Big Day for Wildlife

Yesterday (2-25-19) was a big day for wildlife viewing in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in northern New Mexico. Shucks, it’s only a National Monument, but has populations of wildlife that rival National Parks. And this is especially so in the winter, when a variety of northern ducks and bald eagles arrive at the generally ice-free waters of the Rio Grande to winter.

In less than an hour’s time, I was able to observe and photograph the creatures that follow. This first movie is of a pair of mallards feeding on midges that have been caught up in foam.

Not over two miles upstream, I spotted a group of bighorn ewes and young, part way up the slope on the far side of the river.

After filming this group of sheep, I looked back down at the river, and saw a long cylindrical shape in the water, which was, of course, an otter. I was seated in my van, using it as a blind, and the otter was about 160′ away (measured with Google Earth), so it was not alarmed. It swam leisurely up and down along the shoreline for a few minutes, before climbing out of the river.

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Otter

A few minutes later, I filmed this group of ducks from an elevated pull-out. All but two of the ducks are goldeneyes. The two ducks closest to shore, with more pointy heads, are ring-necks. And a female mallard passes through the group.

Bald eagle on basalt boulder

Bald eagle

My last sighting was this bald eagle, which circled above me and landed on a basalt boulder. I then returned downstream to a pool where, yesterday, I caught a hefty rainbow trout that was rising to midges. But there were no risers there, and I caught nothing. Did I go home disappointed? Not a chance! Catching something would have been only the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. The Rio Grande had again provided precious moments of being with wildlife.

p.s. while the wintering birds arrive on their own, the bighorns and otters have been returned to the Rio Grande via very successful stocking efforts.

 

Posted in Birding, Nature, Photography, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Southwest Airlines, Oakland to Albuquerque, 1-31-19

The aerial photos in this collection were taken by Kathy Miller. On this west to east flight, Kathy was seated on the south-facing side of the plane, thus looking out to the south. The initial photo of the series is of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Kathy found nothing of interest to photograph in Nevada and started again after crossing into Utah. She then photographed some of the best scenery in the southwestern United States, all of which is shown in the included Google Earth map.

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Mono Lake lies to the east of Yosemite National Park, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California

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This map is oriented with the south at the top of the map, to align with the views seen in the photographs, which were taken looking to the south. The yellow line approximates the flight path, which was over southern Utah, with views to the Utah/Arizona state line and beyond into Arizona.

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A hogback known as the Cockscomb runs north to south and bisects the bottom of the photo. It is cut through by the Paria River just above the center of the photo. The Paria River then flows eastward to form the Paria Canyon, which is seen at the left edge of the photo. The Cockscomb then continues south to Coyote Buttes, which is illuminated by the sun. Coyote Buttes contains the famous rock feature known as The Wave.

Much of what is seen in the above photo was contained in the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I say “original” because the current administration took an axe to Grand Staircase (along with Bears Ears National Monument). The administration, in other words, severely reduced the size of these two National Monuments … but we hope the courts will reverse this action.

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Two minutes flying time to the east reveals Marble Canyon at upper left, and the snow-covered Kaibab Plateau at upper right. Marble Canyon is the initial stretch of the Grand Canyon, and the Kaibab Plateau makes up the elevated north rim of the Grand Canyon. The entire Paria Canyon can be seen, along with more of Grand Staircase.

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One minute later the lower-most portion of Lake Powell comes into view. Paria Canyon is seen where it joins the canyon of the Colorado River, at a point 15 miles downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. The Grand Canyon begins here, at a place known as Lees Ferry.

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Another minute of flight time brings Gooseneck Point into view

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Less than an additional minute of flight time brings us to Dangling Rope Marina

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One more minute up the lake brings twin smoke plumes from the Four Corners Power plant into view. In middle distance is Cathedral Butte, and at the bottom of the photo is snow-covered Bull Ridge, which is the southern extremity of Fiftymile Mountain. This “mountain” is actually the 33-mile long eastern edge of the vast Kaiparowits Plateau, which is bounded on the west by the Cockscomb, and is at the heart of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Fiftymile Mountain is directly uphill of and parallels the Escalante River – the other major part of the National Monument. See bonus feature below.

