Nature Adventures

  • 2018 Southern France- Part II- Mostly Culture

    And then came the Mistral, the blustery, cold wind from the polar north that blows through Provence from time to time, sometimes for two weeks at a time. In our case it was just two days, but, it made an impression.
    Being bold birders, we carried on anyway, and walked through La Crau Nature Preserve, steppe habitat that used to be the delta of the Durance River. It has been shaped by 6,000 years of sheep and nature and has been preserved as a sheep grazing area since then....therefore...no plantings and only a few buildings needed for sheep and shepherds. There is little protection from the wind. 
    We wore our warmest digs, but still.....
     
    Below we see S's pants blowing up and J. about to lose the blasted scope.
    L. and I thought the howling wind called for a poem and she hatched the brilliant opening phrase..."O Mistral."  For whatever reason, though, we couldn't seem to flesh it out after that perfect title, despite wailing it out from time to time during the trip.  "O Mistral" we would cry with desperate emotion in the hopes that the second line would follow.  But, no..nothing. The whole trip...nothing came to us. It wasn't until I saw these pictures that the rest of the poem burst into my poetic consciousness.
    O, Mistral, leave low thy mace, thy flail,
    Regardez, O Mistral, your flagrant fail,
    Thy worst yields naught, our smiles prevail.
    O, Mistral.
     Vegetation was quite low and the place was studded with stones.
    There were many of these conglomerates 
    During World War II, the occupying Germans forced the Provencals to make these piles of rocks to deter any allied air landings.
    This is a sheep breeding building and the home of a not-so-friendly large shepherd's wife and their scary dog. The large white sheep dogs can be dangerous when they are performing their jobs as sheep protectors.
    These are sheep.
     
    Thanks to M's brilliant spotting we saw a Hoopoe there, but not much else, and I couldn't run fast enough against the prevailing gale to photograph that desirable, but distant bird.
    At this point, our fearless leader decided to show us some of the well-known Provence culture (always with an eye out for birds, though).
    We started out with an ancient castle and fortress on a hill.
    The Mistral continued to pummel us that day, so our "picnic" on the grass may have lacked something in the way of comfort, but will forever remained scarred into our memories. The only bird we hoped to see there was a no-show. But the Crag Martin (no pics) braved the breeze and we got good looks. 
     The Three Marys are famous in Provence for being sent out to sea in a boat without food or water, yet surviving and washing up on the Meditarrean shore not far from here.
    I found doorways awesome in Provence....
    Walking up to the town
     There was a little village within the walls. I had a hot chocolate.
    On a chilly breezy evening we went to La Caume in the hopes of seeing the very unusual Egyptian Vulture. We did, and although it was very far away, the wind was blowing my large lens all over the place and I was chattering from the cold...well, these are my shots...take em or leave em.
    The weather turned nice and we visited the Pont du Gard...the ancient Roman aquaduct, and the museum that explained everything about it.
    The weather stayed pleasant, and we visited some quaint little towns, all of which were very much still lived in, not like our ghost towns in the US.
    This is Gordes, surely the most adorable little town on a hill. 
    Goldfinch
    A lot of rock houses
    Do cute little towns on hills get any cuter?
    Well, maybe...here's Roussillon...
    And here are some garages built into the ocre rock
    "You have to be of a certain stature"...said L.
    Where does the color come from for the houses here?
    The ocre sandstone hereabout
    We had lunch and the waiter had a tough time understanding "I'll have a hamburger without the bun, please"  Kind of out-of-the-box thinking for him, but he was a bit of a tease, I think. 
    It had been 50 years since I'd spoken French and really enjoyed it, but was glad to get this tip about "Kiwi"
    And in case you want to buy an "ocre thing"...here's your shop.
     
