Moving Into Spring

Spring arrived here Monday after a week of gorgeous weather and warmer temperatures that have gotten all the fruit trees in bloom and even a few wildflowers starting to show up. Following up on last week’s post,  a number of times this week has had me dropping by Albuquerque Academy to check on the Great Horned Owl nest. Since she’s been sitting there since at least February 4, little ones should make their appearance any day, and sure enough, on Sunday folks started posting the first pictures of one. Naturally, I’d last been there the day before with no luck, stopped by a couple of other times this week, and finally got to see one yesterday – am thinking I’m getting a bit obsessed with all this since this was on my third visit that day! Fuzzy tennis ball was just snoozing for me, but seems to have woken up for others that have been by to visit.

Great Horned Owl

Proud papa was also there sitting in his usual spot, but showing off those sharp talons a little more than normal.

Great Horned Owl

On most of my recent visits, I’ve seen and heard Lesser Goldfinches and Say’s Phoebes in the trees, making me thing we might start seeing them nesting soon, too.

Say’s Phoebe

In other good news this week, my owls in Piedras Marcadas finally got organized and on Wednesday last week, the female had assumed the position on that good nest and will no doubt be there for at least a month,

Great Horned Owl

with the male keeping a close eye from nearby, but still letting me get maybe one picture before unusually flying off to another hiding spot.

Great Horned Owl

Friend Kathy, who seems to share this owl obsession, was nice enough to tell me about a Western Screech-Owl that also required several visits from me at different times of the day before finally popping up for a few seconds from what must be a fairly spacious cavity. Almost like Whack-a-Mole, it would rise up, look at me, then drop back down out of sight.

Western Screech-Owl

Other outings this past week have had me out looking for butterflies mostly in Embudito Canyon, but a few other spots as well, and enjoying spotting one or two new species for the year almost every time. Checking on Embudito with Rebecca last Friday, for example, turned up a Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus),

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

the first Mylitta Crescent (Phocides mylitta),

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

and a Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus).

Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus)

One of those and its cousin, the Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo), would show up a couple of days later. There was even a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis), which brings my Embudito list to 60 species (Photos were pretty poor, but good enough to identify). Of course, there were still good numbers of Sandia Hairstreaks (this one from later in the week one of my better ones),

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Southwestern Orangetips, this one my first good shot this year of a female – she’s got that white stripe between the orange patch and the black edge of the wingtip; in the male (posted last week) the orange merges with the black,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

and a couple of Spring Whites.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

On Monday, Rebecca and I took a look around Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long on the east side of the Sandias, but were a little surprised not to see all that many butterflies yet. It might just have been a little too early or still a little too cool back there. A few things were flying, however, including a mysterious Blue that flew by without landing to confirm its identity, several Mylitta Crescents, Mourning Cloaks, and my first Hoary Comma for the season.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Mourning Cloaks and Hoary Commas are among the few butterfly species that overwinter as adults in the leaf litter, so it’s not a surprise to find them flying once things warm up just enough. Other species that have been showing up in Embudito this week are the Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata), Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole), and an unusually early Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus). The Short-tailed Skipper was one that had me baffled just above the waterfall in Embudito yesterday when I was out with friends Sarah and Christine looking for their first Sandia Hairstreaks.

 

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Making the Rounds

With one week to go before the actual start of Spring, the weather around here of late has been basically wonderful. Generally sunny with temperatures rising into the 70s and only a few windy periods, the fruit trees are blooming all over town, green tips starting to show on other trees, and we’re seeing new butterfly species for the year on almost every trip outside. Almost every year visitors from out-of-state contact me about wanting to see the Sandia Hairstreak, our State butterfly that was first identified in 1958 in the nearby foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Since hearing from a butterfly enthusiast from Tucson last week, I’ve been making regular visits to my “local patch” Embudito hoping to be able to find some on his visit tomorrow. Conditions should be good for them, and there have been quite a few seen lately typically on their host plant, Texas beargrasss (Nolina texana). Surprising to me this year was also seeing them on the budding willows close to the little amount of flowing water in the canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The other early Spring butterfly I’ve been seeing regularly is the Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa). These guys generally seem to be on the move somewhere, rarely landing for even a second, and then disappearing into the distance. There was something about that willow, however, that caught their attention, too,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

and when they open up, you can see where they get their name (and that this one is a male).

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

On my first couple of visits, it was just one or two butterflies that had found the willows, but as usual, large numbers of Litocala moths have now arrived making it difficult to spot a butterfly in their midst. A couple of other new for the season species that have dropped by include a Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and a Common Checkered-Skipper.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Since 2011, I’ve seen an amazing (to me) 59 butterfly species in the lower part of Embudito Canyon and will hope to add a few more in the months ahead.

On most other outings in the last week, I’ve been making the rounds of my nesting Great Horned Owls and continuing to look around other areas more may be nesting. In one of the nests on the west side of the river, things seem to be progressing normally with the female perched comfortably on the nest but keeping an eye out for visitors like me,

Great Horned Owl

but it was also cool to finally spot her companion hiding in a nearby tree (thanks to my friend Kelly for telling me).

Great Horned Owl

Never spotted that guy last year at all, but he seems to have taken up this hiding spot I’ve managed to pick him out in on my last couple visits.

My pair of owls in Piedras Marcadas are still acting goofy. Several years ago when I’d first seen them, they nested late in the season and then took months to successfully have little ones. This year, I’ve usually seen one of them and sometimes both of them on most visits, but they haven’t quite gotten around to nesting yet. Last Wednesday at least they seem to have located the tree that’s got the perfect old hawk nest, but were still hiding in the lower branches of that big old cottonwood. Here’s the first one I noticed (who I somehow think is the male that atypically flies away as soon as he thinks I’m not looking),

Great Horned Owl

and here’s the other one that was at about the same height but about 20 feet away.

Great Horned Owl

Interestingly, while I was there neither one moved at all – much more typical of my experience. Hopefully, they’ll get with the program soon since the Cooper’s Hawks are starting to show up again, too, and will re-claim their old nest if the owls haven’t taken them over.

