Sunday, November 11, 2018

Nethy Bridge and the Capercaillies


One of my favorite destinations is Scotland, and our last trip there was topnotch. I discovered new places to explore, and savor, and bird––all while delighting in the Scottish brogue. 

RSPB Reserve, Loch Garten (All photos by Narca)

On this April trip, I was determined to see, at long last, a certain grail bird: the Western Capercaillie, a giant grouse nearly the size of a turkey. At the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve of Loch Garten, a hide (or blind) is located so that observers may glimpse, at a distance, displaying capercaillies––if they are lucky! And we were lucky, sort of.

A male capercaillie was displaying behind a grove of small pine trees, and by watching carefully, we glimpsed first one part of the grand bird, then another. Pieced together, the sum of the parts looked rather like this:

Western Capercaillie (Pen-and-ink drawing by Narca)

As a prelude to that exciting day, I found an AirBnB cottage at Nethy Bridge, which proved to be the perfect base for exploring the region. It was located only about 5 miles from Loch Garten and the capercaillies, and next to a wild woodland with hiking trails––Dell Woods in the Abernethy National Nature Reserve. The reserve protects remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest. If that location appeals to you, search AirBnB for Saddleback Cottage (The Bothy) at Nethy Bridge.

Regional map, highlighting Nethy Bridge and Loch Garten

Trail sign at Dell Woods in Abernethy National Nature Reserve

Hiking trail in Abernethy National Nature Reserve

A Song Thrush forages along the hiking trail.

At dusk we ventured into Dell Woods, looking for night birds, and were very excited one evening to find displaying Eurasian Woodcock, hurtling across the twilight sky.

Habitat for displaying Eurasian Woodcock, a mix of woodland and open meadows, dissected by rivulets (photos above and below)

Caledonian forest

Besides the capercaillies at Loch Garten, another spectacular grouse lives nearby––the Black Grouse. RSPB has a screened viewing area where courting Black Grouse may be seen. The kind folks at Loch Garten can tell you whether this lek is active, and where to find it. 

We were sent to the blind at Tulloch Moor, where we watched for a while, without success. As we were contemplating leaving the blind, we began to hear a grouse farther down the road. A quarter-mile walk brought us to a very unexpected sight: a male Black Grouse was at the very top of a birch tree, slowly pivoting and calling. He periodically interrupted his arboreal display to nip a birch bud. These birds are supposed to display on the ground! And that was the last time in Scotland that I left my camera behind.

Black Grouse habitat at Tulloch Moor

Black Grouse leks are very easily disturbed, so great care must be taken in approaching one. We withdrew quietly from our feeding-and-displaying male before he even knew we were there. The best way to see displaying Black Grouse is to join one of the guided minibus safaris run by the RSPB in April and May. Check their website for details.

If you are planning a trip to Britain, a year's membership in the RSBP is very worthwhile. You'll gain entry to all of their reserves, in addition to supporting conservation efforts in Britain.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An Autumn Bouquet

In recent Septembers, as part of our Rodeo-Portal Heritage Days, Elaine Moison and Dave Jasper have guided a field trip into South Fork, to discover and enjoy the wildflowers that flourish at the end of the summer monsoon. This year we found exquisite flowers, in spite of the paucity of the summer rains. And immersion in the grandeur of South Fork, in fine company, always satisfies!

Enjoy the autumn flowers!

Dave shows us grasses. (All photos by Narca)

Elaine's love of plants shines in all she says.

Chiricahua Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia triternata

This beauty quietly graces the shaded canyons of southeastern Arizona and adjacent New Mexico.

Arizona Madrone, Arbutus arizonica

Late-fall berries from this handsome tree are relished by trogons, quetzals, thrushes and sapsuckers. Arizona Madrone is a tree of the Sky Islands of Arizona and New Mexico. The bulk of its range lies in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico.

The graceful Birdbill Dayflower, Commelina dianthifolia

A common native to several Western states and northern Mexico, this lovely herb favors open meadows and forest floors, where it blooms from summer to fall. You can find it all the way from South Fork up to the higher elevations of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Hummingbird Trumpet, Epilobium canum

The name says it all! Native to dry slopes of western North America, especially California, this beautiful willowherb produces a profusion of scarlet flowers in summer and fall. Gardeners find it easy to grow, and thus they earn the gratitude of hummingbirds.