    We saw many memorial statues to the "enfants" who died for France in World War I. "enfants" means children, but in this context it is a word of respect with a patriotic nuance. Eg: National Anthem = "Allons, enfants de la Patrie" or "Let's go, sons of the country"
     
    And upstairs to residences
    Good-bye, beautiful, clean, colorful Roussillon.
    Then, there was Ezes where the European Robin managed to make it impossible to get a good photo by sitting and singing enticingly at eye level in a tree....but in the deep shade. Also, toilets were in short supply.
    Our next stop was Avignon where we did laundry. It was actually quite exciting to figure out how to make the machines run from a master board of buttons and switches...but mostly because we got to sit en plein air at a table on the square and have a glass of wine while we waited.
    We had several memorable meals in this town, and we visited the grounds where the popes lived...looked pretty fancy from the outside.
    At some point on a lovely day, we visited the sanatorium in St. Remy where Van Gogh lived for 15 months during his most difficult time. He surely must have had a bipolar experience because there were times when he painted ferociously, a painting a day, and times when he was so depressed he could not get out of bed. It is thought that he may also have been exposed to toxins and that he had epileptic seizures as well. It is all very sad to me and brings me closer to understanding the mental torment that so many others have undergone. 
    Because it touched me so deeply, I want to show you some of what we saw ...  so many familiar paintings .... so many of which were painted on the grounds we were standing on. Here is the entrance. Imagine you are there.
    This is the Dutchman who left Holland for Paris, then left Paris for Arles where he wanted to set up an artists' colony, and who after just a short while had to admit himself to this "hospice" after he assaulted Gauguin in the streets of Arles and then cut off part of his own ear. Here he was lovingly taken care of by doctors and nurses who must have provided him with some peace after the town of Arles asked him to leave.
    This is the garden at St. Paul's painted in this very spot. Looks very much the same.
    "La Nuit Etoilee", painted here in St Remy
    "Almond trees in blossom", painted here
    "The Olive trees", painted here
    Love this quiet space
    This was Van Gogh's bedroom in "the yellow house" in Arles 
    Below is the room he stayed in while he lived in the sanatorium
    "Butterfly Garden at St Paul's"
    The bathtubs outside his bedroom...looks like they might have offered some sensory deprivation experience to patients
    From the back garden - looking toward the chapel
    "The Yellow Wheat", similar to the wheat fields of La Crau where he shot himself (presumably) in the abdomen..the event that ended his short life.
    Prairie in the mountains, painted here
    Here's the beautiful atrium...St Paul's was originally a religious institution that housed several different religions before it became a hospital
    This is the garden where prints of several paintings are posted
    This Great Tit was feeding young in its cavity nest in this tree along the entranceway.
     
    Here he is again with a packet of spiders for his offspring
    Chaffinch in the garden
    Chaffinch
     
    Outside of town there were birding areas where we caught a couple of species and this pretty sight.
    Common Kestrel
    Common Kestrel
     After our lovely eight days were up with our new friends, we had to split         up...some to go to Paris for a week, and Scott and I rented a car to drive south to Nice. Scott was an awesome driver, but I was a loser navigator on this leg. I couldn't figure out why my phone GPS kept leading me onto narrow dirt roads...very frustrating until I realized I had the GPS set to find routes for Bicycles, not Cars. Got better after I figured that out.
    We passed through Nice and stopped at our first apartment in the eastern suburb of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. This was really a terrific beach town and we got our first taste of real "walking" here when we walked from one end to the other along the Mediterranean Sea. Plus our apartment was up, up, up a hill from the beach. We also enjoyed finding the little grocery shop where we bought our gluten-free food (and a baguette or pastry for Scott) to cook up in our apartments.
    When we would have our pre-dinner glass of wine, we enjoyed our very own "Rear Window" (a favorite movie of mine) experience. So much "living" noise coming from the apartments across the way, or above us, or next to us, plus some very insistent tomcats about.
    Villefrance-Sur-Mer
    It's right on the Mediterranean
    Around the bend from the busy business port of Nice
    And just beautiful to walk around in, visit the old fortress
     
    Two days here was all we got...then we turned in the car at the train station and hopped TrenItalia for Pisa. It was a lovely ride...all of it along the Mediterranean coast...such a calm and clear coastline...not like the crashing waves of many of the US coasts we've traveled.
    See you in Italy!
     
