Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge

A couple of weeks ago I had to go to Las Vegas, New Mexico, for work. I decided to take a little time to see what might be at the local refuge. It was a cold, windy day so I wasn’t too hopeful of much being around.

Most of the small birds were hiding from the wind. There were a few Western Meadowlarks about but definitely weren’t interested in getting their picture taken.

Western Meadowlark

With the cold wind, the Canada and Cackling Geese were hiding out in a low-lying pond. You don’t usually see these two species hanging out with each other. While we have difficulty distinguishing the two species, they definitely know who’s who!

Canada and Cackling Geese

In the distance I saw several Northern Harrier’s searching for lunch.

Northern Harrier

What was out and not shy at all were Red-Tailed Hawks. They were all juveniles. Such beautiful birds! And they let me get close and take as many photos as I wanted. What could be better than that!?!

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk

This particular hawk had already been successful getting something to eat as you can see dried blood on his feet.

Red-Tailed Hawk

While photographing that hawk, some Morning Dove came in looking all fearful of the hawk nearby.

Mourning Dove

Nothing much else at the refuge. But as I was driving down the country road back to Las Vegas, I came across one of the most beautiful bluebirds I’ve ever seen. His colors were glorious!

Mountain Bluebird

Then to my delight I saw a Ferruginous Hawk on a telephone pole. Such a beautiful bird!

Ferrugnious Hawk
There’s something intimidating about a Ferrugnious Hawk stare

One last bird I saw was a very large Common Raven. Fortunately the lighting was nice and I was able to get a nice photo of this all black bird.

Common Raven

As I was driving home I decided to stop in a Storrie Lake to see what might be about. There really weren’t any birds around. Most of them were out in the middle of the lake where I just couldn’t get a good visual.

Just as I was about to leave, a Rough-Legged Hawk came in and landed on a post right next to my car. How exciting! The daylight was waning, but I had enough light to get a few nice shots. These birds are rarely seen in New Mexico so I was delighted to get such an up close sighting.

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Rough-Legged Hawk getting his feathers settled in

All in all I had two great side trips during my busy work day!

Hiking Plaza Blanca and Birding at Ohkay Owingeh Lakes

Recently I decided to explore Plaza Blanca near Abiquiu, New Mexico. If any of you have seen the movie Cowboys and Aliens, then you may remember the white rock formation that was in the scenes of the final battle of the movie. 

I have always wanted to explore this place, but never seemed to find the time to do so.  We’ve gotten some small snows this winter, so I headed out on a day that I thought there might be some snow on the trail to enhance my photos. 

It was a beautiful day and there indeed was some snow left on the ground. 

When I arrived at the parking area, I had a wonderful view of the southwest landscape showing the many beautiful layers of color.  I just love New Mexico landscapes. 

I love the New Mexico landscape

I hiked down the trail and just started exploring.  There’s not a lot of information about this area or the hike on the internet.  At first you see the large, white rock formation that is the namesake of the hike.  It is quite large and impressive. 

Plaza Blanca Formation

Next to the white formation is a large brown one.  I love how it stands alone.  Looks like something from the set of a Star Trek show. 

I then turned left along this formation and continued upstream in the arroyo.  At first it was very wide.  This is where the snow made beautiful accents to the landscape. 

Snow and shadow have created beautiful textures

I came upon several trees in the bottom of the arroyo. 

I turned around and love how the sun shone through the branches. 

That’s when I noticed the hole in the formation.  You can just see it behind the tree.  I backtracked to get some photos of this. 

Natural arch

I then saw another hole.  Of course, I just had to see how creative I could get with the “window” in the rock. 

Window rock showing Plaza Blanca in the distance

I then went back up the arroyo.  I came to a fork and decided to take the right fork as it seemed more interesting.  The rock formations were really cool.  I had Scarlett jump up on one to get a fun photo.  She’s so cute in how she will do whatever I ask. 

Can you see Scarlett?

The canyon started narrowing as I followed it.  For some reason I love hiking narrow canyons. 

The canyon started to narrow

Soon we came across water in the bottom of the canyon.  This is when I realized I had stumbled upon a slot canyon.  I LOVE SLOT CANYONS!

Slot canyon

Scarlett loved it too!  She soon started running around and playing.  She especially loved coming around the bend and jumping across the water. 

Scarlett begging me to chase her…I don’t think so!
Having fun jumping the water

This is a face of a very happy dog!

One happy Scarlett!!!

I followed the now very narrow canyon.  It was so beautiful.  The melting snow created some beautiful natural sculptures. 

We continued further up the slot canyon until the end of the line.   Well…then end for me.  I wasn’t willing to scramble up this obstacle. 

End of the slot canyon

We headed back out of the canyon.  It was a wonderful place to explore.  When I got back to the main formation, I decided to take my time and get a few photos of the area. 

After finishing up my hike I decided to go by Abiquiu Lake.  I’ve never been to the lake before.  I thought there might be wintering birds there.  But when I arrived, it was dead quiet. 

I did like the reflections in one of the coves of the lake.  So I took a few photos there before moving on. 

Abiquiu Lake

I was really wanting to see some birds on my outing.  So I headed to a place that I know I will see birds.  I went to Ohkay Owingeh Lakes near Espanola, NM. 

On the way to the lakes, I stopped to get a nice photo of the Rio Grande.  This stop always offers a beautiful view of the river.

Rio Grande below Abiquiu Lake

I hiked around the two ponds at the park.  There was surprisingly few birds about.  But I managed to get a few pics. 

