Northern Pygmy-Owl Encounter

Of the nearly 300 posts to this blog since March 2011, there have been very few that focus on a single species. This past Monday, however, a visit to Cienega Canyon in search of the Northern Pygmy-Owl provided one of those rare and remarkable birding experiences that calls for such a separate post.

Over the last eight years, I seem to have gotten pretty good at finding nesting Great Horned Owls, sometimes see Burrowing Owls or Western Screech-Owls, the occasional Barn Owl, once a Northern Saw-whet Owl and once a Mexican Spotted Owl. The only other one on my list so far is the Northern Pygmy-Owl that I’ve gotten to see once in four of the last five years, all of which were found in Cienega Canyon.

My first one was on May 20, 2015 after hearing about them from two excellent local birders. I’d made the mile-long walk to the end of the paved entrance road twice without seeing the bird and returned for a third time the day the access road was opened to walk the remaining short distance to the nesting area. Nothing at first, but after sitting there for a while looking around, I finally saw the tiny little guy sitting way high in a tall cottonwood.

The next year, on February 9, 2016, again upon hearing they were again being seen in that area, I made the long walk in over the ice/snow covered road, and eventually the little owl appeared in pretty much the exact same spot. They fly so quickly and quietly, one second they just seem to be where there was nothing a moment before.

In April of 2017, it took two trips to spot one. No luck on April 10 when I went with a friend to look for it, but when I returned on April 15, I ran into two other friends who tried to point one out to me buried in an evergreen. After they left, I looked again but still couldn’t see the bird. But sure enough, just minutes later it popped up in the bare cottonwood where I’d seen it the last two years.

Although I surely looked a few times in 2018, I never managed to see or hear any that year.

After seeing several reports on eBird that they’d been seen there and in nearby Sulphur Canyon since early 2019, I’d looked unsuccessfully along Sulphur Canyon, and then at the end of April walked in to the area where I’d seen them in previous years. For the first time I can recall, that day I heard at least one calling regularly but had no luck spotting it despite trying to triangulate on where the call was coming from and checking the usual spots. And after telling my good friend Rebecca about having heard them that day, we decided to try again on May 6.

While taking that long walk in, just as we approached the large meadow and group reservation area (and still a quarter mile from the end of the road where I’d seen them every other time), we heard an owl calling loudly. The calls were so much louder than I’d heard before and since we were still so far from the usual nesting area, I assumed it had to be someone playing a tape trying to attract one into the open. Looking around the area, however, we seemed to be the only people around when it began calling again from what seemed a different location. They are a pretty small bird and seem to be good ventriloquists calling from high in a tree somewhere, so it had us wandering all around trying to figure out just where it might be. Rebecca soon saw one right where we’d been looking, naturally right out in the open a good ways up in a tree.

Shortly after I got on it, another one flew in and the two started mating! That’s an event that only takes a few seconds and is something I’ve only rarely gotten to see for other bird species.

The two of them sat next to each other for the next few minutes, grooming each other.

A couple of minutes later they each flew off in different directions. I’d been watching one, probably the male, fly some distance away, but Rebecca had seen the other, likely the female, pop into a nest cavity just a tree or two away from where they’d been sitting together.

Moving a bit farther away, it was possible for us to spot the cavity she was probably in, and sure enough, about ten minutes later there she was framed in the opening, sometimes looking around,

sometimes sticking her head out to get a better view,

and at other times seeming to doze off.

After a while, the male flew back to a perch a few feet above the nest, and five minutes later he’d dropped down to grip the outside of the cavity and look around.

He then climbed all the way in with the female already in there. It surprised me not only how one can get through such a small hole, but also to realize there’s enough room in there for both adults at the same time. About a minute later, he flew off and the female soon popped up back in the opening.

After watching all this for the last forty minutes, we decided it best to leave them be and as we walked away I noticed the male had once again returned to keep watch from another open branch close to the nest tree.

That was such an extraordinary encounter, we didn’t even continue on the rest of the way to where there’s supposed to be another nest near where I’ve seen them in the past.  A return visit in the near future is sure to follow in hopes of finding the other nest and maybe getting a chance to see one of this year’s little ones.

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Birdathon and More

Most of the pictures for this posting were taken during last week’s Birdathon, with the rest from other outings from a week earlier. On April 24, a visit to Embudito turned up a Canyon Wren singing its heart out deep in the canyon,

Canyon Wren

accompanied by the non-stop vocalization of a Curve-billed Thrasher down in the cholla. While I’ve certainly got more than enough pictures of these guys, it’s hard to walk by without snapping another.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Manzano Pond and Quarai, the latter a unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions NWR. We’d end up with a pretty good bird list for the day despite birding being a little slow most of the time; no doubt numbers will pick up once spring migration is in full swing. One of the highlights at the pond was this spectacular male Mountain Bluebird blending into that New Mexico blue sky.

Mountain Bluebird

And for me (of course) the highlight at Quarai was seeing that the Great Horned Owls had returned to their nesting spot in the niches of the old Spanish Mission ruins. Everyone easily got to see the male  in an open niche and the female in another…the little ones were still a little shy and I was one of the few that got to see both of them later in the morning.

Great Horned Owl – Quarai

The next day, I checked in on a few of my other nesting owls around town and stopped by the Northern Diversion Channel (I prefer to call it Tramway Wetlands) to see that the Osprey nest is still a work in progress, and to sneak up on a few American Avocet that I don’t recall ever seeing at that location before.

American Avocet

Later that day the sunny, calm, and warm weather had me checking on the butterflies in my “local patch” Embudito, and it was fun to spot a few good species, including my first Great Purple Hairstreak there in two years, continuing Sandia Hairstreaks, and others. Close to where the stream starts its run down the canyon I had three Two-tailed Swallowtails dropping down to the damp areas, one of which might have been about finished since it didn’t fly off as I approached and at one point allowed a Dainty Sulphur to perch on its wing. (Later, a young boy walked right up to it and got to pet the butterfly!)

