Better and Better

New birds and butterflies for the year on just about every outing recently, weather’s warming up, and things are greening up for Spring. Finally got my first Pfizer shot, too, so this year just gets better and better every day. Note that it seems WordPress has modified their editor which is new to me. Since starting this blog I’ve always used their “Classic” editor and was able to modify the underlying HTML if needed and this post will be my first test of the new editor.

Embudito Canyon is probably my most visited spot since it’s close to home and good for both birds and butterflies. Several rock formations in the canyon regularly catch my eye, but this is the only one I’ve photographed (still practicing with my new Sony RX-10iv camera). It’s rather large, but doubtful it was carved by anything but the forces of Nature.

Embudito Formation

Later that afternoon, an email from a friend described a Western Screech-Owl seen in a cavity in the Corrales bosque. Most unusual was his photo of not one, but two, owls in the same cavity, so I headed down there a short while later to take a look. I soon found the cavity following his excellent directions, but as you’ll note from the following picture such specific directions were quite helpful.

Western Screech-Owl Cavity

Here’s a closer view of the owl.

Western Screech-Owl

The next day, Rebecca and I did the Atrisco Bosque trail to show her the Great Horned Owls I mentioned in my last post and to explore the area a bit more. The female was still in the nest high in the trees, and the male was close to where he was first seen but not as out in the open as the first time.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of days later was my first visit in years on the opposite (east) side of the Rio Grande from the Atrisco Bosque trail. Since my last visit a very nice trail has been constructed along the river that was a delight to walk and I’m sure to return more frequently. Just at the start, a bird was regularly repeating a song that I wasn’t familiar with. Turned out to be a Northern Flicker of all things.

Northern Flicker

Later, I’d see several Snowy Egrets flying together downriver, the first of that species I’d seen this year. And then moments later, I came upon three of them on a small sand bank close to the trail. This photo shows two of them with a female Mallard there on the left.

Snowy Egret

Off to the Tingley bosque ponds next, in an old nest that a few years ago was used by a Great Horned Owl I noticed was again occupied. Given the time of year, I assumed it was most likely an owl again, but the tail (and a nearby male drawing my attention) confirmed it to be a Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

A little later high in a cottonwood by the northern pond was this Osprey.

Osprey

Another visit to Embudito the next day gave me a good look at the Ladder-backed Woodpecker seen working on a nest cavity for the last couple of weeks.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

While I watched from a fair distance away, he came out of the hole and worked his way to the top of the (dead) tree to take a look around.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A few days later, I went back to the Corrales bosque to first find that the Western Screech-Owl was still present, and then to check on the progress of the nesting Great Horned Owl in generally the same area. It had been more than a month since they’d started nesting and I hadn’t been there very often since the female was usually hidden deep in the cavity. This time, however, you could just see the top of her head as she peeked out at me.

Great Horned Owl

The male was also visible, but had moved to a different tree than I’d usually seen him in earlier this year.

Great Horned Owl

Early this week, at Three Gun Spring I met up with some folks from Colorado who’d asked if I’d help them find a Sandia Hairstreak. Never a sure thing, it was a relief to spot one at almost the first Texas Beargrass we found, and then to see at least a dozen more as we made our way up the trail.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

We’d later see a few Southwestern Orangetips and five Spring Whites, my first of the year for the latter.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Another surprise came a few days later, when Rebecca and I were checking out the trail to Bill Spring. This time it was the first Thicket Hairstreak for the year, a species that didn’t seem too common the last several years and one that I’ve been wanting a better photo. Seems pretty early in the year to be seeing one, too, but I was quite satisfied with the photo.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

We’d also been checking out the area between Balsam Glade and Capulin Springs for butterfly surveys later in the year, when Rebecca spotted a pair of Band-tailed Pigeons pretty far away. A bird that (at least for me) usually flies off the instant it notices people, it was good to get a reasonable look at them.

Band-tailed Pigeon

This morning, a quick stop to check in on the Great Horned Owl nesting near Calabacillas Arroyo for the first time in a month found the female sitting up and more visible than a month ago, a possible sign that her little ones have hatched and are starting to grow.

Great Horned Owl

Then without any real expectations of finding one, I walked around Boca Negra Canyon where owls had nested a couple years ago on a ledge on the basaltic cliffs. Didn’t find any owls, but had fun watching a couple of Greater Roadrunners thinking about starting a family and caught one of them in flight off the top of the cliff with a stick to add to the nest site.

Greater Roadrunner
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Crossing into Spring

Spring seemed to arrive just on time this year, with pear trees coming into bloom along with the daffodils and a few wildflowers. That is, up until Tuesday night, when we got blasted by high winds, cold temperatures, and a pretty good dose of snow. Apparently no big deal down close to the river, but those of us near the foothills woke up to windows covered in ice/snow, an inch or so of snow on the roads and landscape, and as sometimes happens, nice deep snowdrifts piled up at our doors. By this morning, of course, most roads are completely cleared and much of the snow has vaporized away. Still rather cool out and no telling what that’s done to those blooming trees or the few butterflies that started flying over the last several weeks.

