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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Capulin Spring Birding

Yesterday I got up early so I could visit Capulin Spring in the Sandia Mountains.  This is a great time to visit the spring because we get some fall migrating warblers.  The most sought after warbler this time of year is the Townsend’s Warbler.  We only get them here for a few weeks in September, then we have to wait another year to see them again.

So I had high hopes of seeing this warbler.  I had my new camera after all!  I was hoping to get a better photo of one than I have in the past.

When I first arrived there were the usual Dark-Eyed Juncos about.  They are always here in great numbers.  We get several variety of Juncos in New Mexico, but the most common is the “gray headed”.

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Dark-Eyed Junco – Gray Headed

Then a group of Yellow-Rumped Warblers came in for a drink and a bath.  We have these birds here year round.  Now that it’s officially fall, their plumage is less vibrant than in the spring.  But they are still a pretty warbler.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

After sitting quietly for awhile I was rewarded with the Townsend’s Warbler.  Two of them in fact! Beautiful!  They were very cautious to come get a drink.   As with all warblers, they were quick too!  But I managed to get a few good pics.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler

Then a couple of fellow birders showed up – Sharon and Vicki.  We had a great time birding together.  With three pairs of eyes, we were able see more sightings.  One of which was a new bird for me!

Sharon pointed out a soaring bird way up high overhead.  I zoomed way in and was able to get one photo before it soared away.  Not a great photo but I got it! A Northern Goshawk!

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Northern Goshawk

For awhile we had been seeing Steller’s Jays.  They were acting very shy.  But once us girls started visiting, they seem to relax and start coming in.  Funny!  You’d think sitting still and quiet would make them more brave.  Instead, they were happier when they were ignored.  LOL!

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Steller’s Jay

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Steller’s Jay

There were several Ruby Crowned Kinglets about but they were quick!  I got a lot of bad photos and one decent one.

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Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Vicki pointed out a different Junco – a “pink sided”.  A pretty little bird.

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Dark-Eyed Junco – Pink Sided

Happily another warbler showed up for a drink and bath – an Orange-Crowned Warbler.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

A couple nuthatches showed up.  I usually see more when I visit, but this day they were kinda scarce.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Here are picks of the other more common visitors to the spring.

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Chipping Sparrow

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Northern Flicker

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Mountain Chickadee

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Lesser Goldfinch

Then to my great delight a Plumbeous Vireo showed up.  He was very nervous and darted all about.  Though not a great pic – it was the best of the bunch.  Soon he will be leaving us for the winter.

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Plumbeous Vireo

Just before I was leaving I saw a Green-Tailed Towhee – always a delight to see and hear.

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Green-Tailed Towhee

It was a great morning birding with friends.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 2

It’s been a little while since I posted Day 1.  Sorry about that!  Life has been busy!

Day 2 was my favorite of the 3 days at the park.  Dia and I hiked most of the morning.  We took a hike that passed by 3 lakes.  Just stunning!  I think it was the most beautiful hike I have ever been on.  Seriously!  You’ll see why when you see my photos.  And trust me….they don’t do it justice!

We started out very early in the morning to miss the crowds and to hopefully get some pretty photos of the lakes.    And our planning paid off.

The hike started off in deep forest with a slight incline.  About a 1/2 mile into the hike we came upon Nymph Lake.  A beautiful little lake full of lily pads.

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Nymph Lake

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Lots of lily pads

Fortunately there was a couple there willing to take our photo.  Even though I had my tripod, sometimes it’s just easier to have someone take your pic.  🙂

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Scarlett, Kelly and Dia

Scarlett was wearing her new backpack.  We had her carry all of our water and snacks!  🙂  Being a working dog, she loved it.  Plus, it slowed her down some LOL!

After Nymph Lake we started climbing higher.   Soon we were climbing above the forest and the view started opening up.  So beautiful!

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Panorama of the trail.  You can just see the shimmer of Nymph Lake below.

