Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mountain Birding

Barn Swallow
We joined a group of local birders at Angel Fire, a ski community on the other side of the mountain, and the habitats there are so different - truly "montane"- rather than the high desert we've seen so far. On this trip to New Mexico, I think we've seen more species of swallows and swifts than anything else. Any place there is water and bugs, you will find scores of swallows scooping them out of the air. You really have to look fast to distinguish one kind from another. I'm pretty good with Barn Swallows, since we have them all over Kentucky.
Cliff Swallow
 However, I learned today that Cliff Swallows look much like the Barns, but they have a white spot on their foreheads and a buffy rump. Good, that will help a lot next time I go to the Gorge! Look at their gourd-shaped nests made of mud and spit!
Killdeer - Hello Sweetie!
One of the local birders led us to a couple of ponds, hoping to find Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They weren't there, but we saw scores of Red-winged Blackbirds, and I pointed out the beautiful females to some who had never seen them. Some peeping drew my eye to a couple of Killdeer (the first we've seen here) getting ready to start a new family. We don't really consider it bird porn, do we?
Mountain Bluebird
We think we saw a Wilson's Snipe in the field, along with Cinnamon Teal in the pond. But I was astounded at the absolute sky blue of the Mountain Bluebird!!
Prairie Dog
 Out here, I kept looking into the sky for a hawk going "ek, ek, ek." To my surprise, that repeated "ek-ek" is probably a prairie dog, not a hawk! They are kind of cute, but they dig an awful lot of holes, eat all the vegetation around the holes, make a lot of noise, and run across the highway without looking. Yikes! I almost hit a couple of them playing chicken on the road. The local ravens and vultures must eat well on all the prairie dog roadkill.
Stellar Jay
 Once again, the Stellar Jay refuses to show his face to the camera.
Pygmy Nuthatch
Did you know there is such a bird as the Pygmy Nuthatch? I'd never heard of them either, but a couple came zooming down to scold when we played their peeping call once or twice.
Western Meadowlark
Home on the range, where the deer and antelope play, we didn't find any deer, but a few elk grazed in a field along with some cattle. However, the Western Meadowlark sang for everyone. I'd always heard that it's hard to tell the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks apart, and visually, I'd agree. But the song of the western bird is much mellower sounding, less of a whistle than our eastern bird. I found it very distinctive, but it took a while to actually track one down for a photo.
Cordilleran Flycatcher
When we started down into Cimmaron Canyon, highly recommended by one of our morning birding buddies, we stopped at a campground to walk along the mountain stream that gurgled along. The creek is lined with willow bushes, and the signs of past high-water marks. I told Dick this is the place to avoid when it rains hard on the mountaintop. Flash floods must be awful here. I've never been able to identify flycatchers - they all look the same to me - but the same local person said they have Cordilleran Flycatchers here, and I think this is one of them! My first flycatcher!
Hairy Woodpecker feeding the chicks
Cimmaron Canyon State Park is about 8500 feet elevation at the top of the canyon. Don't know how far we descended before hiking up Clear Creek Trail. You could see all the creek rock deposited in the forest floor when the creek floods, which must be pretty often. There was no underbrush at the foot of the trail, and higher up we saw lots of fallen trees. All that dead wood is woodpecker heaven! We watched this devoted Hairy Woodpecker father feeding his chicks for quite a while.
Red-naped Sapsucker
Another black red and white bird turned out to be the Red-naped Sapsucker, another life bird. If we had been able to find the Lewis' Woodpecker, it would have been a hat trick for the day, but no such luck. We'll keep looking for them, of course.
Mountain Columbine
It's not always safe to assume the flower you see here is the same one that blooms in Kentucky, but I think we are pretty safe in calling this flower a columbine. It's much shorter than ours in Kentucky though.
Aspens Reaching High
My favorite part about coming West for vacation is finding the quaking aspens. As we climbed the Clear Creek Trail, the sapling leaves waved hello and goodbye as we passed them. Their taller cousins stoically bore tattoos carved by hikers from many years ago. Dick always gets upset when he sees this, since the trees will be scarred for life. This trail was my favorite kind - we crossed the rushing stream on log bridges, the mountain air was invigorating, and I did NOT huff and puff on the way up! Didn't have to stop once to catch my breath! If all trails were like this, I'd be a very happy hiker!

No comments: