Our approach to our backyard garden was to minimize our toil and, because we live in the high Chihuahua Desert, water. Our solution was to establish a backyard habitat populated with plants indigenous to this desert country. Two types of cacti were already thriving — a claret cup and a cholla.
We planted a few more specimens. This one is an early bloomer.
This claret cup cactus is nestling with a sage brush plant.
We added small agave of various types, and, over the years, they have flourished and created a fence of agave.
Salutary neglect along with Nature has produced a habitat in which lizards, bugs, birds, pollinators, and the occasional coyote make their living.
One of our favorite visitors is the roadrunner, a member of the cuckoo family.
Roadie hunts lizards, bugs, nestlings; an opportunistic feeder. Roadie also hops onto our patio and peers through our sliding glass door. It’s as though he knows he’s safe behind the glass, and it appears he enjoys tormenting the cats and dog. “Roadie” is in Owen’s canine vocabulary, along with “mail truck” and “trash truck.” When we call out “Roadie!” Owen races to the patio door growling.
Roadie, our name for whatever individual hunts lizards and bugs in the habitat
Birds that live in the neighborhood and those that migrate through find our backyard habitat easy pickings.
All year round, various finches (gold, house, and who knows what) hang out in a desert willow tree and empty the feeder of nijer thistle seed in a day and a half, to the delight of our nearby bird feed storekeeper.
During the winter, we add a feeder with seeds for the canyon wrens and curved bill thrashers who hang out all year.
Pigeons and doves mop up the seeds that the more interesting (to us) birds dribble onto the ground. As do the ground squirrels. In the spring, a wide variety of hummingbirds migrate to New Mexico, so we put out a feeder with sugar water. We miss them when they migrate south at the end of September.
They are aggressive little guys. They buzz one another in aerial combat and even dive bomb us when we’re sitting on the patio. We discovered one of their nests, a tiny cup, on a branch of our apricot tree.
Upon occasion, the multiple birds in the habitat swish away, none to be seen. A hawk, usually a red tail but sometimes a Cooper’s) descends and perches in the desert willow, wondering why it was shunned.
Great horned owls frequent the Ponderosa pines in the front yard. They hoot in the wee hours before dawn and deposit pellets that provide clues to their diet.
Of course, the local cuckoo darts around the habitat during warmer months.
During the winter, the road runner descends into the Rio Grande Bosque. But, like the hummingbird, returns to our habitat in the spring.
The Bosque, a Spanish word for a forest, is about a one mile wide stretch of trees and underbrush, dominated by cottonwoods, on both sides of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. The Bosque stretches some two hundred miles north to south along the middle reach of the river. The ecology of the Bosque is both interesting and daunting.
In Albuquerque, a state park interpretive center and multi-use trails (hiking, jogging, cycling, and horseback riding) are maintained by several public agencies. The trails meander for miles along both sides of the river, enabling people to experience nature virtually in their own backyards. The Rio Grande provides life giving water to a narrow strip of the high desert, and many species of critters inhabit the Bosque, as well as the river itself.
Around dawn, Owen (the namesake for this blog) rouses me to take him to the Bosque for a three to four mile walk.
Along the way, over the years, we have encountered a number of critters, sometimes startling Owen into flight/fight mode, but more often, causing mere disinterest. Many of our encounters with small birds flitting about the underbrush or even larger ones seeking fish in the river or the irrigation ditches, for example, have little relevance for a canine. And Owen is a canine par excellence.
Owen pays little attention to beavers or muskrats swimming largely under water in an irrigation acequia.
However, once we came across a beaver on shore returning to its lodge a bit late from browsing on bushes in the moonlight, and Owen woofed at the poor critter and chased it until it plopped into an acequia and splashed him with water from a thump of its tail.
On another occasion, we followed a porcupine down one of the trails. Leashing a curious Owen to spare us a vet bill to remove quills, took some time, so the beast waddled off into the brush a distance.
We have seen bobcat paw prints but have yet to spot one. A neighborhood website recently reported a bobcat wandering around, about a mile from the Bosque. A friend near the mountains reported that a female bobcat frequently peered through her patio door to terrify her domestic cats. Definitely, bobcats have a sense of humor, of a predatory sort.
Reportedly, here are reptiles in the bosque, mostly turtles (full disclosure: this turtle picture was taken at the Duck Pond on the UNM campus and that of the serpent at the nearby Petroglyphs National Monument.)
Cougar and black bears live in the mountain ranges on the east side of the length of the Bosque, and they travel through it as they move from one hunting range to another. Neither Owen nor I have spotted them, their spoor, or their scat. However, we have spotted the distinctive scat of coyotes. Once we spotted nine in a group, perhaps a couple of breeding pairs with yearlings and pups, heading north along the other side of the drainage ditch.
Coyotes are curious and have shadowed me and Owen on a number of occasions for a mile or more along the trails.
The Bosque is a migratory flyover route, and greater and lesser sandhill cranes migrate in from the Arctic tundra in the late fall and stay over until early spring. And, of course ducks and geese dwell in the waters of the river and the irrigation acequia.
Of course, the roadrunner is an interesting bird to watch, year around. It is so beloved, New Mexico uses its image as the logo for our light rail, the Railrunner.
Finally, one might encounter something mystical in the Bosque. This unicorn type beast is a whimsy of a quirky artistic soul, one of many choosing to live in Albuquerque.
Which of the Bosque beasts would you most like to encounter?