January wrapped up last weekend and the past week has been one typical of winter in New Mexico with the weather bouncing between warm to downright cold, sunny sparklingly clear days followed by low clouds and dustings of snow. The Audubon Thursday Birder trip last week to Alameda Open Space was rather cool but sunny, and despite a slow start at seeing any birds ended up a success tallying 40 species for the 37 folks on the walk. A crowd favorite and Bird-of-the-Day in my opinion was the Wilson’s Snipe Leah spotted flying away down an irrigation ditch early in the walk. We spent some time trying to see it hiding in the shadow of the ditch when it flew back past everybody to a sunny patch on the other side of the ditch.
The picture above gives you an idea of just how well camouflaged these guys are – that’s it center left where that skinny branch points out from the brown lump on the tree trunk. A woman walking by with a serious-looking camera wondered what we were looking at and when I told her it was a snipe, she was surprised and said she thought they were “imaginary”, thinking of the old snipe hunt mythology. Even knowing where it was, quite a few in the group had a difficult time picking it out of the background. This picture from a little closer makes it easier to see.
Pretty cool sighting for me, since I’d only managed to see them at Bosque del Apache NWR in the past. Another good sighting that day were some Greater White-fronted Geese, possibly a “lifer” for me, but too far away for a decent photo.
After heading back home, I heard that shortly after everybody left two adult Bald Eagles showed up out on the mudflats, one with prey, and that a Red-tailed Hawk showed up to join the party. Sorry to miss that(!), but it motivated me to head back down there the next morning since I’d been trying all winter to get a good look at a mature Bald Eagle. This past week, I’ve also started looking more seriously for potential owl nests since it’s just about time for that activity to begin. So this time, on a fabulously sunny and warm morning I walked along the west side of the Rio Grande toward Calabacillas Arroyo where Great Horned Owls have nested regularly, looking for owls or abandoned hawk nests or cavities they might use. No luck so far on the owls, but I did catch a quick look at a Bald Eagle perched in a tree near the dam that flew off as I approached. Walked the rest of the way south looking for owls and then on the way back saw the eagle back in pretty much the same tree. This time I had the sun at my back and the eagle seemed okay with my getting a little closer – I’ve been wanting to get a shot like this for several years now!
Moving back to the trail I came across two women and asked if they’d want to see it. They were thrilled, and said they’d been looking all morning in hopes of spotting one. That was fun, and super that the eagle continued to sit there and let them get a few pictures, too.
On the north side of Alameda in the Corrales Bosque were lots of porcupines. One you could see from the parking lot, and entering the woods I easily spotted three more all in a small area. This guy was the most open and if you zoom in you can see those ridiculous orange teeth.
Back on the ditch where we’d had the snipe the day before, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were busy flitting around the trees. Usually, our Yellow-rumped Warbler is the western “Audubon’s Warbler”, which has a yellow throat patch. Much more uncommon here is the eastern “Myrtle Warbler” with a white throat patch. This one might be a “Myrtle”, but they’re difficult to distinguish in winter.
One of the Ruby-crowned Kinglets also was in the same tree and quite animated flying out from the tree over the ditch and back, flashing that red crown now and then.
Saturday, I joined Kim Score on her CNMAS Field Trip to Embudito along with an unusually large group (about 15 people) for those occasional weekend trips. Not surprisingly, it was pretty quiet for birds that morning, but Kim has amazingly good hearing and knows immediately what bird is making that sound nobody else can hear. Once she hears it, she’ll keep on it until everybody in the group sees it. By the end of the morning, we’d end up with a good 20 species.
Back on my owl nest search the next morning took me first to Willow Creek Open Space near Bernalillo and then the Open Space Visitor Center. Still no luck on any nesting owls yet, though there are a couple of potential nesting sites visible through the open tree branches at both areas. At Willow Creek, a Sharp-shinned Hawk (less commonly seen than the very similar Cooper’s Hawk) was perched in a tall cottonwood by the parking area, but flew before I could get my camera organized. Good-sized flocks of Dark-eyed Junco and Western Bluebird were also there, but it was otherwise pretty quiet.
Things were very quiet at the Open Space Visitor Center and the trails through the bosque, but the weather was getting a bit windy and cloudy. There were a couple of good Cooper’s Hawk nests in the areas that will be worth another look again soon to see if any owls show up. Just about the only bird I’d see there was this Cooper’s Hawk surveying its territory from a tall snag.
No pictures for February just yet with a bit of a snowstorm blowing through the first days of the month and mighty chilly (27 degrees and windy) today. Twice I’ve been to a new spot for me, the bosque south of Bridge Blvd., after seeing all the pictures someone’s been posting on Facebook recently. The weather just wasn’t cooperating so I didn’t see many birds, but it’s obviously good habitat with some great raptor perches, good views of the river, a few old nests in the trees, and probably not very many human visitors. Future trips are clearly in order once the weather improves.