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nature

The Crows, Crows, Crows

One of the world's smartest animals is right overhead

What's almost as amazing as the fact that the crow is one of the world's smartest animals, is that they're so commonplace. But, when you think about it, it follows: Smart animals survive and proliferate.

These intrepid black birds (from their beaks to their feet) are part of the corvid family, which also includes that other close relative of the crow, the raven. Almost all species of corvid have been observed using tools, have well-studied languages, a demonstrable generational memory and frequently vocalize emotions like fear and happiness. Domesticated crows even have "names" for their owners, typified by a vocalization only used in the presence of a particular person. Further, they are able to recognize a number of faces.

Part of the crow's ability to endure is the fact that they eat such a variety of food, over 1,000 different documented items. Dedicated omnivores, they'll eat carrion or carry out. They even recognize logos. Sadly and amazingly, crows will always descend upon a McDonald's bag before they peak into a plain brown sack.

If you need a list of 19 more reasons to love crows and some baby pics that make it impossible not to, check out this Buzzfeed list.

And also consider the great imagery these big black birds provide. They show up time and again in popular media ... take a listen to the Mountain Goats' song "The Crow," my personal favorite song about these special birds.

Coot is cute!

nature

Winter Ducks of the Rio Grande

As good a time as any to head to the bosque

I'm lucky enough to have had the opportunity to spend several mornings and evenings along the middle Rio Grande bosque counting songbirds and waterfowl. Along with the season's emblematic Sandhill Cranes, there is an abundance of birds that are easy to spot, easy to identify and which there is plenty of to see along Albuquerque's sliver of the mighty river.

Among these, perhaps the most common is the Mallard Duck. Both males and females- usually mated at this point in the year- swim through the acqueias and the river proper. These ducks are endemic the whole world through and the males- with a glossy green head and shades of brown feathers down their wings, backs and chests- are easy to spot. More often than not, if you spot a male, there will be a better camouflaged female nearby.

The Gadwall Duck- nearly the size of the Mallard, but with more understated coloration and a black bill- is also easy to find in the river this winter. These ducks are nearly as widespread as the Mallard due to their extreme adaptability. They've even been known to snatch food from the beak of other diving ducks.

Looking for something even more adorable? The Coot- technically part of the Rail family- is dark, petite and easy to spot in open water. These birds are black throughout the body, but have a light, even white colored bill, and sometimes show white on the tail. Making them even more endearing, coots have small, rounded wings and are weak fliers, despite their ability to cover large distances when necessary.

Also keep an eye out for the striking Wigeon, too. These birds breed farther north and make their way down to Albuquerque during the winter season. Males are colorful, with a cream colored forehead and jade green highlights while females are grayish overall. I've spotted just one along the Rio Grande this winter, but these are increasingly abundant.

Also found along the river: dog prints, coyote prints, the spine of a large mammal. Winter time is just as wonderful to test the waters of the Rio Grande, particularly when we have such an abundance of beautiful birds floating by for the season.

NATURE

The Day I Bought an Ostrich Egg

It was a Wednesday. As Circulation Manager I occasionally cover the routes of absent drivers, and this particular week I drove down Isleta Blvd. to Los Lunas. Knowing that a friend's birthday party was that night, I determined to keep an eye peeled for the kind of unique weirdness one finds while delivering the Alibi.

Almost immediately, the perfect gift jumped out at me from a sign in front of a bait shop: ostrich eggs. Who wouldn't want an ostrich egg?

My partner and I went in and asked to see one. As we were waiting we asked how many ostriches the guy had. Just one. I wanted to know if they were mean. Only the males. In fact, he said, the female behind the store was so mellow, the guy could pet her and lead her around and such. He went on to explain that as long as he keeps her happy, she'll lay an egg every two days! Without a male to give her attention, this state of well being is achieved first with a back massage and then the insertion of a length of pvc pipe into... you get the picture. Twenty dollars later, we walked out with our own ostrich egg, which could feed at least 6 people.

The egg was a hit at the party, but unfortunately no one seemed to have time to drain and cook the damn thing. A week later it was ultimately returned to ME, and I have now brought it to the Alibi kitchen in hopes someone else will adopt it/eat it.

Nature

The Belen Marsh

A really cool short trip south of Albuquerque

The jewel of the City of Belen is nestled behind a Taco Bell.

It’s the Belen Marsh, an accidentally made salty wetland where nearly 100 species of birds come to entertain bored photojournalists.

Legend has it the Belen Marsh was created when road crews dug out a large amount of earth to build a freeway bypass. They ended up hitting the water table and brackish water filled the hole in the ground, forming an ideal place for shorebirds to hang out.

Many amazing birds can be found in the marsh: Snowy Egrets, Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Kill Deer and a bizarre duck called Ruddy which has a turquoise bill. There are also muskrats in a nearby irrigation canal and a clutch of burrow owls is roosting in a nearby field. It’s a great place to take children who will find the large shorebirds reminiscent of dinosaurs.

The marsh has, unfortunately, been used as a dumping ground, but a local environmental organization has gone out and cleaned up some of the wreckage. It sits on private property so it is probably wise to stay on the street, unless, of course, you are daring.

It has been a source of contention, as one group wants to see the marsh drained and filled to make way for a parking lot. Another wants it left alone as it is a unique miniature ecosystem.

To get to the marsh, take I-25 south to the first Belen exit. Head east. Once you see the Taco Bell, take a right. It is to your left. It’s buggy down there so bring mosquito repellent. A camera wouldn’t hurt either, and it’s a good place to practice taking action shots. Those birds move.
Enjoy. And hurry before some oil company comes along and starts drilling and there are no more birds to enjoy. It could happen.

Today's Events

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