Still figuring out my new Sony RX-10 iv camera, which was used for all the following pictures. As typical this time of year, it’s fairly easy to spot plenty of porcupines anywhere in the bosque along the river. They sort of jump out at me wandering around down there looking for old raptor nests often used as nests by Great Horned Owl…just look for the lumps in the bare trees; it’s either an old nest or a porcupine. At Pueblo Montano, one can usually spot about a dozen porcupines and often two or three in the same tree. This is one of the better photos of one there on March 11.

Porcupine

This next picture is a bit different than those I usually post. Late last year, one of my sisters sent me (and the rest of the family) an amaryllis bulb for Christmas. We were supposed to follow the enclosed directions and wait for them to bloom over the next couple of months. Soon enough, everybody else’s came into bloom and on our weekly Covid Zoom call we shared the variety of colors, # of blooms, etc. with everybody. Mine, however, had never gotten started due to my having over-watered it. Taking another shot at it resulted in the following:

Amaryllis

Four huge, gorgeous flowers with a fifth in the center that would eventually open as one of the others faded. Great fun!

The next day or so, following the detailed directions of a friend, I tracked down a Great Horned Owl pair nesting in the area of Calabacillas Arroyo. It took a couple of tries, but eventually I found the right spot and could just make out the female’s back as she was sitting in a most unusual cavity.

Great Horned Owl

My friend also gave me ideas of where to find the male. Again, it took me quite a bit of searching to spot him, but you might notice him (as I did) standing out on the left side of that tree just about in the center of this photo.

Great Horned Owl Habitat

Without wanting to disturb him, I circled around at a pretty good distance to finally get a better view of him.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later after seeing eBird reports of a nest on the opposite side of the river and closer to town, I took the Atrisco Bosque trail to see if I could locate it. Delightful trail just across the river from the Biopark, I’d never before visited that area in almost 40 years here. Surprisingly easy to spot the nest as the only old raptor nest I came across there, the male was also fairly easy to see. Here’s a wide view with both of them; the male on the left at mid-height on an almost horizontal branch and the nesting female that lump high on the right.

Great Horned Owl Habitat

Here’s a better look at the male (taken from a considerable distance with my new 600mm lens).

Great Horned Owl

I’d see a few other good birds that morning including this Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

Pleased with my success, I next headed over to the Rio Grande Nature Center. I’d been twice before to see the tail of the nesting female, but had yet to see her face or to spot the male who had to be somewhere close. Good luck was in store for me as a group of birders there pointed out the male,

Great Horned Owl

and taking another look at the nest I caught Mom yawning when she sat up a little.

Great Horned Owl

Two other shots from that morning included this Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

and first of the year for me, Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

A few days later, I walked a couple of areas of the Corrales bosque that I hadn’t visited in quite some time (if ever) on the off chance there might be another owl about or other photo opportunities. No owls, but it was fun seeing a male Wood Duck rather high in a tree

Wood Duck

and later, getting a shot of an American Robin. Robins are being seen in good numbers most everywhere these days, but are so common I rarely feel the need to photograph one; this one came out rather well.

American Robin

I’d made several passes by the North Diversion Channel after hearing that the Osprey were back and likely to nest again where they have for the last few years. They haven’t quite taken up residence yet, though, but I did finally spot one of the pair on March 21.

Osprey

I’d also made a few trips to Embudito Canyon whenever the weather seemed suitable for bringing out a few butterflies, in expectation of starting to see the Southwestern Orangetip. In my last post, I mentioned having our first Sandia Hairstreak on March 6. I’ve seen a few more since and usually on their host plant, Texas Beargrass. On March 21, however, I was a little surprised to find one on the willow catkins just above the spring.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The catkins had just come into bloom, and in addition to the large numbers of Litocala moths present, is one of the spots I check for those orangetips. I would finally spot one (a male) closer to the stand of hackberry trees and working some of the new wildflowers.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

If that burst of snow didn’t put all the butterflies out of commission, the butterflies should really start emerging as spring takes hold and warmer weather appears.

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So Close to Spring

Spring is getting so close what with daylight saving time kicking in Sunday and the official spring equinox early the following Saturday. With the pandemic still out there (and vaccines not quite available here yet for most of us), it’ll still be good to get outside for all the new flowers, leaves on the trees, returning birds and emerging butterflies – can’t wait! Haven’t updated the blog since February 16, but there’ve been a few good photo opportunities over the last 3 weeks I thought I’d share. A bit quiet the next day in Embudito, but I did get a nice shot of a Cactus Wren.

Cactus Wren

A couple of days after that, Rebecca and I made another trip down to Bosque del Apache, where we’d see the Northern Shrike again and good numbers of Sandhill Crane and other wintering residents who will soon start heading north. Several times that day we’d spot a young Bald Eagle, once just flying by

Bald Eagle (immature)

and later acting highly interested as an adult grabbed a duck and wrangled it to the shore to eat. We saw javelinas in a couple of spots, but none of the bobcats others have been seeing recently. It was fun coming across a few Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey

While eating lunch on the Eagle Scout Deck, a couple of Northern Harriers were flying around in the distance, one of which flew right over us but turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

At a pond near the Flight Deck where we watched the Bald Eagle show, there were also good numbers of Cinnamon Teal close enough to get a decent photo.

