Back to the Ranch


This week’s photo, taken December 12, 2013 at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, features a BARN OWL snoozing in a palm tree. It’s most likely Palmera, the celebrity owl that has been seen in broad daylight by many Ranch guests during the last three years.

This past week, Laura and I travel to Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. It’s our first visit since I retired 15 months ago from the Ranch, where I was a fitness instructor and bird guide at the world famous destination spa. While Laura practices a couple hours each day, in preparation for her musical concert later in the week, I have no assignments other than to reconnect with the many friends I used to work with, some of whom I have known for over 30 years.

We have a great week, although I do experience one embarrassing moment. On Sunday, a first-time guest asks me, “Where is Azteca Gym?” and I completely draw a blank. I certainly ought to be able to answer that question because for many years I led the Ranch tour every week, AND I occasionally presented evening programs on memory training. Of course, I don’t admit to the guest that my brain is malfunctioning. Instead, I ask her what class she’s looking for, and when she says “circuit training,” a light bulb finally turns on above my head, and I point her in the right direction.

It’s a thrill to see and hear my old feathered friends at the Ranch, especially birds I seldom or never encounter in my new state of Washington. It’s sweet to listen again to the ping-pong ball call of the WRENTIT, the lovely and lengthy song of the CALIFORNIA THRASHER, and the repetitive scream of the RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.

Several unexpected species also highlight the week for me, including a GOLDEN EAGLE, a MERLIN and a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW. My favorite finds are the rare HEPATIC TANAGER that is wintering at the Ranch for the fourth year in a row, and the almost daily views of Palmera, the Barn Owl, in her favorite tree.


About Joe Sweeney

I photograph birds to share the beauty and wonder I find in nature.
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12 Responses to Back to the Ranch

  1. jere mcinerney says:

    hi joehappy to hear you are getting back to the ranch.that 15 months sure did go fast.i cant tell you how much i enjoy your bird reportseach is a little jewel that reminds us of the importance of beauty and nature. I think you must be very happy and i am very happy for you..happy christmas, maybe because of you i have a tree covered with birds this year. I think it must be the year of the bird ornaments, they are fabulous, large and small and such a nice addition to the ones ive had since childhood.wishing you and laura the very best of the new year.jere

  2. Connie Saunders says:

    Joe, what is the usual/possible life span of a barn owl?

    You certainly brought back many marvelous memories of my week at the Ranch in January 2007, including the birding sessions with you. How I long to hear the birds and see green again for a week in January!

    Have a great holiday. Connie Saunders Minneapolis area

  3. Mary Friestedt says:

    Precious, Joe. Merry Christmas.

    Mary :))

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. says:

    Dear Joe, seeing a picture of Palmera brings back fond memories of the ranch and you. Susan and I look forward to our annual visit and seeing birds that we do not see in the northeast. I continue to enjoy your posts esp. since we have many of your washington birds here. last week traveling to tennis not far from home I spotted an adult eagle soaring overhead and could clearly see the white head and tail. always a spectacular sight. We have had an unusual number of snowy owl here this year- not just on the coast but inland close to home. No matter how many you see it is still exciting. Despite the cold and snow , a townsend warbler continues on the coast. We actually had a calliope hummer here all fall-bringing birders from far and near to see it . Finally left after a month of cold weather- hopefully moving south and not dead.. Wishing you a merry christmas and Happy new Year.

  5. Ann Sorenson says:

    Thanks for all of your reports; I so enjoy sharing them with my granddaughters

  6. Brad Snyder says:

    Just a lovely recap amigo.

    Sent from my iPhone

  7. Margie Rovarino says:

    What a great posting. I felt like you were “back”:( I still miss you there, Joe. I was at RLP in October and Palmera was visible almost everyday. 30-plus Ranch visits and I still mix up Olmeca, Tolteca and Azteca. Don’t feel bad…good save in asking what class the guest was looking for!!

  8. marilynmiles says:

    Great picture of Palmera! It was fun to hear about your return to the Ranch. Happy Holidays!

  9. Judy Zeckhauser says:

    So nice that you went back Joe. I bet there were a few hugs going on. Happy holidays. I so wish I was at the Ranch to say that in person. Be well, Judy in snowy Buffalo ( beautiful out)

  10. Pamela Conley says:

    Aww, Joe. Say hi to Palmera for me too. Enjoy your stay.

    Pamela Conley

  11. Cindy Ackley says:

    Looking forward to seeing the owl again Sounds like you and Laura had a good trip. Happy Holidays. TnC

    Sent from my iPad


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