Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bosque del Apache

The first stop on our way home from Colorado is near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. We stopped at Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, which is pretty much a gravel parking lot. But it is only about 1/4 mile from the wildlife refuge which is why it exists!

Once we got the trailer set up we headed over to Bosque for a quick look-around.

At the Visitor Center we found a group of Gambel's Quail.  This male was perched on a "One Way" sign and seemed to be the lookout for the group.

We decided to drive the auto tour loop to see what kind of shape the refuge was in.  We came to a small pond with a boardwalk, and we decided to take the short, 1/2 mile hike. 

There were quite a few ducks and geese on the pond.  A nearby flock of Canada Geese took off as soon as we approached, so here is a bonus Birds-in-Flight shot!

It is always suprising to find White Pelicans in the middle of the desert, but here is a group that was hanging out on the pond.

On the other end of the spectrum sizewise were a group of little "peeps".  Unlike many folks I like shorebird watching and ID.  This group was made up of Western Sandpipers.

As we were finishing the loop we came across this Coyote moving alongside the road.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Goodbye to Colorado

After 5 1/2 months here at the Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges, we will head back to Texas today.  We have seen more snow on the mountains and our morning lows have been at or below freezing the past several days. Winter is clearly on the way!

We have had a great experience here. The staff has been great to work with, and we have completed so many different projects that it is hard to recall all that we've done.  They took us out to lunch for our "going away" and presented us with a thank-you card and two gift cards.  Very nice.

Cranes returning to the marsh in the evening.
We've decided to return next year to pick up where we left off, and are looking forward to another summer in Colorado.  But first a return to Texas where we will be getting our house on the market and then volunteering at Laguna Atascosa NWR.

Sunset over the San Juan Mountains
We will continue to blog about the last few things we did while we were here, along with whatever new adventures come along. So keep checking back.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Short Growing Season

Way back in June we worked on getting the drip irrigation system working at the Alamosa Visitor Center.  Then, at the end of July, we were approved a budget of $200 to spend on new plants.  I went to the local garden center with the refuge Manager and we had a lot of fun spending the entire $200.

Mark and I spent several hours planting all the new plants and spreading fresh mulch.

The entry way to the visitor center looks very nice.  Unfortunately, Fall is here and Winter is just around the corner.  We will be shutting down and winterizing the drip irrigation system this week.  It will be interesting to see this area next Spring.

It took a while for us to find the perfect place for every plant:

Mark digging holes:

Before and after:

View from the parking lot:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Birds in Flight - Part 4

Time for a few more birds on the wing.  Since we are living on a National Wildlife Refuge that is known for wetlands and waterfowl, many of the birds-in-flight opportunities are ducks and their allies. 

One of the interesting things about images of ducks in flight is that you get to see the wing patterns and colors. On this Cinnamon Teal drake you can see the pale blue on the forward edge of the wing and the metallic green on the trailing edge. If you go back to the duck banding blog you can see the same pattern even more closely.

I got several pictures of Gadwall. Probably the least flashy duck that we have, but good practice with the camera.  Where the Cinnamon Teal has green and blue in the wing, the Gadwell has a simple white patch.  

The largest ducks on the refuge are Mallards.  The have a brilliant blue/purple wing patch that is edged with bold white bars. You've got to love the mountains in the background!

It isn't all ducks in the marshes.  There are relatively few waders here compared to Texas, but we do have a few Snowy Egrets, with their wonderful "Golden Slippers".

There is a large breeding population of White-faced Ibis at the refuge.These photos show the "White Face" that gives them their name, and also the glossy plumage that seems to change from bronze to green depending on how the light hits them.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creede Undergrown Mining Museum

We had tickets to the Creed Repertory Theater and decided to head out early and do a little sightseeing and visit the Creede Underground Mining Museum.

We made a few stops to take in the beautiful Fall color.

Then it was on to the Underground Mining Museum.

We were surprised to learn that the Mining Museum was never a working mine.  In 1990, it was blasted out of solid rock cliff by three Creede miners.  Laborers and volunteers completed all the other work and the next summer, tours were given to show actual mining in operation.
Blasting powder
During the summer, guided tours are led by retired miners who explain equipment and methods of mining.  Summer hours are over now and self-guided audio tours are offered.
We each had our own set of headphones.