Things are still confusing near Calabacillas Arroyo this year at the spot they’ve used for nesting the last several years. Although they, too, had been seen on February 4 defending their territory against some attacking American Crows, since then it’s been hit or miss seeing the owls and not obvious at all if they are nesting in the same cavity. After a number of unsuccessful visits since then, it was a treat to spot one of them (the male, I think) yesterday still close to the nest location.

Great Horned Owl

That he’s still there gives me hope she’s nesting somewhere nearby, but I’ll just have to keep looking. She might be in the old snag she’s used before, but I’m thinking she might have found someplace a little more discreet somewhere in the immediate area.

At Albuquerque Academy, where I’d first seen them nesting on February 4, things are coming along nicely. Here she is on March 5, sitting up a little higher in the nest than back in early February.

Great Horned Owl

And here she is from last Friday (March 10) sitting almost straight up.

Great Horned Owl

Given the typical incubation period of 30-37 days, no doubt we’re going to spot those fuzzy little tennis balls any day now. A treat that day was spotting the proud papa a bit higher in the same tree; he’d eluded me earlier this year.

Great Horned Owl

All’s good at Willow Creek when I stopped by today, and from eBird reports all seems well for the Campbell Road pair that I haven’t checked in on since mid-February. Just for grins, the other day had me poking around in Route 66 Open Space in the foothills near Tijeras. I haven’t found any active owl nests there in a few years, but usually manage to find an owl hanging out by the water in that rather isolated location. No luck that morning, however, so I’ll be back. Nice fly-by of a Red-tailed Hawk made up for it.

Red-tailed Hawk

Last treat of the week was hearing that the Western Screech-Owl was back at Tingley Ponds in the roost we’d seen one last year. Sure enough, there it was peeking out at me when I dropped by last Wednesday.

Western Screech-Owl

 

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New Visitors

Still a bit chilly and wintry weather around here lately, but looks like a stretch of warm sunny weather is on its way taking us closer toward spring. Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes have been flying over town heading north and they’re not being seen much any more and our Bald Eagles also seem to be heading out, but we’re starting to see a few new guys in town. Biggest surprise Wednesday was to hear of a Mexican Spotted Owl hanging out in one of the two ponderosa pines next to the Visitor Center at Petroglyph National Monument. Most unusual, it’s never been seen in town before, it’s been years since it was seen in the Sandias, and is only rarely reported in the Jemez Mountains about an hour north of here. Reported first on Facebook around noon, I headed over about 2pm hoping it would still be there (I’d missed the most unusual Northern Saw-whet Owl at the Rio Grande Nature Center last month by waiting until the next day.). Not only did I get to see it (at eye-level, no less), but it stayed the night and was there all the next day. It seemed pretty oblivious to visitors on my visit, but by now plenty of people have been by to visit and out of concern for the bird they’re no longer allowing visitors.

Mexican Spotted Owl

Mexican Spotted Owl

Last week’s Thursday Birder outing checked out Willow Creek Open Space in northern Rio Rancho and despite the cold and windy morning chalked up a success of 23 birders spotting 23 species. Fun for me was pointing out their Great Horned Owl nest that I’d located earlier, but she was still tucked in there pretty good so some folks took a look and then kept going without spotting her.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

My friend, Kelly, was first to spot the male sitting in exactly the same spot he’d been in when I’d first found the nest. Not for the first time, it took me a second to pick him out even knowing where to look.

Great Horned owl

Great Horned Owl

It’s interesting to me how they almost always have a leaf or a twig or something between them and you to help their disguise and amazing how they figure that out or teach it to their kids. Just like last time, he waited there patiently (move along, nothing to see here, just another branch you can ignore) while everybody got pictures.

Another highlight of that morning was a nice flock of Mountain Bluebirds. I’d been looking for them for the last few weeks, so it was great that one posed relatively close by.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

On Tuesday, I checked in on a few other Great Horned Owl nest possibilities on the west side of the Rio Grande. Didn’t see any at several spots in Corrales or around Alameda Open Space, and nobody seemed to be home in Calabacillas Arroyo again. Though I’d seen two adults in Calabacillas a few times earlier in the month where they’ve nested the last couple of years, they seem to have moved on and haven’t been around on my last visits. At Piedras Marcadas Dam, they are still messing with me and I’ll spot at least one adult on every visit but they still don’t seem to have started nesting. On this visit, one of them had at least discovered the tree with that really nice nest the Cooper’s Hawks used last year.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Again this time, however, it hung around just long enough for one picture before flying off when I turned my back. This guy for some reason spooks easier than any of the others I’ve seen so probably best to keep my distance and check in less often. It’s smart that the owls typically claim the old nests before the hawks return; last year I once saw a Cooper’s Hawk there harassing a nesting owl, calling from just feet away and nearly attacking it on a quick fly-by. The Coops are back now, with one flying in to a tall cottonwood

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

and continuously calling out to claim the territory, so the owls better get with the program soon.

My next stop was along an arroyo off of Montano where one nested last year. Nobody home at that spot, but a treat to spot her in a much better nest this year several hundred yards further down the arroyo.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, where we parked to explore the bosque along the east side of the Rio Grande. A nice enough morning at a new location for the group, but pretty quiet bird-wise for most of the morning. Still we ended up with as many species as we had people (if we included two that were heard but not seen) including one spot on the river with a pair of Great Blue Herons and the last of our Sandhill Cranes. A highlight of the morning was spotting a pair of American Kestrels pretty far away checking out several dead snags for their nest-definitely worth a return visit soon to see if they choose one of those spots.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Since it’s certainly time, but still a little chilly, I also took a quick look around for butterflies in Embudito Canyon yesterday, and was thrilled to see the return of our first spring butterflies for the year, a Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa) and a couple of Sandia Hairstreaks (Callophrys mcfarlandi) -not a great picture, but photographed one of them for the record.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Weather’s looking pretty good the next couple of days and most of next week, so I’ll definitely be getting out more often to see what else might be flying.

