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to the Rockies - Spring 2006
Sylvia R. Gallagher
Jim has been wanting to return to Texas and spend as
long as he wants to in some of the places we rushed away from on previous
trips. So we're leaving in mid-March and won't be home until mid-July.
And we have no deadlines we have to meet, so we can wander wherever
and whenever we want.
We'll spend as long in Texas as the birding is good and the temperature
is tolerable, then head northwestward, ending up in the mountains of
Colorado. At least, that's the tentative plan.
We've had to avoid
high mountains for a number of years, because our precious Charlie (the
poodle) had congestive heart disease. We lost him in November. He was
such a dear companion that I couldn't see how I could face another trip
with such a void in our lives. Everything would remind me of him. In
fact, I had just the same problem at home. Anyway, as many of you know,
we just had to have a canine presence in our lives, so we bought a nine-week-old
poodle puppy and named him Toby. He is totally different from Charlie
in every way but one, the best one. He has a really sweet disposition.
But he's still a pup--six months old as I write this introduction on
March 27--and really a livewire and a handful. He's really just what
we need to keep us from missing Charlie too much--but I still miss him!!!
Many of you have
met Toby and enjoyed romping with him before classes at our house. A
lot of you told me specifically, "Be sure to tell us how Toby does
on the trip." For those of you who think there's too much Toby
in the diary, my answer is, "Just skip that part."
If this is the first
of my diaries you've read, let me introduce ourselves. Jim and I are
birders towing our old 26-foot trailer with a Suburban. Jim is a bird
photographer, and I record their sounds. The results I use in the Birding
Skills Workshops I present for Sea and Sage Audubon. (Upcoming classes
are described elsewhere on this website.) Each year I teach for several
months, then we spend three or four months on the road.
Caspers Regional Park, Orange Co., CA
We spent the
above days at Caspers Park leading aural field trips that were the culmination
of my Learning California Bird Sounds workshop--an introduction to aural
birding. Despite cold, threatening weather, all the trips (6 mornings
and 3 evenings) took place. We had a ten-minute shower on two evenings
and a half-hour shower on two mornings, but we waited them out and continued.
Only one of
the evenings was very good--the one without the shower. On that night
we heard Great Horned and Barn owls and both saw and heard Western Screech-Owl.
On the other days we only got Barn Owls--seen briefly once.
For me there were
clearly two highlights to the day trips: The first was hearing a learning
subsong from a Hermit Thrush. The atypically harsh tonal quality and
lack of precision to the melody was clearly not what it will be doing
in a month or two on its breeding ground. Another time we heard a very
nice song from a Hermit Thrush. We also heard two types of calls. The
other highlight was a Bewick's Wren alternating two very different song
types--one ending in a trill, the other ending in several well spaced
notes. We watched him singing atop a small tree for quite a while. Occasionally
he would do two songs in a row alike, but mainly he alternated. Bewick's
Wrens are noted for ultimate variety, not immediate variety like this.
on the Caspers Park field trips and the birds found is located elsewhere
on this website.
March 13, 2006
Picacho Peak RV Resort, north of Tucson
p.m., Tues., March 14, 2006
Manzano's RV Park, Silver City, NM
Yesterday we drove
all day --south to San Diego and across on I-8. The mountains were beautiful
in the snow they'd received during the preceding week. There are three
passes that are around 4100 ft, and there we had snow all around us.
There had been little wind, so even the trees and bushes still had snow
on them. We really enjoyed it.
After we got down
on the desert, it was just the usual tedious drive. We hadn't gotten
a very early start, there was some slow traffic north of San Diego,
and we lost an hour when we crossed into Arizona, so it was 6:00 p.m.
by the time we got to our destination--exhausted. Toby, our five-month-old
poodle puppy, had eaten too much breakfast--something he rarely does--#and
threw up in his kennel, so I had to wash the bedding, fix dinner, then
remake the bed with the electric blanket, which we hadn't been able
to use at Caspers, since it lacks hookups. After dinner, Jim fell into
bed right away, and I followed soon after. We had driven over 400 miles--a
lot towing a trailer.
