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.