I’ve marveled at photos of others of the flashy Black-billed Magpie. Not seen on the East Coast, this species is widespread in towns, fields, and stream corridors of the West.
Their bold, contrasting plumage and glossy blue/green iridescence on their wings are unmistakable. I saw my first Magpie in Utah; and as we moved north on our road trip, they were a common sight to my delight.
Black-billed Magpies are a relative of Jays and Crows but slightly larger.
They’re also vocal birds and keep up a regular stream of raucous calls.
One of the most interesting Black-billed Magpie behaviors is the so-called “funeral”. When one Magpie discovers a demised Magpie, it begins calling loudly to attract other Magpies. The gathering of raucously-calling Magpies (up to 40 birds have been observed) may last for 10 to 15 minutes before the birds disperse and fly off silently.
Magpies are social, inquisitive birds that eat fruits, grains, insects, and small animals.
On their expeditions, Lewis and Clark reported Magpies boldly entering their tents to steal food.
The Magpie is a beauty in flight as well!
I love photos with fences, so I had to include and share this last photo.
As you know, it is always a delight for me to get to add another lifer to my bird list! 🙂
To think I had to come all the way out West to photograph a Yellow Warbler to finally add this “lifer” to my bird list; I’d seen them numerous times along the East Coast but always “missed the shot”. 🙂
While camping in Coalville, Utah, I sighted this male Yellow Warbler flying in and out of a line of trees several times alongside our campsite. I could tell he was quite busy and on a mission.
Losing sight of him in the trees, I continued walking a few steps and saw a perched juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. He/she gave me several wonderful profile shots.
After the quick photo session, the young Cowbird flew off his perch and up into the trees where I had just sighted the Yellow Warbler.
And just as quick, the Yellow Warbler appeared on the branch next to the Cowbird and fed him an insect.
The Yellow Warbler left and returned so many times, I lost count. The trees must have been full of ‘food’! Each return, the Warbler brought another insect. And at each departure, the young Cowbird begged and cried for more.
So what is going on with these two species?
The Brown-headed Cowbird is North America’s most common “brood parasite.” A female Cowbird makes no nest of her own, but instead lays her eggs in the nests in more than 220 other bird species, who then raise the young Cowbirds as their own.
A Yellow Warbler’s open, cuplike nest is easy to find and widely used by Cowbirds.
The Yellow Warbler can recognize Cowbird eggs, but are too small and cannot get the eggs out of their nests. In some areas, the Warblers try to prevent these parasites by building a new floor over the Cowbird eggs as well as their own eggs, and then laying another new clutch of their own.
In one case, persistent Cowbirds returned five times to lay more eggs in one nest, and an even more persistent Warbler built six layers of nest floors to cover up the Cowbird eggs.
There are times when a Cowbird egg does get incubated, but will unfortunately hatch first, dominating the food supply of the newborn Warblers. The Yellow Warblers will do their best to feed all of them, including the dominant Cowbird who requires and demands much more food than his ‘siblings’.
Notice the juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird is twice the size of the Yellow Warbler. What a tough time for these adoptive parents!
Sometimes, as in the next photo, the Yellow Warbler would stop on the branch and just look at me as if to say, “Will this kid ever be full??!!!”
It became a double delight to finally capture a Yellow Warbler as well as get to actually see this type of activity unfold before me. I hope you enjoyed my share.
What a treat to see several Clark’s Nutcrackers (a new “lifer” for me) while we visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado a couple weeks ago.
The Clark’s Nutcracker was first discovered in 1805 by William Clark during one of their Lewis & Clark expeditions through the Lemhi Pass in the Bitteroot Mountains.
Living year-round high in the mountains of the West, Clark’s Nutcrackers are the size of a Jay but the shape of a Crow, with short tails and rounded, crestless heads.
Clark’s Nutcrackers use their dagger-like bills to rip into pine cones and pull out the seeds, which they stash in a pouch under their tongue.
This pouch can hold as many as 28 single leaf pinyon nuts, 90 seeds of Colorado pinyon, or 82 whitebark pine seeds.
Clark’s Nutcrackers have the amazing ability to gather and cache tens of thousands of seeds each summer, and to remember where they put most of them, even miles away from the tree source and covered by deep snow.
Seeds they don’t retrieve play a crucial role in growing new pine forests. The Clark’s Nutcracker is the primary seed dispenser of the whitebark pine.
