Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vacation in Nevada and Utah

First, an update on my progress toward a degree ... I've completed my first semester requirements ahead of schedule and am already working on next semester's studies. There will be another difficult Cisco exam, but I'm feeling confident. Wish me luck.

Cyndi and I took a week-long vacation to see her parents, and we birded our way through Idaho, Nevada, a tiny piece of Arizona, and Utah before arriving back home. Because most of my free time is now spent studying, I'm going to make just one long blog post with the highlights of our trip. (I even did a little studying while on the vacation, and will be working mandatory overtime later this month. Whew, where does all the time go?)

Here we are at the base of a Joshua Tree, enjoying the warm spring day.

The skies were mostly clear, and the further south we drove the warmer the days became.

We visited a remarkable birding hot spot called the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. That name sounds more glamorous than "sewage treatment ponds" does it not? And, it's a more fitting name as well. Where else could one get a photo of a Common Moorhen, Cinnamon Teal, and Green-winged Teal all in one shot?

And, I got my wish there when this Crissal Thrasher foraged on the ground, diving its long curve bill deep into the soil probing for insects. This was a Life Bird for me, the first one of that species I'd ever encountered.

When up in a tree, the curved bill can be seen more clearly.

The Verdin were busy building nests, but I managed to get a photo of this one before it went back to work.

And would you believe it ... a Roadrunner! Running! In broad daylight. There it goes. They don't hang around much, do they?

On the way out of Nevada, we visited Valley of Fire and this arch caught my eye.

There was a site with ancient rock art. I like the two figures at the top left, waving or gesturing with open arms.

Here is what the rocks looked like, layered and eroding sandstone.

More rock art was seen in a side canyon.

Cyndi spotted a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes on a sandstone formation.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch and these Antelope Ground Squirrels kept getting closer and closer to us, and at one point erupted in a frenzied tussle.

The scale of the landscape can be hard to convey, but if you can spot Cyndi in the middle of the picture, you'll get the idea. Go ahead and click on the image to make it larger as that may help you to find her.

On our way toward Utah we drove across a corner of Arizona, and this is the Virgin River. It had quite a flood event recently that left rocks and sand and tree limbs scattered in the bottom of the wash. We wandered around here until it was too dark to photograph and bats were flying overhead in the dark blue sky.

The next morning we drove past this big bird. The ranch was selling Ostrich eggs. I entered it as a note on my birding list, but speculated that it was likely a captive so not one to count toward my Life List.

In the trees was a wild, unconstrained, native species, the Ferruginous Hawk, our largest hawk. What a magnificent raptor! I think I've only seen them a few times before, and never this close.

The Eurasian Collared-Doves are a recently introduced species that has spread across North America very quickly. It remains to be seen if they will disrupt other populations, but they're like a Starling or House Sparrow as far as ability to barge into an area and reproduce quickly with a rapid population growth curve. These are in a Pecan tree, at a nut orchard in Hurricane, Utah where we bought some fresh pecans.

We drove through Zion National Park. I'd never visited this park. The road is at the bottom of some beautiful canyons, so one can look up the steep walls painted with desert varnish (the deposits left after water runs down the face).

I snapped this picture out the window while Cyndi was driving. There was just too much beauty to stop and see it all. We were too late to arrive at Cyndi's brother's home in time for dinner, which wasn't the most polite we could have been. *sigh* There just were not enough hours in our days to see and do everything we wanted to, and once in an area like this it was very difficult to leave.

There was snow at the higher elevations, but it was beautiful, warm and sunny in the canyon.

The different sandstone layers represent different epochs and were laid down by wind and water over geologic time.

See the road down at the bottom left, in the shadow? That's where we just were. The road progresses up and out of the canyon as it heads northeast, toward our rendez vous with Cyndi's brother in Salt Lake City. (OK, so the road is actually going somewhat away from Salt Lake City ... but we'll backtrack northwest over a high mountain pass where the snow is still five feet deep and make it there before midnight).

Here's a Spotted Towhee who visited us as we ate lunch.

And, last but not least, on the way home from Salt Lake City (after a wonderful brunch with Derek) we stopped at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah and saw hundreds of migrating Tundra Swans. An Ermine was spotted at dusk, too, but didn't pause for a photograph.

We stopped at Cyndi's mother's home and stayed the night. In the morning we went to the Carmella Winery and Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho and finally arrived home quite tuckered out and happy with all the memories and photos and fresh pecans and local wine.

Thanks for the great hospitality Bob, Kathy, Derek, and Mary!