Kowabunga! Desert Nomads

Observing nature, especially in a desert environment, requires cautious peering under scrub oak and cholla. It’s always wise to gently part the razor sharp leaves of plants like beargrass and banana yucca with a long stick. Everything seems well armed with spines, thorns or prickles. But look you must, because you never know what you might find cooling off in the shade of a big leafed buffalo gourd or making a noon meal of a prickly pear fruit in the shadows of fan-shaped pads. 

But when exploring it’s wise to always, always remember you might be surprised by a snake. So imagine our relief and delight when on a stretch of dusty trail we encountered our very first desert box turtle!

A true nomad of the southwest.

Continue reading “Kowabunga! Desert Nomads”

Grumpy G. Gus …. A Sandia Mountain Sentinel

Sandia Mountain granite! Such distinctively gnarly gargoyles, whimisically odd and judgmental, critter and caricature mimics ……. There’s nothing like these boulders! This is a short story about one of a cast of thousands; Grumpy G. Gus.

But there’s a longer story too. Underneath the often comical-looking and recognizable characters that can be envisioned in these boulders, there’s an even more fascinating tale that tells volumes about the geologic history of central New Mexico. Come along and meet Gus and learn a bit about Sandia Mountain granite.

Continue reading “Grumpy G. Gus …. A Sandia Mountain Sentinel”

Summer Bugs and Botany: Cochineal Dye Making

It was a rainy day in most of NM, but what a welcome relief to be getting moisture! As we hastily hiked the lower Copper Trails, we noticed the prickly pear seemed to be draped in a more-than-usual white fuzz, and it wasn’t cotton ball shaped but dripping and running down hundreds of cactus pads. Every direction we turned we found nearly every prickly pear to be covered………………….
And then we spotted hundreds of thousands of brilliant scarlet red bodies of the cochineal insect ….. exposed, naked and frantically trying to hold onto their food source, the vertical surfaces of prickly pear pads.  The rain had “melted” their protective coats of fine white wax and the green pads of the cactus looked white washed. 

Opportunity!

Continue reading “Summer Bugs and Botany: Cochineal Dye Making”

Bird On a Wire: Western Kingbird

A swooping, darting and sometimes hovering flycatcher, the Western Kingbird is such fun to watch. When they aren’t performing an aerial ballet to outmaneuver and catch a flying insect, you can find them on a favorite perch actively looking for their next meal to wing on by.

These lemon-breasted, robin-sized birds are easy to recognize. Just look up when you hear non-stop chittering and chatting and you’re likely to find a Western kingbird.

Continue reading “Bird On a Wire: Western Kingbird”

Life List Birds: Scott’s Oriole and Hermit Thrush

Yes, I keep a life list of birds! But along with the list (which includes birds from around the world), I also try to learn something about the species logged, and lately I’ve been enjoying sketching them too.

It’s been a while since a new-to-me bird species came into view. So it was doubly exciting when I was able to increase my list by two on two consecutive days. Meet the Scott’s Oriole and the Hermit Thrush.

Continue reading “Life List Birds: Scott’s Oriole and Hermit Thrush”

The Road to Master Naturalist: Oh No! Noxious Weed Alert ….. 

Probably best known as Tree of Heaven (ToH), Ailanthus altissima seems to be more widespread in the Albuquerque area and up in the East Mountains than I thought. And it’s officially on the noxious weed list for New Mexico.

How did this happen?

Continue reading “The Road to Master Naturalist: Oh No! Noxious Weed Alert ….. “

An Urban Desert Surprise Dressed in Pink Chiffon

“Nature has an economy, an elegance, a style ……” if we could just ”rise out of the rubble” and see.

What is your motivation for getting out in nature? Is it to log miles, climb the next hill, socialize, take a pretty picture, experience wildlife, or perhaps calm your mind? When walking, anywhere, how often do you just pause and really see what’s around you, or ”oops” underfoot?

More often than not, I like to think I fall into the latter category, but at times it doesn’t hurt to get a wake-up reminder …. and yesterday was one of those days.

Continue reading “An Urban Desert Surprise Dressed in Pink Chiffon”

Spring Has Arrived! Part 5: Blanket Flower

There are some flowers, no matter how common, that always make me happy! So when the trails are decorated with sunflowers of any variety, it’s hard not to smile from cheek to cheek!

Yellow Blanket Flower fills this bill …… a what a lovely burst of sunshine popping up today!

Continue reading “Spring Has Arrived! Part 5: Blanket Flower”

Spring Has Arrived! Part 4: A New Mexican Sycamore

Strolling through a pretty north Albuquerque neighborhood a few days ago, I nearly stumbled over a pile of little brown golfballs. Huh? Not a single putting green in sight, I instantly deduced these carelessly cast-away orbs must be none other than last year’s sycamore fruit balls!

Sure enough, a quick glance upward confirmed my suspicion. I was standing in the shade of a huge, patchy-barked sycamore with draping branches over a stucco wall, approaching full leaf stage, and sporting hundreds of spring green fruit balls each with hundreds of immature arrow-shaped seeds.

Continue reading “Spring Has Arrived! Part 4: A New Mexican Sycamore”

Spring Has Arrived! Part 3: More Season’s Firsts

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.

Continue reading “Spring Has Arrived! Part 3: More Season’s Firsts”