Monday, November 20, 2017

AZ But Still NM

Some of you have asked if we are still in an Avian Free Zone.  In a word, no – we have moved from an AFZ to an AZ.
But, first a little bit about our viewing area – the patio.  The courtyard is completely surrounded by stucco walls – south by our neighbor’s house wall, west our garage, east our “Great Room”, and north our bedroom and a lower outside wall with a wooden gate.  At the intersection of the Great Room and our bedroom is a round dining room – and all three of these rooms have basically floor to ceiling window views of the patio.          
The ground portion of the paved outdoor area is covered with large stone slabs on the walking/sitting area, and small gravel stones in the section where our three trees (one Maple, two side-by-side Aspen) bury their roots.   The Maple, at the bedroom end of the patio, holds our three bird feeders – (1) a pottery fish which hangs horizontal to the ground allowing the birds to enter and eat in solitude and currently filled with a blend of sunflower chips, hulled white millet, and shelled peanuts; (2) a “stackable” feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited with (at the moment) food disks of Cranberry, Naturally Nuts Suet, and Peanut and Tree Nuts; and (3) a square wire cage suet feeder.
All of which is to say that we have pretty much non-stop visual access to the AZ from the time we pull back our bedroom curtains, during our meals, and through our reading/TV watching.
This is what we have been seeing.
It began with one extremely cautious chickadee’s stop-explore-and-go visit inside our fish diner.  Then, a few days later one more…then two…then several of the small black-capped birds.  According to Marsha’s research in our “Birds of New Mexico” Field Guide all of these guys are Mountain Chickadees.
We also now are getting on a daily basis small flocks of House Finches and plain old sparrows.  And, after we saw them arrive and leave looking frustrated, we now get small gatherings of Dark-eyed Juncos who prefer to dine from the ground, and whose needs we now are meeting with three small piles of the sunflower/millet/peanut mix on the patio stones.  The little gray ground-eaters also seem to enjoy doing their strange little Junco Two Step ground-scratching maneuver in the gravel bed.
And these food mounds are now attracting a Pinon Jay, a species that according to our local newspaper (Santa Fe New Mexican) has a special hankering for peanuts in the shell, which he apparently flies away with and cracks open in the privacy of whatever area provides him privacy.  Our nuts are shelled.  So the first few visits he pecked, looked disgusted, and left without taking anything.  Now, apparently deciding that he was after all still getting his legume fix, he has been showing up pretty much one or two times every day.
And twice we have spotted a Spotted Towhee – by far the most striking of our visitors, and like the Pinon Jay a completely new sighting to our east coast bird watcher eyes.
There is a flock of pigeons in the area but they haven't found us yet.   And the ravens/crows don't know about the feeders – or perhaps these types of birdseed don’t attract them.  Or it could be that the two-foot tall plastic Owl on the roof that came with the house is doing its job. There is a small hawk in the neighborhood, so far unidentified, and not in our yard.  Either the birds we feed aren’t to his taste, or maybe he is waiting for them to fatten up a bit more.
A quick bird count from our bedroom window just showed a dozen eager ground eaters.  And, even when we are not watching, we can still see the shadows of descending diners on our stucco walls and window curtains.  So Marsha and I have now cast aside our fears of having to live in an Avian Free Zone, and are eagerly looking forward to more new southwestern birds and new foods to keep them coming back.
Unfortunately, now that we are officially in an AZ it gives people one more reason to confuse what southwestern state it is that we actually live in.

