Friday, December 21, 2007

Road Block

No, these are not raptors! Along with my survey partner, Chuck, I was back on the Armendaris Ranch to begin the winter season of roadside raptor surveys. One of the largest ranches in New Mexico, this is one of three New Mexico ranches owned by Ted Turner. It is also the release site for fledgling Aplomado Falcons, an endangered species, and subject of intense scrutiny. Will the tiny falcon survive in the harsh climate of the Journada del Muerto? Our job, at Hawks Aloft, is to conduct surveys to assess raptor populations in this desert grassland and, over time, determine change in numbers or in species composition. This is the first winter of surveys, and it is too early yet to report any hard numbers.

On this ranch, the primary grazer besides pronghorn antelope and the exotic oryx, are bison. They run about 1100 head on the vast expanses of grassland mixed with yucca and other shrubs. The ranch is so large that we often see no evidence of the large herbivore. However, this was not the case for the December survey. Fortunately, the herd was quite cooperative and briefly posed for photos. The first image gives one an indication of the immense size of the ranch.

The Armendaris is managed for wildlife as well as bison, and supports impressive numbers of birds, mammals, and reptiles. In fact, during the December survey, we observed no less than 17 Loggerhead Shrikes, a species of high conservation concern due to precipitous declines in its total population size. We also observed 4 Prairie Falcons, another bird that is seldom seen. Both are indicators of the quality of the habitat present and the food resources available for wildlife.

I feel fortunate to be able to spend time in such a beautiful location, far from the frantic pace of life in the city.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bohin Quilt Marking Tool

Simply the coolest, greatest, most awesome new item found at International Quilt Festival in Houston. This mechanical quilt marking pencil by Bohin, a French Company, will revolutionize marking tools. My friend, Mary C., and I came upon their small booth because she was looking for hand applique needles for a class. Bohin is a noted needle maker. While we were there, we watched a demonstration of the new marking pencil. The 'leads', which are actually colored chalk, come in yellow, gray, and white. They are interchangeable, just like a mechanical pencil. I used them to mark this block on the Hawks Aloft raffle quilt, which will be awarded on Dec. 8, tomorrow evening. The lines are clear, easy to see when stitching, and not messy. Like other mechanical pencils there is uniformity in width. In the above photo, I did not remove the marking so that you could see just how wonderfully well it works. Check it out yourself. The pencil comes with white chalk, but you can buy refills. I have not tried the other colors yet, but the white showed well on this busy red print. As I understand it from the company you can remove one chalk and replace it with another, while still saving the first chalk for another use. It retails for about $13.00.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Room with a View - on the inside

This is Ferrug, a 10-year-old, non-releasable ferruginous hawk, and one of the Hawks Aloft educational ambassadors. He was likely hit by a car on a remote mesa top in northern New Mexico during the fall of his hatch year. I have never been able to understand just how it would be possible to actually strike a bird on the narrow two-track dirt paths that are the only vehicle friendly roads on the mesa, and further, how it also happened that someone picked him up and turned him in to a wildlife rehabilitator. He has a badly broken wing with joints that do not extend fully in his right wing.

Because he was so young when his injury occurred, he has adapted well to captivity, and can travel to accompany us at educational programs around New Mexico. Here, he and I, along with a red-tailed hawk, a Mississippi Kite, and an Eastern screech-owl shared a hotel room for the night. We had traveled to eastern New Mexico to give training classes to utility companies for the New Mexico Avian Protection Working Group. The goal of this group is to reduce mortalities due to electrocution and collision with utility structures.

Ferrug is unique, as are all animals, and while he travels well, he does get car sick. That means that the morning of a travel day, he is not fed. It also means that when we arrive at our destination he is voraciously hungry. Shortly after this photo was taken, he wolfed down about 6 mice - whole. Lights out, shortly thereafter, he settled down nicely for the night, and slept contentedly on the perch on his travel box.

In other bird related news, check out David Sibley's Blog
He has been experimenting with ways to reduce avian collisions with windows, and has possibly come up with a novel and inexpensive way to make windows more visible to birds.

In even more bird news, check out International Bird Rescue, that has been rescuing and cleaning birds trapped in the oil slicked waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Debut!

He arrived in May, a nervous, jumpy , frightened fellow. Like all of our other educational ambassadors, this little Red-tailed Hawk has an injury that will permanently prevent his release to the wild. Unlike most red-tails, however, he is a chocolate brown color with a russet red tail, what is known as a dark morph. About 10% of all soaring hawks have this plumage. He had been hit by a car, and is missing the tip of one wing.

One of my favorite things to do is to work with a bird, helping it to become comfortable around me, and then around others. The ultimate reward is being able to present the bird to the public at an education program or an outreach event. Some birds adapt quickly, while others may take years, and some simply are never able to overcome their innate fear of humans.

