I first heard of the Cock of the Rock years ago, after Merri led an impromptu expedition in Ecuador in search of the bird described as both showy and shy.
Last November, we were riding in a van for hours along miles of dirt road that skirt an edge of the Manu jungle region of Peru. Much of that day consisted of riding, stopping, getting out, standing by the road to look for birds while other vehicles roared pass. As we slowed for a turn before crossing a beautiful wide stream, the first Cock of the Rock male I’d ever seen landed on a branch, perhaps not 6 feet from my window (photo above). Snap! Be ready for your opportunities.
(The first female Cock of the Rock I saw was barely visible on a nest in shadow under an overhang above the Urubamba river in Aguas Caliente, near Machu Picchu. Dave Mehlman and I were wandering when a bus driver asked, “have you seen the Cock of the Rock on the nest?” Well, no actually.)
To me, the Cock of the Rock is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. The shape of the head defies logic. Look closely for the beak barely protruding from the feathers. The stark eyes are fish-like, or like the eyes pasted on stuffed animals. Yet the power of the intense red contrasting with the dapper grey and black is undeniable.
The next day, our group drove to a roadside viewing area adjacent to a lek, the competitive breeding grounds for Cocks of the Rock. Plastic tarps formed a wall to minimize dust and noise from passing vehicles. A local guardian kept the key to a locked gate that blocked the steep steps down to a narrow uneven path a dozen paces to a viewing stand, not a blind, but a rickety porch without other attachment, directly behind the plastic tarps. This viewing area looked down a hill that was dense jungle.
At the worst time, more than a dozen people jostled quietly on this platform for a chance to see and photograph one of the half a dozen or so Cocks of the Rock, mostly showy males. Viewing was very challenging through the tangle, though it’s easy to scan green for brilliant red. The loud sore-throat croak of the males also helps you find them.
Photographs required manual focus. There were just too many points to distract autofocus, but automatic exposure settings worked fine. Though the jungle was dim, these birds don’t move very fast.
Eventually, the flock of birders moved on, leaving just 3 of us to watch longer. During this time, the birds moved closer, still not as close as that first bird. It was a delightful moment.
We went to Peru in November, 2015. We traveled with a small group of friends, under arrangements made by Dave Mehlman, birdman extraordinaire. In the course of 2 full weeks, from Lima, to Cusco, to Machu Picchu, to the jungle of Manu, I took too many photos. In the 2 months since, I have taken too long to pull out these. I hope you enjoy them.
My hobby is ‘bagging’ wildernesses, that is, having photos taken of me with wilderness signs. A few are self-portraits, like the one above. Most have been taken by my spirit guide, Merri Rudd. We’ve visited all of the wildernesses in New Mexico, and more than a few in the Four Corners and along the Rockies. I’ve finally gathered some of the photos that identify those wildernesses. More to come, I hope.
OK, I did name the wilderness in the photos themselves. These newest photos are the oldest. (I know, it sounds wrong, but it’s true.) We took a trip to the unnamed wilderness in June with friends Melissa and Lew. We camped in a campground, instead of the jack-camping we did in August. Follow the link for all photos (14 from June plus the previously posted 60 from August).
It has taken me years to finally visit this area I have driven by countless times. This pleasant spring afternoon, people walked among the buildings and played frisbee over the arroyo, while a class of young students sat in grass under a spreading tree.The landscaping and surrounding architecture make this a fabulous walk in the middle of the city with amazing views of the Sandias. This is also a birding hotspot, though not on the occasion of my first visit.
I applaud the architects, planners, and builders for this area. However, it was a terrible mistake to allow the AC systems on the back of the building adjacent to this space — those should be on the roof. This adds unnecessary noise to an area that already suffers from the adjacent Interstate. (Perhaps this should be a requirement of zoning codes.) The smoking area behind one of these building should also be moved — gag, people, take a walk and stop killing yourselves and the rest of us.
Just this morning, as I walked Luke to the park, I thought about how we didn’t see our usual merlin (falcon) this winter. In years past, it occupied a particular telephone pole top almost every late afternoon from October to March. Not so this winter. Imagine my surprise when I spotted this merlin an hour later near the usual spot.
Death bows its head.
As I watched and photographed, the merlin left its prey and moved to a nearby tree. A scrub jay flew at it and the merlin flew around a bit before landing in another nearby tree. The jay went straight at the merlin and landed near it. A moment later, the merlin left the area. Drama on our street. Was the prey related to the jay?
