Starting December 14 and running until January 5, the season of the Christmas Bird Count is upon us and a great way to spend a winter day birding with other aficionados while generating some useful scientific data on the distribution and population of bird species throughout the US and other countries. An annual tradition of the Audubon Society for more than 100 years, last year’s counts in the US included 1,849 circles, each of which cover a circular area 15 miles in diameter and involved more than fifty thousand observers identifying and counting the number of roughly 640 bird species spotted during the count.
As we did last year, my friend Rebecca and I started off joining the CBC for the Bosque del Apache NWR on December 14 and the Albuquerque CBC the following day. We’re also signed up this weekend for the new Valle de Oro count and the Sandia Mountain CBC next week. Because the Bosque count runs from 7am-5pm, we went down a day early to scope out our assigned territory (between the northern boundary of the refuge to Highway 380) and to spend a little time at the refuge itself.
Still present at the Visitor Center was the White-throated Sparrow, usually fairly uncommon but we spotted a pack of four of them in our count area that day that we made a real (and successful) effort to find again on count day.
The weather was much more cooperative than on our visit a couple of weeks ago, so it was a treat to see that immature Bald Eagle still hanging out at the Eagle Scout Deck.
A little further along at the Marsh Deck were a pair of mature Bald Eagles who’ve arrived for the winter.
The Wilson’s Snipes from our last visit were still hiding along the shore by the Flight Deck, but would escape detection the next day and were missed on the count. We also saw several Bufflehead, ducks similar to the Hooded Mergansers from my last posting with even more flamboyant hairdos.
Count Day itself started out a little chilly and windy, but we had a pretty productive day overall spotting and counting birds of 47 species, but ‘dipping’ (missing) the Belted Kingfisher and two Merlins we’d seen last year. A couple of the unusual but quite cool birds this time included a number of Phainopepla checking out the mistletoe in the large cottonwood trees,
and a male (finally!) Pyrrhuloxia who hid in the bushes until eventually popping out for a picture.
Another good bird to get on the count, of which we’d see several, is the Ferruginous Hawk – this one had a favorite antenna tower perch to scan over his domain and we’d see him multiple times in that area during our two days there.
Lots of American Kestrel and Red-Tailed Hawk were busy scouting the agricultural fields (along with hundreds of crows!),
and we’d spot quite a few Mountain Bluebirds, Western Bluebirds, many Audubon’s Warblers, and Western Meadowlarks.
American and Lesser Goldfinches were busy on the dry sunflower seed heads
and at the end of the day we had a nice flock of Gambel’s Quail, which we’d have to work to find the next day on the Albuquerque count.
After a fun compilation party at the Owl Bar, where everybody on the count got together to add up their numbers, we made a beeline for home to get some sleep before the next morning’s 6:45 call for the Albuquerque CBC.
At the meeting spot the next morning, close to 100 observers got together to split up into groups to cover assigned areas all over town. We were joined by the Walravens – Wezil, a professional birding guide, and his wife Lisa Wren, a fabulous artist and birder, for a fun day of driving around neighborhoods and walking trails around Corrales. Not too many photo opportunities, but there were a few that worked out pretty well. We seem to have caught this Cooper’s Hawk by surprise who flushed up out of the bushes and eyed us for a few minutes before darting off through the woods.
We were ourselves surprised and delighted to see a Belted Kingfisher along one of the ditches where we unsuccessfully searched for the very unusual American Dipper that had been reported a few days earlier.
Although Eurasian Collared-Doves seem to be greatly increasing in number and range in recent years in this area, they haven’t yet outnumbered the Mourning Doves and White-winged Doves that we saw during the count.
We’d hoped to spot a Western Screech-Owl in a good nesting spot we’d seen it in previous years, but nobody was home that day and there has been some tree trimming going on there that might not make the spot as favorable, but did see the first porcupine of the year in a nearby tree.
Early in the morning by the Alameda Bridge, Rebecca had checked and spotted the Black-crowned Night Herons that roost by the river and on a return visit later that afternoon, we’d spot our second Great Blue Heron for the day.
Compilation party for the Albuquerque CBC at O’Neill’s Pub later that evening came up with a preliminary total of 119 species recorded during the count, pretty amazing for this time of year but a great group of super birders were out there counting everything. In our area alone, we totaled a good 51 of those species.
Looking forward to the next two counts we’ve signed up for. The new one at Valle de Oro NWR should be particularly interesting, as that area in the Albuquerque South Valley for some reason hasn’t gotten the attention of many birders yet, but has already turned up some good species such as the Bobolinks that were seen earlier this year. And the Sandia Mountain CBC on December 26 that covers the mountain range from the western foothills to the Sandia Crest and the east side out to the plains should also turn up some good birds. Last week, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed up to Ellis Trail and the Crest House, which are included in the Sandia count area, and got great looks at a few Rosy-Finches from the Crest House (renowned as possibly the most accessible and certainly the most comfortable spot to view them),
along with a few White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, and Steller’s Jays.
Let’s hope the skies stay clear, the winds calm, and for some great counting days ahead.