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The Amateur Birder's Journal - Words & Pictures by J R Compton
Birds of West Texas, New Mexico & Arizona

All words and images © 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in any form.

Index of Pages

Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari Rooster - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Tucumcari Rooster

Anna and I vacationed on the North Rim of the Grand Can in mid-September. At least that was our ultimate goal. We visited a lot of places there, back and beyond.

Up Central New Mexico, across its top left corner past the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Four Corners, into the Canyon, down to Sedona, later back across I-40 to Central New Mexico, finally back across West Texas, we took photographs, many of birds and bird-like objects.

These are the best of those, in vague chronology. Later, I'll do a closer chron of the extra-avian portion of our vacation — lots of big holes and wide expanses, but this Amateur Journal version is first.

Blue Swallow Motel Sign - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Swallow Motel Sign

Once the motel center of the western world, now a ghosting town of empty and abandoned buildings, Tucumcari, New Mexico was our first night's stop, tired from our long trek across West Texas. We'd seen Turkey Vultures out there, of course. They're everywhere.

But the Turkey and his buddies were our first officially photographed birds on the trip. We found them in an area of downtown that's wall to wall buildings nobody uses, where a wild tribe of roosters roams the sidewalks and streets ablaze in the glory of their colors and the faded colors of bygone city glory.

Tipi Motel Sign with Owl - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Tepee Motel Sign with Owl

It's a town where birds on motel signs are common. I remember years-ago signs promising thousands of motel rooms in Tucumcari. Most of those are empty now, abandoned and decaying. We stayed in a newish one with funky decorations on each door or porch area. We chose it for its life-sized plastic palm trees.

 

Eastern New Mexico High Desert

JL TV - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Johnathan Livingston Turkey Vulture

I've mentioned Turkey Vultures' ubiquiosity. If you don't get up close and personal with these otherwise noble and elegant birds; if you don't get into their business of consuming carrion — they are the ultimate recyclers — but only stand back and watch them soar, they are the Jonathan Livingston Seagulls of the extra-urban world.

Graceful in flight, long riders of the thermals and the wind.

TV Profile - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Turkey Vulture in Profile

Years ago I leaned out a car window eight feet away from a gathering of these critters ripped flesh from a rotting cow corpse along a highway near Big Bend and photographed them on long-lost film. They didn't mind me watching. Their faces are neither pretty as this fly-by photo seems, nor as noble.

Red, featherless faces seem raw, repulsive (though less disgusting than our own, Dallas Muscovy Ducks). But nothing like the valiant hawk the TVs seem from afar.

TV Soaring - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Turkey Vulture Soaring

Beautiful in flight, expressive in the air, Turkey Vultures are related to storks. Storks bringeth; Turkey Vultures taketh away.

First time I saw one many years ago, I assumed it was an eagle. Who else could be so magnificent aloft?
 

Red-tailed Hawk - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Fierce Red-tailed Hawk

I saw this large bird flying along the edge of a desert dropping down from the highway, and pulled the car off the nearly deserted road, click-click-clicking my camera, wishing I could follow its flying arcs through the car's window posts.

From the start, I knew this mass of motley feathers was something special, again suspecting an eagle. It is big, fluffy with brown mottled and striped feathers, its face fierce with that large, hooked beak — the better for tearing flesh.

Not till I hit the bird books that evening did I discover those tell-tale red brown feathers at its far end told its name.

Red-tailed Hawk Feathers - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Red-tailed Hawk Feathers

Many years ago, my dear friend the late artist Iron Eyes gifted me two Red-tailed Hawk feathers for protection. I carried them hanging from my rear-view mirror for nearly a decade, and despite my driving I lived through several accidents including one that should have been fatal.

Another magical friend recently gifted me feathers a wild Indiana hawk donated in molting. Those graced Anna's car on our trip and will return to my own rear-view.

Since that first gifting, I've felt a kinship. They're not talismans, more a symbol for a protective force. An identity with spirit.

The Las Vegas (NM) Cardinals - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Las Vegas (New Mexico) Cardinals

 

Abiquiú, New Mexico

White-headed Abiquiu Unsub - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Abiquiú Unsub

Another always is me stopping to drive slow around and through whenever I'm around abiquiu (pronounced ab-bih'-koo.), where once Georgia O'Keefe wandered with pencils and paint, capturing the soul of this arid land, its unique protrusions and patterns, while she taught there, then returned to live.

Her art made this area famous.

Abiquiu Unsub - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

and again

Again, my photos interpreting my projections of her dreams by imaging the same bumps will be in the other, eventual trip page. Here rendered are the birds we stumbled upon there, most of which we found along a partially paved road along the Chama river.

Brown & White Freefall - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.  Abiquiu White Tailed Something - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Brown & White Free Faller and
White-tailed Brown-winged Climber may
all be the same as the unsubs
both above and below.

We stopped to watch that river ripple, hoping for new birds. And we found some we still haven't identified, somersaulting through the air for the fun of it or to distract us from their nests or young or something.

