Friday, May 26, 2017

Some Most Precious Tibetan Yarn

I forgot to post some photos from the Upper Mustang in Nepal that made the trip very memorable. First, let me say that I almost never buy stuff on my trips – I have little space or use for memorabilia, I don’t have a well-developed taste or identity attached to “things,” and when I die, it’s just more crap that someone else has to deal with (as if my body won’t be enough of an issue). But as a knitter I have to buy yarn, and for me, like many other fibermaniacs, it’s an uncontrollable obsession. During one of our 15-mile hiking days, we came to a tiny little town in the bleak, yet stark and gorgeous landscape where our guide Lhakpa said we were stopping for lunch. On maps it’s called Syangboche.

A lady was sitting at this loom, and I nearly let out a squeal.

But before I could talk to her, she saw us and ran across the street into this building, where we would eventually have our lunch. On the sign, the town’s name is Shangmochen, which probably means that the true Tibetan pronunciation (on the sign) was a bit garbled by the Nepali transcription (on the maps).

She was the proprietor of a hotel, cook in the kitchen, and weaver of wool. I snapped a few photos of her work before we entered.
This is where we sat to have lunch, which turned out to be a very typical arrangement and design for the restaurants along our trip.

On our return south we had lunch here again, and I asked about buying some of her yarn. She said no – she needed all she had to continue to the color pattern of her tapestry. But after finishing making lunch for the other international trekkers and bikers who had stopped by, she would look at her stash.

She showed me the beginnings of her work in progress – she cards then spins the wool herself, and she told me about the plants she uses to dye it. I was floored – she makes this stuff herself from beginning to end, and she’s probably even related to the shepherd who takes care of the flock.

Her name is Chiring Phuti Gurung, and here she is holding the very heavy ball (1/4 kilo!) of yarn I bought from her for about $20. I haven’t decided what I’ll make from it, but it’s so fine I’ll probably have to double it up and probably knit some gloves.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Private Tour in SE Arizona – Four Sky Islands, 159 birds, and Nearly 1000 Miles

This past week I led a private tour for 4 ½ days here in SE Arizona for a client-friend who has been on a couple other tours with me in past years, in Brazil and Costa Rica. Like me, Skyler is interested in all aspects of natural history, so it was a treat for me to be able to stop and look at flowers, insects, and other animals as we looked for his target birds. Here is Skyler photographing a Phrynosoma hernandesi, Greater Short-horned Lizard that was along the Nature Trail in Madera Canyon.

Phrynosoma hernandesi, Greater Short-horned Lizard

Skyler actually had a short wish-list of several SE Arizona specialties, and we cleaned up on all his primary targets, missing only a couple species that he had actually seen with me in Costa Rica and wanted to try for his US list. One of the top targets was this Five-striped Sparrow, which we saw in the early evening in lower Warsaw Canyon. We camped at the same place I used this past early January with my friends Nina (click for Nina's blog) and Galen, about ¼ mile upstream from where the Nutting’s Flycatcher wintered.
Five-striped Sparrow

We found four Buff-collared Nightjars on our walk after dark (another of Skyler’s targets), including one that sang very briefly right by our campsite. But after the moon rose above the hills to the east, at about 11:00 p.m., the same bird began singing from elevated perches all around our campsite, waking us up and continuing loudly all night long. This is where I first heard a single bird sing on March 31, 2015, and a few territories have been occupied here ever since. No one knows if they go silent and hibernate in the winter or if they are truly migratory here.

On our night walk I spotted this Eleodes sp., desert stink beetle. I had never seen one with a projection like this (which is not an ovipositor). My submission to Bugguide revealed that there are two species in Arizona like this, and this one looks most like E. caudiferus, although the photos there are all from northern Arizona.
Eleodes sp., desert stink beetle

Skyler spotted this beetle, which I first assumed was a stag beetle in the family Lucanidae. But a much closer match is the genus Pasimachus, in the ground beetle family Carabidae.
Pasimachus sp., Carabidae

This large wolf spider is a Hogna sp., quite possibly the very widespread H. carolinensis, Carolina Wolf Spider, though in remote, under-surveyed regions like this I know there are many taxa yet undiscovered for the US and not pictured in any of the books or on Bugguide.
Hogna sp., wolf spider

Skyler spotted this Vaejovis spinigerus, Stripe-tailed Scorpion in the middle of the road without the aid of a UV light. I’ve seen it almost every time I’ve camped here, but I usually have my light to spot them.
Vaejovis spinigerus, Stripe-tailed Scorpion

The next morning we birded through the old winter territory of the Nutting’s Flycatcher, which hasn’t been reported since early February, but I was hopeful it might still be around and calling. No such luck. But it was very birdy, and we saw several more Five-striped Sparrows. This is a very recently fledged Rufous-winged Sparrow, which I identified from the parents feeding it.
Rufous-winged Sparrow fledgling

I had to look up this Amblyscirtes nysa, Nysa Roadside-Skipper; I’m very rusty on my Arizona butterflies.
Amblyscirtes nysa, Nysa Roadside-Skipper

Here’s the border fence to Mexico right where California Gulch crosses it. It would be a travesty to have a wall built in this gorgeous wilderness, and it’s incomprehensibly idiotic for anyone to propose such an idea.

The rest of our trip took us from the Santa Catalina Mountains to the Santa Ritas, to the Huachucas, and on to the Chiricahuas before we completed a huge loop back to Tucson via Safford and Globe; we drove nearly 1000 miles. Here’s a view from Incinerator Ridge in the Catalinas.

