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Arizona: Thrashers and Sparrows

Our family went out to Phoenix for Thanksgiving.  My wife has family that live there and that’s the closest relatives that we have.  I made sure that there was enough time for me to get out and do some real birding.  I got some advice on where to go to maybe see Crested Caracaras and some special Thrashers.  Saturday was the day and I headed off South of Phoenix and Chandler to the Santa Cruz flats.  Being up so early rewarded me with a great Sunrise.

Arizona Sunrise

Arizona Sunrise

I ended up seeing tons of Sparrows.  Mainly White-Crowned, but some others too, like Lark Sparrows and Vesper Sparrows.

Lark Sparrows, Pinal County AZ

Lark Sparrows, Pinal County AZ

Vesper Sparrow, Pinal County AZ

Vesper Sparrow, Pinal County AZ

You can see the differences in the amount of breast streaking.  I also managed to get a lifer Lark Bunting, but in winter plumage.

Lark Bunting, Pinal County AZ

Lark Bunting, Pinal County AZ

And a few Horned Larks were out. Here’s one showing off it’s namesake horns.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

I got to see a large mixed flock of Blackbirds.  Brewer’s, Red-Winged and Yellow-headeds were alternating between sitting in a Cotton patch and flying over to a feedlot which was across a road.

Blackbirds in cotton, Pinal County AZ

Blackbirds in cotton, Pinal County AZ

And then one of the many Northern Harries that were around came by and scared everyone into the air.

Northern Harrier and Blackbirds, Pinal County AZ

Northern Harrier and Blackbirds, Pinal County AZ

I saw a few Falcons, like this Prairie Falcon which was sitting on a pole.

Prairie Falcon, Pinal County AZ

Prairie Falcon, Pinal County AZ

There were lots of hawks around. I saw more than few Red-Tailed Hawks sitting on poles and this Ferruginous Hawk.

Ferruginous Hawk, Pinal County AZ

Ferruginous Hawk, Pinal County AZ

The sky was overcast for most of the morning, not too good for photos.  But I liked how this Loggerhead Shrike and lunch turned out.

Loggerhead Shrike, Pinal County AZ

Loggerhead Shrike, Pinal County AZ

There were even some Warblers still around, like this Yellow-Rumped in a Date Palm.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Pinal County AZ

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Pinal County AZ

I also saw some Green-Tailed Towhees, lots of American Kestrels and even a Vermilion Flycatcher; but no Caracaras and the day was still ticking on.  So I decided to call it a morning and head to the other location that I wanted to visit, the famous Thrasher Spot at Baseline Road and Salome Highway.

Along the way I spotted this hawk along I-8 sitting on a good vantage spot.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Saguaro National Monument, AZ

Red-Tailed Hawk, Saguaro National Monument, AZ

I drove down Old Route 80 to get to the Thrasher Spot and I managed to see lots of birds.

Old Route 80, Gila Bend AZ

Old Route 80, Gila Bend AZ

I was hoping to see a White-Tailed Kite, Mountain Plover or Black Vulture, but no dice.  But I did get to see lots of birds doing interesting things.  There was a field full of Killdeer that would all decide to fly around in formation ever minute or so.  No Mountain Plovers in the bunch though.

Killdeer, Buckeye AZ

Killdeer, Buckeye AZ

The Killdeer were soon joined by 30 or so Meadowlarks that decided to fly from the East to the West side of Rt 80.

Meadowlarks, Buckeye AZ

Meadowlarks, Buckeye AZ

And I’m thinking that this one was a lookout to make sure that no cars were coming.

Western Meadowlark, Buckeye AZ

Western Meadowlark, Buckeye AZ

There were lots of Red-Tailed Hawks along the route, and a Northern Harrier and many American Kestrels like this female.

American Kestrel, Buckeye AZ

American Kestrel, Buckeye AZ

I eventually came to a dam and a neat bridge that crossed the Gila River.

Gila River Bridge, Old Rt 80, Buckeye AZ

Gila River Bridge, Old Rt 80, Buckeye AZ

I stopped halfway across to see some Cormorants swimming by and this Belted Kingfisher sitting in some trees watching for fish.

Belted Kingfisher, Buckeye AZ

Belted Kingfisher, Buckeye AZ

Old Rt 80 went up and over a ridge into more agricultural areas on one side of the road and rocks and desert on the other.  I watched a hawk fly in and land on some of the rocks.  My guess is a dark-morph Red-Tailed Hawk, there’s a noticeable belly-band there.

Dark-Morph Red-Tailed Hawk, Buckeye AZ

Dark-Morph Red-Tailed Hawk, Buckeye AZ

I was scanning the fields when I saw a group of grey birds far out in the distance.  They were a dozen Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes, Buckeye AZ

Sandhill Cranes, Buckeye AZ

And then I noticed a group of Ibises flying in a bit north of me.

White-Faced Ibises, Buckeye AZ

White-Faced Ibises, Buckeye AZ

I tried to find them again, but never got a better look at the area.  But I did scare out a Great Egret which gave me a nice show as it flew away.

