San Antonio Birding – Dedicated to my Dad

In mid-April I went to visit my parents in San Antonio, Texas.  My dad had been getting weaker and weaker.  I knew I needed to go see him sooner rather than later.  Sadly, two days after I arrived he passed away.  I’m so thankful I was able to visit him before he passed.

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One of my favorite photos of me and my dad.  My wedding day on October 18, 1996.

I wanted to dedicate this post to my dad.  He always looked forward to reading about my adventures and looking at my photos.

I had taken Scarlett with me.  She was upset when dad died at the house.  And she was upset that mom and I were grieving.  So to help her and me both cope with the loss, I got up early every morning to walk and bird.   When I am out in nature, I find it a balm to my soul and a time to talk with the Lord.

There is a greenbelt near my parent’s home that I walk whenever I visit.  The first morning I was there, I took a walk on the familiar trail.  Since it was April, there were still a few Texas Bluebonnets blooming.

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Scarlett walking in the greenbelt.

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Texas Bluebonnets

It was quiet for the most part, but I did find a couple of good birds.  One bird was singing his heart out and it took me awhile to find him.  Eventually I located him and was happy to see a White-Eyed Vireo.

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White-Eyed Vireo

A further ways down the trail, I saw a movement in a tree.  To my delight it was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  He didn’t seem to mind me watching him hunt for breakfast.  So I got lots of beautiful shots of this gorgeous bird.

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Red-Shouldered Hawk as I first saw him.

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He then moved to this great perch and posed nicely for me.

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I love the beautiful color and pattern of the feathers on his wings.

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Success getting some breakfast.

The next morning I went to a newly found spot called Lake Converse in Converse, Texas.  It’s a pretty little park with a semi-wild lake.  One of the first things I saw was a pair of Egyptian Geese with 10 goslings.  I think they had hatched within 48 hours.

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Egyptian Geese with 10 goslings

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Adorable baby

One of my favorite shots was of a Mute Swan.  Such an elegant bird.

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Mute Swan

A lot of the birds preferred to stay on the far shore of the lake – really testing the limits of my long lens.  I had hoped to get closer to the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, but no such luck.

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This is the best photo I got of a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

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Cattle Egret

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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American Coot

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American Coot

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Great Egret

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Great-Tailed Grackle

As I walked around the lake, I saw quite a variety of birds.  The air was filled with birdsong.

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White-Winged Dove

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Barn Swallow

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Common Yellowthroat

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Savannah Sparrow

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Eastern Kingbird

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Killdeer

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Eastern Phoebe

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Clay-Colored Sparrow in the foreground and a Chipping Sparrow in the back.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Myrtle)

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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Carolina Wren

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Northern Cardinal with an inchworm

One special treat was a Martin House that was in use.  Purple Martins were occupying most of the holes.

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Purple Martins

As I was leaving one day, I watched this Northern Mockingbird busy looking for insects.  I watched him use his wings to try and flush out bugs.

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Northern Mockingbird flushing out bugs

Another lake nearby called Live Oak Lake was another treasure for birds. It had a more park-like feel to it.  It didn’t have as many birds, but was still a great place to visit. I got there very early one beautiful morning.

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Black-Bellied Whistling Duck at dawn

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Lake Converse at sunrise

There was a very tame Great Egret hoping for a free breakfast from a fisherman.

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Great Egret

One a later visit that Great Egret was fishing along the lake shore.  I thought it made for a beautiful photo op.

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Great Egret

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Small catch but tasty!

There were a several other waterfowl on the lake.

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Mottled Duck

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Mottled Duck babies – so adorable!

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Blue-Winged Teal

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Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

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Black-Bellied Whistling Duck baby – beautiful markings!

I watched a Green Heron hunt for fish.  He didn’t care that I was only a few feet away.  He got so close that I couldn’t focus my long lens on him.  I had to keep backing up!

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Green Heron

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Green Heron

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Green Heron

While walking around this lake, I briefly saw a Cooper’s Hawk try to catch some Blue Jays.  I heard the Jays squawking about it, but never got any photos.

