Category Archives: Our Bird Sanctuary

Lions, and Tigers and… SNAKES?!

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I stumbled into the kitchen and this feeling of horror crept over me!  What had I done?!  Had I really let in the enemy?!

Coffee seemed of little importance as I stared at the shed snakeskin I had cut and laid out on parchment paper the night before… and I cringed.  I nearly squealed with delight upon finding the shed snakeskin the day before.  My husband had gently lifted the brittle shell to carry it into the house, and from the looks of it, the snake had shed its skin several days prior, maybe even weeks.  It was so very fragile and I immediately went to work researching shed snakeskins.  That’s when I discovered how to make jewelry pendants from the skins, an idea that caught my fancy, and I went to work hydrating the skin so I could lay it out flat to dry overnight.

But things always seem different after a good night’s sleep and something about the snakeskin seemed eerie in the morning light.  I became immediately conflicted about its presence in our home, let alone the idea of wearing it!  Several thoughts stampeded my brain.

As a Christian, I was instantly reminded of the verse in Genesis where God cursed the serpent more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field, doomed to go on his belly and eat dust all the days of his life.  Floods of other scripture reminded me that the snake is the symbol of evil, the serpent a deceptive trickster particularly adept at promoting all God has forbidden as “good”.

I had to pause and take a breath before sorting through the other thoughts flooding my mind:

While Christians may believe the serpent to be a symbol of evil, snakes serve as different symbols in other cultures:

  • In early Egyptian society the snake was the symbol of royalty and deity.
  • As a Spiritual Animal, the snake represents healing, transformation and life changes, often providing guidance about life changes and transitions – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
  • In Medicine, the snake is a common symbol on pharmaceutical packaging and hospitals, with the two serpents wrapped around the staff of Asclepius, Greek mythological son of Apollo and god of medicine and healing.
  • Ancient symbolism (the ouroboros) depicts the serpent or snake eating its own tail, representing the infinite cycle of nature’s endless creation and destruction, life and death.
  • In other eras and other cultures, the snake symbolized eternal love, healing, fertility, wisdom, and even immortality.

But the symbolism that resonated with me the most was the role of the snake in the circle of life.  In fact, most naturalists will suggest you do nothing to remove snakes from your yard or garden because they play a critical role in the natural ecosystem.  Not only do snakes help control the rodent population… snakes also serve as a food source for several bird species, including owls, hawks, falcons, and herons.  And you know how much I LOVE birds!

I came “full circle” in my thinking when I remembered Psalm 148 which serves as praise to the Lord from Creation itself, praise from all things – beasts and creeping things (including snakes) – and I could suddenly imagine snakes everywhere praising God for having created them too (image snakes at a Christian rock revival).

I started to breathe easier after my mental wrestling match and decided to celebrate our find.  Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth, and further growth is good for our wildlife habitat.  Further growth is also all part of God’s design and I decided that finding this particular shed was a gift, one I could wear as homage to the circle of life and all things created by God.

So I ask… is it a terribly weird idea and you’d never let any part of any snake in your house, no way, no how?  Or, do you totally love it and want a pendant of your own?  Thoughts?

10 Things I Learned During the First Year of our Wildlife Habitat and Bird Sanctuary

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This month marks the one year anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat and Bird Sanctuary, and as I reminisce over the last twelve months, I’m reminded of how blessed we have been.  Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker.  We have several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders, AND we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month.

Getting to experience the birds and wildlife every day is a special treat but the real gift lies in the wisdom I’ve acquired in such a short time.  Nature has its music for those who will listen and I’ve done my share of listening.  Here’s what I’ve learned in the process:

  1. The date and time stamp on the trail cam matters in keeping good records.
  2. Birds will not set a limit on how much food I should provide them, so I have to.
  3. Indoor window clings are critical in avoiding aviary window strikes.
  4. When time or resources are limited, water is more important than food.
  5. Having a contact at the local US Fish and Wildlife Service is really helpful.
  6. Photographs are required to support a claim of wildlife or bird species.
  7. There will be injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife and knowing in advance what to do when I find them will reduce stress – for me and for the wildlife.
  8. Volunteering at a local wildlife rescue organization is an ideal hands-on learning experience.
  9. The traffic patterns in my habitat may not match the information in various field guides, and that’s okay.
  10. Knowing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 will help keep me out of jail.