The Picacho Peak
RV Resort was nice enough, but it was very noisy--too close to the extremely
heavy traffic on both the freeway and the train tracks, and I wonder
if the sound didn't echo off the nearby peak. We'll never stay there
again. It wasn't particularly expensive--just reasonable for the quality
of the place.
Today we had a much shorter drive. I had intended to go to Columbus
south of Deming on the Mexican border, but at the last minute decided
it might be fun to explore the Silver City area. We stopped at the NM
Visitors Center in Lordsburg and I went in and got lots of literature
about the area. When we registered here, we got additional info.
We really like Manzano's
RV Park. Very quiet. It's on the east edge of town and about a half-mile
off the highway. It only has 18 sites, and we got a nice one on the
edge. The surrounding area has estate-sized lots with lots of natural
habitat between them. The habitat here is mainly junipers with pinyons
and small oaks also. (They call the junipers "cedars," but
North America has no true cedars.)
It's also quite
birdy. The first birds we were aware of were the "wirt" calls
of Phainopeplas. We were surprised to find them here, but when I checked
a field guide, I found it is right at the northeast edge of their range.
They're really thick around here. Also present are Western Scrub-Jay
(woodhouseii), Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee, Western Bluebird,
Gambel's Quail. Jim put out birdseed, and several species have found
it already and are eating it right outside our window.
Tomorrow we'll take
a drive up into the mountains north of here. I know it's too early in
the spring for the special summer visitors, but I'd still like to see
p.m., Wed., March 15, 2006
Manzano's RV Park, Silver City, NM
Today dawned cloudy
and blustery, with the clouds especially dark over the mountains north
of here. So we decided to postpone our mountain trip and stay in the
RV park today so Jim could photograph the many birds. He set up all
his attractions--water drip, birdseed, meal worms, etc. He's been outside
all day photographing a wide variety of species. In addition to the
ones I listed yesterday, we've had Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed and
Oregon), Chipping Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Bewick's Wren, Mourning Dove,
House Finch, and White-crowned Sparrow.
I spent the morning
entering the Caspers Park field trip results in my computer. The Intel
Celeron processor of it was really not up to the mammoth five-page,
multi-column table I had created, so it was forever locking up. Then
I'd have to reboot and continue. Of course, I saved after about every
line, so I didn't have to redo much. Still it was pretty exasperating.
I copied it all on a diskette and it's ready to go to Nancy Kenyon for
the Sea and Sage website. I hope she can open it! If not, I sent a paper
Most of the afternoon I spent reading and embroidering and, especially,
looking out the window at the parade of birds. It really was a pleasant
Toby got rambunctious
around 4:00, so I played "throw the toy" the length of the
trailer for a while, then took him for a walk. He was really wild and
zoomed all over the place, really making the dirt fly. The dirt is just
the same color he is (apricot--we hope he'll stay that color), so he
doesn't really show it.
had only walked about a block when a rather large, overly friendly dog
accosted us. I let Toby play with him a little, but when things began
to get a little rougher than I felt comfortable with, I picked him up.
The loose dog followed us all the way home, climbing on me and mouthing
Toby. Toby wasn't much help. He wanted to get down and continue the
game, and struggled the entire time. I was really glad to get into the
trailer. That dog is still hanging around outside. I guess there'll
be no more walks around here.
The sky cleared
up around noon, but it has been windy all day. Will have to see what
the TV says about the weather tomorrow, but expect to try the drive
we didn't take today.
p.m., Thurs., March 16, 2006
Manzano's RV Park, Silver City, NM
Today we took a long
winding drive into the Gila National Forest north of Silver City. We
drove north on SR 15 to Gila Cliff Dwellings Natl. Monument, then backtracked
to SR 35. We followed that southeastward to SR 152, then returned to
Silver City via that and US 180.
The first portion--to
the SR 35 junction--was very steep, narrow, and winding. In fact the
road was closed to vehicles towing trailers greater than 20 ft in length.
We wouldn't have wanted to be towing ours. It entered the Gila Natl.
Forest soon after it began--mainly Ponderosa Pines plus a few firs.
I forgot my tree book, but when I just checked it, I discovered the
only kind in this range are White Firs.
are recommended for summer birds. We stopped at one of them, but it
definitely was not summer. The temperature was about 30 and it was in
a very shady canyon. The place was very quiet, but surprisingly full
of campers. The ones we could see looked like lone homeless people.
