Just this morning, as I walked Luke to the park, I thought about how we didnâ€™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). Iâ€™m now in the process of updating my site. At this time, youâ€™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. Itâ€™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, â€œAfter 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.â€
Iâ€™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
Weâ€™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 weâ€™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 â€œdispersed campingâ€ and weâ€™ve heard â€œdry campingâ€ â€“ camping outside of a campground, as is allowed in US forests and BLM lands. (I encountered cognitive dissonance when we reached a campground for â€œdispersed camping only.â€ Er, um, they must mean there arenâ€™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 wonâ€™t have any neighbors and we wonâ€™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 â€“ and lots of inconsiderate neighbors).
Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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. Itâ€™s remarkable to think â€œthis is so beautiful and weâ€™ve never seen itâ€ 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 â€“ we forget, and we are often amused to be reminded. Not surprisingly, many journal entries include â€œit rained todayâ€ 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 â€“ â€œwhereâ€™s my camera?!â€
most of the 4 nights in Lost Lake Campground (weâ€™ve never stayed anywhere 4 nights in a row â€“ no driving at all)
watching a chipmunk explore Lukeâ€™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 14â€x14â€ 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 â€“ 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,
I took a day trip to various birding hotspots south of Albuquerque, but not as far south as Mecca (Bosque del Apache). My guide was Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico, by Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey, plus GPS and some time spent with Google Earth beforehand. One trip is not enough to evaluate these spots â€“ their inclusion in the book may be enough of a rating. Certainly, I will return to Bernardo, which is so much closer than Mecca but *almost* as beautiful and bird-full (no place is as beautiful as Bosque del Apache). I wish Bosque del Apache would mimic the blinds and overlooks at Bernardo, which has two fantastic trails through high bushes around a pond.
Highlights included quite a few kestrels, a northern harrier at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, lots of sandhill cranes and snow geese, a song sparrow, and several rufous-sided towhees, all at Bernardo.
Note: Photos contain GPS data and can be mapped online.
I had not luck locating Belen Waterfowl Management Area off Jarales Road (a lovely drive). The official map of the area is dreadfully vague. Nor did I see any indication along the road of Casa Colorada WMA.
Weâ€™ve walked in various parts of the bosque (riparian woods, primarily cottonwoods) within Albuquerque over the years. A year ago, our walk resulted in one of my favorite photos of the year (coyote with ducks, a prize winner). This year, we watched a Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk) stand in the river, one foot pinning its prey in the current. And there was a disheveled merlin, a handsome shoveler, a snipe, and a plethora of robins. Iâ€™ve added 9 pictures to the album (19 total).