Hummingbirds as Colorful as Easter Eggs!

I went for a drive today to scout out a place to photograph the rising moon and found myself outside the Smithsonian Institution's Whipple Observatory. It wasn't open today but I plan to check out their schedule and try to visit when the facility is open to visitors. I parked in the picnic lot nearby and spotted several hummingbirds scampering around some nearby flowering bushes. These are Broadbilled  Hummingbirds, Male and Female.


Then is gorgeous Costa's Hummingbird made an appearance. His head looked black until the light hit it! Magnificent to watch! These birds are as colorful as Easter Eggs!!

The cloud cover thwarted my attempts to photograph the full moon tonight so I was happy to have captured these photos and spent the evening getting them ready for you! Enjoy!


There's No Place Like Home..for Dexter!

While Steve and I went out hiking in Madera Canyon today, Dexter stayed behind at Central Pet, a lovely boarding and grooming facility right next door to De Anza RV Resort. Steve and I checked the place out a few days ago. We talk to the staff, took a tour, and were impressed with what we saw. When we picked up Dexter this afternoon they sent him home with a swag bag and a report card indicating that he enjoyed his stay! It's great to have a safe and comfortable place for him to play while we are out hiking the Canyons looking for birds. He was glad to see us, tired out from his big adventure, and is happy to be back in our little house-on-wheels!

Steve and I are also tired but happy. We are madly downloading hundreds of photos and hoping to find a few keepers. We saw and tried to photograph many beautiful birds up in the canyon today. Here's just a taste...this is a Broad-billed Hummingbird I saw today!

Back out Birding!

Steve and I spent the morning settling into the campground and doing some research on places to go birding in the area. We drove out to a local park where there is a team of birders from all over the world on Black Hawk Watch. These dedicated birders use binoculars and high powered telescopes to observe, count, and document area raptors like Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Golden Eagles, and the rare Common Black Hawk. This is the prime season in this area for the Common Black Hawk ( unfortunately named since it's not common at all!). This bird has only about 250 documented pairs remaining in the USA and they are congregating here this week! We spent time talking with these birders and hope to see some of these majestic birds. We took a short hike down a  trail off Santa Gertrudis Lane that follows the Santa Cruz River and found a few birds along the way. This Say's Phoebe was tucked back into the branches of a Palo Verde tree and was quite shy and fast moving but I got a couple of shots of her.

This butterfly was also pretty skittish and a challenging subject but I was persistent and managed one good shot.


The trees were more cooperative models...


I caught a few shots of this Gila Woodpecker although she was pretty far away and at the reach of my lens. I'll have to keep trying to get a more clear shot of this species.

My best shot of the day, however, was this beautiful Wilson's Warbler that I was fortunate enough to snap before she took to cover.

Beautiful Birds Along the Rio Grande

Dexter and I enjoyed a lovely walk along the Rio Grande again today. It was a sunny 72 degrees with a light breeze. Heaven! Along the way, we encountered several beautiful birds starting with my old friend from yesterday, the Phainopepla. I was ready for him this time having brought my Nikon D5200 fitted with the 55-300mm lens:

The mistletoe in this tree really set off his shiny black feathers and bright red eye.

Next, I spotted a Black Crested Night Heron hunting along the banks of the river. I managed one good shot of him before he took flight. He was also sporting a bright red eye!

I was amazed at how large he looked in flight compared to how compact he was on shore. He made such cool shapes with his body in flight.

We continued along the trail as it ran parallel to the river, stopping frequently to look for more birds. I have learned that scoping out birds to shoot with the camera requires a bit of patience. It helps to Stop, Listen, and Look. When birds sense movement, like when you are walking, they scatter as fast as Munchkins in the face of the Wicked Witch of the West! If you remain still, they will return to their business in a relatively short period of time. Listening helps to pinpoint their location. Often, birds are surrounding you but they can be difficult to see when they are tucked back into the landscape or shrubbery. Blending in well with their surrounding with natural camouflage helps them stay alive. I'm beginning to become familiar with the calls of several birds and listening to their chatter helps me to locate them in a tree or shrub.

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing blended in well with his surroundings with his yellow belly. He was easier to spot out in the open.

This little House Finch kept his eye on me and Dexter from a safe distance to see what we were up to.

Dexter kept himself amused while I shot photos. I kept him tethered to me by buttoning his leash into my shirt. That leaves my hands free to shoot. He's getting better at the "wait" command and takes the opportunity to roll in the dirt when we stop walking. Notice the "Who Me?? I wasn't doin' nothin'" expression on his face. Yeah right....I see another bath in his future.

I caught up with the Phainopepla again further down the river. He seemed to be trying to get the attention of a young lady in the tree but was being rebuffed either by her or by another suitor. He kept trying though and was posing, calling, and showing off his tail feathers in an attempt to garner her favor.

In the same tree,  I encountered a pair of Western Blue Birds eating their lunch. One finally came out into the open long enough for a quick shot.