I noticed the Clark’s Nutcrackers in both the above and below photos had bands on their legs. I asked a Park Ranger at the visitor center about the bands and if she knew who was tracking the birds. She said she had also recently noticed a Clark’s Nutcracker with a band herself and had put an inquiry in to find out as she was curious, but hadn’t gotten an answer yet.
It was a partly cloudy day when we visited, so when the sun popped out briefly, I was excited to sight and capture the above last photo of the Clark’s Nutcracker in the sunlight. 🙂
Touring the West over the past three months seeing our country’s landscapes, wildlife, and cultures has been a magical and memorable journey to date. On-the-go most days, whether to a national park, or cruising a scenic byway, or hiking a lake or mountain, or spending a day in a town or at an event, or just meeting new people, by the time we got back to our RV, most times I was too exhausted to flip open the laptop. The slow internet access at times really didn’t help!
I should have known I’d have a hard time keeping up with my blog to share our journey. What was I thinking??
So to diminish being overwhelmed with all my photos (there are so many!), I thought I’d start by sharing a quick summary to date of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. I’ll do individual posts later on my favorites.
So……Since the beginning of June, we’ve been through:
5 National Parks
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
(yes, that’s snow on the mountains in July!)
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
4 National Monuments
El Morro National Monument, New Mexico
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, New Mexico
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
As well as Lake Powell, Navajo Bridge, Horseshoe Bend, several dams & lakes, numerous National Forests and Memorials, every scenic byway we could cruise, numerous ‘famous’ towns (Sturgis, Deadwood, Cody, Jackson), couple rodeos, motocross pro-series (had never been to one before!), and even a concert to see comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias at the Montana State Fair.
Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah
Lake Powell Boat Tour through Navajo Canyon, Arizona
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota
Oh, the places we’ve been! At the altitudes we stayed, the weather just as great. Temps never exceeding 80-85 degrees (except Lake Powell). Even had to turn on the RV heat some mornings to take off the chill inside. We felt for all our east coast family and friends suffering in the extreme heat and humidity. But we didn’t miss it!
And then there’s the wildlife we’ve seen! I’ve had an awesome time looking for and trying to capture a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. I think I am more excited to share those photos than the landscapes and destinations.
The Grand Canyon was as grand as it’s name! We visited the South Rim, and I felt like I was looking at a living painting from every overlook we ventured. My senses were overwhelmed with the beauty…..
The Grand Canyon became a National Park in 1919 and has since been given the honor as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, one mile (1.6 km) deep, and covers 1,900 square miles.
The Grand Canyon includes rock at the bottom that is nearly two billion years old!
The numerous overlooks offered unparalleled views of grandeur.
While at the Grand Canyon, we learned authorities were still trying to recover one person who had fallen weeks prior, and another person fell to their death on a day inbetween the two days we visited.
We were seriously flabbergasted at seeing so many people taking chances each day we were there, passing over/under/aside the fencing. Parents taking children with them to do selfies! A bit crazy to say the least, as this teenager was in the next photo.
(People, please be safe and don’t take chances!)
Below the South Rim, the Colorado River flows at an average speed of four miles per hour. Averaging 300 feet wide and 100 feet deep, the river flows west through the Grand Canyon.
Colorado River off in the distance, winding through the Grand Canyon at sunset
The temperatures were in the low to mid 80’s while we were there, but at the canyon’s floor, it soared to over 100 degrees each day. With a required permit, hikers still took to the trailheads and were required to spend the evening in the canyon if hiking to the bottom.
Bright Angel Trailhead – over 18 miles round trip
A horseback trail way down below….
The Grand Canyon is also home to 70 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, and five species of amphibians.
Only a few came out of hiding for me…..
I had shared a few posts back of Rock Squirrels spotted at the Grand Canyon, here’s a repeat of those cuties.
The “beggar” getting caught in the act!
Common Ravens were in abundance, searching parking lots for food. This one, however, was busily working on collecting nesting materials.
The Roadrunner is clearly named appropriately. He was so fast, this was the only focused photo I got. With an awful background in a parking lot to boot. 😦
Roadrunner (a new lifer!)
At one instance while standing back and just absorbing it all, I heard/felt (not sure which!) a buzz go by me and turned to see this next Rufous Hummingbird in the brush.
Saw a few bunnies, always adorable of course….
And a mule deer, grazing….
We even got lucky in seeing an Elk, who was too busy eating and wouldn’t look up for a face capture. Great rack though!
One of the two days we stayed until sunset. It’s was surreal…..