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The Owl Quest Continues

It’s been a pretty good week weather-wise for this year’s search for nesting Great Horned Owls. A number of outings to various places we’ve had them in the past and several others that seem promising haven’t yet turned up too many, but I managed to locate two new ones since last week. It must be the time of year, but there really haven’t been many birds showing themselves to me and certainly very few calling or singing to let me know they’re around. Still surprises me, then, how many species we manage to turn up on our Audubon Thursday Birder trips. This week was no exception, with the large group of 37 birders tallying 46 species on a morning trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Sure, we get a few more species from all the ducks and waterfowl on the ponds, but those large numbers must have something to do with having all those eyes looking around and spending as much time as we do. One of my friends that morning had good directions for locating this year’s “Campbell Road” owl, nesting in a different spot than the last several years so after lunch a few of us went looking for it. Exactly matching the location description was an old hawk nest high above the trail that had to be it, but we were lucky to catch just a bit of a look at the female from one particular direction before the female hunkered down even lower in the nest.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Pretty cool, too, was one of my friends spotting the male a short distance away and much closer to the ground.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

This week’s Thursday Birder trip is to Willow Creek Open Space at the far northern end of Rio Rancho. We’ve had owls nesting there the last several years, and after seeing a report on eBird that one had been seen there the day before, I headed there Saturday morning to see if I could find it. After looking pretty hard without success around where it nested last year, it was back to search mode walking all over the area searching the fairly open trees for likely nesting spots or owl-like silhouettes against the background. Although there didn’t seem to be too many birds making their presence known, now and then one would pop up and ask me to take their picture, including this Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

and a Bewick’s Wren sitting at the top of a small tree singing its heart out.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

So, anyway, I kept walking around the loop trail and finally spotted a nice old hawk nest high in a tree right by the trail that I think the owls used a couple of years ago. Despite looking from different directions, I couldn’t see anybody in there. Scanning the nearby trees, however, this rather owl-shaped lump on a branch caught my eye.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Getting a little closer it turns out my hunch was correct. Interestingly, he just sat there with the sun in his eyes and must have been pretending I couldn’t possibly realize he was there since he never once turned to stare right at me like they usually do.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Knowing he was there meant that she was probably in a nest close by, so I took another look at that old hawk nest. Sure enough, she’d moved just enough that I could see a bit of her tail sticking over the edge.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Rumor had it there might be another owl nesting at the southern end of the Corrales bosque, so next I wandered over there to take a look. Although I wasn’t successful in finding it, it was fun seeing two Great Blue Herons high in the cottonwoods. as they usually do, one took off as soon as it detected my presence, but the other one pretended I couldn’t see it and remained sitting there as I went past and was still there on my return. Here’s a shot of it pretending to be just another branch on the tree, but giving me that look that must be the last thing a fish sees before it becomes lunch.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Still reasonably early in the morning, although it was beginning to get cloudy, it had been more than a week since I’d checked in on the owls at Calabacillas Arroyo and Piedras Marcadas. Both places have been interesting since first seeing them again early in February-some days I’ll see them close to where they nested last year and other days they don’t seem to be anywhere around. On that morning, I didn’t see anybody at Calabacillas; either they’ve moved somewhere else or are hiding well. Earlier visits showed they can both hide pretty well and I’d only managed to spot one on my last visit when they made the mistake of calling to each other; she can also get pretty deep in the snag where she’s nested the last two years to avoid detection. At Piedras Marcadas, their old nest has fallen apart and probably can’t be used again. I know of two other old hawk nests in the area, one that seems a little too open and another that looks perfect and was used just last summer by Cooper’s Hawks. The owls don’t seem to be interested in it for some reason as I’ve yet to see them anywhere nearby, and instead have been seeing them near their old nest as if trying to figure out a new plan for this year. On my latest visit, one was hiding out in one of its usual spots,

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

and surprisingly flew off soon after I got that photograph. I’d stumble onto him a little later perched in a very open spot, and again he flew off this time to a little better hiding spot he’d used last year. In my experience, when I do manage to spot an owl in a tree they remain motionless and almost always with a small twig or leaf in front of them to break up their outline and almost invariably are looking right at me; it’s most unusual for them to fly off especially when I’m looking right at them. So I’ll give those guys a break and not visit them very often or move too close once I spot them.

Later in the week had me out looking around a few other promising locations, but so far without success in finding any more nests. Since the trees won’t start leafing out for a few more weeks, there’s time for a few more looks. It’s still February and I’ve already seen five nesting spots and know of at least two others I haven’t gotten around to yet, so it looks like another good year for them. One of those areas was north of the Rio Grande Nature Center where they nested pretty late in the season (May!) last year. Haven’t found them yet this year, but had fun spotting a Cooper’s Hawk hiding in an olive tree right by the Candelaria Ponds viewing blind.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

There are also two big old hawk nests in Bachechi Open Space that caught my eye a couple of months ago that sure look like someday an owl will choose, or maybe the hawks will later in the season. I did get a fun picture of a pair of Mallards there, the male displaying that distinctive tail curl.

Mallard

Mallard

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Early Owls

With a delightful break from winter this past week, it’s been easy to get outside pretty much every day to see what’s going on out there. It struck me yesterday wandering around in sunny 70+ weather how much different it was on that day back in 2011.  It was so extremely cold that day they sent everybody home from work early and wouldn’t let me retire from my job until the next day.

Before meeting a friend for lunch on Friday, I made a quick stop to check out the irrigation ditch at the end of Via Oreada in Corrales where the birds seemed to be enjoying the weather and going after all the insects that had also come to life. Several Yellow-rumped Warblers were working the branches all along the ditch,

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Song Sparrows and a couple of Black Phoebes were checking out the water, and a pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets took turns flying out over the ditch before returning to the trees.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Remembering that the first nesting Great Horned Owl was reported last year on February 6, Saturday morning had me out checking some of my usual spots just in case anybody had started nesting yet. It was still a surprise, however, to see at my very first stop that nesting was in full swing in the same spot on the grounds of the Albuquerque Academy that they’ve used since 2014.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Too cool! – and off to check on a few other possibilities. First up, Piedras Marcadas, where they’d also used the same old Cooper’s Hawk nest the last several years. That nest is looking a little worn, and I doubt they’ll use it again this year, but there are a couple of other old hawk nests that look promising, especially one that the Cooper’s Hawk nested in just last summer. I looked around the whole area pretty well, but didn’t see any owls there that day. Returning a few days later was going pretty much the same way until I decided to give one particular tree a closer look. Not a very tall tree, it did still have most of its leaves where an owl could easily hide. I just happened to approach it at the right angle to pick out the slightly lighter color and shape of first one and then another Great Horned Owl just sitting quietly in there. In this picture, you can easily see one of them while the other one is still pretty well hidden about two feet to the right. Because the second one got nervous and acted as if it was about to fly, I immediately backed off and headed away, and they settled back down.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Returning a few days later hoping for a better picture and to see if they’d chosen a nesting spot yet, they were nowhere to be seen, and I might check on them again in another week or so. A small number of Sandhill Cranes have been there on my visits and interesting to hear their loud calls echoing off the houses above the dam.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