American Kestrel being shy
Northern Flicker
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Song Sparrow
Canada Geese
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-Rumped Warbler

It was nice to finish up the day with some nice bird sightings.  Scarlett and I had a wonderful day.  I highly recommend you visit the Plaza Blanca area. 

Jewels of the Desert

I believe the tiny little hummingbirds I get every summer are truly little jewels of the desert.  Their iridescent colors just shine like the most precious stones when the light hits them just right.

July and August are my peak months for hummingbirds.  In spring I get the Broad-Tailed and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds.  They nest here every year.  But starting early July, I get the migratory Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds.  It’s a wonderful time of year having all four variety of hummingbirds visiting my feeders.  I have 3 feeders that hold 2 cups of sugar water each.  During July and August I have to fill these feeders twice a day!

These little birds are very fast.  Catching them in flight is a real challenge.  I got a couple of decent shots in flight but I definitely need to improve on this technique.

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Broad-Tailed Hummigbird

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

Some years it seems the birds are more brave than others.  This year they were a little more hesitant to let me photograph them.  I did manage to get a few nice shots.  Of the 4 species, the most bullying to other hummers and yet the most shy around people is the Rufous Hummingbird.  He’s the most challenging to get a decent photo.

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Rufous Hummingbird

The most challenging to get colors to show is the Black-Chinned Hummingbird.  They have to turn just right in the light to catch that gorgeous purple throat.  After many, many attempts, this is the only photo I got recently that shows the color.  Sadly it’s not a very good pic.  But I will keep trying!

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Black-Chinned Hummingbird

The most common visitor to my feeders is the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird.  Over the years I’ve only managed to find a couple of nests though I see plenty of females out there busily gathering nesting materials.  And come summer there are lots of young hummers at the feeders.

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Look at that gorgeous color on his throat!

But my most favorite hummer is the Calliope Hummingbird. I love their unique feathers on their throat.  When fending off other hummers from the feeder, they can flare out those long pink feathers.  Just beautiful!   They are considerably smaller than the other 3 species I get.  They are the smallest breeding hummingbird in the US.  While the other species are generally 3 inches in length, this little guy is around 2.5 inches.  They have to really stretch their necks to sit and feed on my feeders.

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Calliope Hummigbird

So I think you will agree, hummingbirds are definitely little jewels of the desert!

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Calliope Hummingbird

 

Birding in Southern New Mexico – Part 2

The next morning of our anniversary trip we drove our ATVs for about 30 minutes to get to a lucky gold spot for my husband.  Unfortunately, we can’t ride the ATVs all the way to the location he likes to prospect so we had to hike for another 30 minutes.

On the way to our destination I came around a bend and saw a beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk in the top of a tree.   He was at the max range of my lens but I managed to get a pretty good photo.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

After a full exciting day in the sun the day before, I wasn’t looking forward to spending another day in the sun. So I parked myself under a big shade tree and birded while sitting down.  Lazy right?!  LOL! But it was great because none of the birds wanted to be in the sun either and the shade is sparse.  So my spot was quite popular with the area birds.

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Cactus Wren

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Canyon Towhee

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Cactus Wren

While relaxing in the shade, I was full entertained by a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.  The day before at Caballo Lake I saw quite a few of them but didn’t get any photos as they were staying high up in the foliage.

Well, I was rewarded this day by a very tame male.  At first he didn’t like me being so close to his tree.  He started scolding me and raised his ruby crown.  I didn’t get any photos of him posturing in the sun to really show off that ruby crown.  But I am still pleased with the shots I did get.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet – my first shot of him scolding me

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Eventually he settled down and got used to me.  Pretty soon he was foraging all around me within a foot.  I could have reached out and touched him.  I took full advantage of this opportunity and took as many photos and videos as I could. He was happily singing the whole time. I loved that little bird!

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. You can really see his beautiful markings on his back.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. I think he was curious of me. He would land very close to me and look at me before going back to foraging.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet – my favorite photo I took of him. He was so close to me that I almost couldn’t get a photo with my zoom lens.

On the walk back to the ATVs I spotted several variety of butterflies.

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Note sure what this one is. Only photo I got.

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Acmon Blue

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Common Buckeye

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Orange Skipperling – I was able to get a better shot of this tiny fast butterfly!

And yes…my husband did find some gold!

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My husband metal detecting

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The nuggets he found that day

We had a wonderful time enjoying nature together and enjoying the hot spring soaks in the evening.  We needed the break together as work has been extremely busy.  It was a very fun weekend!

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The End! 🙂

Birding in Southern New Mexico – Part 1

Wow…October was a very busy month for me.  All throughout the year I didn’t realize I was scheduling everything in October.  I had something planned for practically every weekend!

So the last time I posted it was the first weekend of October and I was in Denver.  I called it Part 1.  I will write Part 2 soon, but I just had to skip to the second weekend in October.  Every year my husband and I go to Truth or Consequences (TorC) for our Anniversary.  We ride our ATVs and he hunts for gold and I go exploring and birding.  This year was our 19th anniversary! (For our 20th I want to change things up and do an Alaskan cruise…..)

Anyway…we left later on Friday than we originally planned so didn’t get to explore a box canyon my husband told me about in the area.  I guess we will save that for next time we visit the area.  So I talked him into stopping at Elephant Butte Lake on the way to TorC.  I was hoping to see some birds there as the fall migration has begun.  We stopped a marina and saw right away lots of Western Grebes.  One was looking down and all around him.  So I was curious what he was doing.