     
     
  • 2018 Southern France - Part I

    Scott and I took a nonstop flight to Paris

    and then the TGV train to Avignon, then a van to Arles. Why don't we in the US have the luxury of superspeed trains with bars in them?..reclining chairs...so very nice. Why??
    Provence is the southernmost region of France. It is famous for its warmer weather, its beaches, its ancient roman history, its olive and fruit/nut orchards , vegetable agriculture and vineyards, its rice, its seafood, and its "air". Artists like Cezanne and Van Gogh loved painting here, preferring the lovely light and air to the dinge of Paris. 
    Traveling about Provence with excellent birding friends was a glorious experience, staying in Arles and Avignon, visiting some of the scores of enchanting small villages, and, of course, birding the Camargue.
    The Camargue is the estuary of the two arms of the Rhone, and is a famous, watery, marshy area known by most international birders.
    This photo was taken from our quaint little hotel just at the gate of the medieval wall that still stands around this part of Arles.  We found that Avignon where we stayed later has a wall that extends ALL the way around the city.

    This is the Arles River along which we often walked...just two blocks from our hotel. 

    We met these Camargue horses on our first morning out. These horses used to run wild in the Camargue, and later were domesticated. They are small, but strong and durable. They are famously used by Provence cowboys to herd the black bulls used in the bullfights. They are beautiful horses!

    We did some marsh birding on our first full day and soon found a large number of birds...here are some of them:

    Turtle Dove

    Black-headed Gull

    In some light the head looked brown rather than black.

    Bee-eater These birds travel in flocks and on one day we hit a large flock of about 50 Bee-eaters, but we were not allowed to park for pictures.  These captures were taken at a different time.

    Bee-eater

    Bee-eater

    Bee-eater

    In a cage was an Eagle Owl

    and in another cage....not sure...a Black Kite?

    Pair of Purple Herons

    Purple Heron looking dashing in the dark. I'm not sure I really appreciated the beautiful purple lore until I looked at these pictures

    Purple Heron in flight...yellow feet like Snowy Egret

    A Grey Heron...very like the North American Great Blue Heron, but different species

    Sometime while we were still at Arles we visited the cute little town of St. Marie-de-la-Mer. It is a beach destination on the Mediterranean Sea at the southern end of the Camargue. 

    Again with the bullfighting

    We had lunch

    Lady serving paella

    Spring is a nice time to go to Southern France

    Greater Flamingos

    Greater Flamingos against beautiful blue

    Greater Flamingos

    This is my best close-up of a flamingo...not bad..given my struggles with my new camera lens.

    Black-winged Stilt

    Yep, those wings are black

    Eurasian Spoonbill

    Eurasian Spoonbill

    Common Tern and Little Tern

    Common Terns copulating

    Common Shelduck

    Pied Avocet

    Spotted Redshank

    Spotted Redshank

    Crested Lark

    Crested Lark

    Kentish Plover

    Yellow-legged Gull

    Yellow Wagtail

    (Eurasian) Oystercatcher

    In the evenings we had the most fun of all....dinner together
    This Erlenmeyer carafe for the French wine got us chuckling.

    ..

    ...and sometimes we walked the town. Arles has a Roman arena that is still in use...for bullfights, I think. Bullfighting is still very big in southern France. The bull meat from the bulls is served in local restaurants.

    And many narrow dark stone streets

    There is a lot of history here.

    This is a main square

    On the way to the park near the market

    I loved visiting the open-air market...it was HUGE!!!, blocks and blocks.

    A few spices from Africa...actually there were a LOT of products from Morocco and probably other African countries...just across the Mediterranean Sea, you know...not so very far away.

    Many narrow streets to walk

     

    We ate at a cafe where Van Gogh used to eat, and visited the pool room upstairs where he was known to hang out. Some of the group took the walk around Arles that showed you places where Van Gogh painted. 

