Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Festival of the Cranes - Sunday's hike

Sunday was the final day for the Festival of the Cranes. The festival always runs from Tuesday through Sunday. Last year, our Sunday trip was the Mountain Birding Tour led by Mary Alice Root of the New Mexico Ornithological Society, and Bill Thompson and Julie Zickefoose. This year we took the Canyon Trail Hike, a 2-1/2 mile round trip through Solitude Arroyo and canyon. The trailhead is located about 1-1/2 miles south of the visitor center. Bob Merkel, a Bosque volunteer, was our leader. We walked/hiked through quite a bit of sandy soil at first, and then we climbed higher into the canyon and the trail became rockier. Below are the photos I took of the trip. All of these photos were taken with my Kodak point and shoot. I was too lazy to bring my Canon and two lenses. Besides, I think I got good quality shots with the Kodak. My biggest problem is trying to identify all of the plants. Again, another form of laziness - I failed to write down the names of the plants our leader pointed out to us. And now, I regret that I didn't take notes. So bear with me, and if anyone notices my plant IDs are incorrect, please let me know.
If you want to see a larger image click on the photo. These are ripe gooseberries. I think birds and other animals will eat them.
I think this is a creosote bush.
I think this is rabbitbrush.
Prickly pear. I don't know why its coloring is different. Most cacti stay green all year long. I'm just wondering if this plant is sunburned or does it get this color after a frost.
I think we were told this is chamisa, a form of rabbitbrush.
By now we have reached a higher point and the rockier part of the trail. Below is the visitor center. The tent was extra for the Festival of the Cranes. This was probably the tent where the exhibits and vendors were.
This is looking east from the top of the trail. Center, right, is a lagoon, still part of the Bosque del Apache, although I don't think there is public access to this area. At least not by car. It's possible there is another foot trail around the lagoon.
This is looking north from the trail. I think the mountain on the left is Chupadera Peak (~ 6200' high), the most recent addition to the Refuge. There's also a hiking trail going up to the top that was created just this year.
These next two photos are pack rat nests. I found these to be very interesting. We didn't see any pack rats around, just their nests. These animals are nocturnal. They are also plant eaters and love "collecting" shiny objects to add to their nests. Click here for more info on desert pack rats.

Ok, now here is where my memory really fails me. I just asked my husband and his recollection is totally different from mine. He thinks these holes in the wall(s) were a result of "mother nature." My recollection is these holes were created by mud daubers (wasps). If anyone else has a suggestion I'd be more than happy to hear it. Nonetheless, this was quite fascinating to see while hiking through the canyon.
And here is a much larger "hole in the wall." And you can see the "white drippings" very clearly. Knowing the size of this hole I'm assuming it was a nest site for either an owl or a hawk. I think owls are known to use these holes. Last year's Mountain Birding trip provided a similar sight where there was a "hole" in a mountain wall and Bill Thompson found a great-horned owl perched in it. Click here to see the last picture of my post from last year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Festival of the Cranes - Saturday Workshop

Saturday's workshop was another photography class I chose to take. This one was an introduction to digital photography. It was held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and included lunch. Not bad for $30.00. This class focused on the casual photographer, those who use point and shoots or consumer oriented DSLRs. The workshop was held at New Mexico Tech and the entire morning covered the basics of learning to use one's camera and its settings. Of course, I had both my cameras with me (as usual) - my Kodak point and shoot, and my Canon Rebel Xsi. It was helpful to have the basics presented as a refresher. Some of the points covered that interested me were knowing when to use a faster or slower shutter speed or a higher or lower ISO, or even a higher or lower f-stop, etc. After lunch, we returned to the classroom for one more thing to focus on, and that was composition. We were then asked to take photos out and around the campus, especially around the pond. We were then to return to the classroom and critique everyone's photos. The first photo below was my "composition" photo. I used the trees on each side of the pond as frames while focusing on the water spray in the pond with the mountain in the background.

Another form of composition was to photgraph some of the birds in the pond. This was one of my better shots of a couple of "goofy" geese. It was a bright sunny day, and the water was clear so most everything we took photos of had good reflections of the birds.
During our workshop we had the opportunity to meet one of the best local photographers. Jerry Goffe is a professional nature photographer and lives either in Socorro or near the Bosque. Click on the link to learn more about him. He has had many of his photos published in national magazines. Jerry brought a bunch of his Canon equipment to allow all of us to "play with" the various large lenses. Below is a photo of an American Wigeon that was taken with a 600mm lens attached to my camera, and was set up on a very nice tripod. Those large lenses sure are nice, but to carry one of them around with a tripod seems a bit much for me. And let's not talk about what these lenses cost, or even the tripods. I don't plan on being a professional photographer.
This photo is (I think) the same American Wigeon that I took with my Kodak point and shoot with a 10x zoom. When I compare these two photos I feel content in having a close enough and in focus photo with a camera that is quite inexpensive in comparison.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday workshops and Bosque del Apache - part 2

Friday's workshops were held at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. Most of the workshops are usually held there every year. The first workshop of the day was another type of photography session presented by John Shipman. This gentleman believes in "portability," yet believes in getting fairly good quality photos for documentation purposes. John does not believe in carrying extras, such as tripods, adapters, and spotting scopes. He'd rather carry a 500mm lens, yet still be able to get into tight spots without having to set up a tripod. So he has managed to rig up something to his camera that is similar to one carrying a rifle or shotgun. In other words, he is able to rest the rig which the camera is attached to on his shoulder, giving him stability much like a tripod. Very interesting presentation, and his photos were very nice.

