preaches from above
his dark robes spread
he tells his tale again
“I am the black rock, the Land
full of subtle, fragile life!”
from his piñon pulpit
the choir in the cholla
a meadowlark waiting
to sing today’s hymns
“I am the dark wind, the Breath
that spins the world!”
From my rough-hewn pew
beneath a juniper
I listen to his sermon
from a dark guide
“I am the black cloud, the Water
that awakens life!”
Beside me, a rabbit
whispers, “you cannot turn
the devil away
just with scripture.
Give yourself to God!
Give yourself to God!”
The sky itself has become
a black wing
as I turn away
out of the desert
“Thank you, brother!,
for taking the time.
It is good to see you
In church again!” mjh
All photos: Copyright (c) 2015 by Mark Justice Hinton. All Rights Reserved.
First photo of male Cock of the Rock (above)
I first heard of the Cock of the Rock years ago, after Merri led an impromptu expedition in Ecuador in search of the bird described as both showy and shy.
Last November, we were riding in a van for hours along miles of dirt road that skirt an edge of the Manu jungle region of Peru. Much of that day consisted of riding, stopping, getting out, standing by the road to look for birds while other vehicles roared pass. As we slowed for a turn before crossing a beautiful wide stream, the first Cock of the Rock male I’d ever seen landed on a branch, perhaps not 6 feet from my window (photo above). Snap! Be ready for your opportunities.
(The first female Cock of the Rock I saw was barely visible on a nest in shadow under an overhang above the Urubamba river in Aguas Caliente, near Machu Picchu. Dave Mehlman and I were wandering when a bus driver asked, “have you seen the Cock of the Rock on the nest?” Well, no actually.)
To me, the Cock of the Rock is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. The shape of the head defies logic. Look closely for the beak barely protruding from the feathers. The stark eyes are fish-like, or like the eyes pasted on stuffed animals. Yet the power of the intense red contrasting with the dapper grey and black is undeniable.
The next day, our group drove to a roadside viewing area adjacent to a lek, the competitive breeding grounds for Cocks of the Rock. Plastic tarps formed a wall to minimize dust and noise from passing vehicles. A local guardian kept the key to a locked gate that blocked the steep steps down to a narrow uneven path a dozen paces to a viewing stand, not a blind, but a rickety porch without other attachment, directly behind the plastic tarps. This viewing area looked down a hill that was dense jungle.
At the worst time, more than a dozen people jostled quietly on this platform for a chance to see and photograph one of the half a dozen or so Cocks of the Rock, mostly showy males. Viewing was very challenging through the tangle, though it’s easy to scan green for brilliant red. The loud sore-throat croak of the males also helps you find them.
Photographs required manual focus. There were just too many points to distract autofocus, but automatic exposure settings worked fine. Though the jungle was dim, these birds don’t move very fast.
Eventually, the flock of birders moved on, leaving just 3 of us to watch longer. During this time, the birds moved closer, still not as close as that first bird. It was a delightful moment.
OK, I did name the wilderness in the photos themselves. These newest photos are the oldest. (I know, it sounds wrong, but it’s true.) We took a trip to the unnamed wilderness in June with friends Melissa and Lew. We camped in a campground, instead of the jack-camping we did in August. Follow the link for all photos (14 from June plus the previously posted 60 from August).
Just this morning, as I walked Luke to the park, I thought about how we didn’t see our usual merlin (falcon) this winter. In years past, it occupied a particular telephone pole top almost every late afternoon from October to March. Not so this winter. Imagine my surprise when I spotted this merlin an hour later near the usual spot.
Death bows its head.
As I watched and photographed, the merlin left its prey and moved to a nearby tree. A scrub jay flew at it and the merlin flew around a bit before landing in another nearby tree. The jay went straight at the merlin and landed near it. A moment later, the merlin left the area. Drama on our street. Was the prey related to the jay?
We camped near Santa Fe in a great little campground near the bottom of the ski basin road. Black Canyon CG has paved sites with great separation, clean outhouses, no hook-ups. It’s barely an hour from Albuquerque and near 8500 feet. There is a good trail out out of the campground and another to Hyde Park CG. There were lots of birds, lots of hummingbirds, even one magnificent hummingbird (twice the size of more common hummingbirds). See 20 photos.
The poet stands before a cage of birds,
contemplating his next words.
He snatches up a finch
and deftly dips its feet in ink,
stamping glyphs across the page.
All the while, the bird sings softly,
adding a common tone
to this pedestrian poem.
Returning the finch to its pen,
the poet mutters,
"I should have used a wren." mjh
Merri notes, “After reading Judy Liddell’s bird report for the Estancia Basin, we headed to Clements Road just south of I-40 and just outside of Estancia. Wide-open ranches dominate the landscape out there. Driving and walking down dirt roads, we saw more than TWENTY ferruginous hawks, 4 rough-legged hawks, 2 red-tails, 2 golden eagles, some kestrels, a merlin, 2 shrikes, tons of horned lark, and 30+ antelope. We walked across ranch land and down a country road.”
I’ll add that we had never knowingly seen ferruginous nor rough-legged hawks, making these lifers for us both. In fact, we saw so many of each in so many poses that it was a field-lesson. It made for a beautiful day trip.
After seeing all those hawks on our main walks of the day, we looked for Cienega Draw on Willow Lake Rd, which seem to me imaginative, not descriptive, in this oh-so dry landscape. That detour did take us past the Thunder Chicken Ranch, a great name for an ostrich farm.
We drove farther south toward the two large-ish lakes that appear on the map south of the correctional facility. One lake was full of snow — surprising with the temp above 50 — but no liquid. Before we got to the second lake, a Cadillac Esplanade pulled up next to us. The woman driving asked if we were lost. No, I said, we’re bird-watching and thought the lakes might have something. She seemed surprised, then said sometimes they see cranes. I said I thought this was a public road and she said, yes, a little farther until the gate to the Wrye Ranch, which we saw the northern edge of at Clements Rd — quite a large spread. She drove on and immediately after her Mr Wrye stopped in his truck, "You need help?" he asked and I said, no, we’re just out for a drive. They were polite and offering help is neighborly but they were likely suspicious of strangers on "their" road. After they passed, we went on to the gate and turned around. If there is a second lake, it is behind a very high berm on the south side of the road.
Returning to pavement, we stopped where cottonwoods bordered what may have once been a house, now just some rubble. Mer saw a bird land. She got out and took photos of a merlin, yet another bird of prey to end our day. peace, mjh