    Stay tuned for Part II...

    dunh dunh dunh!....it wasn't all roses.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Arizona mid March-mid April 2018

    We were in the far SE corner of Arizona...good birding there year-round, plus we were there for the beginning of migration. Besides the magical Montezuma Quail and hummingbirds already posted, we managed to see some other Arizona birds be visiting the usual hotspots and a couple of secret spots we found. Here are just a few of my favorites from that region and time:

    Curve-billed Thrasher

    A feeder bird at our rental vacation home

    The Curve-billed Thrasher has a beautiful, gentle, continuous, clear-noted, smooth song...not raucous like some other thrashers.

    Pyrrhuloxia - I love this exotic bird (at least exotic to a Colorado resident)

    Female Pyyrhuloxia

    Male Pyrruloxia enjoying a little sunbathing

    So relaxed!

    Here he's a little more vigilant

    Vermilion and other Flycatchers

     

    Female Vermilion

    Cassin's Kingbird

     

    Mexican Jay

    Mexican Jay differs from Woodhouse Scrub Jay by its lack of black and gray facial markings and by it's bluer back.

    This is an adult male with its black bill and fairly flat head

    This is a juvenile as revealed by his partially pink bill and rounder head

    Canyon and Green-tailed Towhee
    This is a Canyon Towhee - see his chest spot

    The Canyon Towhees seem a bit drab when compared to the elegant Green-tailed Towhees.

    Scott's Oriole

    One of our most favorite moments was when we came upon a birdy watering hole on our own...apparently not advertised among local birders. We always love this kind of experience as it holds the element of surprise and special discovery. We found this Scott's Oriole there. He'd recently come back north to breed in SE Arizona.

    Warblers
    Yellow-rumped Warbler female - common

    Yellow-rumped males - even more common

    Offering a good look at the yellow streak on the head

    Yellow Warbler - plenty of these going through, esp at the San Pedro House woods 

    Painted Redstarts - Not at all hard to see in SE Arizona and a nice one for a Colorado girl. 

    They sing almost constantly which is a big help to those trying to see them

    Virginia's Warbler, back early from wintering grounds like most desert breeders

     

    This Common Yellowthroat migrant was enjoying one of Paton's new water features

    Ramsey's Canyon had a few warblers moving through. This Black-throated Gray was bathing and drinking in the stream that runs down the canyon.

    Eastern Bluebird - a breeder in SE Arizona

    Verdins and Titmice

    Verdins are best found by listening for their high-pitched "Pip". It says this constantly as it works over the branches of trees.

    This next image clearly shows the rufus shoulder patch, not always easy to see in the field.

    The Bridled Titmouse is very cute and never stops talking.

    He is everywhere in the Black Oaks.

    Javelina - This one stopped by for a seed snack under the feeders at the house we were staying in. Didn't love seeds. Didn't stay long.

    Woodpeckers

    Acorn Woodpeckers are the most common...they are so ubiquitous that telephone poles are very often covered with a heavy grated wire to keep them from setting up a "nut cupboard" in them.

     

    This is an Arizona Woodpecker which is a brown and white guy.

    And this is a Gila Woodpecker male with his red hat and yellow vent area. I think he may be a first year, because he was not as wary as most I saw.

    This is a Gila female looking comfortable on her post

    Hutton's Vireo - looks a lot like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but you can tell by it's hooked vireo bill that it's not..plus it has a chunkier body and slower movements also. Extremely common and easy to see...unlike other vireos.

    I hope you enjoyed Arizona as much as we did.

    France and Italy was great. Postings will commence within 10 days.

     

     

     

  • Montezuma Quail - Arizona 2018

    Also known as Mearn's Quail, this elusive bird is a lifer for my husband and me, and very satisfying since we did not find it at any known feeder or watering site. It simply walked across the dirt road on the ranch property where we were staying and we saw it as we went around a curve. Fortunately this quail is unlike others in that it tends to hunker down when discovered instead of scurry off or flush easily into the air. This makes for satisfying opportunities for a photographer. Trouble is, it is a rare occurrence. We feel lucky, indeed.

