In preparation for our next move to the Grand Canyon, Anne and I went up to check the place out and meet some folk.A couple old friends happen to live at Grand Canyon nowadays, including Victoria, who worked with Anne at Arches, as well as Macy, who worked with Anne in the Tetons. On our brief visit, we stayed at Vicki’s place, which turns out to be right across the street from our future place.
Anne and I made the trip up from Apache Junction during a week of generally poor winter weather in the PHX area (mild temps and occasional downpours). From AJ to Flagstaff, then west and then north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or GRCA. Driving up onto the Colorado Plateau, the saguaro turned to piñyon-juniper and the desert gravel turned softer and redder and then was covered by snow. As we drove up the highway on the last stretch from Williams we were reassured by the lack of snow on the high desert, but then we entered the Tusayan District of the Kaibab National Forest and the snow began to build again and then it began to fall from the sky.
At this point in our trip, I became internally agitated with thoughts of the brutally cold winter we were facing and the sad idea of being trapped indoors. The darkness of the low winter sun, the fleeting daylight, the warm indoor light contrasting with cold floors and cold walls, cold windows. I could feel my attitude begin to spiral as I thought “what have we just gotten into?!?”
I would need to be suddenly tough, at least in mentality. And then I remembered that I would be working outside every day, and I would witness every hour of that sun and experience its effects not through a cold window, but face-to-rays. I would commute each week for miles on foot through one of the most amazing wonders on our planet and I would spend my days studying one of the greatest remaining vestiges of the biological history of this continent – a bird so large that it required a steady stream of leftovers from the meals of Grizzly Bears: deer, elk, bison, whales, and countless enormous extinct ancient beasts. And I will need to convincingly and ferociously threaten and evict those giants from a plateau where they are now under threat from a relatively new mammal that draws them closer with Cheetos and unthinkingly domesticates them.
So I might buy some toe-warmers…
The following photos consist of a handful of shots from the scenic South Rim of GRCA, only the Canyon is enshrouded by dense snow-fog and the view completely hidden. The bird photos include a White-breasted Nuthatch and later a Red Crossbill. The WBNU is a species found nearly everywhere in North America, but this photo shows features different from birds in other regions, especially from the East.
The Red Crossbill is certainly the furthest south I’ve ever seen one, which is not to say that it’s an unusual bird at GRCA. The crossed upper and lower mandibles assist in prying seeds out of conifer cones and there are populations with a range of different shaped and sized bills for the different types of conifers around the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, there are several slightly different-billed populations of Red Crossbills, and it turns out that there are differences in some of the vocalizations of those populations as well. With the photos of the Red Crossbill below, you’ll also see a link to the sound recording I made of it.
To hear the calls this Red Crossbill was making, click here.