Sunday 30 March 2014

The sock drawer

I think we can get a bit carried away some times, thinking that we have to travel to far flung and exotic places to find things to photograph.

Well, this is the front of my sock drawer - hardly a major tourist attraction!

I like the way that there are layers of history cut into the wood - scrapes and dints that speak of hard times, the circular insert that may have been an old lock, or a central single handle of open the drawer.  I also like the dark shadow under the existing handle that could either by the wear of fingers using this current handle or the damage caused by an older larger handle.

Not a bad set of stories for the front of a sock drawer!

You can find more close up images at Macro Monday 2 and I Heart Macro.  SM

Friday 28 March 2014

Through the snow brightly

This will probably be the last image from Arizona (although you never know!)

By the middle of the afternoon of my trip to the Grand Canyon it was snowing in a rather spectacular fashion - well, spectacular enough for somebody who lives in Melbourne, which is not at all snowy.

This view was taken from our last stop on the Southern Rim, and as you can see there was a small break in the distant clouds which allowed some distance rock faces to peep through.

Some of the blurs and specks in the image are large snow-flakes!

This picture really does look better when it is bigger - so click on it to see its full glory!!

More pictures can be found at Sky Watch Friday.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Wild Bird Wednesday 89 - All kinds of everything

I think it should be clear by now that I managed to pack rather a lot of sight seeing and birding into the three free days I recently had in Arizona.

There is not much of a theme to this weeks WBW, except that the pictures were all taken in Arizona.

Hope you enjoy this mixed bag of birds!

American Wigeon - Sedona
American Wigeon - Sedona 
White-Crowned Sparrow - Gilbert Water Ranch
Curved-billed Thrasher - Gilbert Water Ranch
Great Blue Heron - Gilbert Water Ranch 
Great Egret - Gilbert Water Ranch
Neotropic Cormorant - Gilbert Water Ranch 
Green Heron - Gilbert Water Ranch
Wood Duck - Sedona 
Norther Cardinal - Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Hermit Thrush - Boyce Thompson Arboretum
I hope you enjoyed the mixed bag - I do have a few left up my sleeve for weeks of birdy shortage - but next week I will be back to Australian birds!

Now its your turn - and thanks for all the supportive comments from last week.

Monday 24 March 2014

The most famous hole in the world.

Eventually I was bound to end up at the Grand Canyon.  Once I had found out that I could do a day trip from Scottsdale to the Grand Canyon the die was cast; I was going.

The first thing that struck me at the time was just how close you needed to be to the canyon before you saw any of it all - for something that huge it is very well hidden!  And then it was just there.  Boom.

All of these pictures are taken from the south rim, mostly from the rim walk near Grand Canyon Village.

I'm still wrestling with the words to use in my other blog about seeing the Grand Canyon - I'll get there eventually I suppose!

So, here they are.  The light was really hard, changing second by second, rather than minute by minute.  There was pouring rain, snow, wind and rushing clouds.  It was remarkable.

I could have stood and watched all day - but I had a tour bus to catch - maybe next time I'll just be able to stand and look.

You can find more pictures from around the world at Our World Tuesday.


Sunday 23 March 2014

A surprise find.

I had hoped to see some good wildlife during my trip to Arizona - but I had not expected to see an lizards.

While I know that Arizona is south, it's still in the north - so I was expecting winter (and in that regard I was correct!) and winters and lizards don't normally mix.

So, when I saw this little chap (or maybe chapess) I was rather surprised.  Even in the chilly weather it was fast moving as lizards tend to be.

What was interesting was that about 36 hours after I took these pictures this little animals habitat would have been underwater.  The pictures were taken in Oak Creek Canyon, and the the creek was gin clear and peaceful - 36 hours later it was a mass of brown water and foam as the water from a significant storm system rushed out of the hills.

You can find more macro shots at Macro Monday 2 and I Heart Macro.  SM

Thursday 20 March 2014

Cameron Trading Post, Arizona.

This is the place where I found the stones from this post.

This is less than a mile from Cameron Trading Post, on Route 89, north of Flagstaff.

It was a remarkable landscape - and I actually think that the poles and signs in the last two images add rather than take away from the strange feel of the place.

As ever, these will better when you click on them.

You can find more skies at Sky Watch Friday.   Cheers SM.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Wild Bird Wednesday 88 - American Waders

In the imagination of most people Arizona is a desert - cactus, sand, Monument Valley, John Ford and such like.

So, if came as a bit of a surprise that I ended up at a large wetland complex on my day of bird watching.   I was lucky enough to be able to get a professional guide to drive me around locations - and possibly more important, identify the birds I had never seen before.  (If you are ever looking for a guide in Arizona, especially the South West region, let me know and I will give you a recommendation).

