Archive for the ‘Southwest trip’ Category

May 21, 2016: Horseback

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

After lunch, we went back to Tso’s to see if we’d have any more luck with getting a horseback tour. This time they were ready for us, but there was some dithering around and waiting for another group to join us. While we waited, I spotted a yellow bird directly overhead in a big cottonwood, which turned out to be a Western Tanager – another lifer. Finally we were assigned our mounts. As an inexperienced rider who is also a little old man, I got a horse named Perky, I think the same way Little John got his name. He showed very little interest in anything except finding a shady place with grass and following Hamner’s horse with his nose in its butt. Peggy, as the experienced rider in the group, got to ride a mare who had a little colt, who got to come along for practice.

Canyon de Chelly

The trail leads right up through Chinle Wash, which at the moment is pretty full, so we did a lot of wading. As we progressed into the canyon, the walls got higher on each side of us. We stopped at one spot to look at petroglyphs, including the first real example of Kokopelli I’d ever seen. In the Chinle region, he’s depicted lying on his back.

Petroglyphs with Kokopelli

Finally I noticed a ledge with an overhang to our left that held a group of stone structures. We pulled up on the bank to look. This was “First Ruin”, so called because it’s the first one you come to on your horseback ride.

Canyon de Chelly

We passed various corrals and hogans, and even some apparently wild horses. The canyon is beautiful, full of green grass and cottonwoods with the spring rain and snow melt. The walls were often hundreds of feet high above us. Every once in a while there would be a jarring reminder that we’re still in the modern world as a pickup truck with the bed full of kids would pass us driving in.

We stopped at one point to look at a big rock face with a dark surface and hundreds of petroglyphs carved in it – “Newspaper Rock”. Shortly thereafter, we reached the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, and turned right into the former.

Canyon de Chelly

I was getting a bit sore on the backside, and my knees were really feeling the strain, when we finally stopped at the turnaround point. When I helped Robin off her horse, she looked awful. Turns out in the last hoalf hour or so she’d started to feel really bad. I think she was dehydrated and possibly low on blood sugar as well. One of the young women in our party was a nurse, and started attending to her with entergy gels and water, and Hamner talked to our guide about getting her a ride out. Coincidentally one of the guys in that group had hurt his back, and also needed to bail. By the time we left, Robin was feeling a bit better, and we left her resting and waiting for a pickup truck.

On the way back my horse was rejuvenated, surpassed only by the two horses that were returning riderless. At times he broke into an ass-punishing trot. The pickup passed us going in, and a while later, going out Robin smiled and waved, so it appeared she was doing better. Here you see Hamner, Peggy, the colt, and a riderless horse in memory of our fallen comrade.

Canyon de Chelly

We got back about 6PM and creakily dismounted. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was wondering if I’d be able to walk the next day. As Hamner pointed out, not being able to have a beer after that ride was cruel in the extreme. We made up for it by eating a lot and turning in very early.

Sunday, to Flagstaff.

May 21, 2016: Canyon de Chelly

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

I woke up when it got light as usual, and went outside to look for birds. Too windy to really see much around the hotel, but I did find an Orange-Crowned Warbler and a couple of female Cassin’s Finches. We all met for breakfast and then headed to Tso’s Horse Tours, where we had made a reservation to take a 4-hour horseback ride up into Canyon de Chelly. Well, all their horses and guides were out. We’re sorry. Maybe you could come back at 1 PM? Robin was ticked; I just figured it was a laid-back operation, and we’d come back.

So we went to the visitor center and got a map of the overlooks, and decided to do the North Rim. This actually looks into Canyon del Muerto, which is the other fork from Canyon de Chelly, but it’s better lit in the morning. And there are several ruins and nice views.

At our very first stop, at Antelope House overlook, I saw a black-and-white bird soar by below us in the canyon, and although it was only a glimpse, I knew it had to be a White-Throated Swift. If I was sure, it would be life bird #500. I was reluctant to call it on a glimpse, and we continued to take pictures of the views.

Antelope House ruin:

Canyon de Chelly

The view:

Canyon de Chelly

Next we moved on to Mummy Cave. (The turn-off is labeled “Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave Overlooks”. Peggy said “Those are great names for kids.”. I said “You mean like Nick Cave could name his kids Massacre and Mummy?” She actually meant that kids would like the place names.) At Mummy Cave overlook, I saw a soaring bird come right up out of the canyon and over our heads, and got it in good binocular view. White-Throated Swift for sure. I did the chicken dance for my 500th life bird. Everyone else was going “where is it?” And Robin said “Is that one there?” We looked, and a raptor came soaring up out of the canyon and right over us — Peregrine Falcon! A beautiful view, and I think only the 2nd or 3rd one I’ve ever seen.

Then people wandered off to another overlook, but I was chasing a chip note in the bushes, and out popped two Rock Wrens! #501, and I played their call to get a better look since they were close. One of them came right out and flitted from perch to perch all around me. I missed some good photo chances because he was too close to get a pic, but I did get a few decent ones.

