Birdathon Plus

Just after the first of the month, Rebecca and I headed out to scout birding locations for the Central New Mexico Audubon Birdathon for which she led our group of 20 birders from 10 a.m. on May 3 to 10 a.m. May 4.  The goal of a birdathon is for the group to see as many bird species as possible over 24 hours and serves as a fundraiser for our local Audubon chapter. This year our group started at Bitter Lake NWR near Roswell NM and then drove to Carlsbad NM to bird several hotspots in that area, including Rattlesnake Springs, Slaughter Canyon, and Camp Washington Ranch. We’d end up seeing a good total of 103 species under okay weather conditions other than some pretty high winds especially at Slaughter Canyon. My friend, Judy Liddell, posted a detailed description of the event on her blog at https://wingandsong.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/24-hour-birdathon-raising-funds-for-audubon/ , so I’ll just post a few more of my pictures from the trip without too many words. Entertaining us at both Rattlesnake Springs and Camp Washington Ranch were large flocks of Wild Turkey strutting around and displaying most of the time we were there on both days.

Wild Turkey

Non-bird highlight of the trip was this large Gopher Snake sunning on the road into Bitter Lake NWR during our scouting trip. We finally convinced it to move off the road so it wouldn’t get run over, but it did take quite some prodding before it finally got upset with me and moved off after giving me a good hissing.

Gopher Snake

On both our scouting trip the day before and the start of the Birdathon, we saw a good variety of shorebirds, ducks, and such. One of my favorites, American Avocet, were present in good numbers and reasonably close enough to photograph.

American Avocet

Lots of Wilson’s Phalaropes also were around and one of the few times I’ve seen them walking along the shore rather than spinning around in the water.

Wilson’s Phalarope

Unbelievable numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers were present during the scouting day, but a pretty good number of them were out on count day, too.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Next it was off to Rattlesnake Springs where we were greeted by Vermilion Flycatchers,

Vermilion Flycatcher

including one that we spotted actively nesting.

Vermilion Flycatcher

The most common warbler out and about seemed to be Wilson’s Warbler, but several others were seen during and just after the official Birdathon period.

Wilson’s Warbler

We got nice looks at a juvenile Gray Hawk late in our scouting day, and lucked out again the next day to add the species to our count list.

Juvenile Gray Hawk

A ranger at Rattlesnake Springs told me about some young Great Horned Owls nearby on the way to Slaughter Canyon where we’d head the next morning. After we ended our active birding that first day, a few of us went to look for them. Quite surprisingly, there were three owlets Barbara Hussey first spotted all lined up together on a nearly leafless tree.

Great Horned Owl

The next morning as the group headed out, we made a quick stop there and everyone got a look. Although they were in that same tree, they’d all taken up positions on different branches. Wind was blowing way too hard at Slaughter Canyon that morning so we didn’t add many birds to the list, but on calmer days can be a quite productive birding location with much different habitat than our other stops. We ended the Birdathon with a couple of hours spent at Camp Washington Ranch, adding a number of additional species feeding on mulberries in a big stand of trees, and others around the large pond, various trees and wetland areas, and surrounding desert habitat.

A couple of days later I made the rounds of a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests here in town, and was surprised to still see young owls around at several of them. This late in the season, the owls have mostly abandoned their nest sites and disappeared into the trees. At Pueblo Montano, the adults were off hiding somewhere but the little one was sitting out on a branch quite close to the nest high in a tall cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

At the National Hispanic Cultural Center, at first it seemed the nest was deserted and I didn’t see any owls in the area. Turning around to head back to the car, however, it was a treat to spot first the adult female and then her little one looking at me from a much lower position in a nearby tree.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

My final stop that day was at Piedras Marcadas, where those owls always seem to start nesting much later than all the others. That day, both adults were in the nest tree leaving room in the nest for the two owlets. A week later the situation was pretty much the same with the adult female a bit farther away from the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

A couple of other birds from the last two weeks included this House Finch feeding its young,

House Finch

and a Black-throated Sparrow that posed nicely for me in Embudito.

Black-throated Sparrow

I’ve also been seeing a few new butterflies for the season just about every time I go out, but need to get back out there for better photos hopefully for my next blog post.

 

 

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New Spring Sightings

Since my last update, most of the Great Horned Owl little ones I’ve been checking on have really started to mature, and I’ve seen several new birds and butterflies for the year with lots more to come as spring migration gets underway. Our Audubon Thursday Birder trip on April 19 to my local patch of Embudito turned up a good variety of birds starting with a Greater Roadrunner on the roof of someone’s house by the parking lot, pretty good looks at a singing Canyon Wren, and most of the other regulars for this time of year. We’d hoped to spot the Scott’s Oriole expected about then, but didn’t see it that day although it has since been reported. Bird of the day for me was a Gray Flycatcher that we got a nice look at, but is so unusual around here (and a bit tricky to identify from other similar species) it was good to see the identity confirmed later on eBird. Interestingly, a few days later I got a good look at a Rock Wren where I’ve only ever seen it before in winter and got a really good shot of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher the group had seen.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

It was also good to see that the latest Osprey nest seems to be holding up against a few of those long windy periods we’ve been having. Their first nest blew away a couple of times before they tried again in another spot nearby. The female seems to be sitting on the nest these days with the male hanging out unless he’s off getting food.

