Over the last two weeks, it seems all the little owl babies are growing up and getting ready to head off on their own. I hadn’t checked on any of the four active nests during that time and was surprised on Sunday to discover an empty nest at Tingley Beach when taking some friends from out of town to see them. So today, I decided I’d better check up on the others.
Not too surprisingly, the nest at the Nature Center that was the first observed with little ones was also empty. In a bit of good news, however, the nest at Pueblo Montano where we’d seen both adults but never any chicks from the end of March to mid-April finally had two little ones that I got to see way up in their nesting tree. The female was perched off to the side of the nest, so the little ones must be growing up fast. Finally, I stopped by the nest at Albuquerque Academy I’d last visited on April 13 when two little ones were just barely visible. Today, the parents weren’t anywhere to be seen but the two little ones were perched in the nest tree and look as if they are just about to graduate into full adulthood. This one looks to be the younger of the two and still has quite a bit of baby fluff going on.
This is the other one, who certainly looks as if it’s just about ready to begin life as a full-fledged Great Horned Owl any day now.
In other news, last week’s Thursday Birder trip headed down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and the Belen Marsh. A little quiet at Whitfield although migration has definitely begun with the spotting of our first Summer Tanager, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Probably the best “bird of the day” at Whitfield was seeing a flock of 37 American White Pelicans in the distance flying north. The Belen Marsh had quite a few good birds, including American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Snowy Egrets, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds; my favorite picture from there is one of a Burrowing Owl near the dirt road just west of the Taco Bell that allowed us to approach quite closely as long as we stayed in the car .
A jaunt to Otero and Hondo Canyons for butterflies on Friday turned up a few good ones, including this very patient Red Admiral in Hondo Canyon.
Good news was that the chokecherries, irresistible to butterflies, have started blooming up by Travertine Falls in Hondo – another visit is called for soon to see just what the chokecherries will attract.
Saturday, Rebecca and I headed to New Mexico Tech and Bosque del Apache on a scouting trip for the all-day Birdathon planned for later this week. With migration getting a little bit of a late start this year and landscaping work at NM Tech removing some of the earlier good habitat, it was quieter than at this time last year, but right at the start we saw our first Cedar Waxwings for the year
and got a great look at a Blue-winged Teal.
Taking the long way to the Bosque via Highway 1 and the Farm Market Road gave us the first of several Swainson’s Hawks we’d see that day.
Stopping at Jerry Oldenettel’s house to check on the resident Barn Owl, we saw a large number of Black-chinned Hummingbirds and nesting Barn Swallows. Red-winged Blackbirds are usually pretty loud and obnoxiously territorial characters and were making quite a racket at his pond lined with cattails – this one seems to capture that attitude rather well.
Bosque del Apache NWR was rather productive for birds that day with plenty of water in the ponds and migration clearly underway. A treat for me (thanks to Rebecca’s incredible ability to identify bird calls) was a Verdin in the parking lot of the visitor center, a first for me in New Mexico and only the second time I’ve ever seen one.
Since this was a scouting trip, we didn’t work too hard on all the ducks and shorebirds that were around, but did spot the lone Mute Swan, a Common Gallinule, a couple of Great Blue Herons, and plenty of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and White-faced Ibis.
Toward the end of our drive around the refuge, we also spotted a group of Wild Turkey in their usual spot along the edge of the drier woods.
During the day we also got to see a couple of good butterflies, including a Monarch and several Viceroy and Queen – all of which look superficially similar but can be identified pretty easily if you get a good enough look. This is a Queen, which lacks the thick dark veining of the other two.
On Sunday morning, Matt, Rebecca and I had arranged to meet a couple visiting from New York at Alameda Open Space to show them some of our local birds. Naturally, that would be the one day of the year that the parking area was closed off for a Walk for the Cure event involving thousands of people in bright pink shirts making a long loop around the area. Fortunately we did manage to all meet up and had a most enjoyable morning of birding first at Alameda, then a quick visit (well, as quick as possible given the unexpected re-routing of traffic for the walking event) to see some Burrowing Owls, and ending up at Tingley Beach.
While (successfully) tracking down a vocal Black-headed Grosbeak at Alameda, an American Crow landed in a tree above us that I noticed had a rather large frog in its beak. While pointing my camera almost straight up and trying to focus on this unusual sighting, Matt called out a warning as for some reason the crow decided to give us a treat by dropping the frog on us from its perch about twenty feet above. Fortunately, the dead frog missed everybody, but the crow then took off disgustedly when we didn’t immediately pick it up and eat it.
One of the better birds for us that morning was an Eastern Phoebe, which I imagine is quite common in New York but not at all common around here.
Both Carl and Sally (our New York visitors) wanted to see a Burrowing Owl, so we headed next to the Richland Hills area where we’d been seeing up to four of them rather easily since the end of March. We did get a good look at one before it flew off, but I suspect the others were hiding in their burrow either actively nesting or having become more secretive with all the people that have been dropping by lately. Then it was off to Tingley, where a few interesting birds have been seen lately and if nothing else, I figured I could show them the nesting Great Horned Owl. No owls that day (which suggested I’d better check and see what was going on at the other nests later in the week), but we did finally get the Summer Tanager that we’d been hearing all day but having a pretty hard time of spotting, and was a good bird for our visitors.
The next morning, Rebecca and I went back to Tingley hoping to spot the Palm Warbler that had been reported as being seen there on Sunday. No luck on the warbler, but we did get a nice look at a Black-crowned Night-Heron perched high on a snag by the southern pond.
Later, we’d go to Copper Open Space to look for butterflies. An unusually large variety and number of wildflowers there this year, possibly due to some early spring rains, and consequently a good number of butterflies flitting about. Just as we neared the end of our walk, we spotted a small dark one. Waiting for it to land and then looking more closely, it would turn out to be another Great Purple Hairstreak.
I’d only seen a single individual of this incredibly colorful butterfly last year, and have been surprised at seeing it this year a number of times in several different habitats. Also in that area was this pair of ladybugs fooling around on a yucca about to burst into bloom.
Am hoping for some good pictures in the coming week with our 7 am – 7 pm Birdathon in the Socorro area on Thursday and a weekend trip for butterflies in the high country up along the Colorado border. Stay tuned!