BIG TOM

After Easter came Mother’s Day,
More Snow…and a visit from
BIG TOM

IMG_0103He strutted and gobbled as he watched over his Turkey Girls
IMG_0001Looking just as handsome in the rear view.
IMG_0101As the temperature plummeted to 15 degrees,
Hummingbirds suck in the freezing sugar water
IMG_0018 Black-headed Grossbeak wait their turn at the feeder

IMG_0075And a deflated Tom runs through 8″ of snow to find a warm roost for the night.
IMG_0086A bright May sunrise highlights 13,161 foot high Wheeler Peak’s May snowfall.
IMG_0001After the snow melts here at 9,000 feet, Big Tom returns to Eaglefire
to strut in the sunshine.  He doubles in size as he displays every single feather, showing off his blue and red face and neck, and gobbling out the message that these are his hens and this, Eaglefire, is his territory.
IMG_0016He is unbelievably tame, becoming quite tolerant of our sharing HIS home ground.
He and his hens spend most of every day within our sight.
In these photos he is only 10 feet or so off the deck.
When I “gobble” him, he “gobbles” me back.
IMG_0013IMG_0012Now that the Buttercups are up
Can Spring be far behind?
IMG_0010***

 

EASTER SURPRISES

Spring in the high country of Northern New Mexico
brings sudden, unexpected changes in weather, flora and fauna.
Always filled with surprises.

IMG_0014An Easter Visit from the Turkey Girls was the first surprise.  The one we call “Poor-Pitiful” for her fate at the bottom of the pecking order, was the first to appear at the door in full begging mode.
Although they had not graced us with a visit since the first shows of December, shy they were not.

IMG_0052Feeling at home and wasting no time, they went right for the expensive wild bird seed.
Our hens are now a year old, ready to mate, lay eggs and raise poults. So, I was pleasantly surprised at their return, but not surprised when their brief visit was cut short by an insistent “Gobble” from a big Tom calling them to follow him away into the woods.

IMG_0002Tom strutted around displaying for full effect before bustling them off down the trail.

The first of several Easter Weekend Snows surprised us the next morning.

IMG_0120Out early to feed the birds, I was soon joined by the Turkey Girls

IMG_0104who seemed to accept the snow as a normal Spring-time occurrence.

IMG_0023Seems we have been adopted by five Turkey Girls who are here to stay.
We look forward to Spring-in-earnest with wild flower blooms and baby turkey visitors.

Between Spring snows, nestled deep in the grass, out of the cold winds
we find delicate, pastel blooms of Pasque flowers.

IMG_0011IMG_0008
Always a surprise.
***

WILD TURKEY: OUR OTHER NATIONAL BIRD

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…For the Truth, the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird… a true original Native of America . . . a Bird of Courage…”
Benjamin Franklin, 1784

The traditional Thanksgiving Feast featuring America’s favorite holiday fowl
is but a recent memory as overstuffed Americans stumble into December
with thoughts turning toward all things Christmas.

Roast-TurkeyBut I’m hoping it’s not too late to raise a toast to the bird that was present
and accounted for at the birth of our Nation--
Meleagris gallopavo
, the Wild Turkey.

turkey500So the story goes, this uniquely American bird strutted his way into Benjamin Franklin’s heart to earn his admiration and preference as our National Symbol.  Franklin touted the Wild Turkey’s backwoods resourcefulness while decrying the laziness of the Bald Eagle.
Since we witnessed Wild Turkey Gobblers rapt with mating fever
fighting like Sumo Wrestlers, their faces flashing
Red, White and Blue,
I’m thinking Ben had a point.

With the arrival of European Settlers, the Wild Turkey found himself sitting square in the sights of frontiersman’s rifles and in the midst of dwindling habitat. By the 1930′s there were fewer than 30,000 birds left on the continent.
But, like his old rival the Bald Eagle, the Wild Turkey’s story is one of success.  After a massive continent-wide effort at restocking, Wild Turkey numbers now tally at an impressive 7 million. However, since the late 1980′s biologists have been alarmed by the mysterious decline of the Eastern subspecies and are looking at habitat loss, increased predation, hunting regulations and climate change as possible causes.

New Mexico Game and Fish reports Wild Turkey populations as thriving with some 3,000 birds harvested by hunters in 2012.  New Mexico is home to three of the five subspecies found in the continental United States with Merriam’s being the most numerous and wide spread as well as the one we see up here at 9,000 feet elevation in Eaglefire.

Sometimes silly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0072Always Proud.

Our Turkey Girls first appeared as jennies or young females and were frequent visitors throughout this past Spring and Summer.

