Spring Snowballs

While it really is snowing in the Midwest this week, spring is breaking out big time around here.  And that can only mean it’s time to check up on those Great Horned Owl nests again to see if any owlets have yet appeared.  When they do, those little guys start off looking a lot like fuzzy tennis balls or snowballs before quickly growing up to adult size.  Making the rounds on both Sunday and again on Wednesday of the three active nests I’ve been watching since early March, at last there’s ‘snowballs’ in all of them!

On the way to the first nest near the Alameda Bridge on Sunday, I was treated to two flyovers by Snowy Egrets, passing by close enough for pretty good photo opportunities.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

At the nest, both adults were sitting proudly by and you could just make out two little ones in there way up in the tree.

Great Horned Owls (Alameda)

Great Horned Owls (Alameda)

When I returned a few days later, one of the adults was nowhere to be seen, but two little ones were much more active and easier to spot (and there just might be another one tucked in between them), with the other adult keeping close watch nearby.

Great Horned Owls (Alameda)

Great Horned Owls (Alameda)

Next up was the first nest I’d found near the Montano Bridge, and (yes!) a couple more  ‘snowballs’ were present there, too.

Great Horned Owls (Montano)

Great Horned Owls (Montano)

On my return visit a couple of days later, one of them was really standing tall and in good light

Great Horned Owl (Montano)

Great Horned Owl (Montano)

with an alert adult watching quietly from a nearby tree.

Watchful Adult Great Horned Owl (Montano)

Watchful Adult Great Horned Owl (Montano)

On to Tingley Ponds and the third nest I’ve been keeping an eye on.  This nest is very high in a tree and difficult to see, but on Sunday it seemed like there might be a little ‘snowball’ tucked under Mom up there, with Dad (I presume) perched in exactly the same spot I’d seen him a few weeks earlier.

Great Horned Owl (Tingley)

Great Horned Owl (Tingley)

It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was sure there was at least one little one up there when it poked its head up for a second before snuggling back down again.  If you zoom in by clicking on this picture, you’ll see it in the lower right corner next to Mom. I’ll have to make a return trip soon when they’ve had a little more time to grow, but I wouldn’t be surprised to also find two owlets in there.

Great Horned Owl (Tingley)

Great Horned Owl (Tingley)

This week was also pretty good for butterflies on a couple of jaunts first to Las Huertas Canyon and another day to Hondo Canyon.  A sure sign that spring really is here was that we’d see a good variety of species, including Southwestern Orangetip, Spring Azure, Thicket Hairstreak, Juniper Hairstreak, Great Purple Hairstreak, Painted Lady, Satyr Comma, Hoary Comma, Common Checkered-Skipper, and lots of Duskywings.

Two-tailed Swallowtails are being seen all over town this week,  and although they rarely seem to land a couple of them paused long enough to be photographed, including this one in Las Huertas,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and another one that found a favorite spot by the waterfall in Hondo Canyon it would return to a number of times for minutes at a time.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

A real highlight of the day in Las Huertas was spotting a Yucca Giant-Skipper, a butterfly we’d been searching the last two years for before finally seeing our first one just the week before near Silver City.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

I can only assume they’ve always been there but we must have just passed them off as maybe a moth or other flying insect that didn’t catch our attention before.  They do tend to fly by pretty fast and low, almost disappearing into the background when they do land, but once you know what to look for, there they are.

Last Thursday on a cold and cloudy morning, a large group of Audubon Thursday Birders went to Otero Canyon for a great walk led by Ashli and Larry Gorbet who have done a considerable amount of research on nesting birds in the canyon over the last several years. Because of the weather, there really weren’t many birds around, but everyone enjoyed the trip and getting to hear some of the fascinating details of their research.

Perhaps dissuaded by the weather forecast calling for freezing temperatures and high winds, a smaller group showed up this week for the trip to Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe. Fortunately, that forecast wasn’t quite correct and although a little chilly at the start, the sun was shining and the day warmed up nicely with quite a few species seen during the morning walk.  Several Black-billed Magpies were flying about, which don’t make it as far south as Albuquerque, and we’d see the last of the Townsend’s Solitaires for the year and the first Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks, several warblers, two kinds of hummingbirds, and about twenty other species.  A pair of Spotted Towhees were busy in a tree close to the group as we started off, one posing nicely for this picture.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

And late in the walk, we got good looks at a Wilson’s Warbler bouncing around in the shrubbery and barely pausing long enough anywhere for a picture.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

As I was getting ready to wrap up this posting, a friend of mine told me of yet another Great Horned Owl nesting in a most unusual location north of Corrales.  He reported seeing both adults and three ‘snowballs’ hanging out there, so for sure I had to go see.  On my way over with time to kill, I stopped by the two spots in that area where I’d seen Burrowing Owls recently just in case they were also raising chicks.  I’m wondering, though, if their due dates are a little later in the year and they might be deep in a burrow sitting on a nest, since I didn’t see anybody at the first nest and only this sentinel at the second nest where I’d seen two owls on my last visit.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Missed out on seeing all three little ones at the new nest, but did see at least one little guy.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

and if you look carefully there on the left you’ll see Mom peeking out from behind it.  It didn’t take her long to make it pretty obvious we should back off.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Planning to look for a few new butterflies in the coming week, but may just have to check up on the snowballs one last time before they disappear.

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Spring Snowballs

  1. R. Schelling says:

    Joe, your snowy egret photo is absolutely fabulous–another elegant bird!

    Your owlets really do look like snowballs–so cute! Without your photos I would have no idea of how a brand new owlet looks…

    Getting those photos must take somre real maneuvering up, under, over and around the trees. Thank you for another GREAT birdwalk.
    Love, Mom

  2. Mike Powell says:

    I really like your butterfly shots, but your images of the owls are even more amazing. I love the way in which you are able to track the progress of multiple owl families. I would be happy to see one adult.

  3. Rebecca Gracey says:

    I too like the Snowy Egret shot, and appreciate the Wilson’s Warbler picture since It was continually on the move. The Yucca Giant-Skipper was a treat to see.

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