San Juan Basin Badlands – Mesa de Cuba

As a photographer and outdoor lover, I’m always looking for new places to explore. New Mexico has a lot of unique locations but they can be a challenge to learn about them. There aren’t a lot of information resources for my state. 

But I have learned of a few new places recently and I’m going to visit them throughout 2016. And my friend Valerie is eager to join me. She’s as crazy about photography as I am!

One of the areas I read about recently was the San Juan Basin Badlands near Cuba, NM. There are 5 unique areas to explore. I have found in the past these types of areas are best hiked during the late fall and winter months because they are way too hot in the summer.

So yesterday Valerie and I headed out to the first of the areas in the badlands called Mesa de Cuba.  There’s no signs marking the area. No trailhead markers. Just a simple dirt road with vague descriptions on hiking this area.

Most of the snow around Albuquerque has melted over the last couple weeks. So we were surprised when we got to Cuba that there were several inches still on the ground. We traveled about 60 miles north of Albuquerque and gained about 1,300 feet in elevation. I guess it was just enough to keep the snow on the ground.

The snow added to the beauty of the landscape but made for very difficult hiking. I was also hesitant to drive very far in on the icy/muddy dirt road. I really didn’t want to get stuck. Sadly my Jeep Wrangler isn’t running right now so I just had my AWD car.

But we still made the most of our outing. As soon as we got out of the car, the dogs started running around playing in the snow.

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Scarlett and her best friend Mya

The area we stopped to hike had wide open vistas with a rocky Mesa as a backdrop.

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Valerie tried hiking up on one of the hills but she quickly found it was very muddy.

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As we hiked along the base of the Mesa we found some unique formations to photograph.

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A mini hoodoo

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Scarlett and Mya had fun exploring.

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We found one ravine that we thought might be good to climb up to get some different views. I tried climbing first but the snow was deep and underneath was mud. I kept sliding back down. Valerie gave it a try and didn’t succeed either. Mya came to check on her out of concern. 🙂

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By this time we were tired of slogging through snow. So we headed back to the car. The views on the hike back were stunning.

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But of course a selfie needed to be taken before we left!

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Valerie and Kelly

Our phones will take a photo on voice command. Very handy when you hold your arm way out. Valerie and I get some fun photos sometimes because we will both have our phones out to taking pics. So when one of us says “capture” both phones will take a photo. Here’s a fun photo from this trip 🙂

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On our drive back we passed an old homestead. I can never resist taking pics of old buildings. Valerie says I will photograph anything rusty. Lol!

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On our way back home we saw the turnoff for Cabezon Peak. We’ve never actually driven to the peak before. We had the time so thought “what the heck”, let’s go!

We passed through San Luis and it had a nice little church.

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There were a lot of abandoned homesteads along the road to Cabezon Peak.

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We finally made it to the base of the peak. There’s a trail to climb it but you’ll never see me doing it. Looks way too difficult for me.

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Cabezon Peak

We kept driving along this road enjoying the views. Suddenly Valerie asks me ” How much gas do we have?”

Gas????!

I looked at the gas gauge and my heart leapt in my chest!  I told her we had a 1/4 of a tank….no….less than that! Gulp! Valerie checked Google maps and quickly realized we had no cell service. Crap!!!!!

I turned the car around and prayed we had enough gas to at least get to Highway 550. I turned the display on my car that tells me how many miles I have left in gas.  With no mapping service we weren’t sure how many miles we had to go to a gas station.

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For the next 20 miles we were very nervous. Valerie finally got Google maps going. It was going to be close! I coasted whenever I could.

When we made it to the gas station we didn’t have much left!  We can laugh about it now since all turned out well.

A fun adventure! We loved it and say we will be exploring the San Juan Basin Badlands more with the Jeep as soon as conditions there dry out.  And next time I will make sure I have a full tank of gas!!!!

Thursday Birders – Alameda Open Space

I was able to meet up with the Thursday Birders again. I had to work until 11 the night before but it was worth it. Such a beautiful day with good company and birds.

We met up at the Alameda Open Space which has a pond, an irrigation ditch that runs year round, trails along the Bosque and access to the Rio Grande river. It makes for a chance to see a wide variety of birds.

We started our walk at the pond but nothing of interest there. Just a bunch of Mallards.  So next we started walking along the irrigation ditch. Right away someone spots a Wilson’s Snipe. I saw it fly but lost it as soon as it landed. Thanks to Joe’s patience in showing me where he was, I finally was able to get a photo. Those birds can be completely camouflaged on just bare mud!