Great Egret, Buckeye AZ

Great Egret, Buckeye AZ

And saw this Immature Great-Blue Heron standing on the top of a structure looking a bit lost.

Great-Blue Heron, Buckeye AZ

Great-Blue Heron, Buckeye AZ

And before I got into my car I saw a hawk sitting on a wood pile on the west side of the road.  I was hoping for a Red-Shouldered Hawk, but I think that it’s a Cooper’s.  Still a nice looking bird.

Cooper's Hawk, Buckeye AZ

Cooper’s Hawk, Buckeye AZ

I probably could have stayed at this one spot.  There were Loggerhead Shrikes, blackbirds, another Yellow-Rumped Warbler and other birds, but I really wanted to get to the Thrasher Spot before it was dark.  So I forced myself not to stop any more and finally made it to Salome Hwy and Baseline Road.  This area is known for the ease at seeing a very shy bird, the Le Conte’s Thrasher, as well as Crissal, Bendire’s and Sage Thrashers.  But everyone comes for the Le Conte’s, including me. Although I have yet to see a Crissal Thrasher (for sure, I’m pretty sure that I did in fact see one earlier this fall here in ABQ, but I don’t have a photo of it to be sure).

Thrasher Spot, , Buckeye AZ

Thrasher Spot, , Buckeye AZ

What is funny is that I took this photo and then wondered to myself why.  And then I noticed the same shot on 2 other blogs this week by people who have visited the spot.  One of them, Neil Hayward, is in the middle of a Big Year.  And it looks like he’s on a record setting pace.  But he’s been to the Thrasher Spot twice this year, and the 2nd time was just a week before me.  He was there for Sparrows though.

The Sage Sparrow was split into 2 species this year, Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell’s Sparrow.  And there’s a 3rd subspecies.  From what I can tell, they all have varying amounts of streaking to their backs, from none to lots.  Neil was there to see if any of his Sage Sparrows were Bell’s and not Sagebrush.  It turns out that both were at the spot, but I only managed to see Sagebrush Sparrows.  Nice looking sparrows though.

Sagebrush Sparrow, Buckeye AZ

Sagebrush Sparrow, Buckeye AZ

There were also White-Crowned and Brewer’s Sparrows there too.

Brewer's Sparrow, Buckeye AZ

Brewer’s Sparrow, Buckeye AZ

I found a really amazing and comprehensive website, Birder From Maricopa County, which describes the Phoenix area in great detail.  You can search by the birds that you want to see or the areas of the county.  This guy really needs to put this information in book form and make some money from it.  He could have the Phoenix version of Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico.

The description of the Thrasher Spot is pretty spot-on (it’s in Area 8).  The description said to walk out away from the road and look for the birds in the thick mesquite bushes.  I walked out about 100 yards and realized that I was down to just 10 photos left on my card, and the other card back in the van.  I took a minute to free up some more space (how many blurry photos of birds does one need?) and then decided to walk out towards another row of mesquite and then walk back towards the road with the Sun at my back.  But I ended up walking and walking.  I finally saw a thrasher and I wasn’t sure what I had.  I’m pretty sure that it was a Bendire’s who was missing the top beak.

Mystery Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

Mystery Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

But just a few feet away was a for sure Bendire’s Thrasher sitting out in the open.  It even watched me move around to get a better shot.

Bendire's Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

Bendire’s Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

It finally jumped down and met up with another one and they both ran off into the scrub.  I kept walking a few yards and saw another thrasher.  It turned in profile to me and I clearly saw that it was a Le Conte’s Thrasher!

Le Conte's Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

Le Conte’s Thrasher, Buckeye AZ

And it too was met by a second and ran off together. I looked at the Sun and it was heading down, so I bid farewell to the thrashers and walked back to the road.  At the van I noticed a neat sight, one which I didn’t think that I’d see over Arizona, a sun dog was in the sky.

Sun Dog, Buckeye AZ

Sun Dog, Buckeye AZ

I made it back to north Phoenix well after dark.  We had been seeing and hearing a Great-Horned Owl around the house where we were staying, but It wasn’t out when I got back.  But the next morning I saw a little hummingbird sitting atop an Ocotillo while I was loading up the van for our trip back to New Mexico, a nice little Costa’s enjoying the early morning Sun.

Costa's Hummingbird, North Phoenix AZ

Costa’s Hummingbird, North Phoenix AZ

We were out early and decided to stop by the Petrified National Forest and Painted Desert on the way home.  It was really cloudy and cold, but it was still an incredible thing to see.  The number and size of the fossil trees was mind-boggling.  We called it the fossil forest and that name fits better with kids.

Fossil Forest, Petrified National Park, AZ

Fossil Forest, Petrified National Park, AZ

It was a good trip, despite not seeing all of the birds that I wanted to.  But I did get a nice amount of lifers for my list.  Next stop is Rosy Finches this weekend with my son, and maybe some rare visitors to Albuquerque tomorrow if the weather isn’t as bad as it’s supposed to be, I’ll have the kids along if I go out.

Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Festival of the… Geese?

