Monday, April 20, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 309

April 1, 2015 ~ Sierra Vista, AZ to Nogales, AZ

The night before, we had seen a Starbucks near our motel and headed there early the next morning, but it had disappeared. Weird, since we had both seen it; however, we never did find it. We asked and were told there were no "freestanding" Starbucks in Sierra Vista. Hmmm.....

But there were three in either a Safeway or Target. The line at the nearest was long, and we were on a mission, so left and headed for Huachuca Canyon only to be stopped by the local police for not "coming to a complete stop when turning out of a commercial establishment." Yeah...It was a friendly lady cop who gave me a warning and then talked to us at least 10 minutes about using the "east entrance" to the base, about hummingbirds in her yard, about this and that, while we were itching to move on, but really what could we do but listen politely since she had the power here. And it was probably worth it as we buzzed right through the east gate, although while waiting for the few cars ahead of us, we wondered why extremely loud rap music was allowed at the checkpoint. It surely didn't seem proper and military. As we drove up to the soldier who was checking cars through, he shook his head at us, and I asked "What???" wondering what now? (as I was in the misdemeanor mode) and he motioned to the motorcyclist just ahead of me who had been playing the music. It made sense since it was palpably loud and not something the Army would sanction, I'm sure.

We got coffee on the base and went up to the trailhead in Huachuca Canyon. My helpful birder friend had told us to be there by 8:00, and we were, along with another small vehicle with an older couple, the guy carrying a tripod and long lens. They were from Alaska, had seen trogons every time they came to this spot and were now headed farther up the canyon to see and hopefully photograph other uncommon birds. He said we had a 99% chance for the trogon and showed us a tree branch where they nest. He then quickly disappeared up the trail, and his wife (with a cane), moved more slowly. We first had to cross a small creek and then look for a sycamore.

The Trogon Road in Huachuca Canyon - AZ
With two minutes, DHC spotted an Elegant Trogon on a branch over the trail, but it flew before I saw more than a flicker. We lingered in the sycamore tree area, watching carefully, before moving up the canyon. The trogons could be seen in several places. I was as entranced by the beauty of this place as by the possibilities of seeing these birds. DHC, whose hearing is more acute than mine, decided to go down canyon as she kept hearing their "barking calls." In no way could the vocalizations be considered singing, and I could only hear it when they were close. So I went up; she went down and we kept in touch via text. Soon she had found two more! I eventually did get good looks at the trogon thanks to her. For me the calls had a ventriloquial quality, and I would hear them far off and in a different direction, but she persisted and found a total of four that morning! A few other birders showed up, also driving what seemed totally unsuitable little cars for the marginal road, although with care, it was navigable.

These mountain canyons with Arizona sycamores (Plantanis wrightii) are some of the most beautiful places I've seen out west. The trees are whitish and huge with grand gnarled branches; trogons nest in this habitat. I had the urge to keep hiking up the canyon to see what I could see, but the texts from Deborah kept coming and, really, what choice did I have? keep walking or see an Elegant Trogon? or two? or three?
Elegant Trogon painting in emporium in
Bisbee. DHC has real-time photos. My
camera had dead batteries. 

We returned to the base of the canyon where we had birded the night before and found a dozen people with binoculars.  I immediately saw a Painted Redstart across the creek. (DHC had seen this gorgeous bird at San Pedro yesterday, but not a very satisfactory sighting.) This one was in the shadows of the creek bank, a bright red, black and white bird that was a stunning contrast to the leaf duff where it flitted and foraged.

I met a woman from Pentwater, Michigan, a serious birder in search of a couple of lifers up canyon, but also interested in the trogons, although she had seen them. She was a serious lister and had an Alaskan birding trip scheduled in the near future. We found a Dusky-capped Flycatcher (life bird x2 for us), and the Hepatic Tanager from the night before showed again, whereupon DNC alerted the group, who all immediately came en masse to see it as it moved through the canopy.

Two birders were on a Sinoloa Wren stake-out right here and, with patience (involving hours of sitting in camp chairs), it is often seen, but we moved on, leaving this wonderful place.