I could easily spend a couple weeks venturing throughout the entire park, there is so much more to see and do. Our two days there were exhausting but well-worth the visit!
Hello Everyone! So sorry for the long absence, our RV adventure has been thrilling, awesome, inspiring, and fun, with meeting new friends and seeing our beautiful country. So much so, it’s been hard to find time to edit and post, if I can give an excuse! Our trip to date, departing from the East Coast, has been almost 4,000 miles:
Towards the beginning of our trip while passing through Oklahoma City on I-40W and up until we arrived to our first big destination in Williams, Arizona, we rode about 900 miles where our GPS showed icons for numerous roadside attractions, noting they were part of the historical “Route 66” highway.
Back in the day, maybe some of you remember experiencing the original US Route 66 on a business or family roadtrip.
The GPS icons and history kept us entertained as I tried to snap photos of some of the roadside “attractions” while cruising past them along the I-40 corridor that overrode or road alongside the original Route 66 for the most part. A few of my photos are actually in focus enough, and I thought I’d share them with this interesting history (sorry it’s so long!).
Being one of the most famous roads in America, a paved US Route 66 was completed on November 11, 1926, running from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, for a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km).
Over its 60 years of existence, US Route 66 received many nicknames:
“The Mother Road”
“The Great Diagonal Way”
“The Main Street of America”
“The Will Rogers Highway”
US Route 66 was an important highway for many reasons. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it served as a major paved path for those who migrated west.
By the 1950s, US Route 66 had become a major highway for vacationers, with the road passing many nearby national parks/monuments, recreational areas, and tourist attractions. Passing through numerous small towns, US Route 66 also created the rise of mom & pop businesses, including gas stations, restaurants, souvenir shops, motor courts, all readily accessible to passing tourists. This sharp increase in tourism then gave rise to hundreds of roadside attractions, including teepees, “local” tours, ice cream stands, Indian trading posts, anything to grab your attention to get you to stop. Super-tacky and eclectic was the norm. Some are still standing today that were “icon’d” on our GPS. Many of these are now defunct, little ghost town shops. Others are still alive and attract!
abandoned trading post
The Big Texan in Amarillo opened in 1965 and advertised a free 72 ounce steak dinner to anyone who could eat the entire meal in one hour. They still do today! Try you luck and join the almost 3,000 people to date who have defeated the challenge. (Poor stomachs!)
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas – 10 Cadillacs from 1949 to 1963 buried nose down.
Not to be outdone…..
Bug Ranch, Conway, Texas – Five VW Bugs buried nose down
Forgot to note what location these were at but definitely attention-getters.
Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Groom Texas – 190’ tall & can be seen for 20 miles (breath-taking)
A defunct Britten truck stop had installed a “Pisa-style” water tower in Groom, Texas, to get motorists to stop
The beginning of the decline of US Route 66 came in 1956 when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. As new bypasses were built, more and more towns were passed by, leaving many of the mom-and-pop businesses and area attractions unable to survive the lost revenue.
In 1984, Williams, Arizona was the last town/state to see its final stretch of the US Route 66 highway decommissioned with the completion of their I-40 bypass. The following year, US Route 66 officially ceased to exist and was removed from the US Highway System.
When the highway was decommissioned, sections of the road were disposed of in various ways. Some sections became state roads, local roads, private drives, or were abandoned completely and left to the elements.
abandoned US Route 66
abandoned US Route 66
Many preservation groups tried to save and even landmark the old motels and neon signs along the road in different states by creating Route 66 associations; the first was founded in Arizona in 1987, followed by the other US Route 66 states.
To celebrate Route 66’s history, this monument was erected in Tucumcari, New Mexico, in 1997. Tucumcari was bypassed by I-40 and has mostly fallen to despair with many abandoned motor courts still standing, awaiting preservation.
In 1999, President Clinton signed a National Route 66 Preservation Bill which provided for $10 million in matching fund grants for preserving and restoring the historic features along the route.
Over the years, the US Route 66 experience was also publicized by pop-culture artists through song, books, and television that you may recognize, including:
— The Song, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”, written by Bobby Troup and first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946, and later by many other singers.
— A TV series in the 1960s called “Route 66”.
— The book and film, “The Grapes of Wrath”, in which the Joad family is evicted from their small farm in Oklahoma and travel to California on US Route 66.
— “Cars”, the Disney Pixar film, is set in “Radiator Springs”, a composite of multiple real towns located on US Route 66. Part of the film’s storyline revolves around how the once vibrant town that fell into decline after it was bypassed when Route 66 was superseded by the new Interstate.