Cinnamon Teal

A week later, Rebecca and I met at the Rio Grande Nature Center to walk the bosque and along the Rio Grande just past Campbell Road. Not quite as busy with birds as on some of my earlier visits, but it was fun watching three Killdeer apparently holding a meeting to discuss their latest dance moves. They’d line up three abreast and take a few steps forward and back, or step around each other in different formations, but pretty much were just hanging out together.

Killdeer

While we were watching that an adult Bald Eagle passed by heading up river just above the trees.

Bald Eagle

A few days later, a new camera arrived that I’d been thinking about for several years now. A Sony RX10iv – everyone I know that has one raves about it and I’d read good things about it online. There’s a bit of a learning curve to using it, so the jury’s still out while I work through that. So far, I’m pretty happy with it if not as overwhelmingly impressed as I’d expected. Haven’t had too many good opportunities yet to try out different things, but the rest of the photos in this post were taken with my new toy.

Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area has finally opened up Thursday-Saturday for walking around, so we met there last Friday. Didn’t end up with too many pictures and a little quiet for birds, but there was a Great Egret on their small pond along with a Great Blue Heron. The heron would fly whenever I’d think of trying for a picture of the egret, and once a Northern Harrier even flew by to land just feet from the egret. Here’s my best shot of the Great Egret from the opposite side of the pond.

Great Egret

The next day back at the Rio Grande Nature Center, I spotted this year’s nest for the Great Horned Owl.  Rather high up in a tree, it’s not much to see now, but hopefully we should get decent looks at Mom and the little ones once they arrive.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC Bosque

Later that morning, I looked around a bit at Los Poblanos Open Space thinking I might get photos of raptors or cranes in flight. Didn’t see any of those, but did see a Western Screech-Owl in one of the nest boxes, and one of the resident Greater Roadrunners that are almost always somewhere around the garden plots.

Greater Roadrunner

Now that March is here and we’ve had a couple of days with temperatures reaching into the upper 60s, I’ve been checking Embudito Canyon pretty much every day hoping to see my first Sandia Hairstreak….typically the first species to announce the arrival of the year’s butterfly season. And, yay!, this year it happened on March 6 (also pretty good practice shooting macro with the new Sony).

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Despite the gray clouds yesterday, I was off to check in on the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park…much cooler background than the nest boxes of Los Poblanos,

Western Screech-Owl

then over to Tingley Ponds where I had a cooperative pair of Northern Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler

Up at the north end of the north pond, a lump in the trees caught my eye and not too surprisingly turned out to be a Porcupine, although a bit unusual in being fairly low in a tree and moving around rather than dozing away as one usually finds them.

Porcupine

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Flies

I recently realized it’s been ten years since I retired from my long-time job. Somewhat surprising to me was discovering that going out to photograph birds (and soon after, butterflies) would take up so much of my time. It was certainly not on the list of things I’d find myself working up in the days between making the decision to retire and the actual event. Although I’d had a website (sandianet.com) since 1997, it has grown considerably over the last decade as more and more photos of birds, butterflies, and anything else that’s caught my eye were added. That realization triggered a major task to modify the website structure and content and to delete a considerable number of images, many of which were redundant or for which others were just better photos. There remain an absurd number of images on the website particularly of birds and butterflies from more than 20 trips to other states during the past decade and 30 international trips going back almost two decades, but I’ve managed to clean up those sections of the website dealing with nature images from New Mexico.  Of an original total of 11,786 photos, 7,200 were deleted resulting in the current total of 4,586.  That’s still a crazy number, but represents a reduction of 61% of the original total. These had been stored on both a hard drive and a web server. A first step was to go through all of the photos in a category (birds, butterflies, critters, bugs, dragonflies, and flowers) deciding which to retained or delete. Next was deleting many of the files on the two systems and double-checking to ensure they matched. Finally, a new set of webpages were made to present the remaining images.  So that’s what’s been taking up a fair amount of my time over the last two weeks and partly explains why there aren’t many photos for this post.

Just a couple of weeks following my last day of work, on March 5, 2011 I started this blog. It seemed a fun way to document and share what was turning into a major part of my post-retirement life, and it’s been interesting going back and looking over some of those more than 300 posts over the last ten years.

During the first week of February, I did get out to a couple of local spots that while mostly quiet for birds turned up some good sightings. One morning was at Pueblo Montano Open Space. Not many birds, but plenty of porcupines dozing in the trees. There was, however, a Pied-billed Grebe working its way down the irrigation ditch,

Pied-billed Grebe

and, on the way back to my car a patient Red-tailed Hawk catching a little morning sun.