I should probably write a book about everything I’ve learned this past year, but for now this is my short list.  And if you’re interested in hearing the details around each of these ten learnings, check back here over the next several weeks. My goal is to elaborate on each and every one of these in greater detail.  In the meantime… happy birding!Special care ad

Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat!

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One year ago this month, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, recognized me and my husband for having successfully certified our Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program.  This month, we are celebrating the habitat’s one year anniversary! Woo hoo!

Truth is, we certified our mountainous habitat in response to the “Dog Head” fire that consumed nearly 18,000 acres in June of last year.  We had experienced a sudden influx of both birds and wildlife immediately after the fire and we wanted to do our part to create a safe haven for them.  In fact, in just this past year alone, we’ve had 32 different bird species come through our habitat, many of which have nested and are now raising young.

Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker. We provide for the wild birds with several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders. And we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month! But providing water is the most critical aspect of what we do (as you’ve heard me say before) because a bird will die from dehydration before it will die from starvation, especially during critical winter months or droughts when water is scarce.

Even wild mammals need water, as evidenced by several photographs I took this summer of a mule deer drinking water from our birdbath out back.  (That was terribly exciting to watch!) Other mammals frequenting our wildlife habitat include Abert’s and rock squirrels, brush and cottontail bunnies, coyotes, and a pair of wolves.

In the midst of the worldly drama around us, we’re grateful to have nature as a form of distraction.  The beauty and grace of our wildlife and birds delight us daily, reminding us of the splendor of God’s creation.  Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us, for your encouragement along the way, and for your support of our efforts.

Local Businesses Rally around Wildlife Habitat to Save the Birds, Tijeras, New Mexico

Tijeras, New Mexico – November 4, 2016 – Local businesses in the Greater Albuquerque Area are rallying around Tijeras resident Kristen Clark in her effort to save the birds that were displaced from the “Dog Head” fire in June. Businesses are showing their support by hosting Clark at their locations for a book signing of her new book, Favorite Birds of New Mexico.

Community members in the Greater Albuquerque area are invited to visit with the author at various locations throughout November and December. Patrons can expect to hear her experiences of:

  • Certifying two backyards as wildlife habitats, and how you can too
  • Discovering why it’s important to provide extra food/water sources through the winter
  • Understanding the impact of the Dog Head fire on displaced birds and why birds need our assistance.

She’ll be available to sign copies of her new book, Favorite Birds of New Mexico, featuring over 20 bird species present in the Manzano mountain range, along with full-color photographs and educational descriptions of the birds unique to this mountainous habitat. Book sales are helping support her 2.5 acre certified wildlife habitat in an effort to provide a safe haven for migratory and displaced birds.

“We’ve had an influx of birds, some the result of normal paths of migration and many that have been displaced by the Dog Head fire. I was deeply inspired to photograph those birds and share them with others in this educational picture book,” said Clark, author of five other books about birds and backyard birding, including The Special Care & Feeding of Backyard Birds and Santa’s Little Messenger Birds.

Clark adds, “And I’m just thrilled with the local support I’m receiving in this effort, thanks to the Mountain View Telegraph and Albuquerque Journal who picked up my story in early October.”

Kristen and her husband are raising $10,500 dollars to stock their certified wildlife habitat with much needed food and water sources for the impacted birds. Interested parties can show their support by joining her at the following locations in the coming weeks:

  • Saturday, Nov 12, 11am to 1pm at Western Mercantile in Tijeras
  • Saturday, Nov 12, 6pm at Old Tyme Shop & Ice Cream Parlor in Tijeras
  • Saturday, Nov 19, 1pm at Estancia Public Library in Estancia
  • Saturday, Dec 10, 11am to 1pm at Rehm’s Nursery in Albuquerque

Clark says, “Raising money for this bird sanctuary is one way I can give back to the environment. Others are showing their desire to give back, too, through their support. And, I couldn’t be more delighted.”

About the Author

Kristen Clark is a fan of all things beautiful, with a special love for birds. The author of several bird books, including THE SPECIAL CARE & FEEDING OF BACKYARD BIRDS, she founded Backyard Birding Paradise to educate others on the benefits and value of bird-watching.

To LEARN MORE or to DONATE, please visit:


 Contact:  Kristen Clark

Tijeras, NM





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National Wildlife Federation Certifies New Wildlife Habitat in Tijeras, New Mexico

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555937_4398759251830_1009391537_nTijeras, New Mexico – September 12, 2016 – The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, is pleased to recognize that Lawrence and Kristen Clark in Tijeras have successfully created a Certified Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program. NWF celebrates the efforts of Lawrence and Kristen to create a 2.5 acre garden that improves habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing essential elements needed by all wildlife – natural food sources, clean water, cover, and places to raise young.