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Western Grebe

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Western Grebe

And I was able to catch a funny photo.  This grebe looks like it has a fish tail.  🙂  The carp in the lake are very large and this one must have been biting at the grebe’s feet.

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Western Grebe with carp under him 🙂

The dock master saw me taking photos and came over.  I asked him if he had seen any Clark’s Grebes.  This would be a new bird for me.  He said he has seen them but they tend to stay out on the lake and not near the shore.  He said a rental boat was coming in shortly and if we wanted to wait for it he would take us out on the lake to the grebes.  Of course I happily agreed to wait.  I thought that was very kind of him to offer.

And sure enough there were lots of Clark’s Grebes out away from the shore.  I was so excited to see them!  My husband said he couldn’t tell the difference of these from the ones at the dock.  So I explained that the Western Grebes have black on their heads that go down to the eye while the Clark’s have white around the eye.

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Clark’s Grebe

While at the lake I enjoyed seeing a couple of American Coots snooping around the dock and a very tame Ring-Billed Gull.

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American Coot

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Ring-Billed Gull

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Neotropic Cormorant

When we got to TorC we decided to walk down to the park along the Rio Grande River.  There’s a pond there that sometimes has water and with all the rain we’ve had this year that pond was pretty full.  We had fun looking for all the pretty green frogs coming to the shoreline to sun themselves.  I had hoped to see some birds in the cattails but no luck. But we did see several birds along the river’s edge.

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I’m guessing, but I think this is a Northern Leopard Frog

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Great Blue Heron…love the knobby knees

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White-Winged Dove

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Pied-Billed Grebe

The next day we headed to Caballo Lake for the day.  Now in the past I have said how I hated the Caballo Mountains as they are just hot, dry, and full of plants with thorns.  It’s an awful place.  Well….I changed my mind once I got my own ATV.  I could now explore to my heart’s content without getting stabbed every 5 steps!

I started my day exploring around the shore of the lake.  I usually see quite a few birds in the cottonwood trees at the lake shore.  I wasn’t dissappointed.  On my way to the shore I saw a whole bunch of Yellow-Rumped Warblers.  They were so pretty foraging in a field of yellow flowers.  I stood very still and eventually they ignored me and I was able to get good close-up photos of them.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler.  Here you get a good look at that yellow rump!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler I especially liked this photo as you get the yellow flowers blurred in the background.

After spending a good while enjoying the warblers I made my way to the beach.  There I saw lots of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets but couldn’t get any decent photos as they wanted to stay high up in the trees.  But I did manage to get a Verdin.  These birds are so cute.

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Verdin

While at the lake shore some bushes were blooming that drew in lots of bees and a few butterflies.

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Queen

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Tarantula Hawk Wasp.  These guys actually catch tarantulas for their young

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I believe this is a blue-winged wasp.

While at the shore I saw a variety of birds including one very shy Red-Naped Sapsucker and a couple of Turkey Vultures eating something that had been dead so long it looked like leather.

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Snowy Egrets

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Chipping Sparrow in winter plumage

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Turkey Vulture…ugly aren’t they?

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Red-Naped Sapsucker

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Scaled Quail…these guys were fast!

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White-Crowned Sparrow

I then headed to an arroyo that I enjoy visiting.  It has a natural waterfall that flows when it rains.  We have had a lot of moisture this year and the waterfall did have a trickle of water running down it.  This usually brings in some nice birds.  I did see a rock wren and one of my favorite birds, the Black-Throated Sparrow.

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Rock Wren

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Black-Throated Sparrow

I also saw my first American Snout butterfly.  It landed on my ATV as if saying “here i am!”

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American Snout

After exploring the natural waterfall area, I started heading back to find my husband and see if he found any gold.  I stopped along the way to try and photograph a butterfly that had landed in the road in front of me.  I had turned off my ATV so it was quiet.  As I was focusing in on that butterfly I heard rocks tumbling down the steep side of the arroyo.  I thought maybe it was cows as I see them often on these sloped sides foraging.  But I didn’t see any cows.  I kept hearing one or two rocks tumbling and I was starting to get creeped out.  Then suddenly I saw what was making the rocks move.  Big Horn Sheep!!!!!!

I slowly walked toward them so I could get some photos.  They were just beautiful! I was so excited to see not only a ram with ewes but a young one too!  I took a bunch of photos in hopes of a few good ones.  They knew I was there but grazed for awhile.  I kept creeping closer and eventually they decided to move on.  I will never forget the first time I saw these majestic animals.  I wasn’t expecting to see them so it was an amazing surprise!

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In this photo you can see how they are easily overlooked. They blend right in to the scenery. One of the ewes had a radio collar on.

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Big Horn Sheep – mother with a young one

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Big Horn Sheep

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Big Horn Sheep Ram – beautiful!

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Big Horn Sheep

DSC_1780I couldn’t wait to meet up with my husband to tell him what I saw! And he did find some gold 🙂

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Can you see the flake of gold? Personally, I have no idea how he sees those small pieces!

While watching him search for gold I captured a couple more butterflies that day.

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Black Swallowtail

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Common Checkered Skipper

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Orange Skipperling – this guy was super tiny and quick!

On the way back to the hotel that evening we saw some deer foraging in the fields.  Always a beautiful sight.

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Mule deer – doe and buck

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Common Raven

Great Day at Capulin Springs

About a week ago I got up extremely early and drove up to Capulin Spring.  I think this was the earliest I had ever gotten there – practically still dark as I pulled into the parking area.  But the early rising from bed paid off big time! Plus I was excited to use my new camera.  I upgraded from a Nikon 1 V1 to a V3.  It’s a much better camera with lots more features.  It didn’t disappoint in it’s performance in the low light of dawn!

On the drive up the crest road there were lots of mule deer grazing right on the side of the road.  I drove very slowly and creeped up to them.  They didn’t spook and I was able to get some nice closeups of both the male and female.

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Mule Deer Doe – such a sweet face

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Buck still in velvet

There were so many birds coming in first thing.  I didn’t know where to look as they were EVERYWHERE! A real dilemma for a birder!

I have noticed there at the spring that birds tend to come in by species.  You will see mostly one species at a time.  First thing I saw that day was lots of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.  There were several and they all wanted a bath.  One got completely soaked and sat in front of me grooming for at least 5 minutes.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Soon after the kinglets were done bathing the Townsend’s Warblers came in.  A real treat as they are so beautiful! One got in a spat with a Yellow-Rumped Warbler and won – surprising because they are quite a bit smaller.

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler bullying a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I usually see lots of Juncos when I’m there but not so many this day.  Mostly the really pretty birds came in – to my delight.

Next came the crossbills.  I’m always fascinated by their bills.  I can see how they are very useful in prying open the pinecones but wonder how difficult it must be to drink and groom.

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Red Crossbill – Male

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Red Crossbill – Female

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Red Crossbill using that unique beak to pry apart a pinecone

While all this activity was happening at the spring, there were about 5 Band-Tailed Pigeons wanting to come in for a drink and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk way up in a dead tree.  He never got the nerve up while I was there.  I kept as still as I could and was finally rewarded with the pigeons coming in for a drink.  They are so nervous.

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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

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Band-Tailed Pigeon – there is also one behind him getting a drink

After they left lots of song birds started coming in and the spring got very busy.  It was so wonderful to just sit and enjoy seeing all the beautiful birds flying about and getting baths.  My jaw hurt from the constant smiling.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Wilson’s Warbler with a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Western Tanager – Female

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Virginia’s Warbler irked that another bird was splashing him 🙂

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Hermit Thrush

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Cassin’s Vireo

I’m always entertained by the little chipmunks running around the area.  They are always so busy.  While I was there one crawled into my camera bag.  Probably smelled the lingering scent of a protein bar I had carried in it.  I was especially entertained by a young one.  I got a great pic of him enjoying some little morsel he had found.

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Chipmunk

There was a Steller’s Jay squawking in the canopy for a while.  He didn’t like me there.  But my patience was finally rewarded when he came down for a drink.  They are my favorite jays.  For some reason the white markings on their face make me think of Spy vs Spy (hmmmm…showing my age LOL!)

steller's jayI got to see a Brown Creeper as well.  I’ve gone several years with only seeing one briefly.  But this summer I’ve seen several and am always thrilled when I do.  This particular creeper flew to the spring but was so nervous he immediately flew back into the trees.  I managed to get one decent photo of him in the deep shadows.

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Brown Creeper

There was one bird I photographed that I just can’t figure out what it is.  I’m hoping someone seeing this blog can let me know what they think.  My first guess was a juvenile Hermit Thrush but I’m not so sure after studying the photo.

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Mystery bird for me

As the morning passed I was so thankful to have seen so many variety of birds.  I will miss this place once winter comes.  But for a little while longer I can enjoy it’s bounty.

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Green-Tailed Towhee

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Northern Flicker

I sat there for about 4 hours.  My behind was numb! Next time I need to bring a cushion!

On the way out I noticed the sunflowers in bloom.  There were lots of interesting bees on them.  I couldn’t resist photographing a couple of them.

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Interesting red bee / fly?

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I liked the fuzzy butt on this one 🙂

I hated to leave but work was waiting for me.  I will have to return again soon before all the birds fly away for the winter.

Birding from Albuquerque to San Antonio and Back

Last August I drove to San Antonio to visit my parents.  Life has been busy and I’m late on posting.

I wasn’t sure how well the birding opportunities would be as it was the middle of August.  But I was surprised at how successful I was at seeing a variety of birds…several of which were new birds for me.  I realized quickly that it was soooo dry in Texas that if I birded in areas where there was water I was sure to get something.

I decided this trip to break it up into two-day drives coming and going.  In the past I would drive the entire 12-13 hours in one day.  I’d be exhausted by the time I got to my destination.  It was a much better choice to drive half way and rest.  Plus it afforded me opportunities to stop and bird and let Scarlett get out and stretch her legs and play in some water.

This was Scarlett’s first road trip and she did great!

On the highway outside of Fort Sumner I happened to see a Swainson’s Hawk perched nicely in a dead tree.  I can never resist photographing birds of prey.

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Swainson’s Hawk

I’m so glad I decided to stop and take a few pics.  Because in that same tree was a Common Nighthawk! I have seen them in flight many times but never had to opportunity to photograph one.  So I was excited to see this one so close.  🙂

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Common Nighthawk

On the way to San Antonio I decided to drive to Lubbock, Texas, and stay the night there.  I had seen on the internet that there was an arboretum there.  Now how many of you think of a nice, lush garden area when you hear the word “arboretum”?  Well…the arboretum at Lubbock was a huge disappointment.  Maybe at one time it was nice, but not now.  The wildflower garden was way out of control but did give me a few butterflies to photograph.

