Albuquerque, Part 3: Farewell in the Foothills

First, let me say that if you are here because of the 5MR group, welcome! I want to assure you that I actually am birding locally in 2019, but before I get into that I have one final trip post from my stint in New Mexico.

3 - ecdo & balloon

Eurasian Collared Dove and a hot air balloon

I awoke early on Sunday morning to a nice purple sky. When I stepped to the window to admire it, I noticed that there was a hot air balloon flying over the neighborhood like it was the most normal thing in the world. Putting on clothes to go investigate and take some scenic photos, I managed to line it up with a Eurasian Collared Dove on a street lamp. I feel like this particular scenario would never happen in 49 other states.

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White-winged Dove

Back at Will’s house, this White-winged Dove was keeping watch over the front yard. These birds are as common as pigeons in Albuquerque so I had lifered them on my first day in town, but this was the best up-close experience I had with one. After Instagramming it with the requisite Fleetwood Mac joke, we got breakfast and then headed to the foothills.

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Elena Gallegos Open Space

Our destination was the Elena Gallegos Open Space on the east side of town which was chosen specifically by my host for its excellent scenic attributes and high-quality hiking.

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Western Bluebirds

Of course I was also acutely aware that the rocky hills peppered with juniper and cholla would bring all kinds of new birds to me, too. To prove my point, a flock of Western Bluebirds greeted us almost immediately upon exiting the car. Lifer.

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Townsend’s Solitaire

Pretend that this in-focus photo of the front of a juniper shrub is what I actually want to show you. The blurred Townsend’s Solitaire in the background is just a bonus. This was unfortunately the best shot of the flighty little things I could manage even though they were numerous in the juniper. Lifer again.

3 - our climb

Challenge: accepted.

We followed the established trail for quite a while until my guide saw a rocky ridge protruding out from the hills and decided that we had to climb it. It intimidated the hell out of me, but with my guide’s expertise in bouldering I decided to go with it.

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Human for scale

Here is a photo of Will to show the scale of the boulders on which we were scrambling. The climb took a solid hour and ended up being almost 500 vertical feet above the trail. It would have been a relatively easy climb except for the prickly pear and cholla growing in between most of the rocks. I managed to complete the climb while only getting shanked once.

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Our view from the top

The ridge we climbed wasn’t even a minor prominence among the canyons, but the view from the top was spectacular.

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Our view looking the other direction

Looking out over the valley and the city, it felt like I had just summited a major peak. But turning 180 degrees showed just how high the crest was beyond us, nearly 4,000 feet higher still. “Sandia” is the Spanish word for watermelon, and it was apparent why these mountains were named as we were up close and personal with their pink granite.

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Common Raven

The only birds around as we climbed were dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos fleeing before us. After we reached the top of our climb, I tried to meditate but was easily distracted by a soaring Common Raven flying overhead. Lifer once more.

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

The climb down was a little easier but we still had to be strategic in our descent. I was rewarded at the bottom with exceptional views of curious Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays. Lifer, again, for the record.

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Western Red-tailed Hawk

The last life bird for the trip was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that we flushed out of the brush while bushwhacking. I did not get a picture of it, so here is a dark-morph “Western” Red-tailed Hawk, a color of the species I had never previously seen. In all, I saw 54 species on the trip, 16 of which were lifers. My total life list now checks in at a tantalizing 299 species. My next one will be a neat milestone, and while the trip was fantastic it will be kind of cool to most likely get it close to home.

3 - sandia crest

One last look

Albuquerque was a phenomenally great place to visit, and if I ever get the chance to go back I definitely will. The combination of the atmosphere of the city, the scenery, the outdoor adventure opportunities, the food, and yes also the birds made it one of the most remarkable places I have ever been, and it was made all the better by getting to visit such a cool person in the process.

Something I learned after my visit is that New Mexico has the fourth highest state species list in the country, ahead of such places as Arizona and Alaska, and trailing only California, Florida, and Texas. So what I’m saying is that if you want to plan a trip, go to the land of enchantment. See lots of cool birds, but do lots of other cool things there, too!

Southwestward, to Goose Pond!

I write this entry from a Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. Work has me making numerous stops all over the state over the course of three days. Today, I found myself pointed southwest, which is pretty easy to do considering Fort Wayne is about as northeast as you can go.

ECDO.JPG

Eurasian Collared Dove

This is not a birding trip. I swear. But at one of my very first stops in the city of Delphi, I found a new state bird in Eurasian Collared Dove foraging in the maple seeds directly above my appointment destination. A good omen!

Two of my next stops were Shelburn and Winslow, small towns serendipitously placed on either end of Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Goose Pond is the real deal. I have been there once before, but that was in February a few years back. Today the sun was shining and the migrants were migrating, so I got out for about an hour to stretch my legs after driving for so long.

