Western and Mountain Blues

The power of water in the desert! We put in a ground bath that is fed by a small, high birdbath called a Misty. The slow drip, drip of the water attracts types of birds unlikely to come to a feeder. Our rewards have been mixed flocks of bluebirds (both Western and Mountain), and Cedar Waxwings.

west meets mountain blues

We also get our feeder birds in the bath; lots of Pine Siskins, Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon and Grey-headed, with a stray Slate-colored now and then), our resident Canyon Towhees, and a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves. A small flock of Scaled Quail ran through our yard , but that seems to have been a one-time event, darn it! We also have a flock of Pinyon Jays in the area, and it seems to have been a good year for them due to the bumper crop of Pinon nuts. The identification of this little bird stymied me for a bit, I am ashamed to say, because it was a rather common Yellow-rumped Warbler. She had such a pretty blush of apricot that I was sure she was something much more exotic!

yellow rumped female

New Mexico is known for its lovely sunrises, but since the Sandia mountains are east of us, these are often blocked. However, we do get some lovely sunsets! I took this during the same time frame as the other shots.

sunset

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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.

Birthday Owl

Thursday was my birthday, so I took the day off. Unfortunately, Keith had to work. I have also been fighting some neck and shoulder pain, which has been pretty serious at times. But I was determined not to let those issues stop me from enjoying my day! There is a TN State park in Nashville called Radnor Lake. I had so far avoided it, because they have a mind boggling list of “No-s”, such as: No Pets. No Food. No Running. No Musical Instruments.. seriously, it’s Nashville, after all.. plus, it is usually crowded. I only went once, when my friend, uber-birder Beth, visited last year, because it is supposedly a great place to see Barred Owls. Unfortunately, no owls were present that day.
But I remembered it was a nice hike, so I decided to give it one more chance. Thursday was a cold, cloudy  day, and not many people were there. There was also a lot of trail maintenance with heavy machinery going on, so the ranger informed me there might not be many birds. My first little treat was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which seemed totally unafraid as it picked at juniper branches only a few feet away – I got great looks at the top of his little ruby crown! But I didn’t have my camera out. Lesson learned, I put on the telephoto lens.
I saw a small mixed flock of birds rustling around in some brush, and was trying to ID them when a couple of people walked up. The guy peered into the bushes, too, and wanted to know what I was so interested in. When I told him, “just some little birds”, they walked off. I followed shortly. Just about 50 yards further down I sensed something and stopped.. to my left, just above eye level, was a Barred Owl, sitting 12 feet off the path! The couple had walked right past it! The owl blinked at me several times, turned its head, and dismissed me as unimportant. I guess the heavy human traffic has these guys pretty inured to humans!Barred Owl3 Barred Owl2
Other highlights were almost tame deer – one was playing with a twig, then gave me a classic portrait.. Deer Toy Deer2
and at one point something small hit my head, then another.. I thought it was hailing, but it turned out to be wood chips! A Pileated Woodpecker was quietly excavating a hole just above me! I would never have known if I hadn’t gotten hit. My picture taking didn’t disturb him in the least! Pileated
I got a few more bird pics as well. Carolina wren
Hope you enjoy the nature walk as much as I did!
Carolina wrenDeer Toy
Deer2Pileated