On our way back to the camper, we spotted this Ladder-Backed Woodpecker feeding in the low brush.

It was a good birding day!

Gila Cliff Dwellings...The Rest of the Story...

As promised I’m back today, well rested and ready to recount the tale of my trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. This National Monument site lies just 75 miles from the campsite here at City of Rocks but as they say, they are “hard miles”! There are two ways to get to the Monument from this location so I decided to try one way on the trip out and the other on the way back. I set out about 9:15 am and my GPS estimated 2 hours for the journey. I knew the roads would take me over the mountainous terrain of the Gila National Forest and having experienced those mountains on my way to Truth or Consequences, I knew it would be slow going. The route I took going out was Hwy 61, to Hwy 152 south, then hooking up with Hwy 15 north. The landscape was gorgeous and I stopped often for photos. I even saw a few patches of snow at the higher elevations (7,000+ feet) but it was just a scattering under the trees at the lookout points. It was a pleasant sunny 55 degrees, the perfect day for a drive. Dexter was happy to ride shotgun and enjoyed sniffing out the local critter scents at every stop. The route was hilly with plenty of curves but not too taxing for the Ram. I was totally enchanted by the lavender scrub I saw lining the Gila River along my drive. I later learned from the Ranger that this is desert willow in winter!

I arrived at the visitor center just after noon, so it was closer to a 3 hour trip with all my photo stops. After a quick tour of the museum and obtaining directions to the trailhead, I took the short drive up to begin the hike to the caves. Dexter was ready for a nap so he was happy to snuggled down into his bed while I took the hike up the hill to the Cliff Dwelling. The trail to the site is a one mile loop that gains almost 200 feet in elevation. The $5.00 fee gained me access to the entire site and Ranger Mark was on hand to answer questions and provide information about the site. The dwelling consists of 6 main rooms with over 40 separate areas. The dwellings are built into the rocky caves along a high ridge of a sandstone rock face. Not much is known about the Mogollon people who lived here. It is believed that they occupied these dwellings for only a few hundred years and left very little evidence behind. Ranger Mark showed me two small beads that have been unearthed by packrats that live in the dwelling and a small shard of pottery that has been incorporated into the mortar of the dwelling. He also helped me locate the Pictographs on the ceiling of the dwellings. It struck me how similar this dwelling was to the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house I toured in Pennsylvania. Although this dwelling was much more crude than the house designed by the famous architect, the concept of incorporating a dwelling into the surrounding landscape is clearly not a new one! I am also captivated by the Petroglyphs and Pictographs I have been observing. Petroglyphs refer to art that has been engraved into the rock while pictographs are rock art that has been painted on the rock surface. Ranger Mark and I had a discussion about how we as humans seem to have an innate need to leave our mark behind, to be known, to be seen and heard, to shout “I was here and this is what I thought!” Is that why I’m keeping a blog? Perhaps that’s part of it! The rock art pictures are just another way humans found a way of expressing themselves. Ranger Mark also shared with me a recent observation made in this dwelling: The mortar in most of the dwelling is smooth, indicating great skill and care taken by the women constructing the walls. In one area, however, there is a small patch of irregular marks, almost like hash marks and divots in the mortar. It has been observed that these marks were made by a series of flat palm hands pressing into the mortar to make the prints. The depressions of finger and heels of hands are clear once you understand what you are looking at! This work was done by women and one is left to wonder about her motivation…was it an artistic act, an act of defiance, or was she just weary and wanted the job done? Was she interrupted before she could smooth it out then forgot to finish the job? Although this area is on an interior wall without much light, I find it hard to believe that the maker did not intend for this to be so. I’m certain that the inhabitants knew intimately every inch of this dwelling so perhaps, she just simply wished to leave her mark. We’ll never know for sure but it’s fun to ponder the possibilities.

After spending a few hours wandering around the dwelling, I made my way down the hill to rouse Dexter from his nap. Ranger Mark had told me about another small dwelling and group of pictographs located down a small trail on the way out of the park. Dexter and I hiked the ¼ mile ”Trail to the Past” at the Lower Scorpion Campground parking lot to view these two ancient sites. It’s remarkable to me that they have survived all these years intact and are so easily available to view.

It was getting to be late afternoon and I decided to take the alternate route back to the camper, this time all the way down 15 to Silver City, then straight on down 180 to 61. I knew that 180 was a good four-lane highway and (mistakenly) thought that 15 would continue to be a good two-lane road with a few twists and turns…as it turned out, this stretch of Hwy 15 climbed steeply into the (snow covered!) mountains and became more of a 1 ½ lane road with a few inches of snow and several inches of ice on the road in some places! Yikes! I was so glad I did not have the camper hitched behind. Luckily the road had been sanded and I made it down to the valley without a mishap other than white knuckles and a jaw sore from clenching! I’m sure in the warmer weather this ride would be beautiful but I would advise you to avoid it in winter!

I hope you enjoy the photos and if you ever get out this way, Gila Cliff Dwellings are sure worth the stop!