#122: Happy October

HAPPY OCTOBER!

Three weeks remain for me at my homestead before a five-week sabbatical. I will return to my camp at the USFS Admin Mule & Horse Corral above the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center (VIC) in the Chiricahua Mountains on the last day of November. I returned to my little paradise in the canyon this year on February 23, so when I pull out during the last few days of October it will be eight months since my Wheelhouse moved. When I return for the beginning of December, I will begin a seven-month stay that might extend a bit beyond that. However, I have only committed to resuming my caretaker & host duties through June. I may choose to spend the 2020 monsoon season chasing snakes in other ranges and doing something much different. We will see. A pikey/gypsy/tinker needs to move sometimes.

“The World Is Big And I Want To Have A Good Look At It Before It Gets Dark.” - John Muir
Green Lynx Spider ( Peucetia viridans ), Cave Creek Canyon

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans), Cave Creek Canyon

It is October 5. My free time will now switch to hunting for the montane tarantula species Brent & I found at the top of the Chiricahuas last Halloween. I have spread the word among local hikers to be on the lookout for specimens for me, but I will now devote time to searching for it until I am joined by Brent, Chris, Chad, and Tom on October 25-26. Snakes can still be found in October, but I won’t focus on them. Any I encounter will be more by chance. My first rattlesnake of October is the Mohave (Crotalus scutulatus) shown below and observed on the first day of the month. I had made a trip up to Willcox for banking and groceries. It is 72 miles northwest, and where I will be living during my sabbatical from life and responsibilities here in Cave Creek Canyon for November. With cool nighttime temperatures now (ca. the mid-50s), most snakes have become more active during the daytime, and I had hoped I might see something during my return drive in the late morning when the day’s early chill had warmed.

I had seen a disturbing number of road-killed mammals on my drive out of the foothills up to the interstate on my way to Willcox: several skunks, a badger, a gray fox, and javelina; plus a dead-on-road barn owl. I cleared all off the road for the safety of scavengers but saw no reptiles live or dead. On the return drive, I was driving along the dirt Foothills Road and not only was there more traffic than usual, but there was also a road grader at work. I was discouraged and doubting that I might see a live snake. I had increased my speed, anxious to return home. I saw a truck approaching me at reasonably high speed and moved over so we could pass each other. As it got closer, I realized it was Border Patrol, the vehicles I most often encounter on the primitive roads. As he cruised by, I soon noticed a snake in the dust cloud the truck had left, and it was thrashing a bit as if it was hit. I slammed on my brakes, skidding in the red dust as I steered towards the roadside desert. I was happy to discover that it had not been injured at all and quickly grabbed my tongs and a snake bucket from the rear of my truck. As I approached the very dangerous Mohave Rattlesnake, it began to strike at me repeatedly. Only wearing flip flops for what was just an impromptu errand run, I was happy to have five-foot-long tongs. Still, I had to jump back several times as this particular buzztail was the most agitated and defensive I had experienced throughout the entire year. I grasped it safely in my Gentle Giant tongs, and it thrashed about so much I rapidly moved it to the dirt and released it so it wouldn’t be injured. I got another grip mid-body and pushed it into the bucket with much difficulty as it continued to strike.

I wanted to find a decent place to photograph it, but I also wanted to move it to safety away from the road and get us out of sight of passing cars that might stop and gawk. I don’t like worrying about bystanders who want to try to get a quick smartphone shot. So, in improper footwear, I moved into the creosote, mesquite, and cactus off the road, wishing I had my boots on. Before long, I was kneeling in cactus spines trying to pose the ornery snake as its striking did not relent. I tossed my floppy hat over it - that old trick for settling a snake into a coil pose for photographs. It was uncooperative, and several attempts were necessary. The photo below, which unfortunately has a stem across the snake’s body, is the best I could do before I chose to let the snappy bugger alone.

Mohave Rattlesnake ( Crotalus scutulatus ), Chiricahua Foothills

Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus), Chiricahua Foothills

My last day at the VIC will be October 23. The next day I have free to prepare my Wheelhouse for moving, and the day after that, Chad and Tom will join me here at my homestead. The following morning we expect arachnologists Brent Hendrixson and Chris Hamilton. Then the fieldwork will begin and last through November 2. On November 3, I will start four weeks of relaxation. However, I don’t imagine I will sit completely still. In addition to the possibility of continuing to search for Fall/Winter active Sky Island tarantulas, I am pondering trips for landscape photography with destinations like Organ Pipe and the Grand Canyon in mind.

MJ

#121: Happy Autumn

I want to begin by thanking all who expressed condolences on the loss of my dear parrot Jesse, and indeed all who read my tribute here. Twenty-nine years is a long period of attachment. Jesse and I were together for more than twice the amount of time as my precious dog, Taylor. She was with me from age 26 to 55. Yesterday was a day of much grief as I started the morning burying her in the rain before the sun had even risen. Then there was removing her cage and playpen and travel carrier and everything else. I was an emotional mess as I opened the Visitor Center late. Returning home later that afternoon to the quiet emptiness was tough.

I felt guilty as I cleaned my Wheelhouse and put the dinette table where it is supposed to be, where Jesse’s cage had been for these past two and a half years as a full-time RV-er. For the first time, my RV is cleaner and better organized than 200 square feet you share with a seed and fruit scattering bird. I hated that I was thinking about how much more room there is and how I won’t have to sweep twice a day.

In one month I will be preparing to move the Wheelhouse. As I mentioned in yesterday’s tribute, I very much need a break from my routine here in Cave Creek Canyon and my work with the VIC (Visitor Information Center). I returned on February 23 and on October 25 will be free until December 1. Eight months is a long time for the Wheelhouse to sit still, and it has been a long stretch for me. But let me begin this start of autumn post with more about what is happening on October 25.

As most of you know, my friend and arachnologist Dr. Brent Hendrixson has visited the area often, and he and I have had many adventures in search of tarantulas and scorpions. One of his trips was when he and I found two pairs of tarantulas, here in the Chiricahua Mountains above 7000 feet elevation, on Halloween. Another found us chasing tarantulas at the beginning of December. The Sky Island tarantulas are our focus, and these species mature and breed in fall and are active at the end of the year. On October 25, Brent will fly into Arizona and be joined by his colleague, Dr. Chris Hamilton. I haven’t seen Chris in about thirteen years. They will be coming to me in the Chiricahuas the following morning. At the same time, two non-professional tarantula enthusiasts (arachnoculturists), my good friend Chad Campbell from Minnesota and Tom Patterson from New York, will be arriving in Tucson and heading straight to my camp. The five of us will begin our field trip searching for more high elevation specimens here in the Chiricahuas, and then intend to direct our hunt to the Pinaleño and Dragoon Mountains. We may be joined by others there, including Wyatt Mendez.