At first, he just tried to get away from me. But, it quickly became apparent, that eating was his most favored activity. And, he was so motivated by food, that he trusted a little more each day. Little by little, he gained a bit of trust, until he finally came to the glove to take food. Now, he waits and watches for me to open the back door.

We presented him in public for the first time on November 10. It was a little scary, but he adapted well. Now, he doesn't have another program until 2008. It will get easier and easier.

A Room with A View

Taken with my little, old point-n-shoot Olympus, this was the view from my 18th floor hotel room at the Hilton in Houston. I was there to teach for Quilt Festival, but the wellness gods did not shine on me during this trip. Due to a very painful ear infection, most of the week was a blur. I am so thankful to the wonderful students who graciously overlooked the sniffling, sneezing teacher that couldn't hear well.

Still, there were some remarkable highlights at the 2007 International Quilt Festival. Among the most remarkable quilts was the 10.5 foot high x 120 foot long masterpiece of Esther Bryan and Friends, "Quilt of Belonging". It features the work of 263 different Canadians depicting their countries of origin. An unbelievable piece of art and history come together in this stunning interpretation.

The winners of the IQA judged show were equally stunning. The grand prize winner for 2007 was Hollis Chatelain, whose quilt "Hope for our World", is another of her masterpieces. In the quilt, Desmond Tutu is standing in a field surrounded by all the children of the world. Hollis spoke about her vision for this quilt, "I dreamed in purple, that Tutu was standing in a field surrounded by the children, representing hope for our world. Hollis' painted and heavily stitched quilts stand alone. Like many other artists, Hollis works toward a cause, and her cause is Africa. She is a remarkable woman.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tiny Tote

Okay, so it isn't really a whole quilt, but it could have been! Last December, I stupidly signed up to demonstrate at "Bag Lady Day" at Quilt Festival in Houston. The only problem is that I don't do purses. It was beginning to look like my demo would be a disaster, that is, until the Katazome class came along and inspired me. This little bag was a blast to make, combining the Katazome dyed panel with the flying geese across the top. Way too much fun. Now, I can go to Houston with confidence, knowing that I will at least have something to show.

The Young, the Old, and the Middle-aged

It was at the Capital Quilters meeting in Raleigh, NC that I met this duo, not related. The six-year-old showed of her first quilt during show and tell. The 91-year-old was visiting from Nova Scotia. Me, well I am the middle-aged one.


Hmmm! Squash is such a simple plant, but beautiful beyond many others.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Imaginary World

The Special Shapes Glowdeo is yet another other worldly experience, rather like being on drugs legally. It's a great excuse to dust of the burden of adulthood, and act like a kid again. Tonight, and tomorrow are dedicated to those fantastically shaped balloons: trees, bees, octopi, pumpkins, the cow-that-jumped-over-the-moon, and even Darth Vader. Only in Albuquerque!

Being Among Balloons

Only in Albuquerque, and only for one manic week each October, do we locals experience what surely must be the ultimate photographic experience of a lifetime. For those fortunate enough to get a ride, the thrill is almost certainly one of the highlights of their life. But, for we hardened citizens who have been through 25 or more Fiestas, our minds turn to the traffic and general state of chaos that accompanies the fiasco - er - fiesta, each year. The touristas arrive by the bucket load via car, plane, train, automobile, and monstrously sized recreational vehicles larger than my house. Yes, we hardened citizens love to complain about all of the disruptions to our every day lives, and blame it on all of you visitors. We carefully plot our driving route, hoping to avoid the worst of the traffic. Just this morning, as I was negotiating away from the field, the car traveling beside me in the slow lane suddenly decided to make a U-turn right in front of me, across four lanes of traffic. Good thing I was paying attention! Darn tourists. Oops! That license plate was a local one.

We love to complain, but deep down, in our heart of hearts, we love the balloons too. Where else can one see hundreds of hot air balloons hanging in the air, lofting above the city. The photo above was taken on my drive in to work today. Like the tourist's cars illegally parked alongside the freeway, I pulled over too, to take a quick shot of the glorious globes above the General Mills Cereal Plant. Albuquerque is a glorious place to live - but watch out for those crazy drivers! Even the locals forget to pay attention!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Katazome - Part One

What a treat I had this week! My good friend, and partner in quilting, Donna B., discovered that an amazing textile artist, Karen Miller, was to be teaching in Santa Fe! Donna, being of the creative type, and ingenious as well, contacted Karen to see if she would teach a class for our small group. Enter another talented lady, Paula Scott, who offered the use of her studio and back yard, and the class was a done deal. The result was two intense, but inspirational days spent learning the technique of Japanese Katazome Stencil Dyeing. I can't wait to see how this turns up in my future work!

