With spring-like conditions all this past week, many old friends have started showing up again after a long winter absence. Having seen reports of recent Burrowing Owl sightings in Belen (and Los Lunas), on Tuesday I drove down to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area hoping to spot the owls and see if any butterflies were flying yet. Although a Burrowing Owl is usually tallied during the local Christmas Bird Count, they usually migrate south for the winter, returning in late spring. Near the Belen Marsh is a large prairie dog village where owls can usually be spotted off in the distance, so it was fabulous to find a pair using a burrow quite close to the edge, allowing for pretty good photos using the car as a blind.
The ponds at Belen Marsh were also getting busy, with Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Cattle Egrets, and a few other water birds. Moving along to Whitfield, it turned out to be a bit early for butterflies or any good nectar flowers, but I did run into a friend and his daughter for a walk around the refuge to look for birds. Highlight of the morning was an immature Red-tailed Hawk high in a cottonwood.
Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip took us to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Once again, we exceeded our criteria for success of seeing more bird species than we had people, a high bar given the large group of almost 40 people that morning. Included in that total was a Greater Roadrunner, all fluffed up either just showing off or maybe just trying to warm up. I tend to think it’s the former, since there was evidence in a nearby tree of nest building getting underway.
Another good sighting that day was a very patient female American Kestrel.
With clear skies and temperatures approaching 80 degrees for the first time this year, Rebecca and I headed to the east side of the Sandias looking for butterflies at Doc Long, Bill Spring and Sulphur Canyon. In addition to the overwintering Hoary Commas that I’ve been seeing regularly for the last few weeks,
we had several new species for the year, particularly on some budding willows in Sulphur Canyon. As many as 13 Mourning Cloaks were on one bush, we had a (not all that common around here) Red Admiral,
and a pair of Spring White butterflies.
In recent postings, I’ve mentioned not having much success this year locating nesting Great Horned Owls. For some time, I’ve known about the nest on the UNM campus hidden high in a ponderosa pine, one in someone’s yard in Rio Rancho that can only be seen from a distance, and the easy one at the Rio Grande Nature Center. Last week, I mentioned finally finding a new one across the river near Rio Rancho. Well, this week I scored big time! With a bit more specific directions from a fellow birder, two places I’d searched numerous times finally revealed themselves. First was a most cryptic nest near Calabacillas Arroyo I’d walked by several times before finally spotting the owl quietly keeping an eye on me.
It wasn’t until going through my other pictures the next day that I had another surprise – an owlet peeking out from under the adult’s tail!
Returning a couple of days later to show some friends, we got much better looks at the little one and suspect there also might be another one hiding in there.
Thrilled with success at Calabacillas, my next stop was Pueblo Montano Open Space. Owls have nested there for the last several years and I’d visited the area looking for one several times since a nest was first reported there this year. My friend’s directions narrowed down the search area, but weren’t too specific so I had to spend some time looking around pretty carefully. About to give up and headed back to the car, it finally revealed itself to me way, way up in a tall cottonwood. And, again, a major surprise to spot three well-developed owlets almost filling the available space in the nest, such that the adult was taking a break perched nearby.
Little ones have also been seen at the UNM nest for several weeks now, one was spotted this past week at the Nature Center, and things should start happening soon at the nest near Rio Rancho. It’s always a highlight of my year to be able to watch over the next month or so as these little ones rapidly grow and learn how to be owls.