Red-tailed Hawk

Another morning took me out to Willow Creek Open Space near Bernalillo, where I didn’t expect to run into many other people and there were reports mentioning a pair of Great Horned Owls being seen regularly. Although they seem to use a different nesting location within the Open Space every year, their nests have been spotted reliably in recent years and this year’s breeding season should start any day. So I walked the big loop and looked around carefully up at the northern end near the houses where they’d been reported. Not seeing anybody as I made my way around the corner to head back south, it was quite a treat to hear their territorial hooting that helped me spot them. Rarely do I hear them and usually it’s late at night. Not the greatest photo, but you can see both of them close together on the same branch.

Great Horned Owls – Willow Creek

At the end of the week, Rebecca and I met down at Bernardo Waterfowl Area. We ended up with a pretty good list of more than 20 species seen, including (as expected) quite large numbers of Sandhill Crane, but the absolute highlights of the day for me was finally getting some decent shots of Northern Harriers. Just as we arrived, Rebecca had seen a male near the side of the road and when we wandered back toward that area to take a look, it flushed out of a somewhat different spot and I managed a couple of quick shots.

Male Northern Harrier

Over lunch, we had fly-bys of a couple of females, one of which had something odd going on with its right wing.

Female Northern Harrier

Later, on the way back toward the exit, we’d have one sitting on a dirt mound as we drove up that first flew off and a short distance up the irrigation ditch before heading back to perch on some dry brush in the ditch.

Female Northern Harrier

Once she landed there, she seemed to pay no mind to my slowly getting closer. I kept taking pictures the closer I got. Not wanting to disturb her further, I got some great shots and then slowly backed away. Here’s a nice one of her with an eye on me.

Female Northern Harrier

This one is quite similar, but if you zoom in you’ll see her translucent nictating membrane, a sort of inner eyelid birds, reptiles, and even some mammals have.

Female Northern Harrier

Of course, it’s been pretty cold out the last couple of days and we’re catching a bit more snow this morning than we did with the first pass. Now that I’m done with that website cleanup, I’m looking forward to getting back out there again soon.

 

 

 

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Easing into 2021

Haven’t gotten around to updating my blog since early January so it’s certainly time to post a few pictures. Interestingly, in recent days I find myself feeling as if we’re in some kind of holding pattern not having to check the news multiple times a day now that Trump’s been retired and just holed up at home waiting to be called in for the Covid vaccine. But I’ve also been busy going through the absurd number of photographs posted on my website over the last decade, a task that has taken a considerable amount of time. Still, I somehow managed to get outside a few times for a few decent photos.

One day, poking along the irrigation ditch at Alameda Open Space unsuccessfully looking for kinglets and creepers turned up a Killdeer in a somewhat atypical habitat.

Killdeer

A few days later, I got a look at the Hooded Merganser pair at the Rio Grande Nature Center (but haven’t made it back for a better shot),

Hooded Merganser

and of a Red-tailed Hawk that flew into one of the nearby cottonwood trees.

Red-tailed Hawk

The next day, Rebecca and I headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR since we hadn’t been in quite some time and there are usually good birds around during the winter. Not nearly as much water as normal for this season that kept the bird numbers down some, but we still had a fun day. Among the first birds I’d see was a pair of Bufflehead quite close to my car paddling around, diving, and coming back up with the light perfect for catching that iridescence on the male.

Bufflehead

Driving around the loop we noticed they’d burned the brush and drained one of the smaller ponds, something they probably have to do now and then to keep the cattails from taking over, but still spotted a pretty cool bird, Greater Yellowlegs, in a classic yoga pose.

Greater Yellowlegs

Most of the action that day was on the big pond just as you enter the refuge with a good sized flock of snow geese, smaller numbers of various ducks, and a few others, such as this Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

At one point, the geese took to the air all around us in an amazing display of action and sound, providing me with this shot of a couple of them going right by.

Snow Goose

Taking a lunch break on the Eagle Scout deck, I was regularly interrupted by Northern Harriers zooming by but never quite got the photo I’d  hoped for. At one point it got rather exciting when the snow geese all launched off the pond again, which we’ve learned typically happens when a Bald Eagle passes by. Sure enough, we’d spot one making a low pass trying to grab a snack

Bald Eagle

before heading back to its usual perch to wait for another opportunity.

Bald Eagle

Finishing up our lunch, our good friend, Lefty, stopped by to tell us about his having spotted the Northern Shrike earlier. Hoping to see that bird, which is quite unusual to find around here, was his main reason for making the drive from Albuquerque and wonderful that he was successful. Following his directions, we headed to his spot and were thrilled to also find it rather quickly.

Northern Shrike

I’d seen that species only once before, and it too had been at Bosque del Apache back in February 2015. This bird seems easy to confuse with the much more commonly seen Loggerhead Shrike, but they really are noticeably different if you get a close enough view. For comparison, this next photo is of the Loggerhead Shrike we’d seen earlier that morning.

Loggerhead Shrike

Just a couple more pictures from the few times I’ve been out of the house since. This one is a Northern Shoveler seen cruising up and down the irrigation ditch in Corrales.