My next stop on Saturday morning was Calabacillas Arroyo and the trail north to Alameda. Owls had nested high in a cottonwood near the Rio Grande dam in 2013, weren’t seen in 2014, but have used another old snag the last two years. It was quite a surprise as I approached that spot to see a bunch of American Crows calling and flying about, apparently harrassing the owls who seem to be thinking about nesting here again. This one was obviously having nothing to do with that and proudly defending their home.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

That guy had enough to deal with, so again I slowly backed off and headed back to the car. Owls are usually nesting somewhere in the bosque around the Rio Grande Nature Center, so that was my next stop that morning. Last year, we even had two nests, one about a half mile south of the visitor center and later in the season another one about the same distance north. I didn’t see anybody around that day, however, and will be getting back out there to take another look around soon. There did seem to be an unusual number of porcupines around for that area,

Porcupine

Porcupine

which are always fun to point out to folks, and a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting about.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The next morning I headed out to Valle de Oro NWR and the Isleta Lakes hoping to see Bald Eagles, who along with the Sandhill Cranes will soon be migrating north. Cranes, Canada and Snow Geese, and a huge flock of Horned Larks were hanging out in the fields at Valle de Oro, but it was unusually quiet in the bosque area near the Rio Grande. The only bird I’d see on the trail there was a young Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Driving back through the refuge, an obviously large bird was perched on one of the old dead cottonwood snags – yep, an immature Bald Eagle.

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Much further away, I’d also see an adult with another young one. Too far for a photo, it was still fun pointing them out to a couple visiting from somewhere back East. Once again, at Isleta Lakes where others have been seeing quite a few Bald Eagles this year, I’d only get distant views of one or two flying close to the river. I did get to sneak up on a Belted Kingfisher and spotted a Great Blue Heron relaxing in a cottonwood.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Tuesday morning had me out wandering the bosque from the Open Space Visitor Center south to Montano, where in years past we’ve had owls nesting in at least three different locations. I wasn’t able to spot any on that trip, but enjoyed seeing a Peregrine Falcon perched high in a tree near the irrigation ditch,

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

and having a healthy-looking coyote keeping an eye on me as it made its way through the woods.

Coyote

Coyote

This week, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR on an absolutely fabulous sunny and warm day. We’d end the day with a ridiculous number of 63 species (adding another two – a Loggerhead Shrike and Greater Roadrunner – on the way home). Right off the bat we spotted four or more Phainopepla, added a couple of Belted Kingfishers and several more species before even getting to the refuge.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

A treat for me was seeing a pair of Pyrrhuloxia at the Visitor Center.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Target bird for the trip and bird of the day was the rare Long-tailed Duck (formerly known as Oldsquaw), which Rebecca managed to get in her scope after working the area for quite a while. It had been seen there for the last few days, but typically spends most of its time underwater only popping up for a second or two. Fortunately for us, it took a break while we were watching and sat up on the surface long enough for everybody to get a good look. Lunch at the boardwalk was entertaining with huge flocks of Snow Geese flying over, a Northern Harrier buzzing by, and four Bald Eagles goofing off high in the sky.

Having been almost a week since I’d seen that Great Horned Owl being harrassed by those crows, I went back yesterday to see if they’d started nesting yet. It was very quiet when I arrived and other than a woman riding her horse down the trail and another guy out with his dog, nothing else seemed to be around. It was quite a surprise then to hear a Great Horned Owl start hooting from nearby, and even more surprising to hear another one return the call. Only twice in the last six years have I had owls make any sound at all during the daytime, but if they do I know they’re there and I start making a concerted search to spot them. They can hide so incredibly well it took me a few minutes to spot this one hiding in the leaves.

Hidden Owl

Hidden Owl

Don’t see it? How about now?

Hidden Owl

Hidden Owl

Moving around a bit and a little closer, I finally got this better look at the guy.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I had a pretty good idea about where the other one had to be, above and behind me on the other side of the trail, but never managed to spot it – maybe she was hiding deep inside the snag nest, had flown silently away, or was just better at hiding.

In other news, the butterflies have started up again this year. I’ve seen a couple of Mourning Cloaks this week and heard about Hoary Commas being seen, butterflies that overwinter as adults in the leaf litter until there’s a warm and sunny day, but we also had a couple of Sleepy Oranges and a Checkered White at Bosque del Apache. This leads me to believe it won’t be long until our state butterfly, the Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi), and other early spring butterflies start appearing in the foothills. Still probably a couple of weeks early, but worth a visit to the Texas Beargrass in Embudito just to check. Nope, no hairstreaks yet, but a Greater Roadrunner showed off for me during my visit.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

 

 

 

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Warming Up

After several long weeks of cold, wind and clouds around here, the weather has finally turned a bit nicer the last few days – sunny, calm, and best of all, temperatures pushing 60. That could change as we usually get another blast or two of cold and maybe even snow before spring gets here, but it certainly makes it easier to get outside and take some pictures. It seems the birds are still staying pretty quiet, but at least they’re a little easier to spot on sunny days. Audubon Thursday Birders had a great day last week on their visit to Alameda Open Space in the bosque along the Rio Grande, seeing something like 40+ species. One of the very first birds we’d spot (other than a lone male Mallard working the parking lot for something to eat) was this female Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

This was quickly followed by an American Kestrel and a quick disappearing act by a Wilson’s Snipe. We’d track down that snipe a short time later, sitting there in plain sight (if you really knew where to look!).

