Sunday, January 12, 2020

Road Trip

This Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay isn't stupid.  The bird is waiting for a handout in the tourist heavy Garden of the Gods

I love the idea of road trips, but as I'm getting older, I don't have the patience to sit for 11 hours in a vehicle like I used to. That is the amount of time it takes to get from Tucson to Colorado Springs IF you don't make long stops. And how can a birder pass up such fantastic birding hotspots like Bosque Del Apache?!  I like to meander to my final destination spot. 

Orion is a human beaver hybrid
I agreed to do the trek because I wanted to see our family and because I didn't want Micheal driving alone during the holidays.  It's a dangerous drive between the border of New Mexico and Colorado.  We've had so many issues going through the Raton Pass.  Between a serious tire blow out to the pass becoming slippery due to an icy storm passing through the area, we've had our share of mishaps.  This trip would be no different.  A rock fell off a cliff and hit a car knocking the car off the highway.  The other car driving behind that car ran over the huge rock and blew their tires out.  The rock pieces?  Well those flew onto my windshield cracking my front window! We dodged a bullet and I called my insurance to have the crack fixed.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but unfortunately both cars were in bad shape. 

During a stroll in a nearby cemetery, I enjoy watching Fox Squirrels chase each other around the grounds. 

I like to take things slow and I needed to take a break.  My body has been healing and I didn't want to overdo it.  So there were two requirements.  If I took my car Betty to Colorado, we needed to stay an evening in Socorro, close to Bosque El Apache.  I needed that moment when the sun began to set and the birds began to fly over our heads to put myself together. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. The video below is just one moment from a long one I had while watching the miracle of Sandhill Cranes and other waterfowl fly over my head. 

The following morning we left Socorro for Colorado Springs, but we stopped in Pecos, New Mexico for breakfast.  And at this cozy restaurant, we saw the most beautiful holiday tree.  I sat sipping my coffee next to the fire trying to memorize all the details of that gorgeous tree. Those are the moments from a road trip that I enjoy.  

Sometimes I'd love to shrink myself and get lost in the majesty of a holiday tree like Chip and Dale did in that Christmas special so many decades ago.
As we headed north towards the Colorado border, we began to see Black-billed Magpies, a sign that we were getting closer. 

Black-billed Magpie
We arrived at a nice time in the Colorado Springs area.  It was still light out.  Never drive into or out of this city at night.  There are many elk and deer along the way.  And had we been driving through the Raton area at night, I would have never seen that rock fall onto the pass. I have never experienced near death experiences like the one we had during our wedding when our tire blew out at night while trying to get home.  A man with a hook for a hand came and towed Micheal's car to his place to pick "some things up".  He proceeded to get into a fight with his girlfriend and then left his trailer.  Once inside his tow truck during that LOOOOONG drive to Trinidad, he began telling us about how Trinidad was the transgender capital of the world. Where was he going with that story? In fact, where am I going with this story? Once we got to Trinidad, a tire shop tried to sell us huge tires because Micheal's car was foreign and they didn't have his tires. Our only spare was not going to get us home as it was 8 hours away. I walked all over that small town the following morning finding the only two foreign tires that would fit his car for that long drive home. 26 bucks!  That's all it cost. Had we gone with the bigger tires, we would have paid around 400 dollars and had vehicle damage!  As you can imagine, it probably explains why I am not a big fan of the Raton Pass and I'm traumatized for life. 

Poor Bee Bee.  She's not a lap dog at all. 
Once we arrived into the Colorado Springs area, we had a nice visit with the family. And while there wasn't anything new in the birding category for me to find, I finally got to observe not one or two Cackling Geese but thousands! In Arizona, they are rare. But in the Springs area, they were everywhere!  Many years ago, I created several Ebird Hotspots in that city so I felt like it was my duty to do a count around those three local parks. And that is where I discovered my Cackling Geese.  

A Cackling Goose comes in for a landing
Just when I thought there was nothing new to discover, I was reminded again about how wrong I can be.  I assumed all the geese were Canada Geese, but while out in the field, I was getting a Cackling Goose vibe. Surely, Cackling Geese were rare for Colorado.  When I went back to the in laws, I got on my computer and looked up the data and discovered that Cackling Geese(Richardson's subspecies) wintered in the Colorado Springs area!  So cool!

An easy ID for this Cackling Goose, a white line at the base of the short neck, dark back, short bill, square head makes it perfect for the Richardson's subspecies. 
I went back the next day at the same time and studied the various subspecies really well.  It was the first time that I was able to really get close and observe field marks. It's not always obvious.  How does one tell the difference between the Taverner's subspecies from a "Lesser" Canada Goose!?!  It's not easy.  But the bill is usually the first field mark we have to look at.  And that's not always a great one to use.  A Taverner's bill isn't as small and triangular like the other subspecies of Cackling Geese.  But it's not quite as long as the Lesser Canada Goose either. 