It might have helped identifications if I'd got more, closer or in better focus, but these guys were moving fast.

Abiquiu Unsub on Wire - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Abiquiú Unsub on Wire, and Either the same
one or a different one on a thinner branch

Abiquiu Unsub - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

 

Doves on Roof - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Rock Doves on a Roof

Nice thing about Rock Doves. Other doves have their peculiarities of design and color. But if a dove/pigeon does not adhere to preset patterns, it's a Rock Dove, which can mean just about anything.
 

Ravens

I like ravens almost almost as much as I like Turkey Vultures and for some of the same reasons, although Ravens are not quite as ugly in the face. Both fly well — often spectacularly — and are somewhat ungainly earth-bound.

Here what I insisted on calling "Black Bouncers" for their clumsy earth travel mode, serve as a gentle visual transition from the verdant wonder of the forests to the hard red stone of the western desert, ever closer to the Grand Canyon.

Raven on Green - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Raven on Bright Landscape

 

Raven Close - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Raven Fly-by

 

Raven on SW Landscape - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Raven on Southwest Landscape

 

Raven over Desert - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Raven Over Desert

 

Raven Landing on Rock - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Raven Landing on Red Rock

 

Petrified Forest, NM

Wrong-way Raven - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wrong-way Raven

I call this bird "Wrong-way," not because it was wayward in any way. Just, moments after this close portrait, me standing maybe five feet away hoping he'd turn around so I could see his eyes better, the shiny black bird filling my frame lofted off low across the scrub, landing on the Wrong Way sign this side of the far lane, a memorable image rendered overexposed and slightly out of focus.

Wrong Way Raven and Wrong Way Sign - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Why of the Wrong-way Raven

Whereupon I climbed back into the car, and we turned into the official gateway to the Petrified Forest, and my dearest spotter spotted a Roadrunner running through the chaparral. I got several shots of its bigger portions, but this is the only one where it's identifiable. Mostly.

It were mostly moving — beep, beep — fast.

Roadrunner Guarding the Petrified Forest - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Roadrunner

 

Dino Reptile - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Bird-like Dino-reptile

First we passed high quality dinosaur models inside fences on this side of the highway. Then, still moving west, we passed miserable bad models of similar objects. This is of the higher quality. The more interesting of those shots are — you know by now — in the upcoming vacation picture portion of our Grand Can story.

This page is about birds, the only remaining dinosaurs after many millennia. This is the most bird-like of the dinos along the side of the road, to remind us where they came from.

Unsub Flock - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Unsub Highway Flock

 

Northwest New Mexico
& Northeast Arizona

The first Magpie I saw sauntered in the grass (below) near the back stairway of a trading post where I bought a bottle of dreamsicle pop on our way along the backbone of the lower Rockies in northwest New Mexico before entering Northeast Arizona.

My First Magpie - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

My First Magpie

I thought it was injured. Its movement addled on ground. Its side seemed bandaged. A dark blue bird with white bandage bouncing clumsily along. Big beak like a raven, long tail and bulky body.

I was surprised when it took to the air. I hadn't thought it could. Its bright white wing stripes flashed like a major Mockingbird. Something special in the air.

Magpie Fly - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Magpie Fly

Luckily — happily for us — Magpies peppered our journey. In the next few days I got to watch many of them forage, perch and fly. They were fun to watch.

Magpie Fly (Obverse) - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Magpie Fly (Reverse)

Another surprise was the big white concentric of circles on their backsides and their white tail.

Magpie Flapping White - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Magpie Flapping White

Unsub in Tree - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Black-billed Magpie in Tree

Unsub Flying from Tree - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Vertical Take Off

 

Starlings - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

European Starlings with Magpies Nearby

 

Unsub Walking - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Unsub Walking near Starlings and Magpies — a Shiny Cowbird?

 

North Rim, Grand Canyon

 

Turkeys Crossing - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Three Merriam's Turkeys Crossing
Our Road to the Grand Can

Twice along our way to the big hole we saw these wild turkeys not listed in the National Geo tome we took along to I.d birds new to us, although Anna later found them on a website. They do look like the female wild American Turkey, meleagris gallopavo, that Ben Franklin wanted to be our national bird.

We later asked the guy at the North Rim Info Center, and he mumbled something we first took to be "Meer's" Turkeys, but later learned they are called Merriam's.

Design Turkey - coppyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Merriam's Turkey showing ornate
featheration near the North Rim

I saw in their lighter markings and texture groupings prototypical shapes and textures used by Native Americans of many local persuasions, including Miembres (in southwestern New Mexico) in their pots and baskets and other objects, ever since.

I was not able to focus on those markings, barely got this one bird, finally in focus, even though a quiet herd of them wandered slowly over the grounds of our North-Rim motel. We would have liked to stay longer but at $103 a night, it strained our budgets. I suspect we only barely began to discover the avian diversity around the rim. I may have to go back camping in my car.

Fountain Statues - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Fountain Statues (Tame American Robins?)