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Stunning views

We came across the stream that fed into Nymph Lake.  It was flowing nicely.  I love hiking next to water.  Just that sound of the babbling brook can be so peaceful and rejuvenating.  Seeing as New Mexico really doesn’t have a lot of water, being in RMNP was so wonderful because it’s full of water.

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Dia at the creek crossing. Neat tree!

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Sweet little waterfall in the stream

As we climbed higher on the trail, it just kept getting even more beautiful.  I was never bored.  Every step was a joy.

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We started leveling out and the waters became calmer.  I figured we were getting closer to another of the 3 lakes.

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At this point Dia joked that we were hiking to that snow in the background.  Little did we know she was pretty close to the truth.

Soon we rounded a bend and there was Dream Lake.  I absolutely loved this lake.  It was my favorite lake of the entire trip.

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Dia and Kelly at Dream Lake

OMG! This lake was just breathtaking!  I could have sat here for hours.  The water was so clear we could see trout swimming along the shore.  Just beautiful!  The picture below is my most favorite scenic photo from the trip.

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Dream Lake – Just stunning!!!

Too soon we had to leave Dream Lake and keep hiking up the trail.  Dream Lake was long and skinny so there was lots of time to enjoy it as we headed up the trail.  Other parts of the lake were unique and I couldn’t resist taking a bunch of photos.

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Such a beautiful hike

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Dia loved this cool tree

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Clear water and perfect reflections

Soon we were climbing yet again.  Thankfully the trail was never too steep.  So it was an enjoyable hike the entire time.  And now that I think about it, Dia never once cried for a Starbucks.  That’s how great this hike was!!!

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I loved that from this point forward we stayed next to the stream.  At times we crisscrossed over it.  And at several points there were small waterfalls.  Gorgeous!

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What a great trail.

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Loved the bedrock this waterfall cascaded over.

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I had to scramble down between big boulders for this shot.  What photographers do for a photo!

Finally we were getting close to our final lake and the turnaround point for the hike.  We had made it to the snow that Dia had earlier joked about.  Granted, it was just here and there but we were at around 10,000 feet so it was cool enough for some of it to stay even in the middle of summer.  And what was on that snow????  A lifer bird for me!!!!  A Pine Grosbeak.  A beautiful male so pretty in his pink plumage.  This is the southernmost area you can see these birds in the US.  I was so excited!  I didn’t have my birding lens on, but thankfully he was close enough I got a decent pic with my regular lens.

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Pine Grosbeak

Right after seeing the grosbeak, we came upon Emerald Lake.  A stunning high alpine glacial lake.

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Emerald Lake

My favorite photo of the trip of Dia and I together.   Such a stunning backdrop.  Thankfully I had lugged my tripod along on this trip so I could get such great shots and pictures of us together.

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Kelly and Dia at Emerald Lake

We stayed here awhile just soaking up the views.  You could hear the distant waterfall.  So peaceful.  A lovely hike on a lovely day.

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Dia enjoying the view of the lake and distant waterfall.  Scarlett enjoying all the squirrels running around.  She let us know where every one was…

Too soon we had to head back down the trail.  Thankfully it was downhill the whole way back.  It was interesting to note how different the lakes looked when the sun was directly overhead.  I was so happy we got up at 5:30 to hit the trail early.  It paid off with gorgeous photos and no people.

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Nymph Lake later in the day

We were tired at the end of the hike.  We had a snack in parking lot and talked about what we wanted to do next.  Since we had just hiked 6+ miles we decided we wanted to drive around and see more of the park.

We ended up stopping at another lake – Sprague Lake.

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Sprague Lake

It wasn’t nearly as scenic as the other lakes, but was still nice to walk around.  Plus, there were lots of birds in the area.  Always a plus!

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Lovely wildflowers

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Juvenile Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Mountain Chickadee

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Mallard

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Cutie pie 🙂

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Mountain Bluebird

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Bank Swallow

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Steller’s Jay

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Dia couldn’t believe I got this dragonfly in flight 🙂

My favorite bird on this walk was a Song Sparrow.  He was kicked back, relaxing, and singing his little heart out.  So Sweet!