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Bordered Patch

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Painted Lady

The only highlight of the arboretum besides the butterflies was a family of Mississippi Kites.  They were determined to stay in the tops of the trees, but I did manage to catch one decent photo.

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Mississippi Kite

The next morning I was determined to find someplace on the way out of town that would be much nicer to bird.  I decided to check out Buffalo Springs Lake outside of Lubbock.  What a great choice!  A beautiful community with lots of water around and full of birds.

The drive from the highway to the lake wound through grasslands and I got a new bird.  I’ve heard Northern Bobwhite many times in the past but never got a photo.  And for those of you that know me well, I only count birds on my list if I managed to get a photo (even a crappy one! LOL!).

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Northern Bobwhite

I also got to watch a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher getting breakfast.  He was a ways away but I did manage to get a halfway decent shot of him in flight.  First time I’ve seen the red patch on their wings.  It’s usually hidden when the wings are folded.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

There was a nice group of Cassin’s Sparrows but they were very shy.  I managed to get one shot before they all dove into the deep grasses.

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Cassin’s Sparrow

Scarlett was happy that she got to have a morning splash in the lake before hitting the road for another 6-7 hours.  From Buffalo Springs I took a little side road to connect to the main highway instead of backtracking.  I’m so glad I did!  The drive was wonderful because of the acres and acres of stunning sunflowers!

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Giant Sunflowers outside of Lubbock, TX

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Facing the early morning sun

While staying in San Antonio I had heard about this place called Warbling Woods.  It’s a privately owned residence on several acres.  The owners are bird lovers and have created a beautiful bird sanctuary that visitors can come and enjoy.  I got to go for a couple of hours one morning.  Nothing of note really except for hearing a Dickcissel – a new bird for me.  Sadly I didn’t get a photo so he couldn’t get added to my list.

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Black-Crested Titmouse

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Summer Tanager – Female

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Carolina Wren

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Northern Cardinal – Female

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Inca Dove

I did get one butterfly at the Warbling Woods location.

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Gulf Fritillary

The weather was in the 100+ degrees and the humidity was extremely high.  So it wasn’t the best weather for birding.

On the way home I took a different route.  I drove to Roswell, NM.  I wanted to check out the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.  On the way out of San Antonio I stopped at a little park to let Scarlett run around before hitting the road for several hours.  I’m glad I chose that little park because it had a small pond.  Since Texas had been extremely dry for several weeks, this little pond was a big draw for birds.

While Scarlett played in the water I was fortunate to get several new birds.

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Louisiana Waterthrush – a new bird!

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Miss Scarlett relaxing after her swim

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Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher – yup! Another new bird!

Just as I was turning to leave I saw something larger fly overhead and land at the far end of the pond.  I was so excited to see it was a Little Blue Heron! Another new bird for me!

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Little Blue Heron

I would have loved to stay at that pond for several hours but I had to hit the road.  It was going to be a long day of driving.  Just outside of Fort Stockton I needed to get gas.  I couldn’t make it to the town so stopped at a little station in the middle of nowhere about 50 miles from Fort Stockton.  It was the middle of the day and 107 degrees!  I needed to let Scarlett out to do her business.  While she was doing that I noticed quite a lot of birds hanging out around a transformer on a pole.  It was the only decent bit of shade! The birds looked just miserable!

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Bullock’s Oriole – Female

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Northern Mockingbird

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Pyrrhuloxia

Back on the road I drove up through Carlsbad, NM.  I decided to stop at a little lake called Lake Avalon as ebird was showing several sightings there.  It was a very wild lake…more of a reservoir instead of a place for people to come picnic.  So the vegetation was thick and the roads around it terrible.  But I did manage to find one road navigable by my car and made it to the lake’s edge.  It was so hot Scarlett and I were only able to walk around for about 15 minutes before we dove into the car for max A/C!

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Scarlett cooling off at Lake Avalon

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Western Kingbird hitting a grasshopper on a limb

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Bullock’s Oriole – Female

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Western Kingbird – panting in the heat!

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Killdeer

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Greater Roadrunner

While sitting in the car getting ready to leave I heard an unusual bird call coming from the only two cottonwood trees in the area.  They were a magnet for lots of birds but pretty far away so was difficult to get photos.  But I was determined to figure out what was calling in that tree that I didn’t recognize.  I finally got a glimpse of it flying from one branch to another.  Quickly snapped a photo and zoomed in.  And saw it was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! A new bird for me!

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Yellow-Billed Cuckoo – I believe it’s a juvenile as it’s bill has lots of black

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I thought this photo looked like a watercolor painting

The next morning I got up very early (before sunrise!) and drove to Bitter Lake.  There wasn’t much water there so not many water birds around.  But on ebird there had been sightings of a Snowy Plover and that would be a new bird for me.  Needless to say I was excited to see one as soon as I got there.  The light was poor and the bird at a distance but I did manage to get a decent enough pic for my book.

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Snowy Plover

The refuge was a peaceful place to walk Scarlett and enjoy the sunrise and cool air.

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Scarlett enjoying the walk at Bitter Lake

While walking I saw a pair of raccoons go running past me.  Those guys can run!  As it was very early sunrise my camera just couldn’t get a sharp pic as they were moving so fast.  Briefly one stopped (sort of) so I grabbed a quick pic.

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Very fast racoons!

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Glad one paused for a quick look back

There were Scaled Quail everywhere and lots of Meadowlarks singing.  I can see how this would be a great place to visit for birding at other times of the year.  I will have to see if I can visit again in the spring.