Richardson's Geranium, Geranium richardsonii

A familiar flower to all who roam the Chiricahuas––and generally, to those who roam the West, all the way north to Alaska.

Huachuca Mountain Geranium, Geranium wislizeni

I hadn't realized that we have a second geranium, growing alongside Richardson's! Huachuca Mountain Geranium flowers in August and September, in oak-juniper woodlands.

Dakota Mock Vervain, Glandularia bipinnatifida

This verbena is native to the U.S., south to Nicaragua. In the U.S., it is most abundant in the prairies of the Great Plains––it is likely one more example of a Plains Grassland species that became established in our region during an earlier, wetter period, and persists today where conditions allow. 

Mock Pennyroyal, Hedeoma hyssopifolia

This fragrant mint flowers from May to October in rocky canyons of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico.

Macomb's Trumpet, Ipomopsis macombii

Macomb's Trumpet is a very beautiful perennial of southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and northern Mexico. Its genus name, Ipomopsis, is Greek for "striking appearance."

Plains Beebalm, Monarda pectinata

Monarda––another very fragrant mint––attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. It grows from 4000-8000'.

Rabbitsfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis

A non-native, widespread annual, Rabbitsfoot colonizes disturbed soil. We saw very few in South Fork, and those were likely brought in with road repairs after Hurricane Odile set its sights on the Chiricahuas.

Birchleaf Buckthorn, Rhamnus betulifolia

A common shrub of moist canyons in the Southwest and Mexico, Birchleaf Buckthorn provides browse for deer and berries for birds.

Fragrant Sumac or Lemonadeberry, Rhus aromatica

The berries are tart and tasty! Lemonadeberry is a good shrub to learn, as it's widespread in the U.S. Its medicinal uses are legion.

Caliche Globemallow, Sphaeralcea laxa

This globemallow grows on rocky slopes and in washes, especially in caliche soils. You've no doubt encountered it at lower elevations in the Chiricahuas.

One of my favorites, Torrey's Craglily, Echeandia flavescens

Torrey's Craglily graces woodlands and grasslands from Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, south through Mexico. 

Toothleaf Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata

What would Arizona be, without its wonderful, sunny displays of hard-to-identify composites? Toothleaf Goldeneye thrives in dry canyons, from Arizona and New Mexico, all the way south to Central America. In Mexico, infusions made from this goldeneye are used to treat baby rash; its essential oils have antibiotic properties.

Next year at Heritage Days, come join our wildflower walk!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Unsettled Weather

Unsettled weather brings new possibilities, wakes us up. We're more watchful, alert to what may be coming. What interesting changes are carried on the wind?

Today, our weather is quite unsettled. A big storm passes through to the west, and we feel the winds it generates. Early this morning the interesting avian passers-through included a Vaux's Swift amid migrating Violet-green and Barn Swallows. Two adult Red-tailed Hawks hung nearly motionless above the ridgeline. Can we Americans achieve a similar grace, balancing in the high winds that sweep our country?

Barn Swallow from Self-Portrait As Garden
Watercolor by © Narca Moore-Craig

I ponder stuff as I walk. It's the era of political division, of the Kavanaugh hearings. Yet yesterday, Arizona's Jeff Flake gave a remarkable speech about moving into a new balance as a nation. Senator Flake (with whom I am often at odds on conservation and environmental problems) spoke graciously about looking across the aisle and, at the end of the day, seeing our political opponents also as friends, not enemies. After all, policies worked out together bring everyone's ideas and concerns to the table. We're stronger when we can harness our united energies. Divided, we disintegrate.

When the current political cleansing subsides––after we weather these societal convulsions––may We the People find deeper wisdom and a return to national poise.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk
Photo by © Narca Moore-Craig


And, yes, there has been a long hiatus in my postings to this blog! That happens when I'm immersed in a big project. Currently the project has been editing and designing a new book for Dan Fischer––Sky Islands: Encountering a Landlocked Archipelago.

This book examines naturalists' early ventures into our region and celebrates the wild Sky Islands as they were discovered. Of course, the Apaches and other tribes already knew the region well; the incoming scientists took it a step further, integrating their discoveries with the global body of knowledge.

The book is generously illustrated with Dan's beautiful photographs, spanning decades of his own investigations. And it's nearly ready for the printer! Woo-HOO!

I look forward to returning to these blog pages, to reflections on wild nature and farflung places.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

VIDA: Art on Clothing!

