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

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