To be closer to the latter mountain ranges, I began thinking about boondocking (dry camping) somewhere between Willcox and Benson, Arizona. Tom and Chad will stay with me during our weekend adventures, but then Tom will depart for some time in the Phoenix area. I realized that living “off grid” would require some repairs and upgrades to my Wheelhouse that would be more expensive than one month at an RV Park, and began looking for one within striking distance of the Pinaleños and Dragoons. As I shop for groceries in Willcox, 72 miles from my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon, I had become aware of a park there that has some nice amenities. I figured if I am going to pay for a month at an RV Park it should be nice and afford me some relaxation after my spider hunting buddies head home. Lifestyles RV in Willcox fit the bill. It has an indoor pool and hot tub, a gym, and WiFi. It is just down the road from the Safeway where I shop, which has a Starbucks!

On or about October 28, Chad and I will move my rig to Lifestyles. After our field trip ends on Nov 2, I will have four weeks to just chill. I will write (begin my novel?), read, play guitar, (hopefully) work out, and enjoy a daily soak in the hot tub. It will be a much needed therapeutic and meditative time. Then I will be back to my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon from December through June. What adventures lie beyond are yet to be discovered.

Bombus sonorus

Bombus sonorus

The above image of a Sonoran Bumblebee (Bombus sonorus) is how I wished followers of my social media a Happy Autumn. The nights are cool, even crisp, here now, and yesterday the rainfall was heavy. The Southwestern Research Station three miles up canyon recorded two inches in twenty-four hours. Late summer and early fall mean bird migration, especially for the hummingbirds that are the avian wildlife on which I focus. In September, we have recorded thirteen species of “colibris” in the area, including the very uncommon for our area White-eared, Berylline, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. About fifteen hummers are swarming my three feeders as I type this, including Blue-throated Mountain Gems, Rivoli’s, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope. There are many immature birds, the males of which are just starting to form the gorgeous gorgets on their throats.

Although the reptiles will soon head for their winter retreats, and I am beginning to think more about the autumn tarantulas, I will continue to chase snakes through October. Two weeks or so ago, I ventured to the Huachuca Mountains to meet my friend Brandon. We didn’t find the species we sought but did encounter the Banded Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus klauberi) and Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus). The Mohave was a beautiful greenish snake found at the highest elevation I have ever encountered the species. The photo below has, in a short time, become my most liked post on Instagram. The Rock Rattlesnake image that follows it is my favorite yet of the species.

Crotalus scutulatus

Crotalus scutulatus

Crotalus lepidus klauberi

Crotalus lepidus klauberi

At the end of August, I had a snake hunting adventure with my friend Tim. He lives in Mesa outside of Phoenix, and I overnighted in a hotel in Mesa to join him in the search for two species I had to observe in nature. The two “lifers” I was after were the Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus) and the Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus pyrrhus). We found both, with a couple of specimens of another favorite buzztail, the Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris), and a few other things as well. The Arizona Black or “cerb” was my primary desire. I arrived in Mesa at midday and Tim and I drove northeast into the mountains to search for it. After having no luck on one rocky slope, we moved to higher elevation and hiked along a forested creek. We would find a Regal Ringneck Snake and a Large-blotched Ensantina (a beautiful black and orange salamander from California that is invasive in Arizona). We had no success finding anything else and were headed back to my truck when a perfect “cerb” slithered across the path in front of me. He had a massive bulge from a recent meal like a ground squirrel. His head was raised as he moved slowly and gracefully. I shouted to Tim that I had found my “lifer,” and soon we were photographing my prize.

Crotalus cerberus

Crotalus cerberus

After our incredible encounter with this snake, Tim and I decided to get an early dinner in preparation for doing some road-cruising. Our original plan had us starting at night, but I got up to Phoenix nice and early, and now we had my main objective on our memory cards. It was fortuitous as well, as that night our road-cruising would only yield a nice Desert Nightsnake. I would end up not finding my hotel until about 11:30 p.m., and we decided I would pick Tim up at 4:30 a.m. to begin our search for “specks.” I wouldn’t fall asleep until well after midnight and was in the shower by 3 a.m. This would be a whirlwind snake hunting trip!

The next morning Tim and I found our first snake before 5 a.m. as we hiked a wash in Phoenix in the pre-dawn dark. Just before and after 6 a.m., about twenty minutes apart, we would observe two Tiger Rattlesnakes. The first is shown below. I love how this species has a comparatively small head and large rattle. The little head is believed to aid it in poking itself into rock piles after its prey.

Crotalus tigris

Crotalus tigris

By 6:15 a.m. we had already encountered three rattlesnakes. In a climate as hot and dry as Phoenix, you have to start early before the oppressive heat. My lifer Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake would be found by Tim just before 7 a.m. The sun had risen, and we had progressed further into the wash. The species is perfectly adapted to the marbled rock where it lives, and it lies camouflaged at dusk and dawn in ambush of birds and other prey. But, as they say, a photograph is worth a thousand words.

Crotalus pyrrhus

Crotalus pyrrhus

Our second speck was found at 7:40 a.m. and would be the fifth and final buzztail of the morning. The temperature had climbed, and by the time we made it back to my truck before 9 a.m., it was already 95ºF. I drove Tim back to his Mesa apartment and then began the four-and-a-half-hour drive back to Portal. The collage below shows some of the other creatures we experienced.

Top: Desert Nightsnake -  Hyspiglena chlorophaea , Tiger Rattlesnake -  Crotalus tigris ; Middle: Large-blotched Ensatina -  Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi,  Regal Ringneck Snake -  Diadophis punctatus regalis ; Bottom: Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake -  Crotalus pyrrhu s, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake -  Crotalus atrox

Top: Desert Nightsnake - Hyspiglena chlorophaea, Tiger Rattlesnake - Crotalus tigris; Middle: Large-blotched Ensatina - Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi, Regal Ringneck Snake - Diadophis punctatus regalis; Bottom: Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake - Crotalus pyrrhus, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox

But now my thoughts turn back to spiders, and I will leave you with two recently photographed at my homestead at the corral. The first is Phidippus carneus, a jumping spider that has become numerous around the horse tack building at my camp. It was photographed on September 22. The second is the enormous Cat-faced or Jewel Orbweaver Spider that is living beneath my Wheelhouse.

