Things are just about back to normal around here and thought I’d post a few of the other pictures taken before, between, and after all that traveling and post-trip photo processing of the last couple of months. Hopefully, I’ll get back into my usual mode of getting out just about every day to see what’s going on out there in the natural world.
I’m usually reminded that the sunset’s going to be special when the mountains light up and reflect that glow into my living room. Typically once or twice during the year the sky will be clear to the west as the sun’s going down and there’s a little drizzle by the mountains just east of me – often the lighting conditions are such that we even get double rainbows. Way back in early October the day before I headed off to Ecuador was one of those days – I should go visit that neighbor to check on the pot-o-gold on his roof.
After two fabulous weeks in Ecuador, there were three days to do laundry, re-pack, and get ready to head for the Lower Rio Grande Valley for almost two more weeks and lots more of the butterflies that start showing up there around Halloween. On one of those days the Audubon Thursday Birders were off to the Bosque del Apache NWR, and since the laundry had gone straight from the suitcase into the washer and back into the suitcase, there was plenty of time to join the group for that day-long outing. In the desert garden next to the Visitor Center, we’d see several Pyrrhuloxias (none of which allowed me to take their picture) and lots of Gambel’s Quail calling to each other from the brush.
A highlight in the garden was a Verdin, a bird I only rarely see and usually in thorny desert bushes. Surprised to see it building a nest that late in the year, only to read later that they build winter roosting nests in addition to their summer breeding nests.
Later on our drive around the refuge, we’d see several Northern Harriers busy harassing ducks on the water. This is the best picture I got of one of those females sailing above the pond.
We got back from the Texas butterflying trip in time for the Thursday Birder trip to Elena Gallegos Open Space in the foothills close to my house, but not a spot the group goes to very often. A few good birds about, including plenty of the winter resident Western Bluebirds.
I just didn’t get outside very much at all for the next few weeks, busy going through the thousands of pictures that came home with me from all that traveling, working out the identification of 263 butterfly species from Ecuador (130 of which were new for me) and close to 100 from Texas (3 new ones for my US list!). I did take a break to return with Rebecca to the Bosque del Apache NWR for almost the last day of the annual Festival of the Cranes. It’s always a good event and fun seeing so many people, including a number of other birding friends down there celebrating the return of the Sandhill Cranes and hundreds of Snow Geese. Got a pretty nice picture of a male Northern Pintail that day,
and had fun taking a portrait of the Merlin being cared for by Hawks Aloft.
With Thanksgiving the next week, the weather turning wintry, and lots of travel pictures still to process, I still wasn’t getting out much and not getting any good photo opportunities when I did. The following week was the Audubon Thursday Birder potluck, where we usually head to Bear Canyon for a little late morning birding before getting together to eat. Birding is kind of a secondary objective for the day and we don’t usually expect to see many species out that late in the morning and that late in the year. But we did remarkably well that day with 30+ species, way more than I’d seen on a scouting visit earlier in the week. Unquestionably the bird of the day was a male Northern Harrier that made a couple of passes by us before it flew off. It is most unusual to see a Northern Harrier up in that habitat, although we often see them at this time of year in open fields down by the river, and it is even more unusual to see a male anywhere. For some reason, the brown female is commonly seen sailing low over those fields, but the “Gray Ghost” male is only occasionally seen. Not a great picture, but his identity is pretty clear.
I’d been seeing online postings of marvelous pictures of Ruby-crowned Kinglets lately and have been wanting a better picture of that ruby crown on the male of that tiny and very active bird. Despite the rather cloudy and cold weather, I headed down to Alameda Open Space on Saturday morning to a spot where I’d had several territorial males flashing their colors about this time last year. Must’ve been a little early still and there were none to be seen that day. Instead, I had a rather cooperative Brown Creeper pose for the best picture I’ve ever gotten of one.
The next day it was off to Tingley Ponds….still no kinglet, but a Belted Kingfisher and a nice variety of the ducks that show up there every winter, including this male Canvasback.
Fun day later that week when the Audubon Thursday Birders headed to Pueblo Montano Open Space on a quite cold but sunny morning. Typical for this time of year you had to work a bit to spot birds, most of whom were sheltered from the cold, but by the end of the morning we’d see quite a few species including a Bald Eagle back for the winter, several shorebirds, and a variety of other small birds. Near the end of the walk, we could see a merganser way up the irrigation canal keeping its distance from us as we approached. These guys are usually a little skittish and rarely let you get close enough for a good look, but I did finally sneak up on this one for a pretty good picture of what turned out to be a female Common Merganser, and probably a young one.
We did get a quick look at one of those kinglets that morning, so I know they’re around but I’m going to have to keep working to get that picture of one. I’ve sometimes seen them in the hackberry trees in my local patch, Embudito, so gave that a look earlier today. Nope, still no kinglet, but I finally got reasonably close to one of the Ladder-backed Woodpeckers we’ve been seeing on most walks in the foothills recently.
The hunt for the Ruby-crowned Kinglet continues, and I’m betting if I just get outside a little more often one will show itself to me soon. Christmas Bird Counts start this coming weekend and surely one of those guys will pop up while we’re out all day looking for birds.