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Cooper’s Hawk

There were some other birds around the lake that allowed me to take their photos.

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Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

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Northern Cardinal

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Western Kingbird

One of the highlights for me at this lake was a very sociable Spotted Sandpiper.  He let me get within a few feet and take a number of photos while he groomed.  In the past when I’ve seen these birds, they fly away before you can get a decent shot. So this was a real treat for me!

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Spotted Sandpiper

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Spotted Sandpiper

One morning I walked along Mud Creek.   It’s only about a mile from my parent’s house, so I got there at sunrise without much effort.  I loved this sunrise shot with Texas Bluebonnets in the foreground.

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Texas Bluebonnet Sunrise

The foliage was thick in this area, but I managed to get a few bird shots here.  Mostly there were Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens.  But a Black-Crested Titmouse was busy singing from the tree tops.

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Black-Crested Titmouse

On my last day in San Antonio, I visited McAllister Park.  What a wonderful place.  Miles of trails in a park consisting of over 750 acres in the heart of San Antonio. There were lots of birds but very difficult to spot them.  What I saw the most was White-Tailed Deer.  They were everywhere!

Scarlett just couldn’t believe her eyes!!  🙂

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Look mom!  A deer is right there!!!!

While hiking along a road in the park, I was passed by a man riding a bike.  He stopped in front of me and threw out grain for the deer.  I think he does this often, as they seemed to recognize him.  One in particular let him pet her.  When he rode off, several of them followed him for awhile.  What a wonderful connection with nature!

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White-Tailed Deer

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How sweet this deer trusts this man and calls him friend.

At the southern end of the park is where I got most of my sightings and photographs.  A beautiful Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher posed for me then flew and showed off his seldom seen red feathers under his wings.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

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Beautiful coloring under the wings.

Here are the other treasures I got at the southern end of the park.

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Carolina Chickadee

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Northern Mockingbird

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Summer Tanager Female

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Black Vulture

The highlight of my bird sightings during my visit was at McAllister Park.  While trying to photograph a Carolina Chickadee, I heard a noise behind me.  When I looked, I saw a Barred Owl sunning himself in the top of a tree.  A lifer sighting for me!!!  And so beautiful!!!

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Barred Owl

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Barred Owl

My last birding opportunity of my trip was a stop in Clovis, New Mexico, to check on the Great Horned Owls in Ned Houk Park.  They had successfully raised two young ones, and they were far enough along to leave the nest.  They kept a sharp eye on us.

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Great Horned Owletts

Just before leaving I managed to find one of the parents.  Such wonderful birds owls are.

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Great Horned Owl

A Lark Sparrow and a Western Meadowlark were singing happily for us.

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Lark Sparrow

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Western Meadowlark

Scarlett enjoyed her visit at the park.  🙂

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My sweet Scarlett

So while it was a sad visit to San Antonio, I found solace walking among the beauty God has created and seeing so many of his wonderful creatures.  I know my dad would have loved to see these photos.  The Texas Bluebonnets were always a personal favorite. I know he is at peace now and waiting for me in Heaven.

In memory of my dad:

Joseph Mathew Welch, Jr.  Born April 28, 1935.  Died April 18, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blood Moon and Birds

Well…it just doesn’t get any better than that!

On January 31 there was a lunar event that hasn’t happened in 150 years in the United States:  A Blue Moon, Super Moon, Blood Moon Eclipse.  What does that mean?  A Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month.  A Super Moon is when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth making the moon appear 14% larger and 30% brighter.  And a Blood Moon Eclipse is when the moon moves directly behind the Earth’s shadow where it cannot receive any light from the sun causing it to appear red in our atmosphere.

Of course, seeing as I wouldn’t be around for the next one unless I lived to be 203 years old, I just had to photograph this event.  I got up a 4 am to drive into town to a predetermined location.  I was fortunate that our local camera club had scouted out a great area that gave an elevated vantage of the city below.  When I arrived, I saw the temperature was 27 degrees.  Brrrrr!  It was going to be a cold photo shoot!

As I hiked to the earthen dam at the northeast end of Albuquerque, I could see the eclipse had already begun.   At the time the moon was still white but was starting to show a hint of red.  I quickly set up my camera gear and started shooting.