Phidippus_carneus_Corral_092219.jpg
Araneus_gemmoides_3.jpg

Again, thanks for the sympathies on my loss of Jesse, and thanks for reading my blog. I haven’t written much this year, and I appreciate those who still visit this page. All the best, MJ

#120: In Memoriam: Jesse (1990-2019)

This morning in the sunrise rain, I buried my beloved parrot, Jesse. She had reached her 29th birthday just a week or two ago. Here at my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon of the northeastern Chiricahua Mountains, she is at rest along with the last of the ashes of my precious dog Taylor, who died about five years ago. This wasn’t the morning I had hoped for.

This also isn’t the inspiration I had wanted to urge me to post another blog entry. I have had many adventures to share. But as the thunder booms in the mountains and the rain falls harder, I wanted to share the story of this wonderful bird. The photo below of Jesse, a Dusky Pionus Parrot, was captured by my friend Chad Campbell a few years ago when I had a home in Huntley, Illinois.

IMG_2111.JPG

The last year had been a struggle for Jesse. There were a couple of times, almost exactly one year ago, when I thought she had some stroke or seizure. She flopped around on the bottom of the cage like an epileptic. Afterward, her balance became challenged, and she stopped standing on one foot while grasping food in the other as parrots do. However, other than that, she seemed as spry as she had always been. Then in December, we stayed with my stepdad Joel in Chicagoland. His puppy, Buddy, who I call the Golden Prince, meant that instead of the kitchen Jesse would have to live in the basement where I would occupy the spare bedroom. She wasn’t happy in the artificially lit basement and was beginning to show her age. She was underweight, and I tried olive oil on her food and other things to fatten her up.

In January I went to Malaysia for three weeks. Joel cared for her in my absence but had a trip of his own during the time. His neighbors (who I never met) took care of Jesse for one week. When I returned from my trip, I found Jesse at the bottom of her cage and was sure she would pass within hours if not minutes. It was only the horrible jet-lag and my bawling in sadness that prevented me from taking her to the vet for euthanasia. However, by some miracle, I was able to nurse her back to health. Not perfect health, but she survived and slowly began to recover. She had difficulty with balance and moving about, but got stronger and eventually found some normalcy.

The last ten days or so, though, were horrible. Oddly just after she turned 29, her decline became rapid. She had no balance and would stumble about the cage. She ate and did her best, but most of the time was spent clinging to the bars with her beak to support herself or even resting on the bottom. When she perched normally she would sway back and forth and soon fall to the grid I had secured beneath her so she couldn’t fall to the cage bottom. I knew it was time and had to watch the end approach. It got worse. I find so much comfort in the fact that she is finally at rest.

Jesse came into my life when I was working for Strictly Animals as a salesman. The company wholesaled animal feeds and pet products to pet stores, veterinarians, and dog kennels in the northwestern Chicago suburbs and southern Wisconsin. One of my customers was a specialty cage bird shop called Bird’s Nest. When I began working for Strictly Animals, I had a Senegal Parrot named Lewis. My previous job was as reptile manager of Noah’s Ark, a chain of over twenty Illinois pet stores, and the girlfriend I had at the time also worked there in the bird department. It was because of her that I owned a parrot. She had invested a great deal of time into hand-taming the wild-caught Lewis for me. I was crushed when Lewis had an accident and died, and my mom and Joel wanted to buy me a replacement.

I wasn’t too keen about another parrot as I mourned the loss of Lewis, who had become a very dear companion. But at Bird’s Nest one day, I met Jesse. She had been bred on the premises and was a baby still being hand-fed. I immediately fell in love with her and began to consider having her become my new friend. This was the late autumn of 1990. My sister Lisa’s younger son, Alec, had just been born that summer. He and Jesse were the same age and, although I never found out Jesse’s exact hatch date, I knew it was around mid-September. Since Lisa’s birthday is September 13, it was easy always to remember that Jesse was “born” the same year as Alec and I chose to celebrate her birthday on Lisa’s. Anyway, after some initial reluctance, I decided to accept Mom and Joel’s offer. Jesse, who wouldn’t be named that until later, had a slight issue that would mean her staying at Bird’s Nest for longer. It was some sort of minor problem outside of one eye that was being treated. But by December or so I finally took her home. She was mostly weaned, but I would still bond with her by giving her some hand-feeding formula from a syringe for a few more weeks. I have no recollection of how I decided on “Jesse”, but do recall wanting the spelling to be like the outlaw Jesse James. It seemed like it could fit both a male or female bird and I had no clue as to her gender. Males and females of most parrots look alike. It wasn’t until much later that I had her DNA-sexed and found that she was female.

Jesse had quite the life, as have I. She began moving about the country with me when she was about ten years old. My first move was to Pullman, Washington on the border of Idaho after I met my now ex-wife. My father drove west with me, and Jesse spent much of the drive on my shoulder. I had been working at the water filtration plant in Evanston, where my dad retired as police chief, and I had a collection of the t-shirts that were part of my uniform. When we would stop for gas, I would discard the bird shit covered shirt I was wearing and don another - all the way from the Chicago suburbs to Washington state. Jesse and I moved in with Stephanie and her Fischer’s Lovebird, Vyvyan. Sadly, I would later unintentionally kill her bird in an accident as it flew into a doorway as I flung the door shut. I bought Stephanie a Meyer’s Parrot that would be named Zydeco as a replacement for Vyvyan. Just as after I lost Lewis, it took some time before Steph wanted another bird.

When Steph finished her Ph.D. and got a post-doctoral position at Vanderbilt University, we moved our two birds to Nashville. After Stephanie and I split, Jesse and I moved into space I had rented for my tarantula and gecko breeding business. By then, I also had Taylor, my wonderful dog who I adopted in Nashville soon after opening my retail store, “The Living Terrarium.” Taylor would live fourteen years, and I’ll never get over her loss. Five years ago, after returning from an almost one-month-long trip to Sri Lanka, I learned from Lisa, who had been caring for her, that Taylor had cancer and was dying. She would be put to rest not long after.