Many years ago, I created a website to document my experiences in Chaco Canyon in the northwest corner of New Mexico in the southwestern United States. Chaco is a gorgeous and remote canyon that contains extensive ruins dating from 900 to 1100 BC (very roughly). The original structures were built by the people variously known as the Anasazi (per the Navajo and others), Ancestral Puebloans (by modern Puebloans), or Hisatsinom (per the Hopi). I’m now in the process of updating my site. At this time, you’ll find the following pages:
We camped near Santa Fe in a great little campground near the bottom of the ski basin road. Black Canyon CG has paved sites with great separation, clean outhouses, no hook-ups. It’s barely an hour from Albuquerque and near 8500 feet. There is a good trail out out of the campground and another to Hyde Park CG. There were lots of birds, lots of hummingbirds, even one magnificent hummingbird (twice the size of more common hummingbirds). See 20 photos.
Merri notes, “After reading Judy Liddell’s bird report for the Estancia Basin, we headed to Clements Road just south of I-40 and just outside of Estancia. Wide-open ranches dominate the landscape out there. Driving and walking down dirt roads, we saw more than TWENTY ferruginous hawks, 4 rough-legged hawks, 2 red-tails, 2 golden eagles, some kestrels, a merlin, 2 shrikes, tons of horned lark, and 30+ antelope. We walked across ranch land and down a country road.”
I’ll add that we had never knowingly seen ferruginous nor rough-legged hawks, making these lifers for us both. In fact, we saw so many of each in so many poses that it was a field-lesson. It made for a beautiful day trip.
After seeing all those hawks on our main walks of the day, we looked for Cienega Draw on Willow Lake Rd, which seem to me imaginative, not descriptive, in this oh-so dry landscape. That detour did take us past the Thunder Chicken Ranch, a great name for an ostrich farm.
We drove farther south toward the two large-ish lakes that appear on the map south of the correctional facility. One lake was full of snow — surprising with the temp above 50 — but no liquid. Before we got to the second lake, a Cadillac Esplanade pulled up next to us. The woman driving asked if we were lost. No, I said, we’re bird-watching and thought the lakes might have something. She seemed surprised, then said sometimes they see cranes. I said I thought this was a public road and she said, yes, a little farther until the gate to the Wrye Ranch, which we saw the northern edge of at Clements Rd — quite a large spread. She drove on and immediately after her Mr Wrye stopped in his truck, "You need help?" he asked and I said, no, we’re just out for a drive. They were polite and offering help is neighborly but they were likely suspicious of strangers on "their" road. After they passed, we went on to the gate and turned around. If there is a second lake, it is behind a very high berm on the south side of the road.
Returning to pavement, we stopped where cottonwoods bordered what may have once been a house, now just some rubble. Mer saw a bird land. She got out and took photos of a merlin, yet another bird of prey to end our day. peace, mjh
We’ve been camping in Colorado for more than two decades. Most years, we head up north before the end of June, but this year my book project kept me busy well into July and we hit the road 7/10 for 14 nights away.
This year, our travel plan was vague: head north until we encounter rain and cold. We assumed we’d have to go at least as far as Wyoming. Ironically, our first night just south of the NM-CO border was both cool and rainy. We never made it to Wyoming. In fact, it rained every day for the first 11 days. Most nights, the temperature got down below 50 degrees (20+ degrees cooler than Albuquerque nights right now).
Most trips, we jack-camp, a term that brings a blank look to faces. The official term is “dispersed camping” and we’ve heard “dry camping” – camping outside of a campground, as is allowed in US forests and BLM lands. (I encountered cognitive dissonance when we reached a campground for “dispersed camping only.” Er, um, they must mean there aren’t any established sites in this CG? Well, the fire rings made that unlikely. Moreover, this was one of two campgrounds maintained by volunteers.) Jack camping means we won’t have any neighbors and we won’t pay for the privilege. Nor will we have outhouses, water, or trash pickup.
This trip, not only did we stay in campgrounds, but they were more expensive than ever before: $18 per night in one well-worth-it CG; $36 per night in the Ouray KOA (includes hot showers – and lots of inconsiderate neighbors).
I’ve kept a journal sporadically since college and regularly on these trips since 1998, when we drove to Hinton, Alberta, Canada (a round trip of more than 5000 miles). Each night on a trip, I read older journal entries to Merri before she goes to sleep and then I write until I’m done (sometimes, all I have to say is where we are and what we ate). On this trip, I read the 1998 journal first. Then I skipped to the journal for 6/2002 because 10 years ago we were travelling the same area of Colorado. In fact, at times, it was uncanny how unintentionally close we were to previous locations and experiences. It’s remarkable to think “this is so beautiful and we’ve never seen it” and then read that, in fact, we did see it a decade ago and thought it was beautiful then. Of course, the unreliability of memory is one of the reasons I journal – we forget, and we are often amused to be reminded. Not surprisingly, many journal entries include “it rained today” or some discussion of how we tried to deal with, avoid or escape the relentless rain. This is how desert dwellers vacation.
