Two Days, Two Rescues

Sunrise over the Rio Grande Bosque..

sunrise over the bosque

I thought the week before last would be a quiet one. My special projects are done (except for the paperwork), and I just have three Bosque transects a week. These areas can be challenging, but since they were drying up after the Rio Grande spent the spring outside its banks, I thought there wouldn’t be much to write about. Then…

On Wednesday, after an early morning and a long day in the field, I was headed home when I got a call from work about an injured hawk in my vicinity. I didn’t have a net or box with me, but I carry a pair of light leather gloves in my car for emergencies. When I arrived, Valerie, the homeowner, pointed me to a full-sized Red-tailed Hawk fledgling sitting on her horse fence. There was no way to contain him if he scuttled away, so I sidled up to him and managed to hold his stare, a’la Crocodile Dundee, then I grabbed him by his legs! The hawk, and Valerie, started screeching, and she ran back to the house to get a camera. Meanwhile, I examined my “bird in hand”, but I couldn’t feel any injuries. He only flapped a few moments, then leaned into my arms. We put him in an empty diaper box Valerie had in the garage, and I headed back to the office. Thankfully, Keith met me 12 miles down the highway, took the bird there, and then Kim, the educator, drove the hawk to the Wildlife Center in Espanola, about 70 miles. The only problem they could find was a large thorn in his foot. They removed it, and he proceeded to stuff his beak. He was also a little droopy, but maybe that’s just a typical teenager! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another “rescue” was the very next day. We got the call from the local Fish and Wildlife office. A golf course groundskeeper found a young bird and its dead parent together on the grass. He initially reported it as an osprey. The F & W people thought it was a Cooper’s hawk. When we arrived to take it to a rehab, it morphed into a Swainson’s! The parent bird was perfect, except for being dead. The baby was quite spunky, a little on the thin side. He took 2 mice from me then started sassing us. As a veterinary technician, I was planning on doing a necropsy. F & W was interested in case the parent had been shot. But the local rehabber that the baby went to was not only possessive of the live bird, but insisted on taking the dead one as well. I don’t know what, if anything, they found, but the remaining parent has continued to take care of the chick in the nest.

baby swainsons hawk

Since I’m usually the one taking pictures, it’s not often that I have such great shots of me with a bird. But thanks, Valerie, for the photos!


Making Friends in the Badlands

My songbird transects on the Rio Grande Bosque are becoming more pleasant as they continue to dry. I was having trouble completing one set of 5 in Los Lunas before 10 am, our cutoff, but last week I finally finished in time! It’s amazing how much slogging through water and mud drags you down. Keith and I also did a couple of transects near Santa Fe. We got to go on a nice 5 mile hike together on the Santa Fe river. The funnest part was looking for a reported golden eagle nest seen on the cliffs, but when we finally found it, it turned out to be ravens. We saw an adult come in to feed the nestlings, but we also got pictures of the feathered black babies through the spotting scope. It’s possible that the ravens had taken over as the eagles fledged, but those raven babies were pretty big…       living on the edge

The most exciting day, though, was spent with Gail (my boss, the director) back at the proposed uranium mining site at Juan Tafoya Mill. We were surveying, on foot, the areas we couldn’t access before, on the tops of mesas. At sunrise we drove to one and split up. My side was breathtaking, and I snapped loads of pictures of the morning light on the sandstone cliffs. I was totally enjoying myself, looking at the incredible rock formations and stunted trees (and oh yeah, birdwatching), ponderosa bonsaiwhen a coiling buzz made me jump. My first rattlesnake of the season was at least 4 feet away, but she made sure I knew where she was! The 3 foot long snake seemed very frightened, motionless (except for rattling) the whole time I took pictures. As I left her behind, she continued buzzing for 5 minutes.scared snake

When I could see Gail in the distance at the other end of the transect, I realized she wasn’t alone! A little pinto horse saw her and brought a couple others by to say hi. I got an apple from the car and walked to meet them. These range horses are in the middle of almost nowhere and don’t see people too often, so it was no surprise that they had no idea what apples were! The pinto, the friendliest (and pushiest) of the bunch finally tried a piece and was apparently hooked. We spent a little time petting and feeding him, then turned to leave. But the horses had other plans, and hiked back to the car with us. It seemed like they were holding out for more apples, but we only had one. It wasn’t until we got in the car that they wandered off!horseless carriage

We thought we would have an easy day that day, but ended up hiking much further in the heat then we planned. On the topo maps, it seemed our route would bring us to another unscaleable cliff, but we were able to walk most of it. Along the way we were “kekked” at by some defensive Cooper’s hawks. Gail insisted on looking for the nest, and sure enough we found it in an oak grove with 3 chicks close to fledging. One brave chick had already ventured out into the branches; it was likely his first foray out of the nest!

babys first branch

Ute Mountain

My Bosque bird routes have finally started to dry up a little. I am no longer wading through waist deep water, which is a blessing. But the mud and bugs have become intense! The mosquitoes were so bad that even with a ton of DEET they were still flying into my nose and mouth (if I was stupid enough to leave it open as I searched for birds). My week in the Rio Grande Bosque was capped by a coyote crossing my path, than BARKING at me from the brush. I’d never heard a coyote bark before! It was somewhat disconcerting, even though I know they are cowards. His (or her) family replied from the other side of the path in that yippey, pack-cry thing they do. I couldn’t have heard a bird at that point, so as I moved up the path the barker stuck his head out from behind a tree…no picture, unfortunately, because he bolted when he realized I saw him!               bosque beaver

There are beavers in the Bosque, and one of the joggers I encountered said you have to get up early in the morning to see them. As if being there at 5:30 wasn’t early enough! But I got a picture. I also got a picture of a defensive Cooper’s Hawk dad. I might not have seen the nest and young if he hadn’t been hollering at me! COHA dad

The next round of bug attacks occurred at Ute Mountain, a BLM area a little over an hour north of Taos. Keith and I, armed with little more than crappy maps and GPS coordinates, set out to perform bird surveys on this remote extinct volcano. Up at 2am for a 4 1/2 hour drive, we hiked in high desert all morning, finding lots of Horned Larks and Sage Sparrows on the plains.

