I made Sundays at Moosewood rusks; they are great to take on a road trip, hiking or camping because they are tasty (cinnamon, almond, vanilla) lightweight and will not spoil for weeks.
We stopped on the south side of Chicago for my first ever Maxwell Street Polish.
Crossing America’s heartland, we search out quaint diners like Pheasant Run in Hays, KS with gingham curtains and duck hunting prints for sale on the wall.
We found a place where pop is just sixty cents and a full home style meal is $5.50. A fellow birder at the next table volunteered information about local birds when the server alerted her to my field guide. The bird soaring low over the neighbourhood was a Mississippi Kite.
Swainson’s Hawks preened atop many power poles while Western Kingbirds did their fly-catching air dance. We had a few Eurasian Collared Doves, too. In Colorado we had a Loggerhead Shrike and passed a group of Mule Deer. Herds of wild horses grazed or galloped freely, their black manes and tales contrasting with their shiny sorrel coats and blazed foreheads.
…and meet a longtime blogosphere friend for the first time face-to-face.
We broke bread together at Old Martina’s Hall across from San Francisco de Asis mission church. Construction on the church began in 1772. I was happy to find that two adjacent gift shop / galleries were still open, though the church itself was not.
We drove on after supper in order to be able to wake up very early in Santa Fe. It was my fiftieth birthday, and what a birthday it would turn out to be!
Many birthday presents awaited me in the gardens around the visitors’ center of this sanctuary: Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-tailed and Calliope Hummingbirds buzzed from feeder to feeder, from one bush full of tube-shaped, jewel-hued flowers to another. One or two tried to drink from the eyelets in Chuck’s red cap, a thrill we might have captured on video had it not been for the arrival of a group of school children. It turned out that the high-pitched jingle bell sound in the air was being produced by the wings of the male Broad-tailed hummingbird.
Coming to the trickling fountain and other bird baths were Evening and Black-headed Grosbeaks. Several Spotted Towhees and a couple of Canyon Towhees scratched in the mulch around the shrubs and flowering bushes.
Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches enjoyed the seed silos while White-winged Doves cooed in the branches of trees over our heads. House Finches were everywhere. A Grey Flycatcher was kind enough to show itself while I was checking off life birds.
After the gardens, we took the trails that wind through a few different habitats in hopes of seeing Juniper Titmouse or Mountain Chickadee. We didn’t get either of those, but the hike was beautiful.
Before lunch we visited the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Asisi. Was it just a coincidence that my favorite Saint seemed to greet us at every turn?
In search of authentic local fare the whole trip, for lunch we passed up an opportunity to eat at Cafe Pasqual’s in favour of The Shed: Creative Cooking, where we waited a long time for a table and were told by others in line that it was “worth the wait.”
A kind stranger at the next table offered to snap our picture. Nice people are everywhere.
I had spent many weeks leading up to the summer of 2012 (before postponing this trip by a year) going through The Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico with a yellow highlighter. I had then plotted potential stops using Google’s “MyTrips” app. On each stop I had loaded the names of target bird species. Many hot spots were centered in and around the Turquoise Trail, which links Santa Fe and Albuquerque, specifically along the Sandia Crest highway that winds its way through five life zones up to the peak of Sandia Crest where one can see 100 miles in every direction on a clear day, and where all three Rosy Finches can be seen at the feeders of the Crest House in winter.
After lunch in Santa Fe, we set out to bird the Sandia Crest.
As soon as we got out of the car at the first stop I’d highlighted in the book, we could hear high-pitched bird noise above our heads. Ignoring an offer from a passerby in a pickup truck to point out the trail head, we started following the bird sounds high up in some conifers. I was slipping in my Blunnies as I tried to climb a woodland embankment. Finally we caught bird movement and discovered the source of the sound: a baby Red-naped Sapsucker being fed by a busy parent bird. We watched the hungry nestling stick its head out of the tree cavity during the adult’s absences. What a nice birthday present that was!
After finding the trailhead and reading up on how to avoid confrontation with bears, we did a good portion of the trail. White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches foraged on tree trunks very high above us. The quick glimpse I may have gotten of a Pygmy Nuthatch wasn’t good enough for me to count that species on my life list, but Mountain Chickadees were more cooperative, as were the Cordilleran Flycatchers. A female Calliope Hummingbird made an appearance, and Virginia’s Warbler did as well.
My favourite mammal sighting of the whole trip may have been Albert’s Squirrel with its skunk-like tail, tufted black ears and black nose.
As Chuck drove, I buried my head in the Hot Spots of Central New Mexico guide. Our next goal would be to find “the log,” a natural watering trough attracting dozens of bird and mammal species each hour. Even though Common Raven, Albert’s and Red Squirrels and Red-breasted Nuthatches were the only creatures to appear for a drink during our time sitting there, it was a pleasant stop. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with time to sit there and wait for the birds to arrive.
We continued to drive the switchbacks up, up, up to the top of the crest. At one point Chuck suggested we stop at a scenic lookout point and get out. Though a stand of trees blocked our view of the valley below, we began to notice a lot of little birds moving over the ground on the shrubby mountain slopes in front of us. They were scratch-hopping the way towhees and Fox Sparrows do and had deep rufous crowns. After much deliberation, I decided they had to be Green-tailed Towhees!
We had been trying to make it to the top of the Crest before the sun went down and stole the breathtaking view; dusk was quickly approaching when we started to head back to the parked car. Just then I noticed a few black and white swallow-like birds careening through the sky just off the mountainside. Could they be one of my target birds for the trip? Yes. They were White-throated Swifts.
We arrived at the Crest House after it had closed, but the view was still free. A Rock Wren was feeding on the rocks at our feet while we took in the incredible vista.
…to be continued…