IMG_0046At their first appearance I took a zillion photographs thinking it a rare sighting, but soon realized that at least 3 of the original 9 had us and our bird feeders on their daily foraging schedule.

IMG_0132Sometimes they came running at the sound of our voices and would spend time with us in soft dialog as they pecked, strutted, and clucked about in the grass and wildflowers.  Wild Turkeys have a vocabulary of over 30 different sounds.  After they wandered away we could hear them calling to each other to stay together as they moved through the forest.

Other times they came up on to the deck to peer into the window looking for us.

IMG_0130 - CopyThey were not at all afraid of me and I got quite close with my camera.
But they flocked to Richard.  He was their obvious favorite.
IMG_0130Deer were often present along with the Turkey Girls and watching these two species interact was fascinating. Clearly turkey do not entertain interlopers and deer shy away from a wing-flapping turkey flying at their head. Although we witnessed this behavior several times, I have to say, “Sorry.  No Photo.  I’m not that good of a photographer.”

In mid September the Turkey Girls’ visits dwindled and they moved away when they met us on the trail.
Now it’s December and we see only their tracks in the snow.
IMG_0102IMG_0100This Spring the Turkey Girls (average weight of 12 pounds) will mate with a handsome Gobbling Tom (average weight of  24 pounds) and each will lay some 12 eggs in a shallow depression in the forest floor.
The poults, feathered and ready to peck, hatch out in June to follow their mom through the forest learning to be a turkey.  Their omnivore’s diet includes berries, grasses, pinon nuts, acorns, fruit, insects and small reptiles and amphibians.  Their mother’s strong protective instincts, keen hearing and excellent color vision give the poults a fighting chance against predators such as owls, hawks, bobcats, skunks, coyotes, raccoon and bear.
Unlike domestic turkey, these wild poults will grow into strong legs and wings that allow them to run at 25 mph and fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.
At night they roost in the safety of tall trees.

Finally, I raise a toast to our Wild Turkey.
We look forward to next Spring’s visit.
May they winter well.

IMG_0003***

For more Wild Turkey facts, stories and documentaries:Audubon Magazine, November and December 2013
The National Wild Turkey Foundation
New Mexico Game and Fish
MY LIFE AS A TURKEY-a PBS Nature DVD

EAGLEFIRE WEST

IMG_0020We spent 4 beautiful days in San Diego
and loved it all–San Diego Bay, Point Loma, Balboa Park and the Zoo,
La Jolla, sea lions, pelicans, beaches and flowers.

and then…

A day’s drive due East from that Mediterranean-like paradise
brought us to an entirely different biome:
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, home of our Nation’s largest cactus,
The Saguaro

IMG_0046Saguaro’s presence dominates the landscape.
Found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert, this slow growing arborescent (tree-like) cactus may live to be 200 years old, grow to a height of 70-90 feet and weigh over 1 ton.
A 10 year old plant may be only 1 1/2 inches tall.

As they age, some grow lots of arms
IMG_0052and some grow none.
IMG_003810812-v1-490xSharp spines that protect soft green skin are used as sewing needles by
members of the Tohono O’odham Nation who gather the sweet, red fruit in the fall.
After the Saguaro dies, its bone-like woody ribs are used for ramada roofs, fences and decorations.
saguaro_cactus_ribs
Every part of the Saguaro is useful to some desert dweller.
Gila Woodpeckers and Elf Owls nest in its trunk and
Long-nosed Bat migrants from Mexico feast on the nectar of its night-blooming flowers.
Saguaro_cactus_blossoms
Of course the desert is also home to other flora, fauna, mammals, reptiles, birds
and humankind.  At the Sonoran Desert Museum bronze peccaries enjoy the shade of a Palo Verde.
IMG_0043There are cacti and agave of every shape and hue of desert green.
IMG_0036IMG_0041OPC007-DSCF4375IMG_0054Spanish Jesuits and Franciscans established an impressive trail of missions as they pushed north from Mexico into the desert southwest and California.
One of the most beautiful is found just south of Tucson.
Known as “The White Dove of the Desert”  the Franciscan mission of
San Xavier del Bac
is visible for miles away in sharp contrast to the blue Arizona sky.
IMG_0026
A National Historic Landmark, Mission San Xavier del Bac was founded by a Jesuit pioneer and explorer in 1692.  Work on this building began in 1783.  The Spanish Baroque architectural details are stunning.
IMG_0027IMG_0028A few whimsical details now adorn the adjacent modern bookstore.
IMG_0029IMG_0031But at the end of the day,
we wanted to return to the desert to stand with Saguaro.
Patient, Persevering, Predominant.
We listen and try to learn.
We wait with the desert as the sun turns the mountains red.
IMG_0058We watch as Gambel’s Quail scurry along the sandy arroyo and call softly to each other to covey up under creosote bushes before nightfall.
gambel_nedharrisThe Wind holds its breath. Stars hesitate.
The soft shawl of Quietness falls.
We wait with the Desert in time and space, between East and West.
The magic pause between heartbeats, drumbeats.
Between the setting of the Sun and the rising of the Moon.
IMG_0056The silver-dollar Moon appears.
A bubble rising effortlessly from the depths of the clear, still sky pool.
Impatient, Coyote calls to the moon.
IMG_0059
We were there. So lucky.
***