Two-tailed Swallowtail & Dainty Sulphur

On Saturday, Rebecca and I returned to look around to find a few more species including a Short-tailed Skipper and our first Spring Azure for the year, and to get a nice shot of a Southwestern Orangetip that had finally landed – one of the few butterflies I’ve ever seen on a dandelion.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

A few days later, a Scaled Quail posed nicely for me on a fence post close to the parking lot. Years ago, this was the most common quail species in this area of town (and my yard) and only rarely would we see Gambel’s Quail, a situation that has completely reversed itself over time.

Scaled Quail

About those owls, highlights that week included a visit to the nest at Albuquerque Academy, where the one little one was out in the branches of the nest tree but not quite ready to fly yet. It had already started learning how to hide good, and this was the best picture I was able to get while I was there.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

It was a bit surprising exactly a week later to find no evidence of the little one or the female anywhere near the nest, although the male was still around in a nearby tree. Not sure what was up with that since I would have expected the young one to have a few more weeks close to the nest. At the nest in Corrales where I’d also seen a little one about a week earlier, this time I got a short look at two of them (Rumor has it there could be 3 in there, so I’ll be back soon.)

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That one was also a little unusual, because while I spotted the male in his usual spot across the ditch from the nest the female was nowhere to be found. Usually it seems she’ll leave the nest to give the young ones more room, but will be standing close by.

So that brings me to our May 1-3 trip down to Washington Ranch south of Carlsbad, NM for the Thursday Birder Birdathon. Since Rebecca had volunteered to organize and lead the event, we got an early start to do some scouting for water birds at three locations near Carlsbad. While it was easy enough to get to our first spot, Cheapskate Point on Brantley Lake, driving a bit further north around a cove would have been a little tricky for some of the group and with the breezy conditions that day we saw very few birds. One that popped up right next to the car, though, was a cute Snowy Plover.

Snowy Plover

We also checked out an area around Avalon Lake and then Six-Mile Dam, but again didn’t see many birds maybe due to the time of day and weather conditions, and both involved driving down some deeply-rutted, but fortunately mostly dry, dirt roads. For the Birdathon, we decided we’d focus on three main locations, Washington Ranch, Rattlesnake Springs, and Slaughter Canyon thinking we might make an afternoon visit to Cheapskate Point if we’d exhausted the other locations and the weather improved. We’d had good luck on Birdathons at those three main locations in the past, but for most of us this would be the first time to stay in the few rooms and cabins available at Washington Ranch (with others in their RVs and tents on the property). The ranch itself gets an excellent variety of birds, with lots of fruiting mulberry trees, a large pond and several water features, a wetland area along a creek through the property, all surrounded by more typical desert scrub. Rattlesnake Springs is just next to the ranch, and is also quite the hotspot for good birding. The group of 20 gathered there for a picnic dinner the night before the Birdathon before heading back to the ranch, seeing a few Lesser Nighthawks flying about as dusk faded and hearing a Great Horned Owl near the pond (that we’d find the next day) along with all those Wild Turkeys strutting around and a few of the Vermilion Flycatchers usually seen there.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Unfortunately, very early the next morning outrageously stiff winds kicked up that would blow for hours, making it nearly impossible to do any birding and difficult to even be outside. Deciding to postpone the start of the Birdathon for a few hours, we all hung out in the lobby until Rebecca realized the winds had dropped a little and the south side of the building sheltered us pretty well. The mulberries were ripe out there and the birds starting showing up to eat, doing their best against the wind, and we were therefore all out there taking a look. Good birds, too, leading to a respectable total (considering the conditions) of 93 species by the end. One of my favorites, and a bird I’ve rarely seen anywhere, was the Lazuli Bunting, one of four species of bunting we’d add to the list.

Lazuli Bunting

We had a good number of Cedar Waxwings show up at several spots; despite the crazy winds blowing I was determined to get this shot of three of them lined up in a row.

Cedar Waxwing

As the morning progressed, the winds did die down some and we found there were areas that were fairly well sheltered from it and would turn up more good birds. Of the four oriole species we’d eventually see, I got pretty good shots of Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

and the Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

The Great Horned Owl at the ranch was also easy to see once somebody first located it,

Great Horned Owl – Washington Ranch

and I also got a pretty good look at a male Western Tanager (one of three tanager species we’d add).

Western Tanager

The group would also tally five species of swallow, most zooming around the buildings and the large pond, but two birds I’d at first assumed were swallows circling low over the pond turned out to be Spotted Sandpiper. Here’s a picture of one once it finally landed nearby.

Spotted Sandpiper

Northern Mockingbirds are fairly commonly seen (and photographed), but this one posed quite nicely for me.

Northern Mockingbird

By the next morning, the winds had finally died down and we headed out to Slaughter Canyon for what turned out to be a wonderful day, especially as the clouds burned off. On the way there, one of the team was first to spot a young Great Horned Owl on a snag near the road.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

We’d been there the afternoon before looking for owls since we’d seen three little ones there during last year’s Birdathon, but were unsuccessful in seeing any and noticed last year’s tree had since been knocked down. We’re thinking this year’s nest must be right where that little one’s perched since it doesn’t look old enough to fly yet. Looking around we’d also spot both parents a good distance away. On the way back from Slaughter Canyon, of course we had to stop and take another look but didn’t see that baby owl anywhere although Dad was right by the road with Mom still pretty far from the nest tree.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

Absolute highlight for everybody at Slaughter Canyon, and a “lifer” for several, was the Varied Bunting. This one let us get fairly close and the lighting was much better than the only other one I’ve ever seen (also in Slaughter Canyon on our 2016 Birdathon).

Varied Bunting

Focused on the birds those two days, I hadn’t paid much attention to butterflies but had taken a photograph of a Painted Crescent near the wetland area of Washington Ranch,

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

and on a stop at Bitter Lake NWR on the way home, Rebecca and I were both surprised to see good numbers of Saltbush Sootywing, a species I’ve only seen twice before, once in 2013 and then again in 2014.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alphaeus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Birds and Butterflies

Spring’s really kicking into high gear around here with new for the year butterflies and birds, and baby owls popping up at almost all of the nests now. The day after my last post having read about a nesting owl near the Tingley Ponds, I went for a look. We usually have one somewhere in the vicinity but I hadn’t found it on earlier visits. Not too many possible nesting spots to check and after looking closely from several different angles I finally saw a tail sticking out of a large old hawk nest.

