The winter solstice has arrived despite Mayan predictions and Christmas is only 4 days away. This means, of course, that I’m way behind in getting Christmas cards out and am still keeping way too busy identifying those Ecuador butterflies, but had to get out to see a few of the winter birds that have been arriving recently. Cold and wind didn’t keep me from participating in two Christmas Bird Counts, with another one coming up next week, or from getting out with the Thursday Audubon Birder bunch.
A week ago Thursday, the Audubon group was at the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center seeing a good variety of birds despite the cooler weather. Several species of sparrow were around, such as this Song Sparrow,
and I got a nice look at a Mallard taking off from the acequia. Until someone told me to look, I’d never before noticed those curled tail feathers.
Friday was a little iffy weather-wise, but we still headed down to look around the Bosque del Apache NWR for the afternoon and staging ourselves out of Socorro for the next day’s count. It was good to see that the Bald Eagles have returned,
and we saw several times various hawks and this American Kestrel doing an amazing job of hanging in place against the rather strong winds – how they manage to hold steady in the wind while searching for food is hard to comprehend.
I had an excellent opportunity to get this picture of a Loggerhead Shrike. We’d hoped to spot the more rare Northern Shrike that had been reported (and someone would get it on the Christmas Bird Count the next day), but I was just glad the picture came out so well.
Another nice sighting that afternoon was a Common Snipe, which allowed an unusually close approach.
Up before dawn the next day, we headed to our assigned section for the dawn-to-dusk Bosque Christmas Bird Count. Our area was just north of the refuge and included the town of San Antonio and nearby farm fields. We were able to locate and count most of the expected species, missing out on only a couple . Brewer’s Blackbirds, in large numbers at one house, were pretty hard to miss,
and we were surprised to find a Pyrrhuloxia right in town fooling around with a flock of sparrows.
Fortunately, we weren’t supposed to count the numerous Sandhill Cranes or Snow Geese which are handled separately by some other technique, but it’s hard to pass up a good picture of those graceful creatures when they pass closely by.
Naturally, things slowed down as the afternoon progressed, but we continued to be surprised by new species as the day went on, getting nice looks at a Ferruginous Hawk
and large flocks of Gambel’s Quail.
The fun continued right to the end, getting the unusual surprise of a Belted Kingfisher as our last species just as sunset came on and we were headed back to the group compilation party.
These Christmas Bird Counts can be more strenuous that one might imagine, involving either long walks in the cold or continuously jumping in and out of the car to get a better look at the birds. Undaunted, after returning home from San Antonio late on Saturday, it was up before dawn again Sunday for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count, where we had several areas around Corrales to survey. Some good birds, including a large flock of Cedar Waxwings, but probably because it’s more built-up, the birds were more familiar and not quite as interesting for us as the day before. The wind had calmed down that day, but it had gotten much colder and cloudier than earlier in the week. A fun day nonetheless and a couple of good pictures, including this Northern Flicker,
and a nicely posed Cooper’s Hawk.
Only the true diehards showed up on a chilly morning yesterday for the Audubon Thursday Birder walk at the Shining River Open Space. My guess is the numbers were down with everybody either already hitting the road for Christmas or in the same situation as me with lots still to be done before the holiday. As quiet as it was that morning, we ended up with a good number of species, including Common Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Western Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Cooper’s Hawk, and a number of others. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was one of the last birds of the day, actively hopping around from one branch to another and rarely pausing long enough to have its picture taken.
Happy Holidays everybody!