The next day we headed off for new transects up the mountain. Keith was to go to the top, and I was going to skirt the middle of the mountain. I felt guilty for him having the “hard” route, but only for a short while! My route took me up and down arroyos and dry slopes, through Pinyon and sage brush so thick I had to detour several times. When I finally finished over 4 hours later, I had a 2 1/2 mile hike back to the road where Keith was going to pick me up. It was a relief to trudge downhill, but Keith wasn’t at the road. So I started walking back to where we left the car. And kept walking..

After about 2 miles I could see the car with my binoculars, and it was still parked where we left it. If I cut across the fields, I could shave at least 2 miles off my hike, but by road (where Keith would find me when he drove to pick me up), it was at least a 6 mile hike. As I pondered my dilemma, a weathered rancher in a pickup truck pulled up next to me, and said, “Hey, toughie!”

Keep in mind this is the middle of nowhere. I had absolutely no idea anyone was around. The rancher (Stephen Johnson), asked if there was a problem. I explained my situation, and that I was waiting for Keith to pick me up. He was impressed that not only had we hiked the mountain, but I had walked so far on the road! He offered to drive me to the car, and I gladly accepted, hoping that he wasn’t a wandering serial killer. On the way he told me quite a bit about the ranching history of the area and how much the government (BLM) was screwing up, according to him.

Keith was barreling down the road before we got to the parking spot. He had visions of me roasting in the hot sun, waiting forlornly on the dirt road (no shade whatsoever). I had visions of him with a shattered ankle on the treacherous slopes of the mountain. So we were both very happy to see each other.

We thanked Steve Johnson effusively. ute mtn miles 2 go

And we get to do it all again this week. Keith found a little inn a few miles up the road from our study site, and since I’m still having problems with painful, itchy, swollen bug bites, it gets my vote! We didn’t even ask the cost. Of course, the outdoorsman in Keith has also made him investigate other campsites. Near water. Bugs guaranteed.

Wild New Mexico

Week before last was a lesson in the contrasts of New Mexico. Half my routes were on the banks of the Rio Grande, which is currently overflowing its banks and making for some bodacious mosquito habitat. They were making it extremely difficult to count birds, despite tons of Deet, by flying in my ears and up my nose. I may have to get a mosquito hood! Wet and/or muddy conditions, necessitating chest waders, continued on these routes. Imagine the looks I get from passers-by when I stomp out of the Bosque in that getup! the wet route This is the “path” I walk, every week 😉

In contrast, I also helped do some songbird surveys on a land grant between Albuquerque and Grants for a possible uranium mine. The scenery was awesome, but after years of overgrazing by cattle and a previous failed mining attempt, there were strangely few birds. Miles of hiking into and out of arroyos of various sizes. A golden eagle nest was one of the highlights, and some ultra-cool rocks (geodes on steroids) that cropped up in the weirdest spots. Of course I had to carry one back in my pack, but didn’t need the extra 15 pounds on my back! A few talus slopes yielded large layered crystals, which I tried not to be greedy about. I also found a recently deceased raven fledgling that apparently had flown into a bush and had a thorn driven into its breast. Bruising around the area, and my total inability to pull the thorn out, pointed to this possible COD.

the dry route      dont disturb mama

cottonwood snow    brewer's blackbird

A few other bird sightings, and an attempt to share the joy of getting caught in a spring flurry of “snow” from the cottonwood trees lining the Bosque!

Memories of New Mexico

I started my job at Hawks Aloft with a bang, looking for Cooper’s Hawks nests in the Rio Grande bosque. Basically, I was handed a GPS unit with coordinates and told to “find them!” I’m sure you’ve heard about geocaching? This is similar, but the only reward is a glaring hawk or owl! Coopers Hawk

So my next assignments were to conduct bird surveys on the Rio Grande Bosque, a riparian area that floods some years. Yep, this is one of those years! Try counting birds when mosquitoes are intent on invading every orifice (I can’t spray Deet up my nose!) and tiny frogs are leaping out from every step I take (sounds like a Sting song). Bosque

YB Chat

But the rewards are great, seeing birds go about their every day lives (like this Yellow Breasted Chat), and scaring the snot out of meandering coyotes. I’ve seen some bodacious sunrises, which almost makes up for the stars that are out when I have to leave for work at 4 in the morning! And I always love seeing Roadrunners, especially when they pose for me as this one did. He even rattled at me, sounding like a woodpecker on speed dial. RoadRunner

Hopefully I’ll continue to get some decent photos, and I’ll continue to share my fieldwork adventures. If you have any feedback, send it my way!

I’m already getting way too much sun, and the sound of rain on the roof that I fell asleep to so many times in Alaska is a fond memory. But I have the sunshine to keep me company! And birds such as this Summer Tanager….

Summer Tanager