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Moon over Albuquerque

The eclipse happened fast.  Just a few shots later, the moon was becoming mostly red.

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Eclipse well underway

Then it finally happened!  It was a Blood Moon.  I zoomed as far in as I could and it was a beautiful sight!

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Blood Moon

The full eclipse was to be a 6:30 am.  My last shot was around 6:15.  The sun was rising and the sky had really started to lighten.  I quickly changed lenses and took a picture of the Blood Moon hanging over Albuquerque.  As you can see, I was definitely shooting in the “blue hour” by this time.  But I thought the photo was so beautiful.

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Blood Moon over Albuquerque

After that last shot, the sky just became too light and the moon had dipped into the hazy horizon above the city.  So I packed up my gear and hoofed it back to my car.

I figured since I was already in town and it was dawn, I should take the opportunity to go birding.  Logical train of thought right???  🙂

I headed over to Alameda Open Space to see what might be around at the pond and along the river.  I had heard a Mew Gull has been sighted among the Ring-Billed Gull flock.  That would be a lifer for me if I could find it.

I started systematically taking photos of the flock as they rested on the sandbar in the Rio Grande.  I figured I could look through photos later to see if I captured the Mew Gull.

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Ring-Billed Gulls with rare visitor California Gull in the middle

I had snapped a few photos working my way down the line, when all of a sudden they all erupted into flight.  Startled me good!

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Ring-Billed Gulls

I had wondered what frightened them.  I was thinking maybe a coyote had tried to sneak up on them or something.  No sign of any ground attack, I looked up for a possible aerial attack.  And right above me was a Bald Eagle!  Beautiful!  We get them here every winter, but you just don’t see them that often.

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You can see the size difference of the gull to the Bald Eagle

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Look at that wingspan!!

He soon caught a thermal and soared higher and higher until eventually he was gone.  Since now the gulls were all stirred up, I figured my chance to see the Mew Gull were pretty much nil.  So I started hiking along the river to see what other goodies might be about.  Here’s some pics of my finds.

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Common Merganser female

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There are 3 Black-Crowned Night Herons in the trees

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Great Blue Heron

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Common Mergansers – 2 males and 1 female

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Black Phoebe

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Wood Duck pair

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Mallards with a Killdeer

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Western Bluebird – so beautiful!

We came across a giant beach along the river and Scarlett decided it was a great place to run and play in the water.  Even though that water had to be freezing she wanted to play.  I had fun capturing some photos of her while she played.  Goofy dog!

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Scarlett having fun in the water

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So much fun to run in the shallow water

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She likes to bite at the water as she plays

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My beautiful girl

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Isn’t that a look of pure joy!  LOL!

After a couple hours of hiking, we headed back to the car.  I stopped briefly at the bridge crossing the bar ditch next to the parking lot.  There’s usually some good small birds in the area.  I heard a constant buzzing noise.  It took me a minute to narrow down where it was coming from, but eventually I fount its source.  A Marsh Wren – in plain sight!  Now many of you know those Marsh Wrens can be a real challenge to photograph as they mostly live deep in cattails.  So I was thrilled to be able to watch one work along the edge of the water for a little while.  He was deep in shadows and at a little distance, so it was a challenge getting a good image.  But I was pleased with what I got.

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Marsh Wren

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Hmmmm…anything good under water?

I had a little time left before I needed to head home and get back to work.  So I stopped in at the Embudito Trail parking lot.  There’s been sighted a Golden-Crowned Sparrow among the White-Crowned Sparrows feeding at a feeder next to the parking lot.

When I arrived I saw a Cactus Wren singing in a tree.  I can never resist photographing these beautiful birds.  And their song is the epitome of desert birdsong.  I think it’s the most used birdsong in commercials and movies depicting the southwest.

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Cactus Wren

I then saw a bunch of White-Crowned Sparrows fly in to the bushes next to the feeder.  I was hopeful the Golden-Crowned Sparrow was among them.

