It’s been quite a week for owl sightings getting to spot the male partner of two more of the nesting females, seeing the arrival of the first little one for the year, finding an isolated individual hiding almost invisibly in a cottonwood, and seeing another Western Screech-Owl. Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders visited the Willow Creek Open Space in Rio Rancho, where one of the highlights for the group was the nesting Great Horned Owl I’d first seen on February 24 after a couple of the local residents pointed out the nest to me. For years, there is a tree in the area where I’ve regularly seen a pair of owls, but had never seen them nesting before. One of the birders in the group saw the male hiding in the nearby trees on an earlier visit and pointed out the area she’d seen it. Knowing he had to be there somewhere, we scanned around intently and finally spotted him, given away by a bright white streak on his chest. Very difficult to see from the path, I bushwhacked in to point him out to everybody and got a quick picture before rejoining the group and heading on with our walk.
Sunday morning, I made the rounds of five other nests closer to town realizing that eggs should start hatching any day now. A friend also told me they’d seen the male at the nest near Calabacillas Arroyo recently, which I’d never seen in the two years they’ve been nesting there. A quick visit there Saturday wasn’t successful (although I was surprised to see a Belted Kingfisher along the ditch), but seeing my friend’s picture gave me hope I’d recognize the branch they’d seen him on. Well, it turned out to be even easier than that. Just as I got to the white PVC pipe used as a marker for the nest site, there he was just looking right at me. It’s just fascinating how they perch in perfect alignment to blend in with their surroundings.
The females at four of the nests that morning were still all very well tucked into their nests. At Calabacillas, the only way to know she was there was a little bit of her tail feathers poking out. At one of the other nests, the female was more visible in what looks like a comfortable if a bit smaller nest.
I hadn’t been back to the nest near the Rio Grande Nature Center since my first visit in early February. That was the earliest nesting activity reported this year and the female had been sitting there ever since and was surely close to the end of the incubation period. On my visit, she was clearly sitting up much higher and much more active, indicative of a successful hatch, but it wasn’t until I got home to take a closer look at the pictures that I realized I’d seen the first little one for the year. You may need to zoom in on the picture to see, but that little fluff ball she’s peering at is the latest addition to the family.
An email Tuesday suggested there is at least one other Great Horned Owl closer to the Rio Grande Nature Center, so I headed down there to look around for a nest. In the past it seemed we’d find them about every half mile along the river, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to find one about that far from the first nest. Stomped around awhile, but saw only a few unoccupied old nests and a couple of porcupines. Quite a few other birds were around that morning including a good mix of waterfowl and quite a few passerines, such as this Eastern Bluebird, but no owls to be seen.
Guess I’m getting a little obsessive with this owl thing since upon returning home, I replied to that email asking for more specifics on where that owl had been seen. Armed with that information, I headed back later that afternoon. Knowing I was probably in the right vicinity, it became an even more focused search when the owl actually called out. It’s most unusual to hear them calling during the day, but having heard it I knew that guy had to be hiding close by. Spotted him pretty low in a tree and surprisingly close to the bike trail, but whoa was he buried in the foliage, and hidden so well even the woodpeckers and nuthatches that flitted around were unaware of his presence. That’s him in the middle just right of center in the photo below, using all the camouflage tricks of mimicking the shape of the tree trunk and breaking up his outline hiding behind a mass of twigs; all he has to do is turn his head away and he vanishes.
From a little different angle, he was a little easier to see.
It’s possible there is a nest nearby since two have been heard calling in that area at dusk, but I didn’t want to bother this guy any longer so I left him alone and headed for home. So this morning, I went back to look around the area to see if there might be a nest to find. Not only did I not find any potential nesting spots in the area, but didn’t see the owl again either. But, surprise of surprises, a Western Screech-Owl was parked right near there in what looks like a perfect cavity. Typically, I might see one of these guys every other year, but this is the fifth one this year – either something unusual is going on or I’m getting better at spotting them.
Last Friday, the weather was perfect for my other obsession, butterflies, and Rebecca and I met our new friend, Susan, to see what was flying in Embudito Canyon (Rebecca and I had earlier also checked out Copper Open Space). There we ran into our other butterflying friend, Kelly, and the four of us would have the best day for butterflies so far this year, seeing more than 30 Sandia Hairstreaks, including two mating pairs,
our first Rocky Mountain Duskywings and Acmon Blues of the season,
several Southwestern Orangetips (who still refuse to land and have their picture taken), a couple of other new for the season species, and several Mylitta Crescents.