Oh, right, Cranes.  It’s the Festival of the Cranes.  Held each fall at Bosque del Apache near San Antonio New Mexico, it is the big birding festival for the state.  I had never been to it before in the almost 3 years that I’ve lived here.  And since we’re moving away in the Spring, this year may be my only chance to attend.  As it worked out, I could only get down there on the final day of the festival, Sunday the 24th.  Plus it was the one day with openings for the various tours.  So I booked the ever-popular Walk Out to the Fly-Out and a refuge birding tour.  I looked forlornly at the various Owling and photography sessions, but they were out of my scheduling window.  Another, albeit nice, wrench in the works was word that a tour from Pittsburgh and the Western PA Audubon Society would be in New Mexico the week of the festival.  It worked out that I was able to meet them for part of their trip to Santa Fe on Friday the 22nd.

I met them at Randall Davey Audubon Center  in the morning and the weather was looking dire. Lots of low clouds and no sign of the Sun.  Sure, familiar weather for Pittsburghers, but not really New Mexico weather. To make a really long story short, the birds were okay at Randall Davey.  We got 2 of their target birds, a lone Clark’s Nutcracker circling off in the distance and lots of Pygmy Nuthatches.  In fact they were running over some trees like ants on a Hummingbird feeder. We estimated 15 of them, but there could have been more.  I managed to get some good photos of some of them.

Pygmy Nuthatches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

Pygmy Nuthatches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

And this Canyon Towhee was keeping out of the snow near the visitor center’s feeders.

Canyon Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

Canyon Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

It was nice hanging out with some Pittsburghers for the day.  Although, the lack of coffee or Gray Jays at the Santa Fe Ski area made me feel really bad, they understood that’s how birding goes sometimes.  I hope that they all come back to visit New Mexico during May or the Balloon Fiesta some time.

And now for the Festival of the Cranes.  The lousy weather in New Mexico was continuing and lots of snow was actually forecast for Saturday night and into Sunday.  And remembering the words of Amundsen, that “Adventure is just bad planning”, I set off Saturday night to get ahead of the storm.  I called and made reservations at the Birdwatcher RV Park just outside of the Refuge’s boundary and planned on sleeping in the Element.  I made it down to San Antonio fine and the snow was already coming down.  Route 1 was snow covered as I made my way to the RV park.  I got there fine, found a place to park and set the Honda to camper mode.
I woke up the following morning at 4:30 to find snow covering most of my windows.  What I did not find was my Gore-tex boots, which I was sure that I had packed, but now were gone. I had a nice pair of shoes and some gaiters, so that would have to do. I cleaned off the car while it was warming up, put on 5 or 6 layers and headed to the refuge.  There was four inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down good.

Snowy Route 1, San Antonio New Mexico

Snowy Route 1, San Antonio New Mexico

I made it to the Bosque del Apache Visitor’s Center and nobody else was there besides festival personnel. I was the first and, what appeared to be, only one there for the fly-out.

Bosque del Apache Visitor's Center, NM

Rista and Snow, Bosque del Apache Visitor’s Center, NM

One of the refuge firefighters, Jake, was going to be my personal chauffeur to see the birds.   But a few more people showed up around 6am to make the trip out.  What is normally dozens of people in buses were a few hearty fools in some 4wd trucks.

Fellow Fools, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fellow Fools, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

We were driven much closer than usual and even scared some geese into flying before we even got out, but there were still plenty there to see.  Along with a few thousand Snow Geese were some Sandhill Cranes, some ducks and 3 Greater Yellowlegs, which would be lifers for me.

Snow Geese and Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Snow Geese, SACR and GRYE, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Birds would fly off in dribs and drabs.  Some were flying from other ponds, but the ones in front of us were holding strong.

Pre-dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Pre-dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And then, a few geese raised their heads, and others followed them looking up, and then all of a sudden, a very noisy mass ascension occurred.

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

After less than a few minutes, all of the Geese were gone.  A few Sandhill Cranes and lots of ducks stuck around, but the space was finally empty.

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Everyone piled back into the trucks and we headed back to the Visitor’s Center.  There still weren’t many other festival goers there, but there were lots of birds out at the feeders.  There were lots of White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows, Green-Tailed and Spotted Towhees, some Crows and House Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Throated Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And an odd amount of Red-Winged Blackbirds joined in the feasting.

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Sparrows, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Sparrows, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

But then one of my nemesis birds appeared.  I had been to Bosque del Apache 5 times this year without seeing one, sometimes it was my target bird with no luck.  And then a female Pyrrhuloxia just shows up in the window.

Pyrrhuloxia, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Pyrrhuloxia, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

But the great birds were done yet.  A Golden-Crowned Sparrow was reported earlier in the week and it was back.  Everyone got some good looks at it.  It isn’t totally uncommon in New Mexico, but was nice to see.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

I signed-up for a birding tour of the refuge also that morning.  I signed up hoping to get a Pyrrhuloxia on the tour, but now didn’t need it so I could relax and enjoy the ride and the various birds that we would see. It ended up being a good day.  There were so many Sparrows out.  I got another lifer sparrow, a Savannah Sparrow on the ice at the South end of the refuge.

Savannah Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Savannah Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And for every Sparrow that we saw, it seemed like we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk or a Northern Harrier out hunting.  This one was doing some impressive aerobatics diving after prey.