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Song Sparrow

As if we hadn’t hiked enough that day, I talked Dia into hiking from Sprague Lake down to Glacier Basin.  It was a pretty little downhill hike.  But I tell you, we were wiped out at the end.  Thankfully they have shuttle buses running that were able to take us back to our car.  While waiting for the bus, I saw a wasp carrying a large caterpillar.  He was moving fast so it was tough getting a pic.  But I was fascinated by this.  That caterpillar is going to be food for its young.

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Common Thread Waisted Wasp

After getting back to our car, we decided to drive around a little more.  We drove through the giant meadow of Moraine Park.  A beautiful area full of wildflowers and big vistas. And lots of birds!  I made plans with Dia to let me get up early the day we were to drive home so I could go birding in this area before we left.  I knew it was going to be great!

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Moraine Park

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Lovely wildflowers

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There are six Northern Flickers in this photo. Wow!

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Black-Billed Magpie – no longer my nemesis 🙂

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Bee Balm

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Brewer’s Blackbird male and female

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Williamson’s Sapsucker – I love this pic!

There was one river that we crossed every day.  It had beautiful rushing water.  I really wanted a picture of it.  We tried walking up next to it, but it didn’t do it justice.  Though we did see this sign…

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So I decided to walk back out onto the bridge for a pic.  Much better! So beautiful!

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Gorgeous!

When we got back to the hotel, we were pooped!  While I was walking Scarlett for her potty break, Dia sent me this text.  LOL! We had hiked 10 miles this day.  Plus 10 miles the day before.

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As we were getting ready for bed (at 7:30 pm HAHAHAHAHAHA!), I decided to take Scarlett out one more time to go potty.  When I looked out, I saw Bull Elk right outside our room!  WOW!  Of course, I had to grab my camera and take a dozen pics following them as they grazed.  What a great way to end a day!

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Bull Elk

 

 

Birds, Butterflies, Bees and more

Over the past few weeks I’ve been out and about enjoying the hot summer weather.  I try to hike every chance I get, which hasn’t been near as often as I’d like.

I went through Stanley a few times in the last couple weeks driving to Santa Fe and other places for work.  I hadn’t been here birding in a while so it was a nice change of scenery.  As always there’s the ever present Western Meadowlarks singing on all the fence posts.

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Western Meadowlark

There are always Swainson’s Hawks about in great numbers.  I managed to get a few nice photos.

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Swainson’s Hawk

Here are some of the other birds I’ve seen there lately.

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Blue Grosbeak

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Vesper Sparrow

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Red-Tailed Hawk – juvenile

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

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Loggerhead Shrike

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Brewer’s Blackbird – female

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Brewer’s Blackbird – male

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Horned Lark

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Barn Swallow

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Bullock’s Oriole

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Lark Sparrow

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Cassin’s Kingbird

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Cooper’s Hawk

The highlight of my Stanley trips though would have to be finding the Ferruginous Hawk’s nest.  I had found them out there a few years ago but their nest got taken out by strong winds.  They abandoned that nesting spot and I never figured out where they ended up.  Then one day recently I saw one sitting on a telephone pole.  He let me get pretty close for photos.  Which got me this awesome pic!

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Ferruginous Hawk

But then I started thinking maybe he didn’t fly off because there’s a nest nearby.  Now there are very few trees in Stanley as it is mostly comprised of crop farming.  But there happened to be a short, stumpy tree right near this telephone pole.  Now from the street you couldn’t even see the nest.  But when I walked to the other side of the tree, I saw almost fully fledged young ones.  I was thrilled to have found them again.  Now I know where to look next spring.  I’m thankful I found these guys before they left the nest this year.  In all I saw 3 young ones, but one was always shy for photos.

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Ferruginous Hawk – juvenile

One day I went to Glorietta to go hiking.  On the way there I stopped in at Lamy.  I had heard there was a Vermillion Flycatcher there.  As soon as I parked and got out of the car I heard him singing.  Such a beautiful bird!

