My most recent blog update focused on several birding outings with a visiting friend to the Sandia Crest, Bosque del Apache NWR, and Albuquerque hotspots along the Rio Grande. The weather during the week Terri was visiting was just perfect for birding with cool temperatures and usually bright sunny skies. The day after she left to return to Illinois (where the temperature was an unseasonable 70 F), we got surprised by an overnight snowfall that left a ridiculous amount of snow over the Sandia foothills and winter had clearly arrived.
Fortunately, with sunny days most of it melted away fairly quickly despite the colder temperatures outside. A visit to Tingley Ponds the next day turned up a good variety of waterfowl as expected for this time of year, including Canvasback, Redhead, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, and Ring-necked Duck. Three Pied-billed Grebes caught our attention after noticing that one of them didn’t have the black stripe on its bill that gives them their name. Not really a surprise, however, after checking the book it turns out this is typical in winter for non-breeding birds. Why others would still show the pied bill this late in the year is a mystery to me.
Another bird seen there that day seemed to want me to take its picture as it stayed fairly close and kept popping into view, a Song Sparrow.
Bosque del Apache NWR really is a national treasure and home to a good variety of birds (370+ species) and other wildlife all year long, and is well-known for the huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese that overwinter there. It is, however, about an hour and a half south of Albuquerque so I only seem to get down there a few times every year. Having been there just the week before with Terri, this week Rebecca and I were back there on Friday to bird the refuge itself and to do some scouting for Saturday’s Christmas Bird Count. Friday was a bit cool with some high clouds, but the forecast for Saturday was for warmer temperatures along with more clouds. The weather guys didn’t quite get that right as Saturday turned out even colder and much grayer than the day before, but the count went on as planned.
Friday’s jaunt through the refuge turned up quite a few good birds including all three species of teal (blue-winged, green-winged, and cinnamon), lots of hawks and kestrels, eagles, ducks, roadrunners, and others. A fairly unusual sighting was an Eastern Phoebe, which we’ll usually see only once or twice every winter.
The Western Grebe that Terri and I had seen the week before way across the pond from the boardwalk showed up on Friday right next to the road.
Although I think they are fairly common, I generally overlook American Pipits and either don’t see them since they blend in so well or assume they’re just some common type of sparrow. Rebecca, however, picked up on a flock of them working the mud close to a pond and pointed them out to me.
Not seen all that often at Bosque del Apache, a male Belted Kingfisher kept a close eye on his territory without immediately flying off as they usually do.
Near the refuge entrance late in the afternoon a young Killdeer posed in good light for me.
Northern Harriers were also seen flying around over the ponds and fields all day and I’m still trying to get a good photograph of one of them; this one of a female is the best I could do that day.
We saw a few other larger animals on the refuge that day, including a lazing coyote and a group of Mule Deer. Usually, these guys keep their distance from people, but this time allowed us to be quite close as they decided to cross the dirt road right in front of us. This is a picture of the one male that seemed to be in charge of the rest of the team.
Starting at dawn the next morning and lasting until sunset, Rebecca and I met up with our friends Bernie and Pauline (and their dog, Lenny) for our assigned area within the Bosque del Apache Christmas Bird Count circle. For the count, we’re responsible for everything north of the refuge boundary to Hwy 380 in San Antonio NM and I’m always surprised by the variety of birds we’ll see by the end of the day, many of which we rarely if ever see back home in Albuquerque. Some of the first we’d see included a Pyrrhuloxia, several Phainopepla, and a Prairie Falcon. Bernie and Pauline would later spot a Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon and were initially surprised on spotting what would have been a most unusual Gyrfalcon – turned out it was indeed a Gyrfalcon but had been raised and was being trained by a local falconer. We’d also get good looks several times that day at a male Northern Harrier, which are much less commonly seen than the female, but I wasn’t able to get a good photograph of it this time.
We’d end the day with just over 60 species counted in our area, helping bring the total for the entire circle to a respectable 107 species. A nice one for our list was our first Ferruginous Hawk for the season, and one that flew a short distance from its perch on a tall antenna pole as we approached.
We were a little surprised at seeing fewer numbers and species of some birds than expected, but the weather may have had something to do with it. Every now and then along the way we’d come across unusually large flocks of some species, such as Gambel’s Quail and Western Meadowlarks, in groups larger than I’d ever seen before. Only in one location out in the farm fields would we come across a number of Song Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows.
And, while I already have way too many pictures of Curve-billed Thrashers, this one just insisted that I please take its photograph.
One last picture for this posting, a couple of chipmunks (actually, they’re officially White-tailed Antelope Squirrels) that seemed quite interested in what we were doing, but took a short break for a little grooming.
This coming weekend, we’re signed up for two more Christmas Bird Counts, Saturday’s Sandia CBC and then Sunday’s Albuquerque CBC. These could both turn out to be interesting adventures with a rather significant snowstorm coming our way for the weekend, and snow already falling in the east mountains.