The new year has certainly gotten off to an auspicious start as you’ll see below. On March 5, 2011, a couple of weeks after becoming a “former employee”, I started this blog and this turns out to be the milestone 200th posting. Just in the last year, it seems I’ve posted 629 pictures that have been viewed almost 8,000 times, with more than 32,000 views since the beginning. Amazing, when I realize the first web browser was invented in 1990 and I’ve had my website since 1997 – it is equally astonishing that 25 years have passed since 1990! Daydreaming about what I’d do with myself in retirement, spending so much time outside taking photographs and sharing them this way never crossed my mind. Thanks to everybody for coming along on the ride.
For the most part, the last two weeks have been pretty cold and cloudy around here with a pretty significant snow the weekend after Christmas and more in the works for later this week. As mentioned last time, we had plans for Christmas Bird Counts for both days of the weekend following the holiday. With friends Bonnie and Rebecca early on Saturday morning we added a good total of 28 species seen in our assigned area for the Sandia CBC before the snow started falling pretty heavily around noon. Unfortunately, the snow continued through the night and driving the next morning seemed too hazardous that (probably for the first time ever) we didn’t get to Corrales the next day for the Albuquerque count.
As is typical around here, of course by the next day the snow had pretty much melted away and I was able to drive down without any problem to Alameda Open Space near Corrales. Still not too birdy, but did spot this Yellow-rumped Warbler flitting around looking for a snack.
Two days later, I stopped by the Rio Grande Nature Center hoping to see one of the Bald Eagles that seem to patrol along the Rio Grande around this time of year. No luck there, but did get a shot of one of the White-winged Doves checking out the feeders there and had been wanting to get a photograph of that blue eye shadow they get around now.
Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip headed off to Valle de Oro NWR on a still chilly, but wonderfully sunny, morning. The day was a success with the group of 22 people ending up with a good list of 37 species. On Saturday, I decided to return there and spent a fair portion of the morning driving and walking around in hopes of getting some photographs. Most of the species the group had seen a few days earlier were still around, and I did get good looks (but not great photos) of both the male and female Northern Harrier and a male Common Merganser. First bird of the morning was this female American Kestrel keeping an eye on me from the power line.
One of the Western Meadowlarks in the large flock the group had seen fly away earlier in the week stood its ground and allowed me to quickly take its picture before it followed the rest of the crowd.
Several times on both trips, Horned Larks would announce their presence by having all of them lift off in a rush to fly away before disappearing back in the short grass some distance away. Only once did a few hang around for a few seconds before following everybody else.
Interestingly, on the Thursday outing we only spotted a single porcupine quite a distance away on the other side of the Rio Grande but surprisingly actively stretching instead of just snoozing away as they usually do. On my Saturday trip, maybe because I was paying a little more attention, I spotted at least four of them looking at a distance remarkably similar to the clumps of mistletoe in the trees.
So, and here comes the auspicious part, next I headed to Los Poblanos Open Space to check on the three nest boxes there for Western Screech-Owls. No luck, so I figured I’d look at the cavity in a tree near Alameda Open Space where a friend had seen (and photographed) one on December 8. Parking at Calabacillas Arroyo, the plan was to head north toward Alameda and the tree cavity. First bird I’d see was a female Belted Kingfisher on a fence line by the irrigation ditch.
Usually, these birds will immediately head off to parts unknown, but she would hang around on the power lines, a nearby tree, a nearby power pole, and then back to her fence. Pretty cool, but I was off to the apparently empty screech owl hole. On the way back, the kingfisher was still lording over its territory when I spotted an odd brown lump in the middle of the arroyo. It didn’t take long to realize it was a Peregrine Falcon, not commonly seen here and certainly never so close. In other pictures, you can tell it had made a pretty significant catch but I can’t quite make out if it was maybe a pigeon or some other good-sized bird. Whatever it was, the falcon couldn’t hang onto it and dropped it as it flew off.
The bird then made a couple of pretty amazing low level fly-bys,
perching now and then in a nearby tree and I imagine keeping an eye on its prize.
While all this was going on, I noticed a couple of other good-sized players showing up high in the sky, first a Red-tailed Hawk
and almost immediately an immature Bald Eagle.
I can only assume they had arrived thinking to swipe the falcon’s prize, but then the two of them got busy harrassing each other. However, they didn’t seem to be intent on a serious fight; rather, they seemed to be having fun goofing with each other – not exactly in focus, but this shot gives you an idea of what was going on with those two.
After those two finished showing off, I headed for home leaving the falcon keeping an eye on things from a nearby power pole.
Yesterday, I went back to Alameda Open Space and Corrales, first checking on that still absent screech owl and hoping to see an adult Bald Eagle or maybe a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing its crown. None of that happened, but I did get a few shots of a Great Blue Heron perching in a tall cottonwood, a Cooper’s Hawk high in a tree on the opposite side of the irrigation ditch, another Belted Kingfisher, and a few other birds skulking about. There were at least 3 Black Phoebes working the ditch,
a couple of Song Sparrows, this one giving me a side view showing more colorful patterns than I expected (usually, I’m looking for that long tail and chest mark),
and a Hermit Thrush posing quite nicely in the sun.
Happy New Year everybody! Looks like 2016 is off to a pretty good start.