  • 2018 Arizona Hummingbirds

    My hubby and I like to get out of Denver in the snowy months when we feel spring should be coming, but isn't. This year we stayed in a ranch guesthouse  in southeast Arizona. Birding is always good in SE Arizona, but especially during migration, so we went in March/April.

    Some hummingbirds hang around all winter in Southeast Arizona, but some migrate further south and were just returning in April. Most readily go to feeders, although some more reluctantly than others. I enjoy watching them on flowers and prefer to photograph them that way, so we bought three pots of tubular flowers that I put out in the sun. I fell in love with these flowers, so when we left for home, we stuffed them in the car and brought them home to enjoy in the yard this summer.

    This is one of the most beautiful hummingbirds we had...the Broad-billed Hummingbird, easy to identify by his orange bill. This one has yellow pollen on it's bill.

    Gorgeous. The blue really takes your eye, but I am fascinated by the green on his head and wings.

    I like the feeling of freedom this image projects.

    Here is the Broad-bill perched and watching out for "his" feeders. He's a pretty aggressive protector, similar to the Rufous.

    This is the female that was paired up with the above male.

    This is a Black-chinned male Hummingbird, long black bill and purple throat (when he gets in the light just right). He does not flare his throat nearly as often as the Broad-bill.

    When not flaring purple, this is what the Black-chinned looks like..just a black throat.

    And here he is at his prettiest...around flowers.

    This is the lovely white-throated female Black-chinned Hummingbird.

    She has a rather gray head.

    These photographs were taken at my leisure at the guesthouse, where I could control lighting and take my time to get them off the feeders and onto flowers. But, there are great venues in SE Arizona to watch hummers. The newly renovated Paton Center for Hummingbirds is one of the best. The Patons were wonderful folks who loved and fed hummingbirds and invited the public to come sit in their yard on chairs and watch these great little entertainers fly all over the place. When the Patons passed on a couple of years ago, donations and the Tuscon Audubon Society leapt to the rescue and have made the property into a lovely public venue with water features, picnic tables, and more feeders for non-hummers. So, definitely go there in Patagonia!! The Violet-crowned Hummingbird comes there regularly, a beautiful bird that didn't pose for me.

    We had the Magnificent Hummingbird (a real boat of a bird that sails around in the air) at Ramsey Canyon and even at our feeder for a day, but I couldn't get a picture that I liked. That was a little disappointing because that bird is a challenge to photograph, but in the sun it's amazing! But, it's always good to have something to look forward to in the future, don't you think?

    In upcoming blogs on our trip, I'll talk about other places to bird and what we experienced there.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Trinidad and Tobago Birders and Landscapes

    If you haven't been here...well, it's not too late.

    Our daily Agouti

    What the trees looked like

    What the forest looked like

    Bananaquits on the bar...must be tea time.

    This little guy outside the chocolate "factory" didn't let a little rain spoil his play plans. Blanchisseuse Road.

    Birder picnic.

    More forest on Trinidad - near Asa Wright.

    Scarlet Ibis in Caroni Marsh.

    Bats under cabin eaves...but not the ones we saw every evening sipping from the hummingbird feeders.

    Bellbird...big mouth...what a fantastic "song" that guy had! I sure wished I'd had my good camera with me...but then again...it was hot and uphill...maybe not.

    White-bearded Manakin. We saw the other two also, the Blue-backed Manakin and the Golden-headed Manakin, but I didn't get pictures.

    Here's our awesome guide David, feeling nostalgic at his old childhood climbing vine.

    Remember Hermit the Hummer nesting on the light chain in the reading room.

    Morning mist was very common.

    I don't have pictures, but the butterflies were wonderful. We were just at the end of the rainy season, and I understand the flowers were poised to burst out in force in the coming dry season.

    David's village, not far from Asa Wright.

    Trinidad street.

    Remember the Death March? Pretty farm...noisy dog.

    Not Little Tobago, but a cute little isle anyway.

    My favorite landscape capture - Tobago.

    Cute little place for hummingbird viewing.

    Stellar crew!

    Jason on far left. Thanks for the companionship everybody. What a great trip!