Osprey

Fun that day following up on eBird reports to find another rookery, this time right in town close by the river. Unlike my visit a couple weeks ago to the one in Bosque Farms, this time the Snowy Egrets had arrived and were displaying their breeding plumage.

Snowy Egret

Another one was obviously having a bad hair day with the wind blowing.

Snowy Egret

This rookery is in a couple of big ponderosas and while much smaller than the one in Bosque Farms also had Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night-herons getting into nesting.

A highlight this week was getting to see a Common Black-Hawk down at Valle de Oro NWR after getting directions to a nest from my friend Reuben. While I’m still not sure I really saw the nest, it was in the same location I’d heard about last year and as I approached the adult squawked and flew to an open branch to keep an eye on me.

Common Black-Hawk

At the first Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about this year between the Nature Center and Campbell Road, one of the little ones was looking pretty well along when I stopped by on April 20; earlier in the month I’d seen two little ones there but didn’t see the younger one that day.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

The next day, I checked in on the latest to nest at Piedras Marcadas Dam. Mom was sitting up higher making me suspect she’d hatched at least one, and Dad was still around keeping an eye on things.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

On a quick visit a week later, sure enough I could see one of those fuzzy white tennis balls popping its head up now and then so my suspicion was correct although it’ll be a couple more weeks before they’re easy to see.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

At the National Hispanic Culture Center where a recent brushfire had nearly taken out the nest, the one remaining owlet was much further along in growing up.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

The young ones at Albuquerque Academy, however, on a visit Saturday morning were the most mature of all, with both adults off hiding somewhere and all three little ones taking up different spots reasonably close to the nest. I’d think they probably still haven’t quite caught on to the flying thing and are walking along the branches now, but it won’t be long until they start practicing flying in the nest tree and to nearby trees until that day comes that they will just disappear.

Great Horned Owl – AA

The latest Audubon Thursday Birder trip headed down to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area on a pleasant morning and ending up with a good total of 51 species exceeding our success criterion of wanting to see more birds than we have people. At the Belen Marsh, we had a few good birds including plenty of Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer,

Killdeer

along with a close fly-by of the first of several Swainson’s Hawks we’d see.

Swainson’s Hawk

It was kind of fun at Whitfield to spot probably our best birds of the day right at the start, a Bullock’s Oriole,

Bullock’s Oriole

and then at the end as we were getting ready to head to lunch, seeing a Forster’s Tern hitting the pond to grab a few minnows.

Forster’s Tern

While we have gotten out for butterflies a few times and it’s been fun spotting several new species for the season, such as Two-tailed Swallowtail, Juniper Hairstreak, Silvery Blue, Western Tailed-Blue, Hoary Comma, Pacuvius Duskywing, and Bronze Roadside-Skipper, I’m hoping to get a few better pictures for future blog updates soon. Also looking forward to seeing lots of birds migrating through in the next few weeks.

 

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Catching Up

Uhoh, somehow another two weeks has zipped by without my getting around to updating this blog. Typical spring weather of late with some nice sunny and warm days followed by crazy all-day wind and yo-yo’ing temperatures and off and on clouds. Still no precipitation for quite awhile so there’s little water in most of my usual spots, already a few wildfires around, and only a few wildflowers coming into bloom. A few days after my last post, I headed just south of town to check in on the heron rookery in Bosque Farms to see if they’d started breeding yet. The Snowy Egrets haven’t yet shown up, but there were a number of Cattle Egrets showing off their breeding plumage,

Cattle Egret

and several Black-crowned Night-Herons looking to get started nesting.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

I’d also seen that a few more Burrowing Owls have shown up in “Owlville” in Los Lunas and decided to take a look since I’d only seen a single one on earlier visits this year. That day, I’d see three of the six that others have been reporting and imagine it’s still a little early for them to start seriously nesting. It’s interesting how different individuals behave when people are around, some not seeming to mind us at all while others will go into hiding or fly off when we appear. This is one of the former that didn’t seem to mind my taking his picture from a fairly close distance to the car.

Burrowing Owl

This next one was one of the latter, standing up above a burrow when I first spotted it but slowly dropping out of sight the closer the car got. Certainly reminded me of how I first learned to spot them – just look for the rock that’s looking back at you!

Burrowing Owl

On the few days over the last two weeks when conditions were right for butterflies – warm, sunny, and not too windy, there’s been a few good ones out there. One small area in Embudito Canyon has turned up several Acmon Blue butterflies hitting the few nectar sources around.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

As the canyon narrows, there’s a very small water seep just now that recently has a bunch of wasps and several moths working to get a little moisture, but on several recent visits has also brought in one or two interesting butterflies. One day it was a not unexpected Short-tailed Skipper,

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)

along with a Great Purple Hairstreak – the butterfly that got me into butterflies seven years ago and one I don’t think I saw at all last year.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

About a week later, this area turned up the first Marine Blue for the season,

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

and in exactly the same spot as the Short-tailed Skipper and Great Purple Hairstreak, this time another rarely seen species here, Mormon Metalmark.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

A bit further down the wash on that first visit, I also happened to spot a tiny flying thing that I got a better look at as it landed, a Dotted Roadside-Skipper.

Dotted Roadside Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

That was pretty special for me to see, as it brings my total list of species seen there at the base of Embudito Canyon to 63 species; my webpage with the list is at http://sandianet.com/embudito/index.htm .  I was looking closely in that area since spotting #62, the Yucca Giant-Skipper, there about this time last year. We’d first seen the Yucca Giant-Skipper a few years ago in Las Huertas Canyon, and Rebecca and I headed there about a week ago and once again succeeded in seeing two individuals of that species.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Surprised a Bushtit hanging out in Embudito on one of my visits.

