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.
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!
In the distance I saw several Northern Harrier’s searching for lunch.
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!?!
This particular hawk had already been successful getting something to eat as you can see dried blood on his feet.
While photographing that hawk, some Morning Dove came in looking all fearful of the hawk nearby.
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!
Then to my delight I saw a Ferruginous Hawk on a telephone pole. Such a beautiful bird!
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.
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.
All in all I had two great side trips during my busy work day!
Here’s wishing everyone a very safe and Blessed Christmas!
I recently attended the annual River of Lights held at the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens. Each year they make it bigger and better! I hadn’t been for awhile so it was a real treat.
I went with my friend Dia and we had so much fun. This year they offered a “magic hour” from 5-6. You could purchase tickets for this time and they limited the number of participants so you could get some great photos without the crowds. We loved having the place practically to ourselves. The gardens are big enough that we really didn’t see many people.
We took a few photos of each other in the beautiful lights. It felt very festive!
Here’s a slideshow of all the fabulous lights we saw. If you are viewing this post on a cell phone, click on the photo below and you can scroll through the images.
I am so excited to tell you that I won some ribbons at the New Mexico State Fair this year. I submitted 3 photos to the photography contest (the max number you can enter). This year I decided to enter in the professional category. I figured I’ve been getting noticed in other ways that I might as well give it a shot.
To submit a photo in professional you have to frame and mat your work. I had planned on framing these photos for the office, so I thought I might as well go professional and frame them the way I like with matching mats and frames.
I won 2nd place in the Miscellaneous category with this photo titled “American Steel”.
I won 3rd place in the Urban category for this photo titled “Ranchos De Taos.
Both were from my weekend trip to Taos this summer.
I submitted my pelican photo but it didn’t place. The Animal category is the largest and has stiff competition when people go on safaries and such.
The best I’ve ever did before in the state fair was an honorable mention so I’m very happy with my wins this year. 😃
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
So I think you will agree, hummingbirds are definitely little jewels of the desert!
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.
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.
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.
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet – my first shot of him scolding me
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!
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. You can really see his beautiful markings on his back.
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.
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.
Note sure what this one is. Only photo I got.
Orange Skipperling – I was able to get a better shot of this tiny fast butterfly!
And yes…my husband did find some gold!
My husband metal detecting
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!
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.
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.
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.
While at the lake I enjoyed seeing a couple of American Coots snooping around the dock and a very tame Ring-Billed Gull.
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.
I’m guessing, but I think this is a Northern Leopard Frog
Great Blue Heron…love the knobby knees
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.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Here you get a good look at that yellow rump!
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.
While at the lake shore some bushes were blooming that drew in lots of bees and a few butterflies.
Tarantula Hawk Wasp. These guys actually catch tarantulas for their young
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.
Chipping Sparrow in winter plumage
Turkey Vulture…ugly aren’t they?
Scaled Quail…these guys were fast!
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.
I also saw my first American Snout butterfly. It landed on my ATV as if saying “here i am!”
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!
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.
Big Horn Sheep – mother with a young one
Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep Ram – beautiful!
Big Horn Sheep
I couldn’t wait to meet up with my husband to tell him what I saw! And he did find some gold 🙂
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.
Common Checkered Skipper
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.
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.
Mule Deer Doe – such a sweet face
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.
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.
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.
Red Crossbill – Male
Red Crossbill – Female
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.
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.
Wilson’s Warbler with a Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Western Tanager – Female
Virginia’s Warbler irked that another bird was splashing him 🙂
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.
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!)
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting red bee / fly?
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.
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.
Great Blue Heron
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.
Ortiz Mountains in the distance
Church at Galisteo
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.
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.
Western Tiger Swallowtail
Further up the road we saw many more variety of butterflies.
Western Pine Elfin
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!
Next 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.
Joe and Rebecca searching the meadow for butterflies
But 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.
Common Checkered Skipper
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!
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!
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.
Red-Winged Blackbird – female
Cloudy Sulphur – mating! 🙂
Overall 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!
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.
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!
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.
The views of the mountains and lake were beautiful. I love photographing vistas.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Say’s Phoebe with butterfly for the babies. Maybe Joe can identify this butterfly for me 😉
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.
Western Tanager coming in for a drink at the well. And this photo is SOOC for those photographers out there 😉
Summer Tanager Female
Because the winds were calm I was able to get several photos of butterflies.
Mexican Yellow is the butterfly with the white open wings. The other butterfly with the orange inside is a Sleepy Orange.
Gray Hairstreak – it must have just emerged because it was sitting and rubbing its wings and was unwilling to fly.
Small Checkered Skipper
The views in Hillsboro were very nice this trip.
Walls left from an old building. This was a pretty large structure for the area.
Unique cloud formations.
On 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.
During 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.
Common Checkered Whiptail
It was a relaxing weekend with lots of photo opportunities and long soaks in the hot springs at night….wonderful