With spectacular weather now for almost two weeks and getting a little warmer every day, it’s been a great week for getting outside. It’s been a particularly productive week in my annual quest tracking down nesting Great Horned Owls – once the first one was reported, it was only a few days before I started spotting more of them. Surprisingly in my experience this year they (3 out of 4 so far) are using the exact same nesting spots they did last year. With few exceptions in the past, they seem to find a new spot reasonably close to the previous year’s nest, but often destroy the nest when they disappear after fledging their young. It’s also pretty early in the year for them to be nesting, but it seems other birds are also showing up a little earlier this year.
Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip went to the area around Romero Road in Corrales. A surprisingly good count (if I remember correctly) of 37 species for a fairly quiet morning, including a White-throated Sparrow. Quite a few people showed up that morning with the nice weather and nearby location, something like 43 people all told, and we really should think about breaking into smaller groups to maximize seeing birds. Not too many pictures for me that day, but I did like this one of a White-breasted Nuthatch near where some chickadees seemed to be building a nest.
A highlight for some of the folks was a porcupine busy snoozing away in a tree.
Later that week, I’d spot a number of those guys and just can’t help taking their photograph when they are low enough and I can see them looking at me, so here’s one more.
In addition to the Great Horned Owl, Western Screech-Owl, and Northern Pygmy-Owl that I mentioned seeing in my last post, this week turned up two more species. Friday, acting on a Facebook posting, I headed down to “Owlville” just outside of Los Lunas and spotted a single Burrowing Owl near a burrow they’d nested in last year (along with several other owl pairs).
And a couple of days later acting on a tip from a friend who’d furtively snuck in through a normally locked gate to see one, I drove to the Farm Store of Los Poblanos Inn and ran into their gardener, who was happy to take me into their barn and see not just one, but two Barn Owls high in the rafters. Each of them had claimed a separate ventilation stack in the barn, and the gardener told me he sees them fly out at dusk. Los Poblanos Inn is a quite pleasant retreat and works to respect the privacy of its guests, but were quite willing to show me around to look at birds on the property.
We don’t see Barn Owls around here very often at all, but ebird reported one seen in the old milking barn at Valle de Oro NWR, so I took a look around there, too. Plenty of whitewash in the NW corner of the building, but no Barn Owl for me that day. I did get a nice look at a Western Meadowlark there, however.
Anyway, on the way home from Los Lunas last Friday, I decided to stop at Albuquerque Academy to look around for the Great Horned Owls that have been nesting there in different spots in recent years. For my first of three surprises last week, there she was settled in in exactly the same spot as last year.
Surprise #2 came the next day when I went back to check on the old nest at Piedras Marcadas Dam, where I’d seen an adult hanging out in recent weeks. Sure enough, the female was sitting right where she’d been last year.
That Cooper’s Hawk seen in the background was quite disturbed that she’d again taken over what was originally constructed by a Cooper’s Hawk, and hopped around the branches swooping around and calling insistently but getting little reaction from the owl.
The next morning, Monday, thinking it couldn’t hurt to look, I walked from Calabacillas Arroyo to Alameda looking for nesting owls. Nobody in that perfect Western Screech-Owl cavity (others have seen one there, but it’s never been home on my visits), but (Surprise #3!) a Great Horned Owl was nesting in the same spot as last year, but hunkered down so low the only way I spotted it was 1) knowing it had been used before, and 2) her tail feathers were sticking out. You can also just see one ear sticking up and her looking at me through that little opening.
She was a little more obvious from a bit different angle.
Lots of bluebirds seem to be around these days, too. Mostly I’ve been seeing Eastern and Western Bluebirds, but others have been seeing large flocks of Mountain Bluebirds, so I’ll have to start paying more attention. This one was in the bosque near the Open Space Visitor Center, where we’ve had owls before but I haven’t yet spotted them this year.
Since I’d been having so much success (luck?) finding nesting Great Horned Owls, Tuesday I made a visit to Route 66 Open Space where I’ve seen individual owls in recent years and once a few years ago found a nest. Took me awhile and I must’ve passed it a couple of times before finally spotting it deep in a thicket, but my usual guy was there. I’m guessing it hasn’t found a mate since it’s always in about the same area, but no evidence of a nest.
The only other bird I spotted there that morning was a little different-looking falcon high in a tree. It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures that I decided it was an immature female American Kestrel – it had the right breast coloring for a female, and the beak of a kestrel, but the normally strong facial banding wasn’t quite there yet.
I did see my first butterfly of the year there, too, a Mourning Cloak, so made a quick visit to Embudito Canyon on the way home (Sandia Hairstreaks and Southwestern Orangetips should be flying within the month). No butterflies yet, since it’s a little early and was still too cool, but I was surprised by a very vocal Cactus Wren perched in a pine tree near someone’s backyard feeders. These guys are always hanging out in big stands of cholla cactus, so it was a little unusual seeing it in a backyard.
Something I rarely if ever do is chase a bird sighting. But I got home that afternoon to see that someone had posted a picture of a Western Screech-Owl in a natural cavity somewhere ‘north of the north Tingley Pond’. They are such cool birds to see in a natural setting, and the picture made it look like it’d be pretty easy to track down so I headed on down to look for it. Took me awhile, and I looked hard at all the trees from the pond to the concession stand 1/4 mile away – saw some good potential locations (big holes in weathered old trees), but just wasn’t seeing it. Taking notes of the cavities I’d seen, I figured I’d head home and beg for more specific directions. Naturally, right at the north end of the north pond if you just look, there it is – here’s the basic scene.
See that orangey looking broken off snag way at the top of the picture in the middle? – look closer.
How cool is that?