Background Switcher (Hidden)


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A mountain chickadee in Taos Ski Valley. Dig that crazy hat. We're goin' back to New Mexico, so fasten your seat belts. In the event of time-travel whiplash, neck braces will descend from the overhead compartment.

In a previous post, I gently chided Bill of the Birds for being so...goal-oriented where birds are concerned. He sets his heart on one species, and he will do anything to see that bird. It's easy for me to cast stones at that and gloat about being happy with whatever shows up. Often, though, I'm the passive recipient of bird-gifts bestowed by his near-psychic powers. Case in point: We pulled over on a road coming down from Taos Ski Valley, where we'd fruitlessly hunted rosy-finches in the dizzy dark forests near the top. We found mountain chickadees at the feeder instead. And we had seen a life mammal for all of us: bighorn sheep! Scoping the balds atop the mountains, we'd picked up distant specks which resolved at 60 power into a band of a dozen Rocky Mountain bighorns--a huge ram (far right, with full-circle horns) with 11 wives and chillun. He was butting them along, moving them over the bald. Beautiful!! Much high-fiving. We hadn't even known to look for them; we had been hoping for a very distant look at a ptarmigan, perhaps. And there they were. Serramdipity.I got this shot with my little 300 mm. telephoto zoom by propping my elbows on the car, then cropping it way down. Those sheep were a LONG way away, but brilliant sunshine helped get a reasonable image.

Bill had a feeling there would be a dipper where he pulled over on our way down. There was a tumbling mountain stream, rock cliff faces, just the kind of place a dipper would choose. He stood patiently at streamside, bathed in golden afternoon light. There was whitewash on every emergent rock. Looked good for dippers. If it showed up, it would be sweeeet. We waited. The kids threw stones in the stream, which tumbled over the rocks. We hopped rocks, and waited. It was a good place to wait. And he came to us, a young dipper with a golden bill, voicing his peculiar ringing call, doing deep-knee-bends on the rocks.

Bill got tons of good pictures the first time he came. I was in the wrong place, and mine were distant and dark. The dipper flew downstream, and we waited. The kids threw rocks and hopped from boulder to boulder. Liam needed help getting to one boulder, so I stepped out into the stream to help him. And the dipper came, practically right to my astonished feet. LIAM! I hissed. He's here! Hold perfectly still while Mommy shoots over your shoulder! Phoebe was right next to us, and both kids were in front of me, and they held still as stones while the dipper held us in complete thrall. Oooh, he's sooo cute! Phoebe whispered. She could have been sitting in math class back in Ohio instead. I think she'd pick standing on a rock in New Mexico stream, watching a dipper.

He flashed his brightwhite nictitating membrane, which protects his eyes underwater (and which he can see through, presumably). He stuck his head underwater and swam-flew from rock to rock. He posed, wrenlike tail cocked. He called, turning from side to side. He seemed to want something.
I wanted for nothing at all. It was a moment beyond hoping or price, to have my camera ready when the dipper came, and I owe it to Mr. Goal-Oriented. Did he arrange the molten gold water, too?
Suddenly, the dipper crouched and flew on an oblique angle up into the rock cliff-face across the stream. He disappeared into a crevice, right next to this:
the nest he had probably been born in. The entrance faces down, protecting the nest's inhabitants from spray. He stayed in his rock crevice, and we adjourned to the house, feeling very lucky indeed. Serendipperty.


[Back to Top]