Wintering in Arizona 2015-2016

November 18, 2015  I've been at Chris's Campground in Spearfish for three days. I stopped here to try for some Evening Grosbeaks that are known to be in the area of DC Booth Fish Hatchery, but so far I haven't seen them. Yesterday I hiked up Bear Butte looking for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, I found one, feeding on catnip seeds. It was very tame and let me get within a few feet of it, but it never came out of shaded area, so not very good light. I'm waiting for the weather to straighten out, very windy here today and Colorado was hit by a big blizzard yesterday so most roads down there are not in good shape. I may leave tomorrow and see how far I can get. I put some photos from the last few days at the LINK.

November 21, 2015  I stayed at Sidney NE (at the Cabela's RV park) on Thursday night and last night at La Junta CO in a KOA campground. I would have gone further but the wind was so strong I decided on shorter drives. I arrived at Bosque del Apache NWR late today and discovered that this is the weekend of the Festival of the Cranes. The Bosque Birder's RV Park is nearly full but I got a site, paid for two nights. I should have some photos to post by tomorrow night. Got stuck in a big traffic jam in Albequerque on I-25 that took nearly an hour to get through.

November 22, 2015  Left early for the refuge. Lots of people already there and along the roads waiting for the flyout. I drove south just after sunrise and looked for birds in the brush, saw lots of Gambel's Quail, a few Loggerhead Shrikes, not much else. Went back to the visitor center and checked the feeding area, not much there either. I went to the counter to buy my Migratory Bird Stamp like I do every year (these give free passage to all NWR's in the country). They said the price had gone up to $25.00, that is quite a jump from the $15.00 they have been in the past. I bought one anyway, then went down to the entrance where there was a sign saying all entry was free this weekend for the Festival of the Cranes. Oh well. The MBS (Duck Stamp) will come in handy somewhere. Drove the loops and saw a leucistic Sandhill Crane, like last year and the year before. Apparently it is thought this is the same crane coming back every year, but it is not banded so no one can be sure. I put some photos at the LINK.

November 25, 2015  Currently at Gilbert Ray Park on the west side of Tucson. I stopped here for a few days to check some local birding hotspots like Santa Cruz Flats, Madera Canyon, Sweetwater Wetlands, and maybe a couple of others. Found 22 Mountain Plovers at Santa Cruz Flats, later in the day had 5 Harris's Hawks in a tree by the road, and some distant Crested Caracaras (no photos). Toady I went to Madera Canyon to look for a Red-breasted Sapsucker that has been seen there, but no luck with that. Some photos of other birds are the LINK.

November 27, 2015  Finally, I have arrived at Ajo and got my old campsite out here near Darby Well. There is no one else around yet, as far as I can tell. I put up a hummingbird feeder but so far nothing. It looks pretty dry, must not have got much rain this summer. Yesterday, I visited the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson. It is an artificial wetland habitat created from municipal sewage treatment plant water. The local birders have been excited about some species that are rarely seen here, like Northern Parula, Baltimore Oriole, Brown Thrasher, Black-and-White Warbler, and a Greater Pewee. I saw all of them except the Brown Thrasher. Got some shots of a bobcat too, although it stayed in the brush all the time, so no clear shots. Some photos are at the LINK.

November 29, 2015  It has been down around 30 F. at night, so a bit chilly. Highs in the 60's. Supposed to warm up a bit by next week. Birded the Ajo golf course and country club area this morning. Lawrence's Goldfinches are back, lots of birds around, but didn't see a single sapsucker today. Last winter there were quite a few in the trees around the golf course. One Crissal Thrasher, but no photos. I put some photos at the LINK. 

December 1, 2015  Last night it dropped down to 30, but it should be the last cold night for awhile. Forecast lows are in the 40's for awhile at least. Yesterday I found another hybrid sapsucker at the city park, while looking for a Rufous-backed Robin that has been seen there. I don't seem to have much luck with full Red-breasted Sapsuckers, but the hybrids are common around here. This morning, I took what I consider among my best Lawrence's Goldfinch photos so far. Still not quite what I want, but these little birds are skittish. I put some images at the LINK.