Great Horned Owl – Tingley

Looked about the same this morning and just no way to see any more of that bird. Much closer to the ground in a nearby tree was this Cooper’s Hawk, maybe wondering about the owl taking over its nest.

Cooper’s Hawk

By the public fishing ponds and parking area, I also got a close-up look at a young Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

There have been a few interesting developments with a few of the owl nests this year. One on a cliff in Petroglyph National Monument had been totally destroyed, maybe by some ravens that were photographed harassing the owls, and both the owls and the nest vanished. Amazingly, however, about a week later somehow new nesting material appeared in the exact same location and the owls are trying again. If anything, this nest looks much more secure than the previous one and had to have been built by someone other than the owls.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

I’d been told but hadn’t seen it before that the male hangs out just below and to the left of the nest under an overhanging rock…this time I got a good look at our guy.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

Some friends had told me of seeing another owl near Calabacillas Arroyo, another location where we usually have a nest but hadn’t found one since 2017. Managed to finally spot the owl (but still no nest) a few days later, typically extremely well-hidden in a bare tree, but a bit more obvious from a different angle off the trail. Like most owls I see, it stayed almost motionless while I was around, but at one point got quite active scratching and preening to where I almost got organized to take a short video.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Yesterday, I started the rounds of most of the nests I’ve been following thinking it’s about time we had a few more baby owls pop out. We’ve been seeing them at Albuquerque Academy for a couple of weeks now, but there was a bit of a disaster there recently when one of the owlets fell from the nest and apparently impaled itself on a branch…the good news is that the little one was rescued and is in rehab now in Santa Fe. It was good to see that the other little one in that nest seemed to be getting along just fine this morning.

Great Horned Owl – AA

I also made my way down to Corrales where I’ve been seeing the adults all year, but had only seen the nest since my friends told me about it a couple of weeks ago. Much excitement there with both adults back high in the trees on the east side of the ditch while at least one little one popped up now and then from the nest cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There might be little ones at Willow Creek, but that nest was so high all one can see is that Mom’s sitting up so I’ll need to check back there again soon. Meanwhile, this morning I also made a visit to the one at Pueblo Montano (near Bosque School) and, yep, a little one there (and Dad perched in the open in a nearby tree),

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

and at the nest near Bridge Blvd I’d first heard about two weeks ago, Mom was off the nest leaving at least two little ones some space to move about.

Great Horned Owl – Bridge

Lastly, I made the trek to the nest near Durand Open Space that we’d first spotted at the end of February on our Audubon Thursday Birder walk, and yep, got at least one little one there today, too.

Great Horned Owl – Durand OS

On the walk to that nest, several Snowy Egrets were making their way down the irrigation ditch, flying a short distance before hunting for a snack.

Snowy Egret

Rebecca and I took a weekend trip to Sedona, AZ a few days after my last post. I’d passed through there decades ago and remembered it as being rather spectacular, and decided we had to go since Rebecca’d never been.

Sedona AZ

Obviously a bit more crowded and touristy than it was forty years ago, the scenery was indeed fabulous (We learned it’s much easier getting through town early on Sunday morning than late Friday afternoon!). We picked up a few new butterflies for the year during our visit, including the Zela Metalmark, of which we saw quite a few on a visit to the Page Springs Hatchery.

Zela Metalmark (Emesis zela)

Back home and looking for butterflies in Embudito Canyon and other foothill locations on those days when conditions looked good have turned up several good species, including Acmon Blue,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

usually one or two Sandia Hairstreaks and Mylitta Crescents, maybe a Gray Hairstreak, and yesterday an unusual number of Southwestern Orangetips,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

and, a species I might see there once a year, Mormon Metalmark. I’d just mentioned to Rebecca that we were in the area where I’d seen them in years past when she almost immediately spotted one.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

On one of those visits to Embudito, a Black-throated Sparrow posed for a portrait,

Black-throated Sparrow

and, while I hear they’ve been seen in Embudito and Embudo this week as well, we got good looks at a pair of Scott’s Oriole on a visit to Copper Trailhead.

Scott’s Oriole

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was quite successful, with the group of 14 birders seeing almost 50 species of birds on a trip to Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, a new location for the group. Among those birds were several Eared Grebe,

Eared Grebe

American Avocet,

American Avocet

Ruddy Duck,

Ruddy Duck

and a Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow

Just my second visit to that area, it deserves more frequent visits with all the amazing birds that seem to show up there.

 

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Time Flies

It’s always amazing to me how following a few weeks of not seeing much out there to photograph,  suddenly there’s lots of new sightings for the year and the pictures just start to pile up. So, apologies in advance, but lots to post this time I hope y’all enjoy. Way back on March 27 while checking out Embudito Canyon for those Sandia Hairstreaks, a couple of new species for the year showed up, including a Mylitta Crescent

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

and a Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Very unusual for this place, the seasonal bit of water from winter runoff this year is making its way most of the way down the canyon rather than disappearing close to the head of the wash – butterflies seem to enjoy picking up salt from the damp sand patches along the way.

The next day, Audubon Thursday Birders headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR, where it was interesting seeing the change in bird species since a trip just six weeks earlier. Fun for me were getting photos of some of them, including this House Sparrow flying out of its nest hole,

House Sparrow

one of the White-throated Sparrows that we don’t see all that often around here,

White-throated Sparrow

a Pyrrhuloxia (a bird that doesn’t seem to make it much further north),

Pyrrhuloxia

Snowy Egret, back for the season and showing off those golden slippers,

Snowy Egret

Wild Turkey (one of a flock that wandered by the side of the road),

Wild Turkey

and surprise for all of us, a Long-billed Curlew.

Long-billed Curlew

A claret cup cactus was in full bloom in the Desert Garden at the Visitor Center, somewhat earlier than I’d have expected.

Claret Cup Cactus

Once we’d all regrouped to go over the bird list for the day most folks headed for home, while Rebecca and I headed down to Deming close to the border with Mexico hoping the wet winter would lead to a great poppy display as we’d had there on about the same date in 2012. Once it warmed up enough early the next day, the poppies were indeed pretty good if not quite as amazing as before – they might well have been more impressive on a little earlier or later date, but guess you just have to be there to know.