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Vermillion Flycatcher

The trail was very pretty and cool being up in higher elevation and treed.  But there were lots of wildflowers and butterflies about.

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Field Crescent

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Mylitta Crescent

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Checkered White

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Western Pine Elfin

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Spring Azure

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Rocky Mountain Duskywing

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Western-Tailed Blue

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Pearl Crescent

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Hmmmmm…not sure what this one is

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Cloudless Sulphur

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Reakirt’s Blue

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Common Checkered Skipper

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Purplish Copper

I heard lots of birds on the trail, but I only managed to get one bird photo – an Evening Grosbeak.  Such uniquely colored birds.

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Evening Grosbeak

There were lots of bees out among the flowers.  New Mexico has hundreds of different types of bees.  So I’m always amazed when I see a variety while I’m hiking.

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Pretty red butt bee among the daisies

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Loving my new camera – took this hand held

I saw this fly land on the trail in front of me.   This guy was HUGE! Way bigger than most flies I see.  I’m dubbing him the Batman fly as I think he looks like Batman with those dark black wings and body.

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Batman fly 🙂

Just before leaving Glorietta, I came across a flock of Cliff Swallows gathering mud to build their nests.  It was fun watching them gather up the mud and fly off.

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Cliff Swallow

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Cliff Swallow

I’ve been in the Sandia’s off and on.  One day I specifically went to Capulin Spring.  I’m still so disappointed in the work they did there over the last year or so.  The birds are so skittish there now and there’s no natural cover for them or me.  So though I heard a lot of birds in the trees, I only saw a few that were brave enough to come to the spring while I was there.

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Western Tanager

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Northern Flicker

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Cordilleran Flycatcher

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Hermit Thrush

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I’m ready to get out there some more!  I love summertime!!!!

 

 

 

 

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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birding from Melrose Trap to San Angelo, TX

I recently took a trip to the Gulf Coast town of Port Aransas, Texas, to spend a week at the beach with my folks.  I drove a route that would take me past one of the best birding spots in New Mexico for sheltering spring and fall migrants.  This place is called Melrose Trap near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  The reason it’s so good is because it’s one of the few places in that vast flat area that has a large patch of trees that has been left wild for many many years and there’s not much human presence for miles.  The undergrowth is so thick, it’s difficult to navigate your way around this small forest.  But because of this, the migratory birds absolutely love it.  It is well known for harboring rare sightings during migration due to storms that can send a bird off its normal migration course.

I had noticed on eBird that recently two rare sighting warblers were seen at Melrose Trap:  Swainson’s Warbler and Worm-Eating Warbler.  The Swainson’s normal territory is in the coastal states from Texas to Florida.  The Worm-Eating Warbler has a larger territory but most usually seen from Texas east.

Before getting to Melrose Trap, I stopped in at Fort Sumner and visited Bosque Redondo Park.  It has a little stream-fed pond and is usually a good birding spot.  It was a nice stop for Scarlett and I to stretch our legs after a couple hours of driving. During this visit, I saw the usual Red-Winged Blackbird showing off their striking plumage.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

I saw quite few birds, but nothing was being very cooperative for photos until I spotted a Gray Catbird.  I had only seen this bird once before briefly while visiting my friend Kelly in Atlanta.  So it was wonderful to not only see this bird more closely though briefly, but hear his unusual song.

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Gray Catbird

While driving back to the highway, I saw this cute foal with it’s mother, who had the most glossy coat I think I’ve ever seen on a horse.  Adorable!

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Upon arriving at Melrose Trap, I noticed a couple of fellow birders there from Albuquerque.  We quickly joined forces to hunt for these warblers.  While looking for these birds in the thick vegetation, I enjoyed photographing a few of the more regular sightings for the area.

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Northern Mockingbird

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Western-Wood Pewee

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Western Kingbird

One of the highlights of the day was seeing a pair of American Kestrals nesting in the area.  I happened to catch one of the birds holding breakfast for their babies.