December 2, 2015 This morning I went back to the area where I've been seeing Lawrence's Goldfinches but this time I hardly saw any and they stayed in the tree tops. While waiting for them to come down (which they never did), a coyote went prowling by in the brush. A herd of javelina was also seen but they were very wary. A Loggerhead Shrike was hunting in the brush, which is an odd behavior for this species, they usually prefer to hunt in the open. I've seen two of them in this thicket doing the same thing, this morning one posed in the open for me, at very close range. Just now, at sundown, as I'm writing this, a coyote is prowling around outside the Scamp. Tonight should be a little warmer, finally, lows are forecast in the 40's. I put some images at the LINK.

December 4, 2015 Yesterday, I relocated the Western Screech-Owl that lives at my campsite. It is in the same saguaro cavity as last year, but hasn't been showing itself until yesterday evening. It has not been vocalizing either, as far as I can tell. Today, on a hike up a canyon in the Little Ajo Mountains, I got some photos of a Sonoran Metalmark. I've seen these a few times but could never get any good photos. Starting to think about some astrophotography, the moon is on the wane, it is very dark in the early night hours now. Last night, I located the Andromeda Galaxy with my binoculars, that will be my first target for the new star tracker I recently bought. Probably not tonight though, it is cloudy now. I put some photos at the LINK.

December 5, 2015  Tonight I tried the star tracker. It works perfectly once everything is set up. It has to be aligned with Polaris first, then focus the camera on stars and then locate the target, which seems to be the hardest part of the process. Anyway, I was pretty pleased with my first attempt. I need to work on methods of stacking photos, but for now, what I have is at this LINK.

December 7, 2015  Just got back in from shooting Andromeda again. I used the 100-400 zoom, set at 250mm. Boy, what a pain in the neck, literally. I get the tracker aligned, put the camera/lens on, then the polar alignment is off, so I readjust, finally, after about an hour, I get Andromeda in the frame, and find out the polar alignment is off again, so start over. But, it wasn't as hard to find Andromeda the second time. It is so high in the sky, and I can barely see it in the viewfinder, but now I know how to do it. I think the results are pretty good, see the LINK.

December 9, 2015 More sky photography. Last night, I tried some new targets and different lenses. With the sky tracker, it is amazing what shows up even at short focal lengths. One minute of exposure with a fast lens reveals some incredible sights. I put some photos at the LINK.

December 13, 2015   Not much new going on, it rained a bit a couple of nights ago, maybe 1/10 inch. Went to Alamo Canyon, it is dry there too. I signed up for three Christmas Bird Counts, the Ajo count and two at Organ Pipe National Monument. First one is tomorrow. Haven't tried any new astrophotography, it has been either too cloudy, windy, or cold. I put a few new photos at the LINK.

December 22, 2015  I am done with all the CBC's now. Now I got myself enlisted to give a talk at the Cabeza Preita Natural History Association on January 14th. So, I'm busy preparing a talk about photographing butterflies in the Sonoran Desert. I haven't been doing much photography, mostly due to the weather (not good for butterflies), a bright moon and some cloudy nights are preventing astrophotography, and the general lack of any new birds. I did get some pretty nice shots of a Loggerhead Shrike this morning. I have never seen Loggerhead Shrikes behaving like they are this winter. Some are very tame, allowing close approach. I put a few recent photos at the LINK.

December 23, 2015 Went to Buckeye today to stock up on groceries, phone cards, and bandwidth for my hotspot. Of course, had to make a stop at the Thrasher Spot. Had good luck too, probably my best photos ever of Le Conte's Thrasher on the ground. I followed two of them for quite awhile, this technique worked for Sage Thrasher last winter, and worked well for Le Conte's this winter. After awhile they just get used to me and let me get closer. Also had what I believe is a Bell's Sparrow, Artemisiospiza belli canescens, based on the strong malar and lack of strong streaking on the back. For more discussion on this see my post from last winter at this LINK. I put some photos from today at this LINK.

December 28, 2015  I've moved into Belly Acres RV park in Ajo for a few days. It is much more comfortable with heat all night. I will be glad to get back out on the desert though, it is too noisy here. Today I had some good luck with Lawrence's Goldfinches at the golf course. I put some photos at the LINK.

December 29, 2015  I went back to the golf course this morning. This time I really lucked out with a Crissal Thrasher. The bird came out into a relatively open area and allowed close approach, unlike most Crissal Thrashers. The very cooperative Loggerhead Shrikes are still amazing me too. I put some new photos at the LINK.