From Nashville, Jesse, Taylor, and I moved to the Seattle area to work for Northwest Zoological Supply and escape the post-divorce sadness. We lived in various places there, beginning with an office at the company before I found an apartment. My first stay in Seattle did not take, and about a year-and-a-half later my parrot, dog, and I went back to stay with my mom and Joel until I moved up to Milwaukee to live with a tarantula breeding friend named Bill Korinek, who I sadly don’t speak to anymore. Bill had a two-flat where I could rent the bottom level, and he also got me a job working with him at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I became a special events bartender and lived in an old, primarily Latino, formerly Polish neighborhood in Milwaukee for almost a year-and-a-half before things soured there. Next, I spoke with Alex, the owner of Northwest Zoological, about returning to work for him. He offered me a role as General Manager, second only to him, and I accepted. Jesse, Taylor, and I moved back to the northern Seattle suburb of Edmonds, and once again lived in a backroom office at our complex until I found an apartment in a neighboring town. I stayed there until we lost my mother.

Those of you who know me know that since my mom’s death, I have become covered in tattoos. My first tattoo was just a small one, matching kanji tattoos that Stephanie and I got the day after we married. I was 36. It would later be covered up. It wasn’t until after we split that I got my second, my first tarantula tattoo (favorite species, Poecilotheria subfusca) in 2006 during the first Arachnocon in San Antonio, an event that Scott & Debbie Scher and I promoted for two years. I was 42 when I got that second tattoo. Then after my mother’s death, I wanted to start a tribute sleeve devoted to her. I was now about 50. My best mate Mark was the artist, and now both arms are full sleeves with black and grey tattoo art. The right arm is mostly a memorial to my mother, but also has a portrait of Taylor with her name in a banner, and also features two mourning gypsy women crying for all.

This spring, I will visit England for about the 12th time, and Mark will add Jesse to my right arm. In the past five years I have had well over 100 hours of tattooing and now have full black & grey arm sleeves and color half-sleeves on my legs. The arm sleeves were done by Mark Pennell in England, Chicagoland, and even Malaysia. The leg half-sleeves were mostly done by my friend Andy Daugherty in Belvidere, Illinois, although Mark’s daughter Elli re-colored one of the four tarantulas that are part of the geographic nature scenes. I am hoping Elli will fill in a few gaps on my left leg when Joel and I visit Bristol in March or April.

After returning to Chicagoland to be with Joel and Lisa and other family after we lost my mother, I bought a house in Huntley and Taylor and Jesse, and I enjoyed a three-level townhome. Losing Taylor at the end of 2014 was devastating, and I believe it was part of the reason I now live on the road. She was everything to me. The sweetest dog that ever lived - twenty pounds of cuddle companion. She went everywhere with me during her lifetime. We played disc golf together every morning, and she would kill and eventually would kill and swallow the loose mice at our Northwest Zoological facility. But back in Huntley me and my two dear pets, plus thousands of tarantulas, occupied my home. After Taylor was no longer there, the house seemed empty. I had spent four years mourning my mother with my family and decided it was time to do what I wanted.

My mom's sudden death, from a terrible accident in her own home, made me focused on how life is short and can end at any moment. I chose to be retired at 52 and live life solely on my terms. With the house and car sold, I bought a brand new super truck and my incredible Wheelhouse and began this so far three-year life on the road. On the road isn’t accurate. I pretty much stay at my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon, working as caretaker and host of the Visitor Information Center. But one month from today I will be leaving for a very much needed one month break. I will be camped at a nice RV Park with an indoor pool, hot tub and gym in Willcox, Arizona.

Through all of these moves and road-trips to visit Chicagoland for the winter or holidays, Jesse and I spent much time driving together and later sneaking her into hotel rooms. She spent most of her life perched on my shoulder, and it was so sad when she lost that ability a year ago. Watching her decline was horrible, and I am just relieved she now has peace.

Yesterday I drove down to the border town of Douglas, Arizona to shop at Wal-mart. While I was in Wal-mart, I shared how Jesse had rapidly declined over the past week and was sure to die any day with someone very special and important to me. She was the first person I told that I knew death was imminent and shared my grief. When I got back to camp, I found that I had left the main cage door open and she had stumbled out and was lying on her side on the floor near my bedroom. I knew she had a day or two. But last night when I covered her, after watching her eat some apple, I had no clue it would be the last time I would see her alive. This morning I uncovered her cage to find she had passed. It was no surprise, but the tears shook me all the same. It was dark and drizzling, yet I grabbed my shovel and dug a hole beneath an oak in view of the beautiful rhyolite rock faces rising above my homestead.

When Taylor was put to sleep, I had her cremated. She and I had played disc golf every morning outside of Nashville when we lived there, and I drove her remains from Chicago to Nashville and scattered her ashes at every tee and basket on the course. But I saved a little bit to have inside my home on wheels. This morning, as the rain soaked me and light just rose in the canyon, I dug a hole and wrapped Jesse in one of my favorite t-shirts after kissing her goodbye and shaking Taylor’s ashes onto her feathers. Diggin in the hard desert mountain ground is tough, but I made a shallow grave that I then covered with a rock (see foreground of below photo) and flowers. Here Jesse and the last of Taylor will rest.

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Jesse was so sweet. Extremely quiet for a parrot, which is one reason I chose the species. She was an excellent companion for twenty-nine years, and I am grateful she was such a big part of my life. However, I do want to state that birds are horrible pets. Most are noisy, and they are all extremely messy. Many are destructive to furniture and other household items given the opportunity. They require constant attention, or become prone to “depression” and can become self-harming, which is most often in the form of feather-plucking. Many parrots become, for lack of a better term, disturbed. I shall never have another pet. The pain of losing Taylor was overwhelming, and I still miss her every day. The loss of Jesse this morning, September 24, 2019, has devastated me and the tears won’t stop. But if you want a pet get something less noisy and messy and needy, and something that might not outlive you.

#119: 55th Birthday Celebration, with friends and more

Rumor has it that I used to blog.

