ruins at Mesa Verde 

Cliff Palace ruins at Mesa Verde, Photo courtesy of Andy Bankert

At first glance, the four corners region seems barren. Dry and parched, who would want to live in such a landscape? About 1400 years ago (600 A.D.), Puebloan Native Americans (the Anasazi) did occupy the landscape. They were skilled at finding water in a region choked by periodic drought. Incredibly resourceful, these people utilized all parts of the juniper and pinyon pine for house construction, medicine, and even clothing. This civilization thrived until 1300 A.D. when, for reason not known, they suddenly abandoned their cliff dwellings. The Zuni and Hopi peoples of today are believed to be the descendents of the Anasazi.

For five days I explored this landscape and rich history with my family and close friend, Andy Bankert. Although primarily a sightseeing trip, birding was inevitable. With some persuasion, I convinced my grandparents to take us to see an Acorn Woodpecker colony about one hour away from Mesa Verde National Park (the only known colony in Colorado). Andy and I managed to locate most of the pinyon/juniper habitat specialty birds, including Gray Flycatcher (at a nest), Pinyon Jay, and Black-throated Gray Warbler.

curious Canyon Wren 

Canyon Wren, Photo Courtesy of Andy Bankert

One of my favorite experiences involved a sprightly bird common to western canyons. Andy and I took a 3 mile hike to view a panel of petroglyphs. The trail hugged the canyon edge, overlooking rocky ledges and a spruce filled drainage. I took advantage of the opportunity to bring my Native American flutes and play in this place of striking beauty. As I played, the notes bounced off the canyon walls, filling the air with a rich echo. Perched on a sandstone boulder behind me, a Canon Wren let loose a descending song, JZEER! JZEER! JZEER! JZEER! JZEER!. Andy excitedly snapped several photographs as the tame wren flitted in closer, flashing his cream throat and modeling his rusty coloring.

Family trips can also be birding trips. There are, after all, birds to see wherever we go! This particular trip was a unique mix of history and birding, archaeology and ornithology. As we approach summer’s end, I know readers have plenty of birding stories to share. Send your story, trip diary, art, or photographs to [email protected] to have your adventure posted on The Eyrie.