Friday, December 10, 2010

Water Canyon, Socorro Co., New Mexico

Rising over 4,000 feet above the semi-desert grasslands of west-central New Mexico the Magdalena Mountains offer visitors easy access to a variety of biotic communities associated with the Southwest.  Upwards of 200 bird species have been recorded from these mountains including several typical of the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico and here are at the northern limit of their U.S. breeding range.  The gateway to the Magdalena Mountains is Water Canyon located on the northeast side of the range and within a short drive on NM Route 60 west of the city of Socorro and the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

Leaving NM 60 and driving south on Forest Road (FR) 235 one passes through high desert grasslands of La Jencia Basin (elevation ~6,000 feet).  This is active cattle range and bird life in this habitat is usually sparse but keep an eye out for Prairie falcon, American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike and Horned Lark.  Antelope-like Pronghorn may also be seen grazing within view of the road.

The grassland gives way to pinyon-juniper woodland beginning at the entrance to Water Canyon.  This community type is one of the more extensive vegetation types found in the Southwest and may occur as nearly pure stands of pine, juniper or a mix of the two.  Three juniper species are found in the canyon: One-seed, Rocky Mountain and Alligator.  The first two are associates of the northern Great Basin conifer woodland and the latter with the southern Madrean evergreen woodland.  Birds likely to be encountered in this habitat are Gray Flycatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Bridle and Juniper titmice, Bushtit, Black throated Gray Warbler and Hepatic Tanager.  Looking to the right across the canyon are the steepred stone cliffs of the Magdalena Fault which is a backdrop for seeing White-throated Swifts.  Occasionally a Great Horned Owl may be spotted at the entrance to one of the many cavities that pock the cliff face.

At about 4.5 miles (elev. 6,800 feet) from NM 60 one arrives at a fork in the road: the right (FR 406) leads to a campling area and access North Fork and Dark canyons, both worth checking out.  The left fork goes to a popular picnicking area and nature trail situated in riparian woodland.  The stream here flows during wet seasons otherwise it is mostly dry except for isolated pockets of water.  Narrow-leaf cottonwood trees are imposing and dwarf other riparian trees (Arizona walnut, boxwood, Arizona alder) defining this habitat type.  This habitat is a magnet for resident and migrant birds, such as Band-tailed Pigeon, Western Screech-Owl, a colony of Acorn Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Violet-green Swallow, Townsend's and Wilson's warblers (in migration), Black-headed Grosbeak among others.   Several species of irregular or rare occurence have been found here including Elf Owl (nesting) and Magnificent Hummingbird.  Just this past October while birding upstream of the picnic area I unexpectedly spotted a mature male Varied Thrush and male Black-throated Blue Warbler.  The transitional oak habitat between juniper woodland and Ponderosa Pine forest is where Virginia's Warbler is apt to be seen or heard.

The road through the picnic area and fording the stream is Langmuir Road.  It winds its way 9 miles ascending 4,000 feet to the summit of the Magdalena Mountains and passing through three other progressively higher elevation communities: Ponderosa Pine-oak forest, then mixed conifer forest, and then spruce-fir forest.  The road terminates at Langmuir Research Site.  The highest elevation is South Baldy peak at 10,783 feet.  In Poderosa Pine and higher elevation forest communities keep an eye out for the striking Abert's Squirrel.

Birds associated with the Ponderosa Pine forest are Flammulated owl, Common Poorwill, Steller's Jay and Grace's Warbler.  In the higher elevation forests Williamson's (in aspen patches) and Red-naped sapsuckers and Clark's Nutcracker may be encountered.  Near the summit the forest opens into several meadows or parks, those located on drier sites are dominated by grasses and moister meadows are primarily vegetated by herbaceous forbs.  The open meadows on the ridgeline offer spectacular views of the Magdalena Mountain range, the distant La Jencia Basin, and beyond.

A network of hiking trails branch off Langmuir Road and FR 406 provide opportunities to expore more remote areas and habitats otherwise not immediately observable from the roads, such as canyon slope chaparral.  The much sought after Red-faced Warbler is fairly relaible to find in suitable habitat: cool, moist canyons and ravines having Gambel Oak and other deciduous trees within Ponderosa Pine and mixed conifer forests.  The warbler is best located from mid April-late June within the  elevation range of 7,500-9,000 feet.