One man had lit a fire, but it didn't really catch. He just sat there
facing it with his head down and his hands right above the smoldering
embers, inhaling lungsful of smoke. He never looked up as we walked
close to him on our way to the nearby restroom. Most campers are quite
The area is along
a creek, which had no water but according to the literature has none
in the summertime either. The birdfinding guide touts it as wonderful
in the summer, but not this time of year. So we drove on up to the top
of the ridge, where it was a bit warmer. I walked Toby a while along
an old dirt road. It'll have to be his walk for the day, since I don't
dare take him out around our RV Park.
The road then descended
a bit along a ridge, and the trees became mostly Alligator Junipers.
At the end of the ridge there was an overlook of the Gila Wilderness.
Snow was still present on the north-facing slopes. After taking a few
pictures of the view, I discovered what I thought was an unusual juniper.
It had gray peeling bark, with a red layer underneath. I photographed
it thoroughly, then cut off a spray to bring back. When I looked it
up in the book, I found I had an Arizona Cypress, a new species for
me. The bluish "fruits" I had noticed were actually just immature
cones. The branch I brought back had older cones that were closed and
becoming woody--just right for a cypress.
After we passed
the SR 35 junction, the road was just as steep, but the hairpin turns
weren't quite so tight, and it was wider. People do take trailers up
that way. We drove all the way to Gila Ruins. Jim started out on the
one-mile trail, and I stayed behind with Toby, who was not permitted.
It wasn't long before Jim returned. He had decided he didn't want to
see the ruins badly enough to hike that steep trail.
The road back ran along the Mimbres River and was still pretty winding,
but faster than SR 15. We didn't get back to the trailer until around
2:00 p.m. A trip to Wal-Mart to replace an old chair that Jim broke
yesterday completed our day's driving.
The sky was clear
all morning, but has now become totally cloudy, but I don't think there's
going to be any rain soon. I think the high was in the upper 60's before
it clouded up, but it's colder than that now. No wind, which is nice.
Jim is outside shooting
the birds with flash. Our count is now up to 17 species using the food
and water in our site. That could be a record. We've added three new
ones this afternoon: Juniper Titmouse, Red-winged Blackbird, and American
Toby has just discovered
there's a big world outside the trailer window and sits there looking
out for long periods of time. He's also discovered that he's supposed
to bark at passers by--unfortunately. Before this he was just wrapped
up in his own little puppy world.
Yesterday I discovered
that the conifers in our campground are new ones for me. I couldn't
photograph them yesterday because of the wind, and now it's cloudy.
Hopefully tomorrow morning will be clear and calm. They are Oneseed
Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) and Two-needle Pinyon (Pinus edulis).
I got hooked on conifers when I was preparing for my workshop on the
western mountains and their birds. Now I'm trying to document them all.
p.m., Fri., March 17, 2006
Pancho Villa SP, Columbus, NM
We really liked
Manzano's RV Park in Silver City. In addition to the 18 species of birds
(House Sparrow added this morning), the park is immaculately kept up.
Attractive stone walls mark off the edges of the sites. There are wooden
benches here and there for sitting and enjoying the surroundings. Unfortunately
it was too cold to enjoy them this time. Jim says the bathrooms are
immaculate. The community building seems to be a converted house, so
the bathroom is just like one in a home. Of course, we loved the natural
surroundings in their oak/juniper/pinyon habitat. And the sites weren't
too crowded together, as they are on many parks. We paid $21 a night
(including $1 city tax) for full hookups.
We stayed around
until 11:00 this morning. It was overcast the entire time, but quite
bright. Jim photographed the birds some more and finally got the Juniper
Titmouse to hold still. I did the unpleasant tasks of changing the bed
(a major project in our trailer because of all the stuff stored around
it) and washing Toby. He tolerates the washing and blow-drying all right,
but hates to be brushed. I had to have Jim hold his head while I did
it to keep him from attacking my hand and the brush holding it. It's
hard to tell whether he's playing with the brush or truly snapping at
it, but whichever it is, his teeth are sharp. He really looks nice when
he's all clean and fluffy. He hadn't had a bath for two weeks.