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American Kestral

Soon I heard someone call “Wormer!”  I quickly headed in that direction hoping to see that warbler.  But I missed it.  In the process I gave myself a 6-inch gash along the back of my thigh trying to navigate quickly through the thick mess of broken limbs and undergrowth that litter the floor of this grove.  Ouch!!!  Note to self:  wear long pants next time!

While I was trying not to scream or dance around like an idiot due to the sharp pain of my new wound, I looked down and saw the Swainson’s Warbler foraging on the ground.  As I was taking a photo, I alerted the others of my sighting.  It stayed deep in the shadow but fortunately moved slowly enough that we all got a nice look at the bird.  Lifer!!

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Swainson’s Warbler

Soon after that I saw a blackbird in bush in the distance.  As I took a picture I saw it’s red eye gleam in the rare shaft of sunlight coming through the thick canopy.  Another lifer for me!  A Bronzed Cowbird.  I was lucky enough to get one crappy photo before he disappeared never to be seen again.

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Bronzed Cowbird

I needed to hit the road as I still had hours of driving ahead of the me to get to San Angelo.  Just as I was about to leave, another sighting of the Worm-Eating Warbler was called out.  This time I managed to get over to the area without further injuring myself (whew!) and managed to get a couple photos of this bird way up high in the canopy.  As is usual with warblers, this guy was moving fast!  So even though my photos weren’t very good, I was still thrilled to capture an image of this lifer bird.

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Worm-Eating Warbler

I hated to leave this great birding spot, but knew I must.  As I was getting into my car, I noticed a thrush foraging on the ground not too far away.  When I zoomed in with my camera, I saw it was a Swainson’s Thrush.  Lifer!!! I wasn’t expecting to see this bird, so it was a nice surprise.  Four lifers in 30 minutes!!!  🙂

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Swainson’s Thrush

Upon reviewing my photos when I got in my car, I noticed I was still having issues trying to get a good focus with my new camera.  I was struggling with focusing on a fast-moving bird among leaves, limbs and grasses.  I needed to get this camera figured out!

My next stop was outside Clovis, New Mexico, at a large, beautiful park called Ned Houk Memorial Park.  It has 3 ponds and lots of trees with manicured lawns.  Scarlett enjoyed running and stretching her legs.  We were practically the only ones there that morning.

We were greeted by a Western Meadowlark hopping across the parking lot.  I always have a hard time getting them to show me their beautiful bright yellow breast feathers.  As usual, this bird only showed me his plain back.

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Western Meadowlark

I noticed a large number of Barn Swallows nesting in the area around the shelters over picnic tables.  I managed to get a photo of one with a mouthful of mud for its nest.  🙂

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Barn Swallow

There was one nest that was just low enough that I could hold my phone over my head to get a photo of the inside of the nest.  They had lined their nest with some soft, white duck feathers.  🙂

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Barn Swallow eggs

I knew from a previous visit that Great Horned Owls nested in a large cottonwood in this park.  I figured I was too late to see any babies, but thought I would check the location just in case.  I was rewarded with seeing an adult snoozing in the tree.  He kept a sharp eye on Scarlett.

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Great Horned Owl

My next stop was at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge.  I had never stopped in here before so I thought I would take the quick detour to see what it was like.  It has several lakes (more like ponds…), but seemed like one lake in particular was popular on eBird.  I saw lots of prairie dogs and one burrowing owl way off in the distance.

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Baby prairie dog – so cute!

Among the short grasses and flowers, I spotted a large flock of Lark Buntings.  I never can seem to get a good photo of these birds.  This is the best I got on this day.

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Lark Bunting male

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Lark Bunting female

When I got to the lake, I noticed a busload of kids had just unloaded.  With all their noise, I figured any birds in the area had moved on.  The only bird I spotted was this Lark Sparrow.

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Lark Sparrow

I didn’t stay long and headed back to the highway.  Just as I was about to turn onto the highway,  I saw several variety of sparrows in the area.  I was thrilled to get this good photo of a Grasshopper Sparrow.  I had seen this bird once before, and the distance was too great for a decent pic.