Birding Huachuca Canyon - AZ
Both DHC and I had cameras on our  minds, and we found a Best Buy. The model I want is no longer sold by Best Buy (which was kind of a relief as I would have had to make a decision on whether to spend the money and it's pathetic how many cameras I have purchased in the last five years.) Deborah also looked at Canons, but at higher-end models. A very knowledgeable salesman gave her a tutorial and her options but she wasn't quite ready to buy yet. I needed a new battery so got that at least.

We ate lunch (again OG leftovers) in the parking lot under trees with noisy Great-tailed Grackles.  I called the kind gentleman who had helped us, and he told me that my call telling of our success and thanking him "made my day." His wife, who answered the phone, told me he had been "wondering" about us.

Sierra Vista is also the town that has a Blue Horizon were sent to FB for the cousins.

Finally we were ready to leave this town and drive the hour to Patagonia. The thing here is the yard of a house lately owned by people named Paton. For 35 years, they fed birds and their home became a destination for birders:

It all started with a bird at a feeder in Patagonia.
When Wally and Marion Paton looked out and saw a violet-crowned hummingbird in their backyard some time in the 1970s, they probably didn’t realize that this little bird was going to make the couple famous, at least in the birdwatching world. And they probably didn’t think that this encounter would ultimately lead to ownership of their modest ranch house and five acres being turned over to the Tucson Audubon Society.
The elder Patons have both died but left this legacy, delighting travelers from all over the world.

We did see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, along with 20-30 other species in the couple of hours we were there. It's interesting at these places, as birders of all abilities congregate. The more knowledgeable quietly call out: "Zone-tailed Hawk at 2:00" or "Abert's Towhee in the brush pile under the window" or "Lazuli on feeder #22" or "Lesser Goldfinch at the water feature." There were tables and chairs in the shade and a box of birding guides available. Larry, the gentleman who is now the caretaker of the property and lives in the Paton home was there also (as he had been on the three consecutive days I visited earlier this year) and often spotted birds we would have missed. He seemed a gentle man with his native Mississippi accent and modest demeanor. Part of the property is getting spruced up with trails and delineated parking spaces but mostly it's just a back yard in a tiny southern Arizona town.

On the way to Nogales, we made a short stop at the Patagonia rest area, a half-mile pull-through along the main route.

Patagonia Rest Stop - Patagonia, AZ
High cliffs and small wooded canyons were on one side and a little creek with riparian growth was on the other. We heard birds and watched a couple traveling in a small RV try to figure out if the bird they saw was a thrush or not. The gentleman was ornery, saying to his wife "I know a Wood Thrush when I see one...." We tiptoed out of their space.

Nogales is a border town and not particularly lovely. Careful not to inadvertently get on the road to Mexico, we navigated the busy streets trying to find a place to eat...which we eventually found in a restaurant adjacent to a newly renovated motel and only two blocks from where I had made a Priceline reservation. Or so I thought.

We both noticed and commented on how nice the motel was as we left after good Mexican food and margaritas. When I checked into our motel, and after much consternation on my part when it appeared we had no reservation (and which I could not prove on my phone because it was totally dead and which did not want to charge even though I tried in the motel office), the nice Hispanic man at the desk gave me a discount. However, an hour later, after we were well settled in a marginal room and my phone was charged, I took it to the office to show I was right, except I wasn't. I had the motel name wrong; we were supposed to be in the less expensive, nicer-by-far motel where we had eaten dinner. Damn!

DHC joked that we could just walk there in our pajamas and sleep....which we almost seriously considered when a family was checking in and their every move heard through the thin walls and cracks in the door. Of course, I was chagrined and pissed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 308

March 31, 2015 ~ Sierra Vista, AZ

A day of change in plans but first we went back to Mary Jo's and sat in the morning sun for an hour, quietly chatting with the half dozen other birders who showed up. This time Mary Jo was there but harried as she had car problems and was trying to figure out how to get to Tucson in a car that wouldn't start.