Northern Shoveler

Another day at the Tingley Ponds gave me nice looks at a Canvasback

Canvasback

and a Northern Pintail.

Northern Pintail

Finally, here’s one of a young Black-crowned Night-Heron hanging out by the Tingley fishing ponds.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

 

 

 

 

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Goodbye 2020

Well, we seemed to have finally gotten past 2020 without any more crazy surprises and there seems to be a reasonable chance for things to get back to something like normal sometime in 2021. Trump, of course, continues to deny reality and attempt to destroy our democracy, but should be put out to pasture for good in about two weeks; wish we could say the same for all those clowns supporting his insanity. We haven’t yet seen another spike in Covid-19 cases due to holiday parties and travel, but imagine we will over the next week or so. Not clear when I’ll qualify to get the vaccine, but am definitely signed up to be notified as soon as that happens.

Meanwhile, I did get out on those three Christmas Bird Counts with Rebecca and had some interesting sightings on other outings over the past couple of weeks. Our first count was the Bosque del Apache CBC on December 19, where we surveyed our usual area north of the refuge to Hwy 380 and the town of San Antonio and added five species to the overall count list that weren’t seen by other participants. One of these was a Merlin, which we spotted out in the open and didn’t seem to mind our getting close enough for a picture.

Merlin

We’ve seen Loggerhead Shrike in several locations recently, but that day provided my best photo of one.

Loggerhead Shrike

The next morning was the Albuquerque CBC where we were assigned the West Mesa section of the count circle. Rather dry and sparsely vegetated, we weren’t expecting to see very many birds overall, but had scouted the area extensively before count day and hoped to see several species less likely to be seen in other areas of the count. We worked several locations, accompanied by an expert birder friend familiar with the West Mesa, and kept at it until we’d finally seen almost all of our expected targets. Just over 20 species seen (about half the number we’d seen the day before in San Antonio), and I’d only end the day with two photographs, one of our Sagebrush Sparrows from the North Geologic Window area,

Sagebrush Sparrow

and the Red-tailed Hawk surveying the Paseo de la Mesa area that made it difficult to find the Loggerhead Shrike we’d been counting on, but would finally see later that day.

Red-tailed Hawk

The day after Christmas, we’d meet up with two of our birding friends to cover the eastern end of Bear Canyon from the Michial Emery Trailhead for the Sandia Christmas Bird Count. Of the nearly 20 species we’d see that day, a highlight for me was the Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed out to Clements Road east of Albuquerque between the towns of Moriarty and Estancia. This area, especially around this time of year, is usually good for a variety of raptors perched on the power lines or irrigation pivot equipment as well as other grassland species. It may have been the breezy conditions, but we wouldn’t see near as many birds that day as expected, so a return visit may be needed soon. We did get good looks at a Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and lots of Horned Larks, although the latter were usually quite far away or hidden in the grass.

Horned Lark

Yesterday, we’d thought it could be fun to check out Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, NM, about 90miles west of Albuquerque. Absolutely delightful weather, a good variety of ducks and a few raptors, and almost deserted of golfers until noon indeed made for a fun day. One of our very first sightings was of a Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon

Only a few of the ponds had water and of those, one or two remained frozen, but that tended to concentrate the ducks around the open water. Some of the goodies we’d see included  Green-winged Teal,

Green-winged Teal

Bufflehead,

Bufflehead

and one I rarely see, Common Goldeneye.

Common Goldeneye

Some of my other outings over the last several weeks have turned up a few good sightings. One morning at Calabacillas Arroyo had a Great Blue Heron in the Rio Grande take exception to my presence by flying away.

Great Blue Heron

I’ve made several trips to the Corrales Bosque recently, since there are usually few people around and the birds seem to like the habitat near the slow-moving water in the irrigation ditch. An American Woodcock was first seen there during the Albuquerque CBC on December 20 and has occasionally appeared there ever since. A most unusual sighting for our area, it’s drawn plenty of birders hoping to catch a glimpse of it (and making it somewhat more crowded than normal). I take a look every time I’m down there, but have yet to see it. Others, it seems, are willing to spend the entire day in hopes of it showing itself. I did note on December 22 that for the first time since last May, both of the Great Horned Owls have returned hopefully to nest in their usual spot again this year.

Great Horned Owls

Other visits have provided good photo opportunities of more commonly seen species, including a Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

I’d never noticed the hook on the tip of their bill before (you may need to zoom in to see it), and am wondering if it isn’t a bit exaggerated in this individual.

Quite a few Song Sparrows have been working the ditch on most visits, sometimes making for a good photo.

Song Sparrow

Other outings have been to the bosque on either side of the Rio Grande near the Rio Grande Nature Center. Not particularly birdy the times I’ve been recently, but now and then things turn out pretty well. Two days ago on the east side of the river, I’d see this Northern Flicker at quite close range,

Northern Flicker

and finally get a decent shot of a Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle

Heading back to my car, I was surprised to once again see a Wilson’s Snipe working the bank of the irrigation ditch just south of the bridge to the Nature Center, the same spot every once in a while I’ve seen them in the past.