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Fiftymile Mountain, from the trailhead to Coyote Gulch, a tributary of the Escalante River

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In another minute we are looking down at Navajo Mountain and Rainbow Bridge Canyon, which are located on the eastern side of Lake Powell. At this point, the plane is flying more or less over the confluence of the San Juan River with the Colorado River (although the confluence is underwater).

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Two more minutes brings us into a fairly remote region, with the San Juan River more or less under the plane

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Another minute to the east brings us into the area of Navajo National Monument, known for its cliff dwellings

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And another minute provides a view of Black Mesa and Kayenta. Monument Valley is directly under the plane.

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And five minutes later, this last photo shows Chinle Creek, which flows northward from Canon de Chelley National Monument, and the Peabody Coal Mine atop Black Mesa. This open pit coal mine supplies the Four Corners power plant via a private rail line that figures prominently in Edward Abbey’s immortal book: “The Monkey Wrench Gang”. See bonus feature next.

Monkey Wrench Gang

 

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The Wall

A stand-off in Washington continues over whether to appropriate 5.7 billion dollars to construct a “wall” along our border with Mexico, while American citizens are punished by the Trump administration with a record-length government shutdown. Trump boasted that the shutdown would continue until his demand for that particular sum of money was met.
Despite Trump’s insistence that the border is in crisis, recent news coverage suggests that the security of our border with Mexico is being well managed by a variety of means (barriers, fences, cameras, electronic surveillance, border patrol agents etc.), with the number of migrants entering via the southern border going down over the last number of years. And, I don’t doubt for a minute that, prior to Trump’s initiating his crusade for a wall, planners in the Dep’t of Homeland Security had already decided upon the most effective means to stop or catch migrants for each and every mile of the border.
But, why isn’t a wall that runs the entire length of the border a smart or practical idea? My wife Kathy and I have visited a number of areas along the border with Mexico, and it is an understatement to say that the terrain along the border is extremely varied, with large sections of the border unsuitable for the construction of a wall or too desolate to attract migrants.
The border with Mexico is 1954 miles long, and is geographically broken into two parts.  For 1260 miles, the eastern portion of the border follows the the deepest channel of the Rio Grande, from a few miles upstream of El Paso, TX, to the Gulf of Mexico. The western portion of the border does not adhere to natural features, but, rather, follows geopolitical boundaries i.e. the southern borders of New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Let’s take a look at those areas of the border that Kathy and I have visited, starting with the eastern end of the border, where the Rio Grande runs into the Gulf of Mexico. This spot is known as Boca Chica, and a 4WD vehicle is needed to drive the three miles of beach from the nearest road access to the north. It is, likewise, hard to access on the Mexican side. It is visited by fishermen, and the few tourists that are ready to tackle the problematic sands of the beach. As far as I can ascertain, no barrier has yet been constructed along the river here, and/or out into the surf. Nor, because of the isolation and lack of roads, is such needed.
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Lighthouse in Mexico, with the Rio Grande in the foreground

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Upstream view of the Rio Grande

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Pelicans and other shorebirds, with the Rio Grande in the foreground and surf in the Gulf of Mexico beyond

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NOTE: In the above map, and all Rio Grande maps that follow, the river runs from left to right.

Found some 25 or so miles upstream from the Gulf are the twin cities of Brownsville, TX and Matamoros, MX. Brownsville is situated at the downstream end of the heavily-populated Rio Grande Valley, known for its citrus production, as a winter destination for “snowbirds”, extraordinary birding and wildlife refuges, and the Brownsville Ship Channel, that connects it to the Gulf.

The Sabal Palm Sanctuary is located along the Rio Grande in Brownsville. A barrier was constructed to the north of the Sanctuary 10 years ago, leaving it (happily) intact.

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Sabal palm

The Santa Ana NWR is located on the Rio Grande, to the south of McAllen, and was saved from construction of a barrier by Congressional action in 2018.

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Black-necked stilts and ducks, Santa Ana NWR

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Spanish moss, Santa Ana NWR

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Butterfly in winter, Santa Ana NWR

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Rio Grande, at Santa Ana NWR

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Kathy looks at clothing discarded by migrants after swimming across the Rio Grande, Santa Ana NWR.

