Onset of Winter

Wow, December’s almost gone and I haven’t gotten around to updating the blog in almost a month. What with Christmas, three Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), and all those pictures from Peru I’m still working through there hasn’t been much free time left for much else lately. Way back on December 8, I did make a run down to Tingley Ponds to see the Common Loon, a rare visitor to this area,

Common Loon

Common Loon

and returned a few days later with the Audubon Thursday Birders for that and a number of other ducks that overwinter on the ponds. One unusual one was a female Bufflehead that let me get its picture along with a Ring-necked Duck.

Female Bufflehead and Male Ring-necked Duck

Female Bufflehead and Male Ring-necked Duck

Since we’d just missed this year’s Festival of the Cranes while we were in Peru and looking for something to do that weekend, Rebecca and I took a quick trip down to Bosque del Apache NWR. We spotted our first Bald Eagle for the year on its usual perch, so I’ll have to start keeping an eye out for them now along the Rio Grande here in town.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Also cool to see in the same area, but rarely out in the open for a decent picture was a cute little Marsh Wren.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Audubon’s Thursday Birder outing on December 18 was a nice walk in Bear Canyon, a new location for the group, and one that produced a surprisingly good variety of birds. Better yet was our annual Christmas Potluck held after the walk at Liz and Larry’s home in the area – great fun, great food, and wonderful friends.

Friday, December 19 kicked off a full weekend of Christmas Bird Counts as we headed back down to Bosque del Apache to scout out our assigned area north of the refuge and south of Hwy 380 for the official count on Saturday. A quick stop at New Mexico Tech in Socorro turned up a few good birds including one of the Brown Creepers that seem to be everywhere this year, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and several ducks such as this American Wigeon.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Joined for the count early the next morning by friends Bernie and Pauline, we spent the day counting all the birds we could find, which (as usual) included quite a few that we never see just an hour north here in Albuquerque, including Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia,

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

and Verdin.

Verdin

Verdin

We also stumbled upon immature Red-naped Sapsuckers at a couple of locations, trying hard to make them into the even rarer Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

As we saw in Socorro and have been seeing regularly in Albuquerque this year, we also got a Brown Creeper, camouflaged well against the tree bark.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Several Loggerhead Shrikes (and supposedly a Northern) were seen that day, a bird we’d don’t see very often in this area.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

In addition to the Red-tailed Hawk that is quite common here in the winter

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

we’d also get good looks at a Ferruginous Hawk.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

Everyone involved with the count headed to the famous Owl Bar in San Antonio for a fun compilation party and we then deadheaded it back to Albuquerque for their CBC that kicked off the next morning at 6:45 am.

For the Albuquerque count, we always start off with a pre-dawn check of the Rio Grande from the Alameda Bridge, tallying a couple of Black-crowned Night-herons for the count before meeting up with the rest of the group. This year we also got a Belted Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron, along with the usual bunch of Canada Geese. Our assigned count area includes much of rural Corrales and this year tasked us with tracking down the rare Fox Sparrow that had been seen in our area recently. Several times during the day had us going back to that place looking for it, and we weren’t going to quit until we got it, so our day was made when it finally popped up where a pair of Spotted Towhees had been busy looking for bugs. Of course, the light was just impossible for a good photograph, but I finally got one good enough to document adding it to our list.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

All in all, it was a great count on a rather pleasant December day, tying the record of 123 species for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count.

The day after Christmas was my third CBC for the year, the Sandia CBC that Rebecca has organized for the last 15 years. That one kicked off with some pretty chilly temperatures, some snow the night before and more to come as we headed out on icy and snow-covered roads. As the day went on, the weather would keep changing from near blizzard conditions to bright sunshine with variable winds. Despite those conditions, we ended up with a pretty good count and managed to spot most of the species we were hoping for, often hunkered down from the wind and cold. One species that we managed to track down was a large flock of Great-tailed Grackles, which surprisingly for such a common bird isn’t usually seen in the east mountains at this time of year, and had to be documented with a photograph.

Great-tailed Grackles

Great-tailed Grackles

Just four more days until 2015 and I’m looking forward to another great year of memorable natural moments.

 

 

 

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
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3 Responses to Onset of Winter

  1. Linda Otterson says:

    Thanks Joe for another great post. I look forward to another year of Natural Moments. Happy New Year.

  2. Rebecca Gracey says:

    December in review through your photographs; what a nice report with beautiful bird pictures.

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