Northern Harrier, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Northern Harrier, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And this Bald Eagle was out enjoying the bits of Sun.  People who had been there watching it said that it had just got done eating an American Coot.  Gross was my reply, but everyone has their tastes.

Bald Eagle, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle cleaning its beak, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle cleaning its beak, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

There were also a few ducks and other waterfowl everywhere.  These Buffleheads and and Lesser Scaups were close to where the Bald Eagle was hanging out.

Buffleheads and Lesser Scaup, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Buffleheads and Lesser Scaup, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And these ducks were north of the old rookery in the middle of the refuge.

Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

It seemed as if all of the Snow Geese from this morning flew to the North end of the refuge.  Something kept making them fly up, around and then back where they were.  Some of in the group thought that we saw a Bald Eagle cruising far off in the distance, but we didn’t get a good enough look to be sure.

Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

The snow made for some really nice scenery.

Geese flying, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Geese flying, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

 

At one point the skies cleared out and the snowy roads turned into muddy ones.

Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

After all of the snow and despite the fact that some of the vendors closed up early, or didn’t show up, I had a really good day. I had 46 species including 3 or 4 lifers and a few odd-balls (American Avocet was one of those).  I even managed to get myself an early holiday present that I can’t wait to use this weekend in Phoenix. We’re on our way to spend the Holidays (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah) with my wife’s family and I’m hoping to see Crested Caracaras and Thrashers while I’m there.  Hope everyone has safe travels and thanks for making it this far.

Cheers!

 

PS:  Since I’ll be moving away from Albuquerque I’ve decided to change up the name of the blog.  I have a nice idea in mind that we reflect my almost complete dedication to birding and bird photography.  I may simulpost or link to the new one.  Details will follow, but it probably won’t be until January.  I plan on posting some year summaries and best photos of the year.  And if anyone would be interested in a 2014 calendar, let me know, nothing fancy, just something from Costco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Loony!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got to see a Common Loon here in New Mexico.  It was at a lake 90 minutes north of me and was a lifer.  Well, thanks to the ebird rare bird alert emails that I signed up for (total enablers to a bad habit) I saw that a different Loon was also in the area.  A Pacific Loon was being reported on the Okhay Owingeh Pueblo, not too far from the Common Loon.  I got a chance to get up there on Friday to try for it.   Like the Common Loon, it seemed to be hanging out enjoying the nice fall weather in New Mexico. But this one was a bit more difficult to find.

The Pacific Loon was being reported at the Okhay Owingeh fishing lakes, near the Okhay Owingeh RV park.  I retraced my route from earlier in the week, but continued on Route 84 instead of turning off towards Santa Cruz lake.  The road to the lakes was surrounded by reeds and is a very good spot to stop and see what is hanging out.  I saw some Lesser Goldfinches first, and then a Spotted Towhee and some Sparrows on my way out, definitely worth the time to stop and creep along the reeds.

The first pond that you see was empty of anything with feathers, so I continued north until I saw the larger lake.  This one was much more picturesque and had lots of birds in it.

Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

I saw plenty of Canada Geese, American Widgeons, American Coots, some Gadwalls but no Loons.  I drove around the lake a few times and spotted some dark birds with long necks and with some white on them, but they were Western Grebes.

Western Grebe,Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Western Grebe,Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

There were 3 of them sleeping out in the middle of the lake.  I drove and walked around some more. I managed to get some pretty good shots of a Western Grebe that got really close to the shore, but no still no Loon.

Western Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Western Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Western Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Western Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

And nearby was a tiny Pied-bill Grebe.

Pied-Bill Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

Pied-Bill Grebe, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Lakes, NM

I even checked out the nearby river and only saw some White-Crowned Sparrows and quite a few butterflies, including this one.

Variegated Fritillary, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Variegated Fritillary, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

I was circling the lake for over 90 minutes with no sight of the Pacific Loon and was considering cutting my losses and heading home when I saw a long-necked bird on the far sight of the lake. I did a double take and sure enough, it was the Loon.

Pacific Loon, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Pacific Loon, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

I had no idea where it had been hiding, but I jumped in the car and drove over to that side of the lake to get a closer look.  But when I got over there, it disappeared again.  I looked around and saw it back in the middle of the ponds with the snoozing Western Grebes.

PALO, WEGR & AMCOs, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

PALO, WEGR & AMCOs, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

As similar as the coloring may be, the 2 birds are clearly built differently.  The PALO has a much thicker build and a distinct checker pattern to the back.

Pacific Loon, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Pacific Loon, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

PALO, WEGR & CANG, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

PALO, WEGR & CANG, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

What an exciting bird to see.  It never got very close to the shore while I was standing around.  But I spent another hour watching it dive and cruise over the water before I decided to leave.  Plus the lakes were closing soon.  I did see some Song Sparrows hanging out on a woody section of the lake property between the 2 fishing lakes.

Song Sparrow, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Song Sparrow, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Song Sparrow, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

Song Sparrow, Okhay Owingeh Fishing Ponds, NM

I headed back to Rio Rancho with a pretty good day.  Seeing a second Loon in 5 days and also getting some good shots of the Western Grebes.