Construction of 33 or more miles of barrier is slated for the Rio Grande Valley, over the objections of most property owners and much of the local population. In the news lately is the scheduled construction of a barrier through the National Butterfly Center, south of Mission, TX.

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Courtesy National Butterfly Center

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Courtesy National Butterfly Center

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Courtesy National Butterfly Center

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The Rio Grande Valley is a unique ecosystem, of a sort found nowhere else in the United States.

Located upstream of the Rio Grande Valley are, first, Falcon and, next, Amistad Reservoirs. The terrain becomes increasingly arid and desolate as one travels upstream in this region.
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Dryden Crossing is located 100 or so river miles upstream of Amistad Dam. Dryden Crossing is the take-out (end point) for the river trip that runs through the most downstream of the Rio Grande canyons – the Lower Canyons. This 83 mile stretch is found immediately downstream of Big Bend National Park
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The desert canyon country of Big Bend National Park and surrounding lands is as rugged as it gets. The Lower Canyons are most easily visited by boat. The put-in is at La Linda Bridge and the take-out at Dryden Crossing.
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Horse Canyon is the first of the Lower Canyons

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Below Black Gap Wildlife Management Area

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Balanced rock

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Kathy, in Hot Springs Rapid

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In low water, this is Complejo del Caballo Rapid

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In high water, the same rapid as above is called Rodeo Rapid, and has the biggest waves on the river

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Burro Bluff

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Steve and Susan, in Upper Madison Falls

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Lower Madison Falls. Left to right: Susan, Kathy and Steve

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Kathy, in Panther Rapid

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San Francisco Canyon

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The Teapots, upstream of Dryden Crossing

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The road to Dryden Crossing. Left  to right: Susan, Steve and Kathy

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While showing off the beauties of these canyons, these photos also demonstrate that no artificial barriers are needed along the Rio Grande here. And that remains the case as one travels upstream into Big Bend National Park. The next canyon upstream from the Lower Canyons is Boquillas Canyon.

The put-in for the Boquillas Canyon run is located at Rio Grande Village, in Big Bend National Park. Found across the river is the Mexican town of Boquillas. The inhabitants of Boquillas depended, in the past, on Park visitors who crossed in row boats to purchase their crafts, and this trade has been disrupted by new Department of Homeland Security restrictions. Boquillas Canyon is 33 miles in length.

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Boquillas, MX

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Boquillas, MX

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Rafting guests enjoy the Boquillas hot springs

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Boquillas Canyon

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Boquillas Canyon and the Sierra del Carmen, MX

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The part of Mexico south of the Rio Grande in this area is extremely remote, wild and un-populated. Again, there is no need for a barrier along the river here.

The next canyons upstream are the short Hot Springs and San Vicente Canyons. The ten mile Mariscal Canyon comes next.

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Kathy, in Mariscal Canyon

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Mariscal Canyon

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Kathy, in Mariscal Canyon

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A fluted and polished limestone boulder, Mariscal Canyon

Equally forbidding to Mariscal Canyon is the next canyon upstream – the 19 mile Santa Elena Canyon. The put-in for Santa Elena Canyon is Lajitas, with the take-out at the mouth of the canyon. The Mexican village of Lajitas used to have commerce with the Texas town of Lajitas, including rowing their children across the river to go to school in the latter. But this, too, has been disrupted.

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The Chisos Mountains of Big Bend NP, from Terlingua, TX

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The Chisos Mountains

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Kathy, atop Emory Pk., 7825′, the highest point in the Chisos Mountains

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The beer drinking billy goat of Lajitas

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Rock Slide Rapid, Santa Elena Canyon

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Kathy, in Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon is the most upstream canyon in Big Bend National Park, but one more canyon is found farther upstream – Colorado Canyon.