Printing art on clothing has taken a new leap forward with an innovative company, VIDA, which I recently discovered. VIDA was founded in 2015 by Umaimah Mendro, a woman born in a village in Pakistan, who formerly worked for Microsoft. Based in San Francisco, VIDA deals directly with artists to put their work on high-quality clothing. They sell only on-line, cut out the middleman, and pay a true living wage to the producers of the clothing.

Montezuma Quail top
(All art by Narca)

At this time, their manufacturing partners are located in Florida, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and they plan to expand to other countries. Funds generated by the sale of clothing support literacy programs for their workers in poor countries.

45,000 designer/artists from 500 cities in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and North America are now part of the VIDA program!

Hummingbird Joy

VIDA's clients are primarily women who appreciate fine design and are also concerned with their impact on the world. Their line of products include silk and modal tops and three styles of scarves. Contributing artists include designers associated with Vogue and Elle magazines. I feel honored to be included in such company!

Here are a more few examples of the art-clothing you can buy from VIDA:

Singing the Blues

Bluethroats, Baby!


Juniper Hairstreak

Kick Up Your Heels!

If you'd enjoy wearing or gifting high-impact art on clothing, here's the link to VIDA!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tribute to a Toilet

After several years of a failed experiment with Envirolet composting toilets, I've installed two new ones of an innovative design –– Nature's Head, a urine-diverting, composting toilet. Already I'm a convert, and elated with the results.

Our Nature's Head composting toilet

I'm posting the news here in case others of you who are reading this, don't like the idea of flushing perfectly good drinking water down a toilet, especially when we live in a desert!

After a month's trial of the new Nature's Heads, we can say they're working great and are very easy both to use and to clean. Four friends staying in our guesthouse adapted beautifully to the novelty. We even emptied one before its time, being eager to see the outcome, and indeed, the compost was just... compost. Its aroma was pleasantly earthy, nothing else. Our overarching plan is to finish the composting process in one of our compost piles, which is dedicated to fertilizing the orchard and other trees.

You can read about Nature's Head at their website, and check out the fun videos at the "Gone with the Wynns" blog. The Wynns answer questions about Nature's Head while taking coffee atop their toilet seat.

It was kinda fun taking the old (empty) Envirolets to the trash compactor down at Garbage Corner. I had come to despise the things because they were so difficult to clean and had a host of other problems. The fellow running the compactor said, "This is my favorite part," as he crunched the two Envirolets. It was a high point in my day, too.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Turaco Country" Arrives!

Dale Zimmerman's new memoir, Turaco Country, has been published, and the advance copies are here! The big smile on Dale's face says it all!

Dale Zimmerman with his advance copy of Turaco Country
(Photo by Narca)

Turaco Country meticulously illumines Dale's adventures and ornithological investigations in East Africa, and is illustrated with more than 900 of his beautiful photographs.

You can read in detail about this engrossing new book at It has received high praise from reviewers Kevin Zimmer and Noel Snyder. Sky Island Press is very proud of its first offering!

The bulk of the shipment should arrive at the Chiricahua Desert Museum the week of November 11, 2015, and your pre-ordered books will ship then. The folks at E.C.O. are handling all the orders and distribution.

After more than five years of work, the masterpiece is ready!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Grail Quail

After 20 years, that most excellent of quail –– the Montezuma –– has finally deigned to visit our Roundhouse. Grasses around and above us are now very thick, giving them plenty of protective cover.

A pair of Montezuma Quail, venturing onto new ground
(All photos by Narca)

For a couple of months, usually in the evening, I've been hearing their short, infrequent whistles, which manage to be resonant, burry, and descending, all within about a second's time. But hearing a Montezuma and seeing one are two very different propositions.

Finally! A pair has discovered the water dishes out by the bird feeders. Quietly and unpredictably, they slip in and out.

A demure female Montezuma Quail...

...and her harlequin mate

Montezuma Quail key their breeding to the rains. After dry winters, they wait till well after the summer monsoon has begun, unlike the Gambel's and Scaled quail, which nest in spring and early summer. This year, our winter rains were good enough that the Montezumas could breed early, though so far the three glimpses we've had of our new residents have been of pairs, so we're assuming that the females aren't yet on nests.

If you're searching for Montezuma Quail (not an uncommon situation for birders), they are easiest to see during breeding season when they are calling and after the young hatch, when the family groups are giving little contact calls.