The weather this past week has been up and down, ranging from cold, cloudy, and snowy to sunny and warm. The Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudo Canyon a week ago was cold and windy, so there weren’t many birds out, but this week’s trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center was unseasonably warm and just a perfect day before the cold wind, clouds, and a bit more snow dropped by for the weekend. Spring is on its way, however, with our first sightings of several Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterflies and a report of an Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) in the east mountains this week.
Last Saturday, the weather was amazingly good and perfect for the continuing quest to find out where the Great Horned Owls might be nesting this year. No luck finding any at either Tingley Ponds or the Rio Grande Nature Center, but a few other species made the day well worth it. We spotted several Great Blue Herons at Tingley high up in a tree near the river, and although two of them quickly flew off, one remained totally undisturbed and looked down at me with its most fearsome predator face.
Close to where the heron perched was a porcupine, the only one of which I’ve seen in the last few years that wasn’t just sound asleep in a tree but actively munching on some berries.
It was so busy eating that I took a short video of the guy. There was even a Bald Eagle perched on a snag across the river that morning, although it’s getting pretty late in the year to be seeing them around here.
On the fishing ponds were quite a few ducks, and a few turtles even appeared for the first time this season.
Among the ducks was this nice male Ring-necked Duck,
a male Northern Pintail,
and an immature Pied-billed Grebe.
Tuesday, the hunt for nesting Great Horned Owls continued with a trip across the river to the Pueblo Montano Open Space and the bosque near the Open Space Visitor Center. Again, no luck on the owls and surprisingly few birds and no more than one or two porcupines. A Red-tailed Hawk, however, made a close fly-by and several Cooper’s Hawks were calling in both of those areas.
Quite a few good birds were spotted during the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center, including a Great Blue Heron on one of the ponds, a Ring-necked Pheasant out on the edge of a field, three kinds of woodpeckers, and lots of different ducks. An unusual sighting on the Candelaria Pond was one of the Mute Swans that have been reported lately that was finally determined as probably not a wild bird.
While checking out the ponds, a Canada Goose flew over quite close and the picture came out pretty well for having to react so quickly to grab the shot.
The fabulous Thursday weather flipped back to winter on Friday, but didn’t deter my friend, Rebecca, and I from heading down to Bosque del Apache NWR to do some scouting for the trip she’s leading there this coming week. Despite the weather, we managed to see 43 species of birds and even scared up a large Great Horned Owl right where the guest register said one had been spotted. Oddly, it had been sitting near the ground in a stand of low trees and there was no evidence of a nest and it quickly took off and disappeared before I could get a picture. Good to know, however, that the owls haven’t completely vanished from the scene. The most cool thing we saw on the Marsh Overlook Trail was a beehive in the cliff face which I’d first mistaken for some kind of cactus until looking more closely.
I’ve mentioned several times recently of my hunt for nesting Great Horned Owls around town. Last year, we’d begun seeing nesting pairs by early February and eventually watched successful breeding in four different locations and had seen owls in a couple of other spots. So it’s been a little surprising this year not to have seen any of them anywhere yet this year. Acting on a tip from a fellow Thursday Birder last week, this morning I was out searching in earnest in an area down by the Rio Grande I’d seen Cooper’s Hawks nesting before, but never any owls. I had almost given up after spotting only a few empty abandoned hawk nests and three porcupines, when FINALLY, looking back at the area I’d been searching there one was!
Will definitely be revisiting that one again as time passes and making some repeat visits to places we’ve seen them in years past. Now that there’s one confirmed nest, maybe others are just getting a late start this year.