Who doesn’t love birds? Watching them, listening to them, photographing them, and in my case drawing them. And it’s especially exciting when a new visitor comes calling. When the bird is the first I’ve ever sighted, automatically becoming a new addition to my life list!
There I was, working away on one of my Sonoran Desert posts, when I glanced up from my sketchbook and noticed an unfamiliar bird standing tall under our big juniper tree. Not one of the hundreds of dark-eyed juncos that feast all winter below our feeders. Definitely larger than the comical juniper titmice and noisy mountain chickadees that pop in and out conducting their continual grab-a-seed-and-dash maneuvers. Hmmmmm ….. a bit larger than our resident canyon and spotted towhees, but slimmer than the Woodhouse’s scrub jay. An American robin? A western bluebird? Certainly similar, but not quite; certainly a member of the thrush family?
Turned out he was one of the thrush species …. not the robin or bluebird, but the beautifully sleek Townsend’s Solitaire. For a brief moment he seemed to be evaluating the quality of juniper berries lying beneath the tree. Not wanting to spook him, I watched in muted excitement, then dared to make a move for my camera. He stayed just long enough to bend over for a bird’s-eye look, promptly dismissing our berry crop, and off he flew. Somehow, while juggling my field guide, binoculars and camera, I managed to snap a photo to confirm my sighting with iNaturalist. Confirmed! How cool was that!
It was a great day!
I’ve watched every day since to see if this one or more Townsend’s Solitaires drop by. No luck yet, but now I know they’re around. Maybe I’ll catch them this Spring breeding, nesting, but more likely singing and calling from the treetops while defending their territory full of delicious juniper berries!
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.
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.
Hummingbirds are one of the most fascinating and beautiful bird species that come to our yard each summer. The black-chinned, the broad-tailed, and the feisty rufous are the three species we see most often. Competition for nectar can be fierce, and it’s exciting to watch their aerial acrobatics as they buzz back and forth to determine the “owner” of our flowers!
It’s all about nectar ….. a commodity somewhat scarce in the desert, especially during a drought.
What a successful breeding season it’s been! Our backyard bird population exploded in size during May. with the addition of dozens of youngsters. The house finches have been the most prolific, and watching the newbies spar at the waterbowl or compete for the best perch on the feeders has been hilarious. But I’ve had the most fun getting to know the newest addition to the spotted towhee clan …….
We packed up camp at the Angel Peak campground early in the morning, and bounced back down 8 miles of washboard road towards the highway. Along the way we pulled into several picnic areas with scenic overlooks and ooohed and aaaaahed at the spectacular Kutz Canyon from many angles. Every stop was worth it..
But then a new destination was calling …… about 70 miles southeast ….. over the Continental Divide to Cuba Mesa.
It has been a while between Escapitoes, but for good reason! We decided to sell our RV, BagoBago, and go with a pull-behind travel trailer that would get off the beaten path more easily; would be equipped with all those features for off-grid camping and exploration. After a few weeks of shopping we decided the new MicroMinnie FLX from Winnebago would fit the bill nicely. This high clearance, rugged 22 foot trailer is loaded with solar panels, lithium batteries, on-demand hot water, eco efficient heater, AC and range, etc., and is surprisingly roomy with a Murphy bed large enough for two plus our 50# dog, Luna. (Yes, Luna is very spoiled!)
Enter ”The Felix” ….. and her maiden, shake-down voyage to the Four Corners region of New Mexico.
Winter dissolves into Spring in New Mexico’s East Mountains, and with this change of seasons comes clouds of pollen, strong winds and a new cast of songbirds. As the Dark-eyed Juncos head north to their Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds, they leave behind the resident Juniper Titmice, House Finches, and Mountain Chickadees, and one of the largest sparrows in the songbird group, the Canyon Towhee.
By early April, the warbly bell ringing song and raspy cat-like mewling call of the male Spotted Towhee can be heard from the tree tops, as he invites all willing suitors and warns off competitors, declaring our backyard his private territory.
Then by mid-April, in moves the dapper Green-tailed Towhee, dominating the seed-littered ground beneath the feeders and chasing away every other bird that dare to grab a bite.
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.