Wilson’s Snipe

 

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Lockdown

Not quite sure what’s been going on with me lately, but it’s been more than a month since I last posted to this blog, and also haven’t gotten many photos in all that time worth keeping.  Part of it’s been due to following all the post-election nonsense, which has hopefully ended with the surprisingly calm Electoral College vote earlier this week. Then there was Thanksgiving and getting Christmas notes out, the weather getting colder and the days longer, and spending a lot of time at home as the COVID-19 virus surges more than ever through the community. Two days after that last post, New Mexico “reset” their virus response, pretty much shutting down like we did back at the beginning in mid-March, and only slowly easing up on restrictions. I have gotten out some to places where I’m unlikely to run into others including multiple visits to a new area for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count (CBC), but haven’t stumbled across very many birds on any of those outings. Rebecca and I are lined up for three CBCs over a little more than a week. Hoping to get a few good pictures during those events, I thought I’d clear the decks a little by sharing what pictures I’ve managed since my last blog post.

First up are these two female Common Merganser from a visit to the Rio Grande at Calabacillas Arroyo one day. As I came out to the river, I surprised 5 or 6 of them, most of whom flew off or paddled quickly away, so I was only able to snap off this shot of the last two.

Common Merganser

In scouting out various spots on the West Mesa for the Albuquerque CBC, I’ve gotten a couple of pictures of a few of our target species for that count. These include the Rock Wren,

Rock Wren

the Canyon Wren,

Canyon Wren

and the Sagebrush Sparrow.

Sagebrush Sparrow

It’s been interesting checking out these locations, some of which were new to both of us and a few of which I’d heard about for years but could never quite figure out how to access, including the North Geologic Window and South Geologic Window. Those two in particular turned out to be much more easily accessible than on past attempts.

I’ve made a couple of visits along the Rio Grande hoping to spot a Bald Eagle, which others have been seeing recently and which most years I’m able to get close enough to photograph, but no luck so far. On one of those visits, there were a few Cedar Waxwings hanging out at about eye level,

Cedar Waxwing

and I’ve regularly stumbled across Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

and of course the mad flocks of Bushtits making quick stops in search of insects before moving on to their next stop.

Bushtit

Both of those photos were from the Corrales Bosque, where again today I’d spot the Great Horned Owl in the same spot that I’d last seen it on November 9.

Great Horned Owl

I’m thinking this is one of the owls that’s nested close by for the last several years, and hoping they won’t be deterred from nesting in the same cavity of a tree that’s unfortunately been trimmed back considerably this past summer.

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Three Long Weeks

Just less than 3 weeks since my last post, it seems like it’s been a long, long time. Not too many pictures to share this time, but probably due mostly to my just not getting out there as early or often as usual. A couple days after my last post we got a good taste of winter, waking up to about 7″ on snow in the yard but only a couple inches on the driveway; quite a change from the preceding nice warm days. Silly me, I actually shoveled the driveway and sidewalk only to have the rest of it typically evaporate away later in the day. The next morning, a relatively short walk around Elena Gallegos Open Space turned up a few bluebirds, a couple of which posed nicely in the snow-dusted juniper trees for a moment before flying off.

Western Bluebird

The next day found me at the Rio Grande Nature Center and nearby bosque. While they’re still closed to out-of-state visitors and only open four days a week, they’ve now opened the gate on the west side to provide access to the bosque and Rio Grande. Interestingly, they’re checking resident status at the parking lot, but anyone can wander in through that gate. That included one lad who didn’t have a mask on but at least had his dog on a leash despite the obvious sign prohibiting leashed pets. Anyway, as I crossed the bridge over the irrigation ditch, I was thrilled to see a pair of Wilson’s Snipe making their way along the side of the ditch right where we’d seen them in late February. I pointed them out to a few other people and noticed the next day on eBird that folks had seen as many as five individuals.

Wilson’s Snipe

Sandhill cranes have also been appearing in increasing numbers every day, most on their way toward Bosque del Apache NWR I imagine. The largest flocks I’ve seen lately have been flying over Corrales; this is the only picture I’ve gotten of one so far this Fall.

Sandhill Crane

Made it to Tingley Ponds a few days later to find a good mix of ducks, Canada Geese, and others, including this Pied-Billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Election Day was the next day and it was a treat to have a small herd of seven mule deer appear just outside my front door, apparently mistaking it for a polling site and interesting in serving as poll watchers. I’d been seeing two or three wandering around recently, but spotted a few of them resting in the grass just as I started to open the door.

Mule Deer

They noticed, but didn’t seem too worried about me.  Over the next hour, I first checked the view from other windows and tried for a few photos; this is the leader of the pack taking a snooze by my patio wall.

Mule Deer

Later, I went through the garage and across the street for a few more pictures, and it was fun pointing them out to a few walkers and noticing that just about everybody going by in their cars and trucks would stop to grab a picture with their phones. At the end of the show, one of the females started moseying across the street, stopping for a second for a little one to nurse (no photo unfortunately), and then the rest got up and took their time wandering after her (not a great photo, but taken with my phone) with the male the last to leave.

