Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Adventures Away from Home: New Mexico in November, 2023

Back in November, I was lucky enough to be able to visit my sister in Albuquerque, New Mexico! I'd never traveled to the southwestern US before, so this was a trip with many firsts for me. We crammed as many activities as we could into just a few days -- there was so much delicious food, fun and weird art, wonderful family time, and of course amazing nature. So here's a summary of some of the incredible nature I saw in my too-brief time in New Mexico!

I flew in to Albuquerque on November 12, and the airplane's approach gave me a first beautiful view of the city, with the Rio Grande snaking through the middle, and the small mountain range, the Sandias, as a backdrop:

On this first day, we took a late afternoon walk along the Rio Grande, where flock after flock of (noisy!) Sandhill Cranes flew low overhead, heading along the river to their nighttime roosting spot:

The next morning, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to see first-hand something my sister had been telling us about since moving to Albuquerque, and which seemed like a fairy tale: A Greater Roadrunner, who my sister affectionately calls "Henry," hangs out most days in the front yard of their little house. A yard roadrunner! This is a quiet neighborhood, yes, but it's also certainly in the city, with houses and sidewalks and cats. And a yard roadrunner. Sometimes two roadrunners, even, when Henry's mate is around!

In any case, the roadrunner appeared in the yard with the rising sun, and I spent a good chunk of time outside with this incredible bird while he (or she) had a thorough grooming and sunning session on top of the car. On top of the car!

Really, though, this made the awkwardness of carrying my camera on multiple flights worth it. This bird and I had a fantastic photo shoot, with amazing light, and so many cool poses. This relaxed and puffed-out pose is one of my favorites:

And there's also this full-body stretch, with all those iridescent feathers on display:

And these super-fluffy chest feathers:

And this incredible tail:

I also love this picture, which happened to catch Henry (or mate, I'm still not sure) mid-yawn:

Here's one more picture with a bit more cropping for a closer portrait:

What an amazing bird! While I was photographing the roadrunner, I heard a skittering sound on the house's metal roof, and there was a Curve-billed Thrasher, another common yard bird at this house. Well, that's two brand-new-to-me birds in the span of a few minutes:

After a while, the roadrunner hopped up onto the roof of the neighboring house, and that was it for our photo session. Those dark and fluffy back feathers sure look like they're good for gathering warmth from the sunlight:

Wow. So that was amazing! Thank you for letting me hang out with you, large bird, during your morning routine. (I know, humans are weird.)

Later that morning, I walked around in a nearby cemetery, where I saw this Red-breasted Nuthatch gathering food:

And back at the house, the Curve-billed Thrashers were hunkered down in the shade of some desert-y plants:

The next morning, as we pulled out of the driveway for some more adventures, the two roadrunners (sure, this is normal!) were starting their day on the road in front of the house, too:

Have a good day, friend!

For the morning's outing, we went to the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. Here's a scene from one of the park's watery overlooks, with beautiful yellow/brown Cottonwood trees and the Sandias in the background:

A few flocks of Sandhill Cranes flew by overhead this morning, too -- I so appreciate seeing these big birds:

After some more adventures in downtown Albuquerque, we spent the last part of the afternoon in the base of the Sandias, on the Tres Pistolas trail. This rocky, desert mountain landscape was really amazing:

And these are some dramatic cliffs:

Some of these rock formations made some interesting shapes -- I see a reclining person in these rocks:

American Robins were all over the place, eating the abundant small blue berries/cones on what I'm guessing are some sort of juniper. Western Bluebirds were also hanging around, and they sat still long enough for a couple of pictures in the fading light:

Here's another blue bird in low light, a Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay:

I was totally enchanted by this little cactus that looked so much like a person out for a walk in the dry grass (and with a second cactus-person in the background):

I had been wishing that I would get to see quail at some point during this trip, and as we were finishing this walk (my last one of the visit), it seemed like there wouldn't be any quail this time. But as we got back to the parking area, and the daylight was nearly gone, we heard some strange little sounds... and there was a flock of Gambrel's Quail foraging in the underbrush! Hooray! Here's a male, watching me from his perch in a tangle of branches:

We caught brief glimpses of these creatures as they ran from the shelter of one clump of brush to another, and I was happy to get to see them at all, right in the last possible moment in my trip. There one goooooooes:

My visit to New Mexico was far too short, but I was really impressed that we were able to see and do so much in that limited time. And as far as I'm concerned, the quail, cranes, and especially the yard roadrunners (!), are reason enough for people to call New Mexico the "land of enchantment." I'm on board! And I'm super grateful that I got to visit this very interesting place.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Fall and Early Winter, 2023

Here's one more post wrapping up sights around our property in 2023! These past few months have been decently busy, including a good amount of traveling (sights from which I hope to share in a blog post sometime soon). But there were also plenty of interesting goings-on in our yard, meadow, and woods during this time, including our first ever glimpse of a Black Bear on the evening of November 5! We heard a strange clanging sound outside, and we turned on the floodlight to see a bear bending the bird feeder pole to the ground! The bear ran off quickly, so I don't have any pictures to share from that encounter, but yeah, now we can definitely add Black Bear to our list of yard mammals. Here's a bunch of other sights that do come with pictures, starting back in early September.