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Scaled Quail

We finally made it home but the excitement didn’t stop.  I had to drive all the way into town and pic up photos for the State Fair photo contest and get them submitted that day.  But it was worth the effort and extra driving time.  I won an Honorable Mention ribbon for my Burrowing Owl photo 🙂

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Burrowing Owl

I was surprised at how good the birding was for me for a late hot summer trip!

Annual Butterfly Count in Las Vegas, NM

Last Sunday I met up with my butterfly friends to attend the only annual butterfly count held in New Mexico. The weather has been extremely hot in Albuquerque so I was looking forward to heading north to more normal June temperatures.

The drive there takes about 2 hours and it goes right past one of my favorite birding spots…Valley Irrigation Road in Moriarty. So I left a little early so I could drive down this road.

I hadn’t been down that road for a few weeks. I was surprised to see the Otto Pond migrant trap had tripled in size. I could hear several variety of shore birds but couldn’t see them. But a Great Blue Heron was very close by and lots of doves.

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Great Blue Heron

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Mourning Dove

Since not much else was out I hit the road.  Taking Highway 41 is always a pretty drive. Saw a beautiful prong horn antelope and wide open scenery.

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Ortiz Mountains in the distance

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Church at Galisteo

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Prong Horn Antelope

We were to meet at a location north of Las Vegas called Montezuma. I’d never been there before. It was a beautiful place with lots of water and lush vegetation.

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Canada Goose

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After everyone met up we were divided up to cover more ground. My group opted for the higher elevations. First we stopped at a campground that is closed for repairs…which was great because we were the only people that were there. We got quite a variety and number of butterflies there.  We started out walking together but soon spread out.

I was ahead of Joe and Rebecca by a ways and was searching the stream and grasses on my right not paying attention to my left. All of a sudden I caught my breath because I had just disturbed about 20 swallowtail butterflies and they all flew up around me.  I quickly called out “Joe!” He came running up just in time to see them land back on the road. It was so beautiful that he ran back and got Rebecca.

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Western Tiger Swallowtail

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Two-Tailed Swallowtail

DSC_5914 DSC_5928 DSC_5961 DSC_5955Further up the road we saw many more variety of butterflies.

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Mexican Yellow

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Western Pine Elfin

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Northern Crescent

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Painted Lady

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Hoary Comma

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Hoary Comma

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Pacuvius Duskywing

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Silvery Checkerspot

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Margined White

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Northern Cloudywing

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Weidemeyer’s Admiral

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Echo Azure

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Northern Crescent

  When we were heading back to the car I heard all this noise in the brush and could see the bushes swaying like something huge was headed my way. I immediately thought “bear!” and my adrenalin kicked in…but then I saw the culprit. Thank God it was a horse!

DSC_6186Next we headed up to Johnson Mesa which is at an altitude of 9,467 feet above sea level. It was a gorgeous location. Thunderstorms were close by but fortunately never came over us.

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Joe and Rebecca searching the meadow for butterflies

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Selfie 🙂

DSC_2413But because there were more clouds and cooler temperatures there were a lot fewer butterflies flying. We combed the mesa looking for butterflies in the grasses and were rewarded with a few.

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Common Alpine

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Common Ringlet

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Common Checkered Skipper

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Painted Crescent

Throughout the day I looked for birds but they were scarce. But on the way down from Johnson Mesa we saw about six male Evening Grosbeak feeding on the side of the road. Gorgeous birds!

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Evening Grosbeak

At this point I left Joe and Rebecca and headed to Sapello to see a client for a signature. Since Sapello was still considered in the radius of our day I took some time to search for butterflies there. On the way to Sapello I did get a pretty good pic of a magpie. They had been eluding me all day. And I saw a Yellow-Breasted Chat land not 5 feet from me…but no chance to get a pic…..dang it!

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Black-Billed Magpie

By the time I made it to Sapello it was late afternoon. I couldn’t stay long but I still found a few butterflies to add to the count as well as a few fun photos.

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Silvery Checkerspot

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Red-Winged Blackbird – female

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Cloudy Sulphur – mating! 🙂

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Old Convent

DSC_6423 DSC_6398 DSC_6395Overall a very long day by the time I drove two hours back home. But I had a wonderful time and definitely added quite a few new species to my butterfly list!

Birding in Southern New Mexico

My husband and I had another opportunity to go to Truth or Consequences, NM, for a weekend before it just gets too hot to visit.  We love to get out and go four-wheeling and explore the countryside.  As it’s still spring I was hopeful for some good birding opportunities.

Last Saturday we went to Caballo Lake for the day.  It was forcasted for sunshine but windy.  Wow…it got very windy.  My husband loves to prospect for gold.  So while he went to a favorite canyon, I headed out to bird along the roads and around the lake.  I was able to bird for about 2 hours in the morning but even then it was blowing pretty good.  I mostly saw Black-Throated Sparrows and a variety of flycatchers.  I was amazed even in that wind that they were able to pluck bugs out of the air with ease.

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Western Wood-Pewee

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Least Flycatcher

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Black-Throated Sparrows Adult above and softly colored juvenile below

As the morning progressed it got extremely windy.  So I headed back to the truck and took a nice long nap.  Upon waking I realized the wind had died down.  So I jumped back on the four-wheeler and headed out.  I remember last time I was there I saw my first Pyrrhuloxia in a specific canyon. So I decided to head back in that canyon for a second try as my first photos were barely discernible.  And I was quickly rewarded with a sighting.  And I got some good pics too!

