walk to get there. I hope they do.

Yesterday Burt and I went on the proverbial wild goose chase, or maybe it was a snipe hunt. A while back a ranch friend told me she had seen a new bird up at the cemetery of her remote village. She said it was a big blue bird with a crown. I took her report seriously. She is an older woman and has lived in the mountains her entire life. She lives off the land every day. I presume she knows her birds. I showed her some photos from iBird and she picked out a Stellar’s Jay. She was certain the Stellar’s Jay was now living near them. The Stellar’s Jay has never been reported in the Baja so this was exciting news. If we hadn’t been visiting with my dad, Sara Gay, Jen, and Robin, we might have gone out right then to see if we could find the bird. Instead we drove home. As we passed the cemetery I wondered if the story was true.

This week Burt and I tried to figure out what to do with our last free days. I mentioned the report of the big blue bird with a crown. Chances are it was a false report. Even if it was an accurate report birds are hard to find. See the groove-billed ani story of a while back. We decided to give it a go. There’s also reports of a golden eagle flying around the mountains. Maybe we’d see that. So instead of lounging around home and maybe paying some tunes or going for a swim we all piled into the Exploder for a head banging, hip and back aching two hour ride up into the mountains. Short story: no Stellar’s Jay or golden eagle. We did see a lot of nice birds. Several that weren’t on our Global Big Day list. The red-trailed hawks were everywhere. There were some Cassin’s vireos and scrub-jays mercilessly attacking a red-tailed hawk in a tree. The heavy onslaught had rumpled feathers and possibly injured the bird. There was another RTH eating a lizard that must have been twice its length. The tail alone was as long as the bird. Lizards are shoved in head first and eaten whole. The bird kind of gags it all down inch by inch. I couldn’t help wonder what it felt like to go head first into the gullet to meet up with the gizzard full of grinding rocks while still alive, acid burning your tough lizard skin as nose meets the grinder. Bad day.

A good day birding but no new discoveries. Yet. And the lesson was, we should get up high for the census to get some birds nobody else saw.

Sunsetting. Time for owls?
Sunsetting. Time for owls?
This year's sunflower. Creepy smile.
This year’s sunflower. Creepy smile.
Last class with us.
Last class with us.
remote controlled muscles.
remote controlled muscles.
Cemetery gate. Looking for the scrub jay.
Cemetery gate. Looking for the scrub jay.
Blue flowers
Blue flowers
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Time Alone

Our newest student
Our newest student

I am wrapping up 48 hours of alone time. After Dad’s visits and a concert and a massive trip to the beach and Jen and Robin it was time. Burt and Jen and Robin went surfing and camping for two days. I was invited but I decided to stay home and do as little as possible. I welcomed the girls back to their music and English classes on Tuesday. I went to my Spanish lesson. I watched TV and I slept. I hardly even ate. Bread and butter. Some cheese.

The big event of my alone time was taking the Olvis to the beach and birding for a few hours alone. Spring migration has emptied our wild spots. While I saw a lot of individual birds, I counted only 13 species. For the same spot the numbers are down from nearly forty in February and more than twenty two weeks ago. Just like the ex-pats that winter here the birds have headed north to more temperate weather. I hear from friends on facebook that they are seeing my orioles, orange-crowned warblers and common yellowthroats at their feeders this week. It makes me happy sad. Soon we will be headed north, too, and maybe we’ll see some of our feathered friends.

Today Burt and Jen and Robin will return from tehir adventure just in time to help me take all our kids to a live performance in Todos Santos. Instead of class we are going to see a play about the ocean performed by kids just like them. My friend Rocío Maceda wrote and produced the play. She has come to many of our Gypsy Carpenter’s shows so I am delighted to bring a huge audience to her event.  Speaking of the Gypsy Carpenters, here are some pics from our house concert. If you look carefully you can see my dad in the audience. House concerts are a great way to share live music. Thanks, Lorna and Donna for having us.

The doo wop gals.
The doo wop gals.
Half the room
Half the room
This baby kept the business end my way.
This baby kept the business end my way. He lives at the beach where I regularly bird.
Getting ready for the show.
Getting ready for the show.
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Putting on the Bunny

Easter crowd
Easter crowd. Jesus is behind the sheet but pretend we don’t know.

With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.

The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks.  We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.

The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.

I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.

What a fiesta.