Mountain Chickadee

House Finch

Dark-eyed Junco

Pinon Jay


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Living in an AFZ

For a while Marsha and I were worried that we had inadvertently moved into an Avian Free Zone.
Not New Mexico, which according to the Field Guide “Birds of New Mexico” given to us by the realtor through whom we bought our new house, has “over 300 kinds of birds recorded over the years.”
 Certainly not the city of Santa Fe which the National Audubon Society highlights as one of the “birding hotspots” in the Land of Enchantment – as well as being the location of the Randall Davey Audubon Center whose website outdoes the book by touting 542 species of birds in the state.
Definitely not our Rancho Viejo Community from whose walking trails the two of us have observed avian sightings rarely if ever seen in Connecticut, our former home state: such as bluebirds (lots of special houses to attract them back in the northeast – with few results); soaring ravens (or maybe they’re just crows – we’ll know we are truly south westerners when we can tell the difference at a glance); and (what we were really hoping for) roadrunners.
It’s not the state, or the town, or the neighborhood  – it is our open patio that we became worried might turn out to be an AFZ.  Surrounded by the high stucco walls of our house and our neighbors’ on three and three-quarter sides, with a waist-high barrier secluded by a Pinon Pine for the other twenty-five percent the area provides enough privacy for even the most timid of feathered visitors.  And the branches of our twin Aspen and lone Maple tree you would think supply ample pleasant resting areas. 
But in one and one-half months of living here we had had no feathered landings in what we had hoped would be our sheltered wildlife viewing area.
Back in CT we ran several feeders that provided sustenance to a wide variety of (admittedly) not that exotic, but nonetheless entertaining feathery creatures – as well as an endless parade of plundering tree squirrels.  All in all it was pretty much a non-stop feeding frenzy outside our family room.  Now we have no intention of trying to replicate that environment at our new home.  For one thing we have seen only two squirrels since we moved to New Mexico in May, and they lived in the ground and apparently do not climb.   But we would like some feathery fauna activity outside our window, particularly during the winter months.
Even though the “City Different” is so much more laid-back than the “Nutmeg State” – seclusion and ambiance apparently is not enough to attract these flighty yard-guests. We also need some culinary enticements.  We had brought with us from Wethersfield a long-loved hanging pottery feeder shaped like a fish within which birds such as chickadees like to take their meals.  And our daughter-in-law Monica gave us a suet holder.  So off we went to the local branch of “Wild Birds Unlimited” to stock up on prepackaged squares of white fat, fill the fin-clad feeder, and to find out what we else needed, and how to best display our wares.  (We are finding that Santa Fe is a very restaurant-centric city and food presentation is a competitive sport within the industry.  Very likely the regional avian population has picked up on that vibe also.)
For our piscean food-holder the very helpful WBU sales staff sent us away with a twenty-pound bag of No-Mess Blend (sunflower chips, hulled white millet and shelled peanuts).  The bag has a “NM” prominently displayed on the side, which we at first thought was a special recipe for New Mexico.  It isn’t.
Following their advice we also purchased a wrought-iron device that hooks over the tree branch and has a round base with a center rod onto which you place one or more “stackables” – mixtures of various nuts, fruits, seeds, melded together with peanut butter and/or fat into a donut shape whose hole slips onto the holder.  We began with a “Stackables Combo” – one disk each of Cranberry, Naturally Nuts Suet, and Peanut and Tree Nuts.  Our instructions were to observe which birds came and which menu selection they preferred and then expand our offerings accordingly.
When we got home we put the NM mix into the fish, loaded and hung our suet feeder, setup the wrought-iron hanger stacked with its tripartite assortment, created a tracking spreadsheet, and waited to do our bird count.
Day one – zero.  Day two – the same.  Days three through six – zip, zilch, zippo, and (being in New Mexico) nada.
Around day seven we saw movement at the maple tree that wasn’t a leaf falling.  A lone chickadee disappeared into the tail of the fish and emerged from its mouth.  Then, after a brief touch-and-go landing on a maple branch alit onto the topmost saucer – gave it a sniff – and flew away.  An event not worth scribing into the rows and columns of our tracking table – but nonetheless an event.
Later that morning the chickadee returned.  And then again – this time with a friend.  Now they are here several times a day, along with a small number of other varieties that we recognize from CT, such as sparrows and purple finches.  Two or three unfamiliar faces also came by.  But they left before we could find them in our Birds of New Mexico.  The chickadees favor the food in the fish, and all of our guests go for whatever seed disk is on top.  (We rotated them to see to see if their choice making was flavor-driven or positional.  It is definitely the latter.)   
All in all things are going well in what we first feared was going to be an AFZ.  Marsha and I moved out here to experience something new.  But we like still having our old friends in our lives.