Wonderful Spring Birding with a New Lifer Sighting

First off, let me just say, I LOVE my new camera!  I’m definitely still in the learning phase, but it’s performance is superior to my old setup.  It’s a joy to use, and I’m very happy with my images.

Not too long ago, we had a spring storm blow through and it dumped 12 inches of snow at my house.  The birds were not very happy about this event, and neither were my plants.

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Bleeding Hearts

A Cooper’s Hawk was hanging out at my bird feeder hoping for a meal.

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Cooper’s Hawk

The hummingbirds were happy I had feeders out for them.

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

I think the only one happy with the snow was Scarlett 🙂

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My sweet Miss Scarlett

Thankfully the snow melted the very next day, and the temperatures returned to the mid to high 70s right away.  I got to go out hiking several times this week.  I visited Tingley Beach a couple days after the spring storm.  The Rio Grande was raging and flooded most of the bosque trails.  But it was worth trudging through it to see some new spring birds.

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Ash-Throated Flycatcher

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Green Heron

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Baby Mallard

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Summer Tanager

I have lived in the Albuquerque area for over 20 years.  And during that time, I have never visited Sandia Lakes or Shady Lakes (they are next door to each other).  So one day I decided to check out the lakes.

Sandia Lakes was very nice.  Beautiful lawns and cottonwood trees and three separate lakes.

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Sandia Lakes with the Sandia Mountains in the background

The first bird I saw was a Lark Sparrow (first one I’ve seen this year).  He was singing way up high in a tree.  Then I saw several Canada Geese with their babies.

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Canada Geese

While watching the geese, I saw something that looked different.  I quickly realized it was a Western Grebe.  We don’t see them often in our area, so it was a real treat.

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Western Grebe

I saw a pair of Say’s Phoebes busily hunting for bugs.  I soon saw why they were so frantic to find bugs.  They had three babies squeezed into a tiny nest.

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Say’s Phoebes

I saw lots of Black Phoebes as well.  They are such beautiful birds

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Black Phoebe

While walking around the lake, an Osprey flew overhead.  I thought to myself that he might be part of a nesting pair.  This was confirmed recently by my friend Joe.  I’m definitely going to have to check out their nesting progress.

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Osprey

I came across a pair of Black-Capped Chickadees that were acting very agitated.  I never did figure out what they were so upset about.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

As I was walking through the grass between lakes, I saw a Killdeer doing its “I’m injured, follow me” routine.  So I knew there must be a baby nearby.  It was acting pretty desperate, so I thought it must be very close.

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Killdeer trying to lure me away from its baby

When I looked down, I realized it was only a foot away.  I almost stepped on it!  Yikes!  It never did move.  I took a quick pic and then quickly moved away.  Soon I heard the baby calling for its parents.  It was nice to see them all reunite and be assured all was fine.

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baby Killdeer

I then headed over to Shady Lakes. What a beautiful place!  It has several ponds all covered in beautiful lily pads and lined with irises.  The ponds are stocked with different varieties of fish.  But I was there for the birds.

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Shady Lakes

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting beautifully on an old log.  I then realized there were several of them gathered there.   Fabulous!  They are used to people so they let me get pretty close.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

I walked around the ponds and admired all the beautiful blooming lilies and irises.

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I noticed a moth feeding among the irises.  These moths often get called hummingbirds by people when they don’t look too closely.

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White-Lined Sphinx Moth

The turtles were enjoying those big lily pads!

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My last hike was up to the Cienega picnic area.  The forest service blocks the road for cars until mid-May.  So you have to hike along the road to get to the upper picnic area.  My goal was to try and find the Northern Pygmy Owl that has been seen nesting there.  Now I have made this hike several times both last spring and this spring with no luck seeing that owl.  Well, this time I was successful!  This is a lifer bird for me!

He was calling repeatedly on a lower branch in the aspen tree where he’s been seen nesting.  All the songbirds in the area were very agitated and were trying to scare him away.  It was a wonderful sighting!

For those of you not familiar with this owl.  He’s very small,  only 6 inches from its head to the end of its tail.  So you can see why he’s so difficult to find.

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Northern Pygmy Owl

I decided to hike over to Bill Spring since I was in the area.  A Hermit Thrush was enjoying a bath.  And a baby was in a tree nearby.

