It was a sun-filled, wind-free hike through Copper’s lesser used trails. Darkling beetles were scurrying to and fro, pausing for brief seconds to let us pass, then resuming their mysterious quest to who knows where. The occasional high pitched hummmmmmmmmm of a hummingbird winging by; hopefully their search for nectar-loaded blossoms is successful.
Here and there the cholla is beginning to plump up, and shrub live oak is showing signs of blooming. Then Roy spotted the first Evening Primrose of the season, and a few steps further I noticed the first Puccoon.
April 21, 2022 A karefree Kat happily hightailed her way away from certain uncertainties when last she flew off with the Swift flock. Soon exhausted and no longer able to keep up, Flambé floated down in a free fall …… and finally …….
Sometimes when hiking familiar trails, it’s easy to get lost in thought. Just being outdoors is very meditative, don’t you think? My mind wanders and it seems my head is high in the clouds, or at the very least I find myself looking up to marvel at that seemingly endless New Mexico blue sky. After all, my boots know where all the foot-tripping rocks are, and autopilot kicks in until ……
Out of the corner of my eye, a slight movement. A small stone gets pushed aside by the wary approach of a snake! Now’s not the time for daydreaming. It’s time to pay close attention to each footfall, because Spring in New Mexico has woken up all the slithering, crawling and buzzing wildlife and they are back at work.
When we left North Carolina, one of the birds we enjoyed immensely but sadly left behind was the Northern Cardinal. Such a brilliantly red, active year-round resident of the East. Fast forward to New Mexico and the State Park we visited after Percha Dam is called Rockhound. Known for its geology (thunder eggs) and breathtaking scenery (Florida Mountains), we were prepared to oooh and aaahhhhh at the view while finding a few rocky gems.
Little did we know the birds would captivate us, especially the Pyrrhuloxia, a cousin to the Northern Cardinal and full fledged member of the cardinal family.
April 13, 2022. Still aloft from the narrow escape from her encounter with red-eyed green Gumby aliens, Flambé found the jet stream along with a migrating flock of Swifts. High high she soared over a newly emerging crop of morel ‘Shrumes, guarded by a few sprigs of grape-flavored Lava Juice. Yum! Tempting! But not so fast ……..
While developing my last nature journal pages about the notoriously fascinating big leaf mistletoe, a perfect segue materialized like magic ….. the natural connection from food to forager, from flora to fauna, from white plump sticky berries called drupes, to shiny black silky flycatchers called Phainopepla (phay-no-pepla).
While camping in the park, we were treated to frequent appearances of several active and vocal phainopeplas. The beautiful glossy black males were putting on quite an aerial show, flashing their bright white wing patches to attract the gray-brown females, Between acts, all the birds we watched ravenously gobbled ripe mistletoe berries from the never-ending supply loading down the riverine cottonwoods.
Percha Dam State Park may not have been the nicest place we stayed during our southern jaunt through New Mexico, but it obviously made an impression. Situated along the Rio Grande River, the area seems to be a magnet for birds. And for good reason. Food! And food for at least one very cool bird, the Phainopepla. A specialist species, their favorite high glucose treat happens to be mistletoe berries…… and oh my! Every cottonwood tree along the river corridor weighed heavy with huge leafy clumps of big leaf mistletoe laden with ripe berries!
There wasn’t a single tree without mistletoe, made all the more obvious because the cottonwoods were still dormant. I wondered ….. is this a healthy situation?
In what seems like a few short days, our New Mexico landscape is rapidy transforming from the crisp and crunchy brown leaves of winter to hints of spring green everywhere! Of course with the promise of spring comes the inevitable dust storm of juniper and pine pollen being whisked along by strong seasonal winds, but sneezing and the sniffles are a small price to pay. I’m prepared to welcome spring with open arms (albeit armed with a box of tissues).
April 1, 2022. After Kat’s last brush with red-eyed green Gumby aliens, Flambé decided to take a much needed break and curled up in a cushy bed of katnip. While in a deep sleep, she began dream-hallucinating (and snoring) about near escapes, misadventures, and of all things, gardening! It is Spring after all, and in her imagination she envisioned quarter acre fields of katnip growing just for her and her friends. April Fools!