Escapito #1 Focus Study: Phay-no Who?


Welcome back to Percha Dam State Park.

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.

Here’s what I learned.

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Escapito #1 Focus Study: HoHoHo Mistletoe!

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?

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Update ….. Winter Botany Study, Part 5b: Kentucky Coffeetree Seed Planting (and a lonely avocado seed)



You may remember back in February, I shared a story about my Kentucky Coffeetree discovery. What fun it was to geek out over those massively excellent seed pods and to get a firsthand peek inside.

After dissecting several pods and finding them housing a bunch of beautiful brown undamaged seeds, I thought it would be fun to try and germinate them.

On March 27th the seeds were planted.

Continue reading “Update ….. Winter Botany Study, Part 5b: Kentucky Coffeetree Seed Planting (and a lonely avocado seed)”

Spring Botany Study, Part 1: The Season’s Firsts

Was it only just last week that it snowed?

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).

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Winter Botany Study, Part 8: A Hint of Green? Hop Tree

With lots of sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, spring must be around the corner. It’s been like waiting for a pot of pasta water to boil though!

Hiking up into our favorite side canyon in the Copper Trail system, brought us to one of my favorite ”trees” that I’ve been monitoring for several years; the Hop Tree (aka wafer ash). More like a big shrub rather than a tree, this particular plant is snuggled against a protective hillside just west of a beautiful rockfall. The cool and moist rocky setting seems to be just perfect for the hop tree and about 20 nearby relatives to flourish year after year. Last year at this time the buds were beginning to swell. Yesterday (March 26th) there was only a hint of green.

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Escapito #1 Focus Study: The Ballad of Goatheads Galore

I remember all too well our brief stay at Percha Dam State Park, and the little drama our dog, Luna, experienced while we were searching high and low for the elusive rufous-backed robin. Our birding naturally took us down sandy trails beneath the cottonwood gallery lining the Rio Grande River. Disappointed we never did see the robin, we were relieved when we got Luna back to BagoBago. Whew ……. I vowed to cement the memory in my mind by composing a ballad of her experience! Read on for the full story.

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Travel Journal, Escapito #1, 2022: Exploring Southern NM

March 14-18, 2022

New Mexico, our home state, is a wonderful state to explore, and this little 5 day Escapito lived up to expectations.  Over 650 miles round-trip, from central NM south and then east, we visited  3 new-to-us state parks, and revisited one of our favorite Bureau of Land Management campgrounds. Our main objective was to find migrating birds; those coming north from south of the border to breed in the US, and those that overwintered along the Rio Grande River corridor and are heading way north to Canada and Alaska.  We found some beautiful birds while exploring some very rugged country to within 12 miles of the Mexican border. 

With my travel journal in hand, I was able to capture a few pages of images and notes from the week. 

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Winter Botany Study, Part 7: Mystery Nest

While we continue to get much needed moisture (snow) on our mountain, we continue to enjoy hiking the dry foothills of Albuquerque’s Open Spaces. The 2,000 foot drop in elevation is nudging spring along faster down there too. Already wormwood and globe mallow are sending up leaves from their perennial roots. While bending over to admire these soft fuzzy new leaves unfolding beneath the smooth sumac grove, I noticed that just inches away from my ear what appeared to be an old paper wasp nest! eeeeeeyikes! I hope no one saw me leap about 5 feet sideways!

After my heart slowed a bit, and with an audible sigh of relief at not being swarmed by angry wasps, I realized I had ”leapt” to a mistaken conclusion. Not a wasp nest at all, but a beautifully woven bird’s nest tucked securely in the fork of several sumac branches.

But what bird built this nest?

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Winter Botany Study, Part 6: Hygroscopic Earthstars



While anxiously looking for signs of spring, I was rummaging about under a scrub live oak yesterday just to see if that somewhat warm and protected site was harboring anything green. No luck, yet! But what I did find was small woody star sitting on top of the duff. Instantly I knew what it was (or so I thought). Always curious, the “star” made the trip home where I began poking and prodding and perusing the internet and my collection of mushroom field guides. Prepared to confirm my belief that this was the woody husk of a Puffball, after a few hours research I discovered how wrong I was. How the old adage, close is only good in horseshoes, is very true and that jumping to conclusions is often misleading. Oh really? puffball fungi don’t have woody husks! Time to geek out, again!

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Dispatches From New Mexico: Lazy R Welding



One of my favorite bumper stickers is, ”I chose the road less traveled. Now where the hell am I?” This reminds me a lot of what it’s like traveling about rural New Mexico. It’s always beautifully remote, ghostly quiet except for the sound of pointlessly spinning vanes of a long-abandoned windmill, and you never know what you’ll find around the next bend in the road.


So there we were navigating the back roads to Quarai …….

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