What we had returned for specifically was the Lucifer Hummingbird. It had been seen recently at Mary Jo's but, as it turned out, not between March 30 to April 1, or at least not reported. Birding is a treasure hunt but sometimes there are no jewels or gold at the end, but the Lucifer would have been a jewel with it's long curved bill and "vividly purple throat."
Scott's Oriole at Ash Canyon (Mary Jo Ballator) - AZ

It was a fresh and sunny Arizona spring morning, as good as it gets for a person who perseverates on weather. We made a short stop at Casa de San Pedro before going on to the San Pedro River House. The Casa is another lovely peaceful birding B and B in the riparian habitat of the SP River. As we slowly drove through the circular drive, we spotted a pair of Greater Roadrunners madly dashing/running back and forth across the road with nest-building material. Was this DHC's first roadrunner sighting? I think so, although we also saw one running across a city street in Sierra Vista that day. But these stayed in the vicinity and she got some decent photos.

The San Pedro House is one of the access points for the SPRNCA (San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area) managed by the BLM. Volunteers staff the former ranch house, a sweet little sun-worn place filled with information and things to buy, like books, shirts, cards, pins, earrings, a few food items.... There were truly gigantic cottonwoods in the yard and a short trail through open fields down to the river. On the way, we began seeing Vermilion Flycatchers and, while we didn't see many other birds, we did see several brilliant males and less conspicuous females with an orange-apricot blush on their bellies.
Vermilion Flycatcher - San Pedro RNCA - Sierra Vista, AZ
If Vermilions are present, they are often easy to see as their behavior is typical of flycatchers which fly out to catch insects and return to an exposed branch, repetitively. The river had water but not much and the woods were quiet. But it was the middle of the day, often not a good time to search for birds.  We walked around down there, under huge trees in filtered sunlight for 45 minutes, only seeing a very occasional bird flit by or sing in the distance.

We ate last night's leftovers on a picnic table in the shade back and DHC watched the hummingbird feeders in hopes of seeing an Anna's but without luck. It was now early afternoon and, while our specific plans were loose, we did have the general idea to head to Patagonia and the famous Paton yard. But why not drive to Ft. Huachuca and Garden Canyon first...which we did. As DHC says, the roads through this military base were "spaghetti" and it took concentration to navigate to the canyon but we eventually found it. We had to go through a checkpoint and show IDs but then were allowed to drive by guys on their bellies shooting at far-off targets and past fields with possible unexploded ordinance, etc. there were warnings all over to basically stay in one's vehicle in these areas. DHC was surprised we were even given permission to move through the shooting fields. Garden Canyon had a gate across the entrance with "Bear Activity" warnings, but I also think there was construction and road improvement activity precipitating the closure.

And it was about this time, while driving back six miles and while DHC was out of the car taking photos, that I found out from eBird that Elegant Trogons were in Huachuca Canyon and were being seen regularly, which was way too enticing to not try for.... We were in the middle of a short but intense rainstorm as we drove to the canyon, not far, but through the "spaghetti" again.
Ft. Huachuca - AZ
We knew the rain would pass as the skies showed dramatic clouds but bright clearing to the west. And by the time we found the beginning of the canyon, the sun was out and the air was fresh as it is after a brief cleansing rain. We had a general idea of where the trogons were but not specifically. I decided to email a local birder for more precise directions. We stopped at a gorgeous little creek at the base of the canyon and saw a Black-throated  Gray Warbler (life bird for both of us), a Townsend's (life DHC) and then a Hepatic Tanager popped into view in the high branches above us. There were dozens of Audubon Yellow-rumps all over and titmice, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, flycatchers...a pair of Gray Hawks flying overhead.

We started up the very very rough road, still not exactly sure where we were going, and after a mile we turned around. Our highest speed was 5 mph as we dodged rocks and ruts, moving carefully so as not to puncture a tire or bottom out. But, soon I got great news: a detailed description of where to find the trogons. They were best seen in the morning and we would have to drive up the canyon another mile or two, so we stayed a second night at the same motel (Sierra Suites), ate another meal at Olive Garden and made plans to get up early and find these elusive gorgeous exotic birds.
Ft. Huachuca - closing in on the Elegant Trogons

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 307

March 30, 2015 ~ Lordsburg, NM to Sierra Vista, AZ

Surprise...I forgot to get gas until we were 15 miles down the road. So with a little help from our friends the smart phones, we figured we could probably make it to San Simeon, especially if I drove at a turtle's pace (55 mph). The other option was to return to Lordsburg which neither of us wanted to going back if we could avoid it. 