Rock Wren

Eventually we headed back to the visitor center to eat lunch. Robin wasn’t feeling very good all morning, but she wanted to do the horseback ride anyway. That story next.

Albuquerque to Chinle

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Acomita Lake

We took off right after breakfast this morning and headed west. We had a pretty ambitious plan, as we wanted to visit Robin’s old home town of Grants, New Mexico, go to the Zuni Pueblo, and then end up at Chinle so we could visit Canyon de Chelly the next day. First, though, I wanted to stop before Grants at Acomita Lake. According to ebird, it was one of my best chances for a Western Grebe on the trip.

It appears that Acomita Lake is part of an attempted housing development. There’s a small lake with a dam at its base surrounded by dirt “streets” laid out in a grid. And maybe a dozen houses plus a place to get fishing permits. Nevertheless, when you put a bunch of water in an arid landscape, birds flying over decide to drop in. We parked, I carried the scope down to the shore, and I could see that there were waterfowl out there. The first thing I saw was a group of Ruddy Ducks, which are familiar enough, but a couple were maes in breeding plumage that I don’t normally see at home. Then I saw something larger and lankier behind them just as it dove under. When it popped back up, it was an Eared Grebe in lovely breeding plumage, and a lifer.

At the upper end of the lake there were shorebirds in the shallows, too far to make out with the scope, so we moved down there. That turned out to be American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. All in all, even if there weren’t any Western Grebes, it was a nice outing.

American Avocet

Next we headed down to the Zuni Pueblo, which was a substantial detour to the south. Worth it from Robin’s perspective, because she wound up buying an alarming amount of jewelry. Beautiful place; I’ll have to see if I can get one of her pics.

We then drove north to Chinle and our hotel. Nothing too remarkable, except that we are now definitely in Raven territory — big black birds you see from the road are almost always Common Ravens and only rarely American Crows.

Chinle doesn’t boast a whole lot of amenities. The Holiday Inn is fine, and it has a restaurant, but if you want to eat elsewhere you’re looking at Burger King or Church’s. We also discovered to our dismay – mine and Hamner’s, at least – that you can’t get alcoholic beverages here, it being the Navajo Nation. Hamner and I looked at the map to see if we could sneak some in from across the border, and from Chinle you’re looking at about 50 miles in any direction to get a beer legally. Oh, well.

In the morning we ride horses to Canyon de Chelly.

Embudito Canyon

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Embudito Canyon

So I drove out to Embudito Canyon, over on the east side of Albuquerque, in the dark, relying on Google Girl to find my way. Eventually I wound up in a high-priced suburb in the foothills, and a residential street that ended at a pair of locked gates. The signs declared it to be Embudito Canyon, but also that it opened at 7 AM. So I parked on the street, hoping not to get towed, and walked in.

It was still too dark to see birds, but I could hear them everywhere. It’s so frustrating to be in a new place, looking for new birds, and to be able to hear them a20ll around you but not identify them. I knew that any local birder would be racking up a substantial list just standing there. But I just sat on a curb in the parking lot and wondered what they all were. I’ve been listening to calls from Stokes Western Birds, but I don’t know many well enough to identify by sound. Still, pretty soon I realized that one of them had to be a thrasher. And when I played back the Curve-Billed Thrasher call on my phone, it was a good match.

Now I just needed to wait for it to get lighter. I walked a little way out on the trail, until it was obvious that the bird was very nearby somewhere. Finally, after maybe 20 minutes or so, I realized that it was perched right on top of a bush in front of me — and it was indeed a CBTH. It turned out later that they were quite bold, and one that had a nest in a cholla cactus just sat on top of the plant and sang at me while I took pictures.

Curve-Billed Thrasher

My first lifer of the trip!

All told, in about 2 1/2 hours I had 9 lifers there:

Scaled Quail
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Gray Flycatcher
Cactus Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Canyon Towhee

I’d say the Gray Flycatcher was the one I was proudest of. I sat on a rock in the trail, and by this time there were occasional runners and dog-walkers going by. But in a quiet moment, I saw some movement in a nearby thicket of bushes. It was clearly an Empidonax flycatcher, and though I played calls, it wouldn’t sing back. I was about to give it up as Empid sp. when I remembered to check Sibley – and sure enough, there was only one likely Empid here that would be pumping its tail like a phoebe. So, Gray Flycatcher.

I had promised to get back by 9, so I power-walked back to the parking lot, having gone about a half-mile into the hills. Time for breakfast (huevos rancheros, of course) and then the Rio Grande Nature Center.


Friday, May 20th, 2016


We got into Albuquerque on Wednesday afternoon, and our hotel is near Old Town. So we walked around a bit, and then headed for the Cocina Azul, which I’d seen well recommended. On the way we passed a house with these guys in its yard. No clue.

We had some really great green and red chile at the Cocina Azul. The carne adovada is excellent too. We were sadly too stuffed to eat sopaipillas after.

Thursday morning I got up about 4:30 and drove out to Embudito Canyon, the first of my target areas. More on that later.