Mule Deer

In the days since, of course I’ve been following the post-election nonsense and growing concerned about the latest spike in Covid-19 happening all over this country (and many others around the world). Ranting about all that on this blog wouldn’t change anything, so instead here’s a photo of a Great Blue Heron I surprised at Calabacillas Arroyo one morning,

Great Blue Heron

and of a Bushtit a little later that morning.

Bushtit

Two days ago on a unexpectedly cool and breezy morning in Corrales, it was fun to spot (as one of the few birds out that morning) that at least one of our Great Horned Owls has returned close to the nesting spot they’ve used the last few years, and the first I’ve seen since mid-May.

Great Horned Owl

 

 

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My Favorite Time of Year

Early autumn is always my most favorite time of year here in New Mexico with the weather just about perfect, warm and sunny days with little wind and pleasantly cool nights. The bright yellow sunflowers and purple asters slowly give way to the chamisa coming into bloom, and the trees start glowing golden until they lose their leaves. The aspens high in the mountains have already peaked, but the cottonwoods are still building to their crescendo. Things are about to change it seems with cooler temperatures and maybe even snow over the next few days.

Sandias from Wagner Farm

Shortly after my last post, Rebecca and I made a run down to Las Cruces on an unsuccessful search for two species of Giant-Skipper butterflies we’d hoped to find. Still interesting as I’d long heard of Aguirre Springs and Dripping Springs in the Organ Mountains east of town but had never visited. This rock formation at Dripping Springs kept attracting my attention with what looked to me like a guy wearing a cap while bringing up his right hand to salute…looks a lot like a few birders I know just about to get their binoculars on some high-flying bird.

Dripping Springs

We didn’t see many butterflies at all in either spot near Las Cruces, and rather than reversing our drive up I-25 we headed home by way of Alamogordo and Carrizozo. Another new (for me) place we stopped was the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site midway between Tularosa and Carrizozo. I’d heard about it for years, but was always on my way somewhere else and had never visited. The petroglyphs were interesting in that many of them seemed to use a different artistic style than seen in the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. A little research suggests the Three Rivers petroglyphs are generally several hundred years older and made by different people. The area seemed to have gotten more rain than most of the state this year and there were quite a lot of blooming flowers. We didn’t see many butterflies, though, until Rebecca spotted some bushes (she later identified as Brickellia eupatorioides or False Boneset) by the Ranger’s home that had plenty. Two that certainly caught my attention was this Great Purple Hairstreak

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

and the first of two American Snouts we’d see.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

The trees near those bushes also turned up a Verdin, whose nest we’d later spot in a tree near the picnic tables.

Verdin

Headed for Socorro and home, we made a quick stop at Valley of Fires where we’ve sometimes seen good butterflies and almost always come across a large Eastern Collared Lizard sunning on the rocks. Didn’t see that one this time (and maybe since it’s later in the year) but Rebecca did immediately spot what is probably a young one.

Eastern Collared Lizard ? (Crotaphytus collaris)

Arrived home to find a couple of mule deer just in front of my garage. I usually only notice them a couple times every year, but these guys have now put in an appearance just about every day for the last two weeks.

Mule Deer

There have been a few good bird sightings on my typically daily walks, although it’s getting old trying to figure out where to go where I won’t run into too many others and then keeping an eye out for folks so I can put on my mask and keep my distance. The virus cases jumped way up over the last week and don’t seem yet to be tailing off; fortunately, most folks out there do seem to be complying with the mask rule.

First up in the birds was another Northern Waterthrush in the irrigation canals in Corrales, a bird I’ve only seen a few times in the past but am seeing there regularly for the last couple months.

Northern Waterthrush

One day in Embudito, a Scaled Quail was surverying the scene from the top of the rock close to the parking area that’s always a popular lookout for different birds. Years ago, Scaled Quail were quite common in the foothills, while Gambel’s Quail were only occasionally sighted. Over the last few years, that situation has been totally reversed.

Scaled Quail

Ruby-crowned Kinglets seem to be common just now, too, and I’d get a close photo of one busy finding things to eat in the chamisa also lining the Embudito parking area.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Last weekend, I’d see my first porcupine for the season and will undoubtedly start seeing them frequently as the leaves fall from the trees.

Porcupine

Last Saturday, I saw a Facebook post to the Critters of New Mexico group asking for an id on a moth seen at Bosque del Apache NWR. Recognized it immediately as a Nevada Buckmoth that the woman posting it thanked me for and said she’d seen thousands that day. (Amazing to see her post has had 84 likes – way more than anything I’ve ever posted.)  A very cool moth we’d seen there in the past, so Rebecca and I shot down there on Monday to take a look. They really were just everywhere, sometimes perched and often flying by so we got our fill of photos in short order.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

Not much water yet at the Bosque del Apache so we didn’t see too many other birds that day, but did have to wait at one point for a large flock of turkeys to cross the road, and had a Great Blue Heron waiting for us when we got to the Boardwalk (which unfortunately was closed for repair).

