…continued from the last two posts…
With only two weeks allotted for the trip, I had resigned myself at the beginning of the journey to the fact that I would not be getting a great number of life birds unless I was willing to sacrifice one or more of my other priorities, such as seeing relatives, stopping for good meals, or spending a few days with Mom.
“Tomorrow you can sleep in,” I’d told Chuck at the end of my wonderful birthday since he had risen before dawn to get me to the sanctuary before they even opened. Keeping my word, I joined him in a later-than-usual breakfast at the hotel before we set out to find the first of three birding destinations of the day, a very easy birding schedule that I’d hoped might net me one or two life birds if I was lucky.
The sun was already scorching by the time we found the next hot spot I had highlighted in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. We easily found Embudo Canyon at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighbourhood. As we were coming to the end of Indian School Road, I got my first lifer of the day: a Curve-billed Thrasher was perched atop a green street sign! It swooped away before Chuck could turn the car around, but the silhouette had been clear enough for me to count it.
We got out of the car and began applying sun block. I hadn’t even started looking for birds yet, but my attention was drawn to a Scaled Quail singing atop a desert plant with a central stalk on which to perch. I felt as if he were putting on a welcome show just for me!
We walked the trails for a short while; I managed to pish up my first Black-throated Sparrow. Then we went back toward the parking lot to stroll down one residential street and up the other, as alluded to in the guide book. Enjoying feeders, gardens and bird baths were Canyon and Spotted Towhees, several kinds of Hummingbirds, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Kingbird.
By the end of this walk in the midday sun, we were ready to find a place to cool off with a refreshing beverage. We easily found a Starbucks where we enjoyed free wifi and regrouped for our next trail walk.
With the help of Liddell & Hussey’s guide, we found the trail head to Three Gun Springs (Tres Pistolas). Perhaps I was feeling lazy at this point in the day, because I unfortunately failed to note the length or difficulty of this hike. I cannot fault the very comprehensive guide. For every stop it gives directions, target species, what to watch out for (such as bears, rattlers, harvester ants), etc. But the guide only works if you read it. I had only skimmed the paragraph up to the point where I learned to take a left at a fork rather than a right toward the hawk watch tower.
We walked. And walked. And walked. There were no springs in sight. And it was hot. And we did not have water with us. Yes, I know. Stupid. All trails undertaken to this point had been easy half-mile hikes, one-mile hikes, etc. My bad.
So we walked some more, guessing that we might come upon the springs ANY TIME NOW, the book being back in the car.
There was no bird activity save three Turkey Vultures way off in the distance. Were they taking up a pool on how long it would take the two tourists to succumb while trudging uphill in the heat of midday?
Finally we spotted movement in some Junipers. I may have jumped up and down when I realized there were at least three Juniper Titmice flitting from evergreen to evergreen out there in the heat. That species had eluded me for the last two or three stops, and seeing them made the wild goose chase worth it.
We turned back after what may have been a mile or more. Next time we’ll read the guide more carefully before starting a hike.
Back at the car we did spy a Western Scrub Jay, and flushed a Cooper’s Hawk from a tree, but neither time–arriving or departing–did zig-zagging through the adjacent residential area render any bird sightings. Going in the early morning or evening might have proved more fruitful.
Finally it was time to check out the hot spot right next to the rendezvous place for meeting my little cousins that evening: Ojito de San Antonio Open Space. We found the old church on the corner of two unpaved roads using our usual navigational combination of GPS, iPhone maps app and directions provided in the book. We parked next to a pickup truck, noting “Someone is already here.” We were swapping out our sandals for hiking boots when the man sitting in the truck started to speak to us. He informed us that the open space was not open at all; we could not go in. I then noticed the sign chained to the open gate. Soon a second man in another pickup truck came back out the gate, and that man closed and locked the gate.
With a bit of a thumb to nose attitude, I said something to the effect of, “FINE, then! We’ll just go to my cousin’s house up the road and bird her PRIVATE PROPERTY. Hrmph.”
And that we did, arriving much earlier than we were expected to. Hence the bewildered teenager answering the door. Hence our staring at one another until a quick phone call to his mom cleared things up and resulted in a gracious invitation to come in, join him in front of the television and have something cool to drink.
It wasn’t long before my late cousin’s ex arrived on the scene and we were soon in the midst of new cousins, old cousins, new husbands, uncles of cousins from the other side of the family and more people than we could keep up with as we shook hands or hugged our way through them all.
G had made up a crock pot of buffalo stew, which hit the spot and gave me energy for more birding around their gorgeous hilltop property.
G’s husband heard our story of the closed gate and advised us that locals just ignore that and sneak through the bars of the gate, something I’m sure the authors of our guide would never condone.
Gate or no gate, the problem of the recent drought could not be circumvented. G’s husband told us that they had just had a 50-year drought two years in a row. There was no water trickling through the acequia.
We followed the dry creek bed to its source, but there was no water there, either. The location was not totally devoid of birds, though. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird followed Chuck and his red cap around, and I got a good look at a Say’s Phoebe before we gave up the hunt.
Our host was not comfortable leaving us to wander around the apple orchard without some way to scare away bears. I am not going to blog about what one of the men carried throughout our hike. (We’re not in Canada anymore, Toto!)
Determined to find running water, our host took us to a spring on his property, but it was also dry as a bone. Poor birdies. There were a couple species of hummingbirds visiting their garden, but other than that there was nothing to distract me when my two little cousins arrived around supper time.
I spent the rest of the evening getting to know six-year-old J and eight-year-old M, both darling children with whom I can now begin a correspondence and relationship. Chuck spent the evening deep in conversation with the children’s father. It was a delightful time; we didn’t start back to our hotel in Albuquerque until late in the night.
We would need to rise early the next day in preparation for our alien encounters in Roswell!
….to be continued…