Poppy

What was fun was seeing some new butterflies for the year and ones we don’t see all that often, including a Texan Crescent that flew off before Rebecca got to see,

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

a Juniper Hairstreak, which we will see regularly but this was the first for the year,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrus gryneus)

as is also true for Funereal Duskywing,

Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

and three individual Great Purple Hairstreak, a species I may or may not see every year and is the butterfly that got me turned on to this butterfly business when Rebecca first pointed one out to me in the Sandias.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Majorly cool sighting that day was a line of Barbary Sheep along the top of a cliff in Spring Canyon.

Barbary Sheep

That’s the best I could do with my 400mm zoom lens…to give you a better idea of how extreme an environment they were fooling around in (and amazed that Rebecca was spotted those tiny creatures in the first place), here’s a wider shot of that cliff face with those sheep wandering around up on top.

Barbary Sheep

Back home, a few days later had me out checking in on some of my owls. Since I’d first seen them out of the nest on March 19, it was a bit of a surprise still seeing two of the little ones with the adult female on April 2 (and apparently they’re still there this week).

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

Not much had changed recently at either Willow Creek Open Space

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

or Pueblo Montano,

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

so it might be a bit longer before we first see the little ones in those nests.

Back to Embudito and a couple more new butterfly species for the year, including this quite fresh Spring White,

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail earlier than I would expect them,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and a glowing Sandia Hairstreak.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

This past Saturday, it was off to check on a couple other owl nests. Having heard from a friend about little ones popping up at Albuquerque Academy (I’d had my suspicions a few days earlier), sure enough I got to see one of at least two babies there.

Great Horned Owl – AA

Another friend called to tell me about another nest that I hadn’t known about close to the National Hispanic Cultural Center (where they nested last year); excellent directions led me right to it!

Great Horned Owl – Bridge

An interesting development a short while later at the Rio Grande Nature Center. After getting a good look at the owl that’s been hanging around the Visitor Center (that some folks tell me is likely one that had been rehabilitated and released there earlier this year), I headed north on the bike trail toward where one I’d been seeing since early February hung out until the one showed up at the Visitor Center. They’ve nested around there in the past, but oddly this year no one’s reported an active nest anywhere close to the Nature Center. Looking around rather carefully thinking there’s got to be one here somewhere, I finally spotted this one.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC North

It was perched there right next to a large, old nest, but I couldn’t see any sign of it being used actively. Definitely requires another visit soon.

And then yesterday, I heard from some other good friends that they’d finally spotted the nesting female in Corrales close to where I’ve regularly been seeing at least one adult since early last year. Here’s what the male looked like yesterday,

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

and sure enough, with more excellent directions here, here’s the female nesting just across the irrigation ditch – peeking out of a deep cavity of an old cottonwood. Am looking forward to getting a look at their little ones once they get old enough to move around the branches.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Getting back to that new nest near the National Hispanic Cultural Center, since it was nearby, I took a look at the heron and egret rookery I’d heard about last year. A bit surprising this early (indeed, a trip the next day to the huge rookery in Bosque Farms had no birds at all), the few trees used in this location had quite a few Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Cattle Egret and a number of active nests. Here’s my best shot of one of the Snowy Egrets

Snowy Egret

and of a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

And, of course, I had to check in on the Burrowing Owls down in Owlville to see how things were going; interesting to only see a single owl where I’ve been seeing two pair recently, which makes me wonder if maybe they aren’t down in their burrows making baby owls?

Burrowing Owl

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A Bit of Spring

The first day of spring arrived last Wednesday, and we’re finally getting a few calm, sunny days with fruit trees in bloom all over town, warmer days prompting a few spring wildflowers and a few more butterflies. We’re still waiting on most of the nesting Great Horned Owls to show their little ones, while there are at least two nests in town (one of which I’ve found) where the young ones are much further along and just about to disappear. Seeing a few other new birds for the year, too, as we anticipate the upcoming migration season.

For butterflies, I’ve mostly just gone on a couple of quick trips to check on what’s flying in my ‘local patch’ Embudito. There’s been a Sandia Hairstreak on my three trips in March, but it wasn’t until a visit last Monday that I’d pick up a few more species including the Southwestern Orangetip, Mylitta Crescent, Mourning Cloak, several Painted Lady, and a Common Checkered-Skipper among others. The Common Checkered-Skipper is usually quite common there most of the season, but usually lands on the sand with wings spread open, so it was a treat to get that ventral view while this one nectared on an early spring wildflower.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

 

A bit of a surprise to me this early in the year was seeing two pair of Burrowing Owls last Saturday in the area known as “Owlville” down in Los Lunas.

Burrowing Owl – Owlville

And then the next day finding the one reported recently in Rio Rancho, where I’d heard they’d been seen last year as well.

Burrowing Owl – Rio Rancho

Looking around the bosque in the area of Tingley Ponds for nesting owls (unsuccessfully), I did get a nice shot of a Greater Roadrunner,

Greater Roadrunner

and later, a Hermit Thrush sitting out in the open.

Hermit Thrush

One day last week, Rebecca and I drove around the eastern plains of Torrance County on a rather slow birding day but did get nice looks at a Loggerhead Shrike.

Loggerhead Shrike

Surprised to see a picture in the Albuquerque Journal one morning of a couple of young Great Horned Owls nesting on the newspaper’s property, I headed down the next morning wondering if I’d be able to find that nest. One had been reported there for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count last December, but I hadn’t heard anything about a nest there. Turns out the nest was quite easy to spot since it was in an open sycamore tree and the three little ones were spread out on the branches.

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

These guys are way further along than any of the other nests I’ve been watching, none of which have yet hatched their young ones. (I did, however, see a Facebook posting around the same date of another nest somewhere near UNM that also got started way early this year.) Returning about a week later, I’d see both adults;  Mom (look at her claws!) on a branch near the nest,

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

and Pop sitting in a nearby ponderosa pine, but only one little one sitting in the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

Later reports from a friend noted seeing one of the other little ones also in a ponderosa, so they will likely all just vanish one day soon. A little later that day, I stopped by to check on the nest at Albuquerque Academy where I’d first seen the female nesting way back on February 17 and would expect her little ones to appear any day now. But she was still tucked in pretty well waiting for those eggs to hatch with her mate perched a little higher in the nest tree.