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Wilson's Snipe

As we made our way along the ditch the birds were pretty quiet. Which has been the case for a couple weeks now. Someone spotted a pair of Northern Flickers. I think they are so beautiful.

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Northern Flicker

Soon after we came upon a tree loaded with American Goldfinches with a few Pine Siskins mixed in.  Tough to get a photo as they were way up in the top of the tree among all the tiny limbs. But at times they would fly down for a drink in the ditch.  Not a great photo as they were in the shade at quite a distance.

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American Goldfinch with Pine Siskin behind him

We also saw a Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, House Finches, White-Crowned Sparrows, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet and Robins in this area.

We then moved into the Bosque. Pretty quiet in there. I heard a Bewick Wren. Lots of Juncos. Sadly no hawks, owls or the elusive Bald Eagle.

I did get a good photo of Scarlett on a log. She was so reluctant before to climb up on things. But now she loves it.

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Miss Scarlett

There’s one spot along this Bosque trail that has a neat path down to the river’s edge. I got a photo of Lefty at the end of this trail and I couldn’t resist a selfie 🙂

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Lefty

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Kelly

We made it to the river access last at the pump station next to Alameda.  The Ring-Billed Gulls like to hang out on the sandbars here. Along with them were lots of Mallards, a few Common Mergansers, Cackling and Canada Geese, a Pied-Billed Grebe and a few White-Fronted Geese. All the birds were at quite a distance so photos aren’t great. As usual, whenever I’ve seen the Common Merganser I can’t get a good photo. Someday I will.

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Greater White-Fronted Geese

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Ring-Billed Gull

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Common Merganser

We headed back to the parking lot. As we crossed a foot bridge over the ditch we saw some Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets feeding at the water’s edge. They were really close for good photo ops.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Then Joe pointed out a Red-Tailed Hawk way up on the telephone pole. As I got ready to photograph him, I saw the crows badgering him to go away.

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Red-Tailed Hawk with an American Crow harassing him

Meanwhile the pigeons were oblivious to the danger. I watched a male dance on the power line to a potential girlfriend 🙂

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Rock Pigeon

After lunch I decided to stop in at the Rio Grande Nature Center. I hadn’t been there for awhile.

There was a female Common Merganser at the main pond. But once again she was at the furthest point away from me. So still no good photo.

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Common Merganser female

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Pied-Billed Grebe

There was some decent activity at the feeders.

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White-Crowned Sparrow

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House Finch

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Red-Winged Blackbird

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Downy Woodpecker

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

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Bushtit

And I finally got a good photo of a Chickadee! I was just telling Joe that morning that I can never get a good photo of those birds :). But this day I got 2!

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Black-Capped Chickadee

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Black-Capped Chickadee - this photo is my favorite

I heard some rustling in a huge cactus. When I peeked in, a big yellow eye looked back at me!

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

At the main viewing pond there were lots of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls and Wood Ducks.

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Northern Shoveler

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Gadwall

I had hoped to see the Cinnamon Teal that has been seen there. But no luck this day.

I stopped by our office in Cedar Crest before heading home. And to my delight there were Western Bluebirds hanging out in the parking lot. I just had to get some photos.

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Western Bluebird

I was so excited when he flew and landed even closer to me. I was able to get one photo before he flew off again.

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Western Bluebird

What a fabulous way to end a great birding day!

Bernardo Wildlife Refuge & San Lorenzo Hike

Yesterday the weather was just beautiful for a January winter day. I just knew I had to take advantage of it. I’ve been wanting to go back to the Bosque del Apache. But the travel distance from my home is 2.5 hours away. When I travel there its a long all day excursion. 

Then I remembered Bernardo Wildlife Refuge. It’s only an hour from my house. It doesn’t have the big ponds like the Bosque del Apache so waterfowl viewing is very limited. But it does have big open cultivated fields. Something the cranes, ducks and geese can’t resist in the winter.

So I headed there yesterday morning early. I had heard the  numbers of cranes and geese were low this year at the Bosque. I can see why. They are all at Bernardo. When I arrived, the cacophony of bird calls was almost deafening. Bernardo is much smaller than the Bosque del Apache as far as open fields. So when birds gather they are tightly packed in and you drive all among them through the fields.

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Sandhill Cranes with the Monzano Mountains in the background

My best guess, I think there were 6,000 Sandhill Cranes at Bernardo. It was awesome!

They were busy feeding in the fields. After working a section, a big group would take flight and move over a few yards and start feeding again.

