The big event for this week was the Central New Mexico Audubon Society’s annual fundraising Birdathon, where a bunch of us worked to see and identify as many bird species as we could over a 24-hour period from 10am Thursday to 10am Friday. This year’s total, with stops in the East Mountains, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico Tech, The Box, and Water Canyon, came in at a pretty solid 150 species! Rebecca and I were in one of the 11 cars on this jaunt and managed to see 105 of that total. One of the first birds we spotted along the way was a Red-tailed Hawk, usually pretty common this time of year but surprisingly wouldn’t see all that many of them that day.
Stopping first at Manzano Pond, the wind started picking up and we even had a few snowflakes, but fortunately still picked up a few good birds, including a nesting Bullock’s Oriole.
Next up was Quarai National Monument, where we dipped (missed) the Cooper’s Hawk that we’d seen nesting there two weeks ago, but finally got a look at the Great Horned Owls we suspected were again nesting in the niches of the mission ruins.
Moving along, we took a short break in Socorro before heading on to Bosque del Apache NWR where we’d pick up quite a few species including all kinds of waterfowl and a few other good species we don’t usually see closer to home. We split up to check out the small town of San Antonio NM first, and while our car didn’t get the Phainopepla we expected east of the town, we would get one the next day at New Mexico Tech. We did see our first Blue Grosbeak for the season there and spotted these immature Say’s Phoebe in a fruiting mulberry tree that was attracting a number of other species.
A highlight for me was the Western Screech-Owl one of the group somehow spotted hiding in a bush at the Visitor Center; most unusual as I’ve only seen them before tucked into tree cavities or nest boxes. We weren’t allowed to get very close since the bush was in the private housing area, but here’s the best picture of it I was able to get.
Later while cruising around the refuge we came across a family of Canada Geese. As we slowly approached them, it was fun to watch the parents get all the little ones organized and start paddling away across the pond.
As the sun was starting to set, we caught up with most of the rest of the group at a small pond that’s usually dependable for Black-crowned Night-Heron (another bird we’d see the next day) and Neotropic Cormorants. Present that day was a Great Egret in all its breeding plumage preening from a tree snag. There were quite a few of this species at the refuge just now, although it’s another bird we don’t see all that often around here.
I took quite a few pictures of this guy since it didn’t seem at all disturbed by all the people and cars that showed up. The picture above is a favorite of mine showing all those fabulous feathers. Here’s another one that came out pretty well of the same bird looking at the sunset. If you zoom in, you’ll notice the jade green skin coloring around the eye and beak, something I’d never noticed before but assume is part of the show to attract a mate.
Earlier in the week, I met a butterfly guy from California who was visiting in hopes of seeing a Sandia Hairstreak and maybe a few other hairstreaks. Although I’d seen as many as five of them just two weeks earlier, we weren’t successful in finding that one for him, but he was thrilled to see a number of Juniper and Thicket Hairstreaks that are apparently pretty difficult to find in northern California. Later that day, it struck me that with the Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana), the host plant for the Sandia Hairstreak, in full bloom and the adults seeming to have disappeared that it might be worth seeing if I could find any of their caterpillars. While I’ve gone out several times this week to various spots to do just that, so far I’ve yet to find any. On Wednesday, Rebecca did manage to spot a couple of them and got some good pictures, so I know they’re out there and will keep looking. Although my caterpillar hunt was unsuccessful on those outings, I did get a pretty good picture of the rarely-seen electric purple gorget of a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
The only new butterfly for the year was the Silver-spotted Skipper we saw at Bill Spring on Saturday. My friend, Cliff, may have seen a Strecker’s Giant-Skipper near his house in Rio Rancho this weekend, which would be a new one for both Rebecca and myself, so I’ll certainly be headed over there this week to take a look around.
That day, we’d been out scouting for an upcoming Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the grasslands east of Albuquerque near Stanley NM. We didn’t spot any of the Long-billed Curlews that can be hiding out there this time of year, but did spot our other target species, Mountain Plover, way in the distance. What was crazy cool was spotting a nesting Swainson’s Hawk at the home we usually visit for Barn Owls – this is the male that was hanging out on a nearby power pole.
And in the same area, we found two more Great Horned Owl nests probably within a half-mile of each other along the highway, and a Burrowing Owl in a nearby prairie dog burrow. Here’s the first nest, with the two little ones nearly full-grown and Mom perched right there,
and here’s the male that was hanging out a little lower down and a couple of trees away from the nest.
The little ones, at least two of them, were still in the nest at the second one, so hopefully will still be around for our scheduled trip on May 22.
This morning, I tried a couple of spots for those dang Sandia Hairstreak caterpillars before the wind kicked into high gear, checking several beargrass plumes in the area of Embudito Canyon where I regularly see the adult butterflies, and then headed over to Copper Open Space to again check the plants where Rebecca had seen them earlier in the week. While checking out the specific bush they were in, I happened to first notice another big gophersnake similar to one I’d seen a couple of weeks ago in Embudito – about 4 feet long and waiting patiently under a chamisa bush for something tasty to come along. Now I rarely ever see snakes around here, and have seen probably less than a dozen overall in the last 30 years here. But maybe like the bears that I’d never seen until 2012 and then ran across about six of them that summer, this year it’s snakes. Not ten feet from that gophersnake, look what else was hanging around patiently waiting for a snack.
Pretty cool, and only the fourth one I’ve ever seen. (And, yes, in case you were wondering, the picture was taken with a 300mm zoom from a reasonable distance away.) This guy wasn’t that big, maybe 2 1/2 feet long, but I’d guess from the seven rattles at the end it was probably a couple of years old.