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

That was one of the few times I’ve ever seen one that out in the open and in good light. Returning almost a week later, once again a snipe flushed from the side of the irrigation ditch only to quickly vanish into the grass on the shady side of the ditch. At the end of my walk there that morning, I carefully scanned the shady side from the other side of the ditch in the hopes of spotting it again. Typically almost invisible in a small opening in the grasses, I just managed to pick out one sitting there head-on to me as you can see in this well-cropped image – it tried its best to hide, but expecting to see one somewhere in the area and that round shape gave it away.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

I’d been seeing reports of several folks having fun with Bald Eagles at the Isleta Fishing Ponds recently, so made my way down there on a chilly Sunday morning. Having never been there before, it did seem worth the nominal $2 visitor pass for spotting a variety of ducks, a couple of hawks (Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier), and even a Great Blue Heron, but I wasn’t having any luck with the Bald Eagles after two slow passes around the ponds. Finally, I spotted an immature Bald Eagle in the distance and drove around closer where it perched in a taller cottonwood, then flew out over the ponds and into a different tree, making a circuit back to the first tree and occasionally even landing on the ground.  Here’s a sequence of shots of it heading back to that first tree,

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

sticking the landing,

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

and posing in the sun.

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

I might just have to go back there again soon to look for those adults that have been around, or maybe wait for next week’s Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache NWR where I see my friend, Judy, saw several of them earlier today.

Isleta is a little south of Albuquerque and just north of Los Lunas, so I figured I might as well take a look at “Owlville” before heading back north. Although our Burrowing Owls tend to migrate a ways south over the winter and aren’t usually seen around here for a few more months, it looks like one of them hung around for the winter and obligingly posed for me that morning.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Heading back to town, a stop at Tingley Ponds seemed in order since there’d been a report of the Western Screech-Owl again taking up residence where it was seen last year. Nobody home on my visit at that spot or at several other spots I’d seen them last year, but there were some good waterbirds, such as this Pied-billed Grebe,

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

and at least 3 porcupines hanging out in the trees that were fun to point out to folks.

Porcupine

Porcupine

My final stop that morning was the Rio Grande Nature Center (one of the locations for those Western Screech-Owls in the past). More porcupines, but no owls to be seen. Heading back to the car, there was a guy with one of those huge lenses and a tripod intently focused on taking a picture of something that turned out to be a Greater Roadrunner maybe 20 yards down the path. Another couple and I waited a minute or so for this guy to snap his picture, then started walking along the path toward it. Accustomed to people, I guess, as it let us get quite close before running off into the brush.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Monday saw me headed to Elena Gallegos Open Space for the bluebirds, but while I saw a number of Eastern and Western Bluebirds, none of my target Mountain Bluebirds seemed to be around (or the Western Screech-Owl we had there last year). One of the Eastern Bluebirds did consent to pose for me, however.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Yesterday, I made a long visit to Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School for four more porcupines and a few more good birds. The birds were being incredibly quiet that morning but would sometimes either be sitting out in the open or move just enough for me to spot them. Close to the river was an adult Cooper’s Hawk catching some sun way high in a tree,

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

and later along the irrigation ditch, an immature (yellow rather than red eye) flew into a tree and regularly called attention to itself. (2/6/17 Update: I’m told this is more likely also an adult with that pattern of breast feathers, but with that yellow eye still fairly young.)

Immature Cooper's Hawk

Immature Cooper’s Hawk

Along the river was a Great Blue Heron, a couple of Common Mergansers, Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few other ducks all pretty far away, but along the mudflats, I just happened to spot a quiet Spotted Sandpiper doing its typical bobbing act,

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

and an even quieter Killdeer who stood looking around in the same spot for at least ten minutes.

Killdeer

Killdeer

This morning’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area was again a success with quite a few more species seen than I would have expected at this time of year. Lots of bluebirds and cedar waxwings, several Northern Harriers,

Female Northern Harrier

Female Northern Harrier

Red-tailed Hawks,

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

huge flocks of Canada Geese flying over, Sandhill Cranes in the fields, and plenty of other good birds to see. Tramping across one of the fields, one of the group noticed a dead Barn Owl that we later took back to the Visitor Center to possibly have mounted for a display. I don’t see Barn Owls very often at all and had never seen one there before, and it was fascinating to examine it at close range despite the tragic nature of its demise.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs | 4 Comments

Early January

Wow, more than three weeks into the new year without getting around to a blog post! There’s all kinds of reasons for that, ranging from several bursts of wintry weather, equipment issues, wildlife tucked away somewhere warm, being off on a road trip, and just not getting out there, but it’s time to rectify that situation. So here’s a few of my better pictures from the first of the month. The day after New Year’s Day I headed down to several spots along the Rio Grande including Valle de Oro NWR where there were lots of Horned Larks, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, and a good number of Sandhill Cranes in the fields, but few birds anywhere in the trees close to the river.

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Sandhill Crane

Having seen reports (and pictures) of a Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagles being seen regularly somewhere south of Bridge Blvd. near the Rio Grande, I made several visits there that first week of January, first looking along the west side of the river where there is what looks like good habitat with lots of trees and underbrush, and then along the east side with much more open areas and a few isolated trees and snags. On the first of these visits, it was a little surprising how many porcupines I’d see snoozing away up in the trees, but other than a Great Blue Heron and a couple of distant Common Mergansers, not too many birds and neither of those two I’d hoped to see. But on one visit, that Peregrine Falcon was just sitting there high in an old dead cottonwood keeping an eye out over a large open area.

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Peregrine Falcon

The next couple of days brought in some cold weather and our first good snow of the year. The Audubon Thursday Birders were a pretty hardcore group that week, convening at the Tijeras Ranger Station and then carpooling to Otero Canyon for a walk on a cold, cloudy, and windy morning as the snow started to arrive. Most of the birds had gotten the news and were tucked away out of the wind, but the group would end up seeing a good variety of species including a flock of Pinyon Jays flying away and an interesting mixed flock of several different species all working a couple of the juniper trees in Otero Canyon.

Although the Sandias rise almost a mile above my house in the foothills, only a few days a year do they give the impression that they really are serious mountains.  One of those days caught my eye out my living room window as the clouds cleared the peaks after a snowfall that I tried to capture with this picture zoomed in on the communication towers on Sandia Crest.