New Banner Photo

Richard’s  recent photo of our sleek summer-coated cow/calf herd, as sensual as a line-drawn nude, flowing across Burning Tree Meadow and disappearing into our favorite aspen stand speaks to me of everything I love about being in the presence of wildness.  Watching healthy, vibrant animals using the landscape is for me a transcendent moment.

IN A PERFECT WORLD


The journey from Galisteo up to Eaglefire
on Memorial Day Weekend 
2013
leads me
IMG_0014under an always turquoise sky
through the canyon alongside the  Rio Grande

IMG_0013that boasts a boarder of newly-green cottonwood trees
and
provides a safe eddy for a family of Canada Geese.

IMG_0017Into the Moreno Valley along US 64 lined with American Flags

IMG_0020welcoming more than 500 motorcycle riders who travel together across the Nation from
California to Washington DC in the annual
RUN FOR THE WALL
and pause to remember their Brothers at
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
State Park
IMG_0023
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Leaving the highway, I drive through the Eagle Pasture
B36where the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs stand watch for predators

IMG_0033 - CopyWhere elk gather to graze
elkand “little hider” calves can be found nearby.

imagejpeg_0 - Copy

Where  I always check the Eagle Trees for Balds or Goldens
IMG_0175

and sometimes get lucky enough to spot the big guy himself.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and then…climbing toward 9,00 feet…almost there…
Almost There - CopyAnd finally…I’m there, in Eaglefire, on the deck where everything is happening and it’s Spring!
IMG_0008Birds are unprecedented in species and numbers. Their migration corridor is compressed by drought and a phenomenon called “stacking” keeps them jammed up in New Mexico as they wait for the strong weather patterns on the Colorado/New Mexico boarder to clear out.  Right away I tally 22 species, all from my chair on the deck.
WESTERN TANAGEROLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEVENING AND BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Literally dozens of grosbeak mob the seed and suet
IMG_0038OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0024

PINE SISKIN..by the sock-full
IMG_0025by the hands-full
VLUU L200  / Samsung L200and by the cup-full
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASTELLAR’S JAY
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALAZULI BUNTING
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
WHITE BREASTED NUTHATCH
IMG_0087RED BREASTED NUTHATCH
IMG_0023CHIPPING SPARROWS
IMG_0050
Migrating in right on time for Spring is the tiny Cordilleran Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Early one morning 9 enormously fat male turkey strutted right up to the deck
all Jakes not Toms
IMG_0007IMG_0009 - Copy
Next one of THE TWINS stopped by to have a look-see and sample Richard’s wildflowers.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlack-chinned and Broad-tailed HUMMERS left no perch unoccupied.
DSC00696Everything was peaceful and PERFECT with bird feeders hung in just the right places, flowers planted in pots around the deck, our chairs ready and waiting.
IMG_0046Time to relax, stretch and enjoy the Spring sunshine.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith all the wildlife around, our life was bound to get complicated.  It didn’t take long for the tree squirrel to find the bird seed
IMG_0006 the Ground Squirrel to pick just the right bloom
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and the Chipmunk to home in on the suet cage.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suddenly in an explosive attack a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk dove between Richard and me as we sat enjoying the sunset over Wheeler Peak, slammed into the glass door and fell stunned to the deck as the targeted chickadee flew away in a shower of feathers.
VLUU L200  / Samsung L200Held gently in Richard’s down vest it soon regained consciousness and flew off as explosively as it arrived.

A few minutes later we discovered an exhausted, near-death, sick-looking Lazuli Bunting fluttering around unable to fly.

IMG_0019I scooped him up and snugged him away in a dark corner with food and water, not holding  out much hope for his recovery.  I was wrong.  The food, water or rest did the job and he was soon transformed into a healthy-looking bird that easily flew up to the feeder.  In one day we held 3 different species in hand and all seemed to embrace life again.