A Matched Set

Above, not shown in order, are our marvelous teacher, Karen Miller, showing me how to remove a stencil without destroying the wet rice paste below. Donna paints resist over a stencil, and just above, the rice paste donuts, ready to steam.

The Fabric

Unlike most modern dyes, fabrics dipped into an indigo vat do not get darker relative to the length of time immersed in the dye. Instead, with each successive dip of one minute, the fabric becomes yet one shade darker. The resist must completely dry between dips, a time-consuming process. Several dips over an extended period are necessary to achieve the full, rich dark blues of true indigo. Photos by Paula Scott.

The Katazome Group

This is us, the newby Katazome Dyers of New Mexico. Many thanks to Paula Scott for the use of her lovely studio, and for all the photos that she took during the two day workshop.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sneak Peek

The count down to International Quilt Festival in Houston 2007 has begun, so it has been mostly nose to the grindstone for this quilter. As the date draws nearer, it will be even busier. Each year, I introduce a new design in my star class, and this is the 2007 star, which has no name yet. Do you have a suggestion?

My wonderful assistant, Donna, did most, but not all of the stitching on this one. She also quilted it. Note the spectacular little curliques in the background. We are working on the other version of this same pattern now, so students will have two different color choices in their kits.

See you there!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

All About Owls

Okay, so this isn't exactly what one might expect for one of my quilts! But, it was just perfect for my friend Marcelle, who is expecting her first baby any day now. Marcelle and I work together on avian issues in New Mexico, and she was instrumental in establishing the PNM Burrowing Owl webcam at the company's Reeves Station in Albuquerque. When another friend, Patty surprised me with the fabulous Burrowing Owl fabric a few months earlier, I had no idea how to use it. Marcelle's baby-to-be was the perfect opportunity. It was a true gift from friends for a friend. Many of the owl fabrics were given to my by my quilting buddies from my group, "Designing Women". Patty provided the Cactus Wren, Mary C. donated the small squares of owls, and Pat. D. donated the roadrunner fabric. My friend Twila B. taught me how to use the Bernina embroidery software to make the label. I delivered the quilt to Marcelle a few days ago, and she was thrilled. Now, all that we need to wait for is the baby!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Weekend in Paradise

The Jemez Valley of New Mexico personifies the state's slogan, "Land of Enchantment". From my lofty perch high above the canyon floor, I can clearly see why the early Native Americans settled in this beautiful canyon. From the advantageous viewpoints of the many ruins that dot the cliffs, a scout could easily see anyone, friend or foe, advancing up the canyon. Nowadays, with birds and squirrels to keep me company, and of course, my constant and faithful companion, Gabby, this is my mountain hideaway. I can feel my blood pressure falling as I drive away from the city. As I crest the final hill in Rio Rancho to see the panoramic view of Redondo Peak and the rest of the Jemez Mountains, I know that I will soon be home. I am a lucky woman!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

For Love of a Falcon

Photograph by David Powell.

Seventeen Aplomado Falcon nestlings experienced their first taste of freedom on Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch in August 2007. Bred in captivity by the Peregrine Fund, the young birds were transferred to a hack site at a remote location on the equally remote ranch in south-central NewMexico. There, they grew to fledgling stage in a large nest box atop a tall platform with an expansive view of the Chihuahuan desert grassland. The chicks received food via hack site attendants, and yet never saw their human providers. At about 45 days of age, the side of the box was removed and they were free to explore their new territory.

This is part of a collaborative effort among the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Peregrine Fund to re-establish this endangered species into formerly occupied territory in New Mexico. We were there too! Our role is to monitor raptor populations on the ranch and the fledgling survival of the young Aplomados. This is how I found myself along with my colleague, Sandy Skeba, wandering along the lonely ranch roads scanning the skies, the yuccas, and fence posts for sign of the now wandering falcon equivalent of teenagers. We found them too.

One small group of three remained close to the hack site, where they were assured of an evening meal, which will continue to be provided for some time as the young acquire the hunting skills essential for survival.

It was near our bunk house lodgings for the night, at the place called Deep Well, that the others gathered, harrassing each other and any other hapless wildlife that happened to be nearby, practicing aerial maneuvers, landings, and take offs, and generally acting like exuberant young! Eight in all, this packlet of falcons appeared to have no worries, no fears. Previous experience had shown them that, at about 6 p.m., the Peregrine Fund truck would arrive and food would magically appear at the hack site. And, just like clockwork, the entire pack disappeared at about dinner time not to be seen again.