Before we left I
photographed those two trees and even found a few cones from the Two-leaf
Pinyon for my collection. They weren't the most wonderful pictures because
of the gray sky, but they'll add to my collection. Whenever I photograph
trees, I try to get the entire tree plus close-ups of the foliage, cones/fruits,
Our drive was about
75 miles. We had lunch at a Pizza Hut in Deming and unfortunately hit
the place precisely at the peak of the rush hour, which they were not
prepared to handle. It was full of high school kids, and we waited our
entire meal to get our drinks. It was a buffet, a common lunchtime feature
at Pizza Huts lots of places in the country--but not around home.
Pancho Villa State
Park is due south of Deming. It's more open then we remembered, but
still there are cottonwoods and lots of cacti. I also discovered that
they've planted Arizona Cypresses here and there, and they're doing
fine. So far we've had Curve-billed Thrasher, White-winged Dove, Lark
Bunting, and Greater Roadrunner in our site. There were two roadrunners
right outside the window at the water drip for a while, and I had a
hard time keeping Toby from yelping at them. I think he wanted to go
outside and play with them.
The wind got up
pretty strong by mid-afternoon, so we stayed inside most of the time.
It has completely died down now, just as the sun is setting.
Our reason for coming
here is a recent article in North American Birds (Vol. 59, No. 2; 2005;
pp. 352+) on Aplomado Falcons along the Mexican border. They don't tell
precisely where they are, but there is a map with dots showing all the
sightings since 1990. They're done surveys along the roads, so I think
we'll drive the one that heads west from here and see if we we can find
any. They've even nested four times since 2001, once successfully. The
nests were active from early March through June--various nests in different
The sky has been
overcast all day, but all afternoon there has been a sliver of blue
sky on the western horizon. Right now we're watching a gorgeous sunset
through that sliver. It's illuminating the entire sky with a pink glow.
March 18, 2006
Pancho Villa SP, Columbus, NM
p.m., Sun., March 19, 2006
Pancho Villa SP, Columbus, NM
morning we drove 44 miles westward on SR 9, carefully scanning the tops
of yuccas, fence posts, etc., for Aplomado Falcons. This is the area
that, according to the map in the North American Birds article, has
had the most sightings. We knew in advance it was a long shot, so we
weren't surprised not to see a falcon. However, it was interesting to
see the type of habitat they prefer. I took a few pictures of yucca
stands for the record. When we get to south Texas, where they've been
reintroduced, it will be fun to compare the two habitats.
wind got up around 8:30, not too long after we got started, but wasn't
super strong until we were heading back, so I don't think it was a deterrent
to those birds, which are undoubtedly used to some wind. The article
had mentioned that they conducted their surveys as late as noon unless
it got windy earlier.
we got back, it got super windy for a few hours. According to the TV
news, it was 32 mph in Deming with gusts up to 45 mph. That's the closest
place to where we are. The wind really buffeted the trailer, and we
were in the middle of an awful dust cloud for several hours. Even though
there were high clouds most of the day, the temperature was in the upper
70's, so we had to have a few windows open for ventilation. The trailer
is coated with the stuff.
wind went down at sunset, just as it had the day before.This morning
dawned nearly clear and cold, upper 40's I'd guess. The wind didn't
start up until around 9:00. It's pretty strong right now, but not like
yesterday. The front went through last evening, so the temperature is
about 10 degrees cooler than yesterday--pleasant in the trailer with
all the windows closed.
got up about 5:15 this morning, before daylight. I quickly mixed up
some pancake batter and put it in the refrigerator (I think the pancakes
are better if the batter stands at least an hour). Then I wandered around
the campground for three hours recording birds. There were some extraneous
noises, mostly highway traffic on the road to Mexico, but also a few
roosters, dogs, and miscellaneous campground noises. Even so, recording
conditions were pretty good.
don't think I got any solos for the simple reason that it was impossible
to record anything without White-winged Dove sounds, too. In addition
to their usual two types of calls, I got an aggressive call and a nice
piece of wing sounds as one took flight. The wings whistle almost as
loudly as a Mourning Dove at first, then become more of a whoosh.
robin went through its entire repertoire. That'll really fool my students
if I use it as a practice sound in a desert workshop sometime!