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White-Crowned Sparrow

I searched and searched and finally! there he was!  By this time the sun was bright and trying to get a good pic was a challenge.  But finally I managed one that showed his beautiful gold crown even though it’s muted in his winter plumage.  A lifer for me!

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Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Now it was time to go home and take a nap!!! (work could wait LOL!)

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Mallard feather on the frozen beach of the Rio Grande

 

Last Birding Trip of 2017

During the last week of December, I was able to take a trip to Bosque del Apache. I try to visit there every December as that’s when the winter bird count is pretty high.

I left well before sunrise. As I was driving down, I started getting into thicker and thicker fog. At one point I had to slow down to 40 mph on a 75 mph interstate.

It was difficult to bird first thing due to the thick fog, so I took a few scenic shots.

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Boardwalk through the marsh

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A lone American Coot walking through the marsh area

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Quiet solitude

I was pleased to see a beautiful coyote in his handsome winter coat.

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Beautiful coyote among the hoarfrost

Fortunately, the fog cleared up once the sun rose and I was able to start hunting for birds.

I first noticed a Great Blue Heron grooming.

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Great Blue Heron

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Great Blue Heron

There were lots of raptors about. Most of them seemed reluctant to move from their morning perch.

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Northern Harrier

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Cooper’s Hawk

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American Kestral

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Northern Harrier

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American Bald Eagles

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Red-Tailed Hawk

I started driving around the ponds to see what waterfowl was about. I happened to notice two Northern Harriers squabbling. They were quite a ways away but I managed to capture a pic.

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Northern Harriers fighting

I was surprised to find that there really wasn’t very many waterfowl about. I had to really search the ponds to find any. Not sure where they were all hiding.

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Bufflehead – male

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Northern Pintail

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Bufflehead – female

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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Ring-Necked Duck

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Northern Shoveler

Of course there were lots of Snow Geese about. But every time I made it around the circle to see them, they were flying.

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Snow Geese

I always hear there are wading birds that winter at the refuge, but I rarely see them. But on this day I saw three Lesser Yellowlegs feeding in the shallows of a pond.

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Lesser Yellowlegs

I saw a few songbirds about that day. There were a couple of rare sightings for the area, but I never saw them. Drat!

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Song Sparrow

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Gambel’s Quail

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Marsh Wren

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White-Winged Dove

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House Finch

One of my favorite sightings of the day was a Crissal Thrasher singing his little heart out atop a bush. Surprisingly he let me get pretty close singing the whole time.

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Crissal Thrasher

I sat and watched a roadrunner look for lunch. They are always entertaining. He hunted for awhile before he noticed me watching. I took this pic the moment he realized he wasn’t alone. 🙂

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Greater Roadrunner

My last sighting of the day was a grebe off in the distance. When I zoomed in and took a pic, I was delighted to see it was a Clark’s Grebe. These are considered a rare sighting for the area, so that was a real treat.

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Clark’s Grebe

I left around noon and decided to drive a different route home. I took the Quebradas Scenic Route home. I had heard a lot about this road. But to be honest I couldn’t really see why it was considered so beautiful. But there was one place on the road I found very picturesque, so I got out a took a pic.

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Quebradas Scenic Route

Just before leaving that highway, I came across some deer feeding in the fields.

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Mule Deer

I still had some light left in the day, so I stopped in at the Bernardo Refuge. The Sandhill Cranes seem to prefer this area over Bosque del Apache.

I got there near sunset, and all the cranes were coming in to the pond to drink. It was a beautiful sight seeing and hearing the cranes flying overhead in the soft light of sunset.

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Sandhill Cranes

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Sandhill Cranes

While photographing the cranes, I happened to notice the Super Moon had risen. It was big and blue!

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Super Moon

I had a wonderful day birding. It had been quite some time since I had been able to take a whole day to bird.

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Just beautiful…

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While hiking the trails, a train came through. 🙂

Christmas Birding

The weather here in New Mexico has been very mild for wintertime.  So I took advantage of the nice day and went birding yesterday.  I haven’t had much chance to bird lately, so it was a real treat to have a whole day to visit several places and get some fun bird sightings.