December 31, 2015  Last night I went out to my campsite by Darby Well to try some astrophotography. It didn't look very good before sunset but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. There were lots of thin clouds, and even though I could see the star pretty well, there was a lot of haze. The results aren't the best. I shot the Great Orion Nebula. I put a photo at the LINK.

January 1, 2016  Yesterday I drove down to Alamo Canyon for a hike up the canyon. It was not very birdy nor were there many butterflies. But, I did find a Fox Sparrow (Sooty race), the first one I've ever seen in the Ajo/Organ Pipe area. Today, while I was at the grocery store, a Cooper's Hawk flew into the ditch by the highway, and then landed on a railing very close to where I was parked. It was hunting some House Sparrows, and I got some pretty shots of it. I put some new photos at the LINK.  Today is my last day in the RV park, tomorrow I'm back out on the BLM, where it is quiet!

January 6, 2016  It has been cloudy and rainy most of the time. More rain in the forecast for tomorrow. I haven't been getting much photography done. My iOptron Skytracker quit working so I sent it in for warranty work. I hope it will be back in a couple of weeks so I can try for the Comet Catalina during the new moon period. Not much that is newsworthy. Today I took some shots of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at close range. I put a couple of photos at the LINK.

January 16, 2016  I haven't posted anything in awhile because I haven't had any photos worth posting. Still don't, but I'll put up a couple anyway. Gave my talk at the Cabeza Preita Natural History Association two nights ago. It went good, a pretty good crowd showed up too. Seems to be far more people interested in natural history here than Pierre, even though this town is much smaller. I got the Skytracker back from iOptron, just waiting for a clear night now. I put a couple of photos at the LINK.

January 19, 2016  It is getting warmer, finally. Last night, I got up at 2:30 AM, set up the Skytracker and waited for the moon to set. Then I could see the Comet Catalina, near the Big Dipper. I took a lot of photos but stacking them didn't do much good. The comet moved enough during the time I was shooting that the stacked photos showed its path. At least the Skytracker is working again. I might try for a galaxy tonight, Bode's Galaxy if I can find it. I put some photos at the LINK.

January 23, 2016  The latest excitement around here was just this evening. I was out walking down the road taking photos of the sunset when a guy came running out of the wash and waving his hands, yelling "help me". He came up to me all covered in sweat and blood, says he is lucky to be alive. I finally got him calmed down enough to tell me what happened. He was hiking by the base of Black Mountain and ran into three guys who he thought were going to kill him. I asked him if they had guns, he didn't know. I asked him if they were chasing him, he didn't know. We went back to my truck and I immediately put on my revolver, then called the Border Patrol. No answer, so I call 911.. The guy goes over to his motor home on the other side of the arroyo to tell his wife he is OK. A couple of deputy sheriffs came out and I took them over to the guy's motor home. They took his story, called the Border Patrol, still no Border Patrol here. It's been well over an hour now. Anyway, this guy was out there hiking in shorts and sandals, he really messed up his legs and feet running back like that. He was scared to death, been a long time since I've seen anybody that scared.

January 25, 2016 I needed to go to a Walmart somewhere to get more Straight Talk phone and hotspot plans and stock up on groceries, so I decided to go to Gilbert Water Ranch up near Phoenix. This place is a well known birding area, created from effluent water from the city of Gilbert. Read more about it at this LINK. I needed to see some new birds. It is a great place for photography. I put a mix of photos at this LINK.

January 27, 2016  Last night I went out for some more night photography. The sky was very clear and it helped get some good shots. I was going to try for some Milky Way shots with a local rock formation (Locomotive Rock) as a background but the orientation didn't work out. So I switched to deep sky objects again. I really like doing that, in fact, I ordered a stronger, more accurate tracker that will allow me to do this with the 500mm f4 lens. That should really pull in some of the faint Messier objects out there in space. I'll see how well it works, if it can track stars accurately for at least a couple of minutes at 500mm, I might even be able to use it with the 1.4 teleconverter, for 700mm focal length. At those kinds of focal lengths, I will need to use every trick in the book to keep the lens steady enough for sharp star shots. The new tracker (Astro Trac) should be here by Friday. The old tracker will still be useful with the lighter, wide angle lenses for skyscapes. I put a few new photos at the LINK.