Quail were all over one area, and I got some pretty good calls of several
types from them. Also Cactus Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Dark-eyed
(Gray-headed) Junco. House Finches were everywhere, and not mixed in
with House Sparrows, of which there seem to be none (saw a few later).
I watched a pair of roadrunners for a long time, but they had nothing
to say. Worse luck. I still need a decent recording of that bird. Everything
I have is borderline audible.
After our late (9:00) breakfast, I took Toby for a long walk before
the wind got super-fierce. He loved it and chased everything that blew
near, darting this way and that. When the wind comes from the rear,
he even chases his tail--or sits down on it. I don't know what he thinks
I drove over to the the only gas station in this tiny town and bought
a Sunday El Paso Times, then came inside and sat down on the bed to
read it. No sooner had I started, than I started to feel an awful prickling
on my hands, arms and across my midriff. I couldn't imagine what it
was. There was nothing I could see where the prickles were. I changed
my shirt and washed my arms up to my elbows, scrubbing them vigorously
with the washcloth. That seemed to do the job. I could see tiny red
spots on my skin where the prickles had been, but they no longer hurt.
Then after lunch I began to have the same feeling again. I still didn't
know whether it was some sort of no-see-um insect or something that
was blowing in the wind. Then it occurred to me that my hat had blown
off when I got out of the truck with the newspaper. I had rescued it
from a cactus plant. I remembered noting that the cactus seemed to be
spineless. When I looked at the hat, I discovered little patches of
brown fuzz here and there on it. I realized that was probably what had
been pricking me. In aggregate those spines were visible, but not singly.
I took the hat outside in the wind and brushed it thoroughly with an
old toothbrush, then came in and changed my shirt again and washed my
hands and arms as before. Hope that solves the problem. Moral: don't
touch "spineless" cacti! I think I'd rather have encountered
one with big spines than that one.
I got back from my morning walk, I found Jim photographing birds through
the trailer window. We were located right next to a beautiful big cholla
plant, and he'd placed his water drip and birdseed at the base of it.
He was getting nice close-up shots with his 100-400 mm zoom lens from
5 to 8 feet: Pyrrhyloxia, Lark Bunting, Curve-billed Thrasher, etc.
All should be really pretty in the cactus with its bright yellow fruits.
The background was an Arizona Cypress.
Villa State Park commemorates his raid across the border from Mexico
on an American fort. Here is the text of the sign: "Site of the
last hostile action by foreign troops in the continental United States.
Led by General Francisco (Pancho) Villa, insurgent Mexican forces on
the night of March 9, 1916, raided Camp Furlong, a United States Army
cantonment and the nearby town of Columbus. Several people were killed,
many others were wounded, and numerous buildings and tents were burned.
The underlying motive of the raid is still in dispute among survivors
and historians. Six days later United States punitive forces under General
John J. (Black Jack) Pershing entered Mexico and pursued Pancho Villa
without success. In recognition of the subsequent long continued friendly
relations of the two countries, the New Mexico state legislature in
1959 designated this site as a state park."
of the fort are scattered around the north half of the park. Some are
small adobe buildings, which are under metal roofs to protect them from
the rain. Particularly interesting is the first grease rack in the country--an
impressive pair of concrete ramps for the wheels, with a gap in the
middle to work on the undersides of the army trucks, which were just
starting to be used in warfare. The sign nearby said that despite the
trucks' presence here, all fuel for them was hauled in by pack animals.
I guess the roads were just too awful for multiple trips.
March 20, 2006
Balmorhea SP, TX
p.m., Tues., March 21, 2006
Balmorhea SP, TX
Yesterday was pretty
uneventful. It was cold and windy all day. According to the TV weather
last night, it was a steady 30 mph with gusts to 45 mph. We got an early
start and were on the road by 7:00 a.m., hoping to reach our destination
before the wind got too strong, but that was not to be. Fortunately
it was a tail wind, so we really didn't feel it, and it probably helped
our gas mileage.