Bushtit

Porcupines are still out and about; this one from last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Tingley Ponds.

Porcupine

Returning there a few days later, I’d see the Osprey still hanging around,

Osprey

along with a group of both Cinnamon Teal and Blue-winged Teal.

Blue-winged Teal

I’d started that morning dropping in on Valle de Oro NWR where everybody else had been seeing White-faced Ibis and a few other good shorebirds; no luck on those for me, but lots of Western Meadowlarks singing about the fabulous morning.

Western Meadowlark

Our Osprey out at Tramway Wetlands are having quite a few issues this year. I’d posted a picture at the end of my last update of the nest they were constructing at the site where they’d lost one in a windstorm last year. So far this year, their attempts have also failed with the nest blown away by the wind at least twice now, and then a small brush fire this week quite close to the powerline structure they’ve been using. My latest visit finds them trying once again but in the next tower to the east, which hopefully will work out a little better for them. Definitely interesting watching the female for a few minuts guarding the early construction; when she started calling out I knew to keep an eye out for the male returning. Expected him to have a branch or two to add to the nest, but this time he was bringing what appears to be a fairly large orange koi he must have snagged from someone’s pond.

Osprey

Quick update on the Great Horned Owls – all but one (Piedras Marcadas is always later than the others) now seem to have little ones starting to appear. This year almost all of the nests I’m watching are way high in the trees and difficult to photograph well, but it’s still fun getting to watch all this. There is at least one little one at Pueblito in Corrales and one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (eBird tells me one may not have survived the brush fire that came close enough last week to scorch the tree holding the nest); and certainly two at Rio Grande Nature Center.

Great Horned Owl – Rio Grande Nature Center

Definitely two at Pueblo Montano,

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

I first saw a little one at Albuquerque Academy on April 4; two days later I got a picture showing two of them,

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

and rumor has it there might actually be three. About a week later, I got a better picture of the older one

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

but am going to have to keep looking to figure out how many little birds are growing up in that little patch. Mom is certainly keeping a close eye out from right next to the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

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Early Spring Sightings

Early spring and the weather around here lately has been mostly nice and warm with a few windy and cloudy moments. Fruit trees are in full bloom and most of the other trees are starting to show a hint of new green leaves. While not getting out too often recently looking for butterflies, when I have there have usually been one or two new species for the year flying about. One I’d been expecting to see for a few weeks was finally spotted nectaring on the flowering willow trees, the Southwestern Orangetip.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

Several other species were also seen hitting the willow one day, including Sandia Hairstreak, Spring Azure, and Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Another quite common one most of the year was a Checkered White that finally managed to land long enough to photograph.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

A bit unusual to see this early in the season was what I’m pretty sure is a Sleepy Duskywing.

Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)

A good part of my time outdoors over the last two weeks has been spent looking for more Great Horned Owl nests, and checking in on the eight I’ve been following expecting to start seeing little ones pretty much any day now. Their incubation period is apparently 33-37 days, so having a pretty good idea of when they first start nesting lets me know about when to expect those little ones. I’m pretty sure that’s happened in several of the nests now, but yesterday was the first time I managed to actually see one of those little white tennis ball babies, looking out from just in front of Mom in the photo below.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

Pop was in the very next tree winking proudly at me.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

Others have seen possibly two little ones in the nest near the Rio Grande Nature Center for more than a week now, but although the female is obviously sitting way higher in the nest, I’ve yet to spot more than a bit of white fluff in that nest. There are certainly little ones in the nest near the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), with the female sitting up quite high and actively moving around during several recent visits, but again I’ve yet to quite make out a young one.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

Every visit there has set a nearby Cooper’s Hawk off squawking and flying around, and while it doesn’t seem to be objecting to the nesting owl as they sometimes do it might be trying to attract a mate since it’s time they started nesting and there seems to be quite a few old nests in that area.

Cooper’s Hawk

On last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing to Pueblo Montano Open Space, everybody got a good look at that nest which should also have little ones by now but is pretty high in a distant tree so might be tough to see them for a few more weeks. A treat that day was seeing the male right above us near the trail, first time I’ve seen him since they started nesting.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

In other owl sightings, it seems really surprising to me that the Western Screech-Owl first reported in mid-January in Columbus Park is still being seen. In my experience they typically hang out for only a week or so before disappearing somewhere else in the woods.  And since I’d been hearing reports of a few more Burrowing Owls showing up in “Owlville” down in Los Lunas, I stopped by there recently.  A little too windy and cloudy to expect to see them out, but one of them was sitting there waiting for me as I pulled up.

Burrowing Owl

After that, I stopped in at Valle de Oro NWR intending to track down a Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about, maybe see the Common Black-Hawk that was reported as nesting in the area, and kept an eye out along with everybody else I ran into down there for the recently reported Varied Thrush. No luck on any of those and the weather was still a little unusually windy and cloudy so birds were mostly keeping hidden. I did get nice looks at a Swainson’s Hawk that was buzzing around me near the parking area much like a Northern Harrier had a few weeks ago.

Swainson’s Hawk

Highlight of the day, however, was coming across a slow-moving porcupine making its way along the irrigation ditch trail toward a tasty-looking small tree. Usually snooozing away high in a tree, rarely do I see these guys on the ground and never before noticed how big those claws really are.