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Pyrrhuloxia

Heading back to the truck I saw a few hummingbirds hanging out in a blooming tree.  I managed to get a pic of a couple of them.

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Black-chinned hummingbirds

The views of the mountains and lake were beautiful.  I love photographing vistas.

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Caballo Mountains

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Caballo Lake

The next morning I saw the hotel owner filling the bird feeders in the front garden area.  The birds must be used to the routine because as soon as they saw him they all came flying in.  I got a few good pics before we headed out for another day of fun.

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Lesser Goldfinch

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House Sparrow

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House Finch

On Sunday we headed to the hills around Hillsboro, New Mexico.  As I’ve said before, they are like night and day from the Caballo Mountains and they aren’t that far away from each other.  I love the more lush landscape and fewer cactus.  Plus there’s more historical items left behind to investigate.

DSC_0539The morning weather was beautiful…calm, slightly overcast, cool.  The lighting was perfect for photos.  As soon as we parked our four-wheelers to hike up a particular canyon, I saw a Scaled Quail calling from atop a bush.  I even video taped him singing.

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Scaled Quail

As my husband began prospecting for gold, I started hiking, birding and butterflying 🙂

I was rewarded by a sighting of a Macgillivray’s Warbler.  I then saw the female and found their nest.  Took a quick pic of the nest and then moved on so as not to disturb them.  I managed to get one photo of the male.  They stayed deep in the foliage.

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Macgillivray’s Warbler

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Macgillivray’s Warbler nest

I had a great day birding.  Because it was cooler the birds were active all day.  While eating my lunch I sat beneath a shade tree and was entertained by a pair of Say’s Phoebes who were busy all day feeding their babies.  They picked a very unusual location for their nest.  There is an old well in the area and the birds have figured out how to dive into it for a drink.  The Phoebes have built their nest down in that well.  They were busy catching bugs, landing on the barbed wire surrounding the well, and then diving in to feed their babies.

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Say’s Phoebe with butterfly for the babies. Maybe Joe can identify this butterfly for me 😉

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Old Well that birds fly down to drink. The Phoebes have a nest down there and loved perching on the barbed wire before diving down the well.

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Western Tanager coming in for a drink at the well. And this photo is SOOC for those photographers out there 😉

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Summer Tanager Female

Because the winds were calm I was able to get several photos of butterflies.

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Dainty Sulpher

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Mexican Yellow is the butterfly with the white open wings. The other butterfly with the orange inside is a Sleepy Orange.

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Acmon Blue

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Orange Skipperling

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Gray Hairstreak – it must have just emerged because it was sitting and rubbing its wings and was unwilling to fly.

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Marine Blue

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Small Checkered Skipper

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Mexican Cloudywing

The views in Hillsboro were very nice this trip.

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Walls left from an old building. This was a pretty large structure for the area.

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Unique cloud formations.

DSC_2234 DSC_2248On our way back to our four wheelers we scared a bird off the nest which was located in a small, skinny bush not 3 feet high.  Didn’t see the bird as it flew off in a flash so not sure what species the eggs are.  Then, as we were riding our four wheelers back to the truck Tim came very close to a dove’s nest.  The parent went flying off acting injured to lure us away.  When we investigated we found two babies.  It was a close call because the four wheeler tracks went to each side of the nest.  I’m so glad we didn’t run over them.

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Baby doves

DSC_2255During our trip we saw quite a variety of lizards.  I have always enjoyed watching lizards.  Many of these were not scared of me and let me take some good pics.

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Common Checkered Whiptail

DSC_0544 DSC_0609 DSC_9804It was a relaxing weekend with lots of photo opportunities and long soaks in the hot springs at night….wonderful

Birdathon at Fort Sumner, NM

I participated in my first Birdathon, a fund raiser for the Central New Mexico Audubon Society (CNMAS).  We traveled to Fort Sumner and visited several locations in the area.  The Birdathon lasted 24 hours.  We met at Lake Sumner at 10 am on Thursday, May 7.  I didn’t count how many of us were there but it was under 20 people I believe.

We started our bird watching by slowly driving the few miles of road through grasslands toward the lake.  I got several good photos of birds I already have on my life list but previously only had poor quality images.  Most notably the Lark Bunting and the Scaled Quail.  My friend Valerie will remember the first time we photographed a Scaled Quail.  We were visiting Chaco Canyon and I didn’t have my long range lens on my camera.  So I’m yelling at her to “get that bird!!!”  She frantically running down a path trying to shoot that bird in with manual settings.  I’m yelling “put your camera on auto!!!”  LOL! She did get a picture though…and not too bad a one considering the circumstances. 🙂

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Scaled Quail

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Lark Bunting on top with a Lark Sparrow down below

As we approached the lake we first went down to the Pecos River below the dam.  Someone had spotted a Black-Chinned Hummingbird female in a nest.  I was shown the nest and was able to get a great photo of her with moss in her mouth for building her nest.  I really enjoyed seeing that.  I got a new bird there, an Olive-Sided Flycatcher.  Sadly he was directly between me and the sun so the photo isn’t great.

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Pecos River just below the dam

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Black-Chinned Hummingbird with moss in her mouth

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Barn Swallow

From the river area we moved to the shoreline of the lake.  I got a new bird there too, a Forster’s Tern.  Again, the bird was flying and at such a great distance the photo was not good.  Sigh….

