The weather continues to be pretty good here and we’re starting to see fruit trees and a few spring flowers starting to bloom even though spring is still more than two weeks away. Birding’s a little slow these days as the last of the Sandhill Cranes head north and the Bald Eagles are being seen less frequently. Until that spring migration swings into gear, most of the resident birds seem to be staying pretty quiet and hiding in the trees. Of course, this is the time of year when I get busy trying to find the nesting Great Horned Owls – seven active nests so far, but they are still eluding me in several locations we’ve had them in the past.
On a whim Friday, remembering seeing a report of a Western Screech-Owl at Elena Gallegos Open Space months ago, I headed over there to look for it. Not too big a surprise not to find it since they can be pretty secretive, but did find a noisy Cooper’s Hawk in the protected stand of cottonwoods where they’ve nested regularly in the past. Although it was pretty far away to consider me any kind of threat, it called loudly several times and then flew from tree to tree before landing and repeating that behavior.
Oddly enough, a friend went to Elena Gallegos on Sunday and posted a picture of the screech-owl she’d seen there that morning, so nothing for it but to head back out there the next morning. Parked right where she’d told me, it seemed oblivious to my presence and was almost too close to focus on; also the first time I’ve ever seen one not stuffed into a tight cavity.
Western Bluebirds were also present in good numbers there that morning, including these checking out the only pond in the area.
One of the places we usually have a Great Horned Owl nest is in the bosque near the Open Space Visitor Center, and since I’m scheduled to lead the Audubon Thursday Birders there in a few weeks, I covered quite a wide area on Sunday looking carefully but unsuccessfully at several potential nesting spots. When looking for those lumpy shapes in the trees, it’s not hard to notice several of them are porcupines. I had at least five that morning, including two on a single branch, but this one was interesting for being so light in color, and if you zoom in you can see it almost smiling as it looked at me.
A few days later, I was in the Pueblo Montano bosque behind Bosque School, again looking unsuccessfully for nesting owls, and would spot at least eight porcupines, including this one doing its Darth Vader impression.
Despite the birds being pretty quiet that morning, I did see a couple of good ones. This is one of a pair of American Kestrels that were sharing a branch before the male flew off after something.
A Yellow-rumped Warbler posed nice and close for me,
as did a Black Phoebe, who surprised me by letting me get quite close and putting on that formal pose for its portrait.
Highlight of the morning, however, was getting to see a Bald Eagle busy eating something in a tree. He’d grab a couple of bites and then look around warily, but only let me sneak up so close before flying off and disappearing back across the river.
Yesterday, I met friend Kelly to make the long walk in to Cienega Canyon hoping to see that Northern Pygmy-Owl again. I’d seen it on February 9 and others have since found it residing in a nice cavity in one of the aspens, but just like last time it wasn’t showing itself for us that morning. Might just have to give it another shot one of these days and hopefully our luck will improve. On the way home, I made a quick stop to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, which can be pretty good for birding at times. Not many there for me that morning, but it was a treat to see a first-of-the-year butterfly species, a Question Mark, one that we saw regularly last year but had only rarely seen in previous years.