The first week of Fall has been delightful having a good number of photographic opportunities and ending with last night’s spectacular Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is always pretty good, but with this year’s being both a super moon and a full lunar eclipse starting right at sunset it was better than ever. I’d been thinking of going to Belen Marsh in the evening for months now, but have never gotten quite motivated enough. There are usually a few good birds around the pond during my usual morning visits, but the sun is on completely the wrong side for photos and the number and variety of birds coming in to roost for the evening I’d been told was rather amazing. Thinking the evening highway traffic would be much better during the weekend and realizing the moon would rise just across the pond finally got me there for the show. Quite interesting looking online for details on the timing of events, a subject I’d never paid much attention to before. On Saturday, moonrise was at 1809 with the sunset almost an hour later at 1858. Sunday, they occurred almost simultaneously with moonrise at 1852 and sunset 1856, and then the eclipse starting eleven minutes later at 1907. Also interesting and not considered by me before was the direction where these events would occur. The website timeanddate.com has lots of interesting tables and information on all this.
Saturday, Rebecca was free to join me to scout it out down there, and the bird action was all that I’d heard. In addition to the large number of Cattle Egrets coming in for the night, the telephone lines were full of European Starlings, and huge swarms of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds swirled around before settling into the reeds. Here’s a picture of a particularly large group and down in the lower left you can just make out the Peregrine Falcon closing in for a snack.
We were also treated that night to a nice flock of White-faced Ibis coming in for the evening, one of which flew by quite close.
As predicted, the moon did appear somewhat before sunset almost due east across the pond, but was fairly high before it was visible and not nearly as exciting as what I’d expected for the Harvest Moon. An incorrect assumption that surely the moon would look just about as amazing the day before the big event.
With time on my hands the next day, I returned on Sunday a couple of hours before sunset and settled in to see how things developed. Before that, however, I drove past the marsh and noticed several of the farm fields had been flooded. This naturally brought in a few other birds, including several ducks, Killdeer, and the Black-necked Stilts that are also usually present at the marsh pond.
When I first arrived at the marsh, there were already about a dozen egrets hanging around, mostly Cattle Egrets but a couple of Snowy Egrets as well. Also present on Sunday was a Great Blue Heron who struck a rather unusual pose for minutes at a time; my guess is it was trying to cool off in the warm, humid air.
While I was waiting, a couple of American Coots paddled about and insisted I take their photo since there was nothing else going on at the moment.
Every fifteen minutes or so, another group of egrets would fly in from wherever they spend the day. Most had 20 – 30 birds in each group and occasionally much smaller groups and isolated individuals would show up and join the rest.
I tried playing around with my camera settings a bit hoping to get better at shooting individuals in flight, and a couple turned out pretty well. Here’s one of a Cattle Egret circling around on final approach,
and at the moment of touchdown.
Right on schedule, the sun set in the west, but the moon that supposedly rose in the east four minutes earlier was nowhere to be seen, which was (to say the least) a bit surprising after having seen it just fine the day before. So I hung around for about ten more minutes before coming to the realization that it was too dark to expect to see any detail in the pond when the moon did appear, and decided to head for home thinking I’d pull off the highway somewhere when it did. Naturally, as I was accelerating to the 75 mph speed limit heading up the on-ramp (maybe a 1/2 mile from the marsh), the moon popped out above the mountains. Rapidly decelerating, I managed to stop just before the freeway and managed to get this shot of it.
Minutes later it was totally obscured for a bit in a cloud bank, but then great fun all the way home watching as the eclipse got underway.
In other news of the week, last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders drove up to Cochiti Lake and Pena Blanca for a few good birds that we rarely if ever see in town, although it was a little breezy for birding that day. One of the targets for the day was the Sage Thrasher, of which we did spot several (but not nearly as close as the one that surprised me the week before in Embudito Canyon), and got both of the sapsucker species that we get in New Mexico, the Red-naped Sapsucker
and the Williamson’s Sapsucker.
Along with lots of Western Bluebirds and a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, a surprising number of Yellow-rumped Warblers were working the camping area at Tetilla Peak.
On the outskirts of the small village of Pena Blanca, we picked up a couple of Black-billed Magpies, a bird that is usually only seen much further north in New Mexico.
A Cooper’s Hawk also flew over fairly close to us.
On a whim the next day, I decided to take a look around at Route 66 Open Space. A bit difficult to access, the area doesn’t seem to get many human visitors and I’ve been surprised before at some of the birds that can appear there. Unusually quiet that morning, other than a woodpecker and towhee that both disappeared before I could get a good look, I only spotted a single bird – the Great Horned Owl in the same spot I’d seen one several times in the past. Quite a surprise as my owls normally seem to disappear for good shortly after nesting season. Zooming in on the picture gives you a pretty good look at those formidable talons.
On the way home, I made a quick stop at Embudito Canyon and noted the chamisa is just starting to bloom but has a little ways to go still, and had a Western Scrub-Jay pose quite near.
Saturday turned out to be a full but interesting day, starting with a trip to Valle de Oro NWR, which was celebrating its 3rd anniversary. The folks from Hawks Aloft had a couple of birds visitors could get to look at up close and personal, including a pair of American Kestrel,
and a tiny Saw-whet Owl.
After visiting with friends at a few of the booths set up for the celebration, we went on a short birding walk led by two of our ‘Burque Young Birders Club members, elementary school students during the week who are amazingly knowledgeable and excellent birders. Heading back to town after that event, Rebecca and I decided to check out Las Huertas Canyon for some late season butterflies. A good idea as we would see a surprisingly good number and variety of species for this late in the year. The treat that day was a very cooperative and quite fresh Question Mark, a species that we rarely spotted in past years but that we’ve seen fairly regularly this year.
On the underside, you can see the white comma and spot that gives this butterfly its common name, and just a hint of that orange and violet color hiding inside.
Killing time before my visit Sunday for the Belen Marsh sunset, I made a return visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area a few miles away. That day, I’d finally spot that American Snout mentioned in my last post.
A most unusual looking but aptly named species, it gives me hope they might return to Embudito Canyon again this year when the chamisa really gets blooming over the next couple of weeks. Also rather cool at Whitfield, and actually blocking the gate with its web when I arrived was this spider whose identity I haven’t quite figured out yet.
Autumn seems to be getting off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to watching it develop in the coming weeks.