Several of my day trips this past week have been to areas of open fields, including a couple of visits to Valle de Oro NWR, which is still being actively farmed and where I keep hoping to get a picture of the Bobolink we’ve seen twice but never close enough for a decent picture. On my latest trip there, I also drove down to Belen to check out the ‘Taco Bell Marsh’ and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in hopes of seeing a few more birds and maybe even some butterflies.
Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip also went to Valle de Oro NWR, where the new refuge manager, Jennifer Owen-White, met us and welcomed us to the refuge before we headed off in a successful search for that Bobolink. Although that bird never came close enough for a picture, several other birds flew by that I managed to photograph.
There were a good number of Cattle Egrets around that morning, but none on my visit several days later. The Western Meadowlarks were out in force loudly singing their melodious song.
And quite a few Killdeer were around, which we suspect might be nesting in the area.
After spending time at Valle de Oro, we next headed to a heron rookery in Bosque Farms that is busy with nesting Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons.
One of the Snowy Egret nests was fairly visible and close, with an adult feeding three youngsters who look to be growing up quickly.
This week actually turned out pretty good for baby bird pictures. On my next visit to Valle de Oro, an immature Swainson’s Hawk perched on the fence and let me get remarkably close without flying. Rather than push my luck any further or to stress it out any more, I backed off after getting this shot from maybe 15 feet away.
The adult Snowy Egrets were much less cooperative that morning, but as long as I stayed in the car allowed me to get close enough for a picture.
After those memorable experiences, it was off to Belen and the Taco Bell Marsh. The marsh still had a few American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts, but a little too far away and in bad light for pictures. However, getting back to the baby bird story, the field behind the Taco Bell surprised me with two Burrowing Owl burrows full of little ones. I counted at least ten owls that morning; in one burrow were four little ones with a nearby adult keeping an eye on them, and at the other there were at least another five owls perched near the burrow and on a small brush pile. Here’s just one of the pictures from that morning of what appears to be an adult chastising the last of the four little ones who appears reluctant to follow the others back underground.
My friend, Judy, who surveys a number of Cooper’s Hawk nests every year, told me the locations of some of the nests she’s watching this year, which got me out to take a look. Of the four she told me about, I couldn’t find one, only saw the female looking at me from the nest while the male squawked at me at a second, managed to get a peek at the little ones while the female hopped around the nest at a third, and finally got a good look at a couple of little ones in the fourth nest.
I think this might be the nest that Judy’s seen four little ones in, so maybe I’ll have to go back for another look soon.
On Sunday, I decided to see if anything was going on near Embudito Canyon, one of my usual haunts that is now closed due to fire restrictions. The trail along the foothills is still open, but it is just so dry that nothing is blooming other than a very few cholla cactus flowers, and there wasn’t much moving other than a few birds. I didn’t see any butterflies, only a couple of other flying insects, and not even any lizards, but did get a pretty good shot of the single dragonfly I spotted.
As is often the case, however, sometimes when things get slow and you’re about to give up for the day, something amazing pops up. This time it was a pair of Scaled Quail with their brood of little ones, and for once I had the camera at the ready before they disappeared into the brush.
These little quail are just the cutest things, but I usually see them maybe once a year for a brief instant before they vanish and almost always before I can get a camera on them.
Spent some time this week looking just about everywhere I could think of for a few butterflies, but this drought is really taking its toll. I did manage to get a decent shot of a patient Marine Blue on my visit to Whitfield,
and found a spot in High Desert where some milkweed was blooming and attracting a number of Reakirt’s Blue.
Must be time for a roadtrip somewhere with a little more water and a few more flowers, I’m thinking.