Right in your own Backyard

We are preparing for a trip to Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as I get the OK to head north after my cervical stenosis surgery. I am hoping that the neck brace can come off in two and a half weeks. The concern is whether the two level fusion took and is healing correctly. It really hasn’t been that big of a deal and I am so appreciative that it hasn’t slowed me down with my photography. As long as I only use the 70-200mm lens with a teleconverter, all is well.

I am also testing out the use of uploading my blog post via laptop. I have been using my iPhone believe it or not and thought since I have the use of the internet now thanks to a next-door neighbor across the street, I would like to see what it is actually like to type on a keyboard and sit at a table. What a difference it is making as far as visualizing what the text looks like, and it is certainly more comfortable on the eyes.

Every morning now I am getting up and walking through the neighborhood in search of birds to photograph for 500px. I am thrilled to say that I am finding more birds than I thought were possible without even getting in the car. My favorite is an Allen’s Hummingbird that only breeds along a narrow strip of coastline in California and Southern Oregon. It has beautiful golden feathers with rust and green and looks very similar to the Rufous Hummingbird. I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk the other day on a power line, and Say’s and Black Phoebes are also numerous. Northern Mockingbirds serenade me with their stolen repertoire and Monarch Butterflies settle down silently on brightly colored flowers that grow in well-tended gardens. It is with great pleasure that I can actually find wonderful subject matter to photograph right here in my own backyard.

Callie will have to be current on all of her vaccinations and I am taking her into the vet at the end of next week. It is necessary for her to have a Health Certificate in order to cross international borders and we will need passports too. I just about have everything in order and am really looking forward to this trip. Our friends, Becky and Fred will be caravaning with us and it will be Becky’s first time RVing for an extended time. We hope to be gone for about a month. Camping can be so much fun, but it is also a lot of work. I can’t believe it has been over 3.5 years since we flew to Huntsville, Alabama to pick up Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C Icon. It has given us loads of fun and excitement and an escape route out of the desert during the hot summer months.

 

Break Time

I have been pretty obsessed with photography since my cervical stenosis surgery because I thought I would be down for at least a month. It turns out, I have had a remarkable recovery and can handle going out in the field with a hand-held 200mm lens and a teleconverter attached to it. The teleconverter doubles my reach, so I have up to 400mm which is pretty good for holding a camera without the aid of a tripod.

While staying at the beach, I discovered a Say’s Phoebe, a Black Phoebe, and an Allen Hummingbird; the common House Finch was in abundance too. I have never heard of an Allen’s Hummer before and found out that they only live in a very small patch of coastal area in California. The male, Allen Hummingbird has a beautiful chestnut brown tummy with iridescent green back feathers. This little guy was so wary of me though, that I could barely get a shot in of him before he would fly away and hide. The Say’s Phoebe was much braver and allowed me to get quite close as it perched on top of an old TV antenna.

Because of all this passion toward photography and long hours of working and editing on the laptop, Callie decided to put an end to it by resting on the keyboard of my computer. She looked right at me and dared me to move her. I gave her a pat and reassured her that I would take a break but only after I took her portrait with the iPhone. She was compliant enough and appreciated that I was going to give her more attention.

Nature

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This is a photographic compilation of some of my travels, not all with Callie, but with Michael for sure. He has been quite supportive all these years. He bought me a Polaroid camera when my daughter Lara was born 32 years ago, and I haven’t stopped since!

Bone Dry

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park received scant rainfall this year, but two years before that we experienced the super-bloom. It just amazes me to no end how the flora and fauna of desert life survive in such extremes. I hear the pack of coyotes most evenings and once again at dawn as they howl and yip their joy at being reunited once again after a long night, the big horn sheep that come down to the golf course to drink and graze on the grass have moved back up to higher ground, my cheeky roadrunner will stop and look Callie right in the eye if she happens to be outside while he is making his rounds, the Anna’s hummingbird dips and dives and attacks any other bird that comes into the yard, the mockingbird that Callie almost killed when we first moved here is still singing up quite a storm, and I could go on and on.

I biked today around the De Anza Golf Course and took photographs of every bloom I came across. The ocotillo have thrust out their bright orange/red blossoms even if there are only a few pathetic leaves on the stalks, the scrubby creosote have white, puffy blooms that look like cotton balls before they turn a pretty yellow, there is scarce purple desert verbena in small patches, cactus of all kind including a saguaro which is not native to this desert has gorgeous white blossoms on its tall, slender sides that bats, moths, and hummingbirds find irresistible, beaver tail, cholla and yucca throw everything they have left into desperate, ornate flowers, but the plant that gets first prize for putting on the most dramatic and dazzling display this season, is the hardy and thorny, acacia tree.

