Hiking Tadpole Ridge with birder Brian Dolton.
by Linda Ferrara
This hike is for the birds!
Earlier this year I contacted the local Audubon Society about a hike related to birding. I was soon in touch with Brian Dolton, a 53-year-old Englishman who is the Field Trip Coordinator. He has been interested in birding since he was a wee lad growing up in an English village where he walked the moorlands. For the past five years he has lived just north of Silver City, where he and his wife, Robin, enjoy hiking and birding.
We first did a hike on Signal Peak just days before the Signal Peak fire and the trail that Brian had chosen turned out to be right in the fire's path. Our second outing was in early June when we drove up Hwy. 15. During these two hikes I learned a lot about birding. The first thing I learned was that I was calling it by a common misnomer: bird watching. The hobby is as much about listening and knowing locations as it is about watching, ergo: birding.
I was curious about why we were heading into the mountains, since I thought that the best place to find birds was near water. Brian explained (using that delightful accent), "Of course water is a good place to find birds, but the beauty of the mountains is it gives one the opportunity to gain altitude. You see, this is an excellent chance to view birds that spend much of their time atop trees."
Brian showed me a new addition to his birding gear: an iPad with an app that is an encyclopedia of birds that actually has bird songs and calls so you can instantly verify what you are hearing, and verify sightings using photographs and much more.
Name: Tadpole Ridge
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Hwy. 15 and 32nd Street in Silver City, drive north on Hwy. 15 for 13.7 miles to the turn-off for Meadow Creek. Park here and walk across Hwy. 15 and walk up the dirt road you see there.
Hike Description: This is an upward trek towards Scott Peak and beyond. You will travel through pine forests and open areas with loose rocks. At the 0.27-mile mark, you will see a cairn on the left. This is the trail that goes down to the Signal Peak parking area on Hwy. 15 (right near the cattle guard). Continue ahead uphill through the trees. At about the 0.57-mile mark, you will start seeing views of Scott's Peak. Look back at Signal Peak behind you and view parts of the May 2014 fire area.
If you go far enough, you will observe maple trees and even farther up is a stock pond. This hike is a good one for observing succession vegetation from old fires (the aspens, ferns and oaks are all examples), as they are visible on many of the mountains around you, both nearby and far in the distance. When ready, return the way you came.
Notes: Along the way, we identified several bird species including: five turkey vultures, a broad-tailed hummingbird, a northern flicker, a western wood-pewee and an American robin. I was first to see an olive-sided flycatcher, to which Brian exclaimed, "Well spotted, well done!" It was a great introductory hike for a person new to birding. Now when I go on a hike, I am much more aware of the sounds of the birds and I thank Brian for that.
Can you give us a "Beginner's Guide to Birding"?
- Your best chance of viewing the most birds is early morning.
- A set of decent binoculars is a must.
- Get a pocket-sized bird identification book. (Brian recommends The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Sibley.)
- Get a bird checklist (available for purchase through the SWNM Audubon Society).
- Attend Audubon field trips.
- Join the Audubon Society (either national or local chapter)
Tell us more about the Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society: Check out their website at www.swnmaudubon.org, or contact president Nancy Kaminski at firstname.lastname@example.org, or membership coordinator Terry Timme at email@example.com, (575) 534-0457. The group has field trips, usually on the first Saturday of the month, a presentation meeting on the first Friday of the month at WNMU's Harlan Hall (12th and Alabama Streets) at 7 p.m., and a "Birds and Brews" event on the fourth Thursday of the month at Little Toad Creek, Bullard and Broadway in Silver City, at 5:15 p.m. Details on the field trips and meetings are in The Ravens newsletter published five times a year. It is available on the website or various locations around town. Annual membership is $15. You do not need to be a member to attend any of these events.
In closing, I found Brian to be a first-rate hiking partner because he was knowledgeable not only about birds but about all things fauna and flora. It occurred to me that he would be equally comfortable in a science lab as he would be in a computer lab.
Please tell me I didn't say "Bloody good show, mate!" to him when we parted ways!
To read more about Linda Ferrara's 100-hike challenge, check out her blog at 100hikesinayear.wordpress.com.
See a collection of Linda Ferrara's previous 100 Hikes columns