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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miscellaneous Birds and Other Fun Stuff in Port Aransas, Texas

I saved the most difficult category for last – miscellaneous birds.  Specifically flycatchers.  I am challenged when it comes to identifying flycatchers.  Thankfully, there was a local birding expert nearby when I saw the flycatchers, and she was able to identify them for me.  You can see why it’s challenging to identify them…they almost look identical!

Here’s the many variety of flycatchers I saw at Port Aransas.  And they are all lifers!!!

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Alder Flycatcher

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Acadian Flycatcher

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Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

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Least Flycatcher

While visiting there, I went out every morning before dawn.  I saw some beautiful sights around the town.  One morning I toured the marina and took a few pics.

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Beautiful sailboats

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Homes on the Port Aransas Marina

The beach at dawn is gorgeous.  Very  few people, calm winds, the sounds of the surf and birds.

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Horace Caldwell Pier at sunrise

I found some sand sculptures one morning.  They must have had a contest the day before that was sponsored by Crown Royal.  I was pretty impressed with the sculptures, though I can’t figure out why the pig was the grand champion.  Hmmmmmm…..

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Willie Nelson

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It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere

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Lovely mermaid

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Grand Champion Pig

While walking Charlie’s Pasture I did encounter a few butterflies.  They were difficult to find as the wind blew pretty good almost my entire trip.  I found other fun stuff too while hiking the boardwalks.

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A gorgeous passion flower

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I believe this is a White Peacock that survived a close call!

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Funereal Duskywing

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Reakirt’s Blue

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Green Anole shedding its skin.  I loved to catch these lizards when I was a little kid living in Houston!

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Common Buckeye

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A very fresh Pipevine Swallowtail

One morning at Charlie’s Pasture I came across a coyote.  Just beautiful!

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Coyote

While visiting the Leonabelle Refuge I saw lots of Great-Tailed Grackles and a few other fun things.

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Crab

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The sightings of the day 🙂

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Great-Tailed Grackle

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Mullet – this fish was 2.5 feet long!

I had two birds I really wanted to see while visiting the Gulf Coast.  The first was the Roseate Spoonbill, which I did see and posted about previously.  The second bird was the Crested Caracara. I have looked for this bird for years.  On this trip I finally saw it.  Then like my blogging friend Aussiebirder who recently commented “it takes you forever to see that lifer bird, then it seems like once you see it, you see it everywhere!”  I think I saw over 10 individuals while there this last trip.

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Crested Caracara

Along with the Crested Caracara I saw these other two birds I scared off a dead coyote.

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Turkey Vulture

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Harris’s Hawk

One day we visited Aransas Wildlife Refuge.  It took about 1.5 hours to get there, but was well worth the trip.  That particular day was extremely windy.  The beach would have been miserable.   But with all the trees at the refuge, it was a beautiful day.  The very first thing we saw were 3 alligators!!!  🙂  That was awesome!

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Alligator

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Alligators

We drove around this large refuge and came across some fun stuff.  There was this 80-foot high catwalk.  It was so fun to walk that climbing, winding cawalk.  At the top the views of the coastline were amazing!

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Scarlett loved running up the path

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My mom waving from further down the path.  Such fun!

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Gorgeous view!

While hiking this catwalk, we spotted a huge butterfly.  It landed very briefly for one photo.

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Palamedes Swallowtail

And I got a beautiful shot of a dove.

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White-Winged Dove

We had a picnic in a lovely spot.  A deer greeted us as we drove up. This would be one of several deer we would see that day.

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White-Tailed Deer

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Me and Scarlett

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Beautiful picnic area

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I love the oak trees in Texas

I took mom and dad out to a nice dinner for Dad’s birthday.  The restaurant was small and intimate and the food was delicious.

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My dad (Joe) at his birthday dinner

But our favorite place to eat was Trout Street.  We ate there twice on the patio enjoying the marina view.  After dinner on one visit, mom and I toured the docks.  I really considered buying this yacht that was for sale (NOT!).  🙂

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Mom and Dad (Dorothy and Joe)

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Dad looking very nautical in his blue and white striped shirt 🙂

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Me enjoying a lovely dinner on the marina

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My beautiful mother!

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Tempting to buy….. LOL!

One day visiting the beach we drove past a Jeep Rally.  I was really wishing I was in my Jeep.  But sadly we were in my dad’s Ford pickup.  I need to see about Jeep Rallies in New Mexico!

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Jeep Rally at the Beach

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Lots of great Jeeps were there

It was a wonderful trip to the Gulf Coast!!! I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures there.