Porcupine

Seems our Osprey pair are back trying to nest in the same place they tried last year before a big windstorm blew their nest down. Here’s the best shot I got on my visit on April 2. From pictures others have posted on Facebook since, it seems they’re making real progress and the nest has gotten considerably larger and probably just about ready for use.

Osprey

 

 

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So Much For Winter

Spring in the northern hemisphere begins with the equinox this morning after a most unusual winter here. While the east coast seems to have gotten a number of winter snowstorms one after the other, we’ve missed out on much precipitation at all and have had long stretches of unusually warm weather. But so far March has otherwise been fairly typical with calm sunny days interspersed with a few windy, cloudy, and chillier days.

A highlight for me of our Audubon Thursday Birder walk on March 8 was spotting another Great Horned Owl as our rather large group walked along the irrigation ditch in Corrales near Dixon Road. Fairly high in a tree right next to the path, most of the group had passed right by it sitting out in the open when I picked out those distinctive ear tufts against the blue sky. As usual, its camouflage was just about a perfect match to the tree bark and it could easily be mistaken for just another branch. And as usually seems to be the case, it pretended to be invisible despite all those humans down below looking at it and taking its picture. Assuming it was a male, a few of us looked around in vain for a nesting female. I went back on Saturday by myself, first to see if the male was still around and second to look around more carefully for a nest. Still no luck nest-wise, but felt lucky to spot the owl again in a different tree close to where we’d seen him before and this time almost at eye level.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That morning, I also checked in with my pair at Piedras Marcadas Dam. The week before, they’d both been on the same branch close to last year’s nest but hadn’t yet started nesting for this year. Despite all the construction equipment being used to remove sediment from the base of the dam, the owls had again taken up residence and are busy incubating some eggs. You might want to zoom in by clicking on the picture below, but you can see the female sitting on the nest there on the right side just above the center of the page and if you look carefully can spot the male about the same distance from the left side in that clump of dead leaves.

Great Horned Owls – Piedras Marcadas

Several times over the past week, I’ve wandered around Embudito Canyon hoping for a few more butterfly species to start appearing. A small number of Sandia Hairstreaks have been seen each time, and one or two individuals of a couple of other species, but I’m still waiting to spot the Southwestern Orangetips that should be flying by now. This has been a good year all over town for Mourning Cloaks, which overwinter as adults and thus appear whenever it’s warm enough.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The willows have started budding out deep in the canyon, which can attract butterflies, moths, and other insects, so I’ll definitely drop by later this week when the weather should be sufficiently warm and sunny for a few more butterflies to start flying. While looking earlier this week, it was fun to have a Ruby-crowned Kinglet pop up right in front of me while it was busy working the willows for some of those insect snacks.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

According to my reference sources, once those Great Horned Owls start actively nesting the average incubation period is 33 days. Since the pair near the Rio Grande Nature Center has been seen nesting since February 12, the little ones are sure to hatch any day now.  I took a look last Saturday (March 17) but didn’t see any little ones or the impression that the female had changed position (females will often sit up a little higher once her eggs have hatched).  It was interesting the male was in pretty much the exact same spot as the last time I’d been by two weeks earlier.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

It of course was a treat to find one of the Western Screech-Owls catching some sun in one of the nest boxes at Los Poblanos Open Space on last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip, but I’d also heard the one in a natural cavity in Columbus Park was still being seen (most odd – I’d first seen it there almost two months ago!) so I stopped there on the way to the Nature Center two days later.  And, sure enough, there it was quietly soaking up some sun.

Western Screech-Owl

It had been a couple of weeks since I’d first spotted the nesting Great Horned Owl at Pueblo Montano Open Space, so I also stopped by there. The female was still on the nest, but I still haven’t managed to spot her mate who I assume is somewhere close by – this year for some reason the males have often been in the same tree as the nest, but usually they’re some distance away in a well-hidden spot. A Black Phoebe posed nicely for me at quite close range that day,

Black Phoebe

and a pair of Cooper’s Hawks were making quite a commotion near where the owl was nesting.  One finally flew off leaving the other posing in the sun for me.

Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawks also start nesting about now and I’ll have to start looking for them again soon, and no doubt will start seeing a few baby Great Horned Owls in the next week or so. Them butterflies ought to start popping up again, too, now that Spring is here and we’ll be seeing some warmer days.

 

 

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Owl Obsession

It should be obvious by now, but I seem to have a bit of an obsession with finding and watching nesting Great Horned Owls. Owls had long been on my wish list for seeing in the wild, but it was always a quite rare event for me to ever see one. My first Great Horned Owl sighting was in a dry wash in nearby Elena Gallegos Open Space way back in 2005 and so unusual for me that I had to ask for help in identifying it. I still haven’t seen one there since, but after retiring in 2011 and getting out birding more seriously and more often have located a number of active nests and learned a bit about their behavior. It starts for me early in the year, looking for abandoned hawk nests among the leafless trees that I’ll return to check around mid-February. I’ve also learned they’ll regularly use the same nest for several years or move to another spot close by. Once the female settles in to incubate those eggs, she seems to stay hunkered way down for a bit more than a month and then tends to sit up higher when the eggs hatch and little ones quickly grow up. For the next couple of months, the little ones continue to grow, start climbing out of the nest, then practice flying to nearby branches, until one day they all just disappear into the woods almost never to be seen until early the next year.

