Arizona Odds and Ends

Judging from my last three posts you might think I spent most of my time at Bill and Alice’s taking bird photos. Nothing is further from the truth, though.  There were so many birds feeding in the backyard that it was ridiculously easy to take the shots that I got. The birds were indifferent to people unless you moved too close.  That wasn’t a problem with my 600mm lens with a 1.4 extender. Heck, it took a lot longer to edit one of these photos than it did to take all of them.  

Strangely enough, even birds I’m used to seeing seemed different in Bill and Alice’s backyard.  We often have Mourning Doves in our backyard, but I can never get as close as I did at Bill and Alice’s house.

Mourning Dove

I was surprised that even the Mourning Doves feeding on the ground seemed indifferent to my presence.

Mourning Dove on the ground

I’m used to seeing Mockingbirds in Santa Rosa, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this one in Arizona, especially since we couldn’t fit Santa Rosa into this trip.


I’ve only gotten fleeting glances of Long-Tailed Grackles outside of Colorado, but this one seemed eager to get its picture taken, returning to the yard three or four days in a row. 

Long-Tailed Grackle

Seeing Bill in so much pain from his neck injury was tough, but the birds were a nice distraction when he needed extra rest.  

Sometimes immersing ourselves in nature, even for a short time, seems to help us cope with problems.   

We Visit Bill and Alice

The main reason for our recent trip to Arizona and California was to see my older brother Bill and his wife Alice. They live in Anchorage but overwinter in Arizona.  Unfortunately, at 85 Bill is beginning to have health problems. I’ve been meaning to see him for several years now, but things haven’t worked out as I would have wished. We are still trying to avoid Covid, but I’ve decided that with the vaccine shots we’ve gotten that it’s worth the chance of contracting it. I’m not willing to spend the rest of my l life locked up avoiding a disease that doesn’t seem much worse than the flu for the inoculated people I know who have recently contracted it.

Since we haven’t seen Bill in at least five years and Alice for even more than that, I decided to prioritize this trip this year, putting off trips to Colorado and Santa Rosa.  1,500 miles is a long drive at my age, but stopping at wildlife refuges and breaking the trip up into three days made it doable. Every time my eyes would glaze over, an aggressive California driver would remind me to stay focused on the road.

I’ve driven from Phoenix to Palm Springs on the I-10 Interstate once before when returning from New Mexico, but that was late at night. It was much more interesting in daylight. It reminded me a little of the 18 months I spent at Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert, but I don’t remember seeing any saguaro cacti in the Mohave. No, rather, the cactus reminded me of the Arizona Highways magazine mom had on her coffee table for many years. If we had had more time I would have liked to drive out and see some of the areas beside the Interstate.

We didn’t have any fixed plans on this trip.  I originally thought we would stay a couple of days but we ended up staying five. Even then, Bill said we should stay longer.  Bill wasn’t up to doing too much during our visit, but we did go out for dinner twice while we were there. We spent most of our time just visiting and talking (mostly about the past). It’s fascinating how people see the same events very differently long after the events took place.  Because he’s four years older than me, Bill could clearly remember events I only vaguely remembered.  More interesting to me, though, were the different interpretations we had of events that both of us thought we remembered clearly.  

Bill wasn’t up to hiking, but he insisted we go on a drive and see the surrounding countryside. We were amazed at how rapidly the area seemed to be expanding, with new houses going up everywhere, confirming the City of Phoenix’s claim that: “The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 estimates say that Phoenix now tops 1.7 million in population and added more new residents than any other city.”  Coincidentally, the construction looks indistinguishable from the construction we’ve seen in Broomfield, CO, over the last 20+ years.

If you’ve been following my site for any length of time, you’re probably not surprised that I wasn’t too interested in urban growth. However, I was excited to check out the desert and mountains outside of Goodyear.  I didn’t have my Canon with me, but I put my trusty iPhone Pro 14 on RAW and captured some shots of the local cacti.

I didn’t see any of the rattlesnakes that Bill warned me about when I got out to take these shots (mom used to do that a lot when we lived in Goldendale)  or any birds, for that matter.  However, Alice had been feeding the birds and putting our water for them back at their home, so I was able to get some shots of birds I had never seen before.  Stay tuned.

Not an Avocet in Sight

As if geese, ducks, hawks, vultures, and songbirds weren’t enough, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge hosts shorebirds that we seldom or never see in the Puget Sound area.  

I always consider it a treat when I see a Yellowlegs at Theler Wetlands or the ocean, so it was hard not to be pleased to see several of them at Sacramento.         


Great Egrets are as common in California as Great Blue Herons are in the Puget Sound, but we seldom see Great Egrets as far North as Tacoma, though they have recently migrated to Vancouver, WA.

Great Egret

We often see Black-Necked Stilt at Bear River Wildlife Refuge in Utah,  but I have never seen one in the Puget Sound area. 

Black-Necked Stilt

White-Faced Ibis are even rarer. In the past we’ve seen hundreds of them at the refuge, but we only saw a very small flock on this visit.  Worst of all, the sunlight was directly behind them so it was hard to tell if they were still dressed in their non-breeding plumage or their brilliant, breeding plumage.  

White-Faced Ibis

Looking back at all the photos we took on our short stop there, it’s hard to believe that I was actually a little disappointed in the day.  I had expected, hoped, to see American Avocets at the refuge, but the only one I thought I saw turned out to be a Black-Necked Stilt.  

You’d think after nearly twenty years of birding that I would have learned to just revel in the beauty we found everywhere we looked, but apparently I still haven’t mastered living in the moment without expectations.

A Return Visit to Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake

On our second visit to Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake, I took a longer lens, hoping to get better shots of the Acorn Woodpeckers we had seen on our first visit.  I should have known that would jinx us because the flock of woodpeckers we had seen defending their larder days earlier were reduced to two woodpeckers standing guard.

Two Acorn Woodpeckers

All was not lost, though, as we saw a lot more birds on the second visit than we did on the first.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen a juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, but the fading black and white pattern on the neck indicates that’s what this was.

Juvenile Pied Grebe

I thought this bird was some kind of flycatcher, but I was a little surprised when Merlin identified it as a Black Phoebe since all the Black Phoebes I’ve ever seen have been much blacker, not brown.

Black Phoebe

I know this is a juvenile swallow, but Merlin wasn’t a lot of help identifying what kind of juvenile swallow it is — suggesting it is either a Tree Swallow, a Violet-Green Swallow, or a Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Juvenile Swallow

We didn’t see the pair of Swans that nested at Lake Ralphine in previous years, but we did see a single Mute Swan on Spring Lake.

Mute Swan

The highlight of the day, though, was this close-up of a Black-crowned Night Heron from the back. I was amazed I could get this close without spooking it.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

I prefer the shot from this angle, but I am sure the heron would have flown away if the green foliage hadn’t been between us.  

Black-Crowned Night Heron
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