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Sandhill Cranes moving to the next feeding spot

There was a good number of Snow Geese there as well. My best guess was about 1,000 birds. They were staying in a tight flock. Just as I was almost adjacent to them in my car, something spooked the flock and they all launched. I immediately pulled over for some photo ops. It’s so beautiful to see them in flight.

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Snow Geese

They quickly settled down in about the same spot they started. So I got to sit and enjoy watching them. I noticed a lot of Sandhill Cranes among them as well. Crazy how birds don’t mind being crowded together.

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Sandhill Crane among the Snow Geese

As I approached the far edge of the flock, a train came by next to the field. It scared up a whole flock of Mallards that were feeding next to the Snow Geese. I had no idea they were even there.

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Mallards flying above the flock of Snow Geese

The views there at Bernardo are beautiful. Especially on a lovely winter day like this. 

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Ladron Peak in the background. Sandhill Cranes. Look closely at the right side of the photo and a Red-Tailed Hawk is flying by.

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Sandhill Crane

There were lots of Meadowlarks around. I love their beautiful yellow breasts and their song makes me happy.

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Western Meadowlark

There were a few House Sparrows and an American Kestral hanging out in the sagebrush.

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House Sparrows

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American Kestral

In the distance I noticed something big roosting in one of the large Cottonwood trees near the fields. When I got closer I realized it was a Bald Eagle.  How exciting!  He flew as soon as I got my camera up for a photo. The picture is blurry because he didn’t give me any chance to focus before he disappeared over the tree tops.

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As he flew off he was joined by another adult and a juvenile. Beautiful!

A much more cooperative Red-Tailed Hawk posed nicely for me.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

I decided to go across the highway and see what might be about in the Sagebrush along the Rio Puerco.

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Diversion channel next to the refuge. Sandia Mountains in the distance.

I love the old bridge here at Bernardo. I couldn’t resist photographing it.

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While photographing the bridge I saw something fly by. To my delight it was a Loggerhead Shrike. I love these cool birds!

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Loggerhead Shrike

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Church near Bernardo

The morning was still young and the weather mild. I remembered a hike nearby that I haven’t been to in years. So I headed over to San Lorenzo Canyon. Scarlett was with me and she had been very patient while I was birding. She deserved to have some fun.

So I headed down the highway to Lemitar to get a snack and more water. The road to the canyon is close by.

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Church at Lemitar

While driving up the road to the canyon I had to stop to watch a huge flock of blackbirds. There were so many you almost couldn’t see through them.

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Blackbirds swarming around this donkey

The flock was a variety of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Starlings and Brewer’s Blackbirds.

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Brewer's Blackbird

We finally made it to the canyon. Just before turning into the canyon, there’s this really neat rock formation. My geologist husband said it is an example of an angular unconformity.

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San Lorenzo Canyon is a very wide slot canyon that you can drive through. It has smaller side canyons you can hike into. There are a lot of cool rock formations to see.

Scarlett had a blast exploring. She’d been cooped up in the car for a couple hours.

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Road through San Lorenzo Canyon

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Scarlett loved to scramble up the rock ledges.

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Terminus of the road in the canyon. To continue exploring you have to scramble up this rock formation.

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Scarlett didn’t like being in the bottom of the narrow arroyos. She couldn’t see anything. So she would run up the steep walls then expect me to follow. Too steep for me!

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Can you see Scarlett way up there?

As the day progressed the high thin clouds were getting thicker taking away the beautiful blue skies. It was time to head home anyway.

On the drive out, the change in daylight had created a dramatic feel to the San Mateo Mountains. I thought the contrast between the desert scrub, the low purple-hued hills, the snow-covered mountains and the sky made a beautiful landscape photo.   A breathtaking sight to end a perfect morning enjoying New Mexico’s landscape and wildlife.

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Three Gun Spring Hike

Today I decided to hike a trail I haven’t been on for a few years. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too muddy with all the melting snow. For the most part it was just moist so hiking wasn’t too difficult.

The views from this hike are pretty nice as  the trail is located at the southern end of the Sandia Mountains. There’s still snow on the north facing slope.

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Some parts of the trail still had ice and snow

I was pretty sure I’d see a variety of birds. They seem to like this secluded canyon.

My first sighting was a Townsend Solitaire. It was at quite a  distance so photographing it was difficult.

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Townsend Solitaire

There were lots of Mountain Bluebirds about. They make me happy when I see them. They are so bright and beautiful.

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Mountain Bluebird

A Scrub Jay came up pretty close to check me out.

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Western Scrub Jay

While hiking along this trail there are big granite boulders scattered about. I think some of them look like things. It’s like finding shapes in the clouds.