For some time, my "Kiss My Big Hairy Spider" was my blog, but that was retired when I retired. When I started living as a nomad at the beginning of 2017, I launched a new blog called "PIKEY: Shunpiking and Boondocking; the Gypsy Life." The title has a bit of irony now as "shunpiking" means avoiding main roads like interstates and turnpikes, and "boondocking" refers to living off the grid on public land. And of course "Pikey" is British slang for gypsies who live in recreational vehicles, which the Brits like to call "caravans." It's a good thing that blog evolved into this one on my website because I am not much of a nomad/gyppo/pikey anymore, even if I do live in my Wheelhouse. And I am not really "shunpiking" as my Wheelhouse is stationary. My truck is the thing that avoids paved roads in preference of rugged, primitive four-wheel-drive trails. Finally, I am not boondocking and never have, save for one week at Big Bend National Park, where I was not connected to electricity or water. I have been living for most of two years now at the U.S. Forest Service's Corral Admin Site, just above the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center (VIC) where I am caretaker. The Chiricahua Mountains have become my home.

Regardless of where my blog exists now, I have failed to keep it going. The year started well. I blogged about my third trip to Malaysia in January. There were ten entries about that adventure. Then, on March 4, I wrote about my February 23 return to the Portal, Arizona area. I became silent after that, just adding a May 17 entry that duplicated a "mini-blog" I posted to my Facebook page about it being "The Year of the Trogon." Since then, I have written nothing.

I'll make no promises about the frequency of my blogging moving forward, but I am inspired to write today to recount the fantastic time I had in celebration of my 55th birthday. With my best mate Mark Pennell visiting from Bristol, England and John Apple and Ashley Hesselink driving here from Michigan, I took eleven days off from my duties for Friends of Cave Creek Canyon. I type this now from my desk at the VIC, my first day back to "work."

When Mark planned his visit to Arizona, it became apparent that flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport would offer better flight selection and price than arriving at the much closer Tuscon Airport. Still, my original plan was that we would drive from Phoenix to Tucson and Mark's first day and night in the Southwest would be spent in Tucson. However, that plan changed when I realized that Brent Hendrixson would be completing the final field trip of his year-long sabbatical at the same time, and would be in the Phoenix area the same day Mark arrived. Therefore, I modified the plan so that the three of us would hunt for creatures together in the Phoenix area on Mark's first night. I booked a suite that all three of us would share and told Mark we would instead spend his last day and night in Arizona in Tucson.

On July 31, I left Cave Creek Canyon at dawn and drove the 4.5 hours or so to Phoenix. I made stops along the way, including visiting two Phoenix area liquor stores where I had special ordered some Tiger lager for Mark and I. I was waiting at Sky Harbor airport ahead of schedule, and Mark's plane arrived thirty minutes early. However, he had to sit on the plane until noon because his flight was the first international arrival of the day and U.S. Customs wasn't open yet. But soon he was coming through the doors, and we headed out towards the prominent eastern Phoenix suburb of Mesa where our hotel was located. It was selected because our evening plan with Brent was to visit the Superstition Mountain Wilderness Area around Tortilla Flat.

Mark and I first stopped at a bar/restaurant for some lunch and beer. We talked about how he had always dreamed of visiting the American Southwest. Ever since he became interested in tarantulas more than thirty years ago, he had wished to one day see the home of Aphonopelma chalcodes, the "Desert Blonde Tarantula" that was one of his early "pets." He visited me a few times in Chicagoland, but this was his first visit to the wild west.

After lunch, we checked into our lovely suite at the Courtyard by Marriott in Mesa and waited on Brent, who was driving to Mesa from Borrego Springs in southern California. Not long after Mark and I were settled in, there came a knock at the door, and we were soon catching up with Brent and checking out his bag of scorpions and tarantulas. Later we headed out to the Superstitions and Lost Dutchman State Park.

Brent and I wanted to do some golden hour and sunset photography at Lost Dutchman, but the trails there were all closed due to a fire sometime before. Mark marveled at the desert fauna and flora, including all of the big spiny and whiptail lizards that were darting about. Then we headed up the Apache Trail towards Tortilla Flat. Mark's first American tarantula encounters were the ten or so male Aphonopelma chalcodes that crossed the road as we drove up the paved road and on to the dirt road until a barricade prevented us from proceeding farther. The drive is fabulously scenic, even to desert rats like Brent and me, so Mark was blown away by the Sonoran Desert and the Superstition Mountains.

As darkness approached, we drove back down the road to park at Tortilla Flat. The weather was very unusual for Phoenix. The monsoon season had brought cooler temps and very muggy air. I'd never experienced humidity like this in Mesa, and my glasses kept fogging up. Brent wanted to walk the roadside rock cuts that I had searched with him and some of his students in the past two years. He was after the tailless whipscorpion (amblypigid), Paraphrynus carolynae, and the humidity made finding it likely. But our first find was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which was first spotted by a car that passed us. Unfortunately, I was ill-prepared to wrangle and photograph a snake just then, and when I ran back to my truck for proper gear, I had expected Mark to keep an eye on it. But I didn't verbalize that, and he got talking to the occupants of the car. By the time I returned, we had no idea where the snake had gone.

Brent walked up ahead and began to find his amblypigids and then spotted a Tiger Rattlesnake! Crotalus tigris is not found in my area and is one of my favorite buzztails, so it was a pleasant surprise. And for Mark seeing this elusive and beautiful rattlesnake was an unexpected thrill. It was his first night in Arizona, and he had already seen two rattlesnake species – the first wild rattlesnakes of his life! We also saw tarantulas on the rocks, scorpions, a big Sonoran Desert Toad, and more.

Crotalus tigris , Tiger Rattlesnake, Superstition Mountains, AZ - Mark’s second rattlesnake of his life was this beautiful and uncommon buzztail!

Crotalus tigris, Tiger Rattlesnake, Superstition Mountains, AZ - Mark’s second rattlesnake of his life was this beautiful and uncommon buzztail!

After we finished with the Tortilla Flat area, we drove back down the road a few miles to photograph the fading sun above Canyon Lake, a spectacular reservoir set in the Superstitions. Then we stopped to look for one small species of scorpion (unsuccessfully) before heading back into the Mesa area to visit a park where Mark would see the big Desert Hairy Scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis). Then it was back to the hotel and some rest for the guy who flew from London, and two guys who had put some miles on the American roads that day.

Day two in America would be spent at my home in the Chiricahuas, and Brent joined us as he began his drive back home to Mississippi. We took the scenic route from Mesa, heading east through the southern Superstition Mountains on Highway 60 and then down Highway 70 through the San Carlos Reservation towards Safford. We planned to visit an area to look for two other tarantula species, Aphonopelma gabeli, and A. vorhiesi. Brent has visited this site often, as have I now, and we met up at the Walmart in Safford for provisions before again meeting Brent at the tarantula location. We had no luck with A. vorhiesi during our short search but did get to show Mark female A. gabeli coming out of their burrows. His trip was already off to a fantastic start!