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Sandias in Winter

The next day, people were reporting seeing (most unusually!) a Northern Saw-whet Owl in a most accessible location at the Rio Grande Nature Center. It  had apparently been sitting in a tree all afternoon, but I didn’t hear about it until that evening when I made plans to check it out first thing the next morning. Unfortunately by then it had moved on and wasn’t seen again despite a number of us looking pretty hard in the area. Although I’ve already started looking (unsuccessfully) for the Great Horned Owls that will soon start nesting, this is also the time of year that the Western Screech-Owls can usually be seen at Los Poblanos Open Space. In my experience, if they’re home they’ll sit out in the open in the nesting boxes during the afternoon. Whether they’re doing that to warm up in the sun or because it’s getting too warm inside beats me. There are at least four of those boxes at the northern edge of the open space, but in the past if I’m lucky I’ll only see one occupied. It was therefore a special treat that day, after missing out on the Saw-whet, to find a Screech-Owl sunning in the box in the middle of the irrigation ditch

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Western Screech-Owl

and a second one in another box behind the elementary school.

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Western Screech-Owl

Since it was close by, I next headed to Pueblo Montano Open Space just west of the Rio Grande where we’d had a good list of bird sightings on a recent Thursday Birder outing. Not so many birds that day, but a couple more porcupines. Along the irrigation ditch, it was surprising to spot a pair of Mallards mating. I’d just seen that on a PBS show the night before, but it took me a second to realize that’s what was going on.

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Mallard

A couple of days later, it was off to Willow Creek Open Space in far north Corrales and a couple stops in Corrales on the way home. Pretty far-fetched, but I’d hoped to see the bobcats folks had photographed at Willow Creek and to make a first search for the Great Horned Owls that usually nest there, but it was a little windy that morning and there wasn’t much to see. It was cool to see a Great Blue Heron working the irrigation ditch in Corrales and to see a few different ducks, including this American Wigeon.

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American Wigeon

Last week, I drove to San Antonio, Texas, to visit my mother for a few days. A 12-hour drive, this time I decided to take my time getting there and took off a couple days early hoping to get out of town ahead of what sounded like a nasty weekend of rain and snow.  While I beat the rain, it was still a little tricky running into dense fog on several occasions and some crazy high winds on the one stretch of two-lane highway on the route. Did the tour loop at Bitter Lakes NWR the first day before heading on to Artesia, NM, for the night, and although the weather still wasn’t great did see a Great Egret, a couple of hawks, White-faced Ibis, a good mix of ducks, and a Loggerhead Shrike.

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Loggerhead Shrike

Eventually, I arrived in Boerne, Texas, in the Hill Country just outside of San Antonio, a little while before my sister and mother would drive up to meet me. To kill some time before they arrived, it was fun to check out some of the birds in Cibolo Creek that runs through the downtown park and to take a quick look around nearby Cibolo Nature Center. Pretty cloudy day, but I’d see quite a few local birds that we either don’t have or rarely see further west, such as Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Carolina Wren, and Tufted Titmouse. The park had a couple of Great Egrets, one of which seemed oblivious to the presence of people,

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Great Egret

large numbers of Lesser Scaup, a few Muscovy Ducks,

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Muscovy Duck

and some introduced Egyptian Geese.

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Egyptian Goose

At Cibolo Nature Center, I got incredibly close looks at both a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and this Carolina Wren,

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Carolina Wren

and got a pretty good look at a Tufted Timouse calling loudly from a tree near their marshy area.

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Tufted Titmouse

There were some pretty good birds in my mother’s neighborhood on the southwestern edge of San Antonio, too, but we were busy and the weather not very cooperative for any pictures. During the four days I was there, however, we’d spot a couple of interesting hawks I never identified, flocks of 30-40 Meadowlarks (never able to decide if they were Eastern or Western), a pair of Brown Thrashers, an American Kestrel, and another Loggerhead Shrike. On my visits there in the past, there have always been good birds and butterflies, many of which we rarely if ever see in New Mexico. Blasted for home before dawn on Thursday on the straight 12-hour drive through more of that dense fog and high winds most of the day, but glad I made the visit and good to get back home to start getting outside again.

Posted in Birding, Photographs, Travel | 2 Comments

Prime Time

So the calendar rolls over to 2017 tonight after an interesting and good (other than in politics) 2016. It just happened to come to me the other day that 2017 is a prime number, which hasn’t been the case since 2011 (another auspicious year in which I retired from that work thang) and won’t happen again until 2027. The political thing is concerning, but hope remains it won’t get too out of hand and unduly impact our daily lives. Enough said – that kind of stuff is not the subject of this blog in which I hope to share some of those amazing natural moments I experience getting outside pretty much every day.

Oddly, not many photographs happened in the first few days since my last posting mostly due to unusual weather around here. For only the third time in the six years I’ve been going out with our Audubon Thursday Birders, we actually cancelled our walk last week after waking up to a cold rainy morning. The next couple of days were all about Christmas and luminarias broken up with a little bit of wind and snow. The day after Christmas, however, the sun came out and made for a pleasant day for the annual Sandia Christmas Bird Count, where Rebecca and our friend Bonnie joined us cruising around Tijeras counting all the birds we’d see. Our special sighting of the day was a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and it was fun seeing lots of Mountain Bluebirds in our area; overall the count spotted 70 species, a good total for the circle.

With all the leaves having fallen, this is the time of year I start keeping an eye out for old Cooper’s Hawk nests where the Great Horned Owls will soon start nesting.  Those big dark lumps in the trees usually turn out to be either nests or sleeping porcupines; lately, quite a few of them have been porcupines dozing away. This one in Alameda Open Space was almost at eye level, but usually they are way high in the trees.