We saw nearly all of the birds typical of the Madrean Pine-Owl woodlands, including some very local specialties such as this Buff-breasted Flycatcher.
Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher is also a regional specialty, but they like all kinds of woodland and are surprisingly common here (especially given how rare they are in the rest of the country).
Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Olive Warbler is little more widespread but always a target given its taxonomic status as a monotypic family (no, it’s actually not a warbler of any kind).
Olive Warbler

More widespread birds here were this Painted Redstart…
Painted Redstart

…this Acorn Woodpecker…
Acorn Woodpecker

…and this Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Black-throated Gray Warbler

This was Skyler’s most wanted bird, and his final North American owl species: Spotted Owl. I posted photos of either this same bird or its mate from Sycamore Canyon in the Patagonia Mountains in other blogs over the past year and a half.
Spotted Owl

We got lucky that this Whiskered Screech-Owl was sitting on an open branch. It whistled back in the daytime, revealing its presence, but more often they do this from within a cavity, and once they spy you approaching they stop calling back and slink down into the tree before you can see them. We sat down to enjoy this bird for some time, and after we were well down the trail I discovered I had sat on an old prickly pear cactus pad and a few hundred glochids had worked their way through two layers of clothing to reach my buttocks. It was only about 14 hours later before I was finally completely rid of them.
Whiskered Screech-Owl

Whiskered Screech-Owl

Olive-sided Flycatcher is always a lucky find in Arizona, only briefly stopping over during migration in any patch of trees. Their wintering and breeding ranges are far from here.
Olive-sided Flycatcher

Typical Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed is bright orange, but the variety native to SE Arizona is golden yellow.
Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed

One of my favorite flowers here is Erythrina flabelliformis, Coralbean, in a large genus of what are nearly all large tropical trees, many being a terrific food plant for many birds and insects.
Erythrina flabelliformis, Coralbean

We had this Erynnis tristis, Mournful Duskywing in its typical oak woodland habitat.
Erynnis tristis, Mournful Duskywing

Cyllopsis pyracmon, Nabokov's Satyr is found in the same area. It’s very similar to Canyonland Satyr, and I always have to look up the difference in the postmedian line on the hindwing.
Cyllopsis pyracmon, Nabokov's Satyr

These nymph Thasus neocalifornicus, Giant Mesquite Bug, are everywhere right now, much prettier in this stage than later in life.
Thasus neocalifornicus, Giant Mesquite Bug

We saw several of these Tomonotus ferruginosus, Oak-leaf Grasshopper, on our hike to and from the Spotted Owl.
Tomonotus ferruginosus, Oak-leaf Grasshopper

These two lizards were sunning on the same rock side by side, high in the Chiricahauas where we chased a Slate-throated Redstart that is summering there for the second year in a row. This is Sceloporus jarrovii, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard.
Sceloporus jarrovii, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

This is Sceloporus virgatus, Striped Plateau Lizard.
Sceloporus virgatus, Striped Plateau Lizard

We spied a few cacti still blooming, simply gorgeous species. At lower elevations in the oaks is Echinocereus pectinatus, Rainbow Cactus.
Echinocereus pectinatus, Rainbow Cactus

Higher in the mountains amongst pine and Douglas-fir, in fact next to the two lizards above, was this Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret-cup Hedgehog Cactus.
Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret-cup Hedgehog Cactus

On our way back to Tucson on the last day we were stopped for road construction right where we had a perfect view of the Pinal Peak fire, which is apparently burning only ground debris as a low-intensity fire and was lightning-caused on May 8th (a rare event in early May). It’s still burning as I write this: see

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Grocery Shopping for Gambell

The morning after I got back to Tucson from New York, nearly five weeks after I left for Nepal, I printed out my shopping list for my Gambell cooking job (for the WINGS Gambell Tour), rented a car, and went grocery shopping.

This pile represents part of over $1200 in groceries and kitchen supplies I bought at seven stores.

It took me 20 hours of shopping, boxing, and shipping, and I turned in the car 24 hours later. Yes, that means I got 4 hours of sleep that day. The groceries filled 23 large flat-rate boxes, meaning $433.55 in shipping charges. If we were to take this with us on the Bering Air flight, the cost would be $2/pound, or probably close to $1000, so I saved a bit of money doing it this way.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Birding Central Park And My Presentation For The Linnaean Society of New York

Instead of returning directly home after my month in Nepal, I flew to New York City (via a short layover in Abu Dhabi and a 12-hour layover in Düsseldorf, where I didn’t bother leaving the airport, instead using my business class ticket privilege to stay in the executive lounge and work on my laptop). I was in New York to give a presentation, at the American Museum of Natural History.

My talk was for the Linnaean Society of New York’s monthly meeting, and we actually entered the museum in this side entrance on 77th street, just after the museum’s official closing hours on May 9; all attendees were escorted by a museum guard as we passed by some of the exhibits to the lecture hall. My talk was titled “Polyglottal Passerines: Mimicry Is Not Just For Mockingbirds,” and I think it went quite well.

I stayed in my friend Doug Futuyma’s pied-à-terre in the Upper West Side only a few blocks from the museum and Central Park. And since this is during the peak of spring migration, I went to the park all four mornings during my visit. It’s a very popular place for birders, both local and those visiting the city from all over the world.

Migration was “slow” according to the local birders. Numbers weren’t high for anything, but there seemed to be dribs and drabs of a lot of species nonetheless, and changeover was obvious from day to day. Highlights for me were seeing 23 species of wood-warblers, such as this Bay-breasted Warbler.

This Black-and-white Warbler was one of the more common species.

Another highlight was birding with friends. I fell into hanging out with this fun group of super skilled and experienced birders: from left to right Doug Futuyma, Rich Hoyer, Andrew Rubenfeld, Claude Bloch, Olaf Soltau, Marc Passmann, and Al Levantin.