Back at my homestead, we got Mark settled into the pikey lifestyle. Brent, Mark and I cracked a beer and talked for a bit, but then we decided to drive up the canyon to look for vinegaroons. We found some and next we drove about 20 miles south to the entrance to Rucker Canyon to search that area for tarantulas. We were successful there, and I collected a couple of centipedes as well for John Apple, who would be arriving Sunday with his girlfriend, Ashley. We found two different and unusual tarantulas in the area, as well as some other exciting things. Later that night we went up to Vista Point at dark to photograph the Milky Way, but Brent wanted to return later in the night when it was positioned better. So he headed to a campground and Mark and I enjoyed the rest of the evening with another beer or two before turning in.

The following morning Brent came back to my homestead and hung out for a bit before hitting the road.

Mark and I knew John and Ashley would arrive on Sunday, but we weren't sure when. And I am afraid that now I will lose the chronology of the trip. I don't have the memory anymore – hey, I just turned 55! – to recall each day without taking notes. I endeavored to show Mark as much as possible and, in reflection, it becomes a blur. I know Sunday night we were sitting at dinner at Portal Cafe and John and Ashley had arrived at the Air BnB they were staying in in the Arizona Sky Village just north of town. This area is out in the desert past what we call the Big Thicket and is a community of astronomers mostly, all with their observatories attached to their homes. Just after I messaged John where we were and gave him directions to join us, I got a message from a resident asking me to do a rattlesnake relocation. So, shortly after greeting John and Ashley, I interrupted my meal to drive two minutes down the road. I pulled up to the house to find out they hadn't kept an eye on the snake, and it had moved into the brush. I jumped back in my truck, not disappointed at all, and headed back to join the gang.

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Monday, August 5, was my 55th birthday. When my bonus dad Joel visited me last year, we visited Bisbee and Tombstone, Arizona, and I decided that tradition would continue this year. We met John and Ashley at the Portal Cafe for breakfast and then all piled into my truck for the journey down to the border town of Douglas where I showed them the wall (not Trumps). From there it was on through Bisbee and to Tombstone. As with each of my visits, the first stop there was Doc Holliday's Saloon. After a beer there we toured the shops before having lunch at Big Nose Kate's Saloon. It was just like last year with Joel, except for the company. Food and beer were delicious, and the ambiance is what you expect from an Old West tourist trap. In other words, pretty damn cool.

After Tombstone, we stopped in Bisbee, which is the funkiest town in Arizona. A massive copper mine is what gave rise to Bisbee, and Old Bisbee is where the freaks of the desert congregate. It is Arizona's counter-culture, hipster, funky old hippie, LGBTQ XYZ place to be. My destination was Old Bisbee Brewing Company. John and Ashley don't drink so they wandered off to see the amazing street art and other curiosities of Old Bisbee, while Mark and I sidled up to a table to enjoy an Arizona pilsner straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. Then Mark and I walked around a bit and went to a Bisbee Coffee Company for an Americano. Later we met back up with John and Ashley and headed back to Douglas and up to Portal. My birthday dinner was hot & spicy brats and Italian sausage cooked on my little grill at my homestead: friends and beer.

Our evenings were spent road cruising for snakes and our days were spent touring the area or searching for the daytime-active Banded Rock Rattlesnake. On Friday before John and Ashley arrived, Mark and I met up with Dr. Chuck Smith, a herpetologist, and Ian McColl, an Australian who is volunteering at the Southwestern Research Station on a six-month visa. We planned to look for rock rattlesnakes together, and we found two that day – one that quickly disappeared into the rock slide and another that we all were able to spend time photographing. Mark and I would return a couple of days later by ourselves, and once again found two. And again the first one slithered away deep into the vast pile of lichen-covered large rocks, whereas the second one buzzed me from beneath a rock and was easy to photograph.

Crotalus lepidus klauberi , Banded Rock Rattlesnake, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains

Crotalus lepidus klauberi, Banded Rock Rattlesnake, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains

During his stay, Mark would see seven species of rattlesnake (and a handful of tarantula species). Sadly, his first encounter with my favorite snake – the Black-tailed Rattlesnake – was on our initial return to Portal. It was dead on the road, a large beautiful greenish specimen from the foothills north of my area. The next Black-tail he would see was right at the entrance to the canyon and, although still very alive, it had been struck by a car, and we had to watch it crawl into the desert scrub where it surely died that night. I took Mark to one of my favorite boulder outcroppings of the Peloncillo Mountains in New Mexico to search for Black-tails one evening, but incoming storms made our visit shorter than I had planned and we had no luck. But he would eventually see a very large and extremely beautiful Black-tail up the Trans-Mountain Forest Road at just above 6000 ft. elevation.

We were taking a sunset cruise before picking up John and Ashley for a planned night of road-cruising. I wanted to make my standard loop up the mountain road (FR42) to its junction with East Turkey Creek Road (FR42B) and back down 42B through Paradise and then via Portal-Paradise Road back to Portal. As we climbed over 6000 ft. I saw a Black-tail crossing the dirt road ahead. We were about to have an extraordinary encounter for several reasons. First, it is a gorgeous snake, and this was a prime example. Second, Mark would soon be amazed by its beauty. Third, although Black-tailed Rattlesnakes usually are very calm and even placid, this one turned out to be the most irascible Black-tail I have ever encountered. It did its best Diamondback imitation as I caught it and tried to put it in my snake bucket so we could move it to photograph it in a better location. I told Mark to capture some video, and he did both of me wrangling it and then releasing it. The release video was shot in the wrong orientation so I’ll just share the wrangling here.

Another thing that made this encounter enjoyable was that one reason I rushed to contain it in the bucket is that a truck approached coming down the mountain. I don't like spectators and quickly tried to secure the snake and hoped the vehicle would pass without pausing. Then I noticed it was a Border Patrol truck. As it approached, the agent rolled down the window, and we realized that it was a female agent we had encountered in New Mexico, south of Animas halfway to the Mexico border. And that story will follow here, out of chronological order but an amusing tale to tell. Small world. She was covering a lot of areas. She said, "This is the fourth time I've seen you guys!" and then asked what we had caught. We began chatting, and she started showing all of the photos she had been taking in the area, including some of rattlesnakes. It turned out that she is from Minnesota and is just here on a 30-day rotation. She usually works the Canadian border near Lake of the Woods, and I began telling her how I used to muskie fish up there. We shared more stories and photos before she drove on. Mark convinced me to photograph the snake there rather than driving somewhere else and then having to return to release it in the same spot (as I always do). We were pressed for time as I had told John we probably would be earlier than the agreed-upon time and it was now evident that we would be much later. So we found a little spot off the road in the woods, and I again struggled to wrangle the very agitated Black-tail into a pose for photography.