And of course, we made it. One of the advantages of being the unexpected driver was that DHC filled the tank every stop we stopped, a luxury for me. And, ultimately, this gas stop worked out well as we then took back roads to Portal...back roads meaning unpaved, deeply rutted at times, over a small mountain, with occasional sharp rocks poking through the road bed, over the ubiquitous "dips" which are all over the southwest and are channels for flash floods, but which were usually bone-dry this time of year.
DHC on the road to Paradise, AZ
The rainy (monsoon) season is summer. We did, once or twice though, drive through a few inches of water in these dippy places. It was beautiful and wild. We thought we were headed to Paradise, but bypassed it, or maybe went through it; sometimes it's hard to tell with the tiny villages. Not far down the road was Cave Creek Ranch, a few miles south of another small town - Portal, AZ. It was wonderful with dozens of feeders, a peaceful, quiet and lovely place in the stunning venue of the eastern Chiricahuas.

Cave Creek Ranch - Portal, AZ
One could wander about the property or sit and watch birds come and go: Blue-throated, Broad-billed, Magnificent and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Acorn and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Canyon, Cactus and Bewick's Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Abert's Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, Bridled Titmice and more. A fly-over Sharp-shinned scattered the birds, resulting in perfect silence for about 30 seconds. And again, DHC met a gentleman from Indianapolis, here for the birding with his wife and brother. He was a neurologist and offered some insights into childhood psychology / neurology / diagnosing issues.
Magnificent Hummingbird - Cave Creek Canyon - AZ

We ate at the Portal store, discovering a day later that a Rufous-backed Robin hung out in the parking lot here. We would likely have seen it from the window next to our table had we known. Shucks.....

This was a small but well-stocked general store  where DHC found Visine for me. For some reason, my eyes had been burning, but I washed them out with clear water and the discomfort slowly cleared. The food here was extraordinarily good, offsetting the somewhat flat affect of the woman at the cash register.

After driving to Douglas on the border, we turned northwest and stopped in the unique town of Bisbee, built around an immense open pit mine of red-ravaged earth created by extracting copper. Mining fortunes waxed and mostly waned, but the town emerged as a venue for "artists and hippies," and tourists now visit by the thousands. Old Bisbee is built on steep hills reminiscent of San Francisco, but is 1000 times smaller. Narrow stairs lead from the lower street to those above. There are shops and galleries and antique emporiums, along with the century-old Copper Queen Hotel (haunted by a prostitute, it is said) and places to eat ice-cream or dinner, have coffee or just sit in the sun with a glass of wine or beer. It's ramshackly and counterculture, appealing and quaint.

We drove west a few miles and then turned due north to another famous birding venue: Mary Jo Ballator's place in Ash Creek Canyon. There are several canyons running east from the Huachuca Mountains, and Ash Canyon is one of the six or eight in the area of Sierra Vista, all prime birding places as the habitat changes with altitude, attracting a grand variety of birds. The broad valley here, between the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains, is the San Pedro River Valley 57,000 acres of which are designated as a Riparian National Conservation Area.

I had stopped at Ash Canyon earlier this year and had chatted an hour with Mary Jo on her patio. That day was chilly and overcast but still with many birds coming to her feeders. I was the only visitor and I remember her Gray African Parrot well, but just now read that he unexpectedly died on 02/28/2015 (or perhaps she had two parrots?). Whatever, of course, this was hugely sad for her. Even from our brief encounter, I knew she was a singular person, making her way in this exquisite canyon by creating a birding haven, open from "dawn to dusk" everyday except Wednesdays when she opens at noon.  Again, there were comfortable chairs with dozens of feeders and small paths and gardens, all in a magnificently scenic tucked-away spot. Mary Jo also has a casita next to her home, which she runs as a Bed and Breakfast for birders. This is my favorite birding place of this sort in southeast Arizona. Her home faces west over a smaller side canyon to the mountains in the near distance.

We watched Rufous and Broad-billed Hummingbirds fly in and out and sat quietly in the last light, reveling in the ambiance. Mary Jo was not outside, so DHC did not meet her. Scott's Orioles showed up, along with most of the birds we saw at Cave Creek earlier.