January 29, 2016  The Astro Trac arrived one day early. Last night I tried it with the 500mm f4 lens, but discovered that I need a stronger ball head to support it. All of my photos showed no star trails but there was creep from the slipping ball head. One is ordered and on the way. The Astro Trac works fine with the 100-400 zoom on my older ball heads. I can take one minute exposures at 400mm with no trailing. I don't know how long I can go with exposure without star trailing, still figuring all this out. Tonight, I spent a lot of time with it on a very solid tripod setting, perfect polar alignment, and higher ISO than I usually use. I put some photos at the LINK.

January 30, 2016  I have been out trying some more astrophotography. It can get frustrating, but once in while a reward comes with it. I  put a couple of photos at the LINK.

February 6, 2016 I'm at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for a few days. Today I went down to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) in old Mexico. Birded around the shore of the Sea of Cortez. Got several lifer birds and lots of good photos. I put some photos at the LINK.

February 8, 2016  I'm still at Organ Pipe. When I was in Puerto Penasco on Saturday, there was a tour boat outfit advertising a whale watching trip out into the Sea of Cortez. I decided to try it yesterday, it was only $40. It was supposed to be 15 miles to the site where Gray and Humpback whales were found but we couldn't make it due to rough seas. We turned back at about ten miles. Since I was mainly interested in seeing the birds that were far offshore, I didn't mind all that much. I got two more life birds out there, Black Storm-Petrel and Black-vented Shearwater. I put some more photos from yesterday at the LINK.

February 9, 2016. Still at Organ Pipe. Last night I did some astrophotography. Got up at 3 AM, timed so that Ursa Major was high in the sky. I wanted to get some better photos of Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy. I put a photo at the LINK.

February 10, 2016  It is 12:30 AM here, I just finished up shooting a couple of new galaxies in the vicinity of the Big Dipper. I put a couple of photos at the LINK.

February 11, 2016 I've been working on astro photos that I've taken and haven't processed. Deep Sky Stacker is working better now that I've figured out a few problems. Anyway, I will post two new photos of Andromeda Galaxy and Triangulum Galaxy. If I take some worth posting tonight, I will post them at this LINK too.

February 13, 2016 It is 1 AM, I'm tired, but I wanted to post a few photos from tonight. It was a perfect night after the moon went down, the air was clear and still, I think these are some of the best astro photos I've taken so far. I put a few of them at the LINK.

February 15, 2016 Got up at 3 AM, moonset was at 1 AM. I wanted to look for some new galaxies but couldn't find them. Bode's Galaxy was up high and finally out of the glare of Ajo, so tried that again. Then I found a new nebula, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius. I put a few photos at the LINK.

February 18, 2016 Moonset was at 4 AM this morning. I got up to try for some shots of the core of the Milky Way as it rose in the east. This will probably be the end of astrophotography for awhile until the moon begins to wane. I put a couple of my favorites at the LINK.

February 19, 2016   Went for a hike in Alamo Canyon today. Got a lifer lizard, a Sonoran Collared Lizard. It was even quite cooperative for photos. More butterflies are out now, I took a few photos of them too. I put some new photos at the LINK.

February 22, 2016  Last night I went out to shoot the moon. The Astro Trac has a lunar and solar tracking mode. For the short exposures I did, it probably wasn't needed but every little bit that helps keep an image sharp is good. I put a photo at the LINK.

February 26, 2016  The moon is rising later now, I got out for a couple of hours of photography tonight. I wanted to find the Leo Triplets, three galaxies close together in the constellation Leo. I put a couple of new photos at the LINK.

February 28, 2016   Last night I worked on the Leo Triplets again. I took lots of frames and stacked them with Deep Sky Stacker. I put a couple of photos at the LINK.

March 1, 2016  Hot today, the sun is just going down now. As I started typing this I saw a guy coming down the trail headed for my camper. He appeared to be an illegal, and I suppose he was. He asked me how to get to Phoenix, his English wasn't very good but I could understand most of it. I gave him some water and a peanut butter sandwich and he headed north. He's got a long walk ahead of him. Last night, I was up late shooting the night sky again. I didn't get anything new, but the sky was very clear and still, perfect conditions for some of my favorites. I put a few photos at the LINK.

