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.
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.