Our raptor survey the following morning revealed 159 raptors along a 20 mile stretch, an astounding average of 8 raptors every mile. We tallied several species as well including Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vulture. Superb management practices at the ranch ensure an abundant supply of vegetation, insects, mammals and birds. If I were a falcon, this is where I would want to live!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bat Caves of the Armendaris

Imagine 3 million warm blooded mammals, packed side by side into the crevices of the lava tubes. Each bat follows a precise daily pattern, a clear violation of the first rule of predator avoidance. The lava tubes of the Armendaris Ranch, on the Jornada del Muerto (dead man's journey) are home to the second largest colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats in North America. Every night, just before sunset, the winged mammals emerge from the safety of their subterranean dwelling to seek sustenance. Each bat consumes nearly twice its weight in insects each night, and may travel up to 40 miles to the feeding location.

Our group of ten was here to witness the incredible nightly flight, seen by few other humans. For the bat caves are tucked away among the vast lava field on Ted Turner's equally vast ranch in central New Mexico. Because we (Hawks Aloft) conduct research on the ranch, I had permission to lead a tour for our organization. Although I've watched the bat flight several times, it never disappoints me, and tonight was no exception. We were not alone while we waited for the bats to emerge.

Other winged predators wheeled and screamed above, whipping themselves into a feathered frenzy of activity. First there were the falcons, the pair of American Kestrels weighing only about a quarter pound themselves, flying into the entrance of the cave and perching nearby. And, the young Peregrine Falcon, climbing so high that it became a lint speck on my binoculars before stooping down and then pulling up, and repeating this over and over. Perhaps this young bird was practicing its aerial acrobatics in anticipation of the meal it hoped to secure for itself. Then there were the Swainson's Hawks, eleven in all, screaming as if to beckon the bats from their roost. Their circles tightened as they spun in ever faster formations, and the screams intensified. For the bats, the predatory birds formed a veritable death gauntlet which the smaller mammals must successfully negotiate in order to survive.

As if by an unspoken bat agreement, the first bat appeared to have been tossed out by its compatriots to check out the nightly threat. A Swainson's was first on the scene. The lone little bat flitted from one side to the next as the hawk closed in on its prey. At the last moment, though, a deft and sharp turn, saved it from an untimely end. The gauntlet was not yet over, for the Peregrine waiting high above, tucked its body into a stoop and dove on the hapless bat. Feet tucked into yellow fists, the Peregrine streaked ever closer. Perhaps this bat had played this game before, for at the last moment it rolled to one side and avoided the clutch of the falcon's talons. Then, it was the Kestrel's turn. Again, the little bat out maneuvered even this small falcon. The bat would live to see another day!

The bat flight continued for several hours, until it was too dark to see any longer. Not often visited by humans, these bats fly all around their human visitors, their fluttering wings like fairy kisses on your face as they pass, never actually touching you, and never leaving any unwelcome droppings.

I thank Tom Waddell, ranch manager, for making this trip possible, and for being such an excellent steward of the land. I also thank Ted Turner, for setting aside vast tracts of American lands, where wild things can continue their existence in a natural setting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bernina Beyond Borders

It's finally done! I Fed Exed it off a week ago, just before my family trip to Minnesota. This quilt was designed especially for Bernina as part of my commitment to the Bernina National Teachers program. I used their new logo on the Swiss flag, birthplace of the company, and placed the American flag in the opposite corner. Flying Geese traverse the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, and the bright star represents the wonders that are possible with these incredible sewing computers. I swear that mine does just about everything, except maybe the laundry. It is an absolute wonder to sew on. I am so proud to be one of the Bernina National Teachers!

All of the free motion quilting was done using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) that ensures that every stitch will be the same size. There was a considerable learning curve, but I now feel that I know new tricks and techniques to make this tool a valuable asset in my quilting tool box. One of the tips that helped me considerably was to shorten the stitch length to 1.5. This enabled me to stitch tiny loops and curves that you will find within the geese.

The Bernina logo was digitized on the Bernina Designer 5 Embroidery Software by Julie Hogan, of Ann Silva's Bernina Sewing Center in Albuquerque, and the quilt label was designed using the same software by my friend Twila Bastian.

I appreciate their assistance, as well as the ongoing support from Ann Silva and my local quilting group, Designing Women.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Southwest International Folk Dance Institute

Each year in August, the Southwest International Folk Dance Institute holds a four day dance camp on the campus of NM Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico. Two teachers, each specializing in a different style of dance offer instruction mornings and afternoons. In 2007, Turkish, and Latin with Jim D'Apice and Jodi Fleischman were taught. From 9 a.m. - midnight, it is possible to dance for 12 hours of the each day. Run by a dedicated group of volunteers, this is a must for dancers in the Southwest.