The flame
The flame
The flame was passed candle to candle.
The flame was passed candle to candle.
Fireworks
Fireworks
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpernter event a couple weeks ago.
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpenter event a couple weeks ago. The brightly lit thing that resembles a flame in the center of this photo is the Jesus statue.
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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?
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Whirlwind Tour

Tennis Tournament
Tennis Tournament

Dad leaves tomorrow. I think if he stayed any longer Burt and I would die of exhaustion. It has been a non-stop trip full of sports, food, beach, music, and ROMANCE. Burt and I feel like we have been chaperoning a middle schooler on dates. Next time Til visits he needs his own car and a Mexican telephone. I can’t keep up with him. All his resistance about visiting Mexico is gone. The trip has exceeded his wildest expectations.

Where to begin? Til came in Tuesday night with an open mind and a degree of flexibility I have never seen. Kudos to him. We took him to music class that afternoon and he fell in love with all our smiling and energetic pupils. The kids stared at him like the Jolly Green Giant had come to life. After class we dined at one of our favorite restaurants. Next day was pickleball and an evening tennis tournament mixer. A little pinochle to pass the time during the day. Thursday  things started accelerating. More kids, more tennis, more food. A friend joined us for dinner at our favorite restaurant and the sparks were flying. Dad was smoooooooth. Who was this guy? Burt and I did our best to stay out of the way and keep the good times rolling. It’s a delicate balance. I’m not comfortable saying more beyond this: I am glad everyone is having a good time.

Friday the tennis tourney started. More food, more beach, more kids. Saturday was this epic amalgamation of over doing it: Tennis (all over the area), provide music for a party, eat too much, nap, kid’s performance at the Festival del Chile y la Fresa, dinner.  We got up early and drove all over. Played tennis, sang songs, rested and then starting at 5:30 shepherded 13 kids on an evening long odyssey to their first musical performance. Kids, teachers, fans waited 2 hours on a chilly night to be the closing act in an overly long show of local talent. Our kids were stoic. Not a single complaint was heard from the little ones. The adults were cold and hangry but the kids showed us how to be patient. They politely watched all the other acts (folk dancing) and mustered their enthusiasm when our time to shine finally arrived.  Dad and his date smilingly kept us company and provided warm clothes and drinks. At 8:00 we trotted on to the stage in our matching, misspelled t-shirts and gave the huge crowd a show. Break a Leg does not have an equivalent saying in Spanish but we did indeed break our collective legs. The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys, Cancion Mixteca, and Love Potion Number 9 were delivered with energy and dynamic balloon accents. The balloons were a last minute addition. Burt and I were puzzled by the props but we figured all ideas were welcome.   Video footage on Facebook confirms that it was a brilliant idea. Seven and a half minutes later it was all done. The kids were each handed twenty pesos by my dad as they exited the stage. Dad wanted to bribe them in advance to sing well and I said it needed to be a post-gig surprise. It worked out well but a few kids were mystified by the money. They ran off to spend it on the rides and junk food before we could take it back. Team Mittelstadt/Zazzali grabbed a late dinner and retired at 10:00.

That night we lost an hour to daylight savings time and had 8:00 AM matches too. Ugh. I did not play well. It was a disaster. Too much driving, too much tennis, too little rest, too many people, too many days in a row. We took dad to the last tennis party and left him with his new friend. Burt and I collapsed in the trailer. That was two days ago. Yesterday was Bridge and more double dating. Right now I am finally alone with Burt. We played pickleball this AM and a round of pinochle after lunch. I might have lost all my tennis matches but I am undefeated in pinochle. Dad’s with his friend. Burt and I have the kids at 4:00. Then it’s one last evening for the new couple and at 4:00 AM we take dad to the airport.

I am so pleased my dad has had an enjoyable trip. Like I told him and his friend: Just have fun. You, too, dear readers.

Art Class arrivals
Art Class arrivals
Drawing pushes the brain
Drawing pushes the brain
Non-dominant hand exercise. Hurts the head.
Non-dominant hand exercise. Hurts the head.
Elvis at the beach
Elvis at the beach. He misses more than he catches now.
Dad, Burt, and Elvis.
Dad, Burt, and Elvis.
Teachers and fans
Teachers and fans

IMG_6716

Elvis and frisbee
Elvis and frisbee
Wheels on the bus plus balloons
Wheels on the bus plus balloons
Burt in the tennis tournament.
Burt in the tennis tournament.
Cabalgata or horse parade.
Cabalgata or horse parade.
Show time
Show time
You've heard of Brangalina? Meet Sarillo.
You’ve heard of Brangalina? Meet Sarillo.
Singing class
Singing class practicing for the show
Beach with the dogs
Beach with the dogs
La Paloma's ice cream
La Paloma’s ice cream
Day 1 Pickle Ball
Day 1 Pickle Ball
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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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