As we left, I pulled over just out of Mary Jo's driveway to book a motel in Sierra Vista, whereupon Deborah got out her binoculars and spotted a Gray Hawk sitting on a telephone pole! This was a life bird for both of us, and my second of the day. (Blue-throated Hummingbird was the first.) For her, it was probably the 10th or 12th.
Gray Hawk - Ash Canyon, AZ

We got a good deal on Priceline in a comfortable non-chain motel but first went to Olive Garden for dinner, which (if available) easily becomes a first choice on these birding trips, if only for the fresh salad. Since we both also like pasta, it's an easy decision.

At the end of the long days, we would check in to a motel and immediately download the photos of the day and do a show-and-tell while bringing our notes up-to-date.

Turkey Vulture in the Chirircahuas

Acorn Woodpecker at Cave Creek Ranch - AZ

Curve-billed Thrasher - Cave Creek Ranch - AZ

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 306

March 29, 2015 ~ Socorro, NM to Lordsburg, NM

Since we were driving south anyway and the old route goes through right Bosque, we headed there again. I wanted to show her the VC feeders which is where I once saw a Virginia's Warbler.

On the way we spotted a Curve-billed Thrasher and a Say's Phoebe hanging around a flatbed truck in someone's front yard.
Say's Phoebe - near Bosque del Apache NWR - NM

The phoebe was new for DHC; she was adding to her list which was almost as much fun for me. We got to the VC just after 8:00 when it opened. The grounds were lovely with cottonwoods just starting to leaf out, smaller bushes and trees, numerous cacti, small gravel trails, impossibly blue skies, reddish earth and distant blue-grey mountains. Of course the sunshine embellished all of this....

A gentleman volunteer talked with DHC about meadowlark ID and had helpful hints. He then went to fill the feeders for the day. Since the birds literally "wait" outside for this to happen every morning, the staff also waits until the first human visitors show up so as to make the most of their bird feed which is greedily and quickly gobbled up. He told us that a Green-tailed Towhee was especially eager and would be close enough to touch (or nearly), and so it happened as we watched from inside. (Another life bird for DHC). A Spotted Towhee also showed up pecking around the brush pile. He threw some seed on the windowsills which attracted White-winged Doves for extreme closeups as they tried to perch on the narrow ledge, competing with numerous House Finches.
White-winged Dove - Bosque del Apache NWR- NM

One of Deborah's target birds (at this point the main one) was a Vermilion Flycatcher, and the volunteer marked three areas on the refuge map for us. We went off on a successful search, seeing a pair, the male exquisitely scarlet and black, perched high in a tree. And then we had the delight of a pair of Bushtits obviously engaged in nest building as they both had big pieces of white fluff in their mouths and were frenetically flying about. These birds eventually flew across the road and we reluctantly moved on.

DHC wanted a photos of Truth or Consequences so we stopped at the post office there briefly and then drove on to Lordsburg, NM, for the night. Dining options were nearly non-existent, but we found a small shabby restaurant by the RR tracks and had pretty awful Tex-Mex. It was really a dreary place but our motel (Comfort Inn) was fine. We were always glad to get off the road by late afternoon...out of the bright sunshine (which DHC really noticed and was slightly bothered by) and out of traffic. We had to drive hard the first few days to get to SE Arizona where everything became very reasonable as far as miles to go each day.

Deborah at Bosque del Apache NWR - NM

Blue Goose ~ Day 305

March 28, 2015 ~ Albuquerque, NM to Socorro, NM

We were to visit the Acoma Pueblo today but impulsively chose to eat breakfast in the hotel before starting out. The restaurant was empty and waiting to serve, and they needed our patronage. We both ordered a quinoa, kale and sweet potato hash with two lightly and perfectly fried eggs on the side. Elegant, really quite simple and delicious.
Breakfast at the Andaluz in Albuquerque, NM

DHC had reserved a rental car so we walked half a mile to pick it up, through the very quiet, early Saturday morning downtown streets of Albuquerque, past buildings adorned with murals and decorative tiles, past pots of pansies, in glorious sunshine. As happened repeatedly on this trip, DHC ran into a woman who was out walking and who had moved to Arizona from South Bend, Indiana. She and her husband had first tried living in Tucson, but it was too hot, and they returned to Indiana before trying again in Albuquerque, which they love. DHC had spotted a bird across the street and spent 30 minutes trying to figure it out. Knowing nothing about the habitat of Rosy Finches, she was hopeful she was seeing one, but it was only an orangey House Finch, a color phase she had never seen before.

