Archive for the ‘Navajo Nation’ Category

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.