The search for this year’s Great Horned Owl nests began in earnest this week with a number of trips up and down both sides of the Rio Grande from the Rio Grande Nature Center north to Willow Creek Open Space near Bernalillo. Despite looking for them pretty hard, none have revealed themselves to me so far and I wasn’t able to find all that many abandoned hawk nests that they seem to favor. (Reports of a nesting pair on the UNM campus may just have to be checked out this weekend.) In retrospect looking over pictures from the past several years, although I have seen owls in January, nesting really seems to get going more like late February and March. Still worth getting out there among the leafless trees to locate potential nesting sites, however, and always fun seeing what might pop up along the way. Always on the lookout for dark lumps in the trees that might be old hawk nests or roosting owls, it’s surprisingly easy to spot any number of dozing porcupines in the area.
On one day alone at Pueblo Montano Open Space (always popular with porcupines), I spotted an all-time daily total of 8 of those guys, including one just snoozing away on a ditch bank.
Several times this week as I’d approach the Rio Grande riverbank, surprised Common Mergansers would blast off from the shore long before I could get my camera ready. They seem more wary of people than most ducks and one can rarely get close enough for a good picture. A few this morning were typically on the far side of the river, but interesting in having a female along with what seem to be the more common males.
The boys have those dark green heads, while the girls have that turbo-cut red hair.
Wandering around the Corrales Bosque one day where I’d heard a Great Horned Owl calling during the day a few months ago, along with the usual Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows, another immature sparrow caught my eye as looking a bit different. Not the greatest photograph, but turns out it was the rather uncommon Harris’s Sparrow.
While almost too common to attract much notice, since it’s been seeming pretty quiet birdwise around here lately, Mallards make good subjects for a photograph and are actually rather attractive . This pair (that’s the female in front) were just paddling their way up the Alameda drainage ditch and posed nicely without feeling the need to fly away as they often do.
One of the few other birds worthy of a picture this week during the great owl hunt was a Bewick’s Wren busy flipping leaves in search of a tidbit to eat.
Another cooperative individual was a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet, who rarely gives you a flash of that red patch and is generally quite actively hopping from spot to spot almost too quickly to snap a photo. This is the best shot I got of him during my walk earlier this week from Shining River Open Space to Alameda Open Space on the east side of the Rio Grande.
This week’s Thursday Birder trip also went to Alameda Open Space where our rather large group of about 40 people turned up at least 30 species of birds despite the breezy and somewhat overcast conditions. At the end of the morning, everyone got great looks at several Ruby-crowned Kinglets across the drainage ditch in what must have been some kind of serious mating activity as those flashing red crowns on the males were quite visible.
Oh, although this week didn’t turn up any of those Great Horned Owls, after several visits over the last month or so, it was a treat to see a Western Screech-Owl taking up residence in one of the nesting boxes at Los Poblanos Open Space.