Oops....her driver's license had expired, so I became the designated driver of a small new Buick; we headed west to Acoma.
Downtown Albuquerque - building mural

When we got off the Interstate for the 12 miles of secondary road to Acoma, we stopped for a photo and immediately saw a Black-chinned Sparrow, a lifer for DHC and, skulking near the base of a nearby bush, I saw a Greater Roadrunner. Deborah just missed seeing more than a flicker of movement even though she walked into the scrub to try to find it.
DHC chasing a Roadrunner near Acoma - NM
No luck, and we continued to Acoma, arriving minutes before the next tour began. The way it works is that every hour guided tours are offered, and a van transports visitors up the short steep road to village on top of the mesa.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America.

Seeing and hearing about this village built on top of a steep-sided mesa was truly an amazing experience. There are 13-15 families who live here permanently but hundreds of other families have homes, visiting and staying for shorter periods of time. There are some 300 dwellings; no electricity; no plumbing. Vehicles have been allowed since the road was built but only Natives are allowed to use it (and school buses). The pueblo "roads"are barely more than open spaces of rutted, hard-packed sand between the homes, which are a jumble of adobe structures, one to three stories high. Often the second and third floors are accessed only by outside ladders. There are large freestanding beehive bread ovens outside. Vendors and artists had set up pottery on small tables right outside their homes, but we were asked to wait until after the 90-minute tour was over before buying anything. However, there were food items available as we walked along – frybread or fruit cakes or tamales.

A few kids wandered about, usually sticking close to the pottery vendors. At one point a middle-aged handsome gentleman came out of his home. He wore jeans and had striking long white hair, unrestrained by braids. Immediately people asked if they could take his picture and he agreed (of course he did, which was obviously why he came out as we walked by) and he motioned to a small “photo” jar for contributions. To me, it was amusingly so modern day Native American and totally fine.

Our guide was Geri, also middle-aged, dressed comfortably in tennis shoes, a T-shirt and loose capri-length pants. Her long black hair blew in the wind until halfway through the tour when she casually braided it as she moved along. She had immediate and total control over our group of 20, telling us both the generic history (Spanish versus the Native tribes) and more specific stories of Acoma. There is a cemetery where people have been buried in layers, but which has now reached capacity after the fifth layer. There will be no more burials up on the mesa. Sand would be brought up from below by women and children in buckets and placed between each successive layer. The thick-walled adobe church was several degrees cooler than outside, in fact, almost chilly. Geri explained the paintings and decorative features and how the present day Acoma people use the church. High-set windows let in some light. There were 14 stations of the cross along the side wall. The floor was dirt, mostly hard packed, but with a covering of fine loose sand. Those who wished to take photos had to get a permit before the tour and some areas were off limits (the cemetery and inside the church). 

To me, Acoma was the curious mix of a Native American experience with components of their concession to what most white people expect, the subtlety of their sly humor, their lack of taking themselves seriously and the juxtapostion of modernity and old ways of living.

DHC and I both bought a beautiful piece of pottery from Terrence Chino. Acoma pottery is known for its thinness and intricate designs. We had to pay cash, and the artist met us down below at the ATM machine. A small black-haired boy came with him. He had carefully packed our pieces for travel.

The Four Matriarchs were Acoma women — Marie Z. Chino, Lucy Lewis, Jessie Garcia and Juana Leno — born around the turn of the 20th century. These women, with their bare hands and the most primitive of tools, revived the ancient style of Acoma pottery. And, in so doing, they gave rise to a style now preserved and nurtured by their descendants — and prized for its design, color and workmanship. 
Occasional wind gusts blew the fine yellow sand between houses and all over us as we walked about. Acoma is a hodge-podge of homes – some very old; others quite new, but all of earthy colors, although some window and door frames are brightly painted. A White-throated Swift flew by. 