So far this year, I’m now checking in on eight nests around town.  The first one this year for me was February 12 in the bosque between Rio Grande Nature Center and Campbell Road. They’re using the same nest as last year, and had just been reported on eBird the day before – I hadn’t seen anybody home a few days earlier so they must have just started nesting. Every time I’ve been this year, the male has been spotted lower down and east of the nest maybe 30 yards away. Here’s a picture of the female taken yesterday.

Great Horned Owl – Rio Grande Nature Center

A friend had told me about a nesting pair in an unusual urban location right in the middle of one of our major shopping districts, in ponderosa pines around the City Place office building. They, too, seem to be using the same location as last year.  I’ve yet to see the actual nest or the female, but can usually spot the very well-hidden male on my visits.

Great Horned Owl -City Place

Another friend told me about the nest at Albuquerque Academy this year. Apparently, the same pair has been nesting on the property for years and I’ve usually seen them since 2012. For the last three or four years, they’ve become celebrated for nesting in an open spot low in a ponderosa near the busy center of campus. This year, however, they’ve chosen a quieter and much more well-hidden spot. It’s been possible to just make out the female in her nest way at the top of their new ponderosa, and interesting to see the male a little more obviously in the same tree but doing his best to camouflage his presence.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

A few days later, I checked in on the strange pair that’s nested at Piedras Marcadas Dam last year. Strange because they usually start nesting later than others, one year hatched their little ones much later, and when I do see the male, it often will fly off rather than sitting there motionless (but always looking right at you!) as they usually do. This year, I’ve seen the pair of them on several occasions in the same tree they nested in last year, quite close to the nest but not yet nesting. This picture from yesterday shows them thinking about nesting and I didn’t get too close or stay long so the male didn’t fly off.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Last week when I stopped by, they were lower in the tree and he did take off before I spotted him; the female, meanwhile, stayed put and played that same hiding game as the guy at Albuquerque Academy, breaking up its outline as they often will by merging with some concealing branches or leaves.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Following up on a recent eBird report, I finally managed to spot a nest in Corrales that I suspect was also used last year but that I’d hadn’t seen back then. Way, way high in a tree, this one was pretty tough to see or photograph, and I didn’t spot the male anywhere in the area.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Later that same day, I made probably my third visit this year around Pueblo Montano and the Bosque School, where they’ve usually had a nesting pair somewhere in the area but that I’ve missed finding some years.  I would spot six porcupines and a good number of abandoned hawk nests there, but had just about given up again when high up and not too far from the trail winding through the bosque one of those hawk nests had an owl! It’s always fun to be the first to spot and report on an active nest. I looked, but didn’t see the male anywhere nearby.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Yesterday following the excellent directions of another friend, two more nests got added to my list for this year. The first one, in Roosevelt Park near the university, was one that nested in the same spot as last year, but that I also hadn’t managed to spot then.  The male was quite easy to see and stood out against the open sky a little below the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Roosevelt Park

The female was also visible in the nest, but low in the nest and difficult to photograph. Then it was over to the National Hispanic Cultural Center where another active nest had been seen in the area. Following my directions, I easily spotted a huge old hawk nest about where the owl should be but just couldn’t see anybody home. Since I knew it had to be close, I then looked around some more to no avail and checked lower in the general vicinity without spotting  the male (no surprise; they can be quite close to a nest but extremely well-hidden). Just about to give up, it struck me that a bunch of crows seemed to be making a lot of noise right around where I’d been looking. In the winter, it’s not unusual to have rather large groups of crows hanging around and calling like that, but birds will often harass any predatory owl that they find. Directing my attention to all that commotion, sure enough, there was a pretty obvious nest high up in a tree near the first old nest I’d seen and a female owl popped up to stare at the attacking crows, but otherwise seemed to ignore them. (I’d see something like this a couple of times in the past at Piedras Marcadas when a Cooper’s Hawk hassled the owls that had taken over their old nest.)

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

In other news, it was a treat this past weekend seeing that our State butterfly, the Sandia Hairstreak, is flying again kicking off this year’s butterfly season. As we’ve seen the last few years, they first seem to appear the first few days of March when the weather warms up just enough. Last Friday, we had a couple of them at Copper Trailhead and then on Saturday a couple more in Embudito Canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Liked this picture of a Crissal Thrasher in Embudito, too, showing all the field marks (more curved bill, dark stripes on the throat, and chestnut undertail coverts) that distinguish it from the more common Curve-billed Thrashers I usually see there.

Crissal Thrasher

There should still be a few nesting owls around that I hope to track down in the next few weeks while the leaves haven’t yet appeared. They do seem to use the same or nearby locations over the years, but sometimes either something happens to the owls, their nesting options disappear, or maybe they just move on and I won’t see one there anymore. I also wonder where all the young ones go – do they stay in the same vicinity or fly off to some new territory? Should start seeing a few more butterfly species now that the days are getting longer and warmer.

 

 

 

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Checking in on the Owls

Every year around this time, it’s always fun to spot a couple of Western Screech-Owls roosting in wooden nest boxes and natural tree cavities. I’ll usually see them from December to February. From what I read online, they don’t start breeding until March or April and I’ve yet to find an active nest or very rarely ever seen one during the rest of the year, but will hope to spot one in the coming months. This one in Columbus Park was seen and photographed by quite a few people this year, since it was in such an obvious spot and sat out in the open for several weeks.