Porcupine

Porcupine

One day this week, I got out early and headed first to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Pretty dang cold (for Albuquerque) out there, but calm and sunny so a few birds were out, although they seemed pretty quiet and mostly trying to stay warm. I’d spot two porcupines there, which was a little unusual since I don’t often see them in that area. A small Russian Olive tree next to the bridge across the irrigation ditch usually has a kinglet or some other bird in it, but that morning had at least four different species sitting out trying to warm up in the sun. This one is what I think is an immature Lesser Goldfinch.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

With the day warming up a bit, I headed next to park at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and walk along the east side of the Rio Grande. A couple of women walking their dogs told me to keep an eye out for a porcupine in the trees maybe a mile down the trail – I guess they hadn’t noticed the two way up in the trees right there at the parking lot :-). Other folks had been regularly reporting a Peregrine Falcon and a couple of Bald Eagles in that area, but I wouldn’t see them that day, and I’m thinking maybe they were on the other side of the river where there are many more cottonwood trees. I did spot a Great Blue Heron who seemed to be stoically waiting for the day to warm up,

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

and a pair of Common Mergansers (that’s him on the left and her with the great hairdo on the right) floating downstream.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

The Audubon Thursday Birder group this week met at Durand Open Space, which is on the other side of the river but several miles further south. It always surprises me how many more birds we see with all those eyes looking than one sees wandering around alone. That morning would be no exception, with the group of 32 people picking up 31 species over the course of a couple of hours. One more bird would’ve met our success criteria of birds/people >1, so we added the porcupine spotted near the end of the walk to even things out. One of the first birds spotted that morning, way across the river was one of the two Bald Eagles for the day, who flew from its perch on seeing us coming.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

We only have Bald Eagles here along the river for maybe another month, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for them in the days ahead.

Lots of the birds we saw that morning seemed to prefer hanging out in a single small tree, unfortunately in line with the sun and gray clouds making them almost impossible to photograph. Eventually, however, we made it around to the other side where lighting conditions were much better and all the birds had been hiding in the brush along the riverbank. Among the many species we’d spot there was one I’d been hoping to see for the last month or so, one of a small flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Also working the Russian Olive trees there on the bank was a Spotted Towhee,

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

White-crowned Sparrow,

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Eastern Bluebirds, and several other species. On the way back to our cars, it was fun to see a Say’s Phoebe and this American Kestrel both “kiting” over a field before plunging down to catch whatever they saw moving down below.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Off the next morning on a short visit to Alameda Open Space, I would see Bald Eagles harrassing the gulls on two occasions but never got a good photograph (guess another trip is in order soon), but was glad to see a female Belted Kingfisher perched on the powerline. It was my photograph of possibly even the same bird there that first motivated me to start this blog back in March 2011 (the last prime number year).

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Here’s to another amazing year ahead – Happy New Year’s, everybody!

Posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs | 8 Comments

Winter Solstice

Winter has officially arrived with this morning’s winter solstice, but the good news is that means the days will finally start getting longer again. Seemed like winter should’ve been here earlier judging by the weather conditions around here lately, but of course today turned out just about perfect – sunny, no wind, and the temperature almost warm and back in the mid-50’s, a nice break from the icy rain we’re expecting all day tomorrow. In Embudito this morning, a Cactus Wren seemed to be really enjoying the warmth and would still be hanging around the same spot on my way back out the canyon as he was on the way in.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Since my last update, my friend Terri was in town for a couple of days and a bit of birding. Typically cold and/or cloudy, we didn’t see too many birds (other than a huge flock of horned larks at Valle de Oro one afternoon), but did see a porcupine or two up in the trees and a coyote running away from us, and had a magical sunset at Piedras Marcadas Canyon where we’d gone to look at some of the petroglyphs. The petroglyphs were easier to photograph in that low slanting light, the nearly full moon rose up over the Sandias, and then we had a blast of ever-changing colors as an incredible sunset got underway.

Moonrise

Moonrise

The Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Tingley Ponds last week had me worried there was no way we could possible meet our success criteria (birds/people >1) especially when 41 people showed up that morning. Sure, we’d probably get a few more waterfowl species than on most of our trips, but all those other little birds tend to be hiding in the bushes on cold winter mornings. It was therefore a delightful surprise tallying up the list at the end of the walk to come up with a total of 45 species – an excellent total for two hours on a wintry morning – thanks, Linda, for leading it! One of my better pictures from that day is this male Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

and I also was glad to get an okay shot of the single Redhead floating out on the southern pond near the end of the walk.

Redhead

Redhead

The day before, I’d gone to Calabacillas Arroyo on my quest for Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, maybe a Bald Eagle, and thinking it’s getting about time to start looking for potential nesting spots for Great Horned Owls. About the only bird I did see other than a few Coots, Mallards, and gulls on the river was this Red-tailed Hawk flying along the irrigation ditch.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Once again, it’s time for the annual season of Audubon Christmas Bird Counts, and Rebecca and I headed down to the Bosque del Apache NWR on Friday to scope out our area in advance of Saturday’s CBC. Windy and pretty cool on Friday, after checking out our area just north of the refuge, we drove around the refuge itself to see a few other birds, including the Tundra Swans that have been there for a couple of weeks now, and the Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

and Snow Geese spending the winter there.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

The morning of the count started off with a cold drizzling rain and thick clouds that wasn’t promising for seeing many birds. The rain stopped fairly quickly, though, and the clouds finally broke up as the day went on, and the temperature was a bit more reasonable than expected from some other years. One of the birds we’d spotted the day before, a Ferruginous Hawk, finally appeared in the same area to be added to the count,

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

and after lunch, caravanning with our friends Bernie and Pauline who were helping with the count, we got the Phainopepla that had eluded us the day before.

Phainopepla

Phainopepla

Later at the Birder’s RV Park, we added a Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

but missed seeing the Crissal Thrasher that had popped up there the day before.

Crissal Thrasher

Crissal Thrasher

Meeting up with the entire group at the end of the count, we decided we’d done pretty well with 50 species, although the weather kept the numbers down to around 100 species overall. Then it was a quick drive back home for Sunday’s CBC in Albuquerque the next morning.

For the Albuquerque count, we meet by the river at dawn to tic off the Black-crowned Night-Herons who roost there at night, and then cover a good part of the Village of Corrales for the rest of the day. Way colder at the start than it’s been around here since last winter, we’d do most of our counting from the car but got out for a few short hikes through the woods looking for more species. Our total for the day was 40 species, including this Spotted Towhee and a ridiculous number of 269 Sandhill Cranes.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

For the Albuquerque count as a whole (birds counted in the 15-mile diameter circle centered at Paseo del Norte and 2nd Street) the species list compiled so far is up to 111. The National Audubon Society has a map of all the circles for this year’s count on their website. With over 1900 circles in the US, all that data gives a pretty good snapshot of the nation’s avian population over a 3-week period between December 14 to January 5.