“We are so excite to have another passionate wildlife gardener join us and create a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Over the last 40 years, nearly 200,000 wildlife gardeners have joined NWF’s Garden for Wildlife movement and helped restore wildlife habitat right in their own yards and neighborhoods,” said David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation.  “Whether you garden in a suburban yard, an apartment balcony or a 10-acre farm, a schoolyard, or business, park, or anything in between, everyone can create a home for local wildlife.  Turning your space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat is fun, easy, and makes a big difference for neighborhood wildlife,” he added.

The Clarks certified their 2.5 acre mountainous habitat in response to the “Dog Head” fire in June. “My heart ached for the resulting loss, nearly 18,000 acres of beautiful forest and wildlife,” Kristen shared.  “But I was also grateful. Our home and belongings were spared and we now have ample opportunity to provide food, water, and habitat to many displaced and stressed birds.” She went on to explain, “And the birds need our help. Research indicates that it will take some 100 years, if not more, before a forest will return to normal conditions after a fire. Unfortunately, not all of the birds can wait that long.”

Kristen is raising $10,500 dollars to stock their certified wildlife habitat and provide the special care and feeding of the impacted birds. This the result of a definite surge in both population and species after the fire, but also because national forests aren’t staffed to provide adequate food or water for birds, especially during critical winter months or droughts when food and water are scarce.  Additionally, every certified habitat is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife, both locally and along migratory corridors.

About National Wildlife Federation

The NWF’s Garden for Wildlife program encourages responsible gardening for people like the Clarks. It encourages planting with native species like milkweed and discouraging chemical pesticide use.  With nearly 200,000 locations and growing, NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitats and Community Wildlife Habitats recognize individuals, schools, groups and whole communities committed to providing habitat for wildlife, including pollinators.  For more information on gardening for wildlife and details on how an entire community can become certified, visit or call 1-800-822-9919.


Lacey McCormick

National Wildlife Federation



About Backyard Birding Paradise

Kristen Clark is a fan of all things beautiful, with a special love for birds. The author of several bird books, including The Special Care & Feeding of Backyard Birds, she founded Backyard Birding Paradise to educate others on the benefits and value of bird-watching.


To LEARN MORE or to DONATE, please visit:


Contact:  Kristen Clark

Tijeras, NM


Woo Hoo! We Just Certified Our Wildlife Habitat!

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One of my commitments from my fundraising campaign was to certify my property as a wildlife habitat so I could more easily provide for the displaced birds that fled the 18,000 acres of national forest consumed by Dog Head Fire in June. And while I half expected this to be a daunting task, it was much easier than I expected. It was also a terrific educational experience in that I learned much more about what birds need in order to survive.

We certified our place through the National Wildlife Federation.  At first I was doubtful that we’d get certified. But after reviewing the requirements and doing a little homework, I was encouraged. More importantly, going through the application process solidified my commitment to the wildlife and birds visiting our property. And here’s what I learned was needed for certification approval.

FOOD SOURCES: Need 3 of the following types of plants or supplemental feeders. I got lucky here because Juniper trees are abundant on our property, which are a great source of berries. We also have tons of foliage and twigs, and nuts in the form of acorns. And, we have suet and bird feeders, along with a few hummingbird feeders, that I fill regularly.

  • Seeds from a plant
  • Berries
  • Nectar
  • Foliage/Twigs
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Sap
  • Pollen
  • Suet
  • Bird Feeder
  • Hummingbird Feeder


WATER SOURCES: Need 1 of the following sources to provide clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe. For this requirement we invested in a birdbath and a solar pump, which I fill and clean regularly. And our bird bath is visited all day long in the absence of other water sources, this the result of our location. But, it works and it meets the requirement. AWESOME!

  • Birdbath
  • Lake
  • Stream
  • Seasonal Pool
  • Ocean
  • Water Garden/Pond
  • River
  • Rain Garden
  • Spring


PROTECTIVE COVER: Need at least 2 places to find shelter from the weather and predators. Our property is a naturally wooded area and heavily populated with evergreens, dense shrubs, and various brush and log piles, so this was an easy provision. We didn’t need to add anything for protective cover.