She Dances

This story began, as most stories do, a long time ago, but not so far away. A friend suggested that the very thing needed to take away the long, slow, quiet evenings of winter weekends just might be International Folk Dance. Now, this quilter/birder had never before thought about such a thing, but ever the intrepid explorer, she thought she might just give it a try. So, she took herself across town one Saturday night and signed up for a beginner dance class. Little did she know that the world as she knew it was about to change - - for the better.

No more Saturday night doldrums. In fact, the problem soon became the appalling lack of Saturdays in each year. The Albuquerque International Folk dance community warmly welcomed the newcomer, and ensured that her feet would become nimble (or at least less clumsy!) and that one day, the novice dancer would go away to a camp for the express purpose of learning new dances from foreign lands. The camper just returned from that remarkable weekend, where she learned two new types of dances, Turkish, and Latin with Jim D'Apice and Jodi Fleischman.

Typical of a camper (remember your childhood), the novice danced her feet and legs to exhaustion, ate too much good food, laughed and visited with folks from throughout the U.S., and slept little as parties went on into the wee hours of the morn. So, packing up might have been a breeze, had not the lack of sleep affected the thought processes. It was only 24 hours later that she realized that she had left her party clothes neatly hanging the closet at camp. Perhaps her daughter will not read this post, which would be a good thing. When that little miss went off to her first camp at the tender age of 8, she also returned home sans camp clothing. Ah, the irony of it all!

Latin Dance Teachers Perform in Lemon and Lime

We were thrilled that our Latin dance teaching duo joined in our nightly theme parties. Here, Jim D'Apice (left) and Jodi, are decked out in their finest lemon-lime garb. Note the wire basket hat worn by Jodi, which nicely compliments Jim's headgear!

As teachers, this dynamic duo from Seattle, WA, are remarkably willing to share their expertise in Latin dance. Their teaching style is generous, playful, and enthusiastic, as evidenced in the photo shown here. We learned a number of dances including Rueda de Casino, Bachata, Cha-cha, and Merengue. And, as an added plus, they even taught two gender specific classes, "Hombre" for men, and "Hip Action" for the ladies.

In the humble opinion of this novice dancer, they are the BEST!!!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Walk on the Wild Side

One never knows that adventures that await us during the most ordinary of outings. In this case, it was one of my morning bird surveys. I was anxious because I had been watching certain birds all through the nesting season. Two weeks ago, I saw a Wood Duck mama with 7 babies, barely larger than golf balls. Knowing the hazards faced by small ducklings, I was less than optimistic about their chances for survival. During last week's survey, Mama Wood Duck was alone, her offspring apparently only a memory of this particular human. So, my expectations for this survey were minimal. Imagine my surprise when I saw, not just Mama Duck, but five much larger offspring. They must have been securely hidden from me on my last visit as Mama swam bravely downstream, leading me away from her brood. The Ash-throated Flycatchers were anything but discreet as their rambunctious young chattered and chased each other through the tree tops. The little Bewick's Wren young were trying to learn their language, the little males singing the strangest of songs, barely recognizable. By next spring, their vocal mastery will perhaps seduce one of this year's also matured females.

The bosque, a riparian woodland along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico is a remarkable place. At dawn, which is when I conduct surveys, it is alive with song, sound, and motion, but devoid of most human activity. It is the precious realm of animal life, and I am privileged to observe as I slowly saunter along the riverbank, recording all birds seen and heard.

Today, however, another flighted object suddenly filled the air space, one that did not belong to the animal kingdom. With a large whoosh, and a chorus of laughter from the paying passengers, the hot air balloon made for the river, where it would dip the bottom of the basket into ochre waters of the mighty Rio, stained from the Triassic clays of the Jemez Mountains. Daddy Swainson's Hawk took fright and flight at the low flying balloon and raced to his nest, calling anxiously. The smaller birds merely became silent, motionless, and hopefully invisible to the large round predator without wings.

I waited patiently, for I knew once the balloon "Splashed and Dashed" its flight pattern would continue due east, and within a few minutes, life would return to normal in the forest.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quilt Iowa

The first thing I noticed about Des Moines was the lush greenery, not a big surprise after life in the desert southwest. The second thing that stood out about this fair city in the heartland of America, was the friendliness of the people, and their fierce pride in their state. In fact, Iowa is known for its agriculture as well as the outstanding pork and beef they produce. I got to sample some of the wonderful foods including the locally produced, famous bblue cheese burgers, and their yellow carrots, which were a complete novelty (to me).

I was here to teach for Quilt Iowa, the annual retreat for the statewide guild.

Quilt classes were well received, and in the Circular Borders Class, some ingenious students, shown here, quickly grabbed their cameras to photo-document each step of the process.

