Summer Birds and Other Goodies

With my several trips this year and busy work, I haven’t had time to blog as often as I would have liked to.  So I thought I would combine several sightings over the summer into one post. Now that fall is officially here, many of these birds are gone or will be gone soon.

During the summer I went on several day hikes within a couple hours of Albuquerque.  Partly to see something new in scenery and partly to see some birds I don’t normally see around home.

One hike that was new for me was the Cave Creek hike in the Pecos Wilderness.  It’s about a 5-mile round trip hike to some caves that were created by water eroding through limestone.  It was a beautiful hike in thick forest along a creek.  Of course, Scarlett enjoyed the water immensely!

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So much fun at the water crossings!

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Lovely stream to hike along.

The caves were very interesting.  There were several that were big enough to walk inside of.  I didn’t go very far in as it got dark quickly and I wasn’t sure how deep the water got.  But lots of fun to explore.  Scarlett was curious about the caves as well.

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Unique caves created by water erosion.

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Scarlett exploring a smaller cave.

On this hike I saw a flock of Dusky Grouse.  This is pretty much the only grouse specie New Mexico has.  I’ve only seen this bird a few times of the past 20 years and never very close.  But I was lucky on this hike.  When I startled them, they flew into a nearby pine and sat very still – which was perfect for a great photo.

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Dusky Grouse

Another day I ventured to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains next to Santa Fe.  It was a very cloudy day and the birds were few, but I managed to get a few nice sightings.  A favorite – Green Tailed Towhee – came close to check me out so I was able to see his colors nicely.

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Green Tailed Towhee

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Williamson’s Sapsucker – Juvenile

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Dark-Eyed Junco

One of the highlights of this hike was seeing lots of mushrooms.  I’ve seen photos of the red and white polka dot mushrooms, but never have seen one in person.  It was a real treat seeing and photographing them.  🙂

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Poisonous mushroom – but so pretty!

Aspen Vista is a beautiful hike at about 8,000 feet above sea level.  As you know Scarlett loves water.   But she also loves culverts.  She’s always looking inside them to see what might be hiding.  On this hike, she found a culvert that was big enough to run through and it had water flowing through it.  Bonus!

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Scarlett having a blast!

I walked along the Rio Grande several times.  Most of the colorful summer birds love the Bosque.  It’s so much fun looking for and photographing these beauties!

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Blue Grosbeak

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Summer Tanager

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Neotropic Cormorant

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Downy Woodpecker

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Great Blue Heron

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Say’s Phoebe

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird enjoying the summer mimosa blooms!

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House Sparrow

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House Finch – partial orange morph

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

One day while hiking along the river, I came across a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying breakfast.  You could tell it had caught a songbird by the foot hanging out of it’s beak.  Poor thing….

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Songbird for breakfast anyone???

While reviewing my photos, I realized I had captured a lifer bird on one of my outings along the river.  I love it when that happens!  In this case, I had mistaken it for a Summer Tanager.  But when I reviewed the photo more closely, I realized it was a Hepatic Tanager.  Yay!!!

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Hepatic Tanager

Of course, Scarlett always enjoys a visit to the river!

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Look at that big grin on Scarlett’s face!

One day I took a drive out to Stanley.  I hadn’t been there for quite some time.  I saw a lot of the usual residents there.  I never tire seeing a Western Meadowlark or the many hawks that live there.  🙂

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Cliff Swallow

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Red-Tailed Hawk (juvenile) – I love the coloring of this particular bird

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Western Meadowlark

Around home I’ve had several new birds visit my yard this summer.  It’s so exciting to see something new show up.  I hope they find me again next year!  Some were easy to photograph, while others were very elusive.  The birds I was unable to photograph but saw were Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Brown-Headed Blackbird, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, and Green-Tailed Towhee.

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Pygmy Nuthatch

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

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I love their orange eyes.

Along with the new birds I’ve seen this year, I’ve had plenty of the resident birds stopping by the feeders and bird baths.

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Western Bluebird

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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A very shy Ladderback Woodpecker (hence the blurry photo)

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Wilson’s Warbler – coming to enjoy my bird bath

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Mountain Chickadee

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Holding down a sunflower seed to extract its goodness.