Western Screech-Owl

At the time of this photograph, a Steller’s Jay was screaming at the owl from a nearby tree, long and loud enough that the owl opened its eyes to see what all the commotion was about. Later that morning, a Black Phoebe posed nicely for me along the irrigation ditch near Campbell Road.

Black Phoebe

A few days later on the Aubudon Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache NWR, it was a treat to see another one in the same cavity we’d had one in January 2013 – of course, I look every time I’m down there but this is the first time since then we’ve seen it.

Western Screech-Owl

That was a most productive trip with the large group of 23 birders seeing a total of 66 species that day, including an unusual sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

and the more typical Phainopepla

Phainopepla

and several Bald Eagles, who hang out down there for the winter.

Bald Eagle

Just about the time the screech-owls seem to disappear I should start finding nesting Great Horned Owls and have been looking around locations we’ve had them in the past. A little surprised not to be seeing them yet, but it is still a little early in the season and I’m thinking our mild winter this year may have delayed their nesting. But finally last week there was a report of an active nest in the same spot near Campbell Road as last year, so I had to go look. That nest was empty just a week earlier when I’d checked the day I got the picture of the Black Phoebe above. Returning a week later with my friend, Reuben, sure enough the female was hunkered down on that same nest as last year,

Great Horned Owl (f)

and looking around carefully in the area we’d seen the male last year, we eventually spotted him keeping an eye on things.

Great Horned Owl (m)

On the way back, we ran into a couple of other friends out to take a look and backtracked to show them. Along the way, we got nice looks at a Hairy Woodpecker, a bird I don’t see nearly as often as the smaller Downy Woodpecker and rarely at such a close distance.

Hairy Woodpecker

A couple of days later, I checked in again with my Great Horned Owl at Piedras Marcadas Dam. I’ve seen this one several times in recent months, but so far haven’t seen its mate this year. They’re usually an odd pair, nesting later than most and choosing a different spot each time.

Great Horned Owl

On that day, the owl (it’s difficult to make the call on whether it’s male or female) was a few trees over from where I’d last seen it and as I approached it flew off to an even more secluded spot. A Cooper’s Hawk noticed it when it flew and zoomed over to harass the owl, so I backed off and headed to my car. The owls tend to use old Cooper’s Hawk nests there, and I’ve seen the hawks get quite upset with nesting owls in the past. Once an owl has taken up residence, however, they seem to calmly ignore the hawk harassment.

Although it’s still a little early in the year for them to return from their wintering habitats further south, folks have been seeing a Burrowing Owl in “Owlville” down in Los Lunas, so one day this week I went to take a look. Seeing it rounds out the trifecta of our more common owl species, and this little guy was right where we’ve had several nesting pair over the last few years.

Burrowing Owl

There are a couple of other owl species that can be seen here, some I have yet to see and maybe need to make an effort to track down. But I do hope to find a few more nesting Great Horned Owls in the coming weeks and continue looking for them in a number of locations we’ve had them in the past. On the way home from “Owlville” I looked around Tingley Ponds where there’s often a nest, but haven’t yet located an occupied one. There were a somewhat surprising good number of birds around that morning, including a variety of waterfowl such as the Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

and Ring-necked Duck.

Ring-necked Duck

A large number of cormorants were on the island of one of the fishing ponds, including on a closer dock what I think is a young Neotropic Cormorant.

Neotropic Cormorant

The trees in the bosque seemed to have a good variety and number of the usual species, including this Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

and one of a number of Northern Flickers, this one busy eating Russian Olives.

Northern Flicker

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Last of January

There have been a few fun photo opportunities over the last two weeks I’ll share in this post. Oddly enough, the weather continues to be quite mild around here. Although most days start out a bit chilly, they usually warm up into the 50s and even 60s with clear, sunny skies by the afternoon. We could definitely use some winter precipitation, but haven’t seen much of that at all for some time now.

Almost three weeks ago, the Audubon Thursday Birders spent the whole morning at Valle de Oro NWR seeing a good number of birds by driving around the fields and then walking the bosque trails to the Rio Grande. One of the best sightings was at the end while we were going through the list when a female Northern Harrier flew right over the group and then circled around several times fairly low.

Female Northern Harrier

While walking through the bosque, we’d also see a couple of porcupines snoozing away in the trees and in the weeds had Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

and four Spotted Towhees, assumedly a family group, in the same area.

Spotted Towhee

After the walk, Rebecca and I drove to to Los Lunas to feed two stray cats we’d first met on Christmas Day. So obviously famished they quickly ate the leftover bits from our lunch that day, and then some official cat food we picked up at a nearby gas station and brought to them. Since then, we’ve been back every other day usually seeing both cats who continue to eat all the food we bring, along with the stray french fry, leftover burrito, and whatever else they come across. Rebecca named them on that very first visit; this is Kale (he was the one who first lapped up our leftover kale salad)

“Kale”

and this is Luna (she’s named for the Village of Los Lunas where we found them).

“Luna”

While they do seem to recognize us and usually come running for the food, they’re still too wary to let us get too close let alone try to pet them. But these two need to be rescued before a coyote or raptor spots them or even a bad stretch of weather hits, so we’re working with animal rescue folks to trap them, have them neutered and then Rebecca’s adopting them.

The next day while strolling around Embudito Canyon, a rather cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher posed nicely for me.