Cackling Geese are easy to pick out when next to their larger relatives, the Canada Goose.  This Richardson's subspecies is about a third of the size of the related Canada Goose
I spent so much time studying them that I forgot about the time. I went in the morning and the next thing I knew, it was lunch time!  I had told Gordon before our road trip that Colorado birding this time of year is pretty uneventful.  And I was wrong in a good way. It's not Arizona birding but it's fun.  Plus I got to add American Tree Sparrow to my 2020 year list!

The Richardson's Cackling Goose is the main subspecies to winter in Colorado.  It is possible to find Taverner's mixed in with this group.  Source: Utah Birds
We took nature walks during the early afternoon.  It would be cool to cold depending on wind gusts. And daylight was a premium.  It was a constant battle to get any birding done because the sunrise was late and due to the shadow of the mountain, the sun set early. 

There's a great place to bird near Colorado Springs in the town of Fountain.  It's a lovely preserve that goes along a river.  During our walk we discovered that beavers had been busy.  We also had a Great Horned Owl fly out from the trees over our heads.  

My nephew Orion finds an old wasp's nest. I spy my first-of-the-year(FOY) American Robin. 

American Robin
There are places that we always seem to go visit when we're in Colorado Springs like the Fountain Creek Regional Park, Pike's Peak, and of course, the amazing Garden of the Gods

Now I've taken you all there once or twice before, but it's impossible not to enjoy these spaces over and over again. 

I personally like the gift shop there.  They have affordable art to hang on your walls and a fun restaurant where you can enjoy the beautiful outside.  And it was there, I added my first 2020 Townsend's Solitaire!

We had a lovely time.  It seems to speed up when we are there.  I also noticed my pain was gone for most of our visit.  Strange but it was a nice break from my side aches. 

Honestly, I don't know what this year will bring.  I've left much of it open.  I have visitors coming to go birding with me and I am really looking forward to spending some great time outdoors showing them my beautiful part of the world. If and I mean IF, this body gets back on track, I am organizing treks to Florida, the Darien Gap in Panama, and on the big island of Hawaii (or O'ahu). For now, I look forward to peaceful weekends with my cats in the catio, a nice stroll close to home, and doing some work in my garden. Until next time....


  1. Hello, the long drive and road trips are hard but also fun! I am glad you survived the rock hitting the window and the flat tire. Your trips coming sound awesome. Great collection of photos. Happy Birding, enjoy your new week ahead.

    1. Yes they are! We barely missed that rock with the crazy drivers. So glad to have a bigger vehicle now!
      Happy New Eileen!!!

  2. I know what you mean about road trips - the mind is keen, but the body rebellious! That magpie look very similar to the ones I saw in the UK (Pica pica) etc on my recent trip.

    Great set of pictures.

    Cheers - Stewart M - (finally back in) Melbourne

    1. LOL! The Magpie is almost identical to their Eurasian counterpart. They're just as vocal there as they are here:)

  3. Hello,
    What a great pictures. So nice to see all the wonderful birds. So special to see the one with the blue colors.
    And what a funny shot is picture 2. Very nice!!

    Best regards,

    1. Thanks Marco for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the birds. The blue ones make me happy too:)

  4. Interesting post and fabulous photos. Wasp nests always fascinate me they are so clever and patterned. Have a good week, Diane

    1. I couldn't believe he found TWO! Their patterning is striking. It's nature's paper.

  5. The trip sounds good apart from the horrifying pass! Lovely photos and the Christmas Tree is just stunning. Good news too about the Cackling Geese :)

    1. I think you would have liked it. I had some wonderful tea and some lovely carrot cake:)

  6. Thank you for sharing the beauty and danger and excitement of your trip! Seems like you made some "unique" memories along the way. Boulders? Yikes! We have no such things in nice, flat Florida. :)

    I really enjoyed your superb photographs and must admit the Scrub Jay is a favorite, only because we have a local population of Florida Scrub Jays nearby. They are nearly identical to Woodhouse's.

    Your post is really special, though, due to the clip from Bosque del Apache. My son took me camping there last year and your video immediately brought to mind thousands of cranes and geese, cold sunrises, gorgeous sunsets, song-dogs and so much more. Thank you!

    Hope your pain stays away!

    1. Thank you sir:) I'm slowly healing. I love your Florida Scrub-Jays. You are very lucky to live near a population. I remember one landing on my head and it so cool. I have a selfie with that special bird.

      Bosque Del Apache is a very special place. I love that town nearby as well. We stayed in San Antonio. Have you been to the Owl's Bar? It's a local favorite and while I couldn't have one this time around, I've enjoyed their burgers in the past.

      I hope you have a great weekend and find some excellent birds. I'm sure Florida is like Arizona in that winter birding is so nice. I hate the summer birding. The heat and humidity is out of this world!


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