The other thing about this location that made me laugh was that it was a waste water treatment plant!  Just like Werribee, a very well known birding location west of Melbourne, the nutrient rich water we produce attracts birds by the dozen. To put it another way, I had flown for the best part of day, landed in a desert and was bird watching at a sewage works!

Birders are a strange lot!

If you get a chance to go to the Gilbert Water Ranch, I would recommend it.  (I would also recommend Werribee as well, but its a very long walk between the two.)

Almost as soon as we walked into the reserve we were seeing birds - some of which actually walked towards, rather than away from, us.  Stranger still.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Long-Billed Dowitcher

Black-Necked Stilt

Black-Necked Stilt
Black-Necked Stilt
I think that I was so surprised by the Stilt walking towards me that I forgot to include the whole reflection of the bird - shame really.

Now for the harder bit - please, please, please can you just include a name and short location in the title for the links - Stewart M - Australia, Fred Flintstone, AZ,  B. Potter, Cumbria - in the link ups.

Now for the even harder bit - after 88 weeks of Wild Bird Wednesday, I have received my first grumpy email from a WBWer about a lack of comments from me and others on their blog.  Last week I was suffering from near terminal jet-lag and may have been "off my game".  But, please remember that I am a husband, Dad to two primary aged kids, human being and research worker before I am the host of WBW.  Clearly, this comment is not directed at the vast majority of people who link up, comment on or just view WBW, and for that I apologise.  But I really don't need to check my mail in the mornings to find the people think I am the "victim of my own success".  As I said birders, and possibly more so, bloggers, are strange lot!

Now, its back to the normal format - it's your turn to join in.  Just click on the link below and off you go (but remember to keep the label short!!)  Cheers, and thanks to everyone who makes this whole WBW thing work!  SM

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Chapel of the Holy Cross - Sedona, Arizona

One of the "you can't miss this" parts of the tours I took was a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

This history of this chapel is bounds up with a rich Sedona resident, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who saw a vision of the cross in the building of the Empire State Building and wanted to build a church as a result.  Initially, she was helped by Frank Lloyd Write, but WWII intervened.  After the war had ended - and with the help of a local senator - this church was built.  I may have misheard what the guide was saying - I stopped listening when he was talking about vortexes and crystals - but the chapel itself was not designed by FLR.

It clear that people were very impressed by the chapel - and I overheard a number of comments about how a place like this would bring people closer to God.  I am in no position to say if this is true or not - but the building was a rather splendid piece of architecture.  As is my way, I found a part of the building that I liked that other people seemed not to be concerned with - the wonderful sinuous walkway the moved from the chapels car park up to the main building.

The central structural aspect of the chapel is a large cross - the vertical portion of which is driven between two of the (smaller than most) red-rock domes for which Sedona is famous.  This is most obvious from the road below the chapel.

In am unsure if there was an symbolic intent in planting a cross into the rock in this fashion - but it made my mind swim with possibilities of meaning.

Another thing that caught my eye, was that people were throwing money (small change only!) on to the rocks that formed one side of the curving walkway.  This was, apparently, meant to bring good luck. Maybe I think too much about these things - but it struck me that in a country where the presence of Fundamental Christianity is probably more marked than anywhere else in the world, the act of sacrificing money in order to bring you good luck seems strangely pagan.  In fact I could not help but make a link between the thrown money and the votive throwing of swords into lakes, wells and springs that seems to have had important ritual connotations in the Bronze age and later.  Both seem acts intended to please the Gods through the sacrifice of valuable goods - although a Bronze Age sword may have been worth a bit more than the nickels and dimes being thrown.

As is almost is always the case, I was brought back to Earth by the presence of something natural.  This wonderful (possibly, old) little tree was growing out of the rocks about half way from the car park to the chapel - and as is often the way with the things I stop to look at, very few other people seemed in the least bit interested in it.  Behind me stood a human artefact, in front of me grew the product of all that is natural and wonderful in the world - and people seemed to be ignoring it!

Oh well.

You can find more shots from around the world at Our World Tuesday.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Arizona Skyamores

One of the unexpected pleasures of my trip to Arizona was seeing native trees in their bare branched, winter state.  The vast majority of native trees in Australia do not shed their leaves in autumn - so there is much less variation between seasons.  Many of out street trees are from the Northern Hemisphere - oaks and such like - so the trees that change are visitors from foreign lands.

At Montezuma Castle (I still flinch when I write that!) there were wonderful stands of Arizona Sycamores - wonderful pale trees against the sky and the rocks.  As soon as I saw them I knew that I would render the images I took as black and white, rather than colour.