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Egrets, Herons and other Waterfowl in Port Aransas, Texas

I saw lots and lots of egrets and herons on this trip.  Evidently southern Texas was experiencing a drought while I was there.  Due to the drought, the shallow salt water and fresh water ponds were small and sparse.  This was very hard on the birds, but made for great birding.  Every time I visited a pond, I would see lots of birds feeding there.  I hope they get rain soon because at the rate the fish were being eaten in the ponds, I can’t see how that resource can last much longer.

One of my favorite places to visit for the larger bird sightings was Charlie’s Pasture.  It’s a 5-mile or so trail that winds its way through the salt water flats.  Here’s a pic of one of the areas that should have had water but was dry.

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Miss Scarlett enjoying the boardwalk

When I did come upon a pool, this is what I would find.  Birds everywhere.  Needless to say, lots of squabbles broke out among the groups.

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I got to finally see a Reddish Egret.  Lifer!  Such a beautiful bird.  I especially love the long feathers on their neck that look like red hair.

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Reddish Egret

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I love the long feathers on their neck

Here are some other photos of egrets and herons I got on my trip.

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Great Blue Heron.  I loved the little red flowers he was standing in.

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Cattle Egret

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Snowy Egret

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Great Egret

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Green Heron

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

I saw my friendly Tri-Colored Heron at the Leonabelle Refuge.  He was quite the ham when I visited there last October.  He was even more so this trip.  I couldn’t resist photographing him as he just seemed to really enjoy the attention.  Plus he looked especially handsome in his breeding plumage.

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Tri-Colored Heron

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Tri-Colored Heron

One bird on my list to see was the Roseate Spoonbill.  I feared I wouldn’t see any as the days ticked by.  But the day before I left I got to see several.  They are beautiful birds!

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Roseate Spoonbill

I saw my first Mottled Ducks on this trip.  Lifer!  Several had babies.  So adorable.

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Mottled Duck

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Mottled duck babies

Speaking of babies, I saw my first American Coot baby.  They start out with white on them and eventually turn black.

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American Coot juvenile

And the most adorable (though not very cute) babies I saw were the Common Gallinule.  I was told they were only a few days old when I first saw them.  They were a treat to watch.  Their wings didn’t have feathers but instead had what looked like hands.  They would hold them up and wave them to beg for food.  It was hysterical!

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Common Gallinule babies

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Common Gallinule baby begging for food

Another favorite of the trip was watching the Least Bittern.  I saw a pair of them several times.  They were working on building a nest, but their location just couldn’t be photographed as it was too deep in the reeds.

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Least Bittern

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Least Bittern

While visiting the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, I spotted another lifer for the trip.  A Least Grebe.  It was very small and dark so was hard to spot.  But once I zoomed in with my camera, I was struck by the beauty of its eye.

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Least Grebe

Here are some other birds that fit this post’s category.  Everywhere I looked on this trip, were birds, birds and more birds!  Paradise!

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Ruddy Duck

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Double-Crested Cormorant juvenile

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

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White Ibis

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Blue-Winged Teal

 

This was a big category (including 3 lifers!).  I hope you enjoyed the photos.  I had a fabulous time taking them!  🙂

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Birding in Southeast Arizona – Day 2

Our first full day was to be spent in the hills around Arivaca, AZ.  Tim planned on prospecting for gold while I searched for birds.  The area is very arid with rolling hills.

This day was also Scarlett’s 2nd Birthday!  🙂

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Happy Birthday Scarlett!

On the way to the hills, we passed through the small town of Arivaca.  Among the tall trees around town, vultures were warming themselves up for a day of soaring.  I was happily surprised to see both Black and Turkey Vultures.

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Turkey Vulture on the left.  Black Vulture on the right.

We finally made it to the hills.  The views were expansive.

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Hills around Arivaca, AZ

As soon as I got out of the truck, I heard birdsong everywhere.  I thought to myself, “this is going to be a good day!”  🙂

On my list of birds to find, was the Rufous-Winged Sparrow.  As we were driving along the road to our destination, I figured I better play its song so I knew what to look for.  We had the windows down in the truck.  When I played the recording of the birdsong, we heard one reply outside the window.  Bingo!!!  I was gonna see this new bird for me!  And almost as soon as I started exploring around the truck, I saw one singing in a large bush.

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Rufous-Winged Sparrow

I had a great time hiking the area.  I saw so many birds.  As barren as the place looked, it was really full of life.