When we got here, Jim set up his water drip and spread birdseed, then
we just sat inside and looked out the window. We were able to get the
same site we've had in the past (#31), with a little bare ground and
a large patch of shoulder-high shrubs very close. The most interesting
birds, curiously enough, are the White-crowned Sparrows. We have two
subspecies--gambelii and oriantha. The former is the common wintering
form all over the west, while the latter is sometimes called the Mountain
White-crowned Sparrow. It breeds in the high mountains of the west and
mainly winters south of the Mexican border. I was surprised to find
them here. I know they are not migrants this early in the season. We
probably have around 40 sparrows at any one time feeding here and perhaps
20% are oriantha.
Other interesting species using our site, some of which showed up yesterday,
others today: Green-tailed Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Clay-colored
Sparrow, Scaled Quail.
This park has an enormous (62,000 sq. ft) swimming pool fed by a generous
spring (22-26 million gallons daily) not far away. Around the pool is
a grassy park area with scattered cottonwood trees. Some of the birds
there are Vermilion Flycatcher, White-winged and Eurasian Collared-Dove,
The entire area was an extensive cienega (wetland) before development
of the park and surrounding agricultural land. To somewhat compensate
for its destruction a small cienega has been constructed not far from
where we're camped. Last time we were here it had just been constructed.
Now it is mature and has a variety of species in the pond and marsh
areas: Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Sora, Marsh Wren, Blue-winged Teal,
Lesser Scaup (apparently the water is deep enough), and American Coot.
This morning dawned clear and calm and 36’. I bundled up and went
out to try to record some birds. Unfortunately there was an awful lot
of truck traffic on the road outside the park. Furthermore, miscellaneous
pumps, sprinklers, small waterfalls, etc. connected with the water flowing
through the park in canals, prevented me from doing very well. I did
get a fairly good recording of the Eurasian Collared-Dove--probably
better than anything I had up to now--but little else. White-winged
Doves and Great-tailed Grackles were constantly vocalizing, but I really
don't need those.
Jim has been outside all day photographing the birds in our site. It
doesn't seem to matter whether he is in his blind or just sitting in
a chair; these are campground birds. After I got back from my morning
walk, I spent the rest of the time in the trailer working on revising
my chapter in Brad Schram's "Birder's Guide to Southern California",
for the temperature is still pretty cool, and there's a stiff breeze,
probably 10 to 15 mph.
Toby has been penned up in the trailer all day. While I've been writing
this, I've been interrupted innumerable times to keep him from chewing
pillows, curtain pulls, assorted electrical cords, etc., and dragging
toilet paper rolls out of the cupboard and tearing them up into little
pieces. I closed the door to the bathroom and gave him his toy box,
and he hauled everything in it out. Now he's asleep on the couch and
looks like an angel! But I think he'd be happy to wake up and go for
a walk. He's usually hyperactive in the late afternoon and early evening,
calmer the rest of the day.
Each day when we're driving, Toby stays curled up in his little bed
between the seats all day without complaint. He doesn't even leave it
when we stop unless I put his leash on him. I bought a small kennel
to go on the back seat in case he got out of hand, but haven't used
it yet. In fact, I have converted it into a cupboard for my purse, camera,
film, etc., to keep them away from Jim's clutter.
Now for that walk. He's into something else!
p.m., Wed., March 22, 2006
Seminole Canyon SP, ca. 40 miles northwest of Del
Last night at dinner
I asked Jim if he had photographed any immature oriantha White-crowned
Sparrows. He replied that he had not and didn't know they could be distinguished
from gambelii. I explained that they have the same differences the adults
do--eye stripe connecting to the lateral crown stripe in the supraloral
(I didn't use that technical terminology, though) and pinkish bill.
I had seen one or more during the day. We decided he would spend a while
trying for them this morning before we left, since we only had 200 miles
to go. I sat in the window watching for them, but saw none. However,
after an hour or two, he came in and said he had photographed some.
I hope he's right, but the photos will tell the tale. I didn't have
as good an angle to the sun as he did, so he could see them better than
We got on the road around 9:30 and continued eastward on I-10 to Fort
Stockton, where we did some shopping at Wal-Mart and a grocery store,
bought gas and ate lunch. Then we drove southeast on US 285 to US 90,
then continued southeast to Seminole Canyon SP, arriving around 4:00.
