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. 

This and That

The last couple of weeks I didn’t go on any trips or outings.  Work has been busy and Miss Scarlett still can’t go out on trails. So I spent most of my time at home or at my friend Valerie’s house.

The birds around my home have been busy raising their young. I have several food and water sources so I have quite a variety of birds.

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Black-headed Grosbeak

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Hairy Woodpecker with its offspring

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Hairy Woodpecker...he tries to bathe in this fountain every morning

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Bewick Wren

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Chipping Sparrow

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Canyon Towhee

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Common Raven

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Even my bantam game hen had babies. Look closely and you will see the chick breaking open its shell

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One of the babies...only a few hours old!

I was hoping to see birds at Valerie’s. She lives in Placitas. I didn’t see any birds but got to enjoy a fabulous sunset.

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Cabezon peak in the distance

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Sage blooms in sunset

My gardens are doing well at home. The blooms are bringing in quite a variety of insects.

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This shot reminds me of some kung fu movie 🙂

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Cool teal colored bee...even its eyes

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Juniper Hairstreak

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Mourning Cloak just emerged from its chrysalis... We had no idea it was there right above the front door!

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Gray Hairstreak

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Colorado hairstreak

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Painted Lady

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Orange Skipperling

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Russet Skipperling...OK...I'm guessing on the name of this one lol!

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Weidemeyer's Admiral

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Mourning Cloak

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First day lilly bloom in my yard

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While walking Scarlett around the neighborhood I’ve enjoyed some wonderful wildlife.

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Mule deer buck...look close to see velvet antlers coming in.

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Mule deer

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So even though I didn’t go on any trips…I am very much enjoying this wonderful summer.

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

Hiking the Domingo Baca Trail, Sandia Mountains, NM

This year I have decided to take every opportunity to re-explore the trails in the Sandia Mountains.  I have always enjoyed exploring the varied trails and am looking forward to seeing some favorites as well as some new ones.

I haven’t hiked the Domingo Baca trail in over 10 years.  I went with friends to see the airplane crash then.  It was a tough hike but well worth the effort.  This time I only went as far as the spring as I was by myself.

The weather this spring has been cool and rainy.  The view of the Sandia Mountains was very beautiful the morning I set out.  It had rained during the night and the clouds were still hovering along the peaks.  The air was cool and crisp and the views of Albuquerque were amazing.  I was wishing I had my polarized filter for better pics.

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City of Albuquerque

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I didn’t see too many birds or butterflies but managed to get a few shots.  The highlight was seeing a Cooper’s Hawk building a nest in one of the cottonwood trees in the Elena Gallegos picnic area.  He was a little too far way for a good pic but it was exciting to see him nonetheless.  He flew over me a couple times during the hike as well.

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Cooper’s Hawk

I heard several blue-gray gnatcatchers in the trees and bushes while I hiked.  I managed to get a couple of nice pics of them even though they are so small and quick!

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Blue-gray gnatcatcher

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Black-Chinned Hummingbird

I finally made it to the spring.  It was flowing very nicely since we’ve had a lot of rain.  It was so nice to sit and relax and enjoy the sound of flowing water (a rarity here in NM).  The signs of spring growth were a cheery sight.  I am so ready for warm weather!

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I don’t know what this growth is on the tree. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was in patches all over and such a bright orange!

DSC_2068 DSC_2057 DSC_2839 On the way back down the trail I heard the tram overhead and managed to get a quick pic before it disappeared into the clouds above.  I saw several butterflies and was able to get pics as they weren’t flying to energetically in the cooler weather.

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Painted Lady

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Mormon Metalmark

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Hmmm….maybe Joe and help me identify this one. He says “they’re easy!” uh….I don’t think so LOL!

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No clue yet what this one is either. I can definitely tell I’m a beginner butterfly enthusiast. I will have to spend some time thumbing through my book to identify some of my finds.

I really enjoyed revisiting the Domingo Baca canyon.  I’m not sure why I stayed away so long…..

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Birding and Hiking in Atlanta, GA

A while back my friend Kelly B moved to Atlanta, GA.  She travels a lot with her work so she has built up frequent flyer miles.  She used some of her miles to buy me a ticket to come see her.  It was great to see where they live and spend some quality time with her and her family.  Her children are wonderful and it was great to visit with her husband Mike.  We ate wonderful southern food.  The fried green tomatoes at Mary Mac’s Tea Room were amazing!

The weather was rainy almost the whole time I was there.  But we didn’t let it stop us.  Kelly knows I’m almost obsessed with birding.  She was happy to combine birding with hiking and exploring the sights around Atlanta.

Our first day we stopped in Henderson Park which was very near Kelly’s house.  My birding apps were showing a lot of warbler activity in this park.  Kelly didn’t even know it existed so it was a nice surprise for her.  The park had nice trails, open areas and a small lake.