The bark of these trees looked a lot like some of the gum trees at home - patch worked with layers.  You can also see here the bark has been rubbed smooth by hundreds of fingers and hands.  These patches form "soft" looking sections within the image - but thats how the tree looked.  It was as if these were special places that attached more attention that the rest of the tree.  

A sat on a wall near the tree and just as I suspected, people who walked past reached out to touch the tree.  I actually wondered if they were all aware that they were doing it.

You can find more marco shots at Macro Monday 2 and I Heart Macro.

Thursday 13 March 2014

The Coming Storm / Sedona Skies

Thankfully, I managed to escape the city limits of Scottsdale a couple of times during my recent trip to Arizona.

North of Scottsdale lies the town of Sedona - famous for red rocks and (so I am reliably informed) numerous sites of "Earth Energy".  While the rocks are very clearly red, the Earth Energy was less obvious.  Our tour guide was clearly a believer - remarkably for me, I managed to hold my tongue!

What was beyond doubt, was that there was a change in the weather coming.  The skies were as huge and wonderful as rocks they capped.

While shops on the main street were offering crystal cures and aura readings, the sky was putting on a display of real wonder.  In the next 24 hours more rain fell than in the past year.  When you look at the skies you can see why.

All of these shots are panorama crops from my wide angle lens - while not being straight out of the camera shots, I have done very little else to the pictures.  The sky really did look like this!

Please click on the images to see larger versions - I think that it will be worth the effort!

The "speck" in the middle of the final image is a raven!

You can find more skies from around the world at Sky Watch Friday.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Wild Bird Wednesday 87 - Anna's and Broad- Billed Hummingbirds

There are times when I see things seem so improbable, so entirely unlike anything I ever thought I would see when I was a kid, that I have to pinch myself just to check I'm not dreaming.

In bird books as a kid I saw pictures of the Hoopoe, and knew, deep down that I would never see one: except that in 2012 I did, in Oman, in a car park!

But at least their presence in bird book gave me hope.

And then there were birds that never even made into my books.  Birds that I only saw on television, often being described by David Attenborough - birds like Hummingbirds.

Birds like the one I found perched on the very top of a tree in a car park (again) in Scottsdale!

I just stood there and watched as it took off, buzzed around a few times and disappeared into the late afternoon traffic.  I was dumbfounded.  I checked my watch and phoned home.

A day or so later at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, near the rather confidently name town of Superior, and there were Hummingbirds all over the place.  I took rather a lot of pictures.

Most of the hummers were Anna's Hummingbirds, but my guide also pointed out Costa's and Broad- billed.  I would have been happy with one species!

I have taken advice on the ID of these birds - the first three are female Broad-Billed Humming Birds and the final three are Anna's.

Broad-Billed Humming Bird
Broad-Billed Humming Bird
Broad-Billed Humming Bird
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Now its your turn to link up to WBW!

Please remember to limit the text in the Link Up to a name and location - it does look better I think!

Monday 10 March 2014

Montezuma Castle - Arizona

I left Australia at 11am and 20 or so hours later I had checked in to my hotel at 1pm on the same day.


Sleep proved far more difficult that I had hoped for.

The alarm sounded at what it claimed was 6am on the next day.  I did not really believe it.

Coffee called.

Still battling the effect of a day that lasted almost twice as long as normal, and gripped by jet lag I waited for a small tour bus outside of my hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The first part of the journey is all a bit hazy really: cactus, sand, the sing song accent of the guide who repeated the himself at the end of most sentences.  "There are 41 types of cactus in Arizona.  41!"

We pull off route 17 for our first stop.  I may be early morning.  It could be midnight - I'm just not sure.

We pull into the car park of a National Monument called Montezuma Castle - which is not really associated with the Aztec king Montezuma nor a castle.

The builders of this cliff dwelling were Sinagua farmers, who worked the fertile river terraces below the cliff and traded the salt that they gathered locally.  Apparently, the building once contained 45 rooms and rose to five stories high.

Looking at this building it was remarkable to consider that this civilisation basically disappeared from this area in the 1400's.  We don't really know why.  But it's clear that this was a sophisticated culture, so the reason for leaving must have been pretty significant.

The other thing I found interesting about this site was it name - while the people who built the building have long since left, we do know that its in nothing to do with Montezuma and it was not a castle.  In Australia, many important landmarks are now routinely called by the names given to them by the local Aboriginal people.  This seems an appropriate thing to do - and in some small way gives credit and recognition to the people who came before us.  I can't help but think it would be appropriate here too.

You can find more shots from around the world at Our World Tuesday.