Tuesday, April 6

Tree creatures

I got my river walk in this morning close to noon. Wind-whipped waters. A few Canadian geese still hanging around. Great huge sun-bleached cottonwood trees like beached creatures lying prone beside the river. Looking like great huge grey-almost white bones. I don't think the trees ever have been in the river but they could have been. They are old and are certainly in the flood plain.

Saturday, April 3

Hiking on the mesa & why mockingbirds mock

I hiked for about 35 minutes on top of West Mesa --- such a nice place. Some wind but not bad. Yellow grass bending in the wind. Bird songs carried by the wind.

There, I can see for 75 or so miles to the north to the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Sante Fe,
to the east I see the nearby Sandia Mountains, and to the west, the extinct volcanoes. But mostly, I bask in a vast open area of sky, clouds and grassland. I heard meadowlarks and mockingbirds singing.

Later, at home, I wondered why mocking birds imitate calls of other birds. What possible benefit could they get from such behavior? Birds usually sing to attract a mate or defend territory. How could singing another species' song help?

So, I looked up mockingbirds and learned the males are indeed trying to attract female mockingbirds by increasing the size of their repertoire.

Apparently, the mockingbird doesn't fool other birds all of the time. Maybe a mockingbird can effectively copy a repetitive song like the Carolina wren's or a red-winged blackbird but not long complicated songs like the song sparrow's. The mockingbird female, however, knows a male mockingbird when she hears one, no matter what song he imitates.

A male might have 50 to 200 songs in his repertoire and continues learning new ones all his life. Females sing, too, but not as much as males. Mockingbirds sing the loudest in early morning twilight, but also sing at night, especially if the moon is full, they are male and single.

Actually, we don't fully understand why a mockingbird mimics other birds' songs. The increased-repertoire theory seems reasonable and is probably true. Bird experts have hypothesized other reasons too:
  • defending an individual mockingbird's territory against others within his species
  • promoting recognition of an individual mockingbird
  • deceiving competitors by making it appear that many of the competitor's predators live in the area.
The birds also mimic other animals and mechanical sounds (such as car alarms).

Tuesday, March 9

A walk along the Rio Grande River

I had a nice long river walk today. About an hour and 10 minutes worth and my legs feel fine, at least now. I went north this time and ended up beside the river for most of the northerly jaunt. But then veered west along a maintenance road that apparently services those angle metal beam fences placed perpendicular to the river to control flooding, I guess. These fences were in the flood plain but high and dry.

When I realized how long I'd walked, I turned around to head back to the car, but thought I'd like to walk south along the river if I could, not in the bosque where I was. I found an easterly river-bound path and followed it to a wide sandy area where the river once flowed but now is considerably west of the present river bed.

I tried to fight my way through willows to the river but it soon looked like more trouble than it was worth so I stumbled my way back to the sandy area and went south again. Soon I came to game trail heading east again through the thicket to the river. I went along it and, sure enough, reached the wide flowing river.

Waterfowl galore --- a whole flock of Canadian geese floating on the river. Actually they were paddling upstream but staying stationary with respect to me as the current carried them downstream at about the same speed as their upstream paddling. Two geese were standing on a mudflat and looked so huge I first thought they were swans, silhouetted against the sun.

Many different types of ducks. Mallard ducks, which I recognized, and others. Bird cries, squawks, honks. I could have walked right up to an island where ducks waddled but didn't want to scare them. I headed back inland, walked a bit more south and followed another path back to the river, which I followed to the bridge and then to the car.

It was beautiful. A river full of birds, cottonwood-tree bare branches against the blue sky, white clouds, and the white Sandias.

Saturday, March 22

A bird mystery, and spring has come (maybe)

18 March

I took another escarpment walk this afternoon. All kinds of critters emerging and leaving tracks in the sandy trail. I'm pretty sure I saw kangaroo rat tracks, among the usual rabbit, mouse and quail tracks. I also saw a bird that I'd never seen before. About robin size, with white tail feathers he constantly flipped and a slim head, sort of like a loons, that he held pointed up with a long beak, somewhat reminiscent of a blue heron's. He made a low, croaking sound. A mystery.

20 March

It was actually hot, coming down the escarpment today. Saw a hawk tilting his wings,
hunting. Also, I solved the bird mystery: he's an immature meadowlark. The first day I saw him, he could barely sing. It was more a croak. Today he almost sounded like a meadowlark — much more melodious — and his chest feathers had deepened from white to a light yellow. Both times he lifted his long beak high to sing. That's why it was pointed up a couple of days ago, when I first spotted him.

Western meadowlark. Photo courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service

Additional information: Western meadowlark
Average length 9.5 in (20 cm)

Song is a series of bubbling, flute-like notes, accelerating towards the end.

Saturday, December 22

Bright Mars

20 December. We gazed at Mars in the early evening about 8:30. Looking to the east and a little north, it was easy to see — big, bright and yellow. It was even brighter than Sirius, and stays brighter until 3 January.

On the 18th of December Mars reached its closest distance (54,783, 380 mi, 88 165 305 km) to Earth; it will not get closer until 2016.

It's lucky we looked when we did. Mars will actually get brighter on 24 December, when its in opposition with the Sun (exactly opposite the Sun with Earth in the middle). But during January, Earth leaves Mars fast: The distance between them increases by about 30% — from 56.7 to 72.3 million miles, in a month. And Mars fades in brightness a full magnitude.

Saturday, December 15

Examining snowflakes

14 December.

Snow on our mountain home with a warm fire burning inside.

Snow fell all day long, covering trees and ground. Watching snow fall, Lanney and I wondered what a snowflake looked like close up. Sure, we'd seen pictures of symmetrical beauties glistening in the light, but would we really see such beauty, or would we see just globs of snow?

We fished out a small magnifying glass (not the big 'Sherlock Holmses' kind) that magnified about 5 times. We stuck a tee shirt in the freezer, and let it get cold. Then, armed with proper equipment, we went to the upstairs balcony, where snow was falling all around. We held the cold tee shirt out to catch flakes, then closed in on individual ones with the magnifier. Our breath tended to melt the flakes.

The flakes melted fast. Finally, I managed to spot a lacy-six-pointed individual snowflake next to a cluster. It shimmered like a small diamond. Soon after, so did Lanney. Most flakes were not symmetrical. All melted fast, so we looked fast. But they are just as lovely as pictured. And fun, when you discover them yourself.

Friday, December 14

A few flakes

Photo courtesy of Jerome Mathey and Wikipedia.

11 December. By the time I went escarpment hiking, today, it was in the low 40's. Got colder as I climbed. To the east, rain (or snow?) squalls swirled across parts of the city and mountains. To the west, a misty veil crept over the volcanoes. Fearing rain heading my way — I started to jog home. The squall, however, did not come directly east to me. Instead, it swept from the volcanoes in a great arc to the north. Snow (not rain) started to fall, as I headed out. The first snow of the season.