The last hour or so the wind was blowing fairly strongly. The park is
situated on a high bluff above the canyon, so gets lots of wind. There
were very few birds around in the late afternoon. Hope things are better
tomorrow morning. We loved this place last time we were here (mid-March,
2002), and Jim got excellent pictures of Scaled Quail and a nesting
Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The latter was drilling a hole in the support
pole of the picnic shelter at a nearby campsite. Jim went over and looked
at the place and discovered the park staff had filled several holes
with concrete. I suppose they really damaged the structure, but it seems
a shame. The Ladder-backs are still around; I saw one later at a hole
in an electrical pole.
March 23, 3006
Seminole Cyn. SP, TX
p.m., Fri., March 24, 2006
Lonesome Dove RV Ranch, Del Rio, TX
Yesterday was pretty
much a bust. It was cold and very windy all day. Recording was impossible,
and there were almost no birds out to be seen. Jim sat outside for a
while a couple of times--all bundled up, but got nothing for his efforts.
He did catch sight of what he thought was a juvenile Mockingbird. Later
I saw the same bird from the window and told him it was a Sage Thrasher.
I took two walks,
one with Toby, but the rest of time time I stayed inside and kept warm.
Got lots of embroidery and reading done!
The wind finally
died down last night. We arose before daylight this morning and were
greeted by the hoots of a distant Great Horned Owl, the only sound to
break the silence. The day dawned clear, calm, and cold (34’).
Birds were all over the place. They hadn't liked the wind either.
the sun had just risen and I decided to take a walk with my tape recorder.
I set out about 7:00 a.m. and walked the length of the campground and
then took off on the Rio Grande trail, which is actually a dirt road
that goes six miles to the Rio Grande. Park visitors are only permitted
to use it as a hiking trail, but its nice smooth surface suited my hiking
"skills" to perfection. I had taken it when we were here before
and loved it. The other trail down into the canyon is only open to tour
groups, which go to see the pictographs and other evidence of an early
indian settlement. We've never taken that tour.
The birds were widely
scattered, because it was open desert. However, it allowed me to get
solos, something that is often quite difficult to do. I got nice Pyrrhyloxia
songs, Bewick's Wren scolds, and best of all, a Cassin's Sparrow song.
That may be my favorite of all the sparrow songs, even though others
are more elaborate and varied. Its crystalline simplicity is really
thrilling. There were lots of other sparrows, too, but most of them
were feeding silently in mixed flocks: Clay-colored, Brewer's, Lincoln's,
White-crowned, Black-throated, Lark Bunting were all there.
The trail has an
alternate route in the middle. I took the left fork, which led to an
overlook of a side canyon to Seminole Canyon. It was northeast facing
and had some well-developed trees at the upper end. I sat on a rock
for quite a while, hoping some interesting birds would turn up, but
that did not happen. Last time when I sat in that area I got a recording
with three wren species in it: Cactus, Canyon, and Bewick's. I did hear
a few calls from a Canyon Wren. Cactus Wrens are all over the place.
Of course, I didn't go all the way to the Rio Grande--got back around
10:30. The wind was still very light and the temperature was only 54’.
Last time when
I took that trail Charlie went with me and I missed him when I sat on
that rock hoping for three wrens. Unfortunately Toby can't be trusted
to stay on the trail. He dashes all over the place and would be full
of cactus thorns in no time. I have to stick to paved roads or broad
gravel ones with him.
When I got back
to the trailer, I found Jim surrounded by sparrows and other birds,
too. He continued photographing them until noon. Then we ate lunch and
drove to Del Rio, about 40 miles, where we found a site in a commercial
RV Park. Most of the rigs are permanently or seasonally placed, but
they have a few sites out in the middle for overnighters. It's adequate
and the location is closest to where we want to do some city park birding
I took a nap this
afternoon. Before drifting off, I ticked off some of the campground
birds I was hearing, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch,
White-winged Dove, and, especially, the monotonous two-longs-and-a-short
call (all on the same pitch) of the Eurasian Collared-Dove.
p.m., Sat., March 25, 2006
Lonesome Dove RV Ranch, Del Rio, TX
It's easy to understand
the "dove" part of the name of this campground, but they certainly
aren't "lonesome." Large numbers of three species are cooing
all over the place: White-winged, Inca, and Eurasian Collared-, surprisingly
no Mournings. I did see Mournings today at Moore Park, as well as Rock
Pigeons. The "ranch" part is, I suppose, because they've outfitted
the front of the park attractively as an old-west town with false facades
of a row of tiny businesses, old equipment, etc. I guess the trailers
out back are on the "ranch."