A friend of mine was hosting a Star Wars marathon Saturday morning on his new 87″ TV.  But I didn’t want to sit through the train-wreck of the prequels, so I decided to check out a spot near his house for Rock Wrens.  There were some reported at the Northern end of Petroglyph National Monument along the Piedras Marcadas trail.  This is a nice trail to see some petroglyphs and not pay any usage fees.  The parking area is sort of hidden behind a strip mall and a quick-change oil place.  Plus I’m pretty sure that I saw Bryan Cranston there before, turning around in the parking lot.  Maybe seeing my camera made him think that the paparazzi was stalking him.

I headed out along the trail and saw that I wasn’t the first one out that morning.

Animal Tracks, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Animal Tracks, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

I had a couple with 2 dogs following me, so I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to see much wildlife that morning.  But I would end up being pleasantly wrong.  I was about half a mile along the trail and nearing the end of the large boulders when I spotted a bird up on a rock.  It was a Rock Wren watching me.

Rock Wren, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Rock Wren, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Another bird for my life list and one that I needed for my Guidebook Challenge.  And it was joined by another one lower down on another boulder.

Rock Wren, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Rock Wren, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

They were doing their stereotypical deep-knee bends and appeared to be distracting me from a possible nesting site.  They were down they trail by a number “3” sign post.

I also saw some other birds.  There were a few Say’s Phoebes doing display flights.

Say's Phoebe, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Say’s Phoebe, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

And a bird Petroglyph on a nearby rock.

Petroglyph, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

Petroglyph, Piedras Marcadras Canyon, ABQ NM

I still had some time to see if I could spot a Pipit out on the West Mesa and still miss Jar-Jar Binks, so I took a quick drive out near the smaller airport there.  I managed to see an Eastern Meadowlark, I heard it buzzing as it flew away.  A nice surprise for New Mexico.  I didn’t get a photo of it, but watched some Horned Larks chasing one another over the pastures out there.  And managed to see one sitting on a barbed wire fence.

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ NM

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ NM

On my back past Double Eagle Airport, I got to see some aerobatic planes practicing.

Aerobatic practice, Double Eagle Airport, ABQ NM.

Aerobatic practice, Double Eagle Airport, ABQ NM.

Another nice weekend.  I managed to see my 2nd ever Loon, get another lifer and challenge bird in my neighborhood, and sit through 12 hours of some of my favorite movies.

Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Loon in New Mexico

Two weeks ago a Common Loon was reported on the Rio Grande right here in Albuquerque.  I tried to see it on 2 different occasions, but it was already gone.  And then last week another Common Loon was reported on a lake a bit north of Santa Fe.  It was still there today, and the stars aligned so that I could get up there and try again.  It’s a lifer bird for me, and one that I’ve always wanted to see.  I just didn’t think that place would be in New Mexico.

The bird was at the remote Santa Cruz Lake, about a half hour north of Santa Fe and over 90 minutes from my house in Rio Rancho.  I stopped along the way to visit my favorite taco shop, El Parasol, who has amazing vegetarian tacos.  I was very surprised to hear some young birds in some sunflowers at the front of the shop.  It was a pair of hatchling Lesser Goldfinches and their parents.  I ran back to the car for my camera and managed a few good shots of the young ones begging for food.

Lesser Goldfinches, NM

Lesser Goldfinches, NM

Lesser Goldfinches, NM

Lesser Goldfinches, NM

I got my food to go and continued on my way.  The changing seasons are taking me by surprise and I was not prepared to be racing a setting Sun.  Google Maps took me through a very small settlement near the lake, which had a single lane road through it and even what looked like a lone gas pump in someone’s front yard.  I shortly made the turn-off to the lake and was surprised to see a nice little lake hidden away in a canyon.

Santa Cruz Lake, NM

Santa Cruz Lake, NM

I stopped when I saw a small bunch of birds flying by the side of the road, they were some Western Bluebirds.

Western Bluebird, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Western Bluebird, Santa Cruz Lake NM

But I wasn’t there to see Bluebirds, as nice as they are to see.  The Sun was already behind the canyon wall and the light was going with it.  Plus I had no idea where the Loon could.  I pulled into the first parking area along the water that I saw.  There was an aluminum fishing pier jutting out into the lake and just beyond the far end was a bird swimming around.  I walked out onto the pier and sure enough, it was the Loon!

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

I watched it diving and then feeding on a crawfish.

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

As it dove and fed it came even closer to the pier and I managed to get some good shots despite the lighting.

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

I could even see it filling up it’s gullet with shellfish.

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

As it turned out, the Loon was the only bird on the water and I was the only human there watching it.

Lonley Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

Lonley Common Loon, Santa Cruz Lake NM

I sat along the sure enjoying my tacos and eventually watched it swim out of sight around a spit of land.  It was another lifer for me, and a great bird to sit and watch do it’s thing, even if for just a little bit.

I got back into the car and went back home.  The day’s show wasn’t over yet, I was treated to a magnificent New Mexico Sunset that I had to stop and take a few photos of.  East of me was early snow on the Santa Fe Mountains, and to the west some beautiful colors.