When Anna spotted these blatant little critters standing at the edge of a stone fountain on our way to the Lodge and called my attention to them, I stared blankly. Took me awhile, as it had she, to realize they weren't little statues out there to remind us about the animal life all around us.

They were real birds. Those bright colors are real, and we walked within three feet of them. I even had to back up to focus. A few moments later, after several shots, they flew away.

Unsubs Against the Grand Canyon - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Soaring Unsubs Against the Grand Canyon

Sometimes birds seem so important. Other times their scale to the local reality reminds us of our place in this same reality. I almost used a small crop of this shot with just the birds and the nearby lit cliff edges, but I love this ultimate grandeur of wide spaces.

Jay on Tree on the Edge - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Steller's Jay at The Edge of the Grand Can

We never found a book or brochure of Arizona or New Mexico birds, although I kept expecting one to pop up at any moment. We learned new names for some new (to us) birds, asked people who we thought should know and kept the pages of my Nat'l Geo handbook busy flipping through.

Shy Jay - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Shy Steller's Jay
Near North Rim Cabins

But we never did identify some of the birds we saw and  photographed. We're not giving up yet, but sometimes my photos did not provide enough information. Like the following tyke perched on not quite as precarious limb right on the edge of the canyon. It took a looong time to figure out this unsub.

Unsub is TV cop show for UNidentified SUBject.

Tree Unsub - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

This little one could well
be a Pygmy Nuthatch.

 

Coconino Oak Forest, Arizona

Yellow Unsub at Oak Vortex - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow Unsub at Oak Vortex

I didn't know it when we were there, primarily for the "overlook" the signs proclaimed, but that stop in the Coconino was of one of the so-called Sedona vortexes, though it is some distance from that city.

I did feel especially good there, wanted to stay, but we were on the way to the Sedona Airport Vortex that I thought was the only easily accessible one, and a(n unbeknownst) very different experience, so we left the Oaks before I could capture as much of its avian diversity as I wanted.

Yellow Unsub (back) - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The same or other Yellow Unsub (back)

And yes, I felt really good there. It was one of my favorite places on the trip, but we were in a hurry to get back from Sedona, on one of the few non-urban roads we backtracked (gorgeous highway well worth tracking), but I remember longingly watching it go past that second time, wanting to be there again.

I probably will, especially after our negative experience at the airport vortex I'd visited five years ago a much more positive and noticeable experience. Green green trees and vivid yellow flowers and lots of little birds in the Oak Forest.

We didn't see many birds in Sedona, though there were gobs of statues and shopping and new commercial growth since my last visit.

Blue Unsub in Oak Vortex - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Unsub in Oak Forest

 

Central New Mexico High Desert

Flight of White Faced Ibises - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

6 of 7 White Faced Ibises Fly Overhead

All through the trip I imagined me standing in the grass or dirt somewhere, maybe on the edge of a large hole, shooting bird after bird after bird, most of whom I could not name. I'd have to look them up. That night, at the end of the trip with them and their colors and shape splayed across my monitor. Big with detail enough to begin to tell their own stories. All of them in sharp focus too, of course.

Singular Ibis - Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Abiquiu Unsub Flop Flying

White Faced Ibis
(detail of above photo)

It started to happen in the Oak Forest but we had to leave earlier than I would have liked. It did, finally happen in the parking lottish front yard at John and Julie and Jackson's house in a green spot off the high desert of Central New Mexico. One of those unconventionally beautiful places he always finds.

I got to stand out there shooting unsubs four times. Twice in the morning and twice later in the afternoon, near to evening. Some of the birds I photographed in those sparkling moments are birds I'd shot the last or the next time, too.

Dove on Lamp - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Dove on Lamp over JJJ's House

But once in a miracle or two, something very odd would fly overhead. One time in the blazing afternoon sun two Turkey Vultures flew close together, even touching, over the big tree in JJJ's back yard. The other time was the Ibises.

Barn Swallow - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Barn Swallows Barnstorm the air for flying insects.

Seven odd-shaped birds flew in formation high above me as I stood and spun around shooting at dark shapes in the sky in front of John and Julie and Jackson's house somewhere in mostly rural, largely Indian Central New Mexico.

Lake Gull - Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Abiquiu Unsub Flop Flying

Ring-billed Gull
at Cochiti Lake

I didn't know what they were till I studied their images enlarged significantly on the camera that night, staring through the long-neck birds in my National Geo bird book.

Hawk Nest - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cochiti Lake Hawk Nest

The tribe keeps a nest site clear and safe for returning hawks. Near a telephone pole along the main road near the lake.

Blue Unsub with White Wing Tips - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.  Unsub Upsidedown - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Unsub with White Wingtips and
a Whitish bird divebombing

<< More bird stories on the JuneJuly, August, September, October and whatever month this is Amateur
Birder's Journal, our walking journey along The White Rock Trail and my paddle up White Rock Creek.
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All text and photographs
copyright 2006 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved.

No reproduction in any
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without specific written permission.

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