March 8, 2016  I'm attending the Sonoran Desert Symposium this week, it is being held in Ajo. Yesterday there were field trips to various places, I went on the field trip to the Pinacate Reserve in Sonora, Mexico. Got one lifer lizard there, a Common Chuckwalla, which is supposed to be common in the desert but I've never seen one in the wild until yesterday. I put some photos at the LINK. You can read more about the Pinacate Reserve at this LINK. 

March 12, 2016  It is close to midnight now. I'm so tired I almost labeled this photo Schrödinger's Cat, but it is Barnard's Loop. Barnard's Loop is an emission nebula in the constellation of Orion. It is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex which also contains the dark Horsehead and the bright Orion nebulae. The loop takes the form of a large arc centered approximately on the Orion Nebula. The stars within the Orion Nebula are believed to be responsible for ionizing the loop (from Wikipedia). I put a photo at the LINK.

March 13, 2016  Yesterday I found a Barn Owl in the thicket out by the golf course. They are kind of a big deal out here I guess, not seen very often. I've been having some trouble with Deep Sky Stacker, it seems to think that some random hot pixel in my photos is a star, so it won't stack them properly. Anyway, I spent four hours out there a couple of nights ago and took a bunch of photos that would not stack so I probably was just wasting time. I tried stacking one of them in Photoshop and at least got something to show. Deep Sky Stacker does a much better job but I need to figure out what is going on before it will work. I put a few photos at the LINK.

March 16, 2016   Had visitors yesterday. Bonnie and Larry Shafer (Bonnie is my cousin) and their friends from Sioux Falls. They are staying in Phoenix for the month of March. We went for a drive to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and up and over the Ajo Mountain Loop. Last night, I got up at 2 AM and went out to shoot the sky. I tried some new targets. I put some new photos at the LINK.

March 17, 2016  Moonset was at 3:00 AM last night. I was up at 2:30 getting things set up. It will probably be awhile before I get any more astrophotography done, the moon is setting too late to make it worthwhile. I put some new photos at the LINK. Went for a hike in Alamo Canyon this morning, had some good FOS birds, including Black-throated Gray Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, and Scott's Oriole. I'll get some of those photos posted later, I'm tired.

March 20, 2016 Yesterday while driving out to the golf course to go birding, I noticed a dead burro near the road, with lots of vultures and few coyotes at it. I stopped and took a bunch of photos. Also added a photo from the hike in Alamo Canyon a few days ago. I've heard that some birders heard a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl there too, so I will need to go back early morning pretty soon and check for that. Some new photos at the LINK.

March 21, 2016   The morning walk turned up a Goode's Horned Lizard (formerly the Desert Horned Lizard). I also checked the burro carcass again, still active with vultures and coyotes, they are making good progress at cleaning it up. I put a few new photos at the LINK. Later, it is 9:15 PM now. An Elf Owl started calling outside about an hour ago. I went out to look for it. I was able to get close and get some clear shots. I put some images at the LINK.

March 29. 2016  Still here in Ajo. I've moved to a different location in Ajo Regional Park. A large group of people decided to have a four day horseshoe tournament near my old camp site, it was too much noise for me. Still trying to see or hear a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in Alamo Canyon. Some other people have heard one, but so far not me. Yesterday it was very windy and not worth doing much. I put a few new photos at the LINK. I should be able to try some astrophotography soon, now that the moon is waning, but it has been too cloudy or windy in recent days.

March 31, 2016  Went to the Hat Mountain area yesterday. More saguaro are blooming. Lots of other desert shrubs and trees in flower too, just not many annuals, although I did see a few poppies and Mojave desert stars. Last night I did some astrophotography. I put a few new photos at the LINK. I added a few more photos to the link this afternoon.

April 2, 2016  Up late again last night. I put a couple of new images at the LINK. It is going to be getting hot here, I'm headed east tomorrow. Probably back in South Dakota by the 9th or 10th.

April 4, 2016  I'm at the Empire Ranch, Las Cienagas, a few miles north of Sonoita. Had some really good luck yesterday with Scaled Quail. Found three males that responded well to calls and came in close. Will be heading further east and maybe north tomorrow. I put some photos at the LINK.

April 7, 2016  I'm currently at the RV park by Bosque del Apache NWR. Left Empire Ranch yesterday after trying to get some photos of a White-tailed Kite. Could not get very close, but I posted a photo anyway. I suppose I will be in Pierre by Saturday or Sunday. See LINK for a photo.