Jen­nifer Goes to Things & Does Stuff

Jen­nifer Levin grabs a pair of binoc­u­lars and tries bird-watch­ing at the Ran­dall Davey Audubon Cen­ter

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jen­nifer Levin

A cou­ple of Satur­days ago, I went to the free guided bird walk of­fered weekly at the Ran­dall Davey Audubon Cen­ter & Sanc­tu­ary, which is lo­cated where Up­per Canyon Road dead-ends, past the Santa Fe Canyon Pre­serve. It had been warm in town, but when I stepped out of my car at the sanc­tu­ary just be­fore 8 a.m., I wished I were the kind of per­son who keeps a sweat­shirt in the trunk for emer­gen­cies. About a dozen peo­ple milled about in the park­ing lot, happy to be up early on the week­end un­der storm clouds threat­en­ing to break. Most of them wore weath­er­re­sis­tant, out­doorsy cloth­ing. Some looked into the dis­tance through fancy binoc­u­lars. I’d never been bird-watch­ing be­fore and it hadn’t oc­curred to me that I would need binoc­u­lars — which seems ab­surd in hind­sight — but when I signed in at the visi­tors cen­ter, they pointed me to a bin full of them, free for bor­row­ing. “They’re old and they’re not the great­est, but you can see through them,” a vol­un­teer told me.

The bird walk was led by vol­un­teers War­ren and Rocky. We be­gan in the park­ing lot, where there were a few hum­ming­birds nearby. One hung in midair for the bet­ter part of a minute and then zoomed away to amuse it­self — and us — by re­peat­edly arc­ing high up and div­ing into the top of a tree. A mag­pie was spot­ted far­ther away, but when I looked through my binoc­u­lars, I saw only its dark sil­hou­ette. I hadn’t used binoc­u­lars since I was a kid, and had clearly for­got­ten how to fo­cus them. A woman named Ar­lene Ory kindly showed me which of the mov­ing parts I needed to ad­just, and I was then able to see the mag­pie pick­ing at its black and white feath­ers with its sharp beak. I let out an au­di­ble gasp, as I sud­denly un­der­stood the ap­peal of bird-watch­ing. Ory, who has lived in Santa Fe for 20 years, has been com­ing to the Satur­day bird walk for three years. “I don’t know the birds very well, but I’m learn­ing. It’s just fun to be here,” she said.

Though the walk takes place in the early morn­ing, the guides told us that con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, you can see all sorts of birds at all hours of the day. Rocky and War­ren led us into the gar­dens be­hind the visi­tors cen­ter, where there are many bird­feed­ers, but the num­ber of birds in the area was un­usu­ally low that morn­ing, prob­a­bly due to the pres­ence of a cooper’s hawk, who preys on smaller birds. “They’ve been scared away,” the guides told us, and then they dif­fer­en­ti­ated the cooper’s hawk from the red-tailed hawk: The lat­ter hunts rab­bits and mice. (Red-tailed hawks are spot­ted fre­quently at the Santa Fe Re­cy­cling Cen­ter on the north end of town.)

One cou­ple from Toronto gen­tly teased me for never hav­ing been bird­ing be­fore, but many of the peo­ple on the walk were new to the ac­tiv­ity, there to ed­u­cate them­selves fur­ther about the kinds of birds that fre­quent their own back­yards — which in Santa Fe in­clude mourn­ing doves, western tan­agers, canyon towhees, spot­ted towhees, and lad­der-back wood­peck­ers. A tourist cou­ple from Mary­land, Brian and Su­san Bar­tel, were there due to Brian’s re­cent in­ter­est in birds. “He makes his own sugar wa­ter for the feed­ers,” Su­san told me as we stood out­side Ran­dall Davey’s his­toric house, near an old or­chard. Be­tween bird sight­ings, Brian glee­fully told me that he knows noth­ing about birds, “But I love them. I’m a bird whore.”

We next tramped down a path to the Santa Fe River. Be­cause spring and early-sum­mer rains have been plen­ti­ful this year, the river was in flood stage, and even the rocky foot­bridge they usu­ally use when the river is high was un­der­wa­ter, so we were un­able to cross. I looked for birds when oth­ers pointed them out, in­clud­ing a goldfinch with a yel­low breast and black cap, but I was happy just to lis­ten to the chat­ter of my fel­low bird­ers — talk that turned to how high fences have to be in or­der to keep out bob­cats — and stand around in the un­usu­ally lush for­est.

I went back the fol­low­ing Fri­day af­ter­noon at 2 p.m. to take the tour of the Ran­dall Davey house and stu­dio. The house was orig­i­nally a lum­ber mill that Davey, an artist, con­verted when he moved to Santa Fe in 1920. Davey painted land­scapes, por­traits, and nudes, many of which are on dis­play in the house. He came from a fam­ily of polo play­ers and was an early adopter of the au­to­mo­bile, which he liked to drive at high speeds; he died in a car wreck on his way to Cal­i­for­nia in 1964 when he was seventy-seven years old. Though the house could use a tremen­dous amount of main­te­nance and restora­tion, the tour is well worth the five-dol­lar ad­mis­sion fee. Davey’s house is a strange, won­der­ful hy­brid of Santa Fe and Vic­to­rian styles with Art Deco in­flu­ences. The stu­dio is pre­served as Davey left it, with a half-fin­ished paint­ing on the easel, brushes in a jar of tur­pen­tine, and dozens of half-used tubes of paint on the ta­bles. Each do­cent gives a slightly dif­fer­ent tour; some know more about Davey’s art and some con­cen­trate on the way he lived, so groups are welcome to call ahead to ar­range tours based on a spe­cific an­gle.

I would def­i­nitely visit the Audubon Cen­ter again, for the bird walk or to ex­plore on my own. It would be a great place to take out-of-town visi­tors who aren’t pre­pared for a rig­or­ous hike at al­ti­tude but still want to get out into na­ture. In­for­ma­tion about spe­cial guided hikes and events, as well as gar­dens and bird­ing trails, is avail­able on their web­site, ran­dall-davey-audubon-cen­ter-sanc­tu­ary. The next guided bird walk is at 8 a.m. on Satur­day, July 4.

Il­lus­tra­tion of com­mon mag­pies by John James Audubon, 19th cen­tury; bird-watch­ers at the Ran­dall Davey Audubon Cen­ter & Sanc­tu­ary

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