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Alligator head

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Bunny rabbit laying with its ears flat

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Elephant laying on its side

Further up the trail I heard some thrashers singing. I was very pleasantly surprised to see it was a Crissal Thrasher. I’ve only seen them once before.

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Crissal Thrasher

I also saw a Sage Thrasher deep in the brush.

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Sage Thrasher

Scarlett had a blast on the hike. It had been awhile since we had gone on a long hike together. She loved the snow on the trail. The sun was shining and I think it warmed her up. So she cooled off in the snow every now and then.

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Snow tastes good!

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My beautiful girl!

While hiking back to the car I heard a Merlin calling. I peeked around the bush to try and get a photo. But he flew away as soon as he saw me.

Leaving the neighborhood where the trail located I saw a few birds on the telephone wires.

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Western Bluebird

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European Starling

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Common Raven

It was fun to get out hiking and birding on such a nice sunny day. 

Thursday Birders – Tingly Beach Walk

It’s been awhile since I’ve attended a Thursday Birder walk. This week their destination was the Tingly Beach duck ponds,  so I decided to see some of my birding friends. I brought Scarlett along to introduce her and get a longer hike in after the bird walk. The weather was supposed to be clear and sunny.

It was good to see Joe and Maurice and meet a few new people. The walk started out cold with frost on everything. It made the ground sparkle.

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Frost edging this cottonwood leaf

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Frost crystals on the trail

The birds were pretty quiet first thing. I can’t blame them. I’m sure the cold made them want to sleep in.

We saw a Hermit Thrush first deep in the brush. It was a challenge to get a photo.

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Hermit Thrush

I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch and saw several Northern Flickers. We also saw some Eastern Bluebirds at a distance.

When we arrived at the bosque ponds we saw the water was mostly frozen. What waterfowl was on them were congregated in the only unfrozen area.

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Redheads, Canvasback and American Coots

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Lesser Scaup and American Coot

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Female Canvasback

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Pied-Billed Grebe

We heard a Marsh Wren along the pond’s edge but we never saw him.

We left the bosque area and headed for the southernmost pond at Tingly Beach. There are three ponds there and they are connected with pumps and waterfalls. I think the circulation helps keep them from freezing as easily. Because of this a lot of the waterfowl that would have been on the bosque ponds were on this pond instead.

Just before getting to the first pond we spotted a Black-Crowned Night Heron roosting in a tree. He was sound asleep. I don’t think he realized he had 30 people staring at him.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

We also saw a porcupine sleeping in a tree.

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Porcupine

At the first pond we saw the Common Goldeneye – a male and two females. Plus several Ring-Necked Ducks.

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Common Goldeneye - male and female

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Common Goldeneye female

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Ring-Necked Duck

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Ring-necked Duck female

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A whole bunch of Ring-necked ducks

We finished up at the middle pond to do a count of birds seen. The group tries to see more birds than people. We came close seeing 28 birds.

While we were gathered for the count someone spotted a porcupine walking by. Of course several of us jumped up to get a photo!  I’d never seen one awake and walking around before.

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Porcupine

I said goodbye to my birding friends and headed back into the bosque so Scarlett and I could get some more exercise.

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Miss Scarlett

We walked to the river’s edge where a big beach was exposed with inlets of shallow water.

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Canada Geese

Scarlett immediately started running off puppy energy. She was so happy be let loose. Her favorite thing is to run as fast as she can in shallow water. I was able to get a couple nice shots.

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While she ran and played I noticed an area with some interesting ice patterns on the sand. I’ve been trying to practice more macro photography. While I didn’t have a tripod or a macro lens with me, I’m still pleased with some of the photos. I like how the ice reflected the blue sky.

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Scarlett had never walked on ice before. She ran across it thinking it was water and was totally shocked. I had to laugh.  She didn’t want to go back out on it. She would test an area first before running across. Of course I just had to get her back on the ice for photos. LOL!

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Scarlett on ice - funny

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Leaving the river we wound our way through the bosque back to the car. I saw a flock of Juncos and a Hairy Woodpecker.

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Dark-Eyed Junco

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Hairy Woodpecker

I had parked at the northern duck pond. All the ducks were out of the water snoozing in the sun. I couldn’t resist taking a few closeup photos. I tried to get them with their eyes closed but they were on guard.

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Mallard - I liked the purple sheen

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Mallard

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Mallard female - my favorite photo. I like the coloring of the feathers

I saw a Mallard / American Wigeon cross. I don’t think I’ve seen this combination before.