As I stepped up to each tree cautiously in order to take a photograph, the deafening buzz of thousands of wild, desert, honeybees filled the air as they covered the tree and left me in awe at just how much nature depends on these industrious pollinators. The hardy, wild bees that live in the desert year round are much smaller and darker than their European cousins, and I marvel at how they can survive in the long, hot, summer months? They are also much more aggressive and protective, so you do have to be careful when getting too close to them. So everywhere I looked today, I could see the bright, golden yellow blooms that completely covered the acacia trees dominating the arid landscape. It is a welcoming sight for an otherwise bone-dry desert, with little else that was native, even remotely green as far as the eye could see.

Oh, and did I mention the intoxicating scent of the acacia along with the well watered and pampered, grapefruit and orange blossoms of the farmers groves that are grown here locally? These farmers can tap into the ground water in Borrego Springs for free and use up all the water that they need! That is another story to be told, but the Ruby Red’s, Navels and Valencia’s, plus the seedless Cuties that everyone loves to eat are offered here at local stands and shipped out everywhere.

Callie has been very happy and healthy ever since she was diagnosed with asthma and is also on a special diet for her itchy ears. She loves dashing up the olive tree in the morning and then sleeping the day away, high up on her loft bed. The heat hasn’t arrived in all its vengeance yet, so it is still a hospitable place in which to live. In another month or so we will have to make our great escape with Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C RV, in search of cooler ground.

Ah, Those Elusive Hummingbirds

One of the reasons that Callie loves to climb her beloved olive trees, is because we have a precocious resident male Anna’s Hummingbird that lives up high on the top branches of the tree. I periodically fill a nectar feeder up for him but also ask that he be independent so as not to starve when we go away on our RV trips. It has been shown that hummingbirds feed on gnats and catch them mid-flight and I can attest to the fact that we have plenty of gnats in the desert to feed them.

Callie is let out every morning in the backyard with supervision so that she can survey her domain and check to see if Romeo has paid a visit during the night. It doesn’t appear to me that he has. Callie climbs the olive trees to get a closer look at the hummingbird but this little bird will have none of it and keeps his distance. She also investigates all the tiny kangaroo rat dens that appear under the oleander and bougainvillea bushes. She cornered one that was on the BBQ the other morning and chased it over to a thorny branch.

When I checked on her, I discovered the little rodent and decided to give it a chance to live yet another day. Callie had it cornered but couldn’t catch the poor thing because of the sharp thorns. On the other hand, the tiny rat couldn’t get back to the safety of his den that was at the base of the bush. He or she was really adorable, what with those great big black eyes and teeny tiny body hunched ever so pathetically on the branch of the dark pink bougainvillea. When I picked Callie up, she howled her complaints at me and couldn’t understand why I was putting her in the house. Surely I wanted her to catch this little creature! At least it wasn’t a scorpion that she was tracking this time around or a tarantula for that matter.

So to get back to the hummingbird, Callie has been unable to catch this elusive little bird no matter how hard she tries, or how high she climbs up into the tree. The little bird just refuses to be caught and flies away just when Callie thinks she will catch it. But oh how dramatic he is when he flashes his neck feathers so that the sunlight captures the iridescent colors and he reaches for the sky before plunging back down at neck-breaking speed to create the whistling sound that Anna’s Hummingbirds are famous for. Spring has arrived, and another beautiful day has begun in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Stories just Write Themselves

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t take at least a couple of photographs of poor Callie. Whatever we are doing together, I have my iPhone 7 plus handy and I am always capturing the moment with images of her. I would hate it if someone had the lens turned on me, and Callie sometimes shows great irritation when I have it aimed at her, but for the most part, she is a good sport about it all.

So this afternoon we spent time rescuing wild desert honey bees from the pool and basking under the diffused light of the sun. There is a hazy cloud layer but the temperature is warmer, maybe 82 degrees and the insects are starting to hatch and the gnats which feed the hummingbirds aim for your eyes and nose and ears. They are quite annoying but a necessary part of living in the desert where water has been interjected.

So many wild animals benefit from the water sources of golf courses and the trees and shade that they provide. I for one am not a fan of golf but do appreciate the shade and cover from the sun the park-like setting provides for birds, cottontails, and coyotes, even the bighorn sheep depend on the grass and water before the rains come. There have been times that I am driving at night and I will see an entire pack of coyotes romping along the lush green belt.

Springtime is almost upon us and you can feel it in the air. The days are getting longer and this is probably the best time of year for desert inhabitants. Cactus start to bloom which feed the hummingbirds and pollinators, insects thrive which in turn sustain the flocks of migratory birds and people get to enjoy the mild climate in a paradise setting.

A Sequel to the Sacred Olive Trees

Today dawned golden and bright with a brisk temperature of only in the 50’s. This is the best time of year to be living in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs. Exotic migratory birds like the oriole, tanager, and flickers, return for the winter. Packs of coyotes have raised their young and if all goes well, the pups will survive and contribute to the chorus of howls and yips by adding their own little squeaky voices to the early morning mix. The bighorn sheep once again move to higher ground with their springtime lambs and every one of us that made it through the harsh summer can take a deep sigh of relief. The desert is where I call myself home now, and I am eternally grateful that the heat is once again behind us.