The campground advertises itself as the newest one in Del Rio, but it
can't be very new, because it has some fairly large trees all over the
grounds. Our site isn't particularly shaded, but most of the ones where
the permanent trailers are located are. Very few sites are available
for transients like us. We chose it because it's the closest one to
the parks we wanted to visit.
Around 12:30 a.m.
last night we were awakened by a pair of Great Horned Owls duetting
in the trees right outside our window. I went out and recorded them,
but even at that late hour, the traffic on the highway prevented the
recordings from being first rate. Too bad, for they were very close.
The folks in the
park are very friendly. Twice we were invited to last night's potluck
dinner, but we refused. I didn't have time to make anything, although
they'd no doubt have said "come anyway." Besides we'd seen
an interesting looking steak house down the highway a short distance.
It's called Cripple Creek and features steak, prime rib and seafood.
When we drove by it on the way in yesterday afternoon, there was no
one there, but since it was so close, we decided to check it out--and
go someplace else if it was defunct. It was anything but defunct. The
large parking lot was full of cars. Jim had the prime rib and I had
a steak. Both were quite tasty, but cold. The service was slow and it
was obvious the food had sat around a while before it was served. We
each brought home half our meat. I'll be sure it's warm when I serve
the rest. Prices were very reasonable.
This morning we
decided to do a good job checking out the various parks in Del Rio.
We went first to Moore Park, where Jim photographed a Green Kingfisher
many years ago. It's located along a creek fed by San Felipe spring.
We did see one, and it was perched almost the same place we saw it years
ago. Jim stood around the area hoping it would come back, but finally
gave up. He figured out what the problem was. That time there was a
large stand of cane in the creek, which he had used a sort of a blind.
The other two times we've been there, it's been gone. Still, it was
nice to discover the birds are still in the area. We also saw one or
more Belted Kingfishers.
Other parks besides
Moore Park are along the creek, and we checked out several. They're
sort of connected by a paved walkway, interrupted by highways. Interesting
birds included Great Kiskadee and Couch's (probably, but not seen well
nor heard) Kingbird. We also checked out Laguna de Plata, which was
not what the book led us to expect. It turned out to be a sewage treatment
plant, but we saw no ponds like those at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary--just
the concrete-lined agitated ones where the sewage is aerated, noisily.
There was a small area of vegetation along one side with a trail winding
through a mesquite tangle. This was edged by pastureland. A Wild Turkey
was on the trail, but nothing else of interest. All of the areas we
birded were written up on the ABA/Lane guide to the Rio Grande Valley.
All in all, the
birding was a disappointment. But we did get a number of jobs done that
we'd been trying to do for some time. Jim got a welding job done on
the trailer hitch (only $5 for what would have cost at least $50 at
home) and some parts for the outside cabinet doors. We also got a new
TV set. The old one had quit playing through the speaker except when
teased repeatedly. (I make him use the earphones, because he watches
so much TV--when we have a signal--but occasionally I want to hear the
news.) We gave the old one to the campground; they can probably get
it fixed cheaply. We also did some other shopping, but the Saturday
crowds made it very time-consuming.
Toby gave us a scare
this afternoon. He had been pretty good about staying inside the trailer
when one of us opened the door to leave and told him to remain. So after
I took him for a walk, I put him just inside the trailer and stood on
the step to take off his leash. No sooner had the leash been removed,
but he darted past me out the door and started running all over the
place--around the trailer on one side of us, then the other, then .
. . We didn't know where he was and, especially, how far away he had
gone or intended to go. Jim sternly ordered him to come, but I decided
coaxing might be better, so I went inside the trailer and called in
an upbeat tone, "Come on, Toby." In no time he came zooming
into the trailer and greeted me like a long-lost friend. He had been
playing a game with us, of course, but we didn't think it was very much
Tomorrow we head on southeastward along the Rio Grande.
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Sylvia's Trip Diary.
posted April 5, 2006