Blog Connect with Nature Notes from the Road

10 Aug 2016
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Birds of La Cienega

Great horned owls

Sunrise News
Last November a member of our Sunrise family lost her mother, and she had to spend several months organizing a memorial to properly honor her. This sad task was made more difficult since the staff member’s mother lived across the country. On the upside, several cousins, now in their 80s, were able to reunite after not having seen each other since adolescence. Unfortunately, the staff member was caught in the Southwest Airlines’ computer glitch on the return trip home, but she was able to stay with some friends in a resort town, which wasn’t a bad backup plan.

Birds of La Cienega
Over the last few years my wife Ellie and I have become avid bird watchers. One of the highlights has been watching red-tailed hawks and great horned owls alternate using the same nest in a large cottonwood just below our house. Three years ago two red-tailed hawks were raised the nest, last year three great-horned owlets took the nest over, and this year the hawks have returned with another two offspring. The new young hawks are about 2/3 the size of their parents and have beren practicing their flying skills among the lower branches and trees near their nest.

For smaller birds, our front yard has two bird baths and an array of feeders. Our feathered visitors include small flocks of red winged blackbirds, crowds of magpies, orioles, grosbeaks, thrashers, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, and we recently were pleasantly surprised with a brief visit from a yellow-headed blackbird. Among the thrashers we have “Lefty” with a damaged right wing and “Hop” who maneuvers around on one leg. This is Lefty’s second season and given his limited flying ability we are amazed he is still around.

In late spring we welcome the colorful summer and western tanagers as they migrate through the area. We have seen eagles and an array of other hawks and falcons often on migration paths through the valley. In fall it is the flickers who appear in masse to feed on the seed/berries from the Virginia Creeper vines that grow on our backyard fence. At this time of year, we are invaded by great numbers of hummingbirds who are in preparation for their long migratory trips to Southern Mexico and Central America where they spend the winter months.

We have, of course have a resident roadrunner, seen on occasion carrying a recently caught lizard. We always enjoy the majestic flight of the great blue herons with their long legs dangling behind them as they fly from pond to pond feeding. In the pasture/fields below out house there are killdeer, meadowlarks and other birds not interested in the free food at our house. Early evening, we see swallows, flycatchers and night hawks feeding in the sky above us and it is also the best time to see our resident great horned owls as they begin the night of hunting for food.

Some years ago Ellie and I were involved in an owl rescue. We had been at an event at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas and were driving back to our home on Blue Horse Ranch when we saw something “furry” in the road ahead of us. I got out of my truck to see what it was. It was an injured owlet with an open cut from falling out of the tree. Very coincidentally there had been two animal recuse groups at the museum that day. We got the owlet back to Las Golondrinas in good condition and three months later a new screech owl was released in the valley.

It is apparent we have found La Cienega to be a bit of a bird paradise and Ellie and I enjoy the constant avian entertainment

The Feast of Saint Ildefonso Continued
The second day of the Feast of San Ildefonso begins at daybreak. As Ellie and I drove back up to San Ildefonso we talked about the amazing experience we had the night before. When we drove onto the Pueblo land we were directed away from the Pueblo’s main entrance down a road that runs along the Rio Grande River and then turns up toward the Pueblo’s Plaza. We parked in well-defined parking area that was filled with many other visitors.

The sun was rising as we walked up toward the Plaza. Along the way there were a series of signs directing us and the other the visitors to the place where we could all observe the ritual. The visitors were gathered behind a row of cottonwood logs that run along the road that bisects the Plaza some distance from the singers and drummers. We were facing south and east toward one central entrance to the Plaza where Ellie and I had entered the night before. The drummers and singers were positioned at that entrance just below a hill.

As they began to drum and sing a large bonfire was lit at the top of the hill, a very large bonfire with plumes of dark smoke drifting into the clear blue sky. From the visitor’s vantage point just below the smoke we could see movement as the animal dancers were called down from the mountain. In the distance the animal dancers could be seen moving down the side of the hill in crossing patterns on a path of switchbacks. As the dancers entered the plaza and began dancing near the kiva the entire Pueblo community dressed in their finest clothes (part of the tradition) came out to watch and suddenly the plaza was filled with the most vivid colored coats and blankets. It was amazing and something we will never forget.

Guest Comments from the Road
One couple who were repeat guests talked about how their Sunrise experience had inspired them to incorporate more “nature bathing” experiences in the backyard of their new home.

“Sunrise is the right place for me.”


Carl Dickens

Carl Dickens, Human Resources Coordinator
Carl Dickens grew up in New Mexico, his parents having met and fallen in love here. After a brief stint in Alaska, the family returned to the warmth and light of the high desert. Carl was raised in the farming community of Los Ranchos, in the North Valley of Albuquerque, among alfalfa fields and arroyos. He began working at Sunrise Springs in 1984, the same year he and his young family moved to the valley. Carl remained at Sunrise Springs for five years, returning again in September of 2012. Carl is active in the local community and is passionate about the history of the area, preserving its agricultural traditions and water conservation.