Goose Pond is 9,000+ acres of restored wetland habitat in western Greene County that packs such a big ecological punch that it attracts some insane rarities (Spotted Redshank, anyone?) and has actually altered the migration routes for many species that historically didn’t push very far into Indiana.

BNST

Black-necked Stilt

The absurdly cool, ludicrously proportioned Black-necked Stilt is one of those birds.

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Black-necked Stilt pair

Goose Pond has made these gangly birds common in the southwest corner of the state, and they even breed here, which may be something this pair is getting ready to do. Stilts were my biggest target in visiting Goose Pond, and they did not disappoint as life birds!

GRYE

Greater Yellowlegs

I was fortunate that this Greater Yellowlegs was around, because the stilts were much more interested in it than in me. They kept chasing it away when it foraged too close to them. They absolutely dwarfed it, too.

GWTE

Green-winged Teal

While shorebird watching, I had a close encounter of the teal kind. This handsome drake landed right in front of me and gave me the best look at the species that I have ever had.

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Swamp Sparrow

All birds at Goose Pond are beautiful, including the little brown jobs. I admit guilt in having sup-par sparrow watching skills. I usually assume every non-Zonitrichia sparrow is a Song Sparrow, but now I am wondering how many Swamp Sparrows I have missed in my life.

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Northern Harrier

The weather was perfect for birding today, as evidenced by the blue sky behind this Northern Harrier. It flew right in front of the moon at one point, but my camera would not focus fast enough for a photo.

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American White Pelican

I don’t think I will ever get tired of the reaction people give me when I tell them that there are pelicans in Indiana.

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Snake

Some other animals were around, too. I don’t know anything about snakes, but Wikipedia tells me this snake butt might belong to a Northern Water Snake. Can anyone corroborate? It was big.

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Goose Pond – Unit 10

Goose Pond is broken up into segments divided by (unpaved (sometimes flooded)) county roads. The one that I tromped around in and that seems to be the place to go for the best diversity of birds is Unit 10. The place is so huge you could easily spend a weekend there and still not see it all, so I will be back again the next chance I get.

#miami

Continuing with the year of travel, Jaime and I were fortunate enough to make it down to Miami for my sister’s graduation and to see the family, celebrate Christmas early, and all of those good things. Additionally, I am sure you would be disappointed if I didn’t spend considerable time chasing birds around and looking foolish in front of all of those gaudily-dressed scenesters, European ravers, and Jersey Shore cast members. Don’t worry, reader(s) behold:

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove

The first significant bird was a life bird for me, the Eurasian Collared Dove. Much like most things in Miami, these birds do not originate in America. They supposedly can be found in Indiana too, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

The Cattle Egret was also a life bird for me, though they are exceedingly common in Florida. They are infamous for expanding their range very rapidly during the 20th century, arriving in the US of their own accord and spreading out from there. Again, these can supposedly be found in Indiana, but I haven’t seen any proof yet.

Mitred Parakeet

Mitred Parakeet

Another life bird were these Mitred Parakeets that had taken their talents to South Beach. Originally from Ecuador or something, these birds are feral and thriving in their new digs. They are also closely related to the Red-Masked Parakeets of San Francisco (and this blog’s) fame, but the Mitred variety has an incompletely red face.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

The provenance of waterfowl is frequently difficult to determine when they are unafraid of humans, and I was about ready to give up on the Muscovy Ducks that inhabit the University of Miami’s campus because they are endemic to Central America. However, one of these ugly bastards had a flock of ducklings with it, which let me know that they have indeed established themselves like the parrots above. Lifer.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

The fifth and final lifer of the trip was this Magnificent Frigatebird that was wheeling around the bay outside of our 15th floor balcony. These guys have a truly crazy silhouette that looks like they should be in a Batman movie.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

The award for most appropriately named bird of the trip goes to this Palm Warbler, which was sitting in a palm tree.

White Ibis

White Ibis

I do not know the scientific term for a group of White Ibis, so I will say that this herd of them was busy begging for bread crumbs at The U.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

This Brown Pelican was photographed from our Duck Boat during the Duck Boat Tour of Biscayne Bay. It was not amused.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

It was impossible to do anything without at least one Laughing Gull looking at you funny.

Unlikely Allies

Unlikely Allies

Even with all of the great birds that were seen in South Florida, perhaps the most unexpected was the Red-Bellied Woodpecker cavorting about with Monk Parakeets in a palm tree in the middle of a busy street. I guess this just goes to show you that what happens in Miami stays in Miami, unless you get photographed and put on the internet.