The following day, students designed and stitched Mariner's Compass. Although no quilt tops were completed several progressed quite a long way, including some with 'fussy cut' centers, shown here. One diligent student managed to complete all of the sections of her original design, in just one 6-hour day!

One of the great things about traveling to new places is the fascinating information gleaned from life in a new town. I just happened to be here on the weekend of the Ride Across Iowa, in which bicyclists from around the world travel a route that crosses the state in one week, averaging 50 or so miles per day. It began in 1973 as a challenge between Des Moines feature writer, John Karras, and avid bicyclist, Don Kaul. Karras challenged Kaul to ride his bike across Iowa to experience the state on a more personal level, and to write about what he saw from that perspective. Today, the race "Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is limited to 8,500 participants in order to maintain control and to reduce injuries. Makes me wish that I'd brought my bike too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Wedding Quilt

The reason behind the Pizza Party meeting of my quilt group, Designing Women, was to preview the beautiful wedding quilt that Michele Hymel (on the right), made for her son, Ross' upcoming wedding in August. Michele worked diligently to finish the queen-sized quilt in just six months! Way to go Michele.
I also gave the group a sneak preview of the Bernina Quilt, after I picked out all the unsatisfactory quilting on the American flag -- oops! There's one clue for you. I still hope to get it all done by the end of this month! Stay tuned.
From Iowa - have a great day!

Expect the Unexpected

Now, most folks would not expect an adventure from the monthly meeting of their favorite local quilting group, "Designing Women". My friend, Patty Phillips, and I expected to be attending a pizza party at Harriet's lovely home in the Tanoan subdivision of eastern Albuquerque. All seemed normal until my cell phone rang. The distraught woman on the other end said she had an injured hawk and would someone please help. My mind wandered to the rest of the Hawks Aloft staff that might be available to respond since I was already obligated and enroute to the meeting.

Then, I asked the woman where she was located. The answer, Tanoan East, set in for the the theme for the next few hours. Off we headed to our new destination to catch, yes! catch, the fledgling Cooper's Hawk, that was still on the lam, although unflighted. A small group of neighbors awaited our arrival in the upscale neighborhood. The woman pointed to the small hawk, perched on a low wall beneath the shade of a pine tree. I assessed the situation, knowing that even an unflighted hawk can run really fast, and at an average height of 12", would be able to run under, through, and around obstacles that my 5'5"frame could not manage.

Satisfied that help had arrived, all the neighbors disappeared into their homes and closed their doors, leaving Patty and I to solve the problem alone. It felt a little like the Stepford Wives movie as we faced a now abandoned neighborhood and one small bird. I grabbed a sheet and Patty chose a towel for our capture tools. As expected, the resulting chase might resemble a Charlie Chaplin movie, with two humans in pursuit of one small bird. Over walls, through shrubs, across the street, up the stairs and, finally, into a courtyard where Patty and the Hawk joined hand and foot.

Now, with bird in hand, we set off for the quilt meeting. Raised eyebrows greeted our unorthodox arrival. But, ever the trooper, and used to Gail's Life with Birds, Harriet and Susie found a box. I gave the hawk a drink of water, and we set him aside in a quiet room. At the same time, I was calling wildlife rehabilitator, Meg Dahrling, to see about getting the hawk to her. Ordinarily, this would be the end of the story, but . . .

Only her voice mail answered, and I was to leave the following morning for a quilting trip. We tried again, unsuccessfully, to reach Meg. I believe I left a message like, "Meg. I have an early morning flight, and I am getting depserate. Please call!".

Later, at the Hawks Aloft office, we thawed a frozen mouse and fed the hungry little fellow, and decided that our only option was for Patty, a project manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers, to assume custody. (Imagine for a moment, the look on her husband's face when she walked in with their house guest).

In the end all was well and the hawk was delivered to Meg the following evening after work, along with the seocnd Cooper's hawk that Hawks Aloft delivered to the Corps of Engineers building the following morning, but that's another adventure. Patty became the focal point of office activities, and now several of the staff at her office are more well educuated about the plight of fledgling hawks that get into trouble once out of the nest and poorly supervised by their parents, much like the errant human teenagers that run afoul of human determined social restrictions.

At last report, the little fellow and his female counterpart are doing well, and eating voraciously at Meg's rehabilitation facility. Both have some sort of injury that prevents flight, but as of this writing, the cause has not been determined. For this human, the only badge of honor is the large slash and scrapes across her her calf when the hurtle over the large rose bush failed.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

International Folk Art Market

For those of you looking for a good excuse to visit the Southwest, the capitol city of Santa Fe has a remarkable, new(ish) Art Market. The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market held its fourth annual event this past weekend on Museum Hill, where four different museums are clustered, including the International Folk Art Museum. Look for the link in the upper right hand corner of my blog for a link.