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Grasshopper Sparrow

My next stop was at Big Spring.  I’ve never stopped here before, so decided to walk around the lake so Scarlett could do her business and stretch her legs.  I’m so glad I stopped in.  It was a beautiful afternoon and the birds were active.  I got a mockingbird holding a worm to take back to the nest.

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Northern Mockingbird

Here are a couple other birds I saw there.

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Muscovy Ducks

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House Sparrow

As I was heading back to the car, I noticed some birds I thought at first were Barn Swallows but they sounded different.  Upon closer inspection, I realized they were Purple Martin babies.  Lifer!!!  I looked for a parent bird, but none showed up while I waited.  But the babies were adorable waiting for their dinner to arrive.

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Purple Martin juvenile

It was dark by the time I made it to San Angelo.  I woke up early to spend some time birding there before I had to hit the road again.  I visited beautiful Spring Creek Park.  It was a lovely morning and birds were EVERYWHERE!!!

My first sighting was of two young Great Horned Owls.  They will soon be in the more adult plumage.

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Great Horned Owl juvenile

I heard a flycatcher nearby.  It looked like an Ash-Throated Flycather, but sounded nothing like one.  After searching my bird app, I realized it was a lifer for me – a Great Crested Flycather.

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A starling was busy feeding its greedy baby.

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European Starling

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European Starling

Across the lake I noticed a huge rookery.  It had all kinds of egrets noisily nesting.  I enjoyed sitting for awhile watching all the activity.

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Rookery with a posturing Great Egret

A spotted a pair of Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers bringing in breakfast for their young.

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Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers

Before leaving, my last sighting was of this Great Blue Heron catching a nice breakfast.

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Great Blue Heron

I was happy to note that I was doing much better with the focus of my new camera.  I figured by the end of 10 straight days of birding, I would be an expert! LOL!

Next post:   Port Aransas, Texas.  So many lifers!!!!  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birding With My New Camera!

For the past few years I was using a Nikon 1 V3 mirrorless camera for all of my birding photos.  While I loved that camera when I had plenty of light, I was always let down with any photos I took that were in low-light conditions.  The sensor in the camera just couldn’t handle low light, high ISO conditions.

So recentlly I purchased a new camera.  An Olympus OMD EM1 Mark ii (could they have come up with any longer of a name??!!).  This new camera is a micro 4/3 camera.  It has a better sensor for low light and it has much better in-camera stabilization.  I got a birding lens to go with it that has a reach of 800mm.

Of course, I just had to take it out right away to see how it performed birding.   So I planned a whole day of birding in different locations and light conditions.  When I shot with my Nikon, I mostly used shutter priority.  So that’s what I set the new camera to.  I was less than pleased with the first photos I took that day.

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Western Meadowlark

I headed over to Owlville in Los Lunas.  I had heard there were lots of Burrowing Owls nesting there this year.  I wasn’t disappointed either – I saw lots of owls.  They are located right next to the road, so you can get pretty close sitting in your car.  I played with the settings in my camera and my results were better.  It was a lot of fun watching these little owls.  It was early in the morning and the owls were very sleepy still.

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Burrowing Owl snoozing in the morning sun

They seemed to be having a hard time waking up.  🙂

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Big yawn!

I just never seem to be able to get enough owl photos to satisfy me.  They just make me smile.

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Love this expression.

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This one was a little more alert than the others.

Then I saw one on a bush.  I think this made for wonderful photos.  I really like the bokeh with my new setup.

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I’m impressed with the details in the feathers with this new setup. 

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Burrowing Owl

I then headed to Belen to the Taco Bell marsh.  When you shoot there, you are looking toward the sun – always a challenge to get good photos in those conditions.  I was pretty pleased with how the camera performed though still disappointed in the end results.  I just couldn’t figure out how to set this camera.  It has a very complicated menu system that is not intuitive.

