I don’t think that I need to introduce anyone to 2020. I’m going to skip right over the worst of the year and focus on one specific birding topic. Traveling out of state to bird, while being safe and following mandates. After having to cancel a number of trips so far this year, Sara and I decided to take a quarantine bird-cation. It’s not unusual for us to plan a trip around birding, but we had never before, planned a mostly-stay-in-place birding trip.
New Mexico was our choice of location to visit. We had never birded that state unless we were driving 80 miles-per-hour on our way to Arizona (yes, we do the occasional driving eBird list). We were aware to we might have to quarantine for our whole stay, so we shifted our typical perspective of ‘how do we maximize our lifer count and bird total’ to more of a ‘sweatpants and hoodies with bionics and beers at the cabin’ frame of mind. Planning began.
After a bit of research, we decided on somewhere near Albuquerque. There were some nice rentals to choose from and plenty of local breweries that offered curbside-pickup! Sara scouted some locations outside of the city, as we were looking for seclusion. The Cibola National Forest is just east of Albuquerque’s northeast-quadrant. It’s an arid climate forest, which includes many junipers, Mexican Pinyon trees and bushy conifers. Sara found a cabin built into the wooded hillside with a perfect birding-deck. The deck was elevated to eye-level with the tops of some of the taller surrounding pines and pinyons. Next up; food, beer and entertainment (which was mostly bird-related).
Since staying at the cabin was the main plan, we wanted to attract as many birds to us as we could. We ordered a couple of pan-feeder sets that would clamp onto the deck rails. They worked wonderfully. We also took a pair of hummingbird feeders and some stackable fruit, nut and insect rings from Wild Birds Unlimited. After also planning a week’s worth of meals and snacks for ourselves, we were ready to stay-in-place once arriving in New Mexico. Next step was the drive.
We had 20 hours each way. The drive went better than planned (p.s. – always plan for the worst). The further west we went the more we found people complying with face-mask mandates, which was a welcome sight. We arrived at our destination late Saturday afternoon. We had 6 full days to make this cabin into our bird-cation home and we wasted no time. Pan-feeders up and filled. Check. Hummingbird feeders up with fresh sugar water. Check. Fruit, nut and insect rings in place. Check. After the priority of placing bird food was complete, we could now move into our house for the week.
Setting up the kitchen and unpacking our huge cooler of food was next. We pre-made and froze a few entrees, as well as took ingredients to make sides. The goal was to prepare meals that would give us leftovers to get us through the week. While finishing up unpacking, we looked outside to find a Woodhouse Scrub-Jay at one of our feeder-pans and two Broad-tailed Hummingbirds fighting for rights to the recently materialized nectar-feeders. This was going to be a great week.
As planned, most mornings began with putting on the sweatpants, a shirt and hoodie and bionics, then heading to the deck to set up the feeders. The Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were the first to be heard as their silhouettes darted against the skies early light, still before sunrise. They would tolerate one another for the first 20 minutes or so each morning, while loading up for the long day of battles ahead.
The hillside near the deck would start to fill with chattering of Dark-eyed Juncos. As the first strokes of color appear above the eastward mountains, Woodhouse Scrub-Jays would begin calling from the pines, stirring the Red-shafted Northern Flickers from their rest. Next, the Townsend’s Solitaire would break into full-throated song, before slowing to their consistent single-note whistle for much of the day.
As the sun made its first full appearance, the Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bushtits were taking quick turns at the Stackable-seed-rings, while Juniper Titmice were loudly protesting any presence but their own. The titmice were regularly found near the water feature (yes, the cabin had a water feature!). The hummingbirds were now in their full get-the-hell-away-from-my-
Throughout the late morning we would search the hiking-trails near the cabin for other species. Townsend’s Warblers and Grace’s Warblers were no stranger during our stay, with almost daily sightings. Spotted Towhee’s would regularly call from close by along with Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A Cassin’s Vireo and Black-throated Gray Warbler made a one-time appearance. And one day, on the property, we even picked up our lifer Pinyon Jay!
The week turned out to be the best balance of birding and relaxation Sara and I have ever planned. Taking our food and planning only an occasion morning trip out to bird turned out better than either of us could have hoped for. We are looking forward to the return of normalcy in coming years (yes, it will be years). But until then, more quarantine bird-cations may be on tap.
As one of my television heroes has said, many times: “I want to go to there.” -Liz Lemon
Albuquerque New Mexico has some most wonderful breweries. As you can imagine, during the pandemic, we didn’t get to experience them in the way we would like. But, we found that most all breweries did some curbside pickup and we love the beer we found. Let me put it this way – I brought home 79 cans of beer. Mostly all brewed in Albuquerque. That doesn’t include the beer consumed on the trip, either.
La Cumbre Brewing Company, Marble Brewery and La Reforma Brewing were the stand-out breweries of the trip. I only had a few beers from La Reforma, all great. But we ordered food from there as well and that is what blew me away. All of their recipes are from Mexico City and I had some of the best damn street-tacos ever. Marble had a super cool location and building and the had a lot of can pick-up options. I throughly enjoyed their Desert Fog IPA. I hope to make it back there for some drafts some day.
La Cumbre stood out among the crowd due to their selection and excellent full flavors. I’m a big IPA fan, if you haven’t noticed, and they excel in that department! Project Dank grabbed my immediate attention with their can art. Yes, I’m a sucker for great can art, especially if in incorporates a bird. This IPA, as the name clearly states, is a ‘project.’ La Cumbre describes it as “An ever-changing expression of our happiest endeavors, each recipe is different, featuring different hops and hopping techniques. One thing remains common…HOP INSANITY.” The Autumn Edition for 2020 is light and citrusy with a tropical aroma but a resinous bite. Another cool site that I hope to make it back to in coming years.
I’m in love with Albuquerque. I might need to move west.
Beer Info –
Brewery – La Cumbre Brewing Co.
Location – Albuquerque, NM
Beer – Project Dank – Autumn Edition (2020)
Style – American IPA
ABV – 7.5%. IBU – 100
Untappd Rating – 4.5/5
URL – https://www.lacumbrebrewing.com
Bird Photo Info –
Species – Cassin’s Vireo
Nikon D850 / Nikon 200-500 lens
Photo Settings: 1/800s @ F5.6; ISO 400 – 480mm – Aperture Priority
Handheld – No Flash
Location – Turquioise Trail – Cedar Crest, New Mexico
Date – September 21, 2020