Water canyon is a must-see for birders planning to be in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, such as when visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  In the span of a little more than an hour drive one can leave the Valley's desert scrub, gallery woodland and wetland habitats and then be in mountainous terraine exploring an entirely different suite of Southwest birds.  Directions to Water Canyon from Socorro are simple: take NM 60 west 12.5 miles, turn left before highway pull-off and historic marker also on left) onto FR 235.

Lastly, a few words of caution are in order.  Even though improvements were made to Langmuir Road several years ago it still remains unpaved, narrow and windy.  Four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance are recommended if you intend to go beyond the warning sign.  If you choose not to go further plenty of good birding can be had in the area and at lower elevations.  Also, severe thunderstorms can be frequent particularly during the monsoon season, that is New Mexico's rainy season (late June through August).  Be aware of the weather forecast and be vigilant of changing conditions when at high elevations.  Keep in mind Langmuir Research Site near the summit is where it is because the laboratory conducts atmospheric studies of processes that produce thunderstorms, lightning and hail.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lower Rio Grande Valley, July 12-14.

          A week ago Eva and I made our first trip to Texas primarily to attend a family reunion in New Braunfels but managed to work in three days birding the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  July may not be the preferred time of year to bird the state, not to mention the southern borderlands, with daytime temperatures climbing into the mid and high 90s followed by little evening relief, and humidity levels that are best described as steamy...very steamy.  Nonetheless we made the best of it and were well rewarded for all the sweating we did.
          In preparation for the trip, reunion aside, I staked out many of the primo birding spots in the area, including Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Anzalduas County Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge among others.  What we had not planned on was Hurricane Alex that passed through the week before and the extensive flooding of the lowlands that it left behind.  Much to our disappointment all these areas were still under water and thus closed.  Kicking into "damage control" mode we dragged out our birder's guides and other reference materials and developed an 11th hour fallback itinerary that probably was as good if not better than the original.  Prior to heading to Texas I put together a list of 27 Valley specialty birds with reasonably good prospects of seeing given the season of year.  Of that number we managed 21 plus two that were not on the target list well surpassing my 500 mid-life goal (see side bar)...a very successful birding trip indeed and not a bad introduction to Texas.
          Having to redirect our efforts to more "inland" birding sites, Tuesday morning our first stop was Chihuahua Woods Preserve outside Mission.  The 349 acre reserve owned by The Nature Conservancy of Texas is a fine example of threatened Tamaulipan thornscrub habitat.  The vegetation is thick and would be impenetrable if not for several trails providing safe passage.  The understory is dominated by immense prickly pear cacti towering to the heights of small trees.  These were covered with tasty succulent fruit called tunas by the Spanish speaking people in the Valley.  Nearly as interesting as the bird life is the diversity of cacti.  To our untrained eyes we easily distinguished at least a half dozen species.  Along one of the paths Eva spotted the threatened Texas or Berlandier's Tortoise Gopherus berlandieri plodding along its way perhaps looking for a morning meal of ripe tuna that had dropped to the ground.
          Next we headed northeast to Edinburg to check out Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and one of a number of World Birding Centers established throughout the Valley.  The wetlands are located within a municipal park and more specifically consists of two impoundments that are part of the city's storm and waste water treatment infrastructure.  But do not let this be a turn-off should you ever be in the area.  The grounds have been superbly landscaped with native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and other vegetation transforming what was previously agricultural land into a 40 acre "natural" oasis and magnet for birds, butterflies and dragonflies in an otherwise urban setting.  My 500th life bird was seen here: Buff-bellied Hummingbirds feeding at red Turk's Cap blossoms.
          We ended the first full day at Quinta Mazatlan located south of Edinburg in McAllen.  This former estate with mansion (one of the oldest haciendas remaining in Texas) is surrounded by woodlands and gardens on a mere 15+ acres.  The most noteworthy sighting there was Green Parakeets which we were told can be hit-or-miss at this time of year.
          Wednesday morning was at Estero Llano Grande State Park south of the city of Weslaco.  The park is 176 acres including ponds, wetlands, canals, woodlands and fields.  Besides a nice diversity of birds and butterflies we were fortunate to spot a large American Alligator gliding on the surface of one pond and also the odd Spiny Softshell turtle Trionyx spinerferus basking on a log.  It was here that we got one of the two unexpected birds of the trip: a Clay-colored Robin heard in song but concealed from view in the crown of a large live oak and managed to escape being seen by flying into thick vegetation located on private property abutting the park.  Earlier in the day the park naturalist brought to our attention the presence of a robin pair that had successfully nested in the vicinity of our bird.  Later we confirmed identification by cross referencing its song with Clay-colored Robin recordings.  To my ear the song is similar to that of the American Robin but a bit slower in tempo, lower in pitch and more melodious.  Notes are of similar quality to those that might be delivered a Rose-breasted Grosbeak but more slowly.

