Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reflections on 2015

I gave myself four main challenges in 2015:

1. Desert Survivor's Get-Out-And-Camp Challenge: spend 12 nights outside
2. Desert Survivor's Backyard Bird Challenge: find at least 34 bird species in the yard
3. Try-A-New-Recipe-Every Week Challenge: cook up 52 recipes new-to-me
4. Full-Moon-Photography Challenge: photograph the full moon every month

So how did I do?
1. Camping
For camping, we did awesome. We camped in February (in a rickety old trailer that may have seen its last excursion), over spring break, several times during the summer including two backpacking trips, and on a fall trip. All total, the kids camped out 12 nights. I had a few more due to some caving and canyoneering trips.

2. Birding
I really thought we were on track to break our backyard bird tally from last year. But at the end of May, we stopped seeing new species. We kept looking, but I have to admit we were often distracted by other activities, so if some new species came for a visit, we didn't notice them. We didn't even get any fall migrants. But we did get a new species for the year on December 21. And maybe we'll get pinyon jays. But at the moment, we're tied with last year, at 34 (and that includes chickens for this year, so realistically we're a little behind.)

3. Recipes
Well, I discovered I'm no food blogger. I do try new recipes, but it's usually in spurts, and I just don't want to put the time and effort into blogging about them. I keep trying to find healthy and efficient recipes, especially ones where the kids can help me.

4. Full Moon Photography
I did pretty well with photographing the full moon. There were a few times bad weather intervened, and when I was in the city in October I didn't feel inclined to take a photo of the moon, but I learned a lot more about moon phases and where the moon rises and sets. I am not quite an expert (I was sorta hoping I would be after a year), but I'm still enthusiastic and will try from time to time to get that perfect moon shot.

Overall, I enjoyed doing these challenges. They kept me learning, and they say that's one of the best ways to stay young. :)

What's on for 2016? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Getting Ready for Christmas

Christmas is almost here and we've been getting ready in various ways. We've limited the decorations this year but sure enjoy looking at what others have done.

The school Christmas program included some music and then two plays, one from each of the elementary schools. There are ten students in grades K-2, and their play was about the different states they have been studying.

They did a nice job and had quite a few lines to memorize.

There are a few more kids in grades 3-6. Their play was a musical, and Desert Boy really enjoyed learning the songs. His part was king, and he also really enjoyed wearing a crown.

They learned some choreography for the songs, including a bit of swing dancing. It was fun to watch them.

We made three kinds of Christmas cookies this year. One was a dud, but the other two came out well. Desert Girl turned out to be pretty proficient with a rolling pin for these sugar cookie cutouts. She also loves sprinkles!

The kids had dress rehearsal for the Nativity Play. Desert Boy is Joseph and Desert Girl is Shepherd 1. We've been working on memorizing lines, and they fortunately catch on pretty quickly.

Shepherds' Hill includes some attitude and wandering sheep. It should be an entertaining production!
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Bird Count - 2015

 It's nearly Christmas, which means it's time for the Christmas Bird Count! Started in 1900, the Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running bird count in the country. It started with a simple idea--instead of going out and shooting the birds, why not count them instead? It caught on, and today over 2,000 places participate in Christmas Bird Counts around the world. They are held between December 14 and January 5, which means you still have time to participate in one! I have a link at the end to help you find your nearest count.

I participated in the Snake Valley CBC on Monday. It was a cold and windy day and not very pleasant to be outside. Nevertheless, the birding was actually decent. I had a new camera lens and had fun putting it to the test. Above, I was happy to see individual feathers on the Dark-eyed Junco.

A Mallard took flight when I got close.

I heard the chattering of the Belted Kingfisher before I saw him. What a hairdo! Or should I say featherdo? I wonder if the tips of his feathers had frozen. He was hanging out at the rearing station, which is full of yummy fish, his favorite food. Smart bird.

Not all the birds are so easy to see. In fact, for quite a few of them I have to peer into bushes and wait for them to move where I can see enough identifying features. (In the summer, I never see about 40% of the birds, I just have to identify them by their songs and calls.) Below you can see the striped breast with a central spot of the Song Sparrow.

I headed up Snake Creek into Great Basin National Park, where the road was snow-covered. Many years I can't go too far up this road for the CBC, but there has been so little snow this year, I just kept going and going.

At one stop I was rewarded with a close-up view of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

I made it to the end of the road, where I admired the new interpretive signs. It will be fun to head out on those trails next spring and summer.

After I finished Snake Creek I went down to Pruess Lake to see what was out. There was some ice on the lake, but not too much. I saw a bird fly down to a little mud island, and it turned out to be a Northern Flicker.

