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Christmas 2006

Part 13:  The Drive Back (with a Stop in the Huachucas)

Made it as far as Mobile (I think) the next day, then made it to East Houston the next. I had been reminiscing over the time we had a "parking lot" on the part of the freeway that went over the Atchafalaya Swamp due to a "Wide Load" getting stuck on the incline, and interestingly this time we did hit a backup just before! And it was just like that other one in that we were stopped dead for a long time, so people turned off their engines and got out and walked around! I was wondering if another "Wide Load" had gotten themselves stuck, but by the time we got going, there was no indication as to what had happened and it was smooth sailing.

A big storm system was coming in, and the next morning the weather report looked lousy (I was even tempted to stay at the motel all day), but I screwed up my courage and headed out. I wasn’t on the freeway very long before running into another Parking Lot, but when this one started taking on the characteristics of the one the day before, I was wondering if we may have had an accident. I turned on Talk Radio and found out that was indeed the case: a big rig had jackknifed and spread hazardous material all over the freeway, and they had actually closed it! They were recommending people take a particular alternate, and consulting my map I saw that I was just past it (and it was stopped as well), so I decided just to relax and wait; they’d open it eventually. My main concern, however, was that I needed to pee (not desperately, thankfully), and there was no place to do that (and it was raining to boot)! One fellow just stepped out of his car and did his business shielded behind the open door, but I didn’t have that luxury…

Three hours later traffic started moving again (it was light by this time; probably just as well), and it wasn’t long before I hit the Sam Houston Parkway. Along there, however, I heard an ominous thunk along the left front bumper, and when I rolled my window down numerous times to pay the toll, I kept smelling this sickly sweet smell, like one of the fluids was leaking! So I was praying the whole time into Junction; sometimes I would get a whiff, but eventually it went away, and nothing looked amiss under the hood or around the axles (and he was running fine), so I went on faith that he was okay! But talk about being unnerved; I had to give myself my own advice when I give the "worry-warts" in my life a hard time!

I had been really lazy on the drive back regarding my afternoon walks (although a couple of places had exercycles that I took advantage of), and had I been diligent, there was a state park real close to Junction that I could have gone to! But I stuck close to home there (I got some exercise walking to the restaurant and back; their fried chicken was to die for) and headed west the next morning, where the weather was bright and sunny! Made it to Lordsburg and called Judy to adjust our meeting plans.

Drove in to Benson the next morning and decided to go ahead and make a reservation at the Holiday Inn (I could have sworn there used to be a Best Western there, but I didn’t see any advertised), and after recovering from the shock (150 bucks—and they don’t even have a restaurant!) headed down to Sierra Vista for one last birding foray!  It was a gorgeous, crisp, sunny day with no wind, so met Judy at the San Pedro House (along with several other people; apparently a bird walk was in the making) and took the nature trail down to the river.  We both commented that things were very quiet compared to the winter we had the Sparrow Workshop there; had some Whiteys in the grass and either a Lincoln's or Savannah, but it was right in the sun.  A Cooper's Hawk sat in a small tree nearby; no wonder everything was laying low!

  Down at the river the water was down considerably since last August, so we were able to take the nature trail in its entirety, as it goes down along the river bank and then eventually encircles Kingfisher Pond.  About the only thing we kicked up down there was a Black Phoebe, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and several skulky Abert's Towhees.  Had a calling Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the woods and a fussy House Wren in the brush along with a Loggerhead Shrike.  Up at the pond we ran into Dieter and Alicia, friends of Judy's, who had seen the kingfisher several times that week, but alas today he didn't show up.  We did have several Mexican Ducks (including one with some "typical" Mallard blood in him), a few Shovelers, a Coot, a Great Blue Heron, and a calling Marsh Wren.  Dieter spotted a pair of harriers, and we continued on while they went in search of a reported Northern Waterthrush.  On the back side of the pond we were rewarded with a knockout look at a Green-tailed Towhee!

     

A very dead-looking San Pedro River and view of the Huachucas through the dormant cottonwoods

       

Judy Pike and local birder Dieter check out the ducks on Kingfisher Pond

    

Mexican Ducks (note the male above with some "real" Mallard blood in him…)

Had a very cooperative Kestrel on the way back, plus more Whiteys, and a pair of Gila Woodpeckers back at the House.  From there we parked Judy's car at the Target and headed down to Ramsey Canyon together, picking up Mexican Jay at the B&B feeders on the way in.  Things were rather quiet there as well; a pair of Coues' Deer were cute, and Judy was telling me how they were having trouble with bears coming right down into Sierra Vista!  A Hutton's Vireo was singing a song that almost sounded like a flycatcher whit until he did something I recognized J, and a Brown Creeper did his high vibrato in some Alligator Junipers.  We were shocked to discover that the frog pond was no more, but the lady back at the shop informed us that there is now a loop trail further up with a new Leopard Frog pond, where they were able to rescue this highly endangered species.  We really didn't feel up to hiking all the way back up there so we said, "Next time!" and headed out, picking up a flock of Bridled Titmice, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches, and a single Townsend's Warbler in the parking lot.

   

Male Kestrel poses for pictures on the hike back to the car...

  

Heading up into Ramsey Canyon

       

Along the main trail there was enough snow to make a snowman!

  Since we figured Carr Canyon was probably snowed in, we headed on to Miller Canyon, picking up Bushtits on the way in.  I had sworn Tom Beatty kept seed feeders going in the winter, but apparently not, although we did kick up a Gray-headed Junco in his driveway!  We hiked the Forest Trail instead, picking up a Hermit Thrush and being serenaded by the guineafowl flock!  On the way out we had a nice flock of Chipping Sparrows, and a couple of birds flew in front of us, so we stopped and were treated to point-blank views of two Arizona Woodpeckers!  Some Western Bluebirds flew over, but they were anti-climactic (even though they were new for the trip)!

         

Heading into Miller Canyon, we hike the Forest Trail and find an Arizona Woodpecker!

Headed to Cold Stone after that for a two-fer ice cream, then went our separate ways; I was gonna stop at the sewer ponds, but they were closed... L

Had an uneventful drive into San Diego the next day, but interestingly picked up a couple of new trip birds along the way (Canyon Towhee and Verdin, plus a couple of things walking to the apartment), so all in all I wound up with a trip total of a nice round 222 species! (And the finches were still alive, so my bird-sitter did a great job! J)

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