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Black-Throated Sparrow

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Phainopepla

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Pyrrhuloxia

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Ash-Throated Flycatcher

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Verdin with soft stuff to line its nest 🙂

One bird I saw and heard everywhere was the Lucy’s Warbler.  But it was a challenge trying to get a photograph of this quick, tiny bird!

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Lucy’s Warbler

Another bird I heard often was the Bewick’s Wren.  But in this part of the country, it’s song is way more simplified than where I live.  So it took me a while to realize it was the same species.

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Bewick’s Wren

I saw a few butterflies that day as well.  Most of them were new butterflies for me.   My friend Joe will hopefully tell me if I’ve incorrectly identified any.

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Empress Leilia

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Dotted Roadside Skipper

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Marine Blue

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Pahaska Skipper

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Mormon Metalmark

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Desert Checkered Skipper

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Common Streaky Skipper

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Tiny Checkerspot

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Pacuvius Duskywing

Near the end of the day, we decided to move to a different area so Tim could explore a different gold claim.  I was surprised at how the area offered different birds even though we only drove a few miles.

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Bell’s Vireo

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Cassin’s Vireo

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Juvenile Golden Eagle

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Canyon Towhee

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American Crow

We had a wonderful day together.  The weather was gorgeous, the birds plentiful and fun times exploring.  More fun ahead!

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Birding in Southeast Arizona – Day 1

I have long wanted to go birding in Southeastern Arizona.  They have a wonderful variety of birds that can’t be found anywhere else in the US.  Many birds are residents of Mexico.  So when my husband suggested we plan a long weekend trip to SE Arizona, I was thrilled!

It takes over 7 hours to get there from our house.  The day we left, a front was blowing through and we were driving with a headwind that was 50 mph+.  Terrible conditions for traveling.  At one point, we lost quite a bit of visibility.

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Dust storm we traveled through on I10.

By the time we got to Tucson, the sun was starting to set.  Thankfully the wind had died down considerably.  We had just enough time to stop in at a beautiful historic mission located just south of Tucson.  It’s called the Mission San Xavier Del Bac and was completed in 1797.  When we arrived, it had just closed for the day.  Too bad….I would have loved to see the inside.  But the outside is just stunning!

The mission is undergoing restoration.  You can see the left side is all new and white.  The right side is now being restored.  They have removed the dome and will restore it at a later time.

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Mission San Xavier Del Bac

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Kelly at the entrance.

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I loved all the many details of the mission.  It was fun to explore.

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Several statues adorn the mission.

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Very detailed flourishes.

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Rustic window decor.

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Rattlesnake door handle

The desert gardens around the building were very nice.

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Beautiful desert gardens

There were a few birds around the mission.  I managed to get a few pics in the low light.

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Northern Cardinal

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Gila Woodpecker

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Cactus Wren

There’s a hill next to the mission with a shrine to Virgin Mary.  It had a gate with interesting lion statues.

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Lion statue on the hill. The clouds look like lion’s breath.

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Grotto of Lourdes

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Virgin Mary

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As we hiked to the top of the hill, the views got more expansive.

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View of the mission

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View looking north toward Tucson

As we were leaving I took this last shot of the property.  I thought it looked like God shining from the heavens.

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Touring Tularosa Basin – Part 2 of 2 plus Exciting News!

On day 2 of my visit to Carrizozo, I got up early and drove an hour south to White Sands National Park.  I haven’t been there since the mid 70s.   It brought back lots of fun memories of playing in the sand dunes, eating grilled hotdogs and enjoying family time.

On this day in January, there definitely wasn’t any kids playing in the sand dunes and nobody was grilling hot dogs!  It was 20 degrees outside!  But it made for perfect hiking weather.

Believe it or not, they have designated trails in the dunes.  They must have to hike them regularly to make sure the markers are still visible.  You basically follow markers sticking up out of the sand and they guide you on a roughly 2-mile loop.  This day and age it’s pretty difficult to get lost in the dunes now that we have apps like Map my Hike that show you where your starting point was.  But if you were to head out in the dunes without any new technology, it could be very easy to get lost and turned around in that sea of white.

So Scarlett and I headed off on a trail soon after the park opened.  It was very cold out but the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.  Hiking the dunes by yourself can be eerily quiet but so peaceful.  I mostly followed the trail, but at times wandered off to get pictures without footprints in the sand.

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Scarlett loved the dunes.  She ran and ran and ran!  Up one dune and quickly down the other.  I soon lost sight of her and realized she was way far away.  I called her back and told her to stay close to mom!