          Next, we dropped in at Frontera Audubon Thicket near the center of Weslaco.  This is another former grand residence under restoration and surrounded by 15 acres of birdy woodlands and wetlands.  Also located on the grounds is one of the few Sabal Palm Sabal mexicana groves remaining in the Valley.

          Towering palm trees are prominent and common fixtures throughout the Valley; however, only the Sabal Palm is native to Texas.  Historically, palm forests occupied the lower 80 miles of the Rio Grande Valley and totalled 40,000 acres in 1925.  Since then agricultural development has reduced these forests to several patches altogether amounting to less than a couple hundred acres.  The largest concentration in the U.S. is south of Brownsville abutting our border with Mexico and located on federal and private conserved lands, but protected they are not.  Concerns over illegal immigration into the U.S. and kneejerk political reaction to the problem resulted in constructing the border fence right through the palm groves and ceding as much as 90% of this critical habitat to a "no man's" land on the Mexican side of the fence.  This has been a loss to birders who once had access to the Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary but more significantly leaves the ecological wellbeing of the groves and its native inhabitants to an uncertain future.
          Our time in the Valley ran out Wednesday afternoon when we had to make our way northward to kickoff family reunion festivities.  We returned via U.S. 77 taking us through Texas coastal plain habitats where White-tailed hawks were spotted perched on powerline support structures.  A brief stop outside Raymondsville produced a pair of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, the other bird not on the list, feeding in a grassy marsh.
          Below is the list of birds identified during our brief visit to the Valley as well along U.S. 281 South and U.S. 77 North.  Those preceded by # indicate life birds.  Among the six birds on the list of 27 we failed to get are Least Grebe, Ringed and Green kingfishers.  During conversations with park naturalists one speculated that the recent extensive flooding may have created much more foraging habitat for these birds to roam about making them much more difficult to locate.

#Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
#Fulvous Whistling-Duck 
#Mottled Duck
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
#Harris's hawk
#White-tailed Hawk
#Crested Caracara 
#Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
#Inca Dove 
Common Ground-Dove
#White-tipped Dove
#Green Parakeet
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Greater Roadrunner
#Groove-billed Ani
Eastern Screech-Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
#Common Pauraque
#Buff-bellied Hummingbird
#Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Brown-crested Flycatcher
#Great Kiskadee
#Couch's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
#Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
#Green Jay
Cliff Swallow
#Cave Swallow
Barn Swallow
#Black-crested Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
#Clay-colored Robin
Northern Mockingbird
#Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
European Starling
#Olive Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow
          In these times I suppose no trip to the southern borderlands would be complete without at least one encounter with the border patrol.  We had three without incident, and we found the officers to be quite helpful in dispensing advice to avoid potential problems involving illegal immigrants and especially drug runners.  Fortunately, we experienced them to be as rare as the grebe and kingfishers we had hoped to see.
          Lastly, I must mention the Chicharras Grande (Giant Cicadas Quesada gigas), the source of the most prominent woodland sound in the Valley.  Their song, the loudest of any North American cicada, is heard incessantly from dusk to dawn, and where there is one there are many emitting such a racket as to drown out the vocalizations of the noisiest birds.  Chic-chic-chic-chic-chic, zwEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE...
If you followed the recent Soccer World Cup playoffs on televsion and heard the nonstop buzzing drone of the vuvuzela horns, then you have a pretty good idea of what a chorus of these insects is like.
          Now that we have returned to Vermont with memories, and some photos, of all the wonderful birds we were exposed to in Texas as well as our time reconnecting with family members, the sight of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird dancing over the blooms of scarlet bee-balm in our garden is still enough to catch my attention and admire for at least a few minutes before continuing with home chores.

