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.
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.
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.
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.
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
and an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.