The goal of the event is to build sustainability for the Market and for the artists, many of whom come from Third World countries with few tourism dollars. The event was amazingly inspirational, with artists dressed in traditional garb, like this woman from Bhutan. In addition to the metal headpieces and jewelry, this booth also featured shibori dyed fabric at unbelievable prices. A piece the size of a fat quarter was only $8! And the full table cloth was only $42! They now live in my home - the fabrics, that is. This is but one of the of the 118 different booths, each filled with art that one would rarely have an opportunity to see, all in the same venue.

The artist's travel costs and shipping for their art are covered by the market sponsors. I heard one story about a woman who earned a $1,600 in 2006 at this event. She used those funds to send both of her daughters to college.

Just another remarkable day in the southwest. The event takes place in mid-July each year. In 2006, 14,000 attended the event, and they expected 20,000 in 2007. I suspect that they met or exceeded that goal.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stitching the Layers - the quilt stitch and the BSR from Bernina

The final part of the quiltmaking process is stitching the layers together, or quilting the quilt. Thanks to modern technology and innovative thought, Bernina has developed a sewing machine and a presser foot that ensures that each stitch taken is exactly the same size, even with free motion quilting. I have been practicing this technique on the Hawks Aloft Raffle Quilt in preparation for the special design I am working on for Bernina of America (you will have to wait to see that one).

This photo shows two of the three photo images on fabric, created by Soft Fabric Photos, Denver, CO. They print your images on Pima Cotton, and they are the best quality of any I've seen, and well worth the price of having them print it. They also sell kits and directions to do it yourself. Click the link in the upper right corner of my blog to visit their website at The photos were taken by my good friend, David Powell, wildlife photographer.

But, back to the BSR foot! I found that the BSR1 setting works best for me. This is the one that is controlled with your foot pedal, and it can be used with needle down. I don't have to worry about accidentally moving the fabric and taking a few extra stitches.

I still have to stitch the detail on the birds, the eagle and the Sandhill Cranes, but I am quite pleased with the background stitching, and I gain confidence each time I use the foot. I hope to complete Bernina's special quilt by the end of this month. Stay tuned for that photo.

Here, Sarah Keller checks out the quilting on the photographs.

Hawks Aloft Raffle Quilt - 2007

I was a quilter before I became enamored of birds, and before there was a Hawks Aloft. Each year, we make a quilt in one weekend at the cabin. I design it, and my friends help me to prepare the foundation papers and select the fabric. The guys all like to come to the cabin too, but on quilt retreat weekend, they are welcome only if they actually work on the quilt! We now have some exceptional male quilters among the volunteers at Hawks Aloft! This photo shows the quilt top in progress in early February, before the side borders were added. The quiltmakers for this weekend are (from Left to Right), Chuck Brandt, Connie Martinez, Anita McSorley, Mary Chappelle, Ruth Burstrom, Steve Elkins, Ed Chappelle, Tom Taylor, Gail (that's me!), and Patty Phillips.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LIfe in the Desert

A thin wisp of clouds surrounded the hint of the blood red sun still mostly obscured by Cat Mesa in the distance. A portent of precipitation to come, possibly later in the day.

By the time, the sun peeked over the mesa top, I had already been awake for hours, and was in place at my designated research site in the pre-dawn shades of gray. It was harder today than others, for I knew that my target species, the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, would not be present in the scorched earth that had formerly been a marsh. No life-giving water was present even during the first survey, in mid-May, and without water, this riparian obligate bird would have moved on to wetter locales with abundant food resources, the ubiquitous mosquito that plagues humankind. Only a few desperate mosquitos were present, trying valiantly to draw blood from me as I futilely stood to play the taped song of the flycatcher. But, federal regulations require 5 surveys annually in potential habitat, even in those years when water flows elsewhere. So, here I was, fulfilling my contractual obligations to a government agency.

What is one to do when faced with the prospect of a negative survey result? My personal favorite is to take in the special treasures that this largely unknown site provides, the plants, animals, and geology that make it unique. It wasn't long before an earth-colored toad hopped across my path, and stopped so I could photograph it. As the sun rose higher, the granite and gypsum cliffs of nearby White Mesa glowed in the morning light. A few warblers sang from high in the trees, and as I parted the vegetation to enter my secret world beyond the public access area, I wondered if my little friend would still be there, a bird not often seen, the Lazuli Bunting. He had been in the same area for the past three surveys, singing up a storm. I wondered if he had attracted a female who might be on the nest with their offspring. I wondered if he, too, would have moved on in search of a better and wetter neighborhood. But, there he was! I heard him long before I saw him, singing up a storm, perched on the tip of a juniper tree. Later, I heard and watched as three Western Kingbirds mobbed a Cooper's Hawk. I wondered then, if the coop had stolen one of their youngsters to feed one of his own.