Curve-billed Thrasher

This year, there seem to be quite a few Curve-billed Thrashers in the wash along with a few Crissal Thrashers. A most unusual Golden-crowned Sparrow has been seen in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows at a feeder near the parking lot by a number of folks, but I’ve yet to spot it despite several recent visits.

The following week, Audubon Thursday Birders again had a successful day at Alameda Open Space. Despite having quite a large crowd of about 36 birders, we still exceeded our success criterion of more bird species than people.  While we didn’t see the quite rare American Woodcock that our leader Gale had seen on her scouting visit a couple of days earlier, it was a treat to get good looks at an immature Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle (immature)

Leaving the group at the conclusion of the walk, a few of us went to look for the Western Screech-Owl roosting in a natural cavity that a friend had heard about and had been reported on eBird a week earlier. Fortunately, there were only a few cottonwood trees with potential in the area and we spotted it without having to look too hard. Quite a few birders have been to see it since and I’ve even made a couple of return visits. Hopefully it feels safe enough high in that tree that it isn’t too bothered by all of us lookie loos.

Western Screech-Owl

A few days later, Rebecca and I headed out to the east mountains to participate in Audubon’s Climate Watch Survey, where every six months folks return to their 12 survey locations to identify and count all the birds seen in a 5 minute period; target birds are bluebirds and nuthatches. After doing our counts, we returned to the area south of Moriarty where the Thursday Birders had been on January 11 hoping to see a few more of the raptors that we’d missed on that earlier windy day. Much better luck this time, seeing (and my first picture of one ever) a Prairie Falcon,

Prairie Falcon

and the Rough-legged Hawk that wasn’t around on the first trip.

Rough-legged Hawk

We’d also see Ferruginous Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and even a Loggerhead Shrike. A Western Meadowlark posed nicely on a fence for me, showing off its bright yellow chest.

Western Meadowlark

A couple of days later, I was back at Pueblo Montano Open Space wanting to check again on a possible screech-owl cavity I’d seen early in the month, but while it still had a tell tale feather on the cavity, I still haven’t seen any owls. A few other good birds that day, however, included this pair of American Wigeon,

American Wigeon

a skulking Hermit Thrush (first I’ve seen this year),

Hermit Thrush

and a Cooper’s Hawk bathing in the irrigation ditch who paid no attention at all to me taking its picture from the other side of the ditch.

Cooper’s Hawk

That area always has a few porcupines about, and on my loop through the trees there that morning, I’d see at least five individuals doing their thing.

Porcupine

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was, as usual, a successful walk around Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen. Highlight of the day for me, was a male Northern Harrier flying reasonably close to the group. While we usually see females flying low over the fields at this time of year (and would see one that day), males, called “the gray ghost”, are just not seen anywhere very often.

Male Northern Harrier

This is the time of year that the Great Horned Owls should be picking out nest sites, which they should start occupying sometime this month. Once they do, they’ll be on or near the nest for about three months until they disappear again for the year. Of course, that’s got me out looking for them and identifying occupied sites before the trees leaf out in the spring. Not much luck so far this year, but then I haven’t really been trying too hard yet. Two days in a row last week in the same spot in Piedras Marcadas Dam, however, I did see this one, so indeed the games are about ready to begin!

Great Horned Owl

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Birds of Early Winter

A month into winter and for the most part it continues to be a rather mild one for Albuquerque. Somehow, though, I haven’t gotten out as often as usual or taken nearly as many photographs as is typical for me. Still, it’s been fun to see a few of those birds that tend to show up around here for the winter and to get a few decent shots of some of them. A long morning shortly after the New Year began had me out checking out a few of my usual spots near the river, including Alameda Open Space, Los Poblanos Open Space, and the Rio Grande Nature Center. Among a nice variety of birds working the irrigation ditch at Alameda was this immature White-crowned Sparrow that didn’t immediately fly off with the others as I approached.

White-crowned Sparrow (immature)

At Los Poblanos, of course I had to check the screech-owl boxes to see if any of them were out sunning. Of the three boxes I’m pretty sure are occupied just now, I’d only see one that day and again about a week later.

Western Screech-Owl

A Say’s Phoebe posed nicely for me that morning as well,

Say’s Phoebe

and it was entertaining to spot a couple of the resident Greater Roadrunners all fluffed up in the cold hoping to catch a little warmth from the sun.

Greater Roadrunner

At the Nature Center I mostly headed straight to the Rio Grande to see if any Bald Eagles were about since I’d regularly seen them in a particular spot across the river in past years.  Didn’t spot them this time, but did get nice long looks at a small flock of Cedar Waxwings perched in the Russian olive trees.

Cedar Waxwing

Heading back along the Bosque Trail to my car, however, I did have a young eagle take off from its perch in a nearby dead cottonwood and circle ever higher above me before it headed off in the distance. That had me looking the next morning during our Audubon Thursday Birder outing to Pueblo Montano Open Space on the west side of the river across from the Nature Center. An unusually overcast and cool morning kept the birds out of sight at first (other than the Pied-billed Grebe seen right off in the ditch near the parking area), but we’d end the morning with a good number of species. And sure enough as we got to our first view of the river, we’d spot two mature Bald Eagles, one directly across the river being harrassed by a number of crows and one on our side of the river but far to the north.