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Mallard / American Wigeon cross

Scarlett and I ended up walking for 3 1/2 hours. It felt great to be out on this bright sunny day. It ended up warming up to about 45 degrees.

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A bird in the hand... 🙂 Rock Pigeon

La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs, Santa Fe, NM

I guess I was still in a mood for petroglyphs.  I never tire of finding them or specifically seeking them out for hikes. I try to imagine what the people were like that made the beautiful pictures on the rocks.

I had the afternoon free so decided to drive up to the southern end of Santa Fe to do a hike I hadn’t been on since March 2011.

Since I live in the mountains I don’t take the interstate to get to Santa Fe. Instead I take a two-lane winding highway that has a few interesting towns along the way.

My first sight while driving was a coyote that was on the side of the road. When he saw my car coming he ran up the hill a little ways. I couldn’t resist stopping and trying to get a photo before he disappeared into the high mountain desert.

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Coyote

As I continued driving I had hopes of seeing hawks. But none were out this time of day.

When I got to Madrid (pronounced mad dread) I saw a couple things that enticed me to stop and photograph them. This town is fun to walk and photograph when the weather is nicer and the shops put lots of interesting art things outside.

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Iron Cowboy

Now as I’ve said before and my friend Valerie teases me  (inside joke there), I love to photograph horses. Who could resist photographing a winter horse?

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Winter Horse - beautiful

The next town along the road is Cerrillos.  This is where they filmed the Billy the Kid movie with Emilio Estevez called Young Guns. Another fun town to walk through in nice weather to see the old buildings. 

This odd stick elk is right next to the highway.  I’m not sure what the weird deer-like things are made of behind it, but I think they look creepy lol!

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Stick Elk sculpture

I finally made it to my hiking destination, La Cieneguilla (pronounced see-en-neg-eea) Petroglyphs.  Which means “small swamp”.

I remembered this dead juniper tree at the start of the hike that had been filled with old rusty cans and such. It was a unique sight. The Junk Tree is what the locals call it. I thought it would be fun to photograph this tree again since now I’m a much better photographer. 

Sadly much of the tree was gone and all the odds and ends had been taken out of the remains. I was disappointed and sad. I love seeing unique things to photograph.

I dug through my older photos and found the original photo I took back in March 2011. I don’t think I did too badly 🙂

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Junk Tree

This hike is nothing like the petroglyph hikes in Albuquerque.  There you walk along the base of the basalt Mesa and the drawings are all along your hike. The trails are very easy with little to no climbing. 

This trail is the exact opposite.  The only way to see these drawings is to climb up to them. It can be a very technical hike as the trail isn’t very clear as you scramble up the basalt boulders trying not to twist an ankle.

As the temperatures have been staying quite low there was still snow in the shady areas of the boulders making it even more difficult to follow the trail. 

But Scarlett and I did pretty good. She followed the trail by smelling where other people have walked.  It helped a lot!

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Scarlett

We finally came upon the petroglyphs.  Not as many here as the trails in Albuquerque but still interesting. 

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Owl

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Kokopelli

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We have this bright lime green lichen that grows on the shady sides of rocks. I’m always fascinated by the color. It looks painted.

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Bright green lichen

The view from the top of this hike was very pretty with the snow on the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind Santa Fe.

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Santa Fe Baldy peak covered in snow

I’ve hiked to the top of Santa Fe Baldy twice…very tough hike. Twice is more than enough for this girl!

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Scarlett

Scarlett and I came across a shallow cave.  She had to run up there and check it out right away. 

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My skinny puppy girl

The daylight was fading so it was time to head home. And I realized I went a whole afternoon of hiking and didn’t photograph one bird.  Kinda sad huh?

There’s one other small town I drive through on this highway.  It’s called Golden.  There’s this old historic church there. I have often wanted to photograph it. But sadly the locals keep it locked up tight. You usually can just see it on a hill from the highway.  But on the way home this day I realized the gate to the driveway was open. So I took a chance and drove up the hill.

The gates at the entrance of the churchyard were closed with a video monitored no trespassing sign. So I had to content myself with taking photos from there. The light was fading fast. So I did the best I could. I think they came out ok. I tried to be artistic 😉

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San Francisco de Asis built 1839

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Maybe someday I will get a chance to go inside this church. I’m sure it’s gorgeous with vigas and Spanish influenced decorations. 

Scarlett and I enjoyed our afternoon hike. Hopefully the weather will stay nice for awhile and we can get out some more. And hopefully see lots of birds next time! 

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Bottle fence in Golden