Great Horned Owl – AA

The next day after birding around Corrales for awhile, I thought since it wasn’t far I’d go look around Willow Creek Open Space one more time. Owls have nested there regularly in the past, but none had been reported this year and on my earlier visits I hadn’t seen any in their usual spots. With rather low expectations, it was quite exciting to spot an owl sitting up in a nest just off the parking area.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Last Saturday, Rebecca and I drove down to Bosque del Apache NWR to scout out her Audubon Thursday Birder trip there this week. Before getting to the refuge, we stopped by a house in the town of San Antonio to look for the Inca Doves she’d spotted there during the Christmas Bird Count last December. No doves that day, but it was quite unusual to note a rather large bird sitting in a tree in that yard as we pulled up – yup, turned out to be a Great Horned Owl; first I’d ever seen down there.

Great Horned Owl – San Antonio NM

Although it seems the Sandhill Cranes and Bald Eagles have all moved on after wintering there, we had a good variety of birds as we worked our way around the refuge. First up, the White-throated Sparrow and the immature Harris’s Sparrow near the Visitor Center where we’d seen them on an earlier visit.

Harris’s Sparrow

Three Great Egrets greeted us as we entered the refuge, a bird we don’t see very often here,

Great Egret

and we managed to spot both the Lucy’s Warbler and (lifer for me!) Long-tailed Duck an acquaintance working at the Visitor Center told us about.

Long-tailed Duck

I also got a nice shot of a Bewick’s Wren that popped up as we were scanning for the Lucy’s.

Bewick’s Wren

Yesterday, I went in search of a Great Horned Owl nest a friend had told me about at Valle de Oro NWR. Took me quite a bit of looking at the obvious nest from several different angles before I got a peek at the female brooding her eggs.

Great Horned Owl – Valle de Oro NWR

Interestingly enough, this nest is quite close to where the Common Black-Hawk nested last year and they were also back in town calling back and forth but not quite nesting yet.

Common Black-Hawk

Walking along the irrigation ditch toward that area, I’d also get nice looks at my first Osprey for the year.

Osprey

And then today, I get a text that our breeding pair are back at their old nest getting ready for this year’s attempt. Last year, I think, was the first year that they’d ever successfully nested in the county so it should be fun to follow developments over the next few months.

Osprey

 

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Slow Days

More than 3 weeks have now passed since my last posting; following are a few of the better pictures I’ve gotten since then. Weather hasn’t cooperated very often lately, I’ve gotten busy with taxes and other menial tasks, and I haven’t been getting many good photo opportunities. There have been lots of porcupines about lately, which are always fun to spot.

Porcupine

I’ve been focused the last few weeks on finding more nesting Great Horned Owls after spotting my first one for the year at Albuquerque Academy on February 17 (photo shown on my last blog update). Since then, I’ve found three more. The first one, during our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Durand Open Space on February 28 was a total surprise we just happened to notice.

Great Horned Owl – Durand Open Space

(I’d actually checked eBird that morning but none had ever been reported there, and our trip leader had just mentioned looking for them unsuccessfully during her scouting trip the day before.) Another highlight that morning was a young Bald Eagle that entertained us by flying fairly low right above us.

Bald Eagle

Next up was the one at Pueblo Montano Open Space I found on March 1 after looking around where some recent eBird reports suggested they were.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Checking back a week later, we spotted the male hiding out fairly close to that nest.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

I’d imagine this is the pair that I’d seen sitting on the same branch of a tree much further south for about a month (and got to show the Thursday Birders on the February 7 trip).

Just today, I got to see my fourth nest so far for the year, interestingly nesting on the basalt cliffs of the Petroglyph National Monument.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

There’s a couple of other individual owls I keep seeing in the same spot on every visit, but have so far been unable to locate a nest that almost has to be nearby. I’ve been seeing one near the Rio Grande Nature Center since early February, and most recently think that one has taken up a spot just in front of the entrance to the Visitor Center.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

Keep expecting to find one of the old Cooper’s Hawk nests there occupied with a female, but haven’t been able to see any evidence of one yet. And then, of course, there’s the ones I’ve been seeing in Corrales for quite some time now (including yesterday’s Thursday Birders), but try as I might still can’t find a nest.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There’s also a quite obvious one in a tree by the City Place office building, a quite urban setting, but any nest just isn’t very easy to see buried in that tall ponderosa pine.

Great Horned Owl – City Place

Something I’d been looking for regularly over the last few weeks, knowing they should be flying any day if the temperature just got high enough and the sun was shining, was the Sandia Hairstreak. A specialty of our area that was first seen in 1958 or 1959 by Noel McFarland in the Sandia foothills, scientifically named by Paul Ehrlich and H. K. Clench in 1960, and the New Mexico State Butterfly since 2004, I regularly have visitors from all over the country hoping to see one. They do fly from here down to Texas and into Mexico, but Albuquerque is where they were first recognized as a unique species and are not that hard to find during their seasonal flight. A treat nonetheless to see one right on schedule on March 6 in Embudito Canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophyrs mcfarlandi)

Also had a nice visit with a Cactus Wren that morning, a bird that’s only been seen here (nesting no less!) the last several years.

Cactus Wren

Looking forward to seeing some baby owls soon and lots more butterflies that ought to pop out as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 7 Comments

Bosque Trip and Owl Update

A month to go before spring officially returns and our weather has gone back and forth over the last two weeks. Usually still pretty cool all day, the typical clear and sunny weather is regularly disrupted with stiff winds, overcast skies, and even a bit of precipitation now and then. When I have gotten out, on most days there haven’t been too many birds about maybe because of where I went and when but probably just staying quiet hidden in some warmer spot.