Our afternoon session was learning about New Mexico's native Americans - when they arrived, how they may have arrived, and where and how they lived. Most of the native Americans in New Mexico were Puebloans. There were some Apaches and Navajos, but they arrived later, after the Pueblo tribes arrived. The Puebloans were hunter/gatherers. The Apaches and Navajos were known to raid the homes and fields of the Puebloans. The ancient ones who lived near the Bosque del Apache were known as Piro people.

Below are photos I took on Friday while touring the refuge, following the first workshop and before attending the second workshop of the day. Note: New Mexico Tech is located in Socorro about a twenty minute drive (on Interstate 25) north of Bosque del Apache. Although we had to allow ourselves time for lunch as well as for the drive each way, we still managed to get in a brief view of the refuge before having to attend the afternoon workshop. You may want to click on the photos to see a larger image.

Both photos above and below are of sand hill cranes and snow geese out in the field eating. You can also see crows flying around in the photo below.

Located in another area of the refuge I found these mallards, two males and one female.

Here is another field where there were just sand hill cranes feeding.

Here is a close-up of some of the cranes feeding in the same field.

And here is a flock of snow geese flying over.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Festival of the Cranes - Thursday Workshops

There were two workshops I attended on Thursday at the Festival of the Cranes. The morning workshop was given by Jeff Bouton on Digiscoping - the art of photography through a spotting scope. It was a 3-hour workshop where Jeff could do his one-hour presentation in the classroom and then have everyone move outdoors to try what they had learned in the classroom, such as coupling cameras with scopes via adapters. Many of us did not have all the equipment necessary, but it was fun "sharing" with each other. Jeff also had some extra equipment with him some of us could borrow. Now, if only the weather would have cooperated. ;o) We started out at the big pond near the entrance to Bosque del Apache NWR. There were thousands of snow geese there, and digiscoping would have been a dream. But the wind was blowing quite strongly, and even though the sun was shining, the wind chill factor was less than what all of us were dressed for. After about half an hour at the pond, and those who wanted to stick around had a chance to at least look through some scopes, it was a consensus to try another spot on the refuge, possibly where it may be a bit more protected from the wind. We then went to an area where there was tall grasses to help break the wind a bit, but there were no birds! The birds possibly wanted to get out of the wind, too. The few birds we saw (mostly ducks) were quite far away and seemed to be hunkered down out of the windy areas.

This photo below obviously is not a digiscoped picture, but instead an overall view of what we saw on the big pond. There were snow geese as far as the eye could see. Actually, this photo was taken on a different day, when it wasn't windy.
Our afternoon workshop was about cave swallows. The presenter was Steve West who has been studying and banding cave swallows since 1980 at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Click on the link to learn more about this interesting topic. There's even a photo of cave swallows if you've never seen one. The reason Steve West wanted to band the birds was to collect and record data regarding their migrating patterns. He was curious to know where these birds headed in winter. You can learn more about cave swallows by clicking here and here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bosque del Apache - part 1

There are many workshops offered at Bosque del Apache during the Festival of the Cranes. Our first workshop we signed up for was about prairie dogs. We were told that there are five known species found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Out of these species we were told that one is threatened, one endangered, and the other 3 species have suffered a 95% decline in the last century. Most of the decline has to do with loss of habitat. Prairie dogs are considered "colonial squirrels" and the black-tailed prairie dog can be found in southern New Mexico as well as other Rocky Mountain states, plus Nebraska and Texas. You can learn more about these cute mammals here, here, and here. During this past summer the black-tailed prairie dog was re-introduced at the refuge in two locations. One of the locations is just off the highway near the tour loop entrance, where there is a pull-off so visitors can watch them. You may want to click on the photos below to get a larger image of these cute little animals. Even though I had a zoom lens at 300mm, it was still difficult to get a decent picture of them. As you can see, they blend in beautifully with their environment.

Our second workshop for the day was about a New Mexico Important Bird Area - a wetland in the Desert. I never would have thought that there actually is a wetland existing on Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB), and open to the public. The base constructed the wetlands several years ago and it was declared an IBA in 2002 by the National Audubon Society's New Mexico chapter. HAFB has two large bodies of water attracting many unlikely migrants during spring and fall, and it even provides wintering grounds, too. Here is a checklist of the birds for that area. I'm hoping that one of these times when we return to the Bosque refuge we will take the time and drive over to the air force base and check out the wetlands.

Following the presentation we were treated to meeting a few educational birds. I cannot remember the name of the group who provided the birds, but it is a New Mexico rehabilitation center. The first two photos are an albino black-crowned night heron. The rehab center thought that this bird was showing signs that it could be released back into the wild, but upon further observation they realized that the bird probably would not survive.