Geri said that there are now some generators, and on football Sundays, when the Cowboys are playing, the noise is the loudest.

We left and headed back east to the Interstate. Along the way we stopped for a meadowlark tutorial as we listened to one singing on a wire above us. Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are not easy to distinguish and their ranges do overlap, but since DHC has advanced aural capabilities, she learned and remembered vocalizations which is one way to tell them apart.

I remembered a small highly recommended crossroads bar / restaurant (Owl Bar and Cafe) just eight miles north of Bosque del Apache NWR where we stopped for delicious green chile cheeseburgers, and where I also bought earrings (Arizona turquoise) from a Native man who had his wares in the small entryway and had set up for a few hours of trading.

The cheeseburger was far and away the best burger I've ever eaten!

As we left the Owl to drive the north loop of Bosque, right across the street, we saw Gambel's Quails, a life bird for DHC. On the refuge, we saw another lifer for her - Neotropic Cormorants. For me the best sighting was a trio of javelinas, poking in the roadside brush.

Gambel's Quail - near Bosque del Apache NWR - NM
Deborah was in awe of the landscape, especially on the refuge, which has impoundments for waterfowl, with fields and small wooded areas, with mountains on the western horizon and the Rio Grande to the east. As it always is in these sanctuaries, Bosque was peaceful, serene, soothing....a nice ending to this day.

We then spent the night in Socorro, 20 minutes up the road to the north. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 304

March 27, 2015 ~ Kansas to Albuquerque, NM

I woke early and sat in the observation car hoping for a sunrise, but an early morning cloud precluded that.

DHC reappeared and we discussed our respective wanderings through the coach last night.

We ate a marginal breakfast in the dining car. The evening meals are better. 

It was a good day moving west across the plains into eastern Colorado, slowly turning south at Trinidad down into New Mexico. The sun came out as we moved over flat dry land, through small towns. The Colorado Rockies came into view as snow-covered peaks rising from the prairies. We were near National Grasslands; buttes and mesas appeared on the northern horizon by late morning. We started to see sage and prickly pear. Some of the land is irrigated but much is barren. The night skies would be spectacular out here....and the weather changes and sunsets and sunrises.

The highest elevation on this route is approximately 7500 feet where we went through the Raton Tunnel near Raton, NM. The topography became much more striking and southwestern with impressive red rocks, dark green junipers / cedars and straw-colored grasses on the foothills as we traveled south. Aridity defines this vast landscape; small dusty towns were spaced at intervals along the train tracks and isolated homesteads baked in the sun. 

New Mexico with Rockies in the distance (from Amtrak)
There were more and more adobe homes as we got closer to Albuquerque, some modest and some large and artistic, the latter often in the foothills with views over the valley to the east.

The train was only an hour late; we schlepped our baggage the few blocks to the wonderful Andaluz Hotel. (We both had over-packed inspite of thinking we had done better than our trip to Texas last spring.)

The Andaluz is the first Conrad Hilton hotel and was the perfect respite after 24 hours on the train. We entered through a modest side door and expected a generic downtown big city hotel but were delightfully surprised as we entered a spacious lobby with couches and small tables, lamps and overstuffed chairs, and cozy dining alcoves for small parties preferring more privacy than the open restaurant.
Outskirts of Albuquerque, NM

We were on the 6th floor and had no desire to leave the Andaluz to seek an outside restaurant so immediately went downstairs to eat. We also had the choice of second-floor outdoor patio seating which was now in the shade and rapidly cooling as it does in the southwest right after sundown. People definitely learn to live in dry heat.

Our food was superb. We chose from a tapas menu and split a salad of greens with beet slices / goat cheese “sandwiches.” DHC had a shrimp dish and I had salmon. The portions were perfect. We left feeling satisfied and relaxed in our wonderful corner room, which faced east toward the Sandia Crest. 

One possible plan was to drive to the top of Sandia to look for Rosy Finches, all three species of which can be seen there from November to March, but as it turned out, we never made it. 
Traveling on Amtrak; a 10-minute shopping opportunity from vendors on a train platform.