In my last posting, I’d mentioned hoping to show the Audubon Thursday Birder group on February 7 the pair of owls at Pueblo Montano. We were a little worried since although we’d seen them there a week earlier, they were nowhere to be found on visits a day or so before bringing the group. It was a treat to see that they were again back in the same spot when the group showed up. I keep hoping they’ll start nesting somewhere nearby soon, but as of last Sunday they were still just parked next to each other.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

The next week had the group on an all-day outing to Bosque del Apache NWR that turned up an excellent list of at least 60 species for the 19 birders on the trip. One of the first birds I’d see at our first stop on the refuge was the Brant that had been reported (and photographed for an eBird report the day before) – easily identified by its field marks but its odd posture confused us until we realized it had died sometime in the last day.  At that first pond at the north end of the refuge, we’d also have 3 Bald Eagles in the big cottonwood there and another adult in a snag off to the east – the first of at least six we’d see that day. My best picture of them was the two on the tall snag from the Eagle Scout deck.

Bald Eagle

The group spent a fair amount of time just working the gardens at the Visitor Center where we stopped for lunch. It was fun for me getting nice close-up shots of the Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

and female Pyrrhuloxia,

Pyrrhuloxia (female)

but somehow got so occupied with those two (and lunch) that I missed out on nearly all the different kinds of sparrows being seen right there (Black-throated, Brewer’s, Harris’s, Golden-crowned, White-throated, White-crowned, and Song).

After lunch we drove the North Loop of the refuge, stopping first at the Eagle Scout deck to be treated to the Snow Geese lifting off in a blizzard of birds,

Snow Geese

and a flight of American White Pelicans coming in for a landing.

American White Pelican

Working our way around the North Loop, we’d get good looks at a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk close to the road that patiently sat for pictures,

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk

and not much further along a young Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle

Lots of Sandhill Cranes and a large flock of Wild Turkey were busy wandering the open corn fields, but none of my photos of them were all that good. Returning to the Visitor Center to run through the birdlist before heading for home, a young Red-tailed Hawk caught our attention and we weren’t sure of its identity until seeing that red tail as we watched it fly off.

Red-tailed Hawk (immature)

This past Sunday, I started out at Albuquerque Academy in search of their owls. For the last few years, they’ve had an “open campus” allowing visitors public access to the grounds any time, but recently are limiting access to students and official visitors at least when classes are in session (as I’ve noticed on two weekday occasions in the last few weeks). On Sunday, however, all the gates were open and I went first to check on the winter roost tree I’d seen one in recently but others have missed (not too surprising since they can hide really well in that big, thick Ponderosa pine). No luck for me that morning, either, but then I wandered over to the nearby tree where they’d nested before and was thrilled to see the female back in the old nest – the first owl nesting I’ve heard about so far this year!

Great Horned Owl – AA

That, of course, got me checking in on a few of the other owls around to see if any of them are yet nesting. Just saw one in the usual spot in Corrales, the two (first photo in this posting) at Pueblo Montano just sitting there, and today again saw a single individual parked in a tree close to the bike path north of the Nature Center,

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

but  none of them have started nesting as far as I can tell.

Two other fun birds to see that day were this Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

and a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet – always tough to photograph (as my book says “a hyperactive midget”) and only sometimes showing that ruby crown.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

 

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Schrödinger’s Owl?

Just like the quantum mechanical paradox posed by Schrödinger’s cat, I’m beginning to think a similar situation applies to owls.  Whenever I’m out looking for them, they can either be there or not and we’ll at least know if they’re there if we actually see them. If we don’t, they might or might not be there. Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve wandered around spots where either I’ve seen them in the past or had seen recent reports on eBird without managing to see any. But then in a few other spots have been fortunate to get a look.

My last posting had a photograph of one I’d lucked into seeing in the area at Pueblo Montano where they’d nested last year. Returning about two weeks later after seeing eBird reports of more than one owl there, it was cool seeing a pair out in the open albeit in a tree somewhat farther away than the first time. (They’d be in the exact same spot a few days later, so we’re hoping to show them to the group on this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip.)

Great Horned Owl

The same day, I decided to take another look around the Albuquerque Academy. I’d looked there a number of times over the last month or two after seeing regular eBird reports of at least one being seen; a photo in one of the most recent reports gave me the idea to check a particular location where they’d roosted in previous winters, and following my Schrödinger’s Owl hypothesis decided to give it a really good look. It took some pretty serious scrutiny from a number of angles, but (yay!) I finally spotted one deep in the Ponderosa pine.

Great Horned Owl

Yesterday, on a walk in the Rio Grande Nature Center bosque I started walking along the bike path to an area where we’d had nesting Great Horned Owls late in the season in 2016 and where I’d once seen a hidden Western Screech-Owl also in 2016. As I approached, a woman walking her dog asked if I’d seen the owls yet (guess my bins and camera gave her a clue what I was up to). When I said I hadn’t, she laughed and said “Well, any day now!”.  Too fun about five minutes later when she’d continued far down the bike path that this one just popped out at me, close to eye level and near the path.

Great Horned Owl

This morning, I started out looking around Willow Creek Open Space where an eBird report from a couple days ago included a photo of an owl in what could’ve been the tree the male hung out during the 2017 nesting season. Never found a nest or saw the owls there last year, but seemed worth a look. This time, I was unsuccessful and will have to return when the weather improves for a closer look. Since it was on the way home, I stopped in on the Corrales location thinking maybe I’d get a better picture of them more out in the open than on my earlier visits. Strolling down the irrigation ditch, one immediately popped out against the sky high in a little different tree than I’d seen them before.

Great Horned Owl

I kept walking along looking to see if I could spot the other one that’s been nearby on my last several visits. When that didn’t work, I came back and bushwhacked around the tree to see if I could be a little better view – oh yeah!

Great Horned Owl

But then it struck me as I was walking away back toward my car that I didn’t remember that huge branch above the one in this second picture being there in the first picture. Wondering what was up with that, I turned around and looked a little closer…if you look close on the left side of either of those two pictures, you’ll see there’s two owls there. In the first picture, one is almost completely camouflaged by the tree trunk with only his eyes giving him away, and in the second, she’s effectively blocked by a few dead leaves.

Crossing over the main ditch to the east and looking back from a good distance away, it was a little easier to see those silhouettes.