Snow on Santa Fe Mountains, Santa Fe NM

Snow on Santa Fe Mountains, Santa Fe NM

Sunset near Pojoaque NM

Sunset near Pojoaque NM

Thanks for making it this far.  Enjoy this Thunderbird stretching it’s wings across the darkening sky.

Thunderbird over Jemez Mountains, NM

Thunderbird over Jemez Mountains, NM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy October Birding

This past week ended up being pretty busy on the birding front.  It started with an alert earlier in the week about a Common Loon on the Rio Grande River.  I recently signed up for rare bird and list needs alerts through ebird.  This is turning into a double-edged sword, the number of birds that I want to see are far out-numbered by the ones that I can actually get out for.  But I was able to get down to the river later in the day to hopefully see the Loon.  But alas, it wouldn’t be so, the Loon was nowhere to be seen.  But I did manage to get a lifer Western Grebe, and then a second one on the opposite side of the dam.

Western Grebe, Rio Grande River, ABQ NM

Western Grebe, Rio Grande River, ABQ NM

I also saw a couple of Great-Blue Herons, this was a younger one actually in the river.

Great-Blue Heron, Rio Grande River, ABQ NM

Great-Blue Heron, Rio Grande River, ABQ NM

Saturday morning was the fall Belen Marsh Clean-up.  I wrote about the secret marsh here earlier in the year.  I did the clean-up in the spring and knew that my help was really needed.  The only problem was that my daughter had to come with. But we ended up having a great time and she managed to find a good deal of trash.  The birds on the water were pretty thin compared to the rest of the year, just a few Mallards were about.  But we did see a late Burrowing Owl and a few Red-Tailed Hawks, like this one.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Belen NM

Red-Tailed Hawk, Belen NM

My friend Dean was also along for the ride that day.  Since we were south of Albuquerque, we decided to head down to Bosque del Apache, another hour south.  It was the first weekend open after the Congressional fiasco.  Our first stop, just inside the border of the refuge and at the very first turn-off, would give me one of my longest nemesis birds.  First we saw some Northern Shovelers and these 3 American Avocets sitting in some water.

AMAV, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

AMAV, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

We saw another Red-Tailed Hawk flying overhead.

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

We were still trying to see if there were any different ducks on the pond when I saw a really big raptor flying overhead.  I looked at it 2 or 3 times before I realized that it was really a Golden Eagle.  I’ve spent most of my time here in NM trying to see one, and here was one when I wasn’t expecting it.

GOEA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

GOEA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

And then it met a second one and spiraled off towards the Northeast.

GOEA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

GOEA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

My other target bird of the day was a Pyrrhuloxia, which I needed for my life list and my Guidebook Challenge.  But alas, I’d dip on that big-time, again.  But the Golden Eagles made the entire day.

After visiting the visitor’s center and picking up the bird guide that I’ve been looking for, the big Sibley’s guide, we were off to the tour loops.  But before that we saw the aftermath of a major train wreck from the morning before.

Train Derailment, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

Train Derailment, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

You can see the automobiles that were in the cars which went off the tracks.  Lucky for the refuge that the train didn’t travel a bit longer, there tank-wagons just a few cars after the accident.

Heading onto the tour loop we saw lots of ducks in the ponds on the East side of the road.  We stopped at one of the observation decks and saw maybe a thousand Northen Pintails.

NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

The Raptors continued to fly over, we saw a Peregrine Falcon quickly fly south over the pond, and then some Northern Harriers moved into the area.

NOHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

NOHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

We watched one hunt down a service road between the flooded fields.  It was amazing to see it effortlessly fly down the road about 4 feet off of the ground and in and out of the brush.  I wish that any of my photos turned out nearly okay, but they were all crap.  But wow was that cool.  And then another Harrier flew over the ducks and scared a few of them into jumping out of the way.  I have no idea if a Northern Harrier can take a duck, but the Pintails weren’t taking any chances.

NOHA and NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

NOHA and NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

There were 2 Harriers together and they both took turns bothering the ducks.

NOHA and NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

NOHA and NOPI, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

The day was still going, so we decided to head to the Marsh Boardwalk.  There were reports of Eared Grebes there, which I needed as lifer birds.  We ended up seeing 4 of them (although one could have been a Western, but I didn’t know it at the time).

Eared Grebe, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

Eared Grebe, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

There were also lots and lots of Snow Geese, a few Ross’ Geese, some gulls and a Blue-Winged Teal at the Marsh too.

SNGO and RBGU, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

SNGO and RBGU, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

SNGO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

SNGO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

I’m pretty sure that this is the same young Great-Blue Heron that I’ve been seeing at the Marsh Boardwalk all Summer.  It really let me get nice and close for some photos.

GBHE and SNGO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

GBHE and SNGO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

GBHE, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

GBHE, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

This American Coot was flying from one side of the boardwalk to the other and I managed to get a neat shot of it in flight.

AMCO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

AMCO, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

After we left the Boardwalk area the number of birds really dropped off.  We saw some Say’s Phoebes, some White-Crowned Sparrows, some American Robins and the Sandhill Cranes were beginning to arrive.