Every trip has its doldrums and its peaks. Highlights of this trip include:
looking out to see a bear sauntering within 20 feet of the camper – “where’s my camera?!”
most of the 4 nights in Lost Lake Campground (we’ve never stayed anywhere 4 nights in a row – no driving at all)
watching a chipmunk explore Luke’s well-sealed food bin (we saw more chipmunks than ever before, but fewer hawks than we see in Albuquerque)
numerous hikes (vistas, wildflowers, cool bugs, wildlife), including the Cannibal Plateau (after Alferd Packer)
Not to dwell on the lows, but they include
ATV & dirt bike riders
heat (worst in Montrose)
a broken vent cover that left a 14”x14” hole in our roof with rain imminent (fixed easily and cheaply in Montrose)
From my journal for Friday, 7/13/12:
We came to the turn toward Taylor Reservoir, still a dozen miles beyond that point. We went straight and pulled into Mosca Campground. As we drove through, the host pounced. Eventually, we got his name as Jean or John — I wasn’t quite sure. He was a cross between a mountain man and Jack Black. He was barefoot with beads around his bicep. Above a thick salt and pepper beard, his piercing blue eyes skewered my soul and asked silently, "are you the one?," making me hope I was not. Jean would like to host that remote CG for the next 30 years. He said the previous hosts had done so for 30 years. The husband died a few years back and the wife went on hosting until she fell on the dam and showed signs of Alzheimer’s. Jean went on and on, overloading us with details – which birds are around (he’s an avid birder) , such as the Williamson’s sapsucker, which drills an interesting pattern in trees, as we could see just next to site something or other; what wildlife (a black phase gray fox and a red fox with a kit; a possible muskrat hole at water level; beavers; his own nemesis, the chipmunks (which seemed against his wild child air)). He told us this turn and that turn and this road that soon gets too crappy for our vehicle and on and on. He was a famous wood carver of realistic birds, but now draws with pencil — he loves to show his work, which he refuses to sell. I would not want to sit through a show in his yurt. (Actually, he has a van. I bet he sleeps on the ground, covered with leaves.) In fact, Jean is quite an interesting character, just a little too intense, a guy made gregarious by isolation, perhaps. Probably a great host for his highly rated CG. He said "I’ll talk you to death," to which I replied, "then we’re getting away just in time," which made him pause a moment. I liked him but reached my limit in the 10 or 60 minutes we chatted with him. He deserves to be a character in a novel and he might say his living that novel, having left Idaho to migrate between this CG in the summer and Taos, or was it Tucson or was it Las Cruces. A wilderness hippie, I say with some affection.
We drove on to the next fork in the road. All around us were clusters of campers, every single camp sporting multiple ATVs and dirt bikes. Somehow, it felt crowded. Even before the first deer fly bite, we knew this area wasn’t going to work for us. We walked up one road to a potential site only to look down to see a lower road with two dirt bikes. One could not walk in this area without looking over one’s shoulder the whole time. There would be no chance for real quiet. Ironically, Mosca CG is the only space that might be a bit civilized and we couldn’t face more Jean time.
We pulled into the parking lot for the reservoir and setup up our chairs for lunch using the back porch as our table. As we ate misc, Jean descending from the CG with binocs and did not look our way — he knows we are not the one. He marched over to a family and we heard some snippet of familiar details. I was in a hurry to leave, but Jean went on away, no doubt to walk barefoot through the muck at the top of the reservoir, sinking to his knees, plugging into earth and water, becoming part of the land, raising his arms to heaven and returning to his tree form, mink running around his trunk until the next visitor enters the CG. Perhaps they will be the one.
We visit the area around Alameda frequently. There is a large free parking area just southeast of the bridge. This area is the northern end of the miles-long Paseo del Bosque bike trail through the bosque. Within an easy walk are the old bridge, now closed to cars but used by walkers, cyclists, and equestrians, as well as unpaved trails radiating east, south, and north along both sides of the river. In fact, there are multiple levels of trails along the acequias and closer to the riverbank. What a fabulous area to hike, especially early in the day. (The shade is great but may not be cool enough by late afternoon, even in late spring.)
Birds are an an added bonus to the other natural beauty of the area, which includes wonderful views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande river,