One of the weediest places we camped during our recent Reservoir tour, Santa Cruz Recreation Area, became a floral hot spot of discovery, at least for me. I shared a photo sampling of some of the flora in my last post……
Two new-to-me members of the Potato family really stood out. A plant called Greenleaf Five-eyes and another simply called Wild Potato.
Oh I do love purple …… not sure why? Anything purple and any shade of purple ….. even a hint of purple will do! As a kid (then and now) my most treasured possession was a new box of crayons. Breaking the seal and inhaling that delicious aroma of color (admit it …. you know the smell) was only the first step in my love affair. Removing each crayon, one-by-one, and taking them for a test drive soon followed, with special care and attention paid to the purples, with names like ……….
Vivid violet, wisteria, twilight lavender, pearly purple, purple pizzazz and purple mountain’s majesty. Who wouldn’t love cyber grape and lilac; or plump purple and sugar plum. How could here be so many purples!
So when I literally stumbled into a mound of the exquisitely purple-hued Silverleaf Nightshade, my surprise and delight was audible. While carefully removing countless nettle-like prickles from my hands, Roy heard me explain, “My “Crayola” Potato!”
In an effort to escape the blistering temperatures brought on by a mid-July heat dome, we decided to take a cooling hike high above Albuquerque. At 10,000+ feet, the trails along the top of Sandia Mountain are a refreshing contrast to the dry desert habitats we usually enjoy.
Up high there are spruce, fir and aspen trees surrounding lush meadows full of blooming wildflowers. On the margins we found flying, flitting, perching and singing some of the prettiest birds we’ve seen all season. Let me share some of the fun facts I learned about two of these birds; the Violet-green Swallow and the Northern Flicker.
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.
Strolling the neighborhood on a cool July morning, in search of any newly-blooming botanical delights (thanks to our all-too-brief bout of monsoonal rains), from a distance I recognized something different. From a distance it looked like a common pepper plant, or maybe a spectacle pod? Coming closer I thought, “shepherd’s purse” with those tiny satchel-like seeds! Or could it be bedstraw, with such an intoxicating fragrance? Finally facing this spindly, narrow-leafed plant, I reached down to a stem and prepared to take a sniff when I was surprised twice!
An ant that had been busy gathering nectar (?) had leaped into my hand and bit me, hard! Obviously he was extremely upset at being disturbed and wanted me to know about it. I instantly dropped the stem and when I flicked the ant from my now throbbing finger, noticed an army of busy ants climbing up and down this tasty plant.
It was then that my surprise was complete. The flowers were unmistakable and recognizable. This plant was a member of the Dogbane family ….. a beautiful Milkweed! Now I had to learn which species of Asclepias this one was that had such tiny flowers?
“The Felix” was back in action for another camping adventure into the wilds of New Mexico. For a few days we enjoyed spending time at one of our favorite dry campgrounds, Datil Well. Then on one day we unhooked truck from trailer and headed further afield to explore a seldom visited area of the Cibola National Forest ….. the Sawtooth Mountains.
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.
After trying for 4 years to collect one of the giant seed pods from our small population of banana yuccas, I was sure this would be the year. One of the plants was in full bloom about a month ago, and after noticing the fleshy fruits were enlarging, I kept watch almost daily.
I should’ve suspected the local population of mule deer were also keeping close watch, because a week ago they snuck in and harvested every single seed pod! Disappointed? Yes. But still determined …….
Then a few days ago I discovered another plant loaded with a dozen of the huge fleshy green pods! Without further ado, I liberated 2 of them and dissection began …..
“From the spillway below Cochiti Dam to the headwaters of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Middle Rio Grande Bosque is more than a cottonwood woodland or forest. It is a whole riparian (or riverside) ecosystem…..”
This is how “A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque”1 begins, and on June 26th, the Master Naturalists’ trainees spent quality time touring and learning about the nature of this very special area.