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Killdeer

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Black-Necked Stilt

As I was leaving the marsh, I saw someone had created a track that goes to the other side of the marsh.  Seeing as I own a Jeep Wrangler, I was pretty confident I could drive on this sandy track and be ok.  I knew if I got to the other side, the sun would be behind me making more perfect conditions for photos.  And I wasn’t disappointed!  I saw this Cinnamon Teal right away.  Beautiful!

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Cinnamon Teal

I then saw this Morning Dove fly in looking for nesting materials.

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Mourning Dove

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Getting some nesting material. 

I then headed to a rookery I had recently heard about (thanks to my friend Joe!).  Here the lighting was low due to all the shade trees.

As soon as I got there, I saw a Cattle Egret in the tree right above me trying to get just the right stick for its nest.  I was amazed at how well this bird balanced itself on that skinny limb.

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Cattle Egret

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It took some skill to walk on that limb.

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Of course it wanted the stick on the very end LOL!

While photographing this egret, the owner of the home came out.  We visited for a while, and then he invited me into the yard to get a closer look.  Wow!  He was very kind and you could tell he enjoyed having the annual visitors.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

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Snowy Egret

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The owner leaves some of the fallen sticks on the ground for the birds to use.  This Cattle Egret was taking advantage of this bounty. 

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This is just one small view of the trees in this yard.  Look at all those nests! 

The owner told me about a Sharp-Shinned Hawk next door.  It was deep in the canopy and my camera was struggling to get a focus.  So I put the camera in manual focus and was pleased with how easy it was to change the settings and focus on the bird.

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I was still trying to shoot on Shutter Priority.  While I like these images, I still think this camera could do much better.  I know it’s all user error.

My next stop was in Santa Fe.  I had to deliver some supplies to a job site there, so I visited the Randall Davey Audubon Center.  I walked the trail behind the center that follows a steam in the woods.  I immediately spotted warblers!  I love warblers but they are a big challenge to photograph – especially with a new camera!

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Black-Throated Gray Warbler

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Grace’s Warbler

I spent a little time in the gardens of the center.  I was really challenged trying to focus on my subjects.  I just couldn’t figure out the settings for center focus.

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Pine Siskin

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Mountain Chickadee

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

I could see I still needed to practice and learn this camera.

My next outing I went to check on the owls at Academy School.  I haven’t been there in weeks.   I figured that baby might have left the nest by now.  He had, but he was still hanging out in the same tree.  I think he needs to grow into those feet!

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Great Horned Owl

At my home I got more practice with my camera.  Lots of good stuff showing up this spring!

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Lesser Goldfinch

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House Finch in gorgeous breeding plumage

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Black-Throated Gray Warbler – the second year in a row it has come to my home

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Plumbeous Vireo

Remember that Mountain Bluebird I saved last December?  Well, he’s doing fine and is nesting with his lovely lady this spring.  I love the photo I got of her, but I just couldn’t get a decent photo of him.

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Mountain Bluebird – female

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Mountain Bluebird – male

I made a brief stop at Kit Carson park to find the owls there.  I had heard about them, but hadn’t had a chance to go by.  I found one adult and one baby.  The baby had left the nest and was way up high hiding well within the canopy.  So well I couldn’t get a decent photo.  But one of the parents was nicely out in the open.

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Great Horned Owl

My last outing was to the Cienega Trail on the east side of the Sandias.  It was a cold and cloudy morning.  Very low light conditions.  By this time I had switched to Aperture Priority.  I was much happier with the results.  I also learned I can set a maximum ISO when on Auto ISO.  This is great because I know I can control the amount of noise in my low-light photos.    I think these low-light photos are much better than what I would have gotten with my Nikon.

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Mountain Chickadee

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Spotted Towhee

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Chipping Sparrow

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Say’s Phoebe

So all in all I’m much happier with my new gear.  I know I have lots to learn, but I think I’m off to a good start!

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Not sure what this little guy is…but he’s darn cute!  I saw him at the Cienega Trail parking area.