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Hooded Warbler – see what I had to deal with trying to get a photo! I almost didn’t get this bird. Thankfully we can see enough of the bird to identify it properly.

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Northern Rough-Winged Swallow. I happened to catch it when it landed for a brief moment.

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Eastern Towhee

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Gray Catbird

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Northern Cardinal

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Song Sparrow

But I found the conditions very difficult to bird in.  I’m used to low open trees, desert areas and sunny blue skies in New Mexico.  Atlanta has 100’+ high trees, dense undergrowth and low light.  Add in rainy weather and I was feeling way out of my element.  Good thing Kelly was helping me look for birds or I never would have seen any much less got a few photos.  Most of my pictures aren’t worth posting because they are blurry or the bird is behind way too much foliage or the light was just too low.  But I did manage to get a few decent photos of birds.

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Trail at Kennesaw National Battlefield Park

After the short stop at Henderson Park we went to Kennesaw National Battlefield Park.  The park was really nice but the weather really prohibited us from exploring too much.  The main mountain was completely covered in low clouds.  The staff at the park suggested we walk the one-mile trail near the parking area.  It was a beautiful trail and identified the various trees and foliage in the area.  It had a pretty babbling brook too.  But again the foliage was very dense and the canopy very high.  The birdsong was abundant and I was so excited to hear all the variety of birds, but the photo opportunities were very small.  But I did manage to get several new birds walking the trail.

From there we went to downtown Atlanta to Piedmont Park.  Kelly figured we had a better chance of seeing birds since the park is very open with trees spaced far apart and open grass areas.  When we got there the rain was really coming down.  But we weren’t to be stopped.  We carried umbrellas and braved the weather.  There were almost no people out there (they weren’t as crazy as us!).  Just the odd jogger out for a run.

We walked to the lake at the park and the sight took my breath away.  The rainy weather created the most beautiful setting of the lake and Piedmont Park Conservancy building.  I just had to take some pictures.  I wasn’t sure how the photos would turn out since the light was so low and it was lightly raining.  I had to balance the umbrella with one hand and take the photo with the other.  I just hoped for the best.  But I couldn’t be happier with the results.

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Piedmont Park Conservancy Building

We walked the park for a while but eventually we had had enough of the wet weather.

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Chipping Sparrow

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Bea with a giant earthworm!

The next day we again stopped at Henderson Park and the morning was very nice.  We took Kelly’s daughter Beatrix (Bea) with us.  She loves the outdoors.  Since it wasn’t very wet and rainy we were able to explore more of the trails around the park.  Bea found a variety of insects to play with.  Her favorite being an earth worm that was the longest we had ever seen! Thankfully we convinced her it didn’t want to go home with us but instead wanted to stay in the forest with its friends.  Whew!

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Kelly and Bea at Cochran Shoals park on the Chattahoochee River

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Kelly, Kelly and Bea on a trail at Cochran Shoals

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Chattahoochee River

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Me and Bea on the Chattahoochee River

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Boardwalk through the wetlands at Cochran Shoals park on the Chattahoochee River

From there we went to Cochran Shoals park which is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.  The river was huge! Made the poor Rio Grande look small and shallow.  The trails were really nice.  I especially enjoyed the boardwalk through the wetlands area.  No new birds were seen there but it was lots of fun to explore together.

We dropped Bea off at home and went back out for more fun.  We next went to Stone Mountain Park.  The weather was cooperating very well.  So we decided to hike to the summit.  It was tough! But a fabulous experience! The views were amazing since it had rained so much.  There was virtually no haze and there was even bits of blue sky trying to show itself.  Kelly is a geologist so she gave me a geology lesson while climbing and pointed out interesting things.  It made the hike very enjoyable and interesting.  I saw a butterfly while hiking Stone Mountain (the only one I saw the whole trip!).

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Red-Spotted Purple Admiral (Limenitis Arthemis)

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View from the top of Stone Mountain

We still had some time to us after hiking the mountain so we decided to check out more of the park.  We walked the Songbird trail which is a trail designed to encourage a large variety of birds with a variety of habitats.  I got several new birds hiking this trail.

The trip seemed to end too soon.  I had so much fun with Kelly and her family. And I got 11 new birds to add to my life list.  I wonder what all I might have seen if the weather had been nicer?

We took one more wet rainy drive through Stone Mountain park before Kelly took me to the airport.  No birds were out but we did see a coyote.  When we were at the Stone Mountain visitor’s center we saw a poster showing the mammals around the area.  They showed a coyote and Kelly said she didn’t believe there were any coyotes in Atlanta.  We we were shocked to see one run right across the road in front of us.  She said that there’s one coyote in Atlanta. 🙂  DSC_1970

It was sad to say goodbye but Kelly assures me she will fly me out again later this year.  We laughed because we spent our whole time outdoors.  Usually we fit in some thrift store shopping together.  Next time!