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Colorado Canyon

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Kathy, in Colorado Canyon

Upstream of Colorado Canyon are the twin towns of Presidio, TX and Ojinaga, MX. A north flowing Mexican tributary, the Rio Conchos, joins the Rio Grande at Ojinaga. This river replenishes the Rio Grande, which is otherwise dry at this point. The Rio Grande is dry, in fact, for the approximately 150 mile distance upstream to Fort Quitman. This stretch is now known as “The Forgotten River”, and has been taken over by the invasive tamarisk tree, with the river channel eradicated. Here, the river ran through the howling wilderness of the Chihuahuan Desert, and what’s left of it is in no need of a barrier. The 70 miles from Fort Quitman to El Paso, TX/Juarez, MX is populated, with barriers already in place where needed.

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The border leaves the river a few miles north of El Paso, and, from there, follows the southern boundaries of New Mexico, Arizona and California westward. Big Hatchet Peak is located in the bootheel of New Mexico, where, at a point about 100 miles west of El Paso, the border makes a right angle turn, to run south for 30 miles, before turning again and continuing westward, to meet the southern boundary of Arizona. This area is extremely desolate and in no need of a barrier.

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Big Hatchet Pk

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This sign says it all

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View to the east from Big Hatchet Pk. The distant range is in Mexico, with the border running north/south along the length of the intervening valley.

The last stretch of the border that Kathy and I have visited is that in the vicinity of Hereford, AZ. Here, the Huachuca Mountains rise immediately to the north of the border. Because of its proximity to Mexico, this area is famed for Mexican bird species that can be seen in few other, if any, places in the United States.

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The Arizona woodpecker is mis-named, as its range is mainly confined to Mexico. Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains.

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Anna’s hummingbird in December. Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains.

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Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains

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Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains

These mountains are known to serve as a corridor for migrants, and Border Patrol activity is evident in the area.

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Kathy and I have no direct experience of the border west of Hereford, AZ, which passes through the Sonoran Desert before it intersects (and follows for about 20 miles) the Colorado River, from San Luis, AZ, to Yuma, AZ.  From there, as the southern boundary of California, it follows a beeline to the Pacific Ocean. Again, much of the border runs through desolate and largely unpopulated terrain.

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Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the entirety of this border is nonsensical. Yes, one can make an argument for erecting barriers along certain additional high-trafficked stretches of the border, and that will certainly occur, regardless of how the current stand-off is resolved. Otherwise, I think it unlikely that Trump’s 5.7 billion dollar wall, to run along the entirety of the border, will ever see the light of day.

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Steve Miller, author of the http://www.believesteve.org blog, in the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, 1999. Photo by Kathy Miller.

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Kathy Miller, in the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, 1999.

(photos by the author except where otherwise noted)

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Heron Grabs and Swallows a Trout

Watch as this Great blue heron spots a rainbow trout, grabs it and then takes a short walk before swallowing it. Put up your volume to hear the heron vocalize after swallowing the trout. Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, near Taos, NM, 12-14-18.

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Aerials, Oakland to Phoenix, 12-29-18

Aerial photos seen in prior posts were photos taken on Southwest Airlines flights . This time I was flying American.

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Seconds after take-off. In the foreground is Bay Farm Island, to which the Oakland Airport connects. The San Leandro channel separates Bay Farm Island from the island of Alameda. In the background is Oakland. The red “X” marks the home of Kathy’s daughter, Laina Levy, and family. View to the east.

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The Port of Oakland, and the approach to the Bay Bridge.

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In the foreground is the same part of the Port of Oakland and approach to the Bay Bridge as seen above. In the middle distance is Emeryville, beyond which is Berkeley/University of California, and in the distance is the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. View to the NE.

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The Berkeley Marina and the green rectangle of Cesar Chavez Park. Beyond is El Cerrito, Albany and Richmond. View to the NE.

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Now flying to the south. Part of Monterey Bay and Watsonville, at the mouth of the Salinas River. View to the S.

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Now flying to the southeast. The Grapevine, on I-5, south of Bakersfield. View to the S.

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The San Gabriel mountains, with the ski areas of Wrightwood on the right, and Mount San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy) on the left. The Los Angeles basin is seen beyond. View to the S.

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Continuing to the southeast. Big Bear Lake and ski areas. Mt. San Gorgonio is seen beyond, view to the S.

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The Salton Sea, view to the SW

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The Colorado River, where it exits the Blythe, CA area. View to the SE.

Phoenix comes up soon after crossing the Colorado River.