Photos top to bottom:  Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Chihuahua Woods Preserve, Buff-bllied Hummingbird, Estero Llano Grande State Park, American Alligator, Great Kiskadee, Sabal Palm Grove, White-tailed Hawks, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Crested Caracara, Inca Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Bronzed Cowbirds, and Texas Tortoise.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Clay-colored Sparrows

Friday, June 4, 2010.  Following information provided by Jim Mead in his May 30 post on VTBIRD announcing the third-year-in-a-row return of Clay-colored Sparrows to South Burlington, Vermont I decided to check out the site and hopefully add a new species to my life list.  Jim's directions and advice were right on.  Closing in on the location, that he precisely described, the sparrow's insect-like two-part buzz was very evident and within 5 minutes the singing male was spotted at close range perched near the top of a lone 10-15 foot tall white pine beside the trail.  During my hour long stay I was able digiscope the male numerous times as well as get several glimpses of the more secretive female skulking about the thick brush near the trail.The habitat is a dense and diverse matrix of shrubs, small deciduous and coniferous (white pine, red cedar) trees, brambles and forbs.  In the photo below the tall pine to the right side of the path is the one that the male most frequently sang from during my time at the site.  The view is looking west.

Other birds present included Ring-billed Gull (fly-overs), Mourning Dove, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Brown-headed Cowbird, and American Goldfinch.

As a closing note, I fully agree with Jim's words of caution to birders to stick to the trail (Champlain Water District right-of-way) and not be tempted to step into the brush in pursuit of the sparrows or other species.  I'll also refrain from pfishing.  Excellent viewing and photographing can be had from the trail.  It is highly likely the sparrows are nesting and any such activity could potentially result in nest abandonment and failure, as well deny other birders the rare opportunity to observe and hear this rare Vermont "breeder" in its natural habitat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

April 24-May 1.  The week in New Mexico provided several birding opportunities.  Most notable was a day (April 27) spent at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge located in the Middle Rio Grande Valley about 20 miles south of Socorro.  Any birding trip to New Mexico without stopping into the refuge is a significant oversight.  The refuge is reknown for its thousands of wintering Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese.  Even though the cranes and geese departed for their northern breeding grounds weeks ago, there was much to be seen as other winter migrants lingered on and new spring arrivals were trickling in.

New Mexico at this time of year is a season of transition as well as contrasts: the thread of riparian woodlands intersecting the northern Chihuahuan desert were the  leafing out and daytime temperatures in the Valley were in the low 80s falling into the 40s and 50s during the night.  On the other hand, add another 3,000 ft elevation and the temperatures are a comfortable 70s with nights possibly falling to freezing or even below.  We were surprised upon rising morning to 27 degrees and snow blanketing the ground.  The sugar solution in the hummer feeders was frozen none several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were actively flying about and checking out the feeders.   That was a sight we are definitely not accustomed to seeing in northern New England. 

The Bosque, which means woodlands, measures 57,191 acres in size and is comprised of riparian cottonwood bosques, desert scrub and canyons, freshwater impoundments and marshes, and agricultural lands managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a diveristy of wildlife and plant communities.  The refuge includes elevations ranging from 4,500 to 6,272 ft above sea level.

The single full day I spent birding the refuge core area (including 15 miles of roads encircling the seasonal and permanent ponds and wetlands) produced 73 species listed below.  Many passerine species that I have seen at this time of year on previous visits were missed altogether.  But given the size of the refuge, much of it open to birders, and my own time limitations, it is not at all surprising that species went unseen.  Digiscoped images of some of my sightings are at the end of this post.

Snow Goose, white morph
Ross's Goose
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Wild Turkey
Gambel's Quail
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Phalarope
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Lesser Nighthawk
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Chihuahuan Raven
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Audubon's and Myrtle subspecies
Summer Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco, Gray-headed and Pink-sided subspecies
Black-headed Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch

Fortunately, two white geese, a Snow and a Ross's, had not left for the north and offered close-up side-by-side comparisons.  The size difference between the two birds was clearly evident.  While the head structure of the Snow Goose had sharply angular features that of the Ross's Goose seemed more akin to a Beatrix Potter illustration: soft, gentle and diminutive.  To this observer the so-called "grin patch" of the Snow Goose bill is more sneer-like.

Above photos (top to bottom):

  • Male Gambel's Quail sporting characteristic 1950s pompadour.
  • Snow Goose.
  • Ross's Goose.
  • Cinnamon Teal, male and female.
  • Redhead, male.
  • Eared Grebe.
  • Neotropic Comorant in breeding plumage.
  • White-faced Ibis.
  • American Avocets.
  • Black Phoebe.
  • Western Kingbird.
  • "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler, male.
  • Rising full moon over the Bosque.  Note the three dark specks on its face...swallows.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Do Red-shouldered Hawks Feed on Beavers?