It was another beautiful day in the desert, and another day in which the rains fell somewhere else.

The photo of the Lazuli Bunting was taken by my good friend, and wildlife photographer, David Powell.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Fourth of July 2007

Today actually began about 1 p.m. yesterday, July 3, when I received a call from the BHP Billiton Navajo Coal Mine that they had found an injured Cliff Swallow. Because they are located on Navajo Nation lands, they contacted their Fish and Wildlife biologist, who asked that they contact us, Hawks Aloft to pick up the little bird. We were to relay the bird to the Wildlife Center in Espanola, NM for rehabilitation. Our educator, Sarah, headed off immediately, but didn't reach the mine until after 6 p.m. following a very long drive. We made arrangements to relay the bird in the morning since it would also be a 4 hour drive back.

Cliff Swallows are a small songbird that catches insects in the air. They are excellent consumers of aerial insects such as moths, mosquitos, and other flighted insects. They build sturdy mud nests beneath the eaves of buildings, bridges, and other human structures. The chicks are securely contained within the domed nest with only a small, tubular opening through which the parents come and go. "Our" chick had fallen out prematurely, and fell to the ground because it could not yet fly.

This morning, the relay failed, and little chick had not been fed since at least noon yesterday. For a bird weighing only about 1 ounce at maturity, 24 hours without nourishment is a threat to its survival. So, I became the relay, but not particularly thrilled about relinquishing my relaxed morning. I scurried around, feeding the avian menagerie (and dog), got dressed, and resigned myself to a minimum three hour drive. Sarah brought the little chick over, and I began the drive north. I hadn't looked in the box and was worried that the chick would not survive, that is until about halfway to our destination when he/she began to loudly proclaim the need for sustenance. "Cheep, cheep, cheep. Scrabble, scrabble. Cheep, Cheep" were the chorus that accompanied the second part of the trip. At least the little fellow was still among the living.

Upon arrival at New Mexico's state of the art, wildlife rehabilitation center, the intensive care staff took the little bird, gave Pedialyte to rehydrate and nourish it. It was then that I got to see all the other baby Cliff Swallows in the nursery, all with full access to the whole room so they could learn to fly in a safe environment! They were all lined up atop a large crate just below ceiling level, cheeping away and taking baby flights around the room. By now, "our" nestling will have joined them and become part of this juvenile swallow gang.

So, the morning didn't go as planned, but I feel good about helping to save the life of one small bird who will never know how this came to be. My friend, Donna, suggested that perhaps something wonderful would happen because of this little expedition, as I was whining about my change of plans. Indeed, Doc, at the center, had a tiny little crate on the examining table and asked if I wanted to see what was in it. Four six-day-old baby bobcats were snuggled in a small furry pile. Now, when else in my life will I ever get to see that sight?

Driving home to the sound of one of my favorite driving CDs, "Cracks and Shadows" by Dave Wiesler, the magnificent Sandia Mountains welcomed me home. It is a wonderful way to spend the Fourth of July. Now, my barbecue quests that will arrive later will have a grand tale to hear, and will perhaps overlook the less than completely cleaned house and yard.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Journada del Muerto

They call this place the "journey of the dead" for its desolate, waterless landscape, with little shade provided by the tall yuccas that dominate the landscape. The Chihuahuan Desert grasslands are home to a variety of uniquely adapted species able to survive in a harsh climate. It is here, in south-central New Mexico, that the Armendaris Ranch, stretches for over 60 miles from Truth of Consequences, NM north to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuges. It is one of Ted Turner's three majestic ranches in New Mexico, making him the largest landowner in our state.

I was here, searching for raptors, particularly the Aplomado Falcons released in 2006 by the Peregrine Fund. In 2007, two of last year's young paired up and nested, producing 2 nestlings. Both young have now fledged the nest but are still being supported by their parents. Hailed as a great success for the fledgling Aplomado re-introduction program, it is a testament to ranch management practices that produce the overwhelming abundance of insects, birds, lizards and other prey items can enable a successful nesting endeavor by two smallish falcons, only one year old themselves.

The ranch raises bison, and has a herd of about 1,100 free-ranging cows, young, and bulls. There are no interior fences on the Armendaris and the herd is able to move freely throughout the expansive ranch lands. In fact, the ranch supports a wide variety of wildlife. During our surveys there we have seen everything from pronghorn antelope with young, to endangered species of desert tortoise. It is a remarkable place, and I am thrilled that we have permission to conduct avian research on this well-manged private ranch seen by only a few fortunate individuals.

My next trip down will be in early August for more raptor surveys.