Looking for and trying to photograph the attractions was a lot of fun. We did take a break and stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona, that was also by-passed by I-40 to have lunch at the Galaxy Diner.
Pretty cool retro decor, great food, and reasonable!
What fun it was to follow the history for something to do as we cruised across the country. When we arrived to our destination in Williams, Arizona, this charming mountainside town continues to this day to ‘live’ in the 1950-1960’s with the nostalgia and history of Route 66. It added a lot of fun to our visiting this area.
The town of Williams was determined to not let US Route 66 die. Many buildings and businesses survived the I-40 bypass, including several motor courts and eateries.
There are murals throughout the town.
Some of the town greeters…
You can even ride a zipline at 30 mph to the tune of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”!
Every day this next sign is placed somewhere on the Rt 66 loop for location of the evening’s street gunfight. (One every night throughout the summer.)
And when the sun goes down, all the neon lighting is aglow, just as it was along US Route 66 back in the 1950’s.
There is so much more Route 66 nostalgia in Williams that I didn’t photograph, along with a ‘western town’ eatery set-up that was pretty neat.
The Grand Canyon Railway is stationed on the Route 66 loop in Williams and also housed a hotel and our campground. The railway has been running tourists back and forth daily to the Grand Canyon since 1901. For train buffs, there were many photo ops of the station and different rail cars to capture.
And we were also lucky to see one of two Williams’ rodeos that occurred while here.
Even the kids were involved….
Yes, Williams is a touristy town; but it was a lot of fun to walk, bike, people-watch….and get really caught up in the Route 66 vibe! Williams was also a great pivot point for us to visit the Grand Canyon (56 miles away) twice as well as visit the Sedona area and cruise a few scenic byways (Hwy 89A from Prescott to Sedona was awesome!), mountains, a ski resort, and the local lakes.
Did you ever Get Your Kicks on a Route 66 roadtrip, past or present? 🙂
Excuse my absence, we took to the road after my last post and it has been sporadic internet coverage since. It’s been almost impossible to post and read blogs; I had to give up, hoping our next destination’s coverage would be better. It’s not and feels like landline. Argh! That hourglass!! I’ll try to catch up on your blogs but excuse me if I’m not able to comment much.
So yes, we’ve relocated twice since my last post. We left Williams, Arizona, for Lake Powell in Page, Arizona, and then moved on a week later to here in Bryce Canyon. I’ll be ‘hoodoo’ sight-seeing these next few days!
Now a little catch-up back-tracking, back to Kaibab Lake just outside Williams where I enjoyed a some great birding and wildlife a few hours over several days.
It was always a pleasure to check up on the Osprey family.
Momma Osprey coming in for a landing
Momma Osprey and one of her chicks (I saw two total)
Hearing the telltale sound of tree drilling, I was always looking for Woodpeckers. I finally sighted this Hairy Woodpecker. He refused to come out of the shade.
When I saw this second woodpecker, it appeared to be a Flicker, but the red markings were different than the Northern Flicker. I was excited to discover later that it was a Gilded Flicker, a new “lifer” for me.
Another “lifer” for me is this Canyon Wren. He flew from rock to rock, singing his little heart out.
I’ve captured Eastern Bluebirds back home on the East Coast, and I was hoping to add the Western Bluebird to my “lifer” list. I did!
In abundance was a loud bird making it easy to find and follow, and I worked on photographing them each time I visited. It was the Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety) and another “lifer” for me.
Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)
There is also a Steller’s Jay (Pacific variety), the difference being the Rocky Mountain variety has the white ‘eyebrow’ where the Pacific variety does not.
Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)
I just love this next capture. The wind was blowing, flaring the Steller’s Jay crown as he turned towards me.
Steller’s Jay (Rocky Mountain variety)
There was plenty of wildlife that meandered around during daylight. The Rock Squirrels could keep you busy all day with their photogenic cuteness.
There were also Prairie Dogs, Jack Rabbits, Mule Deer, and lizards who saw me before I saw them.
Mule Deer with a mouthful
It was a lot of fun birding and wildlife watching at Kaibab Lake. And if you enjoy dry-camping in our National forests, the large paved campground sites there are awesome. The wildlife increases dramatically at dusk I was told by some of the campers.
Thank you for stopping by, I appreciate your visit and hope to catch up with your posts real soon!
(I’m a little apprehensive on whether this post gets “published” with the slow connection. Fingers crossed!)