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Bushtit

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

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Juniper Titmouse

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Virginia’s Warbler

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Rufous Hummingbird

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Bewick’s Wren

This summer New Mexico saw several forest fires in the Jemez Mountains.  Because of this, a lot of the bird life has migrated south to new habitats.  This summer we saw a large number of Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the greater Albuquerque area.  We normally don’t see them here, so it was a real treat to see one only a couple miles from my house.  It seemed to prefer this telephone pole as it was sighted there often.  And it didn’t like the squirrel using its pole.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker

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Get off my pole!!!

I drove down to the Monzano Mountains a couple weeks ago hoping to see the fall colors starting in 4th of July Canyon.  Though the colors still haven’t begun, I did get to see several birds.

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Steller’s Jay – so beautiful!

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Red-Tailed Hawks

I saw a Brown Creeper – always a delight.  They are very difficult to see against the bark and they move quickly.

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Brown Creeper

Plus I got a lifer!  A Golden-Crowned Kinglet.  I’ve been looking for this bird for several years and just happened upon it on this trail.  Yay!  This guy was way up in the canopy shadows and moving so fast!

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Among the many bird sightings I had over the summer, I came across some other interesting things.  I thought you might enjoy seeing them.  🙂

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Cool bee on a beautiful summer sunflower

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Ahhhhhhhh……

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Southwestern Fence Lizard

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Hoary Comma

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Aphrodite Fritillary

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Police Car Moth

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Western Tailed-Blue

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I love the colors on this dragonfly

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This beetle “hisses” when you touch it.  A unique defense!

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Great Plains Skink (juvenile).  This guy was so cool!!!  I love the markings on the face.  This skink will turn plain brown all over as an adult. 

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Painted Lady

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Can you see the walking stick expertly hiding

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Marine Blue

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Common Side-Blotched Lizard

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Jackrabbit

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Nutria Canyon Hike and the Ice Cave

Recently my friend Dia and I spent a whole day exploring the area around El Morro near Grants, NM.  Our main destination was to find Nutria Canyon.   I’ve heard very little about this hike and there is minimal information online.  But there was this one tantalizing photo online that drew me back again and again during the winter months.  I knew I just had to find this place during the summer when my friend could join me.  It’s about 3 hours away from where I live, so I didn’t want to venture out on my own.

We started out early with hopes of getting to the canyon by around 9.  Sadly there was a lot of road construction that slowed us down.  Then, when we were in the general area, we just didn’t know where to go.  Luckily I saw this one dirt road that said Nutria Lake.  It was 25 miles sooner on the highway than my online directions were saying.   Thankfully, just as we turned onto the road a local came driving by.  They were very helpful and told us we were definitely in the right place.

Since the lake was just a little side trip off the road, we headed over to see it.  It was a pretty place with a few ducks enjoying the water.  We got out to enjoy the view and let Scarlett have a bathroom break.

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Nutria Lake

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Scarlett started doing her “business” a pack of reservation dogs came out of nowhere heading straight for us.  Dia and I were calling Scarlett to HURRY! HURRY! get in the car.  But she just couldn’t finish her “business” quickly enough.  We were panicking by this time.  Dia ran to drag Scarlett to the car if need be, and I was opening the doors and grabbing the gun! Thankfully Scarlett hurried up and jumped in the car along with us in the nick of time! Whew! Needless to say, we left the lake and headed to our original destination.

The valley we were driving into was very lush.  We saw lots of happy horses and other livestock.  And there were prairie dogs EVERYWHERE!!!

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As we neared the trail head, we came upon a marshy area where Nutria Creek spills out of the canyon.  Just gorgeous!

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Marsh area near the trail head

Dia had just gotten a new tattoo on her entire back.  So she wasn’t able to carry a pack.  I told her I would carry everything in my pack (I’d do anything to go see this canyon!).  So when we arrived at the trail head, she started loading up my pack.  Wow! Heavy!

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That pack had to weigh 40 pounds!

I told her she had to at least carry the gun.  She gladly accepted that task!

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Dia packing heat!

The trail headed into the narrowing canyon with lush green trees and bushes.  It definitely beckoned us to head inside.

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Entrance to trail – so green!

Almost as soon as we started the trail, there was water.  Scarlett immediately dove in!

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Scarlett in her happy place!

Thankfully enough people have been on this trail that they have constructed makeshift boardwalks out of old pallets and scrap lumber.  They were rickety but effective to walk over the mud.