Also seen that day was the perfect cavity for a Western Screech-Owl that had a few telltale feathers around the opening, pretty strong evidence for a cavity actively being used by an owl. Naturally, I had to check it out again the next morning, but still have yet to see anybody home. As long as I was there, I checked the river again for Bald Eagles and saw two of them still on the east side of the river, so it was back to the Nature Center in hopes of sneaking up on them. I poked along slowly starting from the Aldo Leopold Trail a little north of the center where from out on a sandbar I’d see the birds had flown a little further south, and then headed that way hoping to spot them before they moved on. I did finally get lucky, seeing both of the adults on the same branch of a snag close to the river, but first one and then the other took off when I tried to get just a few steps closer.

Bald Eagle

Continuing down the trail to the river, it seemed pretty clear the eagles had staked out that spot because it was close to a small flock of Sandhill Cranes on a sandbar.

Sandhill Crane

On the first Saturday of 2018, Rebecca and I spent a little time at Valle de Oro NWR, where we finally got some close-up looks at some of the Horned Larks that we’d been seeing in large swirling flocks along the Rio Grande several times earlier in the week.

Horned Lark

Also seen that day, surprisingly, was a Northern Mockingbird, a bird we don’t usually see here in winter. On checking eBird at home later that afternoon, I’d seen that others had reported it already for that day.

Northern Mockingbird

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip had a line of cars driving along dirt roads out in Torrance County on our annual trip to see a variety of raptors that hang out there during the winter. Unlike most years, there wasn’t any snow covering the fields and while it was a bit colder than I had expected, a fairly stiff breeze had those raptors off hiding somewhere rather than perched on their usual telephone poles, trees, and irrigation equipment. Still, we’d end the morning with more birds than people, including several Loggerhead Shrikes and a rare sighting for this time of year of a large flock of Long-billed Curlews off in the distance. Having to leave the group early, it was a treat to see a Ferruginous Hawk just as I headed for home. I’ll have to make a point to get back out there soon when it’s not windy to look for a few more of these guys in their usual spots.

Ferruginous Hawk

This past weekend, I headed out early to Willow Creek Open Space at the northern end of Rio Rancho, unsuccessfully hoping to see the family of bobcats regularly spotted there and to look around to see if their Great Horned Owls had yet shown up. No bobcats and few birds, but I am starting to see porcupines snoozing away in the trees just about everywhere I go these days.

Porcupine

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Wrapping Up 2017

While most of the country seems to be dealing with really cold temperatures and a fair amount of snow, the weather around here the last couple of weeks has been unusually mild with temperatures reaching the mid-60s most days, clear and sunny. Recent Audubon Thursday Birder outings to Tingley Ponds and the Rio Grande Nature Center turned up good numbers of species under much more comfortable conditions than typical for this time of year. One of the last species we’d add at Tingley was the Wood Duck, a good number of which were seen in one of the fishing ponds as the group was going through their species list. These are both males, but there were a number of females in the large group.

Wood Duck

A couple of days later on a quick trip to Embudito Canyon, I spotted a Crissal Thrasher in the middle of the arroyo – at first all I saw through my binoculars was its bright chestnut rear; not usually easy to see but rather definitive. Getting a bit closer showed off some of its other characteristics different from the  Curve-billed Thrashers more commonly seen there.

Crissal Thrasher

On Christmas Eve, I wandered around Alameda Open Space hoping (unsuccessfully) to get a picture of a displaying Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Instead, I happened to notice a few Cedar Waxwings perched quietly in about the only tree along the irrigation ditch that had any birds, but for some reason that tree attracted nearly a dozen species.

Cedar Waxwing

Another visitor to that tree was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a species that can be quite common around here at this time of year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

On Christmas Day, Rebecca and I headed south looking around several spots around Belen and Los Lunas for a few birds. A highlight of the day was getting close views of large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the cornfields of Los Lunas, including this family group.

Sandhill Crane

The next day was the Sandia Mountain Christmas Bird Count – great weather once again if a bit windy at times and a good variety and number of birds seen. For that count, our friend, Bonnie, joined Rebecca and I cruising around our assigned area on both sides of I-40 east of Tijeras. At the compilation dinner that evening, I ran into an acquaintance who works at Albuquerque Academy who told me where their Great Horned Owls are hanging out, so naturally I had to go look for them.

Great Horned Owl

It really is amazing how such large birds can hide in plain sight. The only way I saw these guys was first knowing they had to be in that tree and second looking closely from every angle several times before finally spotting that flash of white on the chest of one of them. I’d first seen one on December 22, and then returned on December 30 hoping (successfully) to see the pair, and was surprised to see them both so close together. It was too bizarre taking another look at my pictures from December 22 to realize both owls were right there in the pictures, too, but at the time I’d only realized one was there.

More obvious there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting out in the open near the parking area.

Red-tailed Hawk

The last day of 2017 while heading back from the west side of town, I thought to drop in to see if that American Dipper was still around. First seen on December 14, people had continued to report it hanging around the same area ever since. And sure enough, even with about four guys fishing in the irrigation ditch the bird was easily seen and was busy going about its business, first perched just above the water looking around and then walking along often completely under water as it searched for food.

American Dipper

And to kick the New Year off on a promising note, a visit to Embudito on the first day of the New Year may have turned up only a few birds, but one in particular was pretty special, the first Sage Thrasher I’ve ever seen there – a bird I rarely see and usually quite far away when I do.

Sage Thrasher

On first seeing it, I’d assumed it was the more common Hermit Thrush that also has a streaked breast, but looking at the picture at home later had me thinking it was the thrasher. Friend and expert, Judy, confirmed its identity for me shortly afterward.

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