Nearly skunked on the last day

Knowing that packing everything up from the campsite would take longer to do than I expected, I woke up early (the first one up, per usual).  I got my camping gear and personal stuff all packed away and even managed to get a full mug of coffee in before Bruce began to stir (and make more coffee!)  After waiting until what I deemed was an acceptable hour, I walked around and woke everyone up around 6:30 am, hoping for non-jarring but likely not achieving it.  

The birds were already awake, and we got a nice view of a male Western Bluebird on the road by the campsite.

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Slave-driver that I am, I made everyone pack their gear in Bruce’s van AND clean out our rental van (which had become a mess the likes of which should never be photographed) before they could eat breakfast.  My unspoken reasoning was that the promise of food at the end would speed up the process, and I daresay it was successful.  Our stuff was loaded in the Geo van and our own van was clean and organized, all before 7:30 am!

After a quick breakfast, we were back on the road, heading south and back towards Flagstaff.  Mid-morning we pit-stopped at the Museum of Arizona to do some birding along the Rio de Flag and also to scope out the cultural and archaeological museum attractions.  

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There weren’t many birds out in the blustery, cool mid-morning, but we saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches starting to nest in a box on a tree and watched them bringing in nesting material.  

The Aberts Squirrels are always active and can be counted on to provide entertainment.  Their little ears are just too cute!

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Some spent that afternoon in downtown Flagstaff, seeing the sights and enjoying a break from birding, and some of us went back to get our stuff from my advisor’s house and check into the hotel for the night.  Those who hadn’t spent two dollars on a shower at the campgrounds were very much looking forward to the hotel showers.  Sadly, the cool mountain air was much too frigid for the pool and the lack of a hot tub was noted. 

I could feel that there was some weather coming in, and sure enough, drizzles turned to rain turned to thunder around 3 am.  We had planned to go to Elden Springs early to look for owls (which we’d not seen on the trip at all) but at 4:30 am, on our last morning of birding for the trip, I had to call it off due to rain!  

Luckily, the weather cleared up and we were able to hit a couple of great stops south of Flagstaff – Lake Mary (not a lake, by Wisconsin standards) and Katchina wetlands.

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We were so close to my class goal of 150 species that morning, so the rain-out was really disappointing, but the wetlands prevailed and we saw, despite the cold and the WIND (oh the wind!), we finished with a very respectable 151 species total!  The highlights for the last morning were Virginia Rail (above) and a White-faced Ibis (below), which someone spotted on the road when we’d nearly finished for the day!

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We got back into Phoenix in the early afternoon, and the students went to the Phoenix Zoo where they saw all kinds of animals, and were even busy birding!  They saw Gambel’s Quails all over the zoo, saw some nesting egrets, and even saw a Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was obviously a zoo attraction and not native to the desert.  

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After dropping the van off that night, we had restful evening getting to bed early before the flight thinnest morning.  I should say, I went to bed early.  The hot tub was still full when I said good night.  These kids can survive on less sleep than I can!

The flights and drive back to Ashland were uneventful and we all had the weekend to relax (me) and study (the students).  They all did fantastic on their final exams and presentations and the class is officially done; grades submitted!  

To Danielle and Katrina, who are graduating tomorrow, I hope your last class at Northland was everything you hoped it would be.  To everyone, thank you for making my first travel class an experience I will never forget!

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