More trouble as the corvids dropped by to gobble more than their share of seed.
IMG_0159OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was horrified to see a Brown-headed Cowbird sneaking in to feed right along side my precious song birds.  Cowbirds are nest pirates that trick other birds into feeding and caring for their young at the peril of the nest builder’s brood.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
If there is a bird that should be eradicated, it is the Cowbird.  Just imagine a tiny jewel of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet struggling to feed a ravenous Baby- Huey sized Cowbird chick.

Lulled by the beauty of it all we called it a day only to discover the next morning that during the night THE BEAR paid us a visit and left his calling card.
IMG_0027 - CopyIMG_0025 - CopyWe were lucky this time.  No real damage but he did walk off with a new cake of suet.  The next afternoon we got an up-close-and-personal day-light visit from the same or another bear.

IMG_0055OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This bear was not aggressive and did not seem to be afraid of us.  A fact that is cause for some concern since they will not hesitate to approach people, their homes, cars or their dogs.  This time of year, bears are not ravenous or starving because of the abundance of helpless new-born fawns and elk calves. Sad but a fact of life.  Bears are omnivores. Spring is feast time and they take full advantage of the available meat.

In a perfect world
Bears
do not overturn plants,  rob feeders and kill new-born elk calves.
Chipmunks and their rodent cousins do not dare to eat the blossoms from our favorite daisy or hoard large quantities of expensive bird seed.
Hawks and song birds don’t crash headlong into our glass windows and doors.
Female Cowbirds don’t lay their eggs in another bird’s nest.

And our grand young boys
do not die
in the mud and the sands of some foreign land.
DSC00875But still and all, at the end of the day…
LIFE IS GOOD
***

“When we try to pick out
anything by itself,
we find it hitched to
everything else in the Universe.”
John Muir

THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO RICHARD.
HE BROUGHT ME TO EAGLEFIRE AND SHARES IT WITH ME.

IMG_0291***

BIRDING RATTLESNAKE SPRINGS

IMG_0229Rattlesnake Springs and adjacent Washington Ranch (Just 30 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico) offer a dream-scape oasis in the Chihuahua Desert. Both are noted for the high concentration of bird species they support with lush, watery habitat of ponds, wetlands, streams and a historic spring, all shaded by groves of tall Fremont Cottonwoods.

IMG_0269IMG_0253A magnet for birds…and birders alike.

IMG_0258Male Summer Tanager

I have long known of Rattlesnake Springs.  Listening to stories of rainbow-feathered birds dropping from the trees during spring migration, I wanted to be there. Last weekend, I packed my binoculars and headed south to see for myself.  I was about to experience the birding trip of my life.

IMG_0242

My friend and bird guide, Cheryl Grindle (cheryl@thebirdhub.com), knows how to work a habitat, stay focused and make sure I “stay on the bird” long enough to get the hard-earned ID.  Cheryl’s excitement and passion for every bird, whether rare or ordinary, treated me to an experience I will not soon forget.

Thanks to Cheryl’s scouting out the trip in advance, her organization and close attention to trip details, like choosing hotels and restaurants, we pushed through the day dusty, “good tired” and hungry knowing a hot shower and a good meal would be close at hand.

We enjoyed getting “good looks” at more than 116 species, ten of those were life birds for me. I would not have seen half as many birds had I not been birding with Cheryl as she networked in person and electronically with other expert birders in the area getting tips and alerts to rare bird sighting.  I felt privileged to share in the warm camaraderie and cooperation between and among some of the best birders in New Mexico.

Nick's Painted buntingPainted Redstart
(Photo courtesy of Nick Pederson)

Broad Winged HawkBroad-winged Hawk
(Nick Pederson)
Black Pol WarblerBlackpoll Warbler
A rarity in New Mexico
(photo courtesy of Matt Baumann)

Gray Hawk 2010May13Gray Hawk
Another New Mexico rarity
(Photo courtesy of Jack Holloway)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWestern Tanager
A much-loved New Mexico summer resident
(Photo courtesy of Richard Dickerson)


images

Like Pete Dunn, my favorite bird is always the one I’m looking at right now.  Even if it’s something as unlovely as a gaggle of wild turkey hens.

At the end of the day, we celebrated amazing sightings and the pleasure of time well spent and a job well done.  No regrets. No disclaimers. No disappointments.  Just an overwhelming longing to stay where we were and keep on doing what we were doing.

I wanted to turn around and do the same trip all over again.

THANKS, CHERYL!

IMG_0227A Great-horned Owl greets the sunset over the Guadalupe Escarpment.