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We started climbing up above the creek and into a lush forest of oaks.  There were Yellow Warblers everywhere!  I didn’t bring my birding lens, so no bird pics this trip.  But so much birdsong in the canopy made me regret my decision to leave that lens at home.

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Kelly on the very lush trail.

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It was nice and cool in the shade

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We eventually met up with the creek again.  Then we turned a corner in the canyon and it opened up to a stunning view.  Beautiful steep red canyon walls and gorgeous green foliage.  We were getting close to where I saw that tantalizing photo so many months ago.

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Dia enjoying the view on this perfect seat.

Then there it was! A picturesque pond in this hidden canyon.  Stunning!  I was so wishing we had found the trail much sooner.  By this time it was noon and not the best conditions for photography.  But I did my best to capture some images that did the view justice.

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Gorgeous!

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I loved the reflections in the pond.

I just had to have a photo of me and Scarlett in this beautiful spot.

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My sweet Miss Scarlett

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Scarlett and Kelly

The day was warming up quickly.  Scarlett was tempted to jump down into that pond.  We kept having to tell her no.

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It was sooooo tempting to jump in…

Eventually we made it around and down to that pond and she was a happy girl!

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Such a peaceful place

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Scarlett loved the ponds.  Cool and refreshing water to play in.

We hung around here for a while as the trail just became too congested with brush to continue on.  I had hoped to explore further but this is just not a well known place.  So there isn’t enough foot traffic to keep the trail open.

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Untouched beauty

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Scarlett kept on eye on me as I navigated the big boulders

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Beautiful

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Dia and Kelly

Eventually we headed back to the car.  We still had quite a bit of daylight left to the day.  So we decided to visit the Ice Cave.  I had never been, and Dia said it had been a long while since she had been there.

On the way out, we decided to stop at a few of the abandoned homes in the valley.  They are interesting to explore.  Just a plethora of things to photograph!

 

We had lunch at the Ancient Way Cafe.  It’s a tiny little place, but the food is good and the desserts were outstanding! They have quite a baker working there.

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Our sandwich was shaped just like a Bigfoot footprint!

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Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!

The visitor’s center at the ice cave was very interesting.  It’s amazing what they found down in that hole.  Centuries of history perfectly preserved.  I highly recommend you take the time to look around at all the treasures jammed into this small building.

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Look at those giant perfectly whole Indian pots!

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Fascinating!

The Ice Cave offers two hikes.  One up to the Bandera Volcano and one down to the ice cave. We hiked the volcano first since we knew we would cool off at the ice cave. 🙂

It was a short and relatively uninteresting hike.

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Bandera Volcano

At the top of the trail, Dia collapsed due to lack of a Starbuck’s for hours.  I told her to hang in there.  We will get her one soon.

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Where’s Starbucks????????? she wailed

The Ice Cave was much more interesting.  The trail to the cave takes you through the basalt fields left by the volcano.  It makes you wonder how anyone found that ice cave so long ago.  It had to have been quite the challenge to navigate through that jagged sharp basalt.

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Basalt field

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A blooming cactus brought beauty to the stark view.

The area was called The Devil’s Playground by early settlers.  It’s easy to see why.  While hiking to the cave we came across this unique dead juniper.  I took a picture of Dia there being her naughty self.  She then took my photo and edited it to fit the area’s nickname.  🙂

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Dia being evil…

At the cave you climb down a steep set of stairs.

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Kelly and Scarlett ready to descend

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Steep stairs

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There it is deep below the surface.

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As you descended you could really feel the temperature dropping.  It was quite refreshing after a hot climb up the volcano.

I didn’t let Scarlett go all the way to the bottom.  You could see what she thought about that…..

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The inside of the cave was beautiful.  I tried to capture the colors in the cave by setting my camera to a slow shutter speed.  Just beautiful.

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The colors in the rock ceiling were so beautiful.

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The ice had a green cast to it.  It made for a lovely contrast with all the colors in the rock formation.

Too soon we were heading home.  On the way out we saw a few Mule Deer.  One was more curious than the others and had a beautiful shaggy coat.

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Mule Deer

When we got to Grants, Dia had to have her Starbucks.  But she almost had a big tantrum when she realized there wasn’t a Starbucks there.  It was hilarious!

The drive home was long due to yet more road construction.  But the day’s adventures had been fabulous (even with the lack of Starbuck’s at the end).  🙂

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65 miles to go until home….