This is a western screech owl. I didn't realize how small this birds are. It was only about 8 inches tall. I love those beautiful big yellow eyes. Don't you?

And here is another 8-inch bird - a burrowing owl. This owl lost its left eye, so hunting would be a problem for it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seen from Sandia Crest - part 3

Ta da! And here are my photos of the rosy finches I saw at the feeders at the Sandia Crest House. I had to "enhance" most of these (in PhotoShop). You will probably want to click on the photos to see a larger image, especially the ones where the birds were down in the rocks. I'm not sure I can attempt to ID the species, except the white-breasted nuthatch in the last few photos.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Seen from Sandia Crest - part 2

I may have mentioned in my previous post that I took three separate trips up to Sandia Crest. The first time was a gorgeous late morning, full of sunshine and it felt good and warm, with no wind (which is unusual) at Sandia Crest. But because it was close to noon, birds were not active and plentiful. But the views as seen in my previous post were really nice. All three trips my husband and I saw Steller's Jays. They may be robber barons, but they are beautiful robber barons. I love their coloring and their crests are so prominent. These birds are approximately 12-13 inches, so you can imagine they are quite easily seen and they certainly can intimidate smaller birds.
We spent about an hour or two at the crest that first warm day; and since we didn't see too many birds, we decided to head down the "hill." While driving down the hill we were approximately a thousand feet lower, around the ski area, and I saw a hawk perched in a pine tree. Excitedly I asked my husband to stop so I could try to identify the bird. Oh, he was so beautiful, so regal looking. I had to quickly change lenses so I could get a few decent shots of him/her. Be sure to click on the images to get a larger view. With the photo below you can see that this hawk was looking at me, probably wondering "what are you looking at lady?"
This next shot makes it look like he/she was quite annoyed with my picture taking. I wonder if I was disturbing him/her from finding its next meal. I was thinking it must be a red-tailed hawk, but I wasn't sure.
And then ... there was no doubt as it took off. Sorry about the blur - I must not have had a fast enough shutter speed on my camera. But at least I got a shot of this beautiful bird in flight.
The next time we returned to Sandia Crest it was after our trip to the Bosque del Apache. We drove up in the afternoon, but it was terribly windy and I was uncomfortable hanging around outside. So I don't think I got any bird photos that day. Instead we returned for a third trip and decided it would be best to see more birds if we go in the morning. There were dozens of birds flitting around all over the place. Many of them were red-breasted nuthatches, like these little ones in the photos below. Other birds I saw, but didn't get any decent photos of, were mountain chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches.

Did I see any rosy finches? Finally, on the third day I did! And I got to see all three species. Stay tuned for photos in my next post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Seen from Sandia Crest - part 1

Since we stayed overnight in Albuquerque the first few nights of our vacation, we had the opportunity to drive up to Sandia Crest more than once. So the following photos are a scenic collection of those few trips we took. Sandia Crest is the highest point of Sandia Peak; the ski area is a thousand feet lower, and the aerial tram is also below the crest, located on the west side of the mountain. The crest is where one can see Albuquerque, the Rio Grande River running through the Duke City, and Mount Taylor to the west. To the east, one can see the high mesa that is the southernmost part of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. As you glance at the photos I will describe them more thoroughly. (Click on the images to enlarge them). Below is what one would find as they arrive in the parking lot. These are radio and microwave towers. Most or all radio and TV stations in Albuquerque have a tower up here on the crest since this is the highest point that will easily transmit for many miles.
This photo was taken with a 70mm lens to get an overview of what could be seen west of Sandia Crest. If you have enlarged the photo you can see downtown ABQ in the center.
Here is a shot taken at 300mm. Now you can definitely see downtown Albuquerque.
This is viewing the Rio Grande River on the north end of ABQ, better known as Los Ranchos de Albuquerque on this side (east side) of the river and Paradise Hills and Corrales on the west side of the river.
This shot was taken at 300mm, giving you a closer view of Paradise Hills on the west side of the river.
In the distance is Mount Taylor, the highest peak of the San Mateo mountains. This is about 80 miles west as the crow flies and reaching over 11,000 feet in elevation. Click on the link to learn more about this mountain which is considered sacred by the Navajos.
Here is another link to follow, giving you more detail and history about Mt. Taylor.
This is what I saw when looking east from Sandia Crest. The mountain in the foreground is called South Mountain. The flat area between South Mountain and the next mountain ridge is a couple of 7,000 ft high mesas. To the north it's called Wildhorse Mesa and to the south it's called El Cuevo Butte. And the mountain ridge in the distance is the southernmost end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
In the foreground beyond the trees there is a ridge named Monte Largo, and that is South Mountain behind it.
Here is another view of Albuquerque, the Duke City.
My next post will be photos of the birds I saw at the crest and just below the crest. Stay tuned!


Current skin is MC Winter 08 and designed by Red.
Best viewed on Firefox at 1024x768, larger or widescreen.