The weather this week has provided some much-needed rain, greening up the landscape and encouraging a few wildflowers to start blooming. A little cool and cloudy for many butterflies, but it did bring out a good variety of spring birds and a few surprises. On a sunny Sunday, knowing the USFS had just opened the gate to Cienega Canyon for the summer, I went to look for the Northern Pygmy-Owl being reported there (More on this long story below). While I didn’t manage to spot the owl, I did find the large aspen quite close to the upper parking area with several good nesting holes the owls might use, and near the top of it my first Wilson’s Warbler for the year.
This area also has several pine trees well used by the Red-naped Sapsuckers I’ve seen there on several visits this year. If you click on the picture to zoom in, you’ll see they’ve riddled the tree with their trademark sapsucker holes.
On the way home, I made a stop at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space hoping that the Cedar Waxwings might still be around. Didn’t see any during my short stop, but got really good looks at a Western Tanager for the first time this year.
Sadly, it seems the large cottonwood in my front yard has finally given up and may have to be taken down soon. I suspect its demise began a couple of years ago when there seemed to be an unusual number of black bear sightings in the neighborhood, one of whom did some serious bark scraping on the tree. Anyway, the dying tree seems to be attracting a few woodpeckers lately, including this Ladder-backed Woodpecker who greeted me as I was pulling into the driveway.
Lined up to lead this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder walk in Embudito Canyon, I spent some time earlier in the week scoping it out. Some of the more common ones the group would also see on Thursday included plenty of Canyon Towhees,
an unusually large number of Gambel’s Quail, the males calling all over the canyon from well-selected perches,
and quite a few Black-throated Sparrows.
While the Thursday trip would get a couple of different flycatchers, my scouting trip turned up a couple of what I think are Western Wood-Pewee, this one I’m guessing may be a young one.
The Great Horned Owl Nesting Show that’s been going on since early February is pretty much over now, and things seemed to have gone well at all but one of the seven nests I’d known about this year; the exception being the one in the Piedras Marcadas Dam area. I’d been checking on it since mid-March, but as late as April 27 there had just been the one adult sitting patiently on the nest with the other adult perched nearby. We’d all wondered if they’d try again or just how long they’d sit there until giving up. Since I hadn’t been back in three weeks and with nothing better to do that day, I decided to take one more look on Monday. After all the recent rain, the area looked like a good-sized pond had developed (it really is a dam after all), but it was still possible to get close to the nest site. Much to my amazement, Mom was off the nest on a close branch and there are at least two little ones peeking out! Fairly far along it looks like, too, so they must have hatched very soon after my last visit or have been hiding in there. Way later than everybody else this year, it’s wonderful to see that all that waiting has finally paid off.
Both going to and coming from the nest, a couple of Greater Roadrunners were dashing about the volcanic rock lining the dam. This one, having caught a lizard, was making the most unusual cooing noises, which has something to do with males marking territory and attracting a mate.
Stopping at the Rio Grande Nature Center on the way back from Piedras Marcadas turned up several great photo opportunities. A Killdeer was busy strutting around the parking lot where they’d nested a few years ago, but I wasn’t able to spot a nest there so far this year.
An Ash-throated Flycatcher posed nicely just as I crossed the bike trail on the way to the river.
Most cooperatively, along the trail was a gorgeous Summer Tanager perched at eye level that let me approach closely and get a number of good pictures.
Back in mid-April, I ran into two excellent local birders, Michael Shoop and Bill Maley, while looking for butterflies in Hondo Canyon. They’d told me about a Northern Pygmy-Owl they’d seen easily that morning in Cienega Canyon – obvious location, eye-level, actively calling, “can’t miss”! And apparently it’s pretty regular there, as Bill has posted on eBird both a video of it calling and a terrific picture of it in full sun holding its house wren lunch. Since I’ve got this thing for owls and a Northern Pygmy-Owl would be a “lifer” for me, I had to try for it. Twice I did the long walk in with no luck at all, and now that the gate is open for the summer drove in on Sunday and finally found the nesting cavity in a large aspen – as usual, once you find it, their directions were perfectly obvious, but no luck with the owl. Although I generally don’t, this time I tried playing a tape of first the Northern Pygmy-Owl (no response from anything) and then the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, which isn’t even found here but immediately brought in several nearby birds fussing around a spot high in the aspens above the nesting cavity. In hindsight, that’s probably where my guy was hiding, but it didn’t click in my head at the time. Knowing where that cavity is, I visited again early on Wednesday, looked up and…ta da!
Tiny little guy about the size of a tanager (but bulkier) way the heck up in the tree posed for a couple of pictures but obviously knew I was looking at him. The minute I turned away to check on the pictures, he silently vanished somewhere in the trees. Certainly fun to add a new owl to the list of species I’ve now seen in the state.
One more picture, this time from our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudito Canyon. Unexpectedly great weather brought out about 17 birders for about 25 species, including multiple sightings of what we think aretwo Scott’s Oriole (who’d skunked me on several earlier visits), quite a few Black-throated Sparrow and one or two Black-chinned Sparrow, a Western Tanager, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cactus and Canyon Wren, and lots of those Gambel’s Quail posing from various locations.