Taking a day off after three days of non-stop birding, I headed back out to Alameda Open Space yesterday and did see several Ruby-crowned Kinglets where I’ve been looking for them lately. This one came out pretty well showing the male’s little ruby crown, but I’ll need to spend a little more time or have more patience to catch one really showing it off like they do when really agitated or excited.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I kind of thought he just might when this rather territorial Black Phoebe shooed him off the bank, but the kinglet chose to fly away rather than stand and fight.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

One more CBC coming up the day after Christmas, the Sandia Christmas Bird Count. For that one, we’re off to the East Mountains on the other side of the Sandias, where the weather can be a bit more tricky but we’ll probably see a few species that aren’t often seen in town. Weather’s looking a bit dicey over the next couple of days, but looks good for the count.

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Catching Up

Things are just about back to normal around here and thought I’d post a few of the other pictures taken before, between, and after all that traveling and post-trip photo processing of the last couple of months. Hopefully, I’ll get back into my usual mode of getting out just about every day to see what’s going on out there in the natural world.

I’m usually reminded that the sunset’s going to be special when the mountains light up and reflect that glow into my living room. Typically once or twice during the year the sky will be clear to the west as the sun’s going down and  there’s a little drizzle by the mountains just east of me – often the lighting conditions are such that we even get double rainbows. Way back in early October the day before I headed off to Ecuador was one of those days – I should go visit that neighbor to check on the pot-o-gold on his roof.

Rainbow

Rainbow

After two fabulous weeks in Ecuador, there were three days to do laundry, re-pack, and get ready to head for the Lower Rio Grande Valley for almost two more weeks and lots more of the butterflies that start showing up there around Halloween. On one of those days the Audubon Thursday Birders were off to the Bosque del Apache NWR, and since the laundry had gone straight from the suitcase into the washer and back into the suitcase, there was plenty of time to join the group for that day-long outing. In the desert garden next to the Visitor Center, we’d see several Pyrrhuloxias (none of which allowed me to take their picture) and lots of Gambel’s Quail calling to each other from the brush.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail

A highlight in the garden was a Verdin, a bird I only rarely see and usually in thorny desert bushes. Surprised to see it building a nest that late in the year, only to read later that they build winter roosting nests in addition to their summer breeding nests.

Verdin

Verdin

Later on our drive around the refuge, we’d see several Northern Harriers busy harassing ducks on the water. This is the best picture I got of one of those females sailing above the pond.

Female Northern Harrier

Female Northern Harrier

We got back from the Texas butterflying trip in time for the Thursday Birder trip to Elena Gallegos Open Space in the foothills close to my house, but not a spot the group goes to very often. A few good birds about, including plenty of the winter resident Western Bluebirds.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

I just didn’t get outside very much at all for the next few weeks, busy going through the thousands of pictures that came home with me from all that traveling, working out the identification of  263 butterfly species from Ecuador (130 of which were new for me) and close to 100 from Texas (3 new ones for my US list!). I did take a break to return with Rebecca to the Bosque del Apache NWR for almost the last day of the annual Festival of the Cranes. It’s always a good event and fun seeing so many people, including a number of other birding friends down there celebrating the return of the Sandhill Cranes and hundreds of Snow Geese. Got a pretty nice picture of a male Northern Pintail that day,

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

and had fun taking a portrait of the Merlin being cared for by Hawks Aloft.

Merlin

Merlin

With Thanksgiving the next week, the weather turning wintry, and lots of travel pictures still to process, I still wasn’t getting out much and not getting any good photo opportunities when I did. The following week was the Audubon Thursday Birder potluck, where we usually head to Bear Canyon for a little late morning birding before getting together to eat. Birding is kind of a secondary objective for the day and we don’t usually expect to see many species out that late in the morning and that late in the year. But we did remarkably well that day with 30+ species, way more than I’d seen on a scouting visit earlier in the week. Unquestionably the bird of the day was a male Northern Harrier  that made a couple of passes by us before it flew off. It is most unusual to see a Northern Harrier up in that habitat, although we often see them at this time of year in open fields down by the river, and it is even more unusual to see a male anywhere. For some reason, the brown female is commonly seen sailing low over those fields, but the “Gray Ghost” male is only occasionally seen. Not a great picture, but his identity is pretty clear.

Male Northern Harrier

Male Northern Harrier

I’d been seeing online postings of marvelous pictures of Ruby-crowned Kinglets lately and have been wanting a better picture of that ruby crown on the male of that tiny and very active bird. Despite the rather cloudy and cold weather, I headed down to Alameda Open Space on Saturday morning to a spot where I’d had several territorial males flashing their colors about this time last year. Must’ve been a little early still and there were none to be seen that day. Instead, I had a rather cooperative Brown Creeper pose for the best picture I’ve ever gotten of one.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

The next day it was off to Tingley Ponds….still no kinglet, but a Belted Kingfisher and a nice variety of the ducks that show up there every winter, including this male Canvasback.

Canvasback

Canvasback

Fun day later that week when the Audubon Thursday Birders headed to Pueblo Montano Open Space on a quite cold but sunny morning. Typical for this time of year you had to work a bit to spot birds, most of whom were sheltered from the cold, but by the end of the morning we’d see quite a few species including a Bald Eagle back for the winter, several shorebirds, and a variety of other small birds. Near the end of the walk, we could see a merganser way up the irrigation canal keeping its distance from us as we approached. These guys are usually a little skittish and rarely let you get close enough for a good look, but I did finally sneak up on this one for a pretty good picture of what turned out to be a female Common Merganser, and probably a young one.

Common Merganser (f)

Common Merganser (f)

We did get a quick look at one of those kinglets that morning, so I know they’re around but I’m going to have to keep working to get that picture of one. I’ve sometimes seen them in the hackberry trees in my local patch, Embudito, so gave that a look earlier today. Nope, still no kinglet, but I finally got reasonably close to one of the Ladder-backed Woodpeckers we’ve been seeing on most walks in the foothills recently.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

The hunt for the Ruby-crowned Kinglet continues, and I’m betting if I just get outside a little more often one will show itself to me soon. Christmas Bird Counts start this coming weekend and surely one of those guys will pop up while we’re out all day looking for birds.

Posted in Birding, Photographs | 2 Comments