My first stop was to visit the Rio Grande Nature Center for their Saturday morning bird walk.  When you go on their guided tours, you get taken into places of the park you normally can’t visit.  So it’s always a treat to go behind the scenes.

The early morning temperatures were in the mid 20s, so it was definitely a cold start.  The ducks didn’t seem very happy about standing on the ice instead of swimming in the water.

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Mallards and Wood Ducks

A Black-Crowned Night Heron was hiding in the bushes nearby.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

On the main pond there were a few ducks enjoying the area that hadn’t frozen over.  It was a treat to see a Hooded Merganser male.  Even though they are common in our area during the winter, you just don’t see them that often.

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Hooded Merganser

Along with the Hooded Merganser there were a few other visitors.

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Ruddy Ducks in the Foreground and a Canvasback female in the back

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American Coot on the left and a Pied-Billed Grebe on the right

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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Mallard

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Canada Geese

We saw a few other birds along our walk, but for the most part it was quiet.

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A variety of blackbirds

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Sandhill Crane

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Sandhill Crane

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Western Bluebird

After the guided tour, I walked around the park a little more to see what might be visiting the feeders.  There was a nice variety of birds enjoying the free meal.

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Spotted Towhee

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Red-Winged Blackbird female

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White-Crowned Sparrow

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White-Crowned Sparrow

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Downy Woodpecker

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Bewick’s Wren

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Black-Capped Chickadee

I walked down to the Rio Grande to see what might be hanging out at the river.  Over the past few years Albuquerque has had a flock of Ring-Billed Seagulls hanging out on the sand bars of the Rio Grande near Alameda Street.  This year those sand bars got flooded over by the river.  I had wondered where the seagulls had moved to since their usual spot was too deep for them.  I was excited to see they had found a new area behind the nature center.  I scanned the flock to see if there were any other breeds visiting the flock, but I didn’t see any this time.

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Ring-Billed Gulls

While photographing the flock, a fly fisherman came down to fish the area.  I managed to get a decent pic of him casting his line.  It’s hard to see, but I still liked the photo.

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Before leaving the nature center, I was lucky enough to see 3 Greater Roadrunners around the parking area.  They are so used to people, that I swear they pose for the camera.  Of course, I took about 500 pics of just the roadrunners.  🙂

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Greater Roadrunner

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Posing so nicely for me

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Got a peek of those gorgeous purple feathers of the crest

From there I visited Los Poblanos Open Space.  I had hoped to see the Western Screech Owls occupying the nesting boxes.  But sadly none of them poked their heads out while I was there.  But I found a few other treasures while hiking around the fields.

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Say’s Phoebe

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Western Meadowlark

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Black Phoebe that managed to find a bug in the cold weather

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Song Sparrow

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A leucistic American Goldfinch

My favorite sightings of that visit was seeing both a male and female American Kestral.  Such beautiful, small birds of prey.

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American Kestral male

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American Kestral female

My third stop was to find the American Dipper that has been spotted in the drainage ditch along the Rio Grande.  Though they are a common bird in our state, they are rarely seen in Albuquerque.  They prefer fast flowing streams where they can dip and dive in the rapids looking for food.  The Rio Grande in the Albuquerque area is mostly a wide, placid river.  But there are a few spots in the year-round flowing drainage ditches that have man-made rapids coming out of culverts.

After walking a little ways along the ditch, I was thrilled to see the dipper bobbing along the water’s edge.  He didn’t seem concerned to have an audience.  It was a real treat watching him feeding in and around the water’s edge.  Needless to say, I took another 500 photos of this bird.  LOL!

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American Dipper

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American Dipper swimming

There were a few other visitors there along the ditch that I enjoyed watching as well.

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Black Phoebe

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Overall, I had a great day going from one birding spot to another.  Scarlett had a great time walking all the trails with me.

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A lovely old cottonwood tree

Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 3

On Day 3 Dia and I were up early again – ready to hit the trails for more beautiful sights.  This time Dia got a GIANT coffee from Starbucks so it would last her all morning long.  🙂

On our drive back from hiking to Emerald Lake the day before, we saw a beautiful waterfall in the distance.  I told Dia I wanted to hike to that waterfall.  So here we were heading to Alberta Falls.