Crotalus molossus ‘molossus’ , Western (or Northern) Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

Crotalus molossus ‘molossus’, Western (or Northern) Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

OK, so the story of our first encounter with this woman who is a Border Patrol agent based in Minnesota – It was Wednesday night, and John and Ashley were doing their own thing. The monsoon rains were threatening all around. Mark and I had just searched the rock formations for Black-tails without success. The threat of rain had us leave that area early, and I looked around and pointed my truck toward the clearest skies for road-cruising. We headed east to Animas and then south toward Cloverdale. We stopped to escort a Desert Box Turtle off the road. Then we continued marveling at the spectacular lightning show all around us. Mark had never seen skies like this. As it got darker, we were always in awe of the blinding light show, and then a drizzle began to fall.

I saw a snake up ahead in the road and accelerated. The humidity was high due to the weather, and as I got out of the truck, my glasses fogged up and became covered with rain droplets. My vision was obscured, but I saw approaching headlights as I quickly identified the snake. I just needed to ensure it wasn't a rattlesnake, and then I would scoop it up and wait for the oncoming vehicle to pass. It was about four-feet-long and dark, and I knew it was a Desert Kingsnake. They are most frequently seen when there is higher humidity and even light rain or after rains have fallen. I grabbed it, and it rewarded me by musking me in defense, as kingsnakes always do. I climbed into my truck out of the rain, and its scent quickly permeated my vehicle. My truck was in the middle of the road, so I grasped the stinky snake in my left hand while using my right to put the truck in gear and steer to the side of the road.

As I pulled over, the snake crawled between my knees and under my driver's seat. Its muscles prevented me from pulling it back as it found something to push against. I had no choice but to relax my grip and let it loose beneath me. As the headlights approached, I realized it was Border Patrol, which is usually the only other vehicles I see. The agent rolled down the window, and we saw that it was a woman by herself. We told her we were looking for snakes and had, in fact, just scooped a kingsnake off the road that was now somewhere inside the truck. That got an odd look and a laugh! She told us that she had just passed a young rattlesnake about two miles south that was off to one side of the road. So we quickly said our goodbyes, decided to leave the kingsnake as is and rushed ahead to look for the snake she had seen.

Sure enough, the young Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was still on the side of the road. In the dark drizzle, we photographed it and set it on its way. Then we searched my truck for the kingsnake to no avail. I could not figure out where it had gone. My back seat area was full of camera and snake catching gear and our packs, and we dug through everything, and the four-foot snake had vanished. I thought it had found its way inside my seat, but they are all sealed below. So we gave up and eventually turned around and headed north. Fifteen minutes later, Mark was startled when the snake cruised over his lap and up the door. I snatched it before it became too tightly wrapped in the door handle and we stopped to photograph and release it right where we were.

Lampropeltis splendida , Desert Kingsnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Lampropeltis splendida, Desert Kingsnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

In between the monsoon rains, we had some excellent nights of road-cruising either just the two of us or with John and Ashley. The night all four of us cruised we found both a baby Mohave and baby Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, so that was a special treat for them. Unfortunately, that night we also found many dead snakes, including two beautiful adult Prairie Rattlesnakes. That was Mark's sixth species (of seven), but we never found him a live one as they are only found on the east side of the Peloncillos and this night we were unlucky and didn't find them before some oblivious or mean driver did.

Crotalus scutulatus , Mohave Rattlesnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Crotalus scutulatus, Mohave Rattlesnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Mark's last night here in the Portal area he and I cruised two beautiful adult Mohave Rattlesnakes and some others, and that made for a wonderful finale to his stay here. But one of the most special moments and biggest surprises occurred on Saturday, the day before my birthday. Mark and I were taking a scenic drive, and at 4:30 pm stumbled upon a baby Gila Monster. These beautiful beaded venomous lizards are elusive – actual needle in a haystack finds. And finding a baby is even rarer, and at 4:30 in the afternoon, it was very unusual. I had no expectations of Mark seeing a Gila, but I have been very lucky with them this year, already seeing more than I had in the previous two years in Arizona combined. It was a thrill neither of us would forget.

Heloderma suspectum , Gila Monster, baby, Portal, AZ

Heloderma suspectum, Gila Monster, baby, Portal, AZ

On Friday morning, the day before Mark would fly home, we were up early as usual and headed straight to Tucson. We would spend Mark's last full day and night in the Southwest, exploring Tucson. I knew I wanted to drive up the Santa Catalina Mountains and show him how spectacular that Sky Island range is. And, although he had seen many wandering male Aphonopelma chalcodes – the classic "Arizona Blonde" tarantula – and had also seen females on the rock faces at Tortilla Flat, I wanted to find him a female in its burrow that we could flood or tickle out. So as we drove up the paved highway that takes you over 30 miles up to the top of the mountain, we stopped at a trail where Brent Hendrixson and I had found Aphonopelma catalina last December, and Brent had said also was good for A. chalcodes. The best part was that only ten minutes up the trail it was Mark that spotted a burrow. It wasn't perfectly round, and the silk covering its entrance was sparser than I would have expected, but I poured some water into the hole, and I soon spotted the forelegs of the spider we were after. I drained both small water bottles without fully getting it out into the open, so I had to return to my truck for a gallon jug. Then, as photos and videos were taken, I flushed the spider out of its hole.

