Cloudy With A Chance of Balloons

With apologies to the movie “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”, the title of this week’s post relates to what’s been going on with the weather around here this week. As somehow seems to happen every year at this time, with the kickoff of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta the weather simultaneously switches from summer to fall bringing with it much cooler temperatures and a good possibility of clouds and precipitation. When clouds wrap the mountains, they really do take on the appearance of the major mountains that they are. This is a view from my backyard at 6300′ (1920m) at the Sandias, which top out at 10,678′ (3255m) as the clouds have finally started to clear out.

Sandia Mountains

Sandia Mountains

Looking in the other direction any morning this week have been about 600 hot air balloons here for this week’s Fiesta. Despite the cloudy conditions particularly early in the week, the morning mass ascensions have gotten off every morning so far and the next two days are looking even better.

Balloon Fiesta

Balloon Fiesta

In other news, the aspens up at the top of the mountains are reaching their peak of autumnal color, mostly a golden yellow among the deep green of the conifers, but occasionally taking on more of a red color.

Aspen

Aspen

I’ve still got two more days of balloons and probably one more weekend to try for some better pictures of both of these phenomena. The chamisa are also exploding with color and the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande should start showing their fall colors any day now.

Several outings over the past week have had me up in the Sandias looking for those fall colors, a few late season butterflies (they pretty much disappear when the cold and clouds arrive), and some good birds. During a walk into Bill Spring one morning following reports the previous day of an incredible number (75+) of Northern Flickers coming to the spring, I ran into my friend, Judy, who introduced me to a woman from the U.S. Forest Service who is working on establishing an interpretive bird exhibit for the trail. When I first came up to them, Judy was pointing out a Western Wood-Pewee patiently sunning on a nearby branch that posed nicely for its photograph.

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

While talking to them for a couple of minutes, we also had Mourning Cloak, Arizona Sister, and Question Mark butterflies pass by – this spot is pretty special for both birds and butterflies. Bill Spring itself was nearly as busy as “The Log” at Capulin Spring that week, with quite a few birds stopping by for a quick splash or drink. I didn’t see nearly as many Northern Flickers that morning as were reported the day before, but still had nearly a dozen, along with a couple of Steller’s Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, and several other species. Two that left me with pretty good photographs were this Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

and an American Robin.

American Robin

American Robin

Soon after that stop, I headed to the end of Cienega Canyon and was treated with a nice view of an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I don’t see all that often and usually high in the sky when I do.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Earlier this week had me off to Embudito Canyon in the foothills on the western side of the Sandias, where I found a good variety of birds willing to pose for their portraits. Right next to the parking area on a rock  that often seems to be a favored spot for surveying the area was a Gambel’s Quail.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail

Further up the canyon in a stand of hackberry trees where I’ve seen them in the past was a cute little Ruby-crowned Kinglet busy flitting around the foliage in search of insects to eat.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Back toward the entrance, several Curve-billed Thrashers were flying around and calling loudly. I have entirely too many pictures of these guys, but they usually let you get pretty close and pose nicely to have their picture taken, so it’s hard not to take just one more. This one was a little unusual in that he wasn’t sitting high in a cholla.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

Close to that guy was the winter roost of a Cactus Wren I’d first noticed a few weeks ago. The wren was still busy bringing in bits of grass to insulate the roost and would pop inside for a few minutes at a time to add to the structure before popping back out, looking around, and heading off for more supplies.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Last week, the Audubon Thursday Birders visited Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe and were successful in seeing more bird species than we had people. Highlights were a Black-billed Magpie, which doesn’t seem to quite make it as far south as Albuquerque, plenty of Townsend’s Solitaires back for the winter, and both Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsucker. A pleasant Fall day, but I can’t say that any of my pictures from the day turned out that well. This week, the group checked out Tingley Ponds – meeting our criterion for success of birds/people >1 would be a difficult task with 32 along for the day, but by the end of the morning we could claim success with our tally of 35 species – a bit surprising given the time of year, cool temperatures, and patchy clouds that came and went. Always fun to see, if usually a bit difficult to get close to, was a resident male Belted Kingfisher that flew among several of its favored perches, including this one in an olive tree on the island in the middle of the pond.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

We also came across a flock of Lesser Goldfinch, who just can’t get enough of the sunflower seedheads available at this time of year.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

The walk wasn’t all about birds, however. It was fun spotting a porcupine up in a tree that day. I can usually find them easily enough throughout the winter after the leaves have fallen, but they just seem to vanish once the trees start to leaf out in the spring.

Porcupine

Porcupine

We also had a couple of other pretty interesting characters out that morning. Although they do seem to me to be pretty common down along the river about now, a rather large Black and Yellow Garden Spider seemed to grab the groups’ attention once it was pointed out to them.

Black-and-yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia)

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia)

And working its way along the bridge across the creek a short distance away was a new bug for me, a Wheel Bug, named for that odd gear-like protrusion on its back.

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)

Advertisements

About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Critters, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Cloudy With A Chance of Balloons

  1. Fabulous pictures. Love all the birds, but that spider is magnificent. You live in a great place — we just finished our series on Balloon Fiesta with pics taken last year. From what I can piece together from Twitter @balloonfiesta, the weather hasn’t been especially conducive for lift-offs this year. Would love to return!

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks! I hadn’t seen your Fiesta posts before now, but they’re wonderful and convey what’s special about this week every year. True, the weather hasn’t been great early in the mornings (and a couple of the evening events) this week, but they’ve still gotten off every morning so far and conditions look perfect for the coming weekend.

  2. C.C. says:

    When my spouse and I were on Paliza Canyon mesa top (Jemez) last weekend – Oct 2-4 – we saw a number of Monarchs supping on full-bloom chamiza. I posted photos of them on my facebook page, but need to upload them on my blog, methinks. Wanted you to know!
    Thanks for another great post, Joe!

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks for your comment. Interesting how many Monarchs seem to be flying this year. We had quite a few also on the chamisa in the Jemez on Sept. 21, and have seen a few more in town and (as usual) down at Whitfield.

  3. 1nmbirder says:

    Sounds like another great week. Nice hawk photo. I was recently at Bill Spring and was amazed at the number of flickers coming in at one time. I saw that spider for the first time this year at the duck ponds….cool bug! And big! Thanks for another great post Joe.

  4. It’s such a treat to see birds, etc that we don’t have here in southern Illinois.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s