  • Wooded Area
  • Bramble Patch
  • Ground Cover
  • Rock Pile or Wall
  • Cave
  • Roosting Box
  • Dense Shrubs or Thicket
  • Evergreens
  • Brush or Log Pile
  • Burrow
  • Meadow or Prairie


RAISING OF YOUNG: Need at least 2 places for wildlife to engage in courtship behavior, mate, and then bear and raise their young. Our property is also abundant in mature and dead trees, along with dense shrubs. In fact, I currently have the pleasure of watching a family of Chipping Sparrows and Canyon Towhees gather off our back porch regularly throughout the day, and boy are they a noisy bunch! Lol.

  • Mature Trees
  • Meadow or Prairie
  • Nesting Box
  • Wetland
  • Cave
  • Host Plants for Caterpillars
  • Dead Trees or Snags
  • Dense Shrubs or a Thicket
  • Water Garden or Pond
  • Burrow


SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES: Should be doing 2 things to help manage your habitat in a sustainable way. The Soil and Water Conservation requirement worried me at first, until my husband pointed out that we already limit water use and reduce erosion with the natural groundcover on our property. Additionally, we’re agreed to find a solution for capturing rain water from the roof; this because he also wants to set up a greenhouse to grow vegetables for his Mountain Man Gourmet recipes.  The other requirements were easy to satisfy because of our natural habitat (making it easy to control exotic species) and existing organic practices.

  • Soil and Water Conservation:
    • Riparian Buffer
    • Capture Rain Water from Roof
    • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping)
    • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation
    • Limit Water Use
    • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces)
    • Use Mulch
    • Rain Garden


  • Controlling Exotic Species:
    • Practice Integrated Pest Management
    • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals
    • Use Native Plants
    • Reduce Lawn Areas


  • Organic Practices:
    • Eliminate Chemical Pesticides
    • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers
    • Compost


Certifying my habitat has been a fantastic educational adventure, and I’m inspired to do so much more. Now that my certification sign has been ordered and is on its way, my next step is to purchase a few platform feeders for the larger birds, including the ravens and crows.  Stay tuned for that update!


Vista Print image

New Mexico Bird Lover Raising $10,500 to provide for Migratory and Displaced Birds

It’s amazing to me what people can raise money for today and I think I’ve seen it all, including home repairs, college education, braces, even child adoption fees. What a fantastic world we live in that monies can be so easily raised, thanks to the Internet and various fund-raising web sites.

So, I’m taking the plunge! Yep, I started my own fund-raising campaign. Crazy? Maybe, but I’m committed to the cause. I believe the environment matters.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: We’ve had an influx of birds recently due to normal migration paths and also displaced birds from Dog Head Fire. Nearly 18,000 acres of beautiful forest and wildlife in East Mountain were consumed by the fire, raising the need for more food, more water, and more protection for the birds. In fact, after the flames of the fire died down, birds arrived to nearby areas in droves. We are also experiencing an influx of birds at our place.

We are located in the Manzano mountain range in the central part of New Mexico, known as the Land of Enchantment and home to the western branch of the Salt Missions Trail, formerly called Turquois Trail.  With a harmonious blend of over 270 bird species reported in the area, many are unique to mountainous habitats, including aspen ponderosa pine, high elevation willow, spruce, fir and alpine tundra.  Yes, East Mountain is a tribute to quiet excitement and adventure, and caters to a specific set of birds.

HERE’S MY SOLUTION: As a lover of all things beautiful – especially birds – I am sensitive to the balance of nature and my heart’s desire is to certify our 2.5 acres as a wildlife habitat and provide the special care and feeding of birds.  This the result of a definite surge in both population and species.   But also because national forests don’t provide adequate food or water for birds, especially during critical winter months or droughts when food and water are scarce.  Also, every certified habitat is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife, both locally and along migratory corridors.

WHY BIRDS?  We admire birds for their beauty and songs, and the grace of their ability to fly.  We also admire their importance to the ecosystem. Yes! Birds provide many direct and indirect contributions to the environment.  For example:

  • Many ecologically important plants require pollination by birds
  • Many species of conifers are spread largely by birds
  • Fruit-eating birds aid the germination and spread of hundreds of plants and trees
  • Hawks and owls are great consumers of pests such as rodents
  • Flycatchers and their allies consume tons of insects each year

Birds are also excellent indicators of environmental health as changes in bird populations can tell us a great deal about the impacts of climate, drought, weather, and habitat change on the environment.

