This sure seems to happen a lot.  While birding in the Sulphur Springs Valley this morning, I noticed a bunch of Western Kingbirds around.  I mentioned to my group that they should be on the lookout for Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbirds because, though rare in AZ, those two species occasionally get in with these big Western Kingbird congregations.  Less than a minute later, I spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flying across a field to everyone’s amazement.  I can think of a number of times that has happened to me just after speaking about the possibility of something showing up.

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Back to the Gulch

Yesterday, I had a chance to get out and do a bit of birding with a couple of friends from Minnesota.  High up on their desired bird list was Five-striped Sparrow, so we headed off to the back country west of Nogales to pay a visit to California Gulch, home to a small colony of Five-stripes.  Thanks to some recent rains, the sparrows were singing quite a bit, and in the end, we encountered perhaps as many as six individuals.  Later that afternoon, we paid a visit to a few sites in Patagonia, where the image of the Broad-billed Hummingbird was taken.

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Monsoon in Full Swing

Ask most Arizonans what their favorite time of year is and you’re bound to hear from most of them that it is the summer monsoon season, the so-called second spring.  It really does bring the deserts to life, creating an abundance of new plant growth, insects, and stirring breeding activity in all sorts of critters.  The storms themselves can be spectacular.  Earlier today, a super storm passed through the neighborhood, knocking out power briefly, with lots of spectacular lightning flashes and booming thunder.  Now that night has fallen, the Couch’s Spadefoots are out calling by the dozens.  I’ve attached a sound file so you can hear what an amazing din they make.  This is right outside my apartment at the edge of the parking lot.  Got to love it!

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Last of the Curlews

Back in 1972 around my ninth birthday, I saw this ABC Afterschool Special based on Fred Bodsworth’s book Last of the Curlews.  A real tear-jerker, it opened my eyes to the world of conservation and the plight of endangered species, and certainly shaped the course of my life.  For those who have not seen it, it has been posted to YouTube in 5 parts:


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The end of an era

Well, let’s see.  Back on April 10, 1981, I got up really early in the morning so I could watch CNN’s coverage of the very first flight of the space shuttle Columbia.  After waiting anxiously for hours, the launch was scrubbed in the final seconds of the countdown.  Two days later, I was up early again to watch in awe as Columbia lifted off the launch pad for the very first time.  Later, when I was in college at UCSB, I would hear the double sonic booms as shuttles re-entered the atmosphere off the coast of southern California on their way to Edwards Air Force Base.  I remember attending a monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society that featured Lodewijk Van Den Berg, a veteran Challenger payload specialist.  He gave us an up close and personal look at the life of a shuttle astronaut, and what it was like to live and work in a weightless environment.  In his talk, he touched on the astronaut’s awareness of the risks involved in space flight.  Less than a week later, I watched as Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight and the world got to see what he meant first hand.  The shuttle program was a great success and it wasn’t until years later that the program suffered its only other catastrophic loss, the disintegration of Columbia on re-entry in 2003.

In those early years before shuttles routinely returned to Earth in Florida, I had a couple of occasions to see shuttles piggy-backed atop NASA 747s while they stopped for refueling in Tucson on their way back to Florida.  Now it is 30 years later, and I just finished watching the final launch of Atlantis, mission  STS-135 live on my iPad 2.  Sadly, I never got to see a launch in person (though I did at least manage a peak at a shuttle on the launch pad on a visit to Florida).  A young boy during the Apollo days of astronauts setting foot on the moon, space exploration has always fascinated me.  I will miss seeing them streak over in the night sky.

The space shuttle Columbia arrives in Tucson. Photo © Chris Benesh

Rush – Countdown (the first launch of Columbia)

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From falling rain to falling stars

Sean and Linnea creating with the Falling Stars app.

Today I discovered a fun graphic music app in the iTunes Store.  It’s a free thing called Falling Stars.  You draw lines, squiggles, whatever, and control the flow of falling stars down on to them, and voila, music.  It’s pretty cool and addictive.  The kids were instantly engaged.  I’ve attached a player below with some of our first explorations, one from each of us.  Enjoy!

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The First Rains Arrive in Tucson

Well, after the prolonged drought that southeast Arizona and much of the southwest have been suffering through, it was a welcome relief to experience the first rains of the 2011 monsoon season.  The rain came rolling in to my neighborhood around 3 AM on June 30th.  Hopefully, there will be much more in the coming weeks to help revive desiccated habitats and put an end to the fire danger.  I also hope that it falls in such a way as to minimize post-fire flooding in areas damaged by recent burns.  Below is a radar image of the storm as it passed through Tucson, along with an mp3 of the storm as it departed.  Enjoy!

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