The job of empting the ‘honey hole’ was given to the newest miners.

We learned all about blasting, mucking, stopeing, and blacksmithing.
In the mine there are 'foot walls' and 'hanging walls'.  On the foot wall, the ore looks like it is lying.  On the hanging wall, the ore looks like it is hanging out or down.

To 'stope' is to mine the ore between the hanging wall and foot wall from level to level.

Giant bellows
After the mining museum we had lunch then headed to the theater.  It was a busy day in Creede - there was also a car show going on down main street.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Birds in Flight 3

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most widespread hawk in North America, and is almost as common as the Swainson's here in the San Luis Valley.

Red-tailed Hawks are highly variable in appearance. Some are very light (called Krider's Hawk) and others almost black (called Harlan's Hawk).  Between those two extremes is a complete range of light-to-dark plumage.

Here is a light colored juvenile.  It is molting so there are some gaps in the wing and tail feathers. The juveniles lack the red tail, but the best field mark for flying birds seen from below is evident here, and that is the dark "patagial mark" on the leading edge of the wing.  This dark marking near the shoulder is evident on virtually all Red-tailed Hawks.

Here is an adult bird, and from below you can begin to make out the red tail.  The patagial mark is very obvious on this bird.

And a second adult bird.  At this angle the red tail doesn't show up at all, but the other field marks are sharp.

They are well-named, as most adults do have a beautiful red tail.  Here are a couple of shots that show that particular field mark. You either need to be above the bird or have a cooperative bird bank enough in flight to show you the top of its tail.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Where are all the gulls?

Way back on June 5th one of our jobs was tearing down an old wooden fence.  That fence has been laying in the same place ever since we tore it down. 
This past week we finally got permission to gather up all that wood and take it to the landfill.

Finally, we can cross this project off our list.
So, where are all the gulls?  Seems like any time we go to a landfill in Texas, there are hundreds of gulls.  Even in Austin, which isn’t anywhere near the coast, we would see lots of gulls.  In fact, landfills are great birding spots.  We didn’t see a single gull at the San Luis landfill. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birds in Flight 2

Back in August we had a blog showing Common Nighthawks in flight.  I intended that to be the beginning of a "Birds in Flight" series, but didn't really follow up.  So here goes...

The San Luis Valley is a wide open valley, with a large population of rodents.  This means that it is a great place for raptors to live and hunt.

The most common hawk is the Swainson's Hawk.  We see lots of these guys perched on power poles and soaring through the skies. While there are light, medium, and dark morphs (plumage versions) of this hawk, we have only seen the common light morphs here.

When it comes to bird-in-flight photography hawks are great. They are large, relatively slow flying, and usually easy to get close to. 

Here is a picture of a perched Swainson's Hawk, followed by a shot just after taking off. Nice talons!!

Here is a soaring Swainson's Hawk, with its distinctive long, pointed wings. Note the dark outline of the wings and the brown "bib".

With so many small rodents in the Valley, we occasionally see a hawk drop to the ground to capture a meal.  One day were watching a pair of hawks, and one dropped to the ground and caught a rodent.  We then witnessed a spirited chase, with the successful hunter being pursued by the second member of the pair.  They flew out of sight so we didn't see how this played out. Perhaps they shared the meal???


Friday, September 14, 2012

Change of Season

We have really noticed a change in weather this month.  While we are still enjoying warm, sunny afternoons, the mornings have cooled off.  Our typical lows have been in the upper 30's to mid 40's, though we did have a low of 33 degrees last week!

Along with the cool nights has come changes in the trees.  We are seeing colorful leaves with some leaves already dropping.  

In the mountains behind our trailer, we can see the aspens with their golden leaves. These next two pictures were taken just a few days ago.  First a long shot, then a close-up of the golden aspens. 

This morning we awoke to another sign of the changing seasons.  The taller peaks had received a dusting of snow overnight! And in the morning light, the colors seemed more vivid.

We look forward to more cool weather, and perhaps some snow down here in the valley before long.