Great Horned Owl

A few other pictures from the last couple of weeks include a Brown Creeper trying to distract me from the two Corrales owls,

Brown Creeper

one of the Western Bluebirds (of which there were quite a few in Corrales),

Western Bluebird

and a Cedar Waxwing from along the Rio Grande near the Nature Center yesterday.

Cedar Waxwing

I’d actually been walking along the river there looking (unsuccessfully) for the Bald Eagles that roost there this time of year, but where I’d also stumbled across a flock of waxwings last year, again busy feeding on the low New Mexico Olives and going to the water.

Our Audubon Thursday Birders had gone to Valle de Oro NWR on January 24 and had some good birds despite the rather blustery weather and quite large group. We would spot a few Bald Eagles that morning

Bald Eagle

but have a heck of a time getting on a Greater White-fronted Goose in a flock of Canada Geese. Rebecca and I returned a few days later hoping (unsuccessfully) to see the Brant that had been reported there, but got much better looks at several of those geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose

On a visit to Tingley Ponds a couple weeks ago, it was fun to see a female Bufflehead at fairly close range,

Female Bufflehead

and to come across this Great Blue Heron perched right above the trail around one of the ponds.

Great Blue Heron

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Winter Days

Almost a month into winter now and while there have been a few chilly days, the weather in general has been rather nice lately. Interestingly, birding has been a little up and down depending on the days I get out and where I go with very few birds on some days and then a good number and variety on others. Two weeks ago following my last update, things were pretty quiet between East Ella and Dixon Road in Corrales, but I got a nice shot of a Song Sparrow and its reflection,

Song Sparrow

and was glad to see the pair of Great Horned Owls still sitting in their usual tree. It continues to amaze me how well they can hide in that nearly leafless tree and I only spotted this one at first knowing it could be there; didn’t see the other one (not visible in this photo) sitting just feet away until really spending some time looking.

Great Horned Owl

That week, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to find some raptors in the plains near McIntosh, NM. The group ended up with a good list including American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and a fly-by of a Rough-legged Hawk (first I’ve seen in a year) along with a number of other non-raptor species.

Rough-legged Hawk

We’ll sometimes see a Golden Eagle out there at this time of year, but didn’t spot one that day.

A couple of days later, I took a good long walk at Pueblo Montano on a morning that seemed unusually quiet for birds (and porcupines for that matter), but maybe due to the somewhat overcast sky. During the Christmas Bird Count about 3 weeks earlier, an expert birder reported 4 Western Screech-Owls and 3 Great Horned Owls in the area (at 4:30 am!), and recently I’ve been seeing owls more regularly in other spots they’ve been seen before. Not having much luck with anything, I spent a little time looking carefully to see if I could find any owls about.  Sure enough, after looking closely enough near where they’d nested last spring, I picked out a Great Horned Owl just sitting there looking like a branch.

Great Horned Owl

Another expert birder has since reported seeing two of them just a few days ago, so I might be taking another look soon.

Two other birds I saw that morning included a young Red-tailed Hawk in a tree close to the Bosque School that was there at the start and had apparently only turned around by the time I finished,

Red-tailed Hawk

and a Great Blue Heron in the pond close to the river, who seemed a bit surprised to see me out there but only flew a short distance away when it saw me.

Great Blue Heron

Last Tuesday and then again on Thursday with the Audubon Thursday Birders, I got out to Alameda Open Space and (on Tuesday) across the river in the bosque on both sides of Alameda. Both days it was fun to see a Black-crowned Night-Heron on the pond nearest the parking lot

Black-crowned Night-Heron

and six more in an inaccessible roosting area on the west side of the river north of the bridge. There were a good number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets along the irrigation ditch that morning where I often see them at this time of year, but none that would pause long enough for me to photograph, and a most cooperative Brown Creeper pecking along the lower trunks of several trees but still tough to photograph well.

Brown Creeper

A large Bushtit flock busy in the bushes lining the irrigation ditch were a little easier to photograph.

Bushtit

And, as usual at this time of year, porcupines were hanging out in the leafless trees; this is one of a pair occupying the same tree in the Corrales bosque.

Porcupine

I’ve made several trips to the Rio Grande Nature Center lately hoping to spot the Bald Eagles that sometimes fly by or roost in several spots close to the river. On the way there, I stopped once to check in on the Western Screech-Owl that’s found the most spectacular cavity to call home for most of the last year and was glad to see it still sitting out in the open taking a nap.

Western Screech-Owl

A nearby tree had a Hairy Woodpecker making quite a bit of noise hammering away.

Hairy Woodpecker

And, finally, on my most recent visit to the Nature Center, I did come across a young Bald Eagle in a tree busy eating a fish on my side of the river. It did let me get reasonably close without seeming too concerned, but then took off with its meal heading to a favorite snag on the west side of the river.

Bald Eagle

 

 

 

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Start of the New Year

Since Christmas, we’ve had three snowstorms one after another. In recent years we haven’t had much snow, but are expecting some this year with the El Niño weather pattern. We can always use the moisture and they’ve now gotten enough on the mountain for the Sandia Peak Ski Area to open. At least in town, the snow hasn’t made driving difficult for long since it typically evaporates from the roads rather quickly. Also typical is how the powdery snow finds a way of drifting into a tall pile right in front of my garage door – always a treat to discover when I decide to head out.

Having completed three Christmas Bird Counts under remarkably nice weather conditions before the holiday, the Sandia Mountain CBC is traditionally conducted the day after Christmas coinciding with the start of the first of those three snowstorms. It hadn’t really gotten going in town yet, but on the east side of the Sandias where our count area is the snow had been coming down over night and would continue to fall all day. We managed to cover most of our assigned roads and ended up with a reasonable number of birds and species variety, despite the birds generally seeking cover and a few of the roads starting to get a little dicey. What was most interesting that day was that when we would see birds, it usually was a large number of one species parked together in a tree. These Cedar Waxwings had taken up their position in a short tree just next to a mailbox station and were obviously waiting out the snow since they didn’t fly off despite all the people driving up and walking around to check their mail.