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Come back Scarlett!

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She loved running up and down the dunes.

 

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My pretty girl!

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While hiking I noticed two other people hiking the same trail but taking the reverse route.  I got a nice pic of them way out on the dunes.  Gives you a real idea of the scale of this place.

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There are lots of critters that live in the dunes.  I didn’t see any while I was there.  But I saw lots of signs of life.

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Coyote or fox tracks and a lizard walking in circles.

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Lizard and bird tracks

And I left my own prints too!

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Kelly’s Footprints

I eventually crossed paths with the two other people on the trail.  I asked them to take a picture of Scarlett and I.  They were nice enough and took several!

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Telling my girl to pose for the camera!

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I was bundled up for the cold!

There are a few plants living among the dunes.  It’s a gamble for them to take hold there.

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Proof that the dunes are constantly shifting and moving.

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With all that running around, Scarlett got hot. She managed to find the one shady spot among the dunes!

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One spot of shade to cool off after all that running!

Here’s a photo of Scarlett below me.  Some of the dunes were steep to climb up and go down.

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Scarlett had a much easier time going up and down the dunes than me!

We had a fun time exploring.  But soon we had to head back home.

And  now for the exciting news!!!

While at the banquet in Carrizozo, I was told about the Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show (ANMPAS).   Entries for the event could be submitted by January 31 and I heard about this on the 28th!

So when I got home I had to quickly choose 3 photos to enter.  While reviewing my photos taken at White Sands I came across one photo that really stood out.  So I submitted the following photos to the event.

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Ripples in the Sand

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Tricolored Heron

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Red-Eyed Buffalo

And I got 2 photos chosen!!!! 

They chose the white sands photo and the tricolored heron.  🙂  They had over 400 entries this year and said it was difficult to choose the winning entries.  I am honored to be a participant of this event.

There will be a gallery opening reception on April 1 and the gallery opens to the public on April 2.  The event will run through April 23 at the Fine Arts Building at Expo New Mexico, Albuquerque.  So if you get a chance, go by and view some outstanding photography by New Mexico artists.   And all the art is for sale!

 

 

 

 

 

Tour of Tularosa Basin – Part 1 of 2

Last weekend I traveled to Carrizozo, New Mexico, to attend a banquet in honor of the winning photographers of the 2016 New Mexico Magazine Photography Contest.  The  banquet was held at the gallery hosting the winning photographs:  Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography.  This is a beautiful gallery of New Mexico Photography by New Mexico Artists.  I would love to be an artist hanging in this gallery.  Someday maybe 🙂

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The Tularosa Basin Gallery is located in a unique old building. 

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Inside the gallery – lovely displays

My friend Valerie was going to attend with me, but sadly she wasn’t feeling well.  But the attendees of the event were all wonderfully gracious and friendly.  I had a fabulous time speaking with other fellow winning artists, New Mexico Magazine staff, local attendees and the gallery staff.

The dinner was prepared by a local family and was absolutely delicious!  The dinner setting was in the basement of the building.  I love how the rooms had been kept as original as possible.

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Beautiful setting for dinner

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Warren (gallery owner) is standing and the New Mexico Magazine staff are seated. 

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Proudly standing by my winning photo

I left early in the morning to attend the event last Friday.  I wanted to have plenty of the day to explore the area.

I stopped briefly at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area.  This a big lava filled valley.  There was a one-mile loop trail built out into the lava field.  I had a fun time hiking the trail.

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Edge of Valley of Fires

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Trail through Valley of Fires

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You couldn’t walk very easily through this valley without the trail.

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Next stop was Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.  There are over 21,000 petroglyphs at this site.  I hiked about 1.5 miles exploring the rocks along the trail.  There were drawings everywhere.  It was amazing!   The trail starts climbing right away so that you end up walking along the ridge of a hill.  This made for a wonderful backdrop in some of my photos.  The Sacramento Mountains were  beautiful with the snow on them.

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I think the main drawing is a roadrunner catching a snake

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Stunning views

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Lizard

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I love how this drawing is peeking out from the rocks.

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Big Horn Sheep, Antelope, and Wolf Print among others

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Some of the drawings were quite detailed.  Real works of art.

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This looks like a man in the fetal position.

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I loved this big horn sheep with the arrows in it. Plus you can see the Native American designs on the body of the sheep as we still see them portrayed in their art today.

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Beautiful depiction of the native peoples

It was a cold (20 degrees) and breezy day, but I had a great time and ended it with a wonderful evening at the Gallery.

Part 2 coming soon!