SACR, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

SACR, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

I took some advice from a friend on the way out of the refuge and took a side-road back to San Antonio to try and see a Pyrrhuloxia.  There were none around, but we did see a lot of Gambel’s Quail.

GAQU, San Antonio, NM

GAQU, San Antonio, NM

GAQU, San Antonio NM

GAQU, San Antonio NM

We ended up having a really good day with almost 40 birds at the Bosque alone.  I got lifer Golden Eagles!, Eared Grebes and Ross’ Goose.  You can see our list here.
This is just Saturday’s birding, I went out Sunday  too.  I started at the Rio Grande Nature Center for their usual weekend walks.  I contemplated just going to the foothills of the Sandias because I really need to see Rock and Cactus Wrens this year.  I’ve been there a dozen times this year to no avail.  But there were some Marsh Wrens being seen at the RGNC, so I thought that would be a good excuse to do the walk and then head to the foothills later.  It would end up being a near-epic day for October birding.

There were lots of water fowl at the usual meeting place, the wetlands viewing blind.  I saw my first Ring-Necked Ducks of the fall.  But this Snowy Egret was very photogenic.

Snowy Egret, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

Snowy Egret, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

The usual suspects were at the first feeders on the walk, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Mountain and Black-Capped chickadees, White-Crowned Sparrows and even a Hermit Thrush and Downy Woodpecker.  The highlight at the main pond was a very noisy Belted-Kingfisher and some Wood Ducks and even some Gadwalls.

BEKI, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

BEKI, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

But the Marsh Wrens were finally flushed out with some pshing near the back pond, which is usually hidden from the public.  It was crazy to see the large group of birders being very quiet, but leaning in waiting to see if anyone should show up.  Finally a Wren appeared to chastise whomever it was disturbing it’s turf.  It would fly from one clump of leaves to another and not sit still for more than a few seconds.  And then there was another one!  They got separated, and I was finally able to get some shots of one of them.

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

MAWR, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

Lifers seem to be getting harder to get for me, and the Marsh Wren was a good example of this, but wow was it fun.  The rest of the walk was just as exciting.  We saw lots of Eastern Bluebirds, a Townsend’s Solitaire, a Brown Creeper and five coyotes at the north end of the walk.

Coyote, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

Coyote, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

I managed to get a pretty good shot of a Northern Flicker too.

NOFL, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

NOFL, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

An oddball Steller’s Jay and White-Throated Sparrow were seen near the banding station, as well as a captured American Robin.  And then the craziest part of the walk happened on our way into the gardens.  An amazing birder, who is a transplant from South Carolina and still getting the hang of Western Birds, asked me if we ever had Golden-Crowned Kinglets. And then went on to tell a quick story of one that she had seen back East which was mimicking some Tufted Titmice, and that she had never heard of a Golden-Crowned Kinglet doing that before.  I told her no, which is easy because I barely know anything about birds.  By this time we were into the gardens and looking at a few birds in a Juniper near one of the feeders when we spotted a small bird with gold and black stripes on the head with a warbler’s body.  It was a Golden-Crowned Kinglet!  None of us could believe it.  I never managed to get a photo of it before it flew off, but enough of us saw it that it was confirmed.  And then we mentioned our discussion of not more than 2 minutes earlier and everyone had a good chuckle.  I later checked ebird and the last report of a GCKI at the nature center was in 2005.

Before leaving the Nature Center I checked the wetland pond again and saw the last new bird of the walk, a pair of Cackling Geese.

Cackling and Canada Geese, American Wigeons and Mallard, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

Cackling and Canada Geese, American Wigeons and Mallard, Rio Grande Nature Center, ABQ NM

It’s hard to distinguish Cackling Geese from Canada Geese based on coloration.  But CACG are a bit smaller than CANG, which is also hard to see unless they are right next to one another.  But the best way to be sure is to look at their heads.  CACG have a stubby bill compared to CANG, which is easily seen in this photo (Cackling Geese are in the foreground and Canada Geese are in the rear).  At the end of the day we had 45 species during the walk, which is the most since we were getting over 50 during May.

After the RGNC, I once again went to the foothills to try and get the other Wrens that I need.  I tried a different location which I had never been to before, but was told was really good for Cactus Wrens.  But once again, I dipped on both types.  But I found a nice place to hike with some great views of the city.

Albuquerque NM

Albuquerque NM

I did manage to see a few birds there, but nothing new.

CBTH, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

CBTH, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

WSJA, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

WSJA, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

And lots of different butterflies, which I don’t know any names of, but this one was pretty.

Butterfly, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

Butterfly, Copper Open Space, ABQ NM

What a great weekend of birding, 98 species in 3 days isn’t bad for the end of migration.  I only had 1 warbler, Yellow-Rumped, which is very different than September. I picked up 7 lifers, Golden Eagle, Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Ross’ Goose, Snow Goose, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe and Marsh Wren, and 2 of those towards my NM Guidebook challenge.  I’m up to 233 species for the year, and I’d be very happy with 250 before New Years.  I’d have to say that my bird of the day would be a tie between Golden Eagle and Golden-Crowned Kinglet.

Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers.

 

Birding in Santa Fe

Today I went to Santa Fe in order to try and get some birds that I needed for my challenge.  I chose 2 spots to visit, the Randall Davey Audubon Center and the Santa Fe Ski Area. I was up early enough to see the Dawn Patrol from the Balloon Fiesta (see my previous post about that) and made it to Santa Fe in time to join the usual Saturday morning bird walk.  It was really, really cold at the start and only 6 or so people were there for the walk.

We saw the usual birds for the area, Juncos, Scrub-Jays, House Finches and a few others.

Spotted Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Spotted Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

White-Winged Dove, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

White-Winged Dove, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Cassin's Finch and House Finches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Cassin’s Finch and House Finches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Western Scrub-Jay, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Western Scrub-Jay, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

We saw this Black-Billed Magpie inspecting a large tent that was set up for a wedding before it posed on this fence.  I never realized the blue on this awesome looking bird before.

Black-Billed Magpie, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Black-Billed Magpie, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

And I apparently wasted a trip to Melrose Trap to see Red-Naped Sapsuckers last weekend, we say 2 of them today (that fuzzy lump on the right of the tree is number 2).

Red-Naped Sapsuckers, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Red-Naped Sapsuckers, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet was also flitting around in the same tree as the Sapsuckers.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

And nearby was a tree with three Hairy Woodpeckers in the same tree.

Hairy Woodpeckers, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Hairy Woodpeckers, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Hairy Woodpecker, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Hairy Woodpecker, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

And I managed to get two lifers and two challenge birds there.  We saw two Evening Grosbeaks fly into the top of a very big Cottonwood and I only managed this one poor photo.

Evening Grosbeak, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Evening Grosbeak, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

And the other bird was a Clark’s Nutcracker.  There were lots flying overhead, and we even saw a group of 4 at one time, but this was the only one that landed in a tree long enough for a photo.

Clark's Nutcracker, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

Clark’s Nutcracker, Randall Davey Audubon Center, SF NM

I really wanted a better look, and a photo of, a Pygmy Nuthatch, but didn’t get to see any.  After Randall Davey I went further north to the Santa Fe Ski Basin in search of Gray Jays.  This was a bird that I was told frequented there, but I would need to look hard for them.

I pulled into the ski area and saw quite a bit of snow on the runs and around the parking lots.

October Runs, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

October Runs, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

This ended up being very far from the truth.  I saw my first Gray Jay flying into a tree before I even turned my car off.  There ended up being a lot of them flying around the buildings and base of the ski lifts.

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

They were joined by some Steller's Jays, both of which were feeding from a pile of something right by the ticket booth for the one running lift.

They were joined by some Steller’s Jays, both of which were feeding from a pile of something right by the ticket booth for the one running lift.

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

They were joined by some Steller’s Jays, both of which were feeding from a pile of something right by the ticket booth for the one running lift.

Steller's Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Steller’s Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Gray Jay, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

And this red squirrel was also doing it’s best to look for some food amid the snow.

Red Squirrel, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Red Squirrel, Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

And the fall colors, as much as we get in NM, were in full swing.

Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

Santa Fe Ski Basin NM

After getting three lifers today, and challenge birds, I’m down to 20 left from the guidebook.  And if you count the ones that I saw outside of New Mexico, I have 11 left, of which I should be able to get half of those.
Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balloon Fiesta!

This week was the 42nd International Balloon Fiesta, and my 3rd, here in Albuquerque.  If you have never been to it, it is amazing.  The size and scope of the balloons is really hard to describe.  The sheer number of balloons in the sky at one time is awe-inspiring and seeing the various special shapes flying is mind-blowing.   This year had the most flying years since we’ve moved here with only 1 day being cancelled due to high winds.  And the winds that day ended up being so bad that a train West of ABQ was actually blown off of the tracks.  But the rest of the days gave quite a show.

My family went to the launch ground at Balloon Fiesta Park on 2 mornings and we watched from our house the rest of the days.  Being on the ground is really worth the trip at least once.  My wife’s employer is one of the sponsors and put on a good time for the employees and families by offering hot drinks, breakfast and a great view.  I’m going to post a lot of photos here and will let them speak for themselves as much as I can.

Each flying day begins with the Dawn Patrol.  A few balloons equipped with running lights that lead the way and check the winds for everyone else.

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Propane burner

Propane burner

Raising the Colors at dawn.

Raising the Colors at dawn.

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Annabell the flying cow

Annabell the flying cow

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oops

oops

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Zia Balloon

Zia Balloon

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Balloon in the Bosque, there are so many in the air at once that landing spots can be slim pickens.

Balloon in the Bosque, there are so many in the air at once that landing spots can be slim pickens.

And here are some views from our house in Rio Rancho, which is North-West of Balloon Fiesta Park.

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touchdown!

touchdown!

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That’s it for the balloon photos.  I hope that everyone uses the Fiesta as an excuse to visit Albuquerque and New Mexico.  I’ll certainly miss it for the next few years while we’ll be away.

 

Cheers!