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Hermit Thrush

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Hermit Thrush

A Western Tanager (my first of the year), briefly showed himself deep in the trees near the spring.

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Western Tanager

I hadn’t been at the spring long when a Cooper’s Hawk flew in chasing a chickadee.  After that, the birds were scarce.  So I started hiking back to my car.  I saw lots of Black-Headed Grosbeak singing and squabbling in the trees.  I’m guessing they were vying for the attention of the females.

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

I’m thrilled spring is here.  I’m looking forward to getting out again and seeing what other beautiful spring birds have arrived.  🙂

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20th Anniversary Trip – Day 6 Nevada & Utah

This day was one of the funnest days of our trip.  We covered a lot of miles and saw some stunning scenery.

We left Ely, NV, and started heading to Utah.  Before we left the area, I had Tim stop again at the Comins Lake.  It was such a great place for birding.

This morning I saw completely different birds than I had seen the evening before.  Which I loved!

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Sagebrush Sparrow

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Solitary Sandpiper

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Eared Grebe

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

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Sage Thrasher

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Barn Swallows

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Vesper Sparrow

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Brewer’s Sparrow

After birding for a short while, a Great Blue Heron came flying in.  I love these elegant birds.

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Great Blue Heron

He wasn’t too sure about me walking along the shoreline.  So he flew to the other side of the lake.  I captured a few photos in flight.  When I was editing the photos, I saw an elusive warbler flying in the photos as well.  Looked like a Yellow Warbler – so bright! Wish I could have gotten some good photos of that warbler.

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Great Blue Heron – see that bright yellow warbler!!!

I also saw a tiny bird feeding along the edge of the reeds.  It’s obviously a juvenile.  But I had a heck of a time identifying this bird.  My conclusion is that it’s a juvenile Virginia Rail.  But if someone knows the correct identification of this bird, I’d appreciate knowing.

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Juvenile Virginia Rail

Too soon we were on our way.  I never want to leave a good birding spot!  We started heading further south.  One of our planned stops on this trip was Cathedral Gorge State Park.  It’s a small park comprising about 1600 acres, but just beautiful!  We had a good time exploring all the small slots formed in the rocks.  I could easily spend a day investigating all the cracks and crevices. Very unique!

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Cathedral Gorge State Park

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Unique geology

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Tim exploring

 

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Just beautiful!

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Interesting holes and cracks

 

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Kelly exploring the slots

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View from inside the slot canyon

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My handsome husband!

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Kelly inside the deepest slot canyon

Tim spotted a lizard among the formation.  Yay!

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Plateau Fence Lizard

We next headed east toward Utah.  We headed up a scenic highway called Cedar Canyon that was truly breathtaking at every turn.  We climbed very quickly with some steep grades at times.  One of the most scenic highways I had ever seen.

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River along Highway 14 Cedar Canyon

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Gorgeous rock formations along the scenic drive

We soon had gone from 4,800 foot elevation at Cathedral Gorge to 10,000 feet.   The views were so expansive!

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Views from 10,000 feet

I saw on the map that there was a National Park just ahead of us:  Cedar Breaks National Park.  Of course we just had to stop in.  And I am so glad we did.  Just breathtaking!!!

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Cedar Breaks National Park

 

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Stunning!

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View from 10,000 feet

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From 10,000 feet the bottom of the canyon is 2000 feet below

The views looking down into that canyon were breathtaking.  I would have loved to see what the views looked like from down in the bottom of that canyon.

While there I saw (and heard!) and Clark’s Nutcracker.  These birds are big and loud.  Sadly it flew away before I could get a photo.

Further up the road was another turnoff that showed a different view of the park.

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Tim and Kelly

At the parking area of Cedar Breaks there were lots of wildflowers with butterflies busily feeding.  Along with the familiar butterflies, I actually got a new one!

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Hoary Comma

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Mourning Cloak

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Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – a new butterfly for me!

Heading down the other side of the mountain, we saw a beautiful lake, mountain meadows and small ponds.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

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Sheep grazing in a high mountain meadow

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Navajo Lake – a high mountain lake formed by lava

 

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American Avocets

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Mallard female

We stopped at one pond that was full of ducks.  As we watched the ducks an osprey flew over looking for some lunch.  He circled a couple times but didn’t see anything worth trying for and flew away.