After having lunch we went to Redondo Lake near Fort Sumner.  This was a nice small lake that you could drive all the way around in just a few minutes.  But it offers a large area of cattails that bring in a diverse amount of birds.  We noticed a clump of Ruddy Ducks which turned out to be the parents and seven young ones almost full grown.  We were treated to the sight of a Blue Jay who posed nicely for everyone to get a good look at.  I got to see a Red-Headed Woodpecker (which is a new bird for me) but sadly didn’t get a photograph.  🙁  He will have to go on my Seen/Heard but Not Photographed List.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

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Ruddy Ducks – the adults have the white on their face

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Blue Jay

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Red-Winged Blackbird – Juvenile

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Black-Chinned Hummingbird

We drove along the farm roads in hopes of seeing a variety of blackbirds – most especially the Bronzed Cowbird.  No luck with the Bronzed Cowbird but we saw plenty of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Common and Great Tailed Grackles, and Brown-Headed Blackbirds.  They were hanging around the cattle eagerly grabbing up the insects stirred up.

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A variety of blackbirds including Brewer’s Blackbird and Yellow-Headed Blackbird

We then drove to a location called Melrose Trap.  It’s a small grove of trees located in the middle of prairie and farmland.  So it’s a huge draw to migrating birds – most especially warblers.  We were in high hopes of seeing a variety of species there.

There were lots of Western Kingbirds making lots of racket, which made it difficult for birding by ear.  The foliage was dense and lighting low which made for difficult photo ops.  But I managed to get some nice pics.  Most especially of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler who sat on a limb not 10 feet away just grooming without a care for us.  I was thrilled to get a new bird, the Western Wood-Pewee…and a good photo for a change!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Western Tanager

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Western Wood-Pewee

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Bullock’s Oriole

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Wilson’s Warbler

One of the birds on our “love to get list” was a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher.  We drove down the highway from Melrose Trap looking for it but without luck.  One my drive back to Fort Sumner that evening I was talking to my husband on the phone and saw one fly up to get a bug.  I exclaimed “OH!!! I gotta go! I have to turn around a get a pick of that flycatcher!”  I was thrilled to report to the group at dinner that we could add that species to our list.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

The next morning I got up extremely early (for me) to meet again at the Melrose Trap.  The sun was just coming up.  I saw there was fog ahead so I wasn’t in any big hurry to get there.  There’s this old schoolhouse that I’ve passed many times on this road that I’ve always thought to myself “I’d love to photograph that building”.  Well, this morning the lighting was perfect and I had the time to stop.  I really enjoyed the photos I was able to capture.

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Old School House

I finally arrived at the Melrose Trap.  Several birders were already there from our group.  The warbler activity was very good but the lighting was very poor due to the foliage of the grove and the fog.

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Very difficult birding and photo conditions…but beautiful

DSC_2161 Fellow birder Maurice and I quickly found a corner of the grove that was very productive.  I got several new birds that morning. But I was able to get a few nice pics.  Most especially of the a new bird for me the Chestnut-Sided Warbler.  I also got to photograph a Northern Waterthrush and Lincoln’s Sparrow…two new birds!.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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House Wren

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

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Bullock’s Oriole – Famale

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Western Tanager – Female

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Northern Waterthrush – sure wish that stick hadn’t been in the way…would’ve been a great photo…

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Yellow Warbler

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Bullock’s Oriole

All of a sudden in the grasses beyond the grove we saw a big bird land in the sage bushes.  We quickly saw it was a baby Great Horned Owl.  What a treat!

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Baby Great Horned Owl

Part of the group left the grove to go in search of the Bronzed Cowbird that had eluded them the previous day.  I decided to stay with Maurice to see if we could get any more new warblers.  Sadly about that time the activity seemed to die down.  So we decided it was probably time to head back and meet up with the group for the final bird count at 10 am.  On my drive back I spotted a large woodpecker fly into a tree.  I quickly pulled off to find it.  Maurice saw me pull off and followed me in.  We both saw two woodpeckers fly off to a further tree.  One was clearly a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker but the other was much bigger and had white patches on its wings and rump and red on it’s head.  With those markings it was clearly a Sapsucker.  After consulting with each other we came to the conclusion that it was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  Which was a new bird for me! and an uncommon sighting for the area.

We met up with the group at 10 am and heard they finally got their Bronzed Cowbird.  Everyone went over their sightings and the group as a whole got 108 birds.  Not too bad for how few of us there were.

Afterwards I decided to spend a little more time at Lake Sumner before I headed home.  I was rewarded with several birds that surprisingly weren’t seen during the birdathon…a Loggerhead Shrike, a Horned Lark, and a pair of Ash-Throated Flycatchers.  I had also heard from the count that Bank Swallows were seen at the dam so I was determined to find them as they would be a new bird for me.  I was rewarded to see them exactly where they were decribed to be seen.  🙂

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Horned Lark

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Loggerhead Shrike

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Ash-Throated Flycatcher

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Blue Grosbeak

I ventured to the lake and a Turkey Vulture on the shore.  I got pretty close and was able to get several pics.  I especially liked the ones in flight.

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Turkey Vulture

On my way out of the park I saw another lifer! A Grasshopper Sparrow!

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Grasshopper Sparrow

Sadly, it was time to head home.  I really enjoyed spending two whole days birding.  I got several new birds bringing my Life List to 321 birds that I’ve photographed and identified!  My total count of Seen/Heard and Photographed is now at 330 birds!

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