The trail head is in the same area as Bear Lake.  So before heading to the falls, we took some very early morning shots at the lake.  Such a tranquil morning.  There was no breeze so the water was like a mirror.

The trail was in deep shade so early in the morning.  It was a challenge to get a photo of us together (lots of work editing those shadows).

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Dia and Kelly at Bear Lake

As we walked around the lake, the view started to open up and the shadowy areas began to lighten.

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Bear Lake

We came to one area that had giant boulders near the lake.  Dia climbed out on one to get a beautiful view.  A wonderful place for her to enjoy that coffee.

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I climbed an even higher rock and got a very wide angle view.  Gorgeous!

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Perfect reflection.

Soon we were on the trail to the falls.  The trail started off beautifully walking through an Aspen grove.

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Soon the trail started climbing and we could hear rushing water in the distance.  I couldn’t wait to see this waterfall.  I had seen photos online and knew it was going to be beautiful.  We came to Glacier Creek below the falls.  So much water! Not sure why it’s called a creek when it’s a raging river!

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Glacier Creek

After a little while of hiking, we could hear the falls in the distance.  The views were opening up and giving us more light on the trail.  Then finally we made it to the falls.  Stunning! The roar of the water was almost deafening.  A wondrous sound to my ears.

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Stunning waterfall.  I love how the sun’s rays were illuminated by the mist from the falls.

We stayed here awhile and took some photos of each other and enjoyed watching the waterfall.

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Doesn’t Dia look so adorable here 🙂 You can see why I love my friend.  She makes me smile all day long.

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Hmmmm….I see rabbit ears! LOL!

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Scarlett wanted her picture taken at the falls too!  😉

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My beautiful Scarlett enjoying the hike.

Then we decided to walk along the river above the falls instead of staying on the trail.  For some reason the trail leaves the water and we weren’t ready to do that.  I’m so glad we decided to walk upriver because the scenery was so beautiful.

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Glacier Creek

We spent quite a bit of time in one area.  The sound of rushing water and the privacy of the trees and being off trail.  It was so peaceful and relaxing.  We were truly enjoying God’s creations.

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The water was moving so fast!

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I tried to capture the feel of the water’s power.

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A raging river.

We were still feeling good so decided to continue up the trail and see if we could make it to Mill Lake.  We climbed higher and higher and the views opened way up.  Then we came to a bend in the trail and started walking into another canyon.  The views were so expansive.  Such a wonderful hike.

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I love this picture Dia took of me and Scarlett hiking.   🙂

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We came to a sign that said Mill Lake was 1.5 miles ahead.  By this time we had hiked 6 miles.  We were debating on if we thought we would make it to the lake and still have enough energy to get all the way back to the car.  We were somewhat undecided for a while.  Then Dia said “Let’s go!  We can do it! And someone said there’s a baby elk to see!”.  Hmmmmmm…… I was just about to agree when a big BOOM! sounded and I looked up to see this giant thundercloud above us.  WOW!

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Giant thunderhead.  Beautiful but scary when you’re out hiking.

That did it!  I did not want to be caught at 12,000 feet in a lightening storm.  No way! So we turned around and headed back to the car.

On one hand I’m sorry we didn’t go to the lake.  It never did rain.  I’m sure the views were fabulous.  But on the other hand, I know if we had gone we would have been so sore and tired by the time we got off the trail.  That would have extended our hike another 3 miles.  As it was, we ended up hiking another 10 miles this day.  We did 30 miles in 3 days!

I treated Dia to a wonderful dinner with wine for her birthday.  We even had enough energy left to do a little shopping in Estes Park.   It was a great way to end the day.

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When we got back to our hotel, we had one more treat for the day.  A mother Mallard was trying to take her babies to the little pond at our hotel.  When they saw me and Scarlett not too far away, they flattened themselves trying to hide from us.

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Mallards

We all stayed still and soon the mother felt it was safe enough to go to the pond.  🙂

 

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Safely at the pond 🙂

 

 

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

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….