Friday, September 17, 2010

New Mexico, mechanics and zooties

Friday, Sep 17, 2010

The first important thing was a squealing in the front brakes that had become sorta persistent. My mechanic in Arkansas just before I left had mentioned that the squealers would go off when the brakes got thin, and I considered that a providential "heads-up", after going through the piece of grit and dusty roads stages of denial. And I quickly recalled that my friend Beth in Glenwood had mentioned that she had a good shade tree mechanic there, so I set my course for her place. First I had to stop in Taos to meet up with another friend, but I got a message at the library there that they were not well, so I got the battery charged again and kept driving.

I took a scenic back road, labeled the "high road to Taos", which was really nice until I hit the fifteen miles of construction. The next time it'll be faster if I ever get back that way. This time it was twenty mph torn up dirt. Finally got back on pavement but it led through Santa Fe for miles of traffic and boring monochromatic pseudo-Spanish architecture, so called. The Interstate into Albuquerque was faster, but when I tried to get to the Rio Grande Valley Nature Center, the last intersection that the GPS showed as the final turn for the approach was actually an underpass and then a parkway for several miles with no way off. It wasn't even easy to get turned around, and I ended up skipping the Nature Center since I still had to get to Socorro and up to Water Canyon.

Finally made it there, around sundown. Another beautiful sleep on the ground night, with the bonus of a Western Screech-Owl. Perfect ending to a pretty good day. I wanted to be there for the chance of a Flammulated Owl, but just didn't have the gumption to do more than walk the road by the campground for a ways, nothing dramatic like a drive up the mountain. Wanted to be there for an early start to see the Very Large Array (VLA) on the Plains of San Augustin.

Saturday, Sep 18

Good sleep and good start, Got to the VLA before the VC opened, but walked around the tour path and took pictures. The VC had some very informative exhibits, I watched the film, talked to the nice woman in charge, bought a notebook, and just grooved on really amazing technology that's not for war or profit.

I got to Beth's in Glenwood around noon, set the computer charging, found her at her station at the roadside market along the highway, and generally everything was copacetic. I birded around the fish hatchery, got some NM tics, took a nap. When Beth got back, I met CJ the mechanic, who pulled the front brakes and found them paper thin, but no gouged rotors. Fixable with simple pad replace. I had been told to replace all four wheels since it's an AWD vehicle, but opted for the economy move with the proviso to service all wheels and replace some rotors when the rear started squealing. It was Yom Kippur, so Beth let me break her fast with her at sundown. A very good healthy meal was appropriate, got us talking about regrets and learning from mistakes.

Once it got dark we got a great sky show, Venus was ultra bright to go with Jupiter, and I'd found an illustration that showed how to find Uranus right next to Jupiter, so that was the first time I found it on my own, and not seeing it through a scope pointed by someone else. Then she broke out this amazing device called a tent-cot, which at first I thought would be some incompetent hybrid, but it was great. A little heavy, but well made, roomy, and comfortable. Slept great.

Sunday, Sep 19

I went over to the hatchery early, then came back to the house to wait for the brake pads being brought from Silver City by another friend, Diana. She arrived around noon, since she and Beth were conducting a tile mosaic project by local kids at the Community Center. CJ went to work on the wagon, and I went over to watch the art work. The kids had already laid out the outlines of various horse images culled from magazines and what-not, each figure was 8-10 feet long and maybe six high. Then they went through the boxes of tiles that they'd made and decided on what pieces and colors went to each figure. All the work and all the decisions belonged to the kids, all that Beth and Diana did was keep the work flow going in a sensible order, no actual decisions from them. The whole business was fascinating.

I had a sit-down lunch at a diner along the way walking home, then went to work updating the Windows install on the Dell computer. They always take longer than I think they will, what with restarts and such. CJ got the brakes done, $90 parts and labor and it stopped well and straight. Very pleased. By the time I'd driven to Silver it was past dark, I hung with Diana and Bob for awhile, then slept in their guest house.

Arizona interlude in the post below

Wednesday, Sep 22

It rained all day. I visited with old buddy Pat Mulligan in the morning, a great dose of polished curmudgeonry, refreshing like a good purge. Then I went to hang out at Diana and Bob's art supply store, and took another nap. Sorta worn out from the little trip in the Tucson heat. Had dinner at Jalisco's after Diana showed me her new work in the studio, and some projects under construction. Stayed at Laura's good bed with aura of woman after a hot sit down soaking bath. Great treat in a life of showers, does wonders for the traveling knots.

Thursday, Sep 23

The rain cleared off so I went to the Little Walnut Picnic Area and the Gomez Trails. The start was slow, but then I found a Swainson's Thrush, a Townsend's Warbler and a Mexican Jay. That was a sweet three tics. From there I went to Lake Roberts thinking I might find a White Pelican, they had been moving south earlier in the trip, but apparently hadn't made it this far south yet. Instead, a totally unexpected Sora flew out of the reeds at the parking area. I backtracked slightly to the hummingbird house of Joan Day-Martin, and found that two species had shown up that would be new for the state. The Blue-throated wasn't too hard, showed up fairly soon and was well marked. The Calliope was more of a challenge, but after about a half hour wait a significantly smaller bird arrived with wing extensions wail beyond the tail, nothing dramatic in the marking since it was a female, but it was good enough for me.

On the way back to Silver I stopped at McMillan Campground and walked up the trail behind it, I guess hoping to maybe hear a Greater Pewee. What I got instead was a Veery, a Wood Thrush and then another thrush-sized bird flew up off the ground and settled on a branch just above head height less than thirty feet away. There was a bit of foliage in front of it being used for cover while it studied me and I it. I could see the head and tail well, the head was dark with a dark thrush bill and weirdly marked, black with white speckles, like a juvenile Robin, but much darker. The tail had a white band and seemed pale along the edges, but that may have been some trick of the light. I had no idea what I was looking at except that I was certain it was a thrush. When I got back to the car I started studying the book and hit juvenile Aztec Thrush, "very rare fall vagrant in SE Arizona", that is, just on the other side of the state line. Serious Zootie.

In the meantime I was worried about the cat I had been sitting for Laura, which had disappeared. I needed to call the backup cat sitter so I could go back and try to get a picture of the bird. I thought I might rally some help if I called a guy in Silver who was a kind of authority, so I got his number from Diana, and when I called him he immediately started talking drivel. How big was it? I said, thrush size, 10 or 11 inches, although the tree it was in had leaves rather than rulers. He says they're way bigger than that, Robin sized. When I checked the field guides, Aztec was 10.25, and Robin was 11. I'm pretty sure that was the last call I'll ever make to any so-called expert. O he says, you have to see the white spot on the wing, vital to ID. Turns out the juveniles haven't developed it yet. Jerk. I finally yelled at him, said "if you want to try to make a fool of me, that's not hard to do, but what I'm trying to tell you is exactly what I saw, and if you have a different guess that fits what I saw, I want to hear it." Silence. I hung up. I went back with a camera, but the bird was gone, along with the other thrushes. Still, a very good day, now at 48% New Mexico species.

I've had about a half dozen similar conversations with pompous idiots that seem to do all their ID work with dead birds in hand and guides by their sides. They never talk like they actually go into the wild world and look at wild birds under wild weather and wild light using less than perfect eyes and optics, and their lack of any contact with wild they take as a credential rather than the crippling liability that it is, especially coupled with their inflated and unjustified egos. See the essay on official birders.

I stayed at Laura'a again, the missing cat jumped up on the bed about 4am. Shut the door and pile fresh food with cat candy on its dish.


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