This is a late post but recently work colleague, Shawn Good, shared with me images of a Red-shouldered Hawk he took with a digital trail camera on his property in Pittsford, Vermont.  He used a  beaver carcass for bait expecting to document the usual wildlife that might be expected in the local area: bear (bottom photo), coyote, bobcat, fisher and the like.  But he certainly did not anticipate a hawk.  The middle photo has been cropped to provide a little closer view of the bird. 

I did not think Red-shouldered Hawks typically fed on carrion, so I looked into several information sources on the web including the Peregrine Fund and saw that small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds and insects are the staple of the hawk's diet with no mention of carrion.  Considering the date the photos were taken, March 26, I will speculate that the beaver carcass was a welcome meal after a migration flight and that the usual food items might be in short supply or at least more challenging to capture in early spring.   So I guess the answer to the question is yes under certain circumstances.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Common Teal at Herrick's Cove

Sunday, April 11, 2010. While scanning a flock of 44 Green-winged Teal Anas crecca carolinensis this morning at Herrick's Cove (mouth of Williams River in Rockingham, VT) to my surprise I sighted a mature male Common Teal Anas c. crecca. This is the second year in a row that I have had the Eurasian or nominate race at this location, and this is the third sighting for Herrick's Cove within the past four years. The 2007 bird was a first state record of the subspecies in VT. All sightings have occurred in April. The drakes were putting on a nice show of courtship behavior. Below are a few digiscoped images of this year's bird.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Method for Safe Keeping Your Digiscoping Camera in the Field

Digiscoping, the technique of photographing wildlife at a distance with a digital point-and-shoot camera held to the eyepiece of a field spotting scope, has gained popularity since it was first discovered somewhat accidentally by Laurence Poh, a Malaysian birdwatcher, back in 1999. The method enables nature observers to easily record photographs of wildlife subjects without investing in more costly telephotography equipment. Assuming you have already purchased a quality scope, all that is lacking to digiscope is a comparatively less expensive digital camera and a heavy dose of patience. I started digiscoping over two years ago, have taken a large number of satisfying photos but not having had much previous technical photographic experience, my techniques continue to develop. There is a lot of information available via internet sources suggesting basic equipment needs and techniques (e.g. Mike's Digiscoping http// and Eagle Optics Readers are encouraged to check these sites out if they have not done so previously.

Birding as with any other field endeavor has its basic equipment requirements (binoculars, scope, field guide, notepad and pencil) in addition to all the ancillary things we individually "need" and stuff into our field jacket pockets and/or day pack. I have long suffered from equipment overload and digiscoping (the camera and spare batteries) has added to it. The number of times I have had a subject targeted in my scope and have fumbled to retrieve the camera and prep it to shoot an image only to have the bird drift out of sight or worse yet disappear altogether, well, are too many to want to remind myself of. With regard to storing the camera safely in the field and at the same time have it handy when needed most is something I have been looking at for a better solution.

I think I have finally found it. The camera when not in use is stored in a sturdy case attached by straps to one of the scope tripod legs (Figure 1 below). The case is a Model 1010 Micro manufactured by Pelican Products. It is strong, durable and water resistant. The interior is padded with a rubber insert that accepts a camera having maximum dimensions of 4" x 2.5" x 1.25." The case snaps firmly shut and is moulded with two belt loops. Two 24" long, 3/4" wide nylon straps each fitted with a ladder-type slide buckle at one end are used to amount the case to the tripod. Total cost of these items is less than $20 (case $15; straps $2.50).

Assembly of the components and attachment to the tripod is simple. Connect the two straps by the buckles end to end to make one continuous loop. Insert an end of the doubled over strap through one of the belt loops and repeat for the other belt loop (Figure 2). The strap should extend between the two belt loops across the back of the case. Stretching out the strap creates a figure 8 (Figure 3). The strap loops are then slid over a tripod leg and cinched up real tight to prevent the case from sliding off or moving sideways. I found that attaching this to one of the legs with a foam hand grip provides the greatest stability.

Advantges of this setup are: (1) you know exactly where your camera is and is handy to get to when you need it, and (2) when stored in the case it is protected from bumps, scratches and moisture.