Cedar Waxwing

Another surprise flock was this bunch of Western Meadowlarks parked (unusually) in a tree. That yellow really popped out in my binocular view and it was thrilling to realize what they were since they normally are tucked into a grassy field or one or two individuals will be spotted on a fence or similar perch.

Western Meadowlark

Bluebirds all seemed grouped together as well if not quite so tightly packed. Mountain Bluebirds were fun to see, including this male

Mountain Bluebird (male)

and a nearby female.

Mountain Bluebird (female)

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Roads in my neighborhood in the foothills had been plowed but still looked a bit tricky, so it was pleasant surprise to find perfectly dry roads and little snow closer to the river and a sunny day for the outing. The birding turned out well, too, but my only picture from that morning was this Greater Roadrunner we very nearly overlooked sitting on a fence all fluffed up to soak up a little sun.

Greater Roadrunner

A few days later, I made another visit to the open fields of Los Poblanos Open Space hoping to photograph one of the several species of raptors that are often there this time of year. Not much luck on that score, but I did have a close encounter with the roadrunner that seems to have adopted the garden area at the northwest corner of the area,

Greater Roadrunner

and did find one of the Western Screech-Owls at home.

Western Screech-Owl

Most places I’ve gone over the last several weeks have turned up at least one porcupine, a critter easy to see snoozing away the day up in a tree during the winter.

Porcupine

It was a hardy bunch that appeared the next week for the Thursday Birder walk around Los Poblanos Open Space the morning after another good snow, but while it was indeed pretty chilly at the start the weather was calm and sunny and made for a most enjoyable outing with a good list of birds seen. No owl that day, unfortunately, which I suspect was deep in the nest box keeping warm. We saw a number of American Kestrels around the fields, a couple of which posed nicely for photographs.

American Kestrel

This past weekend, Rebecca and I drove down to Truth or Consequences to do a bit of birding around the area on Saturday and then joined Kim Score for a CNMAS Field Trip on Sunday to Percha Dam State park and taking a leisurely drive home at a few more spots. First up was a visit to Animas Creek where I’d never been before. The (dry) creek is lined with large sycamore trees, which aren’t often seen in New Mexico but are known to attract several bird species not commonly found in the state. One that we were hoping for popped up high in a sycamore right at the start, but then showed up again toward the end of our visit just feet from the car, a Bridled Titmouse.

Bridled Titmouse

A few other fun birds we’d see there included quite a few Acorn Woodpeckers,

Acorn Woodpecker

several Phainopepla (of which we’d see plenty later in the trip), and a few Cedar Waxwings (we’d see lots of them later as well but I wouldn’t get good photos of any of them).

Cedar Waxwing

After Animas Creek, we headed back through Truth or Consequences to have lunch at Paseo del Rio campground just downstream from Elephant Butte Dam. We spotted a small flock of Pyrrhuloxia just as we pulled in to park and I jumped out to try to get a few pictures since I rarely see them and they are usually pretty far away and buried in the bushes. I worked them a bit that day and would try again the next day when we returned with the Audubon group, but never quite got the picture I was hoping for; this one at least shows the bird out in the open.

Pyrrhuloxia

I also had a very cooperative Hermit Thrush presumably trying to stay warm and out of the breeze while I snapped away.

Hermit Thrush

A nice surprise that day was coming across a Hooded Merganser pair in one of the two ponds of this former fish hatchery.

Hooded Merganser

They were nice enough to let me to take a couple of pictures before they flew off to points unknown and wouldn’t be seen when we looked the next day.

The field trip the next day was most enjoyable despite the weather starting out with a bit of unexpected drizzle and ending with a good list of birds seen, several of which I don’t see all that often, and some really excellent photo opportunities. An easy one was an American Kestrel early in the walk,

American Kestrel

while we were busy looking at a good-sized flock of Cedar Waxwings, assorted bluebirds and goldfinches, and a ridiculous number of both male and female Phainopepla. Here’s my best shot of a female from that morning,

Phainopepla (female)

and this is my best one of a male (taken later that day at Paseo del Rio).

Phainopepla (male)

This was my first winter visit to the park and we covered quite a bit more of it than I’d done on previous visits, making it interesting seeing a different variety of birds this time. Bird of the day for me, however, was when we finally spotted the Prairie Falcon other birders had mentioned earlier that morning. Although it flew off as we first approached, it soon returned and stayed around long enough for all of us to get a good look and some good photos.

Prairie Falcon

A bit later we wandered over to the dam but wouldn’t see too many birds since the upstream side was pretty much frozen over. A couple of birds were hanging around on the downstream side, including a single American Pipit, a couple of ducks and this Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Then it was off to Paseo del Rio for another visit with those Pyrrhuloxia, but no Golden-crowned Kinglet that Kim had heard about there or the Hooded Mergansers we’d seen the day before. While everybody was busy checking out the ducks in the nearly dry river, I’d slipped off to look for Pyrrhuloxia – they eluded me until I rejoined the group, but I did get a good look at a Great Egret that flew over (and that we’d seen in the river the day before).

Great Egret

The egret appeared headed for one of the ponds, but wasn’t there by the time the group took a look. We also had two very cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in different spots that seemed much more interested in poking around for something to eat than to worry about all those birdwatchers staring at them.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We ended the day with a stop at the marina on Elephant Butte Lake, where there were more grebes than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Mostly Western Grebe and a few Clark’s Grebe, they were still pretty far away and the water pretty turbulent under a stiff breeze.

Western Grebe

Heading for home the next day, Rebecca and I were surprised to note several Golden Eagles on the power poles close to the interstate south of Bosque del Apache.

Golden Eagle

This time of year there are usually plenty of hawks (most often Red-tailed) sitting on those poles, so it was quite surprising to realize first one and then the next couple we’d see were indeed eagles. We tried to sneak up on them but they’d be pretty quick to fly away before taking up watch usually a couple of poles further down.

A quick stop at Bosque del Apache turned up two Bald Eagles hanging out on their usual snag in the middle of a large frozen pond, a couple of Northern Harrier that wouldn’t stick around long enough to photograph, and a fun bunch of Bufflehead – all male except for one female. Here’s a picture of the boys figuring out what to do next after the female decided to leave.

Bufflehead

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