On September 4, I was admiring the array of colorful wildflowers on a slope near one of our sheds -- I didn't plant or maintain any of this, so I'm especially impressed with these balanced swathes of blooming goldenrod, Spotted Jewelweed, and a wild sunflower that I'm pretty sure is Thin-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus):

Here's a closer view on September 8 of one of these brilliant sunflower blooms:

And here's a Spotted Jewelweed flower with a visiting bee, who accessed this flower by crawling behind that large lower lip:

Also in the above picture are the jewelweed's seedpods -- touching those pods and deploying their exploding mechanisms is one of my great joys of the summer and fall. :)

On September 11, this awkwardly patchy Gray Catbird was foraging for Pokeweed berries:

And another Gray Catbird was gulping down Gray Dogwood berries on September 23:

I'm not sure who eats these brilliant red Jack-in-the-Pulpit berries -- this big cluster was in the woods on September 23:

This juvenile Cedar Waxwing on October 1, though, was also visiting our yard to eat Pokeweed berries:

I'm really grateful that our property came with such an ample native berry supply in the summer and fall, to keep the birds hanging around!

By October 1, the Virginia Creeper vines that cover many of the Black Cherry trees on the edge of our woods had become a brilliant red -- this is one of my favorite sights here in early fall, and I can't help sharing a couple of pictures:

I love how the Virginia Creeper's leaves make a solid red core around these upper branches, and the Black Cherry's own leaves make a still-green cloud around that:

A little further along the meadow's edge on October 1, golden Wild Grape leaves intertwined with sumac leaves that revealed their silvery undersides in the wind -- so many festive colors:

We put up a large bat box in our yard in 2020, and toward the end of the summer this year we finally saw our first small signs of some visiting bats! By October 5, there was a definite smattering of droppings on the ground around the bat box's pole -- certainly not enough to indicate a colony, but I guess we had a few bats staying with us this year:

October 17 was a great day for some bird portraits in the afternoon fall sun. This Tufted Titmouse gave me a wonderfully close view as it perched on our deck railing:

And then the same or another titmouse looked especially handsome against a backdrop of late-fall meadow colors:

Likewise, if not more so, for this gorgeous Blue Jay:

I was happy to get some brief glimpses of the Ruby-crowned Kinglets that were moving through the yard:

This picture even includes a tiny bit of this bird's usually hidden ruby crown:

On the night of October 28, I tried for a picture of the full moon (not my usual type of subject!), and I was pleasantly surprised at how well this worked out -- wow, the moon is amazing:

Apparently I took very few pictures in November! We had our first sticking snow on November 1 (only a day after our first frost), and I was amazed that the Coral Honeysuckle kept blooming late enough into the year to have its flowers covered with snow:

And here's a Black-capped Chickadee checking out our roof on November 4:

On the afternoon of December 4, a fantastic rainbow appeared over our meadow:

On December 12, this Dark-eyed Junco let me approach fairly close, as long as it stayed mostly hidden in its tangle of branches and vines:

A Pileated Woodpecker came to our suet feeder for a few days in December, which was an unusual and wonderful treat. Here's this too-big bird on December 14:

And again on December 15 -- I love those pointy tail feathers (sorry about the weird coloring in these pictures; the woodpecker insisted on visiting in the morning during very poor light, and I got some strange effects when I lightened and processed these pictures):

For a size comparison, here's a Downy Woodpecker on the same feeder on December 20:

While I walked around outside on December 20, I kept seeing Downy Woodpeckers all over the place, actually. I guess this was a good day for these littlest (and cutest) of our woodpeckers! This Downy Woodpecker was working on our Shagbark Hickory tree:

Another Downy Woodpecker was hammering into the round galls on goldenrod stems in the meadow, getting at the larvae inside:

What a cool foraging strategy -- go get that bug, little woodpecker:

In the woods, Downy Woodpeckers were working over various dead trees, stark black-and-white creatures on multicolored wooden surfaces:

Also on December 20 (what an active day!), I got to see this White-breasted Nuthatch foraging among bark crevices in the woods:

This Black-capped Chickadee showing its beautifully patterned back and wings:

And this Dark-eyed Junco perched among the Redbud tree's bare branches:

And now 2023 is coming to a close, and that means a whole new year is next! I'm excited to see what sights 2024 brings, both familiar and new.