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Osprey

We finally made it off that mountain and to our destination of the Zion Mountain Ranch.  It’s an actual working buffalo ranch.  The buffalo were there but way far away.  I had hopes of seeing them up close before we left.

We stayed in a private cabin overlooking the horse pasture.  A very peaceful setting.

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Our cabin at Zion Mountain Ranch

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cozy…..

Tomorrow we see Zion!
P.S.  I just learned this was my 100th post!!! 🙂

 

 

 

 

20th Anniversary Trip – Day 3 Nevada

We finally made it to Winnemucca, Nevada.  You’re probably scratching your head asking, “Where are they? Why did they go there? How do you pronounce that?!”  All valid questions!  LOL!  We got that a lot when we would tell friends and family where we were going on our trip.

As you know, my passions are birding and photography.  I’m happiest outdoors with camera in hand. Well, my husband is happiest when he has his metal detector in his hand.  He’s a geologist and loves to hunt for gold.  There aren’t too many hobbies out there that actually make money instead of spending it.  🙂

Tim had read about a well known area in northern Nevada that was known for shallow placer gold.  It’s called Rye Patch.  And it’s located about 40 miles west of Winnemucca, Nevada.  It was discovered in the 1970s and has been a popular destination for gold hunters ever since.

So we got up early and drove out to Rye Patch State Recreation Area, a man-made lake which is fed by the Humboldt River.  We crossed the dam and headed to the Majuba Mountain range.  The gold is reported to be at the base of these mountains.

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect the countryside to be like when we were planning this trip.  I had imagined beautiful forested mountains with a peaceful lake.  It definitely wasn’t that.
The terrain was actually high plains.  There wasn’t one cactus that I could see, which was great!  It made for much easier walking through the grasses.  There wasn’t one tree in sight.

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Rye Patch gold area in the foreground with Rye Patch lake in the background

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Golden grasslands for miles

When we finally parked after driving for 15 miles or so on dirt roads, Tim noticed right away we had gotten a punctured tire.  Drat! But fortunately, he had a mini compressor in the truck and we were able to air up the tire which would give us time to drive the 30 miles to a little town near Rye Patch to get it fixed.  So with no worries, we each started exploring the area.

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So glad Tim had this compressor or he would have had to change a tire!

There weren’t any trees, but I did notice a thick stand of bushes about 100 feet away.  So I headed in that direction hoping to find some birds.  I figured any birds in the area would be drawn to those bushes.  It turned out to be a good idea.  I saw most of my birds in this small area.  I was excited to see a warbler as my first bird sighting of the day.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

The most prolific bird of the day was Sagebrush Sparrows.  They were everywhere and didn’t limit themselves to the little area of bushes.  They migrate to New Mexico for the winter and are not easy to find there.  So I was thrilled to have so many subjects to see.

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Sagebrush Sparrow

 

Here are the other birds I saw in that little area of bushes.  Birds were scarce!

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Brewer’s Sparrow

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

My friend Valerie texted me to see what I was up to that day.  So I took this picture just for her.  LOL!  She tells me I take photos of every rusted thing I see.  😉

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Rusty soda can circa 1970s  😉

I had thought I would see lots of lizards.  Back home in New Mexico I usually see lizards often when I’m out hiking.  But not so in this part of the country.  I had gone most of the day without seeing one lizard.  Then finally I spotted a tiny lizard sunning himself on a rock.  I slowly crept closer to get a photo.

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Western Fence Lizard

I soon realized he was very tame and didn’t seem to mind me coming closer.  Before I knew it, I was 3 feet away taking photos of all angles.  🙂  At one point I reached out a finger to see if he would move.  And he licked it!   LOL!!

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Western Fence Lizard

I noticed some movement on the ground while photographing this lizard.  When I turned, I saw there was a sparrow foraging on the ground.  So I quickly got a pic.

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Savannah Sparrow

While I was entertaining myself with birds and lizards, Tim was busy looking for gold.  I could tell he had covered a lot of ground.

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Tim working hard looking for gold

 

At one point, Tim got my attention and pointed to the sky.  There we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk looking for brunch.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

I decided to head back to the truck for a cold drink.  The day had gotten warm at 90 degrees.  As I neared the truck, I saw a giant lizard run under a bush.  I quickly forgot about that drink.  I wanted to see this lizard! I stayed still and watched the opening at the base of the bush where I saw it run in.  Soon I was rewarded with my patience!  He started creeping out of his lair.  This big guy was easily 12 inches long if not longer.

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard coming out of his lair

I guess he decided I wasn’t a threat and quickly started hunting.  I was able to take quite a few photos of this beautiful lizard.  A real treat!

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

Then I heard Tim calling me.  He wanted me to video him digging up a target.  Now I always tell him every time he asks me to video him, the target usually is trash.  It’s like I jinx it.

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Narrowing down the location of the target. 

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Using tweezers to scrape in the cracks of bedrock.

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He then uses a straw (or in this case a dismantled ball-point pen) to blow out the dirt and hopefully reveal the gold in a crack

Sure enough, this target was trash…a .22 bullet.  Sigh….  But in the end he did find a nugget.  And what he thought might be a silver nugget.  But when he was able to clean it up, he decided it was a piece of lead.

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While exploring the area, I came across a lone blooming bush.  Most of the area’s bushes were done blooming.  So this was a very popular bush with the bees and wasps.

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I like the green eyes

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A busy bee 🙂

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Wasp

While photographing the bees, I noticed this spider lair.  The opening to the hole was about an inch in diameter.  That’s a big spider!  I caught a few bugs and threw them in the web in hopes of getting a photo of this spider.  But he was just too fast! I didn’t think to video him at the time.  Ah well….

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Funnel Web Spider lair

After a full day of fun, we aired up the tire and headed to Lovelock, NV, to get the tire repaired and get a bite to eat.  We stopped briefly at the campground along the Humboldt River to see what birds might be about.  We couldn’t stay long as the tire was losing air!

But I did get a few more bird photos.  🙂

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A hot Horned Lark

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Great Egret

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Snowy Egrets

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Snowy Egret

As we entered Lovelock Tim spotted a nice group of Wild Turkeys in a farm field but I didn’t have my camera ready and missed the shot.  Dang!

We still had some daylight left after visiting Lovelock.  So we decided to explore the area some before heading back to Winnemucca.  I had seen on the map there were Tufa Formations nearby.  We didn’t know what these were, so we went looking for them.  We drove, and drove, and drove and climbed up a mountain…but no Tufa Formations.  We were on a very curvy dirt road.  At one point we had a horrifying experience!  A Sheriff’s SUV came flying around a curve  going about 60 mph and saw us at the last minute.  He slammed on the breaks and turned sideways sliding towards us, dirt flying, and me screaming! Thankfully he narrowly missed us and just kept on going.   He didn’t have any lights or sirens going, so we had not idea he was heading towards us at such a breakneck speed.  I’m so glad we escaped what could have been a horrible accident.

Along this dirt road, Tim spotted a cool rock formation.  It’s handy having a geologist in the car.  🙂

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Columnar Jointing

Soon we were at the top of the mountain.  Tim asked me, “Where are these Tofu formations supposed to be?”   I laughed and said it’s “Tufa” and I think we passed them.

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View from the top of the mountain outside of Lovelock, NV

So we headed back down the mountain, with one eye looking out for that crazy sheriff.  When we got back to the highway, we realized the Tufa Formations were right there.  Pretty nondescript and not worth hiking to them to get a photo.  But during our day we had seen a squirrel that moved as fast as lightening.  Now I had tried to get a photo of this speedy guy, but he was just too quick! We saw another one of these squirrels as were we heading back to the highway.  This one ran lickety split to a far hill and stopped briefly.  Long enough to get a quick pic.  Then off in a flash he was gone!

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Harris’s Antelope Squirrel – it holds it’s tail over its back to shade itself.

We then drove to the Humboldt Mountain range looking for an old ghost town called Willow Creek.  We didn’t find Willow Creek but we did find Star City.

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Road to Star City

It was a beautiful drive up the mountain on a skinny dirt road following a stream.  Most of the time you couldn’t see the stream as it was hidden by thick vegetation.  But at the base of the mountain, the stream was dammed and rerouted.  We passed a few folks camping by the stream.

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Small dam on the way to Star City

 

We didn’t see but a few crumbling foundations at the site of Star City.  We were running out of daylight to explore for more ruins.  But the drive was beautiful and the views were grand.