Aphonopelma chalcodes , Desert Blonde Tarantula, Catalina Mountains, AZ

Aphonopelma chalcodes, Desert Blonde Tarantula, Catalina Mountains, AZ

Our adventure was not over though. First, we needed a late lunch/early dinner, so I took Mark to Texas Roadhouse for some American over-eating excess. Our appetizers and steaks were delicious, as was the Dos Equis on tap. Then we checked into a lovely hotel room and talked about our evening's goal. When I visit Tucson overnight I look for Sidewinder Rattlesnakes northwest of the city, which does not occur anywhere near me. It is a unique snake, with horn-like scales above its eyes and an amazing form of locomotion where only two points of its body are ever in touch with the substrate. And I knew Mark wanted to see this snake perhaps more than any other. So before dark, we set out from our hotel in Marana to head up toward Red Rock, just before Picacho Peak State Park. There are two roads I search for sidewinders there, one that is paved and has traffic, the other that is a very rugged primitive road where I knew we would see nobody else. It took some time to get back into the desert, and we saw nothing but tarantulas for some time. Some areas of the road were very wet from recent rain. We continued, at times working our way across very rough terrain, and then finally I stopped when I had an adult sidewinder 25 yards ahead in the beams of my headlamps. This was something to celebrate! It was our only snake of the night, but it was a beautiful adult that Mark was able to capture video of and posed for numerous photographs before we let it slither into the darkness.

Crotalus cerastes , Sonoran Desert Sidewinder

Crotalus cerastes, Sonoran Desert Sidewinder

Mark and Saguaro

Mark and Saguaro

Mark and a big Texas Roadhouse beer!

Mark and a big Texas Roadhouse beer!

Saturday morning we had a few hours before Mark needed to be back at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and I suggested we visit Saguaro National Park (West) so he could get photos with the giant iconic Sonoran Desert cactus. Then it was off to the airport, and our amazing adventure and fabulous ten days together came to an end. I had 4.5 hours back home, and responsibilities to attend to.

It would be impossible for me to cover the other time here since I last blogged. Hopefully, many of you follow my @jacobipix Instagram or are friends on Facebook and have seen my photos of the snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, and more that I spend my time chasing. Other than that, I keep busy with my volunteer host and paid caretaker duties for Friends of Cave Creek Canyon here at the Visitor Information Center and beyond. I love my homestead at the corral and plan to overwinter here this year. I have no trips scheduled that require a return to Chicago. I did ask for a little break and will be joining Brent and perhaps his friend and colleague Chris Hamilton for some tarantula fieldwork at the end of October and the beginning of November. We will start here in the Chiricahuas with a special project, but then I plan to hook up the Wheelhouse and live on the road for four weeks or so. It has been a long time since I was a proper Pikey. When Brent and Chris go back home, I will find a place to boondock and just read and play my guitar.

My next adventure is a trip to Las Vegas September 3-7, where I will meet my bonus dad Joel, my sister Lisa, and my brother-in-law Randy. They had a trip planned in June that I wanted to surprise them by joining, but due to Joel's health scare, things changed very much. That trip was canceled, and I ended up flying back to Chicago for a few days for Joel's surgery (thankfully, successful). So the trip was rescheduled, and I'm looking forward to seeing them there, playing poker, eating like a king, and seeing a couple of shows.

That's it for now. Until I blog again … MJ

Mark at Granite Gap, Peloncillo Mountains, with Highway 80 heading south and the Chiricahua Mountains in the background.

Mark at Granite Gap, Peloncillo Mountains, with Highway 80 heading south and the Chiricahua Mountains in the background.

#118: The Year of the Trogon

I posted this to my Facebook page this morning. I know I have been absent here and hope to rectify that very soon. Thanks for your patience. MJ

THE YEAR OF THE TROGON: A mini-blog for Facebook

5:45 a.m. at the corral. I'm making coffee when I hear the sound of an insane Chihuahua dog barking. Regardless of how you perceive or interpret the call of the male Elegant Trogon, it is unmistakable. The thing is though: I am about two miles from where you expect to hear it. A Mexican bird that breeds here in Cave Creek Canyon, the Elegant Trogon arrives in southern Arizona in April and May. Last year the first male was seen up South Fork Trail on April 17. This year it was three days earlier, and I saw one the following day. My first sighting of 2019 was where I expected, not only up South Fork Trail above The Bathtub but even farther - about 1/3 mile beyond the trail's first gate. But since then this season has been unusual. Birders and other visitors who are seeking to see this spectacular and gaudy "tropical" bird have had it easy. They've been seen at Sunny Flat Campground, which is the most popular of the three USFS campgrounds here in the canyon and the closest to South Fork Road (FR 42E). Instead of having to hike beautiful South Fork Trail in search of Trogons, people have observed them along the road into South Fork Canyon, near the summer cabins and even just in the parking lot at the road's end. While the females usually arrive a couple of weeks after the male, this year a female was seen the day after the first male. It certainly seems to be The Year of the Trogon.

I knew that in the past they had been seen as close to Portal as Cave Creek Ranch, presumably following the main creek down the canyon past the VIC (Visitor Information Center). So I guess I wasn't that surprised when Dawn, one of our new hosts at the VIC, messaged me a little over a week ago to notify me she had seen and heard one along the creek across from the VIC. I was at my corral camp and went down there, but I wasn't fortunate enough to see or hear a Trogon in that significant area. Then this morning I laid in bed hearing my first bird sounds of the day. The bright, high-pitched, metallic "Seep" of the Blue-throated Hummingbirds begins before the sun rises. At dawn, I hear Mexican Jays squawking, Scott's Orioles singing, and White-winged Doves cooing. But as I made coffee, I was startled to listen to the bark of an insane Chihuahua! It sounded as if it was in my corral homestead and I stormed out of my Wheelhouse, slipping on flip-flops and grabbing binoculars and camera. As I hastily untied the gate at the corral, I heard a male Elegant Trogon calling just across the road along the creek.

Then I saw his scarlet breast, dark head, and long tail as he flew not along the creek, but across the road towards me and a bit up the canyon. I stumbled along the way in my flip-flops as he moved towards the Silver Peak trailhead. He kept calling as he flew from tree to tree and I watched him at the trailhead parking lot. Then he flew again farther up the road toward Idlewilde campground. Trogons are such observable birds because they will perch in one place for ten or twenty minutes while a crowd of birders and photographers congregates around it. But this guy was on the move. He was very vocal and quickly moved from tree to tree. I managed only one inferior image that will be good enough for an eBird voucher, but not for sharing here. Instead, I will add one of last year's pictures for those unfamiliar with the amazing Elegant Trogon. 2019: The year Trogons have been everywhere in Cave Creek Canyon.

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By the way, I usually blog at my own website, http://www.mjacobi.com, but have been on hiatus. I hope to resume very soon, perhaps even tonight.

For those unfamiliar with the Elegant Trogon or who want to hear its very distinct call visit https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/elegant-trogon

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