At the other end of the lake were hundreds of ducks, but the lighting wasn't the best for identifying them.

However, it was fun lighting for getting ducks and their shadows.

And I enjoyed seeing two rows of ducks march.

On Wednesday I went into Ely for their CBC. Here is one of the exotic birds we saw. Do you know what it is?
If you answered emu, you're right! We found three of them plus an ostrich on a ranchette just outside of town.

We didn't find a whole lot of birds, even though the day was beautiful. Nevertheless, it was nice to be outside and enjoying the beauty around us. Here's a Northern Harrier.

Maybe this inspires you to participate in a CBC? There are lots of Christmas Bird Counts left this season, and all experience levels are welcome. To learn more, check out Audubon's website.
Happy Birding!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Lights

It can be hard to get motivated to go outside with cold temperatures and winter storms, but one great excuse is to look at the beautiful Christmas lights. A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to walk around Temple Square in Salt Lake City with friends. The light display there is magnificent.

I also loved the luminaries, some done with amazing detail.

But I think my favorite part is looking at the Nativity displays from around the world. They show many different ways to look at the Nativity. I like seeing the cultural nuances. Why not have Mary and Joseph in kimonos?

No one looks very happy in this Nativity scene, and I think baby Jesus really wants to be picked up.

This has to be one of my favorites. Why limit the Nativity scene to the standard animals when you can have a leopard and giraffe and zebra?

I'd like to know more about the figure on the roof and the bird in this Nativity scene.

The various pools around the area make for some great reflections.

Then we went to the top floor of the Joseph Smith building, where there are east and west observing areas. The view from up high was also gorgeous.

A little closer to home was the great display of lights in Delta's central park. The dragon wearing a Santa cap caught my eye.

But watch out, if you get too close, you find out it's a fire-breathing dragon!

Santa is watching over the Delta Fire Department.

There are swans and many decorations hanging from trees.

The whole display certainly makes a very welcoming scene.
I hope you're enjoying Christmas lights too!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Little Sahara Recreation Area, Juab County, Utah

 About 30 miles north of Delta, Utah and 22 miles west of Nephi, Utah, lie some enormous sand dunes in Little Sahara Recreation Area. I've driven past many times and admired the dunes from a distance, but finally I was able to go visit them up close and see what they were all about.

Since it was December, the place was nearly deserted. No one was parked in the huge parking lot, the visitor center was closed, and we saw only a handful of vehicles.

It also worked out that we had wanted to go sledding and actually had sleds in the back of the van. There was just enough snow on the dunes, so we pulled out the sleds and started hiking.

The quartz sand, blown into the dunes from the prevailing southwestern winds and the preponderance of sand left behind from the Sevier River flowing into Lake Bonneville, was moist, which made it easier to walk on.

We heard a few ATVs and motorcycles, so we tried to make ourselves obvious. There were a number of tracks through the snow.

Finally we came to a big hill, and Desert Boy was delighted to give it a go. One of the best things about sledding on sand dunes--no fear of big rocks!

He slowed down a bit when he got to the sand, but still slid a ways.

Next it was time for Desert Girl and my husband.

I really wanted to climb to the top of Sand Mountain, so I left them sledding and headed up higher, admiring the variety of textures in the sand and the trails left through both snow and sand.

A couple motorcycle riders got to the top a lot faster than me!

There were lots of animal tracks--fox, deer, rodent. These rodent tracks were a little different than I had seen before, and they led to this little hole, about one-inch across.

The late afternoon winter sun made for some great lighting.

When I reached the top of the ridge, I was a bit surprised by the clear division between rock and sand.

As I climbed along the ridge, I admired the lengths that some plants went to in order to survive. The root system on this shrub was amazing.

At the top of the ridge I found this flag. Looking to the northwest I could see the White Sand Dunes, a section of dunes shorter than the 700-foot tall Sand Mountain.

Looking to the south, I had a gorgeous view of the smaller dunes on the backside of Sand Mountain.

I could see that my husband and the kids had finished sledding, so I ran down the big sand dunes, pausing a couple times to take photos (of course!).
 You can find more info about Little Sahara on the BLM website, along with a nice brochure to download that has a map of the area. With over 250 campsites plus primitive camping, this place can get really crowded. I'm not big into crowds, so I'm really glad that we got to experience during a quiet period, and the snow was an added bonus.

The sun was setting as we left, casting its last rays over the nearby railroad tracks.

The light show wasn't quite over. As we headed south, the sky turned pink, and the snow-covered mountains to the southeast reflected their glow. I couldn't resist, I had to pull over to the side of the road and take a photo! Again I am reminded of the beauty of this world.
Thanks for taking a look.
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