Great Blue Heron

About a week later walking the Corrales ditch, I’d first scare one off when it took off from the ditch while I was still quite far away, and then later seemed to have surprised another one close to the Dixon Road bridge who chose to pretend I couldn’t possibly notice it hiding behind an overhanging branch.

Great Blue Heron

One day up at Cienega Canyon, an Abert’s Squirrel caught my attention high in a tree and I assumed taking a nap. Usually, these guys are dashing about so it seemed a little unusual to see one in that pose.

Abert’s Squirrel

It wasn’t very birdy or have any butterflies earlier this week in Embudito until I was almost back to the parking lot. I’d first get a nice close shot of a Cactus Wren,

Cactus Wren

then get a good look at a nearby Ladder-backed Woodpecker, when I was surprised to see a Canyon Wren close to the bike trail. They’re usually much deeper in the canyon hiding among the cliff-like rocks. As I tried to get closer, it flew from a tall rock into the yard of the new houses, so I stopped to wait for it to pop back into view. Took a few minutes, but eventually he flew to the top of the wall for a second before dropping back into the yard….best I could do for a photograph below.

Canyon Wren

 

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Easing into Fall

A couple weeks into Fall, always my favorite time of year in New Mexico. The weather lately has been nice and sunny with daytime temperatures easing into the low 80s and cooling off nicely at night. Aspens are well into their Autumn colors high in the mountains while lower down the chamisa is kicking into high gear and the cottonwoods are just starting to change. For the first time in almost 50 years, like everything else the Balloon Fiesta was cancelled because of COVID-19, so the morning skies this week aren’t filled with balloons as usual (maybe 30 this morning instead of the usual 500-600). Lots of haze in the air due to all the wildfires this year, too. Bird activity has seemed to pick up recently and the annual migration is underway with lots of warblers showing up, everyone noticing the first Sandhill Cranes flying over, and a few crazy reports of most unusual bird sightings in New Mexico: Eared Quetzal, European Golden-Plover, Common Redpoll…

My sightings, of course, have been much less unusual, but still some interesting days out there. Back on September 24, Rebecca and I made our way down to Carlsbad hoping to spot two Giant-Skipper butterfly species we’d been wanting to see. We’d see the hostplants (Agave lechuguilla and Agave parryi), but had no luck with either species. On the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive in Carlsbad Caverns National Park that had large areas of lechugilla, it was fun to spot a young mule deer with its mother…first time I’ve ever seen a fawn with those white spots.

Mule Deer Fawn

Later we’d head down to McKittrick Canyon, which crosses the New Mexico border into Texas and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, looking for Parry’s Agave; we’d see a few agave but again no luck with our target butterfly. Instead, we got great looks at several Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn Woodpecker

and a good look at a Townsend’s Warbler.

Townsend’s Warbler

Several trips to the Corrales Bosque recently have turned up a few good birds. It’s been one of my ‘go to’ places this year since it’s usually easy to avoid running into other people and birding along the irrigation ditches has been productive, although I usually don’t manage to get there until later in the morning when birds are less active. Some of those seen recently include one more of the Wilson’s Warbler that’s being seen this year in large numbers just about everywhere, but not usually this close,

Wilson’s Warbler

the ever present Black Phoebe,

Black Phoebe

and one that had me stumped until I got home and studied in the book, a young Yellow-breasted Chat, also at quite close range.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A nice sighting there the other day was of this coyote, who seemed in better shape than most.

Coyote

Wandering around Pueblo Montano one day turned up a bird I’ve only occasionally seen, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s probably not all that unusual a sighting; I just haven’t paid much attention to sparrows.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Last weekend, I had a chance to drop by Capulin Spring fairly early in the morning. This year word has gotten out about how good it can be for birding and it’s either that or everybody hitting the woods because of COVID, but every time I’ve gone there have always been several other people (usually with big lens cameras) standing around waiting to see what will show up. So it was odd finding I was the only one there that morning. Pretty sure one or two Band-tailed Pigeons were around, but they’d disappear the instant they picked up on my presence. When I first arrived, there were just ridiculous numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos all around,

Dark-eyed Junco

and then a flock of Wild Turkeys I’d seen a bit earlier made their way through the brush to line up to get a drink before wandering back into the woods.

Wild Turkey

It had already seemed a bit odd seeing all those Dark-eyed Juncos and pretty much no other birds around when suddenly all of them flew off and disappeared; they must have noticed the hawk that sailed by high overhead just then. A few minutes later, they all came back and went about their business. A short time after that, tho, a dark shape that had to be that hawk came out of nowhere and just blasted past again causing the juncos to scatter. This happened a couple more times over the next ten minutes or so, and finally the attacker stopped and perched on a branch quite close by. Pretty sure it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk based on the head and tail and recall thinking it seemed considerably smaller than the Cooper’s Hawks I usually see in town or down by the river.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

With it hanging out right above the spring, I doubted any other birds would show up anytime soon, so seemed like time to leave.

 

 

 

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