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View from Star City

By now it was almost dark, so time to head home.  We were treated to a beautiful sunset.

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Beginning of a beautiful sunset

Stay tuned for Day 4!

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Late Summer Birds and Critters

I was able to get out a couple times this week for walks with Scarlett.  And one morning I got up really early to bird in Moriarty.

On one morning I stopped in at the duck ponds at Tingley Beach.  I hadn’t been there in a while.  I only had about 30 minutes to walk around.  There were quite a few birds, but most we too camera shy.  I did manage to get a Blue Grosbeak photo though he was deep in the shadows.

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Blue Grosbeak

 

I was surprised to see a snail on the trail.  Now those of you that live in humid areas probably don’t get too excited about snails.  But here in the desert, they are a real treat to see.  All the monsoon rains must have brought it out of hiding.

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One of my favorite things to see every summer is the Japanese Beetle.  I think they are so beautiful.  I can always count on seeing them on these blossoms.

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Japanese Beetles

But the biggest surprise of the short walk, was getting very  close to a Green Heron.  They are usually so shy at the duck ponds.  As soon as you see them they will fly to the far side of the pond or out to the island in the middle. This particular heron let me get within 5 feet of him.  I had to lean over and peer through cattails, but I did get a pretty nice photo before he decided he had enough of me.

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Green Heron

A few days ago I drove out to my favorite spot in Moriarty – Valley Irrigation Road.  I hadn’t been out there in months.  I only stayed out about an hour.  Work has still been so busy.  But even in that short time, I saw quite a few nice birds.

First I saw a Western Kingbird and House Sparrow enjoying the morning sun.

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Western Kingbird

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House Sparrow

Soon after I saw a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  I love these tiny little birds.

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

In this same area I also saw a House Wren and a very elusive and fast Wilson’s Warbler.

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House Wren

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Wilson’s Warbler

Further down the road, I saw several Swainson’s Hawks.  Most flew before I got anywhere near them.  But I did get closer to one for a photo before it flew away.

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Swainson’s Hawk

At Otto Pond I saw lots of sparrows and finches enjoying all the sunflowers and corn plants.

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Otto Pond area on Valley Irrigation Road

I had a very cooperative House Finch.

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House Finch

And saw lots of sparrows.

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Brewer’s Sparrow

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Clay-Colored Sparrow

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Chipping Sparrow

I even saw a hummingbird enjoying all those beautiful sunflowers.

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Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Around home I’ve encountered a few interesting things.  I have a lot of lizards around my home.  This particular guy was enjoying the warm sun in my backyard.  It’s not often you get to see that gorgeous blue throat.

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Striped Plateau Lizard

A new batch of Two-Tailed Swallowtail butterflies must have hatched.  Because I’ve seen quite a few of them in my yard these last few days.  A few lingered long enough for photos.

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Two-Tailed Swallowtail

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Pretty on  my petunias!

While walking Scarlett in the neighborhood, we came across a 5-foot long bull snake snoozing behind the back tires of my car.  It had recently eaten, as you can tell by the thick middle.

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Bull Snake

It was determined to stay by my  car.  So I picked it up to move it safely off the road.  It needed to get hidden so no one would kill it.  Bull snakes are great for rodent control.  But some people think they need to kill all snakes.  When I picked it up, I soon realized it was a long as I was tall which made it over 5 feet long!

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This snake was very tame.  I’ve found most bull snakes are.

Once safely off the road, I tried to take some more photos, but it wasn’t interested in that.  I managed to get a couple before it quickly disappeared.

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Bull Snake

I took a photo of Scarlett while walking this morning.  She’s modeling her new blue sparkly collar with a pretty flower.  🙂

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Scarlett modeling her new collar.

My Canyon Towhee’s had a late batch of babies.  I noticed this one was hanging out in the seed dish.  He sat very still, I’m sure hoping I didn’t see him.

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Baby Canyon Towhee

And there are still lots of Lesser Goldfinches hanging out in my yard.

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Lesser Goldfinch

In my garden, I’ve been seeing a lot of praying mantis.  I think they are my most favorite insect.  This one was enjoying my squash plant.

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Praying Mantis

That’s about it for the past week or so.  I hope you’re enjoying your summer!