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Cranes at the Historic Los Luceros

How many times have I driven past the sign alongside Hwy 68 that identifies the “Historic Los Luceros”? Plenty. And how often have I visited this place? Never.

A post in Facebook Birders alerted me to the fact that a group of sandhill cranes were wintering-over on the 148 acres that make up the property, which is administered by the NM Dep’t. of Cultural Affairs. Yesterday (12-16-18) was a bright, calm and mild day, with the high temp hitting 50 degrees. I drove 15 minutes south from our place in Embudo to the ranch/historic site, which is also known as Hacienda Los Luceros. It is located on the Rio Grande, in the northern Española Valley village of Alcalde.

The drive into the property first passed through an apple orchard, with the fruit still on the trees. Eating the now fermenting apples were starlings and Lewis woodpeckers, and I stopped to photograph the latter.

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Lewis woodpecker

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Lewis woodpecker, eating a fermenting apple

The cranes were in full view, as I drove up to the parking area, but left as I pulled in. I then walked around the property, which included the original ranch house and several other buildings.

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Capilla (chapel)

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Cottonwood bosque (forest)

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Same

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Sandhill cranes

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Lewis woodpecker

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Ranch house, with huge willow tree, view to the west

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View of the Truchas Peaks, to the east

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N. Truchas Pk.

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River House

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From the River House, the Rio Grande and, to the south, the Jemez Mountains

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New Mexico olive in the foreground, and a big cottonwood

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Sculpture of old machine parts

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Old saddle

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Cart wheel

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Sandhill cranes

For me, one of the most thrilling bird experiences to be had is to see and hear sandhill cranes on the wing, and especially as they fly low overhead, preparing to land. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds describes their voice as: “A loud, resonant, wooden-sounding bugle with rattling or rolling quality”. Kathy and I first heard that bugle when we lived at the southern end of the Española Valley, in El Rancho. Come late October and November, we would hear their call and search the sky overhead to spot one or more “V”s of the birds. They would be very high overhead, as they winged their way south towards their main wintering grounds. Their wingbeat is described by the above author as a “slow rolling downbeat and quick upbeat”. It is a stately flight, with a gorgeous glide to their landing.

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Sandhill cranes on the glide, as they return to their ponds in the evening, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

And, until two days ago, I had not known that they could be found wintering just a few minutes drive downstream from our house.

 

 

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My Fate, Your Fate

My fate is your fate

We are all fated to see humanity fail

What a weird way to go

holding hands with one another

as we hurtle from the cliff

 

There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig

no way to put a good face on it

no way to whitewash it

we’ve failed

to figure things out

failed to curtail the greed

that is the ruin of the world

 

Greed

but it’s the way of evolution

to be reproductively successful

i.e. more successful than you

to leave more offspring than you

to succeed where you fail

 

What ever happened, then, to mutual aid?

that’s evolution too

that we do well when we work as one

And it’s true,

it worked

worked to get us where we were

at the end of the last ice age

Well … what happened then?

 

Well … we changed our ways

we tried to take control

of the natural world

to enslave food

and it has brought us to this moment

where we now look over the brink

down at the rocks that await us

 

But, but … , you say

is there no turning back?

Is this really it?

Is this truly the end, such a bitter end?

 

Yes, it is the end, and I regret it no less than you

I didn’t plan for it to work out this way

I don’t want it to end this way

It doesn’t accord with my sense of who I am

the master of my fate

nor does it accord with your sense of who you are

the master of your fate

Sorry, very sorry to say, that this end doesn’t accord with our collective sense of who we are

Masters of our fates

Made in the image of God

saved by his Son

A creature like no other

given dominion over the animals

“Wise man” we have named ourselves

so full of pride and conceit

 

There’s that story about the Garden of Eden,

where man and woman were innocent and enjoyed everlasting life

And, though forbidden by God to do so,

Adam and Eve tasted the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil

For their disobedience, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and lost everlasting life

So, this is the question:

Can the apple represent anything but

man’s attempt to subjugate the natural world?

 

Those writers knew it then

Our species has sinned

Homo sapiens has lost everlasting life

Extinction by our own hand awaits us

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