The summers are brutal here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We had a high of 124 degrees F, but because there is a constant source of water that is made available with natural springs flowing most of the year, bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lions, badgers, desert foxes, quail, roadrunners, many species of birds, jackrabbits, cottontails and so much more, are able to survive the summer heat.

Fortunately for us, we were able to travel in our 24ft Class C RV during most of the hot summer in order to escape the scorching months of July and August with our cat, Callie and only had to return last week to settle in for the fall and winter season. We will continue to take shorter trips for the fun if it, but the desperation of fleeing the heat of summer is behind us.

Callie has been on an antibiotic for 7 days now for acute bronchitis, which was triggered again when we drove through the horrific fires of Santa Rosa, California. Due to the highway 101 closure, we were forced to dry camp at Salt Point Campground north of Bodega Bay in order to try and get away from the smoke. Fires had broken out all over the map and we were not successful in finding a campground which was smoke-free. She started coughing soon after we spent the night there and it became progressively worse the second half of the 5-week trip. Fortunately, I have a good vet in Morro Bay who was able to call in a compound prescription for us and she is on the road to recovery.

This morning was the first day Callie dashed across the backyard in order to reach a fast enough momentum to climb high up on her beloved olive trees. She loves these trees and climbing them is a passion for her. The higher she climbs, the prouder she becomes! It is always a good sign when she throws herself on the trunk of the tree and then dashes straight up until she can climb no higher. It made me feel good too, to see her once again feeling better.

Do You Believe In Miracles 

How do you get a hummingbird to cooperate and stay put? That is a good question and Callie would like an answer to it. She does her best to climb as high up on the branches as is possible and the hummingbirds continue to be illusive. She stays perfectly still except for her tail which twitches and shakes in anticipation of catching just one little bird, but to no avail. The hummingbirds seem to know and understand Callie’s limitations and almost taunt her by flitting back and forth just out of reach of her grasp. Callie’s frustration mounts but she doesn’t loose heart. Maybe tomorrow she will have her lucky break. I don’t mind if she believes in miracles. It encourages  her to climb up her beloved olive trees and I get to watch.

Getting a Cat to Say Cheese!

Borrego Springs is absolutely gorgeous today. It is 71 degrees with just a whisper of a breeze and my Anna’s hummingbird is in full throttle dive display. Callie and I are hanging out in the olive trees listening to the bird produce the beautiful bell like sound at the end of the dive. If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know that Callie loves to climb the olive trees. The bark is perfect for sharpening her claws and the branches scale up at a decent ascent so that she can climb fairly high. The hummingbirds are up there too, and I believe that hunting down those pesky little birds was the start of her love affair with the trees. She hasn’t been able to catch a bird yet, but that doesn’t stop her from having a good time. There are three trees in the backyard and the one closest to the feeder is her favorite. 

I had the brainstorm of doing selfies with Callie in the tree while she was climbing, and kept laughing at her annoyance with me for getting in the way of her descent. This is not our usual routine and she was just about ready to tell me to get lost. You can tell she is annoyed by the angle of her ears and she flicks her tail back and forth. She is much too polite to be rude though, and kept hoping I would quit so that she could continue to play. I fired off a few good photographs and then let her do her thing. She actually gets tired of being photographed and would much rather I actively play with her. Callie loves it when I wiggle a small twig on either side of the branch so that she can pretend she is catching a hummingbird. So aiming the camera at her and saying “cheese,” wasn’t cutting it for her. You can’t demand that a cat obey you. It just doesn’t work. They have minds of their own, and will only do what it is they want to do. There isn’t one shot of her saying cheese that I can see, but I still think I won this round…. I may not have succeeded in getting her to smile and say cheese, but I did get her to stop long enough so that I could take our photograph together. That is a win- win for me!  All has been forgiven and now she is ready for a nap…….

Let Your Little Light Shine

I am a morning person and Callie is a morning cat and sadly, Michael is neither one… It is still dark out when I get up and Callie is waiting for the moment when she can dash outside and run up the first olive tree. She isn’t allowed to leave the yard unless I am with her, so olive tree climbing will have to do.  There are always hummingbirds around that scold Callie and zip from one branch to the next while teasing her and putting on a show. Callie loves it and tries to outdo her personal best from yesterday and climb just a wee bit higher. It is a little nerve wracking when the branches become so thin that they bend under her weight, but watching her little light shine and the glow of the hillside at dawn, makes it all worth while. Callie loves this time of day best, when she can be free to climb and chase the birds and wait for the morning light to fill up the sky. The desert is peaceful at this time of day, even in the middle of summer, and Callie and I have made it a morning ritual. When we have had our fun, and the foothills have lost their golden glow, we come back inside and have breakfast and I finish my cup of coffee. Michael is ready to get up by then and we prepare to go on a bike ride. Biking in Borrego Springs and Anza Borrego complete my morning ritual and I am ready to let my little light shine too…