This past week has been pretty good for spotting a variety of the raptors that show up around here during the winter. One of the first seen this week was a female American Kestrel perched high on a power line at the Los Poblanos Open Space.
A few pigeons were around that it might be attracted to along with a number of the much larger Sandhill Cranes working the corn fields. A Northern Harrier made a quick pass over the fields as well, but got away before I could get a picture. While not technically raptors, owls serve much the same function during the night that hawks and eagles do during the day. It was good to see that the Western Screech-Owl I’d first seen at the end of December was still present and warming itself in the sunshine.
It wasn’t seen a few days later when I stopped by, either tucked into the nest box or off on some errand.
On Thursday, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out on their annual raptor trip to the agricultural fields near Moriarty, where plenty of hawks and even a Golden Eagle had been spotted on an scouting trip earlier in the week. Although conditions were considerably better than last year’s trip and we did spot a number of hawks and other birds during the morning, most were pretty distant and difficult to see well. One of the highlights of the morning was seeing a large herd of pronghorn running across the plain and joining another good-sized group. Usually one sees one or two or maybe as many as five or six, so it was quite unusual to realize that there were close to 40 animals in the combined herd.
After lunch, a couple of us continued our search for raptors north of Interstate 40 and had much better luck getting better views of more than a few of them. One of the target birds that day was the Ferruginous Hawk, one of which posed quite nicely on a telephone pole close to the road.
We’d see another one a little later that took to the air as we got closer.
Another real treat that afternoon was getting a great look at a Merlin, a bird I hadn’t see yet this year and only seen at a distance a few times last winter down at the Bosque del Apache NWR.
Quite similar in shape and size to the much more common American Kestrel, these guys are distinctly different in color and marking when you can get close enough to see them well.
Another good bird we saw well that afternoon was a Loggerhead Shrike,
a bird that is being seen less frequently these days than in the past. This one was totally unconcerned by our presence and went about its business even as I got out of the car and walked around for a better angle on it.
Just back from a holiday trip to Pennsylvania where he got extraordinary pictures of a Snowy Owl, I met my friend Steve the next day in Corrales to see if we could locate that American Dipper that I’d first seen on January 3 after trying multiple times since before Christmas. Our plan was to slowly walk about 1.5 miles along the Corrales Riverside Drain from the Boy Scout bridge near East Ella, past the Dixon Road bridge, and up to the Duke’s Crossing bridge where I’d seen it. Luck was with us that day and we spotted it right out in the open shortly after we got started, so it seems to move up and down the drainage ditch a considerable distance.
It hung around quite a while for us to take its picture before first hopping into the undergrowth on the opposite bank and eventually taking off and flying quickly downstream. Life bird for Steve, it’s great that not only did we manage to find it but got some pretty good photographs. We then continued up the drain before heading back at Duke’s Crossing, but didn’t spot the Dipper again that morning. While we’d see a total of 26 species that day, a highlight was surprising two different Spotted Sandpipers. Each time, one would dart a ways upstream and we’d see where it landed, but it would just be invisible as we carefully approached looking for it. Sure enough, just as we’d pass its latest hiding spot, it would blast out of there to the next hidey hole.
Saturday, Rebecca and I started off heading to the Ladera Golf Course in hope of seeing the rather unusual Brant that folks had been reporting there for several weeks. My second visit looking for it, and again no luck. However, we did get a nice look at a male Common Goldeneye (it may be common elsewhere, but is not all all that commonly seen here).
Also unusual to see this close to town was another Ferruginous Hawk perched in one of the few cottonwood trees on the golf course.
After stopping by to check on the Western Screech-Owl at Los Poblanos, who didn’t appear for us, we drove over to the Rio Rancho Open Space along the river, a location I hadn’t been to in quite some time.
Just because once almost a year ago I’d seen a pair of Great Horned Owls in a tree there (and never again on several subsequent visits), I took a look and, whoa!, they were back but awfully well-camouflaged from the trail – zoom in on the picture and you’ll see what I think is the female staring right at you.
Moving a bit off-trail and to the side, she’s a little easier to see.
At first, I’d just seen her, but looking a couple feet to the left and up, there was what I think is a male pretty much on exactly the same perch as last year.
It’s great to see that they’ve returned, and I’ll be careful not to visit again for awhile in hopes they might actively nest there this year. Only wish I’d thought to zoom out a little and get a shot with both of them like I did last year. Since I’ve already spotted three Great Horned Owls in two different locations already this year, looks like it should be an exciting nesting season in the next couple of months. And I’ll keep looking for a few more good raptor shots – Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon… Tis the season for tracking those guys down.