Over the River and Through the Woods

Well, we did cross the Pecos and a couple of other rivers, but I don’t recall much in the way of ‘woods’ on the drive to Austin, Texas earlier this month.  The reason for the trip was to help some friends move their stuff to Austin and to visit my sister who lives there. Upon starting up the huge 26′ diesel truck at 5 am Monday morning, however, a continuously beeping alarm highlighted a low brake pressure warning light, and hearing that the service guy wouldn’t get to us for about  an hour had us questioning the feasibility of continuing that day.  But after sitting there in the dark for about 15 minutes, we restarted the engine, and with the alarm silenced and that idiot light gone, the two of us headed off on what would be a remarkably quick and easy drive for the 12 hours it took us, ‘pedal to the metal’ which typically was about 10 mph below the posted speed limit.  After spending the entire Sunday completely filling that truck,  we’d originally planned to leave on Tuesday, but the new apartment people couldn’t figure out a way to give us a key while they closed the office for their all-day Christmas party on Wednesday.  True, Austin is a party town, but really, people.  More confusion when we did show up  at 8 am Tuesday morning with moving guys ready to go, only to discover that the rental office doesn’t open until 10 am.  And while some of their people were around, they still couldn’t find a way to hand us a key until then.  Ah, I do so miss those days of dealing with quirky landlords.  Once we got through that, though, all went well, unloading half the truck at the apartment and the other half at a nearby storage place; getting most stuff unpacked and reasonably organized; and enjoying my sister’s incredible hospitality.  On Thursday, Matthew flew back to play tag-team parent with their two little girls, while his wife, Elisa, flew to Austin to continue with the unpacking and organizing (and the aforementioned hospitality at my sister’s).  By the time we flew back Sunday, everything was in great shape for the family’s transition to their new life in Austin.  And in a fabulous apartment overlooking the Austin skyline and Town Lake, which has lots of good birds, including a Great Blue Heron roosting nearby, large flocks of cormorants and scaups, flyovers by snowy egrets, and the constant calls of Blue Jays and Great-tailed Grackles.  I’m guessing the girls are going to have fun living right on the water with all the new things to see and do that just don’t happen in Albuquerque.

Managed to get home just in time for the first snowstorm of the week.  Lots of blizzard action, whipping winds, and so foggy the mountains were only visible for a few minutes each day, but it did create some incredible sunsets and provide crystal clear views when the clouds dissipated.

Morning Snowscape

Morning Snowscape

A couple of days later another bigger snowstorm was on the way, and with the snow beginning to fall as I was driving to Corrales for the weekly Audubon Thursday Birder trip, one had to wonder if birding in a snowstorm was going to be a good idea.  Oddly, the sun was shining while the snow was drifting down, and fortunately, things cleared up just fine with the real snowstorm arriving much later in the afternoon.  Turned out to be a good day for birding, starting with a surprised Great Blue Heron squawking and flying away at our first stop and a Northern Harrier zipping away at out second stop.  During the day we saw quite a variety of birds, including two Belted Kingfishers,

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

several Song Sparrows, including this one just about to take a bit of a bath,

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and new for me, a Swamp Sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Christmas was a treat for me this year, starting on Christmas Eve helping my friend, Rebecca, set out luminarias all around her house and, after a wonderful dinner, strolling the neighborhood to experience that wonderful magic of Christmas Eve in New Mexico, with hundreds of luminarias glowing softly into the night. (Next year, I’m going to get serious about taking some pictures of it.)  Dinner the next day with the family of my closest former co-worker was a good time, too, and it’s been fun watching their children grow up over the years.

The next day it was up before dawn for the Sandia Christmas Bird Count.  Given the rather chilly morning, I was a bit pensive about keeping warm while tromping about Embudito Canyon, but managed to round up extra socks, a down jacket, and the best gloves I could find for what turned out to be a most enjoyable day with a couple of regulars from our Thursday Birder group and another person who always braves the cold for this annual event.  And once the sun crept over the mountain at about 9 am, the day proved fairly comfortable. You can tell it was pretty cold out there early in the morning from this picture of a Canyon Towhee patiently waiting for the sun to appear.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

We managed to scare up a flock of Scaled Quail before the sun arrived, and were soon treated to views of a Red-tailed Hawk flying over the canyon and later a Sharp-shinned Hawk, lots of Canyon Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, and Oregon Juncos, and the occasional Scrub Jay and  Bluebird.  The male Ladder-backed Woodpecker that is regularly seen at the mouth of the canyon

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (male)

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (male)

was joined that day by a female, the first I’ve seen in that area.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (female)

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (female)

A few of the other highlights of the morning included the Golden-crowned Sparrow that has been seen there recently, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and later in the afternoon, an unseasonable Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Oddly, despite our efforts to call them out, we neither saw nor heard the Cactus Wrens or Canyon Wrens that are usually about in the canyon, but did spot a Bewick’s Wren and a couple of Rock Wrens.  Ended up the day with a fun compilation party at O’Neill’s Pub, with a total of more than 70 species seen within the 7-mile radius of San Antonito that was the focus of the day’s count.

Wandered around Montano and Alameda Open Spaces yesterday hoping to see a Bald Eagle and looking around (successfully) for porcupines sleeping away in the trees.  Ice on the acequias at Montano was beginning to melt as the day warmed up, and this mallard seemed content to swim in a small stretch of open water at the northern end of the acequia.

Mallard (male)

Mallard (male)

Fascinating patterns in the quick frozen ice to the south, including several areas that seemed to catch rainbows as they froze and these interesting patterns of bubbles frozen before they could reach the surface.

Frozen Bubbles

Frozen Bubbles

The winter solstice has passed and days are growing longer.  Can’t wait to see what the New Year holds.

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
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3 Responses to Over the River and Through the Woods

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Helping friends move is THE nicest thing you could ever do. I’m glad you had time for a bit of birding in spite of the cold weather. The landing Black-throated Sparrow is a great picture of a very handsome bird.

  2. Rosemarie Schelling says:

    Joe, Those were marvelous photos, and they carried me back to dad’s and my many days of birding… I am so glad you enjoy taking pictures of all those wonderful birds…

    I always look forward to “Natural Moments” on my screen. Thank you.

    Love, MOM

  3. Matt says:

    That Christmas Eve description sounds very pretty. I bet a lot of the people living in Rebecca’s neighborhood get into decorating with all the adobe-style houses around there. Congrats on the sparrows for the Sandia count!

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