Blue Goose ~ Day 303

March 26, 2015 ~ Galesburg, IL to Kansas

Since Amtrak wasn't leaving until 1730, Emily, Deborah and I had coffee downstairs, drove to Green Oaks (a Knox College property 25 miles out on the prairie), went to lunch and then to Storey Lake with an eye out for birds. It was sunny but cool and breezy...a great early spring day.
DHC and Emily - Galesburg, IL

The train arrived on time; we both had too much luggage, and I didn't have my rolling suitcase which was in storage in Holland. This makes boarding and unboarding the train a bit clumsy but we managed.

I then had to find a piece of my luggage that went missing. When we boarded, the coach steward said she would bring it to me once we started moving. The deal is that the very narrow stairs into the upper level has two right-angled turns, and with a large crowd trying to board, there is pressure to hurry. Train stops are often only a couple of minutes. So some of the luggage is usually stored on shelves in the lower level. But when I went to retrieve mine (containing computer /camera, etc.), I couldn't find it. I finally asked the steward who peered into the recesses of the shelves with a little flashlight, looked into alternative areas and then remembered something: "Follow me..." We went upstairs to the back seat in the coach where a young nerdy-type guy was sitting working on a laptop. The lady had taken my bag to this guy who did, in fact, have it on the floor beside him. She said, “This isn't yours, right?” and he said, “No.” Yeah, I know, why didn't he say something when she set it down by him....C'est la vie.....

I immediately made dinner reservations for 7 o'clock because eating in the dining car on a train is often one of the more pleasant aspects of traveling Amtrak. 

Our dinner companions (and Amtrak always seats people randomly and guests have no choice) were Hugh and Nicole from Toronto, traveling to see her mother who lives out in the country near Lawrence, Kansas. We had an animated conversation about politics, families, our respective lives and why we all were on the train, etc. Hugh was to meet her family for the first time. Nicole was eager to “ride horses again with my high-school philosophy teacher.” As best as we could tell, she had started a graphic arts company, hired Hugh and they “fell in love.” We got a glimpse of their lives in Canada; both were articulate, telling us anecdotes about their personal history, their work and a bit of the darker side of social activism in Canada.

My dinner choice was a vegetarian lasagna with a generous side of thin green and yellow string beans; DHC had a small beef eye of round with a vegetable and dark gravy. Both were acceptable. The pleasure wasn't the cuisine but dining as we travelled in the last light of day through the Missouri countryside. We had crossed the Mississippi at Ft. Madison, Iowa, where DHC spotted a Bald Eagle, rather common up and down the grand rivers of the Midwest this time of year. 

DHC wanted to touch the ground in Kansas as she had never been in this state, so when the announcement came on that we were approaching Lawrence about 10:30, she went to “de-train” to do this. But she never returned. I was getting sleepy and went in search of two empty seats so we both would have more room during the night, found some, got settled with my blanket and pillow and realized she still hadn't come back from Kansas. Being a Hoogstrate, I played out the scenario of her standing bereft on the train platform as it moved on without her. Trains do not tolerate people who leave the train and don't have the wits to be aware of this possibility, and people do periodically get left behind. I didn't REALLY think she was witless but where was she? I went in search (checking the bathrooms downstairs with no success) but then spotted her dozing in the lower level area which are usually reserved for those not wishing to (or unable to) navigate the stairs. I figured she also had just found two empty seats for the night, went upstairs and slept intermittently, waking a dozen times to switch positions, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable. Sleepers on Amtrak are costly. Traveling through the night on a train is romantic in the broad sense but requires a certain tolerance. The coaches have 70-100 people, and it is very quiet all night, which always amazes me. Since DHC was not forlorn and distressed in the Lawrence train station, I moved back to our assigned seats and spread out. 

The next morning, she said she had eventually come back to our seats where I was soundly sleeping, so she did, in fact, end up sleeping downstairs. She kept thinking the train was imminently GOING to stop at Lawrence and was waiting in the lower level seats wondering why I told her she better go down if she wanted the Kansas Experience. I think it had already stopped and moved on as she was going down the stairs. As I said, the train doesn't linger at most of the stations. 

My Amtrak experience has often been synonymous with traveling Hutterite families, and there were several on this trip also, including twins babies, probably about 1 year-old, and as precious and photogenic as humans can be. They were usually wearing the dark blue dresses and thin cotton starched white bonnets.