This explains why, according to a recent Census Report, over 65 million Americans enjoy feeding birds in their own backyard as a convenient way to appreciate and study nature.  AND… watching birds, like watching fish or other animals, seems to make people feel good – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

HERE’S MY PLAN: Raise $10,500 to invest in the following:

  • Wildlife Certification Application
  • 12 Bird Houses
  • 10 Shepherd’s Hooks
  • 10 Hanging Bird Feeders (Various Kinds)
  • 5 Platform Feeders
  • 5 Solar Bird Baths
  • Bird Food (Seed, Suet, Thistle, Peanuts)
  • 1 Observation Tower
  • Advertising Costs to Raise Money

Raising this kind of money is a significant undertaking, but I believe it’s doable. And while some may think my gesture nervy and self-seeking, I know others will see this as a courageous effort and jump on my bandwagon to help the birds.  I hope “others” includes you!

For more information about this effort, including my tokens of appreciation for various donation levels, PLEASE CLICK HERE. You’ll be redirected to my donation page.

My goal is to protect the magic and beauty of our fine feathered friends in the hope that someday others, perhaps you, will have the chance to visit our mountain personally, experience the breathtaking views this enchanted landscape has to offer, and discover the magic of our treasured birds. My uncompromising commitment is to help protect and secure the environment for future generations. I hope you will join me in this critical effort!  This is one way we can be kind and give back to Nature.

Kristen –

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Where’d All These Birds Come From?!

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I’m visiting our little slice of heaven in the mountains in New Mexico, keeping a watchful eye out for the threatened Gray Vireo, and amazed by the number of different bird species dining at our house this week. We usually get a varied collection this time of year, as a result of normal migration paths, but I think the influx is also largely due to misplaced birds from Dog Head Fire, the recent forest fire that consumed some 18,000 acres of natural forest.

And, while I’ve not seen any threatened Gray Vireos (as I’d hoped), I have seen plenty of other beauties.  Check out this video, comprised of my photographs over just two days.

Yes we have an influx of chickadees (which I had expected from the fire), and more towhees than we’ve had in past years. The grosbeak has returned this year. And, the Lesser Goldfinch has shown up. Additionally, the meadow down the walk seems to have attracted a number of new and equally gorgeous birds. In fact, I’m eager to set up camp for a few hours there to observe and photograph those birds – just need my camera and a thermos of hot coffee. But, that adventure may have to wait until tomorrow, as the sky is dark and ominous, and an indication of more rain to come.

Either way, I’m intrigued to see who swings by for a bite tomorrow. Good thing we stocked up on food.


Bird Journal


But What About the Birds?

A week ago Saturday, my husband called from our mountain in New Mexico to tell me he had to evacuate.  I was still in Houston.

“The mountain is on fire,” he said.

Dog Head Fire was ablaze and had consumed nearly 18,000 acres. There were  1,000 firefighters working around the clock to contain it.  It was only 10 miles from our little slice of heaven in New Mexico, and my husband had packed a few items and headed down the mountain to safety.

“I don’t know what will happen to our place or our things,” he said.

“It’s okay. It’s just stuff.  You’re all that matters,” I said back.

Later that evening I thought about the devastation. Most of the land that had been consumed was forest and I wondered… what about the birds?

Some experts predict it will take 100 years or more before the forest will return to normal conditions. And yes, there will be casualties – both human and wild life.  But there will also be some who benefit from the fire.

If treetops burn to a crisp completely, the canopy dwellers like mountain chickadees (which we have plenty of on our mountain) will be forced to seek out new habitat. It’s the woodpeckers that win big as they head toward the large areas of scorched trees in search of bark and wood-boring beetles.

After the flames die down, scientists and forest managers expect birds will arrive in droves. That’s because some bird species depend on freshly burned forests, particularly in areas that are dry and riddled with lightning.  (That’s our mountain top! Especially in the summer.)

As I write this, it’s been one week since my husband evacuated. The fire is now 90% contained and I have mixed emotions. My heart aches for the resulting loss: 12 single residences and 44 other minor structures, 300 people temporarily displaced, and 18,000 acres of beautiful forest and wildlife.

But I’m also grateful. Our property and belongings were spared. My husband and our friends have been able to return to their homes.  And, we have the opportunity to provide food, water, and habitat to any displaced and stressed birds.

Geez, we need to load up on supplies!


Photographing birds ad

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