Last week was pretty ridiculous trying to get pictures of that Peregrine Falcon doing low-level flybys while an immature Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk were goofing around overhead, but this week had a few surprises of its own. With last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder’s trip cancelled due to road conditions out on the eastern plains, Rebecca and I returned to Calabacillas Arroyo to see if there’d be another raptor show and to check on that nearby Western Screech-Owl cavity. No luck on either score, but on the way home I stopped by Piedras Marcadas Dam to look around since it was on the way and I hadn’t been there in quite some time. A couple of Sandhill Cranes were walking around and an American Kestrel was perched at the very top of a tree scanning the area, but that’s all I saw right off. Just for laughs, I then headed to the old nest where it took forever last year for the Great Horned Owls to fledge their little ones. Much to my surprise, this guy caught my eye a few yards away from the nest right where the male hung out last year.
It likely will be still another month or so before nesting commences for this year, but good to see this spot may still be good.
After that, we had a bit more snow that has to be due to this El Nino year – it’s the third one so far this year, whereas we’ve had very few good snows here for probably a decade or so. Once the snow and clouds move on out, it made for some pretty scenic views out the door, such as this one from Saturday of the Sandia Crest late in the day,
and this one of the foothills from Embudito Canyon on Sunday.
The next morning, Rebecca and I headed over to Valle de Oro NWR, thinking since it was still pretty cold out we’d mostly drive around birding from the car. When it warmed up a bit we then walked over to the Rio Grande. Highlight of the morning was having an immature Bald Eagle fly over on its way upstream surrounded by a large flock of Canada Geese.
We also had several Hairy Woodpeckers working their way through the bosque, hearing them long before we spotted one. A nice sighting since usually it’s either the smaller but quite similar Downy Woodpecker or the ubiquitous Northern Flicker tapping on the trees.
With a few other priorities taking up my time this week, I’ve only managed a few quick trips to some of my typical hangouts but still tried to get out there every day. A visit Tuesday to Alameda Open Space turned up some Common Mergansers out there with all the geese, ducks, and gulls near the dam.
Those four with the dark green heads are males surrounding a single female – she’s the one with the brown teased “turbo” hairdo.
The next day it was off to the Rio Grande Nature Center. So far this year, I’ve been unsuccessful in seeing a mature Bald Eagle anywhere but way down at Bosque del Apache NWR and they usually hang out on a snag across the river from the Nature Center. None there that day, but I did get good looks at a few other birds in the area, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler (we’d seen a good number of them at the north end of Valle de Oro a few days earlier),
an American Robin posing in the shade,
and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that flitted around a New Mexico Olive flashing that red crown now and then but rarely pausing in the open long enough for a picture.
Today’s Audubon Thursday Birder walk at Tingley Ponds started off inauspiciously with a large group of 30 birders hoping to exceed our success criterion of seeing more bird species than we had people. Not unexpectedly for this time of year, the birding was pretty slow at the start (we didn’t see any White-crowned Sparrows all morning, for example), but as things warmed up a few birds showed themselves and then we hit the ponds that were mostly frozen over (most unusual) but concentrated the ducks in the little open water around. All in all, our group ended the morning with 35 species – an unqualified success! A fairly uncommon sighting for us were Common Goldeneyes on the more open fishing ponds (that’s the male on the left).
Back in the frozen ponds in the woods we had a (unusual for the location) Northern Pintail and a single Northern Shoveler hiding in the reeds.
Although they are quite common and spend their time hanging around with ducks, the American Coot isn’t a duck but is more closely related to grebes and gallinules. Instead of webbed feet like ducks, coots have these crazy feet which you rarely see unless they come up out of the water, in this case walking on the ice.
Toward the end of the walk, we ticked another species, a Black-crowned Night-Heron apparently snoozing away the day in a cottonwood.
The real highlight of the day, however, came right at the end of the walk when we spotted a porcupine crossing the bike trail right near the concession stand, only the second time I’ve ever seen one on the ground and not dozing high in a tree.
Way back in 2009 I finally managed to spot my first porcupines at Pueblo Montano. People had been telling me about seeing them in the trees there and I would soon figure out how to pick them out sleeping on the branches. But that first one was on the ground munching away on some leaves and paid little attention to me.
Eventually, it turned to give me the eye, but obviously figured it was a bigger threat to me than I was to it and got back to its task.